Hither Came Conan: Bob Byrne on “Rogues in the House”

Monday, May 20th, 2019 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Hither_RoguesMarvelEDITEDWhen I was pitching this series to folks, I was using the title, The Best of Conan. I didn’t come up with Hither Came Conan for about eight months, I think. Yeah, I know… The idea behind the series came from an essay in my first (and so far, only) Nero Wolfe Newsletter. The plan for 3 Good Reasons is to look at a story and list three reasons why it’s the ‘best’ Wolfe story. And I toss in one ‘bad’ reason why it’s not. And finish it off with some quotes. You’ll be reading more 3 Good Reasons here at Black Gate in 2020.

So, I’m going to take a somewhat different tack from those who have come before me (I doubt I could have measured up, anyways) and pick out two elements that make this story one of Howard’s best recountings of the mighty-thewed Cimmerian. Then, throw a curveball from the Wolfe approach and highlight a few items worthy of note.


Obviously, you need to read this story, but here’s a Cliff’s Notes version: Nabonidus, the Red Priest, is the real power in this unnamed Corinthian city. He gives a golden cask to Murilo, a young aristocrat. And inside the cask is a human ear (remind you of Sherlock Holmes? It should.). We learn a little later on that Murillo has been selling state secrets, and the ear is from a clerk he had dealings with. The jig is up!

Given the choice of running away, waiting meekly for assured death, or finding a tool to escape his predicament, he chooses the latter. And Conan is that tool. Wait: that didn’t sound right…

Conan and a Gunderman deserter had been successful thieves until a fence, a Priest of Anu, betrayed them. The priest also happened to be a spy for the police. As a result, the unnamed Gunderman (more on that below) was captured and hung. Conan then cut off the priest’s head in revenge. A ‘faithless woman’ (presumably his current main squeeze) betrayed him to the police, who captured the Cimmerian as he hid out, drunk.

Murillo visits the cell and Conan agrees to kill Nabonidus in exchange for his freedom. Things go a bit awry and Murillo goes after Nabonidus himself but faints at the sight of the red priest in his house. Meanwhile, Conan, after casually killing his ex-girlfriend’s new lover and then dumping her in a cesspool, sneaks into the pits under Nabonidus’ house, where he encounters Murillo, who had been dumped down there.

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Disgust and Desire: An Interview with Anna Smith Spark

Saturday, May 18th, 2019 | Posted by SELindberg


It is not intuitive to seek beauty in art deemed grotesque/weird, but most authors who produce horror/fantasy actually are usually (a) serious about their craft, and (b) driven my strange muses.  This interview series engages contemporary authors & artists on the theme of “Art & Beauty in Weird/Fantasy Fiction.”  Previously we cornered weird fantasy authors like John FultzJaneen WebbAliya WhiteleyRichard Lee ByersSebastian Jones, Charles Gramlich, and Darrell Schweitzer. This one features the “Queen of Grimdark,” Anna Smith Spark.

Anna Smith Spark is the author of the critically acclaimed Queen of Grimdark. The David Gemmell Awards shortlisted The Court of Broken Knives and The Tower of Living and Dying continued the Empires of Dust trilogy (Harper Voyager US/ Orbit US/Can). The finale, The House of Sacrifice, will be published August 2019. Anna lives in London, UK. She loves grimdark and epic fantasy and historical military fiction. Anna has a BA in Classics, an MA in history and a Ph.D. in English Literature. She has previously been published in the Fortean Times and the poetry website greatworks.org. Previous jobs include petty bureaucrat, English teacher and fetish model. Anna’s favorite authors and key influences are R. Scott Bakker, Steve Erikson, M. John Harrison, Ursula Le Guin, Mary Stewart and Mary Renault. She spent several years as an obsessive D&D player. She can often be spotted at sff conventions wearing very unusual shoes.

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The Golden Age of Science Fiction: George Scithers

Tuesday, May 14th, 2019 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Photo by John Teehan

Photo by John Teehan

The Best Professional Editor category was not one of the original Hugo categories in 1953. It was introduced in 1973 as a replacement for the Best Magazine award, partly to recognize the name of the individual who was the driving force behind the magazines, but also, at least in theory, to open the award up to anthology editors, although an anthology editor wouldn’t win until 1985. For the first five years the award was presented, it was won by Ben Bova. In 2007, the award was split into Best Editor, Long Form and Best Editor, Short Form. Gardner Dozois won the Best Professional Editor Award fifteen times, including a six-year streak and a seven-year streak. George H. Scithers won the award for the first time in 1978, ending Ben Bova’s streak, and then for a second time in 1980.

George Scithers had a long career in science fiction, both professionally and in fandom. He began publishing articles in the fanzine Yandro in 1957 and in 1959, he began publishing his own ‘zine, Amra, which won Scithers his first two Hugo Awards (in 1964 and 1968). Amra, which was a Robert E. Howard specialty ‘zine, is also the ‘zine which coined the term “Sword and Sorcery.”

In 1963, Scithers chaired Discon I, the 21st World Science Fiction Convention. He wrote The Con-Committee Chairman’s Guide to provide guidance for future chairmen. For several years in the 60s, he also served as the Worldcon Parliamentarian.

Scithers founded Owlswick Press in 1973 and over the years published works by Roy Krenkel, L. Sprague de Camp, Jack Williamson, Barry B. Longyear, and others. The final two volumes published by Owlswick came out in 1991 and 1993 and were collections by Avram Davidson.

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Hither Came Conan: Mark Finn on “The God in the Bowl”

Monday, May 13th, 2019 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Hither_BowlFrazettaDarkHorseEDITEDWelcome back to the latest installment of Hither Came Conan, where a leading Robert E. Howard expert examines one of the original Conan stories each week, highlighting what’s best in it. Today, it’s Howard biographer Mark Finn looking at one of the first stories, “The God in the Bowl.” And here we go!

The God Has a Long Neck

“The God in the Bowl” is part of the holy trinity of Conan stories. No, not “Tower of the Elephant,” “Red Nails,” and “Beyond the Black River” (though they are undoubtedly worthy of the appellation). I’m talking about the Original Trinity, the Big Three, the initial stories that Robert E. Howard wrote and submitted to Farnsworth Wright at Weird Tales back in 1932.

I consider these stories to be Ground Zero for the essence of Conan the Cimmerian as he was originally introduced. In “Phoenix on the Sword,” we meet Conan the King, an established old campaigner, with a whole lifetime of stories under his furrowed brow, struggling with his new role as a king. This was borne out of Howard’s desire to write fiction in the guise of history; tales of adventure and sweeping consequences, without having to fact-check and sideline his narrative vision. Using his unpublished Kull story, “By this Axe, I Rule!” as a jumping off point, Howard clearly had an idea of what he wanted to do.

But he had to sell it to the market that was buying, and since Oriental Stories, the magazine he’d been selling his historical adventures to, had shuttered its submission window, he turned to his old standby, Weird Tales. “The Unique Magazine” under the editorial direction of Farnsworth Wright enjoyed a kind of nebulous distinction as a kind of catch-all for any kind of story, so long as it was weird. This included anything with a spicy suggestion, such as ice maidens wearing gossamer robes and taunting a battle-exhausted youth. “The Frost Giant’s Daughter” was made for Wright, who would recognize its classical mythic underpinnings, but would also not mind the implied slap-and-tickle of the naked girl laughing at young Conan.

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Time Travellers This Way Please

Friday, May 10th, 2019 | Posted by Violette Malan

MinisterioSound familiar? Of course. In fact, in the very first episode I was reminded of two other shows I’ve  enjoyed watching, Warehouse 13, and Timeless. I didn’t find this detracted, however, there were enough differences to give Minsterio some freshness.

The protagonists of Timeless, like Ministerio, are a team of a woman and two men. However, that’s only a by-product of their real job, which is to find and capture another time traveller who is trying to change the timeline. The Ministry also has its enemies but we don’t learn that until the third episode. The first couple of episodes set up the world, and the complications that the characters themselves bring to it.

This setup introduces what for me is a very typically Spanish element: bureaucracy. It’s been said that the Spanish invented bureaucracy, and I’m inclined to believe it, but I’m  not going to elaborate on that here. Suffice to say that this is the ministry of time. This is a government office, run by government functionaries, as civil servants are called in Spain. Strangely (to me at least) this doesn’t slow down the action, but it does lend a certain Kafkaesque quality to it.

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Inquisition Dungeons, Decapitated Heads, and Fighting Gentrification: A Creepy Tour Through Lavapiés, Madrid

Wednesday, May 8th, 2019 | Posted by Sean McLachlan


“Anarchy in the nursery!”

Madrid is a walkable town. Most of the city’s interesting barrios are clustered close together, and even if you have to take a quick trip on the bus or Metro, you’ll find that each barrio has all you need within an easy stroll. That makes Madrid feel a lot smaller than it is, because you can shop, dine, drink, work, and go to school all in the same barrio.

Several tour companies offer interesting walking tours of the city, focusing on Madrid’s history, nightlife, or culture. The latest addition is The Making of Madrid, which specializes in history. I recently took a tour of the working class barrio of Lavapiés, known for its left-leaning politics and large immigrant community.

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The Iron Teacher

Wednesday, May 8th, 2019 | Posted by Steve Carper

The Iron Teacher

I try to stay away from expounding on the popular cultural artifacts from other countries. Going back in time and explaining why American pop culture looks the way it does often ranges from difficult to impossible. Even the English, a culture separated from ours by a common language, has a past that is a semiotic mystery most of the time.

Take comic books. Americans invented them (depending on what you consider Italy’s Il Giornalino to be) and the English followed closely behind. The Dandy started in December 1937 and The Beano on July 30, 1938, meaning it will reach its 4000th issue this summer. (It’s been issued weekly except during WWII.) Both were part of the gigantic D. C. Thomson & Co. empire. By then Thompson already had a lock on the boys’ story paper market, those being the British equivalent of the boy’s story weeklies that proliferated in the U.S. during the late 19th century. (Those are now famed for introducing early robots like the Steam Man and the Electric Man, along with many other science-fictional inventions.) The story weeklies usually carried a complete short novel or a serialization of a longer one. The story papers also carried serializations, but those were short segments that appeared alongside complete short stories.

Thompson started Adventure in 1921 and added The Rover, The Wizard, The Skipper, and, in 1933, The Hotspur. (The internet tells me that the name comes from the noble warrior Sir Henry Percy, known as Sir Harry Hotspur, who is immortalized by an appearance in Shakespeare’s Henry IV. Exactly the sort of everybody-gets-it reference that trips me up when encountering other cultures.) These “Big Five” dominated the market and lasted for generations, eventually mostly being merged into one another as the market for story papers faded at the end of the 20th century.

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Hither Came Conan: The Animated Red Nails That Never Was

Monday, May 6th, 2019 | Posted by Bob Byrne

RedNails_ConanMovieRedNailsAnimated_ValeriaEDITEDIn Keith J. Taylor’s entry for “Red Nails,” I mentioned an animated movie project, based on that story, which never made it to fruition. Here’s some more information on that ill-fated project.

Comic book artist Kevin Eastman is the co-creator of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. He also owned Heavy Metal magazine from 1992 to 2014, and I believe he is still the publisher.

Eastman, a long-time Conan fan, drew a variant cover for the new Savage Sword of Conan comic from Marvel.

Back in 2003, he was trying to set up a new studio and wanted to do a full length animated DVD of Red Nails with a limited theatrical release. A temporary deal was reached with Fredrik Malmberg’s company, but the business plan didn’t work out for Eastman.

Steve Gold, who had worked on the Conan and the Young Warriors animated television show, was also interested in a Red Nails project at the time. When the Eastman deal fell through, his company, Swordplay Entertainment, signed a contract with Malmberg to animate Red Nails. A screenplay was developed and Gold’s group looked for financing.

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A FEW ODD SOULS: The Experiment Reaches Mid-Point

Saturday, May 4th, 2019 | Posted by John R. Fultz

Ch8Back at the end of March I started serializing A FEW ODD SOULS online at www.johnrfultz.com The novel has now reached its mid-point with 11 illustrated chapters available for reading, and 11 more to go. So far, so good!

This experiment to madly defy “traditional” publishing by giving a novel away for free online is going quite well. I’m gathering new readers every day. I’ve also decided (based on the advice of a brilliant friend) to post the chapters on Wattpad as well, where I’m slowly building a second following.

Each chapter of this Big Weird Epic includes an original pen-and-ink illustration by Yours Truly. It’s very rare these days to find a novel that is so profusely illustrated–you’re lucky if you get a cool cover and a nice frontspiece–but nobody is paying for full-page illustrations for every single chapter. So I’m doing it because I can. It’s also quite fun, and the readers really dig it.

BatmanKJI’m honored to announce that legendary BATMAN artist Kelley Jones will be inking my pencils for Chapter 14. That illustration will be very special indeed. Kelley is not only one of my all-time favorite comic book artists, he’s also a giant in the field, a true original, and one helluva nice guy. His involvement seriously elevates the entire experiment. Meanwhile, SOULS continues winning hearts and minds. At this point I plan on continuing my schedule of two new (illustrated) chapters per week.

Read A FEW ODD SOULS for yourself at www.johnrfultz.com 

Did I mention it’s FREE?

The Weird Must Flow…

Ch1sm Ch11smCh2 Ch9smCh10


Wildside Press MEGAPACKs for Under a Buck!

Tuesday, April 30th, 2019 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Pic_MegpackPrice1The Black Gate staff loves the pulps. Science fiction, fantasy, weird menace, horror, hardboiled, adventure, westerns — the list goes on. So much that was long out of print has come back through the efforts of imprints like Mysterious Press, Altus Press, Black Dog, Crippin & Landru, Fedogan & Bremer, Haffner Press, and more.

Coupled with the advent of ebooks, it’s a veritable gold mine for pulp fans. John Betancourt, founder of Wildside Press, has a line of ebooks under the MEGAPACK moniker. Covering all genres, they offer a plethora of pulp stories. Yes, many of the books are a mix of the wheat and the chaff, but there’s plenty of good reading to be had. At an affordable price. How affordable? Below is a list of MEGAPACKS selling for either 55 or 99 cents at Amazon. I’m not sure if that’s the regular price (I’ve paid a bit more in the past).

This is NOT a comprehensive list. I simply got tired of typing entries (and the word, ‘MEGAPACK’). But this gives you a feel for how many different collections there are. In multiple genres, as well. Look for an author, or field, you like and spend less than a buck  a volume to pick up some stories (and even novels). I’m pretty sure you’ll find something that is more than worth your money!

E Hoffman Price’s Two-Fisted Detectives (19)

The Weird Fiction MEGAPACK (25)

The Talbot Mundy MEGAPACK (28)

The Second Science Fiction MEGAPACK (25)

The William Hope Hodgson MEGPACK (35)

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