Of all the subjects for comedy (romantic entanglements, domestic misunderstandings, military SNAFU’s, workplace kerfluffles, political shenanigans, high school hi-jinx etc.), murder might seem one of the least promising. That’s actually not the case, however, as there have been many comedies of homicide, among them Murder He Says, Arsenic and Old Lace, Kind Hearts and Coronets, Monsieur Verdoux, The Trouble with Harry, Murder by Death, and The Ladykillers (watch the wonderful 1955 Ealing Studios version with Alec Guinness, not the woeful 2004 Cohen Brothers misfire with poor, miscast Tom Hanks), to name just a handful. …
It’s installment number eight in Bob’s Books Shelfie series. Links to the prior shelfie posts can be found at the end of this one. If you’re new to this column, I posted shelfies of over a thousand of my books, in the r/bookshelf subreddit. The mods got too annoying for me, and I quit the group. Today it’s Tony Hillerman, and Adrian Monk.
I am a huge Hillerman fan, having gone through his Navajo Tribal police series (reading and audiobooks) easily a half dozen times. And his The Fly on the Wall is in my Top Five Novels. His books are terrific police procedurals, drenched in Native American Culture (primarily Navajo, but there’s more).
After he died, the series was continued by his daughter, but they’ve gone from bad to terrible and I quit reading them. Even with her father’s last name, she’s less qualified to write them than I am.
Season one of AMC’s Dark Winds streamed the summer of 2022, based on his series. Very good show – not good Hillerman. I wrote 5,000 words about Hillerman and the series over at Black Gate. I have not yet seen season two.
Good day, Readers!
Well, that sounded more passive-aggressive than I intended. Let’s ignore that. One of the beautiful things about social media is the discourse that can be had about all manner of things. Some of it is awful — alright, a lot of it is awful — but it isn’t always. What crossed my feed this week was not one of the awful things, but rather brought up a really interesting discussion about magic in fiction; and how people prefer to consume it.
It’s installment number seven in Bob’s Books Shelfie series. Links to the prior shelfie posts can be found at the end of this one; including some prior fantasy shelves. If you’re new to this column, I posted shelfies of over a thousand of my books, in the r/bookshelf subreddit. The mods got too annoying for me, and I quit the group.
But with each shelfie I posted info on the books/authors show, so I’m bringing them over to Black Gate. Hopefully you’ll see some interesting stuff.
DENNIS L. MCKIERNAN
I have been a fantasy fan since junior high. This is my Dennis L. McKiernan shelf – double-layered.
McKiernan used to live here, and he let me come out and visit him at his house. Signed my books, talked about other authors, and talked RPGs (he was an ICE guy – I played D&D). He’s a really cool guy.
Back in the seventies, he had a terrible accident while riding a bike (or maybe a motorcycles. I forget). He was bedridden for many months. So, he decided to write a sequel to the Moria part of The Lord of the Rings. The Tolkien people, after he finished it, said “Nope. You can’t do that.” So he made it into his own world of Mithgar.
Doubleday told him to write a trilogy ala The Lord of the Rings. So, he wrote The Iron Tower Trilogy. It did well, and that ‘Moria sequel’ was released as The Silver Call Duology. McKiernan went on to a long career, with many more Mithgar books, and a couple other short series’.
If you like Tolkien, McKiernan’s Mithgar is as close in style and setting, as anyone has yet written. And he’s clearly a huge Tolkien fan. I like The Silver Call Duology, and the novel, Dragondoom, the most.
The Iron Tower Trilogy is the heart of the series. That’s good, too. McKiernan is definitely a good read for fans of The Lord of the Rings. Back in college, I found his number in the phone book, called him up, and he invited me out (he lived in Columbus, OH, back then. We talked fantasy and RPGs. He’s a really nice guy (lives out in the warmer West, now).
1) ARCHER KNOWS HOW TO DO HOMAGE
Back in November’s What I’m Watching post, I mentioned I would talk about Archer Later. I’m not yet ready to do a deep dive, but I want to give a shout out for a couple seasons I just watched.
The adult cartoon just wrapped up its fourteenth and final season, last month. It had its ups and downs, but it was terribly wrong and almost always funny, for 144 episodes. Archer is the chief spy at the international Secret intelligence Service. The fact that their name is ISIS, tells you all you need to know about this satirical show. Archer is the most self-absorbed, irresponsible person imaginable, and his office mates are all terribly flawed as well (though Lana is pretty close to normal).
A lot happens over fourteen seasons (I’m on season eleven). A few seasons take place with Archer in a coma – they’re dream seasons. The first of those was an homage forties hardboiled/noir. Centered on The Maltese Falcon, with a dash of Chinatown thrown in, I LOVED it. Visually it was wonderful. As a fan of the genre, it was clear that the show’s staff were as well. Still ‘wrong’ in that Archer way, it was a terrific take on the genre. Extremely well done.
If I could work my will,” said Scrooge indignantly, “every idiot who goes about with ‘Merry Christmas’ on his lips, should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart. He should!”
A Christmas Carol. In Prose. Being a Ghost Story of Christmas, published first in 1843, is nearly two hundred years old, and nothing remains to be said about it, it would seem. Charles Dickens’s fairy tale has become one of the great secular staples of the Christmas season. It’s been filmed many times; both wonderfully as in the Alastair Sim 1951 and George C. Scott 1984 versions and less wonderfully in the Reginald Owen 1938 film and the 2010 Jim Carrey motion capture monstrosity. Furthermore, there have been animated adaptations, musicals, and comics. It’s an isolated person, I suspect, who doesn’t know at least the basic setup: the uplifting story of a cold-hearted miser who turns to the good after the visitation of a trio of ghosts representing the spirit of the season. All I can do is comment on the bits that stood out for me while liberally quoting from this mordantly funny novel and Gothic fantasy of redemption.
The story is told by an omniscient narrator who intrudes on the story constantly, digresses from the narrative, and questions the reader at every turn. The opening words of A Christmas Carol, or at least a fair gloss on them, are well-known, particularly the seventh sentence: “Old Marley was a dead as a door-nail.” It’s a blunt matter-of-fact statement that lets the reader know where things stand. The narrator, though, immediately continues with something else.
One of my greatest talents as a blogger, is finding folks more talented than I, to write my weekly column for me. Hey – the reader gets a better end product, so they win, right? I brought Talking Tolkien to Black Gate in 2023. And I had some great help yet again for A (Black) Gat in the Hand.
So some of you Black Gaters may be surprised that I occasionally actually write my own essays for the Monday morning slot. John O’Neill is too savvy an editor for me to completely fool him for almost ten years.
So here are what I thought were ten of my better efforts in 2023. Hopefully you saw them back when I first posted them. But if not, maybe you’ll check out a few now. Ranking them seemed a bit egotistical, so they’re in chronological order. Let’s go!
Don’t Panic! We’ve Got Douglas Adams Covered Here at Black Gate (January 2, 2023)
If I do say so myself, things absolutely started off strong, the second day of the new year! Black Gate has a bunch of Douglas Adams fans. This was my eighth Adams-related post, and I included links to five prior posts by Black Gaters (Steven H Silver, and M. Harold Page).
Thirteen posts about Douglas Adams. SURELY you can find something interesting. This current post included me fooling around with a new entry for the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I think it’s pretty funny. And if you’re not familiar with Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, that’s actually my favorite Adams book. Click on this one and get a larf.
The Mask of Zorro (USA, 1998)
Swashbucklers come in many forms and from many cultures, settling differences with their wicked nemeses with long blades of many shapes. Some leap aboard slashing with cutlasses; some coolly assume their stances with katanas at the ready, in one hand or two; some gallop to the charge, sabers waving; some wait for their attackers with claymores held high.
But I put it to you that there is no more iconic weapon for a swashbuckler to wield than the rapier. It’s a finesse weapon that relies as much on dexterity as strength, relatively light despite its three-foot blade, encouraging movement and rapid footwork. It hangs easily at the waist, from belt or baldric, an accent that adds martial flair to every bold outfit, and it looks as good on a woman as it does on a man. And crucially, it has a point but no edge, so it’s no battlefield weapon — its only function is to settle personal conflicts between antagonists with precision, by means of a thrust to wound or to kill.
The rapier is the weapon of choice of the heroes in all three of the movies from the late ‘90s we’re considering this time around: in the global hit that should have been a flop, in the critical darling that should have been a hit, and in the triumph that was both. Keep your knees flexed, your wrist loose, and don’t grip the hilt too tightly.
I really do need to get back to doing a ‘Year-End at Black Gate World Headquarters’ post. The one I completed may be my all-time favorite BG post (which I’ve written). I’ve started two others, but they petered off.
I talked about Fortnite last week, which I really enjoy playing with my son. I’m good – he’s excellent.
Wanted to talk about a couple other games I played this year. I spent more hours on Elder Scrolls Online than anything else. I got burned out and am taking a long break, but it’s easily my favorite MMO, supplanting Age of Conan, with Lord of the Rings Online the other one I really like. All three have terrific lore, but ESO’s game play, and graphics, stand above.
Here are a couple others that might appeal to the Black Gate crowd.
Merry Christmas!! I really do need to get back to doing a ‘Year-End at Black Gate World Headquarters’ post. The one I completed may be my all-time favorite BG post (which I’ve written). I’ve started two others, but they petered off.
I talked about Fortnite last week, which I really enjoy playing with my son. I’m good – he’s excellent.
THE BLACK COMPANY IS AN ENDURING CLASSIC
I’ve read Glen Cook’s The Black Company, all the way through, at least three times. It’s about a mercenary company that roams far and wide in a dark fantasy world, varying on the scale of ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys.’ I don’t do Grimdark, but it’s commonly cited as being a foundation of the genre.
Audible had a HUGE sale the start of December, and I picked up almost the entire series on audiobook, at less than $3.50 a book. That’s a pure steal! I listen to audiobooks during my drives, and during my work day. Even as I type blog posts. My mind is good at multi-attention. I wouldn’t have time to read/re-read all the things I listen to.
I’m on book four, and this remains one of the best fantasy series’ I’ve ever read. I feel that the last two books are kind of disappointing, and I slog through them. We’ll see if that’s the case, listening to them. But overall, this is terrific. The latest book, Port of Shadows, is set during the original trilogy, and I am going to read that later this month. But as a whole, I highly recommend The Black Company. Fletcher Vredenburgh did a superb deep dive into the whole thing, over at Black Gate. I also LOVE Cook’s Garrett, PI series, which I wrote about here. Just a great writer.