By Crom: Some Conans are More Equal Than Others…

Thursday, January 4th, 2018 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Conan and the Emerald LotusI’ve been in a bit of a Robert. E. Howard mood lately, so I re-read some of his Solomon Kane stories (fine stuff). But, as always, I gravitated back to Conan. And that inevitably led me to the pastiches. A quick count of the shelves produced 42 non-Howard Conan tales, excluding the de Camp/Carter books, of which I’m missing two or three, I think.

I’ve read at least a third of those pastiches, I’d say, maybe close to half. Except for a few, they are part of the Tor line I wrote about here. And as I mentioned, they’re a mixed bag. I also wrote a post regarding how official those pastiches are considered, which generated a lot of good commentary.

The Tor line came to a halt in 1997, with one additional book in 2003 (I wouldn’t have minded if they’d skipped that last one). There have been no official Conan pastiches in fifteen years, though that’s going to change shortly.

Howard Andrew Jones, fantasy author and Black Gate‘s Managing Editor, had some thoughts similar to mine over at his blog a few years ago. Ryan Harvey’s Pastiches R Us looked at about a dozen of the Tor books: you can search Black Gate for them, but here’s one and here’s another. He also had Charles Saunders do a guest post for him.

A multitude of writers have penned a plethora of words about the Conan pastiches, but I’m keeping this post ‘in-house’ and will focus on musings from Howard, Ryan and myself.

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By Crom! New Robert E. Howard Pastiches Coming in 2018!

Tuesday, December 19th, 2017 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Conan_FrazettaFrostgiantsOf course, you saw yesterday’s Black Gate post on Heroic Signatures, the new digital/gaming partnership, which includes the rights to about two dozen Robert E. Howard characters and stories. With the recent releases of Modiphius’ Robert E Howard’s Conan: Adventures in an Age Undreamed Of RPG, Monolith’s Conan board game and Funcom’s in-beta Conan: Exiles video game, Conan is a very viable gaming brand these days. And Funcom’s Age of Conan MMO (which I play) is still going strong as it approaches the decade mark.

But fans of Conan’s creator, such as the contributors and readers of our recent Discovering Robert E. Howard series, are yearning for new pastiches featuring Howard’s characters. And not just Conan, but Solomon Kane, El Borak, Breckenridge Elkins and Steve Harrison, to name a few. Aside from some Age of Conan tie-in novels, the Conan pastiche market dried up when Tor finished its series in 2003 with Harry Turtledove’s Conan of Venarium.

The Tor novels were a mix of varying quality, as I wrote about here. I quite enjoyed some, such as John Maddox Roberts’ Conan the Rogue (an homage to Dashiell Hammett’s Red Harvest), Chris Hocking’s The Emerald Lotus and Leonard Carpenter’s Conan the Raider. But unfortunately, some were just simply bad fantasy books.

So, while we have been treated to quality reprints of Howards’ works from Del Rey and the Robert E. Howard Foundation Press, new tales have not been forthcoming. Behold: that is about to change!

In 2018, new pastiches featuring Robert E. Howard characters will be forthcoming!!!!  

Cabinet Group LLC, the REH rights holders and 50% of Heroic Signatures (with Funcom) “have decided to curate a line of carefully picked novels and start a publishing program next year.” This will not just be Conan but other Howard works as well.

Black Gate will have a Q&A post with Cabinet Group head Fredrik Malmberg shortly. Updates coming from Cabinet Group with more information.

But to the many fans of Robert E. Howard, this is exciting news. Could we even see a new Steve Harrison tale? Asks the in-house mystery guy who writes Sherlock Holmes stories? (Hint, hint, hint, Cabinet…)

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Heroic Signatures: REH Digital Rights Part of $10 Million Deal

Monday, December 18th, 2017 | Posted by Bob Byrne


Funcom is the developer of the Age of Conan (AoC) MMORPG. They’ve currently got a resource/action RPG, Conan: Exiles, in beta, scheduled for a May, 2018 release. I’ve played quite a few hours of AoC and think it’s a very good MMO, mixing elements from Robert E. Howard’s original stories and some of the pastiches. I haven’t tried Exiles yet.

Cabinet Group LLC owns the rights to Robert E. Howard’s non-public domain works. Cabinet Group and Funcom each will own 50% of a new venture entitled Heroic Signatures. Heroic Signatures will control the interactive (gaming) rights to 29 properties — most of them based on the works of Robert E. Howard. REH characters and stories included are:

Conan, Solomon Kane, El Borak,  Dark Agnes, “Children of the Night,” Bran Mark (yes, they spelled it incorrectly!) Morn, James Allison, Cormac Mac Art, Black Turlogh, Kirby O’Donnell, Cormac Fitzgeoffrey, Steve Harrison, “Black Canaan,” Almuric, Steve Costigan, “The Black Stone,” “The Fire of Asshurbanipal,” “The Cairn of the Headland,” “The Horror from the Mound,” “The Dead Remember” and “Pigeons from Hell.”

The announcement said that Funcom will be focusing on partnerships and third party developers, indicating they want to license the properties to get games made. Funcom isn’t a mass-producer, so this may well be a way to leverage the REH property. As part of this move, Funcom got a $10.6 million investment from a Swedish company.

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The Top 50 Black Gate Posts in September

Sunday, October 22nd, 2017 | Posted by John ONeill

The God in the Bowl-small

The top articles at Black Gate in July and August were both features on Conan, and last month Bob Byrne managed to nab the top slot with his look at a strange mash-up of police procedural and sword & sorcery, the Conan tale “The God in the Bowl.” Conan was created by Robert E. Howard in the pages of Weird Tales in 1932; 85 years later, he’s still the most popular character among our readers. That’s durability.

The second most popular article at Back Gate in September wasn’t about Conan, but it did feature a sinister cosmic entity also created in Weird Tales, this time in H.P. Lovecraft 1928 story “The Call of Cthulhu” — our report on the latest Call of Cthulhu solo module, Alone Against the Flames. At #3 was Elizabeth Crowen’s interview with popular cosplay photographer Bruce Heinsius. Fletcher Vredenburgh placed two articles in the Top Ten last month; the first was his review of Roger Zelazny’s 1983 novel Dilvish, the Damned, which placed at #4. Rounding out the Top Five was an article on famous book hoarders, “What do George Lucas, Michael Jackson, and Harry Houdini Have in Common?”

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Robert E. Howard Wrote a Police Procedural? With Conan?? Crom!!!

Monday, September 18th, 2017 | Posted by Bob Byrne

BG_GodBowlComicCoverReportedly, Ernest Hemingway bet Howard Hawks that the director couldn’t make a good movie out of his worst book. Hawks took the bet and we ended up with Humphrey Bogart in To Have and Have Not (it’s not Bogie’s best, but I vote Hawks the winner of the bet). Suppose I told you I could show you that one of what’s commonly considered among the worst Conan stories isn’t really that bad – and that it’s a pre-genre police procedural? Ready to take on the challenge?

In 2015, Black Gate‘s Discovering Robert E. Howard series showcased the breadth and diversity of REH’s writings. Boxing stories, westerns, science fiction, Solomon Kane, El Borak: Howard was an immensely talented author who wrote in a variety of genres. My first entry in the series was about Steve Harrison, Howard’s take on the hardboiled private eye with a weird menace twist. As you can read in that essay, Howard didn’t care for the genre and he abandoned it almost as quickly as he entered it. Today, I’m going to look at his lone police procedural. Yep – Robert E. Howard wrote a police procedural before the term was even in use. And it features Conan!

The general consensus is that Howard hit the mark with his fourth Conan story, “The Tower of the Elephant,” published in March of 1933. His first was “The Phoenix on the Sword,” which appeared in Weird Tales in December of 1932 and was a rewrite of an unpublished Kull story, “By This Axe I Rule.” Farnsworth Wright, editor of Weird Tales, rejected the second, “The Frost Giant’s Daughter,” which to me, reads more like a chapter in a longer work than a self-contained story.

“The God in the Bowl” was probably written in early 1932 and was Howard’s third Conan story. Wright rejected this one as well and it did not see print in any form until an edited version by L. Sprague de Camp was published in 1952’s Space Science Fiction, Volume 1, Number 2 (the story has nothing to do with either space or science fiction…). De Camp did less chopping on this one than most of his Conan edits, but fans could finally read Howard’s original text in Donald Grant’s The Tower of the Elephant in 1975.

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The Top 50 Black Gate Posts in August

Sunday, September 10th, 2017 | Posted by John ONeill

Robert Jordan The Conan Chronicles-back-small Robert Jordan The Conan Chronicles-small

Our most popular blog post in July was M. Harold Page’s “Why isn’t Conan a Mary Sue?” Last month continued the Conan love: our top article for August was Bob Byrne’s survey of Tor’s years as a Conan pastiche publisher, including the popular series from Robert Jordan. Above — the first of multiple Jordan omnibus volumes from Tor, The Conan Chronicles (1995, art by Gary Ruddell).

Coming in second was our report on the Hugo Award winners, followed by Dominik Parisien’s announcement of the Disabled People Destroy Science Fiction Kickstarter. Fourth was Fletcher Vredenburgh’s look back at Frank Herbert’s classic Dune.

Rounding out the Top Five was our Future Treasures piece on Grady Hendrix’s upcoming Paperbacks from Hell: The Twisted History of ’70s and ’80s Horror Fiction. Close on its heels was Sean McLachlan’s photo essay on his visit to Minster Lovell Hall in Oxfordshire, England. Ryan Harvey’s obituary for Haruo Nakajima, The Man Who Was Godzilla, was number seven.

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By Crom: The Tor Conan – Quality May Vary…

Monday, August 7th, 2017 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Conan_RogueEvery so often, I get the hankering to read a tale of Conan the Cimmerian (better known as ‘The Barbarian’ thanks to Ah-nuld Schwarzenmuscles).

I usually grab one of the three excellent Del Rey volumes (which Howard Andrew Jones and Bill Ward entertainingly went through – here’s the first installment) and get a quick fix. For a little more reading, I snag one of the Ace/Lancer series edited by L Sprague De Camp (with some help from Lin Carter). And less often, I find one of the Tor paperbacks that I haven’t gotten around to yet and try one of them.

As I mentioned in this post on what qualifies as Conan Canon (say that five times fast!) back in 2015:

‘From 1982 through 2003, eight authors (though primarily four) cranked out 43 new Conan novels for Tor. At two per year, the quality varied wildly, as you can imagine. John M. Roberts’ Conan the Rogue is an homage to Dashiell Hammett’s Red Harvest and one of my favorite Conan books. Steve Perry’s Conan the Indomitable is one of the worst fantasy books I’ve ever read (even though it is a direct sequel to Perry’s Conan the Defiant, which I liked).’

I have maybe two-thirds of the Tor books and have read two-thirds of those (What: I’m channeling Yogi Berra now?). Some of the Tor titles give you at least a bit of an idea what the story is about, such as John M. Roberts’ Conan and the Treasure of the Python and Leonard Carpenter’s Conan of the Red Brotherhood.

But the majority are all titled Conan the (insert vague word here). It’s a litany of titles like Conan the Valorous, Conan the Defiant, Conan the Great, Conan the Formidable: you get the idea. You’ve got to read the back cover to get some clue what the story is about.

The Tor books, pushed out at a punishing pace, are very much a mixed bag. And my experience so far is that more often than not, they fall into the “meh” or worse category.

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A Tale of Two Robert E. Howard Biographies

Thursday, July 27th, 2017 | Posted by James McGlothlin

Dark Valley Destiny The Life of Robert E. Howard-small Blood & Thunder The Life and Art of Robert E. Howard-small

Not so long ago, in a galaxy really close by (in fact, our galaxy), there was a tale of two biographies of the same writer. This is how the story goes. Or at least, this is what I have gathered.

Once upon a time there was a Jedi-in-training (also known as a sci-fi writer) who, tempted by the Dark Side of the Force, figured out that he could make quite a bit of money in the fantasy genre. Tolkien was selling like gangbusters at the time, so why not? Robert E. Howard (REH), a long dead Golden Age pulp writer, had all of that Conan stuff just lying around begging to be exploited utilized. So off to work the Jedi went.

But, in pursuing this decades-long venture, said sci-fi writer unfortunately and eventually went completely over to the Dark Side — full Sith Lord territory. In time, by his own reckoning, he became the de facto spokesperson for what counted as canonical Conan. And further, as a self-made REH authority, he published his own biography of Howard. The Force was strong with this one.

Fortunately though, so the tale goes, the Force eventually balanced out. A small but growing band of Jedi — fully committed to the Light Side — fought vigorously against this Sith Lord, trying to demonstrate who the true REH actually was. In time, the evil Sith Lord was defeated, and died of natural causes. But the task of undoing his dark damage against REH’s legacy would take years. And eventually a very able Jedi warrior would come along and write a new REH biography that would, among other things, hopefully undo all the damage done by the first bio.

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Why isn’t Conan a Mary Sue?

Thursday, July 13th, 2017 | Posted by M Harold Page

Conan Rogues in the House-smallHow is Conan not a Mary Sue?

The barbarian is pretty obviously Robert E Howard’s authorial self-projection into the Hyborian Age. Big, bellicose and amoral, but honourable and never mean. He’s mighty-thewed death on two legs, women fall into his arms, kingdoms fall at his feet. He male bonds when he falls into good company, and despite being a barbarian fish out of civilised water, he commands the loyalty of his men and the respect of those nobles worthy of respect.

He’s everything Robert E Howard was and wasn’t and might have been had the big Texan lived long enough to fight in WWII. (Imagine Howard as a veteran of Iwo Jima, and the great literature he would have written…)

Really, how is he not a Mary Sue? (He certainly fails a Mary Sue test)

And yet, Conan survived the oh-so-ironic later 20th century. One whiff of Thrud should consigned him to the company of Captain Future and Doc Savage: The emperor barbarian has no clothes on! He even weathered Terry Pratchett’s slash and burn through the genre.

Was it just that Howard invented Sword and Sorcery?

No. Conan’s literary longevity is more than just about being first with sandals on the ground.

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The Great Savage Sword Re-Read: Vol 5

Saturday, May 27th, 2017 | Posted by John R. Fultz

-SSoC-Vol5This series explores the Savage Sword of Conan collections from Dark Horse reprinting Marvel Comics’ premiere black-and-white fantasy mag launched in the mid-70s. Previous installments: Vol 1 / Vol 2 / Vol 3 / Vol 4

Volume 5 collects issues #49 – 60 (1980 -’81), and it begins with the proverbial bang. Reigning art champs John Buscema and Tony DeZuniga return for a 4-issue adaptation of the L. Sprague DeCamp/Lin Carter novel CONAN THE LIBERATOR. These four issues are gorgeous–the Buscema/DeZuniga team is firing on all cylinders.

Story-wise this adaptation succeeds far better than the previous DeCamp/Carter adaptation, CONAN THE BUCCANEER (collected in Volume 4). Whereas BUCCANEER tended to meander and lack proper pacing, LIBERATOR moves at a brisk pace and gives us more classic Conan time.

LIBERATOR is basically a military fantasy with bit of sorcery thrown in to complicate the saga of Conan’s revolt against a mad tyrant. We have a beautiful spy, a scheming wizard, and a truly insane king who butchers his own subjects in a futile quest for immortality. Here is the story untold by Conan creator Robert E. Howard: The story of exactly how Conan became King of Aquilonia.

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