Conan: Black Starlight (Titan Books, October 17, 2023)
The name John C. Hocking is well known to long-time Black Gate readers. He published several terrific stories in the print version of the magazine, including two tales in his Brand the Viking series, and the opening stories in his popular Archivistseries, “A River Through Darkness and Light” and “Vestments of Pestilence,” which was continued in Skelos and Weirdbook. He’s also launched a brand new series, the King’s Blade tales, in Tales From the Magician’s Skull, edited by Howard Andrew Jones.
I was delighted to see that John had been commissioned to write a serialized novella for Marvel’s high-profile relaunch of Conan The Barbarian in 2019. Conan: Black Starlight was published in installments in the first twelve issues of the comic, and now the entire story has been collected by Titan in a single handsome volume.
It’s here! You probably know that back in 2019, many of the leading Robert E. Howard experts and fans contributed to a terrific series here at Black Gate on REH’s Conan stories. Prior to that, Black Gate’s own Howard Andrew Jones, along with Bill Ward, had over on his own blog, done a deep dive into each story as well.
Jason Waltz and his Rogue Blades Foundation combined those two series’ and added much more content. Now, Hither Came Conan is a print book that is THE definitive guide to REH’s sword-swinging Cimmerian (Hollywood added ‘the Barbarian’ tag – that’s not REH).
Howard wrote 20 Conan short stories, and one novel. Plus, there’s one unfinished tale (“Wolves Beyond the Border”). Each of the twenty-two stories has an essay from the Black Gate series, as well as Howard and Bill’s blog entry. Plus, there are thirteen new essays related to various stories. Finally there, are eleven additional essays not tied to a specific story.
Official continuators of a literary series can engender mixed emotions. Some folks are happy to see more stories of a character they like – even if the creator has died. Others feel that only the original author should write that character and they should lie in the grave together.
Characters eventually enter the public domain. Though exactly when varies in different countries; and it’s not always clear, regardless. But the rights holders (often the family of the author, or their Estate) contract with someone to continue the series. I have read several official continuations (though I still haven’t gotten around to Ben Black’s Philip Marlowe. And as I recall, Poodle Springs didn’t do anything at all for me). I’m gonna talk about a few, with comments on the concept, mixed in.
Tony Hillerman/Anne Hillerman
Anne Hillerman had previously written some non-fiction when she took over her late father’s Navajo Tribal Police series. The ONLY reason she is writing these books is because she owns the rights. Quite simply, her continuation novels are terrible. And are a bastardization of her father’s books. I wish someone could prevent her from any more of them.
Anne completely transformed her father’s series. She was not interested in writing more books in his style. Expanding from ‘Leaphorn and Chee.’ they are now officially ‘Leaphorn, Chee, and Manuelito Novels.’ She has completely shifted the emphasis to Bernie Manuelito. Chee is an emasculated husband who would be better off completely out of the books. They’re now like Lifetime movies about Bernie and her issues with her mom and sister, and unhappiness with Chee’s attitude at least once a book. It’s exhausting read them.
Louisa Bourbonette is now so annoying, I wish that Leaphorn (who was actually lobotomized by a gunshot wound in the first two books) would dump her.
Stargazer (the sixth book) is the worst continuation novel I’ve ever read. Well, I actually, partly read. The first five books were bad, and that one was so terrible, I abandoned it part-way through.
Robert E. Howard Changed My Life (Rogue Blades Foundation, June 9, 2021). Cover by Didier Normand
Many of us “older folk” (I’m using that term very broadly) can attest to some experience in their early years — usually somewhere around 13-years old — where some individual, some book or books, some movie, some band or something similar made a huge impact upon our lives, an impact with a positive and profound, lasting influence.
For me, it was probably getting my first basic box set of Dungeons & Dragons (with the Erol Otus cover) for Christmas in 1981. I was only 12 at the time. Thereafter I immediately began to beg for, or scrap together any money I could to buy, any D&D books that I could get my hands on. And probably the most influential D&D book I got shortly thereabout was the hardback Deities & Demigods (again with an Erol Otus cover). This book had chapters on a host of traditional mythologies, each with its own heroes, gods and monsters — provided with D&D stats of course! But Deities & Demigods also contained other “mythologies” that were rooted in the books of authors like Michael Moorcock, H. P. Lovecraft and Fritz Leiber. This opened up a whole literary world for me that, I can fairly say, changed my life in integral ways.
Perhaps you’re old enough to relate to something similar happening to you. Evidently many can claim that the books of Texas writer Robert E. Howard (1906–1936) had such an impact. Rogue Blades Entertainment’s new book Robert E. Howard Changed My Life: Personal Essays about an Extraordinary Legacy gives a whole litany of testimonies to such. How did this interesting book come about?
Conan, King Kull, Cormac, Bran Mak Morn — names that conjure magic, characters often imitated, but never duplicated. These creations of Robert E. Howard (circa 1930) started the Sword and Sorcery boom of the 1960s and early 1970s. Then there are the barbarian warriors inspired by Howard — “Clonans,” as one writer recently referred to these sword-slinging, muscle-bound characters. A fair observation, but in some cases, not so true.
I prefer to think of these “Clonan” tales of wandering barbarian heroes as “Barbarian Solo” adventures because the majority of these characters are lone wolves, without sidekicks or even recurring companions. This is a big part of their appeal, in fact, and in their own way, they are reminiscent of many cinematic westerns. I’ve read many, if not most, of the early Conan pastiches, including the novels based on Howard’s other creations. Karl Edward Wagner’s, Poul Anderson’s, and Andy Offutt’s portrayals of the Cimmerian come within a sword’s stroke of Howard’s original vision. L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter, in commodifying the character, arranged the long, informal saga of Conan in chronological order and, by extenuating these adventures with dozens more, made of Howard’s creation a long-form series similar to the episodic success of a television show on a prolonged run of diminishing returns. For some readers, however, the advantage of this development is that it provided a sort of character arc as Conan grows from a youth to an older man.
Today we corner John C. Hocking whose Conan pastiche we reviewed a few months ago.
John C. Hocking is an American fantasy writer who is the author of two well-acclaimed Conan novels and has also won the 2009 Harper’s Pen Award for Sword and Sorcery fiction for his story, “The Face In The Sea”. He lives in Michigan with his wife, son, and an alarming quantity of books. He is a nigh-obsessed reader and writer of lurid pulp fiction, the author of Conan and the Emerald Lotus, the “Black Starlight” Conan serial, and their time-lost companion, Conan and the Living Plague, and an obedient thrall of Tales From the Magician’s Skull.
For clarity, we’ll actually corner him twice. Firstly, here on Black Gate, we’ll cover his weird, pulpy muses & Conan pastiche; secondly, in a companion interview, we’ll cover his King’s Blade and Archivist series on the Tale from the Magician’s Skull Blog.
We all have our end-of-year rituals, those small ceremonies that prepare us to ring out the old year and ring in the new. For me, one of the most important is watching the current TCM Remembers, the annual short film with which Turner Classic Movies bids farewell to the film people that we’ve lost throughout the year. It’s always beautifully done, and it always makes me tear up, usually no more the thirty seconds in.
Some of its subjects — the more famous ones — come as no surprise, as I heard about their deaths when they occurred during the year. There will always be many people, though, that I only find out about when I watch the video, late in December. This year one of the people that I didn’t know was gone was William Smith, who died July 5th at the age of eighty-eight.
William Smith? Who was William Smith? Oh, you know him — I guarantee it. To say that he was a prolific actor is to greatly understate the case. He has two hundred and seventy-five movie and television credits listed on IMDB, the first a miniscule part in 1942’s The Ghost of Frankenstein when he was nine years old and the last in 2020, in the Steve Carell comedy Irresistible.
One Black Gate series which I have started, but is still for somewhere down the line, is a look at the first dozen-or-so issues of Roy Thomas’ Conan the Barbarian comic. And even before running that series, I’ll write one for the second dozen-ish, so I can tie together the various overlaps. This was prompted by a combination of the over-sized Marvel hardback Omnibuses, and Roy Thomas’ TERRIFIC (now) three-volume memoir about the series from Pulp Hero Press.
I never read the series, growing up. I bought some of the Dark Horse collections, which I liked. And when Marvel reacquired the rights and put out that first door-stopper compendium, I bought it. And I liked it enough to get the next three. I was buying them in conjunction with Roy Thomas’ Barbarian Life. The first Thomas volume covered the genesis of the comic, and the first fifty-one issues – which happened to be the same ones included in the first Omnibus.
Thomas helmed the series for 115 issues – which is how many are covered by the first four Omnibuses (both series’ talk about other issues as well). So, Thomas’ three books complement the Omnibuses perfectly. I read a story, and then I read Thomas’ insights. Along with the relevant commentary in the Omnibus itself. It’s a real Conan treat!
Thomas would write do other color Conans for Marvel. And he would also contribute to Dark Horse while they had the rights. But it’s that first run, when he was Stan Lee’s right hand, and he made Conan a best-selling property for Marvel, which fans revere.
Conan and the Emerald Lotus by John C. Hocking emerged from Tor in 1995 (Ciruelo Cabral cover artist), and was reprinted in 1999 (with a Ken Kelly cover); both paperbacks are insanely expensive now (i.e. $500+ on Amazon, 2021 price). In 2019 Hocking released a 12-part serialized novella “Black Starlight” published in the back of the recent Conan the Barbarian comic (the comic portion was written by Jason Aaron), a direct sequel to “Emerald Lotus” that tracks Conan’s adventures as he returns from Stygia.
An indirect sequel novel by Hocking called Conan and the Living Plague was pulled from publication in 2019 at the last minute. Its future is unknown (by certain graces, the author did provide me with a copy of the manuscript, and we plan to discuss it in an interview planned for 2022).
This post covers Hocking’s Conan pastiche as it evolves from Emerald Lotus in “Black Starlight,” with hints of more. …
This installment of the Weird Tales Deep Read continues our examination of 1936 with the February issue, which would have ranked among the best ever if not for a terrible cover story that dragged the rating down to a still very respectable 2.1, making it the year’s second best issue. We see some very familiar authors, including C. L. Moore, Paul Ernst, Robert E. Howard (who managed to appear in ten of the eleven ‘36 issues, largely because of two serials), and H.P. Lovecraft (with a reprint).
The best of issue once again comes down to Howard and Moore, and Howard again gets the nod by a hair. Of the 11 stories eight (73%) are set in the United States, and one each (9%) on Mars and an unnamed Jovian moon, China and other Asian territories, and in a fictitious realm. Eight (73%) are set in contemporary times, two in the past (18%) and one (9%) in the future.