Vintage Treasures: Solomon Kane 1: Skulls in the Stars by Robert E. Howard

Saturday, February 10th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Solomon Kane 1 Skulls in the Stars-back-small Solomon Kane 1 Skulls in the Stars-small

I’m treading a little on Bob Byrne’s territory with this lengthy post, so I hope he’ll forgive me.

The first Robert E. Howard character I discovered wasn’t Conan, but Solomon Kane. The story was “Skulls in the Stars,” originally published in the January 1929 issue of Weird Tales, and which I read in the 1969 Centaur Press collection The Moon of Skulls. Kane is about to cross a great moor when a lad from the village he’s just left races up behind him, urging him to take the longer swamp road instead. When pressed, the boy tells him why.

“It is death to walk those moors by night, as hath been found by some score of unfortunates. Some foul horror haunts the way and claims men for his victims.”

“So? And what is this thing like?”

“No man knows. None has ever seen it and lived, but late-farers have heard terrible laughter far out on the fen and men have heard the horrid shrieks of its victims.”

Well of course, that just serves to fire up our doughty hero (“A strong man is needed to combat Satan and his might. Therefore I go.”) And go he doth, right out onto the moor with the creepy horror and everything.

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Literary Wonder & Adventure Podcast Presents: Robert E. Howard, Master of Sword & Sorcery: A Conversation with Author Howard Andrew Jones

Wednesday, April 19th, 2017 | Posted by John ONeill

Literary Wonder & Adventure Show Howard Andrew Jones

I have thoroughly enjoyed the last two audio shows from Robert Zoltan’s Dream Tower Media, a lively conversation with Black Gate blogger Ryan Harvey on Edgar Rice Burroughs, and a fascinating discussion with Scott Oden on the history and writing of J.R.R. Tolkien. So I was very excited to see that for Episode #4 the subject was the distinguished Howard Andrew Jones, author of the beloved Dabir & Asim Arabian fantasy tales, and the future bestseller For the Killing of Kings, out next year from St. Martin’s Press. The topic this time was none other than Robert E. Howard, the legendary creator of Conan, and perhaps the greatest Sword & Sorcery author of all time.

As usual, calling this a podcast doesn’t do it justice, as it’s really a professionally-produced radio show set in the dimension-hopping Dream Tower (with a talking raven). I’ve had plenty of lengthy discussions with Howard — who is the Managing Editor of Black Gate — over the years, and here he’s at the peak of his form, entertaining and highly informative. The podcast opens with a animated discussion of life in small town Texas, Robert E. Howard’s substantial gifts as a storyteller, and why he added whipping scenes to so many pulp tales. It looks at REH’s enduring creations — including Conan, Solomon Kane, and Dark Agnes — before exploring our fascination with ruins, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, and the influence of gaming on modern fantasy.

My only criticism is the host’s tendency to wander off topic, and repeatedly cut off his guests to talk about himself. Robert Zoltan is a fascinating guy, and I enjoy his opinions, but that doesn’t mean that a 1-hour podcast on Robert E. Howard is the right place for a 3 minute monologue on Van Gogh, or a 7-minute monologue on narcissism and how hard it is to make a living as a musician. Future podcasts should focus more on his guests, or maybe just do away with the pretense of an interview entirely. That might set better expectations with listeners.

Check out Literary Wonder & Adventure Podcast Presents: Robert E. Howard, Master of Sword & Sorcery: A Conversation with Author Howard Andrew Jones, and all the episodes of the Literary Wonder & Adventure Podcast, here.

Modular: An Interview with Jeffrey Talanian, the Creator and Publisher of Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyperborea

Friday, November 11th, 2016 | Posted by Gabe Dybing

hyperborea2ecoverThis November 3-5 I had the pleasure of attending the fourth iteration of Gamehole Con in lovely Madison, Wisconsin. At the con I had the additional pleasure of sitting down at Jeffrey Talanian’s table to play an Amazonian Fighter in Jeff’s Lovecraftian adventure “The Rats in the Walls”. I’m not going to give away spoilers here, but the creepy escapade had more to it than rats in walls! And, despite Jeff’s best attempts to kill us, our party overcame its antagonists in an epic last battle of first-level proportions! If you can’t tell from my exclamation points, it was great fun!

Jeff’s “The Rats in the Walls” takes place in the City-State of Khromarium. This is an area in Hyperborea, which is the official campaign setting for Jeff’s own roleplaying game that is published by North Wind Adventures. The second edition of Jeff’s game currently is 365% funded on Kickstarter with nine days left to go! After our game, Jeff graciously agreed to an interview with me. Here it is:

What is AS&SH?

AS&SH stands for Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea, a role-playing game of swords, sorcery, and weird fantasy. It is a tabletop RPG inspired by the fiction of Robert E. Howard, H.P. Lovecraft, and Clark Ashton Smith. Its rules are inspired by the works of Dave Arneson and Gary Gygax. AS&SH was released in 2012 as a boxed set. In 2013, it was nominated for several ENnie awards (Best Game, Best Production Values, Product of the Year), and in 2017 it will be rereleased in Second Edition hardback format.

Why did you create a game specific to the flavor of these writers and these genres? Did this grow out of what they call a “homebrew” game? If so, please tell us about that game and exactly how it resulted in AS&SH?

Growing up, I greatly admired fantasy, science fiction, and horror. I started reading genre fiction at a very young age (most notably the Conan paperbacks, The Hobbit, and The Chronicles of Narnia). I also got into comic books and magazines; Savage Sword of Conan and The Mighty Thor were my favorites. I also devoured sword-and-sorcery themed cartoons and films. I never missed an episode of Thundarr the Barbarian, and films like Conan the Barbarian, The Beastmaster, Hawk the Slayer, and Krull really captured my imagination in those halcyon days. I loved Tolkien, and read Lord of the Rings in the sixth grade, but for me it was always the grittier, more personal tales that I’ve loved most: Conan, Kull, Solomon Kane, Elric, Hawkmoon, Corum, Tarzan, John Carter, Carson Napier, Doc Savage, Gray Mouser, etc.

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Discovering Robert E Howard: The New Conan RPG

Tuesday, March 15th, 2016 | Posted by Bob Byrne

ConanRPG_QuickstartThere’s a massively successful Conan Kickstarter wrapping up this week.

I’m a fan of Mongoose’s Conan RPG. It ran from 2004 through 2010, with over three dozen books between the 1st and 2nd Editions. It used the Open Game License. Well, dice rollers will once again be wreaking havoc throughout the Hyborian Age. Modiphius Games seems to have hit the jackpot with Robert E Howard’s Conan: Adventures in An Age Undreamed Of.

The base goal of $65,344 was to produce the Core Rulebook. As I type this, the KS is at $393,000. 13 stretch goals have been unlocked, adding 1 adventure book, 1 bestiary, 6 sourcebooks, 2 sets of geomorph tiles, 2 maps and double the art in the Core book. With the late surge successful Kickstarters inevitably get, I expect a few more items to be unlocked. There’s also a slew of add-ons (need a Conan backpack?) you can toss more money at, as well as stuff like a sourcebook tie-in to Monolith’s massively successful Conan board game.

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Discovering Robert E Howard: Fred Adams Jr. on Esau Cairn – A Man Outside His Epoch

Friday, March 4th, 2016 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Almuric_Cover1As you can see from the list of prior essays in this series down below, we’ve wandered all over the Robert E. Howard landscape. But we hadn’t touched on Howard’s science fiction. Dr. Fred Adams goes off-planet for us and examines one of Howard’s cult classics, Almuric. Blasting off…

In his novel Almuric, published in Weird Tales in 1939, Robert E. Howard presents a one-shot protagonist named Esau Cairn, a man in many ways typical of Howard’s barbarian warrior-heroes, but who departs from them in that he is more philosophical than most of Howard’s creations, and perhaps in many ways best speaks to Howard’s personality and philosophy.

Much of the discussion of Esau Cairn and of Almuric hinges on what I call the WWCD? Issue: ‘What Would Conan Do?’ in the modern world. That topic has been exhaustively covered by the discussion threads of the Robert E. Howard Society, and several interpretations have been postulated. To me, the importance of Esau Cairn as a character is that he gives voice to Howard’s own frustration at being a man of action trapped in a relatively genteel world.

Howard wrote, in “The Tower of the Elephant,” “Civilized men are more discourteous than savages because they know they can be impolite without having their skulls split, as a general thing.” Cairn bears out that rule when his barbarism rises to the surface and he kills a corrupt politician (perhaps rightfully so) with a single blow to the head.

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Discovering Robert E. Howard: “My Very Dear Beans, Cornbread and Onions” (Valentine’s Day—Robert E. Howard Style)

Tuesday, March 1st, 2016 | Posted by Barbara Barrett

One Who Walked Alone Novalyne Price Ellis-smallFor those of you who searched for the right way to describe your feelings for that certain special someone on February 14, Robert E. Howard might have been be a good source. After all, he was a wizard with words. And he did have a novel approach when it came to romance. As Bob Howard explains to Novalyne Price Ellis in her book One Who Walked Alone:

[M]en made a terrible mistake when they called their best girls their rose or violet or names like that, because a man ought to call his girl something that was near his heart. What, he asked, was nearer a man’s heart than his stomach? Therefore he considered it to be an indication of his deep felt love and esteem to call me his cherished little bunch of onion tops, and judging from past experience, both of us had a highest regard for onions. (106)

REH expanded this “indication of his deep felt love and esteem” in future letters to include:

“My very dear little Bunch of Radishes” or “My very dear Beans, Cornbread and Onions” or “My dear Sausage and Big, Brown Fluffy Biscuits as well as sliced red beets with butter over them.” (110)

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Discovering Robert E. Howard: Howard Andrew Jones and Bill Ward Wrap Up Their Epic Conan Re-Read

Monday, February 29th, 2016 | Posted by John ONeill

Conan and the Emerald Lotus-small Conan and the Emerald Lotus-back

Howard Andrew Jones and Bill Ward have completed their epic re-read of every complete story of Conan the Cimmerian written by Robert E. Howard. They’ve been blogging about the project at, and we’ve been following along with the viewers at home. In their wrap-up, Howard and Bill look over the vast catalog of Conan pastiches.

Howard: Such a fantastic character practically begs to have more adventures told about him, which is probably why the regrettable Conan pastiche industry popped up. Well, maybe not entirely regrettable, because I’ve read some I’ve really enjoyed…

Bill:  I’m actually looking forward at this point to checking out the many pastiches I’ve never read — I’ve got a stack of Ace Conans that I’d started reading before we came up with the plans for this epic reread… I’ve never read the deCamp and Carter pastiches, or the other stories by REH that de Camp Frankensteined into Conan tales. It’ll be a while before I jump into that series, though, as [I’ll] be rereading all the REH tales again as well. As for other pastiches, I’ve only read a few — Wagner’s Road of Kings was good, and, of course, Hocking’s [Conan and the] Emerald Lotus is terrific.

Read the complete exchange here.

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Discovering Robert E. Howard: Howard Andrew Jones and Bill Ward Re-Read “Red Nails”

Tuesday, February 16th, 2016 | Posted by John ONeill

Weird Tales July 1936 Red Nails-smallHoward Andrew Jones and Bill Ward wrap up their re-read of The Conquering Sword of Conan by Robert E. Howard with the novella “Red Nails,” the last Conan tale REH ever wrote. In a letter to Clark Ashton Smith, Howard said:

Sent a three-part serial to Wright yesterday: “Red Nails,” which I devoutly hope he’ll like. A Conan yarn, and the grimmest, bloodiest and most merciless story of the series so far. Too much raw meat, maybe, but I merely portrayed what I honestly believe would be the reactions of certain types of people in the situations on which the plot of the story hung…

“Red Nails” was originally serialized in the July, August/September, and October 1936 issues of Weird Tales. Here’s Bill and Howard:

Bill: Arguably, the final Conan stories seem to show a bit of a distancing between REH and his creation… I think anyone reading “Red Nails” who has some awareness of REH’s life will at some point stop to ponder the question of whether or not he ever intended to return to Hyboria, or if perhaps the Cimmerian himself had run out of stories to dictate at REH’s shoulder. Whatever the answer, “Red Nails” does serve as a fitting farewell to the character and world that have become so dear to so many, offering a story of adventure, intrigue, and exoticism…

Howard: [Valeria is] the closest we’ve come for a long time to seeing someone who is Conan’s equal partner… although she’s not, really. She IS the most formidable of the women who appear in Robert E. Howard’s Conan stories… But what a masterful opening, with Valeria finding the lay of the land, then mystery following upon mystery. The strange skeleton, the lost city, and the exotic environment are all incredibly compelling.

Read the complete exchange here.

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Discovering Robert E. Howard: Howard Andrew Jones and Bill Ward Re-Read “The Black Stranger”

Thursday, February 4th, 2016 | Posted by John ONeill

The Conquering Sword of Conan-smallHoward Andrew Jones and Bill Ward are wrapping up their re-read of The Conquering Sword of Conan by Robert E. Howard, the third and final omnibus volume collecting the complete tales of Conan, with what Howard calls “my most pleasant surprise so far during the re-read,” the story “The Black Stranger.” It was never published during Robert E. Howard’s lifetime, appearing for the first time in Karl Edward Wagner’s anthology Echoes of Valor in 1987. Here’s Bill:

Like “Beyond the Black River” which precedes it, “The Black Stranger” is a tale set in the Pictish wilderness of Hyboria that sees a vulnerable outpost of civilization overrun by the wild men of the wood. But this time around the threat of the Picts — still an Amerindian analog — serve as more of a backdrop to the infighting and machinations of pirate captains, an exiled nobleman, and a cagey Conan. Again REH draws on the American frontier for inspiration, but it isn’t the dominant theme of the piece, which also manages to end on a far more up tempo note despite the carnage. Wild battles, double-crossing, pirate treasure, and a mysterious demonic stranger are all skillfully woven together into a complex but nonetheless fast-paced adventure that stands solidly alongside the better Conan stories.

Read the complete exchange here.

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Discovering Robert E. Howard: Barbara Barrett – Painting With Words: The Poetry of REH

Friday, January 22nd, 2016 | Posted by Bob Byrne

REH_PoetryIndexBlack Gate‘s ‘Discovering Robert E. Howard’ series had ranged far and wide across the writings of REH. But we had not yet tackled his poetry. Consider it tackled! Barbara Barrett, who put together the extensively detailed The Wordbook: An Index Guide to the Poetry of Robert E. Howard, is the planet’s resident expert on the poetry of REH. And the author of Conan was quite a poet. Read on!

By the time I discovered Howard’s poetry, Solomon Kane, King Kull, Conan and El Borak were familiar characters. I didn’t think Howard’s writing could get any better than the poetic prose in those stories. At least, until I picked up a copy of Shadow Kingdoms: The Weird Works of Robert E. Howard and read these lines from his poem “The Ride of Falume.”

A league behind the western wind, a mile beyond the moon,

Where the dim seas roar on an unknown shore and the drifting stars lie strewn

I was transported to a place straight out of a Hubble star-strewn space photo where I sat on some unknown seashore, gazing at a moon larger than I had ever seen, and listening to the roaring waves crash against sand and rock. I could see it all clearly.

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