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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The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: Nero Wolfe – Stamped for Murder

Monday, February 13th, 2017 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Nero Wolfe TrainThe New Adventures of Nero Wolfe radio show aired in 1950 and 1951, starring Sidney Greenstreet. I mentioned it in a prior post. I’ve taken one of the episodes, Stamped for Murder, and turned it into an 11,000 word story. I kept most of the dialogue and the original scenes, since I wanted to adapt the show. I’ve tried to make it more Stout-like, as I don’t think that the series was very true to the original stories. So, some liberties here and there. But hopefully you’ll enjoy a “new” Wolfe pastiche!

CHAPTER ONE

Nero Wolfe had just settled his seventh of a ton into the only chair that really fit him. Made of Brazilian Mauro wood, it was in this room, the office: as opposed to the dining room, kitchen or the front room because he spent about nine hours a day here. You read that right: nine hours. More on that later.

Down from his two hours in the plant rooms on the roof, he had greeted me with the standard “Good morning” and placed a spray of Miltonia Charlesworthi in the vase on his desk. After going through the usual ritual, which includes drinking beer, brought by our chef, housekeeper and doorman, Fritz, going through the morning mail and checking his pen (which I’ve already done), he looked up at me.

“Your notebook please, Archie.”

It was there on my desk, ready for use. I took a pen from the middle drawer and swiveled my chair, not made of Mauro wood but under much less pressure, to face him.

“Inform Mister Salzenzbach that the recent Long Island pea fowl he provided was most unsatisfactory. Pea fowl’s breast flesh is not sweet and tender unless it is well protected from all alarms. Especially from the air, to prevent nervousness. Long island is full of airplanes.”

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The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: Not Impressed With “The Mazarin Stone”

Monday, January 30th, 2017 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Mazarin_StickCurrent writers of Sherlock Holmes stories (such stories are known as ‘pastiches’) are held to the standard of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s originals. And rightfully so. But that’s not to say that all sixty of Doyle’s tales featuring his famous detective are of the same quality. Followers of the great detective debate the merits of various stories. I myself am less than thrilled with “The Dying Detective,” since Holmes doesn’t do much of anything in it. He’s less mobile than Nero Wolfe in that one.

But I can’t think of too many fellow Sherlockians (and I don’t mean followers of the BBC television show) who are enamored with “The Mazarin Stone.” I definitely am not and consider it one of the weakest in the entire Canon. Of course, if you haven’t read it, you probably should do so before continuing. You’re back? Good.

The Play’s the Thing

Jack Tracy’s The Published Apocrypha contains the full text of the play The Crown Diamond, as well as an informative essay. “The Adventure of the Mazarin Stone” and The Crown Diamond are pretty much the same story and share much dialogue, differing only in a few minor details.

One of those details worth noting is that Colonel Sebastian Moran is the villain in play, whereas it is Count Negreto Sylvius in the story. Using Moran makes sense, since playgoers likely would know the character, based on his feature role in “The Empty House.” Both men like air guns and are big game hunters, so the real difference is negligible.

Dennis Neilson Terry starred as Holmes in the stage production of The Crown Diamond.  It’s nowhere near as good as Doyle’s play, The Speckled Band, which I wrote about in this post.

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The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes – A New Solar Pons Omnibus

Monday, January 23rd, 2017 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Copper_OmnibusIf you want to read my thoughts on the season four (and hopefully series) finale of BBC’s Sherlock, click on over and read it at my blog. Because today The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes is going to talk about Solar Pons.

August Derleth, the creator of Solar Pons, passed away in 1971. Derleth’s final collection, The Chronicles of Solar Pons, a mix of previously released stories and ones never published, came out in 1973. Surprisingly, Pons would be back within a decade! In 1979, Basil Copper would release three collections of tales: The Dossier of Solar Pons, The Further Adventures of Solar Pons and The Secret Files of Solar Pons. There would be three more collections, as well as a novella. Copper had written horror books for Derleth’s Arkham House imprint and he seemed like a good choice for continuing the stories.

Unfortunately, Copper’s Pons connection did not have a happy ending. He helped Arkham House editor Don Turner compile an omnibus edition of all of Derleth’s released Pons stories. However, Copper chose to do some ‘corrective editing’ of the originals, which caused a furor among the Pontine faithful. You can read Jon Lellenberg’s essay on this topic in The Solar Pons Gazette (page 45). Peter Ruber also wrote an excellent account, but I don’t have permission to reprint that.

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The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: George Mann’s Holmes

Monday, January 2nd, 2017 | Posted by Bob Byrne

holmes_associatesLast week I wrote about two Titan Books novels from James Lovegrove. I mentioned that there are two distinct lines of Holmes pastiches from Titan (actually, there are other books that don’t fall in either category, such as Kareem Abdul Jabaar’s Mycroft Holmes novel). The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes started as reprints and added new books into the mix and are generally more traditional stories.

The other features more elements of horror, steampunk and/or the supernatural and George Mann’s two novels are part of this line. He has also edited three anthologies for Titan, including a neat little book called The Associates of Sherlock Holmes.

Associates includes thirteen stories; all focusing on a character found in one of Doyle’s sixty original Holmes tales. It’s a neat idea and there are some interesting and creative stories in the mix. The aforementioned Lovegrove’s “Pure Swank” tells us the real story about Barker, Holmes’ ‘hated rival upon the Surrey shore,’ going back to when he was an Irregular.

Hugo Award winner Tim Pratt’s “Heavy Game of the Pacific Northwest” takes Colonel Sebastian Moran to the state of Washington in 1892 to hunt what seems to be Big Foot. It’s a good hunting story that paints quite a portrait of the amoral Moran.

Ian Edington’s “The Case of the Previous Tenant” brings the best of the official force, Surry’s Inspector Baynes, to London. A Viking sword and some borrowing from “The Devil’s Foot” make for a fun read.

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The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: Cthulhu Casebooks & Nightmares

Monday, December 26th, 2016 | Posted by Bob Byrne

lovegrove_shadwellIn the early 1900’s, Maurice Leblanc had his French detective, Arsene Lupin, face off with Herlock Sholmes. I think you know who he’s battling – spelling disregarded. 1965’s A Study in Terror sent Holmes after Jack the Ripper on movie screens and in 1988, and Sax Rohmer biographer Clay Van Ash brought Holmes and Fu Manchu together in Ten Years Beyond Baker Street. Crossovers have become more and more popular over the years. James Lovegrove currently has Holmes interacting with the Cthulhu mythos.

I don’t do a lot of book reviews here at The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes because I generally don’t like to reveal spoilers. And it can be tough to talk about the strong points of a book without giving away key elements. But sometimes, especially with older books, that’s part of the price of the post. So, I’ll try to limit revelations in this one, but be warned: There be spoilers here!

Lovegrove, who has written several non-Holmes books, is part of Titan’s stable of new Holmes authors. Sherlock Holmes and the Shadwell Shadows is the first of a trilogy, with Sherlock Holmes & The Miskatonic Monstrosities due out in Fall of 2017 and Sherlock Holmes and the Sussex Sea Devils to wrap things up in November of 2018.

The basic premise of the book (yea, the trilogy) is that Watson made up the sixty stories in the Canon. He did so to cover up the real truth behind Holmes’ work. And that’s because the truth is too horrible to reveal. In a nutshell, Watson has written three journals, each covering events fifteen years apart, to try and get some of the darkness out of his soul.

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The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: Holmes for Halloween

Monday, October 31st, 2016 | Posted by Bob Byrne

halloween_arcanumI don’t really do horror. Now, I am a huge Robert R. McCammon fan and of F. Paul Wilson’s Repairman Jack. Of course, I’ve read a fair amount of H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu stuff (man, that creeps me out). And bits here and there from Robert E. Howard, Les Daniels, Anne Rice and a few others. But overall, I don’t really enjoy the genre, so it’s not an area I have a lot of experience with.

However, I have come across several examples of Holmes in the genre. And it being Halloween, let’s take a quick look at few titles that involve horror or the supernatural. Those two things aren’t always the same, you know.

The Unopened Casebook of Sherlock Holmes (John Taylor) There was a time when Holmes pastiches were relatively uncommon and, pre-Amazon, you grabbed what you could when you saw them on the shelves. I still remember being excited to buy books from Richard Boyer, L.B. Greenwood and Frank Thomas. Another was a short story collection by John Sherwood, a writer for the BBC. “The Wandering Corpse,” “The Battersea Worm,” “The Paddington Witch,” “The Phantom Organ,” “The Devil’s Tunnel” and “The Horror of Hanging Wood” are all supernatural-tinged stories. The last one remains a favorite of mine and something I wish I’d thought up.  Taylor wrote four more Holmes adventures, which were read aloud by Benedict Cumberbatch. I’ve not heard them, but every couple of years, around this time, I read a few stories from his book.

Gaslight Anthologies (edited by J.R. Campbell & Charles Prepolec) In 2008, Canadians Campbell and Prepolec put out Gaslight Grimoire, a collection of eleven creepy Holmes tales. It was followed by thirteen more in Gaslight Grotesque, and finished up with another dozen in Gaslight Arcanum. That’s 36 stories of horror and weirdness. You can certainly tell what you’re getting from the covers of the last two books. If you’re a Holmes fan and really like the horror genre, these three anthologies are just what you’re looking for.

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The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: Holmes & Watson (more from Otto Penzler’s SH Library)

Monday, September 26th, 2016 | Posted by Bob Byrne

roberts_holmeswatson(Third in a series of posts about the nine-volume Otto Penzler’s Sherlock Holmes Library)

So, I’ve done a post on Vincent Starrett’s two books in Otto Penzler’s Sherlock Holmes Library. And a second post looked at the two books from James Edward Holroyd. So, that covers four of the nine tiles in this series. As I wrote in the Starrett post:

“Bear in mind, every bit of anything you ever wanted to know wasn’t available on the internet back when Penzler republished these books. Heck, the Baker Street Journal wasn’t even available as a collection on CD yet. This collection of Sherlockiana was uncommon for the time.”

Sir Sidney Castle Roberts’ Holmes & Watson first saw the light of day in1953. He had already been Secretary of Cambridge University Press, Vice Chancellor of the University of Cambridge by that time and was at the time Master of Pembroke College, Cambridge, Chairman of the British Film Industry (BFI) and President of The Sherlock Holmes Society of London. Add in the many books he had authored and it is a pretty impressive resume.

Roberts opens the book with a long chapter featuring several Holmesian themes: his creation, his life, his temperament, his attitude to women, his music and his kinship with Doctor Johnson. There are far more through pieces of Sherlockiana out there on these topics, as well as full-blown biographies and memoirs of Sherlock Holmes. But this slender volume offers an enjoyable look at each of the topics.

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Phileas Fogg Finds Immortality

Sunday, September 25th, 2016 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard

51dx9hyli-lchapbook-cover-jpegWhen Jules Verne created gentleman adventurer Phileas Fogg in his 1873 novel, Around the World in Eighty Days, he had no way of imagining the bizarre turn his character’s chronicles would take a century later. When Philip Jose Farmer added The Other Log of Phileas Fogg to his Wold Newton Family series in 1973, he had no way of imagining that four decades later there would exist a Wold Newton specialty publisher to continue the esoteric literary exploits of some of the last two centuries’ most fantastic characters.

Farmer’s concept, in a nutshell, is that Verne’s globetrotting adventure is part of a far larger extraterrestrial conflict between two powerful alien races, the Eridani and the Capellas. Phileas Fogg was raised by the Eridani it turns out and, in the course of Farmer’s work, we learn that Verne’s Captain Nemo (the anti-hero of his 1870 classic, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea and its 1874 sequel, The Mysterious Island) is not only a Capellan agent, but is also the same man known as Professor Moriarty in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes mysteries.

Josh Reynolds was the first author to follow in Farmer’s footsteps in a substantial fashion when he authored two direct sequels to The Other Log of Phileas Fogg for Meteor House: 2014’s Phileas Fogg and the War of Shadows and 2016’s Phileas Fogg and the Heart of Osra. Both books are set in 1889 and see Phileas Fogg coming out of retirement as the extraterrestrial conflict between the Eridani and the Capellas reaches Earth once more. The second of these titles involves Ruritania, the fictitious country from Anthony Hope’s Ruritanian Romances trilogy that began with the famous 1894 novel, The Prisoner of Zenda.

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