Howard Andrew Jones and Bill Ward Re-Read The Coming of Conan

Sunday, August 2nd, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian-smallBill Ward and Howard Andrew Jones have wrapped up their detailed and highly entertaining look at Fritz Leiber’s famous Lankhmar stories over at Howard Andrew Jones’ website. But without pausing for breath, they’ve leaped into a re-read of Robert E. Howard’s classic tales of Conan, starting with the Del Rey edition of The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian, and Howard’s essay on the world Conan adventured in, “The Hyborian Age.” Here’s Bill:

“The Hyborian Age” isn’t the place to start if you are new to Conan, in fact I’d say it’s really only interesting if you are already familiar with Conan’s world, as well as the enthusiasms of Conan’s creator. REH himself didn’t start with “The Hyborian Age,” either, he started with the character of Conan, only settling down to iron out his “world bible” once he had three Conan stories under his belt and realized he wanted to write many more… It’s the history of a lost age before the rise of the civilizations we are familiar with, but it’s also a way of getting around history. REH wrote fast and he wrote for publication and, though he loved history and writing historical fiction, he felt it took too much time to get the research just right. Enter the secondary world of his own slice of pre-history, a way of not only having a world he didn’t have to exhaustively research, but also a vehicle for bringing together the character and flavor of many different cultures and eras that would allow Conan to adventure in the equivalent of everything from the Ancient Near East to Medieval France. That may not be completely clear just from reading “The Hyborian Age,” but it is clear from the stories themselves, as well as by glancing at the two maps REH used when planning his world — his Hyborian Kingdoms superimposed over a map of Europe, North Africa, and the Near East is probably even more eloquent than his essay…

Join the discussion here.

Discovering Robert E. Howard: Wally Conger on “Rogues in the House”

Friday, July 24th, 2015 | Posted by Bob Byrne

BG_RoguesComicOne of the cool things about being an active member in the Sherlock Holmes community is that I run across a broad spectrum of people with other common interests outside of the world’s first private consulting detective. Wally Conger and I have had back and forth conversations on versions of The Hound of the Baskervilles and other topics.

We may not agree on season three of Sherlock, but we do both enjoy reading Conan. So, I asked him to review “Rogues in the House,” which I knew he had just read. He was kind enough to do just that…

By the time Robert E. Howard launched into writing “Rogues in the House” in January 1933, he already had 10 Conan tales under his belt. He was very comfortable with the character.

In fact, upon publication of the story in the January 1934 issue of Weird Tales, Howard wrote to fellow writer Clark Ashton Smith:

Glad you liked ‘Rogues in the House.’ That was one of those yarns which seemed to write itself. I didn’t rewrite it even once. As I remember I only erased and changed one word in it, and then sent it in just as it was written. I had a splitting sick headache, too, when I wrote the first half, but that didn’t seem to affect my work any.

I wish to thunder I could write with equal ease all the time. Ordinarily I revise even my Conan yarns once or twice, and the other stuff I hammer out by main strength.

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Vintage Treasures: Midnight Pleasures by Robert Bloch

Thursday, July 23rd, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Midnight Pleasures Robert Bloch-smallRobert Bloch isn’t a name that gets tossed around much these days. Even before his death in 1994, he was primarily known as the author of Psycho, and this one fact overshadowed most of his other accomplishments.

But Bloch was also the author of hundreds of short stories, and over 30 novels, virtually all of which are out of print today. He was one of the most gifted and prolific short story writers in the horror field, and his best short stories are compact treasures. He won a Hugo Award for his 1958 story “That Hell-Bound Train,” and multiple Bram Stoker awards (for the 1993 collection The Early Fears, the novelette “The Scent of Vinegar,” and his 1993 memoir Once Around the Bloch.)

He received a World Fantasy Award in 1975 for Lifetime Achievement, and a Lifetime Achievement Bram Stoker Award in 1990.

Bloch was also one of the youngest members of The Lovecraft Circle, those writers who corresponded with and often consciously emulated H.P. Lovecraft. Lovecraft was one of the first to encourage Bloch’s writing, and a lot of Bloch’s early work for the pulps was Cthulhu Mythos fiction (most of which was gathered in his 1981 collection Mysteries of the Worm.)

Midnight Pleasures is one of Bloch’s last fiction collections (two more appeared before his death: Fear and Trembling in 1989, and The Early Fears in 1994). It’s a fine sample of late horror fiction from one of the best short story writers the genre has seen.

It was nominated for a 1987 Bram Stoker Award for Fiction Collection (it lost out to The Essential Ellison). It contains chiefly later short work, dating from 1977-1985, published in anthologies like New Terrors 2, Shadows, Masques, Analog Yearbook, Dark Forces, Chrysalis 3, and others.

It also includes one pulp story (from the August 1939 issue of Weird Tales), and two stories that appear here for the first time: “Comeback” and “Die–Nasty.”

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The Omnibus Volumes of Murray Leinster

Wednesday, July 15th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Med Ship-small Planets of Adventure-small A Logic Named Joe-small

Last week, in my article on The Omnibus Volumes of James H. Schmitz, I noted how Eric Flint edited seven omnibus volumes collecting the science fiction of James H. Schmitz, starting in 2000. Those books were successful enough that Eric expanded his project to include other great SF and fantasy writers of the mid-20th Century.

And boy, did he expand it. By the time he was done, Baen had published volumes dedicated to A. E. Van Vogt, Michael Shea, Howard L. Myers, Keith Laumer, Randall Garrett, Christopher Anvil, Cordwainer Smith, Lois McMaster Bujold, A. Bertam Chandler, P.C. Hogdell, Andre Norton, and many others. Today I want to look at the three volumes dedicated to Murray Leinster, “The Dean of Science Fiction,” whose work I think still has enormous appeal even today.

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Discovering Robert E. Howard: Frank Schildiner on Solomon Kane

Sunday, July 12th, 2015 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Kane_MoonMartial arts expert Frank Shildiner has forgotten more about Adventure Pulp than I’ve ever known. His writings have included new tales starring  pulp characters Richard Knight and Thunder Jim Wade (if you’re a Doc Savage fan, you should check big Jim out).

Solomon Kane is probably Robert E. Howard’s second best-known character after a certain well-muscled barbarian, and one which influenced Frank very early on. So, I turned to Frank for a look at the puritan sword slinger, as Black Gate continues its summer look at Robert E. Howard.

Solomon Kane. I can still remember when I first read the name. I was 11 and looking through books and comics at a flea market, my mother one row over looking through the Robin Cook section. I pulled a slim paperback from the pile, the cover showing a cold eyed Puritan staring at me with open condemnation (at least that’s how I interpreted the visual). But then I read the name… SOLOMON KANE. And there wasn’t a prayer on Earth of getting me to let go of this book that day.

And that first short story, “Red Shadows,” changed me forever. I became a fan for all things Robert E. Howard, but especially Solomon Kane. Caught by the enemy he’d chased from Europe into Africa, Kane looked up at this man he’d hounded relentlessly for years, and the following thought summed up why this hero became my favorite.

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Galaxy Science Fiction, October 1952: A Retro-Review

Sunday, July 5th, 2015 | Posted by Matthew Wuertz

Galaxy Science Fiction October 1952 back-small Galaxy Science Fiction October 1952 cover-small

Galaxy celebrated its second birthday (and start of its third year) with a cover depicting some of its staff and contributors (illustrated by E. A. Emshwiller). The artwork wrapped around the back (interrupted by the spine) and included a “key” on the inside cover to identify each person, including the robot and alien.

October 1952 Cover Key

Editor H. L. Gold is on the left on the front cover, halfway down the picture, shown in a blue suit and holding a cup. (Click on the images above for bigger versions.)

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Discovering Robert E Howard: Paul Bishop on The Fists of R.E.H.

Saturday, June 27th, 2015 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Fists of Iron Robert E Howard-smallNaturally, the works of Robert E. Howard are popular post fodder here at Black Gate. While Conan is far and away his best known character, REH created many other memorable heroes, including Solomon Kane, El Borak and Kull. Earlier this year, I wrote about Howard’s largely forgotten private eye, Steve Harrison.

At the time, I thought that a post on Howard’s boxing stories would be good reading. Also realizing I was completely unqualified to write it, I contacted the current czar of boxing fiction, Paul Bishop of Fight Card Books.

Fight Card is a pulp style series of boxing tales. They’ve included two Holmes boxing novellas in the series, so you know I’m on board! See what Paul has to say about Howard’s boxing works.

The minute I stepped ashore from the Sea Girl, merchantman, I had a hunch that there would be trouble. This hunch was caused by seeing some of the crew of the Dauntless. The men on the Dauntless have disliked the Sea Girl’s crew ever since our skipper took their captain to a cleaning on the wharfs of Zanzibar – them being narrow-minded that way. They claimed that the old man had a knuckle-duster on his right, which is ridiculous and a dirty lie. He had it on his left.
~ Robert E. Howard, “The Pit of the Serpent

Although best known as the creator of Conan the Barbarian, Solomon Kane, and other sword and sorcery characters, Robert E. Howard had a lifelong interest in boxing, attending fights and avidly following the careers of his favorite fighters. Even though as a child he was bookish and intellectual, in his teen years he took up bodybuilding and eventually entered the ring as an amateur boxer.

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Werewolves, Ancient Alien Evil, and Babylonian Witches: Tales of the Werewolf Clan by H. Warner Munn

Thursday, June 25th, 2015 | Posted by christopher paul carey

Weird Tales July 1925 The Werewolf of Ponkert Munn-small Weird Tale July 1927 The Return of the Master Munn-small Weird Tales October 1928 The Werewolfs Daughter-small

In the March 1924 issue of Weird Tales, a letter by H. P. Lovecraft appeared proclaiming that:

Popular authors do not and apparently cannot appreciate the fact that true art is obtainable only by rejecting normality and conventionality in toto, and approaching a theme purged utterly of any usual or preconceived point of view… Take a werewolf story, for instance — who ever wrote a story from the point of view of the wolf, and sympathizing strongly with the devil to whom he has sold himself?

Enter young Harold Warner Munn, who took up the elder author’s challenge by submitting a story with the curious title of “The Werewolf of Ponkert” to editor Farnsworth Wright at Weird Tales.

The story appeared in the magazine’s July 1925 issue, the first of fifteen tales penned by Munn set in the same cycle, which have all recently been collected by Altus Press and published in a handsome omnibus edition titled Tales of the Werewolf Clan.

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Unknown, September 1939: A Retro-Review

Thursday, June 4th, 2015 | Posted by Matthew Wuertz

Unknown September 1939 None But Lucifer-smallMy last post was a review of Galaxy’s September 1952 issue. So I’m jumping back more than a decade to an issue of another magazine I’ve wanted to get into for a few years.

At last year’s World Fantasy Convention, while John O’Neill was trying to set a world record for the number of books carried in a single stack (seriously, if you had seen it, you would have been impressed), I came across a dealer selling old issues of Unknown. Actually, I told my wife I was trying to find some, and she actually found a bin of them. While not impossible to come by, collecting issues of Unknown is somewhat more cost prohibitive than collecting issues of Galaxy.

Unknown (later retitled Unknown Worlds) was a speculative fiction magazine that ran from 1939 to 1942. It was published by Street & Smith, who also published Astounding. It was edited by John W. Campbell, Jr., who also edited Astounding. The early issues have art on the cover, like the September 1952 issue. These are also the more expensive ones. But if you don’t care too much about quality because you’re just going to rip it while reading it, you can find some inexpensive copies. Mine was $15.

What I find perhaps most interesting about this particular issue is that it contains a novel written by H. L. Gold and L. Sprague de Camp. Not only that, but I think (prove me wrong or right, Rich Horton) that this may have been the first time Gold used this particular pseudonym. He’d had stories published as Horace L. Gold but not the familiar H. L. Gold that he continued to use as his soubriquet at Galaxy. Am I the only one geeking out about this? Please tell me I’m cool in a Galaxy/Unknown/pulp sort of way.

None But Lucifer by H. L. Gold and L. Sprague de Camp — William Hale has realized the truth about Earth. It isn’t Earth, at least not in the sense people think of it. Everyone on Earth is actually living in Hell.

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The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: TCM’s Summer of Darkness

Monday, May 25th, 2015 | Posted by Bob Byrne

TCM_LogoHard boiled and noir are often discussed together. And while a film or story could fit in both categories, they are two distinct genres. Hard boiled is typified by the stories of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, and others from Black Mask and Dime Detective magazines.

Noir is usually (but not always) thought of in terms of film: black and white, shadowy movies with dark characters. Much hard boiled is noir, and vice versa. Far more expert folks have discussed the definitions of the two terms for decades.

One example, to me, are the works of Cornell Woolrich, whose “It Had to Be Murder” became the masterful suspense flick, Rear Window. Woolrich’s stories are noir, but not hard boiled.

Many of Humphrey Bogart’s films were hard boiled, including The Maltese Falcon (also noir), The Roaring Twenties and Bullets or Ballots. One of his later films, In a Lonely Place (based on the novel by Dorothy Hughes) is a noir classic but isn’t hard boiled.

So, just know that many films (usually crime related) from the thirties through the fifties and into the sixties, were hard boiled, noir, or both.

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