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John C. Hocking’s Conan Pastiches Emerald Lotus and “Black Starlight”

John C. Hocking’s Conan Pastiches Emerald Lotus and “Black Starlight”

Ken Kelly cover art for Conan and the Emerald Lotus

John C. Hocking’s Conan Pastiches

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.

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Robert E Howard: The Poet And The Ladies Of The Night

Robert E Howard: The Poet And The Ladies Of The Night


Literary Swordsmen and Sorcerers: The Makers of Heroic Fantasy
(Arkham House, 1976) and
Dark Valley Destiny (Bluejay Books, 1983) Covers by Tim Kirk and Kevin Eugene Johnson

Robert E. Howard and prostitutes is a complicated and fascinating subject. Not only is there a question of whether he visited the ladies of the night, there was also the issue of whether he was a virgin. In his REH biography, Dark Valley Destiny (1983) L. Sprague de Camp wrote,

Some of Robert Howard’s admirers have stated in public that Robert patronized houses of prostitution. While we understand their wish to promote a macho image for the creator of Conan, all the evidence points the other way… the weight of such evidence as we have makes it more than likely that he died without ever having enjoyed the pleasures of sex.

Hiss quote about Howard’s virginity was contradicted by de Camp himself in his earlier book, Literary Swordsmen and Sorcerers: The Makers of Heroic Fantasy (1976). De Camp, paraphrasing Howard’s December 5, 1935 letter to H. P. Lovecraft, writes: “In 1935, he [REH] sold a story to the semi-pornographic Spicy Adventures; he said that he had used one of his own sexual adventures in the plot and urged H. P. Lovecraft (of all people!) to do the same.” A heavily edited version of this statement also appears in Dark Valley Destiny.

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Discovering Robert E. Howard – The Series

Discovering Robert E. Howard – The Series

Back in 2015, because I didn’t know any better, I thought I could reach out to Robert E. Howard experts and fans from around the world, and convince them to contribute essays about Robert E Howard, for a Black Gate series. Yeah, I know: “Who are you, Byrne? Why do you think you can pull this off?” Because I don’t have the common sense that God gave a rock. Also – I can’t even sing as well as a rock (Bible reference there). So, without a clue (GREAT movie!), I reached out to a few folks, got pointed to a few more, and with the Black Gate name behind me, rounded up a VERY knowledgeable and talented group.

Howard was much more than just the creator of Conan (who I LOVE). He, of course, wrote many other characters, and for many other markets and genres. He lived an interesting life as well. And some generous folks contributed some tremendous essays!

It was a fantastic series, nominated for a Robert E. Howard Foundation award. The Howard community loved it, to no one’s surprise. The wide-ranging look at REH, covering his life and his works, was a superb addition to REH scholarship. It also planted the seeds for a follow-up series at Black Gate, Hither Came Conan, which was an even bigger hit! And you fans of either series, it will be a trilogy, as we’ll be emulating Hither Came Conan with another Howard character. But I’ve got another non-Howard series to put together first.

Here below is the entire series (which included a blog series being done separately by Howard Andrew Jones & Bill Ward). I intentionally minimized the Conan content, as the goal was to paint a broad REH picture. And we covered Conan in depth with Hither Came Conan. Click on a few links and explore the amazing world of Robert E. Howard. Some tremendous stuff, which Black Gate was proud to bring together.

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Weird Tales Deep Read: January 1936

Weird Tales Deep Read: January 1936

Another Brundage Pastel

I’m going to change the focus of the Weird Tales deep read slightly, to hopefully give a somewhat more coherent view of the magazine by focusing on a particular year, while still maintaining the month-at-a time format. First up is January 1936, followed by the ten subsequent issues published that year. (One issue was bi-monthly, and I’ve already covered the July issue, so you can just check that particular installment in the link provided below if you’re so inclined).

The January ‘36 WT is full of familiar names. Seabury Quinn, August Derleth, Paul Ernst, C. L. Moore, Robert E. Howard, and H. P. Lovecraft (with a reprint) all appear in the line up. The issue grades out to a respectable 2.44, largely avoiding poor stories but also scoring only a few outstanding ones. The two vying for best of issue were Moore’s Jirel and Howard’s Conan, the second installment of the longest Conan tale he was to write. Howard gets the nod on a toss-up.

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Hither Came Conan wins REH Foundation Award!

Hither Came Conan wins REH Foundation Award!

frank-frazetta-conan-the-barbarian1_small

Hither Came Conan, Indeed!

I think it was early in 2015, I decided I wanted to gather a bunch of folks who know more about Robert E. Howard than I did (THAT was an endless list!) and have them write about all kinds of different facets of Howard and his life. Sure, there would be a little Conan, but I wanted to minimize that. I wanted to introduce folks (and further teach others) about various aspects of this amazing writer. And so was born Discovering Robert E. Howard; almost three dozen essays by an All-Star cast of REH experts and fans. Here’s the final post in the series, with links all the prior ones.

It went over great, and I got to know the REH community a lot better than I did before. Inspired by an irregular series I was writing about Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe stories (I’m a gargantuan fan), I thought it would be fun to ‘round up the usual – and unusual – suspects’ (if you know me, you know that’s from my favorite movie of all time) and tackle Conan. Each contributor would explain why that story was the best of REH’s original Conan tales (no pastiches here). The twist was, each story was randomly assigned! I used an Excel spreadsheet and did a blind assignment – the modern technology equivalent of names out of a hat.

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Conan in the Land of the Rising Sun

Conan in the Land of the Rising Sun

The Coming of Conan (SF 14), Japanese edition (1971). Cover by Takebe Motoichiro

Although everyone’s favorite Cimmerian trod a wide path in his adventures, Conan never sailed to the shores of the ancient equivalent of Japan. Or at least he never did so in the tales penned by Robert E. Howard. I’m not versed enough regarding every pastiche or comic adaptation to know if he might have ventured there in one of those.

However, this didn’t stop Japanese editions of the Conan stories from appearing in the early 1970’s. I’d been unaware of these until late 2017, when I received a set of them from the estate of Glenn Lord. For decades, Lord had been the literary executor of the Howard estate, and some of his collection was going to be auctioned at the 2018 Windy City Pulp and Paper Convention. I’m one of the folks that runs that convention, and I was in charge of preparing that auction.

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Lin Carter’s Imaginary Worlds #2 World Building and Naming

Lin Carter’s Imaginary Worlds #2 World Building and Naming

Imaginary Worlds (Ballantine Books, June 1973). Cover by Gervasio Gallardo

So I had great fun reading Carter’s snarky, anecdotal, history of the Fantasy genre, Imaginary Worlds (1973), but I had actually come to the book for his thoughts on writing the Fantasy, and in particular Sword and Sorcery.

In hindsight, perhaps this was more of by way of exorcism.

Carter was adamant that Sword and Sorcery should have no content whatsoever: “It is a tradition that aspires to do little more than entertain and stretch the imagination a little.

We can certainly agree that Sword and Sorcery doesn’t handle topical themes well. The clue is in the name.  Though I myself know many people with swords on their wall and grimoires on their shelves, I will admit that I am not entirely typical in this regard. The secondary worlds of the Sacred Genre are too far removed from modernity to explore it directly.

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Bran Mak Morn: Social Justice Warrior

Bran Mak Morn: Social Justice Warrior

Worms of the Earth by Robert E. Howard (Ace Books, 1979). Cover by Sanjulian

“Worms of the Earth” was published in Weird Tales in November of 1932, and was thus described in the table of contents as “a grim shuddery tale of the days when Roman legions ruled in Britain–a powerful story of a gruesome horror from the bowels of the earth.” It features Bran Mak Morn, the King of the Picts, one of Howard’s barbarian characters. A quasi-Faustian tale, the story dramatizes Bran Mak Morn’s greatest transgression, a dark pact the king makes with diabolic force to avenge his dying and brutalized race: the Picts.

Many consider “Worms of the Earth” one of Howard’s masterpieces, truly haunting and enigmatic, its impact lingering long after a reading, like a stagnant tobacco smell or a leathery flapping of shadowy wings. The story is also notable for its inclusion of allusions to H.P. Lovecraft’s mythos, specifically the ancient Mesopotamian god “Dagon” and the sunken city of “R’lyeh,” home to dreaming Cthulhu. Undoubtedly, the story’s themes of racial degeneracy and the violent power of geologic time are steeped in Howard’s legendary 1930s correspondence with Lovecraft.

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Rogue Blades Presents: The Search for Heroes Never Ends

Rogue Blades Presents: The Search for Heroes Never Ends

The Howard House in Cross Plains, Texas.

Nearly three years ago I had the fun of spending a month driving across country in the U.S. with my girlfriend and her son. We started off in North Carolina, then made our way to Atlanta, through Alabama and down to New Orleans before heading further west to Houston and Austin before spending four days in Cross Plains, Texas, for Robert E. Howard Days 2018. From there we drove to Roswell, New Mexico, popped down to Tombstone, Arizona, for a few days and then went on our way to San Diego. From there we visited the Grand Canyon, spent some time in Las Vegas, and headed back through the beautiful state of Utah before spending a day in St. Louis. Then it was back through my home state of Kentucky and back to North Carolina through Tennessee.

In many ways this was a trip of a lifetime, and along the way I re-discovered a few things about myself. First of all, this trip brought back to me just how much I love book stores, especially used bookstores, antiquity bookstores, and regional bookstores that offer the unique. There’s nothing more I love than spending hours scouring through shelves upon shelves in hunt of the unknown. Often enough I had no particular books in mind on this trip, but allowed myself the joy of discovering books I had forgotten about or had not even known existed, or even books I had known about but were out of print and I had never expected to find one during my lifetime. The search was the thing, even if I wasn’t searching for anything in particular.

Secondly, this trip reminded me just how much I love heroes, for in many ways this trip was more than a vacation. It was a journey, an epic adventure to discover heroes, mostly heroes known to me, some heroes forgotten and recalled. Originally I didn’t set out on this trip to discover heroes, but the longer I was on the road, the more heroes I came across.

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By Crom: A Pair of Perrys (Conan)

By Crom: A Pair of Perrys (Conan)

I have talked about Conan pastiches in a couple of prior Black Gate posts; and I’ve linked to them at the bottom of this one. Here’s something from one of them:

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 mostly liked.)

So, let’s take a look at those two Steve Perry books. I think that Ryan Harvey may hold Roland Green in less esteem than he does Perry, but I suspect it’s a close call. I think that Perry was the Tor author cranking out Conan books just for the money. On the whole, they’re bad, and I recommend everyone else ahead of him. Though I don’t recommend Green much, if ever. I talk about the books, and Conan writers, who I like, in the other posts below. You can see what I consider good about them. I don’t think Perry respected the character, or cared about the quality of the plot. Having said that, Conan the Defiant wasn’t too bad as a sword and sorcery paperback. Unfortunately, its follow-up was tripe.

Conan the Defiant

Conan the Defiant is the second of the five novels which Perry wrote in the Tor Series. In William Galen Gray’s chronology it is the fourth Conan tale (following Conan of Venarium, “Legions of the Dead” and “The Thing in the Crypt”), and taking place before Sean Moore’s Conan the Hunter.

The young Conan comes upon a lone priest being waylaid by five bandits. Impressed with the stranger’s skill with a wooden staff, the Cimmerian wades in and helps the man dispatch his opponents. Cengh, a priest of the Suddah Oblates, is later murdered, sending Conan on a quest of justice for his short-time friend.

In typical Conan fashion, he beds Elashi, a desert-bred warrior maiden, as well as Tuanne, a beautiful zombie. Yep, a zombie. Being the irresistible stud he is, the trio engage in threesomes all along their trek to the bad guy’s castle. This one seems to rate higher than normal on the Conan adolescent fantasies scale.

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