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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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Rogue Blades Author: Robert E. Howard: A European Perspective

Rogue Blades Author: Robert E. Howard: A European Perspective

The following is an excerpt from Michael Moorcock’s essay for Robert E. Howard Changed My Life, an upcoming book from the Rogue Blades Foundation.

Robert E. Howard wrote directly in a tradition going back to the first great American hero Natty Bumppo and the first great American novelist, Fenimore Cooper, who shared the same puritanical suspicion of ‘civilization’ and authority with Conan and most of Howard’s other heroes. Based firmly on the legend of Daniel Boone, already fictionalized in broadsheets and shilling shockers published everywhere in America and Europe, the Romantic American was soon established as a popular figure of fiction and folklore. Indeed, on occasions the American ‘noble savage’ often sold better in what would be considered over-civilized European nations than he did in his native land (where the reality might have been at closer proximity to readers in Saint Louis and Memphis than to those in London or Moscow). This explained the massive bestsellers featuring ‘free spirits’ often found in the Gothic novels which were frequently selling at the same time! Romance of this kind would often be pilloried by more sophisticated authors of the day but not by the likes of Robert Louis Stevenson, Alexandre Dumas or Karl May (whose Old Shatterhand continued his career, like the others, in films well into the 20th century).

After Mowgli, Tarzan, of course, was probably the most famous popular noble savage to sniff warily at the over-fed minions of a greedy and uncaring civilization and indeed, until he was rather poorly translated into a variety of romance languages in particular, Conan was not widely well-known in Europe outside Britain (where Howard’s A Gent from Bear Creek had been published in 1937) until the 1970s via his Marvel Comics incarnations. In fact, he became better known in the UK than he was in the US, thanks to a young man in London named Tom Boardman, a popular figure at English fantastica conventions during the 1950s and ’60s, who had begun his career in his father’s firm at a very young age. His father liked publishing Westerns and Western comics in a very recognizable style, including a yearly hardback Buffalo Bill Annual with one distinctive artist doing all the drawing and writing all the scripts. He published through the Woolworth chain of stores a sepia reprint version of full-color comics from the Fawcett publishing chain. These fantasy comics revealed a niche in the market. He began to put out Captain Marvel, Ibis, Bulletman and a whole range of ‘science heroes,’ superheroes, and wizards. As a schoolboy I bought his publications wherever I could find them.

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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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Rogue Blades Author: An Unexpected Gift

Rogue Blades Author: An Unexpected Gift

Howard changed my lifeThe following is an excerpt from Barbara Ingram Baum’s essay for Robert E. Howard Changed My Life, an upcoming book from the Rogue Blades Foundation.

May 25, 1995, marked a profound change in my life. Alla Ray Morris, or ‘Pat’ as we called her, passed away unexpectedly. When my husband, Jack, met with her attorneys after her funeral, he was shocked to learn she had bequeathed her rights in Robert E. Howard’s works to him, to his sister Terry, and to their mother, Zora Mae Baum Bryant, whom she had named as executrix of her estate. I could never have imagined the impact this gift would have on my life.

Jack’s father had passed away in 1971, and several years later his mother married Elliott Bryant, a kind, loving widower who embraced his new family as Zora Mae had two adult children, a daughter-in-law, and three young grandchildren. Elliott’s parents and younger brother were deceased, but he maintained a close relationship with his aunt, Alla Ray Kuykendall (‘Auntie K’) and her daughter, Alla Ray Morris (‘Pat’), who lived in the nearby town of Ranger, Texas. Whenever we gathered at the house in Cross Plains for holidays, Auntie K and Pat were always included, and over the years they became family to all of us as well. So even after Elliott died suddenly in 1982, the relationship continued, and every week Jack’s mother drove to Ranger to play bridge with the Kuykendalls and their friends. I believe she and Pat became even closer after Auntie K passed away. Nevertheless, we were stunned when Pat suddenly died and we learned she had included us in her will — it was totally unexpected.

We knew nothing about Robert E. Howard or his works. However, we recalled Zora Mae, Elliott, Auntie K, and Pat had attended the showing of the film Conan the Barbarian, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, at the Paramount Theatre in Abilene, but Jack and I had never seen the film or read any of Howard’s works or talked about Howard or discussed the Kuykendalls’ ownership at family gatherings. I faintly remembered comments about Howard Days, but we had never discussed those events, nor had we attended. Interestingly, though, Jack’s mother kept a Conan calendar on her kitchen wall — which I know now was a Ken Kelly scene from “People of the Black Circle.” (You would have to know Jack’s mother to appreciate how completely out of character it was for her to have a heroic fantasy calendar on her wall. Zora Mae was very much a traditionalist and was very particular about her home and its accessories.)

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Rogue Blades Presents: Sometimes a Good Hero is Hard to Find

Rogue Blades Presents: Sometimes a Good Hero is Hard to Find

Beyond the Black RiverRecently I’ve been reading Beyond the Black River, a collection of Robert E. Howard tales published by Wildside Press. Within those pages one can find a couple of horror tales but also a handful of Conan the Cimmerian yarns, including the short story which gives this book its title.

When reading Beyond the Black River, the book or the story, it is obvious not only who the protagonist happens to be, but also the hero. The two figures are not always the same individual within a tale. For instance, Conan features large in most of the stories here, and he is the hero in at least four of the tales, but he is not always the protagonist. Sometimes Howard would pen a Conan tale told from another point of view. But whatever the point of view, Howard was mainly a writer of action and adventure, thus he wanted there to be little question about his hero in any given story.

Also of late, like millions stuck at home, I’ve been watching my fair share of television, which is actually unusual for me. One show I’ve watched, again like millions, is The Mandalorian. Here, too, it is obvious who wears the title of hero and protagonist with the ever-helmeted “Mando” performing both roles. I also caught up on the show Justified, a modern Western of sorts featuring Timothy Olyphant as Deputy U.S. Marshall Raylan Givens in my home state of Kentucky (it was kind of fun to watch all the things the show got wrong about the Bluegrass State); once more it was not difficult to pick out the hero and protagonist, here the same individual in Raylan Givens.

However, earlier in the year I read novels and stories and watched shows in which it was not so easy to pick out a hero.

For instance, watching the super hero show The Boys on Amazon Prime, there are a whole lot of bad people but not a lot of real heroes. Even a regular protagonist is difficult to pinpoint as this show has more of an ensemble cast with the focus on characters shifting. Early on in the series, Hughie Campbell (portrayed by Jack Quaid) is the protagonist, but by the end of the first season Hughie has been taken in as part of the broader cast. Also, while Hughie occasionally does something that is heroic, he generally is too reticent to be a regular hero. Still, he usually tries to do what’s right, at least for the moment, and maybe that’s all we can ask for a modern television hero. And I don’t want to leave out other characters, for Starlight (Erin Moriarty) is usually the most heroic of the “supes” and she also tries to do what is right, but she’s not exactly the hero of the show. Karl Urban’s Billy Butcher character plays large on the screen whenever he appears, and he does sometimes do the right thing, even the heroic thing, but I don’t think anyone who has watched the show would consider Butcher a hero, especially as his motives usually come from pain, rage and sometimes even selfishness.

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Rogue Blades Presents: Who Was Your First Hero?

Rogue Blades Presents: Who Was Your First Hero?

Kirk-Spock-McCoyDo you remember your first hero? Any kind of hero. It could have been a hero from a movie or a book or a television show, even a hero from real life.

As a child of the 1970s, one might think Luke Skywalker was my first hero, but I would turn eight years old a month after the original Star Wars was released in theaters, and by then I already had plenty of heroes.

Re-runs of the original Star Trek TV show from the 1960s were still airing, and I watched every one of them. Of the crew of the Enterprise, Captain James T. Kirk seemed the most heroic of the figures presented to us viewers, or at least he stood in the most traditional of the heroic modes.

Then there was the Six Million Dollar Man, starring actor Lee Majors from 1973 to 1978 on television. For those not familiar with the series, Majors played U.S. astronaut Steve Austin who was seriously injured in an accident. Not only did Steve survive his accident, but the government decided, “We can rebuild him. We have the technology.” And they did. Steve got some bionic legs and an arm and an eye. He fought crime. And Bigfoot. It was awesome.

Some might not consider Godzilla a hero, but by the time of my childhood in the ’70s, Godzilla was mainly a good guy, so he was a hero of sorts to many of us. For better or worse, my first Godzilla movie was Godzilla vs. Megalon, a film sometimes not remembered fondly by Godzilla fans. Either way, I was maybe five years old when my dad drug me into an old downtown theater to witness the spectacle of this movie, and again, I have to say it was awesome.

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Rogue Blades Author: How Robert E. Howard (and Glenn Lord) Changed My Life

Rogue Blades Author: How Robert E. Howard (and Glenn Lord) Changed My Life

The following is an an excerpt from Roy Thomas’ essay for the upcoming book from the Rogue Blades Foundation, Robert E. Howard Changed My Life.

I’ve told this story so many time by now that I figure everybody who would want to know it is tired of it already, but I can’t make up new facts just because I have to write a new article, can I? Well, maybe there’ll be a few twists in my tale this time, because I want to tell it a little bit more from the angle of Robert E. Howard (1906-1936) and Glenn Lord (1931-2011).

Robert E. Howard came first, but just barely.

I had, to the best of my memory, never heard of Robert E. Howard — or of Conan or any of the other Howard characters — when the Lancer Books paperback Conan the Adventurer appeared on the racks in 1966, some months after I started working for Stan Lee at Marvel Comics. Well, truth to tell, he was mentioned in a couple of paragraphs in my fan/friend Richard A. Lupoff’s 1965 book Edgar Rice Burroughs: Master of Adventures as one of the literary heroes inspired, at least in part, by Tarzan of the Apes… but that part of Dick’s study slipped right past me, leaving no imprint on my mind. When I saw the first Conan paperback, my eyes were drawn — as they were meant to be — by Frank Frazetta’s stunningly savage cover. I bought that book as I’d been buying others of an ERB ilk, pastiches of Burroughs by Otis Adelbert Kline, Gardner Fox, Lin Carter, whomever. I didn’t always actually read those pastiches, but I kept a little collection of them on a shelf in my apartment. One day I might get around to them.

castle of blood brunner the bounty hunter Rage of the Behemoth

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Rogue Blades author: Robert E. Howard, Conan and Me

Rogue Blades author: Robert E. Howard, Conan and Me

Howard changed my lifeBelow is an excerpt from author John C. Hocking’s essay for the upcoming book, Robert E. Howard Changed My Life, from publisher Rogue Blades Foundation.

I was a precocious reader.  By the time I was seven years old, guided by the taste of my father, I was reading Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, E.R. Burroughs, E.E. Smith, and Lester Dent’s Doc Savage stories.  Around this time my father, an art and history teacher, a martial artist and collector of swords, became a little frustrated that my mother was less than keen to accompany him to see a new, supposedly pretty hardboiled, Western movie called A Fistful of Dollars, so he took me.

In addition to thrusting upon my youthful eyes an unimagined example of cinematic style, the film presented a powerful vision of a highly qualified good and a frighteningly believable evil in stark conflict beyond anything I’d encountered before.  Every aspect of the movie resonated with me, but the depiction of fearsome, believably dangerous villains being faced down by a hero who was actually dangerous enough to confront and destroy them instantly made most of the reading, TV and movies I’d known seem somehow inadequate, even false.

Then, in the summer of 1967, my Dad brought me a copy of Lancer’s Conan the Adventurer.  The Frazetta cover promised much, but I read the first story in that collection, Robert E. Howard’s “The People of the Black Circle,” on a quiet sunny morning and it blew my little mind.

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What I’ve Been Reading Lately: January 2020

What I’ve Been Reading Lately: January 2020

Garrett_SweetsilverEDITED“Say, Bob, it’s been an ENTIRE month since you told us what you’ve been reading lately. The suspense is keeping me up at night.” OK – so nobody said that to me. I’ll tell you some of the stuff I’ve taken off of the shelves lately, anyways.

GLEN COOK – SWEET SILVER BLUES

I’ve already written about Glen Cook’s terrific hardboiled, fantasy PI series featuring Garrett. It combines Raymond Chandler, Nero Wolfe, and Terry Pratchett in a terrific fashion. I have a hard time imagining a better series. I’ve talked to a couple fellow Black Gaters about a round-robin look at several books in the series: So many ideas, so little time.

I’m working on this essay on Sunday evening, mere hours ahead of deadline, because I spent a couple hours yesterday re-reading book one, Sweet Silver Blues, instead of sitting at the keyboard and writing. I like it quite a bit, but it’s in book two, Bitter Gold Hearts, that the series really settles in. I’ve read most of the series at least twice before over the years. A few of my friends didn’t care for 2013’s Wicked Bronze Ambition, the last (but hopefully not final) book. It’s definitely not one of my favorites, but it’s still Garrett, and I hope there will be at least one more.

This is one of my favorite series’ in both the fantasy and private eye genres. HIGHLY recommended. And I’m also a huge fan of Cook’s The Black Company, which is light years away in tone and style. He’s simply a very good writer. Black Gate buddy Fletcher Vredenburgh did a fantastic walk-through of the entire series last year.

JOHN D MACDONALD

John MacD has been my favorite author for about three decades now. I enjoy his standalones, his short stories, and his Travis McGee books. I’ve written about him several times, and if all I did was write for Black Gate (sadly, I need to pay my bills and other such nonsense), you’d be reading a LOT about him here.

Earlier this month, after holding off for over twenty-five years, I finally watched the 1970 adaptation of Darker ThanAmber, with Rod Taylor as Travis McGee. Then, I went and re-read the book over the next couple of days. Taylor grew on me as the movie progressed, and they followed the book fairly faithfully. The final fight scene between McGee and Terry was really something to see.

I think this is a better version of a McGee novel than the 1983 film starring Sam Elliot (why in the world would you transplant McGee to California?!).

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The Golden Age of Science Fiction: Novels of 1979

The Golden Age of Science Fiction: Novels of 1979

Cover by Don Maitz
Cover by Don Maitz

Cover by Enrich
Cover by Enrich

Cover by Larry Schwinger
Cover by Larry Schwinger

Taking another break from award winners, here’s a look at novels published in 1979 that did not win any awards.

C.J. Cherryh published Hestia, a stand-alone about an engineer, Sam Merrit, who travels to the title planet to build a damn to help the human colonists.  Upon arrival, Merrit realizes that the dam will not only prove to be the panacea that is sought, but would also destroy the local indigenous species. Cherryh uses the novel to explore personal and ecological responsibility and the sense of entitlement the colonists have.

Jerry Pournelle’s novel Janissearies is the first of the similarly titled trilogy, although it is also set in the wider world of his Co-Dominium universe that began with his novel King David’s Starship. The novel follows a group of American soldiers who have been rescued from an ambush in Africa and given the chance to put their talents to use in a medieval level society among the stars. Although Pournelle’s main character faced mutiny, he wins through in the end, establishing himself as the undisputed leader of the force.

Kindred, Octavia E. Butler’s time travel novel that shuffles Dana, a twentieth century African-American author, between her own time and the antebellum South was published in 1979. The novel offers a look at the sort of compromises Dana must make to survive as a slave as be able to continue to exist in her own time. Butler offers a complex view of slavery and race relations in the novel, partly because of the way she has caused Dana’s own existence and fate to be entwined with that of Rufus, the plantation owner.

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