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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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In Defense of Corum, Elric’s Brother-from-a-Vadhagh-Mother

In Defense of Corum, Elric’s Brother-from-a-Vadhagh-Mother

Moorcock The Swords Trilogy-small

The Swords Trilogy by Michael Moorcock (Berkley, 1971). Covers by David McCall Johnston.

Wow, I don’t think I could agree less with a column.

Michael Moorcock is one of the tower giants of sword & sorcery and New Wave SciFi; a member of early Conan fandom who by 16 was a published author and editor, and has spent 64 years writing a vast body of work. Most of this work chronicles snapshots of his Multiverse, and the struggles of the Eternal Champion, the tortured, ever-reincarnating hero of the Cosmic Balance in the struggle between Law and Chaos. And, of course, no aspect of that hero is more famous than Elric, Doomed Prince of Melnibone, wielder of the demonic, soul-stealing rune-sword, Stormbringer. No character has perhaps come to symbolize Sword & Sorcery more, other than Conan himself (*maybe* Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser) than Elric.

Only, as Lin Carter wrote in Flashing Swords! #2:

In 1965 followed an Elric novel called Stormbringer, wherein Moorcock made the tactical error of killing off his hero and terminating the series by the simple method of blowing up the universe. Since then Mike has created many another fantasy hero, but he has recently confessed to me that he is tired of making up carbon copies of Elric: hence this story, and the good news that he is back at work, fitting new Elric tales in among the ones written almost a decade earlier…

And so, Moorcock began writing about other incarnations of the Eternal Champion (and retconning some of his earlier characters to become such). It’s quite a pantheon, but some characters are far better known than others. After our Albino Prince, the most famous must be Dorian HawkmoonJerry/Jhary/jeremiah Cornelius, and Erekosëwho alone of the various incarnations, recalls his past lives, and his dark fate. It’s a mixed pantheon to be sure, with a wildly varying quality of work — I find The Jewel in the Skull, first of the Hawkmoon novels, to be one of the best novels Moorcock wrote, but still can’t get through the Jerry Cornelius tales.

But for me, none of the other incarnations quite work the way Corum Jhaelen Irsei, the Prince in the Scarlet Robe does.

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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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Birthday Reviews: Michael Moorcock’s “The Frozen Cardinal”

Birthday Reviews: Michael Moorcock’s “The Frozen Cardinal”

Cover by Jim Burns
Cover by Jim Burns

Michael Moorcock was born on December 18, 1939.

Moorcock’s novella “Behold the Man” won the Nebula Award in 1968. He has won the British Fantasy Award six times, for the novels The Knight of the Swords, The King of the Swords, The Sword and the Stallion, and The Hollow Lands, as well as for the short story “The Jade Man’s Eyes.” He won a special committee award from them in 1993. In 1979 he won the World Fantasy Award and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for his novel Gloriana. His Elric saga won the Seiun Award in 1986. Moorcock received Lifetime Achievement Awards from the World Fantasy Con in 2000, the Prix Utopia in 2004, and the Bram Stoker Awards in 2005. In 2002 he was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame and was named a Grand Master by SFWA in 2008. Moorcock was guest of honor at the 2nd World Fantasy Con, held in New York in 1976 and at LoneStarCon 2, the 55th Worldcon, held in San Antonio, Texas in 1997.

“The Frozen Cardinal” originally appeared in the anthology Other Edens, edited by Robert Holdstock and Christopher Evans, in 1987.  Moorcock included it in his collection Casablanca in 1989 and in 1993, it was included in the Moorcock collection Earl Aubec and Other Stories. Ann and Jeff VanderMeer selected the story for The Big Book of Science Fiction: The Ultimate Collection in 2016. In 1990 the story was translated into French to appear in the anthology Universe 1990, edited by Pierre K. Rey.

While Moorcock may be best known for his epic fantasy about the Eternal Champion or his Jerry Cornelius novels, he has also written a significant amount of straight science fiction. “The Frozen Cardinal” is set in the polar regions of the distant planet Moldavia and takes the form of several private communiques sent back to Earth by a member of the first exploration team to the area of the planet, which is just beginning to come out of an ice age.

Moorcock manages to present his trip to a distant world as a tedious expedition. His narrator, as well as the entire crew, is just focused on the next tasks they must accomplish, most of which are the repetitive crossing of vast chasms, a dangerous activity, but one that has become routine as they use the same process at each crevice. Their monotony is broken when they discover a figure embedded in the ice on the side of one of the crevices and determine that it is a Roman Catholic Cardinal.

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Happy Birthday Michael Moorcock

Happy Birthday Michael Moorcock

Michael Moorcock turned sixty-nine yesterday, and it’s hard to believe that this prolific, vocal, daring, and sometimes vociferous (see Wizardry & Wild Romance for an idea of what I’m talking about) Grand Master of SF is a senior citizen. Best known, of course, for the brooding albino prince Elric and his soul-hungry sword Stormbringer, Moorcock’s restless energy hasn’t confined itself to one hero, genre, or way of telling a story. So whether it’s the other aspects of the Eternal Champion such as Corum, Hawkmoon, or Von Bek adventuring through his shared worlds of the multiverse, his alternate histories like the Pyat Quartet and Nomad of the Time Streams, his experimental novels like Breakfast in the Ruins and Behold the Man, or a whole hosts of other complex and enduring novels such as Mother London and Gloriana, Moorcock has written something for everyone.

For his wide-ranging talent, refusal to play it safe with his writing, and enormous energy and imagination, Moorcock is truly one of the field’s most inspiring figures. Naturally, at Black Gate our focus is primarily on Sword & Sorcery and Heroic Fantasy, and in that field especially Moorcock stands as a giant — perhaps the last giant still among us — for his blend of old-school storytelling muscle, fertile mind, and New Wave edge. While the other aspects of the Eternal Champion may stand in the shadow of the forever-iconic Melnibonean, the entirity of Moorcock’s Sword and Sorcery oeuvre has to be seen as one of the field’s finest and most epic creations.

So happy birthday Michael Moorcock — and many happy returns!

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BILL WARD is a genre writer, editor, and blogger wanted across the Outer Colonies for crimes against the written word. His fiction has appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies, as well as gaming supplements and websites. He is a Contributing Editor and reviewer for Black Gate Magazine, and 423rd in line for the throne of Lost Lemuria. Read more at BILL’s blog, DEEP DOWN GENRE HOUND.