The mighty poets write in blood and tears
And agony that, flame-like, bites and sears.
They reach their mad blind hands into the night,
To plumb abysses dead to human sight.
Tuesday was World Mental Health Day. When Damon Knight and L. Sprague de Camp were denigrating Robert E. Howard, they were doing it used terrible pseudo-psychology. Their criticism of Howard belongs in the dustbin of history with that pseudo-psychology. What happened to Howard was a tragedy. A transcendentally talented young man, who may have been mentally ill, made a terrible mistake during a crushing time. And people go through every day what Howard went through. He wasn’t a weirdo, except in that it was weird how damned good a writer he was.
I didn’t quite get through a full third of The Horror Stories of Robert E. Howard, but the middle has some of the meatiest stories, including my favorite so far. I already posted on the first part of his collected horror stories, and I will post on the rest of the stories in two weeks. The stories and poems covered in this post are listed at the bottom.
In case you’re wondering who Howard’s horror influences are, he gives us a pretty good clue when a character identifies Lovecraft’s Call of Cthulhu, Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher, and Machen’s Black Seal as master horror tales. (And in Howard’s world, erudite men don’t blush at serious discussion of horror in the salon.) But you don’t need that to see Lovecraft’s influence, at least. It is plain, especially in these stories. Even though, per Jim Fear, they should probably only be labeled quasi-Lovecraftian.
The strengths of Rat Queens is the interpersonal dynamics among the group, the dungeon crawls/monster-killing quests, and poking fun at both modern life and D&D murder hobo propensities. Volume 4 has a lot of that, and it is all enormously fun.
Rat Queens has never been very good at family drama. Unfortunately, I find Violet’s brother as annoying as she does. But, thankfully, he plays only a small role, leaving plenty of time for the more entertaining adventuring.
So this happened…
A few quick thoughts on watching Star Wars on a big screen with a full symphony orchestra providing the score:
It was worth every penny for two shots alone. First, to see the Star Destroyer at the very beginning of the movie on the big screen. It just keeps coming and coming and coming, the triangular shape driving home its immensity as it is slowly revealed. I do believe this is the finest single shot in science fiction movie history.
COMPTON CROOK AWARD FOR BEST FIRST NOVEL. NEBULA AWARD FINALIST. New Science Fiction Adventure Series! National Bestseller in trade paperback. An agent for a spy organization uncovers an alien alliance in nearby interstellar space—an alliance that will soon involve humanity in politics and war on a galactic scale.
2105, September: Intelligence Analyst Caine Riordan uncovers a conspiracy on Earth’s Moon—a history-changing clandestine project—and ends up involuntarily cryocelled for his troubles. Twelve years later, Riordan awakens to a changed world. Humanity has achieved faster-than-light travel and is pioneering nearby star systems. And now, Riordan is compelled to become an inadvertent agent of conspiracy himself. Riordan’s mission: travel to a newly settled world and investigate whether a primitive local species was once sentient—enough so to have built a lost civilization.
However, arriving on site in the Delta Pavonis system, Caine discovers that the job he’s been given is anything but secret or safe. With assassins and saboteurs dogging his every step, it’s clear that someone doesn’t want his mission to succeed. In the end, it takes the broad-based insights of an intelligence analyst and a matching instinct for intrigue to ferret out the truth: that humanity is neither alone in the cosmos nor safe. Earth is revealed to be the lynchpin planet in an impending struggle for interstellar dominance, a struggle into which it is being irresistibly dragged. Discovering new dangers at every turn, Riordan must now convince the powers-that-be that the only way for humanity to survive as a free species is to face the perils directly—and to fight fire with fire.
I’m not going to say much about the plot of Fire with Fire. One, because the copy above does a decent job. Two, because it’s difficult to say much about the plot without spoilers. And the twists—there are several—are what Fire With Fire does best.
Up, John Kane, the grey night’s falling;
The sun’s sunk in blood and the fog comes crawling;
From hillside to hill the grey wolves are calling;
Will ye come, will ye come, John Kane?
Tor’s Conan pastiches is no way to step away from Robert E. Howard. I enjoyed them—the Robert Jordan and John Maddox Roberts pastiches, at least—but I need a bit more of the real thing before moving on. And with Halloween around the corner? Del Rey’s collection The Horror Stories of Robert E. Howard is the perfect hair of the dog.
I don’t know that The Horror Stories of Robert E. Howard is the best introduction to Howard. Conan remains well known and relevant for a reason. And, of course, Solomon Kane has his partisans. I really want to get to the Bran Mak Morn stories, and I have a collection of Howard’s Breckinridge Elkins stories. But The Horror of Robert E. Howard might be the best volume to pick up after your first introduction to Robert E. Howard.
If you don’t start with Solomon Kane, here is an introduction to the Puritan crusader. Sailor Steve Costigan may very well appear. Howard’s occult detectives Conrad and Kirowan make multiple appearances. Howard was also a very fine poet, and a number of his poems are included. The stories tend toward the short (I only read a couple reaching 20 pages); this is an ideal book to pick up in the evening after each day of work as All Hallows’ Eve approaches, the bite of the coming winter begins to infiltrate the autumn air, and the onset of darkness encroaches a little further each night.
I didn’t savor Howard’s Conan stories. I won’t make that mistake again. So I am reading slowly and splitting my thoughts into three posts from now through Halloween. I have included a list of the exact stories I’m covering at the end of my post.
I am on record with my complaints about Volume 27: The Whisperer War. I will leave those complaints to that volume. The setup is screwy, but what we get here—the execution? Oh man! Our fearless heroes survived the immediate threat in Volume 27 but in A Certain Doom face the largest herd of walkers any of them have ever seen, a veritable ocean of walkers.
A Certain Doom collects comics #163-168.
I’m not much for Grimdark. It’s not that I’m against it, per se, but just that I haven’t limited experience with it. I have my thoughts, but they aren’t exactly fully formed. I say that to explain the long digression on Grimdark at the end. You may not be interested, but Blackwing isn’t just a tremendous Grimdark book, it is a tremendous fantasy book, period. So on to some exposition and a bit of fun!
Ryhalt Galharrow spends most of his days tracking down traitors and bringing back their heads for the bounty. Well, he spends most of his days drunk. But when he has work, it is in the bringing back heads business. There is a deeper commitment, though, to being a Blackwing.
It means serving Crowfoot, one of the Nameless, the demigods without whom the Range would have long since fallen to the Deep Kings, the really nasty demigods. You really don’t want to get caught in between two sets of feuding, massively powerful immortals. The Deep Kings send Darlings, powerful sorcerers who look like children, and drudge, men and women who have given up their humanity to become slaves and cannon fodder for the Deep Kings.