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.
Brian McClellan is one of my favorite fantasy authors to hit the scene in the past decade. His Powder Mage trilogy is the epitome of Flintlock Fantasy, as far as I am concerned. McClellan has written and self-published a good bit of short fiction set in the Powder Mage world. In the Field Marshal’s Shadow collects his shorter works. It doesn’t compare to his novels, but it is better than the average for this sort of thing, and I’ve seen several people say McClellan’s short fiction really enhances their appreciation of the novels by better drawing motivations of some of the characters from the novels.
Today we close the books on The Summer of Conan. You can find all of my Conan posts here. Over the course of three months, I read every Conan story Robert E. Howard wrote, watched all three Conan movies, and read twelve Conan pastiches. I did not, unfortunately, get to any of the Conan comics. Reading Robert E. Howard’s original work was a revelation. I would much rather go back and read Howard’s other work than dive back into the Conan pastiches, though I eventually will. To that end, and with the Halloween season approaching with the end of summer, I am next turning to The Horror Stories of Robert E. Howard.
Leonard Carpenter wrote the most Conan pastiches of any of the Tor authors. I’ve only read one of his eleven Conan novels. Carpenter didn’t write many other novels, but he did write poetry, and what looks like a lot of short fiction.
Carpenter introduces Conan in Conan the Hero rising from slimy water into a steaming jungle, skin striped with “muddy tones of lampblack and umber.” If that sounds kind of badass and kind of like Rambo, well, yeah. Conan the Hero is a good book, but it suffers from being as influenced by the 1980s American drug epidemic, the Soviet-Afghan War, and, most of all, Vietnam as by Robert E. Howard’s Conan stories.