Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Stephen King, Halloween, and the joy of reading

I own this edition,
just a lot more beat up.
Yesterday evening I experienced an unmitigated pleasure. The nonsense and hard work of the day was done, I had come back from a visit with my old man, it was drawing on 7:30. A delicious feeling had come over me that only comes in the lead up to Halloween. Out the window to my left was darkness. A weird glow on the porch, cast by the decorative seasonal orange lights we have around the frame of the front door.

I was looking forward to the next bit from the moment I woke up, and it had arrived.

Getting back into my heavily tattered old paperback copy of  'Salem's Lot. 

In a few minutes I was back in the old Maine town, the creepy Marsten House on the hill overlooking the small-town characters and their petty affairs and gossip, and the horror that would soon be visited upon them from messieurs Straker and Barlow. I know this story very well, but nothing in it is diminished. I still get the old thrill from the terror that comes on Danny and Ralphie Glick on the shortcut to Mark Petrie's house. They were planning to see his Aurora plastic monsters collection (remember those?) but Ralphie would never be seen from again. And Danny would be... changed.

Accompanying this was the realization that if I never had to turn on the television again, I'm quite certain I would survive.

I watch essentially zero television. With amazing intensity and the conviction of born again Christians I hear as people talk about Breaking Bad, or The Office, or Ozarks, or The British Baking Championship, or whatever show happens to be the most awesome/best show ever/you can't possibly miss this/I can't believe you haven't seen this! fad of the moment (inevitably such show gives way to the next such show, which cannot be missed but I can't believe you haven't seen The Sopranos!). It's a language I don't understand. I smile, and listen, but can't participate in it.

I don't think I'm superior to them, I don't begrudge their habits (I have my own), I would even admit that TV has probably gotten a lot better from the days when Harlan Ellison wrote of the glass teat and the banality of The Mary Tyler Moore show.

I just prefer reading. It's my go-to medium for entertainment. It's amazing how much joy I can still wring out of a $2 Signet paperback. 

I would miss horror movies. I will say that I'm pleased to have introduced my 15-year-old daughter, a budding horror movie fan, to the likes of Scream, The Shining, Silence of the Lambs, and The Ring. But for pure joy even these films don't beat old Stephen King, or Lovecraft, or Poe. Words on a page that can captivate, and terrify. I wish I could get her into these stories, man.

Work in progress.

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Some new sword-and-sorcery titles worth a look

Here at The Silver Key I spend most of my time talking classic sword-and-sorcery, but I’ve been keeping track of some new releases that I thought were worth reporting on. My wallet will be feeling the pinch in the coming weeks. 

Swords & Sorceries: Tales of Heroic Fantasy: Volume 1. I’m really liking this old school cover by Jim Pitts, and the editor Steve Dilks knows sword-and-sorcery. Looks like a great new collection.

Necromancy in Nilztiria by D.M. Ritzlin and The Godblade by J. Christopher Tarpey, from DMR Books. DMR is the most committed publisher of sword-and-sorcery today, republishing classic titles and issuing original works. I haven’t been disappointed with Swords of Steel or Heroes of Atlantis & Lemuria, and Renegade Swords, another purchase, is on my TBR pile. These two new titles look excellent also.

New Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories coming from Tales from the Magician’s Skull. I’m a subscriber to Tales from the Magician’s Skull and am interested how they plan to handle these classic characters. Leiber had such a unique voice, and it’s not clear if author Nathan Long will be using the characters to tell new stories, or will try to imitate Leiber’s style (the way this release is written I’m leaning toward the former). I’m on record as saying I have no problem with pastiche, or writing new stories using classic characters, as long as they are not passed off as works of the original author. Adrian Cole has done some excellent work with new stories of Elak of Atlantis, for example.

Barbarians at the Gates of Hollywood: Sword and Sorcery Movies of the 1980s. Black Gate’s review by Fletcher Vredenburgh of this title convinced me I should give it a shot. Other than Conan the Barbarian and perhaps a couple others, sword-and-sorcery’s silver screen boom was uniformly terrible, but a detailed history of how this phenomenon came to be is up my alley.

Robert E. Howard: A Closer Look (Hippocampus Press). An update of a 1987 title by Charles Hoffman and Marc Cerasini. Looks like a solid study. More Howard scholarship is always welcomed.

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Recording of "The Best Sword & Sorcery of the 20th Century" panel now available

Last night I spent the better part of 2 1/2 hours in an interesting, rambling discussion about sword-and-sorcery with the likes of Howard Andrew Jones, Jeff Goad, Bill Ward, and Jason Ray Carney, part of the ongoing Bride of Cyclops Con online convention. It was a blast. We covered a lot of ground in that time--the definition of S&S, its literary roots, must-read stories, a few dark horses, the late Charles Saunders, book porn (I couldn't stop myself from flashing multiple book covers), and many other fun side-trails and asides.

I'm far more comfortable behind the keyboard than on-camera, but I have to say the time flew by and I spent most of the panel grinning ear-to-ear. I hope I had a few insights to add about my favorite subgenre. I want to thank Howard and the folks over at Goodman Games for the opportunity.  

The highlight for me was learning that Jason owns a first edition, signed, hard-cover copy of Poul Anderson's The Broken Sword. That almost broke my geekmeter.

Check out the recording of the panel here.

Friday, October 9, 2020

Upcoming panel session: "The Best Sword & Sorcery Stories of the 20th Century"

On Friday Oct. 16 I'll be taking part in an S&S panel session, part of the (wonderfully named) Bride of Cyclops Con, an online convention hosted by Goodman Games. Goodman Games is the publisher of the fine Dungeon Crawl Classics line of role playing games, as well as the Tales from the Magician's Skull S&S magazine, of which I'm a subscriber..

Below are the panel details.

A lot more S&S goodness is going on in the track, with sessions with publishers, authors, and RPG designers. Apparently you can watch these sessions free of charge on the Goodman Games Official "Twitch" channel (what is Twitch? I don't know, now get offa my lawn!).

It's a great group of panelists and I'm honored to be part of it.

“The Best Sword & Sorcery Stories of the 20th Century” – Friday, October 16, 6:00 pm-8:00 pm EST

Six sword-and-sorcery fans and scholars compare notes about the important works in the genre, starting with foundational fiction and moving on to more recent times. This panel will talk details, not just an author’s name, but why a particular story or novel is worthy of note.


Brian Murphy, author of Flame & Crimson

Dr. Jason Ray Carney, author of Weird Tales of Modernity, editor of Whetsone and co-editor of The Dark Man

Bill Ward, Online Editor for Tales From the Magician’s Skull

Howard Andrew Jones, Editor Tales From the Magician’s Skull

Jeff Goad, co-host of the ENnie nominated podcast Appendix N Book Club

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Steve Tompkins at 60

Deuce Richardson at DMR Blog asked me to write something to commemorate what would have been Steve Tompkins 60th birthday today, had he had not passed at the far too early age of 48 back in March of 2009.

I chose for the occasion a look back at Steve's first official post on the old Cimmerian blog. "Maybe Not a Boom, But a Drumbeat" isn't a classic, sprawling, deep essay like the ones Steve carved out a legacy writing, but it's a fun, witty, inside look at the state of Howard scholarship and questions regarding his legacy circa 2006.

Check it out here if you're interested. RIP Steve (and since I'm in a mourning mood, RIP to the great Eddie Van Halen, who today passed at 65 after a long battle with cancer).