Saturday, October 30, 2021

The Wolfen, Whitley Strieber

I own this same edition...
Stephen King once said that the release people get from horror is "sort of narcotic," freeing us from our normal day-to-day tensions (Feast of Fear: Conversations with Stephen King). I can identify. I recently after a span of probably 38 years re-read Whitley Streiber's The Wolfen, starting it while airborne, heading to a high-stress business trip to Dallas, TX. I can tell you, this fun novel took my mind off pandemics and presentations and uncertainty and swept me off to 1970s Brooklyn, where a pack of werewolves are terrorizing the city's ghettos.

I have some history with this book. My grandfather, a WWII veteran whose experiences in the Pacific I detailed here on the Silver Key, liked to read--specifically, he favored thrillers, horror, men's adventure, war novels, and other fun potboilers. He kept a few shelves of books in his basement, and a couple more shelves of paperbacks behind his leather easy chair. As a boy of probably 8-10 years of age I remember creeping behind his chair in his living room, reviewing the spines of books he had on his shelf, and selecting The Wolfen purely for its evocative title. The menacing eyes on the cover reflecting a woman in terror assured me I had made a good selection.

I still remember reading it, all those years ago, and being absolutely terrified, beset with nightmares in the days after. The book opens with a highly effective scene of two cops assigned to dump duty, marking up abandoned cars in need of crushing at the Fountain Avenue Automobile Pound. The place is typically no threat, with only a few homeless, rats, and stray dogs to contend with. But on this night the two policemen are surrounded, savaged, and eaten by a pack of werewolves in the most savage manner imaginable. These creatures are so fast that the cops aren't able to clear guns from their holsters.

Streiber's great conceit with The Wolfen is that werewolves have been living among us for thousands of years. Only scant, half-forgotten accounts remain. These are not classic Lon Chaney werewolves--men by day which transform into beasts by the light of the full moon--but an advanced series of semi-intelligent predators, wolf-ish but with fearsome paws that can grip like hands and end in razor claws, rudimentary intelligence, and faces that have something of humanity in them. Living stealthily on the edges of society, these incredibly efficient hunters and killers live off humanity, who exist side-by-side with the packs in blissful ignorance. The Wolfen plays on the theme of the threat of urban decay. Recall that New York in the 1970s was in deep crisis, a time when "wholesale disintegration of the largest city in the most powerful nation on earth seemed entirely possible." The wolfen are symbolic of the rot that accompanies urbanization.

I still have my grandfather's same paperback copy, and I loved it almost as much during this recent Halloween inspired re-read as I did as a kid nearly 40 years ago. I know that Streiber has gone off the deep end and is a bit of a pariah in horror circles, but he wrote The Wolfen (1978) very early in his career, and the book throws off sparks. If you like monsters and mayhem and hard-boiled police investigations and gunplay, you'll like The Wolfen. 

Friday, October 29, 2021

Unearthing David Drake's The Barrow Troll (back from Dallas)

Holy fuck. I'm back after 11 straight days of work, including a six-day conference in Dallas that consumed as much as 16 hours on given days. Delayed return flight, finally got in this morning around 2 a.m. 

I'm officially on E. Time for a short break.

During this epic stretch Tales from the Magician's Skull published my latest piece, "Unearthing David Drake's 'The Barrow Troll.'" I love this particular story and enjoyed my most recent re-read. Seek it out; as you will see from the linked piece it's been published a shit-ton over the years, and for good reason. It's great.

Saturday, October 23, 2021

The Day of Might hath come!


Today has been decreed The Day of Might by the Skull, and the fine folks over at Tales from the Magician's Skull. It's a day to celebrate our most favorite of all fantasy subgenres, sword-and-sorcery. Learn more here.

I wish I could do more; alas fate has conspired against me as I'm on the road, working a conference far from home in Dallas, TX. Nevertheless, I'm glad to see this happening and hope this generates more interest in S&S. 

Grab your favorite title, hoist a tankard of ale, and Hail to the Skull!

Friday, October 15, 2021

Heart of a Lion, Judas Priest

For this Metal Friday, an obscure song by Judas Priest that nevertheless kicks some serious ass.

"Heart of a Lion" was supposed to appear on Turbo, but did not fit the album and so Rob Halford offered the song to the band Racer X, who parlayed it into a minor hit. Racer X admittedly do a nice version, but it doesn't compare to peak Halford wailing the chorus.

On Fridays at least I have the Heart of a Lion.

Listen and enjoy. And have a very metal weekend.

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

S&S updates: Glass Hammer, Schuyler Hernstrom, and more

In full disclosure I'm not a big prog fan, unless you count the likes of RUSH, and perhaps a bit of Yes' back catalogue. I'm metal all the way. But I've had the pleasure of discovering the band Glass Hammer recently after hearing from one of the band members, bassist/lyricist/co-founder Steve Babb, who is a reader of this blog.

Glass Hammer was founded in 1992 and possess a deep catalog of material based on the likes of The Lord of the Rings, C.S. Lewis' Space Trilogy, and sword-and-sorcery. In 2020 they released Dreaming City, an album inspired by Michael Moorcock's Elric of Melnibone stories. Glass Hammer is now about to release  “Skallagrim – Into The Breach,” the second album of a proposed trilogy, on October 15th. As Babb explains:

“The project began as a nostalgic homage to the Sword & Sorcery genre, and to a lesser extent, the stories of H. P. Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith. It’s turned into much more, however, and my story of the Skallagrim, the thief with the screaming sword, has evolved into my first full-length fantasy novel which I plan to release next year.”

“Skallagrim is a thief who lost his memory and the girl he loves,” he goes on to say. “He’s up against dark magic and terrifying monsters to reclaim both, but finds an ally in a sentient, eldritch sword. Now his fate is bound to the sword as much as to the quest to find his love.”

Sounds pretty cool, I'll be digging into the album in the coming days. Check out the official video of "Anthem to Andorath" here on Youtube. After an atmospheric intro this one rips. And sounds great.

In some other news, my review of Schuyler Hernstrom's The Eye of Sounnu is up on the blog of DMR Books. Check it out here. I'm a fan of older sword-and-sorcery material and have not kept up as I should with newer authors and releases, and am slowly trying to rectify that. Hernstrom is a first-rate talent who gives me hope for the future of the subgenre and I can't recommend this book highly enough.

In more downbeat news, we recently lost author Robert Low (1949-21) back in June of this year. You can find a Facebook tribute here and a recent piece recalling his life and works over on Black Gate. I've heard many good things about his works over the years, in particular the Oathsworn series. Another author I have to seek out. 

I hope Low's spirit is sailing on a whale road of a different sort, and I thank him for his contributions to heroic fantasy and historical fiction.

Friday, October 8, 2021

Ten Sword-and-Sorcery Tales For the Haunting Season

My latest post is up on the blog of Tales from the Magician's Skull: Ten Sword-and-Sorcery Tales for the Haunting Season.

I'm feeling the Halloween season. Over the last three nights, while doing some late evening bookkeeping, I've had in the background Poltergeist, The Witch (2016), and Scream. I do love horror movies... but I also love sword-and-sorcery, and as my post shows one needn't necessarily choose one over the other.

What are your favorite horror-infused S&S tales?