Wednesday, March 30, 2022

S&S updates: Thune's Vision kickstarter, new Conan novel

A couple items of interest to report on in the world of sword-and-sorcery:

Author Schuyler Hernstrom recently launched a kickstarter in conjunction with a new publishing outfit, Pilum Press. The project is for a new version of his out-of-print Thune's Vision, with a couple original stories added to the collection. I threw in my pledge for a $35 hardcover; I was pleased to receive notification this AM that the kickstarter met its modest funding goal of $5,000 and the project will proceed. I greatly enjoyed Hernstrom's The Eye of Sounnu (DMR Books), which to me successfully captured an old school S&S vibe while managing to avoid the slavish pastiche trap. Hernstrom has a compelling writing style and tells good stories. I had been thinking of tracking down a used copy of Thune's Vision until I heard about this upcoming project a few months ago. Glad to see it has come to fruition and met its initial goal, but please consider getting in on it. 

Conan Returns! Yes, the mighty-thewed barbarian is getting an fully authorized novel treatment by author S.M. Stirling. Conan: Blood of the Serpent is slated to publish in October. I have not read anything by Stirling but I'm sure I will pick this up. It will I believe be the first authorized Conan novel since 2003's Conan of Venarium (TOR), not counting film adaptations/gaming material and the like. It sounds interesting enough; from the website: "We wanted to place the adventure within the timeline of Howard’s tales, and over the course of several outlines determined that it would lead into one of [Stirling's] personal favorites, “Red Nails.” Thus it would feature other elements Conan fans will find familiar, while being entirely accessible to readers who may come to the genre via A Game of Thrones,  The Witcher, or works by authors like Jay Kristoff or Mark Lawrence." I will admit that I'm not much of a pastiche Conan fan, with a few exceptions. I hope Stirling can capture even some of Howard's original magic. You can pre-order a hardcover copy from Titan Books now at the link above.

Saturday, March 26, 2022

Fueling the Fire of Fantasy Fiction: Gaming’s Influence on Today’s Writers

Another post of mine is up and can be found on the blog of Goodman Games/Tales from the Magician's Skull: Fueling the Fire of Fantasy Fiction: Gaming’s Influence on Today’s Writers.

This is sort of a part II/a self-rebuttal to Dungeons & Dragons: Friend or Foe of Sword-and-Sorcery

I haven't fully made up my mind on how gaming impacted S&S/fantasy fiction more broadly, but I sort of sum up my current thoughts as they stand today at the end of part II:

Fantasy fiction that relies on an ordered set of game rules as its foundation, or seeks to recapture free-flowing moments of social serendipity at the game table without applying the rules or discipline of good storytelling, is not likely to capture the imagination of readers, nor stand the test of time. The two mediums, gaming and writing, share some commonalities but are ultimately different disciplines. 

But, each can fuel the other.

Friday, March 25, 2022

For Your Eyes Only... just what I needed

An involuntary swim with sharks,
mollified by embrace of hot babe.
Last night I decided a mental break was in order and so I watched 1981’s For Your Eyes Only. It was just what I needed. I gave it my full attention, and it held it. I had forgotten how much action is packed into this film, scene after scene of hijacked helicopters, car chases through the Greek countryside, ski chases down mountainsides, death-defying climbs up sheer rock faces, underwater brushes with sharks and divers in murderous deep-water suits, on and on. Incredible fun, never a dull moment.

I watched this film many times as a kid, as it seemed to be on HBO every time I turned on the TV. But it had been ... 35 years since I saw it last in full? More? I think part of the reason I was so enamored with what I was watching was nostalgia. There is something about the 80s, the early 80s … it just made me extremely comfortable, the low-tech and no cell phones and Bond's turbo Lotus and Walther PPKs and flings with beautiful women. Set against the backdrop of the cold war. All exotic (for the time), but now intensely familiar, reminders of a time that has slipped into history. 

Yes, like all Bond films this one has its share of ridiculousness. I had forgotten one sequence where three dudes in full hockey gear attempt to kill Bond on an ice rink. They gear up in full uniforms, skates, sticks, masks... none bothered to bring a gun, and Bond disposes of them, one by Zamboni, and tosses them into a net, which tallies the 3-0 score on a scoreboard. WTF... but still awesome. 

Bond films are great for so many reasons, but one is the familiar flourishes and sequences. Every film seems to have Bond walking through a laboratory to view Q's latest contraptions and spy gear. This one had a spring-loaded arm cast capable of smashing a head, and an umbrella that, when exposed to water, snaps down with murderous steel hooks around the user's neck. I always love the opening action/title sequences, the dalliances with Moneypenny, the physical specimen goons, and of course Bond's roguishness and effortless charm, even in the most dire of circumstances.

The on-location film work was beautiful, the pre-CGI stunt work including high speed motorbike and ski chases through the snow of the Italian mountains, and mountain climbing, impressive. The theme song is one of the best in the series, earning a nomination for Best Original Song at the Academy Awards in 1982. It sets the tone... it's got sex in it, but also mystery, just what a Bond film needs of course.

I started the new job on Monday and it was just what I needed after a firehose of a week. I need to do this again. One film, and the world, is not enough.

Are there any Bond aficionados out there that would recommend another? There are many I have not seen, and I'm itching to work backwards to keep the nostalgia train running... but also I have yet to see a single Daniel Craig entry in the series. I know, but I just don't watch much TV, at all. I'm torn between Goldfinger, The Spy Who Loved Me, and the 2006 version of Casino Royale, the latter of which I've heard so many good things about. I have seen Goldfinger, but so long ago that most of the details (save Oddjob, the laser sequence, and a gal dipped in gold) have escaped me. 

Probably hard to go wrong with any of them.

Bad ass car that we didn't get to see enough of ... thugs
should have heeded the warning.

Friday, March 18, 2022

Slinging sword-and-sorcery about the interwebs

A couple recent posts up at two of my favorite hangouts:

Dungeons & Dragons: Friend or Foe of Sword-and-Sorcery? at the blog of Goodman Games/Tales from the Magician's Skull.

The first is the result of a couple emails exchanged with my friend Tom Barber, who is looking to sell some of his artwork. He's not doing commissioned pieces at the moment, but has some work that will likely be of interest to fans of spec-fic. I am planning to see Tom in the next couple months.

As for the latter piece, hey, we all enjoy a little shit-stirring every once in a while. I love RPGs and have been an on-again/off-again player for large portions of my life, but I don't think they are an unalloyed good for budding S&S writers. YMMV. It is weird that their meteoric rise tracks very closely with S&S's precipitous fall. It may be a coincidence, but perhaps not.

Wednesday, March 9, 2022

Fantasy without Tolkien? Yes that happened, and yes it matters.

My latest post is up on the blog of DMR Books: "Fantasy without Tolkien? Yes that happened, and yes it matters." Check it out here.

This one was prompted by a few lines I heard Corey Olsen, aka., The Tolkien Professor, state during one of his recent podcasts. It was rather a throwaway line but struck me as not fair to fantasists working before the world-altering impact of The Lord of the Rings, and so I felt compelled to respond.

If you read the post, you will see that A) I venerate Tolkien, and B) I enjoy Olsen's work. But, I also call them as I see them. And I think the fantasy genre would have materialized even without JRRT. It would have been far less rich, a paler version, and the genre might never have attained the commercial success it now enjoys. I can hardly bear to think of it... but, I think if you review the evidence of what was occurring in the 1950s and 60s, prior to the Ace Tolkien explosion of 1965, the arrival of the genre was inevitable.

We'll never know and this is of course all speculation, a game of alternative history. Tolkien's arrival ushered in a new brand of fantasy and changed the course of history, and fantasy fiction, forever. But, we should not forget that he himself was influenced by many fine writers of fantasy, the Burroughs boom was in full swing, and in all likelihood we would have had the Lancer Conan Saga. The likes of Burroughs and Leiber and Moorcock and Vance and Lovecraft were coalescing and emerging from the shadow of 1950s science-fiction. 

And, with all due respect to Olsen, their work absolutely mattered.

Friday, March 4, 2022

Joe Lansdale: The art of good writing

Joe Lansdale is one of my favorite authors. He consistently delivers good, tightly-plotted stories, populated with memorable characters, and moments of violence, sometimes shocking, but leavened with a great sense of humor throughout. He keeps you turning the pages, which in and of itself is an art form. He has a inimitable voice that comes through on every page.

Reading "Hyenas" from his collection Hap and Leonard (love those characters, who briefly enjoyed the limelight with a far too quick to be cancelled TV series ) reminded me of how good Lansdale can be. Look at what he does with this opening. You're effortlessly all in with a just a few paragraphs of description.

When I drove over to the nightclub, Leonard was sitting on the curb holding a bloody rag to his head. Two police cruisers were parked just down from where he sat. One of the cops, Jane Bowden, a stout woman with her blonde hair tied back, was standing by Leonard. I knew her a little. She was a friend of my girlfriend, Brett. There was a guy stretched out in the parking lot on his back.

I parked and walked over, glanced at the man on the ground.

He didn't look so good, like a poisoned insect on its way out. His eyes, which could be barely seen through the swelling, were roaming around in his head like maybe they were about to go down a drain. His mouth was bloody, but no bloodier than his nose and cheekbones. He was missing teeth. I knew that because quite a few of them were on his chest, like Chiclets he had spat out. I saw what looked like a chunk of his hair lying near by. The parking lot made the hunk of blond hair appear bronze. He was missing a shoe. I saw it just under one of the cop cars. It was still tied.

I went over and tried not to look too grim or too happy. Truth was I didn't know how to play it, because I didn't know the situation. I didn't know who had started what, and why.

It paints a scene that begs the story to be told. Kudos to Joe.

If you haven't read any of his stuff I recommend you start with his Hap and Leonard stories (Mucho Mojo is a particular favorite of mine) or perhaps his standalone novel The Bottoms. This stuff may not be sword-and-sorcery but it moves like the best of it.