Thursday, July 28, 2011

Blogging Conan: Jewels of Gwahlur/The Servants of Bit-Yakin

This was one of the last Conan stories Howard wrote.  Only four more would follow, but those four contain two of his greatest masterpieces, "Beyond the Black River" and "Red Nails."  Howard's title was "The Servants of Bit-Yakin", but Farnsworth Wright changed the title to "Jewels of Gwahlur" when he published it in Weird Tales.  That's the title it was known by until the Wndering Star/Del Rey editions, which restored the original title.  However, there are some collections in print which are using the Weird Tales versions of Howard's stories, so you might find it under either title.  Unlike some of Howard's work, there's no difference between his preferred version and the version that appeared in Weird Tales.

Blogging Kull and Conan: Of Axes and Swords

And so we reach the end of our look at the Kull stories (almost; I'll have some general comments in a separate post) and the first of the Conan posts.  I'm looking at both of these because the first Conan story, "The Phoenix on the Sword", is a rewrite of an unsold Kull story, "By This Axe I Rule!".

"By This Axe" isn't a bad story, but it isn't a particularly good one, certainly not be the standards Howard had set in some of the other Kull installments.  There are two main aspects to the plot.  First, a group of dissatisfied men, two noblemen, a guard captain, and a poet, have recruited a former diplomat turned bandit, Ascalante, to help them overthrow Kull.  This portion of the story is the better half. 

The second portion of the plot concerns a young nobleman who wishes to marry a young slave girl who happens to be owned by one of the conspirators.  This type of situation seems to be a recurrent theme in the Kull series, mostly in stories not published in Howard's lifetime.  Kull's Councilor Tu insists that for a nobleman to marry a slave is simply not done; it would violate a centuries old law.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The American Invasion of Russia

Paul McNamee is the guest blogger today over at Home of Heroics.  His post is about the American invasion of Russia at the end of World War I.  I suspect many of you are asking, "What invasion?  I didn't know America invaded Russia.  When and how did this happen?"  Read Paul's post and find out. 

And don't forget to comment.  Everyone who comments on one of this week's posts (posted Monday, Wednesday, or Friday) will be entered in a drawing to win a limited edition copy of Rage of the Behemoth.  It's a fantastic anthology, so comment early and comment often. 

Monday, July 25, 2011

New Post at Home of Heroics

I'm in the middle of trying to put together presentations for back-to-back conferences next week, so I'm a little late in mentioning this.  (Plus Blogger and Firefox don't seem to be on good terms lately, forcing me to use a idfferent browser; what's up with that?)  The latest installment of my column Dispatches From the Lone Star Front is up at Home of Heroics.  It deals with Robert E. Howard's legacy, so if you're a Howard fan (if not, why not?), check it out.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Contest at Home of Heroics

I got an email over lunch from Jason M. Waltz, the publisher of Rogue Blade Entertainment.  He's running a contest next week for a chance to win a limited edition copy of Rage of the Behemoth.  I reviewed the book here, if you're wondering what it's about.  All you have to do is comment on one of the posts at Home of Heroics next week.  There will be one Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.  I've written the one for Monday, so I obviously can't reply to that one, but you can.  Details of the contest are here

The Death of a Dream and the Need for Manifest Destiny

I always knew I would see the first man on the moon. I never dreamed I would see the last.
Dr. Jerry Pournelle

Tomorrow, as I write these words, and earlier today, as I post them (thank you software glitches for the delay), the last Space Shuttle, Atlantis, will land for the final time. And then, for all practical purposes, it will be over. America’s manned space program will be gone.

Yes, I know we’ll still have an astronaut corps. They will still fly, on other nation’s launch systems, to the International Space Station. At least until it’s deorbited in a few years. But we won’t have the capability to send our people into space. We’ll simply be hitching rides on some else’s rockets. Like other countries used to do on ours. We will no longer be the wold's leader in manned space exploration.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

How to Survive a Zombie Apocalypse, Viking Style

Viking Dead
Toby Venables
Abaddon Books, 351 p. $9.99

We're rather fond of vikings here at Adventures Fantastic, so when I saw this in the store, I knew I had to at least consider giving it a try.  After reading a sample in the middle, I took it home (after paying for it, of course) and thoroughly enjoyed myself.

While I've not gone in much for the current zombie craze, that might start changing, especially if I can find more stuff that's this well written.  For a first novel, Toby Venables sets himself a hard act to follow.

The story concerns a grew of down on their luck vikings, led by a man named Bjolf.  The book opens with a raid on a small village.  The only problem is a rival crew of vikings got there first.  Bjolf and his crew end up fleeing for their lives, but not before acquiring a stowaway, a thirteen year old boy from the village named Atli, who just wants to escape his overbearing father.

Pursued into a fog, Bjolf and and his men lose their bearings and are only able to find land after a raven lands on their ship and they follow it to shore and into a fjord.  They're not sure where they are, but it's no place they want to be.  This is something they quickly discover when one of the crew is attacked by a draugr, an animated dead body.  Seems the woods are crawling with them.

Borders Closing for Good

Borders, unable to find a buyer, has announced that it will liquidate and close all remaining stores.  Passive Guy at The Passive Voice has summarized announcements from a variety of sources, each with a slightly different take on the situation.  You can read PG's post here.  The comment that most disturbs me, after the fact that nearly 11,000 people will lose their jobs, is that some publishers are now planning on smaller print runs since Borders will not longer be available to stock their books.  While this makes sense from a short-term business perspective, long term that could have a detrimental effect on authors.  With smaller print runs, sales will be lower.  Currently, if sales are low, publishers drop authors.  How with the new lower print runs affect the drop numbers?  Will we see more authors being dropped by publishers, resulting in fewer selections on fewer bookstore shelves?  Will those author be able to continue series that have existing audiences by indie publishing, or will the publishers control the rights to those series?  I suspect the answers to those questions with vary among authors and publishers, but I have concerns about some of my favorite midlist authors.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

An Important Public Service Announcement Concerning Slave Leia

I posted this at Futures Past and Present but thought some of you might enjoy it.  I've clearly been attending the wrong conventions.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Realms of Fantasy: A Review of the June 2011 Issue (Plus a Small Suggestion)

Realms of Fantasy, June 2011
$6.99 print, $3.99 pdf

I'm not sure why, but I can't seem to find copies of this magazine until the month after the one printed on the cover.  With all other publications of a monthly or less frequent nature, the date on the cover is always in advance of the month it hits the stands.  Which is all besides the point.

What is the point is the fiction.  But before I get to that, I do want to thank the publisher for going to a different cover stock.  Unlike the previous issue, the ink on this one didn't rub off on my hands.  (Now to start lobbying for an epub format...)

This is the one-hundredth issue, which makes it something special, especially since it's been canceled twice in the last few years.  To celebrate, this issue has one hundred pages.  (One hundred two actually, but why quibble?)

There are the usual columns:  Folkroots, Gaming Reviews, Movies, Artists Gallery (a gorgeous spread featuring Petar Meselkzija, with whom I was not familiar), Graphic Novels, and three book review columns, with one devoted to general fantasy, one to YA, and one to paranormal romance and urban fantasy.  There's also a letters column devoted to the anniversary, a list of facts about the magazine, and an editorial by Shawna McCarthy, which I'll comment on later.  A new feature, of which I heartily approve, is the poetry.  The inaugural poems were by Ursula K. LeGuin, who will be hard act to follow for whoever has the poetry in the next issue.

Well over half the magazine (54 pages if my arithmetic is correct) is fiction.  So how does it stack up?

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Amazon Overcharging for Ebooks

David Gaughran  has posted a disturbing essay on why ebooks cost more through Amazon than in the US and a select few other countries.  You should read David's post, especially if you live outside the US, UK, Germany, Canada, Ireland, and a few other countries.  In most of the world, including France, Spain, Israel, South Africa, India, and Brazil just to name a few off the top of my head, there's a $2 surcharge added in addition to any sales tax or VAT.  This surcharge goes directly to Amazon, not to a government, and certainly not to the author.  While most of my readers are American, I know there are a few in countries in which Amazon slaps this surcharge.  David is encouraging his readers to buy through Smashwords or iTunes, because there surcharge isn't added there and the author gets more money. 

Some of you may have noticed that I've recently become an Amazon Associate.  You may be wondering:  Will Amazon be displeased with this post, will they revoke my Associate status, and will I lose a revenue stream in they do?  The answers to those questions are:  Almost certainly, maybe, and not at all.  If Amazon were to even notice this small blog, they would almost certainly be displeased and could very well revoke my Associate status.  But at the present time, I wouldn't lose a dime.  Because so far I haven't made any money by being an Associate.  (Considering a recent post which stated that Locus Online, which probably gets more hits in a month than both my blogs combined have ever gotten total, only generated a few hundred dollars a month from links to Amazon, I'm not exactly planning my retire on my earnings.)

I'm less concerned about ad revenue than I am fair trade practices.  What Amazon is doing is hurting authors in the long run, as David so eloquently explained.  Since I hope to begin doing some indie publishing myself within the next year, I'm taking the long term approach rather than the short term by not offending Amazon.  Plus it's just the right thing to do.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Another Salvo in the Battle of the Sexes... it pertains to fantasy and science fiction, of course.  Over at the Black Gate site, regular contributor Theo posted an essay today explaining why it's okay for readers to like different types of writing and for writers to write different things.  I tried to say something similar a few months ago in a post entitled "In Defense of Traditional Gender Roles in Fantasy".  The post, while not completely sinking like a stone, didn't get much response.  Theo, on the other hand, has summarized much of my argument in a more concise and eloquent manner. This particular flare up of controversy (everything I've seen so far is too civil to be called hostilities) was started when the Guardian over in the UK did a completely unscientific survey of it readers, asking them to name the best works in the SF genre.  When the results came back skewed heavily towards male authors, the label of Sexist began to be leveled at science fiction, and by extension fantasy.  I'd like to respond at length, but to some extent I already did.  I've got some deadlines breathing down my neck (which is why I've not been posting as much lately), so I'll just encourage you to go read what Theo has written.  If I can find the time, I'll throw my two cents in.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Blogging Kull and Bran Mak Morn: Kings of the Night

Kull:  Exile of Atlantis
or Bran Mak Morn:  The Last King
Robert E. Howard
Del Rey

This is the next to last post about Kull and the first about Bran Mak Morn.  They're together because they appear in the same story.  This is essentially a Bran Mak Morn story in which Kull has a supporting role, although many elements of the Kull series can be seen.  Let's take a quick look at it.

Howard uses the trick of telling his tale from the point of view of a supporting character, albeit a crucial one.  This is a device he's used before, especially in some of the Conan stories.  The advantage to this approach is that we get to see how other characters view the hero.  This allows the reader to gain a fresh perspective of the hero and is particularly useful with a series character whose identity has been well established. The viewpoint character here is Cormac na Connacht, "a prince of the isle of Erin."

The story is divided into three parts.  In the first, the Picts and their allies are awaiting a battle with an invading Roman legion the following morning.  With the Celts and Picts are a group of Northmen.  The northmen were defeated by Bran when they tried to invade.  Their king swore and oath that he would aid Bran against the Romans in one battle, and in return Bran would build him ships for the survivors to get home.  The problem is that the king was killed in a skirmish with Roman scouts, and his remaining men say his death released them from the oath.  Unless Bran finds them a king to fight under, "a king neither Pict, Gael, or Briton", they will desert to the Romans.

Of Blood and Crown and Conquest

The Crown of the Blood
Gav Thorpe
Angry Robot Books
464 p., $7.99 paper, $5.99 ebook

You know any book that is dedicated to Phillip, Alexander, and Julius is going to be battle-centric.  Or perhaps I should say campaign-centric, because battles are only a small part of a campaign.  The Crown of the Blood doesn't disappoint, although towards the end I felt the campaign was a little rushed.

Is this book worth reading?  If you like military oriented fantasy without a lot of sorcery in the middle of the battle, then you should enjoy this one.  There is some sorcery, but the battles are fought between legions and bandits, legions and those-soon-to-be-conquered, and legions and legions.  Unlike Glen Cook's Black Company novels (which I love), sorcery has little to do with the combat.  It's done the old fashioned way:  looking your opponent in the eye when you try to kill him, just like he's doing to you.

The plot concerns one Ulsaard, a general in the Askhan army who has managed to work his way up the ranks and is as close to nobility as he can ever be in this society.  He's more comfortable with his legions than he is with the intrigues of court, and this causes him to be manipulated into taking sides in a disagreement over the succession.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

A Review of Dreams in the Fire

Dreams in the Fire:  Stories and Poetry Inspired by Robert E. Howard
Mark Finn and Chris Gruber, ed.
cover art by Jim and Ruth Keegan
Monkeyhaus Publishing
available from Lulu (use above link), $20, 278 p.

Ever since I interviewed Mark Finn back in February (posted here and here) and he told me about this book, I've had high expectations for it.  It did not meet my expectations.

This book exceeded my expectations, and in spades.

All the contributors are either current or former member of the Robert E. Howard United Press Association.   The anthology is a fund raiser, and I'll talk more about that at the end of the review.

The book contains stories and fiction, along with an introduction by Rusty Burke.  Several professional writers are included, but not all of the names will be familiar.  My understanding is that some of the contents are the first published fiction of some of the contributors.  I can only ask:  What took you people so long?  There's not a dog in the book, and the quality of many of the stories surpasses a lot of what's in professional short fiction markets these days. Howard wrote in a variety of genres, so not all of the entries are fantasy, although most are.

I'll not discuss the poetry, since some of the pieces are only a few lines.  I don't want my commentary to be longer than what I'm commenting on.  I restrict myself to saying the following people have one or more poems in the book:  Barbara Barrett (3), Frank Coffman (2), Danny Street, Amy Kerr, and Don Herron.

The backbone of the anthology is the fiction, and that's what I want to discuss here.

Amazon Piracy: A Disturbing Case of a Writer Being Ripped-Off

Passive Guy over at the Passive Voice posted this disturbing news story a little while ago.    It seems author Ruth Ann Nordin is having a problem getting a pirated copy of one of her books removed from Amazon.  They seem to be dragging their feet about removing the stolen book and giving her the runaround.  In an act of solidarity with Ms. Nordin, I'm passing this information along in hopes that enough people will raise enough of a stink that Amazon will respond quickly and do the right thing.  They did for her other two books that were stolen.  Good luck, Ms. Nordin.  As an aspiring author, you have my full support.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Why You Soon Won't be Able to Find a Good Book in a Store

I was reading one of Kris Rusch's columns over at The Business Rusch the other day, the topic being shelf space disappearing in book stores.  At that reminded me of an unpleasant experience I had the other day in Wal-Mart, one that is now repeated every time I walk into the store (which isn't nearly as often as it was a few weeks ago).  If you haven't read Kris's column, please go read it now.  I'll wait.

There, that didn't take too long, did it?  Ms. Rusch brings up some very disturbing points, and while some of them are negative, others are mixed.  For what it's worth, here's my take on things, including why I'm not going to be shopping at Wal-Mart as much in the future.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Independence Day Greetings

I'm traveling this weekend and will have limited computer access, so most of the work I'm doing on the blog will be to get caught up on some reading.  I'll be posting a couple of reviews this next week, one an anthology and the other a novel.  Since I had a few minutes where I could log on, I wanted to wish everyone a safe and happy Independence Day.  And if you are a citizen of a country that doesn't celebrate American independence, please accept my wishes for a good weekend.