Retro Review: Conan The Barbarian by Robert E. Howard

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I was perusing Half Price Books about a week ago and saw a stack  of a 2010  edition of Conan The Barbarian by Seven Oaks Press, taking a collection of Robert E. Howard’s classics.This is not the complete works volume which I’ve seen since researching — and if you’re looking for more complete, I suggest getting that one. I wish I had more Conan adventures to read at this point so that might be more worth  your while. Many Conan stories are also available on the free archives site that is online.

However, this collection does have excellent stories, and at Half Price, it was good value.

I’d never been much of a Conan fan. I’ve seen portions of the cheesy movie from the 80s, but that didn’t inspire me to want to pursue it further .It took a long while of the Pulp Revolution talking up how great Robert E. Howard was as a writer for me to check it out.

And I’m glad I did. I was gripped  through these adventures like none other. Now none of them really tie together. Conan could be a pirate, a city guard, an explorer, a treasure hunter, any smattering of jobs or backgrounds. He’s always mentioned as Cimmerian and a barbarian, however. Different women are in distress, and he’s interested in whatever one happens t o be in front of him.  The sense of continuity is loose at best. A couple of stories mention he’s had all of these different jobs, and some regions of the world or peoples are referenced from time to time, but it’s best to view each of them as more stand  alone than as a progression.

Howard does create a great sense of dread and a sense of fun in each of these. Conan is fairly light hearted, but he’s a serious warrior. He goes about his tasks with unwavering purpose. He fights worth a dozen or more men every time. Parts of it are almost horror-like, with looming creepy things in the background that can end up ordinary apes or men for Conan to fight, or something supernatural. it all blends together to create a feel and impression that helps keep tension rather than often being explicit about whether a wizard actually has powers or not — the lack of explaining is something we wouldn’t see in modern fiction, where we are obsessed with defining things for “realism” effect. In fact, I think the way Howard does it is better for storytelling as it keeps the reader guessing  what is real, what isn’t. When coming to wizards  and illusions, that serves the story well.

This book opened with an essay by Howard – The Hyborian Age, which  sets  a lot of the background of the world/myth. While it’s the slowest and least interesting part of the book, it is worth a read  just to familiarize yourself with some terms for later stories. It should be viewed more as an appendix than a story itself.

My favorite stories were probably “Shadows In The Moonlight” – it being the first in the volume, it hooked me on Conan. It may be one of the weaker ones if I went and read it again, but the feel there was perfect. “Queen Of the Black Coast” was also great, showing Conan’s love  for a pirate queen. “A Witch Shall Be Born” I thought  was a very solid one dealing with magic, and finally “Red Nails” is probably my favorite of all of them. Valeria is a great character and I wish she would have continued through other stories.

Some are stronger than others, but I can’t say one in the volume was particularly bad, just not as exciting as the ones I listed. It’s got 10 tales in all including the Hyborian Age, and serves as a great introduction to Conan. This isn’t even half of the stories or fragments out there though, so there’s a lot more reading to do.

10/10

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Quick Shot Comic Reviews – Valentines Day Week!

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Reviewing up a selection of comics I read this week in brief snippets:

Bane: Conquest #9: The start of a new arc here, where Bane is assembling a team to go after the dastardly secret society Kobra. Interesting introductions to several characters, though a little slower than a lot of the book has been so far. A set up issue that needs more context. Art seemed to go a little less detailed in backgrounds and the like too, felt a little rushed. 7/10

Rebel Dead Revenge #1: Written and drawn by Gary Kwapisz, I wasn’t sure what to expect on this. We have a horror tale set in the civil war where the devil’s starting to take control of people via his evil magic. It was about the most gripping comic I’ve read this year and I’m excited for the next issue. 10/10

Batman: White Knight #5: Definitely a middle issue, but Batman is slowly losing everyone and it’s amping up. Very interesting as is the whole concept of Neo-Joker. This series is coming along very nicely. 9/10

 

Dark Ark #5: Cullen Bunn’s first volume of his evil Noah’s ark series wraps up this week. Very interesting issue. I love how it went. Even though I’m not usually a horror fan this had a lot of compelling concepts. It’s kinda interesting how both this book and Armstrong below used a Noah’s Ark element and both of them (spoilers) killed off unicorns.Great comic overall. 8/10

Armstrong and the Vault Of Spirits #1: A bit of a throwaway one shot, but this had some good fun for it. I don’t love Fred Van Lente’s humor a lot of the time — and he loves to insert identity politics jokes into those, but he didn’t really do that in this issue — this seemed to be a sort of reintroduce all of t he characters in this Valiant Universe realm more than anything else. Art was very pretty, story was inconsequential but enjoyable enough. 7/10

If you like  the comics I like, you’ll probably like my fiction writing too. Check out my highly reviewed For Steam And Country, which will also be available on audiobook as soon as Amazon approves it!

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Retro Review: Poul Anderson – Ensign Flandry

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Almost every time I open up a new Poul Anderson book, I find myself overcome with joy. I get strange aliens, a cool world with a lot of conflict, plenty of intrigue and action, and a g guaranteed sense of wonder and just joy of being in science fiction that a lot of modern authors don’t offer.

Ensign Flandry is the first book in a sequence of books in a future history Anderson developed for the period of the Terran Empire. There’s a lot of different books and the reading order is a bit murky overall, but Ensign Flandry is a good place to start to follow this particular character’s adventures.

It starts out not introducing the title character at all, but setting backdrops of both the Terran Empire — showing the decadence and decline of nobility, and a human commander on a faraway planet, where there are 4 species at play. There are two local sentient species, one under water, and one tiger or cat-like species that are fighting for dominance of the planet. The humans have taken the side of the cat species, and the Mersians have taken the underwater dwellers’ side. A series of incidents are escalating between the two and it looks like war is happening.

It’s odd at that point.  I  wasn’t quite sure about the book, though I’ve seen Anderson start books off in strange ways before. It was a lot of set up, and because you’re jumping perspectives so much there’s not a ton to latch onto, so it took me awhile to get into the book. In hindsight, I enjoyed the set up, but it was a strange start during the read of it.

Once we are introduced to Flandry a good seeral chapters into the novel, we find a fun, competent young character who appears as if he has the inexperience and follies of youth, but there’s a lot more to him than we see. He gets caught up in the struggles of the conflicts, and the humans scramble not to have this escalate into a full on war.

He gets conscripted into intelligence, and goes to the Mersian homeworld as part of an ambassadorial delegation. This is where we get some James Bond ish adventuring in space, but with a twist as Flandry doesn’t do a lot of the direct espionage himself. He’s often observing what’s going on and just happens to fall into a part of it, but it really works despite not being in the direct action a lot of the time. Flandry finds himself fooling around with his Imperial nobility’s concubine on the planet and gets himself into a world of trouble.

It only escalates tension from there. The characters are so well done. You end up caring a lot about Flandry and then Persis, the concubine. The conflict with the Mersians progresses in such an interesting and different way as well. It’s very imaginative all the way around.

And then Anderson puts a final twist on it which I won’t spoil. That’s where it gets really interesting. The wrold was so  well developed in this fairly short novel, and the conclusion is entirely satisfying.

I might like this book even better than Fire Time, which is my favorite Anderson book so far. It’s tough to say. This had an extra fun factor to it where Fire Time felt a little more serious. I’m excited to continue this series and  read more adventures about Flandry.  Baen  has done a great job collecting these in their “Technic Civilization Saga” series for easy omnibus reading.

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Quick Shot Comic Reviews

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I’m back for another round of brief reviews of all the comics this week as I couldn’t pick just one. I missed last week so there’s a smattering of titles in here.

Go West #1 (Alterna) by Gareth Gunn and Saint Yak

A post apocalyptic horror about a man who’s family gets slaughetered and he goes out to get revenge. A lot of visceral moments, art is nice. I like the simple, yet very clearly horror coloring style, it works well with the book. Overall, I think I typically see more vignette pieces from Alterna that don’t offer enough worldbuilding for the complete story, but what we do see is always fun and very easy to justify with their low price point. Enjoyable first issue.  8/10

 

Silencer #1 (DC) by Dan Abnett and John Romita Jr.

I picked this up on a whim. Art wise you like Romita or you don’t. I tend to like him because he’s very expressive. This book really is a great opener for a comic. Lots of personal drama, good tie in to the DCU, fresh characters who you care about in personal situations and good battle alike. A very promising start.  10/10

Ninja-K #3 (Valiant)  by Christos Gage and Tomas Giorello

Giorello is one of my favorite artists working today, and this book is absolutely beautiful visually. The story has some good action and an interesting backstory of a Ninja-C from the program. I think Valiant has a tendency to get repetitive in its overarching storylines and pushes a dark “you’re not really fighting for good like you thought you were!” a little too often. It gets tired after a few books of it, but on its own this issue stood well. Valiant really needs to focus their worldbuilding and line so it’s a little tighter. 8/10

Quantum & Woody #2 (Valiant)  by Dan Killbesmith and Kano.

The layouts on this are a jumbled mess, hard to read, and the storyline is very choppy. I gave it a second shot after the first issue but I think this is it for me. The art looks pretty enough but as a comic, this is pretty close to unreadable.  3/10

X-O Manowar #11 (Valiant) by Matt Kindt and Ryan Bodenheim

After what I believe was a filler issue to give purely villain background, we’re back to Aric and his planet where he’s become Emperor and everything’s fallen apart. Bounty Hunters come to take him down, which we find out is a betrayal. It’s got some call back to the previous series (Kindt really likes the character Gin-GR I see) and is the most standard comic storyline of the series so far. Thoroughly enjoyed the story. It’s also the weakest art of the series so far with the new artist. Coloring’s off in spots and Aric’s beard looks unnatural, so points dinged for what otherwise was a great book. 8/10

Robyn Hood: The Curse #1 (Zenescope) Chuck Dixon and Julius Abrera

Zenscope has been running with this modernized Robin Hood character for awhile, but this is the first I’ve read because of Dixon’s involvement. Art is phenomenal, 90s Top Cow style, while Dixon spun a very fun tale. There’s some cheesecake lesbian innuendo which I laughed at, but overall this is a good start to a miniseries 9/10.

 

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Comic Review: Right Ho, Jeeves #1

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Today marked the release of Akrhaven Comics’ 2nd outing, the first issue of the adaptation of P.G. Wodehouse’s classic, Right Ho, Jeeves. I’m a reader who’s coming in not having read the book in which it’s been adapted from, so I can’t comment on how faithful it is to the original, and I come at this purely from a standpoint of “is this a good comic book?”

What’s interesting is by the nature of this story is there’s a lot of potential for talking heads. When I mention this in comics, it usually means a lot of “telling” or having people talk back and forth which doesn’t communicate a story well in a visual manner. Dialogue drives this book. It’s a humorous book based on wit and character alone, and it’s actually very daring as an adaptation as a second outing because of that.

I’m pleased to say that Dixon and Kwapisz managed to change the sceneries, the characters, and have them DO things to keep the story driving and flowing. It’s a cut above most comic books I see when it comes to heavy dialogue,and it’s a testament to the skill of the artist and writer how well they pulled this off.

Dixon introduces all of the characters in the story on the first page, giving a pertinent description along with a visual. The visual is where this really takes off as the characters are so well defined and cartoon-ish looking, just like they should be for a comedy like this. They nailed the classic cartoonist feel to a tee, and it instantly prepared the reader fo what was ahead.

As the scenes ensue, there’s a couple of plots going on — one in which Bertram (the main character and narrator) is forced to get a job, and another in which Augustus Fink-Nottle, a silly looking man, dresses as the devil to try to impress a woman at a party, and of course it goes disastrously wrong.

What’s amazing to me is how adept Dixon is at giving the characters different voices in the dialogue, while simultaneously ensuring that the reader has to read this in their minds with a British accent. Coming off reading a vastly different book by Dixon in Robyn Hood #1, in which he captures a modern girl playing superhero in her young 20s in America, the pure depth of voice and breadth Dixon can reach is really astounding.

Likewise the art by Kwapisz is amazing. There’s some extremely detailed panels, keeping with the cartoonish styles, but he even shifts the tone of his art for flashbacks depending on the vantage point. There’s one scene in particular in which Fink-Nottle sees himself a a hero and the art switches to his vision of the world and it’s very nice to look at. Bonus points to Kwapisz as he drew horses in the same cartoony manner and pulled those off — as any comic artist will tell you, horses are extremely hard to draw, let alone give distinct character like in this book.

This isnt’ an action-adventure comic. And it would be foolish to read it as such. This is a literary work turned into a literary comic with humor and cartoonishness playing a large part of the theme and aesthetic. And by Jove, Dixon/Kwapisz nailed it. If Arkhaven keeps up this kind of quality, they’ll be competing with the big companies in no time.

9/10

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My 2017 Planetary Awards Nominations

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It’s that time of year again. Last year for 2016 I nominated two very cool sci-fi stories, which I wanted to raise awareness for. For something like this, I like to try to put something out there not just that is great, but that other folk might not nominate because it didn’t cross their radars.

Most of my reading is in Sci-Fi proper or Mil SF, so it’s actually kind of odd this year that my two favorite stories I’ll be nominating for the awards are fantasy.

Without further ado, 2017 Planetary Awards Nominations:

For Short Story:

I’ve mentioned this several times before but my favorite short story of 2017 was “Trouble In An Hourglass” by Jody Lynn Nye which appeared in Straight Outta Tombstone. This is a weird western time travel adventure that I thought was supremely fun. It’s actually up there as one of my favorite short stories of all time. I’m a big fan of weird west in general, but Jody really nailed it with the characters in this book being people who are relatable. As a testament to how much Jody made me care about them as a reader, I actually started dreaming up scenarios where they have other adventures in my head (which is dangerous because I don’t have time to write more stuff this year!). The science is light on this, which is fine by me. It’s just pure fun. Jody is a big Dr. Who fan from way back, and her love for that style of adventure really shows in this story. It fired perfectly on every cylinder for me from world to pacing to character to concept. Great stuff.

For Novel:

It’ll be no surprise given other awards nominations I’ve been touting that I’m picking Robyn Bennis’ The Guns Above. It’s Steampunk, but it nails the aspects of Steampunk I love: detailed airship combat, a cool fantasy world, exciting war where the stakes are really high for the characters. Tone wise, it’s a little darker than my usual fare, but Robyn propels a beautiful adventure with these characters. Josette is supremely capable as a character, and though she’s also very jaded, it’s fun to watch her progress into her own command. Bernat’s arc, though he’s extremely annoying, is really what makes the book, because it ends up being somewhat about redemption and it adds a little light heartedness to the very heavy story.

Lots of war. Lots of death. Lots of drama. And airship action. Hopefully Robyn will be getting book 2 out here quickly!

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Quickshot Comic Reviews

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I hadn’t been to the comic shop in a couple weeks with the unprecedented craziness that went down last week, but I did yesterday, and I caught up on my comic reading last night which was very fun. Here’s a little bit of what I’m reading and my thoughts on it:

The Tick #2 by Cullen Bunn, Jimmy Z Johnston and Duane Redhead. This was a lot of fun. I thought the first issue was really amusing, but this was even better. Ninjas vs. clowns! The Tick meanwhile is poisoned with some drug that’s making him relive his origin while Arthur tries to keep him from hurting himself or others by accident. It’s fun, fast paced, and actually decent for all ages which makes me happy.  8/10

Grass Kings #11 by Matt Kindt and Tyler Jenkins. Anyone who follows me knows I’m a huge Kindt fan. Grass Kings is honestly the best book out there no one’s talking about right now. It’s about the quirkiest story I’ve seen in a long time, no superpowers, no supernatural stuff, just pure character drama in a really cool concept set up. This issue resolved the first arc but still left a lot of questions, and it was very intense character drama. I love the pretty watercolor indie art. My shop also got me a variant cover (pictured above) which is one of my fav covers I’ve seen in awhile as well.  10/10

Star Wars Forces Of Destiny: Rey #1 by Jodie Houser and Arianna Florean. This is a “grrl power” gimmick event by IDW. Female creators! Strong female leads! Finally! It gets really old seeing one of these month after month by publishing companies. But judging from the book itself and not the editorial mandated event, Jodie Houser actually crafted a pretty fun book. Rey and BB8 are on Jakku trying to survive in a tale set in the middle of The Force Awakens. It’s just action, survival and fun. Art is pretty decent too. The style works really well for this kind of story. I had fun with this 8/10.

Bloodshot:Salvation #5 by Jeff Lemire and Lewis LaRosa. This art is just stunning, like most Valiant books, but it’s still the wrong feel for a book like Bloodshot. It’s the gritty “Punisher Max” sort of attempt to make Bloodshot more a “real” character. This answered some questions from #3 and concluded a fight, with a Deus ex. Ninjak element to it. I’m glad we finally got to some action in this series. That with the pretty pencils was enough for me to enjoy the conclusion to this arc. 8/10

Dejah Thoris #0 by Amy Chu and Pasquale Qualano. I picked this up because of the 25 cent price tag. Art was pretty decent all the way through, but I found it a bit hard to be gripped. A lot of setting the stage and telling us what’s going on, and the pacing was a little bit slow on it. It was alright enough that i might pick up the #1, but hopefully that issue has a little bit more to it. 7/10

Ninjak vs. The Valiant Universe #1 by Eliot Rahal and Joe Bennett. This was everything I wanted out of a Valiant book and have been asking for forever. It was pure fun. Action. spy drama. Superheroics. Crazy antics. There’s a little suspension of disbelief issue with the plot but I don’t care because it was just that fun. Art was nice and fit the book’s tone perfectly. Valiant should more more in this direction than trying too hard to be arty with their superhero books. 9/10

And that’s it for this week. If you like my tastes or thoughts on fiction, you’ll probably like my fiction even more. I deliver short stories to my Patreon subscribers every month and more! It keeps the blog going, keeps me writing, and helps me to make my own comics. Support and get some of the best content in the business! 

 

 

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The Super Hype Jon Del Arroz Book Of The Year

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I read a lot of great books this year. It makes it exceedingly hard for me to choose one or even do a top five like I am prone to doing. Of course, then it’d be just as easy to name one of my own books as book of the year, I mean I am rather partial to those…

But over the course of all of my reading, one book really stood out to me. Even though it’s been about 6 months since I read it, the book is fresh in my mind. The characterizations were so visceral, the worldbuilding so tight. It opened in a very unique battle sequence which was very intense, where unlike most fantasy/mil-sf I read, I felt the characters were in  overwhelming danger and not going to get out of it. The book took such a brave 180 as it got further into it, transitioning to another kind of battle — the battle for the main character’s heart.

Just the pure breadth and depth of this story meant it had so much to offer. The author has such a depth of connecting with character that it makes it hard to put it down once I started reading, all of which is positive.

And so… I decree the book of the year 2017 to be Wandfasted by Laurie Forest. It’s billed as a novella, but it’s really about the length of a short novel.

It’s a prequel to The Black Witch, and actually I believe was released more as a promotional tool for that book. It really stands on its own and I feel is superior to the main book it’s meant to support. Where I felt TBW bogged down with some pacing issues in the middle, this book was about perfect on that level. I keep saying Laurie is someone to pay attention to as THE NEXT BIG NAME IN FANTASY. If she keeps up work like this, she may be hailed as one of the greats sooner rather than later.

Wandfasted is available only via ebook, though I think her publisher should look into doing a limited edition hardbound run. Check it out here: https://www.amazon.com/Wandfasted-Black-Chronicles-Laurie-Forest-ebook/dp/B01N00Y9X9

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Comic Review: Port Of Earth #1

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Port Of Earth automatically made it to my excitement list when I  saw the concept — aliens use water for fuel  and  made earth into a stopping point along their transit routes. They built  a port, which is supposed to be away from human society and supposed to not have them interact with humans, in exchange, humanity got to get access to unlimited power, ending our energy dependency. Wow!

Of course, eventually, aliens act as tourist, and problems occur. Those problems lead to a  lot of deaths in situations, so an agency is formed  to both protect the aliens and the humans from each other.

The drawings are pretty solid, though  the colors are a bit washed out — I  guess which was an intentional stylistic choice, but it does make a  little monotony to the issue, which is amplified because of the  pacing.

The pacing of this book is really out of whack. It opens up with  several pages  of backstory “telling” which probably could have been condensed some. We don’t actually meet the main characters until the staple page —  halfway through the book. So the set  up, while it’s a great concept, is a lot.

Once  we get there, it’s very slow. The second half of the issue is pretty much filled with talking heads, that, with the washed out colors.

Now it sets up an interesting story where these ESA agents are going after an alien, and the media is actually going to watch them with drones to show what  they do.

The next high point in t he story is the characters. They’re  well written, rounded, and  people you can connect to as a reader. The we have one “straight guy”  character and  one over  the top type  who seems hellbent on getting them into trouble. The relationship between the main character and his woman is very well done also.This plus the concept and solid line art  is enough I’m certainly going  to pick up a second issue.

There were a couple dialogue spots where it could have used some editing. One panel has two complex sentences end in the same word choices in a row, which looks a little clunky, and there’s a couple of other spots that could use tightening up.  This didn’t detract from my overall enjoyment or the characters.

There’s a lot of potential here, but the issue itself suffered from those pacing issues.  Hopefully as the arc continues we get past the infodumpy portions. It’s worth continuing reading, and I’ll review issue #2 next week (it’s already out) to let you know if it picks up.

7/10

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Book Review: Dangerous Gamers

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I don’t usually review too many non-fic books here (well I did Scott Adams), but I just read  Dangerous Gamers: The Commentariat and it’s war against video games, imagination and fun. I have to say this is probably the most poignant and relevant analysis of our culture and it’s direction I’ve ever read.

It goes into depth on the armchair-quarterback social media outrage, it’s effect on entertainment news and its effect on culture itself. the main thing the book taught me which I’d never thought of before, is pop culture works we consider “political” actually have little to do with politics. I’ll let you read to figure out why, but it’s an extremely interesting hypothesis.

People try to find outrage in everything now, and it’s based on identity of the creators more than the actual content of the messages of the entertainment itself. It’s so ridiculous, and though this book just got me thinking about it anew, the detailed, logical perspective it takes actually made me take a step back to look at the global trends.

It’s heavy, and it’s a little on the long side for the premise, but it’s worth the time if only to open up your mind to what the commentariat class is doing, and how it’s ruining everything for everyone.

https://www.amazon.com/Dangerous-Gamers-Commentariat-against-imagination-ebook/dp/B071W99VMZ/

 

 

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