Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013 wrap up

Well, I read 15 books in 2013.  But that's deceptive because that only counts books I read cover-to-cover.

I read lots of graphic novels, too.  I wound up buying & reading many comic issues as they were released this year.  I also read short stories, some which I forgot to note, probably.

Books Read in 2013
The Winds of Gath E. C. Tubb
Dread Brass Shadows Glen Cook
Men of Bronze Scott Oden
Sharpe’s Havoc Bernard Cornwell
Plague of Shadows (Pathfinder) Howard A. Jones
In the Courts of the Crimson Kings S. M. Stirling
Moanin’ at Midnight
Thieves’ World (#1) Aspirin
The Twelve Children of Paris Tim Willocks
The Burrowers Beneath Brian Lumley
Blind Shadows James A. Moore & Charles R. Rutledge
Transition of Titus Crow Brian Lumley
The Hammer & The Blade Paul S. Kemp
In the Company of Ogres A. Lee Martinez
Space Viking H. Beam Piper

Graphic novels
The Return of Superman
Atomic Robo: Real Science Adventures Vol. 1
Dejah Thoris and the White Apes of Mars
Phoenix on the Sword
Superman Beyond: Man of Tomorrow
Lobster Johnson: The Burning Claw
Scarlet Citadel
Kingdom Come
The Dalek Project
Legion of Super-Heroes: Enemy Manifest
Army of Darkness:  Ash vs. the Classic Monsters
Atomic Robo: And Other Strangeness (Volume 4)
Atomic Robo: And the Deadly Art of Science (Volume 5)
Astro City: Life in the Big City (Vol. 1)

Shorts, etc
“Children of the Kingdom” (Dark Gods) T. E. D. Klein
“Tsathoggua” (Black Gate) Michael Shea
“Vestments of Pestilence” (Black Gate) John C. Hocking
Doctor Who: 50th Anniversary, 11 short stories
"Long Black Train" Heath Lowrance
"That Damned Coyote Hill" Heath Lowrance

Single Comics
Doctor Who: Prisoners of Time
Doctor Who: Classics
Planet of the Apes: Cataclysm
Planet of the Apes Special (#1) & Spectacular (#1)
Hawkworld: Escape from Thanagar
Superman Unchained
Six-gun Gorilla
Atomic Robo, Vol 8
The Star Wars
Legends of Red Sonja
Manifest Destiny

Movie & television watching were nearly null except some older movies, Jeopardy and Doctor Who.  Not so concerned there.  I finished off some Tarzan movies right up to the wire.  Maybe I'll start noting the movies I watch next year.  I used to do that, but fell out of the habit when my movie viewing really slacked off.

Happy 2014 everyone!

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Happy Christmas 2013!

I hope Santa and family & friends were good to you, also!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Tarzan's Three Challenges

Trying to add to my Tarzan experiences, I watched Jock Mahoney's second and final outing as the lord of the jungle in Tarzan's Three Challenges (1963).

Following Tarzan Goes to India, this installment again takes Tarzan out of Africa.  This time, Tarzan goes to an unnamed Asian country (portrayed by Thailand.)  There, he must escort a child "chosen one" to safety for his installment as new leader of the nation.  But the current ruler's brother, Khan, is a jealous type.  Tarzan's road will be beset by villains.  But first, he must prove he is Tarzan and worthy to protect the child, and he undergoes three challenges of dexterity, strength and wisdom.

This movie was mostly enjoyable, a few moments over the top and some lingering shots of the exquisite locales of Thailand.  It is good rainy Saturday afternoon adventure matinee fair, if nothing else.

My favorite moment was Tarzan's third challenge; the challenge of wisdom.  I am not sure which martial philosophy it was taken from, but it is a nice little gem.  (Paraphrasing, because I can't find the exact quote online;)

Monk: After a march of a thousand miles, you will face your enemy in the morning.  What is the first thing that you make certain?

Tarzan: I make certain that it is my enemy, not me, who makes the thousand mile march!

The only drawback was, unfortunately, Jock Mahoney's portrayal.  The acting wasn't bad, but the physique and athleticism were wrong.  He was lanky, thin and seemed to have awkward and stiff body motion.

It turns out, that was with reason.  Mahoney contracted fever, dysentery and pneumonia nearly as soon as the production started on location in Thailand.  Co-star Woody Strode attributed the illness to Mahoney's own braggadocio of swimming across the largest river in Thailand - which was also the most polluted.  Mahoney was also, at that time, the oldest man to play Tarzan.  Mahoney lost 45 pounds during the movie, and it shows.

Though eventually he recovered, Mahoney was never quite the same and he was done with Tarzan and many other physical action roles he would have taken in the past.

I acquired this movie through the Warner Brothers Archive collection - on-demand printed DVDs of many movies that weren't available before.  A set of 5 Tarzan movies (2 starring Jock Mahoney and 3 starring Mike Henry) was released earlier this year.  Two weeks ago the price plummeted 45% on Amazon, so I finally grabbed them.  (It is currently still down 40%.)

I look forward to revisiting Mahoney in his first outing, and watching the other Tarzan movies in the near future.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

In the Company of Ogres

In the Company of Ogres by A. Lee Martinez

I am usually not one for humorous fantasy, but I trust Martinez.  Last year, his The Automatic Detective became an instant favorite when I read it.

Never Dead Ned can't get a break, and he can't stay dead. Oh, he dies, but he keeps getting resurrected. A guy like that could be handy as the leader of Ogre Company - it's too bad he's really just a military accountant with a lack of ambition.  Too bad his top three officers--a blonde Amazon, an ogre and an orc who insists he's an orc though he looks suspiciously like a goblin--would rather he stay dead. Ned wouldn't mind that at all, really.

Along the way Ned tangles with - and tries to avoid - sorcerers, witches, demons, goblins, orcs, ogres, seductive sirens, bad-tempered rocs, hungry vultures and other fantasy races & creatures that are slightly off-kilter in Martinez's vision.

I enjoyed this one, a lot.  Funny fantasy stuff without being snide satire or parody.  Really fun - something like Douglas Adams writing Catch-22 meets (Glen Cook's) The Black Company.

Martinez deserves a wider audience.  I'm not sure why he hasn't caught on.  To date, he hasn't written a series or even a sequel novel.  Each one is standalone.  Maybe this works against him.  He has enough requests from fans that he Kickstarted a short story collection - one tale per novel world.  It's the first Kickstarter I contributed to, and it's nearly ready.  Maybe the sampler will help, though it's really aimed at fans he already has.
Martinez has moved up my reading list for next year.  You should check him out.

Monday, December 9, 2013

John Carter omnibus glut?

I was at a local comic shop yesterday, they had a special table set out.  It was a Marvel collection they were moving along.  Trade paperbacks were 'buy 1, get 2 free.'  Nothing there jumped out at me.

But, on the second table, there were Marvel hardcover omnibuses.  These list at $100 cover price.

They were also 'buy 1, get 2 free.'

My jaw hit the floor when I saw they had a stack of John Carter Warlord of Mars on the table.  They had multiple copies, at least eight, I think.  The omnibus contains all 28 issues and 3 annuals, in color, hardcover, of the Marvel mid-1970s series.  (It was not the DarkHorse b&w reprint)

The temptation was palpable.  But, I didn't see 2 other omnibuses that held my interest.  I suppose I should have negotiated a different deal.  But, $100 is too much right now when it is the holiday season and I'm trying to cool off my credit cards.

I walked away.  It wasn't easy.

Last night, I checked eBay I was surprised how many are listed. On top of that most of them have a different (alternate?) cover, new, factory sealed, for around $30 including shipping! Some are even "Buy it Now," if you don't want to deal with auctions.

I ordered one last night.


So, if you don't already have this and want a copy, now might be your time to hunt around.  Not sure why so many have popped up suddenly.

I have been trying to google up the image of the book I saw yesterday.  I haven't found it.  The cover was this comic image (I think, I could already have blurred the details);

So, I'm not sure which is the 'alternate' and which is the standard.  It doesn't matter really, s'all good.

It's going to be Santa's present to me to keep the kids guessing ;)

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Doctor Who leftovers

This was a banner year for Doctor Who fans.  The show celebrated its 50th anniversary.  There were specials and all sorts of tidbits and quick web interviews.  Oh, and there were sales.  Some directly related to the jubilee, some just because.

I acquired a great many audio-plays, digital short stories, ebooks and comics.

Now that the 50th anniversary episode has come and gone, I have leftovers not unlike Thanksgiving turkey leftovers.  Here are some that I consumed recently;

Doctor Who 50th Anniversary BBC/Puffin short stories.

11 short stories, released digitally, one per Doctor.

I mostly enjoyed the stories, though none really jumped out at me as being declared a classic in the future.  The only one that really didn't appeal to me was the 1st Doctor's story.  Far too much physical derring-do for the 1st Doctor.  It didn't feel very much like the 1st Doctor, at all.

My favorite was the 2nd Doctor story, which involved the Necronomicon hijacking the TARDIS.  But, I'm biased toward Mythos stuff right now.

I bought each story individually, but they are going to be collected for a print anthology (and, I would suspect, an e'anthology.)

IDW's Doctor Who: Prisoners of Time, 12 issues

To celebrate the 50th year of Doctor Who, IDW Publishing ran Prisoners of Time over the course of the year.  Each incarnation of the Doctor got a turn in each issue, with a 12th issue wrap-up of the linking story.  The issues mostly followed the same pattern - an unrelated adventure that ended with the Doctor's companions being kidnapped by an unknown villain.

The villain reveal was a good one, if you've been watching the recent show.  It made sense.  The stories were fun, though some of the issues had art styles that did not appeal to me, at all.

Overall,  Prisoners of Time is a good comics celebration of Doctor Who's 50th anniversary.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

The Hammer and the Blade

The Hammer and the Blade by Paul S. Kemp

I can't add much to the review already posted by Keith West.

This is a great slice of sword-&-sorcery.  Though it clocks in at the current page count of 400~, it's a quick breezy read that goes by like an old 300-pager from the s-&-s heyday.

I've already bought the sequel, and it is high on my reading list for next year.

Get yourself this book.  Read it (sooner than I did.)  You'll be glad you did!

Monday, November 25, 2013

The Compleat Crow, returning

Just stumbled on this!

Subterranean Press are reprinting The Compleat Crow - the collection of the Titus Crow shorts and novellas.

It's a little steep, but Subterranean usually are.  Crow isn't what I expected for Mythos tales, but the shorts might be different from the novels.  The novels are fun, in their way - just more about adventure than horror.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Words from Tannhauser's creator

I did my usual rounds on the REH/Conan forums this morning.

I was pleasantly surprised to find this note awaiting myself and other enthusiasts on our discussion thread concerning The Twelve Children of Paris by Tim Willocks.

(I believe you can read the post without being a member.  But, for convenience, I am assuming the author won't mind my repost here.)
Dear Fierro, Deuce, PaulMc, et al,

I am Tim Willocks. I registered on this site to thank you guys for your support, which I greatly appreciate. I am honoured that you should give Tannhauser a place in Valhalla with Conan himself.

REH's Conan was one of my great inspirations when I was but a lad. Along with Sergio Leone's 'Man With No Name', the western novel character 'Edge' by George G. Gilman (the first ten were amazing; I don't know if they are still available but worth looking for), and the novels of Sven Hassel (again, the earlier ones are best - Wheels of Terror in particular).

T's body count, by the way, is over 150 in Twelve Children, all individual deaths. The only wound he receives is from a boy with a sling. I based his fighting attitudes and style on the great karate masters I have trained with over the last thirty years. I achieved a respectable level, 2nd Dan, and won a minor competition here and there, but whenever I came across the real virtuosos I was completely stunned, dazzled, overwhelmed, by their speed, insight, foresight and above all decisiveness. A different dimension, almost supernatural. I felt like a two-year old. And no matter how hard a modern martial artist trains, he sleeps in a bed and his life is not at stake. So how much more extraordinary must the fighters of the past have been? When not just their lives were at stake but also notions of honour that are now incomprehensible.

Unlike in The Religion, where he had the janissaries to contend with, in Twelve Children he is facing, essentially, volunteer policemen and street thugs.I couldn't bring myself to let them lay a glove on him - or rather, I just didn't believe that he would let them. Personally, it often annoys me in movies when the hero gets wounded just for the sake of making his life a bit more difficult, a fake tension. If you are that good, you don't lose a single point. Why wouldn't you kill them all? Why would even cross your mind to show mercy? My main frustration in writing the action was that it takes sixty-seconds' worth of words to describe a move that would take only two seconds (or less) to execute.

I think some readers will doubt the realism of all that, but to me it is true realism. I have absolutely no doubt that such men existed. Shakespeare is full of them. I once saw a former New York state tennis champion play a former Polish national champion and Grand Slam contender. There are a lot of really good tennis players in New York State; but the Polish guy crushed him - he didn't concede a single point, let alone a game. The local crowd fell into a kind of horrified silence. The Polish champion just lived, breathed, perceived in a different dimension. Tannhauser is essentially a kind of five-times Grand Slam champion of combat. It's not that there are not others in his league, it's just that I couldn't imagine any of them being in Paris at that time - or certainly not among the packs of rabid murderers.

Anyway, thanks again for your generous and thoughtful comments.

I will sign off with this REH quotation, to which I often return for reassurance when I worry that Tannhauser is going too far (which is often):

“Let me live deep while I live. Let me know the rich juices of red meat and stinging wine on my palate, the hot embrace of white arms, the mad exultation of battle when the blue blades flame and crimson, and I am content. Let teachers and priests and philosophers brood over questions of reality and illusion. I know this: if life is illusion, then I am no less an illusion, and being thus, the illusion is real to me. I live, I burn with life, I love, I slay, and am content.” Conan in 'Queen of the Black Coast'.

All the best
Tim Willocks


The extra insight into the believability of Tannhauser and his actions is very spot-on.

Anyway, this was a great post to read first thing in the morning.  The Internet/Web can still be a very neat place where cool things happen.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

When Comics Were...Crazy

My interest in comics is a relatively new era of my life.  I did not grow up with them.  Aside from the Robert E. Howard related sword-&-sorcery comics, my current interest in superhero comics started once I was pulled into the animated series Justice League/Justice League Unlimited.

Suffice to say I am somewhat spoiled by that--and by "recent" graphic novels--that can take the best elements of things past, blend them up, and present them in a well-formed narrative of character development, plot and action.  I've been playing a lot of catch-up, along with touching base here & there with recent stuff.

Occasionally, I try to educate myself by delving back even further into titles.  The Marvel Essentials or DC Showcase Presents collections are an inexpensive way to do that, if you don't mind the black-&-white interiors.

Comics - you've come a long way, baby!  Getting through these collections can be arduous for me.  I know to leave my hyper-critical story-reader mind at the door, but still.  It's obvious from these collections how far comics have come from being children's media, to attempted "adult" seriousness, to the much smoother presentations we find these days.

My latest foray is All Star Comics, the 1970s revival of the 1940s title that showcased the Justice Society of America.  I thought maybe going with the 1970s would be a bit more readable than 1940s stuff.  Who knows, maybe the 1940s stuff is easier to swallow (though we know the war-related racism that was in the comics during WWII.)

The things that irritate me;

1.) Constant narration, thought bubbles, dialog, expository dialog even though the action illustrates what is happening.  It gets tedious.  Now, I would guess there are at least two reasons for this; 1.) to spell out exactly what is happening for the children to understand 2.) paid to 'write.'  If there weren't words on the page, editors would try to dodge out of paying a writer.  (Marvel tried to do this to Steranko when he started a Nick Fury story with 3 pages of visuals, no words.)

2.) Lip service characterization via attempts at social consciousness and seriousness.  Rather than work it in organically, there are moments oddly dropped in here and there.  Abruptly Alan Scott (Green Lantern) drops out of a mission because his business is failing due to his continued absence.  (Never was a problem for Bruce Wayne.)  The "feminist" dialog and narrative notes around Power Girl are absolutely cringe-worthy.

3.) Insane and semi-random plotting.  Things just keep coming out of left field.  Either to tease the next issue, or just to conveniently add to the story.  I remember reading the Essentials Captain America where the issue's story would end, and then there would be a final, unrelated frame to hook into the next issue.  DC was doing the same thing here, though sometimes they'd drop the hook in the middle of the issue - where it feels even more random.

Oh, don't get me wrong, it's all fun in its own way.  But if you go in with a modern mindset, these are some crazy looks back at the worlds of superheroes.


On the other hand, we have the modern facet of comics going too far to the dark, serious and gritty.  Obviously, they were trying to get away from the kids' stuff, and certainly comics are a wide enough pallette for all kinds of stories.

I have nothing against comics that are aimed at older crowds.  But sometimes I believe there is too much focus on that lately from the main publishers and their main titles.  Would you rather have an animated Justice League style storyline and presentation or a New 52 presentation as your main flagship?  I know my preference.

Again, I must pay tribute to Atomic Robo.  To me, this is how wonderful a modern comic can be.  Character, fun, plots that work and nothing overly grim, violent or sexual.  Not to say it is written for kids - but you could share it with your kids easily.

I guess I'm just a centrist in nearly every aspect of my life - superhero comics included.

Monday, November 18, 2013

The Night of the Doctor

Last Thursday, the Whoniverse exploded over a 6+ minute "mini-sode" that was released online as a precursor to the upcoming 50th anniversary special, The Day of the Doctor.

It is titled, aptly enough, The Night of the Doctor.

I was very fortunate to click through to the mini-sode first thing in the morning, and avoided all spoilers.

It was a big shocker, because somehow, someway in this age of the Internet, the secret was not leaked.  But now we can discuss it.

"I'm a Doctor.  But probably not the one you were expecting."
Paul McGann was back, on-screen, as the Doctor's eighth incarnation!

The last time he was seen in the role was 1996.  That was for the t.v. movie - his one and only (until now) visual appearance as the Doctor.

No surprise, I can't stop pondering The Night of the Doctor. Sure, McGann's surprise appearance was an undeniable wow! factor, but there's more than that.

It's no throwaway extended scene - it's a story, loaded with backstory presented with tight writing.

This rundown sums it up well.


I would add a few other points.  First off, this is not a role McGann dusted off after 17 years.  Yes, he has not been on-screen as the Doctor in all that time, but he has been playing the Doctor in audio-plays for a number of years now.  He knows exactly how his Doctor acts and sounds, and he was able to bring it all to those 6+ minutes of the mini-sode.

Also, the themes present throughout the current run of the series are in here, too.  One aspect of the new show has been exploring how the Doctor saves his companions and how they, in turn, save him - from himself.  It is very telling that here at the end, when the Doctor chooses to no longer be "the Doctor," there is no companion to talk him out of his decision.

For those non-Whovians reading, think of it as an incredible piece of Doctor Who flash fiction.  It might even be interesting to watch it and see how much backstory you can work out.  I have an advantage there, but I still think a helluva lot was conveyed on-screen.

The Night of the Doctor

Between Moffat's laser-focused dialog and McGann's pitch-perfect performance, this might be the best 6+ minutes of Doctor Who ever.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Halloween leftovers

I managed to squeeze in quite a bit of media consumption over the weekend.

I watched Boris Karloff ham it up in The Mask of Fu Manchu, and rewatched it with commentary.  I listened to the commentary on The Mark of the Vampire - the movie itself I had watched last week.

I (re)watched Things That Go Bump in the Night,  a documentary on haunted New England tales & folklore.  (It was produced by the PBS station from western Massachusetts.)  I learned a few new stories, but mostly I'd read about everything they covered.  I do have a large collection of local press New England occult folklore books, so that's not surprising.

Things That Go Bump in the Night
You can watch the entire thing online if you have an hour and are interested.

I finished reading the story, "Children of the Kingdom", by T. E. D. Klein (in his Dark Gods collection.)  Another tale of the lost subterranean race(s), but this time they are moving through the underbelly of NYC.

I also read the Dynamite trade paperback collection of Army of Darkness: Ash vs. the (Classic) Monsters.  I hadn't tried any of the AoD comics and I was disappointed.  They overplayed "Ash is a horndog" and "Ash gets people's names wrong" until it was tedious.  And the Monsters - aside from a thinking Frankenstein monster - didn't feel special or Universal whatsoever.

Finally, I started reading the second Titus Crow novel, The Transition of Titus Crow.  I wasn't expecting to return to Crow so soon, but seeing as how the novel is the second-half of the omnibus, I decided to finish it off.  So far, it's another occult adventure as opposed to atmospheric Mythos horror, but it's a fun romp.
The Transition of Titus Crow

Thursday, October 31, 2013

recent read; Blind Shadows

Blind Shadows by James A. Moore & Charles R. Rutledge

When a childhood friend of Sheriff Carl Price is murdered in the small town of Wellman, Georgia, Price and another friend, private investigator Wade Griffin, find themselves pulled into a dangerous and strange investigation.  Moving from meth lab suspects to all-out horrors from outer dimensions, Price & Griffin face enemies who grow by number, size and lethality as the story builds.  The duo also make interesting allies along the way.

Every character had a backstory, and that made for solid storytelling, character interaction and growth.  The beats were steady, the stakes and suspense amped at the correct frequency.  I liked the blending of little people of the earth with larger Lovecraftian gods.

The authors seem to gel well - I didn't really feel thrown out of the story by style change at any time.

This was a very enjoyable read, especially for the month of October. Good horror and a wild ride at the end.

I liked the various references to other horror & pulp characters and writers sprinkled throughout the tale.  I bet there were more I didn't catch.

Looking forward to the sequel, Congregations of the Dead, already.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Halloween Haunted Viewings so far

I've squeezed in a smattering of horror viewings over the past couple of weeks.  Here are some quick thoughts.
Mark of the Vampire
I'd always heard of this one, and finally got around to watching it.  Quirky, at best.  Some good visuals.  Some moments that made little sense.  Lugosi has no dialog until the very end.  And (spoiler) if you didn't know - it all turns out to be non-supernatural; a very elaborate sting operation.  Caroll Borland made for a fine vampire bride, though.  One does wonder if the lost film, London After Midnight (of which Mark of the Vampire is a loose remake) was better executed.

Night Gallery:  The House
An odd tale of a haunted house, dreams and potential madness.  It might have been atmospheric, but the bright California sunshine and color wash out any visual sense of dread on this one.

Night Gallery: Certain Shadows on the Wall
This was the second half of the same episode.  Much better creep factor as three siblings who loathe each other await for the fourth to die.  And when she does, her shadow appears on the wall permanently.

THRILLER: The Watcher
A serial killer is on the loose, and he is a quiet face among his own neighbors in a coastal tourist town.  Perhaps most enjoyable for the sheer irony of Richard Chamberlain not only playing the leading ladies' man, but also for the villain trying to "protect" Chamberlain's character's innocence from the charms of women. (Chamberlain came out of the closet awhile back, but during the 1960s his homosexuality was a well-kept secret.)

THRILLER: The Grim Reaper
A cursed painting is acquired by a fading Hollywood star.  Her nephew tries to warn her of impending personal doom.  Starring William Shatner, screenplay by Robert Bloch (adapted from a Weird Tales story by Harold Lawlor) and music by Jerry Goldsmith.  This was one tour de force of old suspense/horror television!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Halloween Month Plans

Well, it is mid-month.  Mostly, the Halloween plans have gone off the rails.  After last year's triumphant read of 31 horror short stories and novellas, I thought I would switch to the visual medium and try for 31 episodes of horror television.  Night Gallery, THRILLER, Hammer House of Horror and The Outer Limits (original, of course!)

I am way behind on my viewing already.  Plus the Red Sox are in the playoffs, and the further they go, the fewer nights for horror viewing.

Maybe I can do a marathon, but that's a long shot.

Perhaps a combination of reads, shows and movies will do the trick this year.

Not to say the genre is lacking for me this month.  I did read Lumley's The Burrowers Beneath.  I've seen a couple of THRILLER episodes and one Night Gallery episode.  I am half-way through Blind Shadows by Charles R. Rutledge & James A. Moore. (And it is very good, btw.)

I'm still having fun with the Halloween spirit, and that's what counts.

Monday, October 7, 2013

recent read; The Burrowers Beneath

The Burrowers Beneath by Brian Lumley

Last year, I read a novelette featuring Titus Crow, and I wanted to read more.  Not having The Compleat Crow collection, I opted for the first full novel featuring the occult investigator - The Burrowers Beneath.

The story starts out promising enough, and is loaded with plenty of Lovecraft and Mythos references to make any fan grin.  Crow's friend, deMarigny, is the son of the character from "Through the Gates of the Silver Key."  The strange clock from that story is now in Crow's possession.  There are hints of previous occult adventures of the two men together.

Crow dubs the monsters of the Mythos, "Cthonians."  He fears certain Old Ones are burrowing under England.  Some mine workers and oil rig workers have had unpleasant encounters.  Crow aims to stop the Cthonians, if he can.  The Cthonians align to oppose Crow's efforts, employing psychic tricks, men in their thrall, and other terrors.  There are a few good horrors as Crow and deMarigny lock horns with the strange creatures.

Things take an odd turn of tone midway through.  The localized horror expands to a global threat.  Crow and deMarigny join a globe-spanning foundation - the Wilmarth Foundation.  The foundation's charter is to battle any and all Cthonians.  Their arsenal against the underground Cthonians includes magic, psychics, and oil derricks adapted to exterminate the burrowers.

I think someone at Black Gate said it best in the comments - 'give in and roll with it.'  Unfortunately, the global scale leads to detachment from events for the reader.  The immediacy is lost.

Also contributing to a detached feeling as the reader - almost the entire last fifth of the book is textbook example of telling instead of showing.   Much of the world encompassing dangers and battles with the Cthonians are related to Crow and deMarigny via letters.

The Burrowers Beneath is more pulp horror adventure than truly horrific cosmic terrors, but it is a fun, quick ride if you're in the proper mood.

(note: I set a link to the Kindle version.  Be careful.  If you are in Amazon looking at the TOR omnibus edition, The Burrowers Beneath/The Transition of Titus Crow (see above) and you switch to the Kindle edition, it brings you to The Burrowers Beneath, but it is NOT the omnibus.  The ebooks are each sold separately.)

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The Twelve Children of Paris

Even though I already posted a bit about this novel, I wanted to log an official, albeit short review now that I have finished it.  To avoid too much retread,  suffice to state that what I posted while reading The Twelve Children of Paris held true right through the end of the novel.

Willocks pulled it off again. It's as good as The Religion and entirely different from it, too - which is how any truly great sequel should be - a new story, not a retread.

There are surprises plenty plot-wise, and I never knew who would survive or who would die right until the final page.

If Willocks sticks to his vision of a trilogy, he needs to outdo himself twice over. After The Twelve Children of Paris, I have utter confidence he can do that.

Truly an awe-inspiring novel.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Return to Lovecraft Country

When the first cool, post-August day breezed in, I began to turn my attention to thoughts of Autumn reading, which of course means Halloween and horror stories.  I have a hankering to return to the Cthulthu mythos, which I haven't read deeply for some years.  I am hoping to get through one if not two of Brian Lumley's Titus Crow novels, as I enjoyed his stories last year - one of which was a Crow tale.

I saw mention of some of Lumley's potential influences on the character of Titus Crow, including H. P. Lovecraft's character of Randolph Carter.  The Clock of Dreams, in fact, is the same strange clock featured in "Through the Gates of the Silver Key."  That spurred me to re-read the Randolph Carter tales before October arrives.  I'm through "The Unnamable", "The Silver Key", and "Through the Gates of the Silver Key."  I still have "The Statement of Randolph Carter" and "The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath" to read.

Being on a Mythos kick lately, I investigated the availability of the Chaosium Call of Cthulhu Fiction series, which I missed the first time around.  The first entries in the series are long out-of-print, of course, and I'll need to monitor eBay and ABEBooks.  But, it turns out that Chaosium have a large selection of "Boo-boo Books" - books that have wandered between stores and warehouses and have some scuffing or slight crumpling of cover corners - and they sell them at half-price.  While none of the classic ones seem available (shopworn or not) - e.g.; The Book of Iod - I couldn't resist expanding my Mythos library a little.

I could have gotten some e'books, but sometimes you just want print.  Plus, I have some new bookcases on order.  :)   (Hey, I am also moving some books along, really I am.)

It feels creepily good to wander the haunted hills of the surrounding countryside and walk through the darkened streets of gambrel-roofed houses of timeworn Arkham again.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Doctor Who: The Dalek Project

Doctor Who: The Dalek Project.

This graphic novel has an interesting genesis history.  Originally, it was slated to be a 10th Doctor story, but it had similarities to a television episode of the 11th Doctor, "Victory of the Daleks."  The episode aired nearly at the same time the book was to be released, so the book was put on hold.

Now, it has been resurrected as an 11th Doctor story (though, using the 10th would have distanced it from the t.v. episode - but, whatever.)

Finding Dalek remains while excavating a World War I battlefield, a group of archaeologists soon need the Doctor's assistance when the Daleks come to life.   The story then moves back in time, to the First World War, where the Doctor happens upon a strange house of an English munitions manufacturer.  Certain rooms open to other vistas - trenches on the European front, and a similar munitions factory in Germany.  Both sides believe they have created the ultimate weapon that will win the war - Daleks.  It's the Doctor's job, of course, to show everyone how wrong they are and to stop whatever master plan the Daleks have engaged.

Visuals are good.  I enjoyed the rendering of the primitive proto-Daleks with their tread tracks, heavy machine guns and iron crosses.

This was a fun comic, and I liked it a bit more than its predecessor, The Only Good Dalek.  
The first pass of the story, starring the 10th Doctor.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox

As DC meanders in the live-action realm while Marvel takes off into the stratosphere, quite the opposite continues to occur in the direct-to-Media animated movies arena.  Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox is another homerun for DC. (Unlike my disappointment with Iron Man: Rise of the Technovore.)

Barry Allen, a.k.a. the Flash, awakens from a desk nap to find the world has completely changed, and most of it not for the better.  His superpower speed is gone, some other heroes don't exist, and those that do are not the same that Allen knew.  The world is on the brink of annihilation as the fabled nations of Atlantis and the Amazons wage all-out war against each other - regardless of human casualties caught in the crossfire.  Can Barry Allen regain his speed and time-travel ability in time to change the alternate timeline before it is too late to save the world?

Like some mythic tale of old, Atlantis and Themyscira are at war over assassinations and lovers' betrayals.  Aquaman and the Atlanteans have already struck a major blow, driving the Amazons from their native island.  This leads to the Amazons conquering England and declaring it New Themyscira.  And now Aquaman threatens to use an ultimate weapon.

Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox doesn't so much reverse the DC Universe as much as it skews it arse over elbows.  This is not a simple "good guys are bad guys / bad guys are good guys" alternate universe story.  There are a few surprises in that vein, and that's all I'll say to avoid spoilers.

DC are not joking about the PG-13 rating this time around.  There is blood and disturbing violence.  Wonder Woman is a stone cold killer.  (In fact, a friend of mine who received an early review copy texted me immediately and warned me not to show my kids [It's okay, I don't let my kids watch these PG-13 DC movies.])  Older kids might be okay but if you have any very young ladies who admire Wonder Woman's heroics, this is probably not the time to introduce the concept of an alternate reality with a murderous Wonder Woman.

Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox is very dark, very different and very good.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Post Vacation Blues

Post vacation blues - but, not really.  I had a great week off.  For the first time in a long time, the vacation felt longer than it actually was.  I'm not sure why.  Maybe because we did lots of different things rather than one.

We spent a few days at York Beach, Maine.  Specifically, the Short Sands beach - which is smaller and very rocky.  But, the kids did not care.  They were happy to dig holes, collect mountains of rocks, and jump in the waves.

Aside from that, it was just days at home.  I did some personal shopping, scored some nice goodies.  This past weekend was wonderfully full of serendipity.  Spur of the moment, we had lunch with my parents on Saturday.  My sister and most of her family spontaneously stopped by my parents' house while we were there.  (They were also on their way home from a different Maine locale.)  Sunday night, we decided on dinner at a local establishment and bumped into our friends there.  They live in town, but we haven't seen each other in person in a very long time.  It was really great.

I even had some sense of accomplishment as I started cleaning out the home office yesterday in anticipation of a redo of the room.  We thought about hiring someone to build-in bookcases, etc., but we've decided to take our time.  I'll order a few custom pieces at a time (e.g.; storage cabinet, custom-sized bookcase) and work a wall at a time myself.  That'll spread the cost over some months.

I did not get much reading done.  Well, I didn't get much reading done on The Twelve Children of Paris.  It is a large enough physical book that I didn't want to lug it on vacation.  I brought my Kindle instead, and read a handful of tie-in Doctor Who short stories that have been released this year to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the show.  So far my favorite was the Second Doctor story, which featured The Necronomicon.

Back to the groove or grind, as the case might be.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Iron Man: Rise of the Technovore

Iron Man: Rise of the Technovore
Marvel animated movie, direct to disc release

This is not at all what I was expecting.  I guess I should have read a little more about it before I made the impulse buy when I saw the disc at the store.  I knew we were in for something different when I popped the disc in...and the default language was Japanese with English subtitling.

This movie spun out from the Japanese anime series of Iron Man.  There is some anime I enjoy a lot, but much of it doesn't appeal to me.  I did watch the initial anime episode of Iron Man (on G4, I think) and it entirely failed to capture my attention.

The movie starts out promising enough with a lot of aerial goodness as Iron Man and War Machine zip through canyons racing each other.  The initial attack of the Technovore is creepy and disturbing, and though it does devolve into bigger and bigger explosions, the artwork of the devastation and blazing fires is impressive.

But soon, the tropes kick in and the plot holes loom large.  The action just stops for still pauses and brooding, both among the villain and the good guys.  When the action picks up, it is in the form of S.H.I.E.L.D. running Iron Man to ground with orders to use lethal force because they want to protect Iron Man as the only witness to the initial attack.  Yeah, it makes that much sense.  (Maybe they had bad translators.  When I initially switched the language to English with English subtitles [before I turned off the subtitles] they were not equivalent.)

I didn't like the Technovore, at all.  He is a petulant boy with biotech armor whose sister/girlfriend (they never said) reads him Nietzsche while he stares at himself in a pool in a sterile white room.

Compare that with the bug-like version of the Technovore I was first exposed to via The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes (which, btw, is a very enjoyable series.)

I prefer the big techno-bug, myself.

Besides dead air brooding moments and still frames, another anime aspect I can do without is the fuzzy/cloudy lens.  I prefer sharp animation, and if muted, okay, but you don't need to further obscure the visuals and make me wonder if I need to clean my glasses again.

Another annoyance, outside of the movie itself, is the disc.  We were forced to sit through all the previews - bailing to the menu was not an option.  I hate it when discs do that.  It makes the likelihood of me putting it in the machine and watching it again even less.

So, if you like the tropes of anime and enjoy Marvel heroes, you might like this one.  If you're looking for a straight-ahead style of animated action, you're not going to find it here.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Doctor Who: Frozen Time

Frozen Time (Doctor Who audio drama)

Plot:  In the early 21st century, Lord Barset mounts an Antarctic expedition to find the remains of his grandfather's 1929 lost expedition.  But Barset's motivation is not purely genealogical.  Barest believes there is a pre-human reptilian civilization buried under the ice.  He is half-right.  The Doctor knows better, but after a million-year coma, his memory is fragmented and he might not recall what they need to know in time to save themselves and the planet.

Strong points: Maryam D'Abo as Genevieve.  The tease defrostings;  Ice Warrior?  No, it's the TARDIS.  Ice Warrior?  No, it's the Doctor.  Ice Warrior - yes!  McCoy's performance as the amnesiac Doctor.  Lord Barset believes he's on the trail of Silurians (and he's not.)  The denouement tease that perhaps Genevieve had a few more adventures with the Doctor before returning to the ship.

The Ice Warriors.  They sound right, and they have layers to their society - they aren't just an entire race of baddies and this story remembers to highlight that.

(Originally when this was released, the Ice Warriors' appearance was kept secret - that would have been a strong point, too, but by this time most everyone knows they are in this adventure.)

Weak points:  The setup fails to suspend disbelief.  I'm not sure even the Doctor could have survived frozen for a million years, Time Lord induced coma or not.  Would the Doctor really aid a prison facility - even one for his foes?  Would the Doctor agree to a Martian prison for the most dangerous criminals existing in Antarctica on Earth (of the past,) knowing what will happen in the future of that planet?

Frozen Time is a good Doctor Who story if you go along for the ride and don't think too much about how it all came together to start the adventure.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Weird Tales originals

At one of my area comic shops this weekend, I noticed they had a cache of original Weird Tales by the register. I hadn't seen them there before, and as soon as the shop owner noticed I was buying Boom Studios' graphic novel of Hawks of Outremer, he pointed them out to me. (Of course, I had already thumbed through them!)

They had some with Robert E. Howard content and some with H. P. Lovecraft though I don't remember exactly what.

So tempting. But at $90~100 per issue I couldn't personally justify a purchase.

Two of the issues they had;

"The Sea-Witch" by Nictzin Dyalhis wound up in Echoes of Valor III thanks to Karl Edward Wagner.

Monday, July 29, 2013

One hard bastard; Mattias Tannhauser

I usually don't blog about a book before I've finished reading it, but for Tim Willocks and his incredible character, Mattias Tannhauser, I will make an exception.

The sequel to The Religion has arrived.  At least, it has arrived in the UK.  It's not clear if it will get North America distribution.  I ordered mine from Amazon.co.uk.  As I reported when I reviewed The Religion, I wouldn't wait for the remainder bin this time around.

The Twelve Children of Paris takes place during St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre.  Tannhauser arrives in Paris to find his (very pregnant) wife, who traveled to the city to attend a wedding while Tannhauser was away.  Tannhauser quickly finds himself in the heart of the city, and in the center of a spider web of court and political intrigue and madness.  As the killings begin, Tannhauser must locate his wife and save his stepson from the spreading riots and chaos.

Here's an idea of what the reader can expect;

I don't know - does that poster count as a "spoiler"? ;)

Before you think it's all about the violence, it's not.  The violence is not gratuitous - it's brutal and unflinching, but it's true to the tale.  Tannhauser lives in a violent time, and violent world, and he is one the most dangerous men of the time.  The violence is intrinsic to his existence and integral to the story.

The Religion took place over many locales and months, making it a sweeping epic.  The Twelve Children of Paris is more condensed, staying in Paris for the 36 hours of the Massacre.  In some ways, that imparts even more intensity to the sequel than to the first novel.

I am having a blast reading this one!

(p.s. - It should be noted, that knowledge of The Religion and The Twelve Children of Paris existing at all leads back to Jim Cornelius.  If you don't already follow his wonderful, unique and informative historic blog, Frontier Partisans, you should check it out.)

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Blood & Thunder in paperback

Just saw a note on my Facebook Pulp Coming Attractions feed that Mark Finn's comprehensive biography of Robert E. Howard, Blood & Thunder, is now available as on-demand paperback from Lulu.

Yes, as big as an REH fan that I am, I have yet to get this tome.  I'll be ordering mine this evening.

Monday, July 22, 2013

more capsule reviews

In the Courts of the Crimson Kings by S. M. Stirling (novel)

A sequel to his Edgar Rice Burroughs' Venus series homage, The Sky People, Stirling takes us to Mars for his own vision of Barsoom.  Aiming for a modern take on the sword-&-planet genre, we get an interesting mix of a scifi anthropologic/archaeological tale that morphs into a rousing adventure with airships and wildly imaginative bio-tech.  The opening sequence, a scene where various classic scifi pulp authors watch the first Mars landing together (in an alternate history to our own,) is worth the price of admission alone.

Moanin' at Midnight - The Life and Times of Howlin' Wolf by James Segrest and Mark Hoffman (biography)

I'd been meaning to read this for a very long time.  I know the basics of Wolf's life, but not the details.  Like so many early bluesmen, it's hard to believe he survived to old age.  Also surprising was his sense of discipline to his work ethic.  Music was his job.  He expected his band members to perform sober and well-dressed.  Considering he was one of the wildest of the Chicago bluesmen when he performed, I was surprised to learn that.  It is fascinating to read about Wolf's early solo rambling around the South.  He met and played with the early greats – Charley Patton, Son House, Robert Johnson - long before he went electric & got to Chicago.  It's dumbfounding that given his vocal styling he was never tapped for “field recordings” in his early days as other bluesmen were.  Because he didn't record until after he went electric, there are only a handful of later solo acoustic songs.  I will be seeking them out.

Thieves' World (anthology) by Robert Lynn Asprin & Lynn Abbey

This is the original anthology that launched the Thieves' World continuing series of anthologies and novels.  Various authors try their hand in a shared sword-&-sorcery world.  Though I sometimes felt the grit and nastiness went too far (a backlash against sanitized fantasies of the day?) generally the stories were enjoyable sword-&-sorcery and I'll get around to reading more of them.

Kingdom Come (graphic novel)

A sprawling epic across the DC universe as a new wave of violent super-powered vigilantes displace the old guard.  Drummed out by popularity of lethal force, Superman retreats for ten years while humanity lives in fear of the gods among them.  Lured out of retirement, Superman soon establishes a new order that is much resented by many of the younger breed.  Meanwhile, the government, Lex Luthor and even Bruce Wayne are edgy about the great civil war that is about to erupt between the super-heroes.  Compelling storytelling, “painted” style of comic makes the heroes look very real and among us. It lives up to its hype, I believe.  Worth seeking out.

The Scarlet Citadel (graphic novel)

Like The Phoenix on the Sword, this is a wonderful and faithful comic adaptation of the original Robert E. Howard Conan tale.  The artwork is stunning again.   Nothing wrong here, at all.  It is excellent!

Kingdom of Silver (Doctor Who audio drama)

The Doctor finds a world where Cybermen of the past have worked their way into the mythology of the people.  The populace experiment with “silver” which cures disease and provides other boons.  But it also means that as they approach the dawn of their technical era, the waiting Cyber tomb hidden underneath the world might awake.  A companionless Seventh Doctor allows Sylvester McCoy to deliver a touch of melancholy to his performance as the Doctor.  Terry Malloy, mostly known for his portrayal of Davros - the meglomaniac creator of the Daleks - plays a good-though-misguided-guy, for a change.  This is a solid audio adventure for the Doctor.

Monday, July 15, 2013

The Doctor vs. the Daleks, again (Dark Eyes)

Doctor Who
Dark Eyes (4 part story)
8th Doctor Adventures
Big Finish (audio-plays)

This is a sprawling box set of four adventures of the Doctor, all directly connected to a woman named Molly and the Daleks that are pursuing her.  The Doctor rescues Molly, only to find the Daleks on their trail regardless of where they travel in time & space.  But the Daleks are not alone in their efforts, and the Time Lords have their own agenda to stop the Daleks' plan.

Nicholas Briggs (writer/director/producer) and Paul McGann (the Doctor) both have an interest in the history of the First World War, and details abound in the setting of the first adventure.  Molly, for one, is not a nurse nor a sister of a religious order, she is a V.A.D. (First I'd learned the difference, myself.)  The Doctor also has an appreciation for Sopwith Camels.

The next three adventures put the Doctor and Molly on a path through World War II, the 1970s and futuristic planets.

There's a lot here for Doctor Who fans - particularly if you enjoy the new series (2005-present) and the original series.  Briggs, along with Moffatt, have both claimed they want to keep the Time War mythic and not delve into details.  But, they can't help referencing it.  In the case of the t.v. series, it is a major backstory.  Here, in Dark Eyes, it's a bit of a tease though tastefully done.  The machinations of the Time Lords, here in this story, certainly earn them no favors with the Daleks nor the Doctor.

Also, McGann gets a new costume (which, yes, might seem unnecessary for an audio line.)  But, it allows the 8th Doctor to finally get away from the overused photoshopping of poses and costume that are 16 years old and redundant by this point.  He also dresses a bit more casual and even opts for leather.  Though it seems this was McGann's personal choice, one wonders if there wasn't some planned foreshadowing of the 9th Doctor's fashion sense.

Time, space, history, future, Daleks, Time Lords and the Doctor.  And most importantly, well done.  This story has it all.