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Shared universes, tie-ins, crossovers, swords, sorcery December 22, 2013

Posted by sjroby in Book reviews, Life in general.
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Star Trek and Doctor Who are the big multimedia fictional universes for me these days, but one of the first to demonstrate to me how this kind of thing could work would have been the world of Robert E. Howard’s characters. I first encountered Howard back in 1978 when I picked up a used copy of The Hour of the Dragon at the base library paperback exchange.

The Hour of the Dragon was the first of three Conan books edited by Karl Edward Wagner and published by Berkley books back in the 1970s. As Wagner was at pains to point out in his introductions, these books were the real, unadulterated Conan as written by Robert E. Howard, not a bunch of pastiches and posthumous collaborations like the twelve-volume series of Conan books from another publisher (originally Lancer in the 1960s, but Ace in the 1970s — and Sphere in the UK).

Well, I really enjoyed The Hour of the Dragon, and sure enough I went looking for the other two Berkley editions, but I think my second Conan book was Conan the Freebooter, in the Sphere edition. (The fun of being Canadian — we often got both UK and US editions of books, but that could get confusing when the editions were different or, as in this case, the numbering of series books was different. Collecting Moorcock’s Elric books was especially entertaining in that regard, if by entertaining one means frustrating, and one does.)

So I looked around for any Conan-related stuff. Two different series of books, one by Howard only, one more epic series incorporating revisions of Howard stories about other characters to make them Conan stories along with totally new Conan adventures, primarily the work of L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter. And the Marvel comics by Roy Thomas and John Buscema. And Savage Sword of Conan, the black and white comic magazine. I also managed to discover Marvel’s Kull and Red Sonja comics just before they were cancelled. Bantam published collections of Howard’s Solomon Kane and Kull stories. Then Ace published two new Conan novels by Andrew J Offutt just before de Camp and Carter started editing a new series of six Conan books from Bantam (including, ironically, a Conan novel by Karl Edward Wagner), and Grosset & Dunlap or Ace did six mass market paperbacks reprinting the early Marvel comics by Roy Thomas and Barry Windsor-Smith. Then came the novelization of the first Conan movie (I was unimpressed) to end Bantam’s run and the first Robert Jordan Conan novel from a new publisher, Tor. Cormac Mac Art six novel series. Red Sonja six novel series (I think I only got the first two). More Marvel comics, including King Conan and more attempts at Kull and Red Sonja.

And all of this in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when there were precious few original Star Trek novels.

It wasn’t all one coherent universe the way Star Trek or Doctor Who would (mostly) be. Howard’s characters existed in different eras, Kull millennia before Conan, Conan millennia before Bran Mak Morn or Cormac Mac Art, and them centuries before Solomon Kane — but Howard was willing to cross over between them, even having Kull meet Bran Mak Morn. And the later writers who expanded the Hyborian universe were even more eager to introduce crossover elements. The villain of the first Conan movie was actually Kull’s nemesis.

One of the coolest things was Michael Moorcock allowing Marvel to use his character Elric in a couple of early issues of the Conan comic. That might have been my introduction to Elric, and if I thought Howard and his successors liked making connections between his characters and series, just imagine how much I got into the whole Eternal Champion thing.

I dropped out in the late 1980s. I’d lost interest in the comics, and the Tor Conan novels by Jordan et al were just too formulaic, with little of the variety of Howard’s stories. But I’ve come back, a bit, thanks to the Dark Horse Conan comics and the Del Rey REH collections.It doesn’t — and can’t — hit me now the way it did when I was 15, but there’s still something there in Howard’s writing and characters. Haven’t bothered with the new Red Sonja comics, though — that chainmail bikini is just too damn silly.


Lovecraft season December 21, 2013

Posted by sjroby in Book reviews, Lovecraft.
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For me, Christmas is Lovecraft season.

It was the Yuletide, that men call Christmas though they know in their hearts it is older than Bethlehem and Babylon, older than Memphis and mankind. It was the Yuletide, and I had come at last to the ancient sea town where my people had dwelt and kept festival in the elder time when festival was forbidden; where also they had commanded their sons to keep festival once every century, that the memory of primal secrets might not be forgotten.(H.P. Lovecraft, “The Festival“)

I believe it was autumn when first I encountered the name of H.P. Lovecraft. It was October 1975 and I was 12 and we were moving from North Bay, Ontario, to Edmonton, Alberta. One of the books I remember reading on that trip was Tolkien: A Look Behind the Lord of the Rings by Lin Carter. I’d discovered Tolkien earlier that year after discovering fantasy as a genre through CS Lewis, Alan Garner, and Lloyd Alexander, so this was a book I needed to read. (Unlike, as I learned later, any of Lin Carter’s original fiction. He was an essential figure in the development of the fantasy genre in the late 1960s and early 1970s as an editor, but as a writer of fiction he was a great fanboy.) Anyway, in his chapter on epic fantasy novels to read after Tolkien (and at the time he was writing, there really weren’t many at all) he included Lovecraft’s The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath. I didn’t act on the recommendation.

It was probably summer when next I read about Lovecraft, in the forewords and afterwords to some collections of Robert E. Howard stories in 1978. Lovecraft was mentioned as one of Howard’s peers and friends, along with Clark Ashton Smith, the third of the Three Musketeers of Weird Tales.

It was autumn when I next knowingly encountered Lovecraft, by way of the “adult illustrated fantasy magazine” Heavy Metal, in 1979. Their October issue was a Lovecraft special with an adaptation of “The Dubwich Horror” and a number of more tenuously Lovecraftian tales. I was getting pretty darn intrigued by now.

So then came Christmas of 1979, and with some Christmas present cash in my pocket, I went to my favourite books and comics emporium, Hobbit’s Fantasy Shoppe, and bought my first Lovecraft book.

And it looked like it might have been a mistake.

The book was The Doom That Came to Sarnath and Other Stories. The introduction talked about how Lovecraft changed horror with his Cthulhu Mythos and his classic stories, and this book was the other stuff that didn’t matter so much, his less essential stories. But I kept on reading, and I loved it. I bought more Lovecraftian stuff including my introduction to mythos stories written by others, the second volume of Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos. (Bought, as I recall, the same day I bought the LP of Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols.) I had not only a new writer to obsess over, but a whole new subgenre as well. There was no looking back.

A few years later I remembered that “The Festival” was set at Christmas time, and I started a tradition of reading it every other Christmas or so, strengthening the Christmas connection. So this year I’ve ordered a few more Lovecraftian/mythos anthologies to keep the link alive.

And today I read the pdf of what’s supposed to be the screenplay of Guillermo del Toro’s unproduced At the Mountains of Madness. Antarctica! Snow! Ice! Another reason for the season. Too bad it isn’t very good or faithful to Lovecraft’s original. It’s a remake of John Carpenter’s The Thing with bits and pieces of two different Lovecraft stories. Just as well, then.

Thoughts for possible future ramblings:

What made Lovecraft different as a horror writer, and what do would-be imitators and followers get wrong?
Remember when Del Rey created epic fantasy as a successful publishing genre?

More than 140 characters or a like icon December 21, 2013

Posted by sjroby in Life in general.
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I used to blog a lot, despite not having an audience. That wasn’t really the point a lot of the time. Sometimes it was about throwing something out to see if someone had a shared interest, sometimes (as with livejournal) it was more social. But livejournal isn’t what it used to be. A lot of the old familar faces have moved on to other platforms.

Meanwhile, on a personal level, my life has changed. I started on wordpress when I was laid off from a job I’d had for just shy of 20 years, and I needed something to do online besides applying for jobs. So I blogged about music here. Back then the tradeoff was between having plenty of time to blog and being too depressed to want to, but I made an effort. And then I got a job and didn’t need the outlet so much and didn’t have the time.

And now I’ve been working again for four years and suddenly I miss blogging. I rarely tweet, I facebook a bit (but don’t find it conducive to and kind of in-depth discussion, I want to write longer messages and, frankly, not really worry whether I’m flooding anyone’s feed. If you want to follow, follow; if you stumble across a post that interests you, cool, say something.

I’ll try to find the time to restart the Trek books website, too. The Star Trek: The Fall novels have been pretty damn enjoyable so far, so maybe I can get excited about Star Trek again…

This isn’t just a music blog any more, though no doubt I’ll go on about music occasionally. Oh, and I’ll try to make this and LJ mutual mirrors. No need to follow both.