Monthly Archives: January 2016

Conan Re-Read: “Red Nails”

conquering sword conanSix months ago Bill Ward and I began a re-read of every Conan story that Robert E. Howard ever wrote and completed. Today we’re posting our discussion about the final one, “Red Nails.” We hope you’ll join in.

Bill: “Red Nails” is the last Conan story Robert E. Howard wrote, and it is perhaps a little difficult to look at it without that fact coloring the discussion to some extent — particularly after reading and talking about every other story in the Conan canon! A lot could be (and has been) said about REH’s state of mind at this time, the period leading up to the final year of his life, a year in which he wrote no fantasy at all. Arguably, the final Conan stories seem to show a bit of a distancing between REH and his creation, either through characterization such as in “Beyond the Black River,” or by focusing on other point-of-view characters such as in “The Black Stranger” or, most starkly, “A Witch Shall Be Born.” I think anyone reading “Red Nails” who has some awareness of REH’s life will at some point stop to ponder the question of whether or not he ever intended to return to Hyboria, or if perhaps the Cimmerian himself had run out of stories to dictate at REH’s shoulder. Whatever the answer, “Red Nails” does serve as a fitting farewell to the character and world that have become so dear to so many, offering a story of adventure, intrigue, and exoticism that, while it may not quite be up to the standards of the very best in the series, delivers on all of the promises inherent in a Conan yarn while at the same time offering a few surprises as well — most notably in the character of Valeria.

Tregillis Triumphs Again

mechanicalRemember how I said I’d held off reading the new IanTregillis books until I could have the second in my hand? He’s one of the few modern writers I find un-putdownable. And he did it to me again over the New Year holiday. I finished one and then reached for the other in short order. You like alternate history, intrigue, action, seasoned with a little of the fantastic? (In this case it’s mechanical men powered by alchemy).

Then Tregillis will please you. Mightily. Get thee forth and read them.

RisingHere’s the cool thing, at least for me. Because I’m friends with Ian, I get to read the third book before it goes to press. As a matter of fact, I’m reading it THIS WEEK! Ha ha! Ah, the benefits of being a pro author. That, and all the sport cars and pirate gold. Oh, and the mansion.

Snow Dogs

KeenaEvery morning I head out to feed the horses. Lately I not only feed the horses in the morning but muck the stalls, because my teenaged daughter is so busy with her school work and various team activities that she doesn’t have time to join me for afternoon mucking.

Anyway, this morning the snow had been on the ground long enough to be wet rather than dry, and the shelter dog we’re pretty sure is a husky/german shepherd mix was eager to play. She loves the snow and cold weather. She’s one of the brightest dogs I’ve ever owned, and understands dozens of human words. Yet she’s never really caught on to fetch. For her, fetch is more like seek and destroy, which makes snowball catch one of her very favorite games. She was actually waiting on the back stoop for me to come out, and then led me off towards the snow, in case I was too stupid to clue in (she does the same thing when she needs food or water).

Conan Re-Read: “The Man-Eaters of Zamboula”

conquering sword conanToday, on the 110th anniversary of Robert E. Howard’s birth, Bill Ward and I are reading through the Del Rey Robert E. Howard collection The Conquering Sword of Conan. This week we’re discussing “The Man-Eaters of Zamboula,” sometimes known as “Shadows in Zamboula.” We hope you’ll join in!

Howard: Last week I suggested that this one was a bit of a dud, and while that might not have been entirely fair, I still don’t think it’s likely to be anyone’s favorite Conan story. Unlike “The Black Stranger,” though, it was published in Robert E. Howard’s lifetime in the pages of Weird Tales, by its editor Farnsworth Wright. And you can surely feel Howard playing to Wright’s favorite themes. Namely the sexy damsel in distress. You’ll note that she begins the story entirely naked and never once dons a stitch of clothing. It wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t so gratuitous. You add that to some rather uncomfortable descriptions of the cannibals, the somewhat stilted opening, and the inn/cannibal trap and the result is less than stellar. 

Solitaire Gaming

fc napoleonI dabble with solitaire board games from time to time, as I’ve mentioned occasionally here on my own site and at Black Gate. As I’ve said before, I blame the whole thing on John O’Neill, although Eric Knight deserves some blame as well because the two-player The French Foreign Legion was so much fun it converted me into a board game player.

Unfortunately, there’s not much interest in these parts for board games, unless it’s Iron Dragon. I happen to think Iron Dragon is a lot of fun, but I also like tactical and strategic games, which hold no interest for my wife, which is why solitaire games like Empires of America from Victory Point Games or Field Commander: Napoleon from DVG find a way to my table, especially in the winter.

The other day I happened to mention the new Nemo’s War kickstarter to writer friend Ian Tregillis and it launched me on a search for others that I probably shouldn’t buy but want.

Here’s the list. Investigate at your own peril…

The Fourth Gunman

4th gunmanI never read a western in my life until some time in my mid ’40s when I got pointed to the excellent adventure novels of Ben Haas writing as John Benteen (or, indeed, several other pseudonyms). He proved to be such an excellent author that I sought out nearly everything the man wrote, and I’ve since been on a hunt for other great westerns from others.

The problem is that there are thousands of westerns, and most of them seem to range only from okay to good, with the weight heavy on the okay end.

When you’re looking into fantasy or historical fiction it’s pretty easy to talk to some people in the know and get the lowdown on the recognized masters and the truly excellent. With westerns there’s less consensus. The trail usually ends with Louis L’amour or some other famous names that don’t really seem to be the most exciting. (L’amour is good, but in my experience he’s not great, no matter his popularity.)

So through the fall of 2015 and into the winter I’ve been exploring, based on some recommendations by John C. Hocking and Morgan Holmes, and working my way through some Harry Whittington, Donald Hamilton (better known for his Matt Helm books) and Merle Constiner.

Conan Re-Read: “The Black Stranger”

conquering sword conanBill Ward and I are reading through the Del Rey Robert E. Howard collection The Conquering Sword of Conan. This week we’re discussing “The Black Stranger.” We hope you’ll join in!

Bill: Like “Beyond the Black River” which precedes it, “The Black Stranger” is a tale set in the Pictish wilderness of Hyboria that sees a vulnerable outpost of civilization overrun by the wild men of the wood. But this time around the threat of the Picts — still an Amerindian analog — serve as more of a backdrop to the infighting and machinations of pirate captains, an exiled nobleman, and a cagey Conan. Again REH draws on the American frontier for inspiration, but it isn’t the dominant theme of the piece, which also manages to end on a far more up tempo note despite the carnage. Wild battles, double-crossing, pirate treasure, and a mysterious demonic stranger are all skillfully woven together into a complex but nonetheless fast-paced adventure that stands solidly alongside the better Conan stories.

Captain Nemo Sails Again

howard in chairWe’ve had a few too many adventures here at Jones central lately. My son had a spin out on the highway on the way back to college. He was alright, thank goodness, but the car was damaged enough that we had to take him up the rest of the way, stay the night in his college town, then stop in the college town where he’d had the wreck and see about getting the car fixed. Fortunately no permanent damage was done, although the price of new tires was nothing to sneeze at, and then we headed home.

Bill Ward and I are getting close to the end of our great Conan re-read and after having to write essays about so many tales we’re going to take a little breather, but we’ll be back to read more great adventure fiction.

Conan Re-Read: “Beyond the Black River”

conquering sword conanBill Ward and I are reading through the Del Rey Robert E. Howard collection The Conquering Sword of Conan. This week we’re discussing “Beyond the Black River.” We hope you’ll join in!

“Barbarism is the natural state of mankind,” the borderer said, still starring somberly at the Cimmerian. “Civilization is unnatural. It is the whim of circumstance. And barbarism must ultimately triumph.”

Bill: So concludes “Beyond the Black River,” a story that might almost be REH’s thesis on his philosophy of civilization. It is a story that introduces new elements to Conan’s world, demonstrating again how flexible and expandable REH’s Hyborian blueprint was even after sixteen complete short (and not so short) stories and a novel. But it also maintains a continuity with what has come before, giving us perilous adventure with supernatural antagonists and, of course, Conan being Conan.

Twilight Marathon

twilight zoneOver the New Year weekend we couldn’t help catching some of the Twilight Zone marathon on the SyFy network. As a matter of fact, because my wife and I are both fighting illness, we ended up watching more episodes than we might have, joined frequently by my son and occasionally my daughter.

None of us are strangers to the show; my wife and I in particular are fans from way back. Some we’ve seen multiple times. And yet there are others that were still new to us, and I bet if we had watched the whole thing we would have found a few more, especially those odd hour-long episodes from the 4th season.

Here, in no particular order, are some of the observations we made.