I 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. Read More
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. Read More
We’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. Read More
“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. Read More
Over 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. Read More
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