Friday, November 19, 2010


By Leigh Brackett

This is the novel that caused director Howard Hawks to tell his assistant he wanted that “Lee Brackett” guy to work on the screenplay for The Big Sleep. As a matter of fact Leigh Brackett and William Faulkner did that script, touching off a forty-year career of writing novels, short stories and screenplays.

It’s not too hard to see why Hawks thought Brackett was the perfect choice for The Big Sleep. Although better known as a science fiction writer, Leigh Brackett started with hard-boiled detective fiction like No Good from a Corpse. Arguably, Corpse is very much in the Chandler train. The PI hero, Ed Clive is a self-willed and ruggedly independent street warrior with his own code of conduct. He finds himself mixed up, quite unwillingly but as certainly as a samurai in a kabuki tale, in the affairs of Mike Hammond and his twisted in-laws. Some might even say the plot here is a bit derivative of The Big Sleep. Perhaps, though Brackett certainly made her own way in tough-guy fiction. Her prose lacks the poetic flights of fancy that adorned Chandler’s best work, but her plots are more tightly woven and, to be bluntly honest, more coherent (Chandler recycled his short stories into novels, not always with the strictest attention to detail).

An inkling of the varied roads that Leigh Brackett’s fiction would wander comes from the title of this novel. It is not a bit of LA tough guy slang, but a reference to some of the original tough guys of the Western World: the Vikings. Brackett quotes the Havamal, the poetic sayings of Odin, that it is better to be crippled than dead, for there is no good to be had from a corpse.  

Leigh Brackett’s career in film began with the landmarks of mid-century American writing, Faulkner and Chandler, and ended with the colossus of late-20th century film: George Lucas. Her last screenwriting credit was for Star Wars V: The Empire Strikes Back.

-Dave Hardy


Thursday, November 18, 2010


By John Masters

I do love a good book by an old Indian army hand. John Masters was pretty well steeped in the Raj and he created a series of novels about Englishmen in India from the 1600s to 1947. In this case the hero is Rodney Savage (in Masters’ novels the Savages have a family tradition of serving in India). He finds himself, his family, and the army he loves caught up in the Great Sepoy Mutiny of 1857. More aptly described as a war of independence, most of the Bengal army and many North Indian rulers joined in a bloody, but unsuccessful bid to oust the British from India. 

The tale builds slowly, quite slowly actually, depicting the simmering discontent of the sepoys, the native soldiers who served Britain and the ennui of the over-refined British officers, civil servants, and memsahibs who formed the ruling class. I for one found the discontent a little underplayed, and the ennui rather overplayed. But once the flag goes up it’s tally-ho and off to a pukka scrimmage jaldi!

Masters takes the issues of the Mutiny seriously, the mutineers are not mindless, murdering drones, and the Brits are often closer to serial killers than enlightened stewards of the natives’ welfare. Even so the result doesn’t quite come off artistically, as if Masters was a little too focused on 1947 than on 1857. Masters is idealistic and deeply knowledgeable about the Raj, where a bit of distance might have served better. It’s a good novel, though for my money the best I’ve seen about the Mutiny is The Siege of Krishnapur.

Really cool ‘50s (1950s, not 1850s) era cover illustration: Savage with shirt open, naked, bloody whip-lashed mem-sahib at his feet, demure begum in foreground. BONUS: a glossary, you’ll need it!
-Dave Hardy


Wednesday, November 17, 2010


By A. Merritt

Since its publication in 1919 The Moon Pool has repeatedly come back (most recently in 2004). It is truly a classic of early American SF.

The tale concerns a search for a lost group of scientists that leads to Nan Matal, the basalt ruins of Ponape. Things get really weird when the Shining Devil of the Moon Pool shows up and a disparate band of adventurers end up in a lost civilization. The narrator is a stuffed-shirt scientist, backed up by a romantic Irish airman, a Norwegian sailor who acts as a modern-day Viking, and a shady Bolshevik agent.

Honestly the first half of this novel is slow, rather more so than I usually recommend. Merritt spends a little too much time building his palace of wonders. But they are grade-A, USDA approved wonders. When I got to the battle of the Frog-warriors against the dwarves of lost Lemuria on the shores of the crimson sea where float the flesh-eating moon globes, I could see why this one keeps coming back!
-Dave Hardy


Tuesday, November 16, 2010


By Robert E. Howard

This collection of early Robert E. Howard tales shows the development of REH as a sword & sorcery writer. In the introduction, Fritz Leiber describes them as a cross-section of REH’s interests, a sampler of the obsessions that were the foundation of his most successful work.

Although only one of the stories was published in REH’s life, this is not a set of cast-offs. “The Grey God Passes” is a fantasy tale set at the battle of Clontarf, the decisive confrontation between Brian Boru and the Vikings in Ireland. For a short tale, “Grey God” packs a wallop, Norse myth, an escaped slave, a Cassandra-like prophet, and Medieval Ireland’s greatest hero collide in battle.

“The Marchers of Valhalla” comes from the James Allison series. Allison is a crippled young man in Texas, caused to remember his past lives by none other than Ishtar, he recounts an epic adventure in Pre-historic Texas filled with barbarian hordes, lost cities, and that magnificent, beautiful, death-loving sense of wonder REH had.

“The Thunder Rider” is another past-life memory tale. John Garfield is a successful professional, a Princeton man, and cultured sophisticate. He also loathes the stultifying and decadent world he lives in. To integrate himself he must relive his past life as Iron-Heart, the Comanche brave in a swashbuckling tale of ancient races, lost cities, and a beautiful warrior maiden.

Those are just my favorites. According to Barbara Baum, “For the Love of Barbara Allen” is the most romantic REH tale. Really this set is pure gold. It’s not just for REH fans, but for anyone who loves fantasy adventure tales.

-Dave Hardy


Monday, November 15, 2010


By Robert E. Howard

There once was a time when Afghanistan was a remote country, little touched by the vicissitudes of global politics. It was also one of the few countries in the world not ruled by someone else’s empire. For Robert E. Howard, Afghanistan was a land where bold warriors lived and died by the code of the hills, an iron law of equal parts honor, loyalty, and revenge.

The Lost Valley of Iskander is a collection of REH’s excellent tales of Afghanistan and the Northwest Frontier (nowadays known as the part of Pakistan where Osama bin Laden hides and the US drops bombs, sometimes inaccurately).  The hero of the yarns is Francis X. Gordon, an El Paso gunslinger who traveled east and now lives with the Afridi tribe. Known as El Borak (the Swift) by the Afghans, he is a character from the Wild West in the Wild East.

The tales here lean on the fantastic side. There are plenty of crooked Europeans, international spies, and foreign agents. REH was a fantasy writer, he created larger than life heroes with larger than life adventurers, and they couldn’t be fenced in. The title tale involves El Borak with a lost city founded by no less than Alexander the Great, and still inhabited by Ancient Greeks! The collection leads off with "The Daughter of Erlik Khan", another “lost city” adventure involving a pair of English desperadoes, an old friend of El Borak’s, a horde of Turkoman bandits, and a tribe of devil worshippers. Alliances make and break with dizzying speed in this one. The third tale, "Hawk of the Hills", is a straight up range-war story. El Borak’s Afridi friends have been treacherously attacked and now they’re fighting back. But a British diplomat has showed up to end the fighting. El Borak has to show him that not all things are equal in tribal warfare. El Borak is the sort of REH character who cuts through prevarication to separate right from wrong. The wrongdoers are punished and the innocents are protected. We could use El Borak today.

This is a great little collection. While a number of El Borak tales are back in print, there is no one collection that gives El Borak the attention he deserves. It’s a great pity, so beg, borrow or steal a copy of this one.

-Dave Hardy

PS Since this was written, Del Rey has published  El Borak and other Desert Adventures, containing all that is in this volume and more. -DH

Sunday, November 14, 2010


By Robert E. Howard

I thanked the editor personally when this came out and let me tell you I don’t do that often. Mostly, because I’m not on a first name basis with many editors, but even if I DIDN’T know Rusty Burke I would want to pump his hand up and down and tell him I wanted to have his baby on account of Lord of Samarcand is one butt-kicking collection of REH yarns!

Most readers know Robert E. Howard from his enormously successful Conan stories and their myriad spin-offs in comics, film, and endless pastiches. But what is often missed, especially in the cheap-n-cheerful spin-offs, is REH’s deep love of history, especially when told as a blood and guts adventure tale. The Conan tales are infused with bits and pieces of the romantic furnishings of martial conflict. Assyria’s bronze-clad warriors might tackle a Free Company straight from a chevauchee, or swaggering buccaneers could hold converse with horsemen from the Golden Horde.

Naturally when REH got the chance he wrote straight-up historical adventure. There was quite a taste for adventures set in the wild outlands of Asia back in the ‘30s and REH did his best to satisfy. This collection brings under one set of covers material heretofore scattered adventure tales. The reader will find REH’s tales of Crusaders and Saracens, Tatars and Cossacks and others of the great pageant of history.

Some standouts here are “The Lion of Tiberias” a tale of a man’s climb to power and the bodies he climbs over. It is a story that brings to the fore one of REH's most characteristic themes: arrogance humbled by an indomitable will to acheive vengeance. The title tale follows a similar arc, and brings together Tamerlane the Conqueror with a Highlander called Donald MacDeesa, a true Central Asian odd couple. Two of my favorites are “The Road of Azrael” which shows just how completely REH could go off the rails in crafting a denouement and just how enjoyable it is when he chucks all the rules of writing out the window. I won’t breathe a word about it because it’s a surprise. The best entry is “Shadow of the Vulture” the tale that introduced Red Sonya to the world. She emerges not as a fantasy (ok not a Sword & Sorcery) character but as a 16th century mercenary swordswoman. This is a gal who can handle heavy artillery. Her comrade-in-arms is Nicholas von Kalmbach, a rougish German landsknecht. Together they battle Sulemein the Magnificent’s jannisary hordes at the siege of Vienna. Dashing heroes, unstoppable legions of doom, a turning point of history, “Shadow of the Vulture” has it all. Buy it for this story.

For REH scholars there is a wealth of fragments, synopses, and odds and ends to show REH tinkering with his work. I bought my copy in Providence at the Brown University bookstore. Who says the Ivy League is out of touch?
-Dave Hardy


Saturday, November 13, 2010


By Jack Williamson

OK, this is so totally a guilty pleasure! I am just a sucker for old-time space opera, the broader the better. Jack Williamson is one of the diamonds in the crown of science fiction, but he took some polishing.

Originally published in 1935 as a serial, and released as a novel in 1947, The Legion of Space tells of young legionnaire John Star’s crusade to prevent monarchists inside the Legion from overthrowing the democratic "Green Hall" government. Star has to defeat the monarchists and their allies the Medusa, a race of predatory beings perpetually searching for new planets.

This stuff is bad, really bad. The hero is called John Star even though his name is John Ulnar, because he changes his name at the end of the story. If you just said, “Huh?” that would be what I said when I read it. John Star has a crew of legionnaires to help him, among them is Giles Habibula, who is supposed to be an interstellar Falstaff. After he’d whined about how “poor mortal me is starved to skin and bones and worn out in the service of the Legion” for about the 325th time in maybe 6 pages I really wanted to pull out my hair.

But I kept on reading, because Williamson knew how to keep up the suspense, the action, and the interest. He had the ability to create a sense of wonder. There is the mysterious AKKA, a process that can destroy anything in line of sight, even a planet. The trek through the black jungle on the lost planet of the Medusa drew me in. The image of the city of black metal on the shore of a dying sea is a bizarre and haunting one.

So if you like your sf cheap & cheerful, this sure fits the bill.
-Dave Hardy


Friday, November 12, 2010


By Robert E. Howard

If you asked who Robert E. Howard loved most intensely and with the fiercest passion (aside from his mother and father) the answer might be Texas. Which is why I am at a bit of a loss with this collection. 

If I had to describe the perfect Western author, he would combine Elmer Kelton’s deep sense of place with Louis L’Amour’s wholehearted commitment to adventure. That sounds an awful lot like Robert E. Howard. Imagine a Texas that resonates with magic and Western heroes who stride into battle like Conan. To be honest I don’t quite feel that with these stories.

The tales are good, they are filled with action and decent characterization. “The Last Ride” tells of a man seeking to redeem himself after living as an outlaw. “The Extermination of Yellow Donory” is about a young cowhand who is reckoned a coward and must redeem his reputation.  The Sonora Kid appears in “Knife, Bullet, and Noose” and “The Devil’s Joker”. The Kid lives on the edge of the law, in “Knife” he must survive a conspiracy to kill him and rob his employer, while in “Joker” he is forced to turn outlaw. “Vultures’ Sanctuary”, “Law Shooters of Cowtown”, and “Gunman’s Debt” are also included. 

While I find these stories enjoyable, I didn’t receive the absolute thrill I found on reading Solomon Kane or Conan, for example. Perhaps it’s because I only came across The Last Ride as an adult, not a wide-eyed teen. But I think there is something else here. Howard wrote amazing tales of Texas and located all sorts of lost treasures, ancient races, and hidden citadels in it. He also wrote any number of tall-tale westerns full of broad humor. But in his conventional westerns the fantastic is off limits and humor is sparse. Without two of best tools, REH doesn’t shine so brightly. Maybe had he lived he would have turned more seriously to writing westerns and have given them the full drama he gave to his historical tales of the Crusades or his EL Borak adventures.

-Dave Hardy

Thursday, November 11, 2010


By H. Rider Haggard

This is the novel that launched the fictional career of Allan Quartermain and the literary career of an obscure imperialist named H. Rider Haggard. They are both still going strong. Allan Quatermain has been played by a variety of movie stars (including Richard Chamberlain, the edition of the book I have ties in with the 1985 film version) most recently Sir Sean Connery in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Although Haggard died in 1925, post-colonialist lit-crit types still like to review his books and prove he was a British Imperialist.

What this book really is, is a prototype of the “lost city” adventure. Readers of the Solomon Kane yarns by Robert E. Howard will feel at home. Allan Quartermain is a British South African. He is an old hand at scouting and hunting, a South African equivalent of Kit Carson. A couple of British gentlemen approach him to guide an expedition into the interior to locate a missing friend. They also find a lost civilization that didn’t even know it was lost. Legends of startling antiquity mix with frontier rumors. There are great heaps of treasure and even bigger heaps of trouble to be found.

Haggard essentially wove a South African “Western” into an adventure story of the fantastic unknown. He knew what he was talking about. Haggard’s dad informed his son he was a useless blockhead and should get up and do something with his life if he didn’t get killed in the process. With that bit of paternal support Haggard went to South Africa, specifically the Transvaal. It was a rough time and Haggard departed after the local Boer settlers kicked the Brits out in a brief war of independence.

Perhaps there were men that Haggard knew in South Africa that were the model for Quartermain. He’s certainly not the typical action-hero. Quartermain is a little guy, he’s past his prime, describes himself as timid, and has an unfashionable brush cut. He makes an engaging narrator, offering detailed info on the best type of oxen to buy for travel on the veldt, describing the muddled interaction of Europeans and Africans who can’t quite grasp each other’s culture, and of course telling of thrilling adventures.

The edition I have includes stills from the Golan & Globus version of King Solomon’s Mines that was apparently intended to get a boost from the popularity of Indiana Jones. I’ve never seen it, but it seems to refer to some other story than the one I read (mine had fewer women and Germans).
-Dave Hardy


Wednesday, November 10, 2010


By C.L. Moore

From out of the Golden Age of sf comes C.L. Moore’s Judgment Night, a novel and four novelettes. Five stories, complete without an ounce of fat in 344 pages. Nowadays authors are just getting warmed up to drop you off for the second half of volume whatever of the Snoreosphere Quatrology by page 344. Gnome Press could deliver the goods.

The novel is worth the price of admission. Judgment Night is Space Opera. Empires totter, old gods awake, scores are settled, super-weapons are deployed, the fate of mankind hangs in the balance, but the tale is told on an intimate, human scale. Moore’s hero is Juille the princess of the Lyonesse Empire. Juille ain’t no girlie-girl, she is all woman. Juille is what would normally be the femme fatale, all boots and arrogance, though she can still fill out the galaxy’s best evening dress. She could teach Kimball Kinnison a lesson in militarism and show Conan what steely resolve really is. In routine fiction Juille would be the villain, but Moore makes her the HERO! With precise and deft literary judo she makes you root for the bloodthirsty princess too!

Judgment Night isn’t just furious plotting, Moore has time to explore the nature of a woman’s role in a violent world, to look at the nature of leadership, and the urges that lead man to his destruction. Moore isn’t simply on a fascist rant, her kung-fu is too good. Galactic war has a price, Moore’s genius is to show us how easily we can forget the butcher’s bill until it’s due.
-Dave Hardy - More Product. More Exclusives.

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Tuesday, November 09, 2010


By C.L. Moore

What’s a girl to do? No sooner does she meet a nice guy who’s ready for commitment, than it turns out he’s an extra-dimensional demon and he’s already married!

This volume collects the five tales CL Moore wrote about her sword-woman hero, Jirel of Joiry. Moore was a writer other writers admired. From these tales one can see why, they use fantastic menace and weird atmosphere to create a sense of character. Her monsters are gruesomely Lovecraftian yet convey horror on a human scale.

Jirel is a fiery redhead who swings a mean sword. But don’t expect a straight-off-the-assembly line valkyrie. For one, there is really no swordplay as such. Jirel defeats her foes with strength of will and spirit, not her two-edged sword. If you are looking for a female Conan, look elsewhere.

Jirel of Joiry was also released in a limited edition volume by DM Grant under the title Black God’s Shadow. The Grant edition includes six, full color illustrations by Alicia Austin. The style is in the intricate neo-Celtic manner of the ‘70s (think of Clannad album covers, so perhaps it's better not to think of it at all).
-Dave Hardy


Monday, November 08, 2010


By Otis Adelbert Kline

Otis Adelbert Kline was a literary agent and author back in the heyday of the pulps. Although well known to readers and writers of the era, today he is little remembered.

One of the few volumes of his work that can be found on library shelves is Jan in India. The novel is a sequel to Jan of the Jungle, a feral child tale set in South America. This sequel finds Jan caught up in skullduggery among Kali worshippers in India. Jan tackles just about every dangerous jungle creature one can find in the sub-continent before he saves the day.

This is decent action-hero stuff, although there’s not a whole lot going on besides cobra strangling. Chandra Kumar is the one character that really stands out and OAK uses him for comic relief. Jan in India is an easygoing sort of jungle-boy tale that’s good for whiling away the afternoon. Get it through interlibrary loan, but unless you are serious collector of pulp authors don’t spend a lot of money on it.

Originally run as a serial in Argosy, it was re-released as a novel by Fictioneer Books in 1974. The text is accompanied by good black and white line drawings by Steven Leialoha and a “glossary of characters”.
-Dave Hardy


Sunday, November 07, 2010


By Neal Barrett, Jr.

At Armadillo Con 2005 in Austin, Texas, I listened to a panel on “The Weird Tale”. Someone defined that type of story as something Neal Barrett, Jr. wrote. Well, fair enough.

Interstate Dreams follows Dreamer, a slacker war-vet who lives in Austin. He sells tropical fish and is a professional thief (thanks to a bullet stuck in his head that gives him surreal, prophetic dreams and allows him to circumvent locks and alarms). Alas, people from Houston intrude, the slimy scientist/white-collar crook Halloran Horn, millionaire Gus Brauweiler, and gangster Mako Binder.

They prove less of a strain on Dreamer than the mysterious, angelic, infinitely desirable hitchhiker he just saw. It’s not so much the girl as the way Dreamer’s lust is all too apparent to his ambitious lawyer-girlfriend, Eileen.

This is really the tip of the iceberg. There is enough stuff here to make about six novels. Any sane, sensible, NY Times bestseller author would have filled out a 627 pager and have gotten an advance on the sequel. Barrett fits it all into 225 pages, and you know what, it never feels forced. Much of this surreal Austin-Houston landscape zips by like scenery on the interstate, glimpsed but impossible to get at, but it doesn’t get dull or sluggish. Maybe that’s why Barrett gets published by MoJo Press and is widely respected by other writers, rather than being a bestseller wallowing in bloated self-indulgence. Just a theory.
-Dave Hardy


Saturday, November 06, 2010


By W.R. Burnett

WR Burnett was a young guy from a pleasant corner of rural America who moved to Chicago back when it was wicked. Judging from High Sierra, Burnett always carried that bit of rural Americana with him, even when describing Chicago gangsters.

Published in 1940, High Sierra tells the tale of Roy Earle, a bank robber newly released from prison. An old gang associate trying to pull off one last big score calls him out to California. Roy must lead a pair of would-be tough guys in a heist on a mountain resort town where LA’s glitterati play. Naturally it’s not that simple. The hoods have brought along a girlfriend, who complicates what should be strictly business. Roy is caught in a desperate yearning for the lost innocence of his boyhood in rural Indiana. He complicates things by getting involved with a family of Ohio farmers starting over in LA. And there’s a dog who may or may not be cursed.

Believe it or not Burnett handles this all with some finesse. Just when I was getting annoyed with the overly sentimental aspect of Roy’s character, Burnett twists the plot to call into question the basis of Roy’s melodramatic yearnings. Burnett doesn’t mind playing a bit (more than I expected!) to the public’s longing for Robin Hoods (this was the Depression) yet he also undermines it by showing us Roy’s willingness to use violence. Burnett may seem like he buys a simplistic worldview, but to my eye he plays with the polarities of rich and poor, crooked and straight, the face we show the world and our inner selves.

Burnett also plays with the omniscient 3rd person view, changing point-of-view character faster than some folks change their socks. It lets us see the world from many eyes, not always in harmony. Even the dog’s POV helps illuminate the situation. Burnett also loves name-dropping, both of the famous (John Dillinger) and the forgotten (Lou Blonger, the king of the Denver underworld).

High Sierra was also made into a film starring Humphrey Bogart in 1941 (John Huston co-wrote the screenplay with Burnett).

This novel is a bit hard to pin down. About halfway through I was seriously wondering if Burnett had grossly over-romanticized his anti-hero, but I found that Burnett knew what he was doing all along. Which is perhaps the secret of his enduring reputation as a hard-boiled writer.
-Dave Hardy


Friday, November 05, 2010


By Herodotus of Miletus

Herodotus of Miletus was known to the Ancient Greeks as the Father of History, he was also known as the Father of Lies. Either way, he was Big Daddy.

Prior to Herodotus, writing was a practical affair. A few pioneers had transcribed old poems by Homer or the stories of the gods or had composed original works on science. Herodotus took it to a new level with a sustained narrative that begins with the known world as its scope and drives to the remarkable Greek defeat of the Persian Invasion in 480 BC.

Herodotus gives the background of the rise of Persia along with ethnographical accounts (some of the world’s earliest) of the tribes the Persians and Greeks came in contact with in their rise to power. A seemingly minor revolt by the Ionian Greeks drew the mainland Greeks into conflict with Persia. The result was the invasion repelled at Marathon. This defeat of Persian arms could not go unavenged and in 481 BC King Xerxes set out in personal command of a massive invasion force.

Don’t be fooled into thinking this is a lot of dull homework. Herodotus was all about a good story. He has tall tales of gold-guarding griffins in Asia (and giant gold-digging ants). He brings the wild Skythians to life in a vivid portrait of these proud and warlike barbarians. The battles of Thermopyle, Salamis, and Plataea are related, often with first-hand information, in scenes that make Ancient warfare come to life. Above all this is the tale of the Greeks’ seemingly suicidal defiance of the world’s mightiest empire, in the name of liberty. If you like tales with larger-than-life heroes, battles for the ultimate stakes, and a gripping narrative, this is a book for you.
-Dave Hardy

Thursday, November 04, 2010


By Joe Lansdale

Say what you like about Joe Lansdale’s stories, call them outrageous, offensive, in poor taste, grotesque, and divisive, just never, ever call them dull.

High Cotton is a collection of Lansdale’s early short fiction. In formal terms this anthology is all over the map, there are crime stories, fantasies, science fiction, and yarns that just defy description. Lansdale country is often grotesque but with an exuberant sense of humor that can take you straight from a cringe to a belly laugh. Above all this is Lansdale’s exploration of his country, East Texas, and the author gets right to it’s festering underbelly, slashes it open and passes out pieces from the wound for your examination. To be sure Lansdale’s rednecks are the most disgusting set of sister-lovin’, nigra-hatin’, moonshine-drinkin’, toothless, no-brain, no-count trash you will ever find in print. They make the rednecks in Deliverance look like Ned Flanders, but take it all as a joke. Lansdale wouldn’t parody East Texans so fiercely if East Texas weren’t so obviously deeply a part of his soul.

The set leads off with "The Pit", a raucously funny and terrifying tale of gladiatorial combat in a lost city of rednecks in the mysterious Big Thicket. The beautifully sentimental "Not Made in Detroit" is a classic tale of a duel with Death. "Steppin’ Out, Summer, ’68" is Lansdale masterpiece of black humor, a miniature redneck epic of misadventure told by a deranged Homer. "Godzilla’s Twelve Step Program" is one of the funniest things I’ve read in years. This is just a sampling of the stories found herein. Lansdale says that high cotton refers to a place where the living is good. The title doesn’t lie.
-Dave Hardy


Wednesday, November 03, 2010


By Mihail Lermontov

Mihail Lermontov was a Russian aristocrat back in the 1840s. He intensely admired Pushkin and was publicly outraged when the powers that were arranged a fatal duel for the poet. For the boldness of his tongue Lermontov was packed off to the Caucasus, Russia’s southern frontier and the home of Cossack frontiersmen and wild hill tribes.

So you might think he went off and wrote something drearily literate and of interest only to Post-Modern literary critics. Not a bit, when Lermontov wasn’t leading a hard-riding bunch of scouts in Injun country, he wrote all-out pulp adventure yarns with smugglers, dashing bandits, and tough-as-leather soldiers. His hero was Pechorin, a rough and tumble version of the Byronic hero, who was equally at home in a drawing room or a gunfight. He’s no angel, he goads a native into stealing a prize horse so he can steal a woman, and he meets a former friend in a duel that must end in death. Above all Pechorin is a cynical and detached observer of the people around him, but one with a mysterious past.

Really these are Russian Westerns with a dash of European drawing room veneer. Kipling once said something about Russians being barbaric Orientals who only appear civilized. Well thank God, it kept their fiction from being too dull.

As for Lermontov, he survived his battles on the Chechen frontier only to be killed in a duel arranged by authorities who’d never forgiven him for being too outspoken.
-Dave Hardy

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Tuesday, November 02, 2010


Translated by N.K. Sandars

Translated and introduced by N.K. Sandars, the dean of Bronze Age Near Eastern studies, the story of Gilgamesh is the first sword & sorcery cycle on record. For all y’all who obsess over the latest Robert Jordan pastiche of Conan or have memorized all the episodes of Xena in order, here’s a hint: adventure stories that feature bold warriors and loyal sidekicks are as old as, well, stories.

OK, technically the Epic of Gilgamesh is a myth cycle, but it is a lesson in how to write a story that endures. It’s not just antiquarian interest, Gilgamesh’s story is a ripping adventure with wild men, hookers with hearts of gold, giants, gods, goddesses, and monsters.

At the core of the story is the friendship of Gilgamesh, the arrogant king of Uruk (the original sword-wielding bullyboy with a decent side), and Enkidu the Wild-man (the very prototype of Tarzan). Together the pals channel their energies into more socially acceptable forms of derring-do, until they have to fight Death himself.

This is a tale from the Bronze Age that still grasps audiences. Will anything written in the 20th century be remembered 4,000 years from now?
-Dave Hardy


Monday, November 01, 2010


By Fritz Leiber

Fritz Leiber was one of those freight trains, not easy to start, possible to derail, but hard as hell to stop. This collection showcases some of his best stories, reaching back to work he did in the 1950s and sweeping forward to "The Ghost Light", written in 1984.

The collection is really a curio cabinet of Leiber’s idiosyncrasies, hobbies, and nightmares. His world was part funhouse, part haunted mansion, with large suites dedicated to cats, chess, acting, sex, and alas, alcoholism.

"Space-Time for Springers" is a science-fiction cats & chess fantasy (it won a Hugo, deservedly) featuring Gummitch the kitten (who merited his own series). "A Deskful of Girls" from the Changewar series provides the sex with a creepy scientist who uses the soul-stealing technology of the Spiders and Snakes (mysterious, time-spanning enemies) to create his own personal collection of girlfriends. "Midnight by the Morphy Watch" tells the secret history of why chess-masters are really nuts (Bobby Fischer notwithstanding. Yes I know, playing chess is not really a crime.) Fafhrd and The Grey Mouser have their home at "Bazaar of the Bizarre", one of their best tales ("Lean Times in Lankhmar" edges "Bizarre", IMHO, but isn’t the most typical F&GM story).

The title story is the hardest hitting of the bunch. I believe it is deliberately the opening in order to balance the autobiographical essay "Not Much Disorder and Not So Early Sex" which closes the book.  While I have seen many writers place themselves into stories, I have seen none who did so with such brutal effect. There are tragedies and there are tragedies, and many writers seem better able to express themselves in fiction than is bare, reductive fact. Leiber’s autobiography, while very revealing in mnay ways leaves much left unsaid. I'm not at all claiming that "The Ghost Light" is autobiographical, but I do beleive it is an act of exorcism, chilling and redemptive in its own way. I am left hoping that Leiber’s brilliant, tormented self found some pain-ease, at a price that could be borne.
-Dave Hardy