Unexpected Heart-Pounding Action-Adventure in Under 7,500 Words

I seem to have left the best for last in my Retro Hugo short fiction reading.  This morning, I started reading and could not stop reading “The Sunken Land” by Fritz Leiber.  His writing took me back to the days when I immersed myself in the writings of Robert E. Howard. And once I reviewed his mini-biography at Wikipedia, I understood why I felt that affinity: “With writers such as Robert E. Howard and Michael Moorcock, Leiber can be regarded as one of the fathers of sword and sorcery fantasy, having coined the term.”

The Sunken Land” pulled me along for a ride with Fafhrd, leaving the Grey Mouser as a bookend to the story.  Leiber used a very active voice that left you no time to catch your breath from the first inhalation to the last gasp.

This leaves me with something of a dilemma in deciding which 1942 short story gets my top vote for the Retro Hugo Award.  I haven’t yet reread Asimov’s “Runaround” but I remember it being very good.  I will listen to it next week as an audiobook.  Before I read “The Sunken Land” by Leiber, I had planned on ranking “Runaround” as my first choice.  Then there’s also Clement’s hard science-fiction story “Proof,” which I read yesterday and ranked second after Asimov’s entry.  Both Asimov and Clement are the traditional science fiction types that are most often associated with a Hugo Award.  But my first love is fantasy and Leiber knows how to write a gripping tale.  I will have to ponder my vote and you will have to wait and find out until after I re-read the classic robot logic problem that is “Runaround.”


Book Review (Anthology): The Best of Robert E. Howard: Grim Lands (4 Stars)

The Best of Robert E. Howard
Grim Lands
(Volume 2)

Edited by Rusty Burke
Illustrated by Jim & Ruth Keegan

4 out of 5 stars

Read in December 2008

My personal favorites from this collection would be “By This Axe I Rule!” a Kull kingship tale; “Red Nails” a Conan tale where we meet Valeria and “The Bull Dog Breed” another gritty and humorous boxing exploit of Steve Costigan.

The collection also includes many Westerns, a pirate tale told mostly on land and a few much grimmer horror tales. His poetry is also interspersed among the stories.

I definitely recommend this anthology (both volumes actually) to anyone who enjoys epic tales, high adventure and grim determination.

Book Review (Anthology): The Best of Robert E. Howard: Crimson Shadows (4 Stars)

The Best of Robert E. Howard:
Crimson Shadows
(Volume 1)

Edited by Rusty Burke
Illustrated by Jim and Ruth Keegan

4 out of 5 stars

Read in November/December 2008

I was impressed with Robert E. Howard’s ability to captivate my interest and thrill me with his adventures. I especially liked his heroic battles (large and small-scale); they were some of the best and most riveting reading I’ve experienced in ages. He not only invented the sword and sorcery genre, he was the definitive master of it.

Some of my favorites include “The People of the Black Circle” (one of only two Conan stories included in this first volume of short stories); “The Fighten’st Pair” (the funniest tale I’ve read in years involving a boxer and his kidnapped dog); “The Worms of the Earth” (epic battle and struggle between Rome and the Picts); and, “The Grey God Passes.” “Sharp’s Gun Serenade” was also a hilarious romp through the Old West.

Howard’s poetry is dark and primeval most of the time, but a few poignant gems can be found like “The Song of the Last Briton”; “An Echo from the Iron Harp” and ending with the last poem, printed posthumously, the name of which escapes me.

I recommend this anthology to any fan of action adventure, sword and sorcery or pre-World War II pulp fiction that rises above the stigma that name implies.

Movie Review: Conan the Barbarian (2011)

Conan the Barbarian (2011)

3 out of 5 stars

I looked forward to this movie last summer, especially since I’d been watching Jason Momoa for years in Stargate: Atlantis and I’d recently read many of the original Conan stories penned by Robert E. Howard (see my reviews of The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian, The Best of Robert E. Howard: Crimson Shadows, and The Best of Robert E. Howard: Grim Lands).  Howard wrote primal, visceral characters, but also had a deft hand with humor.

I grew disappointed with the critical reviews after the release of the movie last summer, so rather than take a chance on wasting my money at the movie theater, I opted to wait for the BluRay release.  After returning The Adjustment Bureau to Netflix on Monday, Conan the Barbarian came next, arriving on Wednesday.  Due to a prior engagement Wednesday evening, my first opportunity to watch the BluRay came Thursday evening.

I can’t help but compare this to the previous Conan film from my teenage years in the 80s.  Even though I know, intellectually, that the other film did NOT adhere closely to Howard’s original creation, it still holds a special place in my memory and my heart.  The most obvious short falling for me, oddly, was the musical score.  I can still hear, in my head, many of the motifs written by Basil Poledouris (who I just learned was born in Kansas City).  Also, Sandahl Bergman as Valeria, remains one of my all-time favorite female warrior/barbarian film characters, and she also happens to be another Kansas City native.

So I had quite a bit of baggage to carry with me while watching the new Conan the Barbarian last night.  I had avoided this gauntlet long enough and now I was determined to forge ahead and damn the consequences.

Terry and I started the film early, because I didn’t know exactly how long it was and I needed to do a couple of after-hours tasks for my employer before falling asleep.  While I frequently checked the progress meter on the BluRay player’s display menu, the movie really didn’t drag or bog down too much.  I was disappointed in most of Momoa’s performance (I’ve seen him give better performances on the small screen in Stargate: Atlantis).  In fact most of the acting seemed ‘off’ for the actors I recognized.  I heard and saw many references to people and places mentioned in Howard’s many Conan stories, but I just don’t believe they quite captured the heart of Conan or the world of his Hyborian Age.

While it wasn’t great, Conan the Barbarian wasn’t nearly as bad as I feared it would be.

My next movie adventure happens on the really big screen at my local theater this weekend.  John Carter opens today.  And I already regret reading one review this morning that reminds me of my feelings and observations on watching Conan the Barbarian.  I will keep my fingers crossed.  Edgar Rice Burroughs, a contemporary of Robert E. Howard, deserves the best adaptation of his iconic character John Carter as we’ve given Conan.