The SFFaudio Podcast #395 – Jesse and Wayne June talk about The Slithering Shadow (aka Xuthal Of The Dusk) by Robert E. Howard
Talked about on today’s show:
Wayne’s first exposure to Robert E. Howard, “repetitious and childish, a self-vitiating brew of pseudo-science”, stage illusions and , repetition, “Oh, Conan!, Robert would have wanted it that way, REH is having some fun with a genre he normally doesn’t play in, Red Nails, Conan is dismissive of the city’s population, degeneration, drug addled drug attics in dopey hazes, lasers, radium light bulbs, manufacturing food from the primal elements, Valeria vs harem slave Natala, devious, controlling, self-interested, a lot of depth behind the shallowness in this story, Conan is really grumpy from page one, gigantic mirth: she’s only human, curmudgeon Conan, poisoning the well, don’t grab my sword arm, slap on the ass, a grumpy sexist, Howard’s doing something really really funny, The Slithering Shadow is a gothic horror, silliness, women written like cartoon characters, not reminding you of your mortality, not about the uselessness of existence, clunky elements, a haunted castle, kicking and screaming, bad casting, trap doors, up to the hilt, sitting on another divan, sooo gothic horror novel, hidden passageways, trapdoors, convoluted coincidence, Edgar Allan Poe’s The Oval Portrait, very recently and hurriedly abandoned, still food on the table, candles that have just been blown out, one spot of blood, The Monk, a giant helmet, a giant dome at the center of the city, one giant palace, all the trappings of a haunted mansion, switching gears, describing Thog, jumping right into H.P. Lovecraft, men of action, biting the Lovecraftian horror, what Cimmerians are like, passive aggressive Conan, in all of Howards writings about Conan, a blood feud, a lack of reproduction, an H.G. Wells trick, why the drug element is so heavy, the golden wine (a healing potion), Howard’s doctor father was very familiar with heroin addiction, Fort McMurray, “morons”, barbarians vs. the civilized, Thalis’ experience, the Fred Van Lente adaptation for Dark Horse Comics, initiated into the cult of Derketa, not my first rodeo, a gang-bang, better to kill Natala, Thalis’ life story is a horror show hidden behind a few words, that’s the cover of Weird Tales, who is this story intended for?, racy, sex, before Natala knifed Thalis, I don’t like getting stabbed, taught to be hard and cruel, Thalis’ chance at revenge, a Stygian Queen, growing up with doped out morons, a gruesome comeuppance, Thog doesn’t just eat you he rapes you first, digested for a thousand years, tentacles, the face of Thog, a non-euclidean face, a 40 year Texas feud, Thog at the center bottom of the city, a big black amorphous mass, Thog is the mad lady in the attic, a stoic attitude towards destiny and fate, from the likes of Thog, Thog is the oil, the cause for the addiction and for the city, unseen until it gushes all over you, fundamentally Howard is not completely wrong about civilization, trigger warnings and sexism, the limitations on what a woman can be in Xuthal (get a real man), moral judgements, his own code of ethics, stealing a slave, Natala’s safety is bound up with his morality, a kind of a rescue, the rebel Prince Almuric, a great river flowing into the desert, dead with forty arrows, canteen full of water, a rich and decadent place, black lotus, cursed, the desert will be kinder, a rebel prince of Stygia, Thalis was like a Natala, she’s the heavy (other than Thog), whip up some anger, Thalis is a Natala without a Conan, this “civilized” society, one of the worst Conan stories by one of the best writers of pulp fiction is still a pretty good story, super-hero-ish, Howard was smart at marketing, Margaret Brundage, lesbian scenes on the cover, gratuitous nudity, temptation, Queen Of The Black Coast, Belit, a pirate queen, first mate (literally), Belit runs that story, a noir awesome ending, the coincidence, “I guess I could do a gothic – Conan won’t like this”, having fun with it, all those tropes, the comics adaptations, done in Stygian, when Conan talks in word balloons, a rough-hewn word balloon (a Cimmerian accent?), you don’t want to do Arnold, a pulpy breezy, showing the Xuthalians hooked up to IVs, smoking your black lotus, the den of an opium smoker, chasing the dragon, enough backstory to make it interesting, an opium inundated culture, yellow skinned, China in decline, the Hermit Kingdom, decadence collapsing, a yellow peril story, San Fransisco, Chinatown, Lovecraftian elements, The Hour Of The Dragon, start with a random story, outliers, Beyond The Black River, Queen Of The Black Coast, an epicness, forty issues of awesome adventure, the tie between pulp adventure and comics, comics are the legacy of the pulps, The Shadow, Doc Savage is a pulp superhero with a super-team, in the 1970s, Conan The Barbarian, the Roy Thomas adaptation from Savage Sword of Conan #20, 1977, essentially nudity, heads being lopped off, no blood and no death, Curtis Publications, kick-ass stories, amazing pulp adventure, a 60 page comic adaptation, “freely adapting”, Conan finds a lost valley – Iskander’s kingdom, crocodile men and bird men, walking zombies, all sorts of things need to have their heads lopped off, Marvel was the dark side vs. DC, sel-doubt and existential anxierty of the heros, John Buscema, Alfredo Alcala, Ernie Chan, the amazing Filipino artists drawing busty ladies and big armed barbarians, Warren Comics, Heavy Metal, Richard Corben, so much richness in the non-superhero comics, Pepe Moreno, Rebel (1984), Mad Max meets Escape From New York with Nazis, a hot rod gang with a heart of gold, victory by blowing up the World Trade Center, power in visualizing, the “steely thews” of Conan, eldritch vs. thews, cat-like, jaguar, pantherish, the battle scenes really flowed, Howard highly influenced by Lovecraft, The Black Stone, an elegance of colour, colour in every particle of sand, the opposite of Lovecraft, with Lovecraft the horrible thing makes its appearance and you faint, Howard wades in on it, Lovecraft would never do that, one can’t battle gods and get away with a whole skin, psychic damage vs. physical damage, Howard is a complement to Lovecraft, physicality, fighting against the inevitability, there’s life there, bleak and grey vs. blood flying everywhere, Robert E. Howard was a lot lustier, “a superfluity of naughtiness”, tongue in cheek, “spicy”, Railroad Man’s Magazine, Air Stories, Zeppelin Stories, True Detective, Spicy Detective, Spicy Mystery, Spicy Adventure, Twilight is nothing new, sexist so sexist, racist so racist, women readers asking for more nudity and spicy, reading it with one hand, women liked and wrote for Weird Tales, Dorothy Quick, Mark Twain, Maude Ludington Cain, yeah it’s sexist, keep behind me girl, “Why is he calling her a girl?”, “Oh, he’s sexist.”, visualizing what is said, what if someone saw us?, there’s blood on the stones, Conan at his stupidest, a crimson mist descended over his eyes, don’t let the blind bull-headed grumpiness be a guide for what he’s like, there’s a great character there.
Posted by Jesse Willis
Reading, Short And Deep #015
Eric S. Rabkin and Jesse Willis discuss The Mirrors Of Tuzun Thune by Robert E. Howard.
The Mirrors Of Tuzun Thune was first published in Weird Tales, September 1929.
Here’s a link to the PDF of the story.
Podcast feed https://sffaudio.herokuapp.com/rsd/rss
Posted by Scott D. Danielson
The SFFaudio Podcast #355 – Jesse, Mr Jim Moon, and Paul Weimer talk about The Dream-Quest Of Unknown Kadath by H.P. Lovecraft
Talked about on today’s show:
novel or novella, would Lovecraft have published it had he lived longer?, left in a drawer, a first draft, smoothing out, an amazing talent, a fascinating fun world, The Wizard Of Oz, a tour of Lovecraft’s material, not the place to start with Lovecraft, no existential bleakness, surprisingly gentle, even Nyarlathotep is kind of nice, more adventurous, extended into nonsense, marshaling armies, Conan’s messing about is strictly small potatoes, a gregarious jolly man, a sense of fun, poems about Frank Belknap Long’s cat, more lucidity than you expect, the ghouls, the Fungi From Yuggoth cycle, three travelers who’d previously visited the dreamland, one must be the unnamed narrator of The Crawling Chaos, King Kuranes, the narrator of Hypnos, the smoking cosmic gun, The Other Gods, the priest, The Strange High House In The Mist, a night-gaunt, the mythos was largely invented by fans, the nexus point, The Statement Of Randolph Carter, is the graveyard in the Dreamlands?, other ways to get to the Dreamlands, ghoul tunnels, the ghouls are quite friendly, Warren is dead!, the enchanted wood, the Vaults Of Zin, the realm of the Gugs, The Divine Comedy, The Cats Of Ulthar, lots of cats from Ulthar, almost an anime style plot, hilarious, whimsical, swarming cats, unlocking, context, Dunsananian, Polaris, the Land Of Lomar, ahead of Robert E. Howard and Clark Ashton Smith, C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Paul’s own RPG Dreamlands, slavers, fighting the Moon Men, surprisingly visual, Celephaïs and The White ship, much mining, the Moon wine, lava gatherers, chalcedony mining, Mr. Merchant, Nyarlathotep is the wizard (and the wicked witch), Sauron, Azathoth does the gnawing, Carter’s passivity, Carter’s activity, Indiana Jones in Raiders Of The Lost Ark, an explorer’s adventure, the hound is Belloq, Bryan Alexander, not a horror book, more comedy than horror, the Nigh-Gaunts sound scary but their major power is tickling, Lovecraft has a wicked dry sense of humour, playing with a caricature of himself, based on his own nightmares, squirming feelings, “there’s more of gravy than of the grave about you”, Marley’s ghost, a bit of undigested beef, A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, the HPLHS’ A Solstice Carol, adapting three Lovecraft stories by way of Dickens, The Festival, Pickman’s Model, The Outsider, it all connects up, Richard Upton Pickman, The Shadow Over Innsmouth, this grand tapestry, Jim’s ball of wax, The Thing On The Doorstep, a shoggoth in those pits, Night-Gaunts (the poem), not seeing the whimsical side of it, a gamer style fashion, in Deities & Demigods, that was all bullshit, Michael Moorcock’s Elric, flying on the night-winds with the ghouls, an internal Lovecraftian world, maps, the map from the Call Of Cthulhu‘s Dreamland Supplements, Sandy Petersen, Jason Thompson’s Dreamlands map, The Green Meadow, the Vaults Of Yin, the Gardens of Zin, how do they get to the Moon on this map?, straight on until morning…, dream logic supplies an endless supply of water, how much is personal and how much is external?, Carter’s Sunset City (Kadath), the gods of earth have abandoned it for Kadath, cosmic horrors, the Games of Divinity, Fungi From Yuggoth, Homecoming (Sonnet V), our experience of reading Lovecraft, Recognition, the book is the key,
The day had come again, when as a child
I saw—just once—that hollow of old oaks,
Grey with a ground-mist that enfolds and chokes
The slinking shapes which madness has defiled.
It was the same—an herbage rank and wild
Clings round an altar whose carved sign invokes
That Nameless One to whom a thousand smokes
Rose, aeons gone, from unclean towers up-piled.
I saw the body spread on that dank stone,
And knew those things which feasted were not men;
I knew this strange, grey world was not my own,
But Yuggoth, past the starry voids—and then
The body shrieked at me with a dead cry,
And all too late I knew that it was I!
, the next poem
The daemon said that he would take me home
To the pale, shadowy land I half recalled
As a high place of stair and terrace, walled
With marble balustrades that sky-winds comb,
While miles below a maze of dome on dome
And tower on tower beside a sea lies sprawled.
Once more, he told me, I would stand enthralled
On those old heights, and hear the far-off foam.
All this he promised, and through sunset’s gate
He swept me, past the lapping lakes of flame,
And red-gold thrones of gods without a name
Who shriek in fear at some impending fate.
Then a black gulf with sea-sounds in the night:
“Here was your home,” he mocked, “when you had sight!”
then we get The Lamp, Zaman’s Hill, The Port, The Courtyard, XX. Night-Gaunts, XXI. Nyarlathotep, XXII. Azathoth, XXV. St. Toad’s, seeking after visions, XVI. The Window, I.N.G. Culbard’s adaptation of The Dream-Quest Of Unknown Kadath, this is a poem as well, word choices for assonance and alliterative sound, very aural, a pleasure to listen to, meant to be read aloud, Carter looks a lot like Lovecraft (in I.N.G. Culbard’s adaptation, Jason Thompson’s adaptation of The Dream-Quest Of Unknown Kadath, from Dunsany and Poe, it all goes back to Poe with his Dream-land poem, Ulalume, The Narrative Of Arthur Gordon Pym Of Nantucket by Edgar Allan Poe,
by Edgar Allan Poe
By a route obscure and lonely,
Haunted by ill angels only,
Where an Eidolon, named NIGHT,
On a black throne reigns upright,
I have reached these lands but newly
From an ultimate dim Thule—
From a wild weird clime that lieth, sublime,
Out of SPACE—Out of TIME.
Bottomless vales and boundless floods,
And chasms, and caves, and Titan woods,
With forms that no man can discover
For the tears that drip all over;
Mountains toppling evermore
Into seas without a shore;
Seas that restlessly aspire,
Surging, unto skies of fire;
Lakes that endlessly outspread
Their lone waters—lone and dead,—
Their still waters—still and chilly
With the snows of the lolling lily.
By the lakes that thus outspread
Their lone waters, lone and dead,—
Their sad waters, sad and chilly
With the snows of the lolling lily,—
By the mountains—near the river
Murmuring lowly, murmuring ever,—
By the grey woods,—by the swamp
Where the toad and the newt encamp,—
By the dismal tarns and pools
Where dwell the Ghouls,—
By each spot the most unholy—
In each nook most melancholy,—
There the traveller meets, aghast,
Sheeted Memories of the Past—
Shrouded forms that start and sigh
As they pass the wanderer by—
White-robed forms of friends long given,
In agony, to the Earth—and Heaven.
For the heart whose woes are legion
’T is a peaceful, soothing region—
For the spirit that walks in shadow
’T is—oh, ’t is an Eldorado!
But the traveller, travelling through it,
May not—dare not openly view it;
Never its mysteries are exposed
To the weak human eye unclosed;
So wills its King, who hath forbid
The uplifting of the fring’d lid;
And thus the sad Soul that here passes
Beholds it but through darkened glasses.
By a route obscure and lonely,
Haunted by ill angels only,
Where an Eidolon, named NIGHT,
On a black throne reigns upright,
I have wandered home but newly
From this ultimate dim Thule.
the double negative, seeing the mysteries of the dreamlands with the eyes unclosed, protean quality, an evolution of that Dream-Land, the seed that took root in Lovecraft’s mind, pools with lolling lilies, Eldorado, a prodigious dreamer, Tweeting dreams, “I’m prodigious dreamer.”, keeping a dream diary, deeper and more vivid, a dream New York City, Jesse recounts dream of swimming through the streets, a sea-monster, rafts, tables, wonderful wonderful comic books, it is very difficult to read books in dreams, #nightmare, forgetting that he is dreaming, close to waking, dreams while dreaming, Dennis Quaid, Dreamscape (1984), if we can just get the internet of dreams working, awesome and amazing, Waking Life (2001), dreams as prison, Curanes story is in the middle, Curanes has trained a bunch of locals to act English, totally Wizard Of Oz, the magic of three, The Crawling Chaos by H.P Lovecraft and Winifred Virginia Jackson, some sort of plague, opium, he’s inside his own head and walks into the Dreamlands, all cities of amber and chalcedony, deserted cities, amazing imagery, inside baseball, once you’re deep into the trenches…, The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman has the same kind of ghouls, the way ghouls get their names (the first person they eat), maybe Pickman got eaten by a ghoul (retcon), meeps or glibbers, planning the assault on Kadath.
Posted by Jesse Willis
Talked about on today’s show:
1937, Jesse has a radical thesis, is this book a true story?, I’m not really happy I just think that I am, Alice In Acidland, drugs, what do we mean by true?, arachnoids and ikthyoids, a summary of Last And First Men, the unnamed narrator, astral projection, the contents of this book, not history but a personal experience (of imagination), standing on a hill, an interesting fantasia, considering the size of the universe, Star Trek with Nazi costumes is possible and perhaps even inevitable, The Truman Show, the nature of infinity, an Italian who would be perfectly happy to use the word true about this book, “Midway upon the journey of our life I found myself within a forest dark.”, bitterness, Dante Alighieri, a lyric poem, Olaf Stapledon was a philosopher, a blazing panoply, an image of the rose, OS, “One night when I had tasted bitterness I went out on to the hill.”, an abiding faith, the original meaning of comedy, comedies end in marriage, sitcoms, both narrators acknowledge their psychological state, an exponential rhythm, overhead obscurities in flight, a Doppler shift, the other Earth, Bvalltu, a composite character, planets – > solar systems -> galaxies, a fractal experience, an encompassing wisdom, marriage as a small atom of community, spirit inhabited rock, a World War I novel, 1986, Eric taught Star Maker to Bryan, memories imbricated upon each other, the preface, Stapledon was an ambulance driver in WWI, looming WWII, militarism, seeing the sunny side of a ruined planet, Merseyside, too smashed up to really be alive, a 1930s novel, fascism vs. communism, how to organize the self and society, a secular myth, a shock to civilization, the cycle of mechanization, terrible mutations, the onset of the tank, a sense of horror, WWI and WWII as two different episodes, the Spanish Civil War, shaking off colonialism, materialistic industrialization, the only wait out is an act of faith, how can we not think of the Star Maker as a monster, “struck dumb with shame”, limitations of the audio medium, Bryan’s keyboard, C.S. Lewis, why C.S. Lewis didn’t like Star Maker, a Lewis-nemesis, crusades, the Great War on Terror (2 decades old), mindless religious violence, anticipations of subsequent Science Fiction, The High Crusade by Poul Anderson, two 20th century philosophies, Freud and Marx, neurosis and sublimation, genitals with sense organs, radio pornography, the feelies from Brave New World, crisis of labour, ideologies as philosophical artifacts, not Dave Singer, separated by space and time, supplementary parentheses, adduction of Christianity, three linked universes, playing for the souls of the creatures, a timeless heaven and a timeless hell, Earth, Mars, and Venus in C.S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy, suffering for the redemption of the Earth, explicitly not a Christian view, C.S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy as a response to a paragraph in Star Maker, all the Christs of all the worlds, “a basket of Christs”, this is Arthur C. Clarke, a tour of Science Fiction in the future, this is The Mote In God’s Eye, The High Crusade, the novel itself is a universe, cosmos vs. universe, Jesse’s theory about the Game Of Thrones universe in the TV show, what Clarke does this in slight watercolours Stapledon paints in bold oils on a massive canvas, Arthur C. Clarke’s life changing moment, copying out the scales of magnitude, Bryan’s son, encapsulating, it is Stapledon, Dante is Dante in The Divine Comedy, The Divine Comedy as political revenge, Niven and Pournelle’s Inferno, Stapledon is not a punishment guy, when Lovecraft looks out of the universe…, when Stapledon looks at the same vista he’s not as melancholy about it, The Cats Of Ulthar, contemporaries, philosophical horror, long distance psychology, like Poe, fairy tales, handling fears, we get to feel, this is an education effort, quite special, a genre issue, the roller-coaster moment, looking at the vocabulary, eldritch and ichor, lucidity, feeling, the etymology of the word “vermin”,
I reflected that not one of the visible features of this celestial and
living gem revealed the presence of man. Displayed before me, though
invisible, were some of the most congested centers of human population.
There below me lay huge industrial regions, blackening the air with
smoke. Yet all this thronging life and humanly momentous enterprise had
made no mark whatever on the features of the planet. From this high
look-out the Earth would have appeared no different before the dawn of
man. No visiting angel, or explorer from another planet, could have
guessed that this bland orb teemed with vermin, with world-mastering,
self-torturing, incipiently angelic beasts.
the stellar wars, too lucid for more tribal patterns, sympsychic partnership, angelic vermin, more real than all the stars, like two close trees grown together, difference can be strength, the Orson Welles radio version of The War Of The Worlds, versus the Martians our differences don’t make a hill’s worth of difference, The Lord Of The Rings, looking for the Ents and the Entwives, there are Ents in Star Maker, the holy sex transmission that never got off, the ships worlds,
It was a strange experience to enter the mind of an intelligent ship to
see the foam circling under one’s own nose as the vessel plunged through
the waves, to taste the bitter or delicious currents streaming past
one’s flanks, to feel the pressure of air on the sails as one beat up
against the breeze, to hear beneath the water-line the rush and murmur
of distant shoals of fishes, and indeed actually to hear the
sea-bottom’s configuration by means of the echoes that it cast up to the
under-water ears. It was strange and terrifying to be caught in a
hurricane, to feel the masts straining and the sails threatening to
split, while the hull was battered by the small but furious waves of
that massive planet. It was strange, too, to watch other great living
ships, as they plowed their way, heeled over, adjusted the set of their
yellow or russet sails to the wind’s variations; and very strange it was
to realize that these were not man-made objects but themselves conscious
Sometimes we saw two of the living ships fighting, tearing at one
another’s sails with snake-like tentacles, stabbing at one another’s
soft “decks” with metal knives, or at a distance firing at one another
with cannon. Bewildering and delightful it was to feel in the presence
of a slim female clipper the longing for contact, and to carry out with
her on the high seas the tacking and yawing, the piratical pursuit and
overhauling, the delicate, fleeting caress of tentacles, which formed
the love-play of this race. Strange, to come up alongside, close-hauled,
grapple her to one’s flank, and board her with sexual invasion. It was
charming, too, to see a mother ship attended by her children. I should
mention, by the way, that at birth the young were launched from the
mother’s decks like little boats, one from the port side, one from the
starboard. Thenceforth they were suckled at her flanks. In play they
swam about her like ducklings, or spread their immature sails. In rough
weather and for long voyaging they were taken aboard. At the time of our
visit natural sails were beginning to be aided by a power unit and
propeller which were fixed to the stern.
nothing like this in Science Fiction, Lloyd Abbey’s The Last Whales, an elegiac book, another sub-genre of Kindle based pornography, much of William Wordsworth’s poetry is admired too simply, Eric reads Lines Composed Upon Westminster Bridge, the houses with windows like sleeping eyes, watching the lives of dreams, the houses are sleeping not the people within them, the smokeless air, lying still, what makes the beauty, The World Is Too Much With Us, a cry for God, Fungi From Yuggoth (IX): The Courtyard by H.P. Lovecraft:
It was the city I had known before;
The ancient, leprous town where mongrel throngs
Chant to strange gods, and beat unhallowed gongs
In crypts beneath foul alleys near the shore.
The rotting, fish-eyed houses leered at me
From where they leaned, drunk and half-animate,
As edging through the filth I passed the gate
To the black courtyard where the man would be.
The dark walls closed me in, and loud I cursed
That ever I had come to such a den,
When suddenly a score of windows burst
Into wild light, and swarmed with dancing men:
Mad, soundless revels of the dragging dead—
And not a corpse had either hands or head!
deemed unfit, body horror, Robert E. Howard, M.R. James, ever more capacious mentalities, being taught by groups, the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode The Inner Light, The Horla by Guy de Maupassant as a horrible version of this, Passengers by Robert Silverberg, Boneland by Jeffrey Thomas, from a microscopic perspective, these things pass, bodyless timelords, a swarm of locusts, eugenics, Chapter 9, cultural and eugenical means, The King In Yellow (The Repairer Of Reputations) by Robert W. Chambers, the lethal chamber, Futurama, Providence, Alan Moore, criticism of Moore, turning everything Lovecraft hates into love, Last And First Men was a bestseller in 1930, the fifth generation, the Martian hive-mind, what is the moral ideal that Stapledon hopes that we move toward?, individuality in community, a literary allusion, a race on Venus, from epoch to epoch, that scaling thing again, the problem with fascism, fasces, is this a Darwinian book?, parasitism, symbiosis, evolution, Marx dedicated Capital to Darwin, getting rid of Harper, mutual aid, The World, the Flesh & the Devil by J.D. Bernal, astronomy, Peter Kropotkin (Mutual Aid: A Factor Of Evolution), mutual slaughter, profit in fraternization with the enemy, like Rod Serling The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street, gentleness as a religion, the entangled bank (in Origin Of Species), functional stability arising out of local possibilities of violence, virtue in the creator is not the same of virtue in the creature, a third position, the sense experience of a star, in the center of this paragraph, free will and determinism are compatible, always bigger, a selfless star, the normal voluntary motor activity of a star, if you empty your ego and just feel others, perfect selflessness allows entrance into perfect community, getting your karma clean, dark matter, the science is pretty damn good, the key word is “lucid”, the vast emptiness enables the insight into the stars, rubies lay behind me, the sky’s familiar diamonds, all possible light, watch Steven Universe, ageless like Star Maker, the tag cloud, world and worlds, Oswald Spengler, growth -> change -> decay, the myth at the end, the course of empire paintings, The Decline Of The West, Arnold J. Toynbee, future histories, we could see if we were lucid, a great Götterdämmerung moment, the Russian civil war, The White Goddess, The Golden Bough, subsequent Science Fiction, for those who haven’t yet read the book…, the most disliked and most liked book, what kind of a novel is this?, an epic poem crossed with a lyric poem, erroneous expectations, feel better about your fishwife and your step children, back to Lovecraft, a writer of ideas, Odd John and Sirius are more like regular novels, Jack London’s Star Rover, more swords fewer wives, Frank Herbert, God Emperor Of Dune, when you frame it that way…, Accelerando by Charles Stross, full time IT professionals writing SF, Ted Chiang and Cory Doctorow, Ted Chiang can do anything, lapidary, Jorges Luis Borges wrote an introduction for Star Marker, A Story Between Jest and Earnest, Love and Discord.
Posted by Jesse Willis
Talked about on today’s show: Published 60 years ago; research is Jesse’s “security blanket”; The Black Stone by Robert E. Howard; stone of Erech has parallels to the Kaaba in Mecca; Moses’s ill-fated water-rock in Old Testament; the Stone of Scone; palantíri; War? What is it good for? We aren’t fans of all the battles; Éomer’s poetic “all is lost” moment; The Last Samurai and heroic fatalism; World War I; Faramir’s dislike of war; the movies’ over-reliance on spectacle; the power of words; the Lord of the Nazgûl; Éowyn’s badassery; Houses of Lamentation vs. Houses of Healing; the strength of the weakest; parallels between Merry and Pippin; the flaws of film versions of Éowyn–and Faramir; great deeds vs. duty; Éowyn as Old Norse valkyrie archetype; the twisting of the Nazgûl; debating the corporeality of Sauron; Sauron and Denethor use others for their dirty work; Ghân-buri-Ghân and other marginalized figures; woodwoses; no authorized Lord of the Rings fan fiction; Jesse wants public domain story following Gimil and Legolas on postwar adventures; Fifty Shades of Grey as Twilight fanfiction; Tolkien’s scholarly inside jokes; we don’t know our Greek numbers; on foils, parallels, and the integrity of Tolkien’s work; Théoden and Denethor; Gandalf’s healing power, “see the light”; Denethor’s false wisdom; Denethor passages have quality of a Greek tragedy; modern society, like Denethor, can’t see the whole picture; film portrayal of Gandalf whacking Denethor is not canon; Christ parallels and the resurrection of hope; the layering of symbolism; barrow wights and Théoden’s barrow; Korean harvest festival Chuseok; the aggression of the Tolkien estate; the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings animated movies of yore; “the hands of the king are the hands of a healer”; athelas (kings foil) to the rescue!; the king’s power to call the wounded back from the dead; the title of lore master; the last big distraction and self-sacrifice at the Black Gate; on the division of Lord of the Rings into books and volumes; on the pleasures of slow reading; more discourse on Denethor; Pippin and Merry are interchangeable (!?); even Sauron is just one evil power, parallels cyclical historical events in our world (cf. resurgence of Russia under Putin); no spoilers for Maissa!; the Mouth of Sauron’s terms, and what if Gandalf had surrendered?; Hitler, appeasement, and Alexander the Great; envisioning flamethrower guitarist from Mad Max: Fury Road at the Battle of the Black Gate;
Posted by Jesse Willis
Review of CONAN RED SONJA by Gail Simone, Jim Zub, Dan Panosian, Randy Green, Rick Ketcham, and Dave Stewart
Conan Red Sonja
By Gail Simone, Jim Zub, Dan Panosian, Randy Green, Rick Ketcham, and Dave Stewart
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Published: July 2015
Conan Red Sonja is a hardcover collecting issues 1-4 of a limited series of floppies put out by Dark Horse Comics.
I was prompted to review this comic, a trade hardcover actually, after re-reading the review snippets on the back of the book. SciFiPulse, Kabooooom, Geeked Out Nation, and Doomrocket all praised Conan Red Sonja (I think I may have heard of one of these websites before).
And, after reading it myself, I’m thinking it might be time for another opinion on Conan Red Sonja.
I didn’t hate it. But I am very disappointed with it.
I think Conan Red Sonja would make an fine book for a preteen who has not read many comics, or maybe someone a little older who needs a bit of distraction while waiting at an airport, or any someone who needed to get an idea who and what Conan and Red Sonja were but didn’t really want to know any the specifics (for some reason). Conan Red Sonja would make a suitable book for one of these persons.
There are some things Conan Red Sonja has going for it. It isn’t completely disjointed, despite having large time jumps between issues. It contains some good artwork. Some good colouring. It is printed on great paper. It is bound very well.
I also think I like what writers Gail Simone and Jim Zub were aiming at. And to be fair they don’t completely miss the mark. This book has a some nice set pieces. Individual panels here and there can be quite pretty. The splash pages are well composed. The whole package is there. Unfortunately its just lacking in all the little polished details that would have made Conan Red Sonja something really good.
In essence what’s wrong with Conan Red Sonja is that it is just not smart enough.
Now I bet most people who haven’t read a lot of Conan comics wouldn’t expect you’d go to Conan or Red Sonja comics for smartness, but I do.
It used to be that Conan’s stories were based on short stories by Robert E. Howard (and a few other authors). That tended to smarten things up quite a bit. And Conan comics, unlike the superhero comics, had real deaths, people would die and – get this – not just come back a few issues down the road. That was smart too. Trust me, I know whereof I speak on this whole issue. I’ve been reading comics since the mid 1980s. I grew up collecting and reading Savage Sword, Conan The Barbarian, King Kull, Red Sonja and pretty much every other Robert E. Howard character they’d do a comic about. So I know Conan and Red Sonja pretty damn well – and it can be very smart stuff.
This comic isn’t very smart.
I’ll point to five very specific problems:
1. NO GUNS. Despite the drawing above, there are no cannons in the Hyborian age. Maybe this wasn’t actually in the script, maybe this is just a slip-up by an enthusiastic artist who, thinking “this is a pirate ship” and “pirate ships have cannons” drew some cannons. They don’t have cannons, not in the Hyborian Age.
2. INVERSE RACISM. The pirate ship on the right. Do you see what’s missing? You can’t make racism go away by avoiding situations that might look controversial. Bêlit’s crew is supposed to black, made up exclusively of “ebony-skinned warriors.” Bêlit’s crew, in Conan Red Sonja don’t look ebony to me. Yes, Howard was racist, but Bêlit isn’t racist. She is selfish. Wanton. Cruel. But not racist. Having Bêlit not have a black crew is a stupid way to avoid looking like being racist. It’s like having the Kents of Smallville be Chinese for the purposes of racial diversity, but keeping Clark Kent white – he’s a fucking alien! – So, suffice it to say, I don’t get the point of the change here – it just makes me think yeahhh, they’re afraid to deal with the fact that the creator of this character was racist, so lets pretend everyone is white in the Hyborian Age. Howard specifically sets up this image in Queen Of The Black Coast. Bêlit is an “ivory” skinned warrior woman leading a crew of “ebony” skinned pirates. Deal with it.
3. NO FUCKING WAY! No, Thoth Amon is not responsible for the poisoning of the Zarkheba River, nor, as we are probably supposed to infer, the subsequent death of Bêlit. Bêlit is responsible for her own death. Despite what writers Gail Simone and Jim Zub have Thoth Amon saying above, there’s no reason at all to have him say it – other than it is something for him to say.
First of all, Thoth Amon isn’t the be-all and end-all of evil in the Hyborian Age – he isn’t the evil behind every evil. He isn’t anything close to being the Professor Moriarty of Hyborian Age (and neither was Moriarty, actually). That’s just lazy, lazy writing.
Thoth Amon shows up in exactly one Robert E. Howard story, The Phoenix On The Sword, and the two characters never actually meet. Or as the Wikipedia page for Thoth Amon puts it “[Thoth Amon] is often used as Conan’s arch enemy in derivative works.” Well, here’s another derivative work to add to the list, Conan Red Sonja.
Moreover, Thoth Amon’s explanation for why he supposedly poisoned the Zarkheba River doesn’t hold water. There were no ruins of a coastal town at the mouth of the river! There was a ruined city upriver, that’s the setting for the climax of Queen Of The Black Coast, but that city was ancient, and had very different reasons for going bad. Again, shitty lazy writing.
Maybe there are excuses for this sort of thing, maybe the folks at Conan Properties International and Red Sonja, LLC, are so worried about protecting the characters they
invented claim to own that they are micromanaging the writing team – telling them what can and cannot be written. I don’t know.
4. ART. When not occasionally looking drugged, sometimes, just from panel to panel, Conan will look like a different dude. He will rapidly grow and then lose abdominal hair. Weird right? Too weird. I could buy a version of Conan with abdominal hair, or a version with chest hair, or a version with hair everywhere, or a Conan with a completely hairless torso (the traditional look). What I can’t buy is the growing and mowing I’m being asked to do between panels. Pick a fucking hair pattern.
5. LOGIC. While The overall plot McGuffin isn’t bad – I like the idea of a red seed (from space) – one that sprouts a red-thorned vine that infects and chokes all the life out of everything in a land – it’s not a new idea of course, its from H.G. Well’s The War Of The Worlds – I like it! Yet I don’t think this book uses it very well. For example, we’re told it kills absolutely everything it gets close to, and so when Conan, after getting infected somehow (the book doesn’t show us how) – after getting infected Conan has the red thorny vines growing out of the muscle on his left forearm. His cure for this infection is fire (which is cool) but when the red thorny vine grows back Conan just pulls it out by the root – and that cures it?!? WTF!? What about all the other people and animals and plants that were killed by this invasive red alien plant? You’re expecting me to accept that this burn it then pull it technique will work for Conan but didn’t work for anyone else?
And that again is the problem with Conan Red Sonja, this book doesn’t expect anything of me. It certainly doesn’t respect the rules and patterns of the Hyborian Age and so it can’t and doesn’t respect itself.
I’ve seen this happen with a lot with corporate controlled franchises. They turn a character with whom an author told stories into fan service machines – telling us more about the character and forgetting what made the original writing so compelling.
Don’t give us more backstory, don’t give us prequels, do something awesome.
Posted by Jesse Willis