Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Review - Conan - The God in the Bowl - by Robert E. Howard

The "God in the Bowl" was first published in 1975 several years after it was written by Robert E. Howard, it is a fine example of the evolution of Conan in Howard?s mind, and back story on the political and economic philosophy he was creating in the Hyborian age. I need to mention again that I am exceedingly pleased with Del Rey and how they were edited. The editor of the book tried to produce the stories as close to the original text as written by Howard, and if changes were made, they were noted in the back of the book, giving the page number, line number and word that was changed or a note as to how the text was changed. This is why I like this book so much. For the most part the only changes made were minor grammatical changes, if the original text had a misspelled word; they changed it in the text, but noted how Howard originally spelled it. If you are interested in purchasing this book the bottom of the page contains a link to Amazon, so if you haven?t got a copy yet, pick one up.

Ok, enough advertising for the book; I?ll get on with the review. The story "God in the Bowl" starts with a guard discovering the dead body, Kallian Publico, the owner and curator of the museum. Soon Conan enters the scene and the guard seeing Conan comes to the conclusion that he must have murdered the man, and sounds an alarm. Conan is quickly surrounded by other guards along with Demetrio, the chief of the Inquisitorial Council of the city of Numalia, and the prefect of police Dionus. The rest of the story revolves around questioning Conan, and the guard telling the story of how Publico went to town and returned in his chariot, how the guard watched him enter the museum, where no others could have entered because the doors were locked. Howard wraps the story of a criminal investigation being done on the spot, and then brings in a mysterious bowl. During the investigation Conan mentions that he entered the building for the soul purpose of stealing an object and that it was a job, but he maintains his incense when it comes to the murder of Publico. Howard increases the tension by implying that a mysterious and deadly beast was contained in the bowl, but only the clerk, Promero, believes the beast exists. The story reaches a climax when the nephew of the city's governor, Aztrias, arrives on scene. Conan recognizes him and names him as the one who hired him to steal a gem from the museum. When Aztrias does not support Conan's claims, even though Demetrio offers to sweep it under the rug, Conan becomes enraged kills Aztrias and disarms and maims the remainder of the guards. Suddenly Promero appears in the hallway from the chamber he was thrown in, he screams and dies. When they inspect him they find that he has no wounds. Conan enters the chamber sees a head and strikes, severing it from its body, when he looks at the body of the beast it is that of a huge serpent.

One of the things I notice about the way Howard wrote this and other Conan tales is that Conan is almost a side bar to the story. What I mean by that is that most of the action happens with out him. For instance in this story Conan shows up and is accused of the crime, yet most of the story is retelling about Publico's movements, the guards movements, and back story into the daily life of Numalia. Conan only shines in the last three pages of a seventeen page story, but otherwise stands off to the side while the investigation goes on, only providing short direct answers in his own defense. This comment is not to dissuade any one from reading the story or any other story by Howard, it is merely an observation. Howard wrote a remarkably mysterious and tension filled story, which resulted with Conan winning a battle with the guards and killing the beast. I would say that if this was the only Conan story I had ever read and I didn't know Conan?s history, I might be asking myself, "Why do I care about this character?" Very little is provided to make the reader really care about and want Conan to succeed, he is just a brooding Barbarian standing off to the side. The obstacles he encounters continue to increase and things look more and more desperate as the story unfolds, but through out it all he stands by the side and lets it develop around him, until Aztrias infuriates him.

I really enjoy how Howard makes Conan utterly independent. He is a man who holds in high regards the freedom of the individual. And as a reader who has read Conan stories and know the history of Conan, I like how Howard stood Conan off to the side while the story drove on with out him. This illuminated Conan's complete confidence in his abilities to handle the guards. It also showed how Conan impressed the guards, since they never tried to disarm him. Additionally it showed that Conan had a regard for the law, believed in some sort of code of conduct, and had a deep belief in honesty. His belief in honesty can be seen in two separate events, he willing says that he came there to steal a gym, and that he didn't kill Publico, also when Aztrias does not come forward about hiring him, this is what sets off Conan and ultimately results in him killing Aztrias. This shows us that Conan the barbarian is more honest and noble than the nephew of the governor. I like how Howard sneaks in the concept of a mans is only as good as his word, and how he turns the concept of strength in numbers upside down and shows the power and greatness of the individual.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Review ? In the Forest of Villefere ? by Robert E. Howard

This is one of the first horror stories written by Robert E. Howard as it is found in the collection of stories by Del Rey "The Horror Stories of Robert E. Howard". First published in Weird Tales, August 1925, ?In the Forest of Villefere," is very different from the Conan stories I have read and reviewed thus far. I really went into these stories with no expectations, but what struck me from the first few paragraphs was it seemed to be forced, as if he was trying to write like someone else, later in reading I realized it sounded a lot like Edger Alan Poe.

Being a horror story its main point was to frighten, and that it did. I didn?t make me keep the light on at night nor didn?t it stay in my mind and work mess with my mind on a subconscious level, it was scary although on a level that it could be read to an eight year old without to much of a worry about scaring them for life.

"In the Forest of Villefere", is a very short story, barely 4 pages long. But, the story is tight in that it; introduces the main character de Montour of Normandy, puts him on a dark road at night that is known for strange happenings, and strange creatures. de Montour meets a mysterious traveler along the way, who tells him a legend about werewolves. The traveler attacks de Montour and when he pulls a mask from his face, he realizes he is a werewolf. According to the legend if a werewolf is killed in wolf form it is dead, if it is killed while in the form of a man, then the half-soul of the wolf will haunt the killer for the rest of his life. de Montour defeats the werewolf but doesn?t kill him right away because he is in man form, he watches the moon come close to is zenith, and the mans body begin to turn into a wolf. de Montour picks up a sword and hacks it to bits, and runs off into the words.

As I said earlier this is a very short story, but worth at least two reads. I was tripped up by the language Howard used, since he was writing as if the characters were speaking old English with a dash of French thrown in, but after a second read it was much easier, and the story seemed to develop more substance. Additionally I read it for a second time after I had finished the story "Wolfshead", which I will review shortly and is very much related to "In the Forest of Villefere".

Here is a link to purchase the book through Amazon, ?The Horror Stories of Robert E. Howard?, pick it up and following along with my reviews, and if you have any comments please post them.

Monday, July 13, 2009

New Boss at NASA: Part I

In the first part of my Screaming Ramble about the new NASA director Charles Bolden, I neglected to mention what in the i09 blog caused me to want to write in the first place. What made the topic personal to me was a quote by Mr. Bolden. He mentioned that when he would tour schools in 1980, and asked who wanted to be an astronaut, every hand went up. But, if he asks the same question today, he might see three hands.

This took me back to high school and junior high and grade school. I graduated high school in 1982 and at that time, would have still answered yes to the question, about wanting to be an astronaut, but if you would have asked me when I was in grade school it would have been emphatically yes. Once I got into college my ambitions changed, I started taking a harder look at life and what I wanted to do with it. The first shuttle disaster occurred, Challenger disintegrated shortly after launch, January 1986, and with this occurrence my feelings about being an astronaut changed. I can?t say that it was this event particular, it was a culmination of thoughts and feelings, being an astronaut had lost its maverick appeal, and with the disaster it felt more like a tragic commuter accident than humans testing the bonds of Earth. Not to mention the cold war was thawing and the Soviet Union was no longer the threat they once were. Space just didn?t have its allure.

I have high expectations for Mr. Bolden. One: that he will lead NASA out of Low Earth Orbit and back into the business of space exploration. Two: that he will lead the nation in desiring space exploration, bringing back that sense of wonder that everyone had when they saw Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

The New Boss at NASA

I'm going to take a break here from my reviews of Robert E. Howard stories, and off the Comics, and off movies, I'm going to take a break from aspects of this blog I enjoy, to dive back into my Screaming Ramble of the would've, should've, could've of space explorations.

I realize that is what this blog was supposed to be all about, but I found that ranting about why we haven't sent humans back to the moon and beyond and the politics around all of that, well, it was depressing me so I escaped back into stories and started reviewing them, don't worry I will be back to reviewing shortly, but I came across an item on io9 that got me back into my old habits.

As I mentioned in some of my early blogs I like Charles Bolden as the nominee for the next NASA administrator. I feel he has the technical background, political connections, and inspiring oratory skills needed to take NASA out of Low Earth Orbit and back into "Manned Space Exploration". What waits to be seen is if he has the vision to do this, or will he cater to the current administration and put all of the money and resources into studying global warming. As I have said before all the research into "global warming", or "climate change" ain't going to amount to crap when and asteroid plows through the atmosphere and unleashes a billion mega joules of energy that devastates the planet and destroys not only the humans that inhabit the Earth, but every other living thing. Hm, maybe if we had a permanent presence in space and had space ships that could have intercepted the asteroid and pushed it out of the way (or some other means) we would still be around.

We shall see if he has the vision needed.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Review | Conan The Cimmerian #2 Dark Horse Comics

Issue #2 of Conan The Cimmerian by Dark Horse Commics written by Timothy Truman, the artist is Tomas Giorello and Richard Corben, colorist Jose? Villarrubia, letterer Richard Starkings and Comicraft, cover artist this go around is Frank Cho, Dave Stewart as the cover colorist.

The story continues where issue #1 left off. Conan is listening to the tale of his grandfather, Connacht, as told by the hermit. The tale has Connacht taking care of the two boys he rescued, and stopping at a farm house during their travels. During the night the farmer questions Connacht at the end of a pitch fork, Connacht easily disarms the farmer, and agrees to help him look for his missing daughter.

Connacht finds the bloody remains of the farmer?s daughter and is attacked by a huge man like wolf, he fights with it, and is about ready to be killed by the beast when another one comes in and defends him but looses an eye in the fight. Connacht is able to get the better of the first wolf that attacked him and cuts the beast in half at the waist. The beast turns into one of the boys who Connacht had rescued the other wolf turns into the other boy, but is now missing an eye.

The story jumps back to Conan who takes the rapping from the hermits face and realizes he is the boy his grandfather rescued years ago. The hermit goes out to be with his brothers the wolves and leaves Conan looking out onto a frozen wind swept valley.

The story arc was ok. It gave some back story about Conan?s grandfather Connacht, showing that he has a heart for kids in harms way, and is a competent fighter. It also show that there are werewolves in Conan?s world. But overall the back story about Connacht tells us very little one how it makes Conan who he is.

The art work is truly the best part of this issue and the story arc in general. The vistas displayed are sparse, desolate, foreboding and cold, relaying the true experience of living in this world. Corben?s artwork is easily identified and gives the gritty look of history in the telling of Connacht.

All in all I would give this a 4.2 out of 5.0 on my comic rating scale. I encourage anyone that hasn?t started reading this series to start, and to pick up the previous issues, particularly issue #0. The rolling banner overhead takes you to where you can order the issues through Amazon.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

News Flash ---- Alternative Coordinates Publishes Summer 2009 edition

Alternative Coordinates

Here is a quick blast to let you know that one of the best Science Fiction E-zines has published their second issue. Alternative Coordinates released Summer 2009 issue a few days ago. As I have said before and I will say again, this is the fertile ground which will produce the next generation of authors to go down in history. In these fledgling e-zines that take risks and are not biased towards publishing in large part, "established authors", will discover the next Robert E. Howard's, Heinleins, Asimov's and such.

Here is the list of who they have to offer this time;
Tomb by Z. S. Adani
The London Incident by Jennifer R. Povey
The Heart Of The Dragon by Brian Dolton
The Alien Embrace - part 1 by Frances Pauli
A Hissing Sound by Neil James Hudson
Atlantic in Shadow by Benjamin Farthing

A new aspect to the E-zine is that the editor Jeff Cochran has added the ability to download the issue in PDF format, I'm a huge fan of this and really enjoy the ability to print or not to print. Additionally the cover can be down loaded as wall paper, in several different formats.

I'll review as I get the chance to read.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Review | Conan The Cimmerian #1 Dark Horse Comics

Ok here is the real first issue, which is #1, not a psych of #0 but a real first issue of Conan The Cimmerian by Dark Horse Commics. It is written by Timothy Truman, the artist is Tomas Giorello and Richard Corben, colorist Jose? Villarrubia, letterer Richard Starkings and Comicraft, cover artist this go around is Dave Cho, Dave Stewart as the cover colorist, and if you happen to have the alternate cover the artist is Joe Kubert.

This starts up where the last issue ended. Conan is helped by an old hermit, and once in his cave he begins to the story of Conan?s grandfather. The story centers around two boys he rescues from being murdered by their tribe. In addition to the story of the two boys, the reader learns more about Conan?s grandfather, particularly that he was not from the North originally, but has wandered all around the world. His grandfather is a hunter, and a very adept hunter, but nothing on the level of Conan. The art work is good; I still don?t count it as being exceptional, but good none the less. The art sets the mood of the story very well; it is somber and depressing, like the land the story is taking place in. However; the art does not change when the mood of the story changes.

I give this issue a 4.2 out of 5.0 on my comic rating scale.