Favorite fantasy/sci-fi literature other than Tolkien
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Post Posted: Sat Jun 03, 2006 4:19 pm 
 

Excellent literary-related post, as usual, Mike, but I'm going to throw out some other possibilities.

Badmike wrote:If they would have either accepted more Conan stories from Howard (they actually rejected quite a few) ...

I'd never heard this — which ones? Wright is on record as disliking Frost-Giant's Daughter, and, IIRC, The Black Stranger was rejected, re-written as Swords of the Brotherhood, and rejected all over again by a different magazine ... (deep breath) ... but, other than that, the record shows a steady stream of Conan submissions, acceptances, and cover appearances. I'd say Wright was more than fair where Conan was concerned.

Badmike wrote:or paid him on time (they got up to half a year behind on payments Howard desperately needed)

Now, this is a very important point, and one that's too often overlooked. REH is on record as saying he would have to seek other markets, as he was spending far too much time badgering Wright for money owed. I also feel strongly that stress over money contributed directly to REH's suicide ... remember, this is a man who had no pretentions to be listed among the "great" authors — he simply wanted to prove that he could make a living through his typewriter and not have to work for other people. To do that, and to retain his hard-fought and much-valued independence, he had to have money — especially money already earned.

Badmike wrote:he might have been encouraged to pen more tales of our favorite barbarian.

I'm not sure. Again, reviewing his correspondence (and what some Howard scholars have surmised), it's clear that REH often felt that he "lost touch" with many of his characters. When that happened, he just moved on, as one might expect from a writer getting paid to write, not wonder why he was losing enthusiasm for his characters. Kull and Solomon Kane are two good examples of this: once REH felt that the characters were no longer going forward, he just stopped penning their adventures.

Even with Wright's slow checkbook, I wonder if the same fate wasn't about to fall upon Conan. Correspondence with his agent at the time reveals that REH was very seriously considering throwing himself full-time into writing Westerns and historical fiction in 1936 and beyond. Of course, we never got to the "beyond" part, so the best any of us can do is speculate.

All of which is my oh-so-long way of saying that we might have seen just about all the Conan we were meant to see. Had REH buried his mother and moved on, instead of being buried with her, I think he might be best remembered today as a 1940s and 1950s writer of Westerns.

Again, pure speculation, though ...

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Post Posted: Sat Jun 03, 2006 5:00 pm 
 

I think that REH was frustrated at his lack of literary success...as far as literary criticism goes.  His frequent sharp remarks about critics indicate a bit of sour grapes.  His talk before his death was all about starting on a really epic western...and how he had failed to do that yet.

All one needs to do to see how much Howard wanted to write westerns is to read the thinly disguised Last of the Mohicans / Deerslayer / Daniel Boone Conan story known as Beyond the Black River.

What killed Kull was not writer's block...he was killed by market forces associated with Conan. By This Axe I Rule was a failure as a Kull story and a fan favorite as the Conan story, The Phoenix on the Sword.  Conan began right there, already king of Aquillonia and already fighting to keep his throne.

Wierd Tales put REH on the cover a lot...they just didn't pay their bills on time.

A reading of REH's poetry reveals a writer already at odds with the world, wallowing in self-pity and juvenile anger-at-it-all.  A careful reading of poems like Recompense (see the quote below) reveals a sub-theme that REH was most critical of the unheroic person known as...REH.

I think some critics put too much emphasis on the darkness that REH seemed to perceive in the world all around him.  What I read is not fear, but a good imagination and the wish that there really were terrors and adventures hidden in the shadows.

That's why I contend that Dungeons and Dragons might have saved REH's life.  He would have had an outlet for his need for adventure, and (most importantly) friends with whom to share his fantasies.  Of course, he might also never have written a line!  But then, the RPG generation has spawned published writers like no other pop phenomenon short of Middle Earth itself.

Interesting that Solomon Kane is a character that is now quite common in film, television, novels and comics.  Every week there is a new movie about an action hero battling the supernatural.  Just a short list from the top of my head includes The Order, Constantine, The End of Days, The Brothers Grim, Tim Burton's The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and (most humorously) Van Helsing.  Toss in TV shows like Nightstalker (old and new versions), Witchblade, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, X-Files, Millenium and all the other supernatural isn't-it-wierd,  talk-to-the-dead shows we saw in the past two years.

All of these owe at least a partial debt to Solomon Kane.  With all of the Solomon Kane stories now in the public domain, we might even see a movie with that character in the near future...if Keanu Reeves isn't too busy.

Mark   8)


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Post Posted: Sat Jun 03, 2006 5:08 pm 
 

Badmike wrote:Just received the hardback collection "Midnight Sun" today, which collects all of KEW's Kane fiction under one cover.

Mike (or someone else), help me to see where I went wrong with Kane.

I've read one short story, and I could hardly stand it. I remember thinking, "This guy is invincible; he cannot lose," and wondering why I was even bothering. It had no suspense factor whatsoever.

OTOH, I respect Wagner a great deal as an editor (The Echoes of Valor series, for one, gave me back REH's "The Black Stranger" in its non-deCamp form) and I enjoyed his Conan pastiche — it is, in fact, the only remotely decent Conan pastiche ever written. And that's high praise from an REH purist.

So I feel like I must have missed something with Kane, or been in a foul mood, or had just been audited, or something. Where did I go wrong? And, if I were to make another attempt, what would be a good introduction to the character?

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Post Posted: Sat Jun 03, 2006 5:17 pm 
 

Imagine you know nothing about Kane.  Get the book, Darkness Weaves.  Read it.

But, like any artistic work...it also depends when, where and with whom you happened to encounter it.

A part of the heady brew of Kane stories is the ironies inherent in a character who hates his own life, cannot die except by violence, and yet refuses to just let his enemies kill him.  Kane is evil...and yet....  If you must, why not cheer for Kane to die?

Or, read Cold Light from Night Winds.  

Also, I liked some of the poetry Wagner included in his books.  I would pay for that.   :wink:

Mark   8)


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Post Posted: Sat Jun 03, 2006 7:15 pm 
 

Xaxaxe wrote:
Badmike wrote:Just received the hardback collection "Midnight Sun" today, which collects all of KEW's Kane fiction under one cover.

Mike (or someone else), help me to see where I went wrong with Kane.

I've read one short story, and I could hardly stand it. I remember thinking, "This guy is invincible; he cannot lose," and wondering why I was even bothering. It had no suspense factor whatsoever.

OTOH, I respect Wagner a great deal as an editor (The Echoes of Valor series, for one, gave me back REH's "The Black Stranger" in its non-deCamp form) and I enjoyed his Conan pastiche — it is, in fact, the only remotely decent Conan pastiche ever written. And that's high praise from an REH purist.

So I feel like I must have missed something with Kane, or been in a foul mood, or had just been audited, or something. Where did I go wrong? And, if I were to make another attempt, what would be a good introduction to the character?


         Well, I think the suspense factor is overrated.  Is Conan going to die in any of the 100 stories written about him  by REH and others?  Is James Bond going to die?  Did the Shadow, Doc Savage, Spider, Avenger, any pulp hero ever die? Despite many false alarms, are characters like Batman, Superman, Spiderman, Captain America, ever really going to permanently die?   I could go on and on. The suspense isn't in the fact that the main character is going to die or not, it's how he gets out of his certain death situations, or better yet how he reacts to these situations.  In the stories, Kane is immortal (long lived), but that doesn't mean he can't die from violence.  He actually has several close calls, off the top of my head Raven's Eyrie, Reflections for the Winter of My Soul, Lynortis Reprise, he comes pretty close to death.  The novels have many instances of his escaping by the skin of his teeth.  True, in stories such as Misericorde, Undertow, The Gothic Touch, we have Kane the undefeatible, but in these stories he plays the role of the behind the scenes manipulator.  In these stories he pretty much isnt' even the main character, merely the instigator of actions, and appears onstage less than the secondary characters (his hero REH was apt to use this device with some of his best Conan stories like Beyond the Black River and The Black Stranger).
    But that is the greatness of KEW's Kane stories. His world is one where Kane is merely existing and trying to influence events, and whenever he gets to a position of power and influence, his tragic flaws or circumstance (perhaps the God that cursed him to live forever?) bring him down.  In many of his stories Kane refers to the boredom of his life, and when you think about it, after you have lived thousands of years you might became jaded, amoral and evil yourself.  I think Mark is dead on: He wants to die, but can't bring himself to just die or be killed, his instinct to live is too ingrained.  So he exists in a living hell, and enjoys disbursing that hell to those he meets in his lonely travails.
         One of the reasons I've heard people dislike Kane is because he's evil.  He's not just evil. He's beyond evil.  He's perhaps the greatest anti-hero ever written for fantasy, and often the stories focus on characters trying to destroy or capture him (Raven's Eyrie and Cold Light, for two).  But you start liking the evil bastard, because often the circumstances make his opponents even MORE evil, or sometimes he shows a ray of compassion (to the child in Raven's Eyrie, the female leads in Reflections and Lynortis Reprise), but more often you just have to respect the son of a bitch for the audicity of his plan and wait for his flaw to cause his failure.  Knowing somehow Hamlet and Macbeth are going to mess everything up doesn't make reading Shakespeare any less interesting; I always have the same feeling reading KEW's Kane tales.  
    I think another factor is that Kane stories are almost the exact opposite of what we expect in a fantasy tale, and this works against our expectations in a lot of reader's cases.  The typical fantasy tale: Barbarian hero with more muscles than brains rides into village; superstitious villagers talk of scary monster in the swamp that is overdue to take his monthly sacrifice. Barbarian scoffs at villagers and has a lusty relationship with the taven wench; Tavern wench is taken by monster, who proceeds to beat up Barbarain.  Barbarian regains his senses, hauls ass out into the swamp to defeat the monster and his cultish worshippers by hacking them all to death, rescues the maiden, and gets the gold, riding off into the sunset.  
  The "typical" (there is actualy no such thing) Kane tale might read as follows: Kane, the evil immortal warrior, is running a thieves guild in a large decadent city, hoping to influence his way into a government position and from there to the kingdom b y killing anyone in his way. His path crosses a innocent (yet probably doomed) person or couple who have crossed the paths of a great evil.  Kane decides to help them, either at a whim, or because they or the great evil possess something he needs to rule the kingdom/world.  Through much scheming and sorcerous doings (Kane is no stranger to ancient knowledge or magic) along with his great sword arm, Kane is able to defeat the evil, but rarely is the ending a happy one as either the individual or couple he was going to help has died, Kane himself has lost everything in his bid for power, or the great evil is only avoided for this short time.  Kane ends up running for his life with nothing or musing philosophically on the unfairness and despair of life.
   Not the stuff of typical heroic fantasy.......
    Another turn off for some people is that fact I've mentiond, Kane is often a supporting character in his own stories. I think this is KEW's greatest stroke, actually.  After all the stories, Kane still remains a mystery, his motives and history obscured by legend (is he truly the biblical Cain? and to focus too much on him would reveal to much.  Instead, KEW builds up minor and supporting characters (who CAN die in the story, thus giving them suspense), and characterizes them to the point you are rooting for them to either help Kane destroy the great evil, or to eventually defeat Kane somehow, or to just live through the end of the story (not a given when you cross paths with Kane).  
   Without knowing the short story you read, I would agree some come off as very atypical horror/dark fantasy and you might be confused.  The first story I read was Undertow (in a horror collection no less), I would consider this and Sing A Last Song of Valdese, as atypical in that Kane is not the focus and thus they could be confusing.  It was a couple of years before I tried another Kane tale after reading Undertow since I didn't really like the character from that one story.
   The novels are probably better to start out wih, as they nominally feature Kane as the main character.  Darkness Weaves is the best IMO, I would try this one, and then Bloodstone or Dark Crusade. I consider the short stories superior but they are better to read once one has gotten a hold of the character.  As for the short stories: Two Suns Setting, The Dark Muse, Misericorde, Lynortis Reprise, Reflection for the Winter of my Soul, Cold Light, Raven's Eyrie are all great introductions to Kane and his world, as well as being damn good fantasy tales.  X, if you are a Howard fan, I would consider KEW that closest to that style of writing of anyone I have ever read in fantasy fiction, so do yourself a favor and start looking for it!
    From KEW's essay "The Once and Future Kane":

    "...I thnk there are similarities between Howard's writing and myown that occur because---based on what I've read about Howard and read into his work---Howard and I share certain ideas in our philosophy of writing and of life. Conan's grim (and I think, accurate) prediction of civilization's defeat in the war it wages with barbarism (at the close of Beyond the Black River) is comparable to Kane's nihilistic philosophy that Chaos is a kinetic force that must wage eternal war with the stagnant principle of Order. Howard and I both have a pessimistic, violent concept of existence as a hostile universe in which man is but a chance and inconsequencal phenomenon, significant only in his eyes. Lovecraft felt this, too, of course.  Lovecraft saw mankind as completely at the mercy of forces beyond his comprehension; Howard felt that certain rare individuals (Kull, Conan, Soloman Kane) might for a time brandish the red blade of defiance; Kane carries defiance farther to a state of outright rebellion, of guerilla warfare against the gods."
(Midnight Sun, Pg 435)

KEW goes on to make several excellent points on the difference of REH's brooding, pessimistic  barbarian and the "pseudo-Conans" of the pastiches who has a great time brawling, wenching, drinking and having fun (he agrees with me that REH's Conan was NOT having fun in the majority of stories he wrote).  Great stuff.  X, find one of the novels or short story collections and read the entire thing, then post back here, I'd like to see if one of the entire books could change your mind:

Novels:  Darkness Weaves, Dark Crusade, Bloodstone
Short Story collections: Night Winds, Death Angels Shadow

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Post Posted: Sat Jun 03, 2006 7:42 pm 
 

Good points, Mike.  Kane is often not the main character in his stories.  

I like the image of Kane as a rebel...a rebel against the gods (God).  He is often only slightly less evil than his opponents....and in a number of stories he is not so much trying to get something as he is trying to avoid boredom, as in The Dark Muse.

Read Kane for the epic battle scenes found in all three novels...and depicted in miniature in Lynortis Reprise.  No one writes a battle scene like Karl Edward Wagner.  

Also, the number of scenes in which Conan drinks and wenches in a tavern...?  The number of REH Conan stories that even have Conan visit a tavern....?

Mark   8)


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Post Posted: Sat Jun 03, 2006 8:01 pm 
 

Badmike wrote:Well, I think the suspense factor is overrated.  Is Conan going to die in any of the 100 stories written about him  by REH and others?

Actually, "suspense" was a poor choice of words; you're right, I don't expect authors to kill off their own creations. What I was getting at — and I can't think of a term for it right now — was the sense that Kane was just so much better than everyone around him: he's stronger, smarter, faster, more well-spoken, mose insightful, more clever, and on and on. I found myself wondering if a big "S" would appear on his chest once he removed his breastplate. In D&D terms, it's like he rolled all 18s ... and I just couldn't get behind it.

However, as I mentioned in my original post, I think there's a chance that outside influences (maybe a bad week at work or something) might have also clouded my thinking. So, I'm going to put my money where my mouth is and give it another shot. I just ordered Bloodstone ...

... wait for it ...

... from Badmike's Books and Games. :)

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Post Posted: Sun Jun 04, 2006 1:46 am 
 

Xaxaxe wrote:
Badmike wrote:Well, I think the suspense factor is overrated.  Is Conan going to die in any of the 100 stories written about him  by REH and others?

Actually, "suspense" was a poor choice of words; you're right, I don't expect authors to kill off their own creations. What I was getting at — and I can't think of a term for it right now — was the sense that Kane was just so much better than everyone around him: he's stronger, smarter, faster, more well-spoken, mose insightful, more clever, and on and on. I found myself wondering if a big "S" would appear on his chest once he removed his breastplate. In D&D terms, it's like he rolled all 18s ... and I just couldn't get behind it.

However, as I mentioned in my original post, I think there's a chance that outside influences (maybe a bad week at work or something) might have also clouded my thinking. So, I'm going to put my money where my mouth is and give it another shot. I just ordered Bloodstone ...

... wait for it ...

... from Badmike's Books and Games. :)


I swear I didn't have an ulterior motive.....no, really...... :twisted:

Mike B.


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Post Posted: Sat Jun 10, 2006 5:14 pm 
 

Okay, Bloodstone has been received, Mike. However, going along with the sentiments brought forth in this thread, I absolutely refuse to leave you feedback first.

(pause)

(pause)

I almost pulled it off, but I was unable to actually keep a straight face while saying that. It's an even lamer argument when you type it yourself, I guess.

Anyway: book received, feedback left, book in the "reading queue." I'll get back to you with a review.

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Post Posted: Sat Jun 10, 2006 6:22 pm 
 

Xaxaxe wrote:Okay, Bloodstone has been received, Mike. However, going along with the sentiments brought forth in this thread, I absolutely refuse to leave you feedback first.

(pause)

(pause)

I almost pulled it off, but I was unable to actually keep a straight face while saying that. It's an even lamer argument when you type it yourself, I guess.

Anyway: book received, feedback left, book in the "reading queue." I'll get back to you with a review.


Well, I refuse to leave you feedback unless you like the book, AND go out and buy all KEW's work.  It's only fair!

BTW, just reread my copy of Bloodstone after I sent yours off, it had been a few years, just in case you wanted to discuss it when you finished...so let me know, it's fresh in my mind, I"m all ears...... :wink:
I was pleasantly surprised...there were a couple of points I'd forgotten. A couple of spots I winced over; but it still held up nicely.  I actually got a few nice ideas for a swamp campaign I'm setting up. all in all, solidly in between Dark Crusade (lesser) and Darkness Weaves (greater) in KEW's novel trilogy


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Post Posted: Mon Jul 03, 2006 5:41 pm 
 

I was redoing my shelves and just came across a must read for anyone who enjoys Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith or Karl Edward Wagner:
Brian McNaughton's "Throne of Bones" isa great collection of enterconnected short stories fashioned around a world much like those of CAS's stories.  Most ofthe stories deal with the undead and ghouls in particular, and the late McNaughton worked out a very interesteing and consistent cosmology for ghouls that should be assigned reading for any Lovecraft or Call of Cthulhu fans.  Oh, and NO happy endings in the entire bunch, sorry  :cry: Great characterization is another plus from Brian, and he has a way of telling a story from a psychotic's point of view that makes them seem almost sympathetic (almost).
 BTW the book won the World Fantasy Award, a pretty good indicator of quality fantasy fiction...here is a very good review for those who might be interested:

http://www.burningvoid.com/weblog/reviews/2006/06/the_throne_of_bones_brian_mcna.html

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Post Posted: Mon Jul 03, 2006 6:39 pm 
 

So many good books mentioned, but one of my all time favorites has to be The Drawing of the Dark by Tim Powers.

  

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Post Posted: Mon Jul 03, 2006 8:02 pm 
 

El Diablo Robotico wrote:I know a few people have mentioned him already, but George R. R. Martin is in the midst of probably the best fantasy series ever put to ink - The Song of Ice and Fire, which includes, so far, A Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings, A Storm of Swords, and A Feast for Crows.

These books are brilliant, IMO (of course). Deep plot, lots of detailed characters, rich setting and background. It's great. I love it. If I only had to bring along one fantasy series with me to a desert isle, this would be it.

Oh, and for Howard fans, I loved the recent collection of Solomon Kane stories. Fun stuff.


BTW I'm in the middle of this monster now.  Unfortuately for some reason I thought Feast For Crows (4th book in the series) was going to be the finish, but there are another three books left.  I hate to start a series when it is still ongoing, I had so much trouble reading the Black Company series when every couple years I had to remind myself who the various 100 different characters were.  Ice and Fire has at least that many also, BTW  :cry:
    But anyway, it's a helluva read, just the thing to take up your entire summer. The bad thing is at the rate I'm going, I'll finish Feast of Crows way too soon (the next month or so) and have to wait until Christmas for book five and then several years for the concluding two books  :cry:

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Post Posted: Tue Jul 04, 2006 2:00 am 
 

jasonw1239 wrote:So many good books mentioned, but one of my all time favorites has to be The Drawing of the Dark by Tim Powers.


I started The Drawing of the Dark expecting to hate it.  I was pleasantly surprised.  It is one of the better books in that particular niche of the fantasy genre (avoiding plot spoilers here).

I have modeled my long-term campaign on some of the settings in that book.  Nice to know someone else remembers it.

Mark   :D


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Post Posted: Tue Jul 04, 2006 7:23 pm 
 

On the literary side of fantasy, I recommend:

Figures of Earth
The Silver Stallion
Jurgen
by James Branch Cabell

I cant really explain Cabell, google him instead.


The Arabian Nightmare
and Satan Wants me
by Robert Irwin

The Arabian Nightmare: englishman in 14th century Cairo gets caught up in an occult conspiracy involving dreams and stories within stories within stories.

Satan Wants me has been nicely described as "a cross between The Devil Rides Out and Withnail and I"

Borges' short stories
fantastic ideas and gets to the point.

  


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Post Posted: Wed Jul 05, 2006 2:02 am 
 

Currently in the midst of a careful re-reading of Dune.

El wow-o. :)

I think I was too young the first time; I'm really, really enjoying the intrigue and politics this time around.

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Post Posted: Wed Jul 05, 2006 8:51 am 
 

MShipley88 wrote:I am mostly a non-fiction reader these days...hardcore history.


I am reading a group of books now by Stephen E. Ambrose about WWII.  He is the author that wrote "Band of Brothers" that Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks made into a mini-series for HBO.  After I watched that series, I picked up the book and read it.  It was so damn good that I picked up all the other books that he wrote about the war.  I am currently reading the book "D-Day" and when I finish that will read "Citizen Soldiers" and "The Wild Blue".

If you have any interest in WWII at all I highly recommend these books.

  

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Post Posted: Wed Jul 05, 2006 12:25 pm 
 

Kingofpain89 wrote:
I am reading a group of books now by Stephen E. Ambrose about WWII.  He is the author that wrote "Band of Brothers" that Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks made into a mini-series for HBO.  After I watched that series, I picked up the book and read it.  It was so damn good that I picked up all the other books that he wrote about the war.  I am currently reading the book "D-Day" and when I finish that will read "Citizen Soldiers" and "The Wild Blue".

If you have any interest in WWII at all I highly recommend these books.


You will begin to notice a certain amount of repeated material between the books.  Ambrose mines the same sources quite a bit.

I liked D-Day quite a bit.  In most war narratives our interview subjects are the lucky ones who avoid the harrowing dangers.  In D-Day, the characters remember thinking things like, "Wow, this ship is really vulnerable.  If we get hit then all of this is gonna blow up."  Then, the ship gets hit and blows up.

One of Ambrose's last books was sort of a sequel to Citizen Soldiers.  It is called The Victors.

Mark  8)


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