Friday, October 25, 2013

Forgotten Books: CONAN plays Sam Spade (and The Continental Op)

When James Reasoner reviewed John C. Hocking's Conan and the Emerald Lotus some time back (that's HERE), Charles R. Rutledge commented, "Robert E. Howard's Conan was to most fantasy what Dashiell Hammett was to Agatha Christie. Later, one of the John Maddox Roberts pastiches even lifts elements from The Maltese Falcon and Red Harvest." The book he was referring to was Conan the Rogue. And boy, was he ever right!

In fact, along with paying extended homage to those two Hammett classics, Conan the Rogue also gets a lot of mileage out of one storyline from the second Continental Op novel, The Dain Curse. John Maddox Roberts obviously had a lot of fun writing this one.

From The Maltese Falcon, we have Piris (Joel Cairo), Brita (Brigid O'Shaughnessy), Asdras (Floyd Thursby), Casperus (Casper Gutman), Gilmay (Wilmer) and Mulvix (Captain Jacobi).

From Red Harvest, we meet Maxio (Max Thaler, aka Whisperer), Bombas (Sheriff Noonan), Delia (Dinah Brand), Xanthus (Elihu Willsson) and Lisip (Reno Starkey).

And from The Dain Curse, there's Rietta (Gabrielle Leggett), Andolla (Joseph Haldorn), Oppia (Aaronia Haldorn). There's also Reitta's father (a guy we don't meet in the The Dain Curse), named Rista Daan.

Some scenes, situations and relationships follow Hammett's pretty closely, while others do not, so while I sometimes thought I knew what was coming, I wasn't always right. And there are several characters and at least one storyline that are not related to Hammett at all. I was on the lookout for elements of The Glass Key and The Thin Man, but if they're in there they slipped by me.

Roberts' Conan is an interesting guy, because he's much more cerebral than Howard's. He thinks far ahead, plans carefully, and pays great attention to detail. And he's able to keep his passions in check until he can put them to the best use. Howard's Conan is more elemental, has little patience, and is more likely to let consequences be damned.

I'm not complaining. I enjoy seeing this different side of Conan, and it makes sense because this story seems to takes place not long before Conan takes the throne of Aquilonia. I'd like to believe he's grown wiser in the course of his wild career.

Where the Howard flavor really comes through is in the dialogue, both of Conan and his supporting cast. Somehow, everything works, and Conan the Rogue is a mighty entertaining read. Makes me want to track down the graphic novel version too (below), though the cover scene has nothing to do with Roberts' story.

Forgotten Books at pattinase (I think).

Friday, October 18, 2013

Forgotten Books: TARZAN AND THE JEWELS OF OPAR (1916)

I’ve read all the Burroughs’ Tarzan novels, several more than once, and up until last week, I’d have named Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar one of my favorites. I had fond memories of the fabulous lost city, the lusty Princess La, and her army of snaggletoothed beast-men. Unfortunately, those memories were from Tarzan’s first visit to the city, in Tarzan of the Apes.

Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar features only a brief visit to the city, and La and the gang appear in only a few scenes before vanishing from the story. That wouldn’t have bothered me much, if I could still go adventuring with Tarzan. But for most of this book, Tarzan is absent. In his place, inhabiting his body, is an odd creature with amnesia. And it’s a particularly contrived and annoying sort of amnesia. Tarzan considers himself a beast, having mentally reverted to a time before discovering he was human - but at the same time retains his command of human speech.

Otherwise, there’s plenty of action. Oodles of natives and Arabs are slaughtered, sometimes by each other and sometimes by apes, lions and elephants. A fortune in gold keeps changing hands, as do the titular Jewels of Opar, and there’s a stand-out villain in Barton Werper, a true master of the double-cross. (This same Barton Werper, you may recall, went on to write five unauthorized Tarzan novels that were published in the ‘60s, and ultimately ordered destroyed by the Burroughs estate.)

So it isn’t really a bad book. I just missed Tarzan, and did not enjoy the time I spent with his dimwitted doppleganger.

I did learn a new word, though, one worthy of the mind-boggling vocabulary of Clark Ashton Smith. The word is recrudescence. It appears when Jane is about to be either slain or devoured by a lion, and Tarzan, whom she believes dead, comes flying from out of a tree.

    Wide went her eyes in wonder and incredulity, as she beheld this seeming apparition risen from the dead. The lion was forgotten - her own peril - everything save the wondrous miracle of this strange recrudescence.

So what the heck does it mean? My Funk & Wagnalls defines it thusly:
1. A breaking out afresh, as of a disease or sore. 2. A reappearance; return. 

At the end, when Tarzan’s memory has finally returned, he get philosophic:

    “Deep in the soul of every man,” said Tarzan, “must lurk the gem of righteousness. It was your own virtue, Jane, rather than your helplessness which awakened for an instant the latent decency of this degraded man. In that one act he retrieved himself, and when he is called to face his Maker may it outweigh in the balance, all the sins he has committed.”
    And Jane Clayton breathed a fervent, “Amen!”

Gag me. If ever a Burroughs villain deserved to burn in Hell, Werper was the guy.

This week's Forgotten Books are at George

Wednesday, October 16, 2013


I'm taking the day off today. I'll be taking my shoes off, kicking back and gorging myself on bon bons (always wondered what they were) because EQMM editor Janet Hutchings is doing my work for me. She's posted a piece I wrote on her highly-esteemed blog, SOMETHING IS GOING TO HAPPEN, putting me in such heady company as Doug Allyn, Dave Zeltserman, Marv Lachman, Carolyn Hart, Francis M. Nevins, David Dean and Charles Ardai, to name but a few. Thanks Janet!

If you'd care to pop over and read a thing called "It's the Heart that Counts," you'll find it HERE.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Overlooked Films: ALICE'S WONDERLAND (1923)

Over the years, Disney and company have gotten a lot of mileage out of Alice in Wonderland. The highwater mark was the 1951 animated film, and they capitalized on that with a ride at Disneyland and a near-ending stream of toys, dolls, jewelry, figurines, tea sets, coloring books, etc., etc. They mined the vein again in 2010 with Johnny Depp, and yet again in the new series Once Upon a Time in Wonderland.

But Walt Disney’s affair with Alice began back in 1923, when he produced Alice’s Wonderland for an outfit called Laugh-O-Gram. When he formed his own studio later that year, this mix of live action and animation was the basis for his first series of cartoons, known as the Alice Comedies. Over the next four years the studio churned out a whopping 56 of those babies, all before Mickey Mouse was even a gleam in Walt's eye.