Monday, July 1, 2013

Hadon of Ancient Opar

Hadon of Ancient Opar (Khokarsa Series #1 - Wold Newton Prehistory)Hadon of Ancient Opar by Philip José Farmer

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Originally published at
To most general readers of science fiction, Philip Jose Farmer is probably best known as the creator of the RIVERWORLD series, and possibly also as the Golden Age writer who brought sex into the Science Fiction scene through his stories “The Lover” (1952) and Flesh (1960). He also loved to dabble in other author’s created universes, to the extent that he wrote numerous pastiches and fictional “biographies” purportedly by and about such characters as Edgar Rice Burroughs’ TARZAN, Kurt Vonnegut’s KILGORE TROUT, and DOC SAVAGE, just to name a few. Fans of Burroughs’ Tarzan books will probably remember that the erudite “ape-man” visited a lost city known as Opar in several of the books, a last remnant of an ancient civilization, possibly Atlantis. The denizens of Opar are ruled by a beautiful Queen named La, who is high priestess of the Oparians and falls in love with Tarzan in The Return of Tarzan, the second book in the series. Since Tarzan is already in love with Jane Porter of Virginia (not Great Britain, as in the Johnny Weissmuller movies), the love of La is not requited, but the two have a mutual attraction and relationship that persists throughout the series in several of the novels.

In the 1970’s Farmer wrote a novel set in the prehistory of Burroughs’ Opar, entitled Hadon of Ancient Opar (1974) which was to be the beginning of a series. The eponymous hero of the novel is Hadon, a young warrior from Opar sent to represent his city at the Great Khokarsan Games, a sort of Olympic Games set to choose a new King every generation. At the time of the novel, roughly 12,000 years ago, Opar is actually a smaller less important city in the empire of Khokarsa, a civilization set in various cities around the shores of, and also on a large island in, a huge inland sea in the middle of the African continent. The kingdom or empire is matriarchal, with a Queen/High Priestess ruling the land, but also with a King/High Priest who controls the military. The ruling deity is Kho, a fertility Goddess whose female priestesses control all non-military aspects of society, while the male deity is Resu, god of the sun, whose male priests are subservient to the rule of Kho and her priestesses. At the time the novel begins however, there is a struggle going on between the patriarchal followers of Resu and the matriarchal followers of Kho.

Farmer has a lot of fun with the set-up of the history of the Khokarsan ancestors of the later day Oparians Tarzan will later encounter. He drags all kinds of literary antecedents and historical anachronisms into his novel, including homages to H. Rider Haggard’s ALLAN QUATERMAIN series, especially the novel Allan and the Ice Gods (1927) and also some possible links to Haggard’s other memorable character Ayesha of She: A History of Adventure (1987). There is also a mysterious off-stage character mentioned throughout the story, a seemingly immortal tall grey-eyed wanderer known as Sahhindar, possibly the god of Time, or possibly a human being who has discovered the secrets of time travel and long life. Sahhindar is responsible for having introduced the Khokarsans to many of their advancements in agriculture and military science over the preceding centuries, allowing them to achieve a Bronze Age culture while being surrounded by Stone Age neighbors. Astute readers of the book may deduce who this Sahhindar really is.

The premise of the novel is that the winner of the games will become King, if the Queen decides to accept him. She has the option of refusing to do so, however. Young Hadon does indeed win the games, but before he can become King he is sent on a quest to find a mysterious woman with violet colored eyes who was seen by a previous expedition of Khokarsans in the far north and who is under the protection of the even more mysterious aforementioned Sahhindar. At the point where Hadon and a group of warriors and priestesses set out for the legendary northern sea, the action truly picks up and Farmer is at his best.

Hadon of Ancient Opar is a fun read, and it is especially so for die-hard fans of Burroughs, but it may be a little confusing for those readers who aren’t familiar with the Tarzan books. Editor Christopher Paul Carey has written a forward to this Titan Books reissue of the novel, along with appendices of dates, maps and glossaries for this edition that help explain the tie-ins and context of the story. I enjoyed re-reading this novel almost forty years after the first time I read it, but there are a few things that I noticed this second time around that escaped me initially. There are parts of the novel where the anachronisms seem a little over the top, especially early on in the book when the contestants are competing in the games to determine who will be king. As just one example, I wish Farmer had taken time to call his running events something different than the “100-yd. dash” and the “2 mile run” as the modern terminology grates a little. While the society is matriarchal, with women priestesses being in charge both in relationships and government in the villages and cities Hadon and his group pass through, the essential passiveness of a couple of the major female characters may be off-putting to some readers. There is also a fair amount of blood and gore and an alleged off stage rape of a high priestess, resulting in the exile of a character who makes an appearance late in the book.

I recommend Hadon of Ancient Opar to anyone who’s a fan of Burroughs, and Haggard however. I also recommend it to anyone interested in reading up on Farmer’s diverse oeuvre and learning about his various forays into the works and creations of other authors. There are several related novels and stories in this series, including a direct sequel Flight to Opar (1976), and a couple of related stories started by Farmer and finished by Carey in The Song of Kwasin (2012). (These are all collected in Subterranean Press’s recent omnibus edition.) There is also a novella entitled “Kwasin and the Bear God” and Farmer’s time travel novel Time’s Last Gift (1972) can be considered a sort of prequel to the series as well.

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Sunday, February 10, 2013

Hard to believe that it's almost Valentines Day, 2013. Time truly does fly. I've been remiss about posting book reviews here of late, but will try to be more consistent. My science fiction / fantasy reviews can be found at the review site for now, though I'll  link them on here after their initial postings there. The fantasy literature folks are a great group and they do a yeoman's job on keeping up with the current fantasy / speculative fiction scene. I suggest you check them out regularly to see what's up with the state of all things fantasy.
 My own reviews on the site can be found at
 I'm currently reading The Complete John Thunstone by Manly Wade Wellman, a wonderful compilation of all the stories and novels featuring Wellman's occult detective John Thunstone. The stories were published initially in Weird Tales magazine in the 1940's and the novels were published in the 1980's, making it clear that the late, great Wellman never lost his touch. The book is printed by Haffner Press and they do their usual excellent job in both the quality of the book itself and the quality of the content. I'll post a review soon.
In addition to reading the Thunstone stories I've been on a kind of a Jack Vance tear of late, reading and reviewing both The Languages of Pao, and The Dragon Masters. Both reviews can be found on the FantasyLiterature site. Currently reading Big Planet and The Jack Vance Treasury. With the exception of some of the stories in the latter all of these Vance titles are re-reads. Vance has probably been one of my favorite writers since I first read his Tschai or Planet of Adventure novels featuring marooned spaceman Adam Reith back around the late 60's or early 70's. Every time I go back and re-read one of his books I'm just as enthralled as the first time, meaning every few years or so I have to immerse myself in his work again. Some other authors whose work affects me similarly are Donald Westlake, and P. G. Wodehouse. I think it's something about the light touch that each of them have, an ability to convey irony and subtle humor with a phrase, even when dealing with subjects that don't lend themselves to humor.
On the non fiction side of things I'm reading bits and pieces of several works, but the main ones right now are Thomas Jefferson: the Art of Power by Jon Meacham which I'm reading for a group discussion on Goodreads for the GR group "The History Book Club," and John Steinbeck's Travels with Charley: In Search of America which I'm reading for my local library's book club. Last night however my ADD kicked in while browsing at the local Barnes and Noble while waiting for The Saint (aka as my dear sweet long suffering spouse) to get off work I picked up a copy of Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History by S. C. Gwynne and immediately became interested in it, so I stopped off at the library on the way home and picked up a copy, along with a copy of The Last Stand: Custer, Sitting Bull, and the Battle of the Little Bighorn by
There are times I wish I could do nothing but read and try to catch up on my "to be read" list, but I know it'll be unfinished when I eventually go to that great library in the sky...sigh. 

Monday, September 10, 2012

The Monster Men The Monster Men by Edgar Rice Burroughs

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Review of The Monster Men by Edgar Rice Burroughs
Fans of Edgar Rice Burroughs are both legion and loyal, as evidenced by the long lasting popularity of his characters.  Tarzan of course is his most famous character, and John Carter of Mars (and Virginia) was the main character of a recent poorly marketed (but I thought still well done) Disney film.   However Burroughs was an extremely prolific author, who wrote a lot more than just Tarzan and Martian stories.  One of his earliest efforts was this adventure story set in the south Pacific near Borneo.  In many ways it can be considered Burroughs take on both Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and H. G. Wells The Island of Dr. Moreau.  Originally published as “A Man Without a Soul” in 1913 in the Pulp publication  All-Story Magazine, it was later published under the present title as a hardcover book in 1929.
  At the beginning of the story, the reader is introduced to a man who is sadly dismembering corpses and then consigning the body parts to vats of acid.  This is Arthur Maxon, Professor at Cornell, and father of Virginia Maxon, a beautiful young woman who is deeply concerned about her father’s recent strange and distant behavior.  In the first few sentences of the tale, it’s revealed that Maxon had found the secret to the creation of artificial human beings in vats, but that all his creations are monstrously deformed both physically and mentally.  Despairing of succeeding in his attempts at creating the “perfect man” Maxon takes his daughter and lab equipment on a vacation to the East Indies, along with a loyal Chinese cook named Sing Lee, an older but still spry and highly alert retainer.
Virginia thinks the “vacation” will get her father’s mind off of his worries, and help them renew what was a once close relationship, but in Singapore their party is joined by a Dr. Carl von Horn, who Maxon hires as an assistant for his continued work (of which Virginia knows nothing of the details) aimed at the creation of a perfect man, whom he envisions as a the only “fit mate” for his unsuspecting daughter.  Finding a secluded jungle island, Maxon and von Horn set up camp, with a fenced in area for their work.  In fairly typical fashion for Burroughs (as those readers who have read his other works can attest) the action in the story quickly develops as Virginia and the Professor are first menaced by Malay pirates, then Dyak head hunters, and later the first twelve of Maxon’s creations (known only as #!, #2, and so on in order of their creation up through # 12).  In addition to each of these perils, the mysterious Dr. von Horn turns out to not be as trustworthy as the Professor had hoped.  A series of crisis ensues, as Virginian is menaced by each of these dangerous groups in turn, only to be rescued repeatedly by the most recent of the Professor’s creations, the handsome and brave #13, whom Virginia names Jack, but the fearful Dyaks name Bulan. 
The story is perhaps one of the best examples of Burroughs at both his best and his worst.  Burroughs racial prejudices and his overall interest in eugenics permeate the tale, as the Malays and Dyaks are ferocious and treacherous, the Chinese retainer is loyal and wise, but is a caricature of the “good Oriental” archetype, complete with lisp, that appeared in many Pulp stories of the era.  The artificial creatures are presented as soulless and hideous, and the best they can hope for is to either be destroyed or else find some refuge away from humanity, with little sympathy thrown their way, otherwise eliciting only pity or horror and revulsion from the other characters.  There is some moral discussion on the part of #13/Jack/Bulan about what it actually means to have a soul, and how such possession would manifest its self in one’s actions. I also wondered if Burroughs (who was notoriously anti-organized religion in some of his stories) was having some intentional fun with the symbolism of the heroic #13 being followed and assisted by twelve followers, or “disciples” if one preferred, all of whom had the same creator. 
  Still, once the action gets going, it’s fairly exciting stuff, as is usual with Burroughs, however much of the plot relies on coincidence and people wandering into the “right place at the right time” (or wrong place at the wrong time as well) which is also sort of “par for the course” with many of Burroughs works. Also typical of Burroughs is the resolution at the end of the story, which ties up the many loose ends in the story, perhaps in a manner a little too pat for most modern readers.  
After some consideration I gave the story a 3 star ranking.  It is fairly exciting pulp adventure fare, and it does show a different side of Burroughs vast imagination, but the racial stereotypes and the ending are a little too neat for me, even though I still profess a kind of nostalgic love for the story which I first heard about in 1966 and then read about a decade later.  If I were introducing a new reader to Burroughs, I would recommend the Martian trilogy and Tarzan of the Apes, along with underrated western “The War Chief” before I could recommend this one, and that would be simply for the fan that is desirous of sampling the complete Burroughs oeuvre.

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Sunday, September 9, 2012

The SeedbearersThe Seedbearers by Peter Valentine Timlett

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Review of The Seedbearers by Peter Valentine Timlett
The 1970’s was the heyday of the “sword and sorcery” boom that started a decade earlier with the publication of pulp fantasy adventure writer Robert E. Howard’s Conan stories by Lancer Books.  The popularity of Howard’s newly re-discovered (at least to the young fantasy readers such as myself at the time) coupled with the earlier surge of interest in fantasy spearheaded by the mass market paperback editions of J. R. R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings” published by Ballantine Books lead to a decade where mass market paperback fantasy books could be found almost anywhere, grocery stores, newsstands, and of course book stores.  The general plots of most of these works included barbarian warriors, decadent civilizations, beautiful priestesses and queens, and stirring battle scenes.
The decade of the 70’s saw a spate of new authors who were grounded in the sword and sorcery tradition as exemplified by Howard and other authors such as Fritz Leiber, C. L. Moore and Henry Kuttner.  Among the newer authors who started their careers in this period were Karl Edward Wagner, Charles R. Saunders, and Roland Green.  One of the newer authors to emerge in this period was British writer Peter Valentine Timlett who wrote a trilogy of novels set in the Atlantis of Theosophical literature and legend rather than the Atlantis of Plato’s writings.  The first book in the series is The Seedbearers, published in Britain in 1974 and then in America by Signet paperbacks in 1976.  The book is still fairly easy to find on the usual used book sites, and has its followers.   Several friends who are fans of the genre recommended it to me as an interesting take on the Atlantis myth as well as a stirring adventure.  I recently read it to see what my own take would be on the novel.
The book opens with a brief preface by the author where he mentions that his novel is based on the Atlantis of “certain Mystery Schools of the present-day Western Esoteric Tradition” which is (of course) different from the Atlantis described by Plato in Timaeus.  Just how the two versions differ is not described by Timlett, leaving the reader to search that information out for him or herself.  The novel starts out with some gruesome action, as a young girl is raped on a beach by fifty warriors, and then has her throat slit.  Similar scenes of rape, pillage, cold blooded murder continue in the first few pages, all apparently committed by a victorious army led by a General known as Vardek the Terrible, whose invading army consists of three races or ethnic groups, red-skinned Toltecs (of whom Vardek is the leader), light skinned Akkadians (sort of a mercenary engineer corps for theToltecs), and dark skinned Rmoahals, who are a subservient race to the Toltecs.  The Rmoahals are ferocious fighters who don’t mind engaging in cannibalism and necromancy.  The mixed army has been sent by the weak King Baralda of the Thousand Isles (of which the “twin islands of Ruta and Daiteya” are apparently the capital and the equivalent of our Atlantis) as a “trade expedition” to the nearby mainland of Amaria, but instead of engaging in commerce, Vardek has simply slaughtered all the Amarians whom his army has come in contact with. Character name after character name come in a flash in the first couple of chapters, as Timlett makes a point of introducing everyone who will have a part to play in the novel as quickly as possible.  At the same time he also makes sure that each character pontificates at length the various political, religious and personal agendas that each of them espouse, so that the reader will have little doubt as to where everyone stands in the highly telegraphed ahead of time apocalyptic armageddon coming up later in the novel.  I personally found this style to be quite off putting.  Similar sounding names (Vardek, Baldek, Melachadek,  Naradek, Khamaradek) caused confusion.  I thought the characters lacked complexity.  They were either brutal, misogynistic sadists or noble, idealistic warriors in the service of all that is good, working towards a climactic conflict between good and evil.  Tolkien and C. S. Lewis pull this off, but I prefer a little more ambiguity in my opposing forces.
I also found Timlett’s prose to be overly dramatic and much too verbose in places.  An example comes early in the book, “For a time the people flourished under the ruling principles of the priesthood, but generation followed generation, and the inherent weakness, fed by centuries of inbreeding, caused the breath of evil once more to waft over the land---and the Sacred Clan, the royal family, became weak and ineffective, and the Sun Temple priesthood grew in pride and arrogance.”  Overlooking the fact that this is one sentence with at least seven comas, the “breath of evil waft(ing) over the land” just struck me as over the top. 
This apparently is some folk’s cup of tea, so to speak, but I found the book virtually unreadable, forcing myself to stick with it so as to be able to give an honest review.  I honestly can’t recommend it to anyone that I normally recommend fantasy to, without at least pointing out my many reservations regarding the novel.  If brutal violence with cruel generals and sorcerers is your thing, Karl Edward Wagner did it better and still introduced shades of moral complexity in his character Kane.  If necromancy in your fantasy is of interest, then Clark Ashton Smith also did it much better in his Xothique stories.  If you’re looking for interesting takes on the Atlantis legend, then I can heartily recommend the works of Robert E. Howard in his Kull, Conan and Skull Face stories, Henry Kuttner in his Elak tales, Larry Niven in his “The Magic Goes Away” series, Manly Wade Wellman’s Kardios and also his Hok stories, along with a host of others, but I failed to find many redeeming qualities in this book.  I’m pretty sure that I won’t be going out of my way to read the next two novels in the trilogy, but I’ll list them in an effort for completeness, The Power of the Serpent, and The Twilight of the Serpent.
I’m afraid a one is all I can give here.

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Saturday, July 28, 2012

Review of "Troublesome Young Men: The Rebels Who Brought Churchill to Power and Helped Save England" by Lynne Olson

Troublesome Young Men: The Rebels Who Brought Churchill to Power and Helped Save EnglandTroublesome Young Men: The Rebels Who Brought Churchill to Power and Helped Save England by Lynne Olson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Author Lynne Olson has done an excellent job of telling what the late Paul Harvey used to call "the rest of the story" in this narrative of a group of Tory party Members of Parliament who lead the initial opposition to the appeasement policies of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain in the years both the years preceding World War II and then the first year of that conflict.  Reading this book brought home to me the fact that Winston Churchill becoming Prime Minister in May, 1940 was by no means a "done deal" right up until the moment that Chamberlain stepped down and Churchill succeeded him.  While the sometime friends (of a sort) and almost always rivals Chamberlain and Churchill are central to the story, the book is actually about those "Troublesome Young Men" of the title who finally brought down Chamberlain, basically without help from Churchill, who refused to work against Chamberlain once he accepted the Admiralty position in the British Cabinet.

Focusing on some of the leaders of this group of outsiders in their own party, such as Harold Macmillan (a future Prime Minister decades later), Harold Nicolson  (remembered now for being the husband of writer Vita Sackville-West), and Ronald Cartwright (brother of romance novelist Barbara Cartwright) Olson tells what I thought was a compelling and interesting story, showing how history sometimes changes on the courage and decisions of a few persistent individuals.  I recommend this to anyone who enjoys reading history, particularly those readers interested in the years leading up to the start of World War II in Europe.

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Friday, July 13, 2012

The Seven Wonders (Roma Sub Rosa, #0)The Seven Wonders by Steven Saylor

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The last 2 entries in this series left me a little underwhelmed but with this "prequel" set in Gordianus the Finder's youth, I fell back in love with author Saylor's "Roma Sub Rosa" series.  So much so that I'm going to go back and give the last 2 books another try.  Briefly, this latest book is a group of short stories regarding the 18 year old Gordianus and his tutor, the Greek poet Antipater of Sidon ( a real historical figure ) and their grand tour of the ancient Hellenistic world, with an itinerary which includes visiting each of the "Seven Wonders of the Ancient World."   Each of the short stories was previously published independently in the last few years but they read well both alone and in this form where some overall plot threads come together at the end of the book.  I think it would be better to have read some of the previous books in the series, especially Roman Blood before reading this book, but it's not necessary.  I recommend this to anyone who enjoys historical mysteries as well as anyone who is interested in Roman and Hellenistic history.  I'm hoping that Saylor will come back with some more stories set in the decade of Gordianus youth, between the events of this book and those of the aforementioned "Roman Blood."  

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Sunday, June 10, 2012

King Conan: The Scarlet CitadelKing Conan: The Scarlet Citadel by Timothy Truman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Read this in one sitting while at my local book store. Guess I'll have to buy it now that I've read it, huh? Seriously, this is one of my favorite Conan stories and I thought that Dark Horse did a great job of capturing the eerie, Lovecraftian feel of this Robert E. Howard tale of Conan's captivity in a deep dungeon with cavernous openings into a horrific underworld. All involved did a good story I though:
Timothy Truman
Tomas Giorello
José Villarrubia
Cover Artist:
Gerald Parel
I will make a point of adding this one to the collection once the finances are caught up. 5 Stars.

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Sunday, June 3, 2012

Foundation (Foundation, #1)Foundation by Isaac Asimov

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I just re-read this for about the 5th or 6th time, although this was probably the first time I've gone back to this volume in over a decade or even two.  Asimov still holds up for me, though I can't say how much of that is nostalgia.  Still, he's probably not for everyone, a little wordy at times, not much action.  Even so the whole Foundation series was a major great concept when it first came out and I still recommend it to anyone who loves science fiction, especially "classic" science fiction.  This book is a collection of 5 short stories, in chronological order, concerning the establishment of the "First Foundation" and how it survived and thrived on the outer edges of the galaxy as the original Galactic Empire began to wane and decline.  Asimov's heroes/protagonists are usually men (and sometimes women, though not in this book) of thought rather than action, but they outwit (or sometimes simply outwait) their antagonists.  I recommend it to any science fiction fan who hasn't ever read, if just to see what the fuss was about.  If you are a history fan like me as well, then that helps with the enjoyment of Asimov's "Future History."  Still 5 stars as far as I'm concerned.

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Sunday, January 22, 2012

HOPE’s future may be more dire  |

Woke up to read this depressing news this morning. The HOPE scholarship was one of the best things Georgia had going for it at one time. If the state can't maintain it I think the future economic and educational outlook for the Peach State is bleak...

HOPE’s future may be more dire

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Lots of reading, less reviewing...

I've been guilty recently of a lot of reading, but less reviewing or commenting.  I feel kind of bad about that.  The less reviewing part, not the reading.  Especially because I've read some works that I think really deserve some shout outs or good reviews this year.  Since I've been too lazy and undisciplined to post the reviews a lot of these books deserve, I'm making a resolution to post on a more frequent regular basis.  In the meantime, a couple of major books I've read in 2011 that deserve high marks, along with a brief comment or two...

"Red Summer: The Summer of 1919 and the Awakening of Black America," by Cameron McWhirter.  The best history book I've read this year.  Powerful and well written narrative about the events of the horrific summer of 1919, when several major race riots and lynchings occurred.  McWhirter shows why the mobilization by many American black citizens during this period lead eventually to increased political savy and a renewed determination to fight for the promise of the "American Dream."
I'm looking forward to more from McWhirter. 

"Snuff" (Discworld #39) by Terry Pratchett.  There are a few authors whose works I've read in my life, that always reward me when I go back and read them.  Among these are P. G. Wodehouse, Raymond Chandler, Barbara Tuchman, and Jack Vance.   Pratchett ranks right up there with these other literary giants.  I'm currently enjoying the adventures of his character Sam Vimes (Commander of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch) as the ever vigilant copper Vimes attempts to take a vacation, despite his major desire to do no such thing...

Saturday, July 30, 2011


I was going to write about my central ideas regarding education and heroes, but I'll save that till later. I think Nina Simone sums up things quite eloquently...

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Review of "Maske: Thaery" by Jack Vance

Maske: ThaeryMaske: Thaery by Jack Vance

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

While I agree with with some other reviewers that Maske: Thaery is not one of Jack Vance's best books, this story of young Jubal Droad is still a good enjoyable coming of age adventure story, the type that Vance really seems to like writing.

I thought the culture of Thaery and the surrounding areas could have been a little bit more clearly explained, and that the book could have easily been a little longer, but as one of my friends who also read and reviewed the book remarked "even second rate Vance is fun to read." Thanks to Terrence for that wonderful quote, which I think pretty much sums up the literary gift that is author Jack Vance.

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Review of Dark Horse Comics "Conan Volume 5: Rogues In the House"

Conan Volume 5: Rogues In the House (Conan)Conan Volume 5: Rogues In the House by Timothy Truman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Before I start my review of this graphic novel version of Robert E. Howard's classic Conan story, "Rogues in the House" I need to mention that "Rogues..." is probably my all time favorite Robert E. Howard story, and certainly my all time favorite Conan story. I also thought the Marvel Comics version Rogues in the House & Other Stories writen by Roy Thomas and illustrated by Barry Windsor Smith is in my opinion the very best of the Marvel Comics Conan stories, so Dark Horse comics had it's work cut out for it in trying to do justice to the remake of this great story.

Having said, that I think they succeeded, at least in the extent that they've given new life to the story and added some tie ins to the Dark Horse Conan saga. I still don't think the artwork and the writing quite earns 5 stars, but it earns a solid 4 stars, and the introduction by Timothy Truman and the afterword by Mark Finn are very informative and are added bonuses.

If you're not familiar with the Conan saga, I'd suggest reading the preceding four volumes in the Dark Horse canon, as well as checking out the short story in one of the many Robert E. Howard collections that have it.

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Monday, June 20, 2011

The Halls of the Dead and Other Stories: Conan Volume 4 Dark Horse Comics (Graphic Novel)

Conan Volume 4: The Halls of the Dead and Other StoriesConan Volume 4: The Halls of the Dead and Other Stories by Kurt Busiek

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read the Barry Smith illustrated Marvel comic version of this story way back in 1970 while on vacation in Hawaii. That version remains one of my all time favorite comics and artistic rendetions of the young Conan, so I approached this newer version with some trepidation. I must say that I was pleasantly surprised. I thought both the story (it's based on a short fragment of Howard's, not a full blown story, so there's plenty of room on the part of the creators to take in where they will) and the art were well done. The drawings of the Gunderman who is first Conan's adversary and then later his friend were pretty much as I thought they should be, and the drawings of Conan's deceitful girlfriend was pretty spot on as well I thought. Several authors contributed to the plot and dialog (Mike Mignola did chapters 3 and 4 for instance) and while that sometimes doesn't work I thought it worked very well in this instance. I read this in one sitting at the local bookstore cafe where my wife works and may even go back and buy it, so I guess I was pretty impressed.

As an added bonus, noted Howard scholar Mark Finn wrote the afterword where he mentions the epistolary relationship between Robert E. Howard and H. P. Lovecraft and how that relationship impacted both men's writing. Very well done, and probably alone worth the price of the book.

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The Goddess of Ganymede, by Mike Resnick

The Goddess of GanymedeThe Goddess of Ganymede by Mike Resnick

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I read this years ago when it came out, so my review is of course slightly based on the reaction of a 13 or 14 year old boy and how memory may have altered that reaction in the intervening decades. That said, I remember this as a fun read, grand adventure in the Edgar Rice Burroughs tradition of pulp magazine fiction. I don't remember many details, other than that the protagonist ends up on a Ganymede that is very similar to the Barsoom of Burroughs, where he has adventures of the type some call "sword and planet." I vividly remember how very very disappointed I was when the series stopped after the 2nd volume, "Pursuit on Ganymede" was published.

Pretty obviously a homage to Burroughs, and this was also written about the time that the paperback market was being flooded with any number of Burroughs and Robert E. Howard pastiches. That being said, I remember enjoying it more than some of the other similar books that were coming out at the time, so I'm giving it 3.5 stars and am strongly considering going out and buying a used copy just to see how it holds up.

Probably recommended more to the Edgar Rice Burroughs fans than to the present day Michael Resnick fans (unless you're a completist, like I tend to be) since his more modern writing has matured and has a different slant than this. Still, if you are a Resnick fan (as I still am) and want to see some of his early homage work you might enjoy this. As I said before, it was grand fun.

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Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Snow Goose, by Paul Gallico

The Snow Goose (Essential.penguin) The Snow Goose by Paul Gallico

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I read this sometime in the late 1960's, so I probably should re-read it now to get a more adult perspective, but the book and the events it chronicled have stayed in my memory for over 40 years, so I think it's safe to say it was a story that left an impact. Author Paul Gallico Paul Gallico is better know for his The Poseidon Adventure but I think this was the better book.

Briefly, a story set on the English coast in 1940, with a climax at Dunkirk. As another reviewer stated, sentimental but realistic (I'm paraphrasing). I still recommend it.

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Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Sometimes a Great Notion, by Ken Kesey

Sometimes a Great Notion Sometimes a Great Notion by Ken Kesey

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I first read this in the 1980's. It's a tough book to get into, took me two tries, but once I got into Kesey's way of telling the story I couldn't put the book down. It's still one of my all time favorite works of fiction, perhaps my no. 1 all time favorite work of fiction.

Be warned though, it takes some concentration to initially get into it. I still recommend to every friend who is a serious reader.

Set in the Pacific Northwest during a logging strike. Multiple character points of view told in first person, without warning as to when a POV changes. Still, once you get each main character's "voice" you should have little problem with the (sometimes abrupt) switches.

5 Stars.

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