Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Books read in 2018: No. 46 -- The Hounds of Skaith: Volume 2 of The Book of Skaith

by Leigh Brackett

Started: August 20
Finished: August 28

Notes: I've just finished the first book in this trilogy and enjoyed it, so I'm moving on to the second book.

Mini review: I can't say I enjoyed this one as much as I did the first book of the trilogy, mainly because the story here seemed so disjointed. After Stark's triumph from the first book, here he continues on his war against the Wandsmen of the planet Skaith and their mercenaries and their army of Farers. The writings itself here is pretty solid, but the plot didn't work so well for me and I felt many of the important characters from the first book were brushed aside here with little to do.

Monday, August 20, 2018

Books read in 2018: No. 45 -- The Ginger Star: Volume 1 of The Book of Skaith

by Leigh Brackett

Started: August 16
Finished: August 20

Notes: All my Robert E. Howard-related reading of late has got me in the mood for more action-driven fantasy, so I thought I'd give Leigh Brackett another try. I've not read a lot of Brackett, so I'm hoping for a nice surprise. As luck would have it, I found all three of the books in this trilogy together at a used book store some while back, so maybe the gods were telling me I need to read this series.

Mini review: This was a pleasurable read with a surprise ending that made sense while leaving the door open for the next book in the series without resorting to a cliffhanger. Technically science fantasy, all the story here takes place in something of a post-apocalyptic fantasy world of low tech and some relatively minor magic. But the stars and the spaceships beyond them are beginning to intrude upon this world, and the powers-that-be are not liking it. An emissary of sorts from a galactic federation has been sent to this world, but he has gone missing, and that is where the story begins, with Brackett's Eric John Stark character sent to find this emissary or to discover what has happened to him. Despite the otherworldly backdrop to the story, it really does keep its focus on a barbaric fantasy world that is falling apart. I'm looking forward to the next book in the series.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Books read in 2018: No. 44 -- Conan the Barbarian

by Michael A. Stackpole

Started: August 12
Finished: August 15

Notes: This is the novelization for the more modern Conan movie that came out some few years ago. I have not seen the movie and had not planned to after hearing quite a few bad things about it. However, I won this book at a raffle for only a dollar at Howard Days this summer, and the reason it drew my interest was the author. I know Stackpole is generally well regarded and I've never read anything of his, so this should be a learning experience if nothing else.

Mini review: The plot was rather mundane and most of the characters lackluster, but that's not the fault of this author, just the fault of a mediocre screenplay. The writing itself was actually pretty strong, though there were a few places where it was difficult to tell what was actually happening, but I blame this one also on a not-so-great screenplay. Though a novelization, Stackpole's writing impressed me enough that I wouldn't balk from reading more of his work.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Books read in 2018: No. 43 -- Adventures in Science Fantasy

by Robert E. Howard

Started: August 6
Finished: August 11

Notes: Yep, this is another book I picked up at Robert E. Howard Days, this one from The Robert E. Howard Foundation Press.

Mini review: This has some pretty good stories in it, but I didn't find it as entertaining as Pictures in the Fire, the other book I've read from The Robert E. Howard Foundation Press. Like that other book, most of the stories here were ones not published during Howard's lifetime, and that's understandable as some of this was not his best work and some of it was from his youngest days. The one standout tale for me was Almuric, originally serialized in Weird Tales magazine in 1939. The science in these tales does not hold up to our understanding today, but that's to be expected. And despite my not enjoying this book as much as the earlier one, it's still a pretty good read and a must for any true Howard fan.

Monday, August 06, 2018

Books read in 2018: No. 42 -- Black Vulmea's Vengeance

by Robert E. Howard

Started: August 4
Finished: August 6

Notes: Argh! Here there be pirates! This collection of seafaring Howard tales was originally published in the mid-1970s, and I was fortunate enough to find this large paperback while attending Robert E. Howard Days in Texas this summer. The book's title comes from the title of one of the tales. I don't believe I've read these, and that's a bit surprising as I've read quite a bit of Howard, though I've not read everything.

Mini review: These three novellas were some great pirating tales! All are land-based, islands or coastal, and my guess would be this was partly because Howard might not have had much knowledge of sailing, but maybe not. Either way, fantastic action, plenty of sword play, lost treasures, murderous pirates, savage tribesmen, it's all there, even the occasional stuffy British officer. I heartily recommend these stories.

Saturday, August 04, 2018

Books read in 2018: No. 41 -- The Robert E. Howard Bar Guide

by Robert Derie

Started: August 3
Finished: August 4

Notes: This is another one I picked up at Howard Days in Texas this past summer. I had a good chuckle when I first saw it with its photo of Howard quaffing what appears to be a rather large beer, especially as I had not known this book existed. It seems to be a short book about Howard's favorite drinking holes and his favorite drinks, so this might be fun.

Mini review: This was a fun book, based mostly upon Howard's private letters to friends and other writers and editors, him opining about various alcoholic drinks while ruminating about various adventures and drunks he had. There were also some snippets taken from his fictional works, mentions of various drinks and the link. My favorite part of this book was a letter Howard wrote while drunk, and it's quite obvious he was drunk. This book is made up of two parts, the first section sort of a history of Howard and the liquors available to him where he lived, and the second portion providing information about drinks Howard had tried or he had mentioned in one letter or another. Hardcore Howard fans will want this one, and maybe fans of alcohol too. Did Howard have a favorite drink? A favorite beer? Hard to say. He sort of named off several as favorites, including Schlitz beer, but one thing to keep in mind is that it's been a long time since Howard's day, so many of the drinks then are not the same as they are today even if they have the same name. Also, keep in mind Howard grew up during the era of Prohibition, so that affected the alcoholic drinks available to him much of his life, which is more than you might think, actually, though the quality of the drinks often would have been lacking.

Thursday, August 02, 2018

Books read in 2018: No. 40 -- Robert E. Howard in Cross Plains

by Rusty Burke

Started: August 2
Finished: August 2

Notes: I picked up this short book while at Robert E. Howard Days this past summer, and it appears to be something of a historical look at the town where Howard grew up, Cross Plains, Texas.

Mini review: You might actually have to go to Howard Days some years to pick up a copy of this, or you might get lucky and find one online somewhere, but it's somewhat of a rarity. Those attending Howard Days, and hardcore Howard fans, will want to grab a copy of this. It's short, but it provides a nice little view of Cross Plains and the surrounding region where Howard grew up, lived and ultimately died. Interesting to me and probably to Howard fans, but the average Howard reader might not find much here.

Books read in 2018: No. 39 -- Pictures in the Fire

by Robert E. Howard

edited by Paul Herman

Started: July 17
Finished: August 2

Notes: This summer I had the pleasure of attending Robert E. Howard Days in the small town of Cross Plains, Texas. The festival celebrates the author, Howard, and I managed to pick up plenty of reading material while there. I also managed to meet a bunch of new people and to finally come face to face with some folks I have only known through the Internet for yours. This books is meant to be a collection of rare Howard materials, works that have rarely or never appeared elsewhere. From the Robert E. Howard Foundation Press, I believe only 200 of these were printed, at least in hardback, so this one should be worthy of Howard collectors.

Mini review: This was a great read for the most part. While towards the end there is some juvenalia and some silly material obviously not meant for publication, much of what is here are great stories and snippets (some quite long) of what would have been great stories. Hardcore Howard fans will find a lot here to enjoy, but be warned there's very little Sword & Sorcery, most of the tales being from Howard's historical or Africa-related materials. But that's fine with me as I find Howard a solid writer no matter the genre. This might be a tough-to-find book as I believe there were only a couple of hundred printed, but maybe that was just for an initial run and there will be more later, or you might find some used copies online. All in all, I'm glad I picked this up, and those seeking a look into Bob Howard's rarer materials should do themselves a service and search out this book.