The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian

September 21, 2010 at 5:08 pm (Adventure, Fantasy, Horror, Short stories) (, , , )

The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian by Robert E. Howard

The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian: The Original Adventures of the Greatest Sword-and-Sorcery Hero of All Time! by Robert E. Howard
illustrated by Mark Schultz
materials originally published 1932-1976
DelRey, 1st edition, 2005
457 pages
Genre: Fantasy, sword & sandals, short stories, adventure!

Jacket copy: “Between the years when the oceans drank Atlantis and the gleaming cities . . . there was an Age undreamed of, when shining kingdoms lay spread across the world like blue mantles beneath the stars. . . . Hither came Conan, the Cimmerian, black-haired, sullen-eyed, sword in hand . . . to tread the jeweled thrones of the Earth under his sandalled feet.”

Conan is one of the greatest fictional heroes ever created–a swordsman who cuts a swath across the lands of the Hyborian Age, facing powerful sorcerers, deadly creatures, and ruthless armies of thieves and reavers.
In a meteoric career that spanned a mere twelve years before his tragic suicide, Robert E. Howard single-handedly invented the genre that came to be called sword and sorcery. Collected in this volume, profusely illustrated by artist Mark Schultz, are Howard’s first thirteen Conan stories, appearing in their original versions–in some cases for the first time in more than seventy years–and in the order Howard wrote them. Along with classics of dark fantasy like “The Tower of the Elephant” and swashbuckling adventure like “Queen of the Black Coast,” The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian contains a wealth of material never before published in the United States, including the first submitted draft of Conan’s debut, “Phoenix on the Sword,” Howard’s synopses for “The Scarlet Citadel” and “Black Colossus,” and a map of Conan’s world drawn by the author himself.
Here are timeless tales featuring Conan the raw and dangerous youth, Conan the daring thief, Conan the swashbuckling pirate, and Conan the commander of armies. Here, too, is an unparalleled glimpse into the mind of a genius whose bold storytelling style has been imitated by many, yet equaled by none.

Book report: So, I dig Conan. I totally dig Conan, from the stories to the movies. (Basil Poledouris’ score for Conan the Barbarian is one of the greatest film scores of ALL TIME. I listen to it constantly. We played the “Anvil of Crom” at our wedding, in fact. That is how much I love Conan. And how much of a huge dork I am.) I love the idea of Conan, and that exotic, crazy world in which he lives. It’s totally awesome, and I want to go there–but just for a visit. Now, I’ve discussed Conan before, and the treatment REH’s creation suffered at the hands of MONSTERS in the decades following his death, so I probably don’t need to go into that again. Read the rest of this entry »

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The Green Flash

July 11, 2010 at 5:10 pm (Children's lit, Fantasy, Horror, Juvanalia, Short stories, Suspense) (, )

The Green Flash by Joan Aiken

The Green Flash, and Other Tales of Horror, Suspense, and Fantasy by Joan Aiken
Holt Rinehart & Winston, 1971
163 pages
Genre: Suspense, horror, fantasy, children’s lit, short stories

Jacket copy: A small self-contained child who dreams reality; the ghost of a love-struck bicycle-riding night watchman; a canary who bears an acute resemblance to the younger sister of Charles II; an old lady, hard of hearing, almost blind, but with a murderous sense of smell–these are just a few of the characters you’ll encounter in this spine-tingling, mind-boggling collection by Joan Aiken.
The impact of the tales is varied and ranges all the way from grisly horror through old-fashioned mystery to comic fantasy. It’s a book to curl up with and enjoy on a dark, rainy night, a book which continues to astound from the first page to the very last.

Book report: So, though it’s been a couple of years since I found out that Joan Aiken had written a whole mess of books in concordance with The Wolves of Willoughby Chase (the Wolves Chronicles, they’re sometimes known as)–a shocking discovery for someone who’d read and re-read TWoWC like it was her job–I hadn’t read anything else by her til last winter’s Shivers for Christmas, which included a really excellent little story, “The Ferry.” I not sure why, but I don’t read short stories all that often, though I like them a great deal (especially TALES OF TERROR), but the title of  The Green Flash was well-nigh irresistible. I mean, how evocative is that?

It is such an odd little collection of stories, ranging from the, well, grisly to the subtly disquieting, and from pathos to humor. And for the most part, they’re very, very good. I don’t think I disliked any of the stories, but I couldn’t say that I liked them all. Not because they were bad or uninteresting, but because of that lingering sense of disquiet (“Summer by the Sea” has taken me three readings to come to terms with, and it still makes me uncomfortable) they invoke. But that’s a good thing; I’d much rather puzzle over a story and how it made me feel than simply forget it. Read the rest of this entry »

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Shivers for Christmas

December 29, 2009 at 4:45 am (Horror, Short stories, Victorian literature) (, )

Shivers for Christmas ed. Richard Dalby

Shivers for Christmas edited by Richard Dalby
Thomas Dunne, 1st edition, 1995
250 pages
Genre: Christmas stories, horror, short stories

Synopsis & Review: There’ll be scary ghost stories, and tales of the glories of Christmases long, long ago.

When I was ten, my mother bought two volumes of Richard Dalby’s Chillers for Christmas, a collecton of macabre and dark short stories with Christmas themes. She gave one copy to my eldest sister for Christmas, and kept the other, and since then, it’s been an integral part of my Christmas reading. I’ve read it nearly ever year since then, unless I was away from home or it was packed away due to space constraints. Since I’ve enjoyed Chillers for Christmas so many times, I decided to check out some of Mr Dalby’s other collections, and found Shivers for Christmas just in time for the holiday reading challenges.

Regrettably, Shivers is a lesser volume than Chillers; perhaps it’s simply my nostalgia for the latter that makes it superior to my mind, or it could be that Mr Dalby had simply exhausted his resources with his many other collections—I cannot say. Or perhaps it’s just that the title is apt: these are stories to induce shivers, a delicate frisson of horror, rather than the chilling and sometimes terrible stories found in Chillers. Read the rest of this entry »

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A Yuletide Universe: Sixteen Fantastical Tales

December 18, 2009 at 5:13 am (Fantasy, Science fiction, Short stories) (, )

A Yuletide Universe ed. Brian M. Thomsen

A Yuletide Universe: Sixteen Fantastical Tales ed. by Brian M. Thomsen
Aspect, 1st edition, 2003
255 pages
Genre: Speculative fiction, fantasy, science fiction, short stories, Christmas

Synopsis & Review: The Christmas season (which for me lasts from just before Thanksgiving till January 7th) is an excellent one for indulging in short stories. For one, you’ve got the longstanding tradition of stories told ‘round the Yule fire. For another, many of us are so busy that we cannot quite commit to long novels, and a good anthology of short stories provides merriment or scares in small but satisfying doses in between shopping expeditions and baking extravaganzas, house tidying and decorating.

I had my eye on this one from the start of the holiday reading challenges. Boasting luminaries such as Neil Gaiman and Clive Barker, how could I not enjoy it? Read the rest of this entry »

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Christmas Stars: Fantastic Tales of Yuletide Wonder

December 7, 2009 at 4:13 am (Fantasy, Science fiction, Short stories) (, )

Christmas Stars ed. by David G. Hartwell

Christmas Stars: Fantastic Tales of Yuletide Wonder edited by David G. Hartwell
originally published 1992
Tor, 1st printing, 2004
320 pages
Genre: Speculative fiction, science fiction, fantasy, short stories, Christmas stories

Synopsis & Review:

The best of Christmas–past, present, and yet to come

Christmas is a time for miracle, scientific and otherwise, and for surprises that can only occur at this time of the year. But what marvels will the holidays bring to the far future–or to alien worlds light-years from the North Pole?

In this celebratory collection, many of today’s finest writers of fantasy and science fiction unwrap startling visions of the future of Christmas. An unusual Christmas spirit brings confusion-and romance-to a modern young woman. A father’s gift opens up the universe for all humanity. And a devout researcher uncovers the shattering secret of the original Star of Bethlehem. These and other stories shine like sparkling, unearthly ornaments on a fresh green tree of holiday traditions.

‘Twas the night before tomorrow, and all through the galaxy, nothing burns as bright as… Christmas Stars.

The Victorians loved their Christmas ghost stories and tales of terrors (need I remind you of The Turn of the Screw so soon?), a tradition which has largely faded, at least in the US. Despite the exhortation in “(It’s the) Most Wonderful Time of the Year” to enjoy “scary ghost stories and tales of the glories of Christmas long, long ago,” the only Christmas ghosts to regularly make an appearance are those in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. But perhaps it’s time to enjoy another sort of Christmas story, that of speculative nature, or fantasy and science fiction. Edited by David G. Hartwell, Christmas Stars features twenty-five (get it?) short stories full of flights of fancy and imagination, and each with at least a touch of the holiday. There are stories set deep in space, on other stars, or amongst the moons of our solar system. There are stories in alternate versions of our world, or the future, and those set in our own mundane reality. Some stories are light-hearted, but others are dark indeed. The stories vary so widely in subject and scope (and quality), that it would be difficult to not find at least one appealing tale in the whole lot. Read the rest of this entry »

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Great Tales of Terror and the Supernatural

October 18, 2009 at 2:57 am (Classics, Short stories, Suspense, Victorian literature, Young adult) (, )

Great Tales of Terror and the Supernatural

Great Tales of Terror and the Supernatural

Great Tales of Terror and the Supernatural edited by Phyllis Cerf Wagner and Herbert Wise
originally published 1944
Modern Library, 8th printing, 1994
1029 pages
Genre: Horror, anthology

Synopsis & Review:

From ghoulies and ghosties
and long-legged beasties
and things that go bump in the night,
Good Lord deliver us!

This is a massive tome, clocking in at over a thousand pages, with fifty-two stories by forty-two authors, from the early nineteenth century till World War II. There are textbook classics (Connell’s “The Most Dangerous Game,” Jacobs’ “The Monkey’s Paw,” and Saki’s “The Open Window”) and lesser-known works by masters (LeFanu’s “Green Tea,” Dineson’s “The Sailor-Boy’s Tale,” Blackwood’s “Confession”), and stories in every shade, form the comic or ironic to the downright horrible. (And even the occasional snorer.) Published in 1944, Great Tales of Terror and the Supernatural features none of the late twentieth century masters, such as Jackson or Matheson, but instead provides a solid foundation of modern horror. Each story (or pair of stories, as a few authors feature more than one) is prefaced by a short introduction, usually with some notes on the author and tale. These notes are occasionally humorous, reflecting the changes in seventy years of scholarship. For example, the introduction to Sheridan LeFanu’s “Green Tea” makes no mention of the author’s Uncle Silas or even “Carmilla,” a massively influential vampire story. Because “Green Tea”—which I’d never heard of—“[is] a favorite of anthologists.” You know, I used to read a lot of anthologies, and never once happened across this one. Heh. But, tastes change.

rip4banner200This was my final official book for RIP IV, and it took me FOREVER to finish this. I refused to consider completing the challenge until I had finished it, too. I thought I was never going to, and nearly gave up in despair several times. Three weeks! An entire fortnight, and nearly a half! How is that possible? “Schatzi,” you say, “Cut yourself some slack. It’s a thousand pages.” You don’t understand, a thousand pages is nothing to me; I can read that in a night if I like. Shoots, I read The Stand in a day—in sixth grade. Read the rest of this entry »

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