Saturday, June 15, 2013

The Resurrectionist: The Lost Work of Dr. Spencer Black - Review by S.E.Lindberg

The Resurrectionist: The Lost Work of Dr. Spencer BlackThe Resurrectionist: The Lost Work of Dr. Spencer Black by E.B. Hudspeth
S.E. Lindberg rating: 5 of 5 stars

Hybrid Art Forms In Man: At what point does “man” begin and “animal” end?

The Resurrectionist: The Lost Work of Dr. Spencer Black opens with a dense, interesting narrative: the biography of the dark protagonist. Readers tend to get bored with extended narratives, so this introduction is appropriately short. It is a compelling setup, of course, for the illustrations (the latter 2/3rds of book). The author sets the horrific tenor here, enticing the reader to share the excitement that Spencer feels for defining the human condition. Only sensitive readers will cringe at the horror since author E.B. Hudspeth is tactful in his delivery of the macabre. He, like his character Spencer, merely wants to set the readers “free.” True to the role of speculative fiction, he presents art that appears real…then lets the reader ponder the boundary between fact/fiction. The below quote from Spencer seems to echo Hudspeth’s motivation:
"I hear them marvel at my work—my indignant science. I hear them call out in fear of what they see. And there are some gentlemen who doubt what I will tell them. They call me a liar and a charlatan or a quack. But in time the methods of science that I now employ to convince people will surely set them free—alas, this I cannot explain to the angry fools."
The setting is ideal for redefining the nature of “man.” The turn of the 19th century was rich with advances in evolutionary theory, science, and even speculative fiction. Anatomists, philosophers, and scientists ruminated on how far to extrapolate Darwin’s assertions. Most understood that all vertebrates shared a common skeletal structure; but if animals and man were connected in their development, was it not reasonable to reconsider the existence of creatures termed mythological? Were centaurs real? Harpies? Demons? Spencer Black needed to know. Hudspeth uses him to lure us on this quest.

Embryps from Haeckel

There are real life analogues to the fictitious Spencer. Ernst Haeckel (1834–1919) comes to mind. A dedicated, philosophical scientist with outstanding artistic skills, he documented thousands of life forms and published his beautiful plates in “Art Forms in Nature” (translated from German: Kunstforman der Natur). But then his fascination with Art-Nature caused an uproar when he tweaked his drawings of embryos in 1874. Haeckel envisioned familiarities across the embryos of fish, salamanders, turtles, pigs, rabbits, and humans; then he represented these in an evocative table. At a time when photography was not practiced, data was art…and vice versa. Some still claim his drawings were legitimate, but in any case, his artistic embellishments stirred a controversy. That controversy is the same the Hudspeth delivers:

At what point does “man” begin and “animal” end?

The fictional Spencer Black is more corrupt than the real Ernest Haeckel, but now their books share space on my bookshelf. I recommend the hardcopy so you can use it as coffee table book. The anatomical drawings of mythological creatures will certainly entertain and inspire. Preview his artwork at his website:

Update: S.E.Lindberg's Interview with E.B.Hudspeth

E.B. Hudspeth’s novel/art-book combination “The Resurrectionist: The Lost Work of Dr. Spencer Black” chronicles an artist/scientist as he “revives or brings to light again (aka resurrect)” a dormant beauty inside humanity.  With a horrific tale complementing beautiful anatomical drawings of hybrid creatures, he invites us to reconsider the boundaries (if any) between man & animal…between art & science. We appreciate E.B.Hudspeth taking the time to “bring to light” the beauty in his art with this interview.

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Tuesday, June 11, 2013

A Slimy Trope: Sewer Entrances in Sword & Sorcery Movies

When did invading a fortress via a sewer become popular?  

I do not know precisely, but there has been a recent surge.  Between late 2011 and mid-2012, I saw three Sword & Sorcery movies that employed this tactic (details below).  Two of these involved the protagonists breaking-in to their infested homes.  I think the originality has been exhausted now, and I hope this fad fades away. 

Star Wars IV: A New Hope 1977

Death Star Fortress- Sewer Exit-Escape

George Lucas deserves credit for cinematically popularizing a fortress escape sewer-scene in his 1977 Star Wars IV, A New Hope (Death Star garbage compactor scene). Ostensibly, Star Wars is Sci-Fi rather than Fantasy, but it employs most every Fantasy trope that exits.  It certainly seems to have inspired the 2011 Conan the Barbarian break-in into Zym's tower (below).

The Sword and The Sorcerer 1982

King Cromwell's Castle: Sewer Entrance

The hero Talon sneaks through the sewers to rescue potential heir to throne Prince Mikah and his sister Alana.

Conan the Barbarian - 2011

Khalar Zym’s Castle: Sewer Entrance

More special effects were dedicated to the randomly-placed, lurking sewer-serpent "dweller" than were used to demonstrate the power of the magical mask of Acheron motivating the story.  So strangely, this scene was more exciting than the climax of the movie (Here is a link to my rant on that).

Solomon Kane – 2009 globally (2012 in USA via Video Streaming)

Josiah Kane’s Castle: Drainage Entrance

I enjoyed this movie (Link to review) , but I took a sigh when this sewer-trope was demonstrated. 

Snow White and the Huntsman 2012

Ravenna’s (and Snow White’s) Castle; Sewer Entrance

Snowwhite had escaped the castle via the drainage tunnels, so when she returns with and army, she sends some dwarves in to raise the gate.  Very clever...I suppose.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Leiber’s Mouser and Fafhrd are the Scooby and Shaggy Of Sword and Sorcery

Swords Against Death (Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, #2)Swords Against Death by Fritz Leiber
S.E.Lindberg's rating: 4 of 5 stars

Leiber’s Mouser and Fafhrd are the Scooby and Shaggy Of Sword and Sorcery

Atmosphere and Style: Fafhrd and Mouser are two rogues who are braver and smarter than Scooby and Shaggy, but form as legendary a duo in many ways. The pair were chronicled over ~5 decades by the man who termed the genre “Sword & Sorcery” (Fritz Leiber) in separate short stories (covering ~40 stories, published over 1939 to 1991). Their adventures in the City of Lankhmar and World of Nehwon were captured in seven books. Scooby Doo Where Are You? was a Hanna-Barbera production, broadcast from 1969 to 1978 (notably the same time many of Leiber’s work was compiled into novels.)

Scooby Doo (and its reboots) were/are known for juxtaposing scary atmospheres with acceptable silliness…in episodic form. This is exactly what Swords against Death delivers, and presumably represents the other Fafred and Mouser novels. A possible exception is the chapter “Ill met in Lankhmar” (the last story in Vol-1 “Swords and Deviltry” in which the scary-silly style is presented, but the outcome more dire than anything in this second volume.

Fafhrd and the Mouser float from one independent adventure to the next. Each chapter is an enjoyable episode, but there is an apparent lack of an overarching conflict for the duo. Ostensibly the chapters are linear in chronology, but they really seemed stand-alone and could be read in any order. From the opening (and the end of the first Volume Swords and Deviltry) I expected the pair to be haunted by their past loves, but these haunts were only addressed in only one chapter later.

Varied perspectives and controlled revelations keep each narrative fresh. The stories are indeed fortified with literate prose and abundant vocabulary, but just when you think Leiber may take his milieu too seriously, you will be treated to a ludicrous robbery by fishing pole, a grand displacement/theft of a house, an assault from giant snowballs, or a hunt from bad guys skiing in an apparent satire to a Bond film. But, the silliness does not detract from enjoyable adventure. Just like the original Scooby Doo cartoon.

Emotive Oil Painting: Oil paintings will forever inspire emotion of fantasy media. For Scooby Doo, background stylist Walt Peregoy created some truly scary paintings worthy as any cover art. During the same years, Jeff Jones illustrated the first five of the ~1970's editions for Fritz Leiber (below list). Check them out:

1970; 1970; 1968; 1968; 1968;1977; 1988
Swords and Deviltry Swords against Death Swords in the Mist (Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, #3) Swords Against Wizardry (Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, #4) The Swords of Lankhmar (Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, #5) Swords and Ice Magic (Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, #6) The Knight and Knave of Swords (Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, #7)

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Sunday, May 26, 2013

Bookend Chronicles: Lords Of Dyscrasia review

Bookend Chronicles consistently weaves thoughtful context with excerpts to provide helpful reviews.  It just posted its comprehensive review of Bookend Chronicles: Lords Of Dyscrasia (Link).  I copy/paste the text below since it should help potential readers decide if they want to tour the Underworld: 
For years, the movie industry has inundated us with some of the most graphic, disturbing, horror-laden tales of terror on the silver screen. It would be quite a rare occasion for a story to cause a deep stir in a desensitized mind. But once in a while, a story is constructed that motivates the mind and gets the wheels once again turning in anticipation.
Such is the Lords Of Dyscrasia by S.E. Lindberg.
Lindberg depicts an intensely savage and volatile world within the pages of Dyscrasia. It is a persistent plague that invades the blood and changes the human genome forever. Doctor Grave desperately seeks to save the long bloodline of his sick queen.
"The lifeless embryos exhibit the disease explicitly. The stillborn mutants present eldritch traits, all unique and terrible. Beaks and downy feathers adorn the avian ones. Translucent, soft-shell exoskeletons wrap the invertebrate insectan type, which are always infected with worms."
The disease has sunken into every crevice of daily life. It is no longer an aberrant anomaly, it has become an accepted form of life. Yet there is an unspoken hope that still exists.
"Anyone who could conquer this disease, which is rooted in the fabric of the Land, must be likewise terrible. Perhaps there will be a hero, a warrior who will vanquish dyscrasia, only to usher unforeseen horrors into this world—horrors that will make us all suffer so much we will wish dyscrasia to return…"
Endenken, the leader of a dying culture, wrestles with his own personal demons. Expected to abide by the traditional rules of his people, he must make difficult decisions in a world strife with the disease. His decision will mark the beginning of an end.
"Their blood was sacred. They had few left to carry it. And it was Endenken’s turn to inherit the burden... And the masked grotesqueries swarmed him now, their human frames transfigured by ornate markings and hollow eldritch skeletons."
The gruesome tale continues and illuminates the struggle within the bonds of humanity. An edict of the soul resounds throughout the pages of this nightmarish other-world with spots of dark humor. Lindberg has created an alternate reality that forces the reader to expand the limitations of their imagination.
We must further open our own minds and perhaps even edify our own traditional definitions of religion, belief, and faith.
The illustrations contained are morbid works of art, continuing to tell an epic that is both compelling and fascinating. Even the cover provides a sense of expectancy.
S.E. Lindberg lives near Cincinnati, Ohio. He works as a microscopist, and has spent two decades practicing chemistry.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Sword and Sorcery Movie Trends - Quantity and Quality

Movie Queue: The last few years I have been capturing lists of forthcoming Sword & Sorcery movies (Link to IMDB :Sword and Sorcery: Past and Future Listings).  Moving beyond that, in an attempt to capture a list of  past Sword and Sorcery movies, I assembled a Pinterest Board.    

This exercise made me realize that I had missed seeing Roger Corman's 1980's Cult Classics movies: DeathStalker I,II,II, IV, the Barbarian Queen I,II, and the Warrior and the Sorceress (there are even more, most merely recycle footage). Amazon has a collection deal, in which I can get 4 of those.  Would it be worth my time/money (6hrs/$18USD) to complete this gaping hole in my life? How essential are these B-movies toward developing a well-rounded S&S groupie? I have since ordered the movies...and will be watching them soon...more on that below.

Therapy: I had turned to the Sword and Sorcery group on Goodreads for some biased advice.  There author Bruce Durham directed me toward a great website that details what elements Sword & Sorcery movies are expected to have, and has a great list of movies listed by release date.  To see the trends over time I graphed a histogram:

Quantity - Movies per Year


Trends: The trickle of movies in 1960's and 1970's was notably composed of Ray Harryhausen's classic clay-mation masterpieces (Jason and the Argonauts, Sinbad movies). The trends show clearly how John Milius's 1982 "Conan The Barbarian" movie, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, inspired a lot of others; it had followed closely on the heels of "Clash of the Titans," Ray Harryhausen's last animated masterpiece.  Some featured new perspectives, like Excalibur, Fire and Ice, and Legend...and were good enough to enhance, not dilute, the genre (another blogger tackled the 1980's category thoroughly-link).

Unfortunately many "Conan clones" generally lacked in quality.  Well actually, even Arnold's next Conan film, "the Destroyer" was more cheese than it was entertainment...and the 2011 Conan reboot with Jason Momoa (which, despite a good performance from Momoa) had a blatant disregard for basic story-telling.  The 2010 reboot of Clash of the Titans and its sequel 2012 Wrath of Titans were lackluster (a third film is in development, for what that is worth).  So with all this, should we have hope that quality fantasy will return?

Future of Hope: Yes, fans should be hopeful.  Peter Jackson's excellent treatment of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings in 2001 seems to have sparked another surge.  With the excellent translation of George Martins Game of Thrones on HBO (being a series and not a movie, that is not captured in the graph), Peter Jackson's Hobbit trilogy in progress, a live action version of Fire and Ice in the works, and even a sequel to Solomon Kane brewing...we have reason to beleive that the portfolio of Sword & Sorcery movies will grow in quantity and quality.  In fact reports that "Legend of Conan ~2014" intends to redeem Conan's credibility:
"There are no plans for Momoa to return. Morgan said that in his mind,The Legend Of Conan not only skips over that film, but also the 1984 sequel that Schwarzenegger starred in. The direct link is to the original, which was directed by John Milius from a script he wrote with Oliver Stone."
Deathstalker: Anyway, as we await new flicks, I find myself checking out the old ones I had missed.  I do not expect much. There is a stunningly hilarious and through review of the Deathstalker series on from 2010 (embedded video below). It dissects the absurdity of the series, even going as far as to quantify the ratio of fight scenes to women's breasts shown per movie.  Of course, I have not seen the movies yet, but have just received them by mail and I am mentally prepared now.  What is sad is that many of these had great covers by artist Boris Vallejo, which promised to deliver serious Sword & Sorcery.  Great marketing I suppose.
Boris Vallejo covers for the Deathstalker Series

Click to play movie review of Deathstalker series by Cinemassacre

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Tarra Khash: Hrossak!: Tales of the Primal Land - Review by S.E.Lindberg

The Compleat Khash: Volume One: Never a Backward GlanceThe Compleat Khash: Volume One: Never a Backward Glance by Brian Lumley
S.E.'s rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sword and Mythos - too Entertaining to be Horrific: Vintage dark fantasy spawned in the early 1900’s from the work of pen-pals R.E.Howard and H.P.Lovecraft; though it seems rare to find quality Conan-Mythos mash-ups. If they exist, they are usually in singular short stories, not represented by a series of books or a continuing character. That’s where this book comes into play. A group-read on “Sword and Mythos” themes sponsored by the Sword and Sorcery group on led me to Brian Lumley’s take on this weird fantasy niche.

Lumley dumps a barbarian (Tarra Khash) into mythos milieu (world of Theem’hdra) in a set of three books (~28 tales total). The series has been printed at least twice, most recently under the brand “Tales of the Primal Land” from TOR books. The first in the series is a prequel that sets the stage for Tarra Khash’s adventures (the last two volumes). The second, the subject of this review, is the first about Khash (aka “The Compleat Khash: Volume One: Never a Backward Glance” …or “Tarra Khash: Hrossak!: Tales of the Primal Land” by TOR in Kindle and paperback…more on book versions below).

Tarra Khash has a go-with-the-flow attitude; generally has conflict with evil sorcerers and is indirectly aided by a third party god. Lumely's World of Theem'hdra is full of gods (celestial entities, collosal insects, vampyric shapeshifters). Most of these tend to like Tarra, and aid him on his quests. His goal is often to regain possession over his sword. He also finds himself constantly incarcerated (in caves, gibbets, pits). It has all the hallmarks of good fantasy: weird creatures, bloody battles, divine intervention, and tales worthy for bards to sing about. My favorite chapter was “Ch 4: Curse of the Golden Guardians” when Tarra Khash ventures into a subterranean shrine of Cthulthu, and the eldritch god is not just mentioned in passing…but assumes an integral part of the adventure. Contrived coincidences keep these stories very entertaining, but reduces the horror element expected of Lovecraftian Mythos fiction (keeps this from a 5 star rating). This is highly recommended for fans of Michael Shea's Nifft character: Nifft the Lean.

Availability: Unlike most Sword & Sorcery this yarn of short stories continue developing linearly (one tale directly flows to the next). They could be read out of order, but work well as chapters. This volume was good enough for me to track down the other two.

The TOR books (~2006) “Tales of the Primal Land” series all have maps, which are nice; also available in Kindle format. Die-hard bibliophiles will want to consider tracking down the earlier editions (~1994) illustrated by Jim Pitts and published by Ganley (Ganley ebay storefront..or try The Jim Pitt illustrations are nice and reminscient of 1990 Olde World Warhammer-Trademark of Games Workshop, but strangely the Ganley Books (at least the Compleat Khash Vols 1 a& 2) do not include a map (I even had a "Deluxe" version #214/300 signed but author and illustrator… but this awesome edition still was mapless).

The Series
#0 (Prequel): House of Cthulhu ; The House of Cthulhu and Other Tales from the Primal Land
House of Cthulhu The House of Cthulhu and Other Tales from the Primal Land (Tales Prim Land)

#1 (Tarra Khash Adventures-1): The Compleat Khash: Volume One: Never a Backward Glance…or …Tarra Khash: Hrossak!: Tales of the Primal Land
The Compleat Khash  Volume One  Never a Backward Glance Tarra Khash  Hrossak!  Tales of the Primal Land

#2 (Tarra Khash Adventures-2): The Compleat Khash: Volume Two: Sorcery In Shad… or …Sorcery in Shad: Tales of the Primal Land
The Compleat Khash  Volume Two  Sorcery In Shad Sorcery in Shad  Tales of the Primal Land

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Thursday, April 25, 2013

May-June 2013 Group Read: Vintage Sword and Sorcery - Lankhmar

May-June 2013 GroupRead Theme, Vintage-Lankhmar:

The May-June 2013 Group read; which will be any:
1) Vintage Sword and Sorcery (any S&S related work published between 1910 and 1970)...
...with an emphasis (default topic) of... 
2)Fritz Leiber's Lankhmar series ...i.e.The First Book of Lankhmar; most of which was published before the arbitrary 1970 timing (note the Wiki Publication History.) 

Please join us on Goodreads (click here)! 

Masthead Banner:

It is becoming a tradition to create an inspirational montage for each Group Read.  This one is composed of coverart for books authored by (or inspired by) Fritz Leiber. Credits go to the original cover artists:

Background: artist Jeffrey Catherine Jones covers to the 1970 editions of...
Swords and DeviltrySwords Against WizardrySwords against Death
Swords and Deviltry Swords Against Wizardry (Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, #4) Swords against Death

Foreground: Fafred and Gray Mouser depictions from Left to Right: 
1- Mike Mignola: Farewell to Lankhmar 
2- Clyde Caldwell: Tales of Lankhmar
3- Michael Whelan: Swords and Ice Magic
4- MIke Mignola:Lean Times in Lankhmar
Farewell to Lankhmar (Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, #7) Tales of Lankhmar (Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Module LNR2) Swords and Ice Magic (Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, #6) Lean Times in Lankhmar (Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, #3-4)