Sonntag, 27. Januar 2013

The Moon of Skulls by Robert E. howard

The Moon of Skulls

By Robert E. Howard
“Time Lost Series”

Centaur Press

1968. $0.60

                                            My  copy of the Centaur Press  edition.


“The Moon of Skulls: Weird Tales, June & July 1930

“Skulls in the Stars”:  Weird Tales, January 1929

“The Footfalls Within”: Weird Tales, September 1931

I had planned on covering another anthology, but since Mr. Howard’s 107th birthday was this past week the other anthology will have to wait until next Sunday.

Does REH even belong in a blog covering old Horror Paperbacks since he is most famously known for his "Sword&Sorcery” tales? I think yes, since one of the big differences between S&S and “Heroic Fantasy” is a very strong element of supernatural horror running through most S&S tales. And I think that Mr. Howard’s “Solomon Kane” adventures are a perfect example action filled horror stories or if you wish, horror filled action stories. In these stories the genre lines are very blurry.

The character of “Solomon Kane” appeared in 9 stories, 5 fragments and 2 poems all written between 1928 and 1932. The first seven stories were originally published in “Weird Tales Magazine”. The rest were first published during the 1960s.

Solomon Kane is Bob Howard’s 2nd most popular character after “Conan” and some folks would argues that “King Kull of Atlantis” shares 2nd place.  I personally enjoy the Kanes stories much more than the Kull stories.

Solomon Kane was Howard’s 17th Century Sword swinging, pistol firing “Puritan” avenging angel. He was a very busy guy travelling around England, Europe and Africa. Kane was literally a one man arming who spent his life writing wrongs and battling evil, be it human, supernatural or both. Kane has gone up against Pirates, Ghosts, Slavers, Zombies, Demons, Lost civilizations and even Harpies!

I’m a huge fan of almost everything Mr. Howard wrote. He poured his heart and soul into to every story. Even though he was a working writer pounding out stories every single month from the time he was 18 up until his death at the age of 30, he put so much energy and conviction into every story that you get carried away immediately into every single word. Only god knows what heights he could of reached if he would have had the luxury to take his time with writing and not had to have worried about making a living purely as a Pulp writer. As far as I’m concerned much of his writing transcends pure “Pulpfiction”.  That’s why we are still reading his stories more than 77 years after his death.

Not being a “Howard Scholar” it appears, to me at least, that the qualities that made him “great” were also the things that drove him to take his life at the young age of thirty years. Mr. Howard’s passions were enormous. This meant that his hatreds were as large as his loves. This tends to weigh heavily on many of his tales, filling them with contradictions. He championed the under dog, hated fascism, slavery and injustice. At the same time he could be bigoted or  racist. He would abhor slavery and at the same time champion the superiority of the white race and Anglo culture. To me, this showed the war being raged in his soul. He spent almost the entirety of his life in the small isolated town of “Cross Plains” Texas. He grew up during hard times in a rough world. Our concepts of racial harmony and progressive thinking hardly existed back then, or at least not in popular culture. I think that because of his great passions, inexperience in the wider world and genius, these non-PC traits tend to slap you in the face at times. Depending on how you look at it, it can either harm the story or increase its (misguided) honesty, power and authenticity.

I won’t lie; I can forgive him almost everything. That’s how wonderful these stories are. Had he been a calmer, more open and level headed human being he probably would have been a much lesser writer. It’s seems that there is a very fine line between great artistic genius and self destructive madness.  Mr. Howard walked this very fine line only to finely slip over at the age of thirty.

I like to think that if he had lived longer and moved out into the wider world he might have become a more tolerant and open minded man. That is something that we will never know though.

So that’s the contradiction that was/is Robert Ervin Howard. The things that contributed to his greatness were also a madness that brought about the end of his life far too early.
Now let’s get to those stories.

“The Moon of Skulls”

Kane is travelling across Africa searching for a young English woman who has been kidnapped by pirates and possibly sold into slavery. While following her trail deep into the heart of unexplored Africa he finally finds her being held prisoner in the lost city of Negari which is the last outpost of sunken Atlantis. The city is ruled “Nakari, the Vampire queen of Negari”.  Nakari being “white” wants Solomon as her mate. He refuses and hilarity ensues. This is an entertaining mixture of  Edgar Rice Burroughs’ “Opar” and Haggard'sShe”. Sadly, the racism tends to be fairly overt and probably would insult many modern readers. I doubt that I could recommend it to a black friend.  So as I mentioned above, this is a real love hate kind of story. There are some serious “he’s gotta be fucking kidding!” moments in this story as far as the racism is concerned, that almost destroys the story. If you have a fairly healthy “bull-shit meter” then just ignore the racist comments and go along for the insanely enjoyable ride.

“Skulls in the Stars”

Back in England Solomon travelling across the moors, takes the path less taken and runs afoul of a ghost. Guess who wins?

“The Footfalls Within”

This is another tale chronicling Solomon’s travels across Africa and is one of those classic Bob Howard contradictions. This time he’s rescuing and avenging a tribe of Africans who have been captured by Arab slave traders and taken to the coast on a forced death march through the jungle. Kane ends up being captured by said slavers and joins the march as a prisoner. Luckily for Solomon and the natives the caravan runs across a temple/tomb from some ancient lost civilization. Lucky that is, because the Slavers just have to open it up to see if it contains treasure. Instead of discovering treasure then awaken and release the demon that has been imprisoned within. This is a fun short little story with sympathy for the African victims instead of disdain and of course, Solomon once more dishing out some seriously righteous ass kicking!

What I found so great about this slim volume containing a novelette and two short stories is that we get to see both sides of Mr. Howard’s world view. And huge warts and all, Robert E Howard will always have a place in my heart, library and who is someone whose stories I will always happily return to in the years to come!

Here are scans of the rest of my Howards! I don't have as many as I used to. I hope that these are still of interest though!

There are still two “Solomon Kane” collections in print.

The inexpensive “The Right Hand of Doom” from Wordsworth Books.

The Deluxe illustrated "Savage Tales of“Solomon Kane” collection from DelRey.

And lastly I’d like to bring a new book from “Michael Brooks”, a successful new writer to your attention.

This looks extremely promising! His first novel had received excellent reviews!!

That’s it for this week!

Take care and thanks for stopping by!!


Donnerstag, 17. Januar 2013

Horror Hunters

„Horror Hunters“

„Nightmare tales of the dead and the undead“

Manor Books. 1975. $0.95

                                         The Front and Back cover to my 1975 edition.


                                                The 1971 edition that I can't find anywhere!!

This week’s book, Horror Hunters, is an early “themed anthology” originally published by Manor books back in 1971. The obvious theme of this anthology is seekers of horror or those who investigate it. I own the 1975 edition and can’t find a single copy of the 1971 edition anywhere. Once again Messrs. Elwood and Ghidalia deliver another enjoyable anthology of predominantly “Weird Tales” reprints.   I enjoyed it so much that I finished it in just one evening. The cover seems to be a very loosely based upon Theodore Sturgeons “One foot and the Grave”. The anthology is dedicated to “August Derleth”


Ancient Sorceries - Algernon Blackwood

The Gateway of the Monster - William Hope Hodgson
The Unnamable - H. P. Lovecraft
The Thing on the Roof - Robert E. Howard
Mr Ames' Devil - August Derleth
In the X-Ray - Fritz Leiber Jr.
One Foot and the Grave - Theodore Sturgeon
I Kiss Your Shadow - Robert Bloch

Now let’s take a look at the stories!

Ancient Sorceries - Algernon Blackwood
 “Ancient Sorceries” is one of Algernon Blackwood’s most famous stories. It’s one of five “John Silence, Physician Extraordinary“ stories that he wrote. John silence is a British physician who handles supernatural cases. The structure of these tales usually has John telling his most interesting cases to his friends.  He’s basically passive in these stories and only at the end does he conduct a follow up investigation in an attempt to verify the facts of the case. I enjoyed this story a lot. It kept me guessing and on my toes up to the very end. It’s seems that a meek middle aged Englishman, while on vacation in the French Provence, decides to detrain at a small village in an attempt to escape all the noisy tourists who are sharing train with him. He doesn’t like crowds or noise. It seem that the ruin the atmosphere of his trip. As he leaves the train he is warned about the village by an elderly French traveller who had been sharing his compartment. As the Traveller only speaks broken French, all he understands is a warning about sleeping and cats. He is immediately enchanted with the medieval charm of the older part of the village and decides that getting off the train was a good choice. He notices how quiet the village is and how friendly the locals are. He books a room and immediately feels an amazing sense of peacefulness fall over him. He becomes so enchanted with the entire setting that he decides to stay for a few days. He ends up staying over 2 weeks since he just can’t bring himself to leave. This begins to frighten him a bit. He is also unnerved by realizing the villagers are keeping him under constant, if not extremely discreet, observation. He also begins to believe that the daily comings and goings of the villagers is purely for his sake and that they are all truly leading a completely separate existence that he knows nothing about.  Another interesting point is that the villagers always seem to remind him of cats and seem to be able to vanish after turning corners. He even goes out of his way to follow people just so he can discover how it is that they seem to disappear once they round a corner.  On the day that he finally pulls himself together and decides to leave he meets the innkeeper’s daughter and seems to fall under another spell of enchantment.  After spending a few more days in the company of this “enchanting” young woman he begins to think that villagers are waiting for him to make up his mind about something. He finally comes to the conclusion that once he makes of his mind, he has no idea about what though; they will reveal their secret to him and invite him to join their community.  I won’t give it all away though since I’ve all ready been run off at the keyboard. Let me just say we end up with a tale of black magic, executed witches, were cats, Satanism, the black mass and reincarnation!!  Lots of atmosphere makes this a top story in my eyes.
The story is available online is you want to read it. I recommend it very much!

The Gateway of the Monster - William Hope Hodgson

“Gateway of the Monster” is one of Hodgson’s “Carnackithe Ghost finder” adventures. And this tale truly is an adventure. Carnaki is a very competent and aggressive Edwardian Para-normal investigator who goes around the UK breaking ghosts. You could consider him to be the original “Ghost Buster”! In this adventure Mr. Carnacki is asked to investigate the goings on at an isolated country estate. Not that there’s any other kind of country estate in these kinds of stories. It seems that there is a haunted bed chamber terrifying the household. Carnacki ends up going up against a demon in the form of giant hand that is using a cursed ring as an inter-dimensional doorway. It has already strangled an entire family before Carnacki gets called in to send it packing.  Carnacki is a very modern sort of ghost breaker in that he not only uses magical spells, but also scientific equipment and a service revolver to battle the demon. So we get a monster hand, a strangled baby and a kitty cat that gets beaten to a shapeless pulp. Not bad for a horror story written 100 years ago. This story is grisly, gory and fun!

It’s available on-line if you want to read it.

The complete Carnaki stories are also available from Wordsworth books at a very affordable price.

The Unnamable - H. P. Lovecraft
 “The Unanamable” is a transitional HPL story from when he was moving away from his “Dunsanyian” stories and had quite gotten started on the Cthulhu Cycle of stories. Personally, I like this story a lot. But sadly, I like it for all of the wrong reasons. This is exactly the kind of HPL stories that people love to make fun of and satirize. It has all of the qualities that a good “bad” Lovecraft story demands. The characters are stupid. The prose is so purple that the Caesar’s would have tried to wear it and it’s more hysterical than a Hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobiac at a spelling bee.

The story starts out with two researchers of the unknown who are discussing if something can be truly “unnameable”. Researcher #one says no and researcher# two says yes.  They then go on to discuss a local legend about a 17th century family from the area who were dealing in black magic. Legend tells that the wife gave birth to a child so monstrous that they had to keep it locked up in the attic. I love this plot point. The only thing missing is the bucket of fish heads. This is terrible clichéd, but I honestly think that this is the origin of the cliché. So anyways the one researcher goes on to tell how this monstrous child broke loose from time to time and terrorized the vicinity. The researcher then goes on to tell his friend how after the parents died, the neighbours left the house abandoned and the attic locked. “Good riddance!” they must have thought.  Anyways baby mongo breaks out one last time and goes on a killing spree. The researcher tells of how when he went and investigated he found a pile of freaky deaky bones in the attic. The were so unnerving that  instead of sharing the discovery he goes and dumps them into the tomb of the things parents which is conveniently located in an old abandoned cemetery. It seems that the skeleton substantiates the old rumours of the thing having “ape like claws”, “hoofed feet”, “huge fanged jaws” and “horns”. AND it turns out they are discussing this the whole time while sitting on the aforementioned tomb as night closes in!  So they’re just sitting there “smokin’ and Jokin’ just as the moon gets covered by a passing cloud and something comes bursting up out of the tomb and goes all ninja turtle on them.
They wake up the next day in the hospitaly badly beaten and covered with hoof marks. Researcher #2 asks, “What was it that attacked us?” And researcher #1 replies “The “Unnamable”! 

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I have a name for it. Monster!
 I love this story just for its awfulness alone.

Here’s the on-line text…..

The Thing on the Roof - Robert E. Howard

 This is a fairly ok Robert E. Howard penned “Cthulhu Mythos” story about grave robbing gone bad. It seems that an archaeologist (tomb plunderer) didn’t read far enough into REH’s version of the “Necronomicon”, “Unspeaksble Cults”, and brings home the wrong kind of treasure. The “Treasure” turns out to be one of those cranky, stinky shapeless, tentacled, hoofed and flying monstrosities that don’t play well with others. HPL would have called it typical “YogSothothery”. What I really like, is that in a typical HPL Mythos story the protagonist/victim usually ends up insane, with soiled drawers, devoured or a combination of the three. In a Robert E. Howard Mythos tale the protagonist charges death head on with both barrels blazing and ends up with his skull crushed to a pulp with a giant hoof print in the middle of it. This story is a good example of wha REH was nicknamed “Two Gun Bob”.

Mr Ames' Devil - August Derleth

This one is enjoyable but a typical example of what Mr. Derleth termed one of his “filler” stories. I hobby sorcery actually manages, much to his surprise and chagrin, his own personal demon. Said demon then goes about fulfilling his master’s wishes whether his master wants him to or not.  The hobby sorcerer then tries to use a contractual loop hole and, as always in these kinds of stories, it backfires. This one is short enough to be enjoyable before it wears out it welcome. I have to say though that Mr. Derleth was capable of much better stories.

In the X-Ray - Fritz Leiber Jr.

 I would consider “In the X-Ray” a fine story, if say, August Derleth had written it.
But since it was written by the great “Fritz Leiber” though, I have to say that it’s pretty dull and underdeveloped. I admit though, in Mr. Leiber’s defence, that this is one of his very early tales and all of his greatness still lay in the future.
A young woman goes to her Dr. complaining terrible pain and swelling in her ankle. It seems that this happened after having a nightmare about the rotting corpse of her recently deceased twin sister coming out from under the bed and grasping her ankle. The surving twin claims the pain feels just as if someone had her ankle in a painful grip from the inside. Uncle Doctor makes a few X-Rays and discovers that the girls were actually triplets, but the 3 girl didn’t develop and was absorbed by the surviving twin while still in the womb. This young woman also confesses to the Doctor that her twin sister hated her, and up until her death, made her twin’s life a living hell. The evil sister even cursed her twin whilst dying and swore to come back and get her. One thing the doctor has held back from his patient so far, it the fact that it seems that the absorbed twin has now started to finaly develop and grow!

Now let me stop here for a minute. This story has all the making of a great “body horror” story. I mean what can be nastier than having an absorbed foetus starting to grow and come to life inside of you! I don’t even want to consider how many wonderful ways he could have taken it. Sadly he doesn’t. The story ends with a suicide before anything awesomely awful could take place. From anyone else this would be a good story. Coming from Fritz Leiber though makes the story a huge let down.

One Foot and the Grave - Theodore Sturgeon

Ted Sturgeon never, to my knowledge, wrote a pedestrian story and this one is no exception. He manages to condense a novels worth of dialogue and plotting into just 45 pages! I’m sorry, but I’m not going to go all that deeply into the plot. It’s so crazy and complicated that I can only describe it as a “Screwball comedy, love story, Horror and fantasy mash up. You get murdered enchanted lovers, entombed arch angels, wizards, their familiars, werecats, Satyrs hidden valleys, unrequited love and a ton of dense plot. I get dizzy and tired just thinking about it. I can assure you that it’s a wonderful and satisfying story. Even though this appeared in "Weird Tales" I think that it would have been more at home in John W. Campbell's "Unknown".

I Kiss Your Shadow - Robert Bloch

“I Kiss your Shadow” is typical Bloch insanity from the beginning of his career. I’m running against time here so I’ll sum it up in one sentence. Guy kills his wife and her shadow comes back and screws until she comes down with a bad case of “coffin birth”!  The idea is so deliciously nasty that it’ll fester in your mind for days.

Like I said at the beginning, this collection is pretty strong story wise and extremely entertaining. The two fairly weak entries serve as palate cleansers between the heavier stories. Check it out if you can find a copy.

Take care and thanks for stopping by!


Sonntag, 13. Januar 2013

Strange Eons

Strange Eons

By Robert Bloch
Blurb: „In the Fantastic Tradition of H. P. Lovecraft”

Pinnacle Books 1979.  $1.95

That is not dead which can eternal lie / Yet with strange aeons even death may die.“ – H. P. Lovecraft: The Nameless City

                                             Front and back covers to my copy.

                       Mr. Robert Bloch! Thanks to Will Erickson @ "Too Much Horror Fiction"

“Strange Eons” was Robert Bloch’s final tribute to his friend and mentor “H.P. Lovecraft”.  To my knowledge, Mr. Bloch never wrote another Cthulhu Mythos story after this novel. I figure that that is reasonable seeing that he brings the entire “Cthulhu Mythos” to an end in this book.  Yep, in the novel, the Stars are finally right!

     Mr. Bloch seemed to have had two shadows hanging over his career. The first one was that he was one of the original members of the “Lovecraft Circle” which means that he started out his career by writing Lovecraft pastiche. Luckily he quickly broke away from HPL’s influence to develop his own style of writing and afterwards only returned occasionally to “Lovecraft Country”. The second shadow was that after 1960 every single Bloch novel or short story collection (aside from only one that I know of. And Will Errickson over at “Too much Horror Fiction” had to point that out to me.) contained the following blurb, “by the author of PSYCHO”.  Alfred Hitchcockfilming Mr. Bloch’s novel was a huge boost to his career, but it would also be how he would ever after be recognized by the general reading public even though he was hugely successful from the 1930s onward.

     Mr. Bloch was a true multi-talent. He was extremely successful in several genres. He wrote Horror, Science Fiction, and Crime/Thrillers.  He was also an extremely canny businessman. From the 1940s onward he was also a very successful script writer for film, Television and Radio. Almost always adapting his own stories. Some of his original scripts were written for such shows as “I Spy”, “The Man from U.N.C.L.E” and even 3 episodes for the original “Star Trek”.  So here is a man who not only got paid to for his printed stories, He would then sell the film rights AND get paid a third time to write the scripts! Not bad for a Pulp writer.

     Now let’s take a look at “Strange Eons”. I can’t say that “Eons” is a great book. It is highly entertaining, but is such of an insider joke that I think that readers who have no knowledge or interest in H. P. Lovecraft will find little to love here. To be fair, Mr. Bloch includes a huge chunk of exposition explaining all you need to know about Mr. Lovecraft and his works. I feel though that this brings the story to a dead stop. I understand that he wanted to reach as large of a readership as possible with this novel. As a Lovecraft fan though, I can only think “C´mon! I know this shit already! Let’s get going!” The book is great fun; it’s just not great literature. Any HPL fan will see every shock revelation coming a mile away. And since this is basically a huge tribute/Love-letter to Lovecraft and his Mythos I wish that he could have been a bit more subtle for those in the know.
     The story itself is broken down into 3 sections and told as a mystery. The first section deals with two art collectors in Los Angeles who literally stumble across and purchase a painting that turns out to be the genuine painting that appeared in Lovecraft’s story “Pickman’s model”. This sets off a chain or murders by some mysterious group who want the painting and will go to any lengths to recover it and to hide any evidence of it even existing. The murders themselves all appear to be modelled after famous death scenes from Lovecraft stories. This is quite apparent to the two collectors since one is an HPL aficionado and the other is the target of the fore-mentioned chunk of HP exposition.  Eventually our two collectors meet untimely and grisly ends. Thus ends the first section of the novel. The second section picks up about six months later and the ex wife, who is a photo model, of one of our dead art collectors gets dragged into the whole mess by being hired to model in some ads for a new cult that has popped up in LA.  She then gets approached by govt. agents who are investing the Sect as part of a supposed racketeering investigation. Turns out this sect is heavily involved with the Return of Cthulhu and the Government knows this. After a series of HPL inspired murders and chases involving denizens straight out of Lovecraft stories our heroine gets initiated into the inner circle of a international group of spies, scientists and diplomats who are waging a shadow war against the Cult and the Cthulhu Mythos deities. By the end of the second section we learn the Cult has infiltrated all levels of government and society by means of bribery and mind control. Our heroine is finally kidnapped and forced into a marriage of convenience with Cthulhu himself. She then on their wedding night she receives from Cthulhu the gift that keeps on giving and as a result of this gift she goes insane. The third section then moves up 30 years to ca. 2009 or 2010. We know this from two reasons. The first is that we are told that its thirty years later and the second reason it that everyone seems to have video-phones on their office desks. Our new protagonist is a young reporter who is investigating the resurgence of the Cthulhu cult from the first two sections. It seems that the cult had been busy recruiting member and spreading death and terror around the globe before being put down by various governments. Anyways it now seems that some one has been doing their best to convince the public that there never was any Cthulhu Cult and the end of the world is not approaching.  Our young reporter finds out other wise. It seems that his foster father is behind the efforts to convince the world that every thing is just fine and that there is nothing to worry about. We also find out that the young reporter is an ORPHANE who’s mother died insane after his birth without ever revealing who was the father of her child. I bet that you can guess where the final 20 pages of the book are going. Like I said earlier, the Stars are finally right!

All in all, “Strange eons” is a fun read for HPL and Robert Bloch fans. The 2nd section is the best part of the book. It reads like an old “Mannix” episode then switches into high gear as “The Man from U.N.C.L.E vs. The Mythos”. We even get treated to an all out nuclear attack on “R’Ley”!
     What I did find really clever in the book is that the protagonists were never sure if the cultists were mocking them by recreating death scenes from Lovecraft, recreating the murders for their own (the cultists) amusement or that HPL was a visionary who saw these future murders in his dreams and then incorporated them into his stories. We do learn through the novel that Lovecraft knew what was going on through the visions he had while dreaming, personal investigations and that his stories were meant as warning to future generations.

So if you like Bloch or Lovecraft I can highly recommend this book.  You can give it a pass though If you’re not interested in either.

Lastly, I received a copy of a new collection of “Flash Fiction” published by Michael Faun and “Hyperpyrexia Press”.  I haven’t had time to get very far into the collection. What I’ve read so far has been quite enjoyable. You can check it out here……

Thanks for stopping by and I hope that everyone survived the holidays and that 2013 will keep all of you healthy, happy and sane!

Thanks for stopping by!



I just found out the the "Oxford Univeristy Press" has a nice hardback Lovecraft anthology coming out in June 2013. It looks pretty interesting!
You can check it out here!