Saturday morning, I took MBW, the HA, and one of the HA’s little buddies up to the cabin of a close family friend. Situated on the bank of a snowmelt-high river, in the foothills of Mt. Hood, the cabin provides a sense of seclusion, aided by the virtual non-existence of cell phone signal, and the absence of televisions, radios, computers, etc. Entertainment consists of reading, playing board or card games, and conversation. Aided, perhaps, by the occasional adult beverage.
o, that was 2021, huh? Well, before moving on into what I’m sure will be a glorious 2022 — a year of unicorns galloping across rainbows, with bareback riding leprechauns scattering gold to us all — I figure I’d look back at what I accomplished in the unicorn-free year.
High boots, cuffed above the knee, crunched through snow upon the frozen heath. The feet within the boots contained little more warmth than the white blanket they trod. But the boots marched on, steady and unvarying, for Solomon Kane did not bend or waver in the face of inclement weather any more than he did in the face of opposition from man or beast. Or creature of Hell.
With apologies to the shade of ERB.
John Clayton II, Viscount Greystoke, stubbed out his cigarette on the railing of the veranda overlooking the Patapsco. The smell of gunpowder mingled with the aroma of tobacco, wreaths of smoke coiled and drifted over the long green lawn that descended toward the bank of the river. Greystoke wandered toward the other end of the veranda to take his turn with the double-barreled shotgun.
Professor Archimedes Q. Porter knelt over the clay pigeon thrower, absorbed in the motions of a beetle exploring one leg of the contraption, utterly unaware that his tie was caught in the mechanism. Samuel T. Philander fussed nearby, tut-tutting as he attempted to extract the neckwear. William Cecil Clayton clacked open the action of the shotgun, ejecting two spent shells.
“John,” Clayton said, handing over the gun, “one for two. I’m clearly in need of more practice.”
Greystoke slipped two shells in with unconcious grace while Clayton assisted Philander to extricate Professor Porter from his predicament.
“Pull,” Greystoke commanded, once the machinery was cleared for action. He powdered two clay discs in rapid succession, ejected the shells and snatched them both from the air before they struck the whitewashed boards of the veranda.
He was about to hand off the gun to Clayton when a cry of despair arrested his attention.
“Oh, Lawd!” ejaculated Esmerelda. “The bird, she ruined, miss.”
The voice, though coming from within the sprawling Victorian manse of the Porters, was clearly audible to the men.
A moment later, Jane Porter emerged onto the veranda, the look of concern on her face rendering her only more endearing to Greystoke. Esmerelda followed, wringing her hands within the folds of her voluminous apron.
“Oh, Tarzan,” Jane said. “I am so sorry. I’m afraid the dogs got to the turkey. We cannot salvage it. And on this, your first Thanksgiving.”
“Never fret,” Greystoke said. “A turkey, you say? I’m not personally familiar with the beast, as it did not occupy my jungle home. But I have read about it.”
His heart ached to see Jane Porter aggrieved. Was a turkey all that stood between her and happiness?
He sprang to the railing, balancing like a young ape. He cocked an ear, listening with a hearing honed by an upbringing in the savage wilderness. A faint gobbling reached his keen senses.
“Set out the rest of the viands,” Tarzan said. “I shall return.”
Tarzan leapt from the railing. He stripped off his civilized attire as he ran around the side of the house. Then he made for the woods still lingering to the rear of the Porter estate, fighting a losing rearguard action against the encroachment of Baltimore.
Minutes later he was perched on the branch of a spreading oak, peering down at a flock of fat, gabbling fowl. He picked out the largest.
“KREEGAH!” The battle cry of Tarzan echoed through the woods as he sprang toward the turkey, the euphoria of combat enveloping him.
More of my stuff and nonsense available, among other places, here.
I’ve been considering Robert E. Howard’s Conan. As one does, you know. I don’t need to tell my discerning and intelligent audience that there is more to the character than a violent savage in a hairy diaper. But I thought I’d share a few of my thoughts.
Pulp Swords-and-Sorcery stories conveyed a certain esthetic. There was a focus and an energy to them that came through even with authors milking every penny from the word count. I like it. Practitioners of the artform have carried that energy from short stories to novellas and full-length novels. What I’ve wondered is if the esthetic can translate from secondary worlds and mythic history to contemporary fantasy. That is, can one remove the Swords from S&S and substitute modern weaponry while retaining both the driving adventure and the fantastical elements? While working through this, I’ve substituted the term “Semi-automatics” for “Swords.” It maintains the alliteration while holding a conceptual through line, I think.
When we think of a sword in a swords-and-sorcery yarn, most often we think of a barbarian swinging a broadsword. We know what that means. We can visualize it. No matter that “broadsword” is not a term of art, and that in fact a broadsword, properly speaking, is far from the heavy spatha or arming sword we associate with our barbarian hero. And that’s fine. Secondary world fantasy or fantastic fictionalizations of our world don’t demand technical accuracy.
No battle plan, or so it is said, survives first contact with the enemy. Life comes at you fast. Shit happens. Etc. The point is, you cannot expect matters to run smoothly and according to a predetermined schedule. Things change, even as you’re walking out the door on the way to whatever is appointed. Don’t be surprised.
Reading a collection of Louis L’Amour stories has got me thinking about the Western. The Western genre has generated a solid collection of tropes and narrative expectations. It also, it seems, has exercised an influence on science fiction and fantasy; that is, certain speculative fiction stories traffic in the same tropes. All to the good, in my opinion.
I suppose I ought to dip a toe into what makes up a Western, before I proceed. This is a mere surface grazing. Attempting a precise definition of the Western is limiting. Why try to corral a genre with vast possibilities?
I can’t always be reviewing anthologies, you know. I do have other matters to occupy my attention. Here’s a snapshot of some of those matters.
What I’m reading: