Monthly Archives: August 2012

Solomon Kane–Coming to a Theater Near You?

Solomon Kane (2012)

When I heard there was a film version being made of Robert E. Howard’s “Solomon Kane” stories, I was ecstatic! I went back and reread some of the tales, relishing Howard’s rich language and riveting storytelling. Solomon Kane, one of Howard’s best characters, was a Puritan holy warrior, devoted to rooting out and destroying the evil forces that lurked just yonder in the dark forest. Throughout the course of his tales, his deeds cause readers to question whether he is a shining force or light or a lunatic with a gun and a cross. And when I heard the talented cast included James Purefoy, Max von Sydow, and Pete Postlethwaite (sniff…we miss you) — sold!

This was 2009.

The film did its thing in Europe, met with modest reviews and sales, and was soon forgotten, by myself as well. It became one of those “whatever-happened-with-that?” things.

But good news!

I learned from Black Gate recently that Solomon Kane will be released in the U.S. next month. Spread the word, dust off your cutlass, blunderbuss, and crucifix, and prepare! Even if it’s terrible (which most critics and viewers are saying it isn’t), it should be a great time.

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Lessons Learned from Weird Tales Debacle

It’s been a rough couple of weeks for one of the venerable story markets in our genre. Weird Tales is arguably the most important spec fiction magazine Robert E. Howard, H.P. Lovecraft, and Clark Ashton Smith built their reputations there in the 1920’s and 30’s, and since then the magazine has been the hub– and gold standard– of weird fiction.

But things have gotten weird, and ugly, in recent days.

To sum up, in August of 2011, the magazine was sold to a different publisher, and editor-in-chief Ann VanderMeer yielded her position to new editor Marvin Kaye. VanderMeer stayed on as a contributing editor. The transition wasn’t necessarily smooth, and the immediate results weren’t necessarily positive, but the ship seemed steady, if not mighty.

Then this year, WT (meaning, Kaye) offered readers a preview excerpt of Victoria Hoyt’s young adult novel, Revealing Eden: Saving the Pearls. WT doesn’t generally foray into sci-fi, but Kaye was so intrigued by the concept that he included it. The concept is one of reverse racism: in the future, the world is run by people with dark skin, while those with brown or white skin live as second-class citizens, or find themselves hunted and rooted out. Fascinating and cool, right?

No. Not quite. And judging by public response, a great number of people were disgusted.

It’s one thing to say “you have a great concept.” The key is in the execution, though. Hoyt’s tale is loaded with not-so-subtle racist elements. Whites are called “Pearls” and blacks are called “Coals.” “Pearl” is supposed to be a derisive term, but come on. No one goes into a jewelery store to buy coal. Black-face is employed. And the (white) main character refers to her (black) lover as a “beast.” Real progressive, 21st century stuff.

Working with racial tropes is dangerous business, and I admit it takes cojones to even tread there, much less make them the foundation of a novel. However, there is a world of difference between using racial stereotypes and inverting or subverting them. Hoyt probably isn’t a Confederate-flag waving white supremacist, using the novel as a vehicle to inspire a New World Order of white hate (though I don’t know; I’ve never met her). She probably thought that this inversion of power would be edgy. It is, but edgy doesn’t equal intelligent (and certainly doesn’t equal compassionate).

Full disclosure– I have not read the novel. This post isn’t a review of the book. It’s a review of the controversy. I did take a peek at several preview pages on Amazon. Feel free to do the same. Mostly, I was turned off by the pedestrian prose, but that’s another story. The fallout of this debate: WT readers were outraged, many threatened to cancel subscriptions (and may have followed through), and the site was inundated with comments. Kaye rescinded his endorsement of the novel and took the excerpt off the site. At that point, though, it was more damage control than anything else.

Any thoughts on this mess? Race and spec fiction have always had a somewhat bumpy relationship. Even greats such as Howard and Lovecraft sometimes dealt with race in clumsy, old-fashioned, or uninformed ways. Also, can a non-racist person write a racist story?

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TMI from Poe

In my last post, I took a look at the newest member of my bookshelf– a hardcover edition of Poe’s Tales of Mystery and Imagination with illustrations from Harry Clarke. Today, I’d like to take a look at another angle on Poe– this one musical.

In 1976, The Alan Parsons Project debuted with their homage to Poe, an album titled–you guessed it– Tales of Mystery and Imagination. Parsons, the obscure record producer behind little-known releases such as Abbey Road, Let it Be, and Dark Side of the Moon, formed his own band with singer/songwriter Eric Woolfson (that info, minus the sarcasm, is via Wikipedia). The album, seven tracks long, provides a musical exploration of several Poe stories and poems.

First off, it should be mentioned that of the album tracks, only “The Tell-tale Heart,” “The Cask of Amontillado,” and “The Fall of the House of Usher” are actually found in the Poe collection. The other tracks are taken from poems and stories in different collections. This is really just a technicality, but maybe it bothers you. It doesn’t bother me.

What also doesn’t bother me is that the album is not simply a reading of Poe’s work, set to music. Though Poe’s prose and poetry (try saying that one quickly) are often incorporated in the lyrics, most of the songs are originals. Think of this album as “music inspired by the works of Poe.”

What does bother me, a little, is that the overall tone of the record doesn’t quite jive with the ambiance that Poe creates. Some of the tracks have a pulsing, ominous feel that works, but other tracks miss the mark as far as evoking Poe. As an album that sets the groundwork for what we could from APP later– that is, intricate, textured soundscapes and progressive instrumental passages played under hooky melodies– the album is a total success. As an homage to Poe, it is a partial one.

“A Dream Within A Dream”

This instrumental opening showcases what APP does best– build a sonic atmosphere with repetitive, urgent, delicate tones. This track is one instance of the music conveying exactly the quality one would expect from Poe’s poem.

“The Raven”

The most memorable cut from the album, it features the use of a vocoder (first in a record– oh, the things we learn from Wikipedia!). That vocoder makes for some eerie vocals. Later in the song, when the rock guitar kicks under a mournful, sustained “nevermoooooore,” the agony and obsession of the poem spill over. At times, the music complements the tone of the poem, but at some spots it’s too punchy.

“The Tell-tale Heart”

The guest vocals by Arthur Brown certainly capture the manic paranoia of the narrator of this story. After an initial rock riff, the mood darkens, and the ominous textures take over, before yielding to a darker rock ending. An insistent rhythm section mimicks the beating of a heart, which as anyone who has read the story knows, is an important motif. 

“The Cask of Amontillado”

This is something of a lush ballad. APP always seems to do one or two on each album. The sweetness of the vocals– at times the song feels like a latter-day Beatles slow number– masks ominous lyrics and story.

“The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Feather”

This is the straight-up rock song on the album. While this story isn’t as dark and foreboding as some of Poe’s others, it’s still about a sanitarium. The lyrics aren’t clearly about the story, and though they make for some good rock, they make for a confusing interpretation of Poe. Parsons, like any good composer, weaves some motifs from earlier in the album into the end of the song.

 

“The Fall of the House of Usher”

This one is a purely classical piece, which is jolt following the last track. The Prelude is inspired by an opera fragment by Debussy about this story. As classical music does so well, the Prelude evokes the emotional landscape of the story: brooding and moody, punctuated by high drama.

After the Prelude, we get into some Pink Floyd territory. Clearly, Parsons’ work on Dark Side of the Moon rubbed off here, and the darkness of both Poe and the Floyd work brilliantly. Later movements again resurrect motifs from elsewhere in the album. No, “The Fall of the House of Usher” doesn’t leap out and grab hold of you, but repeated listenings reveal a lot to appreciate.

“For One in Paradise”

This tender and beautiful closing piece doesn’t truly capture the the aching loss of the poem, but it is lovlingly sung and arranged, and makes for a fitting end to an album that went in several different directions.

 

Overall, this isn’t my favorite APP album (that goes to I, Robot, which I might also dive into sometime). But anytime an artist interprets or reworks the art of another, comparison is inevitable (invited?). So while APP may not have hit a homerun on their debut, they laid the groundwork for what we would hear from them later.

Plus, I’m a sucker for weird things, and both Poe and APP are pretty weird.

And I can’t close the post out without leaving you with this.

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Poe and Clarke– On Tour Again!

If you have any interest in speculative/weird/horror fiction, or have taken a 19th Century American Lit course, you probably have a collection of Edgar Allan Poe’s work. I obtained my “Complete Tales and Poems” from my grandparents. It’s a staple to any self-respecting bookshelf. Certainly, if you already have a tidy Poe collection that includes the word “complete,” you wouldn’t need any other collection.

Right?

So thought I, until I was perusing the bargain section of B&N. I came across a handsome, tempting, eerie hardcover of “Tales of Mystery and Imagination.” Forces beyond those of the natural world placed the book–which I had first seen reviewed a couple months ago— in my hands.

The cover. The background design is an illustration in red and black; a skull and a woman in profile stare in opposing directions, imposed over a twisted vortex. In the foreground in black and white, a cloaked man stares at us probingly. The cover design tempts us — and challenges us– to open the pages and discover the dark things within.

I opened.

The frontispiece is an illustration of the pivotal murder scene from “The Tell-Tale Heart.” The figures are long, lean, and mad-eyed. Like Poe’s writing, Harry Clarke’s illustrations forgo realism and sweep us into the dark and unfathomable recesses of the psyche. Fingers and toes are sharp and pointed; a cape swirls parallel to the floor with no apparent breeze. We are entering a dream-state.

There is really no need to comment on the stories themselves here, or discuss Poe’s strengths and weaknesses as a writer. I’d need a separate post (or college course) for that. What makes this edition really special are the illustrations. Harry Clarke was an Irish artist and illustrator from the turn of the twentieth century. His illustrations to a 1919 edition of “Tales” put him on the map, and he went on to illustrate a number of other important works: Goethe’s “Faust,” Hans Christian Anderson’s Fairy Tales, and Coleridge’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” In an eerie twist of fortune, he died at the age of 41– the age of Poe’s death– of tuberculosis– the disease that killed Poe’s wife.

Why seek out this book? There’s something special about finding illustrations that capture and enhance the essence of the prose, and that is the case here. Reading stories in this volume is a different experience than reading them online, or on an e-reader, or even in a “Complete Tales” collection. It’s also the type of book that’s great to leave lying around conspicuously, so that houseguests can idly pick it up, thumb through it, and be either enchanted or disgusted. Think of it as a litmus test of the weird.

Keep an eye out for my next post, in which I’ll talk about a different take on “Tales of Mystery and Imagination.”

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The Ho33it?

Hello World!

Without any ado, this is my new blog about anything fantasy related. Myth, Fantasy and sci-fi classic texts, book reviews, movie reviews, gaming, various conjurations of the mind, literary stuff, and some writing-related matters– blogging can be a journey that takes you there and back again…

So while the news is fresh (ish), let’s talk about Peter Jackson’s pair of upcoming Hobbit films Hobbit trilogy.

http://scifimafia.com/2012/07/confirmed-the-hobbit-will-be-a-trilogy/

Despite the fact that The Hobbit is less than 1/4 the size (by page count) of the Lord of the Rings (300 to 1300), it will receive the same number of films (3). So where does the material come from? According to Jackson:

We recognized that the richness of the story of The Hobbit, as well as some of the related material in the appendices of The Lord of the Rings, gave rise to a simple question: do we tell more of the tale? And the answer from our perspective as filmmakers and fans was an unreserved ‘yes.’

As a LoTR fan, I simply love the idea of more, more, more! But as a fan of things being done artfully and gracefully, I can’t help but wonder if Jackson is going to lose all but the most devoted fans by stretching this story beyond its natural size.

Now, as someone who seeks to make a living off my creative endeavors, I certainly understand the impulse. The three LoTR films made piles of money, and the Hobbit ones should be no different. And I bear no malice against those who make piles of money creating something meaningful, beautiful, and entertaining (yes, I placed a lot of conditions on that). But is this a story that *needs* to be told? I’ve always felt that in the greatest stories, there’s an urgency that if the story isn’t told, and told properly, the storyteller would simply explode, or else wither up and die.

Any thoughts? Does more Hobbit make you merrier? Or is PJ going to milk the franchise into embarrassment?

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Hello world!

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Happy blogging!

Adam Knight

Author and Freelance Writer

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