Archive for October 2010

Turok, Son of Stone   4 comments

Way back in the day, there were only two comic companies worth following: D.C. Comics with its superheroes, and Dell Comics that did everything else.  Dell had its own hero books, but they were a more naturalistic bunch–Tarzan of the Apes, Turok Son of Stone and a few others.

This second week in October is a heck of a good week for comics. Not only has Warlord of Mars appeared from Dynamite, but Turok Son of Stone has appeared in a magnificent 48 page spectacular from Dark Horse Comics.  I had no intention of buying Turok when I went by Samurai Comics on Wednesday, but one look at it, and I was hooked.  I also wound up getting Magnus Robot Fighter #1 and #2.  I loved these comics when I was a kid, although  I didn’t collect them the way I did with Tarzan.  Turok certainly had the same appeal as Tarzan–savage men in even more savage worlds.  Heh.  I guess we love our opposites. I’m about as savage as a kleenex in the real world.

Excedrin headache number two--two as in Turok!

The story begins with Turok rescuing Andar from a far-flung company of Aztec warriors.  These exiles from Azcapotzalco and their leader Maxtla are a thousand miles from their home in the Valley of Mexico, and they can’t find anything better to do than slaughter the Native Americans of Texas to their bloodthirsty gods.  Well, the story certainly starts with a bang, then moves to a thrilling chase, and continues with a timestorm that hurls them all into either an alternate universe or a prehistoric era when dinosaurs walked the earth. Nonstop action, magnificent art, breathless storytelling from Jim Shooter–what is not to like?  The art by Eduardo Francisco and color by Jose Villarrubia is incredible–clean, crisp, dynamic in every panel. 

Dark Horse comics has been bringing out new versions of old heroes.  Turok and Magnus and Dr. Solar are three of them.  I never cared for Dr. Solar, so I will probably give his new incarnation a pass, but I’ve signed on for the other two.

As a special bonus, Dark Horse uses the second half of the 48 page book to reprint the very first Turok adventure from 1954.  The art and the story for the original look almost as good as this 2010 reincarnation.  Turok and Andar start out together in the original tale and descend through a sinkhole and a cavern with an underground river into a strange underground world where dinosaurs still exist.  That place is huge.  Either they’ve gone to Pellucidar the easy way, or they’ve slipped into some kind of alternate world also.  I had never seen the first Turok story before–what I remember was that they were trapped in a canyon with unclimbable sides.  I don’t think Turok and Andar ever did get out of there.

Searching the internet for images of Turok Son of Stone is a delightful quest.  Those old Dell comics from the fifties have the best comic book catalog of hungry dinosaurs ever.  Behold!

The very first Turok comic. He is wisely avoiding the large predators.

For a real treat, take yourself to http://www.coverbrowser.com/covers/turok-son-of-stone and browse through all those old covers from the fifties.  For a continuing treat, start reading the new Turok series as soon as you can get a copy.

end

Posted October 15, 2010 by atroll in Uncategorized

Warlord of Mars   2 comments

Isn’t it wonderful how the old adventure classics come back again and again in new and even better forms than before?  One of my favorite novels ever is A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs.  Burroughs first penned this fantasy escape novel back in 1912, and here, almost a century later, it is still going strong.  When I first heard, about three months ago, that it was coming out in comic book form from Dynamite Comics, I immediately had Samurai Comics put it on my hold list.  Well, today it hit the stands, and as a bonus, the first issue only costs one dollar.  I bought 4 of them, getting 3 of the variant covers in the process, and I consider it to be $4 well spent.  That’s about what we pay for a single issue of the superhero comics that rule the comic shops.

I never thought of John Carter as left-handed.

 The story of John Carter on Barsoom–we may call it Mars, but the real Mars was never so vibrantly alive–is a remarkable tale for 1912.  Our hero gets to another world by simply wishing himself there.  Once there he finds a world that is even more bleak and barren than the Arizona desert he leaves behind.  On Barsoom the giant green cacti of the desert have become a race of 6-limbed savage warriors.  There are red men in both places–in Arizona they are called Apaches, and on Barsoom they are simply the dominant civilized people.  You would think on a world with a thin atmosphere that the people would wear lots of clothing, but instead nudidty is the rule.  You probably already know the story. If you don’t, you owe it to yourself to get a copy and read A Princess of Mars.  On the surface it is pure escapist fantasy, but if you really think about it, Burroughs was laying a lot of revolutionary messages between the lines.

My favorite variant cover. Joe Jusko is a simply incredible Burroughs artist.

Perhaps the best thing about the John Carter books by Burroughs is that they give artists incredible inspiration for some of their most gorgeous work.  The contrast of beauty with barbaric savagery, the yin and yang of John Carter and Dejah Thoris, the lure of the exotic, and the brutal reality of monsters in the world.  My soul floats away in dreaming when I see a cover like the one above.

Dejah Thoris, the most beautiful woman/alien in all of science fiction.

The images that artists come up with for the Barsoomian illustrations seem to leap straight out of tarot imagery.  Tell me–isn’t this Strength personified?

Swords aand naked women--Warlord of Mars is all about sex.

And there are four other promotional covers  that only dealers get.  They are bound to be expensive, although they really can’t be better than the ones shown above.

The interior art is also amazing.  Take a look!  Stephen Sadowski is an amazing artist.

Barren but beautiful.

Warlord of Mars would seem to be a misnomer for this comic.  According to Burroughs’ framing device, included in issue 1, the tale should only cover the events in A PRINCESS OF MARS which ends with Carter returning to Earth after 10 years on Mars.  He doesn’t really acquire the title of Warlord until he fights his way from pole to pole in THE GODS OF MARS AND THE WARLORD OF MARS.  Oh well, it will be interesting to see what Arvid Nelson does with the story.

There have been comics about John Carter before.  Dell did a 3 issue series back in the 50s and Gold Key reprinted it with the books out of order during the 60s.  Between 1977 and 1979 Marvel did this amazing series about John Carter Warlord of Mars.  It ran for 28 issues and had 3 annuals. When D.C. took over Marvel’s Tarzan line of comics, they also took John Carter, and continued his adventures briefly in Weird Worlds. It’s a shame the series didn’t last.  I would have bought those comics forever.  As it is, I have them all hidden away in the back room somewhere.  (How time flies!  I didn’t think it was that long ago. Just goes to show, I’m older than dirt.)

Marvel did an incredible series about John Carter--less symbolism, more action, great original stories.

The new Dynamite series by Arvid Nelson is off to a marvelous start–parallel narratives on Earth and Mars.  I hope enough fans buy this comic to make it a success, because if they do, we’ll get an even better portrayal of the John Carter saga than we did from D.C.  And that will be a treasure to read and watch.

end

Posted October 15, 2010 by atroll in Uncategorized

RinCon Ramblings   1 comment

On Friday, October 8, Rick Loomis and I left Phoenix behind and rolled on down to Tucson for RinCon 10. Even though we got a late start, we were there before two p.m. and half set up by the time the Con people opened the doors to the great basement hall of the Tucson Convention Center.  I had my little digital camera with me, and I took a lot of pictures. I don’t intend to torture you readers with all of them, but I will post a bunch of them, and put some comments beneath each picture.  I had fun at the convention doing what I always do, wandering around, seeing my friends and talking to strangers.  I got to do a little bit of gaming, too.  That’s always a good thing at a gaming convention.

 

Free breakfast in the Green Cafe of the Hotel Arizona on Saturday.

I didn’t get any pictures at all on Friday afternoon.  The most notable thing that happened was that Rick and I had supper with Liz Danforth, Steve Ellis, and Brian Gross at the El Charro Restaurant in downtown Tucson.  El Charro is the oldest continuously open Mexican restaurant in the United States–it has been open in the same location since 1922.  That being said, I wasn’t very impressed with it–mediocre food served in a cramped little space by the front window–the food being neither better nor worse than that served by Taco Bell, for example.  At least I got a glass of my favorite beer, Dos Equis (Two Xs). 

The Father of Play-by-mail Gaming eats breakfast.

I think the eggs were artificial, they tasted like plastic, but the bacon and orange juice was really good.

Wicked John Wick (in the white shirt), his ladies Rowe and Jessica, and a good view of Jesse Foster's bald spot.

Virtually everybody who didn’t live in Tucson stayed at the Hotel Arizona and availed themselves of the free breakfast that came with convention membership. Here are John Wick, his ladies, and MIB Jesse Foster, getting ready, fueling up for a strenuous Saturday.

 

This is the Flying Buffalo dealer table. My T & T stuff is down in the lower left corner.

Rick and I had a wide variety of things to sell.  My  T & T stuff is in the lower left corner of the table. If you look closely you can find OgreOcre, Monsters! Monsters!, T & T 5.5  along with T & T 7.5 and just above that a big stack of solo adventures.  We didn’t actually sell very much of it.  RinCon was great for networking, lousy for sales.

Twin brothers with different mothers.

The tall guy talking to Rick is named Seth–I didn’t get his last name.  He has a gaming store in Los Angeles and brought a ton of stuff over to sell.  He had a lot of really fine games on his table.  In the end, he was the only one I bought anything from–an Order of the Stick graphic novel.  Seth was a pleasant companiion, a family man, and an all-around good guy.  I wish him well in his gaming career.

 

Knitted Cthulhu babies–more popular than games.

Not everything was games.  There were also a few dolls and toys.

The computer gaming area was guarded by a piratical teddy bear of considerable size.

For the first time that I can remember, there were more available computers than computer gamers to play on them.  I got into this area on Sunday for a few minutes and got my video butt kicked by a 12 year old kid in some streetfighting action.  Fun enough, but nothing I’d care to spend more than 5 minutes on. 

Rich Shaffstall, Felicia Peters, James "Bear" Peters--Bear was my best friend back in the 70s when T & T started.

A lot of people that I hardly ever see made it to RinCon this year.  I was lucky enough to get in about an hour of T & T gaming with the legendary Bear Peters.  My character fought a flock of pigeon-sized wyverns atop a humongous dirigible while flying across the bronzed sands of the great desert south of Khosht (meaningless gabble to most of you readers, but the inner circle of T & T players will have some idea of what I’m talking about.) Bear is very pleased to actually be running a continuing T & T campaign, altho the playing episodes are about 3 months apart, and the gamers are separated by over 100 miles.

John Wick offered his books for sale at a table inside the main gaming area.

There wasn’t anything to keep me busy at the Buffalo table, so I spent a lot of time wandering around the gaming area.  I was jealous of John’s primo location within the gaming area–of course, it cost him $100 more for his table than it cost Rick out on the periphery.

Jesse Foster examines the Laughing Moon FRP gamebook.

Todd Van Hooser spent the whole weekend playing his own Laughing Moon frpg. He likes miniatures and scantily clad women. (Heh! Who doesn't?)

I first saw Todd running his Laughing Moon game at RinCon a year ago in 2009.  Since then we’ve been at about 6 conventions at the same time.  But, we’ve never spoken.  He’s a miniatures guy, and I’m not.  I always take a few pictures of his scantily-clad companions however.  Todd has finally published the sourcebook and rules for his game. I wish him well, but I’ll never be one of his followers.

The creators of Infrno.net were demonstrating their product.

Infrno.net is an upcoming social network for fantasy role-playing gamers.  It is a pretty slick product, and offera a lot of useful services.  I signed up for it, and have actually established a profile.  If Iwere ever to succeed in transferring my gaming life into the computer, this is the service I’d use to do it.

Who you gonna call?

These guys get a lot of mileage out of some great Ghostbuster costumes.  However, no phantoms made appearances during the show.

Outside the Convention Hall, the City of Tucson held a 3-day food festival with booths of exotic goodies from all over the world.

A long view of part of the festival. There were crowds of happy people all around. 

Mike Stackpole and I wandered around the festival to get lunch on Saturday.  I found a kebab from Persia that filled up the inner Ken.  He ate paella.  How handy is that!  RinCon is the only con I know that has dozens of food vendors right outside the Con with prices that are very affordable.

The creators of Time Renegades were showing off their new game.

I talked with Dennis (the guy with the mustache), who created the game, several times during the Con.  He explained the ten stages of time to me, and his ambitious plan for a game that not only spans all of time and space, but also goes forward into future stages of the universe. He gave me free dice, and a donut, and even played a hand of OgreOcre with me.  He has a beautiful game, a sweeping vision, and a terrific web site here at http://www.timerenegades.com/ .

Bear Peters, Brian Gross

Tracey, her husband (I'd know his name if I heard it), and Felicia Peters.

Felicia and Dave (the brother of Tracy's husband) and a view out into the gaming area.

I finished Saturday afternoon playing Tunnels and Trolls with my friends.  Bear ran a continuation of a game that he started back at TrollCon 3 in July, and I wiggled my way into their adventure towards the end of it.

Live music at the food festival Saturday night.

Saturday night was the busiest part of the convention.  I had 3 things to do: participate in John Wick’s Houses of the Blooded larp, play poker in the Texas Hold-Em tournament, and attend the Dark Ones party for Dark Con 2012.  I also needed to stash my gaming bag at the hotel and get some food.  On the trip to the hotel I stopped to listen to the music for a few minutes.  The crowd was enjoying it a lot, and the musicians seemed to be grooving.  I never got any food–the waits were too long, but I muched a couple of granola bars that I brought to the con with me.  Rick went to our hotel room and watched Arizona State University beat Washington State in college football.  A.S.U. is the primary alma mater school for both of us.

Larping with John Wick and the Houses of the Blooded.

I came into the larp a few minutes late, but was able to find both a sword and a modest costume to wear to indicate my membership in House Falcon.  John always takes the part of the servant who makes the larp run.  He announces the events, distributes favor tokens to the players, answers questions, and is generally the engine that drives the whole thing.  His ladies Rowe and Jessica also help.  The three of them manage to keep things moving.  Houses of the Blooded has an interesting game mechanism that I like a lot.  Every player starts with favor (represented by raffle tickets), and you can spend favor to get concessions from other players.  For example, I might go up to a lady in the crowd, and say something like, “Is it not true that we were once lovers?” and then I”d give her a handful of raffle tickets and she would reply, “Yes, my lord, tis true, but that was long ago and far away.”  With a little effort one can start many delicious rumors in this fashion.  In a more serious note, favor is also used to influence juries who decide whether events such as duels and executions should take place.  At one point during the evening, I spent all the favor I had in a vain attempt to stop a duel and start an execution.  It gave me a chance to make a speech, and win a laugh from the assembled lords and ladies.  My new goal at these larps is to use up all my favor as rapidly and outrageously as I can.

The lord Xander has passed out on the floor. Two other lords, best friends tragically brought into combat, are busy killing each other, while a lady watches. Servant John seems well pleased.

No Houses of the Blooded larp is complete without at least 3 deaths.  Duels generally happen during the lst half of the event, and it seems to be a great honor to die nobly in the defense of honor.  I haven’t gotten myself killed in either of the two events I’ve attended–my character is a traveller, who but seldom attends these soirees, and is hardly worthy of being killed. Heh!

High tide for Ken the Gambler.

After the orgy (I mean larp) the poker game started at 10 p.m.  It was a charity event, although I did not realize that when I sat down at it, and one could buy extra chips for cash.  I have only played Texas Hold-Em once before in my life–that was when I was a Guest at the Dark Ones Dark Con in 2008.  This time I had the distinction of being a marked man with a bounty on my head.  I flatter myself that I was not as easy a mark as those poker sharks expected.  The picture shows the high point of my fortunes: black chips are worth 1000, blue are 500, white are 100, green are 50 and red are 25.  I placed 15th in a field of about 30 and lasted until the second break. 

I could do a whole rant about what I hate about Texas Hold-em, but in truth I had some fun, and learned something about the game that may help me next time I play.  I had fun with it.

The party of the Dark Ones was both dark and very noisy. I truly felt like a wallflower there.

I was knocked out of the poker game just before midnight, so I rushed off to room 907 in the Hotel Arizona for the party of the Dark Ones.  It was going strong when I got there, but I found a place to sit and talk with Jesse Foster.  I had two bowls of spicy meatballs–they proved to be my midnight supper for the evening as I was really hungry by the time I arrived, and a glass of orange juice sans booze. 

Poster for Dark Con 2012.

After about 20 minutes I slipped away from the party, got back to my roon, and slept.  I am so sensible at these Cons, insisting on at least 6 hours of sleep each night. Bwa ha ha!

Sunday was something of an anti-climax.  No one showed up for my demo game of Monsters! Monsters!  I spent time talking to Amanda Abelove, creator of a new card game called Corporate Espionage, and time in the MIB area playing Zombie Dice and Cthulhu Dice while waiting to see if I would win the great Games Basket of goodies that Steve Jackson Games was giving away.  Here’s a picture of it along with my MIB friend Joey.

The big prize of the Con can be seen over Joey's right shoulder. I didn't win it.

Goodbye!  Goodbye to all my fine friends and acquaintances.  Maybe I’ll see you again at the next Con–maybe not.  I enjoyed shmoozing with you all–you are true gamers and the salt of the earth.  Home again by 6 p.m. on Sunday afternoon–a successful convention as far as I’m concerned.

end

Posted October 13, 2010 by atroll in Uncategorized

This Crooked Way   1 comment

It's colorful but doesn't say much about the contents.

After reading Blood of Ambrose, I was hot to read more  of James Enge’s fiction about Merlin and his children in the strange world of Laente.  I obtained both books at the same time, and dived right into the second one after finishing the first.

James Enge has apparently been writing his Ambrosian tales for some time.  Although THIS CROOKED WAY is the second book in his fantasy series, it shows a lot of internal evidence to suggest that much of the material in it was written earlier than the first book about Lathmar VII.  It consists of several novelets loosely linked to make a novel–it is a risky technique for novel creation.  The author doesn’t really build to a single climax–each tale comes to a climax and then it’s back to the beginning.  Four of the novelets–the entire center of the book–are told in first person narrative by four members of a family that he encounters.  Each person, Roble, Naeli, Fasra, and Stend see Morlock Ambrosius somewhat differently.  They all seem to be looking back on their adventures with Morlock as something that happened many years earlier, but no real context of time is given for their tale-telling.  In addition, a couple of stories are narrated by a Khroi nurse to her nurseling.  Why the insectoid Khroi would have any interest in the doings of a human wizard is never really explained.  Morlock does impact the Khroi’s history,  but not, in my opinion, enough to justify their superstitious awe of him.

In short, the book does not hang together nearly as well as the first book.  Taken as individual short novelets, the tales are good swords and sorcery.  Taken as a novel, it’s all kind of weak.  I believe James Enge noticed this himself, but probably had no better option for producing a sequel to his excellent BLOOD OF AMBROSE in a timely fashion.  He has an afterword that attempts to justify the existence of the stories in the real world, and to reconcile the differing points of view.  It’s a very nifty piece of apologetics, but . . .

On the other hand, Enge does give us a much better feel for his fantasy land.  We get to talk with werewolves and dragons, fight snake-leopards and a truly conceited Gnome.  The sense of fantastic invention is at a much higher level than in BLOOD OF AMBROSE.  Something new and marvelous is created in each story–you have to love it when a writer does that for you.

And, a coherent theory of magic begins to emerge from the fiction.  In Morlock’s world, there is something called tal. Tal is the intermediary between matter and spirit.  Spirit is helpless without matter, and matter is inert without spirit, and tal holds them both together.  Wizards can separate their tal from their body, sometimes they can control the tal of other beings.  It’s all kind of fuzzy, but the more control one has over tal, then the more magical things one can do.  Nobody does flash-bang magic in Morlock’s world–no fireballs or lightning bolts. It’s all curses and healing and spirit mastery. Spirit forms can range into the future and the past.  Golems can be animated.  There are all sorts of things that can be done with the proper manipulation of tal.  And then there is the mystical element of phlogiston, and aetherium, two elements of reality with what seem like magical properties.  Both Morlock and Merlin are masters of such knowledge.  It’s fun to see how Enge, with his college professor’s intellect, manipulates these elements in telling his tales of swords and sorcery.

Final Evaluation: THIS CROOKED WAY  isn’t quite as good a book as BLOOD OF AMBROSE, but it has a lot of innovation, intelligence, and adventure in it, along with a wry humor seldom seen in tales of heroic fantasy.  Read it! You will probably like it.

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Posted October 12, 2010 by atroll in Uncategorized

Before the Storm   4 comments

 

On Tuesday October 5, 2010 Phoenix, Arizona experienced what some are calling the Storm of the Century.  I was out on the roads of Phoenix during part of the storm–not the worst part,  lucky for me–and I would not be willing to give it that title.  I have lived in Phoenix for a very long time (as humans count such things) and I can remember worse, but it was certainly a major storm, and it caused major disruption all through the Phoenix metropolitan area.  Before the storm, however, I went out to visit one of my favorite scenic places–Papago Park. I had finished my morning business–library, bank, post office–and had my little digital camera with me (I was planning ahead today.), and thought I’d show off the beauty of Arizona.  We live in an amazingly beautiful and diverse world, people, and once in a while I like to express my appreciation of it.  Here, then is a short series of pictures that I took before the storm.

Fantasy Arizona

What you are seeing here is a kind of photo montage of the Phoenix desert as a fantasy paradise complete with a castle.  This is a display on an interior wall of my bank/credit union, and the picture didn’t come out as well as I hoped it would.  The building in the center is called the Tovrea Castle and you can read all about it here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tovrea_Castle  The lush vegetation that you see surrounding it does not exist in reality, although the castle does sit on a small hillock and is surrounded by 43 acres of desert landscaping featuring mostly saguaro cacti.  Because of its three-tiered design, the castle (or mansion as some call it) is known locally as “The Wedding Cake”–at least that’s what my family calls it.  I consider it to be one of the Wonders of Phoenix (which I plan to show you in this blog some time in the future).  The two pinkish, cave-pocked hills that rise on either side of the Castle are not there in reality.  They do exist about five miles to the northeast as the northern-most limits of Papago Park–the southern one is inside the park and the northern one is inside a National Guard training area.  (A decade or so ago I made a point of climbing the accessible one all the way to the top–a strenuous but not impossible climb for a 50 year-old.)  McDowell Road climbs up through a natural pass between the two hills–to the west is Phoenix, to the east is Scottsdale.  An amphitheatre of about 20 rows of stone seats has been carved out of the rock of the southern hill, and there is some roadside parking.  The theatre is used for sunrise services on Easter morning–at least it used to be.  I never attended one of those meetings, but I used to see them mentioned in the local news once a year.  These two hills are mostly sandstone, and the caves aren’t really caves, just hollows and overhangs.  Maybe I should call the rock mudstone–it isn’t the hard red sandstone you’d find in Sedona.  Behind the hills you can see the barren slopes of Camelback Mountain–the highest peak in the Phoenix area.  Camelback and its attendant hills is actually about ten miles northwest of the McDowell hills, and there is no way on Earth to stand between them and line them up with Camelback the way the picture shows it.  This view is of the southern face of the mountain, and it doesn’t show all the multi-millionaires’ mansions that cover the bottom half of the mountain.  They are fabulous residences indeed, and I have always wanted to live in one, but that will never happen–that is the domain of the super wealthy in Phoenix. (While I”m bragging, let me state that I once climbed to the top of Camelback Mountain also, back in the 90s, and that was the most exhausting climb and descent I’ve ever done.  You have to go up the back (north side) of the mountain which has a totally different character.)  I love that picture in the bank, but it is totally unreal.  Incidentally, the bright sun-like object in the lower left corner of the picture is a reflection of the flash from my camera–the mural itself is glazed and has a kind of shiny quality to it.

The picture in the bank made me think of visiting Papago Park, one of several huge city parks in the Phoenix area.  The park is the site of the Phoenix Zoo, and of the Desert Botanical Gardens.  There are also plenty of ramadas scattered throughout it for people who would like to sit down and picnic.

Entrance to the Phoenix Zoo.

Someday I’ll visit the zoo again with my camera and take pictures–some day in the winter.  The zoo requires a lot of walking, and I’m not very good with walking right now.  This is the entrance to it–a stone bridge across a lagoon full of fish and ducks.  Feeding the waterbirds from atop the bridge is always fun–they paddle so desperately to be first to get the bread crumbs or popcorn that visitors throw down to them.  I took this picture because I got lost in the zoo’s parking lot–not very full that day–and saw the giant globe over the entrance.  I’m not sure why the Phoenix Zoo has a giant world globe presiding over the entrance, but it does. If you use your imagination, you can just see Arizona up there in the northwestern curve of the globe–slightly to the right and above Baja Caliornia.

Leaving the zoo behind, I next went to my true destination in the park–Hole-in-the-Rock.  This place is another one of the “Wonders of Phoenix” (my term), and has always had a kind of special significance to me.  Erosion has drilled a hole right through one of the pink mudstone hills that make this part of the desert distinctive.  Centuries ago the Hohokam people, who had an extensive culture of irrigated towns and villages here along the Salt River, used this natural feature as an astronomical observatory.  Way back in 1946 my father met my mother here in Phoenix, and he told me that he used to take her out to Hole-in-the-Rock on midnight dates.  I’ve always imagined that I might have been conceived in this area.

Road leading to Hole-in-the-Rock.

Like other eminences I have made a point of climbing to the top of Hole-in-the-Rock, way back in the day.  It isn’t an easy job, the rock is slick, almost vertical, and has few hand and footholds.  You must press yourself flat against the rock and spider your way up it moving from one hand or foothold to the next to reach the top.  One of my favorite memories is of the night in the late 70s when I decided to show Hole-in-the-Rock to my friends Liz Danforth and Bear Peters.  Of course we climbed it that night–we were young and adventurous, and never stopped to consider the broken bones we’d be likely to have if we fell.  Actually, getting to the hole itself is a piece of cake.  There is a path on the back side of the hill that leads right to it–no more difficult than climbing a (very long) flight of stairs.

This is a closer view. I am parked almost at the foot of the hill, and you have a better view of the hole and the cave that it leads to.  I used to take my children here to watch the desert, and count the airplanes taking off from Sky Harbor International Airport, some ten miles to the southwest. 

While I was in this part of the park/desert I stopped and took a picture of the back side of one of those mudstone hills you can see in the bank’s picture.

 

This is a good shot of the lush Arizona desert, and you can see the cave-riddled hills in the background.  They really aren’t that high–perhaps a couple of hundred feet, but the strangely melted appearance has made some writers imagine that they are all that is left after nuclear bombs went off–perhaps thousands of years ago. 

Not far from Hole-in-the-Rock is another bizarre little local wonder that almost nobody in Phoenix knows about.

Buried like an Egyptian Pharoah.

This is Hunt’s Tomb.  George W. P. Hunt was the first Governor of the State of Arizona, and he served for seven terms.  You can read a little bit about this landmark here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hunt%27s_Tomb  It seems that I have always known about this place–my father showed it to me when I was a child at the same time that he showed me Hole-in-the-Rock.  I have, in turn, showed it to my children, Jillian and James.  I wonder if they will remember it.

Hunt’s Tomb is a good lookout point for seeing the eastern regions of the valley.  While I was there, I took a few more shots showing the different mountains that surround Phoenix.  Although my city is in a valley, there are mountains around it in all directions.

This one shows Camelback Mountain off in the far distance.  Do you see how the bottoms of the cumulo-nimbus clouds in the sky are turning dark?  This was perhaps my first clue that a storm was coming.

Looking toward the South Mountains over the back side of the Phoenix Zoo.

South of Phoenix lies a short range of mountains named aptly enough The South Mountains.  The whole range has been made into a city park, and is, I believe the largest city park in the world.  Notice the darkness in the western sky–the storm is gathering.

After I left Papago Park I went over and browsed through an antique shop in Scottsdale.  I took pictures there too, and that will be the subject of a future blog.  As I drove over there I listened to the car radio, and got a weather report–the voice on the radio said there was a 40% chance of thundershowers in the Phoenix area with gusts of wind possibly in the 80 to 90 mph range.  Yikes!  A 90 mph gust of wind is something to be reckoned with–as fallen trees and power lines all over the valley would later attest.

Leaving Scottsdale a little past noon, I noticed that the sky was becoming very ominous indeed.  I wanted a picture of it, but the problem was in finding a good place to stop the car and get one. This is the one I got.

The sky over Phoenix

By this time the wind was blowing strongly.  Actually it was already raining and hailing in the west valley some 20 or 30 miles away.  The chance of storms had gone from 40% to 100% as far as I was concerned  Later that afternoon the city would be blasted with a torrential downpour and hailstones the size of golf and tennis balls, striking in some places with enough force to smash through the windows of cars and buildings.

Ken and his adventuring companion--the little blue Kia--in the parking lot at Phoenix College.

I got my son James to take this picture of me when I picked him up at Phoenix College around 1 p.m. If you look at the sky, you can see that areas to the northwest were already being blasted by the storm.  But, not me, not yet.  I didn’t personally experience the storm until about 5 p.m. when I took James and Harley and myself off to Samurai Comics for an evening of Shadowfist gaming.  At that time I drove the car through as dense a downpour as I have ever seen.  Water was running a foot deep in the streets.  Visibility was perhaps 100 yards. We just missed a burst of hail on Camelback Road–I could see the ice in the streets as I drove.  With my typical adventurer’s luck, I escaped with only a little drenching when I parked the car and went into the comic shop.  Many others in Phoenix were not so fortunate.

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Posted October 6, 2010 by atroll in Uncategorized

Blood of Ambrose   5 comments

 

I wish I could write as well as James Enge, and by write, I don’t mean string words together in sequences.  I’ll match my vocabulary and command of the English language with anyone–I might not win, but it will always be a contest.  No, by writing, in this case, I mean plotting.  Some authors have the ability to complicate their stories to the point where the reader really can’t predict what’s going to happen any more.  They add characters.  They add complications.  The story just keeps getting better and better.  James Enge is one of those writers.  My friend, Michael A. Stackpole, is another, but I’m not talking about Mike right now.

I’ve just finished BLOOD OF AMBROSE by James Enge.  It’s my kind of book, heroic fantasy with wizards and swordsmen and dragons and undead things and various monsters.  There are plots and counterplots at the very highest level.  It seems that the throne of the Empire of Ontil is at stake, but keep reading and you will learn that the entire world is threatened.   King Lathmar VII is being threatened by Urdhven the Protector, an evil usurper who wants the throne for himself.  Urdhven has already slain the boy-king’s parents, seized control of the army, and taken the capital city.  As the book starts, the Protector is slaughtering Lathmar’s last few friends and kin.  The semi-immortal sorceress Lady Ambrosia, Lathmar’s grandmother many times removed, has to send for help from her despised wizardly brother Morlock.  Morlock and his Dwarf apprentice/companion Wyrth gets the call for help from a crow—Morlock has a treaty with the crows.  (grin)

And the book just keeps getting better from there.  I’m not going to recapitualate the plot, but I will say it’s definitely worth reading.  I want to finish this blog so that I can get away from the computer and start the second book: THIS CROOKED WAY, which continues the adventures of Morlock, master Seer and Maker, after he leaves Lathmar and the Empire of Ontil behind him.

What I want to do is ask some questions about modern fantasy.  Just things to think about–are they trends or truisms?

1.  In the early days of heroic fantasy, the genre was often called Swords and Sorcery.  Some say that Fritz Leiber coined the term.  Lin Carter popularized it.  I’m willing to give them the credit, I suppose, but I called it that way back when I was a kid in high school reading my first Conan and Grey Mouser stories, long before I learned that Leiber was supposed to have invented the term. What else would you call a type of literature characterized by heroic warriors who very often found themselves fighting against dastardly wizards?  Have you noticed how most of the books in heroic fantasy seem to focus more on the wizards than the swordsmen these days?  You don’t find many Conans, Thongors, or John Carters any more.  The heroes are all wizards, or at the very least rogue-wizards.  Michael Moorcock more or less started the Rogue-Wizard traditon with his Elric of Melnibone stories.  That series started in the early sixties, and was a rebellion even then against the simplistic swordsman vs. sorcerer tradition of Howard and Leiber.  It seems like every fantasy I pick up these days has a wizard for a hero.

2.  Which leads to the second question, are wizards intrinsically more interesting than swordsmen?  Who is the deeper character: Merlin or Arthur, Gandalf or Frodo, Elric or Conan, Spock or Kirk?  We can extend the analogy. Spock is a kind of scientific wizard–he pulls technological saves out of his Vulcan hat so often that Kirk, the swordsman prototype takes it for granted.  It quickly becomes apparent to anyone playing fantasy role-playing games that the magical characters are the ones that will develop into the most powerful and most likely to survive.

3.  Why are these fantasy worlds so earthlike?  Most heroic fantasies are clearly set on different worlds that are not Earth.  Enge sets his tale on the planet Laent.  The geography is non-earthlike, and there are three moons, but the animals are all creatures from Earth.  It is surprising how few animals are actually mentioned in this 400 page novel.  There are horses and crows and dragons–all creatures from Earth.  The people are recognizably human.  Such a setting makes sense if you can tie the world to Earth in some way–Tolkien, and Howard, and Moorcock all set their adventures on the Earth that existed before the modern continents took form.  Lin Carter does the same for his Thonor books.  Fritz Leiber set his adventures in the fantasy world of Nehwon, but at least one of his major adventures for the Grey Mouser and Fafhrd took place on Earth–Adept’s Gambit, the very best, IMHO, of the Mouser novels.  Is it a failure of imagination or is it absolute necessity that heroic fantasy worlds be near duplicates of Earth?

4.  Enge set his Blood of Ambrose series on a planet that is not Earth.  Why then does he tie it to Earth and paticularly why does he tie it to Arthurian Britain with characters named Merlin and Nimue Viviana?  Why is Latin the old secret language of magic?  It doesn’t just look like Latin–the author says it is Latin in the first book.

5.  These are questions I would ask Enge if I ever got to talk to the man.  Clearly he is a scholar of fantasy and knows exactly what he’s doing.  I don’t believe he is simply echoing popular names from Arthurian mythology when he talks about Merlin, Nimue, Uthar (Uther Pendragon was Arthur’s father and a hero in his own right.)  Is he simply using those names because he knows they will resonate with his readers?  That would be a cheap trick if you ask me, but if there is some deeper connection, then the cheap trick becomes a stroke of brilliance.  (It’s odd how the significance of things all depends on your point of view, isn’t it?)

In the final analysis, James Enge succeeds in the real task of any writer of escape fiction.  He tells a great story and entertains the reader–me in this case.  Long may he write!

 

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Posted October 5, 2010 by atroll in Uncategorized

The Wizard’s Tale   Leave a comment

 

 

I remember a time when Kurt Busiek wasn’t one of the three most famous comic writers in the world.  Look at him now.  He has done everything, written everything from X-Men to Superman, and worked with some of the best artists in the business.  Working with good artists is very important.  Kurt has found a really good one in David T. Wenzel who illustrated The Wizard’s Tale.

This is the tale of Bafflerog Rumplewhisker, the last in a long line of evil wizards.  As evil wizards go, he does more good than harm, but at least he pays lip service to the Council of Evil Wizards. The time comes when he can’t sit on the sidelines any longer.  He must travel through time and space to recover the Book of Worse–the ultimate evil grimoire.  How he succeeds, who he meets (a faded princess), and what happens to the Land of Lune are the meat of the story.  You should read it if you like fantasy at all.

This is no epic fantasy, however.  It’s really just a showcase for the art of David Wenzel. Busiek hasn’t given us much more than a short story, but Wenzel has given us eye candy that could last forever. How do you stretch a short story into a 144 page graphic novel?  You do it by giving the reader lots of full page illustrations, and even some double-page illustrations.  The grotesque, the beautiful, and the magical fill every page and every panel to bursting. Here’s another sample of Wenzel’s artistic magic.

I rate The Wizard’s Tale as the best of all the grajphic novels that I grabbed from the library last week.  (I got 5 more today–grin.)  If someone were to give me one of them, this is the one I’d like.  If I found it while browsing in a used bookstore, this is the one I’d buy.  Even new, I’d say it’s worth every penny of its $24.99 retail cost.  This would make an excellent gift for that booklover you know who dotes on fantasy.

On a scale of five stars, I give it seven.  It’s that good.  My thanks to Mr. Busiek and Mr. Wenzel for creating this masterpiece.

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Posted October 2, 2010 by atroll in Uncategorized