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Thursday, September 29, 2011

Robert E. Howard's Map

Seems like most fantasy authors these days build worlds from scratch for their characters to quest through. Not the case with some of the pioneers in the genre, I would guess.

I'm far from an expert on Tolkien, but the fact that his most famous fictional setting was a place called "Middle Earth" suggests that he intended some sort of connection with historic reality.

When introduced to Robert E. Howard's fantasy, I first assumed the Conan character's home world had been built from scratch, so foreign were most of the geographic and ethnic terms to me at the time. But as I delved deeper, I discovered clues now and then (some subtle, some huge) that Conan's world was Earth...maybe just in some sort of alternate history. (A whopper of a clue happened in the John Millius film when the Cimmerians are called "Northmen".)

In time, I came to understand that Conan did, indeed, live on Earth--but during the "Hyborian Age." From then on, I couldn't read a Conan story without trying to figure out how his geography fit into the maps I was familiar with. Some of it was determinable by logical means, like the Land of Shem and the Pictish Wilderness. But much of it left me scratching my head.

That's why I was delighted to discover a reproduction of this map, sketched by Howard himself, in which you can easily discern Europe, the Middle East and North Africa underneath his Hyborian boundaries. Now I (and you) have this handy reference to help us trace the barbarian's footsteps.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Celebrate Cheap Kindle Books!

Hello 2-Fisted Blogees. Just a quick note to tell you about Daily Cheap Reads--a site where all books are $5 or less.

You may think I'm crazy for plugging the competition like this. Well, selling books is not a zero-sum game, as others have pointed out. People who like to read don't stop after the first book they buy, then never read again. Plus, the focus of Daily Cheap Reads is different from Virtual Pulp Press. There is some overlap in our target demographics, but I can live with that.

Most of the books featured at Daily Cheap Reads have at least 5 reviews on Amazon, so vetting is fairly easy. I hope you'll go check their site out. With all the changes happening in the publishing industry, this may be the best book lovers have ever had it.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Good News For Pulpy Action Adventure Fans Part 2

It's official! The Virtual Pulp bookstore is now open. I'm pasting an excerpt from the "about us" page below:
Ever since Quentin Tarantino's film, just about everyone is familiar with the term "pulp fiction." But do you know where he got that title?

Unlike highbrow literature from the 19th and 20th Century, pulp fiction was written entertainment for the regular guy, printed on the cheap paper from which it got its name.

Writers in pulp fiction gave the world escape from the dreary and mundane with heroes like Conan, Tarzan, Sam Spade and Buck Rogers. Over time, the pulps evolved into the action-adventure paperbacks of the 1960s-80s, as documented in Jack Badelaire's first issue of Hatchet Force. Characters like the Executioner, Nick Carter and Remo Williams inspired legions of imitators, as well as blazing a trail for other "men's fiction" authors to tittilate us with action adventure series set in WWII, the Wild West, the Banana Wars or outer space. Some of it was bad. Some of it was good. Most of it was great fun, giving us something to chuckle or smile about (however guiltily) for far longer than a feature-length film could entertain us.

Unfortunately, "men's fiction" had all but disappeared by the 1990s. Many avid readers quit visiting the book store over the succeeding years, since there were fewer and fewer books that appealed to them. Sure, some of the gutsy, testosterone-charged titles could still be found at used book stores, or thanks to online sellers, but either venue required hours of browsing to find the desired book among the multitudes of romances, chick-lit, horror and political or techno-"thrillers."

The good news is, there are developments coalescing to benefit those who enjoy reading pulp or pulpesque fiction. One such development is a renewed interest in the genre, represented in several blogs and Facebook pages/groups dedicated to the subject matter. Another promising trend is some great new fiction by talented authors inspired by the classics--some of which is arguably even better written than the inspirational source material.

Another significant victory for the genre is the opening of Virtual Pulp Press.

Unlike other online bookstores, Virtual Pulp Press is dedicated to a certain flavor of entertainment, and is focused on that whether the format is book or e-book; non-fiction, fiction, or film.

In days to come, I'll be working on making Virtual Pulp Press even better. For right now, I think it's pretty cool and worth all the work I put into it. I hope you will check it out, and tell somebody about it.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Feel Guilty, But Enjoy Plenty Gruesome Violence First

Somebody lent me the Condemned DVD and, with no internet connection at the crib, I burned up a couple hours watching it recently.

It's a scenario I've seen before: evil rich guy throws a bunch of desperate cutthroats into an elaborately controlled environment and has them fight to the death (Similar to The Running Man, in a way). The "twist" this time is that they're all death row prisoners from around the world. Evil Rich Dude's logic is, "They're gonna die anyway, so why can't I make a buck off it?"

OK--sounds logical, I guess. And there were some nice touches throughout the flick. But amidst all the splattering blood, the film makers kept going back to the theme of how inhuman the spectators can become in spectator sports. Sort of like the original Rollerball, only subtle.

As subtle as a 12-pound sledgehammer.

There were some real douche-bag characters in this flick, and the director employed all the usual tactics to make us want to see them suffer the same kind of torture and horrific deaths that they inflicted. And then we were supposed to feel guilty about it. "OMG! We're just as bad as the 40 million people paying to see this snuff circus on the internet! Maybe we're almost as bad as the eeveel capitalist scum that's getting rich off the whole thing!"

Yawn. OK, whatever. Let's get to the fighting, since that's really the appeal of this kind of film, ironic guilt messages notwithstanding.

Steve Austin...wasn't he an astronaut who suffered a terrible accident, then wound up with bionic legs, arm and eye?

I like old western movies, alright? But even so, I admit they had some of the most ridiculous fight scenes ever filmed: 20-minute bare-knuckle brawls. Punches telegraphed from two miles away. Men on the receiving end of those dramatic haymakers standing around waiting to get hit (when it was their turn). Heros flooring villains with said haymakers, then stooping down to pull the villain to his feet in order to hit him again.

Well, the fight coreography in this flick was that bad. Not just with fists, either. The sadistic, murderous ex-SAS dude was given a bow with arrows. Twice he had our hero dead to rights, but didn't take a shot. One of those times, rather than launch an arrow into Austin's considerable target area from his protected position on high ground, he jumps down to Austin's level to menace him with the bow at melee range.

I guess classic westerns have some stiff competition for Most Ridiculous Fight Scenes in "professional wrestling." That's where I think Austin came from and probably what influenced the stupid fighting.

Movies like this are hard to pull off, I guess. Especially when they take their hackneyed message too seriously.