30 August 2011

Edgar Rice Burroughs’s Venus, Part 2: Lost on Venus

Cross-posted to Black Gate.

The parade on the second planet continues in Lost on Venus. This one of the most controversial works that Edgar Rice Burroughs ever published, although it surprises me that enough readers managed to get through the lackluster first book, Pirates of Venus, to want to pick up the sequel and be able to argue about it. But here it is, so get out your anti-tharban gear and be ready to test your genetic purity!

Our Saga: The adventures of one Mr. Carson Napier, former stuntman and amateur rocketeer, who tries to get to Mars and ends up on Venus, a.k.a. Amtor, instead. There he discovers a lush jungle planet of bizarre creatures and humanoids who have uncovered the secret of longevity. The planet is caught in a battle between the country of Vepaja and the tyrannical Thorists. Carson finds time during his adventuring to fall for Duare, forbidden daughter of a Vepajan king. Carson’s story covers three novels, a volume of connected novelettes, and an orphaned novella.

Previous Installments: Pirates of Venus (1932).

Today’s Installment: Lost on Venus (1933)

Secret Origin

Burroughs completed Lost on Venus in early 1932, before Pirates of Venus made its first appearance as a serial in the pulp elder-statesmen magazine, Argosy. Since the first novel hardly “ended” at all, Lost on Venus picks up the story moments later, and with only a short gap between the two serials in Argosy.

The cliffhanger had Carson Napier on the continent of Noobol in the clutches of the Venusan version of communists: the Thorists. The Thorists didn’t do much in Pirates of Venus; will they make up for it here? Oh, someone is apparently going to get lost. Burroughs was superb at getting his characters lost, so this has promise.

By the way, Edgar Rice Burroughs held some controversial views. Just giving you the heads-up on that.

26 August 2011

A (Pleasant) Open Letter to Jason Momoa Regarding Conan the Barbarian (2011)

I thought about doing a full review of the new Conan the Barbarian movie on Black Gate. However, John Fultz put his well-done review out first. Honestly, I was relieved. The movie was not showing at my local theater—which is strange since the AMC Century City 15 gets all the big new releases—and I didn’t feel like driving out to see it that opening weekend. I was still recovering from a bad cold, so I would wait. Perhaps I would put a review on my blog instead once I got out to the theater.

I saw the film this morning (mysteriously, it moved into the AMC 15 the week after it opened and flopped), and again debated writing a complete review. I was penning it in my head as the movie ran before my eyes. But, no. I have other things to do. Instead of a review, I would like to offer this letter to Jason Momoa, who plays Conan in the new film.

23 August 2011

Edgar Rice Burroughs’s Venus, Part 1: Pirates of Venus

Cross-posted to Black Gate.

Next year brings the hundredth anniversary of Edgar Rice Burroughs’s first two published novels: A Princess of Mars and Tarzan of the Apes, as well as a big-budget film version of A Princess of Mars from Disney. (The film is saddled with the unfortunately bland title of John Carter. Fear of a Red Planet?) The effect these novels had on popular cultural was immense: they created a whole medium, they altered the nature of reading for pleasure. Pulp magazines already existed before Edgar Rice Burroughs had the idea he could write better than the tripe found in the publications where he was working to place ads. But it was the success of first Under the Moons of Mars (the serial title for A Princess of Mars) and then Tarzan of the Apes that made the pulps into the artillery of the Reader Revolution. The pulps turned the U.S. into a nation of readers, and ERB fired the first two shots in the revolution.

Then, twenty years into the revolution, he fired off the few rounds of the “Venus” series.

I have planned some festivities for the upcoming centenary of the Burroughs Upheaval. One is an ambitious project I have wanted to try on Black Gate for the last two years. But as a prologue to my 2012 ERB projects here in 2011, I present a look at Burroughs’s least popular series, the last one he started before his death.

These posts will have a different structure from my usual free-form analysis style. Inspired by columns I’ve seen on the movie review sites I frequent, I’ve laid out a template for tackling each of the five installments of the Edgar Rice Burroughs “Venus Saga.” An experiment? Or an admission that trying to go academic on this series feels like the wrong approach? I’m not sure myself, but here it goes. . . .

15 August 2011

The Daily Mail Interviews Me about Clark Ashton Smith

Cross-posted to Black Gate.

Sunday was the fiftieth anniversary of the death of Clark Ashton Smith. We morbid fans of a writer with a delectable taste for morbidity love to celebrate death anniversaries as much as birth ones, and the seduction of the half-century mark is too great to dismiss.

My own celebration ended up in the hands of others, however. Two weeks ago, Jim Planck, an editor for The Daily Mail, a New York State newspaper, contacted me about doing an interview to commemorate Clark Ashton Smith’s death for a Sunday feature. He had come across my articles on Smith on Black Gate (here, here, here, and here) as well as on my website, and thought I could contribute to the article.

It’s flattering to realize that others have started to view you as an expert on one of your favorite authors. I dream that one day a publisher will ask me to edit and/or write an introduction to a collection of the works of either Clark Ashton Smith or Cornell Woolrich.

The Daily Mail Sunday edition does appear on-line, but the C-1 section of the paper doesn’t. (And unless you live in the Catskills and have access to the Daily Mail or its sister paper out of Hudson, NY, The Register-Star, you won’t be able to see it in print.) I’ve brought the full text of the interview over to Black Gate and here so you can hear me heap more praise on CAS.

09 August 2011

Book Review: Two Sixes

Two Sixes (1999)
By Frederick Faust writing as Max Brand

The career of the pen name “Max Brand” experienced a resurgence in the mid-1990s. The growth of Popular Culture Studies during the decade meant that many authors dismissed before because they wrote genre novels for the masses now emerged as writers of major value. The “Max Brand” disguise came off—partially, as the name still exists as a trademark and on the book covers—and critics began to look at the man beneath, Frederick Faust, and his remarkable—and gargantuan—body of popular literature.

A consequence of the renewed interest in Faust was that many of his novellas started to get into print. Most of the work published before under the Max Brand name was from his book-length serials. But Faust wrote a voluminous number of novellas between 20,000 and 40,000 words. In 1923, the year of Dan Barry’s Daughter and the two of the stories collected in the 1999 anthology Two Sixes, he published sixteen novellas, or “short novels” as the pulps advertised them.

The new line of Max Brand books that appeared in the mid-1990s gathered many of these novellas into collections. A volume usually contains three, and the hardcover editions from the Circle V subtitled them “A Western Trilogy.” The majority of these novellas have never been printed before in book form, meaning that forty years after his death, Frederick Faust was putting out never-before published books at a steady rate of about three a year.

08 August 2011

Movie Review: Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)
Directed by Rupert Wyatt. Starring Andy Serkis, James Franco, John Lithgow, Brian Cox, Freida Pinko.

Cross-posted to Black Gate.

This one may take me a while to process.

At the moment, I know that Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a good movie. Dramatic, exciting, technically marvelous, intelligent. But I need more time to figure out if it is a great movie. I don’t mean over a couple of weeks, or even months. This film may require years before I can grasp how it stands in the science-fiction world. It feels possible that Rise of the Planet of the Apes will achieve the status of a movie that people watch over and over again on whatever the top home video device of the day will be, and which will sell perennially in each new “Special Edition” released. Or, it might become a modest good memory, a film people return to occasionally but don’t think about much beyond saying, “That ‘Apes reboot thingy’ was a sort of cool flick. Hey, let’s watch Inception again!”

Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a movie that is either good or great, and I won’t feel comfortable placing a ten-dollar chip on either square at the moment. I only know that I enjoyed it more than anything else this summer, fannish Captain America love excepted.

05 August 2011

Nerd Central: Paul Williams Sings in His Battle for the Planet of the Apes Make-up

The collision of Paul Williams, the Planet of the Apes franchise, Johnny Carson, and a jazz classic is too much love for me to take. With this week’s release of Rise of the Planet of the Apes, I expected some “Apes Ephemera” to appear—and this clip from The Tonight Show from 1973, an official release, not some old VCR copy—is an unexpected joy.

Paul Williams, already a famous songwriter but before his three great film scores—Phantom of the Paradise, Bugsy Malone, and The Muppet Movie—is one of the best aspects of the otherwise worst of the original “Apes” series, 1973’s Battle for the Planet of the Apes. Williams has the right stature, carriage, and voice to convincingly play the orangutang character Virgil. Cementing everything I’ve heard about Williams—that he’s a totally cool guy—he wanders onto Carson’s stage in full Virgil make-up and croons “Here’s That Rainy Day.” I can’t express to you how much this makes me smile.

An extra twist on this: “Here’s That Rainy Day,” written in 1953, was Johnny Carson’s favorite ballad, and he sung it with Bette Midler on his second-to-last night hosting The Tonight Show. It was also performed in tribute to him after his death. Good song choice, Paul!

By the way, when this was first broadcast, I was less than three weeks old. My mom probably caught it on the TV when she was trying to get me to go to sleep.

01 August 2011

Movie Review: Cowboys & Aliens

Cowboys & Aliens (2011)
Directed by John Favreau. Starring Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Olvia Wilde, Sam Rockwell, Keith Carradine, Clancy Brown, Paul Dano.

Cross-posted to Black Gate.

Thunderation, aliens. We was havin’ ourselves a fine little Western show here in this town of Absolution. Then you come riding in, a-blastin’ and burnin’ everything like it was a Saturday night after the cowpokes got paid and the whiskey gone dry. You turned our durned movie into about as interesting a place as a salt flat. Hell, we had almost made this Ford fella entertaining again, and it ain’t been since the War of the Southern Rebellion that folks enjoyed anything that city slicker’s done.

So thanks fer nuttin’, alien varmints. Ain’t you got plenty a’ other moving pictures this year that you’re blowing your cannons in? Now stay on yer side of the barb-wire fence, and if we catch you branding one of our cattle again with those laser doohickies, we’re pulling leather on you and leavin’ you for the buzzards and worms who ain’t particular about what their chow is.