Archive for Shambleau and others

Brief Reflections from The Dark Tower

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on September 21, 2010 by Aaron

I recently finished listening to the Dark Tower series by Stephen King.  This is the second time I’ve listened to it, the first being about four years ago.  It’s very good.  At least, I enjoy it immensely.  The reason I mention it here is that Mr King throughout the seven books in the series alludes to or directly mentions many, many literary figures, their books and their creations.  Just by way of example, Arthurian legend figures prominently, The Wizard of Oz and Frank L. Baum are ascendant at one point, the similarities to The Lord of the Rings are unmistakable, Dr Seuss, Harry Potter, Robert Heinlein, Richard Adams… the list goes on and on.  Movies and TV series are similarly referenced.  Check out the series’ Intertextual References section at wikipedia. The series is a bibliophile’s (especially an SF&F bibliophile’s) trainspotting paradise.

Of interest to us here are the references to works from Gnome Press.  I picked up two concrete references and one that I’m not so sure about.  The most obvious example is the name of one of the organizations that the Crimson King uses as a front and that manufactured most of the technology that is now decaying in Roland’s world – ‘Northwest Positronics’.  The obvious reference is to the kind of brain that Isaac Asimov’s robots have in I, Robot – they have positronic brains.  Just as I write this, it occurs to me that the ‘Northwest’ part could potentially be a reference to Northwest Smith – C.L. Moore’s erstwhile gunslinging spaceman from Gnome titles Shambleau & Others and Northwest of Earth.  Just now, as I wrote that, it also occurred to me that I might not be drawing such a long bow here.  Northwest Smith is indeed a gunslinger unmistakeably cut from the same cloth as Roland of Giliad.

Next, Calvin Tower, obsessive book collector and proprietor of The Manhattan Restaurant of the Mind, calls young Jake a ‘Hyperborean wanderer’ when Jake picks up his copies of Charlie the Choo Choo and the book of riddles.  Again, this is an unambiguous reference to the Conan the Barbarian series, Hyperborea lying somewhat to the north of Conan’s homeland.  This is probably also a nod to Clark Ashton Smith who is also referenced a couple of times in the series.

The third reference I detected is less direct.  When Pere Callahan is telling his story to Roland’s ka-tet as they wait for the ‘wolves’ to descend on the town of Calla Bryn Sturgis, he calls his world-shifting wanderings across parallel versions of the United States, his journeys through ‘highways in hiding’.  Now, if this was just mentioned once, I might dismiss this as a coincidence, but it is specifically referred to in that way at least four or five times.  Too many, in my opinion, to not be a nod to George O. Smith’s 1955 book Highways in Hiding – the latest to be added to my Gnome Press collection.

There we go.  Apologies for the largely unexplained references to characters and situations in the Dark Tower series, but do yourself a favor and read (or listen to) it.  It’ll make sense then, and you’ll also have a ball trying to catch all those references.  Not to mention enjoying a wonderful story.

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Review: Shambleau and Others

Posted in 1953, 4:Stellar!, Review with tags , , , on August 28, 2009 by Aaron

C.L. Moore
1953

Catherine Lucille Moore is probably the better known half of the Lewis Padgett team.  Her husband Henry Kuttner – the opposite half – being more prolific but writing under numerous pseudonyms.  I use the phrase ‘opposite half’ here for good reason.  I read Padgett’s ‘Robots Have No Tails’ several months ago (see the Close Up & Review) and since discovered that it was in fact as claimed by Moore herself, penned entirely by Kuttner.  These two books provide an interesting basis for comparison and I do indeed find Ms Moore’s and Mr Kuttner’s styles to be opposite.  ‘Robots’ is light, whimsical, funny and is a breeze to read.  ‘Shambleau’ is very, very different.  Dark, heavy and serious are words I’d use to describe Ms Moore’s work here.

While we are touching on the style of prose in this book, a couple of other authors sprang to mind while I was reading.  It didn’t take long for me to identify similarities with H.P. Lovecraft.  Quite often a turn of phrase here, or a word there would remind me of the great man.  Here is an example as Northwest Smith reflects upon “fearful symmetry” as he regards Thag – the Tree of Life – for the first time.

Truly a more than human agency must have arched these subtle curves so delicately into dreadfulness, into such an awful beauty that the very sight of it made those atavistic terrors he was so sternly holding down leap in a gibbering terror.

The Tree of Life, p153/154

I’m sure you’ll agree, this could be lifted straight out of any Lovecraft story.  I’m not suggesting C.L. Moore is an H.P.L. knock off, just illustrating how similar the prose is at times, and apparently Mr Lovecraft was a fan of Ms Moore’s according to a brief biography at Red Jacket Press.  I think I would place her in a stylistic space somewhere between Lovecraft for the darkness and depth, Clark Ashton Smith for slightly less archaic expression of the same and Mervyn Peake for her descriptive use and control of color.  Color features very heavily in every tale; she uses it very well to help us enter and visualize her stories.

Well, enough observation on the style front, what about the stories themselves??

This collection consists of four Northwest Smith stories and three Jirel of Joiry tales.  Each of the seven is an excellent entertaining (if dark) read.  But first, lets get the negative out of the way.  The structure of the stories are the same.  If we look at the four Northwest Smith tales, they all go something like this:

  • Smith is hanging out somewhere on some unnamed errand/mission.
  • Some unexpected person appears or random event happens.
  • Smith gets sidetracked into some sort of alternate dimension.
  • After a cool little adventure, Smith saves the day or otherwise escapes.
  • Smith’s nefarious life gets back on track.

You could more or less throw the same blanket over the Jirel tales as well.  This gave all the stories a kind of sameness that bugged me a little.  But, Ms Moore’s aforementioned wonderful style overrode this structural similarity and allowed me to just enjoy each.

On the positive side, I keep mentioning the style as a big plus, but also we get to know these characters very well.  They are very similar in many ways despite being of opposite genders.  Hard, uncompromising, strong, practical, and at the end of each tale it isn’t Jirel’s prowess with the sword, or Smith’s speed and skill with his blaster that come through as the determining factors, it’s their mental strength that enable them to overcome the sticky situations they find themselves in.  Indeed, there is very little physical action at all throughout this collection.  This is part of the reason why for me these individuals are elevated beyond the archetypal hero of typical pulp fare, and into the realms of true literary characters.  They have so much, well… character.

Thank you C.L. Moore, you have introduced me to two people that will stay with me forever:  Jirel of Joiry and Northwest Smith.  Now I can’t wait to read the GP collection ‘Northwest of Earth’ for more dark adventures with these true heroes from the golden age of science fiction.

Close Up: Shambleau And Others

Posted in 1953, Close Up with tags , , on August 10, 2009 by Aaron

closeupC.L. Moore
1953

I live in South Korea as you might know, but searching the wonderful Internet, I found this copy in New Zealand a few weeks ago.  I’m a Kiwi, and I was going back to NZ for summer vacation, so I purchased this (along with a couple of other GP titles) and had it sent to my folks house to await my arrival.  I knew the significant flaw it had, but aside from that I also knew it was pretty good.  It met my expectations.

Now, I’m in a bit of a quandary as to how to grade this.  I hope someone can offer an opinion.  I think this is a solid Near Fine if not for that darned flaw.  I’m just not sure how far to downgrade it.  Have a look.
You can see it in this pic, but before we focus on it, let’s enjoy the good stuff.  The cover is just a little soiled but still nice and bright.  The art is another super Ric Binkley special.  Edges are nice as you can see.
A bit of reflection down the spine – I shot this outside in the fantastic sunshine of my hometown, Napier, not in the semi-controlled pseudo-lightbox I have back in Korea.  Sunshine isn’t exactly the best, but it’s served it’s purpose here. You can see a bit of darkening on the bottom of the front board in the center – this comes from reading the book without a dust jacket on.  Otherwise, aside from that and the ever-present bruising on the head and tail of the spine the boards are nice.
If we crack it open there is some foxing on the rear free endpaper.

Strangely enough, the rest of the book is free from such blemishes.


The block looks nice.  Very white and the spine sits nice and square.  A couple of spots on the top there and the edges of the jacket are a touch worn.  From the bottom you can see the big problem.  Lets take a closer look.
 
Big tear, not good.  It speaks for itself.
The spine extremities are reasonable though.


A small amount of general wear.  A bit of unfortunate chipping to the book at these points however.  If we flip it over and check out the back at the top there is a short closed tear.

Nothing too major though.  The back is reasonably clean and clear.

Looks good.  All in all a pretty nice copy of a sought-after book.

Year: 1953
Paid: $31
Art: Ric Binkley
Quantity: 4000 copies
Binding: Green boards with deep red lettering on spine.
GP Edition Notes: 1st edition so stated.
Comments: That darned tear is the big let-down. Despite this, $31 is a darned good price for a very popular and usually pricey title.
Expand Upon: wikipedia.com, Internet Speculative Fiction Database

condition

And a couple more…

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on July 15, 2009 by Aaron

Just sealed the deal for a copy of Clifford D. Simak‘s Cosmic Engineers – first binding and in Fine condition for $98.  This is from the same chap whom I got ‘Pattern for Conquest’ from.  If the condition is anything like that (and he assured me it was) then I have another fantastic book heading my way.

Also I picked up another copy of ‘Space Lawyer’ from a dealer in New Zealand for $27.  It was difficult to tell from the pic, but it looks in pretty much the same condition as the copy I already have.

In another New Zealand purchase, I have the acquisition of a copy of Shambleau and others by C.L. Moore for less than $40 in progress.  It looks to be in VG+ condition, another excellent buy.