For Someone Who Hates Fantasy, I Sure Do Read a Lot of It

During the interview I did recently for the Southern Fried Inkslingers podcast (hosted by the indomitable team of Brad and Walter — thanks again guys, it was hella fun), I let slip (well, more like shotgunned) that I hate fantasy.

Since then, I have come to the conclusion that answer was somewhat disingenuous.

It was the kind of flip answer I gave to most of the questions that day, and like my other answers, probably only half-true, if that. And no, I can’t and won’t blame the tumblers of scotch I was downing — do not blame them, they did nothing wrong, never blame them. So I guess I have to blame my own instinct never to tell the truth when a lie is funnier. But that’s besides the point.

Thing is, I actually don’t hate fantasy. Don’t get me wrong, a lot of fantasy deserves to be hated (I’m looking at you contemporary fantasy and the Tolkieny stuff with elves) and I do hate it with at least three chambers of my fat-clogged heart, but there is some fantasy that, frankly, I can’t get enough of.

Moorcock’s Elric cycle was the first fantasy that ever got me to stop reading sci-fi for any period of time. I devoured everything Elric in my teens. Didn’t much care for Moorcock’s other fantasies, but Elric, king of a dying race, and his soul-stealing sword, that was some great shit. Pulpy, with a fine sense of dread, chaos, and decay, it spoke to me, the same way cyberpunk did.

But then I grew out of it. Twenty years went by. The extent of my fantasy reading was finally slogging through Lord of the Rings, just so I’d know how the movies would go, and a single Pratchett book I can’t even remember the plot of.

And then, one day, I was browsing a book store, bored, and there was Conan. A new collection of Howard’s Conan stories, a three volume trade paperback set. Don’t know why I did — maybe it was the world-building notes in the back — but I bought ’em, and I’ve read them cover to cover over and over since, the way I used to re-read Neuromancer every year.

Howard’s writing, pulpy but breezy and vital, hooked me, and his themes… you want to talk dread and chaos and decay, his Conan yarns positively drip with the stuff. I was, and am, blown away by his stories — they are some of the finest ever written.

But there weren’t that many of them. A little more than a dozen to obsess over. How’d that happen? Seriously.

Okay, sure, other writers have taken on Conan, but I figured they would be pale pastiches not worth my time, so I never even bothered.

Until a week back.

That’s when I saw it in the Half-Price Books… The novelization of Conan the Destroyer. Yes, that Conan the Destroyer. And holy shit, they actually novelized it? What an amazing universe we live in where this kind of thing can happen, I thought, and snapped it up.

I bought it for the novelty, not because I had any hopes the writing would be anything more than your average dashed-off cash-in movie tie-in — and I knew with certainty there was no way it could be anywhere near Howard.

But that assumption didn’t count on Robert Jordan. Yeah, that Robert Jordan, of the Wheel of Time cycle. Which, by the way and no surprise, I couldn’t read more than a half chapter of before giving up.

But his Conan… that just blew me away. Go figure. Novelization or no, his Destroyer was pulpy and vital and plain fun. Worthy of continuing Howard’s stories and my time.

In the facts I didn’t know department, turns out Jordan wrote a lot of Conan before he went all Wheel of Time, and he was damn good. So now, I’m tracking down every bit of Conan Jordan ever wrote.

The moral of this tale: Buy a novelization every once in awhile. They might just surprise you.

And no, not gonna revisit the Wheel of Time. I know my limits.


This Is The Way The World Ends, Not With A Bang But With A Reboot

Okay, saw Prometheus over the weekend. Many words have been written (and will be written) on the quality of the film, and many people have already used more or less the exact words I would have used were I a better writer (Gammasquad and Chuck Wendig especially), so I won’t add to the din and cry here except to say, Prometheus is one big splotchy, badly written steaming pile of a money grab made by a director who should have known better than try to recapture the magic of a perfect film by essentially remaking it.

Yes, remaking it. Prometheus is less a prequel than a reboot, really. And reboots are going to be the death of us all.

Now don’t get me wrong. Some movies demand to be remade (I’m looking at you, Judge Dredd). But Alien is not one of them. (And anyway, it’s already been remade, what, at least two other times as official sequels, 3 and Resurrection, and knocked-off at least a dozen times more–Leviathan et. al.) Neither is Robocop. Nor Total Recall. Nor Fright Night. Nor Psycho. Nor The Day the Earth Stood Still. Nor Carpenter’s The Thing. Nor Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Nor, especially, Conan or Evil Dead. Yet we’ve had to suffer through (or will soon have to suffer through) them all and more.

And they’re not just rebooting older films, either. The new Spiderman movie — that’s rebooting a movie that’s barely ten years old. They’ve rebooted the Hulk. And there’s even talk of rebooting Batman, and Nolan’s Dark Knight Rises isn’t even out yet–essentially instantly rebooting a reboot.

Isn’t it enough we’ve had to suffer more than a decade of reality TV? Must we now have to watch the same movie over and over again, with each iteration inevitably worse that the one before it? Yes, because the handful of studios that control the movies are in it to make money, and good or bad, people flock to reboots. It’s all about the moolah, folks.

Which is all well and fine — rah rah capitalism and all that — but if this trend continues, I predict that sooner than later, like this Fall, we will see movies rebooted on a bi-weekly schedule, with the same film re-released every two weeks with upgraded special effects (taking advantage of that 14 days worth of improvement in computing  power), and all the actors simply replaced via digital insertion with new actors chosen by American Idol-like TV competitions.

And what’s so wrong with that, you ask?

Think Chumley as Luke Skywalker, William Hung as Han Solo, and Kim Kardashian as Chewbacca — that’s what is damn well wrong with that.

And that, that’s the Apocalypse, baby.

Nine TV Series That Could Have Been So Much Cooler If Only…

There are a lot of great TV series out there. But even the best series could be better,  if only…

  • Lost – They edited out all the flashbacks, flashforwards, and especially the flashsideways. Time travel episodes — the Constant, I’m looking at you — exempted.
  • Battlestar Galactica (New) – The cylons had just nuked New Caprica when they arrived at the end of the second season, exterminating humanity once and for all and avoiding that whole Final Five nonsense.
  • Doctor Who (New) – Amy Pond gave in to her here-to-fore unannounced and unexplored transparent clothes fetish.
  • Hawaii Five-O (Classic) – At the end of Army of Darkness, instead of returning to the S-Mart, Ash traveled to 1968 so Bruce Campbell could  replace Jack Lord as Steve McGarrett for the entire run of the show.
  • Lost in Space – Robot convinced the family to eat Will, then put them all on trial for cannibalism, and after they were all convicted and hung, made himself a Dr. Smith skin suit and set himself up as Supreme Warlord of the Galaxy.
  • Murder She Wrote – Jessica Fletcher was the murder victim in every episode.
  • Firefly – Was still on the air, and Wash wasn’t dead.
  • CBS Nightly News – Dan Rather read every line of every story as a question.
  • Big Bang Theory – It was 22 minutes of white noise. 


Christmas Means A Lot To My Alien Master

A Holiday Vignette by J.I.Greco

I am standing in the toy aisle at Wal-Mart, the week before Christmas. I am eight years old and my entire universe is temporarily defined by the few square feet of shelf space in front of me, crammed with Episode Seven figures, marked down for the holiday. Priced to sell. Wouldn’t sell otherwise.

The movie had been less than one could have hoped, of course, even to my young, somewhat uncritical mind, but the figures… the aliens, especially… now they are something to drool over. Nothing like the real aliens, the ones that had appeared barely a month ago, shocking the world not with their effortless takeover but their lack of serious imposition on humanity and her governments afterwards. But the plastic and micro-chipped toys with their vocal samples and limited robomotion, they are as close as I am going to get anytime soon.

Continue reading