Monday, March 31, 2014

Hollywood is beyond desperate: Captain Planet movie

Y'know, I try not to post negative stuff on this blog. There's plenty of negativity out in the world already. I don't like whining, and I only bash when it is absolutely necessary. I prefer to promote that which is fun, good and enjoyable in the hopes that readers will take joy in what they find.

Alas, we all have an evil side, and mine is popping up right now. Normally I have it chained up in my mental basement, but on occasion it has to be set loose. For the greater good you understand.

Why? Tis a complex issue that is not easy to sort out... Actually, no, that's not true at all. It's darned simple. Allow me to explain, you'll just have to bear with me for a bit.

Remember the 90's cartoon Captain Planet? That animated propaganda designed to brainwash children into good little environmentalists? We all do. Almost nobody liked it, and anyone who did grew up and realized how utterly retarded it was. Those who didn't joined Green Peace. Let's not beat around the bush here, Captain Planet sucked. Like wow, was it dumb. It had all the subtlety of a cinderblock to the face and was about as relatable and realistic as... Y'know what, I can't even think up an adequate hyperbole. Suffice it to say, it was unbearably dumb.

So you can perhaps get just a brief glimpse of what transpired in my head when I heard that there was a Captain Planet movie being put through production. No, I'm not making this up. There are no details of any kind, but someone is trying to make this happen. Seriously. I'm so not kidding.

When I first heard of this I felt a mixture of disbelief and something resembling anger, although I truly can't put a word to what I felt. It was just odd. I bemoaned the idea of this idiocy being put through production, and that is when my evil side came out and whispered secrets that could only appeal to a cynical mastermind too lazy to take over the world.

Me when my evil side spoke of his plan

You see, almost instantly after my horrific discovery I actually found myself hoping this movie would get made. Even now I have my fingers crossed that it will get made. I hope that the studios with their environmentalist yuppies pounce on the idea and throw everything into it. All their money, hopes, dreams, passion, everything. I want them to go all out into this movie.

Then when it inevitably fails, they will be left adrift financially. They will wonder why their creation failed so miserably, not being aware that nobody but idiots like Captain Planet and take him seriously. The environmentalist wing within Hollywood will shrivel and crumble. No one will wish to make another movie talking about saving the environment for decades. Captain Planet will die unloved, unmourned, and unknown within the festering bowels of mediocrity while I sit upon my throne of cheap leather and dropped Goldfish snacks, cackling.

Yeah, I know, that is a most not nice plan and I shouldn't wish such things, but dangit, if Hollywood is this desperate to keep going, then maybe the herd needs some culling anyway. The only way they'll learn to produce good stuff is for the bad stuff to fail. Hard. Blast it, we deserve better entertainment these days. What with all of the technology, a plethora of writers, good directors and oodles of money, really they have no excuse to not be turning out decent stuff at least half the time.

Thankfully we are getting some good stuff these days, like Peter Jackson with The Hobbit and JJ Abrams with Star Trek and hopefully the upcoming Star Wars. But shoot, we still gotta raise the bar for all those other chumps out there. Captain Planet, prepare yourself. For when you come about I shall be waiting here for thee. And I will grant no mercy.

The power is mine!

Friday, March 28, 2014

I frigging called it

A very short while ago I wrote how gun control is pushing up daisies and doesn't yet realize it, and how I concluded that in the event of gun restrictions criminals would be supplied with firearms through corrupt military and politicians. I mentioned the case of Operation Fast and Furious, which was one of the biggest scandals of the US Federal gummint supplying firearms to known gun runners and drug cartels in an embarrassingly poorly thought out plan that I would have scrapped in a heart beat had I been in charge.

Ah, but the FBI has something that the ATF doesn't have: Brains.
In a recent sting operation the FBI caught a rather interesting person involved in a most interesting business arrangement, specifically involving illegal importation of illegal firearms up to and including shoulder fired explosive weapons from a Muslim rebel group in the Philipines to a crime group here in the US. Except that the crime group turned out to be some competent FBI personnel who knew what they were doing. Oopsie daisy!

But who was the mastermind behind this plot? A Muslim extremist? A terrorist? An anarchist? Good guesses, but no. It was none other than a Californian senator who just so happened to support gun control and has attempted to ban violent video games. The man's name is Leland Yee.

Huh. On one hand I'm feeling rather smug about having my predictions proved correct yet again with most excellent timing and trying not to laugh myself into a coma over the irony, yet on the other hand I'm somewhat disappointed. Cuz really, this is making my job here far too easy. I mean, wow. Talk about shooting yourself in the foot.

This guy was an absolute starchild for the gun control groups, an idol to rally around for banning firearms. Then he had to go and do this. Of course some people are already excusing the crap out of this incident because he supports a good cause and we shouldn't be so harsh, but this comes as no surprise to those who are familiar with Democrats who are anti-gun. It also shows just how little some of them believe in their own cause.

I recall that Ted Kennedy absolutely loathed the Winchester 30-30 and threw an fit over the fact that American citizens could own them. Then one of his own bodyguards was using a prohibited firearm for some absurd reason, a dandy Beretta 93 Raffica. While I'm not a fan of the 9 mil, I sure wouldn't mind owning one of those!

But yeah, this is nothing short of hysterical for me. In fact... Wait a moment, a Chinese man involved in a mass weapons exchange in the Western portion of the US? I've seen this before!
Main antagonist of the pilot episode of The Wild Wild West. Also a spokesman decrying identity theft, fraud and arms smuggling.
Oh. My. Gosh. Y'know, often history is cruel. But this time it is just plain catering to my morbid sense of humor. The writers of South Park couldn't have played this out better. It's like Life just gift wrapped this whole thing to me and the firearm group at large. I couldn't have prayed for a more delightful example of irony. It's like the rivers of chance all converged to this one point to give the world the biggest larf since PETA was discovered executing tens of thousands of cats and dogs instead of helping them to find homes.

And this was brought to bear with an undercover FBI agent exposing the entire operation. For obvious reasons his identity is concealed, but I'm hoping that the man had a hidden lock pick on his tailored suit, a disassembled Derringer hidden in his shoe heels, a cowboy hat, awesome hair and his first name being West. Please, please world let this be the case. I mean, probably not, but that would be mighty convincing evidence of a supreme being having a say in what's going on in this world, and has a sense of humor to boot.

Anyway, back to raw facts: Leland Yee was accepting a crap load of bribes and was orchestrating this arms deal in exchange for "donations" to run Secretary of State. Yee of course was not the only man involved, there are others, but he's kind of the lynch pin in this case. I'm thankful that others are taking this seriously and trying to pry him from his office and throw him into a cell.

If I happen to have any FBI readers at all, not likely but just in case, good job lads! Done a heck of a lot more good than some other groups I can think of.

Anywho, I'm going to laugh myself to tears, play some violent video games and continue owning firearms and not give one solitary crap what anyone else says about it. Nothing but love!

For more detailed information, you can go here

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Gun Control: Why it is Unofficially Dead

Often when I'm at work and bored I'll begin pounding a fairly one-sided subject into a pulp in an attempt to figure out why some people still maintain a fort on the other side.
There are few debates that I find more one sided yet still controversial than gun control. I feel no fear in saying that gun control is the most misguided, ineffective waste of effort still supported today with the possible exception of finding intelligent life on Mars.

For those of you who aren't at the front lines of the subject, gun control is the idea in which the Federal Government of a country has very tight restrictions on firearms and the people who use them. The varieties in which these things come is quite colorful, some being the somewhat tame but dumb ideas of having built in gun locks on all firearms to all out bans. Invariably there are some in favor of bans that say we should ban firearms altogether in order to prevent crime and mass shootings. If they are all taken away, then nobody but police and military can use them, right? Well, that's incorrect.

Today the gun control debate is still very heated, but with my array of knowledge of firearm mechanics, gunsmithing, chemistry, firearm engineering, human nature and the like I've come to a single conclusion that many of you who dislike guns may find quite startling: Gun control today is physically impossible to enforce.

That is not a typo. It is my firm belief that it is now beyond all reasonable and practical abilities of governments to prevent firearms from being produced and sold in an illegal manner. Prior to the 1800's it was well within the power of various powers to control the manufacture of muzzle loading firearms, as back then it was a complex process that could only be done by skilled craftsmen. The very creation of them was difficult, requiring a good sized building, the proper tools, a good knowledge of mechanics and metallurgy, and other skill sets.

But as time has gone on, things have changed dramatically. There was the Industrial Revolution, where items could be produced en masse. There was the standardization of parts such as screws, nuts, bolts, tools, and other items. Schematics have been developed for uniform construction of machines. We have advanced computer programs to help people come up with new designs and libraries filled with information on engineering. Making things has never been easier!
Each event like this has been another nail in the coffin of gun control.

You see, today a person in almost any country has the capability of building a fully functional firearm in the privacy of his or her house without needing any special electric tools or even internet access. Not that this has stopped people in gun-shy countries around the world from acquiring them the old fashioned way. A casual search as shown that even the most hard core fascist governments have trouble quelling the insane numbers of firearms illegally being imported or made.
Check this out!

One hundred and eighty crime groups. Thousands of individuals. Trafficking firearms, drugs, and other illicit items. And the police have thus far secured 50,000 guns. So far. In China.

Ho. Ly. Crap. These are the numbers in one of the most brutal communist countries on Earth, and they have their hands full trying to control the crime and illegal firearm trafficking. Now, some of you might say "Well, they seem to be doing a good job! Look at all the guns and people they just rounded up. And some of those guns aren't even that good!"
Well, for every criminal and gun theygrab, chances are there are three they haven't gotten. Now, explain this to me: If a country where the government has almost unlimited power over its citizens, that can and does regularly trample over rights and beliefs has trouble curbing so much crime and influx of firearms, how can you expect any other country to? For crying out loud, the Nazis couldn't stop the conquered country of France from getting guns!

Oh, and before any of you argue that at least in a gun free society you don't have to worry about mass killings by deranged individuals or terrorists, allow me to thoroughly crush that idea under the heel of my boot.

Anyway, back to smothering gun control under the weight of logic. So, what does this have to do with gun control being dead? Well, a few years back I began to think about how criminals would get illicit firearms if authorities were somehow able to seize any and all privately owned firearms and shut down all manufacturers.
Well, I reasoned that crime groups or individuals would simply begin to make firearms and ammunition themselves with whatever they had on hand. Guess who was right on the money?
These are only incidents we know about that I found during a few casual searches. So let me ask this: If rural people can make fully functional firearms out in the jungle using mostly hand tools, what do you think an organized crime syndicate with industrial grade power tools can do in a big city? Food for thought!
Not that such activities are unheard of. Remember the Prohibition? Or the current war on drugs? Say, how is that last one going anyway? Is it still nigh impossible to get cocaine in the US?

I also concluded that crime groups would acquire firearms through corrupt government, military and police officials. No sooner had I come to such a conclusion that this came up:
Yeah. Freaking oops. Why is the ATF still around again? I can't for the life of me found any good reason for that group to still be in existence. Not that oppressive government groups giving away firearms is new.

Hmm, yeah, it's kind of hard to stamp out crime groups when guys in government give them guns. Laws are only as effective as they can be practically enforced and how much officials are willing to actually follow such laws themselves.
That, and the whole 3D plastic printer thing is kind of a problem too. And CNC milling machines. Did I forget to mention that Sten SMGs of World War II were specifically designed to be made out of plumbing parts that could be assembled by anyone smart enough to not swallow their own tongue? Or that inmates inside prisons have made guns?

Yeah, I think I've kind have made my point. Gun control had a good run for awhile, but now it is physically impossible to enforce by any entity short of divine intervention. There is no organization that can possibly hope to stem the tide as technology and manufacturing gets easier and more efficient. It is simply hopelessly impractical. Now I just need to wait until everyone else figures that out.

That's all for now! I'll be back later to launch raids at other idiotic ideas regarding firearm hindrance, such as those insufferable ID recognition guns, ugh...

Friday, March 21, 2014

Well, there's an interesting plot hole

As I sit before my computer now I've been reading Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, Return of the King for the second time. That doesn't exactly make me unique, since this is the epitome of the fantasy genre, and it shouldn't be wondered that in a world as complex and vast as Middle Earth there might be a few chinks in the armor, so to speak.

And no, not the plot hole about the bloody eagles not acting as a taxi service to Mount Doom. Them fell beasts is nasty and would have provided an interesting obstacle with the frigging One Ring bloody flying across the landscape.

But alas, I've encountered a different plot hole. The Mouth of Sauron has just come forth to mock Aragorn and our heroes, casting forth Sam's sword, an elven cloak, and Frodo's mail of mithril. At that last item an alarm went off in my head and my brain buzzed.

For those of you who don't know, mithril is bloody hard stuff, and easily withstood a bloody spear being rammed into it. Tough stuff that! Then it occurred to me: How the devil did Shelob get her stinger through the mail? If hard steel was no match, how would her organic spike fair better? Or is there some magical ability she has that I'm not aware of? I swear she tagged him in the back, just going from the books here.

That or Frodo really failed in his saving roll. This isn't so much a complaint as me just putting my thoughts down. Interesting stuff though. And why am I not reading more right now?

Nerd time! Farewell!

An upcoming game of interest

I consider myself a casual gamer. I don't purchase each and every big release that comes out or drool over the next generation consoles. I just play what I feel is worth my time and is legitimately fun. But good grief, there are so many games that lack imagination these days! Everything has gone downhill towards really grim, gritty shooters that are uninspired and have almost no story. Blagh.

Most online games aren't much better. They thrive on repetition of the exact same activities over and over and over and over... Doesn't help that online MMOs attract the scum of the earth. What was it that Obi Wan said when looking upon Mos Eisly Spaceport? You shall never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy. Fits MMOs perfectly.

Your typical online gaming community.
However, on rare occasions you find a game that has some actual charm, that takes a risk to try something new and, dare I say it? Fun! And, as I mentioned in my last post, I'm a bit of a fan of things related to dinosaurs. Very few dinosaur games surprisingly. But lo and behold I have recently come across information for a new game which may in fact actually have promise! It is called The Stomping Land, there main site can be found here:

At last, a game that doesn't rely primarily on fully automatic weapons and explosions to keep an audiences attention! I am a HUGE lover of the concept of hunting dinosaurs and this is one of the precious few games that takes to the concept, which I feel is criminally underused.

While this game is still in development I have a good feeling about this one. It has a lot of survivalist elements to it and appears to be very immersive. I very much like the fact that it has tracking elements, something that any outdoorsman can appreciate. Tracking and hunting dinosaurs in a changing environment, relying on skill and cunning rather than abusive language? Somebody pinch me!

I'm going to keep my eyes on this thing for a bit and will hopefully be able to play it upon its release, in which case I'll be sure to let ya'll know how it plays in case all four of my readers are curious.

Hooray for The Stomping Land! Hmmm, hunting dinosaurs... I believe there are a few pieces of literature upon that subject... Stay tuned for more writing information!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Hope still remains

I'm an unrepentant Jurassic Park fan, and I have been for most of my life. As a kid I saw the first Jurassic Park movie and was forever branded with a fascination and love of dinosaurs. Nor was I alone, for the movie was a landmark in special effects, direction and a pretty darned good adaption to boot. I've read both books by Michael Crichton, Jurassic Park and The Lost World. I can't count how many times I've watched that first movie, and even went to the rerelease of it last year to see it on the big screen, although the 3D didn't help much. I just love dinosaur stuff overall and am always on the lookout for something dinosaur related that is suitably awesome.

But lets not kid ourselves about the sequel movies, The Lost World and Jurassic Park 3. Okay, they aren't completely horrible, but wow were there missteps made. The Lost World had some fair chunks of the original novel but of course needed some changes. When transitioning between a book to film there are always changes that will need to happen to make the story work. They are very different mediums. But some of the decisions made in those two just leave me scratching my head.

The second movie took obvious cues from the book but most of the changes I find confusing. So many of them just don't make sense. But worst of all is the environmentalist message in there that is done only for emotion and doesn't really engage in any logical well formed debate. I bloody hated Nick Van Owen who was a self-righteous guy who did nothing but create problems. My favorite character was actually Roland Tembo, the hunter. He was the only one who felt like he was in control, knew how to act in a crisis and had a rather reasonable motivation.
They make him out much like some sort of quasi-villain, but I actually understood him completely for why he wanted to hunt the T-Rex. Then just out of spite Nick somehow pulls the bullets out of Roland's 600 Nitro Express, which could be directly sited as a primary reason for more than a dozen people getting killed. How did he yank those copper pills out anyway? It was a bloody 600 Nitro! Those shells had to have had a monster crimp on them and I never saw Nick with pliers or anything. Did he pull them out with his teeth and everyone else just sat by and watched?
See, when the Rexes attack again Roland had a darned good chance of acing at least one right off the bat, which would likely have changed most of the course of what happened afterwards. The group might have been able to form a decent defense and not be utterly ravaged by raptors or stomped down. Great work Nick. I'm sure all the dead people appreciate your moral stance.

The third one wasn't really bad so much as just kinda recycling the same formula over again. Okay, there are some bad elements, such as the plane being loaded out to the gills with guns but within ten minutes the group is left without so much as a single bullet somehow. Sorry, I just always get irritated when the guns are practically stolen so that the dinosaurs will present a menace. Crap, there were still guns in the first two and it didn't sink either of them.
Very little new is brought to the table with the exception of some new dinosaurs and behavior, but in general it's the same thing. The practical effects were darned good and I appreciate that they used props, shot on locations and didn't just do it all in front of a green screen to save money. But they were both just underwhelming and don't evoke the same kind of wonder we got in the first movie.

So, when I heard about yet another Jurassic Park movie being directed by someone I've never heard of my educated reaction was "Oh good grief this is going to be painful." It's been mentioned but very few details have been given out which gave me very little to go on. I know it's being called Jurassic World, so at least the title has improved slightly, but I wasn't exactly given enough to lighten my spirits. There have been no details at all. Until today.

Knowing that a franchise is being directed by someone you've never heard of before does not install great confidence, but this very recent article reveals some quite promising information.

Although I don't wish to jump to conclusions this information does give me hope for this upcoming movie. The fact that they are taking their time to write a decent script and the studio isn't ramming it through to meet a deadline is a good sign. It also appears that they are hoping to try something different while not going way off base.
By admitting that they don't want to shove original characters in purely because of familiarity shows that they are showing restraint and trying to make a good story that can stand on its own. The idea of bringing back Dr. Wu however does have great possibilities and actually has me excited!

Now, in case some of you are wondering "Who the devil is Dr. Wu? Was he in the movie?" the answer is yes, he was, although not for long. He has a greater presence in the book, but in the movie he is only in one scene, the genetics lab. Likely to keep the script tight they didn't go too deep with Wu as he wasn't an essential character for the plot to move and one scene was enough to establish things.
Wu however is in fact a very important character, as he was the primary researcher and head of the entire genetics project. He was the keystone in bringing the animals back to life. By bringing him back we have an entire character to explore who was only briefly touched upon before and can have a legitimate reason for being involved with dinosaurs again.

At the moment Wu just makes sense to me and opens lots of possibilities. I'm trying to remain cautiously optimistic as there are still plenty of ways this movie can be messed up royally, but this little bit of information lends me some confidence. I get the feeling that this isn't just another Hollywood cash grab but an attempt to tell a good story in a franchise that has so much potential.

Let us grab onto the hope we have and pray that this upcoming movie will be as good as we hope! I'll try to keep ya'll posted. It's a long ways until June 2015, so we'll have plenty of time to speculate.

Show Review: The Wild Wild West



Very few shows these days garner my interest. The mountains of garbage that are on screen today frequently leave me bored or wanting to put my fist through something expensive out of rage from the idiocy I'm witnessing. Sure, there are a few legitimately good shows these days such as River Monsters or Holmes, but they are often vastly overshadowed by the legions of trash reality TV shows. Ugh.

To find solace I often look into the past, where normally only things that are somewhat good manage to survive in today's world. It was thus poking around that I found what quickly became one of my favorite shows: The Wild Wild West. Yeah, one of the most generic titles you can come up with, but at least it isn't false advertising!

Many are somewhat familiar with the 90's remake of The Wild Wild West with Will Smith, and while I haven't seen it recently, doesn't feel particularly offensive or irritating. I was merely vaguely aware that it was a remake of an older show of the same title. So when I accidentally stumbled across the pilot on Youtube I was surprised at the quality of what I'd found. Never had I been so angry at myself for something that brought me so much joy! I'd been aware that this existed and had never even bothered looking it up? The shame!

As many of you may be aware, Western shows and movies were very big in the 40's and 50's. People couldn't get enough of them. Then the 60's came and interest began to swing towards the spy and espionage genres. A group of folks wanted to keep doing Western stuff but also knew that public interest was finding greener pastures. So, they came up with one of the most simple yet effective concepts ever: Take cowboys and the wild west and mix it with something else. This fill in the blank combination can lead to unspeakably awesome results, and this was perhaps the first. Mix secret agent spy plot with gadgetry with Western cowboy stuff. Thus The Wild Wild West was born!

Alright, setup time!
It's the 1970's and President Ulysses Grant assigns two Secret Service men to combat the subtle but despicable forces brewing in the shadows to protect the United States and its people. These two men are James West and Artemus Gordon. James West, the main character and protagonist, is given an alias as a rich eccentric, which doesn't last long though, and lend him a personal train that he can direct anywhere he wants and is loaded to the eyeballs with awesome gadgets. Oh boy, the gadgets! Okay, can't spoil anything. Gotta keep ahold of myself.

James West is our main protagonist and is pretty darned cool. Swaggering about at the height of manliness, I've heard the show had a decent crowd partly due to women finding the guy awesome to look at. I'm straight and I can't blame them in the least! Look at the guy! He exudes confidence like no one else I've ever seen.

He's a superb gentleman, having excellent manners and selflessly throwing himself into harms way to save people whether he's on assignment or if he just happens to be around when things are taking place. He is shrewd enough to pick up on very subtle things but, as per usual for spy stuff, he gets caught constantly. Say what you want about women having to get rescued (Although that really should change) but this guy gets captured more often than any other character I can think of.

As is standard of a spy in any age he is excellent in various forms of hand to hand combat, can pull off acrobat maneuvers, has ninja stealth, is skilled with many types of weapons and is of course intelligent, although not exactly a scientist. Although there is some darned good action in this show, I was always a little disappointed at how very little actual shooting took place. We mostly get creative hand to hand combat that is entertaining to watch, but rarely does anyone actually catch a bullet and die. Oh, it happens sometimes, but for a western it's quite surprising how little lead gets thrown around. I've read that there was controversy over violence on TV at the time, which hasn't exactly slowed down, and many wanted there to be less violence for worry that it would inspire other people to do violent things. That's kind of garbage, but whatever.

Of course he gets all kinds of hidden gadgets and weapons. He has Derringer handguns hidden everywhere form his sleeves in special extension rigs to having parts and ammunition hidden in his belt buckle and shoe heels that he can assemble. He has tiny smoke bombs that he can use to ninja his way out of tough situations and lock-picking tools. Also very fun are tiny high powered explosives  that he can plant to surprise other people. Every episode he gets another fun toy, although they are usually one offs. Still, part of the fun of the spy genre!

While West is officially in the service of his government he makes it clear again and again that he wishes to protect the innocent people wherever he goes, making him very heroic. But what always stood out to me in his interactions is his unbelievable skill in dealing with women. The cast in this show is loaded with gorgeous ladies with all kinds of personalities and roles, yet this guy is able to get on their good side with uncanny skill. If he were a D&D player he'd have a 20 in Charisma. At least. He has swept women of all factions off their feet, anyone from scientists, aides, assassins, workers, politicians, everyone! In one episode he was able to switch the allegiance of an assassin who was out to kill him, and didn't lose stride even after she shot him in the chest. Thank heavens for the bullet proof vest. Crap, his skill was so good that the main villain was taking bloody notes on it!

This guy is like a combination of James T. Kirk, James Bond and... wait a second... What is it with people named James and ladies? Anyway, maybe it's just me, but I got the impression that he usually takes them out to dinner and then they part on good terms than him being a womanizer. But maybe that's just my naiveté.

Alright, he's not exactly the deepest character in the world, but he's certainly fun and his heroic endeavors make you want to root for him. He doesn't go around doing horrible things and he gets the job done. That's the least you can do, something Hollywood still has trouble with.
Still, to the actor's credit, he does a very good job in the role, and even performed the majority of the stunts throughout the show, only letting professional stuntmen take over during the more dangerous parts. The guy actually suffered a major concussion in one event! That takes some guts!

Artemus Gordon is Jim's partner and close friend although I wouldn't call him a sidekick. While Artemus isn't a gunslinger, fist fighter or ladies man in the same way Jim is Artemus makes up in his own way. He is amazingly fun and possibly my favorite character in the show. He's an inventor, master of disguise, infiltrator and a good bit of a scientist which makes him a superb backup when things go wrong. In fact, Arty here more than once saved the day with his quick wits and cunning.

I don't exaggerate when I call him a master of disguise. In the show he is an actor who has joined the Secret Service, and I always find myself tickled when there is an actor portraying an actor in a movie or show. Oh my gosh though does he have fun with it here. In a testament to his skill as a real life actor, the makeup artists and costume department he goes into most episodes in some form of disguise to infiltrate an enemy stronghold, get information, or just to distract people from carrying out their plans in astonishingly convincing ways. Heck, I'm great at recognizing faces and I found him slipping past my radar more than once! Take a look at that face up there: They were able to convince me hook, line and sinker that he was an Ottoman Turk vizier. Do you have any clue how hard that is?

And this guy pulled more than one hundred different disguises in this show! You can tell he had an absolute ball during this gig and it's hard not to have fun with him. Arte also comes up with a bunch of fun inventions including things like a breathing mask, mechanically manually aimed mounted firearms like primitive turrets, can turn almost anything into a smoke bomb and all manner of hidden weapons. He even helped design some of the cool gear inside the train, which is so cool!

Even when he isn't in disguise the old boy has a most impressive range of acting ability, allowing him to bypass all kinds of security. Jim usually punches his way through, but Arte convinces the guards that he's actually supposed to be there!

All of the villains of course are very entertaining and memorable. Some are ambitious politicians or military men trying to seize power, others are mad scientists, but there are so many others that defy the general cast. There is a blind riverboat captain who forms a clever scheme to make the Mississippi traffic grind to a halt unless he is given a ransom. In Night of the Steel Assassin we actually get a cyborg out for revenge played by the amazing John Dehner who brings some amazing weight to the roll along with another lead role in the episode Night of the Casual Killer. We even get an entire club full of assassins!

Few of them are recurring characters though, with one amazing exception: Doctor Miguelito Loveless. Pictured above and played by the dwarf Michael Dunn, Dr. Loveless is one of the most interesting and powerful villains I have ever seen. He is the best kind of bad guy: The kind who you can see yourself agreeing with. Loveless is a brilliant inventor, philosopher and idealist who at first glance seems like nothing short of an idol.

We very quickly see that he is an amazing inventor who is easily on par with Nikola Tesla, churning out dozens of designs far before their time. He creates designs for airplanes, phonographs, electrical devices, all kinds of stuff! And yet he doesn't quite fall into the trope of mad scientist, as his personality extends beyond that. His knowledge extends into many realms from philosophy, politics, anatomy, just about every realm you could think! The man is extremely competent in devising plans but also hopes to build a utopian society where the impoverished and physically decrepit can live happily. Not only that, but he wishes to use his astounding inventions to better the world at large.

Well, he seems like a right dandy selfless chap! How could he possibly be a primary villain in the series? Well, that's the tricky part. His family once owned a large part of land in California that was granted by Mexican officials. However, when California became a part of the United States he and his family lost their land. In order for him to get his land back and build his ideal society he must get it back no matter the means. It is here that we find the lengths Loveless is willing to go in order to get his way, and in his début he constructs a bomb and plans to kill 5,000 people unless the Governor of California gives up the entire state to Loveless.

This is part of what makes Loveless a great villain: His motivations make sense and you can even sympathize with him, but when he goes too far you realize you must work against him. Although he is initially thwarted Loveless lives to continue his endeavors, which thank freaking heavens he does as he is an amazing person to watch on screen.

Despite his intense schemes and the lengths he is willing to go to achieve them he doesn't come across as insane or despotic. In fact, much of the time he seems like a perfectly fine gentleman. Often he can be found singing with his female companion Antoinette, showing his great appreciation for music and song. His more notable henchman however is the mute giant Voltaire. An imposing figure, Voltaire seems quite childlike and is never far from the Doctor's side, helping him in everything from getting around to battling those who oppose him. Initially in the first episode they tried to make Loveless look like a physical threat in addition to a mental one, fighting several men in a practice session while using a cane, which he does with some skill. But I think they realized that they just couldn't get him across as a physical threat. And lets face it, getting a dwarf to seem like a hard core fighter is kind of hard.
See what I mean?

Even so, Doctor Loveless is one of the most strongly characterized villains I've ever seen and is one of my favorite antagonists in any movie, show or book series. His personality is amazingly strong and genuinely feels like someone you could talk do and debate with. Many of his ideas make sense and you can see what a shame it is that he's willing to become so violent to achieve his goals. That just makes him that much more of an excellent villain though!

In fact, even though most villains are one offs, almost all of them have distinct personas, powerful personalities, strong motives and many are even sympathetic. All are memorable to some degree or another and really reflects the good writing. They can range from pathetic sad people, intense and bent on revenge, idealism in hopes of bringing about better things, all kinds of folks! This makes each episode unique and memorable, with each villain bringing something new to the table.

Ah, but we mustn't forget the other fun parts of the series, the gadgets! Oh boy, all the gadgets. Well, let's start with the famous train, The Wanderer. The cars pulled behind the train and almost everything within it has some sort of hidden gadget or weapon. In Jim's personal room is a sliding wall that is loaded with rifles and revolvers, upon my first viewing made me squeal like a little girl in delight. On the pool table at least one of the balls is a gas bomb, which gets plenty of use. One of the pool cues has a hidden knife, where a flick of a switch pushes off the wooden shave and produces a good 16 inch blade. When this is shown to Arte he mirrored my thoughts saying "Oh not bad, not bad at all. But a gun barrel would have been better." Jim smugly points to the cue Arte is holding and says "The gun barrel is in that one." My manliness levels dropped sharply as a giggled like a schoolgirl, although I feel no shame.

The train cars have all kinds of hidden switches, locks, signals, lights, traps making them come across like a moving museum of spy gear. There is nothing that these guys can't MacGyver into some sort of spy gadget, and the innovation we get is amazingly charming. I could spend the entire article just listing all of the cool things they have tucked away!

Ah, but what do the villains have? A more accurate question is what don't they have? This series is touted as being a precursor to the popular Steampunk genre, and it most certainly is! In the episode The Night of the Puppeteer we have the villain Mr. Skull (Who surprisingly doesn't have most of his scalp removed or has skulls on his desktop) who is a masterful engineer and puppeteer, and actually creates life sized puppets that are completely human in appearance but are powered by steam pushed through their strings, allowing him to direct them like robots! If that isn't Steampunky, I don't know what is.

In the episode The Night of the Deadly Bed a military man creates a special locomotive that is basically a cross between Gordon from Thomas the Tank Engine and Hammerhead from the Spiderman series. The engine is a high powered, over engineered machine with an obscene battering ram on the front built for the sole purpose of ramming American trains in head on collisions to take them out of the system completely. Okay, it probably wouldn't work, but I'm not about to call the guy's bluff after seeing the thing!

In the aforementioned The Night of the Steel Assassin, we have a man named Torres who is like a 1870's version of Darth Vader minus the mask. He is literally a primitive cyborg, machine more than man. His bones are replaced with metal, his sinew with metal cables. The voice of the actor, John Dehner is already most intimidating, but here it's put through some sort of old synthesizer which gives him a chilling metallic timbre.

This is just stuff in the first season alone, which is pretty darned cool. But my oh my is there so much more!

Lastly, what about the weird traps and long, strangely inconvenient methods of killing Jim and Arte when they're captured? An unforgettable staple of the spy business!

Boy oh boy, the stunts they pull in this show! Where to begin!
Well, in The Night of the Sudden Death, our heroes are captured by a strange evil circus group, and to kill them they are placed within the recently cut skins of animals, sewn inside and placed in the sun. As the skins dry they tighten around our protagonists, slowly squeezing them to death. Gotta give them point on creativity on that one!
And in case you are wondering, yes, EVERY episode starts with the words "The Night of." Hey, if it ain't broke don't fix it.

In The Night of the Deadly Bed Jim is drugged and we literally see the top of his bed sprout spikes and slowly move down towards him like the world's most strangely disguised iron maiden.

In The Night of the Flaming Dragon Jim and Arte are thrown into a pit where steam pipes run through the rock walls, but the floor is an open grating where the tide can come in. This results in the steam bath from heck, and the villain proudly proclaims that they used this pit to once boil lobsters for dinner.

In The Night of a Thousand Eyes Jim is placed in a suspended cage in which the chain run to a lightening rod during a lightening storm in hopes of turning Jim into a crispy portrait of his former self.

In The Night (Take a shot) of the Puppeteer Jim is pitted against a puppet caveman and a clown puppet with a whip. No, I couldn't make this up. Believe me, I wish I could.

Again, there are dozens upon dozens of others that show up, and if you want to know more I guess you'll just have to watch the show now won't you!

Overall the show was a huge hit. It was inventive, fun, dramatic, dark, comedic, romantic (sorta), action packed and had something enjoyable for everyone. It was one of the first shows to integrate Steampunk elements and help start the genre. The writing and acting were superb and stands up quite well even today.

If you are at all a fan of westerns, steampunk, scifi, spy stuff, weird west, or just want entertainment that lacks a lot of the irritating garbage of today's television, then you owe it yourself to check it out. I highly recommend it and encourage you to take a look. Down below is a link to the pilot episode, and many can be found on Youtube without any problem.

Happy trails people, and stay tuned for more!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Leader of Horror: HP Lovecraft

Very few authors have reached the level of cultish devotion in the realm of horror writing as HP Lovecraft. Not exactly obscure per se, he has always been overshadowed by writers such as Edgar Allen Poe, one of Lovecraft's admitted inspirations.
Yet the echoes of Lovecraft's writing resonates throughout much of today's popular culture, even if you aren't aware of it. Nobody rivaled his themes but many have carried on the spirit of his terror in everything from video games, writing, movies and comics. His stuff was genuinely terrifying, and stands out even more today than in his own time.
I shall do my utmost to be devoid of spoilers here, and simply do what I can to analyze the style of writing, the influences, and why you should check it out.

Many confuse gore and violence with scary. Wrooooooooooooooooooooong! Wrong you fools! Gore and stuff popping out making loud noises is not scary. True horror comes from suspense and strong atmosphere. More than most, Lovecraft dealt with the fear of the unknown and certain truths that rock the foundations of understanding. That is far better. Lovecraft's horror is so complex and fascinating that it is difficult to explain in words why I and others love it so much.

First off he uses a distinctly different style than most people. Unlike the writing of ERB and REH, Lovecraft did almost all of his stories as epistolary novels. Basically done in the form of first person journals, he is able to bring a surprising amount of depth and weight to the table. Lets face it, on the outlook a journal doesn't look that scary. But when you dive inside, that's where the fun stuff starts.

His best known creation by far is Cthulhu, the dreaded tentacle-faced thing that dwells within the sunken city of R'lyeh. Usually just seen in pop culture as a giant monster with wings and tentacles coming from his face, this thing is infinitely more terrifying in the story Call of Cthulhu. Cthulhu is the herald of beings beyond our understanding, and to merely look upon them rends one's sanity like an axe through paper.
That was part of the genius of his work. What is more frightening? A person attacking you with a sharp implement or learning that everything about you is balanced on the edge of a razor, that unfathomable horrors lie just beyond our realm and that merely looking upon them will land you an all expenses paid vacation at the Padded Cell Hotel? I thought so.

For what Lovecraft wrote about was not the petty squabbles of flesh and matter we know, but of otherworldly things that bend your mind and to think about to long warp your sense of reality. In his writing we are protected by a veil of blissful ignorance, and to break through it is to reveal unspeakable terrors that send the human brain reeling. Death is the least of your worries in his work.

Cthulhu himself is just a vanguard for The Old Ones, cosmic entities who exist in more than one dimension and whose very existences defy our known laws of reality. Ah, but lets not get ahead of ourselves! As almost all of his stories take place in his Cthulhu mythos and little else, although this isn't true for all.

Truth be told, as I sit here I realize I've never before had so much trouble trying to pin down a writer's style. I even ran it past a close friend of mine who also reads his work, and when I asked help for analyzing this my compatriot basically shrugged, said "Heck if I know man" and went to bed. Not a good sign.
I'll do the best I can in writing this out, but please don't be too harsh, for I feel I shall not do well in this area. The stories have very little chronology, but that matters little. It's not so much a series per se as loosely associated but distinctly related experiences taking place within the same mythos. Sometimes we have the person writing the journal acting as a narrator, sometimes not. Sometimes it feels like a detective that is writing down all the clues they've gathered together over a tough case, others it feels like someone who only knew the detective gathering all the clues.
It's difficult to keep a steady bead on things seeing as how we have no recurring characters, there is only one city we visit more than once that I'm aware of, that being Arkham, scary races and monsters only get one story each and are at most only mentioned thereafter, etc. It's weird.

Reading through some of his stuff it feels like he was experimenting with different writing styles, trying to find a comfortable rhythm. Some of his stuff gets bogged down in quagmires of exposition while at other times you get gripped with a feverish intensity that keeps you going. Jeez, just trying to identify it all makes my head hurt. Perhaps I'd best skip the style itself and move onto his themes and more prominent stories. Yeah, I like the sound of that idea.

His favorite theme by far was that humanity is not as powerful and important as we think it is. In almost every story humanity manages to triumph over amazing odds in the face of monsters, zombies, aliens, ghosts, robots, disease, famine, plague, meteors, volcanoes, earthquakes, etc. We've been taught that just about everything that can be thrown at us we can overcome in some way. The dystopian future of Terminator with the war with Skynet was bitter, traumatizing, yet had some faint ray of hope. Star Wars showed the power of The Force where a young man with determination sent an oppressive regime recoiling. Lord of the Rings had but young hobbits overthrow a near-indestructible warlord in spite of overwhelming odds of all kinds. Stories that give us hope in the face of our greatest adversity.

Lovecraft douses those ideas like a candle beneath a tidal wave. In his viewpoint, humanity is not a powerful, capable race that is destined to race through the stars, but unbelievably tiny, unimpressive, miniscule vermin that are not even worth the effort of extermination. Earth is but one marble in an incomprehensible void that is barely noticed among the far more powerful races and beings that work beyond our knowledge. To them we aren't rodents. We're not even insects. We barely even classify as microscopic life. The fate of our race and world is not in our hands. We are but tiny life forms forestalling the inevitable doom of our planet.

Crap, even the stakes in Lord of the Rings if Sauron got the Ring isn't so bleak and depressing. Scattered over our world are beings, races and items that are beyond our understanding and if tampered with will bring about our destruction.
That is where the horror lies, and is usually presented in a very compelling manner. Mostly it will be someone who has just undergone an ordeal, or knows someone who just had the ordeal, and writes down the story in their log. The things usually start off innocent enough: Slightly out of the ordinary sounds in creaky buildings, people acting a bit unusual, that sort of thing. Then sometimes people go missing. Rumors of strange conversations taking place when supposedly one person is about. Odd smells being emitted from sealed off rooms. People bearing most unusual character and features.

This is where Lovecraft really shines: Setting an atmosphere of dread and strangeness. You get the distinct feeling that things is off and not right, but you don't know what. The oddities get more pronounced and escalate. Along with the characters you wonder and form theories, but worry that knowing the truth is far worse than you suppose. The methodical exploration of these changes often take place over the course of years, but somehow give great depth in very short passages.

The greatest example I can think of is one of my favorites: The Color out of Space. A meteor of unknown matter lands in a farmer's yard that behaves very strangely. To avoid spoilers, I won't give details, but suffice it to say that it is very weird and scientists from Arkham are most interested, but it eventually solves itself in a short time. Or so they think. After the meteor is gone the plant life and landscape changes in a manner that is most definitely wrong, yet you can't point to just one thing.
If you've ever been in the woods and noticed that something was just plain off in a way you'd have difficulty describing, multiply that by five and you'll have an idea of what this was like.
The atmosphere of something amiss is beautiful, and is undoubtedly one of the best examples I've seen.

In The Dunwich Horror we get something similar, but more related to a building and the inhabitants, namely a strange person by the name of Wilbur Whatley. The boy's father is unknown and despite being quite young grows at a fantastic rate and has most unusual features about his physical form. Even at one year of age he can walk and speak, something most certainly not normal. Always dressed in a very tight suit he has difficulty in the rural town of Dunwich, and actually has to carry a revolver on himself at all times due to the fact that no dog will allow him safe passage. Each dog treats him like a horrible animal and try to attack him if the chance presents itself. Nor is it normal that his grandfather continues adding space to their home, knocking out walls, moving things around, adding space, yet all the cattle he purchases never seem to maintain their number.
At certain times of the year odd sounds resonate from the hills like drums while the boy and his few relatives prance around in stormy moonlight. It is only years later though when things truly get bad.

Another favorite of mine is The Shadow over Innsmouth. A young man who is taking a tour of the antiquated towns and cities of the Eastern US stumbles upon a very old but little known town known as Innsmouth. Very few people go there and very few of the natives visit any of the surrounding towns. The locals themselves have a most peculiar look, which I shan't repeat here. Suffice it to say that you can't look upon them without feeling unnerved. Many strange tales cloak this township. Almost no one goes there if they can avoid it, and those that do visit never wish to return if they leave. Some disappear. There are stories of queer sounds in the many boarded up buildings and guttural language, of forbidden pacts made with demonish beings. The only clues our character finds are from the drunk ramblings of the ancient drunkard Zadok. What he says is too freakish to be possible... Yeah, keep up the wishful thinking.

The most famous story of course is Call of Cthulhu. In that we learn just how bloody close our world came to becoming the domain of dimensional gods beyond our ken and of eerie cults that lurk in the most remote regions of the world. Store this one away for a future nightmare.

Another influential one is At the Mountains of Madness. Honestly, the execution through most of it was boring. It was only through force of will that I finished that one. Yet never before had a story made me feel so small, so insignificant, and so insecure. It pulls the rug of Knowledge out from under your feet, upsetting all that you thought you knew about our planet and makes you want to curl beneath your bed.

Very often mentioned is a queer book, The Necronomicon, written by one known as The Mad Arab Abdul Alhazred. Within the haunted texts lie incantations and knowledge that shouldn't be within the hands of mortal men, and all who read it are more worried about the path of the world.

A story unrelated to his mythos but amazingly interesting is Herbert West: The Reanimator. Following in the metaphorical footsteps of Doctor Frankenstein, Herbert West and his compatriot, our narrator, start off as young, idealistic doctors near Arkham attempting that which man has tried for millennia: To bring the dead back to life. Obviously this is easier said than done, but the sheer variations on how to attempt this with West's special formula are unnerving. But as his desire to get his formula to work increases, his value of human life ironically decreases proportionately, until things get far out of hand.
This one is easily one of my favorites.

He has many other stories as well, most dealing with his mythos.
Yet his influences on others has been astounding. As my aforementioned friend once said "Everyone and their mom has been influenced by Lovecraft."
If you are a gamer, then no doubt you've heard of the Mass Effect RPGs. The ominous threat of the return of the Reapers throws a pall of dread over everything, and their return spelling the doom of all sentient species. This was a distinct theme of Lovecraft and the idea wonderfully applied.
Stephen King, one of the most prolific authors today directly sites Lovecraft as an inspiration.
The Evil Dead movies take obvious cues, flat out having a copy of the Necronomicon in their possession.
The new awesome Monster Hunter International series takes obvious inspiration, making references here and there and actually integrating the concepts very well within action packed writing.
The Aliens movies have a distinctly Lovecraftian flavor to them, the art designer for the xenomorphs and the hive himself saying that his art was in the grotesque spirit of the Lovecraft stories. Surely, the xenomporphs are one of the few things that harness horror so effectively!
The story At the Mountains of Madness is said to have inspired the story Who Goes There, written within the same decade. Who Goes There led to the movies The Thing from Another World and one of the greatest horror movies of all time, The Thing.
Arkham Asylum from the Batman series is a nod to the city of Arkham where many of the Lovecraft story took place around, and had a decent asylum where many characters ended up.

References are spread throughout all kinds of games, books and movies. The list goes on and on.
Lovecraft channeled the gothic horror and traumatic experiences of his life into his writing, and that is what gives it its charge. While some of his stories were flat out boring (I've been actively warned about Kadath) he had an amazing capacity for hooking the reader and pulling them along. The characters usually weren't that deep, often being rather simple. But it wasn't about the protagonist type characters. Really they were just there to tell us the story, rather than for us to get to know them.

In the end it was the bizarre, macabre spirit he enriched his work with that made it stand out and even to this day is some of the most terrifying stuff a person can read. While not exactly the biggest stone in the foundation of horror, he was certainly one of the strongest stones and has resisted the battering of negative critics and weathered the competition. If anything, he's gotten more popular as time has gone on, as well it should. There is very little else like his stuff out there.

If you want scary, you now know where to look. You can find just about all of his stories here. Beware the white on black text!

In conclusion, all three of these writers had distinct drawbacks and weaknesses. But their positives vastly outweigh their negatives, still standing strong and tall even today. While there are some writers who are in fact better, few can claim to have such diversity, imagination and influence. Each captured a tangible spirit of their respective genres and branded their emotion into their pen strokes. One can almost taste the energy in these stories, and that is what keeps them alive. You can tell when a writer is throwing their heart into what they are writing, and that passion will suck you in.
Of course, knowing grammar helps a good bit too!

In time I shall review a few other influential authors such as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, H. Rider Haggard, Jules Verne, maybe another two or three.
But now I wish to delve into another group who are more than deserving of their recognition: Riflemen, explorers, hunters, and woodsmen. Not to mention a few of these being some of the best shots with firearms that ever lived!
I shall review a few of my all time favorite adventurers, men and women who withstood astounding odds and went about doing great deeds for little other reason than they wanted to. Here are the gents I shall take a look at:
"Karamojo" Walter Maitland Bell, Colonel James Corbett, Simo Hayha, Annie Oakley, and Samuel Baker.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Okay... now THAT is cool!

Normally I don't like fancy, over-complicated rigs for firearms. I poke fun at tacticool ARs with more bells and whistles than a cell phone and still getting better wifi. And yet... how in the world can any mortal man look at this and not think it awesome?

It's a bloody AK with a bloody chainsaw attached to it! This surely has no practical purpose in real life of course, but come on! Look at the darned thing! This is just plain fun.

While I can't afford this thing and there is a noticeable scarcity of zombies in my nick of the woods, even after they've been listed under the Endangered Species Act, I'm sure I can conjure up some kind of excuse to get one of these!
Erm, I need it to trim the rose bushes while protecting myself from those mutated gophers? Slicing cake at birthday parties is far more hazardous than most people suspect? I need to hog all the attention at the shooting range? I need to open cardboard boxes and fend off bandits wanting my hard-to-find out of print books?

I'll think of something! Although chances are it'll be outlawed in some manner by the weapon banners, engineers will always think up something even more fun to get around those fun haters. Gosh I love this industry!

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Robert E. Howard, The Master of Action

My tale of becoming a fan of Robert E. Howard is actually a rather recent one. Yet it is one I don't regret in the least.
Almost everyone is familiar with his most famous character in passing; Conan. No matter who you are you've heard the name or seen a picture of him with a massive sword and swollen muscles. He is of course just a brainless brute that swings a sharp piece of metal around and nameless bad guys, right? Well, that's what I wanted to find out. I supposed that if he was so famous there might be a reason for it and decided to take a peek at some of his work. That was one of the smartest decisions I'd ever made.

It was perhaps seven months ago that I first began looking into the Conan stories. To my surprise most of these stories were rather short, being novelettes or short stories. Many people tend to turn their noses up at shorter works, which is a considerable pity, as they are often some of the most fun and creative writings I've seen.
I started off with the first Conan story The Tower of the Elephant. Folks, right from there I realized why the Conan stories had survived for so long. Robert E. Howard went from being an obscure figure to me to being one of my favorite authors in under a year. Not just with Conan either. REH was an wonderfully diverse writer, having astounding range and writing in a multitude of different styles. I found myself stunned when I went into some of his other works and saw just how versatile he was. But lets start off simple and work our way down.
Warning: There WILL be some spoilers, although I will try to keep them vague and to a minimum. If you are interested, then simply scroll down to the bottom to the links to the stories. I give my full endorsement to these stories.

Seeing as how Conan is the most famous REH character, it makes sense to start with him.
At first glance to the uninitiated Conan is a mindless brute with only four things on his mind: Blood, pretty women, treasure, and more blood. He just looks like the most basic personality deprived gore fest imaginable.
Yet a little bit more digging reveals that he actually does have character. Not super deep, but it is there. Conan fits very much in the same category as Tarzan. A simple but solid character.
Conan is a primitive man, raised in the cold heights of Cimmeria, a land within the fantastic world of Hyboria. Speaking of which, this is so far the only world building I've seen from REH, but darned if it isn't well done. Using inspiration from real traits throughout history he has been able to craft an astonishingly realistic world with all types of politics, kingdoms, tribes, and other elements working against each other. The realism here fits wonderfully and serves almost like a playground for Conan to work in.
Conan himself is a barbarian, in this context used as someone having grown up in a world of extraordinary hardship outside any form of civilization. Like Tarzan he was forged in the fires of an unforgiving environment, resulting in an absolute beast of a warrior with amazing physical capabilities. Conan is much more straightforward, letting nothing stand in his way. He is no scholar, but he's not stupid. His motivations are in fact painfully simple, but this is arguably his greatest asset.
In his upbringing of the Cimmerian tribes he has only a rudimentary understanding of civil interactions and religion. Where he comes from people are polite because if someone is rude they run the risk of getting an axe in the face. You can see why this might lead to him having problems inside cities, best shown in one of his first stories, The Tower of the Elephant.

Conan wishes for nothing more than enjoying the height of adventure in any way he can along with life's most base pleasures. He will go to forbidden places purely for the sake of braving what no one else will. His heart is often set on gleaming riches of all kind and is often the driving force of where he goes and what he does. He makes no bones over wanting to be rich and rising to power. While he does have a sense of honor, Conan is NOT what anyone would call chivalrous. He doesn't like to fight fair, he has no problem with stealing or flat out murder. Distinctly unlike Tarzan he is not hesitant about having gorgeous women fawn over him. He can be very dominating against some women, yet at other times he is strangely respectful, although he does little to hide his ideas. In some cases he has something resembling loyalty to specific women and actually goes out of his way to help or comfort those in need. A very curious code he has!
He is often impulsive and certainly has an anger problem which seems to make him inhumanely durable. He will bolt into unknown danger recklessly or cause destruction out of anger. Yet within his skull is a calculating, intelligent, if simple, mind. When in command of military forces he is a brilliant strategist. He takes into account everything from logistics to landscape, enemy thought processes and soldier capabilities, often making him a deadly foe even if outnumbered and outclassed.

But of course his greatest capabilities are in what he can do in person. Built like a gorilla used for testing steroids and having leopardish speed, Conan is a huge man with astounding physical prowess. His greatest skill is with the sword, and has thus far yet to meet any one who can match him. He has brutish strength, witty speed, unflinching endurance, deft dexterity, warrior cunning and animal ferocity. All of these make him an absolute horror in close quarters combat, allowing him to cut through heavily armed and armored enemies like a combine fueled by the blood of those who oppose him.
He is proficient with many other weapon types including axes, fists, knives, bows, and just about everything he can get his hands on. He has shown however that while an excellent archer he prefers not to use arrows, feeling it to be a cowardly weapon, revealing some of his preference to fight enemies head on. In fact, he can kill opponents with virtually any object handy, as he once slew a villain with merely a wooden stool and a stout swing!

While having few consistent friends Conan is loyal to those he does consider his allies, as proven best in one of his best stories, Queen of the Black Coast, while also revealing his innocence of "civilized" law. Having befriended a city guard he saw no problem when the man defended the honor of his sweetheart, who his captain attempted to sully. The guardsman ran the captain through and went into hiding. Conan felt that this just made sense, and was thus baffled when brought into a court and was then plied with questions, the judge insisting that the young guard had broken the law and that Conan reveal the location of his friend. Conan felt that the guard was well within his rights and that it would be most foul to betray him. When the judge ordered Conan arrested, things went about as well as you think they would. Mainly a lot of blood staining the carpet.
Crude, certainly, but it is telling that he has some sense of honor.
Another time in perhaps his best story, Beyond the Black River, one of my favorites, he reveals just how stealthy he actually is. In this one he makes a rough acquaintance with a young woodsman named Balthus and the two engage in a quest to apprehend a mysterious wizard of a primitive tribe of Picts and to forestall a brutal slaughter taking place along the frontier where the Picts and more organized empire, the Aquilonians are attempting to expand their territory and settle it. It's a very Wild West themed story, and beloved by many by its excellent parallels.
The mission goes awry, and while Conan goes off to slay a nightmare of a creature, Balthus and a grieving dog, Slasher, are left to hold back the raiding Picts and prevent them from murdering the many settlers ahead. Both Balthus and the dog are sadly killed, although not in vain, as they save many people in their efforts.
Conan grimly listens to what happened, and although he knew both for only a short time he vows to slay ten Picts for each, as both were exceptionally brave and gave their lives to protect others.

Conan even has rare examples of unusual respect for women he deals with. On one occasion he purchased a lovely women from a slave market, yet actively protected her. When stranded in the desert he tricked her into drinking all the water they had left and then proceeded to carry her in order to help her survive despite his own suffering. Later in the same story another women wishes to have Conan. Here he displays another strange form of loyalty. Although he doesn't love the woman he purchased, and the other obviously wants to get it on with him, he refuses, leading to conflict.
Perhaps his best relationship was in Queen of the Black Coast with the pirate queen Belit, who seemed to truly care for each other. Any who think that Conan cares only for treasure and hormones, let your doubts be dashed here, for when she dies Conan has an entire fortune at his feet. But he doesn't touch it, and instead strives to avenge Belit's death. Even after he is successful he is ever after remorseful of her passing and gives up pirating on the high seas, for they seem to have lost their luster with Belit gone.
In yet another example that surprised even me was in The Teeth of Gwahlur Conan is searching for a tiny chest of priceless gems and is interceded by a prostitute in a political game whom he only knew in passing. Yet in the final confrontation he has to make a choice of which he can have only one: Save the insanely valuable gems, or the prostitute that he barely knows? To even my surprise he saved the woman without hesitation.

The man can climb almost anything that can be climbed and fight anything that can be fought. He is wickedly ferocious and basic yet has traits of innocence and positive bravery. Although beholden to no country or person, only himself, he does show to care to some degree, and even makes a decent politician later on! Well, he basically avoids screwing things up royally by keeping his barons from taxing people into oblivion and smashing any threats with himself at the head of the attacks. Still better than many politicians currently in office.

In a not very short summary, Conan is an extremely fun and diverse series with little coherent chronology, yet it doesn't seem to matter. The writing style is fantastically powerful and energetic. The charge REH delivers to his words reveals the extreme passion he felt. They leap off the page and drag you into the adventures with the barbarian.
REH somehow makes everything compelling, including what some consider to be a mortal sin within writing, exposition through dialogue. Yet he accomplishes this with deft skill while not slowing the story in the least. Here his writing has the momentum of a freight train loaded with lead going downhill with no breaks.
There's a darned good reason why Conan is still known today, and that's because the execution is absolutely awesome. Even today among the many authors I've read I've yet to find anyone who can write action with such glowing energy as Robert E. Howard does. Yet this is just the first in his lineup, so scroll down to see what other fantastic stories and characters he made!

Far lesser known than Conan but no less epic is Solomon Kane, a puritan swordsman of the 16/1700's who's main goal in life is to vanquish evil wherever he finds it and to rescue the innocent. Although no less grim in style than Conan, Kane is distinctly more heroic, as his motivations are quite selfless. But don't let the religious background of the character fool you: He doesn't go around burning innocent people as witches and getting people frothing with religious fervor. No, he goes about alone seeking out those who rob, murder, plunder, maim and destroy. Think of Judge Dread without the Law and replaced by a conscience. He doesn't ask for rewards, he doesn't look for wealth. He only sets extremely simple goals and seeks to finish them regardless of how long it takes or what obstacles he must overcome to accomplish them. He feels very much like a force of nature and has the type of determination that is comparable to Finnish sisu, which is darned impressive!

The gaunt Englishman is an epic warrior, a classic figure of pulp fiction. His weapon of choice is the saber which he uses with superb skill. This guy is a John Carter swordsman and boy does he feel amazing with his whirling blade. He is capable of using the musket although he uses them rarely, preferring to be accompanied by a pair of pistols which he can use quite well.

Grim but valiant he is pretty heroic and fun to follow. Sadly he hasn't had as many stories written about him as some of his other characters, but he is pretty darned good regardless.
The style is very much the same used in the Conan stories. Dripping with action and arcane civilizations set against the hero.

REH also wrote some wonderfully detailed horror stories, many taking clear influence from his fellow writer and friend, HP Lovecraft, dabbling in strange forbidden knowledge and ancient cities, one of my personal favorites being The Fire of Asshurbanipal. Even more he had other historical action adventure, again with the same style above. Those are often his most pulse-pounding action stints, but his styles can go beyond this trademark, which we shall get into now.

One of the settings REH went into most were actually boxing stories starring a grizzled sailor known as Steve Costigan. To be honest, when I heard that most of REH's writing was about boxing I was left scratching my head, wondering how he could wring so many stories out of people punching each other. I expected something like Rocky 1 through Rocky 17.  Deciding that it was professional to at least give them a chance, I jumped into a few of them. Boy, did I learn how narrow minded I was!
These are less about boxing and more about having a boxer be put into all kinds of fascinating fights in exotic locations. Steve is one of the sailors aboard the ship The Sea Girl which mostly travels around the Asian waters and the Pacific.

Steve himself is not terribly bright, often falling for obvious traps, being suckered into strange schemes and just in general getting himself into trouble. He has a distinct anger problem, is very impulsive, doesn't think things through which often results in him punching many different people and wrecking lots of places. Yet he's strangely likable. He's a good natured oaf with a conscience and always fights fair. While not the sharpest marshmallow in the group, his unflinching loyalty and basic sportsmanship makes him quite enjoyable and makes you want to root for him. He has a simpleton charm that I certainly can't help but like.

As mentioned before, he's a boxer, and a darned good one. He doesn't limit his fist flying to just the ring, as he'll plug anyone who gets him sufficiently riled. When he gets into life or death brawls you can definitely detect REH's voice in how durable and powerful he is. But unlike the grim, brutal sword slashing stories mentioned above, these stories are actually very lighthearted, comedic and curiously charming. It's done in a first person style which really started showing me how much range REH had.

It feels very much as if the grizzled sailor is sitting down at a table in some dank bar telling the story to you with his thick slang. I keep thinking that it'd be jarring for the slang to be juxtaposed with rather high-brow language, but somehow it never really bothers me, a testament to the skill it's written with. While the audience can see many of the twists and turns coming, Steve walks right into them without notice, yet at the same time his simple brand of valiance brings him through.

These stories often end on very positive notes, such as him having made a new friend or having shown what kind of person he is at heart. In the story Breed of Battle we see just how grief-stricken he is when his faithful bulldog Mike is kidnapped. Even when he's caught up in a bitter fight with a man trying to punch his nose into the back of his head, he's far more worried about the well-being of his four legged friend. It was a story that actually touched me and felt very sweet in spite of his many blunderings and actions that would land him in prison with a huge list of crimes.

The humor involved is rather amusing, although it requires a bit of an appreciation for subtlety. I've not yet read all of his boxing stories, and some of my research indicates that he wrote boxing stories for other characters which I've not yet come across. There's an awful lot of good writing and only so much time to read up on them all!

Next to the boxing stories, REH's Western stories were the second most prolific. (Although I may be wrong on that, he did a heck of a lot of both) Howard grew up in Texas only a short time after it was tamed to some degree, and anyone can tell from his writing that the spirit of the West was strong in his blood. Like ERB he was an adventurous American type relegated to sifting through paper, something I find many great adventure writers have in common.

“To me the annals of the land pulse with blood and life,” he once said, revealing some of his skill with poetry which he dealt in as well. Most of his Westerns centered around the backwoods hillbilly Breckinridge Elkins, a bear of a young man with a thick skill, a monstrous constitution and a horrible streak of luck. Like the Steve Costigan stories these are written in first person with the characters telling us of their grand hyperbolic adventures with gross exaggerations that one can't help but be amused by. You again feel like the giant guy is sitting in front of you innocently telling you about the misfortunes that took place around him, in some cases almost as if he's venting about the injustices that took place, vividly displaying his perception of what happens around him.

Much like Costigan, Breckinridge is a generally ignorant and easily manipulated person that gets into trouble constantly. Although in these stories it's often more a case of the various Elkins relatives browbeating him into doing assignments for them outside of their literal nick of the woods, where he gets caught up in disproportionately dangerous situations the same way iron shavings are drawn to a magnet. The poor guy can't buy a plug of tobacco without being embroiled in some kind of bank heist, feud, civil uprising or the like. And you thought John McClane got into spots often!

Yet at the end of each backbreaking errand that usually results in more than a dozen bodies, four pounds of lead expelled at muzzle velocity, thirty laws broken per hour and several gallons of blood spilt he finds that he was sent on a fools errand over some minor mistake that was resolved shortly after he left to fix it! Poor old boy!

The stories have a distinct exaggerated tone that one expects to hear from the rural territories and really helps sucks you in. Breckinridge, if his word is to be taken at face value, is the human equivalent of a renegade tornado in a trailer park, as he often ends up rending entire buildings asunder with only his hands. Yet he's quite innocent in many respects, trying to actually stay out of the way of the law, with very little success. But boy is it amusing to read about!
We can again sense REH's voice in this writing as well if you know where to look.

Along with his other writing mentioned above and not even counting the many others I've not yet read but will speak of in later posts, the man had greater range and dexterity with the English language than any other man I've ever seen. During his short writing career he churned out dozens of well written short stories and a few novels of staggering diversity and magnetic engagement. It is thus that I believe the world was deprived of one of its greatest writers when Robert committed suicide shortly after the tragic death of his mother. It's a very sad tale in and of itself, which I prefer not to delve into here.

Yet the strength of his voice has carried on through the decades. His work still captivates the minds of readers even when in competition with movies, games, shows, comics, and all the other legions of entertainment. His writing still stands proud and has many fan dedicated to promoting his fantastic contributions.

Sadly, many literary people consider him to be a rather simple and crass writer, refusing to grant him a place in the annals of literature. Sure, his stuff still sells, but it's regarded by some as just being indulgent trash that shouldn't be considered anything special. I beg to differ. Although ERB was a simple entertainer and world builder, REH was a wizard of action and pacing. His magic was done with the typewriter and pen, yet achieved far greater affects than some of the magic users in his own stories! Never have I seen an author with the same level of diversity in writing styles and superb execution as this man.

It is thus that I write this tribute to him as being one of the greatest writers of the early 1900's, a man who's writing I encourage you to look into if you have an eye for adventure and appreciation for quality story telling.
I will put up information on some of his other work when the opportunity arises, but for now take a look at what you can find!

Next up, The Master of Horror: HP Lovecraft!

Family Fun 1

My family is an interesting group of cobbled together nut-cases that only barely know how to behave in public, with the exception of my mom who miraculously manages to keep us from going on a rampage of chaos.

But there are some times where even that Mom unit requires a break and responsibility falls on the rest of the oldest to try and stave off the hordes of darkness. Perhaps eight years ago this happened. Mother's Day.

On the off-chance that any of my family members happen to be reading this, I'm going to change names to protect the somewhat innocent. That and I don't want any of them kicking down my door in a fit of rage to wreak revenge. I might be flattering myself with the assumption that there is any respectable number of people reading this, but I'd just rather not take the chance!

So for the purposes I'll refer to the main character of this story, the oldest of my sisters, simply as The Fierce One. Trust me, it fits.

T'was Mother's Day, a nice peaceful Sunday where things were calm and enjoyable. Oh, wait, no, my mistake. That was for everyone not in my house. See, my family has done a good bit of foster care and adoption in addition to the kiddies we already have. I am the oldest of the clan, followed by my brother who isn't apart of this story but shall name The Stoic One, and then the third oldest and last of the genetic offspring, The Fierce One. We had at least four sprogs running around and it was up to my Dad, myself and The Fierce One to maintain order.

Now, for those of you who have little experience with young children, things are rarely calm. After you get enough of them for long enough, it is no longer simply a household. It's a POW camp for kids. The level of destruction some of these kids could wreak would have been impressive for a riot. They had the numbers advantage, not to mention my Dad and I are amazingly ADD, so it was a tad hard to focus.

Mom in the meantime was enjoying some well earned rest in the bedroom. The Fierce One in the meantime was getting rather fed up with having to deal with the Child Uprising and wished to have reinforcements. I should mention here that The Fierce One had a rather skewed perception of reality. If you ask "Could you help me move this?" she will literally hear "You don't do anything around here, now get off your butt and move this or else." and will proceed to fly off the handle. My attempts at selling her in the Arab harem market have thus been unsuccessful, presumably they have heard of her and are too smart to take the bait. Sigh.

Anyway, I was busting out old moves from my wrestling days, trying to subdue some child with debatable success, when The Fierce One throws up her hands and in the most dramatic was possible demands the presence of Mom to help beat back the hordes of children.
"Where's Mom? She needs to come out here and help watch the kids!" she fumed. Dad calmly replies "She's resting in the bed, its Mother's Day." I've got to admire the composure he had under the circumstances. However, The Fierce One didn't quite see it that way.

With absolute sincerity The Fierce One replies, all the while her head twisting back and forth in the most over exaggerated sassy way imaginable, "Just because it's Mother's Day doesn't mean she gets to sit around and do nothing!"
The look of incredulity on Dad's face was... amazing. He was utterly frozen with disbelief at the sheer gall of the comment. He almost bruised his dropped jaw on his boot.
"Yeah... it kinda does." he replyeth, having trouble confronting what she had just said.

Ahhhhh, just another day in the Cowboy's home clan! I'll recall a few more of these moments later. Enjoy!