Friday, September 29, 2006

Warhammer Novels

I’ve never been a prodigious reader of novels based on role-playing games, but I’ve read quite a few Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms novels. Recently, I’ve read a couple of books based on the Warhammer game and really liked them: FORGED IN BATTLE by Justin Hunter and VALNIR’S BANE by Nathan Long.

One of the best things about the Warhammer books is the setting. It’s an alternate universe version of Europe, with Emperor Karl-Franz ruling over an empire that stretches across the Warhammer analogs of France, Germany, and other assorted countries. The Empire faces all sorts of supenatural threats from surrounding regions. Despite the presence of magic and monsters, the novels, which focus on the Empire’s various armies, have a very gritty tone to them, with most of the characters being grunt-level soldiers. The technology level is particularly interesting. Most of the fighting is done with swords, lances, halberds, etc., but gunpowder exists and the armies have primitive firearms, including matchlock rifles and cannon. That provides a welcome difference from a lot of sword-and-sorcery novels.

There are different series within the overall Warhammer series. FORGED IN BATTLE is the first of the Ragged Company series and follows a company of halberdiers as they try to stop beastmen from overrunning the village they’re assigned to protect. There’s a definite Western feel to this one, as the soldiers fight war parties of beastmen and try to convince outlying settlers to come into the village where they’ll be safer. Substitute cavalry for the halberdiers and Comanches for the beastmen, and you’ve got a John Ford Western. VALNIR’S BANE, the first of the Blackhearts series, has a more traditional fantasy plot, as a group of heroes set off to recover an artifact with mystical powers that will swing the balance of power in a war between the Empire and the forces of Chaos. Of course, the soldiers who go on this commando-like mission are recruited from convicts facing the gallows for various crimes, so there’s a certain resemblance to the Dirty Dozen (a time-honored plot if ever there was one). Nathan Long does a great job with it, creating good characters and putting them in dozens of perilous situations. One plot twist is a little predictable, but since it’s one I’ve used myself on more than one occasion, I can’t quibble about that.

Overall I enjoyed both of these books quite a bit and will definitely be reading more in the Warhammer universe.

Saturday, September 23, 2006


Since today was the first day of fall, I suppose it's appropriate that a cold front blew through this morning, bringing with it a few thunderstorms, then clearing off this afternoon to leave behind a beautiful day with lots of blue sky, white clouds, and a cool north breeze. It was so nice I went for a couple of walks, bad for my allergies but good for everything else. Most of the day was spent at the computer, though, getting started on the new book. As usual for the first day on a new project, the pages went well and were very enjoyable.

I think I'm going to read something just for fun the next few days. I haven't decided what it's going to be, however. I have a couple of books sitting by my chair ready to go: VENGEANCE RIDER, a Western by Lewis B. Patten, and VALNIR'S BANE, a fantasy novel by Nathan Long. May be time to flip a coin.


Oh, yeah, I've also started my annual battle with hay fever. This time of year I really start looking forward to the first freeze, because that will get rid of most of the pollen for a while.

Catching Up

I've been in a cave for the past week. Well, not really. The last time I was actually in a cave was a little over 16 years ago, and that was Wonder Cave in San Marcos, Texas. No Carlsbad Cavern, but not a bad little cave. Anyway, since finishing the manuscript I mentioned in my last post, I've been busy editing some of Livia's stuff, working on a few proposals of my own, and writing a short story that I'm hoping to sell to an anthology. I really enjoy having a stretch like this every now and then, where I work on a bunch of different things in a relatively short period of time. But tomorrow (today, actually, since it's after midnight) I'll be starting work on a new book, so things will get somewhat back to normal around here, I expect.

I've just about adjusted to my new glasses, although things still look a little odd every now and then. For several days I had a problem with one of the lenses popping out of the frames with no warning. One of the screws that hold the frame together just wouldn't stay in, so I replaced it with a slightly longer screw, and when I took a good look at the old one, I saw that the threads were a little fouled up on it. I'm hoping that was why it kept working loose. So far so good on the new one.

Everything I've read lately has been either for research or for the Scribe Awards, given by the International Association of Media Tie-in Writers. I'm one of the judges, so I can't really talk about the submissions I've been reading. Wouldn't be ethical, seems to me. We saw a fairly interesting movie the other night, DOMINO, based on the life of bounty hunter Domino Harvey, the daughter of actor Laurence Harvey. It was filmed in a really odd style and was a little hard to follow, but I sort of liked it. Mickey Rourke was great as a fellow bounty hunter.

And that's all I have to report for now.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

#195 and New Specs

I picked up my new glasses on Tuesday, but I waited until today to switch over to them because I wanted to finish the current manuscript first. I wrapped it up late yesterday afternoon, my 195th novel. I've already started thinking about #200. If everything stays like it looks now, I know which book it will be (a house-name Western) and when (sometime in February).

Anyway, I'm now wearing the new glasses, and I hate them. This is not an unexpected development. I've always had trouble adjusting to new glasses, which is one reason I went so long wearing the ones I had. I can see better at a distance, but everything from about ten feet on in just looks wrong. I know I'll get used to them, but I'm going to gripe about them anyway. And I must admit, they look a lot better than my old ones did. We mustn't lose sight (so to speak) of the things that are really important.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Movies, Movies, Movies

We've been watching quite a few movies lately, but I've been slacking off when it comes to writing about them. So, to play catch-up, here are brief comments about some of the movies we've seen.

INSIDE MAN -- A nice twisty bank robbery yarn, with a lot of moral ambiguity. You really don't know who to root for most of the time. I liked it quite a bit.

THE SHAGGY DOG -- I thought this remake of the Disney classic (I remember seeing the original when it was new) was extremely predictable and really not very well-written. And I laughed all the way through it anyway. There's just something about a man acting like a dog that's funny to me.

ROB ROY -- Somehow we missed this swashbuckler when it came out back in the Nineties. I've written so many historically-based, soap-opera-like novels that sometimes when I'm watching a movie like this, I get a definite feeling of "been there, wrote that". I liked it anyway. Good scenery, good photography, and some fine sword fights. Between the poor sound recording and the Scottish accents, we had to turn the captions on to keep up with the dialogue, though.

FIREWALL -- Another bank robbery movie, although a very different one. It's hard not to like Harrison Ford, and Paul Bettany makes a good villain in this one.

ASK THE DUST -- A major disappointment. I'd heard enough good things about this one that I wanted to like it. But there's almost no plot and the whole movie is glacially paced. The photography is great, Salma Hayek goes skinny-dipping, and there's a nice quote from H.L. Mencken about writing. Those are about the only positive things I can say about this one.

RAY -- Pretty grim, but I liked it. Jamie Foxx deserved his Oscar. But when it comes to musical biopics, I think I liked WALK THE LINE and BEYOND THE SEA better, probably because I like the music of Johnny Cash and Bobby Darin more than I do that of Ray Charles.

YOU KNOW MY NAME -- Made for cable Western with Sam Elliott as Marshal Bill Tilghman. You gotta love Elliott for his voice and that craggy face, and the movie was pretty accurate historically. A little too bleak for my taste, but what are you gonna do? Rewrite history? Oh, yeah, there's also a brief appearance by James Gammon, one of my favorite character actors, as an outlaw named Arkansas Tom. Good stuff.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

You’ll Get Yours/Thomas Wills (William Ard)

Al Guthrie recommended this book a couple of weeks ago in his comments on an earlier post about one of William Ard’s other novels. It was published by the legendary Lion Books in 1952. I got hold of a copy and read it, and while my opinion of it isn’t quite as high as Al’s, I enjoyed it.

The narrator is New York private eye Barney Glines. A PI named Barney Glines also appears in Ard’s two Danny Fontaine novels, published about a decade later. I haven’t read the Fontaine books yet, so I don’t know if the character is supposed to be the same one or just has the same name. This novel has a very atmospheric opening in which Barney is in a seedy hotel in Mexico, having come there to kill a man. Someone beats him to it, though, and from there the story backtracks to how and why Barney set out on this murderous quest. The yarn includes a beautiful actress, stolen diamonds, blackmail photos, strippers, vicious junkies, and a particularly brutal murder for which Barney is framed. In other words, all the stuff you need for a good private eye novel.

Which YOU’LL GET YOURS certainly is. In the end, the plot is a little too simple and seems to be lacking a twist or two, but the book is fast-paced, the action scenes are very good, and Barney Glines is a likable character. Its strongest aspect, though, is the nightmarish quality that hangs over the entire book, as if it might just be a fever dream rather than reality. One of Ard’s other novels is called HELL IS A CITY, and in this book, New York is pretty hellish. But in an entertaining way for hardboiled readers, of course.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Ride Into Yesterday/Ed Gorman

This is one of Ed Gorman’s earlier Westerns, originally published by Walker in 1992 under the pseudonym Christopher Keegan, then reprinted in paperback by Leisure in 1999 under Gorman’s name. But even if I had read the original edition without knowing who the author really was, I think I would have suspected that Ed wrote it. It has all the hallmarks of a Gorman Western: lean prose; characters who are wounded physically, spiritually, or both; a small town that harbors deadly secrets; and an air of grim melancholy that’s relieved somewhat by glimmerings of hope.

Gunfighter Stephen Payne – who never really wanted his reputation as a gunman – arrives in the small town of Favor, where his younger brother committed suicide after robbing a stagecoach. But Payne doesn’t believe that his brother really did either of those things. He thinks that his brother was murdered, and he sets out to discover the truth. It doesn’t take long for his investigation to put him in deadly danger, so he knows his suspicions must be correct. This is a fine book all around, with a particularly satisfying ending.

On a related note, I’ve read several Westerns by Lewis B. Patten lately, and I’ve been struck by the qualities they share with Gorman’s Westerns. Patten wasn’t the writer that Ed is, and his plots are more conventional. He was also inconsistent, producing some pretty bad books at times. But his good ones are well worth reading, and if you’ve read all of Ed Gorman’s Westerns and are looking for something similar, you could do worse than give Patten a try. Some books of his I’ve read recently that I liked quite a bit: PRODIGAL GUNFIGHTER, THE LAW IN COTTONWOOD, and LYNCHING AT BROKEN BUTTE.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Medical Update

I went to get my eyes examined for new glasses today. Had to wait for six weeks after that retina surgery. When it comes to getting my eyes examined and getting new glasses on a regular basis, I've been a bad, bad boy. I've been wearing my current pair for at least fifteen years, more likely seventeen or eighteen. The optometrist told me that as a result of letting my vision deteriorate, I squint 'way too much, which has changed the shape of my eyes and made them even more likely to develop retinal problems. I knew that one way or another it had to be my fault.

Anyway, I have a new prescription for my glasses now, and I'm going to be working on not squinting as much. New glasses should be in next week sometime. I could have gone to one of those one-hour places and gotten them today, but I decided to go the slower, cheaper route. For one thing, I plan on finishing the book I'm working on this weekend, or early next week at the latest, and this way maybe I can adjust to the new glasses between books.

Meanwhile, my eyes have continued to improve slowly (probably because I've been limiting my screen time), and I'm hoping the new glasses will also help in the long run.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Beyond All Desire / Tom Phillips

Look behind the soap-opera-like title and the soft-core porn cover of this book published by Monarch in 1961, and you’ve got . . . well, for the most part a soap-opera-like, soft-core porn novel. Which isn’t too much of a surprise considering that “Tom Phillips” was really Thomas P. Ramirez, who wrote dozens of Nightstand Books and Midnight Readers under the pseudonym Tony Calvano.

What makes this book a little better than it might have been is its behind-the-scenes look at a gigantic construction project, in this case an oil refinery and the company town that goes with it. Ramirez worked in the construction business, and those sections have an air of gritty authenticity about them. The corporate intrigue and sabotage and big business atmosphere make this book resemble a John D. MacDonald novel at times, although without MacDonald’s talent and storytelling ability. The numerous lurid romantic entanglements are actually the weakest part of the story.

I don’t know if Ramirez wrote any other Monarch Books as Tom Phillips. I’m not going to go out looking for them. But if I ever run across another one, I’ll probably pick it up.