Pulp Reading Group (Mar 2009): Fafhrd & The Gray Mouser

Over on Goodreads (www.goodreads.com), I recently joined a great reading group called “Pulp Magazine Authors and Literature Fans.” The group discusses, as you might figure, pulp fiction, and every month chooses a book to read and talk about in the forum. Last month’s choice was Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon, which I didn’t have time to get to (but read many years back, and remember enjoying it).

This month, the choice is Fritz Leiber’s The Swords of Lankhmar, the only novel-length tale of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser.

(That’s not the cover of The Swords of Lankhmar, but is the great Mike “Hellboy” Mignola’s cover to another collection of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories).

Fritz Leiber (along with Robert E. Howard and a few others) was instrumental in the actual creation of the fantasy genre known as “sword and sorcery.” Leiber, in fact, was the man who coined the term. His stories are sardonic and bawdy and full of wit, full of action and invention, comic and tragic, sometimes damn near Shakespearean…If your notion of heroic fantasy literature is based on the yards and yards of Tolkien ripoffs and D&D novels (themselves, ultimately, Tolkien ripoffs for the most part), Leiber will prove a true literary treat.

Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser are two of the greatest characters in fantasy, a pair of good-hearted rogues of flexible ethics and decidedly Dionysian morality, as adept with their wits as they are with their blades. Fafhrd is a towering red-bearded barbarian from frosty northern lands, the Mouser a slight trickster from the urban sprawl who dabbles a bit in the arcane (with often questionable results). They adventure through the world of Nehwon (read it backwards), which is full of corruption and vile magics and things to do. And the adventures are so well written, they tickle the mind:

…Then [Fafhrd] shrugged and said loudly, “What’s so special about these rats? Do they do tricks?”

“Aye,” Slinoor said distastefully. “They play at being men. They’ve been trained by Hisvet to dance to music, to drink from cups, hold tiny spears and swords, even fence. I’ve not seen it–nor would care to.”

The picture struck the Mouser’s fancy. He envisioned himself small as a rat, dueling with rats who wore lace at their throats and wrists, slipping through the mazy tunnels of their underground cities, becoming a great connoisseur of cheese and smoked meats, perchance wooing a slim rat-queen and being surprised by her rat-king husband and having to dagger-fight him in the dark. Then he noted one of the white rats looking at him intently through the silver bars with a cold inhuman blue eye and suddenly his idea didn’t seem amusing at all…

Simply put, there is no finer writer than Leiber in fantasy, and he’s a damn sight better than most in any genre:

The Demoiselle Hisvet stood as tall as the Mouser, but judging by her face, wrists, and ankles was considerably slenderer. Her face was delicate and taper-chinned with small mouth and pouty upper lip that lifted just enough to show a double dash of pearly tooth. Her complexion was creamy pale except for two spots of color high on her cheeks. Her straight fine hair, which grew low on her forehead, was pure white touched with silver and all drawn back through a silver ring behind her neck, whence it hung unbraided like a unicorn’s tail. Her eyes had china whites but darkly pink irises around the large black pupils. Her body was enveloped and hidden by a loose robe of violet silk except when the wind briefly molded a flat curve of her girlish anatomy…

If you’re a completist, the first book in the series is Swords And Deviltry, but The Swords of Lankhmar is the only novel in the cycle, and there’s nothing particularly spoilery or incomprehensible about reading it without reading the other books. Hop over to Goodreads and join the group, join the discussion. Or just read Leiber on your own, as a gift to yourself.

New Doc Wilde Blog

The new Doc Wilde site is coming along nicely.

I just added a Doc Wilde blog (“The Blogs of Doom“) which will be more targeted in its focus than “Under An Outlaw Moon,”  which is my personal blog, so you never know what you’ll find here. While there will naturally be some cross0ver, the content there should mostly be original.

Also at the site are a Gallery of great Doc Wilde art by comics artist Gary Chaloner, a Reviews page for Doc Wilde and the Frogs of Doom, FREE Stuff including an excerpt from the book and a free short story, an Author’s Bio/FAQ, and a library of Suggested Reading.

Come on by and check it out. Don’t forget to sign the Guestbook.

Savage Tales


Back in the day, I worked in the roleplaying game industry.

I’m not talking rpg video games, like World of Warcraft or Oblivion (more’s the pity, because the money would have been way better). No, I’m talking good old fashioned face-to-face, throwin’ dice, drinkin’ root beer and eatin’ Doritos roleplaying games. I got into them when I was a young teen, starting with the original Dungeons & Dragons and moving on to many others like Champions, Traveller, and Daredevils. In my twenties, here and there I’d manage to get some short-lived game together, a little James Bond or Ghostbusters here, a little Paranoia or Justice Inc there.

Then I happened across White Wolf’s Werewolf: The Apocalypse one day (in which players assume the roles of lycanthropic ecoterrorists fighting demonic corporate forces to save the wilderness and the Earth itself). Werewolves have always been my favorite monster, I’m a devoted environmentalist, and the game is steeped in animistic spirituality which is my soul’s cup of tea…conceptually, it was a perfect storm for me. That led to scattered White Wolf gaming, which in time led to me actually working at the company. Which led to a bit of other rpg work, most notably for Feng Shui and its stillborn spinoff Pulp! (none of that work saw print, unfortunately, as Daedelus Games collapsed, though I did put some of it online…by the way, any Feng Shui players out there still have copies of my stuff? I lost it all in a hard drive crash).

These games get a bad rap from some people, and D & D is often cultural code for loser. But the fact of the matter is that many people who sneer at roleplayers spend their time watching crap like Desperate Housewives or American Idol, deadening their brains while the gamers hang out together and engage in an activity that has its roots in campfire storytelling and improv theater, an activity that’s inherently social and that exercises the mind.

But I digress. A few years ago, I managed to run a game for a group of friends who managed, more often than not, for a while, to actually get together regularly to play. The game was Shane Hensley’s great Savage Worlds. Ultimately, unfortunately, it’s really tough to keep a game going over time because people are, in groups, pretty unreliable, and entropy sets in till things just unravel.

One of the things I did, as things were unraveling, was to try to establish “pick up games” outside the continuing narrative of the main game, that we could play if someone in the group didn’t show up. That way, we’d still be playing something, the group would hold steady in its routine, and we could restart the main game “next” time…

For the pickup games, I decided to run short sword & sorcery adventures, focusing mainly on mood and action (as opposed to an involved narrative and character development), and in the spirit of Savage Worlds  I called them “Savage Tales.” And I wrote a short handbook describing the setting and telling the players how to design their characters for it.

Before the game evaporated for good, I think we actually played one such pickup game. Or maybe we just had an evening where we hung out and did the character creation. I can’t remember for sure. But I always liked the little handbook I put together, and the commentary within on the difference between epic fantasy (like Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings) and sword & sorcery (like Robert E. Howard’s Conan or Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser):

If everyone can’t make it, we go to Europia. There, things are gonna be less epic saga, more survival skirmish. Conan could become a king in Europia, but Tolkien’d have his pipe crushed under some furred boot and be set to work the rest of his short life digging stones from cold earth.

There are no hobbity folk in Europia because they were eaten by snake-men aeons ago. The elves are mysterious and dark, and if you see one, it usually changes your life forever. The dwarves may exist or not, but grandpa says they eat human flesh. And the closest thing to an orc you’ve ever seen is that big ugly fucker down the bar you saw sodomizing an unconscious guardsman the other night…

Here’s the booklet. You might get a kick out of it. If you’re a gamer, you might even find something useful in it. But here it is.


Fake Cheese and Dracula

The last time I was at the grocery store, I grabbed a bag of shredded cheddar for various uses like sprinkling on chili or scrambling with eggs, but when I pulled the bag out to use I noticed it wasn’t actually cheddar at all. It was something called “Cheddar Melt Topping,” with the description “Shredded Imitation Cheddar Cheese” in smaller print. It tastes like some sort of packing material that’s been left in a moldy basement a while.

Imitation cheddar cheese my ass.

Which makes me think of Dracula.

Why does this make me think of the vampire king? It makes me think of him because I happen to be reading a novel called Seance for a Vampire by Fred Saberhagen, which is one of the books in his Dracula series. Years ago, I read Saberhagen’s The Dracula Tapes(which retold Bram Stoker’s story from the count’s point of view, and predated Anne Rice’s tape-recording-a-vampire book by a year), The Holmes-Dracula Files (which, as you’d expect, tells a tale involving the count and Sherlock Holmes, and is told in alternating chapters by Dr. Watson and Dracula), and An Old Friend of the Family (which brought Dracula to modern day Chicago). I loved these books, and always intended to read the remaining books in the series.

Saberhagen was (and I just found out the “was”, alas, is appropriate, as he died in 2007) a damn fine writer. Seance is excellent so far, and is another Dracula/Holmes adventure. So, how does fake cheese come into the picture?

The cover of Seance identifies Saberhagen as the “coauthor of the Bram Stoker’s Dracula movie novelization.” That there’s some serious fake cheese. For one thing, the movie called Bram Stoker’s Dracula was anything but. It was pretty darn cool, if I recall correctly (though I mostly remember a backlit Winona Ryder stumbling around in a nightdress), but it changed Stoker’s story a good deal for a movie claiming his authorship. And a novelization of a movie based (liberally) on the Stoker novel…Fake cheese.

 In a just universe, there would be no such thing as a novelization of a movie made from a novel. Movie novelizations are more often than not a waste of trees, anyway, and to publish one that actually, by design, is intended to replace an original book is an atrocious idea. It disrespects the original author, and it disrespects every reader who picks up the novelization instead of the original.

I’m sure the fact that Stoker’s book is in the public domain, and available widely in editions that wouldn’t make the licensee any money, had something to do with the decision to produce such an abomination. And maybe financial need led a fine writer like Saberhagen to accept such hack work.

For my part, the book could objectively be the best damned novel ever written in the English language and I still wouldn’t let it in the house. It can stay out there with all the fake cheese I’ll be meticulously not buying from now on.

See Some Cool Doc Wilde Art!

I’ve written previously about comic book wizard Gary Chaloner’s early involvement in coming up with possible artwork for the Doc Wilde series. He worked up some great designs that ultimately weren’t used (if we’re lucky, maybe we’ll see them in comic book or animated form one of these days), but definitely need to be seen.

I just added a “Gallery” page to the revamped Doc Wilde site, and it’s loaded with Gary’s sketches. Check it out:


Read An Excerpt From DOC WILDE & THE FROGS OF DOOM At The New Doc Wilde Site!!!


For a while, I’ve been using a subpage of this blog as the official site for Doc Wilde, but I’ve now launched a more respectable site that has much more to offer, including a free excerpt from my novel Doc Wilde and The Frogs of Doom.

Head over to www.DocWilde.com to join the adventure.

Another Rave Review For Doc Wilde!

My day is off to a great start: my son’s out of school because of snow, and my novel gets its second review, from novelist Alex Bledsoe at Guys Lit Wire:

Tim Byrd’s rollicking Doc Wilde and the Frogs of Doom is part Jonny Quest, part Doc Savage and all a massive hoot…it’s a balls-out adventure that, while light-hearted, never turns to self-referential mockery…

There’s lots more of the review here. Go see.

North East West South 3/1/2009

N.E.W.S. of the day…with smartassery.

Bobby Jindal: i can haz gravitaz?

For those who were worried that the loss of George W. Bush would be a terrible blow to comedians across the land, rest assured that the Republican Party is just as dedicated to providing buffoons for us to laugh at as it is to promoting tax cuts for the idle rich as the only solution for everything from genital warts to possible catastrophic asteroid collision.

Sarah Palin and Joe the Unlicensed Plumber Not Named Joe were great buffoons, and Rush Limbaugh has really been pulling his weight lately, but ladies and gents, we have a new champeen: Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana.

Knowing they couldn’t beat President Obama on charm or substance, the GOP wisely chose to beat him on laughs, and pulled the goofiest Joker from their misbegotten deck to provide the official Republican response to Obama’s big speech before Congress.

Jindal is another entry in the new Minstrel Show the Republicans are putting on to show that they have colored folks too, and are, in the words of RNC Chairman Michael Steele, “off the hook.” (And Steele himself is quite the Negro, apparently, since Minnesota Congresswoman Michelle Bachman told him “Michael Steele! You be da man! You be da man!”) (And Bachman herself recently bemoaned the tragic circumstance that “we’re running out of rich people in this country…” and I could just keep digressing and digressing at the idiocy this party has to offer, but I am supposed to be talking about Jindal right now…)

Jindal came bobbing onto screen and started talking in a Gomer-Pyle-with-a-head-wound way that seemed to uncannily channel Kenneth the Page on 30 Rock (this observation is in no way original to me, it’s all over the net, and Jack McBrayer even went on The Late Show in character to comment on it). Not only did he come across as an idiot, he told a dramatic story about how he courageously stood up to government bureaucracy during rescue operations during Hurricane Katrina which his office has now been forced to acknowledge was a lie.

But Jindal’s creds as a lackwit go far deeper than his performance after Obama’s speech. Much like Sarah Palin, Bobby has been involved in spiritual warfare against the forces of darkness, and while Sarah was only blessed by a minister who has driven witches out of their homes in Africa, the Bobster himself took part in exorcising a demon out of his best friend Susan:

Whenever I concentrated long enough to begin prayer, I felt some type of physical force distracting me. It was as if something was pushing down on my chest, making it very hard for me to breathe. . . Though I could find no cause for my chest pains, I was very scared of what was happening to me and Susan. I began to think that the demon would only attack me if I tried to pray or fight back; thus, I resigned myself to leaving it alone in an attempt to find peace for myself.

It appeared as if we were observing a tremendous battle between the Susan we knew and loved and some strange evil force. But the momentum had shifted and we now sensed that victory was at hand.While Alice and Louise held Susan, her sister continued holding the Bible to her face. Almost taunting the evil spirit that had almost beaten us minutes before, the students dared Susan to read biblical passages. She choked on certain passages and could not finish the sentence “Jesus is Lord.” Over and over, she repeated “Jesus is L..L..LL,” often ending in profanities. In between her futile attempts, Susan pleaded with us to continue trying and often smiled between the grimaces that accompanied her readings of Scripture. Just as suddenly as she went into the trance, Susan suddenly reappeared and claimed “Jesus is Lord.”

Palin/Jindal 2012? There’s something worth praying for.

Mermaid Dreams

When she was a little girl, Nadya Vessey lost both her legs below the knee. As an adult, she wrote to New Zealand special effects powerhouse Weta Workshop (the guys who made the Lord of the Rings movies so freaking amazing) and asked if they’d create a prosthetic for her that would make her into a mermaid. They did.

I don’t have much to say about this, really, only that it’s just cool as hell that they did this for her. Both onscreen and offscreen, Weta apparently sees their mission as bringing magic into the world.