Nope, no movies this week.
KULL: Exile of Atlantis by Robert E. Howard is an excellent collection containing the complete stories of Conan’s predecessor barbarian (the first Conan story, Phoenix on the Sword, reworked and improved Kull’s By This Axe I Rule) plus unedited fragments (the seventies Kull collection I had tacked on endings to a couple of them) and related material. Kull was a brooding barbarian joylessly ruling over the ancient Valusian Empire (Howard’s role model appears to have been Saul, whom he saw as an Aryan warrior type drowning in the clutches of the shifty-eyed Jews at his court); his first couple of stories were groundbreaking (the first sword-and-sorcery tales) and way, way too broody (Conan, at least, knew how to party). The stories are good, but suffer from being mostly unpublished, so Howard wound up using similar plots over and over as he reworked them. Nothing essential, but good to have for a Howard fan.
THE LIES OF LOCKE LAMORA by Scott Lynch is a first novel that lives up to its press clippings as a gifted grifter working on the Ultimate Con a vaguely Venician city-state finds himself suddenly embroiled in a war waged the mysterious Grey King on the city’s underworld, in which Locke’s team of “gentleman bastards” seems to have been singled out as a particular problem. An all-around outstanding job with story, character and setting all good.
CALL FOR THE DEAD was John LeCarré’s first novel, wherein minor intelligence officer George Smiley refuses to believe that a perfectly routine security screening could have driven a man to take his life—and if it did, why did he first leave a wake-up call for himself the next morning? While structured more as a murder mystery than a spy story, most of LeCarre’s themes are here already—the moral dubiety of both sides, the struggle between conscientious drones and self-serving careerists,. the murkiness of motive and a protagonist who doubts his own motives as well. Interesting to see his work at the beginning.
THE THIRD SKULL is a fairly straight mystery novel (by Walter Gibson) for the Shadow series, as the death of an old man leads to a frenzied hunt for the title McGuffin that can reveal his hidden wealth, while the Shadow tries to figure out which of the treasure seekers is a killer. Good, though the necessity of having the Shadow figure it out by sheer deduction means an awful lot of stumbling by his agents as they try to shadow people.
This being printed in a double-book, I also got REALM OF DOOM, a stronger story wherein the Shadow hunts down the last of the five members of the Hand crime cartel (regrettably I don’t have the earlier battles), a brainy Brute Man whose plots include a grand-scale kidnapping, an underground lair and an engineering genius (“Once I patent his work, the royalties will explain why I have so much cash to flash around.”). Lively.
THE AFFINITY BRIDGE: A Newberry and Hobbes Investigation by George Mann is the kickoff to a series I won’t revisit, a steampunk set in (I think) an early 20th century Britain (with the Victorian Era prolonged by the Queen on life-support) where the title investigators must cope with a suspicious dirigible crash, a plague of zombies and a sinister scheme to turn humans into cyborgs. Fairly routine—if they’d pushed this into the present, it wouldn’t have changed much
BONE: Out From Boneville is the first in a graphic novel series about plucky Fone Bone, his scheming cousin Phony and their goofball cousin Smiley, and how they wind up in an isolated valley where strange powers are up to no good. Charmingly reminiscent of Carl Barks’ work for Disney, entertaining even though it didn’t really grab me.