Wednesday, January 19, 2011

In My Mailbox Today -- The Wildside Press Robert E. Howard Reader

For the past few months I had contemplated purchasing The Robert E Howard Reader from Wildside Press. I have purchased some of their Howard publications in the past, in particular Gates of Empire and have been quite happy with the purchases. Wildside is one of the many excellent smaller SF/F publishers and are the current publisher of Weird Tales, Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine and Adventure Tales.

What struck me as particularly interesting about the Reader was its ecumenical approach to Howard scholarship. The book features writings about Howard from Poul Anderson, Fritz Leiber, Robert M. Price, and the pariah of many modern Howard fans L. Sprague de Camp. In fact, the book is dedicated to de Camp (I can see James at Grognardia cringing as I write this).

As much as I disagree with de Camp's analysis of Howard's psyche as pure psychobabble, I have always admired his promotion of Howard's work and I was impressed that the Reader included and acknowledged him.

There was only one thing that kept me from ordering the book day one...

It has a horrible cover! It's worse than a Baen books cover, and that's not easy folks. What would your average plane/bus/train passenger think I was reading if they saw it?

I finally overcame my hesitation. After all, if I can admit to being a Hellcats fan how bad can walking around with this book be?

Looking at the contents, I am impressed so far. There is just one thing that keeps grating against my nerves. In the introduction of the book, and on the back cover, it says "A century after Robert E. Howard's death, it is evident that this amazing Texan achieved something unique in the annals of American literature." Conceptually, I agree with the sentence. Factually, I am irked. Robert E. Howard died in 1936 -- 75 years ago. The book was written for publication in 2007 -- you can still buy the author's Lulu version -- so it is intended as a Howard Centennial book. This is great, and I'm sure the writer meant "a century after Robert E. Howard's birth," but the lack of editing/review irks me.

I'll let you know how the book holds up as soon as I can get my mental nitpicker to take a nap.


Greyhawk Grognard said...

I got to agree with you; that cover is dreadful. Almost as bad as the new covers of the Gor novels.

I hadn't heard about this particular book before now. Definitely sounds like something to add to the Amazon queue.

Taranaich said...

Darrell Schweitzer is quite infamous in Howard Fandom for his rather, shall we say, unusual views, and he rivals Gary Romeo in his appreciation of De Camp's contribution to Conan, so seeing de Camp there is far from a surprise.

The "century of Howard's death" isn't the only editorial blunder: the first print run had a rather unfortunate error, as "Robert E. Howard" was misspelled on the spine. Not the most auspicious start.

I don't hate de Camp so much as I hate certain decisions he made, but I don't really feel the need to defend him either. His promotion of Howard's most commercial creation made him a millionaire, after all: I'd say that's acknowledgement enough.

Christian Lindke said...

I don't feel the need to defend what de Camp did to Conan any more than I feel the need to defend Lin Carter for Thongor. Both are indefensible in my opinion.

But I think that the ire against de Camp sometimes ignores his own fiction which is quite excellent. We can hate Thongor and still appreciate Carter's edited collections. I think we can ignore de Camp's views on Howard and his "co-written" stories, while enjoying things like "Solomon's Stone."

Taranaich said...

I don't know if ignore is the word I'd use, but yes, I do think some of de Camp's fiction is worth consideration, like "Lest Darkness Fall."