Friday, June 24, 2016

A Frontispiece and Map for Nightspore

A possible frontispiece for my upcoming novel, The King of Nightspore's Crown:

I spiraled silently down through the night,
slipping in and out of the pyramid's glow.
Scratch drawing in India ink. Since the cover is so organic and curvilinear, I felt that something starkly geometrical and minimalistic was in order.

And here's a pencil sketch of the map. It shows all the small sea of Tethys, rather than just its northeastern corner, where the first installment played out. Obviously the lettering has yet to be worked into it.

The Tower of Bel stands in the middle of the sea, linked to the coast-long city by a web of jointed viaducts. The equator, which I haven't drawn, runs through the Tower. This should go without saying, since the Hanging Gardens of Narva (reached from the Tower via space elevator) are in geostationary orbit, and such an orbit must lie over the equator, at a height about equal to the earth's circumference. (There, I knew I didn't take all those physics courses for nothing.)
I've decided that the image needs to sit sideways on a single page, rather than be split across two facing pages. The latter expedient is often resorted to in paperbacks, but here seems particularly unsatisfactory, seeing as how everything in my map lines up on the central meridian. The sideways map is a compromise, too, but The Silmarillion features one, at any rate.
Anyhow, Enochites imagine the solar system as revolving like a Ferris wheel rather than a carousel, so I suspect that they'd be OK with this either way.

Here, for comparison, is a draft of the map that appeared in Dragonfly:

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

A Bit More Burroughs Art

As promised, here's some more wrap-around Edgar Rice Burroughs cover art. First we have a series of Ballantine editions printed in the sixties and seventies with paintings by Gino D'Achille. I bought them for a quarter apiece at our county library's book sale; no doubt some fortunate fellow townsman is in possession of the first three installments, a murrain seize him/her. I'm less enthusiastic about this art than I am about my Frazetta covers, but – what can I say? – I purchased them solely for the art. My favorite is probably the delightfully bizarre crab-people painting.

While each is more or less monochrome, they're in spectral order, ranging from red through purple, blue, green, yellow, orange, and back to red again. In fact – get ready, I'm about to blow your mind here – in fact, I say, a certain amount of transitional coloration on the left-hand side of each image leads me to conjecture that they're all actually part of a crazy super-long Edgar Rice Burroughs rainbow mural.

Here I've just stuck the covers together so that you can get a general idea of what I'm talking about. They don't quite line up at the edges, and skip space between successive covers here and there. Maybe they're from several panels rather than a single one. In some instances at least I seem to see a single horizon extending from one cover to the next. Searching around the Internet yields images that corroborate the idea without quite confirming it. Here's the artist's website, which makes me think, eh, maybe not, but it's still cool to think.

Finally, here's one wrap-around cover painting by Michael Whelan (copyright 1979). He's a well known fantasy artist – he also did a very creepy wrap-around painting for a volume of H. P. Lovecraft stories that I own – and you can see much better images of his various Burroughs illustrations by performing a judicious Google Image search. The Thuvia painting is my favorite, because, with its dusky, dusty golds and blues, it most closely resembles how I imagine Barsoom.

The original is even more beautiful that this mass-produced and rather trashy-looking cover would lead you to believe. But I'll leave it to you to find this out for yourself, and instead conclude by contemplating Thuvia of Ptarth soothing the savage banth, which, to my mind, would look just right airbrushed onto an old van.

Monday, June 20, 2016

The Lost Continent

How is it that, before this summer, I'd never read C. J. Cutcliffe Hyne's The Lost Continent: The Story of Atlantis? I'm glad to say that I've just corrected the omission. Published serially in 1899 and as a book in 1900, it bears the stamp of the best of H. Rider Haggard's novels, but stands alone in being set wholly within antediluvian times, apart from a ridiculous framing story that serves only to explain why the narrative begins and ends so abruptly.

The book seems not very well known or respected these days. E. F. Bleiler in The Encyclopedia of Fantasy dismisses it in one sentence as "a stodgy dynastic romance that is now occasionally laughable." This, in the article on Atlantis; neither Hyne nor his novel have their own entry, and they are not mentioned in the article on Lost Lands and Continents. This judgment seems unduly harsh. Drawing heavily on Ignatius L. Donnelly's "nonfictional" work, Atlantis: The Antediluvian World, published in 1882, it is a work of real power and imagination, and, one suspects, a major influence on the many pulp writers who explored prehistoric civilizations in their stories.

Hailed by Lin Carter and L. Sprague de Camp as the best Atlantis novel out there, The Lost Continent was rescued from obscurity through its publication in the Ballantine Adult Fantasy series. Here is a scan of my copy's cover, with wrap-around painting by Dean Ellis:

The story opens in the Yucatan (although, sadly, this setting receives only a cursory glance), but most of the action takes place in the lost continent itself. The narrator and protagonist is Deucalion (as in the Greek deluge myth), a successful viceroy and general called home by the beautiful, capricious, self-deified empress Phorenice. She intends him as her husband, a plan that ends in disaster, owing in part to Deucalion's extreme moral rigidity (in the Atlantean sense). The characters are stiff, the love-making awkward and underdeveloped, the plot strangely meandering. But if you want a good and robust late Victorian romance set against a backdrop of mythic splendor and prehistoric mystery, then look no further.

There's a sea-battle between solar-powered ships and plesiosaurs. There's a seductive empress who rides a colossal wooly mammoth through the streets of the capital. There's a labyrinthine palace in a giant pyramid lit by subterranean fires. There are secret passages. Superdrugs. Volcanoes. Premature burials. Pagan anathemas. Warrior priests. Hairy half-bestial invaders. Pterodactyls that swoop down to steal sacrificial victims. A doomsday escape vessel that seems a cross between the Ark of the Covenant, Noah's ark, and a seed bank.

The novel also shows a creative attention to weird little details, a quality often sadly lacking in later, more derivative fantasy. Consider, for instance, this grotesque description of Deucalion's lover, disinterred from the tomb where she has sat buried alive for nine years:
Her beauty was drawn and pale. Her eyes were closed, but so thin and transparent had grown the lids that one could almost see the brown of the pupil beneath them. Her hair had grown to inordinate thickness and length, and lay as a cushion behind and beside her head. [...] The nails of her fingers had grown to such a great length that they were twisted in spirals, and the fingers themselves and her hands were so waxy and transparent that the bony core upon which they were built showed itself beneath the flesh in plain dull outline. Her clay-cold lips were so white, that one sighed to remember the full beauty of their carmine. Her shoulders and neck had lost their comely curves, and made bony hollows now in which the dust of entombment lodged black and thickly.
Or again, the description of the superbly imagined ark:
A wonderful vessel was this Ark, now we were able to see it at leisure and intimately. Although for the first time now in all its centuries of life it swam upon the waters, it showed no leak or suncrack. Inside, even its floor was bone dry. That it was built from some wood, one could see by the grainings, but nowhere could one find suture or joint. The living timbers had been put in place and then grown together by an art which we have lost to-day, but which the Ancients knew with much perfection; and afterwards some treatment, which is also a secret of those forgotten builders, had made the wood as hard as metal and impervious to all attacks of the weather.  
In the gloomy cave of its belly were stored many matters. At one end, in great tanks on either side of central alley, was a prodigious store of grain. Sweet water was in other tanks at the other end. In another place were drugs and samples, and essences of the life of beasts; all these things being for use whilst the Ark roamed under the guidance of the Gods on the bosom of the deep. On all the walls of the Ark, and on all the partitions of the tanks and the other woodwork, there were carved in the rude art of bygone time representations of all the beasts which lived in Atlantis; and on these I looked with a hunter's interest, as some of them were strange to me, and had died out with the men who had perpetuated them in these sculptures.
At every point the author shows a predilection for grandiose adventure, but tempers it with an attention to visceral detail:
Blood flowed from the mammoth's neck where the spikes of the collar tore it, and with each drop, so did the tameness seem to ooze out from it also. With wild squeals and trumpetings it turned and charged viciously down the way it had come, scattering like straws the spearmen who tried to stop it, and mowing a great swath through the crowd with its monstrous progress. Many must have been trodden under foot, many killed by its murderous trunk, but only their cries came to us. The golden castle, with its canopy of royal snakes, was swayed and tossed, so that we two occupants had much ado not to be shot off like stones from a catapult. [...] 
I braced myself to withstand the shock, and took fresh grip upon the woman who lay against my breast. But with louder screams and wilder trumpetings the mammoth held straight on, and presently came to the harbour's edge, and sent the spray sparkling in sheets amongst the sunshine as it went with its clumsy gait into the water. 
But at this point the pace was very quickly slackened. The great sewers, which science devised for the health of the city in the old King's time, vomit their drainings into this part of the harbour, and the solid matter which they carry is quickly deposited as an impalpable sludge. Into this the huge beast began to sink deeper and deeper before it could halt in its rush, and when with frightened bellowings it had come to a stop, it was bogged irretrievably. Madly it struggled, wildly it screamed and trumpeted. The harbour-water and the slime were churned into one stinking compost, and the golden castle in which we clung lurched so wildly that we were torn from it and shot far away into the water
Refreshingly, the narrator and other characters follow a pagan moral code wholly alien to modern social mores. Deucalion in particular shows utter unconcern with the lives of the peasant and slave classes, whom he plainly despises, and in fact openly reviles in several passages. (Slaves, incidentally, come chiefly from Europe.) Though odious, his attitudes greatly enhance the book's verisimilitude. The destruction of a continent and people to satisfy the zeal of a priestly caste outraged by a single woman who has stolen their secrets is related as a matter of course. Atlantis the nation is mourned, but the people merit not even a second thought.

As I read The Lost Continent, I kept thinking of authors who might have been influenced by it. A comparatively recent example is Michael Moorcock in his Elric books. Like Melniboné, Atlantis is an amoral dynastic island culture fallen into decadence that evinces a strong disdain for the up-and-coming peoples of the mainland; also, interestingly, the approach to both capitals is rendered difficult, the former by a maze of passages, the latter by the twists and turns of an extremely long, narrow, and high-walled inlet. Possible echoes in other works of fantastic literature abound, Edgar Rice Burroughs's stories being the most obvious example.

So if you like to read, not only the great pulp writers, but what influenced them; if you enjoy a good H. Rider Haggard romance and don't mind a bit of Victorian stodginess; if you want an interesting early imagining of ancient high technology; if you're looking for Bronze Age battles with giant prehistoric beasts – if you're into any of these things, I say, then give The Lost Continent a try.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Frank Frazetta on Barsoom and Pellucidar

Now here, my friends, is some wrap-around cover art. Behold the dust jacket for the Nelson Doubleday book club edition (1971) of The Gods of Mars / The Warlord of Mars, with painting by the peerless Frank Frazetta:

Fond though I am of the Ballantine Adult Fantasy covers, I must admit that most come off as amateurish; here, obviously, we are in the presence of a master. Being a geek, however, I must note that, like most Burroughs illustrators, Frazetta takes some liberties with the green Martians, making them look more human than Burroughs describes them.
Their eyes were set at the extreme sides of their heads a trifle above the center and protruded in such a manner that they could be directed either forward or back and also independently of each other, thus permitting this queer animal to look in any direction, or in two directions at once, without the necessity of turning the head. [A Princess of Mars]
On the other hand, those are some pretty awesome apes. It saddens me that I haven't yet come across a copy of A Princess of Mars in this line. However, as a consolation I do have the Nelson Doubleday book club edition (1972) of Thuvia, Maid of Mars / The Chessmen of Mars.

I hereby nominate this as the most glorious wrap-around cover painting ever. It's got it all. Lovely color scheme? Check. Dark sky with multiple satellites? Check. Fabulous retro-future city in the background? Check. Enormous, slavering monster? Check. Manly man defending scantily clad but relatively unconcerned princess from said beast with nothing but a saber? Double check. And the groovy font is just icing on the cake.

Then we have the 1974 edition of Swords of Mars / Synthetic Men of Mars:

No wrap-around painting here, but still beautiful.

Since we're on Frank Frazetta and Edgar Rice Burroughs, here's the cover to an Ace edition of At the Earth's Core:

And here's the cover to Tanar of Pellucidar:

I have some other* Burroughs editions with wrap-around covers, and plan to post a few in the not-so-distant future. In the meantime, enjoy my festival of Ballantine covers.

* I have something like four editions of most of the Mars books. And I'm likely to acquire more if no one stops me. Yes, I need help.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

A Grave in Brownwood

Well, I'm back. Back, that is, from another journey to the land of the in-laws. As I've mentioned, our established route happens to take us through Brownwood, Texas, where Robert E. Howard spent part of his life, went to school, and was ultimately buried. Today we timed our transit so as to attend evening mass at the local parish (coreligionists being scarce in this part of the state), but arrived twenty minutes early, and so decided to find Howard's grave in the interim.

As I now discover, the site lies almost within sight of our route, just off US 377, in Greenleaf Cemetery. A highway sign marks the cemetery entrance, which is on the south side of town, between Howard Payne University (the Baptist university where Howard took classes) and the big 3M and Kohler factories.

The Howard family grave is at the second right on the main road shown above. Thanks to a historical marker, it's very easy to find.

All three family members were buried together. "They were lovely and pleasant in their lives and in their death they were not divided."

And here is what the Texas Historical Commission has to say about the matter:

Yesterday was the eightieth anniversary of Howard's suicide, a fact that somehow did not occur to me until just now.

About twenty or thirty miles to the south on US 377, there's a picnic area marking the (approximate) geographical center of the state. So it's fair to say that the mortal remains of Robert E. Howard repose in the heart of Texas.

Bored? Intrigued? Peruse some of my other ruminations on "Two-Gun Bob" and my forays into the Cross Plains area:

Saturday, June 4, 2016

And Here's Another Wrap-Around Cover

At long last, I have more or less finished the cover painting for The King of Nightspore's Crown, and here it is:

It measures something like 12" x 9", painted on my trusty block of Arches hot-pressed, using a lot of Indian red. Other colors include burnt umber, cadmium red, gold ochre, Naples yellow, sap green, chrome green, cerulean blue, and French ultramarine. No black was used, as I find that it merely deadens the colors, but I have a lamentable weakness for Payne's gray (the only mixed color I use), and this contains some black pigment.

I started the picture in January and finished it today, working mostly late at night. There were about two months in there when I literally didn't have a single weekend to myself, due to various things that came up. A significant portion was painted while rocking a very light-sleeping baby with my foot, which takes a certain amount of coordination. What a life, what a life.

Anyway, on to other material elements. There's a bit of Henri Rousseau here, and also some Samuel Palmer. Like Palmer, I do love a good moon in a painting, especially a crescent moon.

I also looked at some book covers that I like, including one by Kinuko Craft for Perelandra and another by Leo and Diane Dillon for a novel by Ursula K. Le Guin.

Another thing I really like are big murals of prehistoric life, like the ones at the Houston Museum of Natural History, or Zallinger's famous Age of Reptiles mural at Yale. My stories take place in a Paleozoic world, so this seems a fitting inspiration. Here we have a dimetrodon trying (and failing) to hide behind a stand of calamites.

Most of the plants are purely fantastic, however, in the sense that they have a place in neither geological antiquity nor my novel. I honestly just drew the shapes that pleased me, and colored them according to the same principles.

To paraphrase Winnie-the-Pooh, you just have to let things come in where they want. So the cover is more evocative than illustrative. I don't suppose any cover artist is in complete accord with the writer's ideas; I'm no different, even though I'm the same person.

As I've mentioned before, there are a lot of things to think about when making a wrap-around cover. In creating my festival of wrap-around cover art the other day, I began to surmise that much of it (the cover of Xiccarph, for instance) was trimmed down from pieces larger and more symmetrical. To produce a painting that will serve as a cover without serious cropping, you have to make sure that it falls naturally into three sections (front cover, spine, back cover) while remaining a unified whole (because you are a principled artiste who could do no less).

My spine, I think, is particularly successful:

There, wouldn't that look handsome on your bookshelf? Whether the other parts will come together remains to be seen. No doubt I'll have to tweak things a bit.

To get an idea of the truly glacial pace at which I paint, reflect that I worked through unabridged audiobooks of Titus Groan, The Bloody Crown of Conan, Dracula, King Solomon's Mines, Great Expectations, Bleak House, Imaro, Imaro 2, Nostromo, In a Glass Darkly, The Brothers Karamazov, and The House on the Borderland while in progress. That's not counting the time spent listening to Pink Floyd and the Doors.

I wanted very much to listen to Emma, which happens to be one of my favorite novels, but was afraid that Miss Woodhouse would make me lose my take-no-prisoners sword-and-sorcery mojo. I'm not joking about that. There's enough pink in the picture as it is.

Stay tuned for further developments in the publication of my upcoming novel.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Land of Enchantment and Atom Bombs

My painting of Taos Pueblo.
I just spent the better part of a week in the Santa Fe area. I've traveled, camped, and backpacked in New Mexico too many times to count, and Santa Fe is my favorite place to visit. Anyone who reads my blog knows that I delight in finding connections between seemingly far-separated subjects. Thanks to my trip, my brain is a whirl of such connections right now.

One thing that strikes me about Santa Fe is the almost painful juxtaposition of old and new. The region is the setting of Willa Cather's backward-looking Death Comes for the Archbishop (1927) as well as Aldous Huxley's forward-looking Brave New World (1931). For both authors, the pueblos represent a link to a world rooted in the past. From the former:
Father Latour lay with his ear to this crack for a long while, despite the cold that came from it. He told himself he was listening to one of the oldest voices of the earth. What he heard was the sound of a great underground river, flowing through a resounding cavern. The water was far, far below, perhaps as deep as the foot of the mountain, a flood moving in utter blackness under ribs of antediluvian rock. It was not a rushing noise, but the sound of a great flood moving with majesty and power.
     "It is terrible," he said at last, as he rose.
     "Si, Padre." Jacinto began spitting on the clay he had gouged out of the seam, and plastered it up again.
Whenever I'm in the area I pay a visit to Bandelier National Monument, where the Frijoles Canyon shelters the ruins of the ancient town of Tyuonyi, the descendants of whose builders dwell at Cochiti Pueblo to the south; perched almost on top of it is the National Laboratory at Los Alamos, where the Manhattan Project was undertaken and where the first atomic bombs were created; beyond that is San Ildefonso Pueblo. Thus are the forces of preservation and destruction violently juxtaposed.

Upon passing the National Laboratory on this trip, I was reminded of a quote from E. F. Schumacher's A Guide for the Perplexed, which I recently read:
The pursuit of science is a matter of taking stock and formulating recipes for action. Every recipe is a conditional sentence of the type, "If you want to achieve this or that, take such and such steps." [...] The test of a recipe is purely pragmatic – the proof of the pudding being in the eating. The perfections of this type of science are purely practical – the objective, i.e. independent of the character and interests of the operator, measurable, recordable, repeatable. Such knowledge is "public" in the sense that it can be used even by evil men for nefarious purposes; it gives power to anyone who manages to get hold of it. (Not surprisingly, therefore, many attempts are always being made to keep parts of this "public" knowledge secret!)
Schumacher opposes knowledge for manipulation (described here) to knowledge for understanding, without which our civilization is sinking ever deeper into "anguish, despair, and lack of freedom."

The Trinity nuclear test. [source]
"I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds."
[from the Bhagavad Gita, quoted by Robert Oppenheimer]
My interest in the history and culture of the region has led me to begin collecting pottery from the local pueblos. Each pueblo has its own distinctive style, such as the famous black-on-black technique developed by Maria Martinez of San Ildefonso Pueblo, which has been exhibited at world's fairs and major museums around the country.

My modest pottery collection. The second and third from the left are from
San Ildefonso, where many of Maria Martinez' kin are still in business.
The others are from Taos, Santa Clara, Acoma, and Santo Domingo.
I prefer to acquire the pottery by visiting the native artisans and sellers. Entering a pueblo is like stepping into a small foreign country, and you are very conscious of being a guest who might be tolerated but is not particularly welcome. Some, such as Santa Clara Pueblo, are fairly friendly and informal; others are quite strict, and some discourage outsiders altogether. On this trip I was fairly run off from Santo Domingo Pueblo for unknowingly approaching during a day of ceremonial dances, which are closed to outsiders.

Maria Martinez, who developed a new style of blackware, with physicist
Enrico Fermi, who worked on the Manhattan Project and created
the world's first nuclear reactor. [source]
At Santa Clara, a dealer from whom I ultimately bought a couple of pieces had a long talk with my family, explaining to my children in steps how the pottery was made. At one point he showed us a wedding picture of his grandparents: his grandfather, recently returned from service in World War I, in full uniform, beside his grandmother, looking rather sullen to have her picture taken, in a buckskin dress or robe, and two other men in full costume, with feathered headdresses. A wedding vase sat on the earth at their feet; ruinous adobe brick dwellings loomed behind.

My painting of the adobe church at Los Ranchos de Taos. This church
was painted many times by Georgia O'Keeffe. A thoroughly modern
abstract painter, she found refuge in northern New Mexico after her
years in New York.
Another site I never fail to visit is the Santuario de Chimayó, a major pilgrimage site and, depending on your outlook, a holy place or an instance of irrational fanaticism (or possibly a curious mixture of the two). The small adobe chapel, built in about 1816, lies at the bottom of a narrow valley on the High Road to Taos, surrounded by rocky red hills and juniper trees.

Chimayo in 1934. [source]
It resembles many such churches in northern New Mexico, with this exception: a tiny square room, called el pocito ("the little well"), reached through a door beside the altar, contains a round pit filled with "holy dirt," which can be taken away by the pilgrims and is reputed to perform cures. The long room running from el pocito alongside the nave holds numerous photos, ex-votos, and discarded crutches.

The town of Chimayó was named for a local hill, known as Tsi Mayoh in the Tewa tongue. Whether it was a site of devotion for the natives before colonial times is not clear. An old tradition holds that a pueblo formerly stood in the area; a book I have (purchased, of all places, at a tacky tourist gift shop in Clines Corners) describes the experiences of Maria Martinez upon visiting the chapel from nearby San Ildefonso.

My own picture of the Sanctuario, taken in 2007.
Most accounts have the chapel built by Don Bernardo Abeyta. An early member of Los Hermanos de la Fraternidad Piadosa de Nuestro Padre Jesús Nazareno (more commonly known as the Penitentes, about which more in a moment), Don Abeyta supposedly discovered an ancient crucifix at the pit's location while performing penitential exercises there on Good Friday sometime around 1810.

Signs in the Santuario museum suggest that the crucifix was left there by Spanish explorers. However that may be, Don Abeyta was seemingly devoted to the Christ of Esquipulas, worshiped at a basilica in Guatemala where the clay is also held to have curative properties, a belief possibly adopted from the native culture and "baptized" by the Spaniards. The museum speaks of the ceiba tree, which holds a central place in Maya mythology, hinting (on somewhat slender evidence, it is true) at other connections between Chimayó and the pre-Columbian religions of Central America.

Esquipulas Basilica, Guatemala, in 1895. [source]
The Penitentes are credited by some with preserving the Catholic faith in the area during the tumultuous period after the Catholic religious orders were expelled from Mexico. Cather's novel deals with the aftermath of this dark time very effectively. Linked with the medieval Flagellants (in spirit if not in historical continuity), the Penitentes were a secretive sect that the Church sought to suppress after the capture of the Southwest by the United States and the division of the current archdiocese from that of Durango.

An interesting book I have, Missions and Pueblos of the Old Southwest (1929), written by one Earle R. Forrest, who had once worked as a cowboy in the Arizona desert and had traveled throughout the area extensively before the arrival of the first automobiles, devotes a chapter to the Penitentes. According to him, the brothers would scourge themselves with chunks of cholla cactus woven into thongs of rope; crucifixion ceremonies were held in remote places at night, and sometimes the Cristo whose ardor was thus tested never returned.

The book is illustrated with photographs taken by the author; one depicts a Penitente morada, or meeting house, and another purports to be the only known photograph of a Penitente procession:

The piety of the Penitentes plays a role in Brave New World. The protagonist, John, raised on a Savage Reservation in New Mexico, becomes a sign of contradiction in the World State, and creates a public spectacle in his attempts at purification through self-flagellation:
"But I don't want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin."