Major thanks to Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit for shining the godsandthecity-1spotlight on Gods and The City today. His mention definitely jolted sales, although Amazon has been slow in updating the rankings today. I’ll follow up with an update when I find out how high it rises. And if you haven’t checked out Instapundit, well, prepare to bookmark a site you’ll want to visit daily. Or hourly. Glenn is a posting machine.

Goodreads Winners

Hearty thanks to all 506 of you who entered the Goodreads Giveaway contest for the signed copies of Gods and The City! Winners have been chosen, and copies will be sent out shortly. And FYI, I’m working on the follow-up to this book even as we speak. More details as the project gets further along.

Long Lost Paperbacks No. 7

Firelord, 1982 Bantam edition, mass market paperback.
Firelord, 1982 Bantam edition, mass market paperback.

On the long list of books that should never be forgotten, Firelord by Parke Godwin rates a spot near the top. Godwin (1929-2013) was one of the best fantasy writers of the final decades of the 20th Century, yet sadly, nearly all of his books are out of print. If you want to read Godwin, you are relegated to the secondary market or a well-stocked library. None of his novels have been released as e-books that can be purchased through the usual retail channels (although if you search you can find e-versions available through Open Library).

That’s a terrible shame. Godwin was a great writer. He was a master at taking the epic legends of Western Civilization and breathing fresh life into them. Firelord (1980) is the best of his books, the finest take on the King Arthur legend I’ve ever read. It’s one of those rare novels I return to every few years and it gets better with every reading. I happily rank it as one of my top ten favorite books. As Godwin himself said, “It should have happened this way, it could have, and perhaps it did.”

Firelord begins at the and of Arthur’s life as he looks back at the events that placed him on the throne. There’s a maturity to the voice, a weariness, yet also a joyful embrace of both the pain and pleasures of life. This Arthur is a very real man, not a sterile and glorified archetype:

“I want to write of us the way we were before some pedant petrifies us in an epic and substitutes his current ideal for ours. As for poets and bards, let one of them redecorate your life and you’ll never be able to find any of it again.”

Godwin also does a masterful job of incorporating fantasy elements in a realistic and believable way.  Firelord was said to be a major influence on John Boorman’s movie Excaliber (1981), which was itself a break from the way the King Arthur legend had traditionally been told.

The follow-up, Beloved Exile, carries on the legend from Guenevere’s point of view after Arthur’s death. It, too, is an excellent read. But of Godwin’s other novels, The Tower of Beowulf is a particular favorite of mine. Seek any of these out through resellers on the internet or your local second-hand bookstore and you won’t be disappointed.

Something New For Summer’s End

AlienTexasSo, August is blazing away and you’re looking over at those big, fat unread novels and thinking, “It’s too hot. Big books make me sweat. Can’t anyone write crisp, refreshing short stories that I can read quickly, before sunburn and heat stroke set in? Preferably with space aliens? And Texas?”

I hear this all the time. Therefore, in order to cater to an underserved market, I have a solution right here. Alien Texas is a 10,000-word e-book that includes three short stories centered around what happens when invaders from space try to take on the residents of the Lone Star State. Alien Texas is just the right size for late-summer reading. Settle in with your e-reader, ignore the heat and let the invasions begin!

Long Lost Paperbacks No. 6

Let me just get this out of the way immediately: nothing by Robert E. Jones1Howard can truly be classified as “long lost.” His stories and novels have been constantly in print since the Lancer paperbacks revived Conan the Barbarian in the 1960s. Howard’s pulp-era stories have been recycled in so many volumes over the last 40 years that they practically rate an encyclopedia by themselves.

But some of these stand out from the crowd. The Book of Robert E. Howard, Volume 1, is one such. This Zebra paperback original from 1976 was edited by Glenn Lord and contained stories that had not been seen since their original publication in the 1920s and 1930s. The brooding poem Cimmeria was a particular favorite of mine.

Yet there’s something else that sets this book apart — the cover and interior artwork by Jeff Jones (1944-2011). Jones was one of the best fantasy illustrators of his day, but the man lived a… complicated life. More on that later.

When I first spied this paperback on the shelves in ’76, I immediately recognized Jones’ artwork. Along with Frank Frazetta and Boris Vallejo, I considered Jones among my favorites, the kind of artist who spurred me to buy books on the strength of his artwork alone. He had painted the covers for Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and Gray Mouser sagas, a series of books that I enjoyed immensely in the mid-1970s. In high school art class I had even tried my best to reproduce the awesome Jones2Jeff Jones cover of The Swords of Lankhmar, (shown at left). Jones also had a cartoon strip called Idyl in the National Lampoon, a magazine that was at its outrageous peak in the 1970s.

Jones’ paintings were atmospheric and dream-like, but the subject was always finely rendered, with excellent detailing. On this book in particular, the artwork stood out. There were interior illustrations as well, plus blue colored page edges, which probably contributed to the fact that The Book of Robert E. Howard, Volume 1 was more expensive than most paperbacks of the time at $1.95. A second volume appeared later that same year, also with artwork by Jones.

Despite his success (at least to my young eyes) Jeff Jones wasn’t the most contented soul. He married young and had a daughter, but Jones was never comfortable in his skin as a man. In 1998 Jones began hormone replacement therapy, changed his name to Jeffrey Catherine Jones, and lived the rest of his life as a woman. By most accounts that didn’t bring the peace he sought.

Robert E. Howard’s place in history has long-since been secured. It would make me happy if the artwork of Jeff Jones was similarly remembered.

Blog outpost for writer Steve Statham