The Way of the Word

29. July 2011

Review: Cowboys and Aliens

USA 2011. Directed by Jon Favreau. Starring Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Olivia Wilde. Runtime 118 minutes

A lone cowboy (Daniel Craig) wakes up a long way from home (or anywhere, for that matter). He has no memory of who he is, where he is, or how he came to be there. Which isn’t even the most bizarre thing he discovers; that would be the strange bracelet he wears on his left wrist. He eventually finds his way to the town Absolution, where at least some people seem to know them: the mysterious Elle (Olivia Wilde) and the local Sheriff, John Taggart (Keith Carradine). Actually, it’s from Taggart that the cowboy finds out who he is: Jake Lonergan, a wanted outlaw. Just as Taggart is about to ship Jake off to the judge in Santa Fe, they get a visit from Woodrow Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford), the rancher who rules the town with the proverbial iron fist. Dolarhyde wants not just his son back (who shares the prison coach with Jake), he also wants Jake because Jake stole his gold.
At this point, Absolution is attacked by UFOs who abduct a considerable part of the town’s populace. Those left behind form a posse to chase the UFOs and rescue their loved ones. Along the way, they encounter a gang of outlaws that Jake used to lead, and an Apache tribe that also has missing family. Together, they take the fight to the aliens, who turn out to be just an advance party that is here to check if the planet is suitable for looting and exterminating.

With cross-genre stories like this one, one of the main questions is which one it resembles more closely. In this case, Cowboys and Aliens is more the archetypical western movie with aliens tacked on. It’s a movie about hard men riding lonesome trails — which describes the movie’s feel. Not to disparage Craig and Ford, but both of them channel Clint Eastwood (at different points in his career) for their respective parts. And Olivia Wilde isn’t really as mysterious as she is supposed to be — at least in part, for me, because I couldn’t manage to wrap my head around the baggy pajamas she wears in half the movie. Terribly distracting, and not in a good way. On the plus side, they do manage to make it feel like a classic western, even if they go overboard on the western tropes.

And that is where Cowboys and Aliens fails: the tropes. The characters in this movie are mostly stock characters. Their adventure is a mix and mash of various western tropes, played straight. (When I did something similar in my own cross-genre novel Cowboys and Barbarians, I also stuffed it with tropes, but in a tongue-in-cheek way.) There are some bizarre elements put into the second act, but those seem to be added for their own sake instead of leading anywhere. In total, the movie feels overstuffed, in places it appears as if the writers wanted to use the awe-factor to distract from the movie’s flaws. Less awe-factor, here as everywhere it is applied, would have been more.
The aliens are familiar. If you’ve seen any alien invasion movie since Independence Day, you know these aliens. The main difference is that (by necessity) they aren’t as invincible as those from Independence Day, Battle LA or Skyline. (I even entertained myself with the notion that all the three above and this movie all tell the story of the same alien invasion — they are all that similar.)
That means that any character who isn’t Jake Lonergan gets short shrift. When Dolarhyde bonds with the Sheriff’s grandson Emmett (Noah Ringer), it doesn’t work, because it’s really just a sidenote. The writers put some (metaphorical) loaded guns on the fireplace but don’t fire them (perhaps in earlier drafts of the screenplay?). Some character growth feels false because it doesn’t really develop naturally. And the showdown would have worked better if there had been more consistency — the aliens are bulletproof or not, depending on whether or not the writers want to kill the cowboy in question.

In summary: Cowboys and Aliens is an entertaining western with some sci-fi elements. You won’t leave the movie feeling that you’ve wasted your time. But you will leave the movie feeling that it could have been much much more. And by borrowing heavily from both other western and sci-fi movies, you never lose the feeling that you’ve seen all of this before.

Verdict: mildly recommended.

30. November 2010

Cowboys and Barbarians

I had wanted to mention this yesterday, but there were too many other shocks to digest, so I didn’t get around to it.

If you’ve looked at the “available works” list on the right, you’ve surely noticed a new entry: Cowboys and Barbarians Kindle Edition.  What that means is simple: I’ve made my crossworlds fantasy novel Cowboys and Barbarians available for the Kindle US and the Kindle UK.

Cowboys and Barbarians is the story of the barbarian warrior Dhargan. During a battle against an evil sorcerer, he is thrown through a dimensional portal into another world. A strange world where people act incomprehensively, wear strange clothes and carry thunderhammers that kill. All Dhargan wants is to get out of there and back to his own world. Unfortunately, along the way he ends up oweing someone a debt of honor, a debt that he needs to discharge before he can leave. If he ever can, because the strange world in which he is trapped has no magic, and the solutions he knows from back home don’t work here.

It is also the story of Justin McBride, a gunfighter in the American west of the 1880s. Running from a posse, McBride escapes through a glowing hole in the air — and ends up in a strange world full of monsters and magic. Joined by Cymra and Tauri, who are friends of a warrior named Dhargan, McBride quests to find the one sorcerer who might know where Dhargan is, and who just might put McBride back where he belongs.

9. August 2010

Mad Pulper Project: Return to Grover Springs

I’m halfway done. Yes, work slowed down a bit, due to various circumstances, but at least it never stopped (outside that week I took off from this to do some Made of Fail). I’ve set up all the twists, the bad guys are now showing their true colors. I know how the rest of the story goes. I mean, I really know, as in, I have the completely written scenes in my head. All I need to do is type them out. I’ll need to do two scenes I don’t like the way they are in my head now, because they have clumsy transitions. They use characters I haven’t had as POV characters yet, and doing that in the second half is not a good thing. But at the moment, I see no way around it. I need those scenes to advance the story. It would be easier if I could use Jake or Jerry as a POV character, but that would open several other cans of worms. In any case, since I now know how I want to wrap this up, I expect the second half will flow much more smoothly than the first half did — which was the half where I was still figuring out what story I was telling.

8. July 2010

Mad Pulper Project: Return to Grover Springs

Yesterday, I deleted 250 words that I had written on Tuesday. It turned out that deleting them made no difference to what I had already written. They were just chaff, useless exposition.

While the exposition part was tedious to write, it’s actually a very funny twist on an old action movie/thriller trope. Any genre-savy reader will get it on the second reading (or at least by the time they finish a first reading), and hopefully find the twist as funny as I do. Even if the scene itself isn’t funny.

I brought the novel to 4,175 words yesterday. Which is a pretty good result under the circumstances. I also had a huge load of fun writing Max Horton. So much fun that I’ll have to be careful not to center the story on him. It made one thing clear, however. I need to revise the first couple of chapters. Max’s voice is so unique that the other chapters seem very bland in comparison. I need to make Billy’s and Liam’s voices equally compelling.

Okay, on with the show. The plan is to crack 5,000 words today. Unlike yesterday, I actually have time, so it shouldn’t be a problem.

7. July 2010

Mad Pulper Project: Return to Grover Springs

As mentioned, I have decided to write 12 novellas of between 25,000 and 30,000 words. Each of these 12 novellas will be of a (more or less) different genre. Or mix genres. They will all be nicely pulpish. I’m going to write until I’m comfortably ahead (meaning 5-6 complete manuscripts) before publishing the first one. From then on, I will publish them on a regular schedule once a month. The plan here is to self-publish them for the Kindle. If it turns out that there is demand, I would consider adding a print edition. (Actually, I might do that anyway — I don’t read e-books, and I might like a copy for my own shelf. We’ll see.)

The first of these is a western. We have our own pulp culture, and westerns are huge in it. Return to Grover Springs will be a classic western. I had the idea several years ago, but there was a major stumbling block that kept me from actually doing this. The story in a nutshell: When Jake McFadden hears that a rich rancher in his hometown Grover Springs wants to hire the infamous outlaw Jerry Lassiter for an unspecified job, he decides to return and see if he needs to help his family. He discovers that during the 10 years that he was away, his father climbed up from the dirt-poor farmer he used to be to the rancher who now hires gunfighters. The McFaddens own Grover Springs now. And Jake has to decide whose side he’s on.

This story needs to be done in prose. There’s no other way to properly tell it, because it has a major twist that would not work in any other medium. What had kept me from starting is this: I couldn’t figure out why Liam McFaden, Jake’s father, might want to hire gunfighters. That is, I could think of several reasons, but none that hadn’t been done to death already. That changed last month. For some reason, it popped into my head that the railroad would come to Grover Springs, and Liam doesn’t want that. It works.

This was actually what sparked the entire Mad Pulper Project. If these solutions to story problems keep popping into my head anyway, there’s no way I can restore my sanity unless I actually use them. But none of the ideas that I have here are actually big enough for their own novel, so…

I have a lot of ideas that almost made it, or were never submitted for some reason.  The Mad Pulper Project will very much be a catch-all for old ideas. Old but not forgotten…

Since solving the villain’s motivation for Return to Grover Springs was what set things in motion, I intend to burn that story out of my system first. Once I’m done with that, I’ll pick and choose which of the other ideas I will tackle next.  I’ll give an occasional pice of background, talk about what inspired a certain story, why I’m doing things the way I am… and I’ll try to avoid spoilers.

30. January 2010

Cowboys & Barbarians Chapter 2

Filed under: books,general,writing — jensaltmann @ 10:26
Tags: , , , , , ,

Justin McBride stretched up to look down at the town below him. From where he was, he could see about two dozen buildings. He nodded to himself. Bigger than he’d expected. Clicking his tongue, he made his horse gently walk down the road, if this muddy path could be called that, into town. The sign he passed said FRESHWATER Pop. 267 on it.

That many? Who would’ve thought.

McBride smiled to himself. After having been on the road for as long as he was now, sleeping on the ground and filthy as a coyote, he really looked forward to a bath and a bed. And something a bit more civilized to drink than water.

The houses he passed looked well cared for. The main street, at least McBride supposed that’s what it was, was a mudbath. Those of the 267 citizens of this backwater town who milled about walked on the wooden sidewalks. The street itself was curiously empty, the only traffic McBride encountered consisting of three or four horseback riders like himself (only cleaner) and three carts. The people stared at him curiously. That wasn’t unexpected. A town this size, it was likely everybody knew everybody else. A town this much out of the way, any stranger would likely be a welcome curiosity.

In a way, McBride felt sorry he wouldn’t be as welcome anymore once they found out what he was here for.

One of the buildings McBride passed by had huge windows with writing on them. The elaborate calligraphy said FRESHWATER RAPIDS in large, bold letters. Underneath it, smaller lettering proclaimed it to be Freshwater’s Independent Newspaper. And underneath that they claimed We’re here to make waves.

McBride smiled. A newspaper with a sense of humor. That was rare. Usually, they took themselves far too seriously.

A man in shirtsleeves looked out through the window to see what the attraction was. A moment later he stepped outside for a better view. McBride figured the man to be in his mid-twenties. Young enough to still have some ideals. McBride decided he would likely be sorry if he’d have to shut this one up. He nodded at the young man, who vanished back inside.

Two buildings away was the sheriff’s office. Like the newspaperman, the sheriff stepped outside to have a look at the new arrival. McBride wondered what type the sheriff was. Either way, it probably wouldn’t matter. As old and fat as he was, he wasn’t likely to be any kind of trouble. He’d probably have enough sense to stay indoors when shooting began.

The saloon was diagonally across the street from the sheriff’s office. A two-story house, obviously a residence, was directly across the street, a general store nearby. Next door to the sheriff’s office was the physician’s practice. McBride knew enough to know it was sensible to know where the doctor was in any given town. You never knew when you needed one, and many a good (or bad, depending on your inclination) man had died because he couldn’t get to a doctor in time. On the other hand, a lot of people McBride had known had died because of a doctor’s interference, but that was another story entirely.

A bit farther down the street was a livery stable. McBride made that his first stop. He nodded his appreciation that the livery stable was connected to the blacksmith’s.

As soon as he dismounted, a boy of perhaps twelve years came running out of the livery stable.

“Rub him down and feed him,” McBride told the boy, taking his saddlebags and his Winchester ’73 carbine from the saddle. Slinging the bags over his shoulder, he fished for some money in his pocket. He found a dollar bill, gave it to the boy, whose eyes grew large. “Take good care of him,” he said. “I’ll pick him up come morning.”

“Yessir,” the boy said. He took the horse’s reins and led him into the stable.

McBride watched them for a second before he went to the saloon. He pushed through the swinging doors, pausing in the doorway to accustom his eyes to the gloomy interior. A dozen or so people sat at the tables. Their conversations stopped as they looked the new arrival over. Waiting a moment longer than necessary, McBride allowed them to get a good look at him before he went to the counter. He wasn’t here to get into trouble. Not yet, at any rate. He kept an eye on the huge mirror behind the counter anyway. You never knew. Leaving the saddlebags on his shoulder, he laid the carbine on top of the counter. He kept it in the scabbard to show the barkeeper he meant no trouble. He also kept his right hand on the butt. Behind him, the conversations started up again.

“Do you have food?” he asked the barkeeper.

“Boston bakes beans.”

“With bread on the side?”

“Can do.”

“I’ll take it,” McBride decided. “And coffee.” He pointed his thumb at an empty table. “Can I get it there?”

“Can do. New in town?”

“Yup. I’ll need a place to stay the night.” McBride plucked at his overcoat. “And a bath, I’d wager.” He put on his most winning smile. “Where could a body get those?”

“For the night?”

“Yup. Need to ride on tomorrow.”

“Mrs. Barlow’s renting rooms,” the barkeeper said, scratching his chin. “I’ll betcha she’s got a free one. She also has a bathtub. I know her other tenants get to use it, so if you rent a room I reckon you’ll get the use of it too.”

McBride nodded. In the mirror, he saw two men rise from their table. Their clothing was ordinary. What alarmed him was the way they carried their revolvers; the holsters hung low on their thighs, with their leather straps tied around the legs just above the knee. McBride knew the type. They were probably the fastest draws in town out to make the point to anyone who might not know it yet. Hooking their thumbs into their gunbelts, they ambled over to the counter in a bow-legged swagger, the needlessly large wheels of their spurs clicking and clanging as they walked.

McBride studied the man who’d remained seated at the table the other two had just left. The man leaned back in his chair, apparently relaxed. His right hand was hidden by the tabletop.

Probably on the butt of his gun, McBride figured. He turned around just as the other two took their positions on either side of him. The barkeeper scurried off, vanishing through a door on his side of the counter. Into the kitchen, McBride hoped.

“Who’re ya?” the guy on his left said. He smiled, revealing a chipped front tooth. McBride locked eyes with him until Chip looked away. McBride looked at the other guy, who wore a fashionable droopy moustache.

“Who’s askin’?” he replied.

“We are,” Chip said, putting a hand on McBride’s shoulder. McBride looked at Chip, at the hand, at Chip.

“We’re the Freshwater Reg’lars,” Droopy said, putting his right hand on McBride’s other shoulder. McBride played the game with Droopy, who also proved to be too stupid to remove his hand. His gun-hand, even.

“Don’t you mean regulators?” McBride said softly. A smile tugged at his lips. He let it. He looked again at Chip. “Or what?”

Chip looked at Droopy, who looked at the man at the table. McBride looked at the man at the table. He had been right then, that guy was the leader of this little charade. McBride went over to the table, leaving Chip and Droopy behind. He didn’t sit down. He preferred to look down at the man who dressed as gaudily as a comanchero out of a Beadle Dime Novel, up to and including the oversized sombrero which lay on a free chair beside him. The clink and clang of their spurs told McBride that Chip and Droopy came after him.

“Those with you?” he asked Sombrero. Sombrero shrugged.

“Sometimes,” he said, his voice a hoarse whisper.

“Right now?”

“You’re new in town,” Sombrero said. “I need to be cautious. Can’t trust nobody, you know.”

“Oh. Really. Never occurred to me.”

“Who you work for?” Sombrero asked, pointing at a chair. McBride ignored the invitation.

“You need a gun?”

“Someone who can use one, anyways. We pay top dollar.”

“I’m already under contract, thanks.” McBride turned, only to face Chip and Droopy, who stood shoulder to shoulder, barring his way. “Call off your boys before they get hurt,” he suggested.

“Nobody talks like that with Billy,” Chip said, pushing McBride.

“And gets away with it,” Droopy added, also pushing.

These guys have definitely read too many Beadles, McBride thought. Provided they can read.

“Oooh, I’m scared now,” he said. “Wanna make something of it?”

Chip reached out to push McBride again. McBride sidestepped and punched Chip’s nose. Chip stepped back several paces, howling, holding his nose which bled profusely. Droopy, watching Chip with his mouth open, caught McBride’s other fist in his mouth. He too stumbled back. Droopy wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. He looked at the red smear on his hand, howled and charged McBride. McBride sidestepped, picked up a chair and smashed it on Droopy’s back as he passed. The impact knocked Droopy off his feet.

McBride dropped the chair’s remains as someone tackled him from behind. Like Droopy before him, he fell to the sawdust-covered floor. The dust whirled up. Some of it got into his nose. It made him sneeze. He felt the impact of a fist on his back, which wasn’t as bad as it could have been thanks to the dampening layers of dust and clothes. McBride jerked his arm back, rammed his elbow into the attacker’s face. A howl told him he had connected with something painful. The man’s weight lifted from his back. McBride bucked up, threw the man off and got back to his feet. He managed to duck barely in time to avoid a flying chair.

Blocking and parrying a punch from someone he had never seen before, McBride saw that the saloon had erupted into chaos. There weren’t all that many patrons present, at best a dozen, but those worked hard to make up in destruction what they lacked in numbers. McBride knocked his opponent down, only to catch a glancing blow from someone who stumbled into him and wanted to throw a punch at someone else. McBride dealt him a two-fisted blow to the side of his head. The man he had just saved smiled a gap-toothed smile at him. McBride didn’t like the man’s smile and knocked him off his feet as well.

That’s enough of that, he decided. It took him a moment, but at the end he managed to weave his way back to the counter. He arrived just as the barkeeper came back into the common room. Instead of the coffee and food, as McBride had hoped, the man held a double-barreled shotgun in his hands.

“That’s enough of that,” the barkeeper yelled. Somehow, that sounded somewhat familiar. McBride leaned against the counter and unbuttoned his coat. The brawlers seemed unimpressed. The barkeeper fired both barrels into the ceiling. Anticipating falling debris, McBride ducked his head. To his surprise, nothing came down.

Don’t do it, his inner voice warned him. You’ll regret it if you do it.

He couldn’t resist and looked up at the ceiling anyway. Unable to see any kind of damage, he chuckled. The barkeeper had been firing blanks. At least his intention penetrated the brawlers’s thick skulls. They stopped fighting. The barkeeper reloaded his shotgun. Real ammo this time, McBride supposed.

“What’s the big deal?” Billy yelled across the room.

“This is my place, Billy,” the barkeeper replied calmly. “I don’t cotton to people wrecking it. Or are you gonna foot the bill? Or maybe your brother?”

“Leave my brother outta this,” Billy said. He rose from his chair. “It’s all his fault anyways.” He pointed at McBride. “He started it.”

“Didn’t look that way from where I stood,” the barkeeper countered. McBride wondered how the man could have seen anything when he hadn’t even been in the room.

Oh well, chalk one more up for life’s little mysteries.

“We all together did this.” McBride tried to be reasonable. “It’s only fair if we all pay up.” He turned to the barkeeper. “Tally up the damage and split it betweenst everybody here. Shouldn’t amount to all that much for each of us, I reckon.”

The barkeeper nodded and looked over the damage.

“I ain’t payin’ for ennathin’,” Billy squealed. He stepped away from the table and angled his arm away from his torso. McBride sighed. He really wasn’t in the mood for this. Not on an empty stomach, at any rate.

“There’s no reason for anybody to get killed over this,” McBride said softly. He pushed the right half of his coat back, revealing the revolver he carried at his hip. “Let’s all pay up our shares and go our ways. We can always get ourselves killed later.” He waved his hand at the exit. “It’s late already, and the weather isn’t right for killing either. If I have to go, I want to do it when the sun shines. Don’t you?”

“I don’t plan on dyin’,” Billy said. He jerked his arm down. McBride waited until his gun had half cleared his holster before drawing his own revolver. A shot rang out. Another shot rang out. Billy, his Colt Army still pointed at the floor, stared at his chest. His left hand touched the slowly spreading bloodstain on his shirt.

Everybody froze.

“You killed me,” he said, sounding both surprised and indignant. Then he fell over.

McBride sighed again and holstered his Peacemaker.

“It was a fair fight, stranger,” the barkeeper said. “You ought to absquatulate anyway.”

“He had a lot of friends?”

“Toadies, mostly. His brother’s a very important man in these here parts. Someone might think to get the man who killed his brother to curry favor with the big boss.”

A chill ran down McBride’s spine.

“That brother doesn’t happen to be Hiram Webster. Does he?”

“’Fraid so, pard.”

“Goldarn it.” McBride grabbed his carbine and saddle bags. As if his motion broke a spell laid over the saloon’s patrons, they started talking. Shouting, mostly. A couple of brave souls finally dared to look at the prone Billy.

“You heard of the man, I reckon.”

McBride nodded.

“Yeah. I reckon I can forget about working for a man whose brother I just killed.”

The barkeeper frowned as McBride tossed two bits on the counter and left. He forced himself not to run as he made his way to the livery stable. How long would it be before they came after him?

That goldarned idiot, he fumed. Why did he have to do that? Why did he have to make McBride kill him? According to the law the killing was self-defense, and McBride surely wasn’t going to lose any sleep over wasting a bad egg like that. But Billy happened to be Billy Webster, Hiram Webster’s brother. And that meant the law didn’t apply in this case. All that mattered was that Hiram Webster would want his brother avenged. And that meant that a lot of people would be after Justin McBride now.

McBride entered the stable without anyone following. He wondered why. Perhaps the barkeeper was lending an unseen helping hand. Perhaps they were only working their nerve up for the chase.

McBride located the boy he had given his horse to and went over to him.

“Which box is he in?” he asked.

“Over there,” the boy said. “He’s a mighty fine hoss, sir.”

“I know that. I need him now.”

“I wouldn’t do that. He needs his rest.”

Darn.

“Another horse, then. One that’s fresh and fast and rested. Quickly, boy.”

“Yessir,” the boy said. He rubbed his chin and looked around. “That would be Quigley over there.” He pointed at a medicine hat. “He’s supposed to be half Indian pony. There’s no end to his bottom.”

“Trade him for my horse?”

“I’d do that in a moment. Quigley has a bit of a temper.”

That much was obvious the moment McBride approached Quigley. The horse neighed, reared a bit. He calmed quickly, though, watching McBride through eyes that seemed almost too intelligent.

“There’s quite the commotion out there,” the boy said standing in the door looking out. McBride rushed to the door, peering past the frame. Five men came running from the saloon, directly at them. McBride recognized Chip and Droopy as the leaders.

“I already left,” McBride said, drawing his Peacemaker. The boy looked at the revolver, blanched and nodded. McBride stepped into an empty box and closed the door behind him. Hunched, gun at the ready, he waited for what would happen now.

“You seen a stranger, Timmy?” a rough voice asked. Chip, McBride thought, recognizing the voice.

“One rode in a while ago. Gave me a dollar to livery his horse.”

“Which one?”

“The one over there.”

“He still here? If his horse is, I mean.”

McBride bit his lips while Timmy hesitated.

“His horse was tired and just ate. He traded it for another.”

“Which way he gone to?”

McBride didn’t hear any reply. He hoped Timmy was pointing in a direction. He’d have to remember to ask him which way he’d sent them. A moment later, he could hear the men run across the street. He waited another ten heartbeats before he came out of hiding. Keeping to the shadows, he waited until he heard five horses gallop off.

“Which way did you send them?” he asked Timmy. Timmy pointed. McBride nodded. He holstered his Peacemaker and grabbed his saddle. He carried it over to Quigley’s box.

Stupid idea, to give a horse a name, he thought while he saddled up. When he was done, he led the horse to the door. He fished in his pockets, found a five dollar bill and gave it to Timmy.

“Don’t you ever believe that a good deed’s its own reward,” he told the boy with a half-smile. Timmy looked at the bill with wide eyes. When he believed his luck, he quickly put it away. “Which way’d you send them?”

“To the hills,” Timmy said, pointing. “You killed someone?”

“Billy Webster. Fair fight.” McBride mounted the horse.

“Are you in hot water now.”

“So I’ve been told. Tim?”

“Yessir?” The boy beamed at McBride’s use of the more adult version of his name. Apparently, he didn’t get to hear it all that often, if at all.

“Thank you.” McBride held out his hand. Timmy shook it. McBride smiled.

“Where you gonna go?” the boy asked.

“To the hills. Can’t make a liar outta you now, can I?”

“But …”

“I’m behind them, and I’ll change direction after a while. If they turn around to look for a trail, they’ll think they missed it. By that time, I reckon I’ll be long gone.”

McBride spurred the horse to a fast trot. It was a shame, really. The Webster contract had promised good money. Money he could forget about now. That, and he would miss his old horse.

Then again, that was why a smart man didn’t give his horse a name.

*                      *                    *

An hour after turning off the trail, he was lost. He wondered if he could dare make a camp. No. Better not. Not out here in the open, anyway.

At the horizon, he could make out a rise consisting of sharp, jagged lines. It looked like hills.

Timmy had mentioned sending the posse to the hills. They had probably traveled much faster than he. Understandable, since they thought they were chasing a running man. They had also left a couple of minutes before him. He wondered if they had already found out how he’d fooled them, if they were already hot on his heels. Perhaps they had already reached the hills. Would they camp for the night?

All things he would like to know but had no way to find out. He tried to estimate the distance to the hill. Could he make it before night fell? Barely, he thought, if he hurried.

And he did.

It took a couple of minutes to find a place where he could tether his horse — he refused to call it Quigley — where it was safe and had sufficient graze and water. He hobbled it, took off the saddle and rubbed it down. When he was satisfied the horse had everything it needed for the night, he went to find a place for the night for himself.

By the time he had located a cave, it was dark. McBride put his stuff on the ground, took his spyglass from the saddlebags and went to the cave’s mouth. After a moment’s search, he discovered the glow of a campfire. He swore extensively. The posse was closer than he’d hoped.

McBride drew back into the cave. He couldn’t risk a fire. If he did, his pursuers would discover him as easily as he had found them. Going deeper into the cave was no solution either. There seemed to be a second cavern, but if he went there and lit a fire, the smoke would likely kill him.

McBride sighed, settled down, opened a can of beans and ate them cold. He tossed the can, wrapped himself into his blanket and, using the saddle as a headrest, went to sleep.

*                      *                    *

The darkness of the cave had swallowed the first rays of light. When McBride came to, he came to with a start.

Overslept, he chided himself. How could you oversleep with a posse on your trail?

A look through the spyglass confirmed his worst fears. The posse had been awakened by first light and was a lot closer now. He couldn’t get on in time.

Time for plan B.

McBride grabbed his saddle and rushed down to where the horse waited. He untied the hobbling line and saddled the horse. The good thing about being in the hills was that there were always a lot of stones around for the taking. He picked up a couple of big ones, wrapped them into his bedroll and tied it to the horse. Then he sent it on its way.

McBride withdrew back into his cave, settling down for what he expected to be a long wait.

Sure enough, the posse arrived at the foot of the hills about an hour later. McBride counted five of them, among them Chip and Droopy. McBride went back inside the cave. All that mattered now was to wait them out. Sooner or later they would have to find the horse’s hoofprints. Weighed down as it was, the prints would be deep enough to fool the trackers. When they rode off to follow the horse, McBride could go another way.

Yeah, and pray you’ll find another horse somewhere along the way. What possessed you to send off your horse knowing you only had the one?

McBride chuckled. That was a problem, all right. Oh well, something would come up. Something always did. With his horse’s headstart, they would hopefully take long enough to catch up that he could vamoose into the woods he had seen, where a horse would be more of a liability than an advantage anyway.

McBride sat down. He wished this part of the cave had enough light for him to at least check his Peacemaker and his Winchester ’73 carbine. It would have been busywork; except for the one shot fired from the revolver earlier, both weapons were fully loaded and in perfect condition.

The light that emanated from the cave wall caught him entirely by surprise. He grabbed his carbine, aimed it at the source of the light.

Nothing happened. Holding his carbine with his right hand, McBride approached the light cautiously. Whatever it was that caused the glow, it looked like a silvery whirlpool. Small at first, it grew rapidly. A sort of wind came forth from it. McBride couldn’t see what caused the light or the wind. The whirlpool seemed to grow from the stone of the cave’s wall. McBride tried to touch it. His hand went in. The moment he touched it, it seemed to make an effort to suck him in.

He drew his hand back out and took a few cautious steps away from the light. He looked at his hand, saw that it was all right. He shuddered.

“What is this thing?”

The whirlpool increased its size in a single burst, creating a gale that almost knocked McBride off his feet. He kept his balance, leaning into the wind, until the monster leaped out of the whirlpool. McBride stepped back, tripped, fell down to land hard on his behind. He pulled the carbine’s trigger by reflex, almost by accident. Of course he missed the creature that reminded him of nothing more than an oversize monkey.

The monster roared, spreading its arms wide. McBride scrabbled backwards. It took him a moment to realize that the screams he heard came from his throat. The monster came at him, reached for him. McBride rolled aside, slapping at the ham-sized hands with his carbine.

He realized that now the monster was between him and the exit.

Oh no. I’m dead.

The monster came at him again. McBride fired, unaimed. He missed. The monster, probably startled by the noise, drew back. It screamed, making itself look bigger. If the purpose of the gesture was to intimidate McBride, it worked.

McBride thought furiously about how long it would take for the beast to get over its confusion and attack. Not long enough. Definitely not long enough. When it did, it would kill him. Even if it didn’t, the noise would most likely attract the posse’s attention. Either way, he was doomed.

Unless …

McBride grabbed his saddlebags and retreated toward the cave wall, toward the light. Whatever it was, it had let the monster through. It had almost swallowed his hand.

It was some kind of doorway. Had to be.

Right now, it was his only way out of this mess.

Of course, there was the possibility that there was a horde of these monsters on the other side. He was willing to take the chance. If worst came to worst, he could always jump back in and return here.

He held on tight to the carbine and the saddlebags and leaped head-first into the silvery whirlpool.

26. January 2010

RIP Pernell Roberts

Filed under: RIP,TV — jensaltmann @ 09:37
Tags: , , ,

Pernell Roberts died on January 24 at the age of 81. The cause of death was pancreatic cancer.

Roberts was best known for playing the part of Adam Cartwright on Bonanza, and a few years later as the title character on the TV series Trapper John MD. If you’ve read this blog, you know that I was an avid Bonanza watcher during my formative years. While those two roles were the ones for which he is best remembered, he has guest-starred in a great many TV shows, and done a lot of stage acting.

There is a certain irony in the fact that Pernell Roberts was the first of the Cartwrights to leave the show, but he’s the last of them to die.

Beyond his acting, Roberts was also a civil rights activist who, among other things, participated in the Selma to Montgomery marches.

He was a very good actor and by all accounts an idealistic man of strong beliefs and the courage to act on them.

15. January 2010

Cowboys & Barbarians – Chapter 1

Filed under: books,workblog,writing — jensaltmann @ 12:38
Tags: , , , , ,

The lock opened easily. Dhargan put the tools back into his pouch. He pulled the gate open, keeping an eye on the hinges. They didn’t squeal, nor did he see any flakes of rust fall. Dhargan frowned. This did not bode well. A well-kept tunnel meant a guarded tunnel.

Dhargan slipped through the gate and closed it behind him. He heard the tumblers fall with an audible click. He rattled it experimentally. It had locked itself. Dhargan stretched his arm as far as he could and tried to reach the lock from where he was. No use; it was beyond his reach. Apparently, the lord of the keep had another way to open the gate from the inside. Dhargan smirked and drew his sword from its scabbard. It wasn’t as if it mattered. If he failed, he could not leave the keep alive anyway. If he succeeded, he would leave through the main gate.

By the moonlight that fell in through the gate, he could see that the tunnel was relatively wide, as such things went. It was wide enough for three men like him to stand side by side, and Dhargan knew his shoulders to be unusually wide.

He continued slowly into the darkness. The only sounds he heard were the soft pad of his leather soles on the stone floor and the dripping of water somewhere ahead. It didn’t surprise him. He had yet to sneak through an underground stone tunnel that did not draw water and produce slime.

Sight was useless. The tunnel was too dark to even watch out for any motion. He only had his ears and his instincts to guide him. Why he had let Maloff talk him out of bringing a torch was beyond him now. Cymra’s old friend had argued this point vehemently until Dhargan had finally given in, even if it had been only to shut him up.

Curse the man.

Dhargan quieted his breathing and tried to tune out both the water and his own footsteps. If there was anything else in the tunnel, he had to hear it before it caught him.

The dripping grew louder. Whatever it was, he was getting closer. It was far louder than it had any right to be, however. Dhargan stopped to listen harder. Something wasn’t right. He turned and strained his eyes against the darkness to look back the way he had come. No, he didn’t think he’d missed a side tunnel. He was sure of it. There was only one way to go, on ahead through the main tunnel, and if there was something in his way, well, he’d have to go through it.

Besides, it couldn’t be that bad. Maloff had said this was a secret escape tunnel. Nobody would set up an escape tunnel so that none could get through it in a hurry. Any traps that were set up could be disarmed, any obstacles surmounted. Especially in an escape tunnel that was as well-kept as this one.

Suddenly, Dhargan was almost glad that Kandur-Ra took such good care of this tunnel.

The sound of his boots changed from thup to squish. Dhargan stopped. Whatever dripped here, it had spilled this far. Dhargan circled to the left until the wall stopped him. Dhargan pressed his left hand against the slimy stones as he took one step forward, and another. His right foot slipped off a ledge he hadn’t known was there. His leg submerged shin-deep before he caught himself. He resisted the impulse to swear; someone might hear who’d better not. When he had calmed enough, he continued with a smile. That pit was not a bad trick. Anyone who was in a hurry, or not suspicious enough, and didn’t know it was there would probably fall right in. He wondered if Kandur-Ra had anything inside the pit. Probably. Sorcerers were crafty and malicious. Whatever it was, if there was anything it was too well fed to be useful. Had he attracted its attention, it might have grabbed him before he could have drawn his foot back out of the water.

When his steps didn’t squish anymore, he noticed that his progress became more difficult. He couldn’t be positive, but his sense of balance told him the floor sloped upwards. He slowly stepped to the center of the tunnel. If anything came from the walls, that would give him a moment more to save himself.

Such as the loose stone that gave under his weight.

Dhargan froze. Was it a chance loose stone, or had he just set off a trap? Either way, it was safer to assume the latter. Dhargan drew his dagger from its sheath and crouched. Putting the sword down, he felt around with his hand until he knew the edges of the stone. He swallowed dry and licked his lips. Even if this worked, he would have at best only a second or two go get away. He stabbed the dagger into the gap, wedging it in. Without shifting his weight, he picked up his sword. He rose halfway from his crouch, licked his lips again and sprinted forward.

Behind him, he heard stone scrape against metal as the tile tried to rise against the dagger’s pressure. He wasn’t sure when the dagger gave, or what the trap was. He only heard a loud screeching behind him that told him the trap was sprung. Panting as much from the fright than the exertion, he stopped and leaned against the wall. Closing his eyes, he took three deep breaths, just as his trainer had taught him so long ago. He held the first breath for a heartbeat before he released it, held the second breath for two heartbeats and the third for three.

When his breath calmed, he shifted his grip on the hilt of his sword and continued.

He rounded a corner and saw twin pinpoints of light at the end. There it was, the end of the secret tunnel. The light, he discovered when he reached it, came through two eye-shaped cuts in a canvas.

Dhargan smiled. He had heard of paintings like this; paintings of men or women whose eyes were cut from the canvas so someone from the other side could observe a room unseen. Well, this time at least it worked in his favor. Dhargan pressed his face against the rear of the canvas and peered through the eyeholes.

The room at the other side was empty. Dhargan searched the frame with quick, practiced moves until he found the switch that opened the secret door. He stepped through it moments before it closed of its own accord. Dhargan nodded to himself. Of course. When you’re on the run, you don’t necessarily have the time to think of closing doors behind yourself. Dhargan looked at the room. It was lavishly decorated, but at the moment he really couldn’t care less about that. Perhaps he would have the time to pick up something interesting for Cymra on his way out. Right now, all he needed was a way in.

There was only one door leading from the room. Dhargan contemplated it for a moment. Would Kandur-Ra have this door trapped or guarded? It was the last door between his escape and a possible enemy, and Dhargan knew Kandur-Ra had plenty of enemies. All sorcerers did. His own presence was proof enough of that.

No guards, he decided. Not unless the sorcerer expected anyone to come for him through his supposedly secret tunnel. No traps either. If Kandur-Ra needed to get in here, he would be in a hurry. Traps, like guards, would only get in the way.

No, he had nothing to fear from this door.

Dhargan pushed the handle down and opened the door a crack. He had a quick look up and down the corridor. When he could see no one, he nodded to himself and stepped through the doorway. He closed the door and released the breath he hadn’t realized he had held.

So now he was in a corridor. So now what? Or rather, where? Where would Kandur-Ra be?

Why, he would of course be farther up. Dhargan had encountered a lot of sorcerers over the years, enough to know that sorcerers depended a lot on things ordinary people knew nothing of. The energy of the stars, for example. Dhargan grinned to himself. It was night, and the stars were out. Of course Kandur-Ra would be at the highest point of his keep, to better make use of the magical energy the stars could provide him. It would also be the farthest from where any potential assassins could enter the keep, giving Kandur-Ra plenty of time and room to set up his defenses.

Wasn’t paranoia wonderful?

All Dhargan had to do was find a staircase, then follow it as high as it would go.

Which still left him with the choice of whether to turn right or left. He decided to turn right throughout. Turning right while going in was like turning left while going out, and since Kandur-Ra was an evil wizard, he probably even derived some extra power by going widdershins.

And don’t forget to look for guards and traps, he reminded himself. Oh well, at least this corridor was well lit, with a generous number of torches burning along the walls, probably to make up for their blankness. This was much better than groping about in absolute blackness, even if it did mean that any guards could see him as easily as he could see them. Not that it worried him. The day he couldn’t outfight three or four men was the day he deserved to die.

Curiously, the corridor was empty. There was no sign of guards or traps anywhere. Dhargan wasn’t sure he liked this. No traps he could understand. It would be embarrassing if you went along a corridor in your own keep and forgot even one of them. But no guards? Either Kandur-Ra was a fool, or he was much more powerful than Dhargan had been told. Dhargan wanted to believe in the fool. He really did. He couldn’t.

Curse Alann-Keo and his ‘need to know’ attitude. How should Alann-Keo know what Dhargan needed to know? Alann-Keo was a thrice-damned sorcerer himself. How should a sorcerer know what a warrior needed to know?

Leading with his sword, Dhargan started off. So what if Kandur-Ra was more powerful than Alann-Keo had told him. That didn’t matter. Three feet of iron would kill the man either way.

Dhargan turned right three more times before he ended up at the foot of a narrow staircase leading up. He peered up. Impressed, he pursed his lips. It hadn’t looked that high from the outside. Then again, he had no idea how far down he was. The keep was perched on a mountain. The tunnel had begun at the mountain’s base. Since he had had no way to look outside, he might as well still be deep inside the mountain. The escape tunnel had sloped upward, yes, but obviously not far enough. Dhargan suspected this was another trap for the unwary. Yet what kind of trap it might be, he had no idea. It certainly wasn’t the lack of a rope as a handrail. Surely Kandur-Ra did not simply hope that his enemies would slip and fall down the stairs to their death. Maloff had said nothing of the staircase, He had, however, repeatedly stated that he knew nothing of what lay beyond the tunnels.

Step by step, he climbed the stairs. It occurred to him that this might be an accursed neverending staircase, the trap being that he would climb these stairs forevermore without ever reaching an exit. He snorted. If so, he was doomed already. No point in not going on.

It was slow going, though. He tested each step with the tip of his sword, looking for tripwires and similar obstacles. When the sword found none, he put his left foot on the step and slowly put his weight on it. When nothing happened, he continued with the next step.

The first tripwire he cut released a passel of tiny metal darts that struck where his head would have been if he hadn’t used his sword. The second tripwire released several blades that shot up from the step. Had his foot been on it, they would have impaled it. The third tripwire released a pendulum from the wall that threatened to cut an unwary invader in half. Dhargan grinned at this trap. The pendulum swung safely behind him as he triggered the wire. Dhargan paused to look around. Looking up and ahead, he discovered two other tripwires.

He took two steps before his weight triggered a spring that released the stairs, quickly tilting them until they turned into a slide. Dhargan yelped when he lost his footing, fell down and slid back down to where the pendulum was waiting for him. He instinctively jammed his arms outward, pressing his left hand and right fist, which refused to release the sword, against the wall. It worked. The staircase was narrow enough that this maneuver halted Dhargan’s slide. Gasping, he looked down at the swinging pendulum. It almost touched his outstretched toes.

Close one. Far too close.

Looking up, Dhargan saw where the slide turned back into stairs. It seemed farther away than he would have thought. But how could he reach them? He was stronger than most men, but even he couldn’t hold himself like this for very long.

Only one choice, really. Dhargan twisted until he could put one foot against the left-hand wall. Using the foot for leverage, he let go with his left palm, extending the leg until his shoulders pressed against the right hand wall. He had done something similar once before, climbing a mountain. With his shoulders and legs both pressing against the opposite sides of the staircase, Dhargan worked his way back up until he reached the new first step. He sat down on it to rest for a moment. Looking down at the slide and the pendulum, he admired the ingenuity of the traps. Trigger the slide, and you moved down. On the way, you would trigger the tripwire that released the pendulum, which would slice you to ribbons when you got there. If that failed, either the blades or the darts would get you.

Kandur-Ra was even more wicked than Dhargan had expected. But just how powerful was his magic? So far, all the traps had been mechanical. Anyone with a sufficiently cruel imagination and the necessary inventiveness could have built them. They didn’t require any magic.

On the other hand, perhaps that was the point. Building mechanical traps saved your magical energy. Also, who would look for mechanical traps in a sorcerer’s keep?

Dhargan would have admired Kandur-Ra’s cleverness if it hadn’t made his own life so much more difficult. As things stood, he preferred cursing it. He kept his guard up until he reached the top of the stairs. Which he did, though it seemed like hours later and probably really was, considering the distance involved and the crawl at which he moved.

The stairs ended at a huge door. Dhargan pressed his hand against the door’s cool metal. It wasn’t gold, as he had first thought, but some other yellowish metal. The warrior squared his shoulders. Behind this door was the one he sought. Or perhaps not. Perhaps there was just another trap behind this door. Either way, since this door was the only way onward, he had no choice. He had to go through it. Pushing against the door, he found it heavy but not locked. He pushed it open and cautiously stepped through.

At once, his nostrils were assaulted by a certain stench. He could not name it, couldn’t decide if it was sickly sweet, stale or noxious, or perhaps all of it. It was a smell like no other. A smell he recognized.

Dhargan looked up at the ceiling and had his suspicion confirmed. A web of thick grayish-white strings covered the ceiling. The strings reached to the walls, some of them even ran as far down as the floor. At the web’s center sat a huge black furry-limbed spider whose torso was easily seven feet long.

Dhargan slipped back out into the corridor.

“Oh, Garon, not again,” he moaned, leaning his back against the rough wall. What was it with sorcerers, were they somehow required to keep giant spiders as guards or pets? Or was there some other reason why every single one of them seemed to have one around? Not to mention all those lost treasures that were guarded by at least one of those beasts.

Dhargan was sick and tired of them. Just like he was sick of mutated apes. Now that he had seen the giant spider, Dhargan was sure Kandur-Ra kept a mutated ape too. Why couldn’t those wizards come up with something original for once?

Be careful what you wish for; you might get it, he reminded himself. A smile tugged at the corners of his mouth. If a sorcerer truly did come up with something original, it would probably be the death of him. No, it was better they kept to the tried and true. That, he knew how to deal with.

He peered into the room as he reviewed the different ways he knew how to handle a giant spider. He could goad it into attacking and impale it on his sword. Or he could throw a burning flask of oil at it and set it on fire. Or …

The smile finally broke through when he saw that it wouldn’t be necessary to deal with the arachnid at all. None of the web’s strings were between him and the other door. The other door wasn’t protected by a string either. So long as he didn’t touch any of the web’s strings, he should be safe enough. That didn’t look like a problem at all.

Dhargan took a torch from the wall. Just in case he was wrong, and this spider was trained to attack something not entangled in its web, the smoke from the torch would keep it at a distance. Giant spiders hated smoke. And should it attack regardless, the torch was a wonderful weapon. A giant spider might ignore being stabbed, or even losing a leg, but they all ran if they were burned.

Dhargan made his way through the room confidently but quickly. He reached the other door, pulled it open and stepped through. On the other side, he released his breath. He had been right. The spider had ignored him.

Now to see if he was right about the monster ape.

The second door had led to another short corridor, and the end of which there was yet another door. Dhargan felt that he was getting closer to Kandur-Ra. He could tell by the way his hackles rose. Only sorcerers could make his hackles rise. That included those who, like Alann-Keo, claimed to be on his side. Perhaps he should kill Alann-Keo too when he was done here, just to be on the safe side. Sorcerers weren’t to be trusted.

Dhargan opened the next door and stepped aside. Nothing happened. He leaped through it, losing his momentum by rolling across the floor, and came to his feet in a fighting stance.

Kandur-Ra stood by a table, handling his sorcerous instruments. He looked at Dhargan with a frown.

“Don’t you barbarian warriors know how to knock?” the sorcerer asked.

“Caves don’t have doors,” Dhargan replied. Kandur-Ra laughed.

“Good one,” he said, putting down what he held in his hands. He pointed at the sword Dhargan held at the ready. “Put that away. You won’t need it.”

“Yeah. Right.”

“No, really. Monkeir won’t hurt you.”

“Monkeir?”

Dhargan turned when something grunted behind him. He whirled about, changing his stance, shifting his grip on his sword. Behind him was …

“You know what I hate even more than mutated apes, Kandur-Ra? Mutated apes with cute names.”

“I’m so sorry to offend your sensibilities,” Kandur-Ra said acidly. “Which reminds me, how did you get past Spidor?”

“Don’t tell me you got a cute name for the spider too? Garon, you deserve to die for that alone!”

Kandur-Ra laughed.

“I’m afraid I can’t die just yet,” he said. “I still have too much to do.” He waved. Monkeir looked at its master, nodded and left the way Dhargan had come in. Dhargan was glad to have only one opponent to focus on. He knew of at least one warrior who got killed by a sorcerous blast from behind while fighting the sorcerer’s mutated minions.

“So, what brings you here?” Kandur-Ra asked conversationally. It riled Dhargan that the sorcerer apparently didn’t consider him particularly dangerous

“Your death, of course,” Dhargan said, slowly moving closer to his target.

“And why do you seek my death?”

“I got paid for it.”

“A hired sword. I see. You’re not after revenge for the people I had killed or sold into slavery? Or for the reign of terror with which I control the people of the country my armies conquered?”

Dhargan moved closer. From what he had learned, Kandur-Ra wasn’t all that much worse than most other kings or emperors.

“No, it’s really just for the gold.”

Kandur-Ra sighed. He shook his head sadly.

“You know,” he said, “I’d always thought that when somebody killed me it’d be some revenge-crazed barbarian. Garon knows I’ve made enough of them angry at me. But to lose my life to a paid mercenary …” He shook his head. “No. I’m afraid I can’t allow that. It has no style.”

Kandur-Ra gestured. Dhargan jumped out of the way. Still, something tugged at him from behind. He turned, to see a silvery maelstrom in the wall behind him. It seemed to grow as he watched. As it grew, its pull increased.

Dhargan heard something hissing behind him and ducked just in time to avoid the fireball Kandur-Ra hurled at him. The fireball was sucked into the maelstrom and vanished.

“Who knows where that will end up,” Kandur-Ra laughed. “What you see is the door to all that was, all that is, all that will be and all that might be. That fireball might drop into the past and kill a king at some critical junction in history. Or it might simply drop into the sea where nobody ever knows it was there. Or it might be confused with a sign from a god and found a new religion someplace nobody ever heard of. The only one who will ever know is you, my muscular friend. Because you’re going to follow it.” as he said the last, his voice rose in pitch until it became like a shriek. Dhargan turned and, fighting the maelstrom’s tug with every step he took, actually inched closer to Kandur-Ra.

Until something knocked him down. Before he could react, he had slid several feet closer to the maelstrom. Something big and hairy slashed sharp claws across his chest. Dhargan gasped with pain and surprise as he realized what had happened.

Monkeir went for his throat. Dhargan hit the ape’s head with the sword’s pommel. The ape grunted, shook his head and renewed its attack.

Dhargan twisted one of his legs until he had brought it halfway between him and the ape. He straightened it with all his power. The effort actually pushed Monkeir loose. Only a little bit, and only for a fraction of a second, but long enough that Dhargan could smash Monkeir’s flat nose with his left fist. He felt the bones crunch under his fist. Monkeir howled with pain and reared back. Dhargan drew his legs back and kicked the ape’s chest. Monkeir stumbled back. Dhargan leaped to his feet, picked the ape up and hurled him into the maelstrom. He felt nothing as the mutated creature vanished. It was just another obstacle that had to be overcome.

Dhargan turned. The tug from the maelstrom had become so strong he wasn’t sure even his prodigious strength was enough to overcome it. Yet he tried. It wasn’t as if he had any alternatives. This had gone too far already. His only hope was that Kandur-Ra’s death would close the gate. Otherwise, and Dhargan shuddered to think of it, the maelstrom might grow and grow and grow until it had devoured everything in the world.

Step by painful step, Dhargan fought against the maelstrom’s pull. His rage was fueled by the fact that the pull didn’t seem to affect Kandur-Ra at all. Instead, the sorcerer laughed. He raised his left hand. A blue light enveloped it. Kandur-Ra pointed at Dhargan. The light coalesced into a ball and flew at Dhargan. Dhargan tried to duck, to avoid the blue light ball. As he did, he lost his balance. He didn’t fall to the floor, however. The maelstrom’s tug didn’t allow that. Instead, it sucked him backwards. Dhargan tried to hold on to something, anything to stop himself. He tried to put his feet back on the floor. It was useless. The maelstrom’s pull kept him horizontal.

Dhargan heard Kandur-Ra laugh. The warrior squeezed his eyes shut. Even breathing became difficult as the maelstrom sucked the air out of the room. Dhargan realized he had lost. All that remained was a last defiant gesture.

“I’ll see you dead even if I have to return from the Netherworld to do it,” Dhargan screamed. Clutching his sword with his right hand, he made an obscene gesture with his left.

Then the world was gone, and Dhargan was gone from the world.

26. December 2009

Go Western, Young Man

Filed under: general,TV,Uncategorized — jensaltmann @ 16:52
Tags: , , , , , , ,

I’m dating myself here when I admit that I grew up on TV westerns. It wasn’t so much that I had a particular fondness of the genre, but I was allowed to watch these shows. (Hey, I’m not that old.)

The most famous ones are, of course, Bonanza and Gunsmoke. I always liked Bonanza better than Gunsmoke, but I over the years I’ve come to wonder if that was perhaps because there were some aspects of Gunsmoke that went over my head at the time. These days, for example, I have a much better idea of what Miss Kitty really did for a living. Perhaps I should get the DVDs one of these days and see if my guess is right.

Considering that these two shows ran for a very long time (Bonanza from 1959 until 1973, with several attempts at revival since; Gunsmoke from 1955 – 1975, with some later TV movies), it’s anyone’s guess which of them was the more successful one. My vote goes for Bonanza, since I had the complete set of Bonanza toys (action figures etc.), but I never saw Gunsmoke toys.

(I picked the German Gunsmoke intro on purpose.)

Neither of them was my favorite. For example, I always liked High Chaparral (1967 – 1971) better than Bonanza.  There was something rough and dangerous about the world of High Chaparral that Bonanza lacked. Like everyone else at my school, I was a fan of Henry Darrow’s Manolito.

The Virginian was almost on the same level of enjoyment as High Chaparral. Amusingly, I wouldn’t have minded if the show had gotten rid of the title character and done more with Trampas. (Which is why I picked the German intro for this blog post.)

Another show that had me glued to the TV set was Big Valley (1965 – 1969). Unlike the other shows, it had a character with which I could identify: Lee Majors’ Heath Barclay and I had a lot in common.

In a way, I could also identify with Chuck Connors’ son on The Rifleman (1958 – 1963). All the kid wanted was a gun, he thought he was old enough. And each episode, his peace-loving father had to solve a problem by shooting with his rifle. The Rifleman has one particular distinction: in the US, the last episode was broadcast the day I was born. (Now you know the secret of why I watched all these shows while I was a kid: I watched them as they were broadcast in Germany, and that frequently happened years after the original broadcast.  The Rifleman, for example, was broadcast in Germany from 1969 – 1972.

The threethat I remember as my favorites from those years? That would be Laramie.

At the time, Robert Fuller was voted Germany’s most popular TV actor.

I was probably alone in my appreciation of Yancy Derringer, but how could I (at age six or seven) not like a show where the character shared my first name (at least phonetically) and had the name of a gun as his last name? (Sorry, the only intro video I found that I can post here is at the end of the compilation below.)

And, like for everyone else of my generation, the perhaps most original western series of all: Kung Fu.

And my god, did I love that anthology series that showed the three western series Johnny Ringo

I was particularly fond of that trick gun.

The Westerner

which I watched because I was a fan of Brian Keith’s Uncle Bill from Family Affair. And Broken Arrow, starring Michael Ansara as Cochise. Who, as I understood at the time, was something like the US version of Winnetou.

One show that came on later than the others was Wanted: Dead Or Alive, which made me a Steve McQueen fan.

And of course, although it doesn’t really count because it wasn’t on during my formative years, Alias Smith and Jones.

Gods, this post has made me nostalgic. Now I really wish I had the money to buy all the DVD boxes, and the time to watch them.

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