7-inch: House of Suffering Bad Brains
1986 SST Records PSST 065
Favorite Track: House of Suffering
The weather is rapidly cooling down and the air is brisk. A heavier coat is required when outside and I find a bounce in my step. Goodbye autumn, a friend but not as faithful as my lover, winter. Her cold kisses embrace me morning and night. The perfect time to sit and read by a fire, stretched out on a rug or pillow. I have just started the second Lancer book in the Conan series. The cover is one of Frank Frazetta paintings, which was also used for a Dust album starring Marky Ramone. Almost immediately into starting the first short story, I am drawn back to the clash of battle, the smell of death, the warcries, the desperation, the sneaky heists, and the lustrous women. Conan occupies a much simpler world: there is no good versus evil, there is only a question of honor and strength. As I crack open the cover of the book, I wonder what danger will Conan recklessly throw himself into this time?
“The Curse of the Monolith” – 2 out of 5 broken skulls
L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter
I was about to dismiss this story as the worst story yet, but for a grisly image during the ending. Perhaps it would be better in comic book format. The plot is simple and, at this point, the most common Conan plot. Conan is still serving in the Turan army and while delivering a message, the man he escorts tells him of a fabulous treasure. The two of them sneak off only for Feng to betray Conan. The story feels rushed with almost no characterization, a hastily and not convincingly hidden treasure is used to lure a suspicious Conan dumb, and then magnets! Now Feng could just kill Conan as he helplessly struggles to free himself from his armor, but, no, instead he pulls out a flute and plays a piping song that summons an amoeba. All of this is groan worthy until the writing suddenly kicks into gear and, for a brief moment, you wonder if Conan is going to die. Then Conan does what he does best and saves himself and throws Feng into the monolith so he meets his own amorphous demise. There is not much to discuss in this story so I will move on.
“The Blood-Stained God” – 3 out of 5 broken skulls
Robert E. Howard and L. Sprague de Camp
Once again, we get the tired Conan goes treasure hunting, begrudgingly befriends a companion who dies, and, ultimately, does not end up with any treasure than he started with. However, this is a pretty good tale and, most likely, a fun one to read out loud. Conan has finally quit the Turan army. A dying man gave him a map that has been stolen sometime before the story starts, so we begin with Conan searching the dangerous parts of a city looking for someone. We get an early fight scene and Conan is knocked unconscious while climbing a wall. He wakes to a stranger who has been spying on him, but willing to help. They set off on a chase for the treasure when they are ambushed, but the real excitement of the story starts when the cast of characters thins out to the main players. Then we get a hidden temple built into a mountainside, a hilarious death scene due to a trap door, and then the treasure–an short, squat apish statue that can become animated and throw people into a chasm. This story is about action. The landscape is described in lovely detail, but not really in an ominous or atmospheric way. Probably the best descriptions come with the trap door and Conan’s clever, but convenient fix. The story needs more time with Sassan, who could have been much more interesting–after all, he followed Conan around with him knowing and whose sudden greed for the treasure (his downfall) seems forced. Zyras and Kerspa also seem little more than names. Why is Kerspa so protective of his lands? Zyras is trying to kill Conan but allows him to temporarily join sides because of a Kezankian horde approaching? Are they particularly ferocious in combat or is Zyras a mastermind in betrayal? It would have been nice to have more background to these new cultures we are introduced to in this story. But the brutal ending proves the title right: it sure is a blood-stained god.
Another set of decent tales, but I am anxiously awaiting the next really good story. The next three stories all have promising titles: The Frost Giant’s Daughter, The Lair of the Ice Worm, and Queen of the Black Coast.