Monday, December 17, 2012

45. Tor Conan #35, Conan the Gladiator by Leonard Carpenter.

Conan, newly returned to civilization following his adventures in the Southern Kingdoms and Kush, now finds himself in the Shemite city of Thujara with his money running low. Before long he is caught up with a circus troop in need of a strong man to wrestle with local toughs in order to make bets. They are made an offer to journey to Stygia to perform. After some travel they arrive in Stygia and do their circus and by the end of their period there one of the circus performers has become a new leader in Stygia, and then Conan leaves.

Honestly, that's a complete summary of the entire novel. Vastly simplified, but theres really not much else that happened. It was an entertaining enough book, but it could have been a much smaller short story.. it's so padded with examples of circus life and his interactions with the other circus performers. It's not got much going for it in terms of Conan's character, but thats nothing knew for Carpenter as a writer.. however.. next we get to the major problem with this book.

I just want to point out, that the placement of this book in this Chronology, proves one thing. That Conan has GIANT BRASS BALLS.. they are so big, I'm surprised he can even walk. The reason I say this is simple, He GOES TO STYGIA, and LOOKS JUST LIKE AMRA, and he does all of this AFTER having spent years, one; foiling Stygian plots, two; raiding Stygian ships, three; after leading a raid into the very heart of Stygia and four; running afoul of numerous Stygian nobles and priests all over the Hyborean Continent.. And he does all of this.. in order to bed a Circus girl? Yes, He went to Stygia to rescue Belit's Brother, he will later go to Stygia while trying to defeat Xaltotun in Hour of the Dragon, but both times he went, great need impelled him to undertake such a risky venture, and he treated it as such. Simply put, One does not simply walk into Stygia. This trip just makes no sense at all, at least not during this point in his life. Considering that he starts in Shem, and there is no reference to him having recently been in the southern kingdoms, or his days of piracy, And if it wasn't for a single mention of Conan having been to Stygia, which he visited in Conan the Rebel, I would have to assume that it took place before Queen of the Black Coast, since he is singularly not worried about going to Stygia on such a mundane trip. Considering that the only explanation I can think of to explain such a thing away, is that Conan, still bereft at the death of his lover Belit, simply doesn't care what happens to him. This explanation falls apart though, when the logical extrapolation of that would be he would simply have stayed among the Bamulas and not bothered having begun the arduous journey northwards, and especially wouldn't have then turned around and gone south again. This is a case where the simplest explanation is the best, the book is bad, poorly thought out, if still entertaining, with no reference given to any attempt at maintaining geographic logic, or consistency in Conan's travels. Ugh. I've found that basically the only reason it works here, is that Conan is still in the same general area in the next book, which actually makes some logical effort to explain why he is there.

Up Next, considered to be perhaps the best Conan Pastiche, John C. Hocking's "Conan and the Emerald Lotus"

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

44. Ace Conan #2.8, The Snout in the Dark by Robert E. Howard and L. Sprague Decamp

Conan, now in Meroe the Capital city of Kush, fresh from his adventures in the southern black kingdoms, rescues a queen named Tananda. It seems that Tananda is the cuase of some ire for a dark wizard who is using a conjuration to eliminate political prisoners and then blaming the deaths on the queen. Conan of course can't help but get involved and soon finds himself a captain of the queen's guard. He helps interrogate a suspicious nemedian slave girl before eventually unraveling the plot against the queen.  Conan and the slave girl are nearly killed, but the conjured creature is gravely wounded and returns to it's master, alerting a large crowd of who is behind the killings in the process. Soon a rebellion is rocking the city of Meroe, and Conan and the slave girl decide to leave town.

This is an attempt by DeCamp to finish an REH fragment, I'm not sure how much is which writer, and to be honest it's pretty mediocre. It really rounds off the bulk of this particular book which isn't really that great of a representation of REH's Conan at his best. It contains quite a few stories where Conan either espouses some very nasty opinions, threatens nefarious deeds, or simply runs away in a rather un Conan-like manner. That being said this volume of the ACE series does contain what is one of the BEST Conan, and possibly REH stories ever, Queen of the Black Coast. The rest function more as an Anchor attempting to drag down QotBC than anything else.

Up next, Conan the Gladiator by Leonard Carpenter

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

43. Ace Conan #2.7, The Castle of Terror by L. Sprague De Camp and Lin Carter

Conan, following his adventures with the Bamulas is on the run again. Not from a human adversary but from a pride of Lions. He takes shelter in an abandoned castle and soon finds there is more the ruin than meets the eye.  Thousands of lost souls begin to make their presence known before ultimately coalescing into a multi limbed monstrosity and doing battle with a troop of Stygian slavers who have also stumbled upon the deserted keep. The squamous and horrid creature quickly tears all but one of the slavers to shreds, stopping at simply driving that one insane. Conan, realizing he has no desire to finish his life on so ignominious an end, decides that discretion is the better part of valor and since the slavers won't be needing their horses simply takes one and makes his way away from the keep.

This was not a bad story, benefiting from not being long, but really didn't do much to improve the readers view of Conan the man if read immediately following Vale of Lost Women. It also re-used a lot of the tropes that DeCamp & Carter are well known for.. but the monstrosity had me feeling like I was watching a Hyborean age version of John Carpenter's The Thing.

Up Next, "The Snout in the Dark" By Robert E. Howard and L. Sprague DeCamp 

Sunday, August 26, 2012

42. Ace Conan #2.6, The Vale of Lost Women, By Robert E. Howard.

Conan, still living with the Bamulas, rescues a captive northern girl and fights a lovecraftian monstrosity.

I really don't like this story.. I don't want to get into any sort of armchair psychologist sort of thing with it.. I simply don't like it. I consider it to be one of the worst Conan stories, and also one of the worst REH stories I've read. Suffice to say I feel there is a reason why it was never published in the author's lifetime.. as it simply isn't up to the quality of work he normally produced and is also rife with problematic and extremely cynical (even for Howard) views of the world.

That being said, I think that the Characterization of Conan himself is still quite good.. showing his frustration with the Bamulas and other tribes in the Black Kingdoms.. while also showing he is still a man of honor with no truck with rapists or those who force themselves on women.

Up next, The Castle of Terror by L. Sprague DeCamp and Lin Carter

Friday, August 24, 2012

41. Tor Conan #34, Conan at the Demon's Gate by Roland Green.

This story opens years after the previous left off. Conn, Son of Conan is king of Aquilonia and is busy trying to pacify the borders of his land which abut the Pictish Wilderness. A minor nobleman who has been stationed in these newly colonized lands is investigating a cave when he finds something which shocks him. A statue of King Conan, deep in territory where Conan never ruled but also supposedly never visited. This then is a mystery.

The story then jumps backwards in time, back to Conan following the death of Belit and the destruction of the Tigress has been living in the dense jungles for some weeks. He has been taking offerings left to appease him by a superstitious tribe of fisher folk, and generally trying to sort himself out and decide what to do next. It isn't long before this choice is made for him when he runs across a group of Bamula warriors out hunting boar. Recognizing him as Amra, though not quite trusting him, the Bamula's invite him to their village where he quickly begins gaining prominence.

While this is happening various animals and creatures are appearing in the surrounding jungle and Conan and the Bamulas decide to investigate. They discover that there is a gateway, known as the Demon's Gate, which is allowing these creatures access to the lands of the black kingdoms. This gate must be closed, but in the attempt Conan and several Bamula warriors are transported through it into the vast Pictish Wilderness where they must not only fight for their lives against the hordes of barely human Picts but also defeat a Stygian sorcerer who is powering the Demon's Gate, in the Pictish lands looking for an artifact of great power, the dread Crystal of Thraz.

It takes days, requires allies of Bossonians and a few Aqulionians to eventually defeat this sorcerer before their plans can come to fruition and unleash greater evil on the world. The power of the crystal transforms an ordinary stone into a replica of the Cimmerian and imbues it with powers, while dread, are soon able to be controlled by Conan who commands it to cease its attack and go dormant.

At the end of the story, Conan opts to return to the black kingdoms which he has now come to think of as as new home, due mostly to the strength of the warriors and the embraces of the women, and the jungle beer which a man could drink quantities sufficient to float a ship yet never get drunk, ready for more adventures in new lands.

The story then flashes back to the Aqulionian nobleman investigating the statue, he finds out from some extremely aged Bossonians more or less rumors of what had happened.. King Conan leading a band of black skinned warriors against the Picts years ago, and commanding an army of stone statues. The nobleman deduces that, though the statue is obviously some sort of powerful weapon, only one person, King Conn, likely has the ability to control it, and so opts to ignore investigating the mystery any further and forget about the statue as nothing more than a quirk or relic destined for some later purpose. 

 Now this was an interesting book. I felt that in spite of it's strange plot, the demon's gate functioning as a portal between two completely different yet equally dangerous locales, that the writing of Conan himself was very good. Further, the book showed a great deal of details about the Bamulas, a group which got lots of mentions but not a whole lot of time on the page being fleshed out. What emerges is a warrior society which has very well established orders and a good bit to be admired and for Conan to learn from.. while also still not doing much to disabuse him of his more cynical observations of the human condition.

The frame story set during the reign of Conn is interesting but ultimately un-needed.. it didn't need to exist other than to add some sort of permanence to the expedition through the Demon's Gate. It also served to show that, though the people of Conan's day are mostly unaware of the relics of the past which still litter their world, they clearly exist and often have a great potency and capacity for ill use by those so inclined. This book also yet again shows how far flung the machinations of the Stygians really extends. Destabilizing the Hyborean kingdoms, hunting for powerful relics, directly interceding in conflicts to ensure lucrative outcomes.. it all feels as if this is building up to something, vengeance against the Hyboreans maybe, more than likely just an attempt to grab at the remnants left behind when Stygia's sister empire Acheron fell thousands of years before.

Over all though this was an enjoyable and fast read, and was a complete change from the previous Roland Green book that I read set in Argos.

Up next, back to Robert E. Howard, with " The Vale of Lost Women "...

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

40. Ace Conan #2.5, Queen of the Black Coast, part 2, By Robert E. Howard

The finale of Queen of the Black coast picks up some time after the events of Conan the Rebel, many other adventures have unfurled off page in the time which Conan has been with Belit, he's now about 25.

Belit issues orders for her crew to set sail up a nameless river somewhere in the regions south of Kush, before long they find themselves in a dense jungle and come upon a ruined and forgotten city. Belit finds a necklace which induces madness and she and the crew are all soon killed by a winged monster which guards the city.  Conan, riven with grief sets out to destroy the monster, and is on the verge of being killed when the ghost of Belit intervenes and gives him strength. Conan afterwords burns Belits body and the ship. Conan, grief stricken, with his future unknown and dubious chances of survival, sets off alone into the forbidding jungle.

"Queen of the Black Coast" is, in my opinion, one of the best Conan stories which REH wrote.. following very closely on the heals of "Tower of the Elephant" in my rankings. It is a powerful story and does a great deal to advance and build upon Conan as a character. Gone is all pretense of a callow youth out only for adventure and material gain, present is a man seasoned by many battles and great personal loss. Though there have been many women in Conan's life by the time this story takes place, none of them had been as important to him as Belit, nor would any of them be missed in the same way as her.

This will likely be my last update for a while as classes started yesterday and I will be needing to get a handle on them before I continue any of my own personal projects.

Up Next, Conan at the Demon's Gate by Roland Green. Which based on the description on the back, I am decidedly not looking forward to.

Monday, August 20, 2012

39. Bantam Conan #6, Conan the Rebel by Poul Anderson

Conan and Belit are raiding up and down the coasts of Shem, Stygia, Kush and the various other countries which border on the western sea. They are especially interested in raiding Stygian vessels, due to Belits family history with them. Her family were apparently settlers of a sort in Kush but were killed by Stygian evil doers. We learn of this as to also give an idea of the background of Stygia itself, since though it has been mentioned before, this will be the first time readers have actually visited the benighted land itself.

Elsewhere, the Stygian sorcerer Tothapis sets in motion events designed to destroy the piratical pair. He sets bait to lure the pirates into a trap, news of Belits brother, long thought deceased is spread amongst the crews of ships just waiting for them to be predated upon. Once this news has been heard, Conan and Belit set out to Stygia to rescue her missing family member.

Along the way they run afoul of prophecies of one sort or another, Conan becomes the wielder of a legendary axe, and they take a ride on a flying boat. Eventually they deal with the traps, and foil the plans of Tothapis, and beat an escape from Stygia and continue on with their piratical adventuring.

I really didn't like this book, which is a shame, as I typically really like Poul Anderson. It doesn't feel like Conan, and I really dislike that an author as seasoned as Anderson did something as amatuerish as inserting his story in between chapters of one of Robert E. Howard's stories. Obviously he wanted to make use of Belit, and for reasons to be revealed in my next review had to do it this way, but his way of going about using her feels really poorly executed. The best bits about it are the geographical details it gives about Stygia, and the fact that it shows Conan yet again interfering with this necromantic kingdom's plans of world domination. Though it's a slow burn, sporadically cropping up, it becomes the dominant theme of the Meta-Series that Conan is obviously destined to destroy Stygia during his lifetime.

The story is boring, it makes use of the "Bandit run" trope which I've commented on before, it introduces some extremely strange elements which feel like they would have been more at place in a Thongor story (the flying ship), and over all just doesn't feel like a Conan story at all.. I hate to say it, but this one kept my interest about as much as the average Steve Perry book does. It's a shame, as if Anderson had given us a story more akin to his Viking books (Mother of Kings, Broken Sword, Hrolf Kraki's Saga, the Last Viking, War of the Gods) instead of a book which feels more like a pastiche of Burroughs or Lin Carter.. I think it would have been wonderful. As it was, it was forgettable at best, and an annoyance for breaking up the totally superior REH story at worst.

If you want another really good review of this book and it's problems, check out CROM!'s review from June.