To take a break from my Robert E. Howard Conan reviews (which you can start reading by going over my story review of The People of the Black Circle, which I recommend to any fan of fantasy) I decided to read a C. L Moore sci-fi short story.
Catherine Lucille Moore is an early science fiction and fantasy author who gained great acclaim for Black God’s Kiss and her Northwest Smith stories. Honestly, it was fairly common for there to be women authors in science fiction and fantasy before clear delineations of “hard” and “soft” scifi in the 40’s. Many of these authors also wrote romance, gothic, and adventure fiction, and Moore was no exception. She was a great author with interesting storytelling and characters.
Shambleau is widely cited as one of C. L. Moore’s best stories, though it was her first professional sale, and it’s easy to see why. Northwest Smith is a Han Solo-esque character. He’s a space traveler who comes across a woman being chased by a crowd. Thinking himself a hero, he saves her, an alien with a red leather turban. Northwest takes her with him, and lets her stay in his room.
Without spoiling the story, there’s more to this woman than meets the eye.
It’s a short read, but honestly worth your time. I love the tie in to mythology, and the way it plays out with Northwest. He’s an interesting character and I hope to read the other stories about him in the future.
Conan escapes a city by getting onto a leaving merchant ship. The captain offers him passage, but it isn’t long before they’re attacked by pirates led by the Queen of the Black Coast, Belit. As Conan fights her men, she halts the fighting and confesses her infatuation with Conan. Right then she offers him a role as her mate, and he accepts.
Queen Belit is a Shemite, meaning she’s Middle Eastern. She calls often to Ishtar and other gods. She and Conan, at one point, discuss the gods. They travel until they find an ancient land with a forgotten temple. There’s a winged creature, which seems to be some kind of monkey. It’s a leftover of a long extinct race of intelligent creatures before mankind. I won’t spoil the story, but it all comes to a climax in a strange, almost dream-like way.
There’s an instance where Conan fights Belit’s first mate, who has gone crazy. It’s an interesting instance, but a sympathetic one. Every character is treated as a character.
This story is a hard one to describe. I liked it quite a bit and found it to be an interesting story with fascinating side characters.
This will be the third story of Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian that I’ve reviewed on this blog. The first was People of the Black Circle and the second was The Tower of the Elephant; both were fantastic, by the way. I hope to review a few more before the end of this year.
This story is excellent. It’s well-written, interesting, and fixes my main problem with Tower of the Elephant: the lack of a secondary main character. Balthus is a settler in the area, and while strong, is a more normal person than Conan for the reader to identify with. He also grounds the reader, letting them know Conan is unusual in his ways.
The story begins with Balthus coming to meet Conan in the wild, and the two of them deciding to travel to a fort. On the way, they find the corpse of a trader. Conan recognizes the dead man, and they report this back to the fort’s commander. Conan seems to think more is happening than it seems, taking some men from the fort to scout. They’re jumped and captured by the Picts, who are a dark-skinned tribe from across the river.
It isn’t perfect, though. This story has some dated elements. In it, the people of the story talk about skin color, specifically suggesting the Picts are different and dangerous (though later, it could be surmised it may have been the antagonist, Zogar Sog, who was the real danger). But it isn’t clear in the text whether the Picts are simply darker than the pale Aquilonians, or they were related to the “black tribes of Kush” as described by Conan. Add to this that the historical Picts were Scottish or Celtic, and it leads to a lot of confusion about what they actually looked like in the story.
It’s arguable that this use of skin color is simply the ancient thinking of a barbarian, which I understand may not be Howard’s opinion himself. Howard often uses the same terms (“savage”, “primitive”, etc.) to describe Conan as a character. Likewise, Conan is also considered by Balthus as being outside “civilized” man. So the argument could be made that Conan is described in the same terms.
Yet there are descriptors of the Picts as being less than human, which strikes me a little uncomfortably. If you feel these depictions might be uncomfortable for you, by all means skip this story.
However, for me, it doesn’t take away from the skill in which Howard writes. The story continues with a “time bomb” scenario, where Conan and Balthus must escape and warn the fort that the Picts are amassing to attack. It’s an interesting story, the mysteries of the wild compelling, and the overall setting fascinating. It all comes to a satisfying conclusion that doesn’t sugar-coat anything.
This is the second of the Robert E. Howard “Conan the Barbarian” stories I’ve covered, having reviewed The People of the Black Circle some time ago. I should be reviewing more in the future, as I plan to do at least 5 in total by the end of the year.
The story begins with a group of ruffians sitting in a candle-lit room. A Cimmerian comes in and discusses with a thief the Tower of the Elephant, a grand tower where a sorcerer named Yara keeps a treasure. They say Yara once turned a man into a small spider and stomped on him.
A fight ensues, and the candle is knocked over. As the fire is relit, the crowd finds the Cimmerian gone and the thief dead.
Thus we’re introduced to Conan the Barbarian. He makes up his mind to enter the tower and retrieve the treasure within, called the Heart of the Elephant. This story is spectacular. I was glued to it after Conan made his way to the tower. From there, the different traps and perils were fascinating, and the treasure inside is interesting and different.
The one downside to this story is the lack of secondary characters. It’s short, so it could be that Howard didn’t have enough space to add many other characters, but much of the story is Conan coming across other people, monsters, or mysteries. I felt that People of the Black Circle benefited from Yasmina as a character.
If I had to choose which story I preferred, “The Tower of the Elephant” or “The People of the Black Circle”, I would have to choose the latter. This story is fantastic, but People of the Black Circle had many twists, characters, and interesting story progressions that this one was missing.
Still, I would recommend any fan of fantasy read this story. It’s short and easily worth your time.
E. E. “Doc” Smith is a mixed bag for me. I really disliked Triplanetary, despite many of my peers suggesting it. I think of the Lensman series, First Lensman might be my next attempt into that space. However, the Skylark series was Smith’s other huge series.
And it is very approachable.
The Skylark of Space, the first book in this series, is about two scientists whose brilliance is tested when one of them, the heroic Richard Seaton, discovers a way to transform copper into energy. It’s fantastical, but the amount of energy provided is to a degree that allows space travel and augmented weaponry. Of course, the evil Marc DuQuesne can’t allow Richard to have it.
The tagline for the book reads, “it started in earth, it ended in space”. This is a good tease for what is within. The spaceship Seaton designs, the titular Skylark, is able to travel incredible speeds pushing relativity to points dreamed impossible. Though the battle between Seaton and DuQuesne escalates to a scale beyond simple battles over property rights. It soon becomes cosmic. The story leaps from the Earth to a black hole (which they call a “dead star”) and then to several alien worlds. Each alien world is unique and interesting, though the last society they interact with is by far the most interested. It also seems to have some similarities to Edgar Rice Burrough’s Barsoom society.
It comes off as an elementary school book report when you start talking about the two main characters, protagonist and antagonist, as if there were some opposing morality in their motivations. In this case, that doesn’t really apply. Both Richard Seaton and Marc DuQuesne have moralities that justify themselves by their ends. “The ends justify the means”, for lack of a better phrase. However, DuQuesne steps past a line of criminality that Seaton never does, going into both thievery and murder. Seaton only goes as far as deceiving the US Government about what he’s discovered and some minor violence to protect it.
There’s never a doubt in the story about which character is the hero and which is the villain. There’s something refreshing about that kind of writing, given the “shades of gray” characterization of modern stories. Your heroes can be human without also being evil, as Smith shows us. Seaton isn’t completely perfect, either. He’s the manly scientist character that was popular back then, but so is DuQuesne. They almost seem cut from the same cloth. At one point, DuQuesne is given honors similar to the honors bestowed upon the other four passengers of the Skylark, though he is still considered a “captive”.
If I had one complaint it was the pacing. In one chapter you’ll be reading about how the crew of one ship gets stuck next to a “dead star”, but then the next chapter has that immediately resolved with the other ship finding them and rescuing them. It’s paced quickly, which can be a hard sell at times. More often than not, though, it feels like a good pace for the story.
I recommend this book for fans of space opera. It won’t disappoint, though it does feel dated at points. That just added to its charm for me, though.
Robert E. Howard is an author I have mixed feelings for. On the one hand, I look up to how great he is as an author, but on the other, I really feel he’s raised up on a pedestal beyond what he deserves.
The People of the Black Circle was the second real Conan story I read. I wasn’t a huge fan of Howard before, but I liked him well enough. Honestly this story made me reevaluate my opinion of him.
The story is epic. The Emperor of Vendhya is killed and the Devi Yasmina comes to power. She swears to kill the assassins, who used magic to kill her brother. Amidst all of this, Conan has come to negotiate for the release of his seven warriors from a jail in Vendhya. Conan takes Yasmina as a hostage and flees Vendhya, unknowingly jumping into a battle of kings and wizards. With this comes its own dangers, as a mystical man in a camel vest pursues Conan and Yasmina.
I can’t recommend this story enough. The progression is great, Conan as a character is strong and interesting, and Yasmina is a beautiful, proud woman. Not to mention, the action is fantastic. There’s numerous fights in canyons and tricky interpretations of mystical words. It’s all around great.
I get this story recommended to me often. In truth, the circles I run in love older stories, and they seem to always extol Black Amazon of Mars as one of the better tales from the past.
Leigh Brackett was once called the “Queen of Space Opera”, and I have to admit that this story lives up to the hype.
Black Amazon of Mars has vivid storytelling, a fast pace, interesting action and characters, and twists and turns I didn’t see coming.
The story follows Eric John Stark, a recurring character in Brackett’s work. First published in 1951, it was originally in PLanet Stories, but subsequent publications used either the changed version or the original (depending). I read the original.
In this story, Eric is with his friend Camar, who is dying. Camar held in his possession a lens of some type that has some powerful abilities. As Camar dies, he Eric volunteers to take the lens back to his Martian people. However, a band of marauders, lead by the mysterious Lord Ciaran, are planning an attack on the city Camar comes from.
Stark is a good character, though he felt pretty generic. His “wandering rogue” aesthetic held pretty standard for a pulp story, but the real shining stars were the other characters. Lord Ciaran, in particular, was fascinating. There are a lot of martians in the city that interested me, but mostly by that part of the story, Ciaran’s uniqueness eclipsed the other characters.
All in all, I’d recommend this for anyone who likes science fiction or fantasy. It’s only about 70 pages, so I think it’s worth it. It’s fantastic.
I’ve reviewed several Poul Anderson books, including The Broken Sword and The High Crusade. Honestly, he’s quickly becoming my favorite author, though I suspect Jack Vance still holds that title in my heart.
Three Hearts and Three Lions follows Holger, an Allied fighter in World War 2, who awakens to find himself transported to a medieval fairy world of magic and witches. Finding himself with a horse and equipment in his size, as well as a shield bearing the titular “Three Hearts and Three Lions” design, he decides to go on a journey. He wants to find a way back, and on the way comes across a Dwarf named Hugi and a swan woman named Alianora.
The story is somewhat episodic. It would honestly make a decent television show, if not for the lackluster ending. Holger is a witty, 20th century personality in a medieval fantasy setting. He makes for a fantastic fish-out-of-water character.
There are several creative ideas. I love how Holger defeats a dragon, for example, or his riddles against a giant. Basically, if you like medieval fantasy with a touch of 20th century flair, this book is right up your alley.
If you liked this review you might like some of my others:
Hello! Thanks for reading this. I just wanted to let you know that I still read and write, but my circumstances have shifted slightly. To be honest, I have a new job opportunity at work, and I’m going to be working on it over the next few months. Because of that, I’ve been a little preoccupied at work and unable to focus enough to write a book review, or even finish a book I felt like reviewing.
Oh I’ve read plenty, but I don’t feel like they’re worth writing reviews of (lots of graphic novels and light novels, as well).
Speaking of graphic novels, I thought about reviewing the Sandman series, since I’m a pretty big Neil Gaiman fan. Let me know if you’d be interested in that!
I’ve also got a poem or two I’ve been working on. One’s been rounding through the submission cycles, and if it doesn’t land at the tenth one, I’ll probably just post it here!
Anyways, I appreciate you reading this. I’ll update with something writing related tomorrow. Thanks for reading, again!
I’ve previously reviewed several of John Ringo’s books, including The Troy Rising series and Gust Front, part of the Legacy of the Aldenata series (also known as the Posleen War series).
This book is about war. Ringo’s writing is straightforward, and a lot of what he delves into is the logic inherent in the story. In the Posleen War series he goes into depth about how the aliens work, how to fight them, and what a war on the Earth would look like, all within the logic of the series. He does the same here.
He also does a good job in pacing. Early on I was a little worried that it was lagging too much, but right around the 100-page mark the story shifted dramatically and my interest was rekindled. Ringo setup a LOT in the early chapters, and the pay offs were worth it. If I have one complaint it’s that I couldn’t really follow a protagonist. Ringo sort of drifted between several POV characters, but ultimately seemed to “zoom in” on Edmund Talbot and Herzer Herrick.
From there, however, the book takes a turn. Instead of being a fantasy book set in the far future, it becomes military fantasy. I’m not complaining, I like that genre, but it wasn’t apparent from the beginning.
Also, if you don’t like discussion of sexual assault this book may not be for you. There’s a prominent attack, which hangs over the head of most of the characters the rest of the book.
Ultimately, I like the book a lot. After burning through the first two hundred pages, I got hooked. If you like military fantasy it’s for you.