Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Conan the Buccaneer

To paraphrase Mel Brooks (and many, many others), Conan novels are like pizza. Even when they're bad they're still good.

There are a few other similarities too. They're cheesy and there's a lot of meat. And even though you know they're unhealthy you still enjoy them.

Conan the Buccaneer isn't one of Robert E. Howard's* original Conan works, but rather by L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter**. Conan is the captain The Wastrel, plundering the coasts of Argos and other neighbouring kingdoms, and he runs into a spot or two of trouble and winds up tangled in the plot of a devious nobleman and some vile Stygian priests to overthrow the king. Along the way he gets caught up with a hideous god on a mysterious isle, a tribe of amazons capture him, many battles are fought, and monsters and evildoers slain. What more could you ask for?

de Camp and Carter were very deliberately tidying up and finishing off Howard's legacy with this series of novels, turning Howard's loose collection of stories into something like a narrative of the mighty Cimmerian's life. Buccaneer is a rollicking adventure, and does feel like a natural continuation of the originals; but it comes across as somewhat muted. There are the standard Conan fixtures of a buxom, beautiful, headstrong princess who ends up disrobed on a number of occasions; Conan defeats his foes, be they human, beast or supernatural. There are nods in the direction of H P Lovecraft in the way the supernatural, and religions in general, are treated. But it's missing some of the vibrancy that characterized Howard's work.

All the same, it's a great read. It's also quick (150ish pages), in the way fantasy and sci-fi novels could be before the last few decades when a 400 age minimum seems to have become de rigueur. I picked up a few other Conan books at the same time, by other authors, so expect more Conan reviews from me in the coming months.

* Holy crap! Just looked at that Wikipedia article for the first time. Robert E Howard looked like that?!?! I'd always thought of him, from the biographical snippets I've read, as a weedy pale little guy. He's totally gangsta!

** Linwood Vrooman Carter? Lyon Sprague de Camp?!? Where the hell are these people getting their names***? I used to chuckle quietly when reading fantasy novels at the outlandish names, but to these people Ator, Conan, and Thongor must be like John, Paul, and Steven to us normals.

*** Yes, I know what my kids' names are. Silence, you!


Taranaich said...

What biographical snippets have you read? Have you read "Blood and Thunder", the Robert E. Howard biography? Howard was an amateur boxer, gunslinger, equestrian and bodybuilder. He was a big dude.

Of course, if you're going off the old fallacies like the Oedipal, sickly, agorophobic nutter, I'm not surprised you'd think he was a shrimp.

Danzilla said...

I'm not sure what I've read; I think it was mostly the introductions to the various books of his Conan stories that I have on my shelves. There's something about the arc of his life that resemble H. P. Lovecraft, and he was a bit of sickly nutter* by all accounts.

* I don't think he was actually a nutter; but he certainly wasn't your average football watching beer drinking Joe.