Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Suns of Scorpio by Alan Burt Akers

'Helpless as the phantom forces of the Savanti and the Star Lords clash, Dray Prescot is swept once more from Earth to fulfil another gruesome task beneath the twin suns of Kregan.

Will he be sent to Zair, where the red-sun deity reigns or to Grodno, land of the green-sun god where the evil overlords of Magdag rule a nation of slaves?

As Prescot waits in limbo for the outcome of the battle, his one hope is that the task will take him nearer to his Princess, the lovely Delia, from whom the Star Lords snatched him so long ago...' From the back cover

1973. 192 pages 40p UK cover price

The second book of the 'Dray Prescot Series' (there are thirty-seven in all!), Suns of Scorpio is a quick and bloody affair with tons of swordplay, seafaring, and a few naked ladies thrown in for good measure. Cinemax should option this book series for an ongoing late night affair. Suns of Scorpio is well written, but heavily referential to its predecessor Transit to Scorpio, so a bit of editing or maybe even a glossary would help to make it more cohesive. All in all, though, I enjoyed this bad boy.

Protagonist Dray Prescot is your prototypical pulp sci-fi hero—whisked away from Earth by the capricious 'Star Lords' to the world of Kregan (Two suns! Beast people!) and given no direction, Dray quickly finds himself enslaved by the Magdag, an evil northern island empire that worships the green sun of Grondo. The Magdag are endlessly building shrines to their brutal deity, which is where our main man finds himself at work. Eventually, Dray's mercurial temperament finds him at odds with some fristles (half cat people) who ambush him and leave him for dead where the slave galleys are kept. Mistaken for a Galley slave, Dray is press ganged onto the crew of the 'Grace of Grondo' and nearly worked to death. He creates a bond with his fellow oar mates, and they watch out for each other, as many around them are worked or beaten to death on the Galley. One of Dray's oar mates is flogged to death right next to him, which enrages our hero to the point where he frees himself and begins killing crew of the galley. Just as things seem to be taking a turn for the worse, a ship from Sanurkazz, bitter enemies of Magdag, overtakes the vessel and joins the fight—eventually freeing the slaves and enslaving the captives. Dray joins the Sanurkazz Navy, and even begins worshipping their benevolent god Zair (of the red sun) while amassing power and fortune. Oh yeah, he also bangs his buddy Zorg's hot widow.

So, this is the basic formula for this book—Dray is captured, faces insurmountable odds, chops off a bunch of limbs, is rescued by the enemies of his enemies, then flourishes in their culture for a time. Mr. Prescot also has sex with, or at least has the opportunity to have sex with, whatever beautiful royal women happen to be around. This all sounds very shallow and ridiculous, but the pacing of Suns of Scorpio has a very serial feel, which lends itself well to an action sci-fi novel.

My main gripe is that Akers basically assumes that you have read the previous entry in the series, which I haven’t. Character names from the previously novel are dropped piecemeal with almost no explanation or relevance throughout the book. Hell, we don’t find out until three quarters into this novel that in Transit to Scorpio Dray had bathed in a sacred pool, rendering him immortal.

But, these are small gripes for a fun novel that, less than two hundred pages, is full of gore and boobs.

Lots of boobs.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Dimensioneers By Doris Piserchia

'The orphan had always known she wasn't what people described as 'normal'. Whether merely precocious or a mutant freak, she had always been able to link minds with an equally weird mutated lion and skip into the worlds of the fourth dimension.
What the heck, it sure beat staying in school on Earth- that is until she realized that some of her fellow dimension-hoppers from other planets had more in mind than just a romp in the swamp.
They were launching an inter-dimensional war of imperialism, and she alone held the secret which could save her home world- if she could only escape the truant officer long enough to pull it off!'

Published by DAW Books 1982. Cover price $2.25.

Once again, look at that cover! I had to pick this bad boy up when I stumbled upon it in Kansas City, there are flying crocodiles ridden by knights with guns! But can the book itself match that cover? Half of it can, at least.

Dimensioneers started off poorly, but, by the time it reached its conclusion, it had mostly redeemed itself. The nameless protagonist is a teenage girl who has a telepathic link with a 'gamber', which is a mutated breed of lion whom she can ride into the fourth dimension (also known as D). The book starts out light—the tween hero and Wyala the psychic lion aimlessly explore random worlds whenever the orphan can cut school, 'skipping' through the fourth dimension to get from place to place. They unwittingly stumble upon the Kriff—a malevolent race of 'skippers' that conquer world after world, enslaving its races and forcing them to produce foodstuffs for their insatiable appetites. The Kriff are the dudes on the crocodiles, by the way.

It took me about ten chapters to get invested in this book, as the story doesn't pick up until halfway through, which luckily isn't much as the Dimensioneers tops out at 176 pages. The writing itself didn't help the pacing as I found myself rereading quite a few chapters in order to make any sense of them. Here is an example of one of the many grammatical pitfalls encountered in the Dimensioneers—(p61) 'As long as we didn't come out into 3 the Kriff needn't know we were anywhere about, so we stayed in D like a pair of ghosts and allowed only a molecule or two of our aura to seep through the rank atmosphere.' That is one ugly sentence, even to a guy who is pretty grammatically challenged.

The second half of the Dimensioneers is where everything (somewhat) comes together. Our nameless protagonist meets up with some 'patriots' who are fighting the Kriff on a small scale. They steal a bunch of guns from the U.S. Army surplus in Kansas. Lots of Kriff and some main characters die unexpectedly bloody deaths. It turns out that our protagonist doesn't have much of an issue with shooting Kriff, or stabbing them, or leading thousands of the guys to a messy end. There is a lot of gunplay, some graphic torture, and a little bit of wholesale slaughter thrown into a book I was slandering as 'young adult garbage' for the first 90 pages. I liked the bloody parts, can you tell?

Dimensioneers is not my favorite Pulp-A-Week to date, but it is brief and has an action-packed second half, so it was worth the read for a fan of the genre. If you pick this up somewhere, I would recommend skimming through the first sixty or so pages, though, as they are pretty fucking terrible.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Death God's Citadel by Juanita Coulson

Once Vraduir had been a mighty king and sorcerer, but lust for power had led him to betray his people and condemn his son Tyrus to a heinous imprisonment. Now, disguised as a simple conjurer, Tyrus had followed a trail of strange thefts and kidnappings that led to where Vraduir must be planning greater evil.

Ever northward the trail led, through the Ice Forest with its impassable ways and into the Forbidden Lands, hautned by the evils of ancient dead. Beyond lay the Citadel of Nidil, the God of Death. And it was there that Vraduir held captive Illissa, sister of Queen Jathelle, whom Tyrus loved.

Grimly, Tyrus took up the trail, accompanied by Jathelle, one friend who was already cursed by Vraduir, and a band of unwilling rogues. But what could they accomplish against Vraduir- and the death God, from whose Citadel no man had ever returned?' -The Back Cover

Is that Yoda summoning a bird demon on the cover? A bird demon that inexplicably also has fangs in its beak? Great cover, which is the main reason I picked this up. 1980. $2.25 cover price.

At 400 pages of almost completely dialogue, the Death God's Citadel (henceforth DGC) took a long time for me to finish. There are flashes of brilliance in DGC, but I felt like it could have been stripped down and become a much better story. Coulson sticks to a formula throughout the book of 'one chapter action then one chapter chatting and travel' which is prevalent in fantasy novels and generally drives me crazy, DGC included. For the first half of this novel I was of the mind that DGC is a generic but otherwise enjoyable fantasy novel, but the second half really disappointed me with its excessive blathering and lack of a satisfying conclusion.

Death God's Citadel involves Tyrus, the ever-so-humble wizard (or sorka, as Juanita often renames standard fantasy themes in order to make them her own) and Erezjan, his little red-haired (referenced a hundred times, that ginger hair) werebeast buddy. Together they are searching for the big bad Vraduir, Tyrus' father and once-king of their homeland Qamat. Right away, I felt this book was part of a series, given the fact that Vraduir has already laid waste to Qamat in his quest for power, but I could find no reference to a prior book in the front or back pages (edit: Juanita's wiki page confirms it is book 2 of 2). These two righteous dudes immediately set up shop as entertainers, Tyrus an illusionist and Erezjan an acrobat. Two hot ladies come out and enjoy the show, and what do you know, they are princesses in disguise! Of course they would like to invite the two travelers to court for an encore performance!

The main problem I had with this novel is how convenient everything was from that point on for the Sorka and his altered beast friend. Need a sword? Tyrus had a spell to create one. Cold? No problem, a few words and gestures and a magical campfire appeared. Jedi mind tricks took care of any guards, invisibility saved them maybe a dozen times, and exhaustion was taken care of by conjuring up a magical root out of thin air, which eliminated a lot of the danger in the story outright. Yes, I know, many fantasy stories are like this, but DGC still seemed extreme in this regard.

Around page 105, one of the princesses is kidnapped! Of course, it was Vraduir and an army of skeletons, of all things. Even as a child I could not take skeletons seriously, which only got worse after I saw Army of Darkness. Is there a lamer monster? Tyrus, Erezjan, Jathelle (the other princess AKA the one with the big breasts) with her retinue and a group of hired brigands storm off to the deadly north to talk and talk and talk about saving her. There is some intermittent action that is pretty decent, especially when it involves Jathelle, for which I will quote a sentence—'She was covered with ichor and splattered brains of the demons she had slain'. Cool! Erezjan at one point snacks on some assassins while in wereform and then proceeds to vomit them up after transforming back into his acrobat self. The swordplay in this novel is great, there just isn't enough of it for my palate.

I won’t burden you with a heavy duty synopsis, as the rest of the book bored me to tears. The final confrontation with Vraduir and the Nidil the Death God was almost entirely dialogue and word play, which left us with a deus ex machina anticlimax. At one point it is discovered that Vraduir had raped the abducted princess, which is pretty heavy stuff, but that’s okay, Tyrus just cast a spell that made everybody forget that it happened. Nothing like a spell induced repressed memory to smooth over the bumpy parts of a plot, is there?

All of this is a shame, because Death God's Citadel is a well-written book that actually has some great parts, though they’re mired in excessive blathering and lame fantasy tropes. Huge fans of the genre might enjoy picking through this one, but anyone else would be better off selecting one of the classics.

I leave you with a picture of Juanita Coulson from her wiki page. She looks like a nice lady. I hope she doesn't read this and cry... or cast a spell on me.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Star Born by Andre Norton

Right from the start 'Star Born' was an enjoyable read- chapter one has space refugees, stoic merpeople, giant lizards, an ancient evil civilization, and telepathic bunnies! Andre Norton is somewhat respected in Sci-Fi circles, so I did a little research on him. Well, it turns out 'Andre' was actually Alice Norton's pen name, and then later she legally changed her name from Alice to Andre. This lady wrote about 300 books, most which involved swords or lasers or laser swords in some fashion. I will definitely be picking up some other books by her.

Star Born is a book about race relations and the follies and misunderstandings associated with them. Kind of. A human ship lands on a planet, home to three races- mutated exiled humans who had come generation before to escape a dystopian style regime, the fur covered mermen who allied themselves with the exiles and predominantly communicate with their minds and an ancient race of slave masters who are pretty much evil to the bone. The newcomers make contact with the slave masters first, and are sickened by the way the evil bastards are trying to exterminate any mermen they see, primarily with flame throwers and shit. Once the slavers had ruled this planet, but a nuclear war had devastated their population, which is similar to what happened to the iron fisted regime on Earth. The mermen live in peace on the string of islands, living in fear of their once malevolent masters and alongside the near human telepath mutants of Homeport.

The chapters switch off between Delgard- one of the exiles and a 'knife brother' with one of the mermen, and Raf- a pilot for the newcomer humans who develops sympathy for the mermen early on.The root of this story is about race, as the four races have different ideologies and cannot come to a peaceful agreement with one another. This point is dulled by the slavemasters being an out and out evil race, but I suppose you can't expect a conflicted villain out of a pulp novel. Towards the end the already shaky alliance between the space explorer newcomers and the ancient aliens is broken, as it is obvious they are stockpiling weapons to kill off the sentient merpeople. There are some battles with spear throwing merpeople. There are ray guns. This is a pretty cool book for 1962.

Some people will have trouble getting past the typographical and grammatical errors- Star Born is chock full of sentences like ' He closed the hatch behind. Them.' and typos including 'Warrier.'. Personally, I found these errors to be a little charming, this isn't high brow literature after all. I rarely wish a book to be longer, but at just 180 pages and a fun setting, Star Born could have used a bit of padding. An enjoyable book for fans of the genre, but still not the classic I am searching for.

Cover Price: 35 cents!