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3.0 out of 5 stars Son of Thud and Blunder: Conan lives! (Sort of),
This review is from: The God in the Moon (Age of Conan Hyborian Adventures: A Soldier's Quest) (Mass Market Paperback)
Now hear the words of the singer~
Yea, in long-ago times in a strange and distant land called Texas there lived a tall and mighty-thewed man of Clan Howard. Robert E. his mother called him but his true name and calling was Hack.
Oh, a mighty Hack was he, a true paladin of Weird Tales, and peer of the eldritch sorceror that men (some with dead hands fumbling at their coat) name as Lovecraft.
In those days, there was a dread plague upon the land called Depression. Robert E. of the Howards devoted his days to fighting off this vile bane, using a mystic weapon called a typewriter to create fierce heroes. So skilled was Robert E., the mighty Hack, and so popular his fiercest creation, a grim Cimmerian named Conan, that Clan Howard--by then reduced to Robert E. and his mother--became the richest clan in their county in legend-soaked Texas, even more wealthy, if we are to believe the ancient biographer-bard deCamp, than the master moneylenders at the nearby banks!
But, with mighty hacks and tall warriors, as with us all, the gleaming, golden days must end. The great Hack's mother died and Robert E. despondently laid her to rest. Then, in the woe-laden words of the biographer-bard, the tall, mighty-thewed Robert E. of the Howards "blew his silly brains out."
Howard was a consummate professional writer of stories for pulp magazines. If a story didn't fit in one pulp, Howard would recast it for another. If he couldn't sell a Conan story, he'd rewrite it as a tale of, say, a Puritan adventurer in the 17th Century--or vice versa. He wrote his series of short stories about the adventures of Conan in no particular chronological order and definitely without excessive interest in internal consistency. If memory serves me correctly, there was just one short novel. All of these things appeared in evanescent pulp magazines. None had achieved the dignity of book publication at the time he committed suicide.
After his death, fans remembered his stories. After World War II, some returning veterans put money and hopes into small, specialist publishing houses. One of them that survived long enough to create an appreciable body of published work was called Gnome Press. It was run by an old fan of the pulp Conan. He decided to publish the stories and hired one of the more polished pulp writers, L. Sprague deCamp, to put them into some kind of order and to eliminate the more glaring inconsistancies. DeCamp did that. He discovered unpublished Conan stories, too, as well as stories with other heroes that could be converted into Conan stories. And so it all began: book publication, modified stories, pastiches, new stories created out of whole cloth, comic books, yea, even unto Schwarzenegger!
This book represents what I suppose might be described as third or fourth generation Conanania: stories set in Howard's Hyborean Age with Conan as a mere background figure. In particular, here the middle-aged Conan is fairly freshly settled on the throne of Aquilonia, while the focus of the tale is upon a younger Aquilonian nobleman and warrior. His name is Nermesa, and he's a younger, wetter (in Margaret Thatcher's sense), slightly more polished, noticeably less self-confident version of Conan, himself. He sets out to make a name for himself as a soldier on Aquilonia's western frontier, facing the always savage, eternally treacherous Picts.
Howard was a master hack. He made his readers believe in his glowering Cimmerian because he believed in him. I think that Howard cast Conan as a true wish-fulfillment figure. Conan was the invincible hero that Howard most desired to be. Such was the power of Howard's spell that readers were caught up in it. We were there. We believed--at least for the moment--when the crucified Conan fought off carrion birds with his bare teeth, or wrestled hand-to-hand with a giant ape of near-human intelligence, or wrangled with circles of evil sorcerors.
None of Howard's successors ever quite caught that obsessive quality. DeCamp was too intelligent, too sane, too ironic, too distant for all-out heroics. Carter's heart was in the right place, but he came up short on wordsmithing skills. And so on, down to Richard A. Knaak, the author of the book under present consideration. Knaak is by no means the worst to set his hand to the Hyborean Age, but he is still plainly very much a journeyman writer and far from being a glorious master-hack of Howard's stature.
This book, "The God in the Moon," is ostensibly a novel but it is constructed as a set of short stories or novelettes arranged in a continuous narrative. This is fair enough, and corresponds to the working methods of Howard and other great pulp writers, such as Dashiell Hammett. Still, I'd prefer a book-length story to have a book-length structure.
Knaak has yet to polish his craft. I said that Howard could make a reader believe. What, then, are we to make of passages such as this one?
"Nermesa released his grip ... but Khalak did not. To his horror, Nermesa followed the villain over. The black ground outside the estate raced up to meet him....
"The landing was jarring, nearly bone-breaking, but it did not kill the Aquilonian or even knock him unconscious. Stunned from the landing, Nermesa at first did not know why he had survived ... until he looked down to discover the angry eyes of Khalak staring up at him.
"Or rather ... staring up at nothing.
"Khalak's head was bent at an impossible angle, and his arms were splayed to his sides. The crooked smile was fiorever branded on his face. He was the miracle that had preserved Nermesa, for the half-breed had cushioned his fall.
"Unfortunately for Khalak, doing so had cost him his own life." [Page 169]
Unfortunate, indeed. No, I do not believe, not the way Howard would have forced me at least momentarily to believe. All I hear is the dull thud of the writer's leaden words falling to earth.
Still, this is not a bad story, certainly no worse than many. I give it three stars as a first effort, with hope for better to come.
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The God in the Moon (Age of Conan Hyborian Adventures: A Soldier's Quest) by Richard A Knaak (Mass Market Paperback - 1 Aug 2006)