Tag Archives: Action & Adventure Fantasy

Transit to Scorpio

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Transit to Scorpio [Amazon, Abebooks, Local Library] by Alan Burt Akers, part of the Dray Prescot series.

Akers Transit to Scorpio

Transit to Scorpio is the first of dozens of sword-and-planet novels by Alan Burt Akers (nom de plume of Kenneth Bulmer) set on the planet Kregen in the binary star-system of Antares (Alpha Scorpii). The scorpion figures as a symbol and a portent throughout the story, beginning with the death of the hero’s father from a scorpion sting.

The book is certainly better than some Burroughs pastiche I’ve read, although it keeps rather rigorously to the formula. Akers makes his alien princess a cripple at the her first meeting with the protagonist, which is an interesting choice. As in other sword-and-planet milieus, manipulations by superhuman agents are responsible for the narrator’s travels between Earth and Kregen. In this case, they are called the “Star Lords,” and their attributes and motives are left entirely unspecified. 

There’s an overt allusion to John Norman’s Gor books, in the form of a continent called Gah that is reported to host gender relations of the Gorean type. But that’s just peripheral detail, in this volume anyhow. The issue of slavery is addressed squarely, though. Unlike Norman’s late 20th-century academic Tarl Cabot who has never encountered slavery on Earth, Bulmer’s hero Dray Prescot is from 18th-century Earth, and learned to buckle his swashes in a nautical career. He is familiar with the mercantile slave industry, and antagonistic to it. (Note the repeating meter of “John Carter” in the names of the heroes. No other is permitted!) His initial aversion to lethal violence fades quickly in the course of the story. 

On the whole, the book was a quick and pleasant read. The prose is palatable, with a little bit of affectation that seems to suit the narrating character’s 18th-century origins, and the occasional seeming-anachronism stemming from the fact that he has returned to Earth periodically, well into the 20th century. The scorpion omen and some avian signs seem to be related to the Star Lords, but that whole dimension is left opaque, and it is clear that Bulmer intended this to be the first of many linked novels. I’ll probably read more from this series.

The Doom of Fallowhearth

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Doom of Fallowhearth [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Robbie MacNiven, part of the Descent: Journeys in the Dark series.

MacNiven The Doom of Fallowhearth

This book is — as far as I know — the first novel-length fiction to be set in the proprietary fantasy world of Terrinoth, identified with a considerable number of games under the Fantasy Flight imprint: Runewars, Descent, Runebound, Rune Age, BattleLore Second Edition, Heroes of Terrinoth, and probably some others as well. Its topic is the reunion of the “Borderlands Four,” a party of adventurers who have been enlisted to find a missing noblewoman in the outlying northern reaches of Terrinoth.

By and large, the games present Terrinoth as a bog-standard heroic fantasy world, with elves and orcs, dwarves and undead, dragons and giant spiders. This book seems careful to preserve its canon while highlighting a few elements that might seem different from the usual post-D&D synthesis of pulp sword-and-sorcery with Tolkien-style epic fare. There is at least one major pivot in the novel, amply foreshadowed, and not profoundly surprising, but the ending is a bit unconventional. It reads quickly, and does offer the sort of fleshing-out for its setting that this sort of story is concocted to achieve.

The main viewpoint characters here are the orc Pathfinder Durik and the rogue Logan Lashley. The former is the most upstanding and ethical character in the whole book, as far as I could tell, which thus comes a long way from Tolkien, but is consistent with the Terrinoth source material, I think. The aging and self-conscious Logan is something of a buffoon. In other non-standard fantasy characterizations, the whole story mentions only two amorous relationships, and they are both same-sex arrangements, neither of them stigmatized for that reason. The main one is stigmatized, but for necromancy, and that is central to the larger plot — a fact introduced in the prologue.

Ironically, the book’s branding is for “Descent: Journeys in the Dark,” a longstanding dungeon-crawler tabletop game that appears to have had its publication suspended in favor of “Descent: Legends of the Dark,” a sequel game driven by a digital app. A second “Descent” novel by a different author was issued just four months after this one, and I find it somewhat tempting, as it involves the Uthuk Y’llan, savage demonolaters who do not appear in The Doom of Fallowhearth.