As the jacket copy on the lovely little Donald M. Grant edition of Almuric explains, Robert E. Howard took his only novel-length foray into the sword-and-planet subgenre at the urging of his literary agent Otis Adelbert Kline, who was a chief proponent of the form. Howard’s protagonist is rather different than the paradigm of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter, though. Esau Cairn is not a gentleman warrior, just a murderous thug. The documentary foreword in the voice of the fictional Professor Hildebrand provides even less of a rationale for interplanetary travel than is usually present in a school of fiction that often demands heroic levels of suspension of disbelief.
Before Cairn can be built up into the barbarism of his adoptive society on the planet Almuric, he is first reduced to an entirely feral existence. In this condition he waxes philosophical, by the standards of an REH hero: “I tell you, the natural life of mankind is a grim battle for existence against the forces of nature, and any other form of life is artificial and without realistic meaning” (38).
Other than the peculiar savagery of the protagonist, Almuric is highly conventional pulp-era sword-and-planet fare. Cairn ends up uniting two tribes of Guras (the hairy ape-men to whom he assimilates) against the citadel of the sadistic Yagas, devilish winged humanoids. He single-handedly defeats their secret weapon, a giant electrified slug. There is a happy ending of considerable predictability and triteness.
I’ve previously remarked the salience of ideas of gender in sword-and-planet literature. Almuric features extreme sexual dimorphism and rigid gender roles among the Guras. Cairn’s clean-shaven face causes the first Gura he encounters to ask “with unbearable scorn … ‘By Thak, are you a man or a woman?'” (21) This affront is grounds for a combat to the death.
I am an avid reader of both Robert E. Howard and sword and planet, so I was delighted to discover this book and felt compelled to read it. It didn’t take me very long. But it is neither one of Howard’s better efforts, nor an especially rewarding example of its sub-genre.
This novel features Conan the Cimmerian twice removed from his literary origins. Author Roland Green doesn’t give us Robert E. Howard’s Conan, but rather Robert Jordan’s version of Howard’s hero. If it hadn’t been obvious to me from the level of chatty banter and the excessive nudity and sex, Green makes his debt clear by repeatedly referring to Conan’s former struggle against the “Cult of Doom,” a feature of Jordan’s Conan the Unconquered. The good news is that Green does Jordan’s Conan at least as well as Jordan does, and furnishes supporting characters and intrigue slightly better.
The story bears an odd similarity to another Conan novel I read not long ago, John Hocking’s Conan and the Emerald Lotus. In both books, Conan ends up allying himself to a sorceress, bedding her warrior-maid bodyguard, and journeying with them to confront an evil wizard who has designs on the sorceress. The basis of the magic in the two books is different (vegetable vs. mineral), but both are distinctively green.
Conan the Valiant takes place during Conan’s Turanian soldiering period, and allows him some reflection on the maturity he is gaining even at this early stage in his career. It’s adequate sword-and-sorcery junk food, but offers nothing much to distinguish itself from the great mass of Conan novels. [via]
Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Cimmerian was not often motivated by vengeance, but many of the other authors who have offered stories about that character have decided that a revenge plotline is the best way to get him his due share of violent deeds. Perhaps such writing is under the influence of cinematic revenge drama tropes. Certainly, both the 1982 Conan the Barbarian film and the otherwise quite different 2011 movie of the same title ground Conan’s quests in revenge for the murder of his family and the violent destruction of his home village. The novel Conan the Bold by John Maddox Roberts offers a similar narrative.
In this case, we fortunately avoid the non-REH and now-cliche murder of Conan’s own parents. Instead, we get a sense of his barbarian honor in championing revenge on behalf of a Cimmerian family and village where he was a guest (albeit one with a prospect of marrying into kinship). For an extra helping of vengeance, Conan’s principal companion for most of the book has her own parallel revenge motive that draws the two of them into collaboration. Much of the story is suspended around set piece battles, which suggest a cinematic imagination as much as the revenge plotline does.
Conan is very young in this book, and a little wanting in the sense of humor that Howard gave him, but that so few later writers have managed to keep. His dour determination is quite consistent. After liberating the captives of some slavers, he is told, “We do not know how to thank you.” And then, He shrugged. “I am here because there are some men I must kill.” He turned and walked away (229).
Given how early it is set in Conan’s career, this novel is still an awkward fit in the loose continuity established by Howard’s stories, let alone any more tangled one that might account for the contributions of later authors. It references the sack of Venarium, but has Conan leaving Cimmeria for the first time on a journey that takes him as far as southern Shem.
The diction of the text is neither jarringly modern nor affectedly antique, and the descriptions of sorcery are in keeping with the better efforts of various Conan writers. One might object, however, to such a youthful Conan seeming to have an informed aversion to wizardry, which he has hardly yet had the chance to experience. Roberts does succeed rather admirably at evoking the sense of deep layers of civilization and barbarism that Howard cultivated for his Hyborian setting, without a lot of name-dropping “lore.” The novel’s conclusion has a minimum of denouement, but it is well-crafted for all that. [via]