There is a new entry in the CRITICISM section here: Mark Finn does a lengthy review, analysis and rebuttal of Gary Romeo’s Southern Discomfort essay. You’ll find it under Mark’s name on the page.
There are two Conans. The first one, Conan of Cimmeria, was created by Robert E. Howard in 1932 and adventured his way through Weird Tales, The Avon Fantasy Reader, and any number of books over the years. The other, Conan the Barbarian, was created as a simulacrum of the original, able to adventure through Code-approved comic books and, a bit later, movies. The former is the exclusive creation of Robert E. Howard, though a number of others have attempted to write stories about him. The latter is a collaborative effort by many hands, starting with Roy Thomas at Marvel Comics: I’ve lost track of how many different writers, artists, and others have been involved in the comics and movies. Conan the Cimmerian is a literary character. Conan the Barbarian is a pop culture icon.
The title of the new film should clue you in to which Conan it is about.
I went in expecting to see no Robert E. Howard whatsoever. I’d seen the screen treatment that was floating around the web a year or so ago, which contained not a scintilla of REH, and was to boot the silliest thing I’d ever read with the name “Conan” in it, and I knew that, for all he may have tried, Sean Hood had minimal time to try to repair the horrendous script of Donnelly and Oppenheimer. I had also, though, seen the trailers for the movie, and someone had posted the opening scene in which young Conan attacks and savagely mauls four or five Picts (at least, I assume they were meant to be Picts — they kind of looked like a cross between Mohawks and Richard Kiel as Jaws), and those had given me at least some hope that the movie would at least be a thrill ride. That’s all I figured to get out of the movie, a little excitement and adventure.
And that’s what I got. It was a cinematic version of the Conan comic book, in 3D. (Shelly and I went for the 3D experience, what the heck, go for the gosh-wow factor.) It’s too bad that it was like a story from the Michael Fleisher years,* rather than the Roy Thomas, but on the whole, I thought it was pretty well done. I’d put it on a par with my other favorite sword-and-sorcery movie, The Sword and the Sorcerer. (Now, that right there, I’ve just blown my critical credentials to smithereens, I guess, but since I went public with that years ago, I’m at peace with it. Shoot, the fact that I came to Howard through the Marvel comic back in 1971, and still read comics, blows my critical credentials to hell in the eyes of some, so what are ya gonna do?) I think both of them are way better — or let’s just say more to my taste — than that ponderous Milius film of 1982 or its laughable sequel.
Like The Sword and the Sorcerer, the new Conan the Barbarian has its faults. I understand that there are a lot of reviewers out there who are more than happy to catalog them for you. (I have held off reading reviews until after seeing the movie and writing my own.) But it has virtues, too, starting with Jason Momoa, who far better fits my conception of the Cimmerian than Schwarzenegger or Moeller did. There may indeed be some body-builder fans and/or wrestler fans out there who think that one of their guys should have been cast, but Howard makes it clear that Conan was not just big, he was lithe and quick and agile, and Momoa gets that across very well. I thought he did a good job.
Stephen Lang was fine as Khalar Zym, just as I expected. He’s one of the best badasses working today. Rose McGowan was suitably vile as his sorceress daughter, but that haircut they gave her was a mistake, making her look like a freak: give her her natural hair and sultry looks, and the undertones of those scenes with daddy would have been smokin’. Talk about your R rating… Ron Perlman was Ron Perlman, which I mean as a good thing. Leo Howard was terrific as the young Conan. Otherwise, no one really stood out, though I kinda warmed to Bob Sapp’s Ukafa.
The movie was dark and violent, which was as it should be. Lots of exciting, swashbuckling action. The sets and locations and costumes all contributed to a convincingly realized Hyborian Age. (Please, filmmakers, if you get a chance to do a sequel, it’s the “Hyborian Age,” but there is no such place as “Hyboria.” The Hyborians were a people, not a place. They were the “Hy Bori,” the people of the North.) Honestly, while I was expecting nothing whatsoever other than that thrill ride I mentioned earlier, I got from this movie a glimmer of hope. I think these people could actually do a genuine Conan movie, one that was pretty close to the character created by REH — but they’d have to have a very good script to work with. And that means starting with the actual stories of Robert E. Howard. Not as filtered through years and years of comics and movies and cartoons and action figures: you have to forget everything you think you know, and go back to the source. I’m not even saying you have to stick closely to a Howard story, just that you have to take Howard as your starting point, not the stuff that came later. (I’ve got a ton of other suggestions, too, of course, if you want to discuss ‘em. I’m easy to find.)
The doomsayers and naysayers are hopping all over the weekend’s box-office numbers, declaring that the franchise is dead for the foreseeable future. I hope not. And I hope that the producers aren’t paying any attention to the people who are blathering that the movie bombed because of the star. Momoa is fine. It’s the ridiculous, cliched script that did this thing in. That and putting out an R-rated movie at the end of August. Shelly and I went to a Saturday afternoon show, and there were only about fifteen people in the theater. (At least three of whom could not contain their addictions to their phones, and had to be Sternly Admonished. Three words to remember, folks, it isn’t hard: Turn It OFF.) I agree with Fred Malmberg of Paradox that Conan should be R, for the violence if nothing else, but that is very problematic these days if you want to get butts in seats.
Anyway, I’m sorry to hear that the opening weekend is being called a disaster, and that it may mean that there won’t be any more Conan movies for the forseeable future. Because like I say, I think these guys could do it if they had a decent script to work from. I even think it could be done with a smaller budget, using less animation or sfx. Think “Beyond the Black River,” or “Red Nails.”
Robert E. Howard’s stories are still entertaining people 75 years after his death. Isn’t it about time to trust that a movie based on those stories would entertain people?
Anyway, those are some thoughts on the movie. I liked it. Shelly liked it (and she’s neither a comic nor Howard fan — her idea of a good movie usually involves subtitles). We’re not alone. It’s probably not for those REH fans who consider the comics to be beneath them, but for the rest of you, keep your expectations low, like mid-80s Marvel Conan low, and you should have a good time.
*Note: Thinking about it, maybe the Donnelly-Oppenheimer script was more like a story from the Chuck Dixon years of the Marvel comic. That enormous ship that Khalar Zym’s horde slowly and agonizingly haul overland to attack a mountaintop monastery can only have been the Nemedian Navy in action!
The battlefield stretched silent, crimson pools among the still sprawling figures seeming to reflect the lurid red-streamered sunset sky. Furtive figures slunk from the tall grass; birds of prey dropped down on mangled heaps with a rustle of dusky wings. Like harbingers of Fate a wavering line of herons flapped slowly away toward the reed-grown banks of the river. No rumble of chariot wheel or peal of trumpet disturbed the unseeing stillness. The silence of death followed the thundering of battle.
— The Yaralet Fragment (aka “The Hand of Nergal”)
The long battle to bring Conan back to the big screen is finally over and the dust is beginning to settle. The stakes were huge. A financial success would take the Conan franchise to the next level, cementing the Cimmerian warrior in the popular culture pantheon. Other Howard properties are waiting in the wings for their chance at immortality: Kull of Atlantis, Dark Agnes, Bran Mak Morn, Vultures of Wahpeton. But as the fog of war begins to lift we find the field littered with the corpses of REH fans’ hopes and expectations.
Early reviews were not good at all going into last Friday’s North American opening. Word was quickly making its way through the blogosphere that the film was a stinker. Friday morning, Conan’s fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes was abysmal—hovering in the mid-20’s. That pretty much doomed it right there. Many people that might have been thinking about seeing it, decided to pass. As the box office numbers began to come in over the weekend it quickly became clear that the film was in serious trouble. With production costs in the $70-80 million dollar range (not including marketing costs) Conan needed to gross around $20-25 million domestically for its opening weekend. Right now it’s projected to gross right at $10 million. That is a massive bomb.
A few weeks ago I picked up Sanjulian’s SWORD’S EDGE, a really nice-looking book of his Conan paintings and found I have truly have mixed feelings about the artwork contained therein. (Scroll down for my review…)
This volume was edited by one of our old pals, Arnie Fenner. As you may recall, Arnie all but bitch-slapped REH and his fans in his intro to “…and their memory was a bitter tree…”, the odd mess of a book with some Conan stories wrapped around some oddly placed and poorly reproduced Frazetta images of barbarians and Conan. Brom had painted the cover/frontispiece to this tome depicting a giant-headed Conan and Belit. Some of us in the Howard community questioned the reason for this book existing.
In Mr. Fenner’s “bitter” introduction, regarding the Wandering Star/Del Rey Howard books that restore Howard’s original text, he took a shot at the folks who brought forth those Howard-pure words: …“The assumption being, of course, that REH didn’t need editing, not by (Farnsworth) Wright, (L. Sprague) de Camp, or anyone else – a questionable assertion. Because, while Robert certainly was a tremendously gifted storyteller with a wholly original voice, capable of spinning an exciting yarn in first draft that could capture his reader’s imagination…he simply wasn’t a great writer.”
“While there are hints of subtlety to be found in his best stories and passages that are affecting and memorable, his writing is more rudimentary than lyrical and there is very little variety in his fiction. His characters are essentially very similar, regardless of the setting or time period (which naturally facilitated much of the posthumous tinkering) and he often recycled his plots and repeated situation, phrases and descriptions. Attention to detail never got in the way of the story Howard wanted to tell (as is readily apparent in the unexpurgated texts) – and that’s where a good editor can be important.”
“When reading these adventures it should be remembered these are artifacts of their time, reflecting Howard’s narrow attitudes and prejudices toward women and other races.”
Mr. Fenner took some much deserved lumps from a number of Howard fans and scholars who took umbrage at his pimp-slap of Howard, including notable folks like fellow REHupans Damon Sasser and Mark Finn. Well, nice to know some folks are teachable, because in his forward to the Sanjulian book, Mr. Fenner fiddles a different tune:
“Everyone who has written about Howard (and the publishing phenomenon that sprang up around him) brings his or her own perceptions, opinions, agendas, or prejudices to the table-that’s the nature of the biographical Beast. My suggestion is to read them all to get a more complete picture of REH, including The Last Celt by Glenn Lord (1976); the well-researched but unfortunately disingenuous Dark Valley Destiny by L. Sprague de Camp, Catherine Crook de Camp and Jane Whittington Griffin (1983); The Dark Barbarian (1984) and The Barbaric Triumph (2004) by Don Herron; One Who Walked Alone by Novalyne Price Ellis (1986), which also formed the basis for the 1996 biographical film The Whole Wide World starring Vincent D’Onoforio as Howard and Rene Zellweger as Ellis; the thoughtful and properly Texas-centric Blood & Thunder by Mark Finn (2006); Conan the Phenomenon, which is a fairly thorough media overview by Paul Sammon (2007); The Collected Letters of Robert E. Howard Vol. 1-3 edited by Rob Roehm (2007); and Rusty Burke’s long list of introductions and essays, with one of the most noteworthy being “A Short Biography of Robert E. Howard” (which can be found online at www.rehfoundation.org). I also recommend searching for issues of Damon Sasser’s long-running small press magazine: REH: Two-Gun Raconteur (rehtwogunraconteur.com) & the various books & publications by Dennis McHaney (mchaneyrobertehoward.blogspot.com.)”
Fenner also gives props to that French guy: “Patrice Louinet’s triptych of excellent essays for the Wandering Star/Del Rey books – The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian (2002), The Bloody Crown of Conan (2003), and The Conquering Sword of Conan (2005) – provides some of the most penetrating analysis of Howard’s writing to date and should be read by anyone interested in better understanding the author and his work.”
And while none of Mr. Fenner’s words are a true ringing endorsement of Ol’ Two-Gun’s writing, he has at least (seemingly) gotten away from a negative attitude and is acknowledging that there is a lot of good stuff being written about REH. We can only watch, wait and hope that our voices are being heard, while Mr. Fenner comes back-tracking into the 21st Century Howard fold as best he can. We win our little battles one at a time and eventually the war will be ours!
And regarding the artwork in this book: I’ve never seen one artist run the gamut from GREAT paintings to barely mediocre ones in one slim (48 page) book. Sanjulian is an excellent craftsman – his work is gloriously detailed and well executed, particularly with the Queen of the Black Coast battle scene painting. But the other QOTBC painting shows Belit posing like a stone statue during the mating dance. Huh? Even Howard’s accompanying text says, “And she danced, like the spin of a desert whirlwind, like the leaping of a quenchless flame, like the urge of creation and the urge of death.” Plus, I’ve got to say it: her boobs just look wrong in this piece.
The double spread generic battle scene painting on the cover is absolutely magnificent, as is the one for Black Colossus. But then we’re also subject to some just plain odd looking pieces: Conan vs. Thak looks like a 75-year-old Cimmerian fighting on The Planet of the Apes. Iron Shadows in the Moon is Conan fighting King Kong with earrings. Conan looks misshapen viewed from behind as he stands before a giant elephant-Yag Kosha, and then he appears downright serene when nailed to a cross! The painting for Red Nails has the same text blurb used for the crucifixion one, plus it shows Conan in a skimpy, tattered loincloth with one of those big tooth barbarian necklaces. This attire shows up in several other of the paintings as well. It always grinds my gears when the artist doesn’t at least pretend to have read Howard’s descriptions. (Like Greg Manchess giving Conan a curved sword when Howard made a point of telling how Conan’s straight sword set him apart from the crowd in Man Eaters of Zamboula. I know…I’m such an art dork…)
And that’s why I own this book. Indy sez check it out for your own selves.
Published monthly between September 1933 and February 1935 by a young Charles D. Hornig of Elizabeth, New Jersey, The Fantasy Fan featured first time publication of prose and poetry by the likes of Robert Bloch, August Derleth, H. P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard and Clark Ashton Smith. The magazine was touted as “The Fans’ Own Magazine” and indeed it was. Among the Howard related items first published in its pages was “Gods of the North,” a revised version of the unsold Conan yarn,” The Frost Giant’s Daughter.”
In spite of being “an amateur production,” The Fantasy Fan was considered one of the premier sources of weird and fantasy literature during its short lifespan. Today the zine is considered highly collectible by fantasy fans worldwide and so it was welcome news when the announcement was made that a high-quality, hardcover collection of The Fantasy Fan was in the works. Last month the collection debuted and here are some of publisher Lance Thingmaker’s thoughts on the book from his introduction.
“My underlying goal with this project was to make it available to people who want to read the zines as they originally appeared. I had this imaginary back story: Charles Horning, frustrated with the demise of his zine, decided to preserve the remaining copies. He took them to a local New Jersey book binder, and put together the complete run of 18 zines in a simple hardcover book, with s slipcase. So that is what I did. No fancy dust jacket, no gold leaf on the spine, no marbled edges, just a nice simple book.”
Indeed, the book has the look and feel of volume that is nearly 80 years old, reproducing the 18 issues in facsimile, plus Lovecraft’s “Supernatural Horror in Literature” essay (this unfinished essay was completed by Lance) in the zine’s original size – 6” by 9”. The book’s contents are printed on quality tea colored paper, making it seem as if you are reading the original issues of this 75 year-old publication. The total print run is 200 copies. The first 100 copies come in a deluxe slipcase and include a hand letter-pressed print of Charles Hornig. It is a must have for any Howard collector, as Rob Roehm notes over at the TGR website.
Priced at just 55 pazoors, plus shipping, the book is a fraction of the cost of a single issue of The Fantasy Fan. Lance should have a website up soon, but in the meantime you can contact him directly via e-mail to order the book.
After reading Scott Oden’s The Lion of Cairo, I decided to finally get around to reading Steven Pressfield’s The Afghan Campaign. This book has been around since 2006. I have mixed opinions on Pressfield. The Gates of Fire is an awesome novel, I liked The Tides of War though it was different. I didn’t care for Last of the Amazons and I did like his Alexander the Great novel, The Virtues of War. Pressfield does not come from the pulp tradition though he is very readable. Some of his novels are decidedly downbeat in their endings though that is how life can be.
The Afghan Campaign concerns Alexander the Great’s campaign in what is now Afghanistan. Pressfield is making a metaphor for the current situation in Afghanistan. Taking from his novel and also things on his website, his idea is make a deal with the tribes and get out. An idea I can’t argue with. There are some problems that I have with The Afghan Campaign. In order to “modernize” the novel, characters are given more modern sounding names such as Matthias and Lucas instead of Loukas. Afghanistan was called Arachosia in Classical times, he uses Afghanistan. The earliest recorded instance for the word “Afghan” is from 982 A.D.
Pressfield falls for the myth of Afghan invincibility which is based on the destruction of an Indo-British army in the First Afghan War. Cold and starvation destroyed that army which attempted a withdrawal in January short on provisions for the march more than Afghan hill knives. The fact is the Persians, Seleucids, Graeco-Bactrians, Kushans, and Moghuls all controlled that crossroads of Asia. Pressfield refers to the nomad armies of Scythians and Sarmations that fought Alexander as “Afghans.” This is not true as these tribes inhabited the plains of Central Asia to the north of Afghanistan. Those were not hillmen but steppe nomads who were a problem for the Persians, Sassanids, Ommayad Califate etc. Alexander inherited the eternal struggle of Iran versus Turan when he conquered the Persian Empire. Harold Lamb’s biography on Alexander gives the steppe nomads their due in that struggle. So I have problems with Pressfield’s presentation of history in this book.
The story itself is a page turner though told in the first person. It ends on a down note, which is no surprise to me having read most of Pressfield’s novels. Just take this novel with a grain of salt and understand that it is as much as a commentary on today as an historical novel.
Last week while on vacation, I received a package from Scott Oden. It turned out to be an advance proof for his upcoming novel The Lion of Cairo. Steve Tompkins originally alerted me to Scott Oden’s historical fiction a few years back. In turn, I discovered Scott’s blog and got in contact with him. He sent me a box of copies of Men of Bronze to pass around which I did at the Windy City Pulp & Paperback Show. I thought Men of Bronze to be one of the best historical novels I ever read. The blood and thunder quotient was off the charts. Scott likes Robert E. Howard and it shows.
I enjoyed Scott’s follow up novel Memnon, a novel about the Greek Mercenary captain who fought Alexander the Great. It wasn’t as blood and thunder as Men of Bronze but I liked it. Sort of how I liked Steven Pressfield’s Tides of War in its own way from Gates of Fire.
Scott has now shifted from the ancient Greek world to the medieval Crusades. The Lion of Cairo is sort of like combining “Hawks Over Egypt” with “Gates of Empire” with a little bit of “Two-Bladed Doom” thrown in. The time frame is the 12th Century with the Fatimid Caliphate of Egypt deteriorating in a morass of palace intrigue and outside threats from the Ayubbid Sultans of Damascus and the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem. Enter Assad, the Emir of the Knife, an Assassin from Mt. Alamut. Assad uses the same sort of Afghan hill knife that Conan uses in “People of the Black Circle.” I think this is the first time I have ever read a novel with an Assassin as a “good guy.” There is a lot of intrigue with scenes of sudden violence. There are Turks and Circassian mamelukes scheming with Sudanese and Syrian mercenaries with some pocket battles taking place. Then you have King Amalric of Jerusalem bringing an army to forestall the Ayubbids from Damascus. I am always up for a good Crusader novel. This technically isn’t a Crusader novel. Guess you call it a Hashishiyya novel. This is the start of a series by the way.
Oh– Scott dedicates the book to Robert E. Howard. He mentions Howard again along with Harold Lamb, Adventure, Argosy, and Oriental Stories in the author’s note. This is as close to pulp as you are going to get in the 21st century. I told Doug Ellis about Scott Oden at Pulpfest and he is now a fan. And Doug knows pulp.
I always look forward to the next Scott Oden novel and I can’t wait for the next one. Crack that whip Scott!
Lion of Cairo is already available in the U.K. It is to be published in the U.S. in December. So if you want it now, Amazon U.K. can get it to you. I know of at least one person who went that route.
One of my Pulpfest pick ups was The Best of Adventure Volume 1 1910-1912 from Black Dog Books. This is the first of an ambitious series of “Best of” volumes covering Adventure magazine. Those of us who made their way to Adventure by way of Robert E. Howard are generally familiar with 1920s reprints- Harold Lamb Cossack stories, Talbot Mundy’s “Tros” and “Jimgrim” novels, Arthur D. Howden Smith’s “Gray Maiden” stories etc. The first decade of Adventure is terra incognita. I have read a few things such as Arthur Nelson’s Wings of Danger (“The Adventurers”) and I even have a 1960s reprint paperback of John Buchan’s Prester John originally from 1911.
This book is an education. Adventure could be subtitled “The Jack London Experience” at this time. It goes to show how revolutionary London was in changing fiction. At this time, you have some writers who straddled the pulp-slick divide such as Donn Byrne, Morgan Robertson, and William Hope Hodgson. Jack London himself appeared in pulps such as Street & Smith’s The Popular Magazine and Top-Notch. These stories don’t read like what I think of as pulp. It is more like cracking open an anthology of classic adventure stories.
I finally got to read Talbot Mundy’s “The Soul of a Regiment” which I had heard about for so many years. That was a story set in the Sudan during the Mahdi Rebellion. Historical adventure was not a big part of the magazine yet. You do have a story by Rafael Sabatini and one of Marion Polk Angelloti’s “Hawkwood” stories in 14th Century Italy.
A surprise for this volume is I generally like the sailing stories best. I have not been a fan of nautical fiction previous to this. Arthur Somers Roche’s “The Mate’s Log” is a tale of doom in the Sargasso Sea. “The Albatross” is one of William Hope Hodgson’s less reprinted stories for some reason. That is one to creep you out. James Francis Dwyer’s “The White Queen of Sandakan” strips away the glamor of finding a white queen in the tropics.
My favorite western in the book was “The End” by Stephen Allen Reynolds who sounds like he was quite the real life adventurer.
Probably my favorite story and new author discovery for me was “Brethren of the Beach” by H. D. Couzens. A tale of pearl diving and piracy in the South Pacific. If Jack London had written this, it would be an acclaimed classic today.
There are a total of 24 stories and 2 poems in this book. Page count is 349 pages, cost is $34.95. Go to blackdogbooks.net for ordering or from your favorite mail order book dealer such as Mike Chomko. Editor Doug Ellis is working on Volume 2 so this will be a regular series.
Earlier this month I got the DVD for the movie Solomon Kane. The movie itself was no great surprise having seen the trailer some time back. There is a character called Solomon Kane in this movie and there are swords. That is about as close to Robert E. Howard as it gets. It is surprisingly boring for a good portion of the movie. The costumes look good, the fight scenes were actually better than what I was expecting. The cinematography was good and I was happy to not see any gray filter. The film was overwrought in spots such as the scene of Kane with his arms upraised asking (I assume) God if this is what was intended. The crucifixion scene was ridiculous. Historically, as pointed out at other sites, the movie is a hopeless mess.
The origin story is what really screws the pooch. Having Kane’s brother as the evil enforcer was too much. Also the Balrog. If you are going to have a Balrog, you better have a Balrog worthy battle instead of what happened in the movie. Less would have been more here. And, Balrogs should be in Tolkien movies.
I was thinking of the same weaknesses found in L’il Abner Versus the Moonies (aka Conan the Barbarian). Way too much time is spent in both movies creating a revenge driven, angst ridden character. Both movies have sorcerers in a takeover with armies and in both the bad guys are more intriguing because there is mystery. You don’t really like Solomon Kane in this movie as the origin story has him as an unlikeable guy. Same with Chip Rommel in Conan the Barbarian. You want more when you finish a Robert E. Howard story. Paul “Masturbation or What” Berrow is talking about a second Solomon Kane movie. I don’t think the average movie goer wants a second movie. The character is both emotionally and physically spent by the end. This movie is a funeral, not a birth for a series. There is frankly little room for believably carrying on the character.
This movie has so little of Robert E. Howard in it that someone else can do it right the next time. It will be an historical oddity shown at science fiction conventions. It isn’t the worst movie I have seen but I will be hard pressed whether to watch Solomon Kane or Mega-Piranha. It would have been better had the character had a name like “Samuel Absalom” or something like that. This movie will still probably be far better than the upcoming Conan the Samoan movie with Momo in sarong. That coming movie is Paradox approved. They got rolled like a teenage farm-boy in the big city on a Saturday night by Hollywood on that one.
This past month, Norman Spinrad has blogged (normanspinradatlarge.blogspot.com) about the trials and tribulations of getting his book The Druid King published. I have heard and read of horror stories in the publishing world. This one ranks up at the top.
This is only the second Spinrad book I have ever read. About 20 years ago I read The Iron Dream, his satire on supposedly fascist science fiction. It reads like an attack masquerading as parody of Robert Heinlein. Spinrad also wrote the Star Trek episode with the wind sock planet destroyer.
I can remember when The Druid King came out in 2003 and mentioning it to Steve Tompkins. We both had plans on reading it but I don’t think Steve ever got around to it.
The novel itself was out of character for Spinrad who had a reputation as a “New Wave” science fiction guy switching gears and going into the historical novel field. The book’s genesis had it origins for a screenplay for a French movie called Druids. This novel is about Vercingetorix who led a revolt against Julius Caesar in Gaul. Vercigetorix almost succeeded in driving out the Romans but in the end failed. He is one of those magnificent but ultimately tragic Celtic leaders you find in history alongside Caratacos, Boudicca, Arthur, Urien, and Hugh O’Donnell. The novel takes some time to get going as there is the setup of Vercingetorix’s life. His father attempts to make himself King of Gaul but is killed under secret Roman orders. Vercingetorix is trained as a Druid, becomes a companion of Caesar, discovers Caesar’s complicity in his father’s death, and leads the Gauls against Rome. There are some idiosyncrasies to the novel. Roman legionaries are referred to as legionaires. Spinrad also switches into a present tense for some scenes. Spinrad mentions in his blog about an editor forcing him to rewrite the book and the writing was getting worse.
The novel is a page turner once it gets going. Spinrad isn’t bad with action. The book is anti-Roman, Robert E. Howard would approve. The cover is hideous as it is photoshopped pieces of twigs. The book was also published in August which is a dumping ground along with January for new books. The trade paperback is still available with a better cover. I don’t know if the present tense scenes are the result of Spinrad or the editor. Fix that and change legionaires to legionaries and you have a keeper. Then get this book out in mass market paperback with a better cover and put it in the science fiction and fantasy section where more copies will be sold.