Saturday, February 23, 2008

Reading Report

Wasn't a banner reading week, but I did get through Tarzan and the Foreign Legion, which I haven't read since I was a kid, and Karl Edward Wagner's Kane novel, Bloodstone.
Legion is one of the last Tarzan novels Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote. It takes place during World War Two and most of the action occurs in Sumatra, so it's hardly the typical Tarzan novel. In fact for the first third of the book, the other main characters don't even realize that Tarzan is among them. The Lord of the jungle is attached to an American recon and photography mission over Japanese occupied Sumatra in his identity of Colonel John Clayton of the British Air Corps. So he's Col Clayton until the plane is shot down. Once the little band of survivors is lost in the jungle, they find out pretty darn quick that they're traveling with Tarzan of the Apes, especially after the ape-man kills a tiger with his knife. I suspect that Burroughs wrote that scene with quite a bit of relish since he had mistakenly included tigers in Africa in his first Tarzan novel and had taken a lot of ribbing for it over the years.
Bloodstone was actually the first Kane novel Karl Edward Wagner began (In high school study hall no less) but not the first he completed or had published. Like the other Kane book, Darkness Weaves, this one is a mishmash of sword & sorcery, science fiction, horror, and H.P. Lovecraft pastiche. There is much ado about Elder Gods and prehuman races in the Lovecraft manner, plus space ships, alien races, and good old fashion hacking and slashing.
I have long maintained that short stories are the natural medium of true sword & sorcery. It's just hard to hold the sense of menace and brooding darkness for 300 plus pages. Bloodstone bears this out. It's a good book, with many wonderful scenes and Kane is his usual savage yet articulate self, but the novel rambles pretty badly in between the key scenes, almost like a bunch of shorter Kane tales welded together. Also the science fiction elements seem a bit jarring beside the rest of the books setting which is basically bronze age. Still, that's the sort of thing that Wagner enjoyed writing, so he saw his purpose through. How well it works is obviously a matter of subjective opinion.


John said...

I am a rabid fan of Wagner's, and yet i must agree with you. As much as I love the novels, all of the Kane stories are much more successful.

Charles R. Rutledge said...

I'm with you, John. And I think many of Wagner's short stories are among the best heroic fantasy ever written. My faves are probably Reflections for the Winter of My Soul and the Dark Muse, though Cold Light is right up there.