t is sweltering in my New York apartment. No air conditioning. I’m trying to use as few electrical appliances as possible, except the fans. Computers and televisions create heat. So I’m reading.
June has some exciting things coming out in science and science fiction at Nebraska
Press. The first one is technically nonfiction but is about a lot of fiction, Robert Silverberg’s Scientists and Scoundrels. Because long before Photoshop made it easy to alter one’s data, people were stacking the evidence in their favor. Silverberg is an unparalleled sf writer and I can’t wait to see what this book has in store.
Also coming out this month are the last three of Edgar Rice Burroughs Pellucidar Series Back to the Stone Age, Land of Terror, and Savage Pellucidar. Pellucidar is a land of
eternal day beneath the earth’s crust where time has stopped in prehistory and never started again. Burroughs is the master of adventure and grandfather to our modern fantasy genre. Well worth reading.
When it rains it pours. The last two of the Cossack Adventures by Harold Lamb also come out this month: Riders of the Steppes and Swords of the Steppes. Harold Lamb isn’t as well known as Burroughs with Tarzan or Robert Howard, creator of Conan, and that is too bad. Because Lamb has plot, character, adventure, and history rolled into his Cossack stories. I can’t believe these stories haven’t been made into movies.
Maybe because the main character, Khlit the Cossack, is old and gray when the stories begin. He has gotten lean and grizzled. He has no interest in women or treasure. He is an illiterate fighter but he is cunning and crazy and easy to love.
Lamb, as a writer, is straightforward and his prose is as lean as his character, and as strong. It reads much like a modern writer, a rarity for the time it was written as anyone who has dipped into Lovecraft or some other early 20th century writers knows. Not to mention plot and adventure. Every new story Khlit is in real trouble with seemingly no way out. Marching himself into an enemy camp as a trade for a captive beloved of his foster son or running from the Tartars, having bargained another day of life in return for being the hunting party’s quarry, Khlit manages to get himself into and out of trouble that barely fazes him but leaves the reader gasping for breath.
Mind you, these are not really fantasy stories. They take place in the 16th century Ukraine and surrounding areas and have no magic, unicorns, gods, or elves. Where they stand as a precursor to modern sword and sorcery are in the elements and the feel. The political intrigues between several different cultures in close proximity. The cunning hero who sells his fighting skills and gets by on grit and wit along with some amazing reflexes. Treasure. Deception. Deep friendships and deep hatreds. All that is familiar to our modern fantasy epics. This is a precursor. But don’t read it because of that. Read the Cossack Adventures because they are an entertaining thrill ride that will make this summer’s blockbusters, book or film, seem like a Sunday drive in comparison.