During the interview I did recently for the Southern Fried Inkslingers podcast (hosted by the indomitable team of Brad and Walter — thanks again guys, it was hella fun), I let slip (well, more like shotgunned) that I hate fantasy.
Since then, I have come to the conclusion that answer was somewhat disingenuous.
It was the kind of flip answer I gave to most of the questions that day, and like my other answers, probably only half-true, if that. And no, I can’t and won’t blame the tumblers of scotch I was downing — do not blame them, they did nothing wrong, never blame them. So I guess I have to blame my own instinct never to tell the truth when a lie is funnier. But that’s besides the point.
Thing is, I actually don’t hate fantasy. Don’t get me wrong, a lot of fantasy deserves to be hated (I’m looking at you contemporary fantasy and the Tolkieny stuff with elves) and I do hate it with at least three chambers of my fat-clogged heart, but there is some fantasy that, frankly, I can’t get enough of.
Moorcock’s Elric cycle was the first fantasy that ever got me to stop reading sci-fi for any period of time. I devoured everything Elric in my teens. Didn’t much care for Moorcock’s other fantasies, but Elric, king of a dying race, and his soul-stealing sword, that was some great shit. Pulpy, with a fine sense of dread, chaos, and decay, it spoke to me, the same way cyberpunk did.
But then I grew out of it. Twenty years went by. The extent of my fantasy reading was finally slogging through Lord of the Rings, just so I’d know how the movies would go, and a single Pratchett book I can’t even remember the plot of.
And then, one day, I was browsing a book store, bored, and there was Conan. A new collection of Howard’s Conan stories, a three volume trade paperback set. Don’t know why I did — maybe it was the world-building notes in the back — but I bought ’em, and I’ve read them cover to cover over and over since, the way I used to re-read Neuromancer every year.
Howard’s writing, pulpy but breezy and vital, hooked me, and his themes… you want to talk dread and chaos and decay, his Conan yarns positively drip with the stuff. I was, and am, blown away by his stories — they are some of the finest ever written.
But there weren’t that many of them. A little more than a dozen to obsess over. How’d that happen? Seriously.
Okay, sure, other writers have taken on Conan, but I figured they would be pale pastiches not worth my time, so I never even bothered.
Until a week back.
That’s when I saw it in the Half-Price Books… The novelization of Conan the Destroyer. Yes, that Conan the Destroyer. And holy shit, they actually novelized it? What an amazing universe we live in where this kind of thing can happen, I thought, and snapped it up.
I bought it for the novelty, not because I had any hopes the writing would be anything more than your average dashed-off cash-in movie tie-in — and I knew with certainty there was no way it could be anywhere near Howard.
But that assumption didn’t count on Robert Jordan. Yeah, that Robert Jordan, of the Wheel of Time cycle. Which, by the way and no surprise, I couldn’t read more than a half chapter of before giving up.
But his Conan… that just blew me away. Go figure. Novelization or no, his Destroyer was pulpy and vital and plain fun. Worthy of continuing Howard’s stories and my time.
In the facts I didn’t know department, turns out Jordan wrote a lot of Conan before he went all Wheel of Time, and he was damn good. So now, I’m tracking down every bit of Conan Jordan ever wrote.
The moral of this tale: Buy a novelization every once in awhile. They might just surprise you.
And no, not gonna revisit the Wheel of Time. I know my limits.