THROWBACK SF THURSDAY: Leonard Carpenter’s Conan Pastiches

Thursday , 14, September 2017 13 Comments

Today we close the books on The Summer of Conan.  You can find all of my Conan posts here.  Over the course of three months, I read every Conan story Robert E. Howard wrote, watched all three Conan movies, and read twelve Conan pastiches.  I did not, unfortunately, get to any of the Conan comics.  Reading Robert E. Howard’s original work was a revelation.  I would much rather go back and read Howard’s other work than dive back into the Conan pastiches, though I eventually will.  To that end, and with the Halloween season approaching with the end of summer, I am next turning to The Horror Stories of Robert E. Howard.

Leonard Carpenter wrote the most Conan pastiches of any of the Tor authors.  I’ve only read one of his eleven Conan novels.  Carpenter didn’t write many other novels, but he did write poetry, and what looks like a lot of short fiction.

Carpenter introduces Conan in Conan the Hero rising from slimy water into a steaming jungle, skin striped with “muddy tones of lampblack and umber.”  If that sounds kind of badass and kind of like Rambo, well, yeah.  Conan the Hero is a good book, but it suffers from being as influenced by the 1980s American drug epidemic, the Soviet-Afghan War, and, most of all, Vietnam as by Robert E. Howard’s Conan stories.

Conan starts the book fighting in the Turan army far, far to the east.  They are fighting against tribesmen in what is an obvious Southeast Asia analogue.  The desert natives struggle to operate in humid jungles that elephants are better suited to than horses (Carpenter does some cool worldbuilding with the elephants by the way).  Soldiers spend their leave in a city of the locals on their side that is run by a cruel drug lord.  Meanwhile, political machinations are afoot back in Aghrapur, but as usual the story isn’t nearly as interesting when Conan is offscreen.  In this book, it is not so much a barbarian-civilization clash as the inevitable failure of overstretched imperialism.

“On every side, ladies, are barbarous hordes who eagerly await a first sign of our weakness, the smallest chink in our imperial armor. All the great empires of history, once they have forgotten menace, have been overrun—their cities broken, their temples profaned, their thrones and alters besquatted by vile, hairy hides!  If we do not keep up unrelenting pressure against this external threat, why, even the sacred virtue of Turanian womanhood will be imperiled—”

I like this book, but it really suffers from the amount of contemporary influence that Carpenter allows to seep into it.  It isn’t quite so relevant today, and it detracts from the story as a Conan story.  But while I definitely put Carpenter a tier down from Robert Jordan and John Maddox Roberts, his work is better than that of Steve Perry or Roland Green, and I will eventually get around to reading the other Carpenter Conan book I own.

 

H.P. is an academic, attorney, and “author” (well, blogger) who will read and write about anything interesting he finds in the used bookstore wherever he happens to be for the moment.  He can be found on Twitter @tuesdayreviews and at Every Day Should Be Tuesday.

13 Comments
  • John E. Boyle says:

    Thanks for this Summer of Conan. REH’s Conan is always worth a look, and I was completely unfamiliar with the pastiches by the various authors you’ve mentioned over the summer. Now, I have a much better idea of what is out there, and what I might be spending time and money on.

    Thanks again.

  • deuce says:

    I never much cared for Carpenter’s pastiches. His Conan never seemed all that Conanic, the stories themselves were fairly mediocre and he wandered WAY off the reservation when it came to Howard’s Hyborian Age world-building. Case in point:

    “Conan starts the book fighting in the Turan army far, far to the east. They are fighting against tribesmen in what is an obvious Southeast Asia analogue.”

    This simply couldn’t have happened in the Hyborian Age REH created, certainly not during Conan’s lifetime. Turan didn’t have that sort of geo-political reach in that region during that period (or ever), which would involve cutting through Kosala and Vendhya. He might have been able to tell a similar tale set on the south coast of the Vilayet…but he didn’t bother. Also — despite Spraguey and Lin’s pastichery — there’s zero evidence that Conan ever fought FOR Turan. He seemed to have a particular loathing for Turan just as REH despised the Ottomans.

    As with Perry and Green, Carpenter just shoehorned whatever fantasy adventure came to mind into Conan’s world and didn’t even make the story all that interesting, to boot.

  • deuce says:

    “On every side, ladies, are barbarous hordes who eagerly await a first sign of our weakness, the smallest chink in our imperial menace, have been overrun—their cities broken, their temples profaned, their thrones and alters besquatted by vile, hairy hides! If we do not keep up unrelenting pressure against this external threat, why, even the sacred virtue of Turanian womanhood will be imperiled—”

    Not a dig on you, HP, but is that transcribed accurately? If so, it’s nonsensical. I can’t even tell who’s doing what to whom. If that’s a Turanian, he doesn’t sound anything like any Turanian (or Turk) that REH ever wrote. More like some US bureaucrat from Hartford, CT circa 1930.

    • HP says:

      I managed to omit eleven words in transcribing it. It is a Turanian general speaking to women in the Turanian court. It makes more sense with all of the words included, but still doesn’t make sense geographically…

      ““On every side, ladies, are barbarous hordes who eagerly await a first sign of our weakness, the smallest chink in our imperial armor. All the great empires of history, once they have forgotten menace, have been overrun—their cities broken, their temples profaned, their thrones and alters besquatted by vile, hairy hides!  If we do not keep up unrelenting pressure against this external threat, why, even the sacred virtue of Turanian womanhood will be imperiled—””

    • HP says:

      A dig should be welcomed, nay!, required. Typos should be treated with the scorn normally reserved for our most despicable enemies.

    • deuce says:

      I’ve done plenty of transcribing myself. It happens. I still say that bit of dialogue is bogus in the mouth of a Turanian.

  • Woelf says:

    Really love these posts. Good to go back in time and revisit the stories that entertained me as a kid. I have forgotten so much but it’s interesting to view them with a mature eye now that I’ve become cynical and all grown up.

  • Rigel Kent says:

    Interesting article, but this sentence has me somewhat confused:

    “Conan the Hero is a good book, but it suffers from being as influenced by the 1980s American drug epidemic, the Soviet-Afghan War, and, most of all, Vietnam as by Robert E. Howard’s Conan stories.”

    I’m guessing you meant to put Robert Jordan there?

  • Tile Keys says:

    Oh man. Now i’m definitely going to work with this.
    Tile Keys

  • Bagger Vance says:

    I don’t see an entry for Karl Edward Wagner’s Conan pastiche, which i’ve meant to read for ages. I guess there was only one. Any interest or comments from other readers out there?
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Road_of_Kings

    (Sorry if you already covered this somewhere else!)

    • deuce says:

      Good S&S novel. “Conan” seemed more like KEW’s Kane in many ways and there were a few other middling problems, but it’s still one of the best Conan pastiches.

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