Posts Tagged With: pulp fiction

Mini Review: “High Couch of Silistra” by Janet Morris

This post is a part of a series of mini-reviews of books that I read while on blogging hiatus last fall.

The High Couch of Silistra by Janet Morris is set on a post-apocalyptic planet that had been ravaged by nuclear war.  Genetic mutations have made it very difficult to procreate, and so society has been arranged to glorify promiscuity in the hopes that some genetic combinations may prove fruitful.  Civilization is centered around the Wells, which are pretty much centers of prostitution, and women hold most of the power in society.

When Estri, the Well-Keepress of Astria, receives a mysterious letter detailing her conception, she begins a journey to discover more about her past and origins.  She hopes that if she is able to find out who her alien father is, she might learn more about herself and what kind of man would allow her to produce a child.  However, for most of the novel, she just wanders around and has kinky sex with a lot of people.  Mind you, I don’t mind sex in my pulp fiction novels (Case in point:  I strangely enjoy the John Norman’s Gor novels), but in High Couch of Silistra, it was too much of a distraction from an otherwise very interesting plot.  The last 50 or so pages of the novel were a drastic improvement, and as such, I’d be willing to pick up the next book in the series if I ever come across it at a used book sale.  At the same time, I wouldn’t go as far as actually recommending High Couch of Silistra unless you are extremely bored.

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“Outlaw of Gor” by John Norman

I picked up Outlaw of Gor, sequel to John Norman’s Tarnsman of Gor, because I was having a stressful week and wanted something mindless, pulpy, and fun.

Tarl Cabot goes on a camping trip into the mountains and once again finds himself swept away to the planet Gor, known as the Counter Earth.  When he arrives, he finds that his city has been razed and its people scattered, including the woman that he loves.  Tarl vows his revenge upon the Priest Kings and embarks on a journey to confront them.

On his way, Tarl visits the city of Tharna.  Unlike any other place on Gor, Tharna is ruled by women, who coincidentally wear creepy masks as further proof that they are evil.  Men have no social status, and are generally enslaved.  Reproduction is handled medically, and there is no place in Tharna for sex.  Love is forbidden.  There is no laughter, song, dancing, or anything else to relieve the monotony of life.  When Tarl finds himself captured and enslaved, he mounts a rebellion to change Tharna.

I enjoyed the worldbuilding in Outlaw of Gor far more than in the first book.  Norman’s passages on Gorean society, flora, and fauna are such that you feel nostalgia for a place you’ve never been.  You can tell that he’s spent a lot of time thinking about his world, and that he cares about it.  In the first book, it felt like an infodump, but in this one, it makes me want to visit Gor and see the wonders he describes.

I read the book in one sitting, and it worked wonders for my mood.  This series has become one of my guilty pleasures.  I should probably be outraged by the treatment of women, but I’m not.  Strangely, I think it adds to the books’ charm, and let’s face it, the male characters are no less objectified in sword and planet books and movies.  That being said, these books aren’t for everyone, and readers should know what they’re getting into.  Pretty much every female character is a happy sex slave (or discovers she’d be happier as a sex slave, as in the case of Lara, the ruler of Tharna).

I’m eager to read the next book and to see where Tarl’s adventures take him.  If the Gor series were a video game, Outlaw of Gor would be a side quest.  The adventure in Tharna was fascinating, but the plot line with the Priest Kings and Tarl’s mysterious return to Gor are left unresolved.

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“The Great Secret” by L. Ron Hubbard

While at BEA, I met some representatives (by which I mean pirates, see picture below) from Galaxy Press, which is dedicated to republishing L. Ron Hubbard’s pulp fiction in quality paperbacks and audiobooks.  They offered to send me a copy of “The Great Secret” in exchange for an honest review.

When reading early pulp fiction, you’ll be disappointed if you expect masterpieces of literature with deep layers of meaning.  Don’t go in with that expectation.  Instead, you can look forward to reading grand adventures that are light-hearted and don’t take themselves too seriously.  In this respect, Hubbard’s work calls to mind that of Edgar Rice Burroughs.

This collection contains four stories:  The Great Secret, Space Can, The Beast, and The Slaver.

The Great Secret is the story of a man named Fanner Marston, an adventurer seeking riches and glory.  Mankind has discovered space travel, but is limited by the fact that their ships can only safely make aquatic landings.  However, an extinct civilization in the city of Parva had once possessed this knowledge, and Marston sets out across the dessert to uncover their greatest secrets.  The ending of the story is quite satisfying.

The second story, Space Can, was my favorite in the collection.  Americans have begun to pioneer space, and one of it’s ships is involved in an epic battle.  Even though they’re outnumbered and hopelessly outgunned, the crew of the Menace will fight to the death to defend themselves.

My initial reaction to The Beast was that it reminded me vaguely of a shorter pulp fiction version of Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness,” even though it’s far less serious in tone.  The main character, Ginger Cranston, is an explorer on Venus.  He’s set himself up as the ruler of a group of natives known as the blues.  However, he loses their respect when a great Beast begins picking off people who were supposed to be under his protection.  Angered and afraid, Ginger Cranston resolves to hunt and destroy the Beast.

The final story, The Slaver, is about a prince named Kree Lorin who is captured by slavers.  He finds himself imprisoned alongside Dana, a peasant girl whom he had unsuccessfully tried to seduce.  Neither is entirely comfortable with their fate, and so they stage a daring escape.  I didn’t like this one quite as much as the others.  I thought that it made light of a very serious topic.  I also found myself thinking that Kree Lorin needed a lesson in humility and that a bit longer on the ship might have done him some good.  He’s a bit of an arrogant ass, and I found myself rooting for Dana rather than for him.

This collection is enjoyable if you’re looking for something that isn’t too serious, but is definitely entertaining.  Even though these stories were originally published in the early 1940s, they don’t feel dated and are still relevant to modern audiences.  They make good bathtub reading. The audiobook version is also enjoyable and tries to mimic an old-fashioned radio show, but I found myself mostly sticking to the paperback because I discovered that I have a tendency to zone out when listening to audio books, no matter how interesting they may be.

I’d been curious about Hubbard’s writing ever since I learned that he was a sci-fi writer (let’s face it, the fact that he was a pulp fiction writer gets overshadowed by the fact that he founded Scientology), and I’m definitely glad that I decided to give his stories a chance.

To the right you can see me with a pirate from Galaxy Press.  This photo is tiny, because I am not particularly photogenic at nine in the morning.  Also, I look like a crazy bag lady.  I promise I’m not like that all the time.

Categories: Fiction, Sci Fi | Tags: , , , , | 9 Comments

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