I love Sword and Planet fiction. Edgar Rice Burroughs, Leigh Brackett, Alan Burt Akers (aka Ken Bulmer), and many others. There’s a reason why I’ve spent so much time writing it myself, as with the Talera series. I find it the purest form of adventure fiction. And I take it seriously.
I also demand that the writers whose Sword and Planet offerings I read take it seriously too. I’m afraid that I can’t quite picture Robert Moore Williams, who wrote this book, Zanthar of the Many Worlds, taking the genre seriously.
The book begins with John Zanthar, a brilliant Earth scientist who invents a machine that can open portals to other worlds. Zanthar himself is sucked through it accidentally, and later two of his students are sucked through as well. So is a man named Fu Cong, who becomes the primary villain of the story. So far, so good.
Then the weaknesses with the work start to arise. One would expect that transportation to an alien world would cause a person a bit of dislocation and discomfort. Not Zanthar. In the first few pages of the story he acquires some allies who decide he’s a god, and defeats the leader of a horde of attackers who are riding “miniature dinosaurs.” These appear to be T Rexes a bit bigger than the “Velociraptors” of Jurassic Park. Zanthar kills one of these dinosaurs with one blow from a “copper hammer” he’d been carrying in his lab when the transportation occurred. He also has no problem communicating with his new friends, who are conveniently riding telepathic beasts. And one of his new allies is a beautiful woman capable of healing any wound merely by laying hands on it and concentrating. Later she proves capable of raising the dead. (I’m not sure I’ve ever had a day that easy in the real world.)
I’m also a lover of good poetical prose, and the best Sword and Planet fiction has this. The prose in Zanthar of the Many Worlds is almost completely leaden, and in many cases just downright silly. Here’s a bit of prose from early in the book: “And then: ‘The love-life?’ Zanthar questioned. He did not understand the term. In fact, he was not at all certain that he understood a tenth of the words she used. ‘I do not understand.’” The repetition was just wretched.
Later, there’s an actual bit of dialogue imagined by Zanthar between atoms. I’m not making this up. Here it is:
“Zanthar had the impression that he could hear the atoms talking each to the other, saying, ‘Brother, where are you?’
‘Comrade, what has happened?’
‘Sister, why are we in darkness?’
‘Cousin molecule, where has mother gone?’
‘And where is father?’
‘Is—is this the night that never ends?’ an atomic voice wailed.
‘Is—is this the end of the universe of atoms?’ another whispered.”
That was it for me. I stopped reading and just quickly scanned the rest of the book. I can’t in good conscience recommend it to anyone. And, do be aware that there are three sequels in this series, Zanthar at the Edge of Never, Zanthar at Moon’s Madness, and Zanthar at Trip’s End. All were published by Lancer books and were probably contracted for to capitalize on the Conan boom of the sixties. They were published between 1967 and 1969 and I’m guessing they were written exceedingly fast. I know Moore wrote a lot of books. He died in 1977. I have a few others of his at the house, most notably the Jongar series. They’ve all moved way down my list of books to read after this Zanthar fiasco. I read a quote once about a different writer that rather sums up my feelings about this book. “That’s not writing. That’s typing.”