Saturday, May 17, 2014

Zanthar of the Many Worlds: Review

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.”
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20 comments:

Keith West said...

I've not read Williams, but I know he isn't regarded as a top writer.

Like you I take Sword and Planet seriously. I started a Sword and Planet novel that I intended to have a hard science (especially physics) aspect to it. I need to get back to it.

Randy Johnson said...

Thanks for the review. I believe I'll pass on this one.

Charles Gramlich said...

Keith, Yeah, I think he wrote very fast but this is pretty much hackwork seems to me. Too bad.

Randy, wise of you perhaps.

Cloudia said...

Your concluding line sounds snide, but actually co twins deep hints as to the nature of Writing. When a devotee like yourself responds this way THAT speaks volumes too, Charles.



Aloha

James Reasoner said...

I read one of the Zanthar books back when it was new (it had a Jeff Jones cover, as I recall) and thought it was pretty bad. Also read the Jongor books a few years ago and didn't care for them, either. But I've read a few of Williams' stories in the SF pulps that were pretty good. One of those very hit-or-miss writers, I guess.

Charles Gramlich said...

Cloudia, I forget who originally said that, but it was said about Jack Kerouac. I'll have to look it up. It's definitely pretty snide but I thought the book was just incredibly lazy

James, I'll have to try some of his stories. Some writers are much better with short fiction than long fiction. I have all the Jongar books and will probably read one at some point.

Brian Miller said...

ugh. sounds like you took the bullet for us on this one...note to self...one to skip for sure...

Charles Gramlich said...

Brian, methinks so.

Prashant C. Trikannad said...

Charles, it's unfortunate that this Sword and Planet fiction failed to live up to your expectations. Some books must stay absolutely true to specialised genres like Sword and Planet. I got the feeling that you wanted to like it. And that last quote is a gem.

Riot Kitty said...

I've never dropped acid, but did this guy have a bad trip and start scribbling, convinced he had become a genius? Just a thought.

the walking man said...

I don't think the genre matters, flat writing is flat writing and only leads to reader regret.

Victorian Barbarian said...

I think the "typing" remark was by Truman Capote about Kerouac.

Bernard Lee DeLeo said...

I wonder if he had fun writing the series. I confess I write novels in genres such as private detective/crime for example that garnered a few hate mails from readers expecting 'The Maltese Falcon' but getting Mickey Spillane type pulp. :) I sure had fun writing them though. :) That Williams was getting published at a time when submission to agents and publishers was a monumental task, he did seem to do reasonably well in marketing his material.

Charles Gramlich said...

Prashant, I tend to give Sword and Planet the benefit of the doubt since I like the genre so much. but alas.

Riot kitty, strangely, he refers several times in the book to folks taking LSD.

Mark, yes, I reckon that is true.

Victorian, I couldn't remember who said it. Sounds like Capote. I suppose I could always google it. :)

Bernard, Lancer was doing a lot of book packaging at the time, hiring guys and giving them a lot of leeway in developing books. Williams also was already an established writer so he would have had a track record they liked.

David Cranmer said...

Damn! Now I have to scratch my atom dialogue from my work in progress!

Charles Gramlich said...

David, perhaps you could do it better, man. :)

SzélsőFa said...

Dang, one does feel sorry for the time one spent reading bad writing - I know that feeling, too.
I laughed when you mentioned that there were sequels to this book... :) :)

Charles Gramlich said...

Szelsofa, indeed. Three sequels

Rachel V. Olivier said...

Thanks. That's a good reminder of what not to do for me.

Charles Gramlich said...

Rachel, I think you already know all this stuff. :)