Sunday, May 22, 2016

Blood of Ancient Opar (Christopher Paul Carey, Meteor House 2016)

As you may recall, readers, I wailed and gnashed my teeth when I came to the end of Hadon, King of Opar, as it ended on such a powerful cliffhanger that I wanted the next book in the series right then and there.  Well, Christopher Paul Carey has delivered the next volume in his continuation of Farmer's Opar prehistory, Blood of Ancient Opar, into my hands ahead of publication and I could have wept with joy to be able to continue the saga of Hadon of Opar.

Blood picks up right where King leaves off, with Hadon struggling to maintain order in the wake of a devastating civil war and invasion, in which the priesthoods of Kho the Mother Goddess and Resu the Flaming God conspired against the people of Opar, too eager for worldly power to look to the well-being of the civilization they're squabbling over.

The squabble costs Hadon his kingship and nearly robs him of his family, held together only be the cunning machinations of his daughter La, a prodigy at 16.  Though it pains her to go forward with it, she has developed a plan that may be the only way to save Opar - if it doesn't leave the city an empty ruin, put to the torch by rampaging Gokaku (neanderthaloid) slaves first!

I think I actually prefer where Carey has taken Hadon over where Farmer took him.  No king has worn a heavier crown than Carey's solemn, care-worn King of Opar, bound by chains of tradition and culture too heavy to escape from.  I've compared Carey's Hadon to Howard's Kull of Atlantis in the past, and I continue to stand by that comparison.  The toll Hadon pays in this volume is almost everything he has left, and stripped of everything, he continues to stand tall and prove himself worthy of the title, giving everything he has left to the city of his birth.

Where Hadon is beaten, bloodied and yet unbowed, his daughter La enters the spotlight more fully in this volume, a shifting and mercurial presence, steeped in tradition but not chained by it, she looks to the future to find the best course of action to protect her people and allow them to flourish once more.  She is close-lipped about her plans even with her own family, well-schooled but ultimately still a child, and her machinations here are both wholly necessary and choked with life-threatening risk to herself, risks she may not fully comprehend.

Christopher Paul Carey has inherited a heavy mantle and a big set of shoes in continuing the legacy of Ancient Opar, and he wears both well - if anything, those shoes might be getting a little snug.  His prose is his own while echoing Farmer's breathless adventure into the world of Khokarsa, his words as evocative of that lost world as Farmer's (or Burroughs') own.  With this newest volume, he takes us deep into the underbelly of Opar and unlocks secrets fans have been waiting for for a century now, ever since Tarzan first set foot in the ruined city of gold and ivory and apes, giving us the foundation of the city Burroughsphiles have known and loved and (if they're anything like me) pined for.  Blood of Ancient Opar is one part thrilling adventure in the pulp tradition, one part exploration of human nature, and one part solemn family drama worthy of Kurosawa, and if another drop of ink is never expended on Opar, then no better capstone could be asked for than Blood of Ancient Opar.

This volume is a must-read for fans of Burroughs, Farmer and Haggard alike, and can be preordered from Meteor House right now!

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Phileas Fogg and the Heart of Osra (Joshua Reynolds; Meteor House Press, 2016)

In 1973, Philip Jose Farmer published The Other Log of Phileas Fogg, the "true story" behind Verne's Around the World in Eighty Days, reframing the Eighty-Day Affair as the final skirmish in an ongoing conflict between two groups of extraterrestrials on Earth, waged as a proxy war between human agents.  The Eighty-Day Affair brought the war between the Eridaneans and Capellans to a vague conclusion, but Josh Reynolds picked up the threads left behind by Farmer and began extrapolating a series of novellas following Fogg in the aftermath of the Eridanean-Capellan conflict.  The first of these I reviewed last year, Phileas Fogg and the War of Shadows.  The second volume, Phileas Fogg and the Heart of Osra, is forthcoming, but Meteor House was kind enough to put an ARC in my hands.

Following his encounter in Paris, Fogg has continued east into Europe, drawn to the tiny kingdom of Ruritania by a letter, written in an Eridanean cipher, inviting him.  Recalling the Rudolf Rassendyll, the false king placed on the Ruritanian throne during the Zenda Affair, was an Eridanean agent, Fogg suspects a trap but feels compelled to visit the kingdom nonetheless.

He soon finds himself hunted by both the Ruritanian secret police and a fanatical nationalist sect, both of whom accuse Fogg of stealing the legendary crown jewel known as the "Heart of Osra." Aided only by his wits, his Eridanean training, and the saber-swinging wild card known as Rupert of Hentzau, Fogg must find the lost jewel, clear his name, and escape the country - not to mention determine who invited him to Ruritania in the first place.

Josh Reynolds has a fantastic knowledge of Ruritanias - of the piddlingly small principalities and duchies that litter fiction.  I recognized a good many mentioned here, while others escaped me, though I was very pleased to see both Freedonia (from the Marx Brothers' phenomenal DUCK SOUP; the neighboring country of Sylvania is likewise mentioned) and the Duchy of Strackenz (here rendered Strackencz; originating in George Macdonald Frasier's ROYAL FLASH) appear.  Robert E. Howard's sinister "witch-town" of Stregoicavar is likewise on Fogg's itinerary, and I can only presume it's a matter of time before he checks in at the Plateau of Leng.  Ruritania proper, of course, is the creation of Anthony Hope in the novel The Prisoner of Zenda, which I read years ago and really should revisit.

Reynolds furthers the theme he began with his previous novella, as Fogg uncovers more evidence that neither the Eridaneans nor the Capellans were the first extraterrestrials to maintain a presence on Earth, hinting darkly at encounters with entities from the Lovecraft canon in volumes to come.  Here, he crosses psychic paths with a race of "Angels" who call to mind both Lovecraft's Great Race (from The Shadow Out of Time) and H.G. Wells' unearthly observers from "The Crystal Egg." They are presented as wholly alien and inscrutable, which I enjoyed, and the reader is left with more questions than answers regarding these entities, which I feel is as it should be.

Best of all, Reynolds has crafted a wholly believable aftermath to the proxy war fought for centuries, and the toll that peace has taken on the survivors.  While the war between the Eridaneans and the Capellans left a minimum of bombed-out buildings and rubble-strewn streets in its wake, to those in the know all of Europe is like the Vienna of THE THIRD MAN, haunted by human flotsam, cast adrift without a war left to fight.  Fogg's counterpart in Ruritania, the precise Colonel Sapt, has dealt poorly with peace, and convinced himself that there is still a war to fight - and given his recent experiences in Paris, Fogg finds it difficult to disagree.

Reynolds' two novellas so far (with hopefully many more to come, as hinted in the text) are not only wholly satisfying sequels to Farmer's original novels, but richly enjoyable on their own, deepening the back story of Farmer's take on the Eighty-Day Affair, and adding a new level of complexity to the Eridanean-Capellan conflict and its participants.  Phileas Fogg and the Heart of Osra receives a glowing recommendation from me and can be preordered here until June 15th.