Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Book Review: Assassin of Gor

Book Review: 'Assassin of Gor' by John Norman
2 / 5 Stars

‘Assassin of Gor’ is No. 5 in the series, and first was published in 1970. This Ballantine Books paperback version (409 pp) was published in September 1978, and features a quintessential ‘Gor’ cover illustration by Boris Vallejo.

[‘John Norman’ is of course the pen name of the philosophy professor John Eric Lange.]

I remember buying and reading this book 'way back in September of ’78, and thereafter stowing it away in my book collection….until I recently decided to take it from the shelf and re-read it.

So, how is ‘Assassin of Gor’ when read the second time, 36 years later ?

The answer is……….not all that great.

The novel opens with a ‘teaser’ chapter, in which our hero Tarl Cabot is murdered by a cowardly attack. It is not disclosing any spoiler to say that the victim was not, after all, Tarl Cabot, but someone who resembled him enough to be the target of an assassination.

In an effort to uncover the conspiracy that arranged for his murder,Tarl Cabot decides to go undercover, assuming the guise of one ‘Kuurus’, a member of the Assassin caste. This subterfuge will allow Cabot to infiltrate the household of Cernus of Ar, the wealthiest, most influential, most cunning, and most cruel slave tycoon on the planet of Gor.

Cernus, it seems, is covertly working for The Others (the alien race that is competing with the Priest-Kings to take over Gor). Kuurus’s mission: find out what Cernus is doing for The Others….and in the course of so doing, uncover whatever role Cernus had in plotting the murder of Tarl Cabot……..

Criticizing John Norman’s prose style has been done in such completeness by the sci-fi community in the years since the Gor books first were written that for me to add any of my own complaints is utterly superfluous. 

But what strikes me after reading ‘Assassin of Gor’ for the second time in 36 years is how slavishly Norman followed the narrative style of Edgar Rice Burroughs and the John Carter of Mars / Barsoom books. Like Burroughs, Norman regularly inserts into his narrative lengthy chunks of didactic exposition on any and all topics of Gorean culture.

For example, early on in ‘Assassins’, there is an exposition on the design, construction, use, and sociological importance of Gorean locks...... that takes up nearly two pages ….?!

Elsewhere in ‘Assassins’, the description of the logistics of the transportation of a slave girl from one locale to another takes up nearly two pages of exposition. A mini-dissertation on the organization and domestic arrangments of Cernus’s household takes up nearly four pages. A didactic passage on the design of a tarn-racing course takes up nearly three pages, and is one of the most confusingly worded segments of text I ever have encountered in a sci-fi novel.

And, of course, whenever Norman turns to his favorite fetish, the slave – girl culture that underpins the Gor novels, the exposition goes on for page after tedious page….

I can understand that some degree of exposition is necessary in a fantasy or science fiction novel, as it is part of the requisite world-building that defines these genera of literature. But that John Norman should find it vital to mimic the style of novels Edgar Rice Burroughs first began publishing in 1912 is a clear signal of unimaginative literary ‘recycling’.

To be fair, there are sections of ‘Assassins of Gor’ that offer the action and adventure that are part and parcel of the so-called ‘planetary romance’ novel. But at over 400 pages in length, the book suffers from an excess of verbiage.

Summing up ? ‘Assassin of Gor’ is one of those books that was aimed at an audience of male readers under the age of 25, a readership that wasn’t – and still isn’t – looking for timeless literary quality. As such, the Gor novels were extremely successful commercially. 

But with age comes wisdom, and it’s impossible to recapture the naivete that made ‘Assassins’ tolerable the first time around……….. 

Sunday, September 27, 2015

'The Bus'

'The Bus' by Paul Kirchner

from the August 1985 issue of Heavy Metal

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Demon in a Silvered Glass Part Three

Demon in a Silvered Glass
Part three of three
by John Bolton (art) and Doug Moench (story)
Bizarre Adventures (Marvel / Curtis) No. 26, May 1981

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Demon in a Silvered Glass Part Two

Demon in a Silvered Glass
Part two of three
by John Bolton (art) and Doug Moench (story)
Bizarre Adventures (Marvel / Curtis) No. 26, May 1981

Monday, September 21, 2015

Demon in a Silvered Glass Part One

Demon in a Silvered Glass
Part one of three
by John Bolton (art) and Doug Moench (story)
Bizarre Adventures (Marvel / Curtis) No. 26, May 1981

As he states in his Introduction (below) titled 'Of Bolton and Barbarians', in the early 80s Marvel editor Ralph Macchio was paging through an issue of The Comics Journal magazine when he saw artwork by the British artist John Bolton, and was stunned by the quality of what he saw.

Macchio subsequently hired Bolton to illustrate a 54-page King Kull story, which appeared in May 1981 in the Curtis black-and-white magazine Bizarre Adventures.

A compelling argument could be made that, while Bizarre Adventures featured some outstanding art from outstanding artists throughout its lifetime (i.e., 1975 - 1983), Bolton's work for this King Kull story was the best to appear in the pages of the magazine.

Doug Moench's script, while essentially a re-working of the very first two Kull stories Robert E. Howard published, 'The Shadow Kingdom' (1929) and 'The Mirrors of Tuzun Thune' (1929), does a competent job of giving Bolton some worthwhile material to work with.

Bolton, who was of course well-known to U. K. readers through his work for the comics The House of Hammer and Warrior, went on to illustrate other Marvel stories during the 1980s, most notably the series Marada the She-Wolf for Epic Illustrated magazine, and The Black Dragon series for Epic Comics.

Bolton's work is particularly impressive when you consider that Bizarre Adventures was a lower-tier magazine in terms of print quality. According to former contributor Steve Bissette:

Bizarre Adventures did not sell particularly well. It was definitely a lower echelon Marvel publication. Depending on what part of the country you live in, the print jobs were atrocious. As an artist, I was really exploring what I could do with black & white half-tones. I was really pushing the envelope with that story as well as with ‘The Blood Bequest’, for what the printing methods of the time could reproduce. I saw after the fact, when I was at conventions signing issues, that with some of the issues that were distributed out there—well, the printing was just awful. The grays would coagulate into patches of black. Marvel’s printing of Bizarre Adventures was just not at the level of what I was enjoying over at Scholastic. So, I abandoned that approach to my art, which is too bad. I was doing some solid work, but it wasn’t appropriate for the venues available to me.

Maybe Titan Books / Titan Comics (U. K.) will publish a remastered version of this story in a well-made hardbound book, much as they did with Bolton's Marada and Black Dragon work.....we will have to see.

Anyways, I will be posting the entirety of 'Demon in a Silvered Glass' as a series of three consecutive Posts here at the PorPor Books Blog. Part one is posted below. The two additional posts will soon follow.

[If you want to acquire the original magazine, copies can be had from your usual online retailers for around $10. 

Another option is to pick up the trade paperback from Dark Horse, The Savage Sword of Kull Volume One, a compilation of the Kull stories from the black and white Curtis magazines of the 70s and early 80s, which contains 'Demon' - although reproduced at a reduced size.]