Summer of Conan: Leonard Carpenter’s Conan the Hero

Today we close the books on The Summer of Conan.  You can find all of my Conan posts here.  Over the course of three months, I read every Conan story Robert E. Howard wrote, watched all three Conan movies, and read twelve Conan pastiches.  I did not, unfortunately, get to any of the Conan comics.  Reading Robert E. Howard’s original work was a revelation.  I would much rather go back and read Howard’s other work than dive back into the Conan pastiches, though I eventually will.  To that end, and with the Halloween season approaching with the end of summer, I am next turning to The Horror Stories of Robert E. Howard.

Leonard Carpenter wrote the most Conan pastiches of any of the Tor authors.  I’ve only read one of his eleven Conan novels.  Carpenter didn’t write many other novels, but he did write poetry, and what looks like a lot of short fiction.

Carpenter introduces Conan in Conan the Hero rising from slimy water into a steaming jungle, skin striped with “muddy tones of lampblack and umber.”  If that sounds kind of badass and kind of like Rambo, well, yeah.  Conan the Hero is a good book, but it suffers from being as influenced by the 1980s American drug epidemic, the Soviet-Afghan War, and, most of all, Vietnam as by Robert E. Howard’s Conan stories.

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Paperbacks from Hell is a Fun, Hilarious Work of Popular Cultural Anthropology

Grady Hendrix is’s resident expert on horror.  He is responsible for the Great Stephen King Reread and a more recent series, Freaky Fridays.  It is the latter hilarious exploration of 1970s/1980s paperback horror novels that led to this book.  Paperbacks from Hell isn’t just a fix-up of blog posts, though.  There is a wealth of additional information, including dozens of book covers.  (Hendrix has also written two horror novels of his own, Horrorstör and My Best Friend’s Exorcism.)

Paperbacks from Hell is a laugh out loud funny, joyful romp through the 1970s and 1980s boom in paperback horror.  As such, it isn’t just entertaining, it is informative as a work of popular cultural anthropology.  I may not be a horror buff, but I’m drawn to this book for some of the same reasons I’m drawn to Jeffro Johnson’s Appendix N book—I like books and I like history.

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Summer of Conan: Roland Green’s Conan and the Death Lord of Thanza

Roland Green wrote seven Conan pastiches.  He also wrote most of the infamous Richard Blade books.  I have four of his Conan books—Conan at the Demon’s Gate, Conan and the Death Lord of Thanza, Conan and the Mists of Doom, and Conan the Guardian.  He gets points for better than average titles, at least.  I’m not moving on from Conan and the Death Lord of Thanza anytime soon.  After one book, I’m ready to relegate Roland Green to the lower tier of Tor pastiche writers along with Steve Perry and Leonard Carpenter.  Their books, at least in my experience, are a long step down from the Robert Jordan and John Maddox Roberts books.

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The Rage of Dragons is a Very Good Book With a Mediocre Book Stuffed Inside It

Really?  Another pitch comparing a book to Game of Thrones?  What’s that—there’s more?


Oh.  Now you have my attention.  I’ll give Winter this—he can write some killer copy.

The Omehi are surrounded by enemies that want them dead. They will not be easy prey.

One in twenty-five hundred Omehi women are Gifted, wielding fragments of their Goddess’ power and capable of controlling the world’s most destructive weapon – Dragons. One in a hundred of their men has blood strong enough for the Gifted to infuse with magic, turning these warriors into near unstoppable colossi.

The rest are bred to fight, ferocious soldiers fated to die in the endless war. Tau Tafari, an Omehi commoner, wants more than this, but his life is destroyed when he’s betrayed by those he was born to serve.

Now, with too few Gifted left and the Omehi facing genocide, Tau cares only for revenge. Following an unthinkable path, he will become the greatest swordsman to ever live, dying a hundred thousand times for the chance to kill three of his own people.

That is some quality copy.

And that cover!  Does The Rage of Dragons live up to it?  As an epic fantasy, it does.  Unfortunately, The Rage of Dragons is really two stories spliced together.  Winters injects a plodding and frustrating revenge/YA dystopian/military fantasy into the much more interesting epic fantasy.

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Summer of Conan: The John Maddox Roberts Pastiches

John Maddox Roberts wrote eight Conan books.  I have three—Conan the Champion, Conan the Bold, and Conan and the Amazon.  He is best known for his SPQR series, historical fiction mysteries set in Rome at the dawn of the empire.  Roberts may be the best of the Tor pastiche authors.  Robert Jordan may be a better storyteller and wrote his best prose in his Conan books, but Roberts “got” Conan in a way that Jordan did not.

The first Roberts book I read, Conan the Champion, is set farther north than any of REH’s stories.  Roberts’ Conan is cocky and aggressive, “wild and self-governed.”  He will talk some shit, even to the twice-dead corpse of an ice zombie.

“Well, Agiluf,” Conan said when he once again had breath, “you could not slay me when you were alive.  Did you think you would have a better chance dead?”

But Roberts’ Conan is no young hothead.  Not anymore.

There had been a time when Conan would have instantly split the man’s skull for these words, but age and experience had taught him to be prudent, especially in a strange land.  He said simply: “I have no desire to dispute with you here in the home of my friend.  But if you really want to sell me to the slavers, let us go over to yonder field, and I’ll carve your guts out and strangle your friends with them.”

Conan the Champion and Conan the Bold are both set when Conan is young (the Tor books, in general, seem to focus on Conan’s younger days).  Conan and the Amazon was published too late to be included in Robert Jordan’s Conan chronology, but this is obviously an older, wiser Conan than the first two books (maybe late twenties?).  Roberts’ Conan still isn’t quite Howard’s—Roberts leans more on Scottish history; Howard on Texas history and the influence of the Great Depression—but it is pretty damn close.

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Some Dark Holler Beats Manly Wade Wellman at His Own Game

Bauserman pitched an advanced copy of Some Dark Holler to me because I reviewed a collection of Manly Wade Wellman’s Silver John stories.  I get a lot of these, usually with the author comparing their work to some colossus in the field.  But I couldn’t resist, being a huge fan of both country noir and speculative fiction.  I didn’t remotely expect Bauserman’s work to live up to that of Wellman, a master unequaled today in my eyes.  Does Bauserman’s work live up to Wellman’s?  I can hardly believe I’m writing this, but it very well may exceed it.

Some Dark Holler opens at the close of the Civil War.  Death arrives at a meeting with Scratch (the Devil) and two of Scratch’s lackeys.  A deal with the Devil will protect you from death for seven years.  In return all you have to do is deliver another soul.  William is his number one recruiter.  The first chapter (you can listen to the audiobook version on YouTube) ends with Scratch sending William after a boy named Ephraim.

(There is actually a really cool explanation for Death’s involvement and how he works.  Every human has a mortal imprint (“a kind of long shadow that trailed from his being and connected him to death”).  That allows Death to collect without personally attending to it.  If you sign a deal with the Devil, Death removes his imprint.)

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Summer of Conan: Steve Perry’s Conan the Fearless

Steve Perry wrote five Conan pastiches.  He did much of his work in other writers’ worlds, writing Star Wars, Aliens, Predator, and Indiana Jones books in addition to Conan books.  He also wrote several Tom Clancy’s Net Force books.

I have two: Conan the Fearless and Conan the Free Lance.  I’ve only read Conan the Fearless and don’t plan on reading any more of the Steve Perry pastiches anytime soon.  Conan the Fearless is the worst Conan story I’ve read.

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