Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Premature Book Review: Red Sonya, Shadow of the Vulture

This is the Howard story that gave birth to Red Sonja. She is not the Sonja we all know (we all do know Red Sonja, right?) but rather a female heroine set in the Ottoman Empire after the Siege of Vienna (1529). She is the inspiration for the Marvel character.

I have to admit, in my youth I was never a big Howard fan, but I also failed to enjoy Burroughs as much as I do today. I think all the Raymond Chandler and H.P. Lovecraft (Howard contemporaries), as well as Michael Moorcock led me to love Burroughs, and seems to have had a similar effect on my opinion of Howard.

I am only a short way into the story but "Sonya" has yet to appear. Like the Conan comic of the same name, it is really about Gottfried von Kalmbach, a very Conan-like warrior and enemy of Suleman the Magnificent, who I gather will exact revenge for the Viennese.

This might be a good time to discuss the pulp writer of the '20s and '30s. I am no expert, and not fact checking, but go with me on this.

One reason the greatest writers of that time period are so beloved is due to the styles of publishing prevalent at the time. Burroughs, Howard, Chandler, and Lovecraft all wrote for magazines, eventually there were novels, but often pulp paperbacks were compilation or combination of magazine stories (this is true of Moorcock as well). This allowed for short, purposeful writing. Stories needed to begin and end logically, particularly if they were serial. The other benefit of the pulp era was book length. As today, most sci-fi and fantasy books were of similar length, the difference is that the length now is greater. The need to fill more pages leaves more room for the story to meander—and they are have only gotten longer.

The bigger reason is that they were excellent writers. Popular music is much like pulp literature; the cheaper production becomes, the more publishing and buying is done. Think of all the crap bands who had albums in the '80s. There were tons, and that's not just counting one-hit-wonders. Now, think of the really great bands from the '80s. Not many, but there were some really spectacular ones. Bands like U2 and REM are the Chandler and Burroughs of this metaphor. We remember them because they were great, but we know of them because the publishing climate was right.

Okey, enough for now. I have a short attention span, and this post is bordering on too long for me to read. Feel free to discuss in the comments.

BTW: I spell "okey" that way because that's how Raymond Chandler spelled it :-)


Reis O'Brien said...

Is that really the book's cover? Because it sucks beyond all suckingness.

Keith said...

I'm a big fan of Howard, Burroughs, you name it.

Darius Whiteplume said...

@Keith - I really love the Martian stories, but have yet to get into Tarzan.

@Reis - Some of the Kindle books have really crappy covers. That one looks like a Photoshopped Julie Strain pic. :-)

Reis O'Brien said...

...holding a tin-foil-covered cardboard sword... ;)

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