Sunday, January 21, 2007

Edited by Scott A. Cupp and Joe R. Lansdale

The year 2006 was the centenary of Robert E. Howard, the creator of Conan, Bran Mak Morn, El Borak, and many other memorable swashbuckling heroes. A bunch of writers celebrated in appropriate fashion by writing stories in homage to REH’s life, times, and lasting influence. Produced in joint by MonkeyBrain Books and Fandom Association of Central Texas (FACT) the book is also a celebration of Texas writers.

The tales range from the neo-weird to retro-pulp. Veteran western author James Reasoner provides us with a six-gun shoot-‘em-up featuring El Borak the fastest El Paso gunslinger ever to dwell in the Hindu Kush. Gene Wolfe rips out a Sword & Sorcery tale with a sting in “Six from Atlantis” proving that REH’s spirit lives even when Conan isn’t invoked. Michael Moorcock, who is pretty much one of only two guys as influential as REH enters a tale of Rakhir the Red Archer (an old pal of Elric) in “The Roaming Forest”.

Neal Barrett Jr. (“The Heart”) and Howard Waldrop (“Thin on the Ground”) look at the Texas milieu that inspired Howard and hundreds (thousands perhaps?) of other writers. They find con men and urban legends mix easily with magic in the heat that blankets the land above and below the border. L.J. Washburn (“Boomtown Bandits”) goes directly into Oil Boom-era Cross Plain for a detective tale with young REH as a supporting character. Mark Finn tackles the politics of posthumous collaboration in “A Whim of Circumstance”, a what if about a Conan movie that sounds kind of interesting, no matter what Finn says.

Perhaps two of my favorites are “Prince Koindrinda Escapes” by Jaime Lynn Blaschke and “The bunker of the Tikriti” by Chris Nakashima-Brown. “Koindrindra” is arguable much more of an homage to King Kong than to REH, but who cares? It is rattling good fun of the liveliest sort, action, politics, Rabbellaisian humor, zeppelins, and giant Apes mix in the ultimate retro-pulp nostalgia piece. “Tikriti” is a much more direct homage to REH by Nakashima-Brown. For what it’s worth, I think Nakashima-Brown is one of the best writers around that you probably haven’t heard of. For a writer whose style is far more involved with cyber-punk and post-modern irony, than the swashbuckling verities of REH, Nakshima-Brown GETS Howard unlike anyone else I’ve read. If for no other reason, get Cross Plains Universe to read “Bunker of the Tikriti”.

That is a very small and biased look at a few tales represented here. Cross Plains Universe boasts of twenty-one stories by twenty-three writers. For fans of stories that evoke the wonder of old-time pulp with a modern sensibility, there is a feast here.
-Dave Hardy

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