There’s a certain revival of interest in the Sword & Planet genre. For those of you unfamiliar with the term it is the older bother of Sword & Sorcery. Instead of a magical world, the sword-swinging hero is on a planet, generally on littered with the remains of lost super-science-using civilizations. The prototype is Edgar Rice Burrough’s A Princess of Mars, recently adapted for the screen by Disney (a much better film than the moaning about money might have led one to believe). ERB laid out a program for the genre: a daring American hero (John Carter) who relates his adventures including the wooing and loss of a princess (Deja Thoris) to a pseudonymous author (Norman Bean).
Part of the revival is Michael Moorcock’s three-volume series featuring Michael Kane on Old Mars. Paizo has recently re-printed those, though the earlier paperbacks can still be found. Kane is a scientist who builds a device to transport himself to an alternate universe where Mars is verdant world of adventure filled with danger, secrets, lost cites, and beautiful women. The stories are unabashed love-letters to ERB & John Carter. Moorcock even follows the route by interposing a fictional author, Edward Powys Bradbury, as the transmitter of Kane’s derring-do. Although the stories were written in the mid-‘60s, Kane has another parallel to John Carter, they are veterans of Lost Causes. Carter is a Virginian who fought under Robert E. Lee while Kane served in Vietnam, a cause that wasn’t even officially lost. The Kane series is about naïve, romantic adventure, not the world-weary doom-journey of Elric or the philosophical abstractionism of later Moorcock Fantasy novels.
Another classic Sword & Planet hero from Moorock’s pen is Sojan the Swordsman. Sojan occupied a place somewhat in between S&P and S&S, though the distinction is often slight. Sojan is an early creation, and the work seems less a naïve, retro-fantasy than, well the work of a young writer back before that stuff was retro. Sojan has been re-printed many times. I met him in Elric at the End of Time. The title story is a wicked mash-up of ultra-decadent and ultra-violent Elric with the ultra-decadent and ultra-bored Dancers at the End of Time. I’d advise reading An Alien Heat as well as some Elric stories before reading “Elric at the End of Time” if only to get a feel for the characters in their original state. It makes the party that much better. End of Time also has some essays by Moorcock on the artistic and business stories behind some of his better known characters. The anthology winds up with “The Stone Thing” one of the better Sword & Sorcery parodies I’ve ever read.