Pulp Adventure

Posted on 15 July 2011

First off, Page Two of the comic.

So, I spent a bit trying to decide what to do with today’s blog. First I was all super hopeful about how fast I could read a book and thought I could review A Dance with Dragons. Yeah, not so much. Then I was thinking maybe I could catch a midnight showing of Harry Potter and review that. Then I remembered that meant I’d be getting back at 3am or so, exhausted, and needing to write a coherent review. Yeah, not so much. That can be next Friday’s blog, and A Dance with Dragons the Friday after that. Today, let’s talk about something short and sweet: Conan.

See, as those who follow my twitter or facebook know, I found an old copy of Conan the Unconquered by Robert Jordan at my local used bookstore. I snatched that up double-quick, and honestly, that might be one of the best dollars I’ve ever spent.

Now, I’m not the biggest of Conan fanboys, although I do know enough to know that for as fun as those two movies are, they fell a bit short of the full Conan feel, and the new movie is a little disappointing casting wise. I know my way around Hyborea well enough to know some of the countries, etc, but I’ve read very little of the original R.E.Howard work, and until recently had not read any of the post-Howard novels.

I say all this, but, really, the truth is that Conan the Unconquered was 280ish pages of awesome that you did not need to know a lick of Conan to be able to enjoy. It is pretty well a non-stop, seat-of-your-pants adventure that is on the surface the worst type of male-oriented fantasy, including all the lusty wenches, but it does it in a way as to not feel like a trashy novel. The fact that none of the sex is on screen might help with that, but it is also a lot of thanks to the writing style, which is both amazingly descriptive without being over the top that some might accuse Jordan of in his later novels.

But what really amazes me with all of this is how easy it was to read. I guess I never have really read a pulp adventure, and even then, I never expected myself to enjoy one so much, despite having writing something somewhat like a pulp adventure for one of my manuscripts (which as it turns out is the novel I have on submission to an editor right now). I also have to wonder if this is part of a general movement in fantasy away from pulp.

If it is, I think it is a mistake. Fantasy novels do seem to have a tendency to always want to be parts of series, even when they are supposed stand-alone novels. Part of this is the publishers, who are always wanting to option sequels in case the book takes off so they can cash in on the “more of the same”, but part of it is the writers too. Writers want to continue to be Tolkien, or Jordan, or Martin, and tell these massive, multivolume stories that pretend to be more than one book. But, as a friend of mine pointed out once, it really shouldn’t count as a separate book if you have the read the prequel to understand at all what is going on or the sequel to know how it ends.

Conan was exactly the opposite of that series concept. Yes, there tons of Conan novels, but it doesn’t matter what order you read them in. They are all meant to be the starting place, or middle, or end of your Conan experience, and each one is a complete, self-contained story. Conan kills the evil wizard, saves the day, and gets the girl at the end of each book. Even if there was some larger under-plot about the bad guy, it doesn’t need to be left wide open for the next book, nor does the action of the prior book need to even be necessary to the next book. “He had dealt with them before” is all the back-story Conan ever needed.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my Tolkien-esk epics too, but I just wish there was more pulp out there. What do you all think? Does Fantasy need to learn to get past always wanting to write in trilogy-or-more formats and bring back the single-novel pulp? I know I’d like to see it. What about you?

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