Thursday, 23 October 2014

'Black Tears' - L.Sprague De Camp & Lin Carter

Me: "Hey blog, how's it going?"
Blog: "…"
Me: "Come on, don't be like that. You know how the last couple of weeks have been; the only books I managed to read were for the kids bedtime and I couldn't exactly post about 'Snugglebunny' could I?"

Blog: *Accusing Face*
Me: "No, just no. As brilliant as 'Snugglebunny' is, it has no business being on a genre blog."
Blog: *sniff*
Me: "I know you're upset but I managed to do a little reading on the bus this morning and it was 'Conan'. We both like 'Conan' don't we?"

Blog: *Hopeful Eyes*
Me: "Lets post something about that and see where we go next. I've got some David Gemmell to read and the new Sam Sykes is looking pretty promising as well. It's going to be good, I promise."

Blog: *Slighty Teary Smile*
Me: "Come on, lets do it."

Now the slightly awkward reconciliation is out of the way (I'm sorry you had to see that…) lets get on with business. A little while ago, I picked up a load of old 'Conan' paperbacks so I could get other writers takes on the iconic barbarian. Most of what I've had a chance to read so far is by De Camp and Carter, both of whom played a large part in keeping Robert E. Howard's Work in print, be it completed stories or fragments.

From my own limited knowledge (correct me if I'm wrong guys), 'Black Tears' is an original piece by De Camp and Carter that fills in one of the many gaps that appear between Howard's own tales. There's clearly a lot of fertile ground here to really bring Conan to life but it's up in the air as to whether De Camp and Carter actually manage it. 'Black Tears' is a solid enough read but…

'Black Tears' has Conan pursuing a traitor into the desert after foiling an ambush by a Turanian army. What lies at the heart of the desert is so fearsome that Conan's Zuagir tribesmen would rather drug him and flee than face it themselves. Not only a traitor awaits in the city of Akhlat the Accursed, there is also a demon that prophecy says only Conan can kill…

Like I said to the blog just now, 'Black Tears' was a tale that I read over the course of one bus journey with more than enough happening to keep my interest. I'm not sure of the thought process that led Conan to kill the demon at the end (it's not a spoiler, everyone knows how Conan stories have to end…) but there's a lot of power behind these scenes to pull you past those moments of doubt just before you realise that they are there. Sword fights, beautiful women and a monster to be killed; it's a typical Conan story and this realisation casts its own shadow over the tale.

Conan is Howard's own creation and once you read Howard's stories, you realise that all any other writers can do is borrow Conan for a while before putting him back where he belongs. If you follow the formula then you are 'aping' Howard but if you don't follow the formula you have the shadow of a master storyteller hanging over you; a shadow that it's pretty much impossible to emerge from (especially if you have borrowed arguably his greatest creation). Karl Edward Wagner came closest to achieving that impossible goal, with 'The Road of Kings', but he didn't quite make it; De Camp and Carter appear to opt for playing it safe and are quiet happy to sit under that shadow in the meantime. That's fair enough but Conan is a character who's never afraid to take a chance, it would be nice to see a writer/writers who would do the same.

Maybe it's unfair to ask that though. Maybe we should just be happy that there are writers out there who were prepared to try and give us a little more of something amazing, even if they were never quite going to manage it. I don't know what that means for future posts here about Conan stories, I have a few still to read, I think I'll probably just enjoy them for what they are and post 'as and when'.

If you want to read 'Black Tears' you can find it in old copies of 'Conan the Wanderer' or Orbit's (not quite as old but still getting on a bit) 'The Conan Chronicles 2'.

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