Genre: Science Fiction — Sword and Planet
Series: Stand Alone Novel
Publisher: First Published 1939
Length: 155 pages
My Rating: 3 out of 5 stars.
Whenever I write a review on a Robert E. Howard story, I always like to begin by tipping my proverbial hat to this master of pulp fiction. In just 10 years, Howard penned approximately 300 short stories, two novels and countless poems featuring numerous characters in a wide variety of genres, including heroic fantasy, western, horror, historical and humor. While Conan the Barbarian might be his most famous creation, he was a prolific creators who dreamed up characters and worlds seemingly at will, as his stable of protagonists span the gamut from Sailor Steve Costigan (1930s tough guy sailor), to Dark Agnes de Chestillon (red-haired 16th century French swordswoman), and onward to notable heroes like Solomon Kane, El Borak, De Montour, Kull the Conqueror, Bran Mak Morn, last king of the Picts, and Esau Cairn, the hero of this sword and planet novel reminiscent of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Barsoom novels.
Since this is a classic “portal” scifi story, Almuric begins on earth, where Esau Cairn is a man born out of his time. What makes it worse is that he realizes it, feeling that life holds no challenges for him, and so he spends his days drifting from place to place, adventure to adventure, seeking a challenge worthy of his near superhuman abilities. Or so the narrator tells a reader, introducing this rugged man and his life up to this point, enlightening his listeners on Esau’s fruitless search to find contentment in the modern world when his blood cried out for a less civilized time.
Naturally, this introduction leads to our hero finally stumbling upon someone who can help him. This someone being a scientist, who uses an invention of the modern, civilized world to exile Esau to another planet far from earth.
Once awakening to his new home, Esau Cairn finds himself among strange creatures, who force him to return to man’s natural state of honorable barbarism. His initial tales of harsh survival setting up his later journey across this alien world to find other intelligent beings.
Eventually, Esau encounters a race of huge apelike men (Naturally, they speak English!), who hide behind massive stone fortifications and zealously guard their females, (Who, naturally, bear a striking resemblance to gorgeous human women!) and must use his physical prowess and sword skill to survive and carve out for himself a place upon this alien world.
From this beginning a rousing tale of sword fights, menacing villains, and unlikely heroism and friendship develops. There isn’t too much here that surprises, but it is entertaining, as only pure sugar-coated pulp fiction scifi can be. Sure, it does read a little like a poor man’s version of Burroughs’ Barsoom, but Robert E. Howard pulls his sword and planet tale off admirable, making Esau Cairn’s story compelling, if not enlightening. So give it a try if you like Howard or Barsoom; it will be well worth your time.