Wednesday, May 12, 2010

City of the Beast (Planet Stories # 2)

On Grognardia, I've been reading a lot recently about Paizo's Planet Stories series, which is a line of classic fantasy and science-fiction novels (most from the 1950s to 1970s). The books come out bi-monthly and subscriptions are available, though so far I've just picked up several of the novels in used book stores.

The first one I read was Michael Moorcock's City of the Beast. Moorcock is a famous fantasy writer (especially with his Elric stories), but this is the first time I've ever actually read one of his books. City of the Beast (originally titled Warriors of Mars) has a refreshing simplicity to it, insofar as it is very much straight-up heroic adventure. Except for a framing sequence, it's told from the first-person point of view of a character named Michael Kane. A modern-day physicist (who just happens to be an expert swordsman and military tactician), Kane is transported by accident to the Mars of thousands of years ago--a world which is a lush, fantastic place full of strange creatures, civilizations, and quasi-scientific technology. Kane immediately falls in love with a native princess named Shizala and goes on an epic quest to rescue her when she's kidnapped by a race of blue-skinned giants named the Argzoon. In other words, this is the story of a guy fighting monsters to rescue a princess: it is Super Mario Bros: The Novel. I say that facetiously, as it's fun to read a fantasy novel that is straight-forward and fast-moving (it weighs in at just over 150 pages) and that doesn't carry with it dozens of subplots and hundreds of characters. As much as I like the layered myth-making and deep characterization in stories like The Wheel of Time, a book like City of the Beast offers a nice change of pace.

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