I see Gondwane as it shall be in the untold ages of dim futurity, near the time when the Earth shall be man’s habitation no more, and the great night shall enfold all, and naught but the cold stars shall reign. The first sign of the end ye shall see in the heavens, for Lo! the moon is falling, falling. And there shall come a man into the lands, a man not like other men, but sent from Galendil.
The name of the man is Ganelon Silvermane—and this is the first of a new marvel-adventure series by Lin Carter.
I’m a day late with my review. I know. For what it’s worth, I’ve spent most of the past week fighting off the Hyperborean Death Virus. I’m feeling a lot better now. Thank you for asking.
This week I decided to take another look at our old pal Lin Carter, author of about a million things, but most notably the quite-enjoyable Star Rogue. Citadel!
Chief among my reasons for picking this book is its shortness. I figured maybe I’d be able to knock it out in an afternoon and then get back to recuperating. This proved to not be the case, but that’s not the book’s fault. This 151-pager felt like it took me an hour per page, but in actuality it had that same Lin Carter breeziness that Star Rogue had, meaning that it was a light and quick read even despite my condition.
But another reason for picking it was that I was curious about Carter’s treatment of fantasy. I’m hesitant to call this book fantasy, to be honest. I think it was meant to appeal to science fiction readers by being Sword and Planet or the like, but c’mon, it was fantasy. Yes, it took place deep into the future. But also yes, it had magic. Not sufficiently-advanced-science magic, either.
Also, it had a map at the beginning. ‘Nuff said.
The map had some locations on it that struck my curiosity nerve. Places with names like “Air Mines,” “Sky Island,” “Land of Red Magic,” and my favorite, “Mountains of the Death Dwarves.”
Yes, every single one of those places is visited. Every place listed on the map is worth a visit, which brings us to the main problem I had with this book. It went everywhere and yet went nowhere. It was a travelogue to a fantasy world that happened to end with a battle scene. Also, that fantasy world is Earth.
I mentioned that, didn’t I? This book takes place on a far-future Earth. How far? A footnote at the beginning points out that the current era of the book ends at approximately 700,000,000 AD. So yeah, pretty far. The continents have drifted into each other again and formed the supercontinent Gondwane. The “laws of nature” have started to fall apart, which is why magic is now totally a real thing.
The moon is falling toward the Earth, which is bad, but the book doesn’t deal with it. It’s just a sort of background feature. Maybe a future novel in the series will deal with that issue, but this one did not. Of note, there are six novels in this series, the conclusion of which was released first. Giant of World’s End came out in 1969, five years before this one did. So maybe I’m wrong and a future novel won’t deal with that. Maybe the past one did. My head hurts.
It would be hard to describe this plot in full because it’s all over the place. There are lots of details that don’t contribute to the story and all have the same narrative weight, so it was hard as I was reading to determine whether anything was worth remembering. With that in mind, I’d like to state that all this detail was kind of interesting to me. I followed it eagerly, and once I realized what was going on and that hardly any of this would matter in the long run, I let my critical faculties go and just sailed away into the magical future of Gondwane.
Our hero is Ganelon Silvermane, a feller who is very big and very strong and those are his two attributes, meaning that he’s a stock pulp hero. I’m cool with that. Unlike a lot of other stock pulp heroes, Ganelon is likable. He’s not smart, but he has an eagerness to learn, and he’s not ruled by outright rage all the time. He fights when it’s necessary. He likes it when it’s necessary, but that doesn’t mean he’s charging around looking for carnage.
Ganelon is discovered wandering around naked near the Crystal Mountains by a humble couple on their way to someplace. He’s fully grown at this point, but he has the mind of a child. They take him in and raise him as their own, naming him Clark.
Just kidding. They don’t really name him anything until they take him to some kind of soothsayer who tells them that his name is Ganelon.
Another feller, the Illusionist, takes an interest in Ganelon and starts visiting with him from time to time. We never learn the Illusionist’s real name. In fact, no one ever sees his face. He keeps it concealed behind MAGIC. He’s a wizard, the real deal. He’s probably the most powerful wizard on the planet? We don’t really see him face off against any other magic users in this book, so it’s hard to tell. Still, he’s your stock wizard. He has a mysterious past that he won’t talk about, he communes with demons and stuff like that, and he’s got a really cool house.
Things go on as normal for a while until Ganelon’s adopted homeland comes under attack by a race of people called Indigons. They’re blue people, about three feet tall and similarly as wide. Normally they’re docile, but every few years they get worked up into a fury. Also, there are a lot of them, and they’re swarming like locusts across the face of Gondwane. Everything looks hopeless until Ganelon steps out and starts kicking mucho Smurf ass and wins the day and everybody loves him and they give him a sword and it’s just so great.
The Illusionist gets wind that some of the other magician-emperor types might want to get ahold of Ganelon for their own nefarious purposes. Such figures as The Queen of Red Magic are mentioned. He whisks Ganelon away to his magical house in the mountains, and it’s here that we get my favorite part of the book.
It’s my favorite part of this book because it’s my favorite part of any book.
It’s The Scene Where We Look at a Wizard’s House.
You know the one. Harry, The Wart, Ganelon, whoever, gets taken to a wizard’s house and the narrative gets to tell us for a while about what he sees. And it’s great. Crazy animals, mysterious and powerful artifacts, weird potion-making supplies, whatever. I love it all. Any book that has a scene where we explore a wizard’s house is a better book. In fact, you can even improve bad books by adding a scene at a wizard’s house. Imagine Dagny Taggart and Henry Rearden all wide-eyed looking through a wizard’s house and tell me that that book wouldn’t have at least been rendered tolerable.
Folks, the wizard’s house scene in The Warrior of World’s End goes on for about five pages. Swoon!
It’s like five pages of “This is the Crzthr of Branelon, which when held aloft will glow a soft yellow that is anathema to wormdogs” and so forth. I love it. I don’t know why I love it so much. I’ve loved it ever since I first read The Once and Future King, and it will forever be my favorite thing to read.
I’m serious, if somebody writes a 180-page book that is just a person walking around a wizard’s house talking about what they see, I will buy that book. Diane Duane, I feel like this is up your alley. Get back to me on this one.
After that the book just becomes Ganelon, the Illusionist, and a sentient magic metal antigravity birdoplane called a Bazonga exploring the supercontinent, and while it’s fine, it’s hard to report on because it’s just a crop of details without much in the way of importance. There are lots of neat things and Carter has a magnificent imagination, but they didn’t tie together beyond all taking place in the same book.
Most notable is a woman they meet named Xarda, who comes from a society where women are the warriors. She’s a knight. I thought this was cool, and she does stand on her own. She’s also beautiful, because of course she is. I expected for her and Ganelon to get down get down before the book ended, but that was not the case. It’s more that Ganelon has a sort of childlike innocence about him than anything.
Still, I was disappointed that he and the Illusionist still managed to act patriarchal and condescending to her. Like, she kicks a ton of ass, and the Illusionist still sits back and thinks things like “Well ain’t that cute.” It was…not good.
The book comes to an end when our heroes face off against some people who live on a flying island and have a machine called the Death Machine that makes bubbles of vacuum appear. They use those bubbles of vacuum to kill people. Right now they’re killing tiger people, which is mainly bad because the Illusionist is friends with the tiger people. So the group sets to trying to help. They get captured, but then they get rescued again by a group of the Illusionist’s magical allies and servants (a teleporting lobster person, among others), which means that we get denied any kind of satisfying escape scene because it’s almost entirely deus ex machina, and then there’s a battle and the good guys win and that’s the end of the book but there are more adventures to come, I guess, as well as an adventure that already happened but is the end of the series so maybe hold off on that one? I dunno. Is this like a Narnia thing?
In the end this was a readable book that didn’t have anything in the way of substance. It had a fun narrative style and there was a lot of great worldbuilding and imagination. The characters were generally fine. The only thing it was missing was a real plot. Maybe that picks up as the series goes on? I’d like to know. If any of you have read any of the other ones, let me know.
It did occasionally veer toward things that felt uncomfortably like what Norman Spinrad was railing against in The Iron Dream. While The Warrior of World’s End never felt directly pro-fascist, it did have lots of nonhuman entities inhabiting the world who were of varying degrees of good and evil without any hint of why that might be. Also pretty things are good, ugly things are evil, except possibly for seductive red sorceress queens with giant melons, but then we get into the question of “pretty” versus “seductive” and there’s probably a whole philosophy text about the differences there and how the first is pure and lovely and the other has to drag sex into it which is bad for some reason and blah blah blah
I guess sometimes it felt like Carter and Spinrad were both coming from a vantage of satire, or near it, but while Carter was a huge part of the fandom back in the day, Spinrad’s satire was not coming from a place of love and respect. And you know what? Both of those reactions are fine. I totally dig it.
Did I mention that there’s a giant metal bird called a Bazonga? I’m pretty sure I did. I just wanted to end on that note because, man, that’s great.