Saturday, April 16, 2016

Conan and the Spider God - L. Sprague de Camp

Cautiously, Conan felt his way down the stone stair, peering ahead as far as the torch could throw its feeble beams. He found himself in a spacious passage, higher than his head and wider than his outstretched arms. No sound save the hiss of the flaring torch, so faint as to be barely audible even to his keen ears, dispelled the sepulchral silence. The smell of carrion rowelled his nostrils.

Bantam - December 1980

I blame it on a soul sucking corporate gig in a cubicle. I really do. Imagine Conan sitting in front of a keyboard and monitor displaying another multi-tabbed spreadsheet that has no beginning, no end. And some stick-up-the-ass corporate VP from the Circumlocutive Sycophancy Dept interrupts his thoughts to ask him why Conan can’t just “press a button” to balance the financials on time. No doubt the scimitar would swing as crimson fountain splatters the fluorescent lights in a gory homage to Jackson Pollock and said VP’s head would fly, mouth agape, landing near the artificial potted plant, perfectly coiffed hair intact. Yeah…that’s what I’m talking, so anyway. Where was I?

That’s right, with Conan in the underground tunnels beneath Yezud, City of the Spider God. Sometimes I get carried away with escapist pulp fiction and hairy-chest barbarians who swing swords first and ask questions later. I picked this paperback up for two bucks, expecting a couple hours of blood ‘n glory and, well, sort of getting it. L. Sprague de Camp’s 1980 novel Conan and the Spider God is a fine adventure, but not quite the same Conan as Robert Howard created. That’s not a bad thing. Here, Conan is a bit more thoughtful and measured in his actions. And here too, Conan actually falls in love. But we still get the cool blood-soaked swordplay, evil sorcery and monsters that make Conan’s adventures irresistible.

The plot? Well, Conan is a captain in the Royal Guard of the king of Turan, until he goes AWOL after getting blamed for kidnapping the king’s favorite wife, Jamilah. He makes his way through a series of encounters involving a handful of shady smugglers with an ability to cast hypnotic spells, to old comrades from past adventures, thievery and taverns and jealous wenches, to finally arrive at last into the mountain city of Yezud, home of the Spider God and his nefarious priests. Turns out these priests are the real culprits behind the kidnapping of Jamilah. Their intent is to use her as some sort of political ransom plot…it doesn’t matter. In Yezud, Conan is hired as a blacksmith after using a false name. His plan is to rescue Jamilah and steal the jeweled eyes of the from the spider-god statue in the Temple of Zath. However, before any of this can happen he falls in love with Rudabeh, one of the dancing girls and servants in the Temple of the Spider. Rudabeh turns out to be more fully realized character than one would assume for a Conan story. She manages to keep Conan’s lusts at bay, convincing him that she’s not giving up the good stuff just so he can run off and leave her for some other adventure afterward. It all leads to a pretty cool finale in the underground caves beneath the Temple of the Spider God with a monstrous…well, I’ll let you guess exactly what.

Yeah, if you want the real deal when it comes to Conan you have to go to the source, Robert E. Howard. There have been scads of Conan stories and appearances since the original run back in Weird Tales, some good, some not so good. I’ve not read enough of the other Conan novels to give you an informed opinion on who measures up to the original. I’m too busy riding a tin can to an office park, wishing I was freebootin’ and wench screwin’ instead. Oh well…