Friday, July 28, 2017

The Horseclans Series

My first exposure to fantasy and science-fiction, other than fairy tales found in kids books, was Star Wars, as I've talked about before, both the movies and the comics, while I was growing up in Modesto, California. A few years later, I discovered the The Hobbit novel, and Greek Mythology., while living in Sparks (a suburb of Reno), Nevada.

It wasn't until my dad's job transferred him to Sandy (a suburb of Salt Lake City), Utah, that I really discovered the rich and deep history of classic science-fiction and fantasy, particularly the pulp stories of authors like Robert E. Howard. My friend at school, John, introduced me to these, and while books like these were a bit hard to come by in early 1980's Salt Lake City, we could find them from time-to-time at a library or used book store. It was at one of these used book stores that I first discovered the Horseclans series, in the form of the second book of the series, Swords of the Horseclans.

This was purely a case of me judging a book by its cover. This was the Pinnacle edition of the book, published in 1977, and featuring cover art by fantasy and 1960's rock music poster artist Carl Lundgren. At this time, my friend John had exposed me to Gamma World, and I was immediately enthralled with the idea of a post-apocalyptic world full of mutants with strange powers and buried "treasures of the ancients." While Lundren's art on the cover of Swords of the Horseclans caught my eye, it was the copy on the cover that sold me on buying the book:
"A savage, earthy tale of the wars to consolidate a federation of nomads in 27th Century post-holocaust America!"

That's all it took for me to grab this novel and dive in, not realizing that it was the second in a series. I was all about everything post-apocalyptic at this point in my life, particularly "Thundarr the Barbarian," which was still airing on Saturday mornings, and Hiero's Journey, which I had stumbled across on a paperback spin-rack at a drug store in downtown Salt Lake City library. Finding yet another post-apocalyptic book was a boon to me. The fact that it was a very different style than Hiero's Journey, and more like Conan, was another bonus, as I was also obsessed with Conan at the time (another thing my friend John had introduced me to).

The Horseclans series belongs very much to the "pulp" genre of stories, which is interesting given that they were originally published starting in 1975, many decades after the "classic" pulp stories such as Conan, et al. However, there are also quite a few science fiction elements to the Horseclans stories, (such as the prairiecats, allies to the Horseclans, which are actually descendants of successful 20th century genetic programs to recreate prehistoric sabre-toothed cats), and some really fun, fantastical elements (such as a form of telepathy that has developed between members of the Horseclans, their mounts, and their prairiecat allies).

While there are a lot of characters in the series, including the main character, Milo Morai, what I really liked about the series was the world-building. The author, Robert Adams, was an amateur historian and a career soldier, so his battle scenes are very vividly (some would say graphically) described, but there are also lots of political entities, religions, and cultures that are all very well described and just calling out to be included in a post-apocalyptic role-playing game world.

Adams' writing is pretty straight-forward, he does get a bit preachy at times, despite his claim in the first book (The Coming of the Horseclans) that the stories were not intended as any kind of political commentary, and his characters tend to be relatively under-developed. But, it's really the ideas of the societies that have developed in the 700 or so years since World War III (which took place in the 1980s, in the series) that caught my interest as a young Gamma World aficionado. Adams' world includes groups such as Gahniks (former hippie communities, or "organics", whom Adams clearly has no respect for), The Ahrmehnee (formerly Armenian-Americans who devolved into a state of corruption), the Ehlenee (former militaristic Greek invaders onto the East Coast of America following World War III, who eventually became corrupt), The Burkers or Middle Kingdoms (descendants of the survivors of World War III in the middle of America, who became farmers, and are viewed with contempt by the nomads of the Horseclans)... if you notice a theme here, you're catching on to a central point of the series, which is the theme of civilization versus barbarism. However, Adams turns the concept around by creating "noble savages" who are the primary protagonists of the series, and "decadent civilization." In this way, the stories are very much in the vein of Howards' Conan stories.

A note for parents of younger readers - as the series continues, Adams' depiction of sexual scenes grows more and more graphic, to the point where he pretty describes in detail the actual sex acts that are being performed. There is also a certain scene in the first book of the series that's quite uncomfortable to read, as it involves under-age girls essentially being offered as tribute to become wives of enemy combatants. There are all common tropes of the pulp genre, but it's something to be aware of when thinking about books to recommend to younger readers.

What are all your thoughts about this series? I actually never finished all of them (Adams wrote 18 books in the series before he passed away in 1990), and I've never played (or even seen) the GURPS campaign setting for the Horseclans. However, I have incorporated many elements from the series into my Gamma World games over the years, and even into a Savage Worlds post-apocalyptic game I ran for my friends a few years ago, and I suspect that many of you have done the same. Do you have a favorite book in the series? How did you first hear about it? Drop your comments below!


THE HORSECLANS SERIES
Format: 18 different books, in paperback, all of them around 230 pages+ or so.
Where to Buy: Hopefully you can find these at your local bookstore, but if not, there's always Amazon. The covers on these are horrible (in my opinion), but you can also go to Abebooks to find the older, out-of-print versions with more classic pulp-style fantasy art.
Price: The paperback versions on Amazon are all $12.95; Kindle versions cost $4.99. Prices for the older out-of-print versions vary, of course, based on scarcity and condition.


Hanging: Home office (laptop)
Drinking: tap water
Listening: "Bashful Creatures" by Hippo Campus

1 comment:

  1. Honestly, I recognize the reference, but I've never even read the back cover copy on one of these books. Of course, that may be because - aside from Tolkien;s books and a couple of Saberhagen's Book of Swords series - I wasn't much of a fantasy reader. I just couldn't get into a fantasy novel the way I could get into a science fiction or horror book. (Thus the Saberhagen exception - I was initially introduced to him as an SF author.) I never even read a Howard book until I was in my 30s...!

    ReplyDelete

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...