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[Where I Read] Alan Burt Akers' Kregen series (Anti-Gor Therapy!)

Evil Midnight Lurker

What Lurks at Midnight
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Following Afterburner's Gor thread and joining in the mocking of Norman is fun... but the books are killing my brain and all I'm reading are the freaking excerpts. So an antidote is called for.

There's already a Barsoom thread (or there was), and that's probably already familiar to your average forumgoer, so... I thought I'd try to bring something that may have slipped under the radar to your attention.

So: explanations!

Henry Kenneth Bulmer (1921-2005) was an alarmingly prolific author, mostly of science fiction and historical novels, under a large number of pen names. As "Alan Burt Akers," he penned his most famous creation -- the Dray Prescot novels (a.k.a. "Scorpio," "Antares," or "Kregen"), fifty-three volumes of planetary romance and rage against the gods. (Only the first 37 were published in English; after that, the series was only popular in Germany.) Published from 1972 to 1998, they concern a sailor of the Napoleonic Wars mysteriously abducted to a far-off world, his pursuit of the woman he loves, and the fate of the kingdom they come to rule, all while struggling with the dictates of two rival factions of god-like power and their not-completely-compatible plans for the world of Kregen.

Akers' prose is... perhaps more turgid than ERB's, but less so than Norman's, and his subject matter is generally far less offensive.

I have paper and ebook editions of the first 22 novels, so let's get cracking...
 
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Evil Midnight Lurker

What Lurks at Midnight
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Prologue: A Note on the Tapes from Africa

Bulmer-as-Akers will be our framing narrator, for a while. (Later books dispense with "Akers" so completely that they are actually published under the name "Dray Prescot.")

We begin, in a manner strangely and surely coincidentally reminiscent of Burroughs' acquisition of the Tarzan files, with Akers' friend Geoffrey Dean, a member of "one of these shadowy organizations related to the State Department" who has recently spent time in West Africa. Dean in turn tells of Dan Fraser, a foreign aid worker who encountered a mysterious heavily wounded white man staggering out of the forest, treated his injuries, and recorded his astonishing tale.

Geoffrey Dean said:
“Dan said he was saved by Prescot. They were miles from anywhere and he’d been alone. The strength, the calmness, the vitality of Dray Prescot was amazing. He was a little above middle height with shoulders that made Dan’s eyes pop. His hair was brown, and so were his eyes, and they were level and, according to Dan, oddly dominating. Dan sensed an abrasive honesty, a fearless courage, about him. The man was a dynamo, by Dan’s account.”
This gushing praise could be taken as a warning that we're going to get another misogynistic author. As we'll see, this is far from true...

It's been three years since Fraser heard from Prescot, which is the condition he placed on releasing the tapes to the public. Fraser passed them to Dean who's now passing them to Akers, who he trusts will treat them properly. (As $1.50 Daw paperbacks, rather than scientific discoveries, but oh well.)

A third-hand story, but Akers trusts Dean and Dean trusts Fraser... so Akers takes this incredible narrative as fact, and presents it to us in turn to judge as we may.
 

Evil Midnight Lurker

What Lurks at Midnight
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Book 1: Transit to Scorpio



Chapter One: The Scorpion Calls

Dray Prescot said:
Although I have had many names and been called many things by the men and beasts of two worlds, I was born plain Dray Prescot.

My parents died when I was young; but I knew them both and loved them deeply. There was no mystery about my birth and I would consider it shameful now to wish that my real father had been a prince, my real mother a princess.

I was born in a small house in the middle of a row of identically similar houses, an only child, and a loved one. Now I find myself often wondering what my parents would make of my strange life and how they would greet with delight or that delicious family mockery my walking with kings and my dealing as an equal with emperors and dictators, and all the palaces and temples and fantastic settings of distant Kregen, that have fashioned me into the man I am today.

My life has been long, incredibly long by any standards, and yet I know I merely stand at the threshold of the many possibilities the future holds. Always, for as long as I can remember, ill-defined dreams and grand and nebulous ambitions enclosed me in a fervent belief that life itself held the answers to everything, and that to understand life was to understand the universe.
Long life indeed -- Dray was born in 1775, making him nearly two hundred years old when he met Fraser.

Young Prescot is British, living in an unnamed coastal town; his father is a horse-doctor who despises the sea on the grounds that sailors are men of low moral character. Naturally, having been warned against going to sea almost from infancy, Dray is all for it.

Dray was born on the Fifth of November, an interestingly-omened day for a Briton and which, he learns from an old fortune-teller, marks him as a Scorpio with Mars (ha!) ascendant. (Tragically, I can't find any astrology sites willing to cough up a prediction from the late eighteenth century.) This fascinates him greatly, the more so when some rowdy sailors show off a rather large scorpion at the local tavern... which promptly escapes and fatally stings his father just before Dray can squash it. Well, damn. His mother dies of grief shortly thereafter, and our now-orphaned protagonist decides to join the Navy.

Horsemanship has been Dray's birthright, but on the horseless waves he finds he has an aptitude for navigation and seamanship that eases his attempts to work his way up to officering. Still the Scorpion calls to him:

Dray Prescot said:
Study of the stars was required of a navigator and continually I found my eyes drawn to that jagged constellation of Scorpio with its tail upflung arrogantly against the conjunction of the Milky Way and the ecliptic. In these days when men have walked upon the moon and probes are speeding out beyond Jupiter never to return to Earth, it is difficult to recall the wonder and inner apprehension with which men of an older generation regarded the stars. One star—Antares—seemed to glow down with a force and fire of hypnotic power upon me.
The modern Prescot has clearly been keeping in touch with events on Earth.

In 1805, the year of the battle of Trafalgar, Prescot's ship is caught up in a terrible storm and wrecked off the coast of Africa. Only three survive, all captured by a local tribe with no love for whites -- the bosun and purser are tortured to death before Dray manages to free himself.

Dray Prescot said:
Despite the horror of my position I bore these blacks no ill will. They merely acted according to their lights. No doubt they had seen many a miserable coffle of slaves trudging down to the factory to be branded and herded like cattle aboard the waiting scows; perhaps I made a grave mistake, and these very men were members of the local tribes who bought slaves from the blacks and Arabs of the interior to sell at a profit to the traders on the Coast. Either way, it did not concern me. My one concern was to break that last reluctant strand binding my wrists. If I did not break free very soon I would never do so, and would die a mutilated hulk on the stake.
Akers does a fair job, I think, of presenting the situation -- the West Africans are never depicted as subhumans or monsters even under these circumstances, just men and women with an axe to grind and no language in common with Prescot.

Breaking free and getting the heck out of town, Dray finds himself alone in a hostile jungle and angry at the world:

Dray Prescot said:
The stars glowed above me and as the familiar constellations met my eyes I turned instinctively to seek out one well-known shape that among all the rest had insistently drawn me with hypnotic power I could neither understand nor explain. There sparkled the arrogant constellation of Scorpio, with Alpha Scorpii, Antares, blinding my eyes. All the other stars of heaven seemed to fade. I was feverish, light-headed, weak, knowing my sure death followed on stalking feet through the jungle. I had thought to use the stars to guide my escape as they had guided me over the trackless seas. I had thought to use the stars to navigate my way back to the beach. What I hoped to do there God knows. I stared at Scorpio malevolently.

“You killed my father!” Sweat stung my eyes. I was half off my head. “And you seek to do the same to me!” I have no real, coherent memory of what followed, for sweat blinded me, and my breathing pained. But I was aware of a shape like a giant scorpion limned in blue fire. I shook my fist at the Scorpion Star. “I hate you, Scorpion! I hate you! If only you were a man like myself…”

I was falling.

Blue fire coruscated all around, there was blue fire in the stars and blue fire in my eyes, in my head, blinding me, dazzling me. The blue changed to a brilliant malignant green. I fell. I fell with the blue and green fires changing and pulsing brilliantly into red as the red fires of Antares reached out to engulf me.
Again the riff on Burroughs, but by way of John Carter this time. It seems all Dray's raging at the heavens has caught something's attention...

NEXT: A new world beckons, and Dray Prescot faces a stupid huge scorpion on a stupid huge leaf that is also a boat.
 

Gary N. Mengle

Antithesis of Weal
I have been trying to obtain copies of this series for years. I'm still a few volumes short. I'll be reading with interest.
 

Lizard

Global Village Grouch
Validated User
Hah! I found a whole pile at a used bookstore. Just finished Book 3. Wonderful Sword&Planet stuff, and great fodder for an RPG license.
 

Afterburner

Remarkably expressive bandages
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Akers' prose is... perhaps more turgid than ERB's, but less so than Norman's...
I mentioned this in the Gor thread, but I enjoy repeating myself: I actually really dig the turgid, florid, overly formal approach to prose in Planetary Romance/Sword-and-Planet stories, and find it very evocative. If I was to write a Sword-and-Planet story, I would definitely shoot for a stiff, archaic voice in my prose.
 

Evil Midnight Lurker

What Lurks at Midnight
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I mentioned this in the Gor thread, but I enjoy repeating myself: I actually really dig the turgid, florid, overly formal approach to prose in Planetary Romance/Sword-and-Planet stories, and find it very evocative. If I was to write a Sword-and-Planet story, I would definitely shoot for a stiff, archaic voice in my prose.
In general I agree, but Norman carries it too far -- I found the "Mojo Jojo" comparison in your thread to be quite apt.

Chapter Two

Down the River Aph


Dray Prescot said:
I awoke lying flat on my back.

With my eyes closed I could feel warmth on my face and the flutter of a tiny breeze, and beneath me a familiar motion told me I was aboard a boat. This information did not seem at all strange; after all, had I not spent the last eighteen years of my life at sea? I opened my eyes.
Prescot is not on a boat exactly, but resting on an eighteen-foot-long leaf, drifting lazily down a wide river and oh yeah there is a FIVE FOOT LONG SCORPION in the other end of the leaf.

(Our educated officer-candidate notes that this can't be a scorpion as we of Earth know it -- there must be a vertebrate skeleton under that shell.)

He is preternaturally certain that this is not Earth, that some force has scooped him up and dropped him on a world orbiting Antares itself. The light is wrong, the gravity lighter, and of course there's the GIANT SCORPION right there in the boat. Some moments of tense waiting ensue, until just as Dray decides to pounce first, the critter dives over the side and vanishes in the river. So what was the point of that, we may wonder?

As alien dawn continues to break, Prescot is surprised to note a second sun rising alongside the first -- Antares' dwarf companion, here depicted as brilliant green instead of its real-life blue status. (We can't expect much in the way of astrophysical reality here, frankly, I'll get into that later.) Their mingled light produces a reasonable approximation of Sol's, so colors aren't too far off what an Earther would expect.

Taking stock of his situation, Dray grounds the leaf and proceeds to make everything he could need for a river trip out of the local reeds. Oars, fishing rods and line, spears -- it's like Wal-Mart on the shore! In fact, he judges this to be a less dangerous clime than the decks of a Navy ship, what with no storms, enemy cannon fire, et cetera. Before things can get too peaceful, it's time for a foreshadowing omen:

A flutter of white caught my eye. A dove circled around, fluttering inquisitively nearer, then taking fright and circling away. I smiled. I couldn’t remember the last time I had made so unusual a grimace.

Above the dove I saw another shape, more ominous, hawk-like, planing in hunting circles. I could see the second bird very clearly. It was immense, and it glowed and sparkled with a scarlet coat of feathers, golden feathers encircled its throat and eyes, its legs were black and extended, their claws rigidly outstretched. That bird flaunted a glorious spectacle of color and power. Although at the time it would have been impossible for me to have recalled the lines, now I can only leap to those magnificent words of Gerard Manley Hopkins as he reacts with all a man’s mind and body to the achievement of, the mastery of, the thing that is so essentially a bird in the air. And more particularly, knowing now what I could not know then, Hopkins’ words have a deeper meaning as he calls the windhover “Kingdom of Daylight’s Dauphin.”

I shouted and waved my arms at the white dove.

It merely circled a little way farther off and if it was aware of that blunt-headed, wing-extended shape above it gave no sign. The deadly hawk shape with its broad wings with their aerodynamic fingertip-like extensions, the wedge-shaped tail, the squat heavily-muscled head cried aloud their own warning. The nature of the hunting bird is to kill its prey; but I could at least warn the dove.

A piece of reed tossed at the dove merely made it swerve gracefully in the air. The eagle or hawk—for that magnificent scarlet and golden bird was of no Earthly species—swooped down. It ignored the dove. It swooped straight for me. Instinctively I flung up my left arm; but my right thrust forward one of my spears. The bird in a great cup-shaped fluttering of its wings and a powerful down-draft effect of its tail, braked in the air above my head, hovered, emitted one single shrill squawk, and then zoomed upward with long massively powerful beats from its broad wings. In a moment it dwindled to a dot and then vanished in the heat haze. I looked for the dove only to discover that it had also vanished.
We'll be seeing more of these two.

Endless red-green-golden afternoons follow as Dray's leaf drifts down the river, meeting various strange fauna but no sign of human habitation. After an uncertain length of time, the river nears a waterfall. He could turn back, but does our hero Prescot view such a course of action as manly? He does not.

Again I considered. A force had brought me here. Had it brought me merely to stand and marvel at this waterfall? Must there not be something beyond to which I must go? And if I could not climb down the rock—was there no other way of descent? The sheer volume of noise fashioned itself into words: “You must! You must! ”
NEXT: The Swinging City! Which really isn't what it sounds like.
 

Afterburner

Remarkably expressive bandages
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Although at the time it would have been impossible for me to have recalled the lines, now I can only leap to those magnificent words of Gerard Manley Hopkins as he reacts with all a man’s mind and body to the achievement of, the mastery of, the thing that is so essentially a bird in the air. And more particularly, knowing now what I could not know then, Hopkins’ words have a deeper meaning as he calls the windhover “Kingdom of Daylight’s Dauphin.”
Sure! Who doesn't think of Gerard Manley Hopkins in that kind of situation?
 
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