Off the Shelf
The Gods of Bal-Sagoth
By Marcus Pan
Robert E. Howard's most
famous work is of course the Conan series immortalized on the
silver screen with a series of movies that ranged from the excellent to the
campily ridiculous. Howard also had other stories as well, of course, with work
that runs the gamut from hard sci-fi to sword and sorcery based fantasy. In
The Gods of Bal-Sagoth nine of his short stories have been collected,
most printed previously in pulp magazines and other sources.
The book's nine stories date from the earliest (The Gods
of Bal-Sagoth) in 1931 to the latest 1977 work The Shadow of the
Beast. Opening with the nominal The Gods of Bal-Sagoth he touches
upon lost civilizations fairly often. With an Atlantean flair, this story of
the lost world ruled by cunning, prejudice and sheer luck may come across as
somewhat dated or cliche-ridden, but realize this story made its debut in 1931
in Weird Tales.
The last story, Isle of the Eons, is undated but one
can assume it hovers around the 70s. Here Howard takes a Verne-like
Mysterious Island tack, with a bit of theology and supernatural thrown
in rather than the hard science Verne used. It's one of the better stories of
the book. King of the Forgotten People meanwhile is more modern and
actually reminds me of Indiana Jones style discoveries. Here a city is taken
over...again via superstitious cunning like in Bal-Sagoth...by a modern
inventor who uses his laboratory skills (electricity for example) to convince a
cloistered people of his godhood.
The Shadow of the Beast is not as satisfying and
takes on a haunted house storyline. Nekht Semerkeht is again a lost
civilization style set in the Aztec era. Restless Waters is a horror
tale about a rising dead man coming for vengeance from the sea and The Curse
of the Golden Skull is the shortest of the lot and is simply about a dying
witch's last wish.
The problem with Howard's The Gods of Bal-Sagoth is
simple. I've read this before...I can easily correlate all of the stories in
this collection to some I've already read (and in some cases in this review did
just that). Admittedly they are older and that's worth mentioning in that
Robert could have been the first to explore this style, which is fine. But
unfortunately we see strong plots echoed not only across the ages of fiction
and sci-fi fantasy's genre history, but here in this book are the same
lost-person, hidden-city themes multiple times between the same covers. That
stole much from the read for me.
The Gods of Bal-Sagoth by Robert E.
Copyright © 1979 by Alla Ray Kuykendall and Alla Ray Morris
An ACE Book by arrangement with Glenn Lord
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