Off the Shelf

“The Gods of Bal-Sagoth”

By Marcus Pan

The gods of Bal-SagothRobert 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 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. Howard
Copyright © 1979 by Alla Ray Kuykendall and Alla Ray Morris
An ACE Book by arrangement with Glenn Lord
ISBN: 0441295258

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