Of Squeecore and Conan

No, Conan has not been declared “squeecore” yet, though come to think of it, Conan the Cimmerian is a person from a marginalised background who rises to a high position, he’s something of a wish fulfillment character, there is banter and there are plenty of “hell,yeah!” moments. Conan also allies with former enemies on occasion. Finally, everything usually works out for Conan, though not for necessarily for those around him, and there are two Conan stories (“Queen of the Black Coast” and “Beyond the Black River”), which are total downers where everybody not named Conan dies. So yes, maybe Robert E. Howard was writing squeecore some ninety years ago (at any rate, he was definitely writing for the money, i.e. he had the capitalist motive of needing to eat, pay for his car and support his sick mother). Because the definition is so muddled that everything can be “squeecore”.

Talking of “squeecore”, the Rite Gud podcast now has a transcript available of the episode where Raquel S. Benedict and J.R. Bolt attempt define what they mean by “squeecore”, so maybe their muddled points will become a bit clearer.

While on the subject of podcasts, the Geek Shock podcast, which is run by some geeky people from Las Vegas, including folks who used to appear in a Star Trek live show there, not only weighs in on the “squeecore” debate, but also gave a lovely shout-out to this blog as well as to Galactic Journey. Geek Shock is a fun podcast, which will also be featured as a Fancast Spotlight here soon, so check them out.

ETA: Steve Davidson also wades into the “squeecore” debate at Amazing Stories and rails against the division in ever smaller subgenres and niches and the commodification of SFF in general.

Which brings me to my final link for today. Because I’m also back in 1967 and at Galactic Journey again, where I celebrate the 61st (in Journey time) and 116th (in regular time) birthday of Robert E. Howard by reviewing Conan the Adventurer, first of the Lancer Conan reprints which have only just started coming out in 1967 and would introduce a whole new generation to Howard’s work in general and Conan in particular and which would also kick the sword and sorcery revival of the 1960s, which was already gradually ramping up through the first half of the decade, into overdrive.

The Lancer Conans are controversial these days, because of the way series editor L. Sprague De Camp not only forced the stories into a chronology that was never intended (Howard wrote the Conan stories out of order, actually beginning with an adventure late in Conan’s career and then going back to a very early adventure), but also mucked about with the actual stories, completed unfinished fragments, turned non-Conan stories by Howard into Conan stories and inserted his and Lin Carter’s own pastiches to fill up perceived gaps in the chronology.

Nowadays, Lin Carter’s and particularly L. Sprague De Camp’s contributions to Conan are viewed very negatively, because De Camp did not really get neither Conan nor Howard and because a lot of his mucking about was highly questionable and his and Carter’s Conan pastiches were often only a pale shadow of Howard’s original stories from the 1930s.

However, the Lancer editions were extremely well packaged. Frank Frazetta’s cover art is iconic and Frazetta’s Conan is the definitive image of the character by now, even though Margaret Brundage, Hugh Rankin and Harold DeLay all illustrated Conan before Frazetta did. The Lancers were also hugely successful, kept Conan from falling into obscurity and introduced him to a whole new generation of readers.

I was absolutely ready to roast De Camp for what he did to Conan – especially since some of the De Camp/Carter solo Conan efforts just don’t match the character from the Howard stories at all. However, it turned out that in early 1967, as the first two Lancer editions had only just come out, De Camp actually hadn’t actually done all that much that was objectionable.

Conan the Adventurer collects three largely unchanged Howard stories (and I don’t object to De Camp removing the occasional bit of racism) and one Howard fragment that De Camp completed, based on Howard’s outline. Both the original Howard fragment and the outline survive and have been reprinted in the Del Rey collection The Bloody Crown of Conan, so we can compare them to De Camp’s effort – entitled “Drums of Tombalku” – and De Camp really didn’t do too badly. He stuck to Howard’s outline and did a decent enough job completing the fragment. “Drums of Tombalku” is still a weaker Conan story and I’m pretty sure Howard abandoned it for a reason, but De Camp can’t be blamed for this.

I will be reviewing Conan the Warrior, the second Conan collection that Lancer put out, for Galactic Journey next month. Initially, both collections were supposed to be reviewed in one post, but it ran too long, so we split it in half. Conan the Warrior collects three novellas and is pure Howard with De Camp only providing the introduction and the bridging bits.

By the time, we get the the pure De Camp/Carter pastiches like Conan the Liberator, Conan of Aquilonia or Conan of the Isles, I’ll happily drag De Camp and Carter for what they did to Conan. And indeed, I was not very kind of Lin Carter when I reviewed his space opera The Star Magicians for Galactic Journey last year.

However, at Galactic Journey it’s January 1967 and by January 1967, L. Sprague De Camp really hasn’t done anything yet to deserve the reputation he later acquired.

Conan, Valeria and the "Dragon"

Finally, just because I can, enjoy this diorama of Conan, Valeria and the “dragon” (really a dinosaur) from “Red Nails”.

Conan, Valeria and the Dragon raid the cookie platter

Conan, Valeria and the “dragon” raid a cookie platter.

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4 Responses to Of Squeecore and Conan

  1. Szwolezer says:

    I must admit that this is my first direct contact with content of podcast episode that seemingly started all discussion (I rarely have patience to listen to entire podcast episodes unless I really like enjoy listening to podcast`s hosts or guests a lot). First thing I was mildly shocked by such strong praise of reddit post that basically repeats her arguments, in some points even using very similar wording. As for general discussion I did not have very high expectations bust I am still somewhat disappointed (although I too was somewhat shocked by Scalzi`s Redshirts winning Hugo). I see also very strong anti-nostalgia sentiment, which I can understand but I personally rejected (I believe that life is too short to worry too much that we behave irrationally or may like things for wrong reasons). The only significant point that I can somewhat agree is negative impact of genre becoming somewhat too influenced by modern pop culture at cost of more ambitious literary or scientific inspirations, although I don`t believe situation is not as bad as claimed here (as positive example I would point to Arkady Martine and influence of her historical research on Byzantine history). I don`t want to comment here on neoliberal part, because I don`t want to write very long polemic, so I just state that it`s hard for me to find common ground here because I clearly do not share their worldview.

    • Cora says:

      I fully sympathise with not having the time and patience to listen to a whole podcast episode. Especially since there are so many good podcasts out there that I actually want to listen to. The existence of a transcript makes it easier to figure out what their point is.

      I put Redshirts in third place at the time, under Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance and Throne of the Crescent Moon, but above the Mira Grant (I like her Seanan McGuire work, but not her Mira Grant work) and the Kim Stanley Robinson. I have to admit that I was a bit surprised that Redshirts, but then it was probably the perfect combination of a popular writer riffing on a popular SF show and doing a good job. And in retrospect, the Best Novel ballot that year wasn’t very strong.

      I do agree that too much influence from contemporary pop culture on written SFF can be problematic, but that’s neither a universal phenomenon (e.g. A Memory Called Empire or The Broken Earth trilogy) nor a new one. We just don’t notice pop culture influence in older works as much, because it has become part of the background. Hence, no one is surprised that a lot of 1930s and 40s SFF was influenced by hardboiled crime fiction or the western, since both genres were hugely popular at the time. And Jane Austen not only parodied the gothic novels popular at her time in Northanger Abbey, her novels are also full of reference to popular novels, poems and plays of her era, many so forgotten that Jane Austen referring to them is the only reason they are remembered at all. August von Kotzebue was Germany’s most successful playwright in the early 19th century, way more popular than his contemporary Goethe. Nowadays, he is mainly remembered for having been assassinated by a militant student activist and because one of his plays plays a pivotal role in Jane Austen’s Mansfield Abbey.

  2. Oleksandr ZHOLUD says:

    In the 1990s there was a Russian translation of Conan’s books (I guess from these Lancer boks) that I’ve read and I often found De Camp’s Conan too flat, just a powerful brute. I assumed that the author just couldn’t write well. However, later I’ve read his original fantasy and was pleasantly surprised by it

    • Cora says:

      And Howard translation that came out in the 1990s was likely based on the Lancers, because pure unadulterated Howard was not really available until the Del Rey editions came out in the early 2000s. I remember how very excited people were at the time to be finally able to read Howard without De Camp mucking about.

      Whenever I get angry at De Camp for what he’s done to Conan, I remind myself that Lest Darkness Falls and The Tritonian Ring are actually good.

      I think the main problem is that De Camp and Howard were simply very different kinds of writers (and that Lin Carter’s talent never matched his enthusiasm for the genre), so their styles did not mesh very well.

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