Friday, July 16, 2010

Book Review: Black Legion of Callisto


Baring any last minute news I'll close up the week with a book review. So let's go!

Picking up after his previous adventure (chronicled in the novel Jandar of Callisto), Army Captain Jonathan Dark is still fighting to survive on Thanator, otherwise known as Callisto, one of the moons of Jupiter and to rescue the Princess Darloona. After rescuing her from the Sky Pirates of Thanator, Jandar (as he is called by the natives) loses her to the Chac Yuul, also known as the Black Legion-a wandering army that has conquered Darloona's home country of Shondakor. Using his skills, Jandar slips in and ends up in the Legion's army and then ends up personal bodyguard to Vaspian, Prince of the Black Legion and Darloona's future husband! Can Jandar rescue his beloved from a forced marriage and Shondakor? Will he uncover the secrets of the mysterious Ool the Uncanny? And can you spot all the John Carter of Mars references?

Those growing up in the late 1960s and early 70s are probably familiar with Lin Carter. For those who don't Carter was a novelist who found great popularity with his sword and sorcery and science fiction works as well as being an editor on such anthologies like Flashing Swords! He even worked on the 1960s Spider-Man cartoon series. After creating the Robert E. Howard inspired Throngor he ended up working with L. Sprague De Camp on the much debated Conan pastiches that popped up.

Which is a shame. While Carter isn't a great novelist, Black Legion of Callisto is a well-written and fun sword and planet adventure that clearly shows a love for the genre. It also becomes clear that Carter was as big a fan of Edgar Rice Burroughs as Howard since the book almost becomes a spot the ERB homage game. In fact the whole plot is basically the last third of A Princess of Mars spread out for almost 200 pages. Throw in Ool (who basically is a Matai Shang clone), our heroes being rescued in a clear lift from The Master Mind of Mars, Jandar referring to the "incomparable" Darloona (even though their relationship seems more inspired by Carson Napier and Duare from the Venus series) and the opening where Carter has worked himself into the narrative (though not as Jandar's nephew) and you have hit most of the Barsoom series in one novel.

I'm not saying its as good as the best of ERB's work and in fact having read the John Carter series over and over I could see much of where the story was heading but it is a fun book if you can find it (the series, which ran up to 8 installments, is currently out of print. You might find copies on ebay or Amazon pretty reasonably.) My rating: *** out of 4.

1 comment:

Mike Smith said...

I bought this whole series back in the '70s, and I still have them today. I haven't read them in years, but my memory of them is very positive. I especially loved how Lin Carter turned himself into the hero of one of the novels, "Lankar of Callisto". I always thought, why not? I mean if I was an author I'd want to be the hero too! Anyway, I'm sure these books will never be seen as fine art, but they are a fun read, especially if you enjoy the Barsoom series. Thanks for reminding me of this series. Now I'm going to have to dig them out and give them another read.