OF WORLD’S END
When does the fan move on and become the originator?
Sometimes it never happens. Sometimes there’s a partial evolution
that hints at a promise of more. Based on such Sword & Sorcery
epics as ‘Jandar Of Callisto’, LIN CARTER’s reputation is
considered by many to be too derivative of earlier role models.
Andrew Darlington asks whether
‘THE WARRIOR AT WORLD’S END’ (Daw Books, 1974) – the first
instalment of his ‘Gondwane Silvermane’ cycle, is different?
‘The world is filled with strange things
here in the Last Days, in the Twilight Of Time’
Lin Carter is a curious writer. And one that I’ve only sporadically enjoyed. He’s a fan. Rather than innovate he replicates the fantasy-buzz that first fired his youthful imagination. All writers start out that way. Most evolve from imitation to invent themselves into their own creation. It’s arguable that Lin Carter never did. He remained a fan throughout his life. His extensive body of fiction is Lin Carter, but it is also an adjunct, an extension, a spin-off from those who’d come before.
Even while he lived, Edgar Rice Burroughs had imitators. Otis Adelbert Kline was one of many who invented their own lesser ‘John Carter on Barsoom’-variants. Then John Norman amplified its sublimated sexual content for his ‘Gor’ porn-world cycle. Both Leigh Brackett and Michael Moorcock used the template Burroughs provided, and sometimes tongue-in-cheek, sometimes richly and powerfully imaginatively took it to places way beyond Burroughs own limited vision and writing skills.
Lin Carter’s ‘Jandar Of Callisto’ novel-series inhabits the Burroughs continuum completely, with all its enjoyably escapist, if predictably repetitive ingredients re-mixed. Imitating the Burroughs framing-sequence in which he claims not to write the Barsoom novels – merely edits John Carter’s tales, so Lin Carter claims not to write, but merely edit the saga of Jonathan Dark who falls through a well in the ancient Cambodian city of Arangkhôr to emerge in the jungles of Jupiter’s moon. ‘In The Land Of A Thousand Foes’ he’s captured and escapes from the insectoid Yathoon, rescues the beautiful Princess Darloona who is exiled from her exotic city of Shondakar by the evil Black Legion, and leads a rebellion against the ‘Sky Pirates’ of Zanadar. In other words, for those who enjoy Burroughs, and simply want more of the same, they’ll not be disappointed. But the eight novels seldom if ever rise above or beyond his model. Lin Carter remains a fan.
Yet his ‘Gondwane’ epic is different, by degrees. In ‘The Warrior Of World’s End’ (Daw, 1974) Carter still colonises worlds conjured into being by other writers. But this time he’s side-stepped into the realms of Clark Ashton Smith’s ‘Zothique’ mythos and Jack Vance’s ‘Dying Earth’ series. There are also echoes of John Brunner’s “Earth Is But A Star” 1959 novelette (expanded into his ‘Catch A Falling Star’ novel, 1968), and Michael Moorcock’s exotic ‘Dancers At The End Of Time’ trilogy (from 1972 to 1981). Set in the ‘untold ages of dim futurity’ when the ageing Sun is dimming, there’s all the eccentric richness of Ashton Smith’s poetic fantasies. These are the ‘Last Days’, when the ‘Moon is falling, falling’, a harbinger of a time when ‘the Earth shall be man’s habitation no more’ and the ‘great night that shall enfold all, and naught but the cold stars reign.’
There’s a crudely-sketched map of Gondwane, Earth’s last supercontinent in this ‘Twilight Of Time’, which – like primeval Pangaea, is the planet’s single landmass. It’s a mythical world of strange True Men and unhuman tribes, divided up into ‘kingdoms, empires, city-states, federations, theocracies, tyrannies, conglomerates, unions, principates and various degenerate savage barbarian or nonhuman hordes.’ The timescapes beyond the ‘Eon Of The Falling Moon’ are vast, across 700,000,000-years with empires and civilisations lost to history receding into legend, leaving dead cities, ruins and relics of past cultures to litter the world. And it’s not so much that there is magic or wizards, more that people look back on a time ‘when there was such a thing as science.’ For the laws of physics themselves have become peculiar and inconsistent, ‘but remember’ as Carter’s footnote cautions ‘in seven hundred million years the Laws of Nature have undergone change and alteration,’ in which all constants have ‘been passing through a state of flux, reversal and alteration.’
Ganelon Silvermane is first discovered wandering naked in the blue rain, by Phlesco, an itinerant Godmaker periaptist, and Iminix, his psuedowoman wife as they journey towards the Realm of the Nine Hegemons, north of the Crystal Mountains. They ride ornithohippus bird-horses as ‘evolution had continued its subtle, invisible surgery amid the gene-pool of Terrene life-forms, and many new races of beasts as well as sentient humanoids had arisen.’ These other forms include halfmen, Deathdwarfs, Stone Heads and Green Wraiths. Initially assumed to be a lumbering mindless lout, the kindly couple take the giant to the city of Zermish to cater to his needs. The city, dating back only thirty-two thousand years, was considered rather youngish, according to the expectations of the time. It is here that Magister Narelon the Illusionist – alerted by the haruspex Slunth, first suspects Ganelon’s true identity. That he is both two-hundred million years old, and yet was barely seven hours alive at the time of his discovery.
Born 9 June 1930, in St Petersburg, Florida, Linwood Vrooman Carter became an early, regular and enthusiastic contributor to the letters-page of ‘Startling Stories’ (first in the Winter 1943-4 edition) and ‘Thrilling Wonder Stories’ (from December 1946). He was active in fan magazines with poems, book reviews and fiction – his first story, “The Castle Beyond The World” was in the Winter 1950 ‘The Fanscient no.10’, and the Lovecraftian “Slitherer From The Slime” in ‘Inside SF’ (September 1958). Later, his ‘Worlds Of If’ column – from April 1966 was descriptively headed ‘Our Man In Fandom’. He graduated into the pro field by completing a number of Robert E Howard unfinished drafts to produce new ‘Conan’ stories, starting with “The Thing In The Crypt” and “The City Of Skulls” in collaboration with L Sprague de Camp, which were included in the ‘Conan’ (1967, Lancer Books) anthology. As an essentially imitative writer in thrall to the genre, he was ideal for such a project. And there are echoes of ‘Conan’ in Ganelon when he’s described as being ‘like some savage giant from Time’s Dawn’, with reference to his ‘gigantic thews’.
His less convincing forays into straight Space Opera include ‘The Great Imperium’ trilogy commencing with ‘The Man Without A Planet’ (1966), although he’s more at home with Sword and Sorcery fantasies such as his ‘Thongor’ series, beginning with ‘The Wizard Of Lemuria’ (Ace, 1965). In a ‘New Worlds’ review of ‘Thongor Of Lemuria’ James Cawthorn is predictably scathing, calling it ‘ill-written and overly derivative’ (no.165, August 1965). Later, he also adopted the ‘Doc Savage’ style for his ‘Zarkon’ novels ‘Invisible Death’ (1975) and ‘The Nemesis Of Evil’ (1975). While he was contributing actively within the genre by compiling the ‘Flashing Swords’ anthologies (five volumes 1973 to 1981) and editing for the Ballantine Adult Fantasy series. But when does the fan move on and become the originator? Sometimes it never happens. Sometimes there’s a partial evolution that hints at a promise of more. On this basis, his Gondwane mythos might just be his most original creation.
There’s a thread of playful humour about his Ganelon tale, one entirely in character with the whimsical and fin de siècle capriciousness of the age he’s conjectured. ‘Each of the Hegemons who ruled Zermish were virtually the same personage, for the sperm plasm of the First Zermetic Hegemon – Argelibichus the Perpetual, was still preserved in an Eternity Tank, and from this original ancestral sampling the wife of each regnant Hegemon in turn was ritually impregnated with a ceremonial catheter of stain-resisting platinum.’ The latest Hegemon is tactfully absent when a migrating herd of brutish Indigons attack and threaten to inundate the city, ‘the palace issued a statement to the effect that the gods had seen fit to visit him with a sick headache. Nonetheless, he conveyed his heartiest wishes for the successful battle to (Warchieftain) Urukush and his subchieftains, and promised them state funerals.’ Urukush proves equally cowardly. But ‘there was no use crying over spilled blood, until it was actually spilled.’ It’s during the ensuing battle that Ganelon’s warrior skills first become apparent.
And there are some wonderfully idiosyncratic adventures to come. Activating a quaint bronze Bazonga bird constructed by a dead alchemist, there’s a tetchy exchange with its awakening sentience over what its name is to be. ‘Do you think I intend going through life being referred to as ‘Hey you!’ or ‘Birdie’?’ it protests. Then another nervous automaton complains of ‘rust in my knee-joint’ to avoid a test-flight in the unwieldy flying contraption, which is impregnated with anti-gravity yxium particles. The ensuing voyage takes Ganelon and Narelon into an alliance with the Sirix Xarda of Jemmerdy – her topless semi-nudity a matter of no great consequence, into slavery in the Air Mines (a frozen comet-head impacted deep beneath the surface), and a struggle against the Airmasters of the Sky Island who control the vacuum-bubble Death Zone weapon. When Xarda discovers ‘her lovely longsword, dirk, poniard, and small ax were missing. A pity, she thought, for they had been a perfectly matched set, and a bargain at that.’ Absurdly inventive, the novel climaxes in a mighty battle on the land suspended miles high in the air, beneath the vast orb of the falling Moon.
Expanded from a single original novel – ‘Giant Of World’s End’ (1969), which Carter developed into a series, the books that follow are of variable quality. But they’re all relatively short and effortlessly readable. Lin Carter is a curious writer, one I’ve only sporadically enjoyed. He’s a fan. And arguably never evolved far beyond that status. But ‘The Warrior At World’s End’ is among his very best.
‘What did it matter, after all, how life would end?
It would end in one way or another; all things which
had beginnings also had endings. And, whether
Old Earth froze or melted, an ending was an ending
and one way was as good as another. He would
not be here to learn how the story of man ended…’
THE GONDWANE EPIC
‘GIANT OF WORLD’S END’ (Belmont Swords & Sorcery, February 1969) 144pp, Jeff Jones cover-art. Intended as a stand-alone novel, it’s not strictly part of the cycle. Ganelon Silvermane and Zolobion the Magician journey from the land of the great Stone Face on a series of adventures. ‘Could the combined powers of the wizard and the warrior halt the Doom that filled the skies?’
‘THE WARRIOR AT WORLD’S END’ (DAW Books, November 1974) 160pp, Vincent DiFate cover-art, includes map by Lin Carter, and ‘Glossary Of Unfamiliar Names And Terms’. First of the series-proper, expanded from the original idea
‘THE ENCHANTRESS OF WORLD’S END’ (DAW Books, May 1975) 192pp, Michael Whelan cover-art, includes ‘Gondwane’ map by Lin Carter. Ganelon and the Scarlet Enchantress
‘THE IMMORTAL OF WORLD’S END’ (DAW Books, September1976) 160pp, Michael Whelan cover-art. Includes ‘Glossary Of Places Mentioned In The Text’. A decaying island-city slipping into the water, but projecting an illusion of its former glory
‘THE BARBARIAN OF WORLD’S END’ (DAW Books, May 1977) 188pp, John Bierley cover-art. Ganelon offers himself as hostage to the barbarian Ximchak Horde, and rises to become its leader, taking them beyond the glass-walled Triple City to the Marvellous Mountains carved into gigantic friezes
‘THE PIRATES OF WORLD’S END’ (DAW Books, October1978) 173pp, Richard Hescox cover-art