The late Kenneth Bulmer (1921-2005) was a very prolific author, with more than 160 novels under his various names. As ‘Alan Burt Akers’, he wrote fifty-two sword-and-planet novels in the Dray Prescot series between 1974 and 1997. Later volumes (after #37!) were issued solely in German. All are now available in omnibus volumes and as e-books. These include novels grouped into ‘cycles’ of three to five novels as well as stand-alone works. Reading the first two books reveals a competent grasp of adventure fiction.
After the Mariner and Viking spacecraft had made it clear that Mars was not Earthlike, writers of sword-and-planet fiction faced hard choices. Michael Moorcock abandoned the field for straight-up fantasy; Mike Resnick decamped for science fiction and refused to reprint his Ganymede novels; Leigh Brackett took Eric John Stark to other stars. Bulmer compromised: he created his own world, but made his stories old-school adventures.
The hero, Dray Prescot, is a sailor of the Napoleonic era transported to Kregen, a world of Antares (Alpha Scorpii) by the Savanti, a faction warring to rule that world. He then has various adventures as he pursues Delia, a native princess. Bulmer references Barsoom by having his hero trek to Antares (‘anti-Mars’). Instead of arriving at random, as did John Carter, he is brought to Kregen and sent back to Earth. His transits to Kregen at the behest of the Savanti and their rivals, the Star Lords, open and close many tales. Like John Carter, he is a swordsman and is also a sailor, with a modern grasp of race and gender issues. He returns to Kregen, masters a nomadic horde, spurns a horny villainess, charms an elderly noblewoman, and seeks to find his beloved. All this unfolds amidst a world of multiple societies and many intelligent species. There are even sly digs at John Lange’s “Gor” novels. Bulmer loses track of his hero sometimes and points to gaps in the ‘original’ tapes which Prescot is supposed to have used to record his adventures. Birds serve as messengers of the warring factions, and scorpions crawl across the series, since Antares lies in the constellation Scorpio in the sky of Earth.
The second book brings Prescot to the Eye of the World, an inland sea full of rival nations. Egyptian-ish Magdag seek to build colossi with armies of maltreated slaves, while the Sanurkazz command ships of war. Prescot rows, battles, loses a dear friend, (and comforts his widow in a well-done scene) and commands ships in sea fights. Will he find his beloved princess? Tune in next book!
These were pure fun, and, despite the fine craft of worldbuilding, not intended to be taken seriously. If we can’t have adventures on Mars, with thoats and canals, then we can have them somewhere, and Kregen looks like fun! I anticipate with pleasure the remaining volumes in this series. Recommended for all sword-and-planet fans.