Sojan the Swordsman & Under the Warrior Star (Trade Paperback)

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By Michael Moorcock & Joe R. Lansdale

Planet Stories presents two science fantasy adventures in one volume from literary legends Michael Moorcock and Joe R. Lansdale!

Moorcock's Sojan the Swordsman revisits the author's very first published character, the original incarnation of the Eternal Champion. Rewritten and expanded from its original appearance, this is the tale of the hero Sojan Shieldbearer as he travels across the planet Zylor encountering strange races and even stranger monsters in a fast-paced adventure in the tradition of Edgar Rice Burroughs and Leigh Brackett.

In Lansdale's never-before-published novella Under the Warrior Star, Olympic fencing contender Braxton Booker is hurtled into universe in miniature, where he must lead the inhabitants of the forest world of Juna against their oppressive overlord—a tentacled, mind-probing monstrosity known only as The One.

192-page softcover trade paperback ISBN-13: 978-1-60125-288-3

About the Authors

Michael Moorcock is a Grand Master of fantasy whose books featuring the Eternal Champion have been genre best-sellers for decades. A recent reprint series featuring his most popular character, the albino swordsman Elric of Melniboné, has introduced his Eternal Champion to a generation of new readers. Sojan the Swordsman is the very first incarnation of the Eternal Champion, and a key part of Moorcock's multi-decade multiversal continuity.

Joe R. Lansdale is a Grand Master of horror and the winner of the British Fantasy Award, the American Horror Award, the Edgar Award, and seven Bram Stoker Awards for excellence in genre fiction. Many of Lansdale's tales have been adapted to film and television, including the cult classic movie Bubba Ho-Tep.

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Definitely a Mixed Bag

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The 29th book in the Planet Stories series is unique in that it's a so-called "double feature", featuring two "sword and planet" novels by different authors back to back. The elements of the sword and planet genre are aptly summarized in the introduction: an earthman is somehow transported to another planet that contains a mix of futuristic and ancient technology, gets swept up in a war or rebellion, and falls instantly in love with an alien princess. The two novels in this collection fit quite comfortably into this pattern. The first novel, Sojan the Swordsman is actually a collection of short stories written by Michael Moorcock when he was a teenager. Unfortunately, it shows. They are about as flat and one-dimensional as possible, and there is absolutely nothing novel or memorable about Sojan. Sometimes it really is best to let juvenalia stay forgotten! The contrast with the second novel by Joe R. Lansdale, Under the Warrior Star, couldn't be greater. Although Lansdale follows the same formula, he writes with verve and enough originality to keep the pages turning. The alien world he creates, full of trees the size of mountains and a menace that is quite Cthulhuesque, is used as the setting for some quite good action scenes. The characters are still not deep, but they are serviceable. One doesn't see a lot of sword and planet fiction these days; let's hope newcomers weren't turned away by Sojan

Jekyll & Hyde

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This is an experiment for Planet Stories, two 70-80 page novellas by different authors in the manner of an old Ace Double. Does it work? Well, only insofar as the stories are any good. One is, and one is..not so good.

As a 15 or 16 year old, Michael Moorcock wrote some Sojan short stories for a fanzine. This is a collection of those stories, apparently somewhat revised. It's not great - the characters are less than one-dimensional, the narration inconsistent, and the setting contradictory - in the space of a few pages Sojan refers to his boss as "War-King" and "Emporer", and implies both hereditary succession and election to the position. Each 2-3 page chapter is almost a standalone story.

For a brief while, it rises above itself when Sojan crosses the Demon Sea and confronts the evil priests of Rhan and the Old Ones. This pretty obviously draws heavily from work of H P Lovecraft, and then Robert E Howard's Tower of the Elephant Conan tale.

In the introduction to the book, Erik Mona points out that Moorcock's first thoughts on republishing Sojan were that it would be a mistake. I would say that Moorcock should have followed his initial instinct and let this stuff fade into obscurity, or rewritten it to a much greater degree than he did.

Under the Warrior Star is the better story of the two, for all that follows the "sword & planet" formula - set out by Mona in his introduction - precisely. Brax is a modern Earthman who stumbles across a secret Government facility in the wilds of Alaska and becomes a human guinea pig to be sent into an experimental man made universe. There is a planet there, which is both strangely Earthlike and strangely not (for instance, the Earth is actually a giant tree).

While there he inexplicably gains superhuman speed and strength, meets fellow more or less men, and of course, a woman (in a chapter helpfully titled "The Woman").

There is then an adversary to overcome: The One, an odious plant hive mind that has giants for slaves and devours humans. Brax uses his unique Earthly knowledge to good effect, and heads off to the inevitable confrontation...and I'll stop there, so as to avoid spoilers.

Yes, the story is formulaic, but the telling is good and has a few wrinkles: rather than try to explain everything, the first person narrator sometimes just shrugs and says "I don’t know". This works better than getting bogged down in detailed mumbo-jumbo, and lets the plot and action continue. The story does not raise issues of existential angst: it just offers a few hours of escapist reading pleasure.

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