Thursday, February 5, 2009

sf for free! print edition: John Carter meets Conan

Lots of free sf novels and short stories can be found on the web for free. A couple of sites that link to such finds can be found here and here.

In this post I'll introduce a couple of authors from the early days of sf that you can explore for free. This isn't the most thought-provoking stuff in the world, to be sure, but it's pretty exciting--and you can see lots of the seeds of the fantasy and role-playing genres in these stories.

Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote all kinds of speculative fiction--"pulp" stories, as they're sometimes called--early in the twentieth century. The picture I've included here gives you a pretty good idea of what to expect... Perhaps his best known literary creation is Tarzan, who featured in many, many books. He also wrote fast-paced adventure stories that take place in odd places, including The Land That Time Forgot, At the Earth's Core, and the memorable Barsoom series about a U.S. soldier named John Carter who somehow gets transported to Mars and falls in love and fights against all kinds of enemies, many of whom have four arms. A movie is in the works... I'd start with A Princess of Mars, the first of the John Carter books. But lots of his books are to be had for free at Project Gutenberg.

Robert E. Howard is the creator of Conan the barbarian and other larger than life characters.

A few Conan tales: "The Devil in Iron," "The People of the Black Circle," and "Red Nails." But many more can be found at the same site.

The Hour of the Dragon is a novel-length story about Conan after his adventuring days are over and he's become king.

Other formative sf writers include Fritz Leiber (creator of Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser, the original hulking barbarian and nimble thief duo), and Michael Moorcock, who created Elric of Melnibone, the albino prince-sorcerer who carries Stormbringer, the evil black sword that takes the souls of those it slays. These are familiar tropes from the genre, of course, precisely because of the influence of these authors. No free stuff from these guys, though. And--it goes without saying, right?--J.R.R. Tolkien should be added to the list, along with all kinds of other folks.

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