Friday, June 24, 2011

"Queen of the Black Coast" by Robert E. Howard

Source: SFFaudio podcast (mp3)
Length: 1 hr, 20 min
Reader: Gary Kobler

The story: Long before the upcoming Conan the Barbarian movie or even the Arnold Schwarzenegger classic, Robert E. Howard created the character of Conan. This original Conan was an inversion of the classic primal vs. civilized conflict. While most stories champion civilization over red-toothed nature, Howard saw in the Wall Street collapses of his time that civilization could be the corrupt one and savagery be more noble. Conan is unashamedly barbaric in his drinking, womanizing, and violence, but the civilizations he is pitted against have rotted from their own decadence. Conan, at least, is strong enough to stand by his own warrior ethic.

In this classic story, Conan escapes a courtroom where he's asked to go against this personal code. He joins up with a merchant headed for Kush, who is overhauled by pirates. The notorious and beautiful pirate captain Belit lusts after Conan and spares his life. Together, they journey up a river to loot the treasures of a fallen empire and learn the story of its decay. Even if you're not a fan of medieval fantasy, this is a great introduction to the philosophy of Conan.

Note: This story contains adult themes and may not be suitable for children.

Rating: 8 / 10

The reader: Kobler is a professional narrator who performs this story for the Audio Realms edition of People of the Dark: The Weird Works of R.E. Howard Vol 2. Thanks go out to the publisher and SFFaudio for making this full-length story available for free. Kobler does an excellent job of capturing the excitement and suspense of Howard's writing. His voicing of Conan is a bit cartoonish, but it fits the pulpy nature of the hero. One of the weaknesses of Howard's writing is his tendency to use stereotypes for minor characters; this is reflected in Kobler's broad accents for the supporting cast. The recording itself is well-produced and professionally made.

(Image copyright Marvel Comics. Incidental use for criticism falls under the Fair Use provision.)

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