Friday, June 15, 2018

Friday's Forgotten Book: Gardner F. Fox: Barbary Slave

We did a week-long trip to Chania and Gerani in Crete, and I took, as usual with our trips, my Kindle along. I didn't get to read much (who can do that with a three-year old kid on a same trip?), but I managed to get through one novel. I think that's pretty good given the circumstances. And hey, I also wanted to the beach!

The book in question was Barbary Slave that I'd loaded free on my Kindle. It was written by Gardner F. Fox who's best known as one of the more prolific writers for DC Comics and the creator of the DC Multiverse, alongside with several DC characters. I'm not really into superheroes, but Fox interests me as a contributor to pulp magazines (westerns, sports, science fiction) and as a paperback writer. His reputation hasn't been very good, seems like he could be a sloppy writer with cardboard characters. I thought, though, I might be entertained for a short while reading Barbary Slave. I'd started earlier a new thriller with an interesting premise, but given up after some pages, since there was just too much disposition and not enough action. I'd also started one of Gardner Fox's science fiction novels, but that seemed only ridiculous.

But Barbary Slave proved to be pretty entertaining. Sure, it was racist and chauvinistic as all hell, but I still enjoyed the heck out of it. The action starts from page one and almost never slows down. Barbary Slave is a fast-moving swashbuckler set in the early 19th century Tunis, during First Barbary War (war I knew almost nothing about until now), and the hero is an American navy lieutenant called Fletcher. In the beginning of the book he's already been a slave for several months and been digging food from ditches. He manages to rise from the gutter only to find himself a guardian of a harem. The queen lusts for Fletcher and tries to conquer him with all her might. The book has all the plot twists of several Game of Thrones episodes, with all the violence depicted in an old-fashioned, at times almost ecliptic style, and without the rapes. I actually thought this could've been a Conan novel, set in a fantastic setting, instead of a historically accurate (or at least one pretending to be) setting. Many of the chapters end in a cliffhanger, which kept me turning the pages, though Fox's writing style is florid. This is strictly purple prose, but it's almost never too purple. I also know next to nothing about ships or fencing, but Fox seems to have known was he was writing about.

The racism, though... almost all the Arabs and Moslems in the book are either stupid or cruel and sadistic - or both. The only heroic Arab is an armless man who's been tortured wildly by rulers. There's also no way Fletcher could fall in love with the harem's queen or another Arab woman, there has to be a white American woman who he can fall in love with safely. But given the book's age, this all is somewhat understandable.

The book was originally published as by Kevin Matthews by Popular Library in 1955, but it's been reprinted as Gardner F. Fox for quite a few times now. I noticed the e-book was free through illustrator Kurt Brugel's newsletter (for a limited time, it's not free anymore); he's bringing all of Fox's novels out as e-books. There were some formatting errors throughout the book, but not too many. Here's another review if you don't believe me.

More Forgotten Books at Patricia Abbott's blog here.


Todd Mason said...

Oh, I believe you. If you want a higher grade of this sort of thing, try H. Warner Munn sometime. Among so many of the more likely-to-be-cited writers.

Sounds like the most problematic elements of the book would endear it to the likes of Netanyahu.

Historical fiction once was derided in the US as (at least) tending toward trash, much as crime fiction, fantastic fiction, westerns as broken out of historical fiction and romance fiction (another high overlap) would be...and this was the kind of book that was being denigrated.

Fox definitely did imitation Conan, and perhaps a few Conans in the clear...nope, at least not as far as ISFDB knows. I might've been thinking of his Crom the Barbarian comic-strip scripts for Donald Wollheim's prose/comics mix magazine OUT OF THIS WOLRD ADVENTURES.

jurinummelin said...

Yes, I forgot to mention Fox's own sword and sorcery outings. Have never read any of them, though. He didn't do any Conans, as far as I know.

H. Warner Munn and Talbot Mundy are on my reading list, and so is Harold Lamb. I don't remember whether I reviewed if here on Pulpetti, but I really liked THE BLACK ROSE by Thomas Costain, strictly in the same genre.