Early this morning I finished reading my sixth book of the year, this time Robert Silverberg’s Spawn of the Deadly Sea. The 38-page story appeared in the April, 1957 edition of the digest-size pulp Science Fiction Adventures, edited by Larry Shaw. Normally I wouldn’t consider a 38-page story a “book,” but the magazine calls it a novel on the cover and on the table of contents, and that’s good enough for me.
According to Silverberg, this was one of a slate of science fantasy adventures commissioned by Shaw specifically to echo the style of the classic pulp magazine Planet Stories, which had just been buried two years prior. Since I am currently publishing a revival of the Planet Stories brand in trade paperback, stories like this from authors I respect have a way of leaping to the top of the pile.
It doesn’t hurt that Spawn of the Deadly Sea involves one of my favorite staples of the pulp era—space Vikings.
It’s not exactly fair to call them “space” Vikings, since the entire story takes place on a far-future planet Earth, but the protagonists are a band of violent sea-raiders who travel around in many-oared longships, have Nordic names, and fight with axes. The “space” part comes in with the setting, a far-future version of Earth flooded thousands of years ago by amphibious aliens, and the victims of the Vikings axe-hackery, the aforementioned amphibious aliens. Plus there’s a magical amulet, some telekinesis, and genetically crossbred man-sharks from the eugenics war against the original invasion so long ago.
Spawn of the Deadly Sea is a lot of fun, reading far more like a sword and sorcery tale than a piece of science fiction. It’s definitely pure adventure—there aren’t any deep themes or pointed philosophical questions here, just a flooded Earth and lots of monsters getting killed with sharp metal. Like The Silent Invaders, Spawn of the Deadly Sea has one truly inspired “holy shit” moment, this time in the form of hundreds of man-sharks clogging a harbor to allow the human space Vikings to run from their ships all the way to shore. Unlike The Silent Invaders, this one didn’t have a complex psychological plot, sympathetic protagonist, or quite enough space to tell a completely satisfying story. What it is is a fun romp, with Vikings.
Which brings me to today’s cover, Dream Quest 2: On the Shoulders of Giants, by Lloyd St. Alcorn. I’m a sucker for Viking fiction of all types (space or otherwise), so this novel caught my eye on a recent trip to Half-Price Books. The title and art give this one a whiff of a Harlequin romance novel, but since it involves a Viking crew discovering North America in the 10th century, I’m willing to give it a shot.
“Lloyd St. Alcorn” is a pseudonym of author David N. Meyer, a Pope in the Church of the Sub-Genius. Strangely, my edition of this book is autographed on the title page—by Lloyd St. Alcorn! Gotta love a pseudonymous autograph.
The Dream Quest trilogy (Halberd: Dream Warrior, On the Shoulders of Giants, and Serpent Mound Dream) follows the exploits of Halberd Dream Walker, the mightiest of the Viking shamans, and appears to be Meyer’s only book-length fiction offering to date (he’s since written several non-fiction books). The back-cover copy also promises a witch, which suggests that there’s at least a modicum of fantastic content in the books.
Anyone out there read these books? I’m curious to hear if they’re any good.