Friday, August 23, 2013

Forgotten Books: CONAN AND THE EMERALD LOTUS by John C. Hocking (1995)


When I posted some Conan pastiche covers earlier this week (HERE), James Reasoner called my attention to this one by Mr. John C. Hocking, which I had never read.

I’ve been struggling of late to find a book I really enjoy. The Sun Also Rises didn’t fill the bill. Neither did Anna Karenina or Philip Jose Farmer’s The Dark Heart of Time. Brian Wynne (Garfield’s) The Bravos was better, but didn’t quite scratch my itch.

But after riding with Conan on his quest to eradicate the Emerald Lotus, I’m finally back in the groove. This is a thoroughly enjoyable romp through the Hyborean Age. The only bad news is that this is Mr. Hocking’s only published Conan novel.

The back cover shouts TRAPPED IN A WEB OF WIZARDRY!, and that’s a fair description of the story. Conan finds himself tangled in the affairs of three sorcerers (one good, one bad and one very bad) and needs every bit of his courage, strength an skill to fight his way out.

The trouble starts when a two-bit Stygian sorcerer stumbles upon the secret of the Emerald Lotus and is suddenly possessed of more power than all the wizards of the Black Ring combined. The Emerald Lotus gives its users great power, but is also the most addictive and malignant of drugs. The Stygian uses it to enslave two Khemish rivals, and our man Conan gets caught up in the three-way battle.

What sets Conan and the Emerald Lotus above the Sword & Sorcery herd is Mr. Hocking’s ability to bring each character vividly alive and allow them to interact and change. The real story here is not sword vs. sorcery, but of people with differing agendas and  opposing wills. I particularly enjoyed the growing - and very genuine - friendship between Conan and mute Khitan warrior who accompanies him and two lissome ladies (one a sorceress and the other just lissome) into the dreaded Stygian desert.

The author makes no attempt to ape the style of Robert E. Howard, but what flows from his pen (or word processor) seems naturally suited to the Conan's world. And somehow he manages to make the implausible magic spells seem possible. As a bonus - and I was especially pleased by this one - he does not resort to making Conan do battle with a giant snake.

According to Wikipedia, Mr. Hocking “spent two years writing a second Conan novel, Conan and the Living Plague, under contract with Conan Properties, which was ‘sufficiently pleased with the book that they wanted to use it to attract a new publisher for Conan and try to break into hardcover.’ Publication of it and a third Conan novel Hocking had started were canceled due to a change in ownership of Conan Properties.”

Damn. That’s too bad. But after nearly twenty years, Conan’s popularity is as strong as ever, and it seems high time for the property owners to consder a new round of original novels. We can only hope. (And if some future publisher decides to reissue Emerald Lotus, they're welcome to use this blurb: Kicks Anna Karenina's butt!)

Meanwhile, John Hocking has not been idle. He was co-editor of the 2007 crime anthology Detroit Noir, and won the 2009 Harpers Pen Award for Sword and Sorcery fiction for his story “The Face in the Sea,” from Black Gate 13. And, if this photo is any indication, he's been eating quesadillas.

More Forgotten Books at pattinase. Next week, the Forgotten Books links will appear right here on the Almanack. Y'all come back, now.


24 comments:

Todd Mason said...

Well, at some level one would hope that the Cimmerian could be capable of actually kicking Karenina's butt (which still would be more polite than what he would be tempted to do by her accessible presence), but now you have me thinking about a story where things don't go so well for Connie in a face-off...the Russkie, after all, knew what to do with a train...

Cap'n Bob said...

Fine review, but did you really read Anna Karenina? You, the king of hardboiled?

Randy Johnson said...

I've got this one laid out in my TBR pile whenever I can find the time. It was among a dozen Conan pastiches I hadn't read and I pulled it after reading the comments and Mr. hocking's drop-in.

James Reasoner said...

You beat me to it. My review will be coming up next week.

George said...

Like Randy, I have a bunch of Conan pastiches on my shelves, but not this one. Time to find it on the Internet and buy it. Nice review!

Evan Lewis said...

Frederick Nebel had high praise for Anna K when he read it back in 1933. I figured if it was good enough for Fred it should be good enough for me, and downloaded it to my smart phone. After 42 chapters (which my phone tells me is only 16% of the book), here's what's happening: Anna, who is married, has the hots for some slimy single dude, and he for her. Anna's young cousin is also hot for slimy dude, but the only guy hot for her is an older yokel from the boondocks. All four are feeling sorry for themselves. I didn't feel sorry for any of them, so gave it up. I'll get the Greta Garbo movie from the library and watch that instead. Maybe.

Morgan Holmes said...

John "Chris" Hocking has a huge love for Gold Medal paperbacks and tough guy fiction in general. It comes through in his prose which is leaner and more pulp like than the other Tor pasticheurs. It is one of the few Conan pastiches that I liked.

R.K. Robinson said...

New to me. That bottom cover is great, who is it by?

Evan Lewis said...

I don't own that mass market edition, Mr. R., but I think it's a pretty safe bet that it's by Ken Kelly.

Kelly Robinson said...

I guess it takes a special kind of person to prefer a Conan pastiche to The Sun Also Rises. If only Hemingway had written a pastiche. Conan and the Sea, perhaps?

Jerry House said...

Searching for a copy now. (When I get a copy, I may well eat quesadillas while reading it.).

Evan Lewis said...

Hm. Hemingway probably could have written a passable Conan story. Heck, maybe he did, and it has yet to be discovered. I enjoyed For Whom the Bell Tolls, but on finishing The Sun Also Rises I just wanted three hours of my life back.

James Reasoner said...

I'm just the opposite. THE SUN ALSO RISES is my favorite Hemingway novel. I've read it multiple times and stolen from it -- I mean paid homage to it -- on several occasions, including one of my Longarms. I had to force myself to finish FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS.

Evan Lewis said...

Longarm went to a bullfight, maybe? I'm sure he's never been sexually frustrated like the folks in Sun.

James Reasoner said...

Isn't it pretty to think so?

R.K. Robinson said...

Talking Hemingway, which I guess we now are, I really like ISLANDS IN THE STREAM. Some say minor Hemingway, but something about it pulls me in every time.

James Reasoner said...

I like ISLANDS IN THE STREAM, too. That's one I remember where I was when I read it: on the front porch of my aunt's house in Blanket, Texas.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Evan. Strange and pleasing to see such a review 18 years after my book's publication.

For the record I like all of Hemingway's work except the unfinished stuff they dug up after his death (though even that is interesting) and loved both The Sun Also Rises and For Whom the Bell Tolls.

Evan Lewis said...

And Mr. Reasoner will have his say next week. Looks like Emerald Lotus is undergoing a renaissance.

Terry Allen said...

Definitely one of the better Conan pastiches and well reading.

Terry
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/TheREHcomicsgroup/

Terry Allen said...

*well_worth_reading*

Terry

Anonymous said...

Hi Evan. Nice review, and I like your blog site. :)

Check out our great forums at
conan.com

If you enjoy John Hocking then you will like
John Maddox Roberts, too. They write the best Conan pastiches.
Both Hocking and Roberts are active members at conan.com, and enjoy discussing with fans.

I like your enthusiasm. Look forward to seeing you at our wonderful forums?
Best wishes from Buxom Sorceress :)

Evan Lewis said...

Thanks B.S.
Yep, I read some of the Roberts books and remember liking them.
I'll be paying you a visit.

John said...

I do think The Emerald Lotus is one of the better Conan pastiches. Just looked up this blog as a matter of fact to see if he'd written more!