According to the author’s introduction, Conan, Temple of the Black One began its life as an outline Robert M. Price sent to Lyon Sprague De Camp, for a hypothetical Conan apocryphal novel to be published by Tor.
When the Conan novel line fizzed, what with Sprague De Camp’s death and all the rest, the outline was left in limbo, and finally Price decided to flesh it out and turn it into a short story, that was finally made available a few weeks back “as fan fiction”.
And I got a copy.
Well, because Conan.
And because Howard.
And because Robert M. Price, a man responsible of some of the best anthologies of supernatural horror I have here on my shelf.
The story is fun: a youthful Conan (more or less in the Tower of the Elephant era, by my reckoning) joins a dig out of Khemi, in Stygia, in order to steal the treasure the diggers are supposedly digging. Cue to Acheronian remains, Great Old Ones, dark plots featuring black-hooded gnarled cultists and sexy, lascivious Stygian women.
Way to go!
Now, a reminder – no one can write Conan but Howard.
Many fine writers (and many not-so-fine writers) had a go, and while many fun novels and stories were produced, they are all, one way or another, almost-Conan, alternative-Conan, that-guy-that-looks-like-Conan-but-not-really1.
This is not a mortal sin.
Fun, well-written, almost-Conan stories are all right with me.
It’s just a matter of adjusting one’s expectations before we start – if we expect Howard’s prose, his power and black depths of existential disillusion, we’ll be disappointed.
If we are looking for a Hyborian romp, well, OK.
Price’s Conan suffers from many of the “defects” of other Hyborian apocrypha, and indeed, I found it interesting that critic and anthologist Price’s story shares many of the “defects” one normally finds in that other great critic and anthologist’s work – Lin Carter’s.
And it’s a pity – I think – that a novel was never developed from Price’s outline.
The short story suffers from its shortness, and at times it really sounds like a padded-up outline. It sometimes feels a little hasty, or uncertain. Some situations obviously needed more space, more “breath” to work.
Twice the pages, and maybe a merciless editing from someone with the chutzpa and iron fist of Karl Edward Wagner or Lyon Sprague De Camp himself, might have turned this into a winner.
As it is, it’s fun, but it fails to raise above the level of fan fiction.