The Suns of Scorpio
Date: Apr 5th, 2012 12:11:45 pm - Subscribe
Mood: transported

Of all of the ERB pastiches that appeared in the 1970's by far the most elaborate and sustained was UK author Kenneth Bulmer's Dray Prescot series (written as Alan Burt Akers and Dray Prescot). Beginning with Transit to Scorpio (1972) and continuing for a remarkable 52 volumes the series centers around Dray Prescot, an 18th century jacktar and resident John Carter surrogate. He finds himself mysteriously transported to the exotic planet Kregan (à la that other Carter echo, Adam Strange), where he finds swashbuckling adventure and wins the love of Delia, princess of the island empire of Vallia.

At first blush the series appears to be a somewhat ironic take on the ERB oeuvre. One of the first places the readers visit is the "swinging city" where the houses hang on cords and literally swing back and forth. Also, Bulmer seems determined to confound the reader's expectations as fight scenes promising lots of violent action suddenly come to a dead stop as the protagonist is whisked to a different time and place. There's a distinct sense that he's deliberately subverting the bloodthirsty aspects of the genre. Yet as the series went on and Bulmer kept adding to it year after year it became clear he was doing more in these tales than poking at ERB. He was involved in sculpting an elaborate fantasy edifice.

One interesting aspect of the series is its connections with gaming. I have no idea whether or not Bulmer himself was a gamer, but he was clearly sympathetic to the hobby. The novel Mazes of Scorpio (1982) involves delving in a trap and monster filled maze and reads like a tribute to D&D. Then in 1986 Mayfair games published Beneath Two Suns, an "authorized and approved" AD&D module allowing players to adventure on Kregan. On top of that Wargames Research Group's fantasy miniature wargame Hordes of the Things included extensive army lists for the various factions of Kregan.

Despite its evident popularity the series was dropped by DAW in the late 1980's. Tastes had changed and readers were less interested in florid planetary romance than in gritty cyberpunk. Although Bulmer continued to extend the series his later books were only published in German translations. Only recently has Mushroom eBooks made these later volumes available to English readers. In spite of its derivative origins Bulmer's Dray Prescot series is one of the great achievements in sf worldbuilding. Like Mike Grell's Warlord comic that I discussed the other day it is a tribute to Bulmer's lively imagination. It remains an underrated classic of its type.

Update: I changed the pics. They all come from Gilian, Sister of the Rose's fan site (
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