Almuric (Howard, R., E., 1939, 1964)

Howard's Almuric has been on my read list for a good while now since I first learned of its existence after I saw a couple of panels of a comic that was made of it in the 1970s for Epic Illustrated magazine. It is a one-off, light sci-fi story, originally published as a serial in 1939, later on as a complete book edition in 1964. Howard might have had further ideas for additional stories, as it does introduce the world of Almuric, but leaves a good partition of it unexplored. Further exploits of Esau Cairn were however left unexplored, as Howard had been dead for a good while before Almuric was originally published.

As such Almuric reminds me quite a bit of Burroughs's Barsoom series: just like John Carter, Esau Cairn is a man in the wrong place. He's not ageless like Carter is, but even on Earth, he's supernaturally strong and quick to anger, which leads him to problems. As he's as strong as he is, he can't even compete in professional sports, as he's afraid of hurting people. Hell, he has hurt people badly even with boxing gloves on. So one thing leads to an another, and Esau finds himself at odds with a local gangster he ends up killing. From here on his tale turns even more like John Carter's as he's then transported into another world, Almuric.

John Carter did his travels on some sort of astral plane, never really explained, Esau Cairn travels via machine designed by professor Hildebrand. To him, Esau also sends his narrative of his exploits on Almuric, but how he does this is also left unexplained, and another point which makes me think Howard was thinking of doing more Cairn stories.

From Almuric Cairn finds a more suitable home for himself: it's a savage world, filled with monsters and beasts. It's sentient inhabitants are stronger and more barbaric than those of his old home and with them, Cairn doesn't have to hold back his immense strength as the best of them give more than a challenge to him.

Cairns adoptive people, Gura, are a curious race. Curious in the manner of, that the men are hairy, almost ape-like brutes, who do field carbines and swords and daggers. Female Gura on the other hand look just like women on Earth. For this disparency, a clumsy explanation is given, but it makes as much sense as the similarly divided people of the lost city of Opar in Burroughs's Tarzan novels. But in any case, among them, Esau finds his lady love Altha.

The main villains of Almuric are glossy ebony coloured winged race Yaga's, who think of themselves as gods. They live in a high citadel, filled with slaves they take from the other races of Almuric. To add to their wholly unpleasant mindset, they also are cannibals and take pleasure from torturing of the lesser people.

Like I said in the beginning, it's pretty easy to see where Howard got his inspiration to Almuric. It has so many similarities towards Barsoom series, of which first stories were published in 1912 and a good bulk of them before Howard committed a suicide in 1936, that it's hard to believe it is a coincidence. Howard even emulates similar 1st person narrative as Burroughs did with Barsoom series.

A big difference between Almuric and Barsoom is, how the worlds are constructed. Carter's Barsoom is a dying world, build upon the bones of ancient civilizations. While the Martians try mostly survive, technology and invention haven't completely died. Almuric, on the other hand, is a stagnant world, which hasn't seen progress in ages. Gura and the Yaga have reached their own pinnacles and are completely happy with that. They don't invent or build anymore, they just are. Even the weapons of the Gura are mostly just passed from generation to generation because they are so durable. They do know how to build them but don't really bother doing so. This means that any progress of the world has just ended in a dead stop. Had Howard done more stories, the situation might have changed, given the possibilities of the other regions of Almuric, but as said, that wasn't in the cards.

While Almuric is an okay story, it's far from being Howard's finest hour. Esau himself is pretty straight forwarded and relative uninteresting main character. His driving personality is, that on Earth he was too strong, on Almuric he's on more even odds. That is repeated almost to ad nauseum. But then again, even on Almuric, he's this super strong fighter, who can rip bolted shackles off a stone wall. Not that John Carter has a superior personality, but at least with him, there's this poorly hidden mocking superiority he has towards everyone else.

Almuric doesn't really have that much going for it, at least what comes to originality or personality. It feels like a stumbling attempt at creating pulp sci-fi series in the style of John Carter or the like, but as such Howard didn't seem to have that many ideas with it, even the science fiction part of it is so fleeting, that it could just as well not exists at all. The characters and the races of it are also pretty bland as well and feel copied out of other sources. In all, it isn't that big of a surprise that it was only released around three years after Howard's death, as he was beginning to make a name for himself around the time, so there must have been some demand for new material bearing his name.

I hoped I could have enjoyed Almuric more than I did. It does have some good bits in it, but as a whole, it feels like an experiment not fully realized.