In our undying efforts to bring you engaging columns you won’t find anywhere else, we’ve reached out to the metal world seeking submissions for a new subject: Three amazing books you have to pick up and devour.
Seeing as you read this blog everyday, we went out on a limb and assumed you’d maybe want to get some decent book suggestions from some of your favorite bands, too. So today, we continue this series on rad, must-reads with an entry from the band Ogre.
It was in Washington D.C. that I first realized that the three of us in Ogre were a little…ahem…different from most guys in doom metal bands. It was pretty early in our “career” — summer of 2002, I believe — and we had been invited to play a mini-festival with such big hitters as Place of Skulls, Life Beyond, and Abdullah. It was our first real road trip as a band and we were just soaking it all in, psyched to be sharing the stage with such legendary players as Victor Griffin and doing our best not to get ourselves killed in the sketchy neighborhood where the Velvet Lounge is located (at least it seemed sketchy to these Mainers’ sheltered eyes).
Anyway, all the bands had finished load-in and most people were hanging out, shooting the shit and waiting for the show to begin. Our drummer Will and I were outside, most likely chatting with one of the other bands, when we noticed that Ed, our bassist and singer, was nowhere to found. We decided to investigate, and soon we spotted him, sitting at the bar. Unlike everyone around him, though, Ed was not downing whiskey or pounding beers. No, that’s not how Ogre rolls.
Instead, Ed was sort of curled up on a stool at the corner of the bar, nursing a Coke, and hunched over a tattered paperback copy of some old sci-fi novel, completely oblivious to the drunken banter around him. I can’t remember what book he was reading, but it was probably something like Larry Niven’s “Ringworld” series. At the time, I think I shook my head in amazement at the sheer audacity of Ed hunkering down with a good novel an hour before a gig, but on some level, I realized that I wanted to do the exact same thing.
Since that moment, it’s become increasingly clear that our fascination with vintage sci-fi and fantasy novels is one thing that really defines Ogre. You can see that influence pretty clearly in the cover of our first album, Dawn of the Proto-Man, which was taken from a torn copy of Robert Silverberg’s “Time of the Great Freeze” that Ed found at a yard sale.
You can also hear it in the lyrics of songs like “Colossus” and “Dogmen (of Planet Earth)” and, of course, in the entire storyline of Plague of the Planet, which was our attempt at writing our very own sci-fi story. We’ve even written a couple of songs directly based on sci-fi novels that we love — Charles Platt’s “The Gas” (off Seven Hells) and Roger Zelazny’s “Nine Princes in Amber” (off our latest album, The Last Neanderthal).
So, when we were invited by Gunshy Assassin to write a column about three books that everyone should read, we thought it only appropriate that we pay tribute to our sci-fi/fantasy roots, with each of us contributing a book or series that was a particular favorite. Read on…
Ed Cunningham: Roger Zelazny’s Nine Princes in Amber is one of my all-time favorite sci-fi/fantasy novels. It grabbed me when I stumbled upon it in my teens because it was/is a cool adventure story with a believable hero and it addresses all kinds of groovy questions about the nature of reality. The story is told in the first person by an old school hard-boiled character, Corwin of Amber.
He’s kind of a swash-buckling Sam Spade that Zelazny has thrown into a trippy, acid induced universe. Here’s the kicker, though: Corwin wakes up in a hospital (on our world) with amnesia, so he doesn’t know who he is, where he is, or where he is from. Corwin and the reader together discover bit by bit that he has super strength, stamina, etc. and that he’s probably several thousand years old.
Most importantly, though, through his brother Random, Corwin learns that he can manipulate the fabric of the universe. Anyone of the royal blood of Amber can create any reality he or she can imagine. Zelazny posits Amber as the one true world in the multi-verse and all other places, including earth, are a mere reflection of it. Corwin soon discovers that his father has abandoned the throne of Amber, and he sets out on a quest to claim it for himself and become king (god?). Of course, his eight brothers have other ideas.
“Nine Princes in Amber” is not just a great adventure story. Zelazny spreads his tale over five volumes and throughout the story Corwin grows and questions his own motives. Through Corwin, Zelazny theorizes on the quantum nature of the universe, what reality is, and other “big” questions. After taking a break, Zelazny also wrote five more “Amber” novels that feature Corwin’s son, Merlin. They are not quite as heady stuff as the first five, but still quite good. The Amber series was started in 1969, but, to me, is still cooler and more relevant than most of the hundreds of series that came afterwards.
Ross Markonish: Though I’ve always been viewed by Ed and Will as the horror reader of the group (I could go on for days about Lovecraft, Poe, et. al.), I’ve certainly had a love affair with sci-fi and fantasy books throughout my entire life. From childhood, when I spent many hours reading books like Edgar Rice Burroughs’ “John Carter: Warlord of Mars,” Terry Brooks’ “The Sword of Shannara,” and John Norman’s “Gor” books (thankfully, I didn’t pick up on the heavy S&M themes in Norman’s novels, though I’m sure they warped my young psyche in irreparable ways!), to my college years, when I went through the obligatory phase of reading “serious” sci-fi writers like Philip K. Dick and J.G. Ballard, to now, when I’ve recently discovered the early 70s downer novels of Robert Silverberg and Roger Zelazny’s funky “Amber” series (thanks to Ed, of course!), I always find myself going through phases of reading the stuff.
And, yet, through all of these stages of my life, there has always been one series of books that I find myself coming back to time and again: Michael Moorcock’s “Elric Series.” I know that the Elric books are familiar to many metal fans, serving as inspiration for bands such as Blue Oyster Cult, Hawkwind, Diamond Head, and Cirith Ungol, but there’s good reason for that: they are quite simply the most doom-laden fantasy novels of the genre.
There’s just something about Elric’s amoral brooding, his wasted health, his cursed dependency on drugs, and of course, his constant companion, the evil black blade Stormbringer, that perfectly encapsulates the whole ethos of doom metal.
I still remember when I first read the series (the classic Daw versions with the Michael Whelan covers, of course), back when I was in junior high. There were parts that I didn’t quite get (the opening sequence of “The Sailor On the Seas of Fate” just might have been a bit too trippy for my young mind) and some things I didn’t really know about (I don’t think I learned about the whole Eternal Champion concept until long after that first reading), but there also were scenes of such epic awesomeness that they embedded themselves in my brain for all eternity. In particular, I still remember finishing the last book of the series, “Stormbringer,” with its infamous final scene, and just sitting there, stunned. I won’t include any spoilers, but I don’t think I had ever read such a shocking, heavy ending before, and it blew me away.
Since that initial reading, I’ve explored other books in the Eternal Champion series (the Jerry Cornelius books are particularly wild) and I’ve gone back and read the Elric books a few more times, each time coming away with something new. However, it’s always Stormbringer’s final words — “Farewell friend. I was a thousand times more evil than thou!” — that still resonate with me.
In so many ways, it’s the perfect doom ending to the perfect doom sci-fi/fantasy series.
Will Broadbent: We’ve been talking about science fiction book series, and with my selection I’m going to go back to the granddaddy of them all: Edgar Rice Burroughs’ “A Princess of Mars,” the first book featuring John Carter. It’s a shame that, when most people think of the name “John Carter” nowadays, they think of one of the worst movie bombs in history.
The movie itself wasn’t all that bad; it’s just that the Disney marketing department completely dropped the ball in the promotion of the movie, which I think was by design. I believe that these huge motion picture companies need to take losses on some of their movies to offset the gains they get from their billion dollar blockbusters for tax purposes. But that’s an essay for another time.
Anywho, the “Warlord of Mars” books epitomize the kind of swashbuckling space opera we take for granted now. All of the heroic fiction I worship (“Superman,” the early Alex Raymond “Flash Gordon” comic strips, Robert E. Howard’s characters, “Star Wars,” etc.) comes from this stuff.
The Martian landscape and all the interacting cultures and factions at odds with each other are so well thought out and interesting, it keeps you engaged from bloody fight scene to bloody fight scene. “A Princess of Mars” is very readable, fun, and the perfect introduction to this esoteric culture.
The narrative is in the form of a journal passed along to the titular character’s nephew. John Carter, a Civil War veteran, finds himself astral projected to the world of Mars, where he discovers that, due to the lesser gravity and different atmospheric conditions, he has super-strength and is able to leap great distances. He encounters the Tharks, huge green monsters with four arms, eventually befriends noble Tars Tarkas of their tribe, is assigned his faithful guard dog and companion, Woola, and becomes embroiled in a clash between the warring factions of the aforementioned green Martians and a race of red Martians, more humanoid in appearance.
One of their number, Princess Dejah Thoris of the city of Helium, comes into the story having been captured by the Tharks. Hot babes, swordfights, huge battles, and overcoming insurmountable odds… Classic stuff!
Any fan of the science fiction genre needs to make sure they revisit this stuff. Some of it might sound cliché and dated at this point in time, but reading these books today is still just as fun and fresh as it was when they were originally published.
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