Oron, originally written in 1973-1974 and published by Zebra Books in 1978, is going to be reissued by Wildside Press/Borgo Press—next year, I hope, but relatively soon, in any event. I’ve scanned in the text—all 93,000 words of it—and am now revising the novel. I have several reasons for doing so.
Oron is the first novel-length manuscript I completed. I managed to achieve this goal at a young age—I was 21 years old—after having written many short stories over the course of three years and after abandoning several other attempts at novel-sized manuscripts, all of them historical stories (about pirates, or cave men, or Romans fighting barbarians, as well as other straightforward adventure fiction conceits influenced by Jack London, Robert E. Howard, and the many mid-century popular novelists I’d read). Why I decided that I should attempt so large a story—a sword-and-sorcery epic—I don’t remember, other than that I was ambitious, I wanted to be published by a conventional publisher, and sword-and-sorcery fiction (which I like) was still appearing on the paperback racks at that time. I do recall wanting to write an adventure that would echo the exploits of a Homeric figure from a lost age, a notion inspired by Howard’s Hyborean Age. So I set the bar high, and Oron went through three partial and three complete drafts before I decided that it was more or less completed.
The novel was thus very much a learning process for me. As I looked at the story while scanning in the pages to revise them, I was pleased to see how well it holds together structurally. My instincts in that regard were solid. What does not work so well for me any longer is the hyperemotional language, which was very much influenced by the pulp fiction being reprinted in the early 1970s. Because of that and my limited writing experience, the book reads “real young.” Also, even though I tried to invest the characters with emotional depth and personal psychology, they remain larger-than-life personages on a very large stage. They are the products of my interest in Elizabethan and Restoration theater. Oron plays it big; everything is twice the size it needs to be—language, action, characters, scope. It works because the novel is sincere and because I was trying to break new ground. Still, it has an old-school quality to it: it does not reach out to the reader; rather, it’s the kind of story that pulls the reader in. It is the work of a talented, ambitious, widely read but still unseasoned young man.
(Which is fine. Andy Offutt understood what I was doing; he wanted to nominate me as the John W. Campbell Best New Writer of the Year, although he felt that the science fiction community at the time would frown on allowing a fantasy writer to be up for that award. He also thought that Oron should have been nominated for a Balrog Award, but that did not occur, either.)
Oron was written long before novels, particularly fantasies, were designed to fulfill predetermined corporate agendas. The book is very much of its time, a period in popular fiction situated between the postwar, modern, masculine America (a sensibility that persisted well into the late 1970s) and the subsequent libertarian, postmodern, universal America that has been dominant for several decades now. In attitude, it is much more like the freelance fiction written today by authors online and published by small, independent presses. It grew out of the fanzine era, itself the last echo of the great pulp fiction of the mid-twentieth century, a generation before imaginative fiction became mainstreamed as a result of Stephen Spielberg and George Lucas movies, role-play gaming, and the influence of Tolkein’s trilogy. In that sense, Oron is not at all a construction of postmodern conceit; for example, is not a world-building fantasy epic; such a concept was unknown in the 1970s. Neither is it influenced by role-play gaming, which I don’t think existed in 1973. There is a lot of Howard, obviously, in Oron, but I was also influenced by the adventure-story writers I’d read in the years leading up to the summer of 1973—Frank Yerby, for example, and Samuel Shellabarger. I had any number of titles by these authors, either in used paperbacks or in book club editions given to me by neighbors who were clearing out their attics or basements. These writers are largely forgotten now (no one has manufactured a video game of Captain from Castileor Prince of Foxes!), but in the 1940s and 1950s, they wrote polished, romantic adventure stories very much in the vein of Sabatini, whom I also read to excess back then. I feel now that the influence of these writers had much to do with the fact that Oron in the novel is not a purely barbaric figure, even though he should be. He has some of Douglas Fairbanks, Sr., and Errol Flynn in him; he is Hector as well as Achilles, but he ought to be Achilles or, better, Alexander—a born fighter bred for war and personal combat, yet innately intelligent and intrigued by life as he finds it. Oron is a Nevgan—raised to survive anything, anywhere—but he has a bit of us in him, too, enough so that we understand him and even sympathize with him. (Nevga, I believe, was my alteration of the name of the River Neva in Russia, so perhaps my barbarian world-shaker has a bit of Aleksandr Nevski and Ilya Mourametz in him.)
In revising the novel, then, I have reworked Oron so that he reflects the character who subsequently appeared in two other novels and several short stories—prequels—all written in the early 1980s, when Oron had gone through its two printings and fallen out of print. I expect the tone and substance to be similar to that of “Dark of Heart,” a short story scheduled to appear in Weird Tales, or that of “Shadow-born, Shadow-taken,” my novelette recently released in the e-anthology Artifacts and Relics (http://heathenoracle.weebly.com/).
I also intend to do my best to improve the quality of my writing, including the dialogue. Morgan Holmes mentioned to me years ago that one of the things that set my sword-and-sorcery stories apart from those of other writers was my extensive use of dialogue. He’s right. I did not intentionally set out to write in such a way; it comes as an outgrowth of my strong interest in cinema and theater—that is, in developing characters defined as much by their speech and thoughts as by their actions. But the dialogue in Oron as it was originally published is in places almost formal, and there are several monologues in which characters might as well be on a stage under a spotlight reciting Gloucester’s speech at the opening of Richard III. I intend to do away with those monologues and present them as private, indirect discourse.
One more thought: I am dismayed whenever I hear people express surprise that Howard’s volatile fiction could be taken seriously. “He really believed this stuff,” these people say. In fact, the world that Howard portrays is closer to the existence most human beings have lived for the past ten thousand years than is the simulacrum most of us now inhabit. We have put our trust in a fashionable but errant world that teeters every minute on a pinpoint, and this cannot last. I would remind those who find Howard’s worldview to be an affront to our finer sensibilities that his world is real; ours is not. The world of Howard’s sword-and-sorcery, and that of Oron, is not a world of irony and camp; it is not a world of degrading reliance on global technology, as necessary as we have made that. The world that Howard describes in his stories echoes with myths, legends, and tales that go back to the beginning of human settlements, and we ought not to discount this rawness; it is in us still. That noted, I rather like the world I was born into—the world of Western sensibilities, that is; it makes immediately available a great deal that mankind has inherited, and having gotten an education, I am at home in it, although we can do much better, especially in America, in terms of civil rights and economic fairness, and we may.
Nevertheless, we remain a Neolithic species, and the pretense that we are rational, sensible, just, or honorable is not to be trusted. Man is a wolf to man, as the Romans said. The best of us have much to teach us, and we are wise to listen, but few of us as yet are equal to what the best among us ask of us. The haunted world of elemental terrors and human cruelty and desperation is the world we have known the longest; we come from that world, and we dismiss our memory of it at our peril. Stories of men and women armed with swords and strong hearts, facing whatever may confront them on whatever red field they find themselves, encourage us to remember where we have come from and who we have been.