There are a number of birthdays today in the fields of the fantastic, including but not limited to C. J. Cherryh (1942), Timothy Zahn (1951), and S. Andrew Swann (1966). But there are two writers born on this date (September 1) against whom all others with birthdays today pale in comparison.
The first is Edgar Rice Burroughs (1875-1950), who needs no introduction to readers of this blog. Burroughs’ impact on the field can’t be argued. It’s fashionable these days to bash him for various isms (colonialism, racism, funism). I don’t care about any of that. Except the funism; I care very much about that. Burroughs wrote in a different time with different values. I’m a big boy. I can handle it.
I’ve not read nearly as much Burroughs as I should. I’ve started the Tarzan novels and am thoroughly enjoying them. It’s been so long since I read A Princess of Mars that I’m going to reread it before reading the rest of the series.
Burroughs, like Tolkien and Lovecraft, has influenced scores of writers, one of whom was Robert E. Howard. I’m singling out Howard because of the second author I’ll discuss below. Burroughs has many imitators, but a number of people write in reaction to him, trying to be as opposite him as possible, just like they do with Tolkien and Lovecraft. Me, I’d rather have the pure product than the imitations, but I’ll take the imitations over the haters.
The second writer born today has also had a huge impact on the field, although it’s not as pervasive as that of Burroughs. I’m referring to Harold Lamb (1892-1962). Lamb wrote mostly historical fiction and biography, although there are fantastic elements in some of his works. He has experienced something of a renaissance in the last decade, mainly due to the efforts of Howard Andrew Jones, which is how I came to read him. (Thank you, Howard.)
I’ve only dipped my toe into Lamb’s works by reading some of the Khlit the Cossack tales, and I’ve loved them. One thing that stood out to me was the story structure. I couldn’t help but think of Conan when I read them. This is hardly surprising, since Lamb was a huge influence on Howard,
Lamb knew his stuff. Most of his works deal with Asia, a continent that to the readers of his day was filled with strange and exotic cultures. Not much has changed in the minds of the general reading public since then, if you ask me.
If you’ve not read Lamb, do yourself a favor and pick up one of the Bison Books collections edited by Howard Andrew Jones. Wolf of the Steppes is a great place to start. Khlit the Cossack is a middle aged fighter who has been exiled. His wanderings take him across Asia for some of the most exciting and intelligent adventures you’ll ever want to read.