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I have made a hobby of reading old Ace Double novels and investigating whether the stereotypes of pulp science-fiction are indeed true. In many cases, they are not. But all of those were science-fiction stories. Would straight fantasy be different? Would our loincloth wearing barbarians be more typical of the macho values of the 1950s and 1960s?

By chance, the weekend before last, I was at Powell's Books, during a train layover, and looking for something to read. In the science-fiction room, a long-forgotten but familiar cover looked out at me. "The Bane of Kanthos", with a barbarian holding a sword and facing off against a giant spider. I remembered reading this book, probably at the age of 13. Truthfully, what I remembered was a single scene in the novel, that managed to capture my developing prurient interest, when the evil but seductive priestess tried to seduce the protagonist. For reasons of serious historical, sociological research, and not to relive a paragraph long sex scene that appealed to me when I was 13, I purchased the book.

This story is about Lansing, an adventurer in the Amazon who is trying to escape some Indians (yes, there will be more not-very-oblique racism), and falls through a portal. Once through the portal, he fights a gigantic snake. Then gets rescued by some Vikings, and realizes he is in a parallel world. After some initial skepticism, the Vikings (and the book calls them Vikings, despite them being in a different dimension), take our hero into our confidence. Especially when a mysterious old man appears and tells him that he is fated to destroy an evil Shadow that has been sealed away for a 1000 years. While the Vikings prepare for war against their treacherous and swarthy (and yes, the book does use "swarthy", repeatedly, to describe the armies of evil) enemies, our hero, now called Rocar, has to travel through bleak plains and fetid swamps to find the tower where the evil bane is located. And run into the coral-nippled priestess who so titillated me decades ago.

You can't judge a book by its cover, but in this case, you can. If you looked at the cover of this book, you would know exactly what you are getting. As opposed to the science-fiction books I have read from Ace Double, which often were surprisingly complex for their 100 odd pages, this book was pretty much what it seemed to be. An adventurer gets a magic sword and hacks and slashes his way through fantasy monsters. There is never really a moment of indecision or tension. Which is what most people look for in their hack-and-slash fantasy. If not for the examples of casual racism, I would have found it charming. As it was, though, the simplicity of the book managed to be slightly off-putting.

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