Saturday, February 11, 2023

Conan - Hawks over Shem

If you look online for the definition for “convoluted”, it should just provide a link to Robert E. Howard and L. Sprague de Camp's “Hawks over Shem” short story. In my quest to absorb as much Conan literature as humanly possible, I read half of this particular short story and found myself so confused that I re-read the first half again, which led to even more confusion. What in the Hell is going on here?

Perhaps the problem with this jumbled, fragmented, mess of a story is that it was originally a manuscript that Howard wrote about ancient Egypt called “Hawks over Egypt”. This version of the story was written by Howard in the 1930s and was first published in The Road of Azrael, a 1979 collection by Grant and later Bantam. It later appeared in Sword Woman and other Historical Adventures in 2011 by Del Rey. 

By 1955, L. Sprague de Camp had re-written “Hawks over Egypt” into a Conan the Cimmerian story with a new title of “Hawks over Shem”. It first appeared in Fantastic Universe's October 1955 issue. It was also included in the Gnome Press collection Tales of Conan the same year. The 1968 Lancer paperback Conan the Freebooter contains the story and its comic adaptation is featured in The Savage Sword of Conan #36

It's a fool's errand for me to try and review the story properly considering I received it in a dense fog of endless characters and alliances. Here's my best attempt: Conan and a stranger name Farouz are attacked by four Kushites. After Conan and Farouz kill the assailants, they scamper to a bar (where no alcohol is served) where a discussion happens that serves as plot development. A guy named Othbaal is contending for leadership of Asgalun. He's the cousin of King Akhirom, a lunatic. Othbaal is fighting a commander named Mazdak and a Kushite general, Imbalayo. It's a triangle of politics, backstabbing, and a lot of alliances.

This was just a nightmare to read and I couldn't gather which character was representing which country and who the enemy was. Thankfully, Conan's elementary role was to kill Othbaal and form a friendship with a mistress named Rufia. Together they attempt to leave the city among the factions of Anakim solders, Asgalun citizens, Imbalayo's power-heave, the Hyrkanians, a witch, a bonesucking creature, the crazy King Akhirom, and a Kushite captain. There's some connection to Conan's pirate days, but by the story's end, both Conan and Rufia flee north and this story thankfully ends. 

At 50ish pages, there's a backstabbing and an alliance formed over some minor backstory on nearly every page. I haven't read “Hawks over Egypt”, but I can imagine it must be better and more restrained than this over-indulgent nonsense. Out of the Conan stories I've recently read, this was the worst of the bunch. Avoid this headache.

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