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Transit to Scorpio by Alan Burt Akers2.5 stars

Unabashedly derivative of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Barsoom novels, Alan Burt Akers’ (one of many pseudonyms of Kenneth Bulmer) saga of Dray Prescot of Antares spanned 37 books between 1972 and 1988, with an additional 16 released only in Germany. You might well wonder why. If nothing else, the success of these readable but utterly unremarkable novels proves that there is a measurable portion of the SF reading public for whom a lack of originality is not really a problem, as long as a certain degree of quick gut-level gratification is delivered expediently. Heck, that’s the key to the success of any bit of junk food entertainment.

Perhaps I’m being unfair there, because Transit to Scorpio is not without its pleasures. Knowing full well that he is following in some well-worn footsteps, Akers compensates for his tale’s lack of freshness by packing it chock full of fast-paced action, fearsome beasties, and naked slave girls (stopping short of sex), making the Prescot series the kind of books designed to appeal to hormonally turbocharged adolescent boys in need of power fantasies and titillation during those moments they weren’t able to sneak a peek at their dad’s Penthouse stash.

The premise is simplicity itself, though, as we shall see, the plot of the first Prescot novel is all over the place. Dray Prescot is a sailor of 19th century Europe who, while fleeing fierce tribesmen in darkest Africa, finds himself suddenly plucked from this world and deposited upon Kregen, a world circling Antares in Scorpio and itself circled by seven moons. He’s been brought there by means unexplained by the Savanti, a race of people who seek to civilize Kregen by example, not force, and who recruit candidates from other worlds, like Prescot, to help them in this. Why? Ah, who cares?

The Savanti are so peaceful that when they go hunting they merely stun their prey instead of killing them (considering how barbaric the rest of Kregen is, I don’t give the Savanti much of a chance). Prescot undergoes an immersion treatment that gives him a thousand-year lifespan. But when he in turn gives the same treatment to a young woman named Delia — who had been denied it by the Savanti — the Savanti get royally pissed and kick Prescot back to Earth, to the apparent chagrin of beings known as the Star Lords. The Star Lords’ role in things is not terribly well laid out for the reader’s edification — we know only that they are keeping an eye on the Savanti and Prescot — but perhaps Akers gets to it in later novels.

After many years moping on Earth, Prescot is returned to Kregen, just in time to witness Delia being captured by nasties and taken off into slavery. Making the most of the convenient coincidence that placed him back on Kregen within feet of the girl he’d been obsessing about all these years, Prescot falls in with a tribe of warriors called the Clansmen of Felschraung and spends five years (dealt with by Akers inside of a single chapter) becoming their leader. Prescot by now is a damn near invincible superman, it would seem. Yet one day he and a band of his men are waylaid by enemies and enslaved in the nearby city of Zenicce, which is run by feuding noble houses. Once installed as a slave in the House of Esztercari (whose beautiful spoiled brat princess daughter — as in all adolescent-male fantasies of this sort — does everything in her power to seduce him), Prescot naturally finds Delia again and the two are racing like mad to escape together.

So, like, why read a book like this when there are so many better ones out there? (For my part, I did it because as an obsessed completist I aim to build this into a fairly comprehensive review site of books both old and new.) Well, as I said, for all that it is silly and hackneyed, there is definite guilty-pleasure value to this kind of low-bar planetary romance. The hack-n-slash stuff is handled with gusto.

And I am well aware of the audience for whom it is intended. Dray Prescot is no John Carter of Mars, that’s for dang sure. But as a Burroughs pastiche, this series is a whole lot better than Norman’s Gor any day (unless you’re specifically into the Gor series’ sexual sadism, in which case, heaven help you). That spotty 11-year-old down the block who double-bags all his X-Men, is always chosen last at sports, and gets picked on all the time by the jocks and stoners — Dray Prescot is the series for him. I’d rather he got his power fantasies out of his system by reading cheesy books. God only knows there are less healthy ways.

Followed by The Suns of Scorpio.