John C. Hocking introduces me to some of the best fiction I read, although in the case of Ben Haas westerns, it was via sword-and-sorcery scholar Morgan Holmes. I don’t believe anyone is more knowledgeable about sword-and-sorcery than Morgan Holmes. But not just sword-and-sorcery, heroic fiction in general. Hocking’s no slouch himself, though, and some years back when I was hanging out with those two at Pulpcon I had the chance to discover adventure westerns years before I got interested. I remember leaving the convention with Hocking and Holmes and Stephen Haffner (all these h’s in the last name of friends is coincidence, I swear) and dropping by a few great used bookstores. Holmes and Hocking eventually wandered over to the western section. Me, that stuff wasn’t of interest. Westerns?
I suppose I should be generous to myself. With so much sword-and-sorcery fiction still unread by me at that time I know I was trying to stay focused in my interest and research. But I also know that I had some prejudice against reading a western, even though I used to watch and enjoy westerns with my dad. I had about as much interest in reading cowboy stories as I had setting down with a stack of Harlequin romances. Anyway, during that trip I snagged a fine hardback copy of Earth Giant, one of my favorite historical adventure novels, and Hocking pointed me toward some paperbacks by some guy named Richard Meade and another one by Quinn Reade, ’70s sword-and-sorcery novels I’d never heard of. “They’re both by the same guy, Ben Haas,” Hocking informed me. He also explained that many westerns played with the same kind of themes I liked in sword-and-sorcery, although, as with any genre, the good authors are far outnumbered by the mediocre and bad.
It turns out that one of the very best of these western writers was Ben Haas, although good luck finding much written under his real name. The man drafted under a storm of pseudonyms: Ben Elliot, Richard Meade, John Benteen, Thorne Douglas, and maybe a few others. His prose is clean and sharp. He wastes no time on needless exposition, and his pace thunders forward. You never have to wade through the dull stuff, or sigh a little as you skim the sections where the author expounds his pet philosophy. No, Haas got right to the character and the story.