Return to the Jungle, Ki-Gor Style

silver witchIf your to-be-read pile is anything like mine, sometimes stuff leaps ahead for no good reason. For instance, I have a score of books I’ve actually been looking forward to for years and have never gotten to. Sometimes it’s a matter of taste (maybe I’m not feeling like a pulp adventure) and sometimes its just timing, or that I’m saving THAT book for a long airplane trip because I’m positive I’ll like it (such is the fate of Nathan Long’s third Ulrika book, and Tim Powers’ The Drawing of the Dark).

But sometimes it’s just a whim. I drop by James Reasoner’s excellent blog from time to time, and on November 18th he posted a review of a Ki-Gor story. He kind of liked it, and I dropped in to say that if you like THAT one, just wait, because they get weird and wild and far stronger pretty soon… and that got me and my pal John Chris Hocking talking about Ki-Gor again. He decided he’d finally get around to reading one of my favorites, “The Silver Witch” and I decided to heck with my TBR pile, that I’d tackle a handful of Ki-Gor stories I’d never gotten around to.

cobra-queenI wrote about the glories and pitfalls of the Ki-Gor jungle man stories back in August of 2014. I’m still sort of surprised by how much I liked them, because it didn’t seem to be in my wheel house — except that the best are pretty grand pulp adventure with elements of the fantastic, the tale of “The Silver Witch” being a perfect example. Back then I wrote:

I wasn’t quite sure what I’d get, but what I didn’t expect was an action-packed adventure with glowing zombie-men who disintegrated into ash when slain, or the machinations of an ageless sorceress intent on… well, I don’t remember what she was intent on, really, but she wanted to conquer something, and she fell for Ki-Gor, hard, as scheming villainesses do. It was ridiculous and over-the-top and certainly not politically correct, but at the same time it was thrilling and firing on all cylinders. I had the inescapable sense while reading it that the writer had said to himself, “Well, if I’m being hired to write a cliched jungle adventure I’m going to make it the best cliched jungle adventure I possibly can.” And so he had. It was a blast, cliches and all.”

Altus Press has now reprinted three collections of Ki-Gor stories, and the third volume happens to contain the first two that make my best of list. I even got to write the introduction to that one.

But there are approximately 59 Ki-Gor stories, which is a lot, and even I haven’t read them all. (Why approximate, you ask? Well, during the initial magazine run, some were reprinted with a different title, some were reprinted as is, and sometimes other stories were printed using an old cover with a pre-existing title emblazoned on it. It gets confusing.) I mean, there are only so many jungle man stories I can personally read in a row because the elements tend to repeat. It’s something to dip into now and again, not constantly.

In any case, purely by chance, the four I had left all turned out to be good entries. They were (and you’ll love these titles) “Cobra Queen of the Congo Legions,” “Mad Monster of Mu-Ungu,” “Safari of the Serpent Slaves,” and then one I’ve not quite finished, “Slave-Caverns of Molundu.”

ki-gor 3The first three I can grade as B level Ki-Gor stories. Maybe not stirring examples of the genre at its best, but good reads. “Cobra Queen” may even rate a B+ because it has a great villain, and the entire opening segment is him making a pretty nifty escape from imprisonment so he can visit vengeance against Ki-Gor. In “Mad Monster” it seemed like we readers might finally meet a noble Arab who wasn’t just a slaver but… no. In these tales the Arabs are always bad guys. Still, it’s a pretty nifty “Ki-Gor gets framed” plot that would have held up a lot better if I hadn’t just accidentally read one with a similar set-up. In “Serpent Slaves” not only did Ki-Gor face off against some trained killer vultures and some drug induced zombies, his wife Helene punched a guy right in the snout, and sent arrow after arrow winging into the bad guys.

It’s weird how unPC these things are at the same time that they’re also egalitarian. I’ve mentioned before how close Ki-Gor and his two black friends are to one another (Tembu George and N’Geeso). They even refer to each other as “brother” sometimes. It was really striking in these tales.

Not that anyone is reading these because of racial harmony — they’re reading it for the straight-up, no-holds barred adventure — but it’s still pretty cool.