Friday, June 24, 2016

Bane of Nightmares by Adrian Cole

"Vorta's evil is the worst kind--it must be opposed.  And for him the light is fading.  He has evaded me for too long."
As Bane of Nightmares, the third and final volume of Adrian Cole's Dream Lords trilogy, begins, Galad Sarian is contemplating suicide.  I can almost hear you asking "Why, Galad, why?  Didn't you just overthrow Daras Vorta and liberate planet Earth from his tyranny, so that Earth's people practically worship you?  Didn't you just execute your mascara-, lipstick- and perfume-wearing cousin Ravas Tarka, whom Vorta was trying to put on the Dream Lord triumvirate in your place?  Why check out in your moment of triumph?"  I'll tell you why Galad is pointing his blood-stained sword at his own heart--because of a woman!  The same space ship which brought dedicated follower of fashion Ravas to a liberated Earth also brought news that Galad's beloved, Taria, back home on planet Zurjah, seat of the Empire and home of the ruling Dream Lords, believing Galad dead, has gotten married and gotten pregnant!

Bane of Nightmares was published in 1976 by Zebra, with a dark, heavy, moody cover by Tom Barber.  I love these kinds of images (Frank Frazetta is the master of such images) in which a man faces some mysterious and apparently insuperable foe--to me, such visions represent the struggles we all face in life, the futility and the glory of our individual and collective efforts to accomplish something, or to simply survive, in this uncaring universe in which we and all our works are doomed to die and be forgotten.

Galad is in the desolate wilderness, on the island in a polluted sea to which he chased Ravas at the end of the previous volume, Lord of Nightmares.  He is just about to end his young life when a hermit stumbles upon him and dissuades him from committing the sin of self-destruction.  Galad crashes in the hermit's pad, a dilapidated hut, and becomes a drunk, spending every night and day sleeping and guzzling his misanthropic host's wine.  After a few weeks of this self-indulgent lifestyle, Gundar Sabian, Galad's old friend from Zurjah, finds him and tells him something that sobers him up--Daras Vorta is alive and he's on Zurjah, denouncing Galad and the barbarians of Earth!  Galad gets on the first ship to Zurjah to set the record straight, no doubt hoping Vorta hasn't had time to wipe all those incriminating e-mails from his illegal private server!

Things on Zurjah are more complicated than Galad had initially imagined. Galad's father has died, so there is an open seat on the Dream Lord triumvirate. The two surviving Dream Lords, Vidor Karset and Laomidian, want to fill the vacancy tout suite because two Dream Lords can't really muster enough psychic power to hypnotize the Zurjahn population into thinking inhospitable Zurjah is a pleasant place to live. (Clues suggest that Zurjahn is known to you and me as Jupiter.)  Galad is the obvious choice to fill the opening, but Galad hates the Dream Lords and all their works, and then there's the fact that Vidor Karset is the guy who married and impregnated Taria, and he hates Galad because Taria is still in love with our young hero!  Now, if Galad and the two Dream Lords can't work together, there is a backup candidate who can do the job waiting in the wings.  Who else has the mental power for this position?  You guessed it--the diabolical Vorta!

We readers get what amounts to a courtroom scene, with speeches and witnesses and lawyers and all that jazz.  When it looks like Vorta is going to lose the trial he tries some back room manipulations, and, when Galad foils these underhanded moves, Vorta uses his mental powers to murder Vidor Karset and kidnap Taria. Vorta grabs a space ship and blasts off for Earth, and Galad pursues him in a second ship.

Back on Earth, Galad chases Vorta and Taria to a creepy marshy mutant jungle full of giant worms and carnivorous plants.  Living in this menacing swamp are two tribes of degenerate humans, one ruled by a benevolent telepathic creature who is half-man and half-plant, the other an evil army of ghoulish troglodytes molded over the years by Vorta during much-needed vacations from his full-time job of torturing people.  Galad enlists the vegetable-man's tribe to be his army in the war on Vorta.  If you have been following Galad's military career as closely as I have, it will come as no surprise that during the fighting against Vorta and his legions the casualty rate of the army of swamp men approaches 100%.
It seemed that I had fulfilled my old role of Pale Horseman and brought death to these people as surely as though I had wielded the tool of their destruction myself.
The final climactic scene is a mental battle between Galad and Vorta in an ancient cathedral defiled by Vorta and converted into a Satanic temple.  Taria and Vidor Karset's unborn child (!) contribute their own mental powers to the victory over Vorta, who is killed when a huge cross falls on him, crushing him on the altar where he planned to sacrifice Taria. (There is a fair amount of Christian imagery in this novel, adding a horror story vibe to its sword and sorcery feel.)

Bane of Nightmares is easily the best of the three Dream Lords books.  Readers of my last blog post may recall that I was disappointed that there was no climactic showdown between Galad and Vorta in Lord of Nightmares; well, I really appreciated that most of this book feels like just such a showdown.  Bane of Nightmares also feels more focused than earlier volumes, with fewer extraneous characters, fewer overly-long descriptions and fewer superfluous, repetitive scenes. Galad is a more interesting character here, first suicidal, then a drunk, and then driven by hatred to a single-minded pursuit of the despicable and horrifying Vorta.  His relationships--to the swamp men and to the hermit, for example--are more engaging. Maybe Cole's plotting and pacing had improved by the time he did the final draft of this third volume of the trilogy.  The science fiction and fantasy elements, the various monsters and psychic fights and so forth, also work (I love giant worms and man-eating plants and that sort of thing.)

On the negative side of the ledger we must note that Bane of Nightmares contains an alarming number of typos, mostly what I think are typesetting errors, like the transposition of two letters in a word.  There are dozens of such irritating mistakes. Zebra did readers (and Cole) a real disservice by putting the book out in this sadly unfinished form.

Well, that does it for the Dream Lords trilogy, a problem-riddled and brash entertainment which receives little attention and has not been reprinted since the seventies.  In our next episode we'll look at some examples of the kind of SF the high-minded critics are always lavishing with praise and crediting with revolutionary importance!

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