With the financial crisis back on the agenda I decided I had better get planning for a worldwide economic meltdown. There won't be much call for development chemists in any financial armageddon so I'll be needing an alternative career path. I have decided to become a barbarian. Steel is the currency of the warrior, and even Goldman Sachs can't do anything to get a rake off from that so it seems like a good choice.
As part of my planning for this back up option, I read one of the early Conan the Barbarian stories by Robert.E.Howard. It seemed like a good starting point for tips for the barbarian lifestyle. These stories weren't by any means the first sword and sorcery writings, but for my money it was Conan that really created the genre for a mass market. Originally written for pulp magazines they tend to be short and self contained, with characters that you can get to know pretty quickly.
It would be pushing it to call them great literature, but if you bear in mind what the objective was it isn't hard to admire the skill with which they are are crafted. Red Nails is a fine example. The plot is simple, but not idiotically so. Conan overcomes problems by his great muscular strength, but he also has recourse to brain power as well. He also has a worthy enough character. He is a bit more than one dimensional, though maybe doesn't quite get to two dimensions.
The imaginary world in which the adventures take place isn't really a believable alternative reality, it is more of a stage on which interesting things can be explored. Dragons, wizards and long lost cities appear as props. A bit of not that well disguised sado-masochistic titillation gets thrown into the mix. Howard's greatest ability is to say quite a bit without too many words, and that works particuarly well for that last bit. Although sex is hinted at (quite heavy hints) sexism isn't. Valeria, the female interest, is tall, blond and available for hot girl on girl action. But as a pirate she is not a stereotyped little woman. She is just as able as any male character, and more so than most. If you have seen the film, you will have the idea. For books written in the twenties, this was pretty progressive.
In the end Red Nails is pretty forgettable, but it holds your attention while you are reading it and you do want to get to the end of it. Most of Howard's work is freely available on the net nowadays. If you are looking for some entertainment to fill up your Kindle or smart phone for when your brain isn't up to tougher stuff, you could do a lot worse.