Review: Lord of the Trees / Author: Philip José Farmer / Publisher: Titan Books / Release Date: Out Now
Long before the term 'mash-up' had ever been coined, Philip José Farmer was entertaining the SF faithful with exploits set in what would latterly become known as the Wold Newton Universe. Within it, we find 'true' episodes from the lives of a host of fictional icons – or rather the 'real' characters who supposedly served as the basis for them.
Following on from A Feast Unknown (1969), Lord of the Trees (1970) again sees Lord Grandrith, the 'real life' Lord Greystoke (i.e., Tarzan, but you knew that), as hero and narrator. After his homoerotically charged (to say the very least!) duel with his half-brother Doc Caliban (read Doc Savage) in the last novel*, he has now vowed to destroy their former masters, The Nine, an evil consortium of immortals who have secretly ruled humankind for tens of millennia. Cue 160-odd pages of vividly described, almost non-stop action as he returns to the jungle to battle hordes of minions. Oh, and did we mention that Grandrith and Caliban's dad happened to be Jack the Ripper?
It certainly makes for a brisk and entertaining read. More in line with the pulp fiction it celebrates than anything resembling traditional SF, it occupies a strange world somewhere between Michael Moorcock's Jerry Cornelius cycle and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. There's none of the sexual explicitness that makes Feast so shocking and controversial for new readers even today, but there's still lashings of amoral violence to be had. The ending does appear more than a mite rushed, but Lord of the Trees remains for the most part a gripping page-turner from one of the absolute masters of twentieth century SF. Full marks to Titan for making the series readily available for the first time since the eighties.
*Just to make things slightly more complicated, this and the other two books in the Secrets of the Nine trilogy are set in a parallel universe to the Wold Newton Universe 'proper', where Tarzan and Doc Savage are cousins rather than brothers. Other relatives include James Bond, Solomon Kane and Sherlock Holmes.