Lin Carter is a figure about whom I have a great deal of ambivalence. On the one hand, his working shepherding the Ballantine Adult Fantasy series, beginning in 1969, is in my opinion a key factor in the appearance of the hobby of roleplaying as we know it today. On the other hand, his Conan pastiches, which he wrote primarily with L. Sprague de Camp, did an immense disservice to the legacy of Robert E. Howard, contributing to the popular misunderstanding of both the writer and his greatest creation. And then there are Carter's own literary contributions. About these I am probably most ambivalent of all, for they simultaneously reveal both sides of his character -- at once hopelessly derivative and uproariously fun.
A good case in point is 1972's Under the Green Star, the first in what would become an entire series of sword-and-planet novels after the tradition of Burroughs. Like many of its antecedents, this novel presents itself as a real document, written in the first person, by an individual who has, by means of astral projection, transported his soul to another world. This individual, who is never identified by his Earth name, is wealthy but crippled. His ability to send his spirit to a place -- learned at a Tibetan monastery, naturally -- is a great boon to him, as his physical impediments on this planet need not limit him on another. This is a common conceit in sword-and-planet tales: the protagonist's "second chance" to overcome some handicap, whether it be physical, social, or economic, that prevents him from achieving his full potential as a hero. It's a conceit younger people might first have encountered in Stephen Donaldson's various Thomas Covenant novels, but it has deep roots in this sub-genre of pulp fantasy.
The narrator's soul finds itself inhabiting the body of an unfortunately named warrior, Chong the Mighty. Chong had been cursed by a sorcerer a century before the novel begins, his soul torn from his body, which was carefully preserved in expectation of his eventual return. After the obligatory time he must spend acquainting himself with his new world, its culture, and language -- another staple of sword-and-planet yarns -- the narrator become embroiled in its conflicts. He also, as is typical, falls in love with a beautiful young princess. His devotion to her precipitates many of his adventures in the novel and is also instrumental in his eventual forced return to Earth at its end.
I find it difficult to form an objective judgment about this novel and its sequels. On a fundamental level, it's a wretched pastiche, a piece of Burroughsian fan fiction hardly deserving of anyone's attention. But it's fun, or at least I found it so. Carter is not, by any means, a great writer. His prose is often infelicitous and his dialog wooden. His characters are a mixed bag, but tend more toward cut-outs than fully fleshed out human beings. Yet, I can't deny that I enjoyed this book in spite of it all. Or perhaps it was because of all of its failings that I liked it. There's something very primal about this book. There's a reckless spirit of childish fun that I found infectious, even as my adult mind frequently reeled at its lack of originality.
Of course, I sometimes feel that originality is overrated, at least when it comes to pulp fantasy, where tapping into pre-existing archetypes is at least as important as coming up with something genuinely new. Under the Green Star certainly does that in my opinion, which is why I am willing to overlook its many, many flaws. It's not great literature by any definition of the term, but it is a quick, fun read and, from a gaming perspective, provides a good model for creating pastiche settings of one's own.