While the review I would write now would be a little different than the one I wrote six years ago, Lord Kalvan of Otherwhen [Amazon link] is still a really good story. One of my working definitions of a great bit of adventure fiction is that you can come back to it years later and enjoy it just as much, or maybe even more than the first time you read it.
Reading Lord Kalvan again, the thing that struck me this time is how well Piper dealt with the complicated logistics of moving an army on foot. As Bret Devereaux noted on A Collection of Unmitigated Pedantry, purportedly realistic fantasy stories like A Song of Ice and Fire often do a poor job of this.
Piper set Lord Kalvan in central Pennsylvania, and the primary antagonists in the story, the kingdoms of Hostigos and Nostor, roughly equivalent to our Bellefonte and Hughesville Pennsylvania, are about seventy miles apart.
For us, that trip is just over an hour by car, but on foot it would be three or four days at a normal walking pace. However, as Devereaux goes over in some detail, an army, even one with horses, cannot readily move at that pace. Armies move about ten miles per day, which means an invading army from Nostor would take a week to arrive at Tarr-Hostigos.
It gets even worse when you need to take into account the seasons, and whether you are taking laborers away from critical activities like bringing in the harvest. So when Kalvan shows up in Hostigos, everyone is concerned about a pending attack from Nostor, but Kalvan still has months to prepare because Nostor can’t move until their grain has been collected or else everyone will starve.
A really good book can be different everytime you read it, because you are different, and you see different things. Lord Kalvan of Otherwhen is an adventure with enough going on to make this true. The next time I come through, I hope to be read up on sixteenth century European warfare, as I’m sure I’ll find a new angle.
Other Pulp Adventures
A. Merritt. The Moon Pool
Leigh Brackett. The Coming of the Terrans
C. L. Moore. The Best of C. L. Moore
Robert E. Howard. The Savage Tales of Solomon Kane
Fritz Leiber Ill Met in Lankhmar
H. Beam Piper Space Viking
H. Beam Piper Lord Kalvan of Otherwhen
Robert E. Howard The Savage Tales of Soloman Kane
Jack Vance The Dying Earth
Jack Vance The Eyes of the Overworld