Troyana: An action-packed but very poorly written sequel

Troyana by S. P. Meek science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsTroyana by S. P. Meek science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsTroyana by S.P. Meek

A short while back, in my review of S.P. Meek’s 1930 offering The Drums of Tapajos, I mentioned that this was a lost-race novel that was fatally done in by both a paucity of descriptive detail and a lack of memorable dramatic incidents. And indeed, of the 23 books that this reader has so far experienced in Armchair Fiction’s ongoing Lost World/Lost Race series, which currently stands at 30 volumes, The Drums of Tapajos might very well have been the weakest of the bunch. But in that same review I also admitted some slight desire to someday check out the book’s sequel, Troyana, in the hopes that things might pick up a little, or that Meek’s skills as a wordsmith might somehow have improved. Well, I am here to tell you now that my hopes were in vain, and as things have turned out, Troyana has revealed itself to be even a lesser effort than the first book, if admittedly more action packed. More on this in a moment.

Troyana, as had its predecessor, initially appeared as a three-part serial in the pages of Hugo Gernsback’s Amazing Stories magazine (the very first magazine to dedicate itself solely to science fiction); in this case, the February – April 1932 issues. It would then go OOPs (out of prints) for almost 30 years, till 1961, when Avalon Books released it as a hardcover; it would then see a reprint 56 years later, in 2017, when Fiction House Press resurrected it again. And now, this Armchair Fiction release, from Fall 2020, which allows those readers interested (and masochistic) enough to find out what happened after the inconclusive denouement of the first book to sate their curiosity.

In that first book, the reader had been introduced to three Army buddies – our narrator George Duncan, Frank Nankivell and Bob Mariston – who, along with soldier of fortune Ray Willis, ventured into a little-explored region of Brazil in search of treasure and discovered the lost city of Troyana, a metropolis built both above- and underground by the descendants of ancient Troy (or possibly the 10 lost tribes of Israel; Meek is typically vague on this point). The four had witnessed the manifold wonders of superscience in the lost city and had subsequently gotten embroiled in a revolution, when the evil renegade Troyanan named Amos had led the barbaric slave caste (comprised of the descendants of Atlantis) in a violent uprising. The four had been allowed to leave the city as the troubles continued, and had secretly taken with them Estha, the granddaughter of councilman Nahum, with whom Nankivell had fallen in love. At the tail end of the first book, Estha had disappeared before our team had gotten very far, and Nankivell had abandoned his mates to return to Troyana to search for her. In the book’s final pages, which transpire a few years later, Duncan had received a desperate radio message from Nankivell, from Troyana, beseeching the others to return and to bring cobalt with them, for some unexplained reason…

Troyana by S. P. Meek science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsThe sequel, thus, after a brief introductory setup, picks up pretty close to where we had left off. The novel cleaves into two fairly discrete sections of almost equal length, both of them consisting of fast-moving action set pieces. In the first, Nankivell makes his way back through the jungle and manages to infiltrate the underground section of the city. He fights off hordes of Atlanteans single-handed with pistol and rifle, and then explores the mazelike labyrinth far underground, where he must contend with gigantic poisonous toad monsters. He discovers an enormous chamber filled with canisters containing hundreds of 6,000-year-old Atlanteans in suspended animation, and later goes on to participate in a murderous outdoor battle between the death ray-wielding revolutionaries and the nobles of Troyana. Unfortunately, he is captured by Amos and scheduled for torture, ultimately managing to escape with Estha. All that, by the way, transpires over the course of just a day or two!

The book’s second half jumps forward 27 months. The revolution is at a stalemate, with the nobles safely ensconced in their Sanctuary, and Amos’ forces besieging the rest of the city. Nankivell and a large force of Troyanans enter into a desperate gambit to secure assistance and power sources by descending 3,500 steps below the city, hoping to revive the sleeping Atlanteans and enlist their aid. (Why the nobles believed the ancient Atlanteans would be willing to fight against their brethren descendants is a matter best not dwelt upon.) As it turns out, however, the newly revived Atlantean king has other ideas in mind, and before long, the Troyanan nobles are caught between Amos’ invading forces on one side and the newly revived Atlanteans on the other. Things look pretty grim indeed, until a deus ex machina of sorts, in the forms of Mariston and Willis, arrives on the scene to lend a hand…

Now, as I always endeavor to do, I’m going to look for something nice to say about the book in question. Troyana, as was hardly the case with The Drums of Tapajos, really is an action-packed affair, and the pacing is fairly breakneck. It does make for a seamless transition from Book #1, and sports some nice touches. For example, Meek informs us around midway through that, contrary to popular mythology, when Atlantis sank, it didn’t do so all at once, but rather over a period of 40 years, giving its people time to prepare and to emigrate. And the book even offers us some sporadic memorable lines, such as when Jereboam, a Troyanan elder, says of the Atlantean king “…all must die and each must finally answer for the use he has made of his life…” The book features interesting gizmos of superscience, too, such as X-ray flashlights, flash-tube weapons, violet-colored paralysis rays, etc. Troyana also … well, actually, that’s about it; I cannot think of any more praise to confer upon it.

On the other hand, the great sci-fi author Samuel R. Delany once described Meek’s writing as “unbelievably bad,” and anyone who experiences either of these two books is hardly likely to disagree with that statement. Meek, I would say, evinces the approximate writing ability of a talented novice, and Troyana reads as if it were written for a very undiscriminating 6th grader. To be succinct, his book is a mess, and it is difficult to know where to begin parsing its many faults. But let’s start with the novel’s basic structure. Troyana has supposedly been penned by a man named Murdock, a South American safari guide who conducts the amnesiac Willis back to civilization, and hears the story as Willis lies raving in a fever delirium. But what are the chances that Willis would be able to tell his long story in that state, in such detail, down to the inclusion of dialogue … especially of the events that had transpired with Nankivell before Willis and Mariston arrived on the scene? And what are the odds of Murdock himself remembering all those details and conversations when he sat down to write his book four years later? Sorry, but none of this rings true.

As in the first novel, Meek fails to make Troyana a city that can be visualized by the reader. Ironically enough, I had an easier time picturing the dark labyrinth beneath the city than the sections of Troyana that are aboveground. Most of the characters are likewise inadequately sketched in; even the Atlantean king is never given a name. The book’s two monstrosities – the prehistoric giant toads that guard the jungle and the poisonous prehistoric giant toads that guard the labyrinth – are way too similar in presentation. And Meek is even guilty of some flat-out terrible grammar on occasion, as when he writes “…The twenty-seven months which had passed since Nankivell’s dramatic return to the Sanctuary had not been a propitious one for the beleaguered nobles.” And then there is the matter of those Atlantean slaves, whom the reader is meant to look upon as the “bad guys.” But really, is there anything wrong with a bunch of slaves, even barbaric ones, trying to throw off their yoke of slavery, even when their leader is a self-serving blackguard such as Amos? Somehow, the slaves had my sympathies throughout, at the same time that I beheld the actions of our supposed heroes with some disdain. And this moral dubiousness is brought to a head when, toward the book’s end, we learn that since so many Atlanteans had been killed off in the fighting, the victorious Troyanan nobles will just recruit 600 Brazilian natives from the surrounding jungle to serve as slaves in their stead. What a happy ending! As I say, the entire book is just wrong from beginning to end, as regards layout, execution and philosophy. How much better would it have been had Meek merely thought up the general outlines of this story, and then left the actual writing to an author of the early 1930s with some actual writing skills and some flair with well-depicted fantasy visuals … somebody such as Abraham Merritt? Oh, well, I can dream, can’t I?

Now, as to this Armchair volume itself, it comes complete with the beautiful illustrations by one Leo Morey that I am guessing had originally graced its 1932 first appearance. Typical for Armchair, however, the book is a typographical mess. So yes, a sloppy presentation of a sloppily written book. I find myself grateful now that this story of Troyana only extended to two volumes, because had it been a trilogy, I highly doubt that I would have proceeded on to Book 3. Our motto here at FanLit is “Life’s Too Short To Read Bad Books,” and take it from me: Troyana surely is one bad book.

Originally published in 1932. Armchair fiction presents extra-large paperback editions of the best in classic science fiction novels. S. P. Meek’s “Troyana, Illustrated Edition” is the 27th installment of our “Lost World-Lost Race Classics” series. Troyana was a fantastic, scientific super city that had been lost to the rest of the world for centuries. It lay hidden in the wildest, steamiest part of the Brazilian jungle in an area cryptically known as “Tierra Prohibitiva.” But Troyana had finally been rediscovered by four fortune-hunting Americans. In this, the thrilling sequel to “The Drums of Tapajos” (Armchair Fiction B-48), American Frank Nankivell was bound and determined to leave Troyana with a secret and precious piece of human cargo—Estha, the Troyanan beauty whose love he could not live without. But when Estha was captured by the disciples of a fanatical revolutionary, Nankivell’s plans to return to the outside world with his three pals came to a screeching halt. With grim determination, Nankivell set off to reenter the city—alone. But Troyana was now a citadel in turmoil and little did Nankivell know that he would soon stumble upon a forbidden secret hidden deep within its catacombs—a secret so astounding that it might well portend doom not only for Nankivell and his lost love, but for Troyana itself.

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SANDY FERBER, on our staff since April 2014 (but hanging around here since November 2012), is a resident of Queens, New York and a product of that borough's finest institution of higher learning, Queens College. After a "misspent youth" of steady and incessant doses of Conan the Barbarian, Doc Savage and any and all forms of fantasy and sci-fi literature, Sandy has changed little in the four decades since. His favorite author these days is H. Rider Haggard, with whom he feels a strange kinship -- although Sandy is not English or a manored gentleman of the 19th century -- and his favorite reading matter consists of sci-fi, fantasy and horror... but of the period 1850-1960. Sandy is also a devoted buff of classic Hollywood and foreign films, and has reviewed extensively on the IMDb under the handle "ferbs54." Film Forum in Greenwich Village, indeed, is his second home, and Sandy at this time serves as the assistant vice president of the Louie Dumbrowski Fan Club....

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