The Ape Man’s Brother by Joe R. Lansdale (book review).

September 29, 2019 | By | Reply More

‘The Ape Man’s Brother’ is a Tarzan novella by talented pulp writer Joe R. Lansdale and one that is not suitable for children. The ape man is the first-person narrator and his aim is to tell the truth about The Big Guy, as he calls his brother, unlike that other writer who just wanted to sell books and make money.

The ape man is the sophisticated fellow wearing a suit and smoking a pipe on the cover. An ape who really took to civilisation. He never gives his name for it would be unpronounceable to us.

At a secret location near Greenland, which is still Danish, there’s a lost world concealed by high mist, a jungle in a bowl heated by volcanic sources. As well as prehistoric flying lizards and other dangers it contains a species similar to Australopithecus but with a bigger brain, a race actually smarter than modern man. They developed language and even religion, yet their civilisation fell and they are living as savages when the story opens, yet to discover, the narrator tells us, fire, the wheel or the missionary position.

A plane crashes. Both parents die but their baby survives and the narrator’s mother adopts him, for she has just lost a child. So our ape man gains a brother. They are best friends and enjoy many adventures in their lost world, hunting, killing and generally doing what savages do best. It is revealed early that The Big Guy is better than human. Thanks to a prenatal injection given his mother by one Doctor Rice, he has elevated intelligence, great physical prowess and an extraordinary life span. He is also ‘hung like a zebra’.

A zeppelin arrives with The Woman, Jane, who immediately falls madly in love with The Big Guy and takes him and his brother back to civilisation. They learn to speak English. Instant celebrity endows them with money to live the good life. Complications ensue. For reasons unknown, the blurb for this book gives away the entire plot but I won’t do that.

It doesn’t really matter because it’s the narration rather than the plot that makes this worth reading. Lansdale doesn’t flinch from bawdy humour and there are several laugh out loud moments. Despite that, it can be oddly moving at times. The love of Jane and his brother for The Big Guy is nicely conveyed, as is the sleaziness of the modern celebrity lifestyle.

The entire wondrous work can be read at one sitting and that’s the way to do it. In keeping with the pulp tradition, the book has some beautiful black and white illustrations by Ken Laager. I wish more fantasy adventure books were illustrated but I suppose it’s costly.

Speaking of cost, I was lucky to have a printed paperback ARC of the hardback version. It’s only available now at rather mad prices. However, you can get the e-book for a couple of English pounds or three Yankee dollars and I recommend that you do so. Fans of Lansdale should snap it up. Of course, the hardback may be a worthwhile investment as rare books often increase in value but my concern is with art, don’t you know, not vulgar money.

Eamonn Murphy

September 2019

(pub: Subterranean Press, 2014. 103 page deluxe hardback. Price: $20.00 (US). ISBN: 978-1-59606-618-2)

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Category: Books, Fantasy

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