I can’t remember after so many years if it was for a book or a movie, or possibly even a TV show, but years I ago I read a review in which the writer began by saying that the best review he could ever imagine sharing would consist of just a single word: “Wow!”

That single word review pretty well sums up my reaction to Win Scott Eckert’s latest addition to the ever-expanding mythology created well over a century ago by my all-time favorite storyteller, Edgar Rice Burroughs. I’ve written in the past about how - thanks to the early reading lessons I received from my mother and father, both lifelong voracious readers themselves - I was already delving into the works of ERB while most of my grade school classmates were still struggling their way through Sally, Dick and Jane. One of the Burroughs tales that really grabbed hold of me at the time was The Son of Tarzan - in part, I suppose, because I so identified with the young Jack Clayton’s thirst for adventure at that book’s beginning, and so wanted at that age to be just like Korak and his legendary father. Korak quickly became one of my favorites among the ERB cast of characters - and while I appreciated seeing him pop up for the occasional cameo appearance in the later Tarzan novels, it always grieved me that ERB didn’t give the character the full-blown “spin-off” treatment he deserved by writing additional adventures focused solely on Korak.

Well, it took roughly half a century, but I’ve finally got the Korak adventure I’ve been waiting for. Eckert - already a Master of Adventure in his own right - gives us a Korak that I’m pretty sure Burroughs himself would have no trouble recognizing: older, somewhat wiser, but still struggling with certain demons from his past as he sets out to rescue his daughter Suzanne following her disappearance in Pellucidar. He is joined along the way by family and friends old and new - Eckert’s portrayal of Korak’s wife Meriem is a particular delight - as his journey takes him ever deeper into the world at the earth’s core… and, perhaps, answers to a mystery that Burroughs himself set the stage for but never got around to solving for us.

Make that “mysteries,” plural, as this novel also touches upon events and characters from several of ERB’s non-Tarzan tales, as well as one of the Ape-Man’s own later adventures, in the process further enhancing the Burroughs Universe while at the same time sending it into new and dynamic directions. Eckert makes the most of adventures written by other authors that ERB Inc. has deemed to be part of the proper “ERB Universe Canon,” especially the two Pellucidar novels of John Eric Holmes  - the first of which, Mahars of Pellucidar, I snapped up at the old B. Dalton Bookstore we used to frequent back in the 1970s while the poor clerk was still trying to put copies on the store shelves when the original Ace Books paperback edition was first released…

This is one of those reviews that is, to be honest, a little difficult for me - I love the book so much and want to share that here, but at the same time I want to avoid accidentally giving any spoilers that might ruin the enjoyment of other readers as they discover the book for themselves. Suffice it to say that Korak At The Earth’s Core is a great story, a tale I really believe Burroughs himself would have greatly enjoyed - and a worthy addition to pop culture’s first genuine “cohesive universe,” one created well before Kevin Feige and Stan Lee put their heads together and said, “Maybe it’s time we make some Marvel movies.”

It is one that can be enjoyed by both lifelong ERB fans like myself who have clamored for such adventures for decades, and by a new generation of fans for whom it can serve as an excellent jumping-off point for delving deeper into the original books that inspired it.

In other words: “Wow!”

ADDENDUM: There’s one other thing I’d like to say about this book if I may - something of a somewhat personal nature, and stems from something may not have been been intentional on the part of the author.

Back in 2007, I published my first book - a collection of western stories entitled Days Gone By: Legends And Tales Of Sipokni West, still available on Amazon.com if you’re interested (or even if you’re not). One of those “legends and tales” was a story entitled “Buck Mason Loses His Horse,” the protagonist of which happens to share the name of the main character in the ERB western novel The Deputy Sheriff Of Comanche County. The original idea was that my Buck Mason and Burroughs' character were one and the same, and I indicated as much in my afterward to Days Gone By.

After the book was published, however, I went back and re-read the Burroughs novel for the first time in a number of years - and realized with horror that my tale had been set in the mid-1880s, while Burroughs' novel was set in the early 20th century. (Which, if nothing else, should be a lesson in the importance of doing one's homework.)

A few years later, Win Scott Eckert included listings for that story - as well as several of my other Sipokni West tales - in the timeline of his two-volume opus Crossovers (Black Coat Press, 2010). And it was there he saved my literary bacon by providing the obvious solution to my Buck Mason screw-up; he listed MY Buck Mason as being the father of the character in the Burroughs book, thereby allowing me to save face while maintaining the JAS-ERB connection. (And in case I didn’t say it before: Thanks, Win!)

Whether intentional or not, Win has now provided what I like to think of as a further link between my story and the works of ERB - courtesy of a scene in Korak At The Earth’s Core that is brief but certainly got my attention, in which passing reference is made to the father of Burroughs’ Buck Mason. A relationship which Eckert himself had already established in his earlier book

Mind you, there is no specific reference to my story in Win’s novel. I wouldn’t have dared expect there to be - and besides, enough time had passed between Crossovers and Korak that I can’t say with certainty that Win even remembered his solution to my chronological mishap when he was writing the latter. (And I like and respect the man far too much to put the question to him directly, and run the risk of creating the accidental impression that I might seeking credit for something that I know I don’t deserve.)

That said, I will happily admit that it does give me a certain sense of joy to know the link is there - even if it exists only within the dimly lit caverns of my own personal head canon, sharing space with all manner of character crossovers (both real and imagined) that I’ve had a hand in creating both as a fan and as a professional writer. 

Not such a bad place to hang out, really, all things considered…

So, again: Thanks, Win!

(Copyright 2023 by John A. Small)