An Introduction to the Dray Prescot Saga by Stephen Servello
When famed editor Don Wollheim launched his science fiction publishing venture DAW Books in 1972, he wanted to include a Burroughs/Norman-style interplanetary adventure series in his lineup. Wollheim turned to English author Ken Bulmer, one member of his stable of writers from Ace Books, to undertake the assignment. Bulmer declared this type of series was something he had wanted to do for a long time, and virtually leaped at the opportunity. Thus, in December of 1972, Transit to Scorpio was published under the pseudonym of Alan Burt Akers. This first adventure of Dray Prescot was the beginning of a series that would eventually reach thirty-seven volumes (thirty-eight if one counts a short-story in an anthology) under the DAW Books imprint, finally drawing to a close in April of 1988 with Warlord of Antares.
Wollheim repeatedly declared that the saga of Dray Prescot was his all-time favorite science fiction series, but reducing sales, Wollheim’s failing health, and a move away from series books at DAW led to the cancellation of the series after volume 37.
But the Dray Prescot Saga was far from over, as Ken Bulmer had developed quite a following in Germany with these books. The publishing house Heyne Bucher asked him to continue the series, with Ken’s English translated into German. Obliging in an enthusiastic manner, Ken extended the saga to fifty-two books before he was struck down by a stroke. Unless you could read German this seemed the end of the road for English-speaking Prescot fans. But thanks to the Internet this story is still ongoing.
Just as Bulmer’s Kregen was inspired by Burroughs’ Barsoom, so too are Prescot’s fans. Much of the core support for Ken and his Dray Prescot series is derived from ERB fandom and the Internet. One such fan, Mike Sutton, had even undertaken the task of providing English versions of the post #37 Prescot adventures, through his Internet publishing site, Savanti Press. Volumes 38 – 41 were the result and only the death of Ken Bulmer prevented further chronicles of Dray Prescot in Savanti editions.
The popularity of the series was such that a role playing game based on Prescot’s Kregen was released in 1988 – “Beneath Two Suns” from Mayfair Games. It will hopefully serve as a predecessor for Mike Sutton’s own “Scorpion Crown.” Time will tell. It was my pleasure to conduct an interview with Mike from which I have included elements here. Much of it revolves around conversations between Mike, Ken, and Elsie Wollheim. Unlike Barsoom and Gor, slavery is frowned upon by Prescot on Kregen. This is simply a reflection of Ken’s views and gets translated into Dray wanting to eradicate that evil institution from the face of Kregen. And women play important roles in the saga. No shrinking violets here, waiting to be saved or ravished. Ken’s daughters played a huge part in the shaping of several of the female roles within the series. Likewise Ken kept most of the sex in the books implied, while he concentrated on the adventuring aspects of the stories. After all, Prescot does come from a relatively conservative era sexually (the turn of the 19th century), and this is reflected in his character.
When asked how he and Heyne Bucher struck their deal, Ken replied that while seated in a cafe in Brighton, his German agent dragged over a representative from the German publisher and a deal was arrived at in five minutes! The only conditions were that the stories feature Prescot and not a close comrade or family member, and each book must end in a cliffhanger. It’s what the German readers wanted and Ken delivered!
The most current publishing news concerning The Dray Prescot Saga was that starting in 2005, Martyn Folkes at Mushroom Publishing began to republish the entire series (including the three short stories) as solo and omnibus ebooks and later as omnibus trade paperback and hardcover editions under the Bladud Books imprint. Thus far, forty five books have been republished with the balance to follow soon. These days are surely exciting times for those yearning for the road back to learning about Kregen, Prescot and the Gods of Kregen!
And so the Scorpio saga has been reborn for a new generation of readers, a generation that may be ignorant of Edgar Rice Burroughs and the authors he inspired. So here is an introduction, or reintroduction to the civilized yet barbaric world of Kregen that orbits the binary star Antares in the constellation Scorpio.
Dray Prescot, as fans of Edgar Rice Burroughs may or may not know, is an Earthman transported to the planet Kregen. Kenneth Bulmer created this world in the constellation of the Scorpion, and how prophetic it is that just such a creature kills Prescot’s father in late eighteenth century England and a giant (phantom?) cousin greets him upon his advent to Kregen. Even more important is the image of the scorpion utilized by the Savanti to effect Prescot’s transit to their wondrous planet and also used by the Star Lords (Everoinye) to further their mysterious plans for the myriad races and lands of Kregen. They are one of three (known) cosmic forces that contend for mastery over the planet, pitting hemisphere against hemisphere and species against species. In addition to the Everoinye there are the Curshin and Others. Plus there are the Savanti of Aphrasöe who add to the mix. Combined, they may be referred to as the Gods of Kregen.
In the sixties and seventies there were several other interplanetary adventure series. All good in my opinion, but none can rival the adventures of Prescot. Among them: Dannus of Reglathium by Mike Sirota, the Llarn duology by Gardner Fox, The Warlord of Ghandor by Dell Dowdell, Jandar of Callisto and the Green Star by Lin Carter, and the Gorean Cycle by John Norman, which gave Kregen a run for its money in terms of longevity. But it is without a doubt that the Dray Prescot Saga was inspired by the adventures of John Carter, the lone Virginian on Barsoom. In fact, the two swordsmen may have even met, on Earth. Both series start up with the protagonist fleeing certain death from savage adversaries and both gazing to the heavens in desperation at their respective future homes: Kregen and Barsoom. Prescot and Carter soon meet the loves of their lives and both Delia and Deja Thoris are princesses of the most powerful nations of their planets. At the end of the first book, both heroes are thrown back to Earth and despair of returning to their newfound homelands and women. From here though, Ken developed the saga with much more in depth characters, detailed geography, long-playing plot threads and no let down in the quality of the books even though the quantity dwarfs Barsoom (52 to 11).
A brief overview of the saga must begin with Prescot’s advent on Kregen and his journey down the River Aph to Aphrasöe on the Island of Ba Domek. For it is through the super science and mechanizations of these remnants of the once superior race of Kregen that Dray is transited to Antares. He is being groomed to be a Savapim, to serve and carry out the desires and programs of the Savanti. Just what the goals of this super-race may entail is just one of the many continually evolving plot devices utilized by Ken Bulmer. However, it appears the Star Lords dangle the proverbial apple of Eden in front of Prescot and he bites. He and Delia are banished from paradise. Prescot strives for years to find his way back and eventually does. Therein hangs a tale…
The series is divided into cycles of three to six books each, dealing mainly, but not wholly with a specific theme or plot. In the first or Delian Cycle, Prescot spends most of his time trying to get back to Delia and acquiring titles and power along the way. It is his initiation into the chivalric order of the Krozairs which affects him most profoundly and the third cycle is named after that renowned order. In the second or Havilfar Cycle, Dray strives to learn the secrets of the continent’s voller or flier production. This is necessary to sustain the power of Vallia, Dray’s adopted homeland, for an expansionist Empire of Hamal threatens all he holds dear. After regaining his honor and status in the Krozair Cycle, Prescot explores his own nation-empire of Vallia. During the intrigues that ensue, the Empire falls into smoldering ruins and various factions vie for control and power over the shattered remnants. But Dray has begun the long process of reunification. This continues throughout the next several cycles and there are family problems which plague Prescot as much as trying to save his hemisphere of Paz. For it is threatened by fish and snake-headed humanoids from the mysterious and unexplored hemisphere of Schan, on the far side of Kregen. Dray is a pawn in this struggle, which culminates in the Lohvian Cycle.
There are further adventures in the subcontinent of Balintol and Schan itself. It is clear that Ken could have written a hundred books concerning Kregen and still not filled in all the holes or explored all its avenues. Sadly, Ken was struck down before writing the 53rd Dray Prescot book and it remains unwritten. Who knows where the further adventures would have taken Prescot? What wondrous facets of that planet and the forces contending for ascendency could have been explored? These are questions that may never be answered, but we do have 52 books of the Dray Prescot Saga to read and reread, to discover and explore, to escape to in our minds and hearts, and ultimately to love. I believe that anyone who reads the saga for the first time, or the tenth time, will be captivated and lost forever under the mingled rays of the suns of Antares!
Stephen James Servello (Seg) editor of “APOSTLE OF LETTERS – A Critical Evaluation of the Life and Works of Lin Carter”
Big thanks to Steve for allowing me to publish his article on this blog.