The Dray Prescot series is a sequence of fifty-three science fiction novels and a number of associated short stories of the subgenre generally classified as sword and planet, written by Kenneth Bulmer under the pseudonym of Alan Burt Akers.
The sequence is made up of eleven cycles of novels, each cycle essentially forming a series within the series. Four novels and three short stories are stand-alone narratives falling outside the system of cycles. Each tale is narrated in the first person by the main protagonist, Dray Prescot. To support the illusion that the fictional Prescot was the actual author, later volumes were bylined "by Dray Prescot as told to Alan Burt Akers."
The first thirty-seven volumes were published by DAW Books from December 1972 to April 1988; to date, print editions of the later volumes have been published solely in German translation by Wilhelm Heyne Verlag from 1991 to 1998. English language ebooks of volumes 38–41 were later issued by the now-defunct electronic publisher Savanti from September 1995 to December 1998; ebooks of volumes 1–45 have since been issued by another electronic publisher, Mushroom eBooks, which projects issuing the entire saga in ebook form. While its website continues to list 2008 as the hoped-for completion date of the project, as of 27 March 2012 only the first forty-five books of the series are available from this source. A 3 October 2009 blog entry on the website cites family illness and difficulty in locating the manuscripts as responsible for the delay in publishing the remaining volumes. While some of the manuscripts were still missing as of 27 January 2011, the publisher hoped at that time to complete publication of the series in 2011.
On April 3, 2007, Bladud Books, a division of Mushroom Publishing, began re-releasing the series in print, in both paperback and hardcover, with the intention of publishing omnibus volumes of each cycle of books in the series. As of 4 January 2010 the Delian Cycle, The Havilfar Cycle in two parts, and the Krozair Cycle, the Vallian Cycle, and the Jikaida Cycle are available. Some of these volumes are also available in electronic form. All are listed on Amazon.com.
The series is set on the fictional world of Kregen, a planet of the Antares star system in the constellation of Scorpio. Antares is envisioned as a double star system consisting of a large red giant (Antares A) and a smaller green star (Antares B). Antares B is in reality blue, though often described as green, probably owing to a contrast effect. Presumably some similar effect, or perhaps some quality of Kregen’s atmosphere, makes it appear green from the planet’s surface. Kregen has a multiple moon system.
Bulmer's choice of the setting for the series is a subtle tribute to the Martian series of Edgar Rice Burroughs, the prototypical Sword and Planet romance. The star Antares, similar in brightness and hue to the planet Mars in the night sky, was given its name (ant(i)-Ares, meaning "opposite Mars" or "equal to Mars") by early astronomers to compare it to and help distinguish it from the planet. The premise is furthered in that while on Earth, Prescot meets an unnamed "gentleman from Virginia" who is implied to be John Carter, the protagonist of Burroughs' Martian series.
Physically, Kregen is similar to Earth, being comfortably habitable by human beings. It has seven major continents and nine continental islands similar in size to Australia, in addition to innumerable smaller islands. The scene of all the action is Paz, a grouping of four major continents and four continental islands in one hemisphere. The remaining land masses, in the opposite hemisphere, are little known.
Most of the land masses forming Paz are separated by narrow seas, indicating that in geologically recent times it was a supercontinent, since broken apart by tectonic forces. The continents of Paz are fairly compact in comparison to those of Earth, without connecting land bridges. They include Turismond to the northwest, Segesthes to the northeast, Loh in the center, and Havilfar to the southeast. Turismond and Havilfar both contain large inland seas similar to the Mediterranean. The continental islands of Paz include Vallia between Turismond and Segesthes, Pandahem between Loh, Segesthes and Havilfar, Unrdrin to the northeast of Turismond, and Mehzia to the east of Segesthes. Of the continents and continental islands of the opposite hemisphere, the only one named in the series is the continent of Gah, mentioned in Transit to Scorpio as a place of distasteful sexual customs (an obvious dig at another sword and planet series, the Gor series of John Norman).
At some time in the past Kregen was apparently seeded with intelligent life-forms from many other worlds by either the Star Lords or the Savanti (for whom see below), or both, presumably by the same mysterious means by which Prescot is brought to the planet. In Paz the dominant species is usually the human race, known locally as Apim. Other intelligent species are known collectively as Diffs. Culturally, the more advanced nations are at a level on par with Earth’s European Renaissance, though firearms are unknown and a few nations manufacture aircraft. The opposite hemisphere is apparently dominated by Shanks, savage fish-headed sea-raiders who periodically ravage the peripheral coastlands of Paz.
Notable polities of Paz include the decadent kingdom of Walfarg in northern Loh, remnant of a formerly vast empire, the island empire of Vallia, the smaller kingdoms of northern Pandahem and southern Segesthes’ Balintol subcontinent, the imperialistic empire of Hamal in the northeast Havilfar and the petty states of the Dawn Lands to its south, the more isolated kingdom of Djanduin in southwestern Havilfar, and the perpetually warring Zairim and Grodnim to the north and south of the Eye of the World, the Mediterranean-like sea bisecting Turismond. More primitive areas marginalized from the civilized belt by geography or topography include the Great Plains of Segesthes, the Hostile Territories of Eastern Turismond, the Wild Lands of north central Havilfar, and the jungles of South Pandahem and central Loh.
The series features the story of Earthman Dray Prescot, an English sailor of Nelson's navy, and his miraculous teleportation to the planet Kregen. There he is trained as an agent for the mysterious Savanti, an apparently benevolent secret society devoted to improving the lot of humanity among the many intelligent species of Kregen. The Savanti are the guardians of a miraculous pool which both heals wounds and extends life, similar to the Fountain of Youth in Earth legend. Prescot falls from grace for using this pool to heal Delia, an injured supplicant to the Savanti, and incidentally the princess of the island empire of Vallia. Thanks to their immersion in the pool Prescot and Delia gain extended natural lifespans of a thousand years, but by violating the sanctity of the pool both are banished back to their homelands—in Prescot’s case, Earth.
Returned to Kregen through the agency of the Star Lords, an even more mysterious rival group of unknown motivations, Prescot becomes a pawn in their schemes, sent willy-nilly to various locations on the planet to serve their ends and capriciously returned to Earth when his task is done or when he manages to offend them. Despite this handicap he usually rises to a position of power in whatever society he is thrust into, and is able to renew and further his relationship with Delia. Eventually they are able to wed and found a family.
Aside from carrying out his missions for the Star Lords, securing his place on Kregen, and winning (and returning) to Delia, Prescot’s ongoing goals include the suppression of slavery in Paz and building a coalition against the marauding Shanks, a Viking-like race of fish-headed Diffs who raid the coasts of Paz from a base in the opposite hemisphere of Kregen.
The text is ostensibly a transcript by “Akers” of a series of audio tapes recorded by Dray Prescot on periodic returns to Earth, which come into his hands by a variety of means over a number of years. Supposed gaps in the tapes allow the author the opportunity of occasional jumps in the narrative, leaving teasing mysteries for the reader as to just what might have happened in between.
The cycles into which the sequence is divided form substories within the overall storyline, sometimes arranged topically and sometimes by setting. These sequences include:
The story never catches up to the present, although from Prescot’s mysterious appearances and disappearances in the present day it can be presumed that his role as a pawn of the Star Lords continues. Prescot learns more of the rival Star Lords and Savanti as the series progresses, though their mysteries are never fully resolved.
It was Bulmer’s expressed intent to resolve the sequence in volume 53 by having Prescot and Delia experience a sort of apotheosis, possibly raising them to the level of Star Lords themselves, to be revealed in a final visit to Earth by their son Drak, thus accounting for the unfinished nature of the narrative. This volume remains unpublished in English.
Note: as later volumes were published only in German, for the sake of completeness both English and German titles are provided.
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