So bad it’s good: Runespear

With the company of a friend or two, sometimes a terrible movie can be a whole lot more fun than a great movie.  It’s simply a cinematic truth.  How else could Mystery Science Theater 3000 lasted for a decade and developed a massive cult following?  Mystery Science Theater builds the friends right into the experience, of course, but they’re hardly pivotal for the bad movie experience.  In high school, a friend and I had a monthly tradition that included deep dish pizza and the worst direct-to-DVD movie we could find on the shelf (Hint: Lionsgate likely guarantees a winner).

Yes, it's from the authors of The Cybernetic Samurai.So I love watching B-movies: the ham-fisted acting, the amateur camerawork, the cheaper than cheap special effects.   But until recently, I never thought about reading B-…books.  Some things I am powerless to resist, though, and when I came upon Runespear in a used bookstore, I had no choice.  I had to buy it.  The cover was what piqued my interest, at first.  A giant man with an eye patch and a spear, whose torso inexplicably melds into a mountain range?  Tell me that wouldn’t wouldn’t grab your attention.  Considering it indirectly led to me buying the book, it may well be a pretty clever cover — but in my mind it conjured up a long history of cheesy paperback science fiction and fantasy, pumped out in such mass quantities that better representatives of the genres are lost in the noise.  Still, there’s something kind of fascinating about sci-fi and fantasy covers from the 50s and 60s, some winning mixture of camp and cliche and weirdness that makes them fun to look at, even if the books themselves are pretty terrible.

With a general interest in sci-fi covers suddenly triggered by Runespear, I flipped the book over to read the back, but man was I not even slightly prepared for the sheer ridiculous joy wrapped up in its brief plot description.  It’s like the perfect mixture of genre cliches and powerful goofiness — Nazis, Indiana Jones ripoff Rafe Springer, Norse mythology, and…British Professor Melbourne Shrewsbury.  The greatest name of all time?  Quite possibly.  Naturally, I had to buy it.

Reading it, on the other hand, was a different matter.  Could a book that looked so hilariously awful actually be fun to read, or would it simply be dull and painful?  I waited a few weeks before taking the plunge, but the results pleasantly surprised me.  The characters clung to adventure cliches and the writing occasionally dipped into bizarrely overwrought analogies, but for the most part it was descriptive and entertaining.  And every time I found myself criticizing the writing, I realized I probably couldn’t write an entire novel with the same degree of creativity.  Maybe it wasn’t so bad after all.  My brain could also be permanently damaged from watching too many B-movies, but next time I see a mass market paperback with a hideously awful cover, I might have to give it a try.  And if you ever come across Runespear, buy it.  You probably won’t regret it.

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