The Mystery of Alan Burt Akers, Author of The Dray Prescot Series

The Mystery of Alan Burt Akers, Author of The Dray Prescot Series

The first eight Dray Prescot books (DAW Books, 1972-1975).
Covers by Josh Kirby, Tim Kirk, Jack Gaughan, and Richard Hescox

As I started collecting and reading the Dray Prescot series of Sword & Planet novels, I tried to find out more about the author: Alan Burt Akers. The early books, published by DAW books starting in 1973, had no description or details of Akers, although they had ample details on Dray Prescot, who supposedly had recorded his adventures on tapes, which Akers then transcribed.

At the time I was sure Alan Burt Akers was a real person. It was many years before I learned the truth. Akers was a pseudonym for Henry Kenneth Bulmer (1921-2005). I don’t know why he chose that particular pseudonym, although I noted that it included all three parts of the name, and I was sure this was an homage to Edgar Rice Burroughs and Otis Adelbert Kline.

Dray Prescot, volumes 9 – 16 (DAW Books, 1975-1978). Covers by Jack Gaughan, Michael Whelan, and Josh Kirby.

When I did discover the Bulmer/Akers connection, I found that I also had quite a few other books by Ken (Not Henry) under other pseudonyms such as Manning Norvil, Neil Langholm, and Andrew Quiller. In fact, Ken wrote over one hundred and sixty novels, as well as numerous short stories. And when I realized that I liked all the ones I’d read, I took my first steps in collecting as much of Bulmer’s work as possible, even outside the Prescot series.

The Prescot series made up the biggest chunk of Ken’s productivity and I understand he had a fond place in his heart for the series. (He had, of course, been a fan of ERB, particularly the John Carter series.)

There are fifty-two volumes in the Prescot series, divided into “cycles” of three to six books each, each of which has its own name. (The first cycle is “The Delian Cycle,” after the character of Delia, who became Prescot’s love interest.)

Three Dray Prescot omnibus collections from Bladud Books: The Havilfar Cycle I
(containing volumes 6-8, 2007), The Vallian Cycle (volumes 15-18, 2009), and The Lohvian
Cycle I (volumes 38-40, 2011). Covers by Richard Hescox, Josh Kirby, and Ken W. Kelly

Unfortunately, DAW books only published thirty-seven Prescot books and one novella. Ken continued writing the books, though, and the rest were published first in German by a publisher called Heyne Verlag.

All these books were written in English, of course, and translated to German. I don’t read German but surely the original manuscripts were available. I began communicating with other Prescot fans about this and interest was high in making these books available to English speaking audiences.

Eventually the post-37 books began to appear as electronic books from Mushroom Ebooks (a labor of love). Finally, Bladud Books started bringing these works out in print in hardcover compendium volumes containing three novels each. By now, all fifty-two have been published and I own them all, although I still have nine of the last volumes to read, which is a nice thought for retirement. (More to come.)

Charles Gramlich administers The Swords & Planet League group at Facebook, where this post first appeared. His last article for Black Gate was One of the Best Swordfights in Fantasy: Dray Prescot 20: A Sword for Kregen.

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James Enge

Great post! I’m slowly working my way through this series, a sort of anti-Gor version of sword-and-planet. I’m very fond of the Tim Kirk artwork in the early DAW paperbacks, but the series had good art all through its DAW run.

Charles Gramlich

Absolutely, Bulmer really seemed to dislike the Gor slavery stuff. And the artwork is fantastic.

Bob Finegold

I collected the the first 37 short Dray Prescot novels issued by DAW and the series-related novella in “The DAW Science Fiction Reader” as they were published from 1972 to 1991, although I read only fourteen or so before medical school sopped up all my time for pleasure reading in 1980. I was aware that Ken continued the series for his German publisher with an additional fifteen books (and that there were two additional short stories), but, at the time, these were unavailable in English, for when Betsy Wolheim assumed the reins at DAW after her father, Donald Wollheim, became seriously ill, she chose to no longer publish them (despite her father’s purported love for the series). I am uncertain if this was because of poor English audience sales or a personal dislike for this particular subgenre. She also canceled John Norman’s “Gor” series, despite reportedly good sales, because of its controversial BDSM/slave-master content — a decision I can understand, but the Dray Prescot books were pointedly anti-Gor (and Ken notably has his characters attest this, referencing the abhorrent practices of Gah on the other side of their world, within his books).

Nothing is more disappointing to a collector, imho, than knowing additional books in a series are available — but you can’t read them. However, as a young man, I promised myself I would one day read all 37 of the Dray Prescot books I could read

From 1995, 1996, 1998, and 2000, although Mr. Gramlich in his fine Black Gate article above does not mention it (understandably since it is not well known today), Savanti Press published Dray Prescot books #38 to 42 in English as .pdf files on 3.5″ computer diskettes. In the tradition of DAW, these also contained interior illustrations. These illustrations, unfortunately, due to copyright limitations, Mushroom ebooks and Blaudad publisher Martyn Folkes was not able to reproduce in his TPB and Hardcover omnibus editions — nor was he able to include the interior illustration from the DAW book editions, only the Kregen world maps that Ken had drawn himself (except one I noticed, and informed him, that he inadvertently left out).

Medical school, private practice, marriage, and family — and the disappointment of knowing of the inaccessible fifteen books available only in German — kept me from reading the series. Then when Martyn began issuing all 52 novels from 2005 to 2014 including the short stories in English, and even had #43, “Demons of Antares,” reversed translated from German to English when Ken’s family could not find the original English manuscript, I remembered my promise to myself as a young man and vowed, “When I retire, I’ll read all fifty-two books!”

And I did in 2017. The books are quick reads. While I own the original DAW paberbacks (and four of the five Savanti 3.5″ diskettes whose .pdf files I, long ago, was smart enough to download to more contemporary computer media 🙂), I purchased Martyn’s hardcover omnibus editions collecting books #38 – 53 and chose to purchase, in order, Martyn’s ebook omnibus editions since my DAW paperbacks, unread after four decades were nearly pristine. I only glanced at them for their marvelous interior illustrations (by artists such as Tim Kirk, Jack Gaughan, Michael Whelan, Richard Hescox, and others) — and to check copyedit differences I picked up (the folly of being an occasionally published author and editor myself 🙄) between the two editions. Both the DAW and eMushroom editions have them, some the same, some different, but more present in Martyn’s.

So, I wrote him and shared these with him, and we struck up a friendly correspondence, and he gifted me the ebook omnibus editions I had yet to purchase. While the layout of the Blaudad print editions are, because of the expense that would be necessary to change them, uncorrectable, he indicated he’d update the ebook editions of the series as his time permits. Unfortunately, I cannot attest that he ever did. Still, I enjoyed our correspondence and shared admiration for the series.

Overall, books #1-5 and #12-14 are my favorites. Admittedly, I was disappointed that #52, the last book, ends in a cliffhanger, and, after extensive research, affirmed that the alleged “11 page fragmentsm” of what would have been #53, “Betrayal on Kregen,” does not actually exist.

There is a Kregen RPG, “Beneath Two Suns” (), and a variety of fan fiction, including five novels by Tim Jones who purportedly received Ken’s permission to continue the series, and Tim spent time with Ken when Ken was ill during the last year’s of his life — but this permission was verbal and not in writing and, after Ken’s passing, the family chose not to allow Tim to continue the series but permitted him to personally offer for sale the novels he had already written.

All in all, I enjoyed reading the entire series and fulfilling that promise to my younger self and, potentially, contributing to it in a very minor way as a post-publication proofreader 😄. However, at my age, it is unlikely I will ever read them again. They’ll go as a set to a secondary bookseller, when I find the time, as I fulfill my other long-delayed promise to my spouse to downsize my “stuff” now that I’m retired. 😉

Bob Finegold

You are welcome, Charles. 🙂
Great article by you.

My reply was too long (as is this one 😄), but your piece opened the floodgate of nostalgic appreciation of Ken Bulmer and his impressive body of work. Unfortunately, I wrote my reply after this older fan’s normal bedtime.

Thus, despite my avaunted 🙄 editing skills, a few misspellings slipped into my Reply (corrected example: “11-page fragment”), and I forgot to place within the parentheses () following my mention of the “Beneath Two Suns” Kregen RPG, that it was published by a company called Mayfair Games in 1986. You can find it still for purchase online or just to read or download in .pdf format. I am not a gamer, but I am/was a Dray Prescot completist. 😉

Checking my library, I actually possess only three of the five Savanti Press 3.5″ diskettes of DP volumes #38 -#40 (published 1994, 1996, & 1996, respectively). I suspect I was too wrapped up in family and career to keep tabs on the two later offerings by Savanti Press of DP volumes #41 & #42 (published 1998 & 2000, respectively). What I find make these Savanti Press particularly interesting, as a DP fan/collector, are their color “cover” and four to five B&W interior illustrations per book, much like the earlier issued DAW editions. Despite web searches over the last two decades, I have never been able to locate the two Savanti diskettes I lack (or simply their .pdf files). As I said, I was at least wise enough to copy the .pdf files of the first three 3.5″ diskettes to my computer desktop and, therefore, can still view them to this day.

Of Tim Jone’s five completed Kregen novels and a novel fragment, I have read the fragment “Aborigines of Kregen” (which I found quite good in approaching the inventiveness and wonder of Ken’s DP books), and the first two of Tim’s completed novels that, while admirableefforts, I found did not quite rise to the quality of Ken’s DP tales. Then again, after reading all 52 of Ken’s novels consecutively, I may have suffered Kregen burnout. 😉 I do plan to complete the remaining three of Tim’s Kregen novels some day.

Finally, I need to make a correction, well, mildly redact my decaration regarding there being no evidence of an “11 (or 12)-page fragment” by Ken of DP#53, “Betrayal on Kregen” a.k.a. “Specters of Kregen.” It is true that I was never able to find evidence of this fragment, and Martyn Folke (the publisger who reissued all 52 books the series in cooperation with Ken’s family) also affirms that no such “fragment” was ever found, I see that Stephen Servello [Dray Prescot (and Sword & Planet fiction) scholar], posted to the Kregen Topics board on 07/29/2022:

“There has been some question as to whether or not Ken began Prescot # 53 “Specters of Kregen.” While perusing old e-mails about Kregen, I stumbled across one from Gillian on April 15, 2011. As some of you might recall, she had personally visited Ken, coming from Bavaria to Tunbridge Wells. … Here are Ken’s notes on # 53, of which twelve pages were written [purportedly — Bob]”

You can read his post via the link that follows. However, after listing what ‘Gillian’ ahares are Ken’s notes, Stephen states:

“An attempt must be made (again) to obtain this twelve page fragment and notes. Martyn of Mushroom/Bladud was not able to obtain or confirm that these exist. …”

I will end with:
1. it is testament to Ken Bulmer’s talent and imagination that so many remain enthralled by his novels today decades after his passing.
2. my respect both for your chosen careers of both a psychologist and a university professor and your “extracurricular” writings such as this Black Gate article. 🙂

Dr. Bob

Joe H.

I did pick up the first several of the original DAW paperbacks at one point or another, but never quite got around to reading them. Knowing now about the eBooks, it might be time to rectify that …

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