Jerry Pournelle’s Janissaries was first published in 1979. I was ten. My copy is the 1982 edition. So I probably first read this in ‘82 or ‘83 in my early teens. I’ve gone through it and the sequels a couple of times. Now I’m starting again, preparatory to reading the final, posthumous volume, Mamelukes (hoping a paperback edition will be available by the time I finish rereading the initial books.)
The Mighty Swordsmen comes close to delivering precisely as advertised, and even its single lapse is excellent. I admit to a lack of familiarity with the editor, Hans Stefan Santesson. He provided a short introduction, rambling about sorcery and what we’d probably now refer to as “deep time.” It doesn’t seem to have much to do with the stories inside, unless you want to find some reason to believe the events related might actually have happened. Nonetheless, Mr. Santesson shows a good eye for material.
Another volume curated by L. Sprague de Camp, The Spell of Seven offers a stellar lineup of talent. Each of the seven tales features a Virgil Finlay illustration. How about that for lagniappe? Now, I’m guessing the cover looked better as a pencil and ink drawing. Colored, it looks more like the cover to an EC horror comic than the cover to paperback short story anthology. But that’s grousing and doesn’t in the least detract from the yarns behind the cover.
I had intended to write another post on anthologies. However, I was about three and a half stories through a collection when Peace Talks arrived. So much for that plan. I’m about halfway through the latest of Harry Dresden’s series of unfortunate events. Once I’m done, I’ll get back to revisiting Fafhrd and Gray Mouser’s shenanigans.
Reading Peace Talks, however, raised in my mind the question of whether or not the Dresden Files are sword-and-sorcery. Superficially, why not? The main character is a wizard. One of his buddies is a sort of holy warrior, often armored up and swinging a sword. So we’ve got both swords and sorcery right there. I recently wrote a post in which I enumerated what I thought were the essential components of sword-and-sorcery fiction. Why not run through those with an eye to Jim Butcher’s tales of Harry Dresden and a Chicago infested with the supernatural.
I have a number of well-worn anthologies on my shelves. It has been said that shorter fiction is the proper length for Swords-and-Sorcery. Maybe so. At least in an anthology the reader has access to multiple imagined worlds in a single volume instead of the single world of a novel. I thought I’d investigate this somewhat, revisiting these collections. And what better volume to start with than Flashing Swords #3?
If I were to distill the elements of Swords-and-Sorcery to their essence, what story would I find pooled at the bottom of the alembic?
To answer such a question, I’d first have to gather the elements. It requires a confident man or an arrogant fool to think he knows what those elements are. Let’s take a collective leap and pretend I’m not a fool. Moving forward, let’s see if we can glean the fundamental components of S&S.
What are the best taverns in fantasy? Where do you imagine yourself sipping a pint in rather unusual company? The genre is full of these joints, though most, sadly, go nameless. Of course, some of these you’d probably just as soon avoid, like a den of merriment in Arenjun’s Maul, in Zamora.
Who is the most American of fantasy heroes? I ignited enough fireworks yesterday in the course of Independence Day festivities to get me feeling good and patriotic. And as a patriotic writer of fabulism, it should come as little surprise that the opening question occurred to me.
We are living in interesting times. Whatever your take on current events, however much or little the global turmoil and tumults have affected you personally, it is likely you feel at the least a bit of consternation, perhaps even pique. My day-to-day existence has altered little. I’ve been driving to the office, the same as usual. It is startlingly quiet there, but that doesn’t bother me. And now that I am able to once again go the gym and take my family out to restaurants, my life is largely back to normal. But even so, I experience moments of discontent, a Truman-Show style notion that something is not quite right.
Michael Moorcock is the elder statesman of the S&S genre. He earned his bones. His success is unquestioned and his influence is clear. It would be unmannerly for a piker like myself, who has yet to make much of a ripple in the genre, to criticize a big fish like Moorcock. I’ve already, perhaps, neared such impertinence during the course of my Appendix N series, but the nature of the undertaking required a certain degree of honesty.
The thing is, in my personal experience, Elric and the rest of the Eternal Champion stories, worked well for a certain period of my life and experience, but not as well later in life. I’m making no argument here, simply pointing out my subjective impressions. Yours may differ, and I would not object even if I could. My claim to be the Final Arbiter of all Things Subjective is made purely in jest.
So, understand that I picked up The Revenge of the Rose with personally calibrated, limited expectations. I was pleased to find that Rose marginally exceeded those expectations. Elric remains Elric, brooding and tortured. (There ought to be an episode of Epic Rap Battles of History with Elric versus Lestat.) There is plenty of the usual. I won’t criticize it; it’s a feature not a bug. But a minor criticism is that Elric is rather passive in this book, brought along for the ride other characters are taking through the Multiverse. On the other hand, maybe that’s a reason I somewhat enjoyed this one: the other characters.
It was nice to encounter Prince Gaynor the Damned again. And there were other callbacks to the Corum books. I have fond memories of reading The Chronicles of Corum as a teen. I mean, look at that cover. I must have read that one three or four times during high school.
I also enjoyed the imaginative settings, one of Moorcock’s greatest skills as a writer. There was the train of monstrous wagons, forever circling the planet, a sort of proto-Snowpiercer. There was The Ship That Was. There was the abandoned, crystalline city. Moorcock can always be counted on to create a memorable location. And he is evocative, skilled at creating a mood.
And then, there’s the relatively happy ending. Even knowing what ultimately lies in store for Elric, it is nice to see him off on what promises to be an interlude of tranquility and contentment. I remain fond of my memories of Elric. So, I found the end of Rose satisfying. A rewarding payoff.
I mentioned the call back to the Corum books. One thing Moorcock created was the idea that his Elvish race existed throughout the Multiverse under different names. Elric may be called a Melnibonean, but let’s face it, he’s an elf. In Rose he recognizes his kindred, though they are called the Vadhagh. Elves. Tall, and generally considered superior to men, though whether benign or malign depends on the world in question.
I did something similar with Thick As Thieves, creating the Haptha. Tall, physically (and perhaps culturally) superior human-like beings. But perhaps…maybe…could be, they are just elves with the serial numbers filed off and some aftermarket add-ons. The second edition of Thick As Thieves is out. Tell me what you think. And where do I get off daring to cast even a hint of shade at an acknowledged master? (And I do acknowledge it. You don’t need to extol his virtues. Michael Moorcock doesn’t need the help and I already appreciate what he’s created, even if I’m no longer the ideal reader of it.)
To sum up: I enjoyed The Revenge of the Rose. If you’re an Elric fan, I recommend it to you.