In the last entry in this series of reviews of anthologies, I covered Swords Against Darkness I. This time I’m leaping ahead to Swords Against Darkness III, because it is on my shelves. (I’ve since secured a copy of volume II and I’m eagerly looking forward to opening its pages.) The first volume offered up nine stories. This one ramps up to fourteen, plus a bonus essay. There is such a thing as over-egging the pudding. Not all of these stories were quite ready to step into the limelight. Given the sheer number of tales, I’ve trimmed back some of my commentary.
I don’t know if my life is actually compartmentalized, but given how I read it sort of looks that way. I generally have four or five books going at any one time. Let’s look at right now for a typical example.
The library informed me that Jim Butcher’s latest, Battle Ground, was waiting for me. So, I drove over yesterday, parked, called, and the librarian brought it out. (Sigh.) Yesterday was rather busy, but nonetheless I’m already on page 50. Butcher has a knack of getting you to turn the page.
Monsters come in many guises. Andrew Offut put together an anthology illustrating that very point. It is a fine collection. It doesn’t achieve the heights of some of the other anthologies I’ve discussed in earlier posts, but it ain’t no slouch either. Most of the stories first saw print in this volume, so Offut could not simply cherry pick, stacking his roster with ringers, if I may crudely mash together metaphors. Given that (self-imposed?) handicap, he did an excellent job.
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.