Giants. As Advertised.
It really shouldn’t come as a pleasant surprise to open a book and find exactly what the title describes. But, such is my life. I picked up Isaac Asimov’s Magical Worlds of Fantasy 5: Giants based on the strength of the names Manly Wade Wellman and Clark Ashton Smith. Seeing David Drake’s name in the credits didn’t hurt. I had a pretty good idea, given the inclusion of Pohl, Asimov, and Knight — among others — that this would not be a purely S&S/Weird Tales affair. But I expected mostly strong stories, be they science fiction, fantasy, or some hybrid thereof.
I wasn’t disappointed. Let’s take a look, shall we?
Isaac Asimov provides a competent, but forgettable introduction: a few pages of commonplace remarks on giants and myths. But knowing that a Kardios story (one I’ve read more than once before, but still) is waiting for me just a couple of stories in, I wasn’t really paying much attention.
The Riddle of Ragnarok. Theodore Sturgeon. Does Sturgeon’s law apply to himself? If the only evidence one has is this story, I’d give a resounding “no.” This is an odd, but endearing story, beginning as a sort of retelling of the highlights of Norse mythology, and then taking a sharp turn into a new, revisionist ‘whodunnit’ myth — with two unlikely detectives. I dug the new spin, though I wonder what a sense of optimism might have done to the whole “Northern Thing.”
Straggler from Atlantis. Manly Wade Wellman. I reviewed this in my post on Swords Against Darkness I. It’s still good.
He Who Shrank. Henry Hesse.
Pinto: OK, so that means that our whole solar system could be like one tiny atom in the fingernail of some other giant being. This is nuts! That means that one tiny atom in my fingernail could be…
Professor Jennings: …could be one tiny little universe!
There you go. Mix in Marvel Comics-level scientific rigor. He Who Shrank is Animal House meets Ant-Man. It is absurd and drags on way too long. But it does have a certain novelty value, I suppose.
From the Dark Waters. David Drake. A Vettius story! Ave Vettius and Dama, a happy inclusion in this collection. Drake provides a terrific sea story of monsters from the deep, of witchery and insanity, all told in a brutal, unflinching manner. Hearty fare.
Small Lords. Frederik Pohl. Classic mid-20th Century sci-fi tale, the sort that could be the basis for a Twilight Zone episode. Lightweight and forgettable, but enjoyable.
The Mad Planet. Murray Leinster. Begin with the good; always solid advice, I think. Leinster can paint a gloriously vivid picture. The bad: He paints variations on the same theme over and over, ad nauseum. The theme? Well, this is interesting in a historical sense, I guess, if you’re interested in this sort of thing. Leinster wrote in 1920 about a greenhouse gas-caused apocalypse. 30,000 years later the Earth is the home of gigantic insects and fungi run amok. Man is reduced to a primitive, pre-tool using state. We follow one such man (Burl) who becomes separated from his tribe. And we follow, and we follow, and we follow Burl on his interminable trudge that serves as a nightmarish (but gloriously limned) travelogue. What plot there is involves Burl getting home to his girlfriend and, in the process, awakening the forgotten instances of the hunter/gatherer. I feared it would never end.
Dreamworld. Isaac Asimov.
Two-page setup for a weak pun.
The Thirty and One. David H. Keller. A fable wrapped in a parable tangled inside an enigma. Your appreciation will vary depending on your mood. I was too impatient to fully engage with this story and probably gave it short shrift.
The Law Twister Shorty. Gordon R. Dickson. One of Dickson’s droll, tall-tale accented Dilbian SF stories. The Dilbian tales make a good bookend to Dickson and Poul Anderson’s Hoka stories — tall alien bears on one end, cuddly, short alien bears on the other. This one is fun, lightweight, and perhaps a tad bit long.
In the Lower Passage. Harle Oren Cummins. Here’s one I wish could have been longer, and handled by, say H. Rider Haggard. As it is, there are some good bones to this weird tale of British colonial India and some sort of monster. But there is insufficient meat. Still, I liked what there was of it.
Cabin Boy. Damon Knight. Good old fashioned SF story. I don’t have much else to say about this, other than that I admire the ability to create something so truly alien and yet relatable.
The Colossus of Ylourgne. Clark Ashton Smith. Asimov’s introductory note to CAS is a clunker, as tone deaf as a retired explosive ordnance disposal expert. Happily, we have the story itself. It is one of his Averoigne stories, which setting some might recognize as the inspiration for the Dungeons and Dragons adventure Castle Amber. Colossus is a justly recognized classic, one I’m glad to have had an excuse to re-read. Evocative, eerie, and inventive.
Overall, I’m pleased with this book. Yes, I invested some hours in stories that I may feel I’ve not received a profitable return on, but the rest more than made up for it. And, unlike some other anthologies I might name, this one actually delivered on its promise.
I’m still sitting on announcements of upcoming work, but if you’d like to check out some of my currently available material, how about this novel of adventure on a distant planet?