Time again for another holiday-themed post. Halloween is not my favorite holiday. I don’t care for the decorations, the general ghoulishness or the faux-macabre. I don’t dress up. I’m not much of a candy eater, not possessing much of a sweet tooth. Still it is on the calendar. One must deal with it.
I’ve written before about Roger Zelazny’s A Night in the Lonesome October. And I haven’t changed my opinion as to its merit as a Halloween read. But there are other options. You can’t go far wrong with Clark Ashton Smith, or Karl Edward Wagner, or even Robert E. Howard. There is a significant link between sword-and-sorcery and the horror genres, as I’m sure I’ve written before. So even with a straight up S&S yarn you’re likely to enjoy a bit of spook and shiver, second hand or not.
Today, however, I thought I’d recommend an alternative Halloween read, something you might consider S&S adjacent: Poul Anderson’s Operation Chaos. The book is a fix-up novel, combining four stories Anderson wrote in the 1950s and 60s. It offers all the mental Halloween candy you need: werewolves and witches; monsters and devils from across the spectrum from Universal films to 1001 Arabian Nights. This is high concept fantasy, but Anderson — like de Camp and Pratt did with the Harold Shea stories and Niven did later with The Magic Goes Away — felt a compulsion to systematize his magic and fantastical concepts, fitting them into a self-consistent order. Thus Operation Chaos carries with it an oddly appealing overtone of science-fiction.
So, if you want to add a touch of variety to your Halloween reading, find a copy of Operation Chaos and let it take you from an alternate universe version of WWII to the very gates of Hell.
And now, for those of you following Magnus Stoneslayer’s journey, here’s another entry in his journal.
For one gifted with my physical attributes, thievery is an alluring occupation, dear diary. I’m not referring simply to strength and intimidation. I’m not above bashing someone over the head and taking his money. I’ve done it when circumstances so require. But strong arm robbery lacks a certain finesse. There is no challenge to it.
No, dear diary, when I referred to my physical attributes I meant such vital characteristics as balance, grace, endurance. I can swarm up a wall like an ape. I can glide through shadow like a cat. (I don’t suppose I need to pause here to remind you how much nearer the barbarian is to nature than is the civilized man.)
The more rewarding thefts are, therefore, those that employ the gifts of stealth and cunning. (Those who consider the savage a mere brute without the intellectual power necessary for more than a straight forward snatch and run are the most fun to steal from. Very gratifying.) Scaling a wall barefoot, armed with naught but a long knife or a short sword, evading patrols and guardian beasts, sliding a strong box from beneath the very sleeping head of the master of the house – these are the tests worth of the itinerant barbarian at play in arrogant cities.
Of course on occasion the master of the house proves a light sleeper. So tonight, dear diary, I was afforded an opportunity of exercising my sprinting skills, my rooftop leaping skills, my night watch avoidance skills, my hiding in a stinking midden skills, and my accepting with poorly concealed ill grace a criminally low price from a fence skills.
There were also, dear diary, a couple of bashing over the head moments. So, as I bid you good night, dear diary, I take to my rest the valuable reminder that no matter how much fun it is to employ more advanced and polished methodologies, the basic skills are not to be despised.