The Fantastic Swordsmen is the third entry in L. Sprague de Camp’s swords-and-sorcery anthology series. De Camp’s introduction is solid, but after a few of these apologias for S&S they all begin to read much the same. Don’t worry, the stories are better.
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.
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 like anthologies. There, I admitted it. Feels good to get that off my chest.
Currently I’m re-reading “World’s Best Science Fiction 1969.” A good year for science fiction, 1969. A couple other notable events occurred that year as well: Man set foot on the moon and I was born. The order of importance is debatable.
A glance at my book cases reveals all sorts of anthologies. There is “Best Short Stories of the Modern Age.” Then there is “100 Wild Little Weird Tales.” “Flashing Swords#3.” And more. There are easily a dozen taking up shelf space, probably more. I’m gradually occupying a shelf with my own published works (today the book shelf, tomorrow the book case, bwah hah hah) and I count four anthologies.
What I like about anthologies is their approachability.
You can dive right in at any point. Start with the last story in the book if you want to, it makes no difference. If you set the book down after finishing the first couple of stories, you can pick it up years later, right where you left off.
If you don’t care for a story, you can move on to the next; your appreciation of it won’t be hampered by unfamiliarity with the previous.
Anthologies more readily accommodate multiple readings than full-length novels. Not everyone likes to read the same novel over again. I do for certain works and certain writers. But some novels I will pick up for a re-read, read the first paragraph and put the book back on the shelf. Too soon, too familiar. (Of course with other books the familiarity is the attraction. Like your favorite restaurant: You know the menu and that’s the point – you are getting the exact meal you want.) I find that not every story in an anthology makes a lasting impression, so I can pick up the collection sooner than I could a novel, and the experience feels fresher.
Anthologies are like a buffet You pay about the same price you would for an entree, but you get to sample a wider variety of flavors.
As of this writing I’m waiting on my author copies of yet another anthology, “The Big Bad: An Anthology of Evil.” I’m eager to graze the buffet I’ll skip my own story though, I’ve read it so often it would be like filling up on bread.