Sunday, July 04, 2010

Swords and Dark Magic

Finally got my hands on this collection of new sword & sorcery stories and overall it's a winner. Edited by Jonathan Strahan and Lou Anders, this book contains seventeen new stories. The main draw for me was 'Red Pearls', a new Elric story by Michael Moorcock. Mike is kind of the bridge between the old guard of S&S and the new guys. Elric is, of course, Mike's signature character and one of the classic S&S heroes. Moorcock had stories in some of the earliest S&S collections, like L. Sprague de Camp's The Spell of Seven and The Fantastic Swordsmen, and he was a contributor to Lin Carter's Flashing Swords series in the 1970s.
Red Pearl's returns to the old days when Elric was a traveling sword for hire along with his friend Moonglum. As Stan Lee used to say, this one's got it all. Sword fights, sorcery, non-human races, and even a dragon or two. Mike's prose isn't as pulpy as in the old days, but then he's grown considerably as a writer in the last forty something years, so that's to be expected. It still feels like a classic Elric tale.
Other standouts are Glen Cook's Tides Elba: A Tale of the Black Company, Bill Willingham's Thieves of Daring, which strikes me as a nice little turn of Robert E. Howard's Conan story Rogues in the House, and Caitlin R. Kiernan's The Sea Troll's Daughter. I've been running across stories by Kiernan in a lot of anthologies lately and they always seem to be among the best written tales in any of the books, including this one. She can really really write.
I did have a couple of problems with the anthology. In the introduction, the editors keep calling Robert E. Howard's Hyborian age Hyperborean. They aren't the first to make that error but it grates a bit. Their short history of sword and sorcery is a little wonky, but basically correct. The biggest problem is that a couple of the stories simply aren't sword & sorcery. K.J. Parker's A Rich Full Week is a great fantasy tale with some really cool ideas, but no swords to speak of. Much as I like Jack Vance, I never agreed that his stuff was S&S, any more than Terry Pratchett, so the Michael Shea's Vance inspired Hew the Tintmaster doesn't work for me either. But hey, de Camp included H.P. Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith as well as Vance in his collections and neither author really qualifies as an S&S writer either, and Carter included Vance in Flashing Swords, so there ya go. Kind of a tradition.
I haven't gotten around to Joe Abercrombie's contribution yet. Though I really liked his stand alone novel, Best Served Cold, I got bogged down in the second volume of his First Law trilogy and haven't returned so while I'm sure I'll read his story, I'm in no particular hurry.
So what I'd like to see now is some enterprising publisher put together a collection of classic sword and sorcery. You know, Robert E. Howard, C.L. Moore, Fritz Leiber, Charles R. Saunders, Karl Edward Wagner, and of course, Michael Moorcock. To round it out, some second stringers like Lin Carter's Thongor, John Jake's Brak, Henry Kuttner's Elak, and so forth. But no Vance. Sorry Sprague.


Jason M Waltz said...

Ha! Missed that "Hyperborean." Good review. We have several thoughts in common on this title.

Charles R. Rutledge said...

We do indeed. I enjoyed your well thought out review as well.

Taranaich said...

"Hyperborean?" People are still making that old chestnut? Dear, dear.