Spare, surprisingly effective, and more genuinely heartbreaking than I expected. Like much early King, it's as much about the stress and strain of eve...moreSpare, surprisingly effective, and more genuinely heartbreaking than I expected. Like much early King, it's as much about the stress and strain of everyday life-- lost jobs, crumbling marriages, missed opportunities, fading youth-- as it is about the abnormal or the supernatural. (less)
The highlights of this anthology are a dreamy high fantasy piece by Tanith Lee and a darkly amusing Fafhrd and Mouser story from Fritz Leiber, in whic...moreThe highlights of this anthology are a dreamy high fantasy piece by Tanith Lee and a darkly amusing Fafhrd and Mouser story from Fritz Leiber, in which our intrepid heroes are essentially told to go piss up a rope by every woman they have ever loved, lusted after, or crossed. Avram Davidson's "Milord Sir Smiht, the English Wizard" is perhaps a touch less narratively satisfying, but it is also marvelously weird and technically accomplished, presenting a baroque flavor unlike anything else in the collection.
Lin Carter, bless his heart and his ever-bubbling enthusiasm, is involved in virtually everything about this antho that is less successful. His "The City in the Jewel," starring bare-assed Conan pastiche Thongor, declines into jumpy incoherence unworthy of even Carter's low narrative ambitions. It's also a perfect example of his facile comprehension of the stuff he desperately loved and wanted to emulate... Robert E. Howard's dark passion is here transmuted to purple strutting buffoonery. Carter had energy and vocabulary to spare, but he seemingly never developed artistic judgment to match.
When I first examined the table of contents, I wondered where Clark Ashton Smith's "The Scroll of Morloc" had come from, since to the best of my knowledge Smith had been dead for many years when this anthology was published. The unwelcome answer was that it wasn't really Smith's work at all but Lin Carter's "posthumous collaboration." In other words, a Carter pastiche based on Smith's notes. Again the poor guy expends all of his energy on emulating surface trifles and ever-weirder made-up nouns, capturing none of the haunting or atmospheric qualities that marked the best of the emulated writer's fiction.
"Posthumous collaboration" with the assorted original writers of the Lovecraft/Mythos circle is, incidentally, one of those literary trends I am not unhappy to see more or less buried in the past.
Carter commits one final annoyance in his list of "The Year's Best Fantasy Books" by throwing one of his own books in without a hint of apparent shame. I admire audacity in a writer and have no use for false humility, but even so, this strikes me as a bit much. Were works not written by Lin Carter really so thin on the ground that year?
A few of the other tales provide slight amusement, but a depressing number are simple variations on the so-old-it-creaks formula of "someone enters a cave/tomb, offends a dark power, and suffers the consequences." Even in 1976 this trope was thoroughly moth-eaten and none of the vaguely Lovecraftian oogedy-boogedies have any interesting new ways of haunting their forbidden fanes or eating people. Just think of the incredible advances in every human science between the 1920s and the 1970s; surely we had some right to expect a qualitative enhancement in the field of carnivorous horrors, too.