Friday, February 5, 2010

A Fist Full of Fantasy

Looking for some weekend reading? In no particular order, here are five fantastic (in both senses of the word) stories well worth seeking out:

"Lean Times in Lankhmar" by Fritz Leiber
"How the lack of money leads to a lack of love, even among sworn comrades." When Fafhrd and Gray Mouser are the sworn comrades in question, what happens next certainly isn't dull. Mouser goes to work for an unusual extortionist, and Fafhrd gets religion! A clever, colorful, and genuinely funny tale. One of Leiber's best tales of the twain--and that's high praise, indeed.
Find it in: Swords Against Death: The Adventures of Fafhrd & Gray Mouser Book 2

"Worms of the Earth" by Robert E. Howard
Bran Mak Morn, last king of the Picts, wants revenge against the hated Roman invaders, and he's willing to bargain with an ancient, inhuman enemy to get it. This is one of Howard's best stories--combining action and horror, in one effective package.
Find it in: Bran Mak Morn: The Last King

"Queen of the Martian Catacombs" by Leigh Brackett
This was technically science fiction when it was written, but advancing knowledge of the solar system has rendered Brackett's pulp view quaint. Too bad for us in the real world. Eric John Stark, Brackett's hard-boiled, outlaw hero, is an earth-man raised by primitives on Mercury like an interplanetary Tarzan. Stark is forced to cut a deal with authorities to infiltrate and disrupt a plot by Martian desert tribesmen and criminal elements to ferment a rebellion against the Terran colonial powers. In the process, Stark will uncover a startling secret, surviving from ancient Mars.
Find it in: expanded form as the novel, The Secret of Sinharat.

"Undertow" by Karl Edward Wagner
This story features Kane, Wagner's version of the Biblical first murderer, cursed by a mad god to wander a sword & sorcery pre-history, knowing only violence. Kane's often more of anti-hero--a trait this story well illustrates. A ship's captain falls for a beautiful woman kept by a powerful sorcerer, and at her urging, hatches a dangerous plot to free her. But all is not what it seems. The sorcerer is Kane, and this whole drama of doomed love, manipulation, and death, may have played out before.
Find it in: The Midnight Sun: The Complete Stories of Kane, or Night Winds (both unfortunately out of print--and probably pricey).

"The Seven Geases" by Clark Ashton Smith
In fabled Hyperborea, Ralibar Vooz, high magistrate of Commoriom, is having one seriously bad day. He has magical compulsions, seven in all, laid upon him by a succession of ever more dire supernatural entities. All the while, Smith will "wow" you with his ceaseless invention, ironic humor, and lush prose.
Find it in: The Return of the Sorcerer: The Best of Clark Ashton Smith or here--for free--on the Eldritch Dark website.

Find and enjoy!


Brian Murphy said...

Great choices. While I generally give the edge to Robert E. Howard, I have my Leiber moments( usually after finishing a Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser story) in which I say, "Did anyone ever write better sword and sorcery than that?"

I'm embarrassed to say that I have read very little CAS but I plan to rectify that very soon. I actually just yesterday ordered The Return of the Sorcerer.

Trey said...

I love both Howard and Leiber, but my favorite stories of the two are probably by Leiber.

CAS is really good if you like imagery and prose. Those who mainly like S&S for adventure/action, though, may not find him to their taste.

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Lagomorph Rex said...

all good choices, I think I prefer Howard for pure action oriented stories (as I don't much care for his non fantasy/adventure stuff) But I really enjoy Leiber because the Fafhrd and grey mouser tales always have an undercurrent of dark humour too them in addition to being great S&S..

CAS is one I too have sadly neglected, but I blame that more on the difficulty and cost of acquiring his works.. I've got the 4 BAF volumes that Lin Carter but together.. and a few of his other stories in the various Chasosium Chtuhlu Mythos volumes.. KEW I was unimpressed by.. I don't really find Kane to have any redeeming qualities despite the stories being well written..

Leigh Brackett I've never read.. not much of a Sword and Planet fan..

Trey said...

@Lagomorph Rex: There are the new Collected Fantasies of Clark Ashton Smith volumes by Night Shade Books which aren't too pricey.

In regard to Kane, I not sure what you mean by him having no redeeming qualities? Do you mean morally? If so, I'd say that's sort of the point--at least of some of the stories. He's largely the villian of the novel Bloodstone, for instanc.

I would say give Brackett a try. If your conception of "sword and planet" is Burroughs or Lin Carter's Burroughs pastiches, I think you'll find her work somewhat different.

Lagomorph Rex said...

Yes, I would imagine that is what KEW was going for and he suceeded.. Conan tends to do the right thing, and if he gets some sort of reward all the better.. Fafhrd and the Grey mouser are lovable rogues.. Kane was just a dick.. and thats just not my cup of tea.

I will try and give Brackett a try, I know that Paizo has a good number of her books in very affordable volumes and I've looked at the skaith books at Barnes & Nobel(who actually carries some of the Paizos)