Wednesday, February 3, 2010

'The Year's Best Fantasy Stories 3', edited by Lin Carter

3 / 5 Stars

‘The Year’s Best Fantasy Stories 3’, edited by Lin Carter, was published as DAW book No. 267 in November, 1977. The cover illustration is by Josh Kirby.  Much as with the other DAW anthologies of the era, the fantasy edition of the ‘Year’s Best’ compilations usually had three, or perhaps four, good stories within their pages, which was the case with this volume.
This may or may not have had something to do with the fact that back in ’76, what was then called ‘adult fantasy’ was still an emerging field in book publishing, and unlike today, the store shelves were dominated by SF, with very few fantasy entries receiving mass market paperback publication. Many of the stories in ‘Fantasy 3’ came from small-press magazines, while others made first-time appearances; all were produced in 1976.
The emphasis in this volume is very much on Conan-style heroic fantasy tales.
‘Eudoric’s Unicorn’, by L. Sprague de Camp, is a pleasant enough tale, if not particularly memorable. It’s an effort at infusing the old-tyme ‘dragon and threatened maiden’ trope with humor.
Veteran fantasy and SF writer Gardner Fox contributes ‘Shadow of a Demon’, in which a barbarian hero named Niall enters the cursed city of Angalore, and a confrontation with a evil mage named Maylok. En route he saves a young woman from would-be molesters and takes to the party life:
Niall pushed Lylthia onto a bench and waved an arm at a serving maid. “Thort steaks and Kallarian,” he ordered, then turned his attention to the girl.
‘Shadow’ delivers the pulp-style sword-and-sorcery stuff in a satisfactory dose, and should satisfy any fan of the ‘Conan’ stories.
Pat McIntosh’s ‘Ring of Black Stone’ is also in the sword-and-sorcery camp, but it’s one of the more subdued and nuanced tales in the genre. Thula the war-maiden befriends an elderly woman and a little girl, as the latter go about burying the girl’s slain parents. Thula volunteers to find the elderly woman’s granddaughter Melvia, abducted by the slayers and taken to the city. The narratives centers less on brute-force hacking and slashing, and more on an understanding of the subtleties of magic, and some careful decision-making by its heroine. ‘Ring’ is one of the best stories in the anthology.
George R. R. Martin, whose ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ / Game of Thrones series dominates contemporary fantasy publishing, provides ‘The Lonely Songs of Laren Dorr.’ Laren is a bard who sings his way around confrontations; he befriends a cursed young woman named Sharra, and decides to break the enchantment cast upon her. The story is an patent effort to produce a highly stylized, pretty, melancholy prose poem, but I ‘m afraid I’m too crude and brutish to appreciate it…..
Karl Edward Wagner gives us a 'Kane' story in ‘Two Suns Setting’. While wandering through the wastelands, Kane encounters a well-behaved giant named Dwassllir, and embarks on an adventure to recover the lost Crown of King Brotemllain. Wagner wasn’t the most stylistically accomplished of sword and sorcery writers, and his passages of dialogue are often more than a little clumsy. However, ‘Two Suns’ makes up for these weaknesses with an engaging plot and a nicely drawn atmosphere of lost glories and faded elder races.
The anthology strikes a lame note with the next entry, ‘The Stairs in the Crypt’, in which editor Carter takes a scrap of a manuscript by Clark Ashton Smith and from it fabricates a short story. The result is even worse than Ashton himself would have done. Only true fanboys will be willing to endure this adjective-drenched, syntactically challenged piece. It’s really nothing more than self- indulgence on the part of Carter to include this entry as one of the ‘year’s best’.
Raul Capella contributes ‘The Goblin Blade’. Bickering allies Briot the thief and Dalmask the mage infiltrate castle Skernach, which has been occupied by a supernaturally enhanced warrior named Tormahan. The author is clearly trying to pay homage to the Fafhrd and Grey Mouser tales of Fritz Leiber. This is not a bad thing, although the story’s copious dialogue is more than a little juvenile, and not up to par with something Leiber would craft.
With her entry ‘The Dark King’, author C. J. Cherryh tries to produce a ‘deep’ fantasy tale like those produced by her contemporary, Tanith Lee. The story deals with a young regent named Sisyphos who makes a fateful bargain with Death. It’s not a bad effort, but I found myself thinking Lee may have handled the concept with a bit more aplomb.
You know the startlingly large supply of ‘unfinished’ Conan manuscripts supposedly discovered in the aftermath of Robert E. Howard’s death must be depleted, when Lin Carter is reduced to using his Conan pastiche ‘Thongor the Mighty’ in lieu of the Real Thing in the pedestrian ‘Black Moonlight’. As a sword and sorcery tale it’s competent, but by ’76 Carter had been churning out reams of short stories and novels over a long career, and yet ‘Moonlight’, like so much of his latter work, showed no marked advances in story conception or writing style. 
It wasn’t difficult to foresee that in the next few years authors like Stephen R. Donaldson and Terry Brooks would eclipse Carter as genre writers, and achieve a degree of commercial success that bypassed Carter.
‘The Pool of the Moon’, by Charles Saunders, is a sword and sorcery tale involving Imaro, a black Conan-style hero let loose in a fantasy landscape with Afrocentric tones. Our hero rescues Nakulla, “…a seductive vision in gold and black”, and a princess of Darfur (!). I can’t say it’s a terribly original story, but the inclusion of some ethnicity into the story gives it some offbeat flavor. It’s too bad what we now call ‘urban fiction’ didn’t exist back in ’77, because if it did, I’d like to think author Saunders could have made an impact by pursuing this line of fiction for an audience of black readers.

No comments: