Yes, this volume is every bit as good as the buzz around it suggests. If you’ve been exasperated by the absence in today’s magazines and anthologies of stories of the sort that Lord Dunsany, C. L. Moore, Jack Vance, and Robert E. Howard wrote, then this volume will be a welcome addition to your library.
I’m suppose that several people will want to know about how good the writing is. Frankly, I don’t really care. I haven’t ever since the go-to guy for pretty much every media story on science fiction and fantasy declared Lovecraft to be a terrible wordsmith. If it were possible, I began to care even less after reading about the fiftieth book review that took time out to comment on an author’s “workmanlike prose.” It’s all bunk really, fake criticism predicated on the assumption that non-stories, anti-stories, and naked propaganda can somehow be redeemed on the basis of the raw technical aspects of the writing.
Given that A. Merritt and Fred Saberhagen’s first books were excellent in spite of being a little rough around the edges, I honestly don’t see the point of fretting about such things. It’s precisely what you’d expect outsiders, interlopers, and people that just plain don’t get it to hyperventilate over. So no, I wouldn’t normally bring this up. But Jon Mollison went and said Schuyler Hernstrom had produced stories better than Dying Earth, so here we are.
What can you even say to something like that…? You know, I can’t really see how to get to it without going back to definitions– ie, unpacking just what awesome is and how it is recognized. Going back to the foundations of the field, you can see how Dunsany ended up defining fantasy for seven decades. That’s objectively awesome. That his work prepared the way for Lovecraft to emerge as a literary force is even more awe inspiring.
If that level of influence is a bellweather for awesomeness, then Edgar Rice Burroughs has a couple orders of magnitude more of it. Superman, Conan, Vance, Brackett, D&D, and Star Wars all can be traced back being directly inspired by him. In spite of the fact that he’s at the center of all things geek, he is all but invisible to the rank and file critic. If they remark on him at all it is to point out the qualities of his flagrantly unliterary style. Nevertheless, Ray Bradbury was spot on when he declared him to be the most influential writer in the history in the entire world.
This is just one more way that critics disclose their inability to comprehend the field. In their ignorance or even hatred of the canon, they give up the only means we have of judging an author or measuring the import of his work. Now obviously, it’s way too early to give any sort of sweeping assessment for Hernstrom. What we can see at the moment is Bradbury’s sort of rabid enthusiasm on the part of his fans.
If you’ve seen the Firely episode “The Train Job” you’ll grasp the essence of the sort of thrill they’re experiencing. At the end there’s this scene in it with the heavy that flat out stopped people in their tracks the first time they saw it. It’s the sort of thing people have always wanted to see in a TV show even if they weren’t quite conscious of it. You can imagine people sitting on the couch and thinking, “I can’t believe I just saw that!” I know I did. The stories in Thune’s Vision are like that. And the dearth of these sorts of tales in the wider culture only heightens the sensation.
We live in a time decades after the retiring of the John Wayne style romantic hero from the public consciousness. Aragorn is upstaged by a plucky Arwen in his translation to the big screen. In spite of his hulking Conan-like physique, Vin Diesel is denied a love interest in Chronicles of Riddick. Matt Damon’s character in Elysium gives his life to obtain free medical care for the child of a woman that had dumped him for another man. In the first season of the Vikings television show heroic characters casually offer their wives to men that visit their homes.
It baffles me how anyone would pay to see this stuff. And yet it’s ubiquitous. For most people, the counterpoint in Thune’s Vision is going to be things they didn’t even know they couldn’t imagine. We live, after all, in a time when Mario receiving a kiss from Princess Peach is enough to send commentators reaching for their pearls. Reading these stories, though… it’s as if the last fifty years of popular culture never happened. It’s not hard at all to imagine Hernstrom and a few of his pals returning to works of the grandmasters of science fiction and fantasy– and then picking up where they left off.
Everything that has angered or aggravated or disappointed me at the movie theater the past fifteen years or so…? It’s flatly repudiated here. You can see other authors holding back, signaling their bona fides, incorporating the bare minimum of the “official” narrative just to get a spot in the “official” magazines…. In that sort of milieu, Schuyler Hernstrom opted to regress harder. The fact that he did that when he did makes these tales that much more entertaining. This particular literary moment has been a long time coming.
Damn the torpedoes!