This is a new anthology in the Mammoth series published by Running Press in the U.S. and Robinson in the U.K. Trade paperback in format, 515 pages, $14.95 price and Sean Wallace is the editor.
Twenty-five stories, most on my guess around 10,000 words length on average with a couple that get into novelette territory. Thirteen, possibly fourteen stories are by women. I am betting that “K. J. Parker” is a woman. This is a reprint anthology with no new stories. Three stories from Beneath Ceaseless Skies, two from Way of the Wizard, two from Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, two from Clarksworld Magazine, two from Realms of Fantasy, two from Swords & Dark Magic (aka Swords & Scatology), one from Black Gate, one from the tail end of the Scithers/Schweitzer/Betancourt era Weird Tales, among others. Original story publication ranges from 2000 to 2013. Nothing was reprinted from Heroic Fantasy Quarterly or from Rogue Blades Entertainment.
The cover- a photograph of a dude with chain mail grasping his sword hilt. This could have easily been a cover for a romance book. Remember the days when we had covers by Frank Frazetta, Jeff Jones, or even Ken Kelly?
When I heard about this anthology last year and saw the roster of writers, I joked to a friend that it looked like the product of a United Nations diversity seminar. “She was a tall woman clad in armor the color of dead metal,” makes you begin to wonder about English as a pseudo-second language. Just what the hell is dead metal, let alone the color?
Of the contributors, eighteen have been in Sean Wallace edited magazines, books, or published by his imprint Prime Books. So this is a case of the editor using familiar writers.
Scott H. Andrews, editor of Beneath Ceaseless Skies, introduction has this to say: “Enter the current fantasy short-fiction movement, with its nuanced focus on character and its eyes for diverse takes on archetypes of traditionally under-represented cultures and perspectives…The prevalence of these archetypes across human culture provides a rich panoply of warrior and wizard traditions to examine; to use to recast the predominant forms or offer under-represented ones.”
There you have it.
I found the majority of the stories to be uninteresting, unengaging, and many times just plain dull. There are two stories that are traditional sword and sorcery. Saladin Ahmed’s “Where Virtue Lives” is very much in pulp sword and sorcery tradition. James Enge’s “The Singing Spear” comes from the Jack Vance end of the spectrum. The generally dependable Tanith Lee’s “The Woman in Scarlet” is our last entry.
Matthew David Surridge’s “The Word of Azrael” could be called epic fantasy as it combines elements of sword and sorcery and the bigger canvas of Tolkien inspired fantasy. Cinda Williams China harkens to Unknown with the setting of Cleveland and a supernatural battle on Lake Erie. Noticeably lacking is what I call military fantasy, a form created by Glen Cook.
I am not sure what to call the majority of the contents: wimp fantasy, estrogen fantasy, post-modern fantasy. I am up for suggestions. I read this book last week, most of the contents over two days and I don’t remember most of them now.
Part of my prejudice is the majority of these stories are dialogue driven. This is fine for modernist/realist fiction and works well for crime fiction. Description gave us the splendor of the Hyborian Age or the wonders of Middle Earth. Here you have Fantasy 90210. Modernist/realist fiction attitudes have infiltrated fantasy and made it boring. We remember Robert E. Howard, H. P. Lovecraft, and Clark Ashton Smith because each in their own way, were over the top in presentation. There was a writer for Weird Tales– E. Hoffmann Price. He could really let go once in a while with the action but most of the time seemed to be holding back. As a result, there is no demand for E. Hoffmann Price reprints. You get the same feel in this volume.
The one story that encapsulates this anthology is Carrie Vaughn’s “Strife Lingers in Memory.” A wizard’s daughter narrates the return of the exiled prince of the realm who overthrows a tyrant. That is covered in a couple of paragraphs. The rest of the story concerns the hero wandering the castle at night, cowering in the corners, and bawling his head off. The wizard’s daughter, now the queen goes out to comfort him every night. This story first appeared in Realms of Fantasy in 2002. I must have thumbed through early issues of the magazine in the early 90s and passed. I was never interested enough to buy an issue.
Using a simple method of like or dislike, I got five likes out of 25. The rating is then 1 out of 5. If you are a big fan of Clarksworld Magazine or have a testosterone level below 100 ng/dl, by all means give it a try. If you grew up reading and like Robert E. Howard or J. R. R. Tolkien, maybe check it out at the library but don’t bother buying it. Time is too short to read post-modern fantasy of this nature.
The whole under-represented business is bizarre when you consider that “fantasy” & “Sword & Sorcery” are categories that spring from 20th c Anglo-American writers & publishers. Who else is going to appear in a fantasy antho except English-speaking writers who are products of their culture? It’s like beefing that Wu-xia movies are filled with Chinese stuff. There are hardly any Latinos or Africans in Chinese Ghost Story, Bride With White Hair, Crouching Tiger, etc.
I guess the diversity crowd assumes that “fantasy” is not merely a product of the publishing industry in Western (in its Anglo-American form) culture, but a universal state, which must necessarily reflect the wider demographics of the planet. By assuming Western categories as normative, the diversity crowd is showing just how truly racist they are.
When I saw the title The Mammoth Book of Warriors and Wizardry I thought, “Cool! I haven’t seen a book like that in a long while. I’ve got to check it out.” And then I saw the cover and my excitement was out the window. My first thought too was the cover sucks. Seriously, some photo of a guy with chainmail over his bare and hairy chest does not scream warrior. No warrior puts on chainmail without a gambeson. Given the type of stories inside, it doesn’t matter anymore. I won’t buy it.
And Yes, I remember those Frazetta covers and I miss them. A good fantasy book needs a painted cover. Not a stock photo.
Thanks for reading it so we didn’t have to.
Yeah, the hot warrior chick on the cover of the Mammoth book looks tired.
Are the five stories you mentioned the five you liked? Interesting to see Surridge in there; he was Black Gate’s best blogger and a fine critic although his first attempt at a novel was pretty brutal. It wouldn’t surprise me to see him eventually get his act together, though.
Yes, and “liked” is broad. The Saladin Ahmed story could have been tighter. The Tanith Lee story is of course by a pro. I probably liked Surridge’s story the best. I do hope he keeps with it.
Looking over the venues in which these stories were first published, I suspect I have most of them already.
And that cover truly sucks. I suspect it was selected for financial reasons. A good painting would cost a bit more than a stock photo.
I’ve come back to SF&F the last few years and have found that pretty much all of the new stuff sucks. Outside of the authors at Castalia House is anyone writing Fantasy in the classic vein? I’ve fallen back on re-reading the REH Conan stories in the new collected editions and am going back through Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories. The difference between these and what’s being published is amazing.
I like S&S. Testosterone driven and rugged. Not PC or “sensitive “. I don’t care if other readers think that’s wrong, and there is plenty of sensitive or angst ridden fantasy crap out there for those who need it. Stay away from my damn S&S! Now, I feel the need for a little Howard or Wagner…
Is post-modern a good moniker or does that imply a deconstruction so thorough that it becomes some sort of meta frankenstein’s fantasy monster. These stories seem to wish to preserve the conceit of a fantasy setting, not a true break then?
I try reading Beneath Ceaseless Skies from time to time. Its like some heavy sedative. I feel foggy and weak afterwards. It has the exact opposite effect one gets from reading REH. I suppose thats the point. Really what did my testosterone ever do for me besides these broad shoulders and deep, sensual baritone? The effect is lost online, obviously.
Anyway, to each their own. If I see it in the library I may check out Ahmed and Enge.
Under-represented cultures. Why is it always our responsibility? I never understood that. I lived abroad for 6 years. I loved every minute of it. I would prefer to be abroad this very minute. I have always loved travel and learning about different peoples. Learning some of the language, the food, etc…
But its always on us (the west?) to worry about representation. Why? What does it mean? I like different perspectives. I also like the western European mythic power alley from where most fantasy has originated. But why is “different” a moral obligation? What am I missing?