A few years back, I was excited when I heard there was an anthology entitled Warriors edited by George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois. It came out in March 2010 from Tor, hardback, 736 pages, $27.99.
In the introduction, George R. R. Martin wrote about his youth in New Jersey and buying paperback books from different genres at “candy stores.” He mentions buying science fiction, fantasy, classics, mysteries, etc off the spinner racks where genres were jumbled together.
Martin does have some things to say about selling books:
“These days most people buy their reading material in chain superstores, where genre is king. SF and fantasy over here, mystery over there, romance back of that, bestsellers up front. No mixing and no mingling…It’s good for selling books, I guess. It’s convenient. Easy to find the sort of books you like…But it’s not good for readers, I suspect, and it’s definitely not good for writers. Book should broaden us, take us to places we have never been and show us things we’ve never see, expand our horizons and our way of looking at the world. Limiting your reading to a single genre defeats that. It limits us, makes us smaller.”
I am a cross genre reader: science fiction, fantasy, horror, crime, historicals, and westerns. So the idea appealed to me. Martin and Dozois were trying to recreate an era that has been gone for about 20 or more years. I caught the last years of great paperback era in the late 70s when we still had bottom level publishers such as Pinnacle, Zebra, and Tower Books. Even in the early 1980s, you had John Maddox Roberts writing the “Falcon” series as “Mark Ramsay” or Roland Green’s “Haakon of the Golden Ax” as by “Eric Neilson.”
That era disappeared when the mid-list in publishing disappeared which in turn was due to distribution collapse.
There are twenty stories in his anthology. Martin and Dozois did get some writers with old paperback credentials- Cecelia Holland, Lawrence Block, Robert Silverberg, and David Morrell. I read this book a little under four years ago. Looking over the contents, I remembered about 11 stories. Six stories could be characterized as science fiction, eight as historical, one alternate history (with swords) story, one crime, one animal story, and one fantasy. I don’t know what to call the Peter S. Beagle story. Of the historical stories, two are WWII and one a western. There is one fantasy story and that is by George R. R. Martin.
My favorite story in the book was by David Morrell. He has a WWII story with the unusual but true situation where elements of the French Foreign Legion fought against each other on the Vichy and Free French side. If you haven’t read First Blood by Morrell, do so. Don’t let the movies scare you away. It is one of the greatest original paperback novels ever written.
Cecelia Holland has a story of the Jomsvikings that is good. S. M. Stirling channeled Harold Lamb in “Ancient Ways” with a neo-Cossack story. I am tired of Joe R. Lansdale. Seems he is every anthology that comes out no matter if it is crime, sword & planet, or nurse stories. His scatological regional corn pone writing style wore thin with me a long time ago. “Solderin’” is about black cavalry troops in the U.S. Army fighting Apaches. Lawrence Block’s “Clean Slate” is a nasty thriller/crime story. You feel like taking a shower after reading it.
Robin Hobb’s “The Triumph” has the unusual setting of Carthage in the First Punic War. It has a fantastic element of Roman legionaries fighting a giant snake in a flash back. It is grim with the torturing to death of the Roman Consul Regulus who the Carthaginians captured. They sent him to Rome with peace conditions, he advised against the terms, and returned to Carthage to certain death.
“Out of the Dark” by David Weber is a ketchup over ice cream situation for me. I loved the alien invasion of Earth and the resistance part of the story. Weber then brought in Dracula as savior of Earth. It fell apart for me then. He should have kept it straight science fiction.
Tad Williams’ “And Ministers of Grace” was a non-starter for me. It is written in present tense, which is too cutting edge for my old-school education.
I did not care for the Diana Gabaldon, Naomi Novik, and Carrie Vaughn stories. Do I like female writers? Not generally if they are not C. L. Moore, Leigh Brackett, or Tanith Lee. I will give everyone a fair first hearing at introduction.
Most of the science fiction stories were meh for me. I just don’t read science fiction anymore. If I do, it is generally in the pages of a pulp magazine. Call me reactionary.
I loved James Rollins’ dog story “The Pit” about a stolen and abused pit bull terrier but I am a dog lover and like a good dog story.
The Peter S. Beagle story was something written in a way that I could not grok it. I leave it to someone else to explain it to me.
I thought it strange that sword and sorcery was not a part of this anthology. Sword and sorcery books often had the best covers in the late 60s and into the 70s. The reason might be that George R. R. Martin took this spot in the book. “The Mystery Knight” is set a generation or so before The Game of Thrones. This is the third novella of the “Dunk and Egg” stories. I found the story to be too long and tedious for my taste. I have not read the first two novellas so might be at a disadvantage. It also doesn’t help that I stopped reading Martin after A Feast for Crows.
A gripe of mine about this book, the overall tone was depressing punctuated with episodes of the nihilistic. A theme of nastiness pervaded it. The sense of adventure that you got reading Poul Anderson, Heinlein, Robert E. Howard, or even Lin Carter was lacking overall here.
There is a very good paperback that could be culled from the contents of this book if you used select contents. The hardback was published as three paperbacks. They seemed to be on the shelves of the local Barnes & Noble store for a few weeks, before disappearing for good. I have a feeling the mass-market paperbacks did not sell well. It is more cost effective to purchase the hardback at Amazon for $18.00 than three paperbacks at $7.99 a piece.
It would have been interesting to do a book like this say in 1980. Then you would have had Poul Anderson, Robert Bloch, Gordon D. Shireffs, T. V. Olsen, Gardner F. Fox, and John D. MacDonald. That would have been a real spinner rack anthology.