Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Neither Beg Nor Yield - Jason M. Waltz, ed. (Part 3)

Today we’re moving on to my thoughts on the next four stories in NEITHER BEG NOR YIELD, the big new sword and sorcery anthology from Rogue Blades Entertainment. The previous posts in this series can be found here and here.

Author Phil Emery and his character Corlagh are both new to me, although in his afterword to this story, editor Jason M. Waltz mentions that the character first appeared in Emery’s stories all the way back in the Seventies. “Golden Devils of the Crypt” is a post-apocalyptic yarn, set on Earth after a nuclear war wiped out much of humanity and gave rise to many different types of mutations and monsters. In the void left by science, sorcery has arisen to rule much of the world. It’s an interesting setup and certainly works as a setting for sword and sorcery stories. Barbarian Corlagh and thief Norad team up with an “astromancer” to battle an even worse threat. It’s a story packed with color and action. However, I have to say it’s also the first one in this volume that wasn’t really to my taste. Emery’s style reminds me of Clark Ashton Smith and C.L. Moore, two writers whose work I enjoy but only in small doses. Your mileage, as they say, may vary, and I suspect it would for many of you. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t dislike “Golden Devils of the Crypt”, I’m just not as enthusiastic about it as I have been the other stories so far.

Now, I have to pause and wallow in nostalgia for a few lines, so if you just want to read my comments on the next story, David C. Smith’s “The Undead of Sul-Atet”, feel free to skip on down and do so. As for me, I’m going back in my memory to the first time I attended the annual Robert E. Howard Days get-together in Cross Plains, almost thirty years ago. One of the other Howard fans there that day was David C. Smith. I immediately recognized his name as the co-author, with Richard C. Tierney, of several REH pastiche novels I’d read and enjoyed. We hit it off right away and had a long, enjoyable conversation that afternoon.

Jump ahead more than two decades to the year David C. Smith was the guest of honor at Howard Days, and when we started talking we picked up the conversation as if only a few weeks had passed rather than many years. He’s a great guy and a superb writer, and I was very glad to see that his character Engor (the protagonist of his novel ENGOR’S SWORD ARM) returns in “The Undead of Sul-Atet”. In this story, Engor unwillingly helps an old friend and comrade-in-arms make a deal with a demon, then leads his friend’s army into battle against a rival. The tale is told with a fine mixture of brooding intensity and bloody action, and Smith’s prose displays the sure-handed touch of a longtime master of the genre. This is just an absolutely terrific story, one of my favorites so far in this volume.

I’m a little confused about Frederick Tor. I think that’s a joint pseudonym under which several writers spin yarns about a thief and mercenary named Kaimer, who operates in a vast and sinister city known as Skovolis. In “The Shades of Nacross Hill”, Kaimer and two companions are in a huge cemetery bent on robbing some tombs when they discover that there are more things lurking there than the dead. As one of the characters puts it, the cemetery guards are there not to keep people out but to keep things in. I wasn’t sure about this one—it’s another tale that’s not exactly to my taste—but it won me over for the most part and I wound up thinking it was well-written and enjoyable.

Time for more nostalgia. Joe R. Lansdale is my oldest friend in the writing business, other than my wife. I started corresponding with him in the Seventies after seeing his address on a letter in a fanzine devoted to hardboiled fiction, THE NOT SO PRIVATE EYE. That was the same way I met Bill Crider and Tom Johnson, both sadly no longer with us. Joe and I have met in person many, many times, and there’s no more entertaining conversationalist in the world. So I’m biased about Joe’s work, and his story in this anthology, “The Organ Grinder’s Monkey”, is a wonderful tall tale about mechanic Greasy Bob, his weapon of choice, a wrench called Ajax, his sidekick Olo, and the car in which they can travel between dimensions/alternate universes/other realms/whatever you want to call them. It’s fast and funny, and if you squint your eyes and hold your mouth just right, it’s almost sword and sorcery. But you’ll have a good time reading it, that’s for sure.

So out of this set of four stories, we have one that’s pure, classic sword and sorcery and three that are varying degrees of offbeat. But they’re all good, and NEITHER BEG NOR YIELD maintains its momentum as a top-notch anthology.


RBE said...

Some great history there, James, thank you for sharing! I appreciate your thoughtful looks at some stories that push the S&S edges.

Dvid C. Smith said...

James, wow, thanks very much for the kinds words. I take it as a high compliment that so good a writer as you is praising my work! I really want to get back to Howard Days one of these years (alas, not this year, I don't think). The best people in the world are there.