Friday, March 21, 2008

The reliable best: trustworthy (short) fantasy fiction

There are times when I want to explore the world of fantasy fiction, looking for new veins of ore which appear promising.  Time I've spent pursuing the elusive best of the world of fiction has led to surprising new favorites over the last two years.

But for this I need time and patience, neither of which do I have in abundance these days.  It seems the last few months, when a quiet moment appears, I reach for an author I can trust.

The five authors below are trustworthy; when I've got a few extra minutes to spare and need a little fiction to season my world, these are the ones to which I turn.  Not only are these authors excellent, but all of these works are short story collections, one story from which can be read in a matter of minutes.  Ideal for impatient and picky readers like me.

The best selections from this book of short stories are the following:

  • The Phoenix on the Sword
  • The Tower of the Elephant
  • The Scarlet Citadel (my personal favorite)
  • Rogues in the House
  • The Devil in Iron


The best selections from this book of short stories (that I've read so far) are the following:

  • The Abominations of Yondo
  • The Last Incantation
  • A Rendezvous in Averoigne
  • The Tale of Satampra Zeiros (my personal favorite)
  • The Empire of the Necromancers


The best selections from this book of short stories, prose poems, and collected legends (that I've read so far):

  • The Sword of Welleran
  • The Fortress Unvanquishable, Save for Sacnoth (my personal favorite of the short stories)
  • The Raft Builders
  • Charon (my personal favorite of the prose poems)
  • The Gods of Pegana (my personal favorite of the legends)


The best selections from this book of short stories (that I've read so far):

  • Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius (my personal favorite)
  • The Lottery in Babylon
  • The Library of Babel
  • Funes, His Memory
  • The Zahir


The best selections from this book of short stories:

  • Rats in the Walls
  • Call of Cthulu
  • Colour out of Space (my personal favorite)
  • Pickman’s Model
  • The Shadow Over Innsmouth


Anonymous said...

I can't think of one of the stories from that Conan collection I didn't like. Like you, my favorite is Scarlet Citadel. Not only does it have one of the best examples of how Howard portrayed the Conan character (if you think of Schwarzenegger's half-wit, muscle-bound, near mute, you have the wrong idea), it's also downright creepy as Conan makes his way out of the Scarlet Citadel. The stories collected in this book show that the main thing Howard wanted to portray in the Conan character is a guy who is, from a worldly point of view, rebelliously free. Even when in chains, they can't tame his spirit. Conan is the guy every man has lurking somewhere inside him that he'd let out if it weren't for all these damn societal constraints we cow to (think before you speak, give respect to people who don't earn it, chew with your mouth closed, don't hit people with a sword, and don't spit on kings to name but a few). The Conan stories are worth reading if only to allow you to taste an age where men are men, and Conan is their king.

If Howard's Conan stories ask us to celebrate our inner barbarian, Lovecraft urges us to embrace our inner wuss, but not to roughly as he is possesed of a delicate constitution. From what I've read so far, Lovecraft's characters never fight, and seem to run, cower, and occasionally faint. What's really great, is that Lovecraft's wimp-a-thon catalog is every bit as entertaining as Howard's Conan line up. Rats in the Walls is a story that really snuck up on me. I was reading it, admittedly a little on autopilot, when the story shifted gears abruptly from odd fascination to disturbingly macabre. The Shadow Over Innsmouth was really a hoot. It's been a long time since I read a story that made me say, "I'm never going anywhere without a gun again." I'm in the middle of At the Mountains of Madness right now and have heard that it's going to be made into a movie in the next two to three years. It will be interesting to see what people say about this, as if you didn't have any reference to the date the story was written, it could easily be dismissed as derivative of many science fiction and horror stories and movies that have been released in the previous four decades. What's really great is that this preceeded the more recent efforts by as many as seven decades.

It's really too bad in a way that both Howard and Lovecraft began their careers in the pulp magazines of the late twenties through the thirties. I think this led to them being largely dismissed by a lot of readers, as well as most of the critics of their time, as talentless hacks who churned out trash. While they both are guilty of the churning-out charge, especially Howard, neither one has written anything I would call trash. It's really great to see these two writers enjoy a huge surge in popularity in the last few years. Mostly because a lot of their writing which had seemingly been lost to the past are being published, often for the first time in nearly seventy years and occasionally for the first time at all.

I've been meaning to pick up some of Clark Ashton Smith's stuff. Especially since both his work and Howard's Hyperborean Age are referenced in At the Mountains of Madness as if they were scientific and historical fact. That is something you most definitely do not see today.


Jake Shore said...

The Conan stuff is great. I havent' read the "Scarlet Citadel" yet, but I loved "God in the Bowl," "Tower of the Elephant," and "Rogues in the House." One of the things I like about Howard's stories is that Conan is a force of nature. He may not even be the main character. Sometimes he doesn't show up until halfway through the story, but when he does, its like a tornado.

I like Lovecraft's stories for the way he places rational, enlightenment era men of the early 20th century squarely in the path of ancient horrors, superstitions and madness that lie lurking behind every dark corner.

I just started Clark Ashton-Smith's stuff, so I'll have to let you know. I've only read a few short snippets of Borges, but enjoyed it. And must get a hold of Dunsany soon.

Great resource for those of us have trouble wading through novels lately.