I kept my nose in some books this week (#SFWApro)

6937985DOUBLE PHOENIX (cover by Gervasio Gallardo, all rights with current holder) contains two allegorical novellas linked together by the common use as a symbol. In Edmund Cooper’s “The Firebird,” a young boy spends his life chasing after the phoenix, despite everyone he meets insisting he’s either a heretic or a madman and the Firebird doesn’t exist anyway—in short, the wimpy Lovecraftian theme that The World Hates Dreamers. It’s trite but well-written, which cannot be said of Roger Lancelyn Green’s “From the World’s End,” in which a couple must resist seduction by avatars of Shallow Philosophy, Passionless Academia and Gross Physical Desire before the phoenix rewards them at the end. Editor Lin Carter admits in the intro that allegory is tricky to do right, but optimistically thinks these two qualify; I strongly disagree.

NEW WORLDS FOR OLD was a collection Carter edited for Ballantine’s Adult Fantasy line, mostly focusing on pulp fantasy but with some more contemporary stuff. There’s a section of William Beckford’s Vathek, stories by Robert E. Howard, Lovecraft and C.L. Moore, Gary Myers (a very good take on Lovecraft’s Dreamlands stories), “Duar the Accursed” by Clifford Ball (some mystical stuff which works, bogged down by a stiff, Conan-knockoff hero) and a blatant knockoff of Lord Dunsany’s “The Sword of Welleran” by Carter himself (apparently he considered that a perk of editing anthologies). Overall this is good, though I’ve never been able to finish the two fantasy poems included here.

WHEN VOIHA WAKES by Joy Chant is set in the same world as her Red Moon and Black Mountain
but in a different, matriarchal culture. The story has the heir to the local clan leadership bedding a young craftsman (crafts like pottery, sculpture and carpentry are Men’s Work) only to discover his dream is to be a musician, a much lower-class career. Chant does a good job on love not conquering all, and I really liked the culture: unlike Island of the Mighty or Weighing Shadows it doesn’t present the matriarchy as an idealized society, just a different one, and equally mess in its own way.

BUSMAN’S HONEYMOON is the Peter Wimsey novel author Dorothy Sayers describes as a love story with detective intrusions (which as she notes is probably how most couples in mystery stories see events). Following Harriet Vane saying yes to Peter in Gaudy Night, we open with their wedding (including lots of cameos from various characters from the series), after which they face the challenge of figuring out just what marriage means to them; while this gets a little heavy on theoretical relationship talk, it’s anchored enough in the characters it worked for me. However we also have the plot of them moving into a rural village (Harriet’s roots are there) and buying a broken-down old home, which feels interchangeable with The Egg and I or A Year in Provence (only not as entertaining). And finally there’s the mystery, when it turns out the shady dealer who sold them the house has been nobbled with a fatal blow to the head. Efforts to crack it are, like Five Red Herrings, more mechanical than brilliant: Lord Peter asserts at one point that he doesn’t have to know anyone’s character or motive, just figuring out how the crime was committed will prove the culprit (which is doubly odd as he solves several earlier books by knowing the motive). And as Raymond Chandler pointed out, a plot that hinges on the victim triggering a trap by standing in exactly the right position is a bad scheme (six inches to the left and he’d have been fine). This was the last Wimsey novel but I have a second book of short stories to read yet.

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One response to “I kept my nose in some books this week (#SFWApro)

  1. Pingback: The Real Color Line and Unreal Nomads: Books (#SFWApro) | Fraser Sherman's Blog

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