I suspect editor Lin Carter intended DISCOVERIES IN FANTASY (cover by Peter le Vasseur, all rights to current holder) as a way to test the waters for future publications in Ballantine’s Adult Fantasy series, as he says all four authors (Donald Courley, Eden Phillpotts, Ernest Bramah, Richard Garnett) were candidates for a full book (only Bramah made it). I wasn’t really in the right frame of mind for such elegant, old-fashioned stories (one of those evenings the dogs make it hard to focus) but the best tales are definitely from Garnett’s Twilight of the Gods. The worst is Phillpott’s The Miniature in which Greek gods watch over and comment on human history; it filled me with cosmic awe when I read it in my teens, but now seems just pretentious (to paraphrase Monty Python, it’s clever deities talking loudly in restaurants).
SLAVES WITHOUT MASTERS: The Free Negro in the Antebellum South by Ira Berlin does a good job capturing the diversity of the free black experience. Depending on the location, the time period and their personal circumstance they variously opposed slavery, allied with the white elite, or struggled to hold their ground in the face of increasing legal repression or desperate schemes to expel them as a threat to white dominance (how could slavery be justified when these folks proved blacks weren’t inherently stupid and lazy?)—though that was typically counteracted by the value of black labor. Free blacks also had their own internal issues as they divided by wealth, views on slavery and lightness of skin; Berlin argues that it’s the heavy admixture of lighter, mixed-race children of slaveowners that led to the longstanding issue of lighter being seen as better. Very good.
DEMON OF THE LOST CAUSE: Sherman and Civil War History by Wesley Moody looks at the way General William Sherman’s reputation shifted from a tough-but-fair warrior during and immediately after the Civil War to the despoiler of the South due to Confederate revisionists determined to prove both the South Was Right and that its generals were the true military geniuses (so if Sherman won, it had to be by sheer savagery, not military ability). I’m always interested in how we mythologize history, but Moody’s book is way too inside-baseball for me, dissecting endless military memoirs for their representation of Sherman and his performance rather than popular perception (in fairness, it’s not Moody’s fault he’s taking the discussion in a different direction than I wanted).
CAMELOT 3000 by Mike W. Barr and Brian Bolland was a novelty when it launched, the first limited-run series that stretched to twelve issues rather than three or four. More importantly, it’s very good: it’s the year 3000, Earth and particularly Britain are under attack from aliens, and King Arthur returns to save his people. Mike Barr clearly knows his Arthurian lore and by having the knights reincarnated rather than sleeping with Arthur, he’s able to inject some added diversity (and lord knows, Galahad reincarnated as a samurai is pitch-perfect), most notably Tristan finding himself a woman, as is his lover Isolde (Barr obviously liked this idea as his Mantra series also had a man reborn as a woman). The art is awesome, though the woman are often drawn too eye-candy (why exactly is Morgan leFay wearing a bikini for most of this?); rereading this, Tom (the Brit who wakes Arthur) is also something of a jerk in his pursuit of Tristan (it didn’t seem so bad thirty years ago). Those flaws aside, this is still outstanding.