I’ve been anticipating Paula Guran’s monumental Swords Against Darkness anthology for over a year, ever since word started to leak out about the massive amount of research she was doing to make her selections (including reading every issue of Black Gate). The book was finally released this summer, but it wasn’t until last weekend that I was able to settle in with it.
And so far, it’s been a delight. It’s divided into three sections: Forging and Shaping, covering the canonical works that first defined the genre in the pulps (Howard, Vance, Leiber, Moorcock, and others); Normalizing and Annealing, those writers who followed in their footsteps (Tanith Lee, C. J. Cherryh, Karl Edward Wagner, James Enge, etc.); and Tempering and Sharpening, the modern writers who’ve brought something brand new (Joanna Russ, Samuel R. Delany, Saladin Ahmed, Scott Lynch). Paula offers a paragraph or two to introduce the authors and put each story in context.
As you’d expect, the pages contain tales of Conan, Jirel of Joiry, Eric John Stark, the Dying Earth, Zothique, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, Elric, Kane, and Nifft the Lean. But there’s also stories of Katherine Kurtz’s Deryni, Mercedes Lackey’s Valdemar, Samuel R. Delany’s Nevèrÿon, Elizabeth Moon’s Paksenarrion, James Enge’s Morlock, and Elizabeth Bear’s Eternal Sky. There’s even one original tale, by John Balestra, a name I’m unfamiliar with.
There have been some terrific S&S anthologies in the last few years, from Jonathan Strahan & Lou Anders (Swords & Dark Magic: The New Sword & Sorcery, 2010), David G. Hartwell and Jacob Weisman (The Sword & Sorcery Anthology, 2012), and even Gardner Dozois (the upcoming The Book of Swords). But there hasn’t been one that balanced the old and the new so carefully, and so artfully.
Swords Against Darkness is essential to any serious student of modern fantasy. It’s also a heckuva good read.
Here’s the compete Table of Contents.
Knowledge Takes Precedence Over Death, by Paula Guran
Forging and Shaping
“The Tower of the Elephant” by Robert E. Howard (Weird Tales, March 1933) — a Conan novelette
“Hellsgarde” by C. L. Moore (Weird Tales, April 1939) — Jirel of Joiry
“The Dark Eidolon” by Clark Ashton Smith (Weird Tales, January 1935) — a Zothique novelette
“Liane the Wayfarer” by Jack Vance (The Dying Earth, 1950) — Dying Earth
“Black Amazon of Mars” by Leigh Brackett (Planet Stories, March 1951) — an Eric John Stark novella
“Ill Met in Lankhmar” by Fritz Leiber (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, April 1970) — a Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser novella
“While the Gods Laugh” by Michael Moorcock (Science Fantasy, October 1961) — Elric novelette
Normalizing and Annealing
“A Hero at the Gates” by Tanith Lee (Shayol #3, Summer 1979) — Cyrion
“A Thief in Korianth” by C. J. Cherryh (Flashing Swords! #5: Demons and Daggers, 1981)
“Undertow” by Karl Edward Wagner (Whispers #10, August 1977) — a Kane novelette
“Swords Against the Marluk” by Katherine Kurtz (Flashing Swords! #4: Barbarians and Black Magicians, 1977) — a Deryni novelette
“Out of the Deep” by Mercedes Lackey (Masters of Fantasy, 2004) — Valdemar novelette
“Epistle from Lebanoi” by Michael Shea (The Sword & Sorcery Anthology, 2012) — a tale of Nifft the Lean
“Payment Deferred” by James Enge (Black Gate, Fall 2005) — a Morlock tale
“The Swords of Her Heart” by John Balestra (2017)
Tempering and Sharpening
“Bluestocking” by Joanna Russ (Orbit 2, 1967) — featuring Alyx
“The Tale of Dragons and Dreamers” Samuel R. Delany (Tales of Nevèrÿon, 1979) — a Neveryon novelette
“First Blood” Elizabeth Moon (Shattered Shields, 2014) — Paksenarrion
“Where Virtue Lives” by Saladin Ahmed (Beneath Ceaseless Skies #15, 2009)
“The Effigy Engine: A Tale of the Red Hats” by Scott Lynch (Fearsome Journeys, 2013)
“Goats of Glory” Steven Erikson (Swords & Dark Magic: The New Sword and Sorcery, 2010)
“The Ghost Makers” by Elizabeth Bear (Fearsome Journeys, 2013) — an Eternal Sky story
“The Plague Givers” by Kameron Hurley (Uncanny Magazine, Issue 10, May-June 2016)
I was well pleased to see at least one story from Black Gate make the grade, Jame Enge’s “Payment Deferred” (from BG 9). If you had to select the best S&S tale from the 15-issue history of the magazine, that’s not a bad choice.
For those of you old enough to remember, Swords Against Darkness was also the title of a 5-volume Zebra anthology series edited by Andrew J. Offutt, which ran from 1977 – 1979 and featured original S&S tales by Poul Anderson, Tanith Lee, Charles R. Saunders, Orson Scott Card, Charles de Lint, Diana L. Paxson, Keith Taylor, Manly Wade Wellman, Richard L. Tierney, David Drake, Ramsey Campbell, Andre Norton, and many others. We compared the covers of the first volume and Paula’s book here.
Our previous coverage of Paula Guran’s anthologies includes:
The Mammoth Book of Cthulhu
The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy Novellas: 2016
The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy Novellas: 2015
Mermaids and Other Mysteries of the Deep
The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror 2016
The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror 2015
The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror 2014
The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror 2013
New Cthulhu 2
New Cthulhu: The Recent Weird
Season of Wonder
Swords Against Darkenss was published by Prime Books on July 4, 2017. It is 576 pages, priced at $19.95 in trade paperback and $6.99 for the digital edition. The cover art is by Rodrigo Ramos.
See all of our coverage of the best New Treasures here.