Birthday Reviews: Lawrence Watt-Evans’s “The Man for the Job”

Birthday Reviews: Lawrence Watt-Evans’s “The Man for the Job”

Cover by Michael Whelan
Cover by Michael Whelan

Lawrence Watt-Evans was born on July 26, 1954.

Watt-Evans’s short story “Why I Left Harry’s All-Night Hamburgers” was nominated for the Nebula and Hugo Awards in 1988 and won the Hugo Award. Watt-Evans was nominated for a second Hugo Award for best semi-prozine, as the co-editor, along with William Sanders, of Helix SF in 2008. Watt-Evans has published under the names Nathan Archer and Walter Vance Awsten. He has collaborated with Brenda Clough, Kurt Busiek, Christina Briley, Julie Evans, Esther Friesner, and Carl Parlagreco, and Dean Wesley Smith & Kristine Kathryn Rusch.

“The Man for the Job” was published in the December 2000 issue of Realms of Fantasy, edited by Shawna McCarthy. The story has not been reprinted has also appeared in The Lawrence Watt-Evans Fantasy MegaPack.

Watt-Evans takes on several fantasy standard tropes in “The Man for the Job.” The story opens with five siblings meeting with a wizard to get help in ridding themselves of an evil dragon. The group includes four brothers and their sister, who is insistent that they include her since her livelihood is at stake as well as theirs. The wizard, Gallopius, talks about magic items with them, noting that in days of yore, wizards hid magic items in strange, exotic, and stupid places where the wizards wouldn’t be able to retrieve them when needed. While Gallopius can lay hands on all his own enchanted items, they will need to complete a quest to find the Helmet of Balanced Justice to defeat the dragon.

The quest also subverts the typical quest story. The helmet is located relatively near to Gallopius’s home, and was hidden three hundred years earlier, protected by three guardians. Although Gallipius is able to tell them the nature of the guardians, they are not ready for the state they are in. Watt-Evans takes the idea of a centuries old protection to its logical conclusion, as all three guardians have failed to withstand the ravages of time and they manage to retrieve the helmet with some ease.

The biggest issue is the helmet’s magical powers. While it confers tirelessness and semi-invulnerability on its wearer, it also makes them unrecognizable by swapping their gender. While this is a deal breaker for the four brothers, their sister, Arulla, uses the change to her advantage and approaches the dragon in the guise of an invincible man. Unfortunately, she is lacking a magical blade, and Arulla and the dragon appear to be at an impasse until she figures out how to use the helmet to directly defeat the dragon.

Watt-Evans crams a lot of upheaval of fantasy themes into a relatively short story in a way which is both entertaining and which will lead the reader to think about the regular expectations they carry into the story. Arulla’s importance as a female is telegraphed from her earliest appearance, although the manner in which she becomes important, as well as her ultimate solution to the problem they are facing, grows naturally from the story.

Reviewed in its original appearance in the magazine Realms of Fantasy, edited by Shawna McCarthy, December 2000.


Steven H Silver-largeSteven H Silver is a sixteen-time Hugo Award nominee and was the publisher of the Hugo-nominated fanzine Argentus as well as the editor and publisher of ISFiC Press for 8 years. He has also edited books for DAW and NESFA Press. He began publishing short fiction in 2008 and his most recently published story is “Doing Business at Hodputt’s Emporium” in Galaxy’s Edge. Steven has chaired the first Midwest Construction, Windycon three times, and the SFWA Nebula Conference 6 times, as well as serving as the Event Coordinator for SFWA. He was programming chair for Chicon 2000 and Vice Chair of Chicon 7. He has been the news editor for SF Site since 2002.

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Tony Den

I enjoy Watt-Evans’ work, although there is more I have as yet to read than what I have so far covered. Is The Man for the Job one of his Ethshar tales? The different approach to standard tropes has me leaning towards that assumption, possibly one of the reasons i enjoy his Ethshar books:)

Bob Byrne

I think Watt-Evans’ ‘Lords of Dus’ series deserves to be better remembered and admired.

Rich Horton

I have enjoyed a whole lot of Lawrence’ work. I was really liking his French Revolution derived series that began with A YOUNG MAN WITHOUT MAGIC, but alas that was abandoned by Tor. (Lawrence told me that sad story.)

Not too many other candidates today, though Mary Anne Mohanraj and M. John Harrison stand out.

LWE

I hate to nitpick such a lovely and generous review, but when did I collaborate with Dean Smith and Kris Rusch?

Also, the story has been reprinted — it’s in Wildside’s Lawrence Watt-Evans Fantasy MegaPack. Which isn’t mentioned some places it ought to be; I’ll want to fix that.

And finally, isn’t the wizard’s name Gallopius, with an O? (I’m too lazy to check to be sure.)

Thanks.

LWE

Oh, and to answer Tony Den’s question, no, it’s not an Ethshar story.

LWE

Thanks for the quick corrections! (There’s an omnibus of Predator novels? I’ll want to check that out.)

James McGlothlin

Man, Michael Whelan evidently loved doing those Elric paintings, or this was one left over from proposed Elric novel covers.

LWE

Wait, Dean and Kris wrote Big Game? I thought Steve Perry did. My memory must be playing tricks o me.

LWE

Huh. Indeed they did. I’m not sure what I was thinking of.

Dark Horse offered me first shot at Big Game, but I felt I didn’t know enough about the setting or the Navajo to do it right, so I passed.

Tony Den

@Lawrence – thanks, still sounds like a great story will make an effort to lay hands on it.
@Bob – Agreed. Must say I struggled a bit with Lure of the Basalisk, but that was much more my state of mind that the book. I should re-read it as a precursor to reading the rest which I haven’t got to yet.

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