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Birthday Reviews: John Helfers’s “The Final Battle”

Thursday, November 29th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by John Howe

Cover by John Howe

John Helfers was born on November 29, 1972.

Helfers has been nominated for the Hugo Award, both times in the Best Related Work category. In 2009 he and Lillian Stewart Carl were nominated for The Vorkosigan Companion: The Universe of Lois McMaster Bujold and in 2013, he shared a nomination with Martin H. Greenberg for I Have an Idea for a Book…: The Bibliography of Martin H. Greenberg. While Helfers has written numerous short stories and novels, he is perhaps best known as an editor for Tekno Books and Five Star Press and he has worked on many anthologies which did not include his name on the cover. He has collaborated on fiction with Jean Rabe, Russell Davis, and his wife Kerrie L. Hughes. His editing collaborations are too numerous to mention. He has also published works under the house name James Axler.

“The Final Battle” was published in Martin H. Greenberg’s anthology Merlin in 1999. The story has never been reprinted.

In Helfers’s story, Merlin, recently escaped from his confinement by Nimue, is shown to be a tremendously powerful magic user. Rather than showing Merlin participating in rituals to call down lightning, the magic Merlin does is almost an afterthought. A wave of his hand conjures a massive castle and, once inside, he uses magic as readily as anyone else would use breathing. Difficulties occur when he grafts himself onto a familiar, a sparrow, who flies out and discovers that Arthur’s nemesis, Mordred, is approaching Merlin’s castle. Mordred’s casual destruction of the sparrow and Merlin’s bond to it warns the magician of Mordred’s intent and that Arthur’s bastard is more powerful than Merlin expects.

Mordred walks through all of Merlin’s attacks as if nothing is happening and slowly Merlin begins to question whether he is a powerful enough magician to stand up to Mordred, although he can’t fathom what sort of power Mordred might have that allows him to brush off all of Merlin’s magic. While the answer is reasonably obvious, the story holds the reader’s interest to see exactly what Mordred’s powers are and how he has managed to acquire them for use in his fight against the magician.

Reviewed in its only appearance in the anthology Merlin, edited by Martin H. Greenberg, DAW Books, 1999.


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 “Webinar: Web Sites” in The Tangled Web. 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.

2 Comments »

  1. Alex Apostolides is snubbed again! Think how he must have felt when he was pushed aside as collaborator on the Bossy stories and his replacement won a Hugo! And now this!

    Other possibilities — C. S. Lewis, Doug Beekman, Kevin O’Donnell, Jr., O’Neil de Noux, Eric Reynolds, Carrie Cuinn.

    I guess I’d have liked to see O’Donnell, who died pretty young and who never got quite the notice I think he might have deserved, get a look. But some love for John Helfers is cool, of course.

    Comment by Rich Horton - November 29, 2018 8:48 am

  2. O’Donnell received the Service to SFWA Award at the first Nebula Weekend I was involved with. The award has since been renamed the Kevin O’Donnell, Jr. Service to SFWA Award in his memory.

    Comment by Steven H Silver - November 29, 2018 9:40 am


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