Bob’s Books – Shelfie #8 (McKiernan, Watt-Evans, Leiber, Bischoff, Rosenberg)

Bob’s Books – Shelfie #8 (McKiernan, Watt-Evans, Leiber, Bischoff, Rosenberg)

It’s installment number seven in Bob’s Books Shelfie series. Links to the prior shelfie posts can be found at the end of this one; including some prior fantasy shelves. If you’re new to this column, I posted shelfies of over a thousand of my books, in the r/bookshelf subreddit. The mods got too annoying for me, and I quit the group.

But with each shelfie I posted info on the books/authors show, so I’m bringing them over to Black Gate. Hopefully you’ll see some interesting stuff.


I have been a fantasy fan since junior high. This is my Dennis L. McKiernan shelf – double-layered.

McKiernan used to live here, and he let me come out and visit him at his house. Signed my books, talked about other authors, and talked RPGs (he was an ICE guy – I played D&D). He’s a really cool guy.

Back in the seventies, he had a terrible accident while riding a bike (or maybe a motorcycles. I forget). He was bedridden for many months. So, he decided to write a sequel to the Moria part of The Lord of the Rings. The Tolkien people, after he finished it, said “Nope. You can’t do that.” So he made it into his own world of Mithgar.

Doubleday told him to write a trilogy ala The Lord of the Rings. So, he wrote The Iron Tower Trilogy. It did well, and that ‘Moria sequel’ was released as The Silver Call Duology. McKiernan went on to a long career, with many more Mithgar books, and a couple other short series’.

If you like Tolkien, McKiernan’s Mithgar is as close in style and setting, as anyone has yet written. And he’s clearly a huge Tolkien fan. I like The Silver Call Duology, and the novel, Dragondoom, the most.

The Iron Tower Trilogy is the heart of the series. That’s good, too. McKiernan is definitely a good read for fans of The Lord of the Rings. Back in college, I found his number in the phone book, called him up, and he invited me out (he lived in Columbus, OH, back then. We talked fantasy and RPGs. He’s a really nice guy (lives out in the warmer West, now).


I wrote an essay on Lawrence Watt-Evans’ series about Garth the Overman. Largely overlooked today, I really like that one. It’s not dark fantasy, but it wasn’t similar to Terry Brooks, or David Eddings, of that Era. The Overmen are ape-like beings, but very humanoid.

I’ve urged Evans, who is still writing, to do a new one, but that’s not going to happen. Check out my essay, then go look for The Lure of the Basilisk. It’s a four book series that absolutely should be read in order.


In my junior high years, I devoured Michael Moorcock’s Eternal Champion series (Shelfie #13), and Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser. I still re-read Moorcock. But Leiber just hasn’t held up the same for me.

I have done some re-reading, and I like the stories, but I quit by the end of book two. It just doesn’t grab me like it did at first.

Tales from the Magician’s Skull – the pre-eminent sword and sorcery magazine –has started publishing new, original stories, featuring the pair.

If you like this series, you absolutely should read Paul Kemp’s books featuring Egil and Nix. They are very much an homage to Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser. I’ve read the first two, and I like them.


David Bischoff was best known for his science fiction. He also wrote a very fun fantasy series, The Gaming Magi. Basically, the gods are rolling dice, and the story is what happens to the pieces they’re playing with. It’s got a bit of a Robert Aspirin, John Dechancie-type feel. It’s different than anything I’ve read, though. And I really like it. It’s out there on kindle, and I think it’s fun.


Man, did my high-school self love The Guardians of the Flame series, from Joel Rosenberg. It was about some kids who, playing D&D, are transported to a fantasy world where they are their characters. It was a little rough at the beginning, but I loved the idea. I never did read the fifth and sixth books in the series, though..


Bob’s Books – Shelfie #1 (Sherlock Holmes #1)

Bob’s Books – Shelfie #2 (Sherlock Holmes #2)

Bob’s Books – Shelfie #3 (Constitutional Convention of 1787)

Bob’s Books – Shelfie #4 (Thieves World, Heroes in Hell)

Bob’s Books – Shelfie #5 (REH, Moorcock, Kurtz)

Bob’s Books – Shelfie #6 (Cook, LeGuin, Gygax, Hardy, Hendee, Flint, Smith, McKillip)

Bob’s Books – Shelfie #7 (Sherlock Holmes #3)

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Bob Byrne’s ‘A (Black) Gat in the Hand’ made its Black Gate debut in 2018 and has returned every summer since.

His ‘The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes’ column ran every Monday morning at Black Gate from March, 2014 through March, 2017. And he irregularly posts on Rex Stout’s gargantuan detective in ‘Nero Wolfe’s Brownstone.’ He is a member of the Praed Street Irregulars, founded (the only website dedicated to the ‘Sherlock Holmes of Praed Street’) and blogs about Holmes and other mystery matters at Almost Holmes.

He organized Black Gate’s award-nominated ‘Discovering Robert E. Howard’ series, as well as the award-winning ‘Hither Came Conan’ series. Which is now part of THE DEFINITIVE guide to Conan. He also organized 2023’s ‘Talking Tolkien.’

He has contributed stories to The MX Book of New Sherlock Holmes Stories – Parts III, IV, V, VI, XXI, and XXXIII.

He has written introductions for Steeger Books, and appeared in several magazines, including Black Mask, Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine, The Strand Magazine, and Sherlock Magazine.

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I really liked the early F&GM stories but not the later ones particularly Mouser Goes Below. Leiber was extraordinarily uneven writing both classics and awful stories.

Jim Pederson

Thanks for the shelfie, Bob and for the glimpse into your library and fantasy-reading history. I suspect we are of a similar age and a lot of the books you’ve read were a fond part of my past. I am familiar with all the books you note here but my experience is a bit different. I read Mckiernan when I was just out of college and found the Iron Tower trilogy a bit too derivative of Tolkien. Your note on his Moria sequel might explain that. As for Lieber and Moorcock, I too ate them up while in high school but my rereads stopped at 3 books for each, couldn’t get much farther. As for Watt-Evans, I picked up “The Lure of the Basilisk” a couple of years ago and enjoyed it (what a terrific cover!) As for Rosenberg, I enjoyed his D’Shai books and have The Guardians of the Flame books but have not gotten around to reading them yet (a 2024 goal). Thanks again for the great articles, they are a highlight of my daily internet perusal (as is Black Gate in general).

Jim Pederson

Hi Bob, yes I have read your articles on those previous shelfies and commented on #5. We are similar in age(I’m 58) and as I said, we have quite a lot of overlap in fantasy “keepers”. I have about 130 TBRs and limited shelf space, so I don’t keep a lot of what I read. That being said, my fantasy keepers are: LOTR, Thomas Covenant trilogy, Camber trilogy, Elric, F&GM, Amber pentalogy, Pliocene Exile, Book of the New Sun, Cormac mac Art & Conan, Memory,Thorn & Sorrow, Barry Hughart’s Master Li trilogy as well as everything by Tim Powers and Ray Bradbury along with other classics thrown in. As far as what I read, I get inspiration from Black Gate, the NPR top 100, and pick up most 70’s and 80’s fantasy I find. Just finished #4 of Schole’s “Psalms of Isaak” series. I admire your fortitude in reading all of Wheel of Time and most of Malazan (I had to stop at #3, the cultists got a bit too extreme). Keep up the good work and great writing. Thanks again

Thomas Parker

For me it’s the adolescent, black-light poster angst of the Eternal Champion stuff that hasn’t worn as well. Big surprise, right Bob?

Thomas Parker

I haven’t read them, or any of the McKiernan books, though I have wanted to read the latter some time. Right now I’m rereading the actual thing (LOTR) for the first time in 40 years. There’s a lot I didn’t remember.

Jeremy Erman

I remember being surprised and impressed by the climax of the Iron Tower trilogy–it’s intense and moving, very different from Tolkien, and entirely McKiernan’s thing.

Joe H.

I never got into McKiernan, in large part, I admit, because of the reviews in Dragon Magazine of the Iron Tower and/or Silver Call books. (They were not kind.) I will say that the stand-alone, DragonDoom, is a heck of a fantasy novel and stands above the rest of the series. Definitely recommended. And Eye of the Hunter is almost grimdark and stands out.

I did read the first five or so Guardians of the Flame books and liked them, but never went back to the series.

Lawrence Watt-Evans is one of those guys who I’d see his books on the library spinner all the time, but never quite got around to picking them up.

(And myself, I’m currently in the process of finishing up the Malazan Book of the Fallen — just the main 10 books; a process which has taken five months and will likely run into February.)

Last edited 1 month ago by Bob Byrne

I liked Rosenburg a lot, but the Guardians series struggled once Karl was no longer the focus and the effort to move into a new generation didn’t work. His sci-fi is interesting as well, I particularly enjoyed Emile & The Dutchman.

McKiernan is a little odd to me: Dragondoom showed he could do something original and interesting under the Tolkien-style banner, and some of the other Mithgar books were interesting. The Iron Tower Trilogy is copy & paste LotR for most of it, but does have some fun characters and entertaining big moments. Unoriginal but nostalgic. Some of his other Mithgar books were ok, but others were…pretty bad.

I think it’s really interesting to read some of these books (especially Moorcock & Lieber) in comparison to today’s fantasy novels: Most of today’s authors would need 600 pages to spool out the plots in older books, and the characterization in the older books is often desperately thin. (frankly, I’d like to find a better balance between the poles: less deconstruction and world-building and more plot density, but still giving characters more attention and depth. there’s a sweet spot in there, and it would be nice to have more 350 page paperbacks…)

Fun shelf examinations!


I would agree on Eye of the Hunter. Interesting and different while still indulging in the Tolkien pastiche. (I will say that despite being highly derivative, the creation of the Dimmendark in the Iron Tower Trilogy was excellent.) Then there’s something like Stolen Crown, which could have been fun at least but instead doesn’t really work on any level.

I do think the page count thing matters. I look at someone like Marshall Ryan Maresca, who is doing some serious world-building and has created some excellent characters with depth and realism, but manages to keep his books nicely contained and plots moving. I’m increasingly bored with the 800-page doorstoppers that get lost in their own worldcraft for so many chapters that you need an index to remember all the characters and frequently lose track of their own plot.


Dragondoom is an absolute gem. An excellent standalone fantasy book that gets overlooked by many. In fact McKiernan’s books after Iron Tower are quite good: Dragondoom, Eye of the Hunter, Voyage of the Fox Rider (all standalones).

Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser is one of my favorite (unbloated, pre-modern) fantasy. It’s a more light/humorous foil to the dark and serious tones of Conan and Elric from the same era, roughly.

And Watt-Evans early Ethshar books are lighter still, but great fun. Their first 2-3 were my favorite. Our bookshelves are similar.

Jeff Baker

Your bit about not being grabbed by Leiber’s sword & sorcery stuff anymore made me thing back on how I read Robert Goldsborough’s continuations of Nero Wolfe before I read any of Rex Stout’s and like Goldsborough’s even better. (I’m the odd man out here, I know!)

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