The Mighty Swordsmen
Edited by Hans Stefan Santesson
A collection of Mighty Warrior swords-and-sorcery stories, this was like most of its kind: a couple of good ones, some that were okay, and a couple of stinkers.
The stinkers were “Break the Door of Hell” by John Brunner and especially “The Keeper of the Emerald Flame” by Lin Carter. The Carter story was too painfully derivative of Conan stories to be worth reading – though I admit I like the name Thongor – as well as too long and plodding, and the bad guy at the end was completely lame. The John Brunner story had some good bits: the concept is Ahura Mazda, the evil deity of Zoroastrianism, wandering Earth and granting people their wishes – which immediately makes those people regret their wishes. Some of those evil wish-grantings were great. The main city that Mazda goes to torment – and he sees himself as merely acceding to people’s wishes, not in any way working evil, and he’s probably right – has a great number of noblemen who would be sorcerers; they start casting their mojo, and even though they don’t really know what they’re doing, Mazda makes it so that their spells actually work: to their unspeakable regret and torment. That part was pretty fun, but also a bit repetitive; and at the end, the twist just irritated me. Bad story, overall.
The mediocre ones were the Elric of Melnibone story, “The Flame-Bringers,” and one of the two Conan stories, “The People of the Summit” by Bjorn Nyberg. The Elric story was actually fine, but exactly like every other Elric story I’ve ever read: he goes questing with Moonglum, brings out Stormbringer even though he doesn’t want to, chops up some enemies and eats some souls, and then calls out the damn dragons to save his bacon at the end. The one Conan story was also fine – better than Thongor – but it was overshadowed by the one that finished up the collection.
That last one, “Beyond the Black River,” along with the Roger Zelazny story “The Bells of Shoredan,” was by far the best. The Zelazny story was about his Dilvish the Damned character, who’s cool to begin with, and this was, for once, a self-contained story, with a good twist, and Zelazny’s usual beautiful prose and wonderful atmosphere. The last story was Conan as written by Robert E. Howard, and seeing that story along with a Conan by a different author, and the cruddy Thongor knock-off, really drove one point home: Robert E. Howard was a hell of a writer. That last story is the longest in the collection, but also the most exciting; Conan is the ultimate badass, and yet he is the most human and believable hero in the bunch. If you can find this collection – unlikely, as I picked up a faded copy with the cover falling off at a Goodwill in town – then it’s worth getting just for the Howard story. And the sweet 1970 pulp fantasy cover art. Good stuff.