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Sword and Sorceress XIX
edited by Marion Zimmer Bradley
DAW Books, 320 pages

Sword and Sorceress XIX
Marion Zimmer Bradley
Marion Zimmer Bradley was born in Albany, NY, on June 3, 1930, and married Robert Alden Bradley in 1949. Mrs Bradley received her B.A. in 1964 from Hardin Simmons University in Texas, then did graduate work at the University of California, Berkeley, from 1965-67. She sold her first professional story to Vortex Science Fiction in 1952, and has since written numerous novels, among them: Mists of Avalon, The Firebrand, and the Darkover series. She has been editing installments of Sword and Sorceress since 1984.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Sword and Sorceress XVI
SF Site Review: The Gratitude of Kings
SF Site Review: The Shadow Matrix
SF Site Review: Gravelight

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Rich Horton

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I will confess up front to having violated one of my usual good reviewer guidelines in selecting this book. Ordinarily I try to review books that are the sort of book I am likely to like. And the sort of fairly generic fantasy that Marion Zimmer Bradley has long featured in these books is not particularly to my taste. But on the other hand, I do try to read as much of the short fiction published in the field as I can, and my tastes are reasonably eclectic. If I can enjoy, as I did, Jo Walton's The King's Peace, a novel that certainly fits the parameters of Sword and Sorceress stories quite exactly (it being a fantasy with a heroine who is most definitely a swordswoman, and with other characters who are sorceresses), then I might hope to find in the present volume some stories that tickle my fancy.

Marion Zimmer Bradley died in 1999, but before her death she had selected enough stories to fill three more volumes of this long running anthology series, volumes XVIII through XX. Due to her declining health, she chose to make the last three volumes by invitation only -- any writer who had previously sold to any of her projects (which included Marion Zimmer Bradley's Fantasy Magazine and a number of Darkover anthologies as well as the Sword and Sorceress books) was invited to submit. Thus there are no first sales here -- something I admit I miss, as Bradley was very well known for encouraging new writers -- but there are quite a few stories by writers who have sold nothing but one or a few pieces to Bradley.

And how are the stories, overall? I found the book as a whole to be quite disappointing. The stories are mostly very short -- there are 25 stories in a book a bit more than 100,000 words long. Now there are plenty of outstanding stories at lengths less than 4,000 words, but in this case too many of the stories are sketches. Often, key details are baldly told, not shown. Often, the backstory is quickly sketched in, not developed. Often, the heroine's abilities are arbitrarily revealed, not in any sense organic or believable. Most of the pieces are competently assembled sentence by sentence, but too many are poorly structured scene by scene, or are unconvincing as to plot logic.

I'll mention a few of the better pieces. Dorothy J. Heydt has been assembling a sort of mosaic novel about her character Cynthia with short stories in many of these Sword and Sorceress books. They are set in the ancient Mediterranean, and the Greek gods are real characters. "Lord of the Earth" has Cynthia travelling to Corinth, and there encountering Poseidon in a bad mood. Two stories use very similar twists involving magical familiars, though they are otherwise quite different: both were light and enjoyable: "Familiars" by Michael H. Payne, set at a magic school with a squirrel as the familiar; and "All too Familiar" by P. Andrew Miller, in which a hedge witch inherits a variety of familiars whose wizards and witches have been killed by an evil sorcerer. Laura J. Underwood's "The Curse of Ardal Glen" is a bit darker than most of these stories, about a town which has had to sacrifice a young woman to a mysterious smith every seven years for decades. Dorothy J. Heydt's daughter Meg Heydt contributes "Openings", which I liked for its engaging main character and her slightly unexpected talent. Esther Friesner is usually reliable, and her story, "Grain", is solid entertainment, about a girl apprenticed to a brewer woman, who encounters a goddess with a god problem. And the longest story included, Michael Spence's "Pride, Prejudice, and Paranoia", has an engaging set of characters (students at a magic school) and a nice setup (the heroine's husband has failed his exams, apparently because of magic interference), which make it a nice read, though the ending is rather a mess.

So the book isn't entirely a loss, but it is disappointing. I think Bradley had rigid ideas about story structure, and about story content, and her editing projects suffer from including too many stories that read too similarly, and from being too forgiving of competently written stories which fit her template but which have no fire -- no originality -- no special reason to make one want to read them. If you've been reading these books with enjoyment all along, this one will probably satisfy, though I don't think it's as good as some of the earlier volumes. Otherwise, I can't really recommend the book.

Copyright © 2002 Rich Horton

Rich Horton is an eclectic reader in and out of the SF and fantasy genres. He's been reading SF since before the Golden Age (that is, since before he was 13). Born in Naperville, IL, he lives and works (as a Software Engineer for the proverbial Major Aerospace Company) in St. Louis area and is a regular contributor to Tangent. Stop by his website at http://www.sff.net/people/richard.horton.


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