IN LANDS THAT NEVER WERE

by Gordon van Gelder

Thunder's Mouth Press

1-56858-314-1

395pp/$16.95/September 2004

 

In Lands That Never Were

Reviewed by Steven H Silver


When one thinks of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, the fantasy which comes to mind is often of the more subtle variety:  urban fantasy or magical realism.  Therefore, it is a little surprising that Gordon van Gelder has subtitled the latest collection of stories from that journal "Tales of Swords and Sorcery."  Nevertheless, In Lands That Never Were contains a broad selection of tales of swords and sorcery which originally found their publication in the pages of F&SF, from Robert E. Howard & L. Sprague de Camp's story of Conan the Barbarian "The Hall of the Dead" (1967) to Charles Coleman Finlay's "After the Gaud Chrysalis" (2004).

Although "Sword and Sorcery" fiction is frequently seen as less literary, more akin to the pulps, the stories selected by van Gelder for inclusion in In Lands That Never Were demonstrate that adventure and literary skill are not necessarily at odds with each other.  Stories like Ursula K. Le Guin's "Darkrose and Diamond," (1999) one of the Earthsea stories, or R. García y Robertson's "Firebird," (2001) an historically influenced fantasy, clearly demonstrate the layers authors can bring to stories of magic.  Fritz Leiber's "Ill Met in Lankhmar," (1970) of course, won the Nebula Award and focuses on the initial meeting between Leiber's seminal sword and sorcery heroes Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser.

These stories demonstrate that it their most basic tales of swords and sorcery can be read as escapist literature, but when well written they are able to present ideas. relationships, and emotions as well as any other genre or story.  The pulp aspect of sword and sorcery tales may often appear (as it does in the aforementioned stories by Leiber, Howard or Finlay), but at the same time, the stories have moved beyond the pulps into the realm of "respectable" tales.

Van Gelder has increased the value of the collection by including stories which were not only published in the magazine's recent past, but also digging back nearly forty years to reprint stories published by his predecessors at the magazine.  This allows people who have only been reading the magazine for a couple of years to find stories they otherwise wouldn't have seen as well as provide an historical context for the most recent stories.  Not only do these stories demonstrate the growth of the genre, but they also show the differing taste of the various editors of the magazine over the years.

The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction has an history dating back to 1949, providing van Gelder with plenty of material to choose from.  The stories he selected for inclusion in In Lands That Never Were only represent the tip of a well-written iceberg and readers will certainly find stories to their liking within these covers.

As the publisher and editor of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction has begun leveraging the magazine's long history in its book projects.  While most of the previous collections have either been anniversary volumes or Best of volumes, van Gelder has now brought out two themed volumes, this one and One Lamp:  Alternate History Stories from the Magazines of Fantasy and Science Fiction.  By categorizing the reprints in this manner, he is announcing to the world some of the specific types of stories the magazine has published over the years, even if they aren't the type usually associated with the magazine's name.


 Robert E. Howard & L. Sprague de Camp The Hall of the Dead
John Morressy A Hedge Against Alchemy
Fritz Leiber Ill Met in Lankhmar
Yoon Ha Lee Counting the Shapes
R. García y Robertson Firebird
Pat Murphy Dragon's Gate
Charles Coleman Finlay After the Gaud Chrysalis
Ellen Kushner The Swordsman Whose Name Was Not Death
Phyllis Eisenstein The Island in the Lake
Ursula K. Le Guin Darkrose and Diamond
Chris Willrich King Rainjoy's Tears
Jeffrey Ford The Fantasy Writer's Assistant

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