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The Flying Sorcerers
edited by Peter Haining
Ace Books, 304 pages

The Flying Sorcerers
Peter Haining
Peter Haining, an Englishman, is one of the most prolific anthologizers of all time, particularly of horror literature. Beginning in 1965 with A Hell of Mirrors, Haining has managed to ferret out rare horror material from many odd sources. These include works by W.S. Gilbert (of Gilbert and Sullivan) in The Lost Stories of W.S. Gilbert and from the penny dreadfuls and shilling shockers of yore. His collections Great British Tales of Terror and Great Tales of Horror from Europe and America contain several extremely rare Gothic stories. In Weird Tales, he compiled some rarely anthologized material from the great American pulp magazine of the same name. He has also compiled books of horror artwork (Terror) and A Dictionary of Ghost Lore. Haining has edited collections of rare mystery material such as The Final Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and the more humorous stories of the arch criminal Raffles in The Complete Short Stories of Raffles. More recently he has published anthologies of humorous fantasy such as this one and The Wizards of Odd.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The Wizards of Odd

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Georges T. Dodds

The Flying Sorcerers contains 24 stories split into "Comic Fantasies," "Tales of the Supernatural," and "Stories of Science Fiction." While some of the tales categorized as fantasies or science fiction have strong elements of horror, given Haining's speciality in horror literature this isn't altogether surprising or bad. He has collected a stellar cast of writers, some fairly recent, some long dead, so that while not every tale will appeal to all tastes, everyone should find something to their own taste.

Comic Fantasies begins with "Turntables of the Night" by Terry Pratchett about an inveterate record collector who compares collections with Death himself, asking questions like "Do you have the complete Beatles yet?" to which Death answers "NOT YET." In "A Slice of Life" by P.G. Wodehouse, a brilliant, if mousy, patent medicine inventor, Wilfred Mulliner must circumvent the nasty Sir Jasper ffinch-ffarowmere to reach his love Angela, where other problems await him. "The Better Mousetrap" by L. Sprague De Camp and Fletcher Pratt is one of their excellent tall Tales from Gavagan's Bar. Mr. Murdoch has borrowed a dragon from a wizard to deal with the mouse problem in his apartment, but unfortunately the dragon has disappeared, the apartment building burned down, and the wizard is on his trail.

The next story, "Sam Small's Better Half" by the Yorkshireman Eric Knight tells another tall tale of the title character who has been split into two upon running into a lamppost on the way home from the pub. In this case of "schizophrenia" all sorts of the problems ensue with the angry wife.

This is followed by "Danse Macabre" by Mervyn Peake which, while having its humorous aspects with people's clothes flying around and dancing together unaided, also has a dark side of fear and death, as in Peake's Gormenghast. In "The Shoddy Lands" by C.S. Lewis, a professor, enters the strange but drab land that is the mind of a very average girl in his office.

Kurt Vonnegut Jr.'s "Harrison Bergeron" is a chilling tale of the future where all are reduced to the lowest common denominator so that all may be truly equal. Those, like Harrison Bergeron, who fight the system are ruthlessly eliminated. Piers Anthony's short piece "Possible to Rue" humorously tells of a father's difficulty in finding his boy a pet when not only unicorns and Pegasus are mythological, but also zebras and horses.

Of these comic tales, Vonnegut's and Peake's stories are much more tales of horror than humour, but are certainly excellent in their own way.

The second section begins with John Collier's "The Right Side" in which a would-be suicide is given a comic tour of hell, offered a deal by the devil, but refuses and manages to save himself. In Fredric Brown's "Nasty" an old lech conjures up a demon, and gets his long-lost lust back. Unfortunately for him the magic underpants-of-lust have one little glitch.

My favourite of the stories in the book was "The Gripes of Wrath" by Nelson Bond which is chock full of wonderful puns like this one:

"Between slugs [of booze], Edgar [the ghost] pointed out how the old woodwork was carved, an' how the windows was deepset between long, upright columns --"
"Pilastered?" I asked.
"Edgar?" replied McGhee. "I'll say! To the gills! As a matter of fact, we both was."
A young woman obsessed with cleanliness meets "The Roaches" in Thomas M. Disch story. Here, Haining has selected an excellent tale of horror, but with only a smidgen of even dark humour. Similarly, Angela Carter's "The Lady of the House of Love" is a fine story of a vampiress conquered and ultimately dead as a result of her love for a pure and virginal man, but not altogether very funny.

Michael Moorcock's spoof of sword-and-sorcery heroes is hilarious. Catharz, cousin of Wertigo the Unbalanced, and lusty hero, has almost every body-part and armament replaced by some magical or enchanted substitute. He finds his lady-love is a bit reticent about going all the way with him.

"It is indeed very beautiful," she agreed. And then she looked up at him and he saw that tears glistened in her eyes. "But did it have to be made of Sandstone?"
In the punning category is "The Shrink and the Mink," by Robert Bloch, first published in Hustler (yes that Hustler). Dr. Degradian refers Angela, a young woman pursued by an incubus, to the specialist Dr. Pruritis, but she returns:
"Spare me the details." He [Degradian] sat back, sighing. "Poor old Pruritis! You have just ruined one of the profession's finest and most upstanding members."
"But I didn't ruin it," the girl protested. "As a matter of fact, he told me it had never felt better in years."
In this vein, Roald Dahl contributes "Ah Sweet Mystery of Life," about how to orient copulating cows for maximizing one sex or another... need any more be said?

The Science Fiction section opens with Canadian author Stephen Leacock's "The Man in Asbestos, An Allegory of the Future" about a modern man who wakes up in the future to find the world a strifeless, sexless, lawful but exceedingly boring place. John Wyndham's "Female of the Species" tells of a large four-legged female mechanical life-form that has a huge crush on a SPCA inspector. Stanislaw Lem's "A Good Shellacking" tells in the typical style of Eastern European literature a series of one-uppances on the part of two rival inventors.

Another excellent story is Cordwainer Smith's "From Gustible's Planet" about some ravenous but ultimately very tasty duck-like aliens. Pass the sauce à l'orange. Robert Sheckley's "Specialist" is quite interesting in its portrayal of a space ship made up of individual specialized life forms co-operating to form the ship itself, but ultimately not all that funny. William F. Nolan's "The Adventure of the Martian Moons" with android Holmes and Watson accompanying a not very Hammettesque Sam Space just didn't work for me. Harry Harrison's "The Golden Years of the Stainless Steel Rat," a prison escape story similarly was of limited humour. Finally Arthur C. Clarke's "No Morning After," a tale of a human who receives a telepathic warning of the impending end of the Earth, but sleeps through it in a drunken stupor is worth a smirk.

This is definitely not Haining's best or most significant anthology, but certainly it has some very funny stories. As one would expect with Haining, all the stories are of high quality, and the selection's somewhat horror-biased content is likely a reflection of Haining's exhaustive knowledge of horror literature. Nonetheless, for those who think Terry Pratchett is the be-all and end-all of humorous fantasy, this will certainly expand their horizons.

Table of Contents (alphabetically by author)
Piers Anthony Possible to Rue
Robert Bloch The Shrink and the Mink
Nelson Bond The Gripes of Wrath
Fred Brown Nasty
Angela Carter The Lady of the House of Love
Arthur C. Clarke No Morning After
John Collier The Right Side
Roald Dahl Ah Sweet Mystery of Life
L. Sprague De Camp & Fletcher PrattThe Better Mousetrap
Thomas M. Disch The Roaches
Harry Harrison The Golden Years of the Stainless
Steel Rat
Eric Knight Sam Small's Better Half
Stephen Leacock The Man in Asbestos
Stanislaw Lem A Good Shellacking
C.S. Lewis The Shoddy Lands
Michael Moorcock The Stone Thing
William F. Nolan The Adventure of the Martian Moons
Mervyn Peake Danse Macabre
Terry Pratchett Turntables of the Night
Robert Sheckley Specialist
Cordwainer Smith From Gustible's Planet
Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. Harrison Bergeron
P.G. Wodehouse A Slice of Life
John Wyndham The Female of the Species

Copyright © 1999 Georges T. Dodds

Georges Dodds is a research scientist in vegetable crop physiology, who for close to 25 years has read and collected close to 2000 titles of predominantly pre-1950 science-fiction and fantasy, both in English and French. He writes columns on early imaginative literature for WARP, the newsletter/fanzine of the Montreal Science Fiction and Fantasy Association.

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