Tad Williams is an author I’ve been meaning to try for a long time. I own most of his books and they look pretty fantastic on my shelves, but I haven’t yet actually started one of his novels. I think this comes under what I was talking of earlier – finding a book I know I’ll love, and then hoarding it away and now it’s mine and I can move on to collect other books!
But when I saw this anthology I thought it would be an excellent way to get into his work more so I can get so hungry for his work I get into the books finally. I’ve seen his work in a few anthologies so far, but reading a collection instead seemed the better way into it.
As it’s a collection, it’s probably better to review each short individually, as is my usual way:
The Old Scale Game
A very strong start to this collection – a dragon slayer and a dragon who team up to con villages of their gold. Dragon shows up -village is scared – slayer turns up and ‘vanquishes’ the dragon – villagers cheer and pay the slayer – slayer later meets up again with the dragon and they continue on their merry way.
This is a short I first read in Unfettered, an anthology edited by Shawn Speakman, and one of the reasons I knew I had to start reading Tad Williams’ work sooner rather than later. The tone in this short, with the characters and their voice is just delightful. One of my favourites by Tad.
The Storm Door
A paranormal investigator goes to visit his Uncle while a storm is brewing, fittingly having to travel to a tall, spooky house to do so.
A surprisingly sad tale, for one that seems to start out with a different direction. A very fitting ending, and surprisingly short all around. This short took me by surprise in numerous ways (as you can tell from how many times I’ve used the word!) and I like the short all the more because of it.
First published in ‘The New Dead: A Zombie Anthology’ edited by Christopher Golden
The Stranger’s Hands
A seemingly dimwitted man and his friend appear near a small town one day, and it quickly seems the dimwit can grant ones’ true desire… sometimes. Regardless, for those he can grant it seems like an amazing act of God, but turns out that there may be more behind this…
Quite predictable but very fun to read – the characters feel so real in this, and you get an instant sense of place as you do in ‘The Old Scale Game’, you could almost think they’re set in the same world. Highly enjoyable.
First published in ‘Wizards: Magical Tales from the Masters of Modern Fantasy’ edited by Jack Dann and Gardner Dozois.
Child of an Ancient City
A group of merchants are travelling, exchanging their stories and such when they encounter a being seemingly from one of their own tales – a vampyr.
Whilst engaging and excellent, this isn’t my favourite so far. It does an excellent job of capturing the mood of the setting as well as the terror of the men, but I’m exhausted by vampyr/vampire tales. This does vampires well for sure, but I prefer his other topics.
First published in ‘Weird Tales’ magazine, Fall 1988.
The Boy Detective of Oz: An Otherland Story
Oz. But with field dispatches and world jumpers.
I’m not really one for Oz tales, but this one gripped me from start to finish, and I’d love to hear what Oz fans think of it. If anyone’s read Dorothy Must Die, please read this and tell me what you think?
First published in ‘Oz Reimagined: New Tales from The Emerald City and Beyond’ edited by John Joseph Adams and Douglas Cohen.
Three Duets for Virgin and Nosehorn
A seemingly innocent and handsome artist stays in a tavern, and manages to convince the old maid in charge to allow him to draw a young serving girl. In exchange, the artist tells the young serving girl a tale in three parts, spellbounding both girl and reader alike.
I loved this tale, it juxtaposed both perfectly taking you between settings at exactly the right moment. Again, Tad has the perfect ending for this short, which only makes me realise just how pointless and rushed other short endings are.
First published in ‘Immortal Unicorn’ edited by Peter S. Beagle
Not with a Whimper, Either
Told in chat layout, we see members of a fiction chat channel slowly realise that something is going wrong in the world, until we’re left with only one user – ‘Wiseguy’, who then chats with the ‘Moderator’.
It’s chilling to see realistic reactions to a world disaster – this is the kind of world we live in now. Possibly one of my favourites from how it’s handled, and how chilling the beginning is. I can read horror novels quite comfortably – it’s this kind of realism with the dawning realisation of The End which gets me unnerved.
First published in ‘DAW 30th Anniversary: Science Fiction’ edited by Sheila E. Gilbert.
Some Thoughts Re: Dark Destroyer
Told in email format, Edward is providing feedback to Richard, writing on behalf of a group of a handful of others who have all tested Richard’s ‘Dark Destroyer #1′ seeming both adult with his delivery of crafted criticism and then seeming childish by signing off by saying ‘Let’s do lunch. I hear it’s Sloppy Joes.’ – Brilliant!
First published in ‘Subterranean’ magazine, Issue #5.
Z is for…
A man awakes at a party – perhaps – he thinks he’s drunk so much he can hardly remember. His head feels like the white claggy glue that dries with a sticky skin on top but lasts wet underneath always. He stumbled around, trying to figure out why something like Zebras remains an important thought in his mind…
An amusing tale that captures the confusion of waking with a hangover with something else regarding lose of thought and facilities to the same degree.
First published in ‘Midnight Zoo’ magazine, May/June 1991.
Monsieur Vergalant’s Canard
Two brothers who have a wonderful creation – even though something else is far more marvellous.
A clever, very short little piece that had me smiling.
First published in ‘The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction’ September 1995.
The Stuff that Dreams are Made Of
A young woman visits an out-of-work magician about an old friend of his, another magician who happens to be her father, and now, sadly, deceased. An accident they say, or perhaps suicide… but she thinks it’s murder.
Fun to read. Sassy female characters are always a bonus. Through in magic and an amusing end that ties up all loose plot strands and you have a winner, here.
First published in ‘Beyond Imagination’ edited by David Copperfield.
Fish Between Friends
One time there was a cat, a raven, and a man with no ears. They were all friends and lived together in a house by the river. (Taken directly from the start of the piece, because, well, what else can be said here?)
A short, neat little tale.
First published in ‘Rite: Short Work’ published by Subterranean Press.
Every Fuzzy Beast of the Earth, Every Pink Fowl of the Air
Angels are building the new Earth, but are running into trouble and falling behind schedule. A lot of these shorts have religious undertones, but this one certainly has more than just an undertone to it…
Quite odd in all, and that’s what makes it good. It’s a trope that’s been done before, but it’s done in good fun and good to skim-read. Not one of my favourites in the collection, but not disappointing by any means.
First published in ‘Rip-Off!’ edited by Gardner Dozois.
A Stark and Wormy Knight
A little bubby dragon wants a story from his mam to help him sleep. As always, Tad excels in writing accents and cadences of words without it being jarring or annoying in any way, one of his strengths in writing.
Another I’ve read earlier, and another that fits in perfectly well with ‘The Old Scale Game’ and ‘The Stranger’s Hands’ which I think are my favourite overall. The language is what is fun in these shorts, with lively characters that make you smile, and stable genre-building bits and pieces that really build up dragon lore.
First published in ‘The Dragon Book’ edited by Jack Dann and Gardner Dozois.
Omnitron, What Ho
Werner Von Secondstage Booster is ordered by his Aunt Jabbatha to fetch his cousin back from the arms of a floozy not even close to be worth their family’s name or blood. She also sends along her butler, Omnitron, to assist. As Booster is a bit of a dimwit, Omnitron will surely be needed.
A good ol’ hat tip to Jeeves and Wooster throughout. Aunt Agatha – Jabbatha (though I was imagining Jabba the Hutt throughout). Booster – Wooster. Jeeves – …Omni…tron… Yes. Throughout this is a bit of rollicking good fun, with a decent ending that is slightly unexpected but wholly right and in true Jeeves and Wooster fashion. Highly enjoyable.
This short was original to the collection
Written in script form this time, we have a horror story set in 1976 but also cutting to the present to show the consequences of what four teenagers did. Put simply, this is a tale all should read before any attempts to sample acid.
This is another horror story that’s managed to shake me slightly. Very effective, and very emotive.
First published in ‘A Stark and Wormy Knight’ published by Subterranean Press.
And Ministers of Grace
Lamentation Kane thinks he’s the hand of God – it doesn’t help that he’s also an enhanced human being. One can only guess what kind of tale we’re in for, when told than Kane is on a mission to kill the leader of a world that rejects religion.
Tad Williams has mentioned a few times now that he’s been thinking about writing an series in which Lamentation Kane will be a main character. More to see here, perhaps. Though that was a few years ago.
First published in ‘Warriors’ edited by Gardner Dozios and George R. R. Martin.
Overall, a very enjoyable collection with most shorts earning a four or a five out of five from me. They work and fit together very well, with most having religious overtones, and cleverly taking tropes or well worn steps in fantasy and using them to their strengths.