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In Lands That Never Were edited by Gordon Van Gelder

01/01/2005. Contributed by Paul Hanley

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pub: Thunder Mouth's Press. 394 page enlarged paperback. Price: $16.95 (US). ISBN: 1-56858-314-1.

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This is a collection of 12 short stories taken from 'The Magazine Of Fantasy and Science Fiction'. Some of the writers, such as Fritz Leiber or Ursula K. Le Guin, are very well known as are some of the characters in the stories. For instance, Conan the Barbarian and the Gray Mouser. The common link is that all the stories are from broadly the same genre: Sword and Sorcery. I am not primarily a fantasy fan but I enjoyed reading these. Most of them are of recent origin and all are in the words of the book's editor, Gordon Van Gelder 'rousing good stories'

To provide you with a flavour, the first story is about Conan the Barbarian. He was created in the 1930s by Robert E. Howard, a Texan, who died in 1936. L. Sprague de Camp, another famous writer of science fiction/fantasy, found an outline of Conan's early life in Mr Howard's papers and wrote from it 'The Hall Of The Dead'. This is a story full of action with Conan, a thief with a price on his head, being pursued by mercenary soldiers. He ambushes and kills them all, save their leader, who doggedly continues to pursue him. Conan heads into an abandoned and haunted city where the two encounter a ravenous monster and are forced to join together to destroy it. After dispatching the beast, they go in search of the city's fabled treasure together. This is a great story, written with humour and with many twists and turns. Will they fall out over dividing the treasure, for instance? Are they both going to retain this vast wealth? I will let you find out for yourself, but this, along with the other stories in the book, was well crafted and kept me turning the pages until it was over.

A further example is 'Firebird' by R. Garcia y Robertson. I have not read anything of his before although I gather he has written several novel-length books. This is a lush, baroque tale of a witch and a knight. A young girl, slave apprentice to the old witch, wanders in the woods gathering fungus for her mistress' supper. She sees the smoke from a burning watchtower on the edge of the forest. Shortly afterwards, she encounters an injured knight, the former commander of the burning watchtower. An uncle of the new infant king has raised a rebellion. The young witch, Katya, has seen the knight bury something in the forest.

Shortly afterwards, a pursuit pours into the woods. Katya hides the wounded knight and leads away his horse to confuse the pursuers. It turns out the knight is a mercenary who has never managed to fight on the winning side, but as he swore an oath to the previous monarch, the infant king's father. He stuck by it and tried to hold his fortified post against the usurper. When he was forced to flee he took with him the firebird's egg which is the object he hid in the woods. The remainder of the story is the attempts of the usurper and his men to recover it. I will not explain any more as this would ruin it for a future reader but the knight finally achieves a victory and we see the power of the old witch. This is a good story, well told. I think that probably sums up all twelve stories. I enjoyed them all. A further advantage was that the book could be picked up with just a little time to spare and a complete story read at a sitting. A change from the usual fantasy novel doorstop.

I would recommend this book not only to fantasy fanatics but other who like a good story.

Paul Hanley

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