Dozois, an indefatigable editor (The Year's Best Science Fiction: Thirty-Fourth Annual Collection, 2017, etc.), introduces an all-new compendium of 16 original stories, many set in their authors’ established fantasy universes.
In his extensive and knowledgeable introduction, Dozois explains that the term “sword & sorcery” was coined by fantasy great Fritz Leiber (the Fafhrd/Gray Mouser yarns) and ranges from its birth in the old pre–WWII pulps through Tolkien up to today’s doorstoppers and blockbusters. Many of the entries group themselves naturally. K.J. Parker and, less successfully, Cecelia Holland take up the theme of revenge. Other authors expose the moral ambiguities implicit in much of the subgenre’s culture (Ken Liu, Ellen Kushner), and a Rich Larson standout features a pair of curiously principled rogues. Of those set in established worlds, Robin Hobb writes of FitzChivalry Farseer and the Red Ship raiders; Matthew Hughes draws inspiration from Jack Vance’s renowned Dying Earth scenario; Walter Jon Williams offers a promising sampler of a forthcoming series; Garth Nix’s tales of Sir Hereward and the sorcerously animated ventriloquist’s dummy, Master Fitz, are justly famous; Elizabeth Bear writes enthrallingly about the Dead Man, formerly an emperor’s guard, and his companion mercenary, the Gage, a brass automaton with a human soul, the stars of her latest novel and series; Lavie Tidhar weighs in with one of his guns-and-sorcery tales about Gorel of Goliris; and, disappointingly, George R.R. Martin offers an undramatic, ultraviolent chronicle set in an era well before the current Game of Thrones books. The remainder defy classification. Kate Elliott’s fine effort portrays a mysterious exile from the spirit world who challenges the emperor of Rome; Daniel Abraham captivates with his fine knotty tale of a thief, a prince, and a mysterious magic tower; C.J. Cherryh wonders what happened after Beowulf slew the monster Grendel; and a thrill-a-minute yarn from Scott Lynch somewhat resembles a sorcerous Raiders of the Lost Ark.
When fine writer and expert editor Dozois beckons, authors deliver—and this surely will be one of the year’s essential anthologies.