Avast, ye varlets, intergalactic and otherwise: There are new bad boys and girls afoot on Mars and in Middle Earth, and you’ll like them, even if you’ll count your silverware after they leave.
There are lovable rogues, like Johnny Depp of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, and unlovable ones, like Sarah Palin. They have in common an irresistible penchant for gaming the system, no matter what mess they leave for others to pick up. They also nurse a narcissistic dose of self-worth relative to other people, as well as a conviction that whatever they’re doing is right; thus, as Joe Abercrombie writes of one femme criminale, “To be caught by these idiots would be among the most embarrassing moments of her career.” Exactly: for a rogue, the worst crime is to be busted. Martin, of Game of Thrones franchise fame, and Hugo Award–winning editor Dozois assemble a lively collection of original stories across several fictional genres that have in common Conan-like qualities—in the sense that, as they write in their introduction, Conan is “a hero, but…also a thief, a reaver, a pirate, a mercenary, and ultimately a usurper who installed himself on a stolen throne.” (There’s another thing about rogues, too, and that’s that their victories tend to be fleeting, if not pyrrhic.) The biggest draw in this sprawling collection is a new Song of Ice and Fire yarn by Martin, giving back story to a mid–Targaryen dynasty scamp whose “bold deeds, black crimes and heroic death in the carnage that followed are well known to all.” But then, arguably, all the men of Westeros are rogues. Of particular interest, too, are a grandly whimsical piece by Neil Gaiman that begs to be turned into a Wes Anderson film; a shaggy dog tale by Paul Cornell of a Flashman-ish character gone to seed; and, especially, an utterly arresting, utterly surprising tale by Gillian Flynn that begins, “I didn’t stop giving hand jobs because I wasn’t good at it.”
Rambunctious, rowdy and occasionally R-rated: a worthy entertainment, without a dud in the bunch, that easily moves from swords and sorcery to hard-boiled Chandler-esque.