Swords and Deviltry by Fritz Leiber
Although chronologically the first stories of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, Swords and Deviltry is composed of three novellas that were written quite a bit later than the more classic tales of the iconic duo. They are stories that fill in the blanks surrounding the origins of the pair, first giving them both a story to come into their own and leave for Lankhmar, then a story of them on their first adventure together. Problems arise in the collection in large part because neither Fafhrd or Gray Mouser are remotely interesting as individuals in Swords and Deviltry. In fact, they only shine when on screen together, exchanging barbs and concocting ridiculous schemes. In other words, the first 150 pages of the book put the bore in boring.
As a side note, I find the portrayal of women in the novel extremely off-putting. A sign of the times perhaps, or at least I’m sure that would be the easiest excuse, but Leiber’s women are consistently portrayed as manipulating the men in what I feel is an unkind light. They whine and cajole and flirt and tease. Both have moments where they stand out as agents of their own destiny, but not a few pages later are swaddled by their menfolk and tucked away. It seems like Leiber had moments where he was writing vibrant female characters before reconsidering and falling back into the standard, and entirely annoying, expectations.
So, there’s that. I do plan to read through the whole of the Fafhrd and Gray Mouser collection because I very much enjoy Leiber’s prose and the concluding bits of Swords and Deviltry encourages me that more dynamic stories await.
The Waking Engine by David Edison
I didn’t finish this. I didn’t even come all that close. Take what I say with that in mind. Waking Engine bears some similarity to what I consider the greatest video game of all time–Planscape: Torment. The textures of the world are similar and the plot device he uses is likewise comparable.
The novel begins when Cooper wakes up in the City Unspoken, the place where people (souls, whatever), after living many lives, wind up in order to find True Death. Except, not everyone in the City is actually all that close to death and die again and again only to awaken once more in the City Unspoken. It’s a haunting setting full of the grit and grime of death everlasting, of people caught in a miasma that yearns for death, but fears it in equal measure. Populating this landscape are gods and goddesses, faeries, angels, and other arcane powers, most of which reject human understanding. The plot surrounds the notion that the gateway to True Death is failing and the lines are getting backed up, creating a backlog of misery that’s not good for anyone.
Unfortunately, what sounds and looks fascinating, in concept and cover respectively, is actually and startlingly opaque. Edison, for all his talent of ideas and prose at the sentence level, has a baroque style that, paired with his word building and Gothic tones, creates the literary equivalent of Krispy Kream donuts. What begins as a satisfying experience quickly devolves into a grease soaked rock in your stomach that brings on the sweats before devolving into a struggle for diabetic survival. What I’m getting at is Waking Engine is a brilliantly conceived novel whose execution baffles me in every way. Approach with caution.
Another Fine Myth by Robert Asprin
I love the Goodreads summary for this book:
Skeeve was a magician’s apprentice until an assassin struck and his master was killed. Now, with a purple-tongued demon named Aahz as a companion, he’s on a quest to get even.
Uh, yup, that’s about it. There’s really nothing more complicated going on here. Aahz (Oz) and Skeeve basically walk along a line of power to the bad guy, get distracted a few times along the way, end up confronting him, and win via shenanigans. It is an utterly trivial and silly book. In other words, it’s kind of wonderful. I don’t know that it’s something I would recommend everyone seek out, but if well worth your time if you stumble across a copy. Frankly, this is a brand of genre fiction that is hardly written today and I think we’re worse off for it.
Any thoughts on these from the peanut gallery?