Science-Fiction: Shannara’s Sketch
Terry brooks may well be the biggest beneficiary of the post-Tolkien fantasy boom. His Shannara series, which began with “The Sword of Shannara” in 1977, now spans over two dozen volumes, not including those in the “Landover” and “Word and Void” sequences.
The problem for fantasy writers of his generation, many of whom spoke with Tolkien’s Middle-earth accents, was finding their own voice. “Small Magic: Short Fiction, 1977-2020” (Del Rey, 447 pages, $ 28.99) shows a writer discovering his. It consists of eight previously published stories, dating from 1991 to 2018, and three unpublished. The time lag in the subtitle, however, doesn’t seem to mean that these were written in the 1970s and 1980s, as Mr. Brooks, in the brief introductions he gives to each story, says that “Last Ride “is completely new. “Don’t Tell Dad” is a response to a fan commentary, and “Aftermath” fills a gap in Shannara’s cycle.
What made Brooks so enduringly popular? His characters are, in a word, admirable. Also, for the most part, inaccessible. “Aftermath” is a “Karate Kid” style story in which a skinny recruit develops speed and skills to counterbalance his fragility: he will become Garet Jax, Shannara’s weapon master. In this volume, Garet Jax also appears in “The choice of the fencing master”, when he became “so good that fears and doubts were almost non-existent”.
So where is the tension, the relation to our world? Sometimes it comes from fears that cannot be overcome with knife throwing and wilderness skills: mourning, disease, cancer. In the 1991 story “Imaginary Friends,” 12-year-old Jack McCall is told that he is dying. He beats his “blood disorder” by facing off against the Desperado Dragon in the fantasy world, which is also his local park. In “Warrior” (2018), Jack has reached middle age, with threats now against his wife and child, and a need to seek new resources within, a challenge we all face. Poverty and failure are the initial challenges of “The Fey of Cloudmoor,” a sequel and tribute to Poul Anderson’s “Queen of Air and Darkness,” which also juxtaposes a beguiling fantasy with hard facts and unwelcome.
All the same, it is the fantasy that has made the career of a lifetime. Shannara and Landover gave us enchanted realms and dreamlike visions, a view out of the mundane world. Mr. Brooks fans will be delighted to see the visions and characters fill in, if only a little more.
Anyone who knows fairy tales knows that if something is banned from the start, it is sure to happen. So when in Josh Malerman’s prologue “Goblin: A Novel in Six Novellas” (Del Rey, 392 pages, $ 28), Tom receives very strict instructions on the delivery of a package: time, place, recipient and especially do not open the box, do not even get in the back of the truck with it, you can guess the rest.
But what’s in the box? You have to wait for this, as the city of Goblin is slowly introduced over the next six news. It is not a beautiful place. It rains all the time, the sun goes down earlier than it should. People enter the northern woods only very cautiously, with a rope tied to them. Pull the rope back, you might find it chewed up and stained with blood. Everyone is afraid of the goblin police, with their gray fingers and long, rubbery arms.
Maybe Goblin is paying the price for the deception that stole land from Native Americans long ago? Or maybe the Native Americans warned the foolish newcomers not to go.
Whatever its history, on the surface, this is the America of a small town. Charles wants to impress his girlfriend Andi, but to show her love she wants a finger from him, a toe, an ear. They don’t have to be its own body parts – try the morgue, and what are friends for? Neal the Hunter is obsessed with bagging one of the great owls that live in the northern woods, but it’s not just a protected species, it’s a species protected by the Goblin Police.
As for little Pete, he’s desperate to see the greatest magic show on Earth, which has come to Goblin. Hey, this magician can make children disappear! Don’t even ask about the city zoo, the slaughterhouse, the topiary maze. One thing is certain: once this box is opened, the city will pay for all its past misdeeds.
Mr. Malerman is a master of the horror genre that comes to you, not from Transylvania, but from downtown. ‘Goblin’ is Sinclair Lewis’ ‘Main Street’, with an additional crane.
In the fantasy of Christopher Buehlman “The Black Tongue Thief” (Tor, 416 pages, $ 25.99), the streets are where the young Kinch, the title thief, tries to make a living, but he struggles to get started. He has many Low School degrees, but times are tough and he is indebted to the Takers Guild. (As a result, Kinch sports a tattoo of a hand on his face – anyone is free to slap him without retaliation.)
Her first attempt is a basic road robbery, along with a handful of others without accounts, but they make the basic mistake of going after a young woman who turns out to be a Spanth Knight, who may in besides enlisting the help of a huge crow. Fortunately, she becomes fond of Kinch, and soon they find themselves companions in a quest. Along the way, they pick up more: the witch Deadlegs, her assistant Norrigal, and an old alley cat called Bully Boy, whom Kinch rescued from cat flayers.
It’s a highly developed world that Mr. Buehlman invented for us, with complex geography and constant allusions to history: the goblin wars, which killed a large part of the male population of “kynd”, or humanity; the girls’ war, which did the same for women to be married off; and although the goblins or “biters” have been dealt with, there are always the “bigguns”, or giants, ready to invade.
In addition, there are wheels in wheels, as the Taker Guild tries to extend its control over wizards and other guilds. Right at the end, he’s happy that Kinch is a Cipher – he can read, uneducated, any language in any script or code. He can even read the Murder Alphabet, which only the best takers know, and which kills most who even try to learn it.
Kinch, Galva the Knight Spanth, and Bully Boy the Cat make a fun set of companions, thankfully devoid of any touch of Conan-style heroism, and the whole story is brought to life by Kinch’s cynical, self-conscious but often desperate storytelling. In an afterword, Mr. Buehlman recognizes Tolkien and George RR Martin as his inspirations, but those with longer memories might also remember the great Jack Vance, with his unique blend of invention and humor: a very welcome revival. .
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