Sorcerers! by Jack Dann
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is a scan of an anthology from 1986, and not all of the character recognition errors have been caught (so we get "1" for "I" a couple of times, "modem" for "modern" and the like). One or two of them should have been caught by spellcheck.
Setting that aside, like most anthologies, this is a mixed bag, but mainly successful.
"The Bleak Shore", a Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser story from Fritz Lieber, opens the collection well, with an atmospheric and suspenseful tale of a struggle against what, at first, seems to be Death himself.
"O Ugly Bird!" by Manly Wade Wellman makes the most of its Appalachian setting, and translates the "powerful man dominates small community" reality into a magical mode.
"The Power of the Press" by Richard Kearns is a lovely piece of fantastica, using the old trope of the wizards' duel in a fresh way.
"The Finger" by Naomi Mitchison takes us to Africa, where sorcery is still practiced and children are still sacrificed to create "magical" ingredients. It has a happier ending than many real-life cases.
"The Word of Unbinding" by Ursula K. Le Guin has all of the lyricism and gravitas that I associate with that author, and a brave wizard at the centre of it.
"His Coat So Gay" by Sterling E. Lanier is another "small community dominated by the powerful" story, though this time it's a powerful family. Although it's set in the US, it has the feel of urban fantasy set in England by the likes of Charles de Lint, partly because of the desperate struggle by the outsider to bring down ancient evil.
"Narrow Valley" by R. A. Lafferty I'd read before, like the Lieber and the Le Guin, but I enjoyed reading it again. Lafferty's mad style and odd characters are amusing, if lacking in much depth.
"Sleep Well of Nights" by Avram Davidson I disliked. The main character is an antihero, and the female characters are more furniture than people, and exist only in relation to the men.
"Armaja Das" by Joe Haldeman is a dark story of a Romany curse that brings down the whole of civilization.
"My Boat" by Joanna Russ is theoretically Cthulhu Mythos, but it lacks the overwrought prose that I associate with that subgenre. It's a rather lovely story of outsiders and the boy who didn't quite dare to join them and still regrets it years later.
The Hag Séleen by Theodore Sturgeon I wasn't expecting to enjoy--I'm not generally a Sturgeon fan--but I did. The courage of a father and the cleverness of his daughter defeat a witch. It could be seen as racially problematic, these days, though.
"The Last Wizard" by Avram Davidson is a short gag story that works well for what it is.
We close with "The Overworld" by Jack Vance. I dislike Vance's overelaborate style, and find it distances me from caring about the stiff, formal characters, who generally aren't particularly admirable either. Unfortunately, this story is no exception to any of that.
In general, a good collection, and not all of the best stories were ones I'd read before.
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