• Jason

Sky-swords Sell . . . Short?

It was 2010 when Charles Saunders and Black Gate put me onto this book. I don't know when or where I actually found it, though my guess on the later is the Half-Price Books in Greenfield, WI. Since then, I've seen it mentioned several times, and praised many more, but it was Charles' review that added SWORDSMEN IN THE SKY (Ace Books, 1964) to my library.

I started reading it in January 2018, for the Sword & Sorcery 'an earthier sort of fantasy' anthology groupread. Didn't finish it until April, for various reasons I typically attributed to time and all the other material I was reading (I do have 40 book on my 'Currently Reading' list after all!) . . . until I read the first story in my next anthology, KEW's ECHOES OF VALOR I. Actually, until I read the frontispiece. That and chapter 1 of REH's "The Black Stranger" blew the contents of this entire book out of the water. I realized I'd essentially been treading water with this book.

SWORDSMEN IN THE SKY begins well, with Poul Anderson's "Swordsman Of Lost Terra," a future-earth type tale with barbarian-styled warriors questing for a new home. Strong characters, good sorcery, lots of swords, fun heroics. I enjoyed this story, and consider it most likely the best in the collection. Great opener. Andre Norton's "People of the Crater" and Leigh Brackett's "The Moon That Vanished" follow, and both are worthy inclusions. I am not well-read in Norton, so I don't know if this is one of her stronger stories, but I found it exciting. I think this is my favorite of the anthology, though I think its ending a slight letdown after the adventuring swords and sorcery that preceded. I was enthralled with the kick-off to Brackett's tale, and the first half of the story is a sublime, other-wordly with great mystery and intriguing characters. Exciting sorcery, little swords, and it ends in a sudden rush and mislead. Then the rest of the anthology goes off the rails. "A Vision of Venus" from Otis Adelbert Kline shouldn't be seen here. I guess it does take place in the sky of space. No sorcery or swords, it's a weird voyeuristic botanist save-the-princess Venus tale. It had a roc-like creature, but it was creepy. To be fair, "Kaldar, World of Antares" by Edmond Hamilton is a fun frolic filled with swordplay and dark sorceries. But it is also a laugh-fest of bad 'science,' way over-powered weaponry, and odd motivations. These last two stories so removed me from the title-theme and the opening three tales, I ended vastly disappointed. KEW and REH quickly redressed my sorrow.

#anthology #Wollheim #Anderson #KEW #Wagner #REH #Howard #EchoesofValor #Hamilton #Kline #Brackett #Norton #heroics #swordsandsorcery #sands #Saunders #BlackGate #Goodreads

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