Monday, March 21, 2016

Swords Against Death (1968)

Swords Against Death by Fritz Leiber is collection of Fafhrd and Gray Mouser stories mostly collected from the 40's through 60's. These are tall tale fantasies with an emphasis on oral storytelling.

The writing style is often rough and distant, not so much third person as fourth person (if that makes sense). This comes from there being an implicit narrator.

I didn't expect the stories to amuse me as well as they did. The "first" Fafhrd and Gray Mouser book had proven far less rewarding, taking energy to get through each story. Since these stories were all far shorter, these humorous tall tellings did not wear out their welcome before reaching the end. By being shorter, they contained far less padding, which in hindsight was the cause of the previous novel's pacing issues.

To no small extent are these tall tales. In Nehwon, the magic is such that you don't know it, don't understand it, and don't want to be on the receiving end of it. The heroes repeatedly fall under these horrible spells, yet always wiggle away from their doom, mostly by knowing that in this world of magic, the best way to survive is to run, and if not run, to learn very, very quickly.

If you expect heroes that dominate the battlefield and never see setbacks, these aren't those sorts of heroes. In many ways, these stories herald back to ordinary man fairytales, in that the protagonist must understand the situation to overcome magical obstacles, with the added twist that the obstacles really are trying to kill them and death is often only inches away (but might be away on a holiday if you're lucky).

While the collection lacks literary merit, if you're tired of modern heroic fantasy, these will entertain you in a completely different way. There is some degree of sexism, but I've seen far worse, so be forewarned and a little forgiving.