A Box, an Onion, Assorted Swordsmen

The Onion AV Club has been running an interesting feature on its blog where one of the editors, Keith Phipps, reviews in turn each one of the 75 “vintage” (= damn old) paperbacks he bought in a big box from some thrift store. I myself am so vintage (= damn old) that I remember seeing some of these editions on the shelf when they were shiny and new, but I mostly passed them by for matter that was more obviously rewarding (e.g. Lucky Starr and the Pirates of the Asteroids). It’s been interesting to watch Phipps sift through the dreck for an occasional glimmer of gold. It’s not quite the must-read feature that Nathan Rubin’s My Year of Flops has become, but it’s getting there.

There have been several genre titles so far: Wells’ The Food of the Gods, Delany’s Ballad of Beta-2 etc. This week he tackles The Mighty Swordsmen, a Lancer paperback anthology of heroic fantasy, edited by Hans Stefan Santesson.

Phipps is not especially knowledgeable about fantasy (he cops to not having read any Zelazny or Moorcock except for the stories in this volume), but he gives a not-unsympathetic reading to the REH story included (“Beyond the Black River”), and an unsympathetic reading to a Bjorn Nyberg knockoff, which sounds about right.

Apparently the book includes no Leiber, no C.L. Moore, and no Vance, so Phipps not unreasonably but wrongly concludes “I left The Mighty Swordsmen with more or less the same impression of its sub-genre as I had going in: There’s Howard and then there’s everyone else.”

On deck for future weeks: an Ed McBain “87th Precinct” mystery, Brian Aldiss’ Hothouse and a Lin Carter opus I’ve never heard of called The Valley Where Time Stood Still (a Lost World pastiche, I suspect).

About JE

James Enge is the author of the World-Fantasy-Award-nominated novel Blood of Ambrose (Pyr, April 2009). His latest book is The Wide World's End. His short fiction has appeared in Swords and Dark Magic (Harper Collins, 2010), Black Gate, the Stabby-Award-winning anthology Blackguards and elsewhere.
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3 Responses to A Box, an Onion, Assorted Swordsmen

  1. davidcapeguy says:

    I can’t quite figure out whether to pity someone who reads fantasy yet has never read Roger Zelazny, or to envy them all his wonderful books, just sitting there on a shelf, waiting to be read.

    I first discovered Zelazny by finding “The Guns of Avalon” on a library shelf in the summer of 1978 and being snagged first by the title, then by Zelazny’s words. Within a couple of weeks, I’d read the other three in the series, then bought “The Courts of Chaos” at the Worldcon in Phoenix that Labor Day. (Iguanacon, my first & so far only Worldcon.) After that, read everything of his I could find, and I’m still reading him to this day.

    One curiousity: when I first read Zelazny’s “A Night in the Lonesome October,” it was the first thing I’d read of his I just plain didn’t like. It wasn’t what I had expected. It irritated me. And yet I went back to it a year or two later, and now in some respects, it’s one of my very favorite Zelazny books. I make no claims toward its depth or great meaning; it’s just a fun read by a first-rate write telling a story about characters he loves.

    And you can never go wrong with an Ed McBain 87th Precinct book.

    • davidcapeguy says:


      And for my money, “Beyond the Black River” is REH’s best Conan story. Only “People of the Black Circle” comes close. And it may be his best story, period.

      • JE says:

        I know what you mean about Zelazny. The inside of my head would be a different and a duller place without Zelazny, Leiber and Vance. But, unlike the latter two, I didn’t take to RZ right away: the first thing I read by him was To Die in Italbar, and after that I avoided him like the plague (as it were) for years. The book that turned me around was Nine Princes in Amber, as it happens. I’ve often thought I should reread Italbar to see if it was really as bad as my 12-year-old self thought it was. But… supoose it really is? I’d rather not know!

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