Tag Archives: Fantastic fiction


Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Blood: A Southern Fantasy [Amazon, Abebooks, Local Library] by Michael Moorcock; see also a collected edition The War Amongst the Angels: A Trilogy.

Moorcock Blood

Blood: A Southern Fantasy was written in the early 1990s when Moorcock had been living for a short while in central Texas, and had recently traveled around the southern US. It is the first volume of the Second Ether trilogy. Despite a tone of straightforward exposition, it involves so much implicit worldbuilding (and multiversebuilding) that it can be confounding. A successful reader will likely have to just roll with it on many occasions. Chapter titles are polyglot with Spanglish, Creole, and German accounting for many of them.

The initial setting is a North America in which racial privileges and biases are largely reversed from our own. As a result of greedy accident, there has been a corrosive failure of reality, and chance has come to dominate over law in the operation of nature. The protagonists of the tale are gambler adepts. Chief of these for the story’s part is Jack Karaquasian, who is the Eternal Champion, or at least the Elric and Jerry Cornelius analogue of Blood. Gaming by means some sort of simulative technology never fully detailed, Mr. Karaquasian and his friend Sam Oakenhurst have made careers of this art. The upshot of the thing is a sort of Moorcockian psychedelic cyberpunk.

The Second Ether itself is another world differing in scale and fractally linked with the others in a multiverse roamed by “freescalers” and fought over by the Singularity and the Chaos Engineers. These are recognizable as the “Law and Chaos” teams of Moorcock’s earlier fantasies, but they are also expressed in popular media available in Jack’s world, recounting an interminable melodramatic space opera in short serial episodes by Warwick Colvin. The sort of porous relationship between these planes of existence reminded me somewhat of Grant Morrison’s later comic book The Filth.

Karaquasian and Oakenhurst become connected with love interests who draw them into the Game of Time that transpires in the Second Ether, so that they take on roles in the sprawling conflict of that other world. Despite an overblown cartoonish aesthetic, the Game of Time has a great deal of philosophical meat to it. These later chapters of the book are full of pan-solipsist cosmogony and piquant reflections on fate and freedom, honor and guilt.

WIthin Moorcock’s multiversal hyperwork, the Second Ether seems to have the strongest narrative ties to the von Bek books. Rose von Bek is Sam Oakenhurst’s romantic other. This first volume of a trilogy does come to as much of a conclusion as one might reasonably expect. I enjoyed it and I will proceed with the next volume Fabulous Harbors, which I have in hand.

Conan and the Emerald Lotus

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Conan and the Emerald Lotus [Amazon, Abebooks, Local Library] by John C Hocking.

Hocking Conan and the Emerald Lotus

Conan and the Emerald Lotus is very passable Conan pastiche, not as good as Carpenter’s Conan the Raider, but as good as or better than the Robert Jordan run. The basic plot concerns a second-rate Stygian sorcerer who schemes to achieve supremacy through a highly addictive magic-enhancing drug that he has discovered. 

The prose style is simple and effective, with no efforts to make things seem archaic, although the expression “what the hell” (spoken by Conan several times) seems a little misplaced in the Hyborian Age somehow. The magical incantations tend toward Yog-Sothothery, and the forbidden god of ancient Stygia turns out to be Nyarlathotep. 

The whole story is told in an unremarkable third-person omniscient voice, although it was interesting that readers are repeatedly invited to identify with a supporting character who is an enormous mute Khitan (i.e. Hyborian-Age fantasy Chinese) bodyguard. Action proceeds at a steady pace throughout the story. Conan seems to drink with even more gusto than is customary in this one, and his sexual appetite is entirely confined to a single narratively-designated love interest. 

The book is a fast, amusing read on the whole, and I find no satisfaction in the fact that author Hocking has had no other Conan stories arrive in print.

Beyond the Fields We Know

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Beyond the Fields We Know [Amazon, Abebooks, Local Library] by Lord Dunsany, introduction by Lin Carter.

Dunsany Carter Beyond The Fields We Know

This mass-market paperback is one of Lin Carter’s editions of Lord Dunsany’s fantasies issued by Ballantine in the early 1970s. It contains all of Gods of Pegāna and the better part of Time and the Gods, along with the play King Argimenes and the Unknown Warrior, and a selection of poems and later stories. The Pegāna stories that make up the first part of the book represent one of Dunsany’s chief literary innovations. In Pegāna, he created a cosmology and mythology out of whole cloth to support a narrative universe, setting a precedent emulated by later writers like Tolkien and Lovecraft. Dunsany adopted the narrative styles of myth and high legend, often with surprisingly irreverent effects. In addition to Pegāna’s gods, this collection includes the hilarious later story of “Chu-Bu and Sheemish,” which makes light of divine jealousies. 

The thing that really stands out for me in Dunsany’s works is the language. I had to read this purple piece from “The Sword of Welleran” about four times just for the pleasure of it: “Then night came up, huge and holy, out of waste marshes to the eastwards and low lands and the sea; and the angels that watched over all men through the day closed their eyes and slept, and the angels that watched over all men through the night woke and ruffled their deep blue feathers and stood up and watched.” Also, I thought it was interesting in that same story that the nameless narrator and sometimes eyewitness of the story “I, the dreamer that sit before my fire asleep” — was asleep while telling it. Many of Dunsany’s stories are imbued with the flavor of dream and dream-vision to an extent that had perhaps at that time been rivaled in modern literature only by the fantasies of George MacDonald.

Carter’s introduction is chiefly biographical, while his afterword is sort of philological. Expanding on his claim that Dunsany was the first to base invented proper nouns in literary fantasy on Hebrew models — or more precisely the Anglicized Hebrew names of the KJV Bible — Carter traces the direct and indirect influence of Dunsany through those verbal sounds. (The broadest indirect path goes through Lovecraft.) He instances Clark Ashton Smith, Tolkien, Leiber, and many another author as coiners of names on the pattern laid down by Dunsany.

In editing these books, Carter earned the praise of Ursula LeGuin for saving “us all from a lifetime of pawing through the shelves of used bookstores somewhere behind several dusty cartons between ‘Occult’ and ‘Children’s’ in hopes of finding, perhaps, the battered and half-mythical odd volume of Dunsany” (The Language of the Night, 84). These days, much Dunsany is in print again, but Carter’s mass-market editions are still enchanting, and now themselves worth pawing through the shelves of used bookstores to obtain.