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Books for Review should be sent to: Don D'Ammassa, 323 Dodge Street, East Providence, RI 02914

 LAST UPDATE  11/14/22

Dragons and Nightmares by Robert Bloch, Belmont, 1969 

The two related short stories in this collection involve Merlin sending visitors to our contemporary time, a hapless knight in the first and a fire breathing dragon in the second. Both of these are comedies, as is the accompanying novella, ďNursemaid to Nightmares,Ē in which the protagonist takes up residence in a house occupied by a toothless vampire, a flea bitten werewolf, a hamadryad, and other mythical creatures. Some fun in this but it runs on for far too long. Fantasy was clearly not Bloch's long suit. 11/14/22

Zothique The Final Cycle by Clark Ashton Smith, Hippocampus, 2022, $20, ISBN 978-1-61498-387-7

This is approximately a reprint of the Ballantine Adult Fantasy collection put together by Lin Carter, and it is set in what I think is Smith's most interesting world. I reread virtually all of his work a few months ago and found  a decided tendency for him to repeat himself, but that won't be obvious in this shorter collection of two dozen stories. Some of his better tales are here, like "Xeethra," "The Dark Eidolon," and "The Last Hieroglyph." Smith used a self conscious artificial style with lush prose that has gone out of fashion in recent years. The stories all share the same setting but not the same characters and there is enough variation in the plots to keep readers interested. Smith is, alas, one of the early fantasy writers whom I suspect will be forgotten almost entirely in a generation or two. 11/13/22

Lost in Time and Space with Lefty Feep by Robert Bloch, Creatures at Large, 1987 

This was supposed to be the first of three volumes reprinting the entire Lefty Feep series, but the other two books never appeared. This is a fantasy collection rather than horror, although some are science fiction. The stories are quite silly and involve partial invisibility, a flying carpet, the perfectly average man, dwarves who enjoy bowling, a musician who uncovers a Nazi spy ring, conversion of lead to gold, giants, magic, and time travel. They were minor when they appeared and are even more so now. 11/9/22

The Shuddering City by Sharon Shinn, Fairwood, 2022, $19.99, ISBN 978-1-958880-00-5

Shinn's fantasy novels frequently and thankfully vary from the standard plots that dominate the genre. Her stories are more about her characters than their deeds and misdeeds. The plots are sometimes deceptively simple, although the motivations and interactions are far more complex. This is a somewhat diffuse novel set in a not particularly unique fantasy city. There are several viewpoint characters, each of whom has a potentially dangerous or at least life altering secret. The city itself is threatened by increasingly common earth tremors and the city as a whole is concealing yet another secret. The separate plots move toward a dramatic - but not melodramatic - climax. This is the best novel I've read by her since Summers at Castle Auburn. 11/4/22

Hellhounds by David Sandner & Jacob Weisman, Fairwood, 2022, $9.00, ISBN 978-1-958880-02-9

This is a novelette in chapbook form. The story is fairly straightforward. A musician disappears under odd circumstances and his brother searches for him in idiosyncratic places. There is a magic inherent in music tat influences the story in various ways. Very nicely written and apparently the sequel to another story I have not read. 11/4/22

Geometries of Belonging by R.B. Lemberg, Fairwood Press, 2022, $18.99, ISBN 978-1-958880-01-2

This is a collection of interrelated stories and poems based on the fantasy world the author created in the universe created in the novella, "Birdverse." The world is quite original, and not just because of its exploration of the nature of gender. It has an unusual political and social system, is not as violence prone as is the rule in fantasy fiction - not to mention reality - and it has an adaptable religious system as well. I can't say that all of the stories worked for me, but most of them did, and the touches of originality were very welcome in a genre that is mostly married to stereotype. 10/30/22

The Cosmic Puppets by Philip K. Dick, Ace, 1957 

A rather short novel about a man who discovers that his memories of his childhood are completely false. He eventually learns that the town has been placed under a spell by Ahriman in his eternal struggle against Ormazd. Only he has the power to restore the old reality because he was not present in the village when the change occurred and remembers what went before. Not very good, frankly. This is really fantasy rather than SF Ė the blurb refers to galactic invaders that are not in the story Ė and it was also Dickís only overt fantasy novel. 10/5/22

Fairy Tale by Stephen King, Scribner, 2022

The latest from Stephen King has an excellent first half and an ok second half. Oddly for me, the first half contains almost nothing fantastic. A high school student with a complex life helps a reclusive man who has fallen from a ladder and becomes intimately involved in his life and that of his ageing dog. This is Stephen King at his best. The elderly man is guarding a well that leads to another world that is a kind of twisted version of some familiar fairy tales, a land which has fallen under several curses imposed by evil powers. For much of the second half, he is imprisoned by those powers, but eventually he proves instrumental in raising the curses. King is always an entertaining storyteller, but I have to admit my attention wandered a bit after he was taken prisoner. 9/8/22

The Amulet of Tarv by Percy F. Kensett, Armchair, 2022 (originally published in 1925) 

An old, creaky, prehistoric adventure novel with genuine magic and interference from the gods. Tarv is favored by the gods and seems destine to live a long and fruitful life. Then a pack of raiders steals his daughter, and that changes the course of his life so dramatically that not even the gods can change the new course it takes. The prose ages better than most novels from this era, but I have never liked prehistoric fiction, not even by H.G. Wells or Jack London, and certainly not by this long forgotten British author.  8/17/22

Strange Mission by Howard Browne, Armchair, 2022  (originally published in 1944) 

Aka The Strange Mission of Arthur Pendran. This is an amusing fantasy novella about a man who is brought back through time by Merlin the Magician. His fate is to find the Holy Grail in order to secure Arthurís legacy, but to do so he has to overcome a variety of mildly interesting villains because the search must take place in Nazi occupied Europe. A spy story with fantastic overtones. The Nazis are caricatures of course since this was written in the middle of World War II. Browne was not a bad writer but rarely attempted anything ambitious in nature.  8/11/22

The Curse of the Coral Bride by Brian Stableford, Borgo, 2004

This is an attempt to write a fantasy in the style of Jack Vanceís Dying Earth series. I donít think it succeeds in that, although it is a pretty good novel in its own right. The sun is dying and Earth is home to primitive empires and scattered smaller states. A young man whose destiny is greater than he imagines is diving in a dangerous area when he has an encounter with a mysterious entity that alters the course of his life. Elsewhere a magician continues his efforts to cheat death, hoping to last long enough to see the end of the world. The story is inventive and sufficiently out of the ordinary to hold the readerís attention. Iím surprised that this did not get picked up by a major publisher. 8/8/22

The Devil Downstairs by P.F. Costello, Armchair, 2022 (originally published in 1958)  w3214 

Costello was a house pseudonym and I donít believe this particular story has ever been attributed to its real author. The story is a humorous fantasy about a family who finds the devil in their basement. Heís small and green and not very powerful, so they chain him up. As a consequence, the world starts to become a better place. But the devil transfers his personality into the body of a mouse and escapes, and then begins trying to track down the now fugitive family in order to exact revenge for their mistreatment of him. Not very funny. Not very good. I wouldn't put it in my resume. 7/30/22

The Model by Robert Aickman, Arbor House, 1987  

A novella set in Russia, with minimal fantastic content. A young woman is determined to become a ballerina and builds a dollhouse sized opera building during her childhood. When her father decides to marry her off for business reasons, she runs off to the city and joins an opera group. The fantasy is mostly about some of the people she meets, who may or may not be human. The prose is excellent but there was not much tension in the story.  7/13/22

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