Flashing Swords #2, Spring 2005

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"A Night in the Archives" by John C. Hocking
"The Marsh God" by Bruce Durham
"Devil on my Stomach" by Richard Lyon and Andrew Offutt
"Race into Blood" by Peter J. Welmerink
"Protection" by Harold Lamb
"The Stone Man" by D. K. Latta
Devoted readers of sword-and-sorcery fiction should immediately recognize the name of this e-zine, Flashing Swords, as the series title of the well-known anthologies once edited by Lin Carter. This reviewer does admit to wondering at the choice, for Carter’s work, while popular in his day, was generally regarded as second-rate: derivative and unoriginal. Is this the impression that the publishers at Pitch-Black Books wished to create for their zine?

The stories here could certainly not be considered original, nor do we suppose they are meant to be. Every piece flows down the well-worn traditional channel—here we find no fashionable overflowing of genre boundaries, no ironic deconstruction of the familiar tropes. This zine does its sword-and-sorcery straight, which can only be welcomed by fans of traditional fantasy. But by the end, the fans may find themselves looking for a bit more variety.

This issue does not lead with its strongest piece. John C. Hocking‘s tale of "A Night in the Archives" begins too slowly and holds few surprises for the reader—when the story is told in the first person, we can assume that the narrator will survive the night’s events. What distinguishes it is the hero being a mere librarian, who defeats the evil necromancer using only his wits. We are informed that this story is the first in a new series, but the setting is sketched so thinly that we can find nothing beyond the generic in it, which limits reader interest in seeing more.

"The Marsh God" likewise begins a new series by Bruce Durham. Here there are even fewer novelties for the reader. The hero has nothing to distinguish him from every other swordsman we have ever seen in tales of this sort; he fights treacherous barbarian raiders, rescues a girl, overcomes a monster, and departs for his next adventure, for which only readers with a tolerance for unoriginality will be able to have high anticipation.

Things get better when we come to "Devil on My Stomach" by the team of Richard Lyon and Andrew Offutt. These experienced authors know the important secret: sword-and-sorcery can be a lot of fun. Their plot twists, folds, and writhes; the characters betray each other at every turn. Can the Autarch Marlas bend the northern pirate Bjaine to his will? Can Bjaine escape the demon’s hold? Still, this tale is not flawlessly told. The authors can’t seem to settle into a point of view, and they begin the narrative so late in the course of events that they are forced to lay on the backstory with a  pitchfork.

In contrast, with "Race into Blood," Peter J. Welmerink gives a good example of the genre’s grim side. This piece is really too short to work as a complete story, but it presents an effective glimpse at the cost exacted by the unrelenting war and battle and blood we find in such tales. I must, however, chide Sturoq for failing to clean the blood from his sword; any reader of sword-and-sorcery fiction knows this is no way for a hero to treat his blade!

"Protection," by Harold Lamb, is a reprint from the past—again apparently part of a series. This reader certainly hopes so. Strictly speaking, Lamb’s work was historical fiction rather than heroic fantasy, but in Eric the Landless he created a barbarian hero who would have fit perfectly into any fantastic scenario. The setting here is the First Crusade, where the treacherous Black Duke Odo ensnares Eric in his wicked plans. But Odo is trapped by his own false vow—an ending that satisfies perfectly.

The issue ends with yet another installment of a series:  D.K. Latta‘s "The Stone Man." Here we find Zargatha continuing his adventures from the first issue. This hero is distinguished by a disfiguring curse, which he resorts to at the end, when both weapons and wits have failed. Latta’s prose has a rather modern turn to it, which gives the reader an occasional anachronistic jolt, and his rescued maiden is more liberated than the usual sort; some may find this a refreshing change and others an unwelcome departure from the genre’s traditions. The plot, on the other hand, offers little surprise to the reader who knows what kind of creature is turned to stone in these tales.

To sum up this issue:  Flashing Swords delivers just what it promises, sword-and-sorcery in the old tradition. This ought to satisfy readers who do not care overly much for novelty or originality. However, the apparent reliance on so many series from house authors does not hold out great promise for the prospects of this zine rising much above mediocrity.