Saturday, October 22, 2016

Swords And Ice Magic!

Swords and Ice Magic is the first collection I bought when it first appeared. In fact some of the stories I'd read as they'd appeared in various collections and magazines. As Fritz Leiber created more installments in the Fafhrd and Gray Mouster saga during the 70's they eventually reached a critical mass where a new collection was necessary.  There is a certain lack of substance to many of the early stories here, but it gets better.

"The Sadness of the Executioner" (1973, in Flashing Swords! #1, ed. Lin Carter)

The gods plot to end the lives of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser but our heroes are too much for them. 

"Beauty and the Beasts" (vignette 1974, in The Book of Fritz Leiber)

Fafhrd and Mouser try to split a girl between them and end up with two villainous swordsmen. 

"Trapped in the Shadowland" (1973 Fantastic)

Our heroes look for lost loves in the land of death and find them thanks to Ningauble and Sheelba.

"The Bait" (vignette 1973 Whispers)

In a story which seemed very familiar the two heroes argue over a maiden who ends up becoming two warriors. 

"Under the Thumbs of the Gods" (1975 Fantastic)

The Gods have another go at our heroes as they relive some of their adventures, meet old loves, and learn new lessons from them. They also encounter oh so briefly Alyx the Picklock, a creation of Joanna Russ. I recently read a story by Russ in which her heroine Alyx muses on a lover she had who remind anyone familiar with Leiber's material of a certain red-haired barbarian. Fun little crossover it seems.

"Trapped in the Sea of Stars" (1975 The Second Book of Fritz Leiber)

While on a voyage of forgetfulness, the two heroes end up in a distant sea near the equator of Newhon which blends seamlessly into the very night sky itself. 

"The Frost Monstreme" (1976 Flashing Swords #3, ed. Lin Carter)

Fafhrd and the Mouser begin a new stage of their lives when they are hired by two determined and hard-minded and very lovely ladies named Cif and Afreyt of Rime Isle to gather warriors not unlike themselves and protect that distant land from pirates on a monster ship.  

Rime Isle (1977 Cosmos SF&F Magazine)

Still on Rime Isle and far from Lankhmar, Fafhrd and Mouser find some measure of love and a tiny jot of satisfaction as they appear almost to settle down. Two oddly familiar gods create no end of trouble for the often ungrateful and singularly avaricious people of  Rime Isle and our heroes in particular. There is real cost as the threat to life and limb proves very real indeed. 

Aside from the Rime Isle material here, there's a lightness to the storytelling which to some extent undermines the adventures of our heroes. The threats they face are so vaporous that it's difficult to imagine them being under any threat at all. Leiber seems to want to treat his characters with an awareness of their literary reality which invades the stories and frustrates to some extent the suspension of disbelief. The first several stories lack any real depth and at least two of them seem to be two goes at the same yarn, a strange thing to include in a single volume.

But with the journey to Rime Isle that frothy approach settles down and in a territory more intentionally realistic the heroes find real threats and consequently the ability to demonstrate true bravery.  We are able to care about them again as they seem really to have lives which seem to be grounded in a recognizable reality.

There is one more volume in this series.

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