Thirteen O'Clock by C.M. Kornbluth
The rise of modern Fantasy has been closely linked with that of Science Fiction. In some pieces, it's hard to tell them apart. Thirteen O'Clock by C.M. Kornbluth is one of those pieces. I'm not sure whether we're in a bad parody of Phantastes or an episode of Buck Rogers; possibly, we're just in a seeder part of Oz. I think this confusion may be intentional. Thirteen O'Clock has all the hallmarks of a story meant to sell: genre mixing, thin characters, fast-pacing, a little sex, and lots of surprises. This isn't a work of carefully crafted epic fantasy, but a quick yarn meant to bring home the bacon in a crunched publishing market. In that respect, Thirteen O'Clock reminds us that American Fantasy grew up in a very different climate from the English one that produced Eddison, Dunsany, Tolkien, and Lewis. Where these Englishmen were respectable authors writing novels for an established publishing world, Americans like Lovecraft, Smith, Howard, and Kornbluth made a living trying to sell short stories to magazines that came and went like mayflies. It's hard to imagine anything like The Lord of the Rings getting published in such a "down and dirty" atmosphere. That atmosphere has left its mark on American Fantasy and Science Fiction in a way that even the titanic success of the English authors cannot erase.
The Coming of the White Worm by Clark Ashton Smith
I encountered Clark Ashton Smith a while back during my read through The Mammoth Book of Fantasy. It was a pleasure to return to his writing: a refined and perfected mix of his two friends', H.P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard, styles. This particular story had all the best elements of At the Mountains of Madness set in a Hyborian world that was oddly reminiscent of Ursula K. LeGuin's A Wizard of Earthsea. In brief, it tells the story of the Wizard Evagh and the great castle of ice that comes to him bearing the White Worm. Evagh is transported to this strange palace to serve the alien being Rlim Shaikorth along with a number of picked acolytes. Together, these few men pay homage to the vast worm as he travels the globe destroying coastal towns with the chill of the outer void. Rlim Shaikorth promises Evagh and the others knowledge and power if they will serve him and the promise seems fulfilled as one after another of the acolytes disappears -supposedly into a higher state of being. I won't spoil the ending, but you can imagine that Evagh begins to have his doubts. Like Abraham Merritt's The Woman of the Wood and H.P. Lovecraft's The Rats in the Walls, this is one of the pieces that I truly enjoyed. I don't know how many more stories in the collection will be written in this vein, but I hope to find a few more gems along the way.
Next up, we have a break from the serious with Theodore Sturgeon's Yesterday Was Monday, and then a return to horror with Anthony Boucher's The Bite.