Review: Legends, Edited by Robert Silverberg

WRITING 02Note and Disclaimer: This review originally appeared in SF AGE back around 1998, and I’m not changing a word of it. I think of these as much as time capsules as reviews. Speculations that panned out or didn’t, hopes dashed, whatever, are par for the course of time.



LEGENDS edited by Robert Silverberg, Tor Books, September 1998,
hc, 703 pp, $27.95, ISBN: 0-312-86787-5

In LEGENDS, Robert Silverberg has brought together eleven of
the most currently famous and best-selling authors in sf&f, each
telling a new story set in their own chosen milieu. It’s a great
idea in theory, and couldn’t have been easy to manage, yet manage
he has. Let’s see if the fox was worth the chase.
Stephen King leads with a new tale of Roland of Gilead and
his quest for the Dark Tower. In “Little Sisters of Eluria,”
Roland arrives at a dead town on a dying horse. Eluria is empty,
save for one dead body and an oddly marked dog. Or rather,
seemingly empty. After an attack my mutant monsters, Roland
awakens to find himself in the tender care of the Little Sisters
of Eluria, an order of hospitalers. Such care as would soon make
the tender mercies of the monsters look good by comparison.
King can always work the horror element, that’s a given, but
sometimes I don’t think he gets enough credit for the range he
shows, with more or less mainstream work like The Body or his
idiosyncratic take on a fantasy world with The Dark Tower
stories. Those tired of generic fantasy, who sometimes think
that’s all fantasy is, or can be, should really give this
series a try.
In “The Sea and Little Fishes,” Terry Pratchett spins a new
Discworld story featuring two of my favorite characters, Granny
Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg. The two witches do battle with that
most dreaded of modern monsters, the committee. Granny
Weatherwax especially gives a fine example of the old kill with
kindness stratagem, and proves once again that sometimes all
that’s required to hang your enemies is to hand them the rope.
Pratchett fans will find his trademark touches here, with
lines like Fools rush in, but they are laggards compared to
little old ladies with nothing left to fear. Fans of little old
ladies with nothing left to fear are in for a treat.
Orson Scott Card gives a tale from his Alvin Maker series,
“Grinning Man.” In this alternate America Alvin and his
companion Arthur Stuart meet with a Davy Crockett who is not
quite the same as our history and legend remembers him. What
follows is equal parts tall tale and morality play, and a lot of
Robert Silverberg’s own contribution to the book is “The Seventh
Shrine,” a story of the giant world Majipoor introduced in LORD
VALENTINE’S CASTLE. Lord Valentine himself is here, now as ruler
of the entire planet with dreams of reconciling the shapeshifting
indigenous peoples of Majipoor, the _Piurivar_, with the
conquering human colonists. To that end, he has ordered the
excavation and restoration of the ancient native capital, long
cursed and abandoned on. When a _Piurivar_ archeologist is
ritualistically murdered on site, it is up to Valentine himself
to solve the mystery and save this chance for reconciliation.
If ever there is an example needed of practice makes
perfect, you could do worse than turn to Silverberg. He’s
written millions of words and it shows; his prose reads
effortlessly. More, you know you’re in the hands of a
storyteller who knows what he’s doing from beginning to end. He
makes it look easy; whether it really is or not is another
matter, and not one the reader need worry about. All that’s
needed is the story, and it’s a good one.
Ursula K. Le Guin returns to _Earthsea_ for “Dragonfly.” To
say anything at all about it is to reveal too much. I will say
here she touches again on some themes last raised in TEHANU, yet
leaves just enough questions unanswered to make this reader
wonder if there is perhaps another Earthsea book in the works,
despite TEHANU’s billing as the last book of Earthsea.
I don’t know. I’m just selfish enough to hope so.
Tad Williams contributes a story from his series that began
with THE DRAGONBONE CHAIR. “The Burning Man” tells the story of
Breda, a girl from the fisherfolk of Kingslake, and how she came
to be the stepdaughter of the man called The Heron King. Or
rather it’s about the struggle of faith versus proof, love vs
duty, and love vs love. It addresses all this and still feels
more like a vignette than a complete story, despite its length
and timespan from the youth of the character to her advanced old
age. There’s clearly a good deal more to the story than just
Breda’s part, which is a greater virtue in a novel. For a taste
of Williams’ world, however, it succeeds pretty well.
One of my personal favorites in LEGENDS is George R.R.
Martin’s Seven Kingdom’s tale, “The Hedge Knight.” Dunk, the
poor squire of a poor knight, tries to transform himself after
his master’s death into Sir Duncan the Tall through the means of
a upcoming tourney. Seems simple enough. Risk his few
belongings on one pass of the lance, gain fame or lose all. Yet
in this simple act `Ser Dunk’ sets great changes in motion, many
bad, perhaps some good, and no way to know which is which. Or as
Dunk’s old master used to say every evening. “I wonder what
tomorrow will bring?” He didn’t know, and could only learn by
facing tomorrow. That is what Dunk will do, too. Champion or
“knight of the hedges,” that’s all any of us can do.
“Runner of Pern,” by Anne McCaffrey, like some others in
this book, is a vignette in everything save length. It’s about
Tenna, a young runner from a long line of message runners who
carry documents and letters around the holds and weyrs of Pern.
Again, there’s more incident and scene-setting here than story arc
but there are dragons and more than a little romance. Fans
of Pern should enjoy this.
Raymond E. Feist’s Riftwar story, “The Wood Boy,” is the
shortest piece in the book, but has much less of the feel of
incident, and more that of a complete story. Feist is less
concerned with background here and sketches rather than paints
with fine detail; even so a knowledge of the background is useful
but not necessary. We follow Dirk the Wood Boy, a servant in an estate overrun
by the invading Tsurani as he learns to cope with life under
occupation. When his Lord is murdered it is up to Dirk to
avenge, though not as he might have expected, on the Tsurani.
Leave it to human beings to make something as horrible as war a
little worse, given the chance. It’s the small, unexpected
kindnesses that maintain hope; in Dirk’s case he receives one
which he can never know about, and yet may make all the
Pieces by Terry Goodkind and Robert Jordon complete the set.
There are eleven stories in all, several from authors not known
for their brevity. In short, there’s no way I can give every
story its full due in this space. I will say that not all the
writers are comfortable at shorter lengths, and it shows. The
Martin, King, Pratchett and Silverberg probably work best on a
pure story level, but fans of all these authors’ universes will
enjoy the homecoming. Those looking for introductions to series
they haven’t yet tried should find what they’re looking for here.