Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The New Arrival: ADEPT'S GAMBIT

So, between preparations for Kalamazoo, being at Kalamazoo (w. its spotty internet access), catching a cold on my way back from Kalamazoo, being hit with 500+ pages needing proofing, and preparations for another (short) trip later this week, I've not been posting much lately -- not for lack of things to say but sheer mental exhaustion. Time for that to change.

Before embarking on the write-up of the Medieval Congress, wh. was v. good this year, thought I'd just make a brief posting about the arrival today (Monday) of a book I found out about while in Michigan (thanks, Doug), ordered after I got back, and yet has already arrived already, even before the three books I bought at the conference itself that were to be shipped to me.

ADEPT'S GAMBIT marks the first major story* in the FAFHRD & THE GRAY MOUSER series by Fritz Leiber, the finest author to ever write sword-and-sorcery (hey, he's even the one who so named the subgenre). Written so long ago that it was actually shown to H. P. Lovecraft before his death in early 1937, it was rejected by WEIRD TALES and didn't see print until it was included in Leiber's first book, NIGHT'S BLACK AGENTS [1947, Arkham House], along with one other F&GM story ("The Sunken Land") -- a book I'm proud to own a copy of, along with the Gnome Press volume TWO SOUGHT ADVENTURE [1957], much the best collection in the entire series, which with a few extra stories became the much later Ace paperback SWORDS AGAINST DEATH [Ace, 1970].

This new publication, from Arcane Wisdom press (which sounds more like a theosophical association than a weird tales publisher) prints for the first time the original version of the story, along with Lovecraft's extensive notes written in response. Since this tale is unusual among the F&GM stories for taking place not in Leiber's invented world but in the historical past of our own world (specifically, the Near East during the Hellenic period), and for including brief allusions to Lovecraft's Elder Gods, I'll be interested in seeing whether more of these elements appear in the earlier version.

I myself first read "Adept's Gambit" it in fall 1980, when my friend Franklin recommended the Fafhrd & Gray Mouser series during a period when I was deliberately reading as much non-Tolkienian fantasy as possible to better educate myself as to what all was out there. I remembered going down to Dickson Street Books in Fayetteville and picked up the Ace paperbacks in which Leiber had collected together all the stories featuring the characters, arranged them in sequence of their internal chronology, and published the results in a six-book series.** It's been a long time since I've re-read the series (having reread my favorite book in it when doing my 'Classics of Fantasy' piece on Leiber, and even that's a good decade ago now.

All of which makes this newest publication sound ideal reading for a long plane ride . . .

--John R.
current reading:
WHO FEARS THE DEVIL? by Manley Wade Wellman (short stories [1946-1963] in the 'Silver John' series; a gift from Dave Sutherland; much better than the extremely mediocre novel in the same series OLD GODS WAKEN [1979]***). Nicely illustrated by Tim Kirk.
DARKER THAN YOU THINK [1940, 1948] by Jack Williamson, a god-awful mess of a novel, a sort of werewolf story told from the point of view of the Renfield, if that makes sense. Not worth reading.

*at about the same time (1936) Leiber's partner in creating the F&GM characters, Harry O. Fischer, the model for the Mouser (as Leiber was the model for Fafhrd), wrote a long story featuring the two, THE LORDS OF QUARMALL, but failed to finish it; it did not see publication until Leiber reworked it more than thirty year later for inclusion in SWORDS AGAINST WIZARDRY [Ace, 1968]. So far as I know, the only purely Fischer story in the series is "The Childhood of the Gray Mouser", which appeared in an early issue of THE DUNGEON magazine.

**later expanded to seven by some further adventures that brought the characters up to middle age and more or less settling down, but I no longer have this seventh volume (THE KNIGHT AND KNAVE OF SWORDS), having loaned it out to someone (probably a member of one of various bookgroups) who never brought it back.

***hard to respect a story that asserts that the Druids worshipped LOS and VALA (who were invented by Wm Blake) as well as BAL (who was a Phoenician, not a Celtic, deity). I'd guess it to have been the source for AD&D's wall of fog, wall of fire, and wall of thorns spells, except that the timing's wrong, the 1st edition   PLAYER'S HANDBOOK having beaten it out by a year.

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