Quick Reviews: Swordsmen and Supermen

This review originally appeared in Scrolls of Legendry #1.


Swordsmen and Supermen edited by Donald M. Grant (uncredited)
Centaur Press, 1972, 120 pp.

“A most unusual volume of swashbuckling high adventure stories with a heavy accent on the fantastic” promises the back cover. The first tale is certainly an unusual choice: “Meet Cap’n Kidd,” a humorous western yarn by Robert E. Howard. The Cap’n Kidd of the title is a furious wild stallion “as full of rambunctiousness as a drunk Apache on the warpath.” Our hero, Breckinridge Elkins, naturally decides to try his hand at taming him. I’m not a fan of westerns, but I found the story amusing enough once I got used to the dialect (sample: “I cooked me nine or ten squirrels over a fire and et ‘em, and while that warn’t much of a supper for a appertite like mine, still I figgered next day I’d stumble on to a b’ar”). Next we have “The Death of a Hero” by Jean D’Esme. This is actually an excerpt from “The Red Gods,” a novel set in Indo-China that was first published in 1924. In the excerpt, Wanda Redeski convinces a native to rescue her companions who have been captured by priests. The ensuing battle is described vividly, but I’m sure it would have had much more impact in context.

Darrel Crombie contributes the next story, “Wings of Y’vrn,” one of the two originals in the anthology. It’s pure sword and sorcery, ‘70s style, and it’s very goofy. Y’vrn is able to change his shape and create matter via “matrix frames” on his “mental screens.” He has been tasked by Mal-Kiz of S’lmm with stealing Queen Dharga’s wand. Should he fail, the reputation of S’lmm will be sullied. This story is by no means good, but I suppose it could be enjoyed in the same way as dumb B-movies like The Dungeon Master. The introduction claims Crombie is “a writer with a style, vocabulary, and imagination to take the reader back in time to the more fertile days of fantasy production,” but this is no substitute for the real thing. This becomes even more apparent when reading the next story, which was originally published in the July 23rd, 1926 issue of Adventure. “The Slave of Marathon” is part of Arthur D. Howden Smith’s historical series about the Grey Maiden, a mythical sword said to be forged at the beginning of time. In this installment, the sword is in the possession of a Persian who uses it to slay Giton of Athens. Glaucus, an outspoken slave, swears to avenge the death of his master’s friend. This is far and away the best story in the book.

Lin Carter wraps things up with the other exclusive story, “How Sargoth Lay Siege to Zaremm.” To put it bluntly, it’s a rip off of Lord Dunsany. However, Carter actually does a much better job here than with his imitations of Howard and Burroughs.

On the whole, it’s not a bad collection, but probably not worth the trouble of tracking down a copy.