A good fantasy novel does many things. It introduces the reader to other worlds or variations of our own, known environments but with enough plausible details and authenticity to make these fantastic realms absolutely credible. Fantasy gives the reader larger-than-life—but believable—heroes, heroines, and villains—wizards, sorcerers, strongmen, god-like women, odd creatures, or people like us who stepped beyond imagining. Fantasy is chock-full of spells, magic, curses, heroic battles, inexplicable occurrences, and superhuman powers to change people, places, and events.
But, above all, a successful tale of fantasy must seize the reader’s imagination, must entertain and convince that reader to believe in the realm of the fantastic.
Baker’s Dozen: 13 Short Fantasy Novels Presented by Isaac Asimov is a fantasy reader’s delight. Collected here are thirteen superb short novels by some of the best-known writers in the genre. Isaac Asimov, Martin H. Greenberg, and Charles G. Waugh chose these tales from among the best fantasy ever published—no easy task in a field crowded with fine writing.
The stories are serious, funny, sad, searching. They pose questions about the nature of reality, about human values—faith, love, the pursuit of knowledge and happiness, the need to know life in all its variety and to fulfill destiny. And some are just plain fun.
Here you will find wonderful short novels, one of them, Ill Met in Lankhmar, by Fritz Leiber, the 1970 Nebula Award winner for Best Novella. Thieves’ World is represented by two entries: A Man and His God by Janet Morris and The Gate of the Flying Knives by Poul Anderson. Robert E. Howard’s Red Nails offers a tale of Conan the Cimmerian. John Jakes offers the powerful Storm in a Bottle, Michael Moorcock’s Prince Elric of Meliboné journeys to The Land Beyond the World, and Unicorn Tapestry by Suzy McKee Charnas is amodern-day vampire story set in this world—in New York City, to be exact.
There are also tales by Sir H. Rider Haggard, Roger Zelazny, Andre Norton, Avram Davidson, Jack Vance, and Thomas Burnett Swann.
Isaac Asimov’s introduction is a unique exploration of the nature of fantasy and its place in our lives and is also a brief history of the evolution of fantasy literature from its beginnings as the earliest heroic epics.
As Asimov says in closing, the novels collected here offer the reader “larger-than-life heroes and heroines…suffering larger-than-life defeats, and winning larger-than-life triumphs.…You will live it all with them and enjoy larger-than-life pleasures.”
What better invitation to enjoyment could there possibly be! [sic]
It must be said at the outset that I really do not like sword-and-sorcery as a genre, and so it’s really unfair for me to even attempt to rate a book like this one, which is largely sword-and-sorcerery. Not all the stories are sword-and-sorcery, of course—“Black Heart and White Heart” by H. Rider Haggard (which I loathe anyway) is gun-and-sorcerery, for example. By and large, however, these stories come very close to that particular unmentionable form or are firmly within it. The one exception is Suzy McKee Charnas’ “Unicorn Tapestry,” which (and not coincidentally) is the one story in the anthology which I really liked.
And, of course, there’s nothing here by Asimov except the introduction. The result is a volume which I would give worlds never to have to read again, although I imagine that fans of the “high” variety of fantasy would probably enjoy it. I just can’t be the judge of that.