I'd heard the name Jessica Salmonson but knew nothing about her. I looked her up... interesting to learn that her mother, who abandoned her at an early age, was a sword swallower. So perhaps there is a Freudian edge to the story you mention--which might account for why it does not scan well.
Salmonson collaborated with Willum Pugmire, and no doubt many others.
There's another entry in this thread to which I have not given proper attention. I must remedy that. There was some amazing art, and from your account Richard, extraordinary literature produced from these zines.
She was also responsible for the publication of The Angry Dead book. And much else. I knew her very well back then and stayed with her a couple of times in Seattle. She can rub people up the wrong way and certainly doesn't suffer fools gladly, but Darroll and I loved her. Still do, although we're only vaguely in touch now via Facebook.
It is no accident that the majority of the most prominent and important players in the fanzine culture of the 1970s were all Canadian, or at least Canada resident. As previously stated Gene Day was the pivotal figure in the culture and his gravitational influence drew a number of talented and like-minded artists into orbit around him. There was Charles Saunders most obviously, but also Galad Elflandsson, Dave Sim, John Bell, Charles de Lint and John Charette. Sometime in 1977 the simple fact of this proximity of available talent lead a group of them to set up the Triskell Press which aimed to issue a range of semi-prozines devoted to various strands of fantasy. The first product of the endeavour was Dragonbane.
Artwork by John Charette
In terms of pure aesthetics I don't think the culture ever produced a more handsome looking title. With the singular exception of the last two issues of John Martin's Anduril. Dragonbane was magazine sized, and professionally printed on quality paper which afforded excellent reproduction to its fabulous artwork. Its intentions were just as admirable in wanting to be "a showpiece for the best in new fantasy fiction" and in pursuit of that aim it assembled an impressive roster for what was to prove sadly its sole outing: Tanith Lee (still new enough on the block at the time to qualify for inclusion in a semi-prozine), Elflandsson, David Madison, as well as editor Charles Saunders and publisher/proprietor de Lint. If names and admirable motives alone were all that was needed to guarantee success then Dragonbane would have been a publishing triumph. Sadly it takes a bit more than that. Good storytelling for a start and on that score publisher de Lint's truly wretched effort of sword & sorcery rather undermined the ethos of the undertaking.
Artwork by John Charette
Critics of sword and sorcery dismiss the writing of it as something absurdly simple. What could be more straightforward than the setting of a meat headed muscleman against a magician or a monster. But sword and sorcery is no easier to write than any other sort of genre fiction and is actually more problematic than some. The hero presents a particular challenge. He or she obviously needs to be physically elevated above the average. But exaggerate their strength or resiliance too much and they become indestructable cartoons. It is a fine line that is drawn between impressive displays of strength and superheroics. One of the enduring qualities of Robert E Howard's writing is that he seldom put a foot wrong in this distinction. Unlike De Camp who saw nothing implausible in having Conan wave marble benches above his head.
Equally a sword and sorcery story must feature a degree of realism. Because if this is omitted then there is no yardstick against which to measure the hero's feats and the story is consequently drained of drama. A hero without constraints set upon them can never be truly imperiled and therefore draws no emotional investment.
I offer these observations as an insight into the woeful failings of "Wings Over Antar" which, in my estimation, offers a textbook example of how not to write sword and sorcery. Because in flouting both the above rules (and several others beside) de Lint produced one of the most awful stories of the sort imaginable.
Artwork by John Charette
Let's start with the hero, Damon the demonspawn, superbly rendered in the above drawing by John Charette. In a preposterous info dump of a prologue we are informed that Damon actually started out as Daelin Wood-wise, the happy elf. But after his elven family are massacred by the minions of Noth Seganth - for unexplained reasons but then the sorcerers of this story need no motivation other than their own foulness - Damon renounced his heritage in a pact with the Nether Gods in exchange for the powers necessary to avenge his family.
So we have a hero with strength many times that of the average man, with wicked horns curling around his head. Moreover he is possessed of an - implicitly - magic sword and he rides a unicorn called Storm-strider. And yet when he walks into the obligatory tavern for a drink no one bats an eyelid. There are no calls of "Anyone here got a unicorn parked outside?"
But even with all these resources at his disposal he still manages to get himself crucified to a rock. Yes, that's right; a rock. Frankly I think the soldiers who achieved this feat in the desert in the dead of night without smashing every bone in Damon's hands and feet are more to be complimented here than our intrepid hero. But Damon is so tough that not only does he manage to wrench himself free by sheer brute strength but he actually kills half a dozen winged bird-beasts that are attacking him at the same time.
This quite risible sequence is an obvious riff on the famous instance of the crucified Conan in "A Witch Shall Be Born". But it is so ludicrously over the top that it reads like a spoof. Conan's killing of the vulture with his teeth was designed to be the ultimate testament to his incredible vitality and fortitude. But even he wasn't able to extricate himself from the cross unaided and it took him months to recover from the ordeal. Not only does Damon free himself but he's off climbing castle walls and engaging in pitched battles with guardsmen the selfsame night.
The list of absurdities goes on and on. Winged women have clandestine meetings with their informants in taverns where everyone can see them. Damon penetrates a castle keep by jumping over the wall [de Lint had clearly never seen a castle keep at the time or possessed the slightest knowledge of fortifications]. Damon manages to both hurl a spear and throw a sword simultaneously (which is physically impossible) and impale guardsmen with both weapons.
I could continue but you get the idea. All things considered its godawful drivel. But if this was the publisher's notion of what constituted "the best in new fantasy" then what is to be made of the remainder of the contents?
Thanks for that very entertaining discussion, Richard. I think your insights on the S&S genre are quite accurate. And that de Lint tale sounds like a textbook instance of "how not to write Sword & Sorcery." I tried reading a couple of things by de Lint years ago but couldn't get on with the stories. I forget now exactly why. There's so much good stuff around to read that I seldom persist with a writer who fails to hit the mark for me.
Even though I have read THE KING IN YELLOW I cannot claim any particular knowledge of, or interest in, the Bierce/Chambers Carcosa cycle. Much less the Lovecraft circle's conscription of and elaboration upon such. As a consequence I am in no position to judge how fair or, indeed, fast and loose Galad Elflandsson's "How Darkness Came to Carcosa" plays with the established continuity regarding same.
Artwork by Clifford Bird
All I can say with confidence is that I enjoyed it. It is a well written piece, told from the perspective of the Royal historian Mitornos Alberta while he awaits execution for the murder of his son and his family. In his cell he reflects upon the ascension of Alhazreth and the six days of calamity that polluted and poisoned the environment and ultimately reduced the shining city to desolate ruin.
The sequence that made the deepest impression upon me is when Mitornos looks up to discover that the moon has gone, bartered away to Hastur in exchange for power. All in all a compelling if appropriately bleak tale.
Although it grieves me to say it Tanith Lee's "Sleeping Tiger" is not very good. Its premise is simply too silly and contrived to convince. It postulates that people who have died before their time have an opportunity to reclaim their life on earth if they can contrive to cause another to perish by the selfsame means that they did, thereby exchanging their place in Hell as a consequence. In pursuit of this one off opportunity a murdered priest and his nubile earthly acolytes set a trap for the priest's murderer but instead ensnare an innocent warrior. Relying on a set of stonking coincidences the story is simply too absurd for words.
That said, it is naturally most beautifully written. And I relished the description of alluring eyes as being "like the tilted wings of two black pigeons in flight."
Ah, the ever mourned Tanith Lee. No one can write like she could.
Dragonbane was published in the spring of 1978. On the 28th of the May of that year contributor David Madison shot himself dead in an Arlington, Texas railway yard.It is doubtful if he ever saw a copy of the book. Almost certain that he went to his grave ignorant of any response to his story. And that strikes me as an abiding pity. Because he deserved to hear what an absolutely fantastic story he had contributed. Instead it was left to stand as a sombre monument to a formidable and tragically terminated talent.
Artwork by Dave Sim
"From Under the Hills" is not another entry in the Marcus and Diana sequence. It introduces two new characters instead by the names of Malak the Apostate and Thisbe. Malak is a grim ravaged one-eyed figure, his black hair prematurely shot through with silver, his hands bearing the stigma of crucifixion and with a deep scar cleaving the flesh of his scalp. But the events which left these gruesome souvenirs upon his body are a mystery to him. He is a man without memory. Thisbe in contrast, his companion and friend "but nothing more intimate", exhibits all the attributes of feminine delicacy; demurely riding side-saddle on a donkey, she is all blonde curls and silken parasols. But be not deceived; for in the extremis of the ensuing episode the curls become a shucked wig and the parasol disgorges a swordstick which she uses to deadly effect.
In the ruins of a ransacked farmhouse Malak and Thisbe discover a scene of appalling horror: a beheaded man nailed to the steps with his body bristling with little white sticks. Nearby a naked women spread-eagled and staked to the ground by carving knives, evidencing "things [which] had been done to her with hooks and razors and needles that did not bear thinking of, much less looking at."
Inside the farmhouse the pair find the walls scrawled with obscene graffiti daubed in blood and wine but with none of it extending any higher than three feet from the floor. The significance of this is not lost on Malak who recognises the savage handiwork of the Ilyrrch, primordial "little people" who exhult in depravity and carnage. When they subsequently discover that the Ilyrrch raiding party has carried off a child Malak resolves to save her. Thisbe displays a refreshing and realistic lack of relish for the task. But when Malak tells her she can wait behind retorts: "I said I was afraid...I didn't say I wasn't going."
Tracking the scavenging party through the waist high grass that renders their quarry all but invisible Malak and Thisbe have to negotiate traps and ambushes before a final brutal confrontation in a natural arena.
My word, but this story exceeds my store of superlatives. It is nothing less than brilliant. The Ilyrrch are memorably horrible; a midget race with simian faces and copper-red manes, yellow eyes, and baboon-like fangs that use the nastiest and crudest of weapons. The story is divested entirely of the wry and rueful jocularity that characterizes the Marcus and Diana stories, displaying instead a grim brutality that appears to signpost the new path that Madison was intending to follow. Malak and Thisbe are just wonderful characters and possess everything needed to sustain a series. A series I would have given anything to read. As it is we are left with this one tantalisng and quite wonderful appertiser instead.
That will have to do. But take my word for it posterity was cheated of something quite marvellous.