Rogues • 2014 • mixed genre anthology by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois

★★★★

Meta: ISFDB, edited by by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois

There are a couple of anthologies edited by GRRM and Gardner Dozois, featuring diverse topics like Warriors, Old Mars, or Dangerous Women (cf. my review!). Here, authors delivered not only fantasy or SF stories but also history, thriller, and other genres involving rogues, con-men, tricksters.

In Dangerous Women, which was published the same year, authors often interpreted the given given topic very loosely. So, I was somewhat sceptical, but found that most story in Rogues staid true to the combining theme.  Tone and style of the authors differed heavily and I have to say that the lineup with Abercrombie, Swanwick, Vaughn, Lynch, Williams, Gaiman, Willis and Rothfuss is irresistible!

It is quite clear, that most anthologies contain some mediocre stories and only a few outstanding pearls. Rogues is no exception to this, but tending to the real good side. Overall, it worked really well for me reading it from front to back. Most people will probably cherrypick their favourite authors and be happy with it. I’d say that reading only those is absolutely worth the price even if you skip lots of the other stories.

The binding of the hardcover is good but the cover illustration is ugly – green background with gold „Rogues“ impress and lots of names. No illustrations at all, no inlet, nothing. Which means: You don’t loose anything at all if you get the ebook.

As with Dangerous Women, I don’t like the editor’s introduction to each story and author: They are just a dumb list of works the author has written and where he lives. In most cases, I’d rather read the wikipedia article and skip the introduction. If you want to read an example of good introductions, go for Harlan Ellison!

Some authors utilize characters they introduced in previous stories which I found to be hard to get attached to the same way as a fan of those characters would do. This was the case e.g. for Landsdale but not for Swanwick.

My favourite ★★★★★ stories were

  • A Year and a Day in Old Theradane by Scott Lynch
  • What Do You Do? by Gillian Flynn
  • Patrick Rothfuss “The Lightning Tree”

Zero, or ★  for me were

  • Ill Seen in Tyre by Steven Saylor
  • Bent Twig by Joe R. Lansdale
  • The Rogue Prince, or, a King’s Brother by George R.R. Martin

Contents:

  • ★★★★1/2  • “Tough Times All Over” • novelette by Joe Abercrombie • hot potato in First Law’s city of Sipani  •  review
  • ★★★★★ • “What Do You Do?” • short story by Gillian Flynn • weird mystery featuring a „handjob whore and esoteric aura reader“  •  review
  • ★★★ • “The Inn of the Seven Blessings” • fantasy short story by Matthew Hughes  •  review
  • ★1/2  • “Bent Twig” •  Joe R. Lansdale  – I really liked Lansdale’s wrestling story for Dangerous Women. This story has the same hard-ass, bare-knuckled tone with Hap and Leonard who he used in a lot of stories. I don’t know them, I don’t care about them. They are out to rescue the cracked up daughter of a lover. Pointless action with broken legs, shot men and trash talk. I even don’t know what it has to do with the anthology’s theme. A real letdown.
  • ★★★★ • “Tawny Petticoats” • fantasy short story by Michael Swanwick  – review
  • ★★★1/2  •  “Provenance”   David Ball  – tells us the winding provenance of a Caravaggian painting through the centuries, world wars, involving Nazis, south american weapon dealers, Whiskey drinking preachers and lots of different thiefs, burglars and tricksters. My main objection is that half of the story is explanation. On the other hand we have different layers of deception which makes the story quite enjoyable.
  • ★★1/2  • “The Roaring Twenties”  Carrie Vaughn  – I loved her story in Dangerous Women about Russian fighting aces. In this urban fantasy story set in prohibition time, a couple of dolls fool the magical patrons in a speakeasy where they hide from the feds. Nice atmosphere, light tone, a touch of magic and creatures of the night including one bartender zombie. Alas, I couldn’t connect to it and now I’m disappointed.
  • ★★★★★ • “A Year and a Day in Old Theradane” • Scott Lynch review
  • ★★★1/2 •  Bradley Denton “Bad Brass” – the complete opposite to Landsdale’s story in the continuum of violence. Topic here is not a damsel in distress but hughschool music instruments, the main protagonist is a substitute teacher at a Texas highschool who steals from thiefs. A romantic thriller which gripes the heart but isn’t too sentimental for my taste. The longest story, so far and in my humble opinion somewhat too long.
  • ★★ •  Cherie Priest “Heavy Metal” – Mr Kilgore Jones is a giant Ghostbuster, a monster hunter looking for strange things in a defunct Tennessee copper mine (I looked it up and it is really weird ). Both gave the story its name – heavy from the character and metal from the mine. Weak motivation, somewhat pointless story. Maybe fans will love it, I found it only ok.
  • ★★★★ •  Daniel Abraham “The Meaning of Love” (the author who writes as James S.A. Corey with Ty Franck) Typical fantasy set in a atmospherically very dense, dirty, lawless city. Bounty hunters look for a prince and a poisoner in hiding, knotting up in a damsel in distress and a female schemer Asa. I loved the characterizations, poignant dialogues, romantic comedy and the setting. I only would have wished for some more action. I hope for more in that scenery.
  • ★★★ •  “A Better Way to Die” • fantasy short story by Paul Cornell • Spy Major Jonathan Hamilton protects a timeline-adjacent 19th century British empire • review.
  • ★ •  Steven Saylor “Ill Seen in Tyre” – two travelers visit the Lebanon city of Tyre, follow Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and Grey Mouser and play around with an invisibility potion. Foreseeable, pointless, didn’t like it at all.
  • ★★★1/2 • Garth Nix “A Cargo of Ivories” – mildly amusing sword&sorcery where a knight Sir Hereward, Fitz – a mage in the form of a wood puppet, a female thief and some sow/elephant/don’t know what called „Rosie“ try to get and eliminate the incarnations of some minor god. Nice scenery, fast paced action with a deadpan tone and characters that you have to love.
  • ★★★★ • Walter Jon Williams “Diamonds From Tequila” – last time I read this author was 1987’s Voice of the Whirlwind where he rode the cyberpunk-wave. In this story, he mixes 3D printing technology (create beverage and drugs!) and a movie shot in Mexico. Main protagonist is a deformed movie star with a mysterious history trying to save the production when his coactor is shot. Characterization is really good, setting is very nice, plot is interesting.
  • ★★★★ • Phyllis Eisenstein “The Caravan to Nowhere” – an old friend of GRRM and we’ve got to thank her for convincing GRRM to put in dragons to ASoIaF. The latest story featuring her protagonist Alaric the Minstrel must have been published in the late 80s. This newly written gem of a story is a great contrast to the rest of the anthology, and I loved it. It flows gently, thoughtfully, nearly without action in a fantasy setting involving a caravan through a sand desert and some mysterious drug. It is about the interaction with a son gone mad and free will. About songs, inns and campfires under stars. If you like stories like A Wizard of Earthsea, you might like this one as well. If you need action-driven, loud stories, you’ll probably give it 1-2 stars.
  • skipped Lisa Tuttle “The Curious Affair of the Dead Wives” because it didn’t grab me within 5 pages. Probably because I don’t dig Sherlock detective stories.
  • ★★★★ • Neil Gaiman “How the Marquis Got His Coat Back” which seems to be a sequel to Neverwhere which I haven’t read. It’s got mushroom-zombies, elephants and shepherds in it, really horrific stuff but in a crazy way also funny. The only problem I had was that at a couple of points the Marquis‘ brother jumps out from nowhere to rescue a scene. We see some intelligent interleaving of plots and a very dense atmosphere. I didn’t get where the connection to „rogues“ is, though.
  • ★★★ • Connie Willis “Now Showing” which features a conspiracy story with some movie nerds in a near-future SF set in a kind of chamber play located in a movie palace. There seems to be more name-dropping than story and Mrs Willis has the tendency to get very repetitive which is very annoying for me. The story without that crap would have been really nice.
  • ★★★★★ • Patrick Rothfuss “The Lightning Tree” because I love witty Bast, Rothfuss’s writing style, the light atmosphere turning sometimes weird, sometimes sexy. The story doesn’t make much sense outside of The Name of the Wind setting, though.
  • ★1/2 • George R.R. Martin “The Rogue Prince, or, a King’s Brother” which is even more boring than his historical account in Dangerous Women. I love his prose but loath his history textbooks. It simply doesn’t work as an entry to a story anthology and I can’t see why it would qualify for a Rogues anthology. Hardcore ASoIaF fans will love this part of the GRRMarillion probably.

 

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