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Authors: Tad Williams

A Stark And Wormy Knight

BOOK: A Stark And Wormy Knight
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This collection first published in ebook edition 2011
This collection including the Introduction © 2011 The Beale-Williams Enterprise
Collection edited by Deborah Beale
Cover art design by Lisa Tveit and Deborah Beale

ISBN this 2011 e-edition: 9780983824619

“And Ministers of Grace” © Tad Williams 2010. First published 2010 in
Warriors
edited by George R R Martin & Gardner Dozois

“A Stark and Wormy Knight” © Tad Williams 2009. First published 2009 in
The Dragon Book (Magical Tales from the Masters of Modern Fantasy),
edited by Jack Dann & Gardner Dozois

“The Storm Door” © Tad Williams 2010. First published 2010 in
The New Dead: A Zombie Anthology
, edited by Christopher Golden

“The Stranger’s Hands” © Tad Williams 2007. First published 2007 in
Wizards
(Magical Tales from the Masters of Modern Fantasy),
edited by Jack Dann & Gardner Dozois

“Bad Guy Factory” © The Beale-Williams Enterprise 2011. Original to this collection

“The Thursday Men” © Tad Williams 2008. First published 2008 in “Hellboy: Oddest Jobs” edited by Christopher Golden and illustrated by Mike Mignola

“The Tenth Muse” © Tad Williams 2009. First published 2009 in
The New Space Opera 2
edited by Gardner Dozois & Jonathan Strahan

“The Lamentably Comical Tragedy (or the Laughably Tragic Comedy) of Lixal Laqavee” © Tad Williams 2009. First published 2009 in
Songs of the Dying Earth (Stories in Honor of Jack Vance)
, edited by George R. R. Martin & Gardner Dozois.

“The Terrible Conflagration at the Quiller’s Mint” © 2002, 2011 The Beale-Williams Enterprise

Black Sunshine © The Beale-Williams Enterprise 2011. Original to this collection

“Ants” © Tad Williams 2009. First published 2009 in
Twilight Zone: 19 Original Stories on the 50th Anniversary
, edited by Carol Serling.

A STARK AND WORMY KNIGHT

Tales of Fantasy, Science Fiction and Suspense

TAD WILLIAMS

Edited by Deborah Beale

Introduction

I
’M KNOWN PRIMARILY AS A WRITER
of novels, but there’s something truly special about short stories, especially in my field (which we usually lumber with the unwieldy handle of “Science Fiction and Fantasy” or the puzzling-to-outsiders “SF&F.”) Much of the history of our artform is contained in short stories, including classic works by people like Bradbury, Theodore Sturgeon, Lord Dunsany, Lovecraft, Poe, Asimov, Ursula Le Guin and Arthur C. Clarke, just to name a few. Even some of the best novels in our genre started out as shorter pieces, which were then combined with other stories to make famous collections (like Bradbury’s
Martian Chronicles
or Asimov’s
I, Robot
) or were expanded from earlier short works, like Zelazny’s prize-winning
The Dream Master
.

For me, though, the greatest lure of writing short stories is the chance to experiment, to find new ways (new to me, at least) to tell tales. I love to bring in elements of my work that I tend to play down (or at least try to control) in longer works, like my sense of humor and my love of fiddling around with language.

The title story of this collection, for instance,
A Stark and Wormy Knight
, is told in a very unusual, very playful and punning style that might wear out its welcome over a full-size novel, but is just another fascinating flavor of storytelling at shorter length.

All of these stories come from a stretch of 2007-2008 when, because of invitations to write for a bunch of anthologies (all of which attracted me because of the subject matter, the other participants, or both) I turned into a bit of a short-story machine. Not in the sense that any of it came easily — I should be so lucky! — but because I wrote something like half a dozen or more substantial short works in a stretch of less than a year’s time. This was very unusual for me — especially because, as always, I was also writing a novel at the time. (Probably two! I can’t quite remember.)

The first story,
And Ministers of Grace
, is either a standalone story or the opening gun in a large project — a sweeping epic about the eventual interplanetary war between Archimedes and Covenant, bastions of Science and Belief respectively. I’ve been thinking about this project for years but haven’t decided if or when I’d write it, so when a chance to write a story for Gardner Dozois’ and George R. R. Martin’s
Warriors
anthology presented itself, I thought it might be a good time to meet Lamentation Kane, who (if such an epic ever comes to be) would be one of the major players. He’s also a serious bad-ass, with all meanings of the word “serious” most definitely intended.

The second tale,
A Stark and Wormy Knight
, just sort of happened. I was thinking about a story idea for a dragon anthology and wondered, “How do dragons feel about these knights who are always trying to slay them?” But I couldn’t just stop there — it was going to be an entire anthology of dragon stories, so a simple reversal of the norm might not even blip the reader’s radar. But as I played with it I began to hear the voice of the story’s telling as sort of a cross between Dr. Seuss and James Joyce, and once I got that it pretty much wrote itself from there. I don’t believe stories ever “write themselves”, but this was about as close as I get to that inspired-by-the-muses kind of thing.

The Storm Door
was for a
New Dead
anthology edited by Christopher Golden, and although this too reads like the first chapter of a novel (at least until the end!) it was meant to be just what it is, a meditation on dying and death and the things one might meet on the way from one to the other. It’s also about zombies, but not the stupid, clumsy kind. And I apologize for any gross errors in interpretation of the Tibetan Buddhist philosophy and faith — any mistakes are mine. Please do not write letters to the Dalai Lama. He already told me he’s tired of hearing from me and my readers.

I wrote
The Stranger’s Hands
this for the
Wizards
anthology edited by Jack Dann and Gardner Dozois. It’s about magic and magicians, but not in the normal way. Don’t worry! It has spells and trickery and danger and all that, but in the end it’s about how good and evil are not always as clear as the old stories lead us to believe — especially when sorcerors are involved. As Tolkien once said (or had a character say for him) “Do not meddle in the affairs of wizards, for they are subtle and quick to anger.” You’ll see how true that is in this one.

I was also inspired by the idea that the personal relationships in fantasy stories are often under-examined, especially when it comes down to matters of Good versus Evil — and let’s face it, that’s what most fantasy stories come down to, often in a rather pedestrian way. The bad guy capers on, usually explaining how he’s risen from the dead after X-thousand years and now will bring on an age of horror, because… well, because that’s what undead villains always do. And then the good guys reluctantly beat their plowshares into swords and go out to do the right thing, for the sake of free people (or at least happy feudal peasants) everywhere.

To which I always asked myself: Really? All conflict is that simple?

Anyway, this story raises a few questions about that traditional good vs. bad approach.

Bad Guy Factory
is the kind of project you only get to see in collections like this. When I was writing
Aquaman
for DC Comics I proposed a series based on the idea that all those supervillains had to get their training and their equipment somewhere — I don’t think even the Joker can just call up Monster.Com and order a bunch of disposable henchmen at clerical staff wages. I wanted to get into the whole thing, the training, the economics, how a lifelong career in crime could seem like a good idea when you knew you were eventually going to get pounded on by Batman or the Flash.

Sadly, it never came to be. At the time I proposed it DC was in the middle of one of their all-inclusive “Crisis” events and it would have been immediately dragged into the service of that storyline, which wouldn’t have worked out for what I envisioned. I never really tried very hard to sell it after that, but I still think it would make a cool series. I also had a lot of help from Dietrich Smith and Walden Wong doing presentation artwork to go with it, and I’ve never properly thanked them. Thanks, guys. The Factory, especially with your help, deserved better, but at least now some actual readers will finally get to see it.

“The Thursday Men” was originally written for a Hellboy anthology edited by Christopher Golden, based (of course) on Mike Mignola’s now-famous creation. Being a comic book geek practically since birth, I’ve been a fan of Mike Mignola’s big red guy for a long time, and I jumped at the chance to write a story about him. Those who’ve read the comics know that Hellboy’s been around a long time (in his fictional world, anyway), born in 1944 when an attempt at supernaturally grabbing victory from the jaws of defeat by the Nazis went awry, and the only thing summoned the nether regions was Hellboy himself, at the time a little red horned baby. Because of his long life, he’s had lots of time for adventures, so there’s lots of room to play with him, both in geography and history.

My wife Deborah Beale was contemplating a ghost story set on the California coast north of San Francisco at the time, so the place was in my thoughts. If you haven’t been there, some of it is pretty much ideal supernatural fiction territory, windswept and sparsely populated. It was a pretty easy choice of location to make, and since Deb hasn’t written that story yet, I didn’t feel like I was poaching on her territory.

Everything else was straightforward, which is another great thing about Hellboy — he’ll deal with subtlety if he has to, but he prefers punching evil in the face. Hard. And repeatedly. When your hero is a giant guy who looks like a demon and likes to smash things, but also loves cats and beer, it’s hard to go wrong.

In other words, I think it’s basically a fun story, the interesting science-fictional/supernatural ideas notwithstanding. I hope you’ll think so too.

I love anthologies because they give me a chance to try things much different than what I usually do in my books, and this is definitely the case with
The Tenth Muse
, originally written for the Dozois-edited
The New Space Opera 2
anthology
.
This is perhaps the closest thing to a classic, old-fashioned science fiction story I’ve ever written — I think it wouldn’t seem badly out of place in one of the magazines like Galaxy or Astounding. Even better, it’s one of the few space opera stories to feature actual opera. Like most of the best science-fiction tales of an earlier era, it’s not so much about technology or the future as it’s about solving a dangerous, perhaps fatal problem. And like all good problem stories, I struggled to make the plot fair to the reader so that he or she could try to solve the terrible mystery right alongside the characters.

The longest piece,
The Lamentably
… no, bugger that, let’s just call it
Lixal
… was part of a very good anthology inspired by the work of Jack Vance. In most cases this would be called a “pastiche”, which is a term meaning a friendly send-up of someone’s style. However, I know for a fact that most of the writers in our field have always been in awe of Jack’s style and would never dream of making fun of it. Rather, I think many of us tried to imitate it as purely as we could, because it seems like the only authentic way of telling a story set in his “Dying Earth” universe. And the style itself, with its elegance and sly sense of humor, has its own rewards for both the writer and the reader. I’m proud of
Lixal
, but I would never pretend that it exceeds the work of the master. I do, however, believe that it greatly exceeds mere imitative flattery and is about as good a fantasy story as I’m capable of writing in anybody’s style.

BOOK: A Stark And Wormy Knight
7.9Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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