In 1987, the New York Times published their first front-page review of a science fiction anthology for a collection called In the Field of Fire, themed around the war in Vietnam. “Vietnam was science fiction,” the reviewer wrote, and writing about it through that lens found meaning in a war few understood.
This idea, that speculative fiction is a vital tool to understanding the inexplicable, is just as relevant nearly thirty years later. Deserts of Fire is a war-inspired anthology for the new millennium, because for many, the recent wars in the deserts of Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Middle East are just as slippery to grasp and difficult to understand as Vietnam was two generations earlier.
Inside Deserts of Fire are stories from a variety of bestselling and award-winning authors that start with the simple and modest ambition of making the reader feel strange about the recent past. Because when there are too many explanations, the truth won’t be found by merely choosing one side or the other. But rather, the truth is in the existence of the confusion itself.
Gods’ Magic, Mortal’s Doom… In a land where magic is real, where elves and dragons menace the unwary, and where the Norse gods wage a deadly campaign, using mortals as their favourite pawns, Loki, god of deception, and Freyr, god of war, are locked in a battle that could tip the universal balance toward order or eternal chaos. Searching the alternate timeways, Freyr has reached out to snatch Al Larson, twentieth-century American soldier, from the midst of a fire-fight in Vietnam, flinging him through time and space into the body of an elvish warrior to stand against Loki and his sorcerous ally, Bramin. Torn from a world where bullets and grenades are the weapons of choice, and locked into an elvish body on a world where sword and spell are the means of battle, Al must adapt swiftly – or die. For the gods have marked him as their own private battleground, and Al’s only chance rests in completing the quest Freyr has set him, a quest that will lead him to the very gates of Hel, where he must save a god – or destroy one!
Johnny Mays has the moral conscience of a selfish child in the frame of a plain-clothes cop. The city is his playground, the rest of us his toys. He likes to find out where we work, and where we live, and what will scare us most. And Johnny never had a toy he didn’t break.
But Johnny starts a car chase, and he pushes it too far. Soon they’re fishing for his body at the foot of a dam, and his partner Nick Frazier has been left behind. They were friends, once, a long time ago. Nick had hoped that he might save Johnny.
Johnny’s last words still echo in Nick’s mind: “I’m going to remember this,” he said, a dark fire in his eyes. “I’m coming back for you.”
Then the killings start. Killings of people Johnny didn’t like. And Johnny’s car is dredged up, empty.
Once there was only the land of Phesaotois, with a cold and baleful Stone at its magical heart. Much later came the land of Pheyarcet, younger and hotter, with its Well of Fire inextricably bound up with its ruler, the great Panurgus.
Then Panurgus died, touching off a bitter struggle between his sons that ended with Avril on the throne and Prospero, mightiest of the sorcerers, in permanent exile.
All that was an age ago. Now Prospero, grown ancient and subtle, has found a new, third land: bright Argylle, with its primal Spring of clear water. Argylle is a fair realm in its own right; but the children of Panurgus never forgive and never forget.
And so Prospero decides it is an auspicious time to seize the throne of Phesaotois from Avril – thereby setting in motion a vast tale of romance and espionage, of talking animals and mythic beasts, of metaphysics and primal creation, of mannerly drama and gritty military detail: an epic that can only end in a conflagration of blood and honor.
Arpazia is the aging queen who paces the halls of a warlord’s palace. Cold as winter, she has only one passion-for the mysterious hunter who courts the outlawed old gods of the woodland. Coira is the princess raised in the shadow of her mother’s hatred. Avoided by both her parents and half forgotten by her father’s court, she grows into womanhood alone . . . until the mirror speaks, and blood is spilled, and the forest claims her.
The tragic myth of the goddess Demeter and her daughter, Persephone, stolen by the king of the underworld, is woven together with the tale of Snow White to create a powerful story of mothers and daughters and the blood that binds them together, for good or ill. Black queen. White maid. Royal huntsman. Seven little folk who live in the forest. Come inside, sit by the fire, and listen to this fairy tale as you’ve never heard it told before.
Once upon a time there was a mirror, and a girl as white as snow. . .
Blake had waited a long time for his big chance. Finally the selection board called him in. This was it. He got his promotion, his captain’s ticket and his first assignment. Vorgal was a tough planet but Blake was ready for it. He was the first spaceman to land on Vorgal without crashing. He was the first human being to see a Vorgalian and live. He was the first to learn the planet’s deadly secret an come back alive.
But…when he went into landing orbit around Earth they fired on him. No one would believe that the impossible had happened. They thought Blake’s body was being used by an alien, and unless he could convince them fast he would die. Without his secret knowledge of Vorgal, Earth would die too…
They dragged the screaming stranger into the asylum. His talk of Fire Gods and universal conquest seemed the ultimate in illusions. Next morning, the padded cell was burnt out…and there was no trace of the prisoner. The door was still locked, still barred.
Perhaps the arson that followed was just a coincidence?
The Brigade Chiefs called in a special investigator. No result. Finally the IPF took a hand and subsequently the investigations pointed to extra galactic interference.
When the psychiatrist, who had originally examined the mysterious ‘fire god’, was questioned the second time things began to add up. Those wild, strange words ha not been the ravings of a maniac but the diabolical threat of an alien entity. A thing with unbelievable power…that threatened the universe itself!
When Odin’s curse fell upon him, Harald Swiftaxe, the young Norse warrior, lusty in love and battle, was fully human no longer. He was incensed with the animal rage of the god’s devotees, the Berserkers. The snarling ferocious savagery of the bear possessed him. Immune to fire and steel, frenzied by the smell of blood and the sight of torn human flesh, he was driven to the worst of human deeds . . . The stench of fear was meat and drink to him, and cowering women learned of his cruel, insatiable lust.
The bear screeched its ecstasy – yet at times the man dimly understood the horror. Could the demon god be killed, the spell lifted…? If there was a way, the price of failure would be high, greater than death itself . . .
Sequel to Rockets in Ursa Major
From a great distance the Yela’s recorded message crackled through on the micro-earpiece: ‘For the time being you have won. But I am not defeated so easily.’
That had been three years ago, after Dick Warboys had repulsed the invading Yela by firing a lithium bomb into the Sun. But now that threat seems near fulfilment as appalled scientists detect the rapid approach of a vast, engulfing cloud of hydrogen. Can humanity survive on Earth or must selected pioneers abandon it in search of a safer region of the Galaxy?
To find the answer Dick and his allies from Space suffer a perilous voyage into the realms that reach the ultimate in understanding the physical universe.
Patricia A. McKillip is the author of a number of hugely acclaimed fantasies, including The Riddle-Master of Hed and its sequels, which have been compared to Gene Wolfe’s epic Book of the New Sun, and The Forgotten Beasts of Eld and Ombria in Shadow, both of which won the World Fantasy Award for best novel. She has won the Mythopoeic Award three times and in 2008 was given the World Fantasy Award for lifetime achievement. This omnibus collects three of her later works: In the Forests of Serre, Alphabet of Thorn and The Bell at Sealey Head.
IN THE FORESTS OF SERRE: In the tales of World Fantasy Award-winning author Patricia McKillip, nothing is ever as it seems. A mirror is never just a mirror; a forest is never just a forest. Here, it is a place where a witch can hide in her house of bones and a prince can bargain with his heart…where good and evil entwine and wear each others’ faces…and where a bird with feathers of fire can quench the fiercest longing…
ALPHABET OF THORN: One of the most spectacular fantasists of our time, Patricia A. McKillip creates fairy tale worlds of wonder and magic. Now, she opens the page on a time and place where an orphan girl is haunted by thorns…a reluctant queen rules between sea and sky… and epics never end…
THE BELL AT SEALEY HEAD: Sealey Head is a small town on the edge of the ocean, a sleepy place where everyone hears the ringing of a bell no one can see. On the outskirts of town is an impressive estate, Aislinn House, where the aged Lady Eglantyne lies dying, and where the doors sometimes open not to its own dusty rooms, but to the wild majesty of a castle full of knights and princesses.
These were the last weeks and days before the end of the world, before total destruction overwhelmed Earth and every living thing on the surface of the planet. No one knew exactly how long they had before the sun turned nova and destroyed not only Earth but all of the other planets in the Solar System. For mankind, the only excape lay in flight to the stars, to Alpha Centauri, more than four light years distant.
The hyperdrive, capable of carrying them there at close to the speed of light had been developed, but as yet had not been perfected. In a world without a future, the starships were the only salvation of mankind and they could save only a minute fraction of the population of Earth.
Panic is there, but temporarily forgotten by most, as the plans for a mass exodus are speeded up, as the long hours of mounting tension draw to a close and Judgement Day, when the world shall be destroyed by fire, is mo longer a hazy time in the far future, but something very close and very terrible. For those who remained behind, there could be no escape; death would come suddenly, eight minutes after the nova explosion. For those who fled the Solar System in the starships, untried and working on principles only partially understood, there was only the long, terrible journey through the endless night, not knowing what lay at the end of it.
Humanity played with fire once too often. It was atomic fire and its ravages produced an almost complete annihilation, but there were survivors. The radiations had not been entirely malevolent in their influence. Genes and chromosomes danced like dervishes in the gamma bombardments, and settled back into fantastic new patterns. God-like beings strode proudly athwart the devastation. Half-human demons lurked in the shadowy ruins. The twilight of humanity faded into a new heroic epoch, behind which the forbidden secrets of the ancient atom gods bided their time…
The body of a woman from respectable, conservative Glendale is found stashed under a ramshackle house in the middle of the inner city. Detective Luis Mendoza marks the rising heat by the crime and violence raging through the sun-baked streets of Los Angeles – and it’s going to be a hot one . . .
A thug is shot to death. A mysterious string of robberies continues unabated . . . all without a clue. But the family-man cop knows that where there’s heat there’s fire – and a cold trail to nowhere promises to turn into a red-hot path leading straight to the damned.
‘A Luis Mendoza mystery means superlative suspense’ Los Angeles Times
A prolific author of hundreds of stories in the fields of SF, fantasy and westerns, E. C. Tubb, was best-known for his epic 33-volume Dumarest saga, a galaxy-spanning adventure series. Also active for many years in Fandom, he was both a founder member of the British Science Fiction Association and the first editor of its critical journal VECTOR. This omnibus collects two of his out of print classics, THE EXTRA MAN and THE SPACE-BORN, and posthumous novel, FIRES OF SATAN, completed before his death and published now for the first time.
One October night in the middle of the twentieth century Detective Inspector John Cheviot got into a taxi, bound for New Scotland Yard. When he stepped out it was from a horse-drawn cab, the year was 1829, and a beautiful woman was beckoning him in front of Old Scotland Yard.
There were things Cheviot remembered but couldn’t use – like how to analyse fingerprints; and things he didn’t know that he could have used – like how advanced his romance with Lady Flora really was. And there wasn’t even time to learn, because in the midst of helping Robert Peel establish the respectability and competence of his new police force, Cheviot suddenly finds himself and his lady accused of cruel murder.