I’ve been a fan of Tad Williams since I read MEMORY, SORROW AND THORN many years ago — a series I loved back then and need to revisit soon to see if it’s as wonderful as I remember. I’ve also enjoyed a few of Williams’ short stories that I’ve come across in anthologies — especially one that was one of my favorites in my very favorite anthology: Songs of the Dying Earth: Stories in Honor of Jack Vance. So I was eager to read more of Tad Williams in his story collection A Stark and Wormy Knight. Most of these 11 stories have been printed elsewhere, and I had read a couple of them previously, but if you don’t already own them, this is a nice eclectic mix and a good introduction to an excellent author. Here are the stories you’ll find in A Stark and Wormy Knight:
- “And Ministers of Grace” — (Originally published in 2010 in the Warriors anthology, edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois) Lamentation Kane is an enhanced human who thinks he’s the hand of God. His current mission is to travel to Archimedes, a world that rejects religion, to kill their leader while she’s giving a speech. Tad Williams explains in his introduction that he’s been thinking about writing an epic in which Lamentation Kane will be a main character. Kane is an intriguing invention, but not very likable in this story. However, the ending suggests that he may be a better hero in the future, so I’ll be keeping my eyes out for more Lamentation Kane stories.
- “A Stark and Wormy Knight” — (From the anthology The Dragon Book, 2009, edited by Jack Dann and Gardner Dozois) A mother dragon is telling her son a tale of his great grandfather’s encounter with a knight. This is a playful story, full of puns and made up words. It was cute and creative, but I’m glad it was short because those invented words just don’t trip off the tongue.
- “The Storm Door” — (First published in The New Dead: A Zombie Anthology, 2010, edited by Christopher Golden) I don’t usually like zombie stories, but I did like this scary story about a paranormal investigator who suspects an imminent zombie invasion. Even though I anticipated the surprise ending, I admired Williams’ creepy atmosphere.
- “The Stranger’s Hands” — (From Wizards: Magical Tales From the Masters of Modern Fantasy, 2007, edited by Jack Dann and Gardner Dozois) When the townsfolk discover that a hobo camping in the woods outside town has the ability to grant the desires of the heart, the town begins to thrive… until a famous magician hears about it and comes to stop the nonsense.
- “Bad Guy Factory” — (Original) Tad Williams explains that this story is his idea for a DC Comics series, so it’s written as such, with explanations for what’s to be shown in the art interspersed between the captions. I’d never read anything like this before (a comic book without the art), so it was interesting for that reason. I thought the premise was cool, too — a training school for the henchmen of supervillains. Most of the characters were really obnoxious — cussing and fighting with each other constantly — but what you can expect from evil minions?
- “The Thursday Men” — (From Hellboy: Oddest Jobs, 2008, edited by Christopher Golden) Hellboy is asked to investigate a strange death at a haunted house on the California coast. I had never read a HELLBOY story before, but if this one is representative, I should read some more.
- “The Tenth Muse” — (First published in 2009 in The New Space Opera 2, edited by Gardner Dozois and Jonathan Strahan) Tad Williams seems to have taken the topic of the anthology The New Space Opera 2 pretty literally because this story is really about a space opera. It’s bizarre and entertaining.
- “The Lamentably Comical Tragedy (or the Laughably Tragic Comedy) of Lixal Laqavee” — (From Songs of the Dying Earth: Stories in Honor of Jack Vance, 2009, edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois) As I’ve already mentioned, I love this hilarious story about a magician who gets attached to a deodand when his spell misfires. The purpose of the anthology it was written for was to honor Jack Vance by writing in his style in his DYING EARTH world. That’s a tall order, but Tad Williams delivers.
- “The Terrible Conflagration at The Quiller’s Mint” — (First published online in 2002) This is a mystery set in Tad Williams’ SHADOWMARCH world. It’s a nice tale which gives some history and context to that epic.
- “Black Sunshine” — (Original) This is a really frightening horror story set both in the present and the past, and written here as a screenplay. On a night back in 1976, four teenagers experimented with drugs and suffered the consequences. They’ve lived with the horrid memories for 25 years and now they’re reliving that terrible night. If you’re ever tempted to try acid, read this story first. But not on a stormy night like I did — it gave me bad dreams, which I suppose is a mark of an effective horror story.
- “Ants” — (From Twilight Zone: 19 Original Stories on the 50th Anniversary, 2009, edited by Carol Serling) Here’s another scary story about a man who really needs to get his kitchen clean. This one is gory, so not my kind of thing at all, yet I was completely absorbed and I appreciated the ironic ending.
As you can see, this is an eclectic mix of stories and you’re bound to find some you like here. I already knew that Tad Williams is creative, funny, and has a good sense of irony, but now I’ve learned that he can also write gory horror stories, clever comics and chilling screenplays. I enjoyed getting to know him better with A Stark and Wormy Knight and I recommend this collection if you’d like to get to know him better, too.