The Unfolding of the World, by Harold R. ThompsonThis is a short story that felt like a small story. The basic premise, a soldier of fortune exploring the buffer-state hinterlands, is solid. Somehow, despite the large scale of the tale, it just felt too darn small. Exploring a poorly mapped area at the edges of an empire, and clashing with the great civilization beyond should evoke a much greater scale and drama than this story manages to achieve. A one paragraph side trek or two, or maybe a short passage stretching out the journey there or back again, would have gone a long ways towards establishing higher stakes in the story. Had the fantasy nation been fleshed out as well as the characters, this would have been a real gem of a story. As it is, it feels more like a lone wanderer finding a strange small town, and escaping from it to no real purpose. Harold’s characterizations are great. His writing is solid, and it isn’t a bad story. It just felt small and inconsequential.
The Sands of Rubal-Khali, by Donald UitvlugtA woman captured by slavers who escapes into the hands of a bounty hunter and then clashes with an ancient sorcerer in his tower fastness hits all the right notes, but this story has the opposite problem of the previous. There’s just too much going on. Our heroine is on a fantasy world, but she is a spacer from another planet, and there are references to historical cultures as well. Throw in at least one alien/fantasy species that isn’t given quite enough description, and you wind up with a lot of extraneous detail that interferes with the story itself. This reads like a short story written for people who are already familiar with the setting and its background. It feels like there’s this big, beautiful setting out there, but we get the barest hints of it, few of which are particularly germane to the story before us. Combine that with the constant uncertainty of where the heroine is going and why, and you get a tale that feels far more disjointed on first reading than it really is. While writing this review, I went back and re-read it, and that second reading – when I knew why everyone was behaving as they did – was an improvement. Unfortunately, saying the story needs to be read twice to be enjoyable just shifts the criticism to a new angle, leaving this story not quite up to Cirsova’s typical high standards.