Tuesday, August 14, 2012

ROGUES IN HELL

                                                            
I've always been a fan of the shared-world universe of Thieves World. It's sword and sorcery at its best: character-oriented, with great plots and stories. Janet Morris has been editing, and writing stories for her "In Hell" shared-world Universe for quite some time now: Heroes in Hell and Lawyers in Hell. And now, continuing with the series, she brings us Rogues in Hell, which IMHO is the best of the lot. I love the whole concept behind the series, the cultures, inhabitants and levels of Hell. It's quite a cool concept, and for writers this is a great place to let your imagination run wild. And I like the use of historical, legendary and mythic characters.

My favorite of the 22 stories that comprise this anthology is Colony, by Bruce Durham. It's a solid read: well-told, has great momentum to keep things moving, fun, crackling dialog, and prose that engages all the senses. Here, General James Wolfe has recently been resurrected -- and once again finds himself in Hell, aboard a Satanic ship searching for an island not unlike Skull island. The tale is told with plenty of action and humor, and never once breaks that magic spell that keeps you inside the story.

Which Way I Fly, by Janet Morris, is a very complex tale, and quite hard for me to describe. It's a 2-fold story, with Lysicles, an Athenian general, seeking revenge against Alexander of Macedon. With Lealaps the dog, guardian hound of Zeus, Lysicles joins with Xenophon the mercenary, and their demon allies in an epic battle in Hell. The other part of this story is about Irkalla, Queen of Arali, and her son, Ninazu who is of the winged Eshi, and is Prince of Ki-Gal. The plot revolves around the Royal House of Demons, and Erra and the Seven Sibitti, the sons of Heaven and Earth, the weapons of the gods who terrorize the dead.

Another favorite of mine is Babe in Hell, by Janet and Chris Morris. Herein we find Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe, Ben Franklin, Mary Shelly, Lord Byron, Perseus and Andromeda, Fallen Angels . . . all involved in the Hellfire Club's Polo Tournament. There's some great stuff here between all the characters, especially Shakespeare and Marlowe. But wait, here's the corker. The damned can't reproduce in Hell. There are no babies in Hell, except for those that are damned. So, when a baby appears in Hell, all Hell breaks loose -- if you'll pardon the pun -- and the fun really gets going when Mary Shelly and Andromeda start quarrelling over the baby: Hope.

 Other stand-out stories are Battle of Tartarus, by Chris Morris, Ragnarok & Roll, by Larry Atchley, Jr, and The Miraculous Roadside Attraction, by Jack William Finley. Overall, Rogues in Hell is an excellent collection of imaginative and wonderful stories in the grand tradition of Phillip Jose Farmer's classic To Your Scattered Bodies Go. But now the setting and the stakes have been amped up to 10. Add this one to your collection. You'll be revisiting these stories in the years to come.