Sunday, October 5, 2014

A MAN AND HIS GOD, by Janet Morris

Just as Tempus (a/k/a the Riddler, the Black, the Sleepless One) and his Stepsons were and are, in my humble opinion, the most memorable of all the characters in the old Thieves’ World shared-universe of sword & sorcery, A Man and His God, by Janet Morris, remains the stand-out story of the series, and a most pivotal one at that, for where it lead and what it later became. In this revised and expanded version of this classic tale, Janet Morris has not only improved on what she had initially written for Thieves’ World, but has brought more depth and gravitas to her legacy of Tempus the Black, has deepened and sharpened the poignancy of loyalty, love, friendship and death. What started out as a tale of swords and sorcery has now become a novella that has been transformed, has moved into the richer, more epic tapestry of Heroic Fantasy – heroic fiction in the Homeric tradition.

A Man and His God is a novella about love and death in the ancient world with a long and distinguished pedigree.  It first appeared in the Thieves’ World shared universe volume Shadows of Sanctuary (Robert Lynn Asprin, editor; Ace, 1981), followed in 1982 by its inclusion in the collection Sanctuary (Robert Lynn Asprin, editor; Nelson Doubleday/SFBC). Unlike many of the stories from the early Thieves’ World shared universe, A Man and His God was a complete, gripping story that stood on its own, and therefore was chosen to be included in 13 Fantasy Short Novels (edited by Charles G. Waugh, Martin H. Greenberg, Isaac Asimov, Greenwich House/Crown Publishers Baker's Dozen, 1984) and in The Mammoth Book of Short Fantasy Novels (edited by Charles G. Waugh, Martin H. Greenberg, Isaac Asimov, 1986), before being included in Tempus, the first anthology of Sacred Band Tales (Janet Morris, Baen, 1987; as Tempus with His Right-side Companion Niko by Paradise Publishing, 2011;  as Tempus, Perseid Press, 2013; as an audiobook, Perseid Publishing in 2013.)

This pivotal story tells how and why Tempus forms the Sacred Band of Stepsons in Sanctuary, (based on the historic Sacred Band of Thebes) and introduces Abarsis, the Slaughter Priest, who remains a factor in the Sacred Band of Stepsons series throughout its history.  When Morris wrote the first three ‘authorized’ Thieves’ World novels – Beyond Sanctuary, Beyond the Veil, and Beyond Sanctuary – the Tros horses brought by Abarsis to Tempus during A Man and His God, and Abarsis himself, grow in their importance to the story lines.  Now the Sacred Band of Stepsons series includes two volumes of Sacred Band Tales – Tempus, and The Fish, the Fighters and the Song-girl, which contains all the original Sacred Band Tales from Thieves’ World, and other stories unavailable elsewhere, which put these stories in a new context.

That being said, when comparing the seminal piece, A Man and His God, the new editions have changed only slightly in all this time, with typos corrected, paragraph lengths reduced here and there, and points clarified – making these later editions the most desirable for newcomers to the series, as well as for longtime fans.  Morris obviously wanted to make sure this beloved story kept its essence, which it has:  gritty, dark, mythic and at times dramatic enough to bring tears to the eyes of a strong man. A Man and His God serves notice that Morris, through Tempus and his Sacred Band, will not only take you on heroic adventures in Homeric times, she will put you inside the ancient mind itself.

I have long been a fan and admirer of Morris’ early sword & sorcery tales, and in this wonderfully revised version of A Man and His God, which retains the essence and structure of the original but now delves deeper into the heart and soul of Tempus, you will see the promise of the grandeur that evolved into the Beyond Sanctuary Trilogy. And in this novella Morris sets the stage for not only that excellent trilogy of novels, but also for the classic novel of Homeric Heroic Fantasy, The Sacred Band, her important collaboration with author/musician husband, Chris Morris. I am certainly looking forward to more tales of Tempus, Niko, and the Sacred Band, for they have a long and rich history to draw upon, and there are many stories and adventures that have yet to be told.

Life to you, and everlasting glory!