SFF 2: Will Shetterly, Bernard Cornwell, R.L. Fisher

SFF; Or,

Speculative Fiction found

My focus in the Speculative Fiction Found imprint of my blog is on fantasy from the 1960s through early 2000s, though I post just about everything I buy that is vaguely within the realm of speculative fiction publishing. In addition, I occasionally post reviews when I have the time and link out to relative reviews I publish elsewhere.

Twitter-friend and collector/historian of “classic” sf extraordinaire “Joachim Boaz” (not his real name) inspired me to start Speculative Fiction Found; if you aren’t familiar with his curating, and if you want to learn more about the sf art in the 20th century, definitely follow him on Twitter (@SFRuminations) and take a look at his blog, Science Fiction and Other Suspect Ruminations.

Cats Have No Lord (Ace 1985)

By Will Shetterly / ISFDB / Author’s Blog

I first came across this novel when a friend posted it on Facebook, apparently amused with the title. I, too, found the title hilarious and for that alone I sought it out through a used seller online. I hadn’t been aware of Shetterly before, but despite his relatively small output since the mid-1980s (Cats being his first novel), he has been a mainstay in the sff community, in part because of his marriage to Emma Bull and his participation in the Minneapolis-based writers’ group The Scribblies, which includes a number of significant authors from the 1980s and 1990s, e.g. Patricia Wrede and Steven Brust. He apparently ran for Minnesota’s governership in the 1990s as a member of the pro-cannabis Grassroots Party and holds some pretty strong ideas about “SJWs” and “identity politics.”

So, he’s no fellow traveler where contemporary leftist politics are concerned, but this novel seems at least worth the try, since it teases a play-up of D&D-esque 1970s fantasy tropes in the vein of light/comic fantasy wherein a group of adventurers seek to answer the question “Why do cats have no lord?” Unsurprisingly, the back-cover blurbs are by his friends, Wrede and Brust. We’ll see how this one goes…

Aside from the intriguing title and the promise of an adventure to answer the question, the cover boasts luscious art by Janny Wurts, who did dozens of covers between the 1980s and 2010s, and is herself a fantasy author. Her style is distinctive, usually a straight-on perspective that flattens the characters, uses bright, warm hues, and features dragons with horns, claws, spikes, and wings that cover their bodies in mesmeric curves. The cover is a fun delight, promising a grim dragon (the “Wisest One”?), a hapless adventurer, and probably a bad ending for the latter.

Lizelle the liar, Merry the priest, Thraas the barbarian, the mysterious Catseye Yellow…bound on a fool’s quest to the top of the world to ask the Wisest One the oldest riddle of them all:

Why do cats have no lord?

A harmless enough question, isn’t it? So why is someone moving heaven and hell to make sure it will never be asked…?

Cover art by Janny Wurts

The Archer’s Tale (HarperTorch 2001)

The Grail Quest 1 / Originally published as Harlequin (2000) in the UK

By Bernard Cornwell / ISFDB / Wikipedia / Author’s Website

I’ve been on an Arthurian tales kick late, in part because my partner and I listened to Susan Cooper’s Over Sea, Under Stone (1965) on a recent trip to Toronto, and I was looking for some good, more historical fiction on Arthur. Obviously, Arthur and the Matter of Britain are largely legend, fantasy, and national(ist) myth, but that doesn’t stop authors of historical fiction from bringing that genre’s approach to things. Moreover, my partner and I have been watching the wonderfully campy and pagan 1980s British television show Robin of Sherwood. And it was in my search for Robin Hood fantasies that, for whatever reason, Bernard Cornwell’s The Archer’s Tale popped up.

Cornwell is best known for his historical fiction (the cover below assures us this), but his Grail Quest series, which features an archer as a main character, straddles the line between Arthurian fantasy and more traditional historical fiction (I’ve got plenty of ideas about fantasy and the “rigor” of historical fiction, but this isn’t the place). I don’t know much about this book, other than that the US publishers apparently thought it was a great idea to put it in that gaudy gold frame, theoretically appealing to a romance-novel audience (despite having eschewed the original UK title, Harlequin…). While Harper was happy to publish a 450+-page novel about a 14th century British author, they gave it very little design work.

That said, the prospect of an intensely research 14th century Arthurian fantasy excites me!

From master storyteller


comes a spellbinding epic of duty, love, and valor forged in the fires of the Hundred Years War.

A brutal raid on the quiet coastal English village of Hookton in 1342 leaves but one survivor: a young archer named Thomas. On this terrible dawn, his purpose becomes clear—to recover a stolen sacred relic and pursue to the ends of the earth the murderous black-clad knight bearing a blue-and-yellow standard, a journey that leads him to the courageous rescue of a beautiful French woman, and sets him on his ultimate quest: the search for the Holy Grail.

Cover art is uncredited.

The Prince of Whales (Tor 1987)

Originally published by Carroll & Graf in 1985 in the UK

By R.L. Fisher / ISFDB

It’s not uncommon to find an sff novel form the 1970s-1990s written by an author who never returned to the genre, for one reason or another. Still, it’s always something of a fun mystery to come across one in the flesh, especially when it has such an interesting premise.

I picked up this novel by R.L. Fisher at the downtown branch of the Ann Arbor District Library, where there’s a library bookstore that sales mass markets for $0.50. It’s always a joy to search through the sff shelves and find weird oddments like this novel about a fantastically musical whale named Toby who must save his whale pod from human hunters and the world from…the Dream? Eater? Who knows, but my gods that glorious, sensuous cover and the enticing concept of a whale-led sff story a year before Star Trek IV: A Voyage Home.

A quick searching turns up next to nothing for R.L. Risher. He wrote no other sff novels, but he was apparently a Rear Admiral in the British Royal Navy, assuming he is the same R.L. Fisher of this autobiography. It seems he also wrote some forewords to various editions of British popular and literary fiction. I’d have to read his memoir to learn more, but if he spent his life as a sailor, it is an interesting turn that he would then write an sff novel about the dangers of sailors and human-ocean interaction to the “sapiens of the sea”!

On a side note, I also couldn’t find much about Denise Satter; it looks like this might be her only (credited) sff art. It’s luscious and beautiful, and I would love to see more! (Look at that fucking golden whale and the glint effect on the tubers and bubbles!)

Only his song could save the world from the Dream Eater . . .

Young Toby’s uncontrollable dream music filled the Arctic sea with a sound that brought great danger to all the whales in his pod. His music was sure to attract the human hunters with their killing ships and harpoons. Toby would have to be banished—unless he could silence his song.

Cover and interior art by Denise Satter.

This post is published under a BY-NC-ND Creative Commons license.

One thought on “SFF 2: Will Shetterly, Bernard Cornwell, R.L. Fisher

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