Review: Sword & Planet, edited by Christopher Ruocchio

Sword & Planet, edited by Christopher Ruocchio • Baen • December 7, 2021

Review by Joseph Hoopman

Sword & planet has been one of my favorite genres ever since, in 1980 or so, Dad gave me a copy of A Princess of Mars (with the Gino D’Achille cover) and I was transported with John Carter to the dead sea bottoms of Barsoom. How could I not love fast-paced tales of adventure in exotic locales with a mix of terrifying creatures, clashing swords and mighty aerial navies? So when I heard that Christopher Ruocchio (author of the Sun Eater series, another one of those series that I really need to get off of my TBR stack one of these days) was putting together an anthology called Sword & Planet, my interest was piqued, to say the least. And now that I’ve had a chance to read it, I was not disappointed!

One comment, just to help set expectations: Ruocchio casts a relatively wide net. As he says in his introduction, he was seeking “stories that honor (or lampoon) the legacy of John Carter and Dejah Thoris, of Eric John Stark, Paul Atreides, and Cugel the Clever.” Thus, many of the included stories fall in that part of the Venn diagram (as do Dune or Flash Gordon) where sword & planet overlaps with space opera. If your definition of sword & planet begins and ends with stories where Cohn Jarter rides the dead sea bottoms of Sarboom, this might not be the anthology for you.

As always with anthologies, some stories spoke to me more than others; and as always with anthologies, different stories may speak to you. But none of them felt out of place. Most of the authors were new to me, and most of them I’ll have to seek out in the future.

Things start off strong with Tim Akers’s “A Murder of Knights,” which seems like a mix of sword & planet and William Hope Hodgson’s The Night Land—beneath the dead hulk of a dark sun, in a world full of nightmarish things, Vel & Hanrick, leaders of a murder of knights, come to the village of Halfspire to root out corruption.

Other stories that stood out to me, in no particular order: Jody Lynn Nye’s “The Fruits of Reputation,” which leans more toward the “lampoon” side of “honor (or lampoon),” and which was a lot of fun; ditto Jessica Cluess’s “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Nakh-Maru.”

D.J. Butler’s “Power and Prestige” has a particularly… memorable opening line, leading to a story that’s a very enjoyable dungeon crawl. “Saving the Emperor” is a prequel to Simon R. Green’s very large Deathstalker series. And of course “Queen Amid Ashes” is part of Christopher Ruocchio’s Sun Eater series and a firm reminder that I need to get to those books sooner rather than later.

So, all told, quite a fun book, and if they put together a followup I’ll be somewhere near the head of the line.

The full table of contents:

  • “A Murder of Knights” by Tim Akers
  • “Operatrix Triumphans” by Susan R. Matthews
  • “Power & Prestige” by D.J. Butler
  • “A Broken Sword Held High” by L.J. Hachmeister
  • “The Fruits of Reputation” by Jody Lynn Nye
  • “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Nakh-Maru” by Jessica Cluess
  • “Saving the Emperor” by Simon R. Green
  • “A Knight Luminary” by R.R. Virdi
  • “Chronicler of the Titan’s Heart” by Anthony Martezi
  • “Bleeding from Cold Sleep” by Peter Fehervari
  • “The Test” by T.C. McCarthy
  • “Queen Amid Ashes” by Christopher Ruocchio

Editor’s Note: Despite its official release date of December 2021, printing shortages delayed this book until mid-2022, hence this review. If you’d like to see more reviews of new S&S and fantasy, or if you’re interested in writing for us, let us know at youngneedles (at) gmail (dot) com. Many thanks to Sean CW Korsgaard at Baen Books for supporting the newsletter.

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