Friday, July 24, 2020

Tales of Attluma - Review by SE and Oron Guide



Tales of Attluma by David C. Smith
S.E. rating: 5 of 5 stars

David C. Smith crafts his own flavor of adventure-horror with his Tales of Attluma, heavily influenced by Robert E. Howard (REH, Conan creator) and his contemporary Pulp Fiction writer Clark Ashton Smith (CAS). Attluma is an island continent akin to the mysterious Atlantis, and these 16 tales cover its dark history and doomed end. These stories are fantastically dark and exciting, a true blend of REH’s action and CAS’s dreaded atmosphere. On Attluma, ancient gods live in mountain temples and underground; humans struggle to survive, and seem to be intruding on land made for, and by, demons.
“These tales and a dozen more by fantasy and adventure author David C. Smith appear in this unique collection. Out of print for more than 40 years, these stories were first published in the days of limited-circulation fanzines—the only avenue for new work created by the generation of writers who grew up in the shadow of the pulp magazines. The paperback reprints of those pulp stories in the late 1960s and early 1970s encouraged an entire generation of young writers to enlarge on that tradition of popular American storytelling. Now they are in print once more for a new generation of fantasy fiction enthusiasts.” -- Official book blurb

Interestingly, there are no Oron tales, Oron being the warrior protagonist that the original Zebra series was named after. Yet he is not needed here. Attluma is saturated with lore and conflict, armies of ghosts, lost loves seeking retribution, and hungry demons just looking for some attention. The last several stories ramp up the demonic uprising (or retaking) of the island/continent. “The End of Days” finale is epic in scope, a sprawling battle with loads of mayhem and militant sorcery. The collection fits the Sword & Sorcery label, with an emphasis on Sorcery (specifically necromancy and demon summoning). Excerpts are the best way to share the poetic, dark conflict readers should expect:

EXCERPTS:
“Dressed in scarlet wounds and running with blood, here was my mother, her face beseeching mercy, gashes across her face and body. There came my father, hobbling on a split foot and one arm gone, strings of meat and tendon trembling from the open shoulder. Here was my brother, once a strong and handsome man, now in death a broken thing with no legs, pulling himself forward with his arms, his wife beside him, on her belly and kicking her feet as her head rolled beside her.”—from “The Last Words of Imatus Istum”

And there was Yadis, The All Mother, the hag with one eye and triple teats whose spittle had made the stars and whose defecation made the earth. Her mad singing had awakened humans to life; we crawled from the muck and ever since wondered about the dark heart of life.” —from "Dark Goddess”

“Silene observed the sorcerers as they met and fought in the field. She saw the air turn colors between these people and watched as they moved their arms in gesticulations, or with daggers drew designs in the air. One or the other of these mysterious people would die, pulled into the sky to be torn invisibly into pieces, raining blood, or drawn into the earth to suffocate, or simply fall, breathless and unmoving, wrapped beneath sheets of glowing color.” —from ”The End of Days”

Several of the attacking sorcerers made signs toward Edric’s fighters and dropped them. These men and women fell onto their backs and caught fire from their chests. They screamed as they died, but the unnatural fire consumed them swiftly, turning the men and women as black as charred wood. From the burnt corpses rose pieces of them, bits of black, which moved high into the air and, at the command of the attacking sorcerers, dropped like hurled missiles into the lines of Edric’s men, the bits of black pushing through faces and armor. …“Souls,” Hame told her. “They remove the charred souls from the burned bodies to use as weapons.” —from ”The End of Days”

GUIDE: Tales of Attluma is splendid by itself, but it serves as a foundation for the other works in the same world. Read this and you’ll want to jump into the novels and other short stories. A guide is needed since the publication history is complicated by title changes and, like most fantasy, publication order does not match the chronological order of the fictional world. Thanks to a group-read in the Goodreads Sword & Sorcery group we were able to communicate with the author and clarify the chronological & publication history of the Attluma Cycle (coined that with the tacit approval of the author). As of 2020, there are 25 stories and novelettes; 3 Oron novels; 1 Akram novel.

For newcomers, I recommend starting with Tales of Attluma since it fleshes out the world and prepares readers to jump into various arcs, such as the primary barbarian Oron set (many start with the 1978 book that introduced the character to the world named simply Oron), or the cursed sorcerer Akram novel The Sorcerer's Shadow). To learn more about David C. Smith, check out recent interviews by DMR and BlackGate.


ATTLUMA CYCLE

Chronological Story-Order / Key Characters / Publication date

Tales of Attluma by David C. Smith Azieran Adventures Presents Artifacts and Relics Extreme Sorcery by Christopher Heath Warlords, Warlocks & Witches by D.M. Ritzlin Oron Mosutha's Magic by David C. Smith Oron No. 4 The Valley of Ogrum by David C. Smith Oron 5 The Ghost Army by David C. Smith Oron by David C. Smith The Mighty Warriors by Robert M. Price The Sorcerer's Shadow by David C. Smith Engor's Sword Arm by David C. Smith

0) Tales of Attluma: Collection (2 Akram tales, 1 Dathien, no Oron); 16 Short stories, 2020 by Pulp Hero Press: Listed mostly in chronological order, mostly pre-Oron, with the last several being the “End” of Attluma (see below)

1) “Shadow-born Shadow-taken” in Azieran Adventures Presents Artifacts and Relics: Extreme Sorcery Pre-Oron novelette (featuring Dathien from Tales of Attluma’s “Dark of Heart”), 2013

2) “Twin Scars” in Warlords, Warlocks & Witches Pre-Oron, “(standalone Kellen tale), 2019

3) Oron: Mosutha's Magic Oron Novel 1/3: Zebra #3 1982 (original title: Reign, Sorcery!)

4) Oron No. 4: The Valley of Ogrum Oron Novel 2/3: - Zebra’s #4 1982 (original title: Deathwolf)

5) Oron 5: The Ghost Army 5 short stories with Oron: - Zebra #5, 1983 (original title: Death in Asakad and Other Tales)

6) “The Shadow of Dia-Sust” Oron short story appears in The Mighty Warriors, 2018, … also available online at Blackgate.com

7) Oron, the original Oron Novel 3/3: Zebra #1, 1978

8) The Sorcerer's Shadow an Akram Novel: Zebra #2 , 1982 (original title: The Shadow of Sorcery)

9) Engor's Sword Arm novella, Forgotten Ages ~1991

10) Several stories from Tales of Attluma including two Akram tales (“Come Death” and “The Return to Hell”) and the grand finale “The End of Days”


CONTENTS of TALES of ATTLUMA (summary notes with spoilers)

1. “Descales’ Skull”: Three men collect as many parts of Descales’ skull and resurrect his soul….he grants them each a wish (Clamus:Gold, Sumi Dan power over slavery; Bordogas: partnering with a woman). All get their wish… with nasty, ironic deaths.

2. “The Generosity of the Gods”: Obroc of Kurstikan and his buddy Cedes are fishermen who decide to test the power of the two gods [they should remain nameless!]. The pair blaspheme to determine if the gods are real. The consequences of so terrifying, really really terrible, but at least the friends survive in some way, together. This is so dark, it is funny.

3. “Feasting Shadows”: Pel and Jenta are a young couple seeking ancient temples in the caves, and come across more than ruined ritual spaces. They experience the Song, Dance, and Culmination of the Feast.

4. “Dark of Heart”: Captain Dathien gets a second chance of freedom. Princess Amyra is missing in Midriga (his place of origin) and Prince Eam seeks to save her. What ensues is a mad mission into the mountainous region of Midriga, involving body horror, bleak fates for all.

5. “The Last Words of Imatus Istum”: The depressing story of Imatus Kad Istum, of the civilized city Mograd which was overrun by the barbaric Kunashtu. Loss of knowledge, slavery, eating of former citizens, raising the dead on a mass scale.

6. “Aliastra the Sorceress”: Count Holos, a homeless roaming royal who deals with failing his father; he had been taught that 'he owned his own future through the choices/actions he made'. This is mostly a story of the love between the sorceress Aliastra and her long-dead lover Ormenidu….which Holos gets embroiled in.

7. “Ithtidzik”: The titular student was arrogant enough to seek power from around his wise mentor; he seeks out an ancient tome from a demon and gains more insight than his single head can hold! Sharing knowledge with enthralled, sustained corpses helps for a time… doesn’t end well for the protagonist, of course.

8. “Rhasjud’s Destiny”: A mercenary warlord of the title returns to the site of where he murdered his brother, who haunts him; wolves and ghosts roam everywhere.

9. “Blood Ransom”: Androm the pretty boy, gets tied up with Tsathsimus and Ishrid in a plot to kidnap the princess Asri; beware bloody red gems that are actually alive. Asri and Lady Liprosa let Androm go since he redeems himself.

10. “Dark Goddess”: Jutom and the Nthgali warriors ransack the city of Coroth which includes the raping of a priestess of Yasid. The product of rape and torture will haunt Jutom.

11. “Come, Death”: Akram is introduced as a cursed immortal sorcerer strolling through plagued ruins. He pities a child amongst a plague and saves it.

12. “The Return to Hell” Akram appears again in a very trippy story. Akram amasses mercenaries to sacrifice them to the Witch/Sorcerer pair (Nidyis, Narathkor) that made him immortal. He wishes to die, but he has a young female fan Tharis who wants to be like him. He tries to spare her even as he leads hundreds to slaughter….

13. “The Passing of the Sorcerer”: A love story of the sorcerer Camses with royal princess Porissa of Karhum, with hints of reincarnation and celestial life. A demonic scourge plagues the town, and the King. Apparently, humans took too much from the demons without sacrifice or honor, or belief…

14. “Patience Serves”: A dose of vengeance for a “wronged love” between Lady Tristania and Lord Mors.

15. “The Sounding of the Gong”: Another bizarre love story. Seft and Oma (sorcerer aged, and younger sorceress) are the last few humans worth stealing from. A trap is set for these thieves to sacrifice. This continues the theme of weird-love and eternal life between pairs of sorcerers.

16. “The End of Days”: Meet the poet Nour, his pregnant wife Silene, and her brother Edric, as they race toward the Surkad Capital city. It is the last stand for humans on Attluma. The demon Serenthal seeks to reclaim all the territory and eliminate everything. It is over the top epic and dark…a great end to the book.