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Book Review: Bash Down the Door and Slice Open the Badguy edited by W. H. Horner

* Genre: Comic Fantasy, Short Fiction
* ISBN: 0971360855
* ISBN-13: 9780971360853
* Format: Paperback, 276pp
* Publisher: Fantasist Enterprises
* Pub. Date: May 2007

Laughter, they say, is the best medicine. But what kind of laughter? Nervous laughter? Belly Laughter? Or that sinister chuckle we all at least feel at someone else�s misfortune? Well, what ever kind is medicinal for you, you will likely find it in Bash Down the Door and Slice Open the Badguy and anthology of humorous tales of swords and sorcery edited by W. H. Horner. Horner was also the editor of Sails and Sorcery, and anthology which this reviewer called a bit of a �mixed bag�. But this collection, while published earlier, is a much stronger assortment of stories.

The introduction, by John Moore, gives a history of humorous swords and sorcery going back to Don Quixote. Unbeknownst to me, Don Quixote was a parody of a swords and sorcery romance akin to Le Morte D�Arthur. Moore concludes from the fact that if the first great European novel was a satire of a fantastic romance, that �all good fiction, after all, needs a reality check.� That fiction, and fantasy in particular needs life is more than the gloomy picture that the genre�s gloomy seminal works portray (think LOTR). I agree, for life, after all, is about humor as much as it is pain and tragic death.

All of these twenty-four stories are quite funny. All though not all are laugh out loud uproarious, they still bring a smile to your face, whether due to the ridiculousness of the situations, the satire, or the witticisms of the authors.

�Beerwulf� is a take on Beowulf from the monster�s point of view. When the armored and boastful hero steps into the lake containing the monsters he ends up having to be saved by them. Lawrence C. Connolly has written monster characters we can root for.

�A Different Shade of Knight� by Jason S. Ridler has a protagonist who finds favor with a small god of chance. This is unfortunate, as chance is a fickle god, and coincidences don�t always end in your favor. The humor of this story comes from the strange coincidences that occur to create highly improbable (even for a fantasy) situations.

�Assassin�s Playground� by A. G. Devitt has some hapless heroes misapplying half learned techniques to rescue a fair maiden. The humor is slapstick, reminding me of a Steve Martin film.

Not really a funny story, but an okay mystery is �Mistress Fortune Favors the Unlucky� by Eugie Foster (an Atlantan like myself). I think that with mention of bondage, flogging and other S & M sex references the author was trying to create humor through shock. This didn�t happen for me, although I did enjoy the mystery story that was presented.

�A Lesson in Heroics� reminds us that all actions have consequences. Especially when you fool with an old granny. The supposed heroes learn that true heroism requires chivalry, not just killing or capturing the bad guy. The moral lesson of Jeremy Yoder�s tale was great, and the little old lady who is the centerpiece of the story is a hilarious no nonsense woman.

A great story is Paul Crilley�s �The Ice Maiden Speaketh� a mix of letter format and narrative, Crilley�s story is creative. What happens when an evil overlord gets a midlife crisis? Does he write the �Dear Abby� of his local magazine? Crilley has a modern psychological twist to the evil overlord story.

Sometimes a friendship can be pushed too far. And sometimes the sidekick just doesn�t get his due. �Keep Coming Back for More� is more sad and anguished than truly humorous. Margaret Ronald didn�t really draw any laughs from me, although I did enjoy for the poor narrator�s cynicism about his constant resurrections, and ignoble deaths.

�The Great Thrakkian Rebellion� by Megan Crewe is a quick look at the reason why goblins, orcs and trolls so often work for evil overlords. Well, because they are just so easily led. A funny look at life in the trenches of an evil overlord�s minions.

�Always Read the Fine Print� is a good lesson to learn, especially in magic. L. L. Donahue�s magician just wants to give his niece a dancing bear. But dabbling in forbidden magics is forbidden for a reason. A satisfyingly ironic �spell gone wrong� story.

Sometimes even the characters know how the story is going to end. �Heard It� by Dale Mettam cuts right to the chase. Worldly-wise heroes know that one quest is often just the same as any other one. Mettam�s heroes have �Heard It� all before. A sideways look at the ridiculousness of the epic quest.

�Crossing Swords� by Murray J. D. Leeder was one of the stories I was looking forward to in this anthology. What does a sentient sword do? After all, they live for millennia, and even get used by some pretty idiotic heroes. A funny look at what sentience does to something without the ability to do anything for itself.

K. D. Wentworth is a notable author but I felt that �Hallah Iron-thighs and the Hounds of Hell� was rather a dull tale. The protagonists end up adopting a hound of hell, but Wentworth does little really with the possible implications of that, instead opting to move in a different and only slightly related direction. What humor there is comes from the interchange of Hallah and Gerta but beyond that the story wanders and ends abruptly.

Pity the poor famous person. �There�s Only One Dakon the Mighty� by Elizabeth K. Hopkinson picks up where most heroic tales leave off. After all, heroic success is bound to draw admirers, journalists, and politicians out of the woodwork. But heroes are not cut out for administrative work as Dakon finds out. But using doubles to meet all your obligations can be problematic too, as Dakon finds out. Sometimes, someone else is a better you. Confusion creates the hilarity of this story.

Jim C. Hines� �Goblin Hero� is a must read story of course, especially because this gives us the back story for the relationship between Jig the Goblin and Smudge the fire-spider. Although this story was not as strong as the novels, it still had the same self-deprecating hero. I didn�t enjoy this story as much as the novels, mostly because I felt that based on the character first introduced in Goblin Quest that the events related seemed out of character. Jig�s behavior and actions are out of sync with the character we meet in the first novel. I would have made more sense for the Jig of this story to behave this way after Goblin Quest but not before.

�No Shit, There We Were� by Michael Brendan redeems the city watchman. Sometimes the heroes are just bullies with good PR. A story told from the city watchman�s point of view. Although this story wasn�t particularly funny, it was a nice look on the other side of the law from that of most fantasies.

In �But Before I Kill You�.� Lindsey Duncan explores the need for love that even evil overlords have, especially if they are female. While I thought Duncan�s writing was a little rough (her sentence structures were a little annoying to me) her story was cute and sweet giving rise to a laugh of delight at the love sickness of her character. Duncan’s story finds that while evil folk might be powerful, their own human nature is often even more powerful.

When working as a team, one should really work to get along. But the characters of �An Incident at Black Tongue Tavern� by Michael Turner fail to remember that truth and so end up cornering the righteous instead of the villains. This story panders to the men who enjoy their female heroines topless. Its one fight scene is a bit contrived, and the story has only a little forced humor.

In a standard sword and sorcery, the female characters are often buxom ladies in chainmail. But what happens when one culture finds what we consider ugly is in fact beautiful? How would that make the buxom ladies feel? Melissa Lee Shaw explores this in �Delilah�s Dames in Nomadsland�. As a man, the utter ridiculousness of finding an overweight small-breasted woman with a mustache beautiful made me laugh, especially when tanned, buxom women were there for the offing. (I know; I�m a sexist.) Shaw really turned the female character of sword and sorcery trope on its head, without changing the superficialities we love.

�The Atrocious Head-Bashing Troubadour� by C.M. Huard shows us the humor we can find when the mighty are brought low as a result of their own folly. The hero in this tale is plain-speaking, and reminds that reader that the powerful are not always the smartest of people.

�The Voice of Reason� by Ken Brady is another story about music. When a solitary woman has her solace interrupted by a goat headed man�s singing, she resorts to violence. But actions have consequences, as this lady finds out.

A heartwarming story of a landlady�s care for her favorite tenant is �In the Shit� by Barbara Davies. There are a few humorous moments (such as when the buff barbarian turns out to be gay) but for the most part this is just a nice little tale about helping out a friend in need.

Having successful fathers is not always easy, especially when he is a famous wrestler and you are a shrimp. But in �The Wrestler�s Apprentice� by Stephen Castillet, the hero uses brains over brawn, especially when he discovers that his companion on his quest is a metal man and a barbarian who has an allergy to violence. An eminently readable story, the jokes are obvious, but I have to say I really enjoyed the digs at union politics.

In the same vein as �The Ice Maiden Speaketh� is �The Order of the Crimson Tunic� by Kevin N. Haw. Written as the expendable henchman writing home to his mother, Haw provokes laughter by making the letters lighthearted while the henchman�s comrades fall around him one by one. This is a humorous ending to the dungeon crawl, and when the henchman wins out the end, a little cheer came from my lips.

�Just Temping� creates an alternate dimension story. The female protagonist is a human from our world and time, but the setting is a fantasy world. Susan Sielinski has her protagonist temp in for the position of evil overlord. But sometimes, doing your job well can land you in a lot of trouble. Sielenski�s story was the most creative and humorous of the bunch, and as the closing story, it let�s the reader wrap up the anthology on a high note of laughter.

I can honestly say that all of the stories were fun to read. The anthology is a solid collection. It was nice that while there was sexual innuendo it never devolved into explicit description, allowing the stories to maintain their lighthearted humor. And even though some of the stories use cursing, it was usually cleverly funny and appropriate or even accurate as with Barbara Davies� In the Shit. (The solution to the problem of the story is literally going through a sewer and up into a water closet.)

All of the stories used different kinds of humor to produce the same reaction � laughter. Anyone who reads these twenty-four stories will find several that resonate with their preferred type of humor, whether satire, uncomfortable situations, a little potty humor, or a fine wit. I highly recommend this anthology for a good laugh when life has got you down. A dose of Bash Down the Door and Slice Open the Badguy and you�ll cheer up in no time.

The entire list of stories is below:

�Beerwolf� by Lawrence C. Connolly
�A Different Shade of Knight� by Jason S. Ridler
�Assassin�s Playground� by A. G. Devitt
�Mistress Fortune Favors the Unlucky� by Eugie Foster
�A Lesson in Heroics� by Jeremy Yoder
�The Ice Maiden Speaketh� by Paul Crilley
�Keep Coming Back for More� by Margaret Ronald
�The Great Thrakkian Rebellion� by Megan Crewe
�Always Read the Fine Print� by L. L. Donahue
�Heard It� by Dale Mettam
�Crossing Swords� by Murray J. D. Leeder
�Hallah Iron-Thighs and the Hounds of Hell� by K. D. Wentworth
�There�s Only One Dakon the Mighty� by Elizabeth H. Hopkinson
�Goblin Hero� by Jim C. Hines
�No Shit, There We Were� by Michael Brendan
�But Before I Kill You…� by Lindsey Duncan
�An Incident at Black Tongue Tavern� by Michael Turner
�Delilah�s Dames in Nomadsland� by Melissa Lee Shaw
�The Atrocious Head-Bashing Troubadour� by C. M. Huard
�The Voice of Reason� by Ken Brady
�In the Shit� by Barbara Davies
�The Wrestler�s Apprentice� by Stephen Castillet
�The Order of the Crimson Tunic� by Kevin N. Haw
�Just Temping� by Susan Sielinski