Review: Tales From the Vulgar Unicorn

Tales From the Vulgar Unicorn
Tales From the Vulgar Unicorn by Robert Lynn Asprin

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

When I was a young teenager, thirteen or fourteen, I read a few of the shared world ‘Thieves World’ anthologies and enjoyed them. I remember them as being good, rollicking, adventure-fantasy fun, so when I found this volume at the back of my archive boxes I had an ‘ooh’ moment and decided to give it a read, out of a nostalgic whim for some good, simple fun.

Sadly, the book is dire. Each of the volumes is sprinkled with a smattering of SFnal big names: in this issue it’s Philip Jose Farmer, an author who veered wildly between interesting and embarrassing throughout his career. His story in this volume is an example of the worst kind of hackery, of the sort that would have shamed even John Jakes, and the rest of the anthology struggles to raise itself above his level. David Drake and AE van Vogt represent the old school pulp style with their usual clogging, pedestrian best-of-the-1930s efforts, and there’s nothing that can recommend the efforts of Lynn Abbey, Janet Morris and Andrew J Offutt (a super-pulpy writer whose stories often have the saving grace of seeming to be taking the whole thing with his tongue firmly in his cheek, but who can’t even bring that off in this instance.)

It’s fantasy of the dumbest D&D variety, with one-dimensional characters, hokey broad-brush Burroughsian cultural and social infrastructures, and that peculiar ‘phat phantasy’ mix of conversational English and clumsily formal sentence structures that makes the whole thing come across like some particularly uninspired fourth rate Christmas pantomime.

If I’m objective I can see why I enjoyed this sort of stuff as a naive, non-critical boy of 13– it’s thoroughly escapist, without the sort of soggy character development that demands you think instead of just enjoying the thud and blunder. But I should have left it with my younger self.

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