BLACK DUST AND OTHER STORIES
By Steve Dilks
Carnelian Press 2021
Black Dust and Other Stories is a new collection from talented fantasy writer Steve Dilks. Four of the seven stories have previously been published in Weirdbook, Startling Stories, Swords & Sorceries: Tales of Heroic Fantasy Volume 2, and Savage Scrolls.
They range from dystopian science fiction lightly reminiscent of Mad Max to out and out swords and sorcery, all centred on hard-headed and resourceful heroes who have to undergo some of the most violent and horrific of menaces during the course of their varied adventures.
Steve Dilks is a master at creating such heroes, resolute, cunning, not always particularly good men though they do have codes of a sort which they endeavour to stick to come what may. The worlds depicted are dangerous and often downright ugly, especially those set in the future, where resources, either on Earth or on other planets, are hard to come by and where dangers come fast and furious.
The first three stories – Black Dust, The Idols of Xan, and The Vaults of Ban-Erach – involve Matt Randall, on an alien planet run by Earth, though Randall himself is an oddity, part alien, though outwardly human. Which gives him a small advantage in dealing with the natives of the planet, who distrust and hate humans, who have oppressed them. It’s a hostile world with a savage climate, into which few humans venture beyond the protected domes of their cities.
The Gift of the Eons is a strange tale of a primitive human who encounters what may be science or maybe sorcery – to his limited intellect both are the same. And both are equally frightening. Luckily for him, his instinctive response of instant violence pays out.
Riders of the Fire is set in a future poisoned Earth, devastated by radiation and filled with violent gangs. Worse, though, are those who helped mastermind the way things have gone wrong for the devasted population of our world, which has shrunk to a fraction of its past numbers. Though this has been horrific for most people, who have suffered during the nightmarish descent into near barbarism, the old elites still intend to pull the strings for their own selfish advantage. Unfortunately for them our hero, Cal, isn’t prepared to forgive and forget.
The Amulet and the Shadow is a fantasy tale which I was more than delighted to include in Swords & Sorceries: Tales of Heroic Fantasy Volume 2. It has everything such a tale should have: a resourceful and determined barbarian hero, magic of the blackest sort, battling armies, cruel villains and dark intrigues.
Tale of the Uncrowned Kings is another swords and sorcery adventure whose main protagonists are an exiled northern barbarian. Erich Von Tormath, and his friend the thief and murderer and all-round good guy when the chips are down, Zaran. It’s a saga of piracy, intrigue and a necromantic sorcerer. And a great tale with which the end this volume.
I would strongly recommend this book to anyone with a taste for heroic fantasy (and science-fantasy!), well written, colourfully inventive, and fast moving.
This review was first published in Phantasmagoria # 20