Never heard of Bill Ward? It’s your loss, though understandable. Despite having appeared in such pubs as Howard Andrew Jones’s Flashing Swords, Heroic Fantasy Quarterly, Kaleidotrope, and enough anthologies to burst an equort’s saddlebags, Ward remains shamefully underrated and unknown in the genre community.
Part of the handicap lies in the fact that as a short-story writer much of his work has appeared on paper rather than Paperwhite, which in modern times cockblocks discovery. Recently though, Bill collected and re-published his fiction as five e-books, each affordably priced at $3.99. Such value!
Interestingly my short story backlist sort of naturally fell into 30k-ish sized chunks of themed stories. There are two collections that are mostly heroic fantasy, sword & sorcery, or dark fantasy, those being ‘The Last of His Kind and Other Stories’ and ‘Mightier Than the Sword and Other Stories.’ ‘Heartless Gao Walks Number Nine Hell and Other Stories’ collects mostly ‘mythic’ type pieces, stories that are written in a style more akin to fables or legends. I also had enough for two science fiction collections, divided roughly into ‘naughty’ and ‘nice.’ On the naughty side we have ‘Named in Blood and Other Stories’ which is darker, grimmer stuff; ’20,000 Light Years to Lilliput and Other Stories’ is a funnier collection, less serious, and a bit more all over the place genre-wise.
Having previously purchased a copy of Heartless Gao (which at that point only contained the titular story), Bill sent me a copy of the expanded Heartless Gao Walks Number Nine Hell and Other Stories. Included are nine fantasies set in days of yore. Lust for wealth and the daughters of oracles drowns whole Hyperborean landscapes in “The Wroeth’s Grinding Bowl” and “The Old Man and the Mountain of Fire,” while Irish legends echo in “The Midnight Maiden” and “When They Come to Murder Me.” The Aesopic “How Antkind Lost Its Soul” satirizes corporate cubicle-copia; likewise, the repentant soldier-turned-monk Heartless Gao takes on the bureaucracy of a Chinese afterlife in the very clever and very worthwhile namesake tale. My favorites are the collection’s two bookends, “Gandolo of the Watchful Eye” and “Crow: A Triptych,” the first a rich sardonicism combining the best of Clark Ashton Smith and Fritz Leiber’s Lankhmar, the other an arc reaching from classical Greece to post-apocalypticism.
I wish Bill would write more, especially in the “Gandolo” style. His dry humor is rare among fantasists (you can hear the laugh track when most writers combine labyrinths and levity) and his stories are almost always whole narratives — you know, those things with beginnings and middles and conclusions — rather than the pretty scenes strung together in literary ostentation seen so commonly in the pro markets. Please consider this humble recommendation when spending your Christmas Kindle gift cards.