CLARK ASHTON SMITHĖ THE EMPEROR OF DREAMS. FANTASY MASTERWORKS #26 2002. Gollancz Press.
My third selection of stories to review from this large and excellent fantasy collection.† In The Kiss Of Zoraida, a man has an illicit affair with a temple girl, but he is discovered. The girl is poisoned to death. He is given a choice of dying by kissing her lips, which are laced with poison, or being slowly hacked to death. He chooses to die by tender kiss. The Seed From The Sepulchre is a truly terrifying tale about the strange death of two men exploring the Orinoco River. When one man breaks free from the expedition and finds a lost city, he sees skeletons of men with plants rooted and embedded in their skulls. His initial reaction is to assume that the plants took root in the corpses. When the plant spore infects him, he begins to turn into a human vase, with roots growing through his skull. Rejoining his friend, as native bearers desert them in droves, he spreads the contamination to the other man, and their own vegetation consumes both.† Another fatal expedition takes place in An Offering To The Moon. Here, an archaeological study of Easter Island ends in disappointment for all but one man who thinks he has found the edge of the Lost Continent of Mu. He turns primitive, speaks in old tongues and discards his clothes.† He flees into the night. Another member of the expedition gives chase, but he too gets possessed by the spirits of the past. He finds his friend, sacrificing him in a pagan ritual to the Moon gods of old. Neither man is ever seen again. In Morthylla a man finds himself bored at an orgy of sex and plenty. He is told of a girl called Necropolis who takes the souls of men as morbid as him. He tries to find her. He meets a woman at the Necropolis, and she kisses his neck, but refuses to love him. He is so heart-broken that he takes his own life. Now his ghost meets her again, - she is indeed Morthylla, the essence of death.
The Root Of Ampoi is lighter in vein. An adventurous mariner learns of a land where the women are 8 foot tall Amazonians, and have vast supplies of rubies. Normal sized himself; he goes there, marries one woman, and hopes to seduce her into giving him all the rubies. When she becomes very patriarchal, he decides to use the root plants that the women keep to themselves to make himself like them, destitute warnings from the much smaller men of the village.† He thinks being a giant man will make him equal to his wife. However, faced with an entire army of women, he realizes how small ††and insignificant he is alone. He ends up exiled and working as a circus freak. He tells his story to a Doctor who visits him in the circus. Itís an interesting cautionary moral little fable amidst the darker horror stories accompanying it. http://alangullette.com/lit/smith/
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