NO GAME FOR KNIGHTS Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Alexander Wallace plays the game.
Few archetypes are more alluring, more enduring, than the hard-boiled detective. From Raymond Chandler and others of his ilk, men (and more recently women) who take justice into their own hands to make a living are those who we just can’t stop reading about; as you may suspect, science fiction, fantasy, and horror, all genres that came into their own in the pulps not unlike hard-boiled detective fiction, have gleefully emulated those classics. Larry Correia and Kacey Ezell have compiled an anthology dedicated to that very subject: No Game for Knights, released in September 2022.

What No Game for Knights reminded me of more than anything else was another anthology, reviewed previously for a Warped Factor book talk article: Rogues, the cross-genre anthology edited by George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois about everyone’s favorite scoundrels, mountebanks, rascals, and ne’er-do-wells. Both Correia and Ezell on the one hand and Martin and Dozois on the other hand realized the freshness of anthologies based around characters more than scenarios, and then allowing writers free reign with those characters. Martin said in a 2007 interview with Weird Tales magazine (which I can find quoted elsewhere, but the original seems to have gone down) something that I think hits on the underlying philosophy of both:
“I think that for science fiction, fantasy, and even horror to some extent, the differences are skin-deep. I know there are elements in the field, particularly in science fiction, who feel that the differences are very profound, but I do not agree with that analysis. I think for me it is a matter of the furnishings. An elf or an alien may in some ways fulfill the same function, as a literary trope. It’s almost a matter of flavor. The ice cream can be chocolate or it can be strawberry, but it’s still ice cream. The real difference, to my mind, is between romantic fiction, which all these genres are a part of, and mimetic fiction, or naturalistic fiction.”

That’s what No Game for Knights does: embrace what is, on some level, an interchangeability between different types of fiction. On a literary level, it is in some ways quite profound, openly declaring an ability to prop up genre fiction’s hood and inspect the engine to see why we have so much doggone fun with it. The authors collected by Correia and Ezell have given you a bewildering variety of stories, including alternate history where the Nazis won the war (a story very much in my wheelhouse), urban fantasy in 1930s Los Angeles, space opera, animal fantasy, and many other permutations.

No Game for Knights is clever in a way that an academic may describe as metatextual, one that asks what we really enjoy. We don’t just like flavors, in isolation, for raw cocoa is bitter and vanilla beans taste like marshmallows; after all, we need something to texture the flavor to make it taste all the sweeter. That’s the hardboiled PI in all of these stories, the ice cream, and it tastes like heaven.

Alexander Wallace is an alternate historian, reader, and writer who moderates the Alternate History Online group on Facebook and the Alternate Timelines Forum on Proboards. He writes regularly for the Sea Lion Press blog and for NeverWas magazine, and also appears regularly on the Alternate History Show with Ben Kearns. He is a member of several alternate history fora under the name 'SpanishSpy.'

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