Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Saberhagen, Fred

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(1930-2007) US writer and editor best-known for his creation of a genuine sf Myth with his Berserker stories of chilly, spacegoing machine intelligences bent on the destruction of all life (see SFE link below). In his Science-Fantasy Empire of the East trio – The Broken Lands (1968), The Black Mountains (1971) and Changeling Earth (1973; vt Ardneh's World 1988), assembled as Empire of the East (rev omni 1979) – Earth has been saved from nuclear devastation by a quasi-mystical Perception-shift whereby energy sources "come alive" as Elementals and Demons, the ultimate demon resulting from the Transformation of an actual nuclear fireball. Magic and Prophecy become workable, following strict Rationalized-Fantasy laws, and the traditional struggle of "West" and "East" becomes a Sword-and-Sorcery conflict – complicated by remnants of old technology, including a mechanical Resurrection system (see also Technofantasy) and a sentient computer which is effectively the West's God. One entertaining episode features a technophile Genie who will construct any required machine without regard for its feasibility (see Answered Prayers). The whole succeeds very well as action-adventure; #1 gains force by echoing an episode from Indian Mythology in which the god Indra binds himself by Conditions which seemingly make it impossible for him to kill a certain demon – but there is a loophole (see Quibbles).

The more purely fantastic Swords sequels, set 2000 years later, are tenuously linked to the original by certain long-lived characters. The Book of Swords sequence comprises The First Book of Swords (1983), Second (1983) and Third (1984), assembled as The Complete Book of Swords (omni 1985). Its premise is that, to amuse the gods, Vulcan creates 12 magical Plot Coupons: these named Swords have various powers which are scattered over Earth for humanity to fight about, and fight with. Vulcan's secret joke is that the swords can kill the gods, which duly occurs. All this was apparently devised by FS as a computer-Game scenario: despite some ingenuity, the fictional result seems scrappy, leaving many loose ends and unused swords. The rambling Book of Lost Swords series tours the Gameworld further in The First Book of Lost Swords: Woundhealer's Story (1986), Second: Sightblinder's Story (1987), Third: Stonecutter's Story (1988) – these assembled as The Lost Swords: The First Triad (omni 1988) – Fourth: Farslayer's Story (1989), Fifth: Coinspinner's Story (1989), Sixth: Mindsword's Story (1990) – #4-#6 assembled as The Lost Swords: The Second Triad (omni 1991) – Seventh: Wayfinder's Story (1992) and The Last Book of Swords: Shieldbreaker's Story (1994) – these final two assembled as The Lost Swords: Endgame (omni 1994). The series' recurring Villain is a malign Wizard who is anticlimactic after the battle against the gods; his temporary absence adds interest to #3's lightweight Detective/Thriller Fantasy.

The Dracula books begin as Revisionist Fantasy with the Vampire Vlad Tepes or Drakulya arguing in The Dracula Tape (1975) that Bram Stoker unfairly maligned him; in The Holmes-Dracula File (1978) he helps Sherlock Holmes save London from a plague carried by the Giant Rat of Sumatra (see Mice and Rats). This Dracula may drain the blood of deserving human villains, but normally contents himself with rats. His adventures continue rather tepidly in the modern USA, where he assists police and innocents against less benign vampires; his police contact imitates Holmes in updating the stake-through-the-heart notion with wooden bullets. Further titles are An Old Friend of the Family (1979), Thorn (1980), Dominion (1982) – which features Merlin and Nimue (see Lady of the Lake) in modern Chicago – A Matter of Taste (1990), A Question of Time (1992) and Seance for a Vampire (1994), the last again featuring Holmes. The Black Throne (1990) with Roger Zelazny is another Recursive Fantasy, this time featuring Edgar Allan Poe. Merlin's Bones (1995) involves Arthur in a story whose action is set in both past and future.

FS's industry and craftsmanship are notable, but commercial pressures can extend his series too long after their original concepts have lost freshness. [DRL]

other works: Bram Stoker's Dracula * (1992) with James V Hart; An Armory of Swords * (anth 1995) ed FS, a Shared-World enterprise based on the Swords sequence; Dancing Bears (1996), Shapeshifter fantasy.

Fred Thomas Saberhagen


  • The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction: Berserkers.

This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.