Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Cook, Glen

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(1944-    ) US writer. His first published story was "Song from a Forgotten Hill" in Clarion (anth 1971). The Dread Empire sequence – A Shadow of All Night Falling (1979), October's Baby (1980) and All Darkness Met (1980), plus "Soldier of an Empire Unacquainted with Defeat" (1980) – highly coloured and closely plotted, pits a magical empire resembling China (see Chinoiserie) against a disorganized group of quasi-European and Indian states which, largely through the military genius of Bragi, leader of a group of mercenaries, fights the empire off. GC has a sense of the emotional cost and degradation involved in both war and Magic. The books are also characterized by a sense of Fantasies of History in which all events are being manipulated by a largely off-stage Villain for an implied and unimaginable audience (see Godgame); this villain's references to past interventions exploit our sense of a Time Abyss to memorable effect.

Closely linked is a quasi-prequel sequence – The Fire in His Hands (1984) and With Mercy Toward None (1985) – describing the early career of Bragi and his involvement with El Murid, a prophet loosely based on Mohammed; the prophet is seen in profane terms, but not without sympathy. The sequence comprising Reap the East Wind (1987) and An Ill Fate Marshalling (1988) directly sequels the Dread Empire books and has some splendidly dark betrayals and magics. Past empires mentioned as throwaways in the earlier books are briefly evoked to memorable effect. This sequence remains incomplete, with Bragi in the hands of his enemies.

The time abyss is omnipresent in GC's second major fantasy sequence, Chronicles of the Black Company, of which there are two series: The Black Company (1984), Shadows Linger (1984) and The White Rose (1985) – assembled as Annals of the Black Company (omni 1986) – and the Books of the South, being Shadow Games (1989) and Dreams of Steel (1990); further volumes are projected. The Silver Spike (1989) is not directly part of Books of the South, dealing as it does with simultaneous and interacting events in the locale of the first sequence. Inasmuch as the overall title of the sequence pays homage to Arthur Conan Doyle's The White Company (1891), it is a double-edged homage. GC's mercenaries are entirely ruthless in their use of magic and massacre and are for much of the first sequence employees of the almost entirely evil Enchantress Lady. Their eventual allegiance to the cause of what passes for Good (see Good and Evil) is a mixture of personal loyalty and expediency, as is the eventual alliance of The White Rose's rebels and the Lady against a Malign Sleeper – her resurrected and even more evil husband, the Dominator. The books are characterized by a hard-boiled cynicism; the sequence is notable for its bracing refusal of the usual moralizing tropes of the genre.

This genial yet sinister cynicism is the besetting tone of GC's rather different Garrett series: Sweet Silver Blues (1987), Bitter Gold Hearts (1988), Cold Copper Tears (1988) – these three assembled as The Garrett Files (omni 1989) – Old Tin Sorrows (1989), Dread Brass Shadows (1990), Red Iron Nights (1991), Deadly Quicksilver Lies (1994) and Petty Pewter Gods (1995). Private eye Garrett is an Occult Detective, aided by an undead nonhuman Mycroft Holmes figure. The books pay constant homage to Hammett, Chandler and Spillane; Garrett's neurotic sexism is best viewed as ironic homage to GC's sources.

GC has written two noteworthy singletons. The Swordbearer (1982) is an interesting Revisionist-Fantasy commentary on the eternal-champion motif in general and on Michael Moorcock in particular, with a young hero transformed into an Avatar and an Accursed Wanderer by his Sword and finding himself used and abused in a Godgame by gods, Magi, the Souls his sword has drunk and a dwarf Companion who is more than he seems. The Tower of Fear (1989) combines thriller elements with high politics in a complex tale involving Identity Exchange.

GC has often been rebuked for spatchcocked plots and laziness of Diction; his high rate of production and less than consistent level of achievement are certainly regrettable, but the overall competence and unique flavour of his best work cannot be doubted. [RK]

other works: The Swap Academy (1970) as Greg Stevens, erotica; The Heirs of Babylon (1972), post-Holocaust sf; the Starfishers sequence, comprising Shadowline (1982), Starfishers (1982) and Stars' End (1982), space opera owing debts to Richard Wagner; the Darkwar trilogy, comprising Doomstalker (1985), Warlock (1985) and Ceremony (1986), Science Fantasy with psi and technology masquerading as magic; A Matter of Time (1985), time-travel thriller; Passage at Arms (1985), space opera; The Dragon Never Sleeps (1988), space opera; Sung in Blood (1990 NESFA limited edition), fantasy/detection.

Glen Charles Cook


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.