Swords & Sorcery edited by L. Sprague De Camp

Tuesday, January 27th, 2015 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

oie_2763211ShPWYPH2The swords & sorcery that works best for me, the tales that get my heart pounding, come in short story form. It was Robert E. Howard’s “Beyond the Black River”, Fritz Leiber’s “Ill Met in Lankhmar”, and Karl Edward Wagner’s “Reflections for the Winter of My Soul” that made me love this genre. In those stories, the authors distilled everything down to forty or fifty pages of concentrated action, mayhem, and bloodshed. There are no wasted words, no longuers. While all three authors wrote decent enough S&S novels, it’s their short stories that roar down the tracks like a train, pulling me along. S&S is a fiction of action and plot. I want speed; economy of story-telling.

Even in 2015, thirty years after the end of swords & sorcery’s glory days, there are new short stories being written all the time. Each year, several anthologies’-worth of short fiction, once the lifeblood of S&S, still appear in various print and electronic magazines (read my most recent review here).

But you rarely see actual S&S anthologies published anymore. The only recent collections of original stories that spring to mind are the excellent Swords and Dark Magic, edited by Jonathan Strahan and Lou Anders, and Jason M. Waltz’s equally cool Return of the Sword. David Hartwell and Jacob Weisman’s The Sword and Sorcery Anthology is a decent enough collection, though of mostly reprints reaching all the way back to S&S’s earliest days.

But once upon a time anthologies seemed to be coming out of the woodwork. Probably the most well known are Lin Carter’s Flashing Swords! series and Andrew J. Offut’s Swords Against Darkness series. Amanda Salmonson edited two collections about women warriors, called succinctly, Amazons and Amazons II. Robot-like, Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Swords and Sorceress series continued for four years after she died in 1999.

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My Love/Hate Romance With Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit

Monday, January 26th, 2015 | Posted by markrigney

GandalfLet me state for the record that I am a fan of the film adaptation of The Lord Of the Rings. Jack Nicholson can complain all he likes about “too many endings,” but that celluloid trilogy managed the impossible: it successfully imbued a made-up world not only with turmoil and action but with genuine emotional gravitas. The Lord Of the Rings (2001 – 2003), against all odds, mattered.

Having just seen the third of The Hobbit installments (2012 – 2014), I fear I cannot say the same for these sequel-prequels. I want to. At certain moments, I’m convinced. At others?

Yes, the task of adapting a book to the screen is arduous, full of perils, and the fact that Jackson’s scriptwriting team of Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and (for these films) Guillermo del Toro have had any success at all is remarkable. Tolkien, let’s face it, was not an efficient story-teller. Given characters like Tom Bombadil, it would not be unfair to crown him as King Of All Digressions.

So let’s take it as a given that adaptation involves violence toward the source material. Additions will be made, and subtractions, too. So be it. The goal, typically, is to preserve the spirit of the original.

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The Series Series: The Wide World’s End by James Enge

Sunday, January 25th, 2015 | Posted by Sarah Avery

The Wide World's End-smallYou have something wonderful to look forward to in February, and it’s sort of the opposite of Valentine’s Day.  The third volume of James Enge’s Tournament of Shadows trilogy, The Wide World’s End, is coming out, and it’s every bit as strange and glorious as Enge’s novels have all been so far, with an extra dimension of heartbreak.

Because it’s a tragedy. Not the schoolroom mountain-diagram tragedy plot here, not the victim-blaming hubris explanation, but a fresher, more original kind of tragedy. (Fortunately, the tragedy is leavened by Enge’s usual black humor, numerous inventively disturbing monsters, clever magical technologies, and crackling dialogue.)

What’s tragic about Morlock is that the very things that make him so genuinely excellent, so uniquely able to save his world, are the very things that make it impossible for him to go home again. And that includes the great love between him and his wife.

The author and publisher have been completely forthright about that. The cover copy tells us even the happiest available ending on the cosmic scale will be a disaster on the personal scale.

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Dark Comedy, Retro-futurism and a Bucket Load of Charm: Why Fallout 3 is a Bloody Good Game

Saturday, January 24th, 2015 | Posted by Connor Gormley

Fallout_3I’m willing to bet that, at some point in your childhood, you wanted to be Mad Max, and why not? Mad Max kicks ass: he’s got a shotgun, an Australian accent, a really cool dog, and the most grizzled beard in history: the five o clock shadow. Right then, so take the aesthetics and feel of Mad Max, mix it in with some retro-futurism, a brilliantly realized post-apocalyptic DC, and a bucket load of dark comedy, and you know what you get?

Fallout 3. That’s what you get. And yes, it’s every bit as badass as it sounds.

Now, if I weren’t a rambling, borderline incoherent muppet, I would end this post here and tell you to buy it, but I am a rambling, borderline incoherent muppet, so now I’m going to waste the next 10 minutes of your life telling you why it’s so good.

In fact, no, scratch that, let me go over what’s going on first, give you some context. After slapping the disc in your Xbox or whatever and booting this bad boy up, you’re asked to create your character and call him something stupid (I called mine Moist Pete). From there you live out your childhood in the safe but subjugating arms of Vault 101, one of the underground vaults built before the apocalypse to shelter the world’s best and brightest from the nuclear bombs dropped all over the US by the Chinese. You’ll go through your childhood, getting bullied, going to school and passing your exams and generally having a pretty decent time of things.

Then you wake up one morning to find out that Liam Neeson, your dad, has legged it off out into the wasteland because, according to him, running around an irradiated wasteland and having his legs blown off by an unexploded mine sounds like a lovely way to spend an afternoon. You then find out that everyone in the vault is looking for you too, so, after beating all of your childhood friends to death with a baseball bat and a police baton you go off in search of him, because, let’s face it, a man as smooth as Liam Neeson doesn’t make it through the apocalypse unmolested. He’s gonna need help.

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Fantasy Literature: A Meeting at Corvallis, Part 1 of 2

Friday, January 23rd, 2015 | Posted by Edward Carmien

A Meeting at Corvallis-smallFirst, a quick note: this series of posts about S. M. Stirling’s Emberverse novels contain spoilers. While they are dubbed reviews, they are not particularly review-ish. However, should the posts encourage new readers to read Stirling’s Emberverse, the more the merrier, and enjoy — but beware, for here there be spoilers.

I discuss book 1 of the Emberverse series, Dies the Fire, here, and Book 2, The Protector’s War, here.

Series fiction obeys different rules than trilogies (why trilogies? A paper shortage in England in the mid 1950′s led to a certain book being published as a trilogy…) or standalone novels. Stirling’s A Meeting at Corvallis is, structurally, the second half of a duology on the one hand and the third novel in the Emberverse on the other.

Before the opening battles of the Protector’s War, Stirling provides some thrilling black ops (medieval-style) action. An embarrassment to the PPA (Portland Protective Association) needs to be eliminated before he can testify to the leaders of Corvallis, for if he and his crimes are shown in public, Corvallis public sentiment may swing against the PPA.

Sandra Arminger swings into action, arriving in state to handle the crisis, and her assistant Tiphaine Rutherton dresses all in black and slinks into the night. The good guys are on guard, though, and Tiphaine, later dubbed “Lady D’ath,” (hint, hint) is apparently caught in the act of disposing of the embarrassing PPA lord before he can be displayed to the people of Corvallis.

Here’s a lengthy quote to set the stage.

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Fantasy Literature: The Protector’s War

Friday, January 16th, 2015 | Posted by Edward Carmien

The Protector's WarWhat with one thing and another, about eight years have passed since the events of Dies the Fire, the opening novel of S. M. Stirling’s Emberverse series. That story is reasonably self-contained, and tells the tale of how different groups cope with the Change (See “Fantasy Literature: 6:15 pm PST, March 17, 1998 — TEOTWAWKI & Dies the Fire,” here).

The primary challenge is finding, then growing and harvesting enough to eat; all other challenges relate to that one. Fighting off people who want to steal the food (and/or consider people to be mobile Soylent Green), finding a place to settle where one can grow food in safety, discovering and carrying out the ways and means of becoming muscle-powered farmers, and so on. The villain of the series, Norman Arminger, is introduced and fought through proxies, such as Dies the Fire‘s “Duke Iron Rod.”

But the novel’s title, The Protector’s War, is a cheat. Pick it up and you’re holding the second novel in a series but more particularly you’re holding the first half of a duology, for the long-promised Protector’s War begins, but at a low intensity.

The factions are now clearer and better resolved. Juniper Mackenzie — dubbed Lady Juniper by her followers, half in jest at first but now in utter seriousness, especially by the generation that has lived half its life after the Change, can muster several thousand kilt-wearin’, longbow-shootin’ sho’ nuff faux-Celts. It is refreshing, in a way, for an author such as Stirling to be free to present a faux-Celts cultural mishmash as exactly what it is. More often, in Fantasy Literature, such mishmashery is presented as the real thing (in some imagined historical Emerald Isle or Highlands) or as the real thing (in some wholly imaginary setting). Brave, I’m looking at you here, because you’re the easy target, but examples abound. Oh, you want examples?

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Ody-C Issue #2: In Which I Try to Not Use the Word “Weird” at All

Tuesday, January 13th, 2015 | Posted by Elizabeth Cady


Author’s Note: I had wondered how I would handle spoilers as I review my way through the first handful of issues of Ody-C, the new genderqueer retelling of Homer’s Odyssey. At first I thought this wouldn’t be necessary: how many spoilers will there be in the retelling of a three thousand year old myth? As of now, with the second issue released, I can safely say “At least a few”. So while I will avoid any plot-altering spoilers to the fullest extent possible, if you don’t want to be spoiled on world building or character development, read no further.

At the conclusion of the first issue of Ody-C, I wasn’t certain of how I felt about the series. I had opinions, certainly, and I had impressions and ideas, but it was hard to compile those into a solid opinion. After reading the second issue, which was released last week, I feel far more comfortable saying that I think I am going to love this.

As a single issue goes, Ody-C #2 is slender in terms of both page length and events. But it is incredibly dense in terms of world-building. While the bones of this story were familiar in issue 1, the setting and surroundings were so strange as to leave this reader at least feeling a bit adrift. Issue 2 leads us deeper into the world, and while it is in some ways more surreal it is also leaves us far more grounded in what the world Matt Fraction and Christian Ward are creating looks like.

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December Short Story Roundup

Tuesday, January 13th, 2015 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction Jan-Feb 2015-smallNot every month brings me a great big stack of stories to review. Which is fine. I mean, it’s not like we all don’t have a ton of things to do during December. Still, I did find three stories to tell you about, one them quite good.

Let’s start with the highlight of the December stories, “Prisoner of Pandarius,” by Matthew Hughes in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction (January/February 2015). It’s a tale of revenge, thievery, and guild politics starring Raffalon, a thief with a ready wit, an overriding sense of self-preservation, and a name more than a little reminiscent of E A Hornung’s famous gentleman thief, Raffles.

Hughes makes no bones about being a fan of, and inspired by, Jack Vance’s Dying Earth. On his site he refers to Raffalon as “my archetypal Dying-Earthish thief.” There’s certainly a Vancian sensibility to the story’s trappings, e.g. a spell with the name “Izzizitz’s Matchless Latch” and the thieves’ organization’s official name of “The Ancient and Honorable Guild of Purloiners and Purveyors.” I’m a sucker for Jack Vance-inspired stories, provided they’re done well. I’m quite happy to write that “Prisoner of Pandarius” is one of those.

My first encounter with Hughes’s fiction was just this past September, also on the pages of F&SF (Sept/Oct 2014). “Avianca’s Bezel,” which I like very much, also features Raffalon. Therein, he learns the hard way the problems attendant with working for wizards.

In the new story, his decision to never again work for a wizard is put to the test when he is defrauded by the Purveyors — i.e. fences — of his guild. An old associate, the sorcerer Cascor, approaches him with a job offer and he reconsiders the hard line he’d previously taken.

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The Barbarism of Bullfighting and Archaic Diction in L. Sprague de Camp’s “The Rug and the Bull”

Tuesday, January 13th, 2015 | Posted by Gabe Dybing

1974 Paperback edition. Cover art by Frank Frazetta.

1974 Paperback edition. Cover art by Frank Frazetta.

One of the many freedoms of Sword and Sorcery, it seems to me, is that it enables the adoption of a world that allows the writer to comment on just about anything on which one would want. One of Robert E. Howard’s purposes in the construction of his own Hyboria was to create a conglomerate of cultures, no matter how anachronistic their juxtapositions, so that his hero Conan might have any kind of adventure that Howard might think up. Whereas for previous tales, Howard perhaps had to construct different heroes for different historical epochs (Bran Mak Morn for the Celtic Picts, Solomon Kane for the sixteenth century, Kull for Atlantis), in the Hyborian Age Conan might be a thief, a soldier, a pirate, and ultimately a king, his adventures all the while providing Howard with powerful commentary on “civilization.”

So, too, writers after Howard have utilized this purpose. Dave Sim, through his creation of Cerebus the Aardvark, begins by commenting on the Sword and Sorcery genre itself (as well as the mainstream comic books of Sim’s time) and then goes on to explore High Society, Church & State, marriage – and this last, in Jaka’s Story, is as far as my reading has taken me, but I understand that Sim is so far reaching in his exploration of topics that in a much later volume he even explores the life and works of Ernest Hemingway through Cerebus taking on the position of Hemingway’s personal secretary!

Terry Pratchett uses the Sword and Sorcery milieu to ingenious satirical effect, cribbing directly (I believe) from Fritz Leiber in order to forecast to his readers, in the very first pages of the very first Discworld novel, just what tone and material his readers may expect. Pratchett’s initial perspective characters, soon abandoned, are Bravd and the Weasel (Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, obviously). I quote the following description in order to give an example of Pratchett’s satirical treatment of Sword and Sorcery and to underscore, specifically, Pratchett’s debt to Leiber. For more humor, one might want to pick up this book and enjoy the way that these characters talk to each other – it’s impressively Leiberesque.

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A Blast From the Past: John Christopher’s The Tripods Trilogy

Monday, January 12th, 2015 | Posted by markrigney

white1Long before YA fiction conquered the universe and millennia before the trilogy became the gold standard by which the world judges any given author, there lived Sam Youd, a British writer who worked under the pseudonym of John Christopher. Youd published The White Mountains in 1967, at a time when the United Kingdom was lurching away from the tight-laced, survivalist mode inherited from and necessitated by back-to-back world wars. Cue mods and rockers, Pink Floyd, the Swinging Sixties. Twiggy. Bowie. Cue a mind-set ready to dismiss the bleak past in favor of (in Christopher’s eye) an equally bleak future.

I first encountered The Tripods trilogy in the late seventies, and both my sister and I devoured the series more than once. In the first book, Will Parker, his loutish cousin Henry, and a whipsmart French lad, Beanpole, embark on a post-apocalyptic journey to the only haven they’ve ever heard of where humankind isn’t ruled by the fearsome Tripods, massive metal beings reminiscent of The War Of the Worlds. But in The White Mountains, the tripods have won: humanity has been enslaved through the use of “caps,” metal headgear installed without fail on a child’s fourteenth birthday. Will, Henry, and Beanpole are about to turn fourteen, and they are all too aware that after capping, their peers are never the same.

So book one is the journey. Book two, The City Of Gold and Lead, pits the boys, along with a stoic German, Fritz, against the creatures that operate the tripods, the Masters. Will and Fritz pose as slaves and infiltrate one of the three cities inhabited by the Masters.

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