Gathered as we are around the virtual fireplace this week on the Black Gate site, with each of us blogger-types introducing ourselves and sharing some of our insights or opinions or our unique perspective based on how far along we are with our own writing projects, or what sort of specialist knowledge we can impart on the Black Gate community, I am confronted again with a problem I’ve had to deal with on my own blog. Namely, trying to appear interesting.
Being a writer of fiction, I could of course just lie and tell you about my experiences as a test pilot, or the time I spent as a plumber in Ulan Bator. But that, as the man said, is practically dishonest. So I tried to think instead about the sorts of things I’d be blogging about here, and what kind of qualifications I might have that meant that what I had to say was worth the time you’ll take to read it. It was then that I hit upon an interesting bit of self-knowledge, namely, that I came rather late to the kind of fiction you’ll see us talking most about on the site, the sort that appears most often in Black Gate.
So, my bona fides in this area show me to be a bit of a johnny-come-lately. I did scarf down The Hobbit in elementary school, it being the first book I remember buying with my own money, but I never got around to finishing The Lord of the Rings until I was nineteen. And, while Dungeons & Dragons and the Dragonlance books acquainted me with every fantasy trope from elvish tree-hugging to mace-swinging holy men, I doubt if I could have told you what a Sidhe was, or how the clerical prohibition against edged weapons actually had historical antecedents. Apart from The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, I wasn’t versed in any epic fantasy, for all my heroes dwelled in the world of science fiction.
This was not from lack of interest, but rather lack of availability. In those bad old pre-internet days, a kid couldn’t get a hold of just any novel he wanted. He might not have even heard of the novel for a start, let alone been able to track down a copy at a used book store — and then there was the problem of getting an entire set of books before you started reading. For me, terribly interested in Elric and Conan from the third-hand accounts I’d heard of them, being confronted at the bookstore with books two and four — and only books two and four — of a series was a terrible agony. I began purchasing some of these books, hording them against the day when I’d finally have an entire series I could read in order.
Thankfully, I’m not quite as rigid about reading things in the proper order now — but then, as a kid with little access to this stuff, I saw books like my DAW edition of The Weird of the White Wolf in a similar light to a tenth century mendicant cradling his monastery’s sole copy of Boethius. Books were serious, and I was serious about books, and it wasn’t until the internet came along that I could track down all of those treasures I’d only ever heard about and satisfy an appetite that had been whetted for years but hardly ever fed.
I didn’t read Moorcock until I was twenty, Vance and Zelazny a bit after that. In a few years the floodgates opened, and at last I could experience the other half of the spec fic equation, the fantasy half, and I gobbled up all the adventures I could. But why mention all this if I wasn’t arriving at some point other than ‘thank Arioch for the internet?’
The point I’m making is that too often I’ve heard people dismiss storytelling in the pulp tradition as juvenile. Or, more specifically, as a fondness picked up in childhood and retained past a point that is dignified in an adult. Rubbish. When I was twelve or thirteen years old — a time sometimes tongue-in-cheekily referred to as the ‘golden age’ of science fiction — among my favorite books were Orwell’s 1984, Golding’s Lord of the Flies, Shute’s On the Beach, and Le Carre’s The Spy Who Came in From the Cold. I didn’t really discover science fiction and fantasy until after I fell in love with the books I did have access to — yet I’m certain all four of the above choices would be classified as acceptable fare for adult enjoyment, while Leiber, Vance, Howard, Saunders, Mundy, Moorcock and others immersed in or growing out of the pulp tradition would be derided as artifacts of one’s childishly pre-formed literary interests.
Perhaps I’m exaggerating and, perhaps, it really isn’t necessary to dredge this up in a situation where I am already preaching to the converted, and where framing an ‘us vs. them’ argument is often just a cheap stunt to get people to care about what one is saying. What I really want to get across, as a way of introducing my sensibilities and approach to things, is that I think I have a slightly different take on the world of adventure fantasy than many fans. I am someone who, after all, never read Howard’s Conan stories until he was thirty, but immediately recognized them for the masterpieces of craftsmanship they were. Pulp adventure, heroic fantasy, and epic storytelling are not some atrophied modes of literature aimed purely at rekindling a lost nostalgia, they are vital forms of the writer’s art — take it from someone that has very little in the way of nostalgia to rekindle.
They are also, of course, a great deal of fun. And that is something I’m happy to say I’ve never stopped having as, with every year that passes, I continue to discover all those worlds of adventure that were once little more than myths and rumors to me.
BILL WARD is a genre writer, editor, and blogger wanted across the Outer Colonies for crimes against the written word. His fiction has appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies, as well as gaming supplements and websites. He is a Contributing Editor and reviewer for Black Gate Magazine, and 423rd in line for the throne of Lost Lemuria. Read more at BILL’s blog, DEEP DOWN GENRE HOUND.