The Sword & Sorcery Panel Podcast

The Sword & Sorcery Panel Podcast

Team Black Gate: Editor John O'Neill, Contributing Editor Editor Bill Ward, James Enge, Rouge Blades editor Jason Waltz, Managing Editor Howard Andrew Jones, John R. Fultz, and Ryan Harvey
Team Black Gate at WFC 2010: Editor John O'Neill, Contributing Editor Bill Ward, blogger James Enge, Rogue Blades editor Jason Waltz, Managing Editor Howard Andrew Jones, blogger John R. Fultz, and blogger Ryan Harvey.

At the 2010 World Fantasy Convention in Columbus, Ohio, author and publicist Jaym Gates assembled the world’s greatest literary minds together to discuss Sword & Sorcery. Meaning me, plus some other guys.

In a moment of foresight for which future generations will doubtless be profoundly gratefully, Jaym and SF Signal‘s Patrick Hester recorded all the brilliant insights (plus what those other guys said) on state of the art podcast equipment. SF Signal has now published the entire podcast in three parts.

Participants included moderator Jaym Gates, Howard Andrew Jones (author of The Desert of Souls), Black Gate blogger and Writers of the Future winner Ryan Harvey, BG Contributing Editor Bill Ward, World Fantasy Award nominee James Enge, Rogue Blades publisher and editor Jason M. Waltz, Tome of the Undergates author Sam Sykes, Seven Princes author and BG blogger John R. Fultz, The Sword-Edged Blonde author Alex Bledsoe, fan Matthew Wuertz, and literary genius and future leader of the free world John O’Neill.

The far-ranging panel covered the roots of sword & sorcery, the classic canon, what makes a story S&S, and much more. It runs for roughly 90 minutes, ’cause all those other guys wouldn’t shut up. SF Signal has thoughtfully broken it into three podcasts, so the concentrated literary brilliance won’t make your head explode.

They are here: Part I, Part II, and Part III.  Caution: professional authors on a closed course. Do not attempt conversation like this at home.

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I enjoyed all 3 parts. Especially, the debate as to what sword & sorcery is(& isn’t), Jason M. Waltz’s argument about why Erikson’s Malazan books are S&S and (I think) John R. Fultz’s compliment about Bakkers’ “Prince of Nothing” books.


I’ve listened to part 1 so far and found it very enjoyable. But there was something specific (that I’m reasonably sure you said) early on about plots.

Someting about “… sexcapades in the middle, then the undead attack for no reason at all”.

Would you be willing to dredge the entire line up from memory for us, and maybe give a little context?

I thought it was a great line, but only half heard some of it, as the others were talking over you a bit.


Okay, I’ll see what I can do … maybe scan through it again, etc. Probably what I should have done to begin with. 🙂

Yeah, the podcast is nice and all, because it lets folks’ personalites show through, but a transcription with proper assignations would be so much easier to follow.

Probably showing my age a bit there though. Plus, it’s easier to sneak and read at work than to listen …

I look forward to hearing the rest of it.


@John ONeill
I neither agreed nor disagreed with any speaker’s claim. Instead the immpresion I was left with, of what S&S is after listening all three parts (without quoting any speaker in particular), is that it’s a mode of heroic fantasy, best published in the novellete format, derived from the adventurous pulps of early ’30s, which by the passing of decades re-forms itself by infusing its various pulp elements (the planetary romance, the western, the hard- boiled detective story, etc). I hope this makes some sort of sense ;))
As a side note, I’d like to thank you for enthusiastically mentioning Leigh Brackett’s “Sword of Rhiannon”. I read after listening the podcast and trully enjoyed it.
I really hope you’ll do more (podcasts as-well-as reading suggestions) it the near future!

Brian Murphy

I loved listening to this. Congratulations to John ONeil … Oh yeah, and I guess all others involved too. But especially John.


Yes, that was the exact section. Thanks so much for going and finding it!

As I said, I only semi-heard it, and for a moment thought “wait a minute, did he just describe my plot, because he said it like it was a bad thing …”

Now having heard the whole phrase, I can thankfully say, no, that is not my plot.

I mean, the undead do attack, but there is a reason. ^-^

I managed to hear part 2 at lunch, and part 3 at end of day, and enjoyed it all quite a lot.

Some things did occur to me as I listened and thought about the discussion.

For instance, I wonder if we could add to the “definition” (if you’ll forgive the absolutes) , that S & S stories typically have a single POV, almost always the protagonist.

And typically, if they have a defined antagonist (as opposed to an amorphous evil or a monster), they are usually abstractly formed, and without a lot of depth.

Given those two observations, if true, do you think that contributes to the “novella length and not much longer” preferred format?

As a follow up, can S & S have multiple POV characters, including a more robustly formed antagonist, and if so, can that go some distance toward allowing for a longer format, and still meet the definition?

Also, I found it quite interesting that the definition of S & S, and what was described as being needed to continue and update the form, seemed somewhat in opposition.

To me, I think the problem is best explained by the use of a time line of sorts.

If you’re looking backwards, then yes, the more rigorous definition of what S & S has been throughout the 20th century is exactly as described in the podcast.

But if we wish to look forward, I think the tent needs to be a little bigger, the edges of the definition softened a bit, or we’ll wind up with a very exclusionary mindset that will put people off, both new authors and new readers.

As in other posts I’ve made, I’m still trying to define my own work. I have many examples of S & S on the shelves behind me, all of them stories I’ve enjoyed immensely, but I’m still trying to decide if that’s what’s “coming out”.

As was mentioned by others in the podcast, I’m not consciously trying to write S & S or any other sub-genre, really. I’m just writing what I write and then trying to label it accurately, because some day I will have to do so to properly query and summarize the work, etc.

Unfortunately I’m still a bit on the fence. My initial impulse is to call it heroic fiction, reinforced somewhat by the more concrete S & S definitions that I heard in the podcast.

Yet the story has a fast pace and is primarily action oriented, and has a fairly healthy dose of supernatural horror, which typically does not show up in descriptions of heroic and/or epic fantasy.

Who knows, maybe I am actually writing long form, loosely defined S & S 🙂

Whether successfully or not remains to be seen.

Thanks to all involved for making the discussion available. To me, this what Black Gate (the website) excels at, and this series was top of form.

C.S.E. Cooney

Be still, my little heart. Such a thing exists on the internet? That I might hear the Voices of the Mighty Ones speak through the holy filter of my ear piece???

Why did I leave my ear piece at home???!!!


John Hocking

This was a lot of fun.

Very vital stuff. Several times I choked back the urge to respond, agree, disagree, and otherwise participate in a conversation that happened more than a year ago.


Took time out to listen to these podcasts.

Great stuff.

Some highlights for myself was the time when pretty much the whole panel is struggling out loud to remember the title to a Howard Andrew Jones short (Dabir + Asim) story as a good exhibit for ‘modern Sword + Sorcery’ and ( I think Jones himself ) overcomes the confusions with ‘…There was a monster, and they killed it with a sword.’, then knowing laughter.


The time where the panel loves on Clark Ashton Smith + Karl Edward Wagner + Leigh Brackett as great contributors to the current beast that is Sword + Sorcery is winful as well.

C.S.E. Cooney

Am on part one RIGHT NOW. It’s killin’ me. Tee hee.

@ John Hocking: Great comment! You would have been a wonderful addition to the discussion John!

[…] for example the genre-defining 2010 Sword & Sorcery Panel Podcast, recorded at the World Fantasy Convention in Columbus, Ohio and featuring the official brain trust […]

[…] issue 7. I’ve met most of the Black Gate team over the years, and even took part in the 2010 Sword & Sorcery Panel Podcast with them at the World Fantasy Convention in Columbus. I also have my own […]

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