Over five years:
55 Short Story Roundups, each of at least four stories, making for a minimum of 220 reviewed. It’s probably at least half-again as many.
157 Book Reviews, including 11 books by Glen Cook, 7 by PC Hodgell, 7 by Andre Norton, 6 by TC Rypel
That’s how much I’ve written at Black Gate since my inaugural post, The Best New Sword & Sorcery of the Last Twelve Months. I should also add I co-wrote a review of Rafael Sabatini’s Captain Blood books with Howard Andrew Jones and conversed with Adrian Simmons and Chris Hocking on the subject of CJ Cherryh’s award-winning Downbelow Station. I’m happy with most of the posts I’ve written and actually proud of more than a few of them. I bring this all up because I’ve decided it’s time to hang up my sword for at least a little while. I’ve reached the point where readingreviewingediting every week has become a grind. In fact it’s been a bit of a hard slog for a while now, which is why I mixed things up with classic sci-fi last year and the entirety of Glen Cook’s Black Company series this year. Both of those undertakings were a lot of fun. It’s been years since I’ve read any of those books. Some, like Hal Clement’s Mission of Gravity, I had never read ever. Still, it wasn’t enough to thwart this hiatus.
Don’t get me wrong, most of the time doing these posts is a tremendous amount of fun. Discovering writers I didn’t know or had forgotten all about (or discovering those I had once loved who were better left forgotten) was a blast. If I hadn’t done these posts I probably would never have read Paul Kingsnorth or Tim Willocks or made friends with scores of fellow S&S fans out in the digital wild. Even the weakest books I read still offered me something: how to find the best parts of something bad and how to treat an author’s efforts with respect even if the end result was poor.
First, I want to thank everybody who’s stopped by and chatted about books and stories over the years. The conversation has always been fun, informative, and, as is the norm most days at Black Gate, nothing but polite. Second, I want to thank John O’Neill who has given me this platform all these years. No matter how far afield I’ve taken this column from my original intention to focus only on sword & sorcery, John’s always been encouraging and supportive. He’s also sent me free copies of some seriously good books and magazines. Finally, I want to thank my wife Hallie who has been my editor for every post. Without her annoyingly precise ways there would have been a bunch of sloppy, often illogical articles that no one would have wanted to slog through. Thank you all!
When I first started blogging on my own site, Swords & Sorcery: A Blog (now called more prosaically, Stuff I Like), my goal was to force myself to read and write more. Gradually, I became a voice for the celebration of old school as well as old school-style sword & sorcery. All the way back in 2011 there seemed to be a real renaissance going on in the genre. Dabir and Asim, Morlock Ambrosius, and Gonji were riding high. Rogue Blades Entertainment and Heroic Fantasy Quarterly were cranking out some of the best new heroic fantasy short stories in ages. It all seemed to point to an imminent big resurgence equal to the genre’s last heyday, back in the 1970s.
Where is the genre now? Pretty much exactly where it was seven years ago. It continues along nicely, plenty of good stories percolating and bubbling up to the surface regularly, but nothing that’s really exploded out into the wider fantasy audience’s awareness. Howard Andrew Jones, James Enge, and TC Rypel are all still writing new stories (Jones’ new novel, For the Killing of Kings, comes out in three months). Rogue Blades Entertainment has been restored and will be releasing new anthologies while Heroic Fantasy Quarterly never went away (they’ve got a new Patreon campaign that any serious S&S fan should be participating in). And there’ve been plenty of great new additions: Milton Davis is a one-man army, writing and promoting sword & soul with the power of a Class 5 hurricane; Howard Andrew Jones is editing the terrific new magazine, Tales from the Magician’s Skull; by all accounts Weirdbook is consistently good and published in a timely manner. Yet that big explosion that I was hoping for back when I started? It never showed up.
There’s an ongoing debate about grimdark fantasy being the new sword & sorcery. I don’t buy it at all, but I do think a lot of other people — especially publishers — do, and it goes a long way to explaining where all the great S&S novels I was expecting went. There’s only so much room for hard-edged, action-packed fantasy. If all the oxygen’s being sucked down by the next big grimmer-than-grim tale of scum-sucking murderers-who-are-the-real-heroes, then there’s little left for the next Conan or Jirel — or even Kane.
Seeing praise heaped on books I find detestable or at least a little disgusting, but seeing real S&S collections go unnoticed and unreviewed, gets more than a little infuriating. It gets me a bit downhearted, too. I can shout as loudly as I wish, but it feels like nothing’s going to change. Excellent sword & sorcery is going to be written, but it will never get the big push or the big coverage it deserves. Oh well, maybe in another seven years.
So anyway, I’m leaving for the time being. Probably by next summer I’ll be back gracing the pages of Black Gate. By then I should be reinvigorated and with a hopeful outlook for the future of sword & sorcery. It’s eight or nine months away, and they’re always telling you, “Anything can happen!”. So, fingers crossed, I’m leaving now, but I’ll see you again. It’s been an awesome ride and thank you all for coming along.
Note: All of this is sort of a lie. I have two last reviews I’ll be posting over the next couple of weeks before you’re finally rid of me.
Fletcher Vredenburgh reviews here at Black Gate most Tuesday mornings and at his own site, Stuff I Like when his muse hits him. Right now, he’s writing about nothing in particular, but he might be writing about swords & sorcery again any day now (actually, I’m writing about Westerns right now).