Sword & Sorcery from a Bygone Era: Tales of Attluma by David C. Smith

Sunday, May 17th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

Tales of Attluma-small Tales of Attluma-back-small

Cover art by Tom Barber

David C. Smith has written a number of articles for Black Gate, most recently a fine review of Brian Murphy’s history of Sword-and-Sorcery, Flame and Crimson. He’s also the author of twenty-six novels and collections, including Oron, The Fall of the First World trilogy, and Robert E. Howard: A Literary Biography. His newest is Tales of Attluma, a collection of classic S&S tales from Bob McLain’s Pulp Hero Press, most of which appeared in hard-to-find small press magazines like Gordon Linzner’s excellent Space & Time.

I asked Dave to tell us a little about his new book, and he obliged in fine style. Here’s what he said.

I’d wanted to pull these stories together into one collection for many years. Periodically, I went through them, off and on, during the past twenty-five years, tweaking them or reworking them. As I improved as a writer, I found ways to open up many of the stories or take them into new directions, so that’s what I did. A few of the later ones didn’t need much done to them, such as “Patience Serves,” or even a very early one, “Ithtidzik.” But most of those written when I was in my twenties, I was no longer happy with… So I’m glad I waited so long to pull them together. And that was only possible because of Bob McLain. I didn’t think there was a chance in hell of an oversized commercial publisher picking up Tales of Attluma, but Pulp Hero Press is ideal. They work closely with their authors, so what I had in mind and what Bob was going for dovetailed nicely. And it’s interesting to see how I matured as a writer. The early stories revolve around plots; as I got older, the stories became character-driven or dealt with ideas. And I feel the quality of my writing has improved, too. I like that.

Unfortunately Pulp Hero Press doesn’t have a website — but Dave Ritzlin of DMR Books comes through by providing a virtual website for the book, with all the essential details. Thanks, Dave.

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The Best in Modern Sword & Sorcery: The Best of Heroic Fantasy Quarterly, Volume 3

Sunday, January 12th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

The Best of Heroic Fantasy Quarterly Volume 3-small The Best of Heroic Fantasy Quarterly Volume 3-back-small

Cover by Zoltan

Heroic Fantasy Quarterly has been published, like clockwork, every quarter since June 2009. And every eight issues, like clockwork, the editors of HFQ assemble a Best of Heroic Fantasy Quarterly volume, as a way to celebrate another milestone and promote their worthy magazine.

These books are top-notch examples of modern sword & sorcery (and I’m not just saying that because I was invited to write the introduction for Volume I.) In his review of Volume I, Fletcher Vredenburgh wrote:

Heroic Fantasy Quarterly is… the most consistent forum for the best in contemporary swords & sorcery. Some may think I’m laying it on a little thick, but The Best of Heroic Fantasy Quarterly: Volume 1, 2009-2011, a distillation of the mag’s first three years, should prove that I’m not.

Volume III has just arrived, with a dynamic cover by Zoltan and stories by Charles Gramlich, P. Djéli Clark, Adrian Simmons, David Farney, and many others — plus an introduction by Darrell Schweitzer, and original art for each story by Miguel Santos, Justin Pfiel, Garry McCluskey, Robert Zoltan, and others. It’s an all-around gorgeous package, and a fine reminder that Heroic Fantasy is still a vibrant genre in the 21st Century. Here’s the complete Table of Contents.

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A Sword & Sorcery Christmas

Tuesday, December 24th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

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It’s Christmas Eve. Everyone in the O’Neill household is wrapping presents, munching Christmas cookies, and listening to music (so… much… loud… music…). Yesterday I gave up and turned off the portable Bose speaker next to my head, because the music coming out of the basement was so loud I couldn’t hear it.

Christmas break isn’t just about having our kids home, food, and taxing my eardrums. It’s also when I have time for more ambitious reading projects, and this year there’s one in particular I’m really looking forward to. Bob Byrne challenged me to read more Robert E. Howard, and suggested I started with The Best of Robert E. Howard Volume 1:Crimson Shadows from Del Rey. When I asked what was special about the stories in that book, Bob said:

You need to read a couple. The guy running Black Gate has to be a little more REH-read. Solomon Kane is good, but… Read “Worms of the Earth,” the Conan, and the el Borak. That book is where I read my first Solomon Kane. I bought the Kane book right after.

That seems like a good idea to me. I started investigating what others books I wanted to read over the 2019 Christmas break, and came across G. W. Thomas’s exhaustive survey of 44 S&S anthologies on his Dark Worlds blog on November 14. Sword & Sorcery Anthologies 1963-1985 was a handy resource, and helped inspire my reading project to grow into a deeper exploration of 20th Century Sword & Sorcery.

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Get a Free Sword & Sorcery Anthology from DMR Books!

Sunday, September 15th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

The Infernal Bargain and Other Stories

DMR Books, helmed by the tireless Dave Ritzlin, is one of the more exciting modern publishers of science fiction & fantasy. Bob Byrne and I shared a table with Dave at the Windy City Pulp & Paper show here in Chicago last year, and we got to see first hand how enthusiastically modern readers respond to his books.

Last month DMR released a free sample book with stories from DMR’s previous releases, upcoming titles, and a few you won’t find anywhere else. The Infernal Bargain and Other Stories contains eleven thrilling tales of swords and sorcery by Clifford Ball, Nictzin Dyalhis, Howie K. Bentley, and many others. How are the stories connected? In each one, “Mighty warriors do battle with foul demons, nefarious wizards and strange monstrosities!” Here’s the complete Table of Contents.

“The Infernal Bargain” by D.M. Ritzlin
“Thannhausefeer’s Guest” by Howie K. Bentley
“Into the Dawn of Storms” by Byron A. Roberts
“Grumfobbler” by Gael DeRoane
“The Mountains Have Eyes and the Woods Have Teeth” by Harry Piper
“The Sapphire Goddess” by Nictzin Dyalhis
“The Gift of the Ob-men” by Schuyler Hernstrom
“The Thief of Forthe” by Clifford Ball
“Black Genesis” by Mark Taverna
“Adventure in Lemuria” by Frederick Arnold Kummer, Jr.
“The Heaviest Sword” by Geoff Blackwell

Get your free digital copy right here.

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DMR Books Brings Pulp Sword & Sorcery Back Into Print

Saturday, May 5th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

The Sapphire Goddess The Fantasies of Nictzin Dyalhis-small The Thief of Forthe and Other Stories by Clifford Ball-small

Last month I rented a booth at the Windy City Pulp and Paper show here in Chicago — my favorite local convention — and piled it high with brand new hardcovers and trade paperbacks I was giving away. I had 31 boxes of leftover review copies, duplicates from my collection, and hundreds of rare advance proofs to get out of my basement, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity. Bob Byrne and Steven Silver made long drives to the con to help staff the booth, and we were looking forward to handing out books to grateful attendees.

Reality was a little bit different. Most folks passed by our booth with barely a glance. If Bob and Steve and I hadn’t been tirelessly peddling books, handing out free copies as people passed by, and carting books by the dozens to the freebie pile at registration every few hours, we’d probably still be there. This was an audience more interested in pulps and vintage paperbacks than brand new science fiction and fantasy, apparently.

It’s not true that there was no interest in our booth. After eight long hours unsuccessfully giving away books on Friday, Dave Ritzlin from DMR Books joined us on Saturday, and we gladly made space for him in the booth. Once we did interest picked up immediately, as folks zeroed in on his attractive selection — and especially his new releases, The Sapphire Goddess: The Fantasies of Nictzin Dyalhis and The Thief of Forthe and Other Stories by Clifford Ball.

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The Finest in Modern Sword & Sorcery: The Best of Heroic Fantasy Quarterly: Volume 2, 2011-2013

Thursday, November 16th, 2017 | Posted by John ONeill

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One of the reasons I especially regret not attending the World Fantasy Convention this year is missing the release of The Best of Heroic Fantasy Quarterly: Volume 2, which debuted at the con. I wrote the introduction to the first volume, and I dearly wish I’d been there to celebrate the arrival of this one. In his review of Volume 1, Fletcher Vredenburgh wrote:

Regular readers of my monthly short story roundup know how great I think Heroic Fantasy Quarterly is, ranking it the most consistent forum for the best in contemporary swords & sorcery. Some may think I’m laying it on a little thick, but The Best of Heroic Fantasy Quarterly: Volume 1, 2009-2011, a distillation of the mag’s first three years, should prove that I’m not.

Under the stewardship of editors Adrian Simmons and David Farney HFQ has gotten better and better over the past six years, and I’m pleased that the wait for Volume 2 is finally over. It collects twenty stories and poems published in Heroic Fantasy Quarterly between 2011 and 2013; each one is accompanied by a full-page illustration.

If you’re looking for the best in modern heroic fantasy, look no further. The Best of Heroic Fantasy Quarterly: Volume 2, 2011-2013 was compiled by the editors of Heroic Fantasy Quarterly and published on October 23, 2017. It is 250 pages, priced at $12.99 in paperback. The cover is by Robert Zoltan. Get more info and order copies here, and check out Heroic Fantasy Quarterly magazine — available online and completely free — here.


Support an Exciting New Magazine of Sword & Sorcery: Tales From the Magician’s Skull

Wednesday, October 11th, 2017 | Posted by John ONeill

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Here’s the best news I’ve heard all month: Goodman Games, publisher of the excellent Dungeon Crawl Classics line of old-school RPG adventures, has launched a brand new magazine of Sword & Sorcery, Tales From the Magician’s Skull. The editor chosen to helm this groundbreaking project? None other than our very own Howard Andrew Jones. Here’s Howard with the scoop.

A gong shivers…
The mists part to reveal a grisly object lying upon a mound of rubble, a browned and ancient head with one glowing, malefic eye…
It speaks, in a voice of cold command: “Silence, mortal dogs! It is time now for
TALES FROM THE MAGICIAN’S SKULL!
Goodman Games [has launched] the Kickstarter for the exciting new sword-and-sorcery magazine inspired by Appendix N. I am mightily pleased to be the magazine’s editor, and I’ve had a blast assembling it with Joseph Goodman. We’ve been working together for almost a year, and I’ve got to tell you that the result is GLORIOUS. Just check out that Jim Pavalec cover.

The first issue, with stories by James Enge, John C. Hocking, Chris Willrich, Howard Andrew Jones, C.L. Werner and others, truly is a knockout. The Kickstarter funded in less than 24 hours, and continues to gather momentum. Make a pledge, and make sure you get your copy of the the first issue of what’s sure to be one of the most important magazine launches of the decade. And check back here this week for a 3-way interview with publisher Joseph Goodman, Howard Andrew Jones, and the grinning skull itself!


Literary Wonder & Adventure Podcast Presents: Robert E. Howard, Master of Sword & Sorcery: A Conversation with Author Howard Andrew Jones

Wednesday, April 19th, 2017 | Posted by John ONeill

Literary Wonder & Adventure Show Howard Andrew Jones

I have thoroughly enjoyed the last two audio shows from Robert Zoltan’s Dream Tower Media, a lively conversation with Black Gate blogger Ryan Harvey on Edgar Rice Burroughs, and a fascinating discussion with Scott Oden on the history and writing of J.R.R. Tolkien. So I was very excited to see that for Episode #4 the subject was the distinguished Howard Andrew Jones, author of the beloved Dabir & Asim Arabian fantasy tales, and the future bestseller For the Killing of Kings, out next year from St. Martin’s Press. The topic this time was none other than Robert E. Howard, the legendary creator of Conan, and perhaps the greatest Sword & Sorcery author of all time.

As usual, calling this a podcast doesn’t do it justice, as it’s really a professionally-produced radio show set in the dimension-hopping Dream Tower (with a talking raven). I’ve had plenty of lengthy discussions with Howard — who is the Managing Editor of Black Gate — over the years, and here he’s at the peak of his form, entertaining and highly informative. The podcast opens with a animated discussion of life in small town Texas, Robert E. Howard’s substantial gifts as a storyteller, and why he added whipping scenes to so many pulp tales. It looks at REH’s enduring creations — including Conan, Solomon Kane, and Dark Agnes — before exploring our fascination with ruins, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, and the influence of gaming on modern fantasy.

My only criticism is the host’s tendency to wander off topic, and repeatedly cut off his guests to talk about himself. Robert Zoltan is a fascinating guy, and I enjoy his opinions, but that doesn’t mean that a 1-hour podcast on Robert E. Howard is the right place for a 3 minute monologue on Van Gogh, or a 7-minute monologue on narcissism and how hard it is to make a living as a musician. Future podcasts should focus more on his guests, or maybe just do away with the pretense of an interview entirely. That might set better expectations with listeners.

Check out Literary Wonder & Adventure Podcast Presents: Robert E. Howard, Master of Sword & Sorcery: A Conversation with Author Howard Andrew Jones, and all the episodes of the Literary Wonder & Adventure Podcast, here.


Heavy Metal Lyrics, Sword & Sorcery Fantasy and Video Games: A Cultural Synergy by Dr. Fred Adams

Thursday, September 1st, 2016 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Fred_SpaceInvadersLast year, Dr Fred C. Adams, Ph.D., joined our parade of writers in the Discovering Robert E. Howard series with an entry on Esau Cairn, REH’s classic science fiction character. Dr. Adams is back for another guest post here at Black Gate. Put on your headphones and go!


The parallel (and almost simultaneous) ascensions of heavy metal music, video game technology (which later migrated to personal computers), and sword and sorcery fantasy to mass popularity from the early 1970s forward are not coincidental. Rather, they are synergistic. All three draw from the late 20th century youth culture’s fatalism and nihilism, honed to a fine edge in the fin de siècle era of the 1990s.

Consider the aesthetic of the Ur-arcade-video game of the 1980s, Space Invaders: ranks of grotesque aliens march across the screen as space ships fly overhead firing missiles. You, represented by a screen icon, scuttle back and forth, trapped in a small area firing and dodging missiles while trying to destroy the oncoming ranks of invaders before they reach you and symbolically stomp you into the earth.

The more you destroy, the more ranks appear, starting closer and advancing more quickly. You can forestall death for a time, but the denouement is inevitable. You will lose; the programming foreordains that you will die no matter how well or how long you fight. Other games of the era, like Missile Command, and Asteroids followed suit.

An occasional arcade game like Dragonquest allowed victory, but most reduced play to a life-and-death struggle the player will never win. The kill tally represents the only satisfaction—how many of them do I take with me? As the Time Traveler of Wells’ famous novel says of fighting an impossible number of Morlocks in the darkened forest, “I will make them pay for their meat.”

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Gardner Dozois on the New Sword & Sorcery

Monday, March 14th, 2016 | Posted by John ONeill

Spaghetti western town-smallOn Facebook yesterday editor Gardner Dozois theorized that the essential influence on modern Sword & Sorcery, which differentiates it from the classic pulp S&S of Robert E. Howard and Fritz Leiber, may be the Spaghetti Western.

While we’re talking about fantasy, I’ve been reading a lot of what’s being called “the New Sword & Sorcery” lately, stuff by people like Joe Abercrombie, Scott Lynch, K.J. Parker, Daniel Abraham, and it struck me what the one essential influence was that aesthetically separates the New Sword & Sorcery from the Old Sword & Sorcery, since both have sword-wielding adventurers, monsters, and evil magicians: it’s the Spaghetti Western. Clearly Spaghetti Westerns have had a big influence on the TONE of this new work. Gone are the gorgeous, jewel-encrusted temples stuffed with huge snakes and giant idols with jeweled eyes and slinky sinister priestesses in jeweled bikinis where Conan used to hang out. Instead, the most common setting seems to be a remote jerkwater village, either parched and sun-blasted or drizzling and half-buried in mud, extremely poor and mean, swarming with flies, packed with venal, dull-eyed, illiterate peasants who are barely smarter than morons, if they are, and who have no power or influence in the wider world, and certainly no money, and who stare blankly and slack-jawed at our heroes as they enter town, either kicking up clouds of dust at every step or splashing muddy water.

You know this place. Think of every degraded village in every Spaghetti Western you’ve ever seen.

Read his comment (and the fascinating discussion thread with folks like Eleanor Arnason, Joe Bonadonna, Scott Oden, Elizabeth Lynn, Christopher Fowler, Darrell Schweitzer, Lisa Tuttle, and others) here.


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