How to Put the Sword in Sword and Sorcery

Saturday, February 23rd, 2013 | Posted by Violette Malan

The Princess BrideI love sword fighting. All of my favourite movies involve sword fights, and most of my favourite books. I love the Star Trek TOS episode where Sulu runs around with a sword, so it should come as no surprise that I primarily write sword and sorcery novels.

The sorcery part’s easy – pretty well everyone knows I’m making that up, and so long as I keep things internally consistent, I’m in the clear.

But what about the sword part? I can’t just make that up, can I? Viz. this exchange, which took place on a martial arts panel at Ad Astra back in the 90’s:

Panellist: “You know in the movie when Wesley and Iñigo are fighting? Well, they’re not really using the moves they say they’re using.”

Called out by a wit from the back of the room: “Gee, they are in the book.”

And there’s at least part of your answer. You can write whatever you like, but, like William Goldman in The Princess Bride, it behoves you to do some research.

There are some great books that explain all kinds of things about swords and swordplay. There’s Captain Sir Richard Burton’s The Book of the Sword. There’s By the Sword, Richard Cohen’s excellent book on the history of duelling and fencing from ancient into modern times. And there’s also John Clements’s Renaissance Swordsmanship, which has illustrations showing fighting with different kinds of swords, against different kinds of  weapons. It also describes fighting moves in such a way that you can put together a fight — so long as it’s not too complicated.

But is book learning enough? I don’t think so.

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The Ground Rules Have Been Put in Place: Flame and Crimson: A History of Sword-and-Sorcery, by Brian Murphy

Tuesday, March 31st, 2020 | Posted by David C. Smith

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Cover by Tom Barber

Flame and Crimson: A History of Sword-and-Sorcery
By Brian Murphy
Pulp Hero Press (282 pages, $19.95 in trade paperback/$7.99 digital, January 16, 2020)

At long last, we have a history of the sword-and-sorcery genre, and a very welcome and erudite study it is. Brian Murphy is to be commended for his honest appreciation of our frequently dismissed and often mocked genre. He intelligently surveys the expanse of the sword-and-sorcery field warts and all, low points and high, putting the genre into its proper literary perspective.

To present a linear history of the sword-and-sorcery genre is in fact to dissect an Yggdrasil of many branches, which is precisely what Murphy has done here. His challenge in undertaking Flame and Crimson was great—confronting a century of work and reducing discussion of it to the reasonable length of about 250 pages. He has risen to the challenge.

(Full disclosure: I am mentioned a few times in Flame and Crimson and am cited in a pull-quote in the header to chapter 1. I am also published by Pulp Hero Press, the imprint that has brought out Flame and Crimson.)

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When We Catch It, Let’s Chase It Again: An Interview with Tales of the Mongoose and Meerkat Author Jim Breyfogle

Saturday, March 28th, 2020 | Posted by P. Alexander

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Cover Art by Anton Oxenuk

Cirsova Publishing has been putting out its flagship magazine focusing on action, adventure, and romance in science fiction and fantasy since 2016. Last year Cirsova began branching out, with the two-author anthology, Duel Visions by Misha Burnett and Louise Sorensen, their fully illustrated 70th Anniversary Edition of Leigh Brackett’s Eric John Stark Planet Stories [which we covered at Black Gate last year], and the 35th Anniversary Edition of Michael Tierney’s Wild Stars.

Cirsova’s newest upcoming release is an anthology of Jim Breyfogle’s Mongoose & Meerkat adventures, lavishly illustrated by up-and-coming artist DarkFilly. Tales of the Mongoose and Meerkat Volume 1: Pursuit Without Asking collects all of the stories published in the pages of Cirsova Magazine through 2019.

Mangos is a bit of a bravo, ready to knock a few heads for some coin. Kat is a mysterious wanderer with more than her share of street-smarts and a head for ancient history. Together, the Mongoose and the Meerkat are a pair of rogues looking to keep their bellies and wine skins filled. Fitting in a comfy mid-point somewhere between Slayers and Fafhrd & The Gray Mouser, this duo is sure to appeal to fans of classic Sword & Sorcery.

We had a chance to talk with Mongoose & Meerkat author Jim Breyfogle about this thrilling new project.

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Sword-and-Sorcery and the Problem of Genre

Sunday, March 15th, 2020 | Posted by Brian Murphy

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Cover by Tom Barber

Among the many challenges I had when I sat down to write Flame and Crimson: A History of Sword-and-Sorcery was the problem of genre itself.

Many of the genres we know, and love, and live in — mystery, horror, historical fiction — are old, in a relative sense, culturally ubiquitous, and therefore intensely familiar. We’ve enjoyed them for so long that we typically don’t bother to question who set them down, or when, or why. Their conventions are widely accepted. Everyone knows what fantasy is for example, and can conjure up a reasonably accurate description without expending too much effort — elves, dragons, heroes, princesses, magic, set in other worlds beyond our own. Boom, done.

But if you start poking under the hood you will find that genres are full of contradictions, exceptions, uncertain beginnings, and open-ended futures. They don’t coalesce until after art has been created, often decades later. They’re birthed through a weird alchemical process that includes inspired initial breakthroughs, the production of further works by successive artists, derivative and pastiche work, fan/reader discussion, and eventually, critical consensus. Or something close.

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RBF Author: Writing Sword and Sorcery in the Days of High Fantasy

Friday, January 10th, 2020 | Posted by Ty Johnston

Howard changed my lifeAuthor C L Werner is one of a number of authors to provide an essay for publisher Rogue Blades Foundation‘s release later this year of the book Robert E. Howard Changed My Life. Below Werner writes of Howard and the influence of sword and sorcery literature.

I have a curious relationship as regards sword and sorcery, because for me this tribe of fantasy fiction was encountered only after spending my formative years with what would be termed “high fantasy” in modern parlance. The Tolkien epics, the Arthurian sagas, and a good deal of Dungeons & Dragons during its heyday in the mid to late 1980’s when there was an emphasis on a grand scale for narratives, as demonstrated by the Dragonlance novels. I didn’t really get a proper introduction to sword and sorcery until much later, after moving to Arizona in 1993. That was when I first read the actual stories (or at least the Lin Carter/L. Sprauge deCamp revisions of them) of Robert E. Howard and his creations Conan the Cimmerian, Solomon Kane, and Kull of Atlantis.

Now I’d had a peripheral awareness of Robert E. Howard’s characters before, through comic books and the Conan movies (and that really cool stunt show Universal Studios had back in the 1980s), but my belated discovery of the actual stories really had a profound effect on me. While I did enjoy The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, I was always off-put by The Silmarillion and became jaded on many versions of the Arthurian tales. My investment in Dragonlance also waned over time, and I think the culprit can be found in an inability to be engaged by protagonists who are so far beyond relatability. Elf lords who can single-handedly cross swords with a balrog or wizards who can one-shot a dragon become, sadly, not as engaging as a character who has limitations to what they can do and how they can do it. In Howard’s stories, Conan or Solomon Kane get knocked about by the bad guys, put through the ringer by the ordeals they face. Certainly these characters overcome incredible odds and mighty foes, but these triumphs always felt like they were earned rather than an inevitable, foregone result. The reader experiences the struggle to prevail alongside the hero and in a more visceral way than often can be found in narratives that are operating to some legendary scale of warring gods and unfolding prophecies.

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Why We Write: Rogue Blades Foundation and the Future of Heroic Literature

Saturday, November 30th, 2019 | Posted by Ty Johnston

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Covers: Johnney Perkins, Dleoblack, Didier Normand

Fantasy readers, like those who dwell together here at Black Gate, are long familiar with notions of heroes and the heroic. Each of us might have our own ideas about what makes a hero, but we would likely find common ground in a discussion of the matter.

That being said, is there any doubt our world today is in need of heroes? Heroes do continue to exist in our entertainment, but often enough they are flawed or irrelevant or humorous to the point of being more pastiche than worthy of admiration. Obviously there are examples of the upstanding hero, yet they seem few and far between compared to our increasing occupation with the deranged or the out-and-out vile. It seems we are more often rooting for the fellow behind the hockey mask or clown makeup than we are for the character who boldly steps forward to set things right in a dark world. Too often our heroes seem to stand alone, if they stand at all.

Rogue Blades Foundation is here to stand with those heroes, real and fictional, and to stand for all things heroic. Rogue Blades Foundation (RBF) is a non-profit publisher of heroic fiction and heroic-related non-fiction.

Fans of Sword & Sorcery literature might find the name of RBF sounds somewhat familiar. The reason for this is RBF is the not-for-profit sister to Rogue Blades Entertainment (RBE), a for-profit publisher of S&S material for more than a decade now. The goals of RBF and RBE are slightly different, thus it made sense to separate the two. RBF will focus upon larger impact projects that would generally be beyond the scope of RBE’s capabilities and intent.

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Upon the Flight of the Queen by Howard Andrew Jones: a Trailer

Friday, November 8th, 2019 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

9781250148803November, 19th is a date worth marking on your calendar. It’s the day Upon the Flight of the Queen (St. Martin’s Press), the second installment of Howard Andrew Jones’ Ring-Sworn Trilogy debuts. I loved For the Killing of Kings, the first book. You can read my review of it here. It’s a terrific swords & sorcery tale with a heavy dose of swashbuckling. If you haven’t read it yet, it should be clear I heartily recommend it. It’s felt like an age since my last post here at Black Gate. I’m still not sure when I’ll return here with any sort of regularity, but for books like this, I’m willing to make an appearance.

I’m old, so the idea of doing a trailer for a book isn’t something I’ve ever thought of. Apparently it’s a thing and it can be pretty cool. Up above is the brand new one for Upon the Flight of the Queen and it was done by Jones’ son, Darian Jones, an animator (as well as many other talents as will become clear later). As trailers are a whole new concept for me, I figured I’d ask Darian about himself and how he created the one for Flight.


Fletcher: So, Darian, can you please, tell us about yourself and your animation background?

Darian: Hello! Well, like my father, I have always been a performer and a storyteller. As a kid, he and I would be unable to watch a movie or listen to a song without taking it apart and analyzing it together. Animation seemed like the natural marriage of writing, art, and music, all things I loved to create. It started with simple comics during middle school at recess (and anytime the teacher wasn’t looking). Then I tried my hand at stop motion using stuffed animals and action figures. Over time I just fell in love with the medium. There is a vast storytelling potential in animation. I believe it is the best way to make any story visually beautiful and expressive. Unlike film, animation grants its creator the most minute control over every detail. I determine exactly what colors I use scene-by-scene. I determine how a character gesticulates and how their face emotes when they speak. I can give them shark teeth or hair made of drifting clouds if I want. My commitment to the study of animation earned me straight As and a position as Lead Animator on our class’ student thesis film. My professor said it was not only my skills with the medium but also my ability to negotiate calmly and effectively during times of extreme stress that won me the title. Now I have graduated college and I’ve been making little animations every chance I get to build my portfolio and, hopefully, win new positions at studios. Until then, I’m doing freelance work for writers and businesses.

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Of Swords & Scrolls: An Interview with Author David C. Smith

Tuesday, October 15th, 2019 | Posted by Joe Bonadonna

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David C. Smith, June 2019 delivering the Guest of Honor presentation at Howard Days 2019

Joe Bonadonna introduces David C. Smith

In 1978, before emails and the Internet, I was working on a novella and reading Dave’s excellent first novel, Oron, when I came across a plot device/character trait in his novel that bore a striking similarity to something I had already incorporated into my story. Already a fan of Dave’s, and knowing he knew Charles Saunders, to whom I had sold several short stories for his and Charles de Lint’s excellent Dragonfields, I asked Saunders for Dave’s address; he was still living in his hometown of Youngstown, Ohio at the time. I wrote Dave a letter and he responded almost immediately. From 1978 until early 1996, when he and his wife Janine — who has a graphic design degree and is a very talented illustrator who did the maps for the brand-new, Wildside Press edition of Dave’s Fall of the First World trilogy — moved to Palatine, IL we kept up a steady correspondence that rivaled if not exceeded the lengthy correspondence between Robert E. Howard and H. P. Lovecraft. Their move occurred during a time when Dave and I had taken vacations from writing. But during the summer of 1996, I finally persuaded him to work with me on a zombie apocalypse screenplay called Twilight of the Dead (later retitled Children of the Grave), and then we collaborated on what we consider to be a solid screenplay called Magicians, which was based on his two David Trevisan novels: The Fair Rules of Evil and The Eyes of Night. That script did exceedingly well in screenplay competitions and we still have hope that one day it will be optioned by some wise, far-sighted and talented producer or director. (By the way, it was at the late and lamented Top Shelf Books in Palatine, at the monthly author’s live-reading night in 2010, where Dave and I met John O’Neill, the Great Eye of Black Gate.)

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Dinosaurs, Mermaids, and Haunted Lumber: The Best of L. Sprague De Camp

Saturday, September 7th, 2019 | Posted by James McGlothlin

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The Best of L. Sprague de Camp
(Science Fiction Book Club edition, 1978. Cover by Richard Corben)

The Best of L. Sprague De Camp (1978) was the fifteenth installment in Lester Del Rey’s Classic Science Fiction Series. Poul Anderson (1926–2001) gives the introduction. Darrel Sweet (1934–2011) does his second cover of the series, the first being The Best of Cordwainer Smith. L. Sprague De Camp (1907–2000), still living at the time, wrote the afterword.

I’m a fairly late-comer to science fiction. I grew up with Star Wars and typical sci-fi shows and movies of the late 70s and 80s, but my reading picks tended to be more towards fantasy and horror. So, like many of these classic sci-fi authors in the Del Rey series, L. Sprague De Camp was a new name to me. And it’s interesting, I think, how one can come to a new writer.

In all honesty, I was not looking forward to reading this volume. Most of what I’ve read of and about De Camp hasn’t given me the most favorable impression. Case in point: A couple of years ago I compared De Camp’s Robert E. Howard (REH) biography with Mark Finn’s. If you know anything about De Camp’s reputation among many REH fans, you’ll know that it is usually less than favorable (again, see my earlier post for more details). And, after reading De Camp’s REH bio, I came around to agreeing with some of this critical press. In short, I thought that De Camp could often come off as conceited with his overly bold claims, especially given his tendency of providing insufficient evidence — or none at all!

But after reading The Best of L. Sprague De Camp, I have to say that despite his reputation with many an REH fan, this has become one of my favorite volumes in the Del Rey series. I found De Camp to be a very fascinating writer. Two things, I think, really stand out in his science fiction writing.

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Warhammer Chronicles: The Gotrek & Felix Novels by William King and Nathan Long are Back in Print

Monday, April 29th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

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I became a fan of Warhammer through Relic’s Warhammer 40K: Dawn of War series of computer games, and eventually became a huge fan of their audiobooks. But people I respect have been telling me for years that their fiction is worth reading. Howard Andrew Jones in particular recommended Clint Werner’s Brunner novels and Nathan Long’s Blackhearts volumes as fine examples of modern sword & sorcery.

But the series I’ve heard the most about is the long-running Gotrek and Felix, which currently stands at no less than 17 volumes, written by William King, Nathan Long, Josh Reynolds, and David Guymer. King is the originator of the series and he wrote the first seven volumes, which I’ve heard described as “the reference series for Warhammer fantasy.”

The early editions are long out of print, and in fact the original omnibus reprints, which collected three novels each and were issued in 2003-2004, are out as print as well. They’re expensive collectors editions today. So are the second batch of reprints, published by Black Library in 2006-2013, which gathered the first 12 novels.

So I was pleased to see Games Workshop issue a third edition of this classic adventure fantasy series, and bought the first volume as soon as it became available. The second volume arrived in February. and the third is due in June. Here’s the details.

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