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Author: Greg Mele

When Venice Ruled the… Galaxy? Miles Cameron’s Artifact Space

When Venice Ruled the… Galaxy? Miles Cameron’s Artifact Space


Artifact Space
by Miles Cameron (Gollancz, June 14, 2022)

Although I love to watch Sci-Fi shows & movies, I don’t tend to read a lot of Sci-fi, and never have; even though Dan Simmons’s Hyperion Cantos remains one of my favorite set of novels in any genre, and I have an incredible soft-spot for sword & planet pulp.

OTOH, good space opera often blurs the line between fantasy and Sci-Fi, or takes themes we see in historical fiction and contemporary society and plays with them, free from the constraints of, well, history. So, when one of your favorite his-fic/fantasy writers sets out to write a space opera, you need to take the plunge.

It’s a great plunge, indeed. I keep trying to come up with an analog and failing but here is the best I can come up with:

Patrick O’Brien’s Captain Aubrey novels + Horatio Hornblower + Top Gun in Star Trek’s Federation if the Federation had been founded by the Renaissance Venetians.

That’s a lot to unpack, right?

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Neverwhens, Where Fantasy and History Collide: Tanith Lee’s Cyrion

Neverwhens, Where Fantasy and History Collide: Tanith Lee’s Cyrion


Cyrion (DAW, 1982, cover by Ken W. Kelly)

The Empress of Dreams

I hardly need to sing the praises of the late Tanith Lee (1947 – 2015).  A two-time World Fantasy winner, Horror Grandmaster, Hugo nominee, yadda yadda yadda, she rose out of nowhere writing sword & sorcery (generally a male-dominated field) with the Nebula-nominated The Birthgrave, and went on to pen 70 novels, 300 short stories and create a style of lush, dark fantasy perhaps best represented by her two best-known series: The Tales of the Flat Earth and The Books of Paradys.

Lee was goth before goths, and alternative before we knew that was a thing. Her style, which was lush and baroque, but not always straightforward for the reader, prose designed to read aloud. Her settings and atmospheres were strongly in the tradition of “the Weird,” owing much to the influence of writers such as Lord Dunsany and Jack Vance.

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Upon the Passing of Giants: Richard L. Tierney, August 7, 1936 – February 1, 2022

Upon the Passing of Giants: Richard L. Tierney, August 7, 1936 – February 1, 2022

Richard L. Tierney

It was not long ago that I wrote an obituary here for Charles R. Saunders, the father of Sword & Soul and a man who showed the possibilities of sword & sorcery/heroic fantasy in non-European settings. Now, I must poor libations for another who took a genre’s flickering torch and in his own, and very different way, showed how to keep it burning.

Richard Louis Tierney (7 August 1936 – 1 Feb 2022) was an American writer, poet and scholar of H. P. Lovecraft, in the latter category probably best known for his essay “The Derleth Mythos” in which he clearly and succinctly provided a critical analysis of Lovecraft’s nihilistic vision vs. Derleth’s more Manichaean one, that had come to dominate “Mythos” fiction in the decades after HPL’s death. As a writer of heroic fantasy, he is best known for two major works: his series of six Red Sonja novels co-authored (with David C. Smith), featuring cover art by Boris Vallejo, and his Simon of Gitta series (which “reconciled” Derleth and Lovecraft’s take on the Mythos, through the lens of historical Gnosticism). He also wrote some straight Robert E. Howard completions and pastiche, including finishing two tales of Cormac Mac Art, and co-writing (again with Smith), a novel of Bran Mak Morn (For the Witch of the Mists).

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Neverwhens, Where History and Fantasy Collide: “When the Levee Breaks (and the Goddess Wakes), I’ll Have a Place to Stay…”

Neverwhens, Where History and Fantasy Collide: “When the Levee Breaks (and the Goddess Wakes), I’ll Have a Place to Stay…”

When the Goddess Wakes (St. Martin’s Press, August 2021). Cover by Lauren Saint-Onge

Know, O prince, that between the years when Stag-flation and the Iran Hostage Crisis drank the Carter Administration, and the years of the rise of the stepson of Roger Clinton Sr, there was an Age Undreamed of, when sword & sorcery, high fantasy epics, slender trilogies and stand-alone novels lay spread across bookshelves like paper jewels beneath fluorescent stars.

This tongue-in-cheek riff on Robert E. Howard’s famous quote from the Nemedian Chronicles is a perfect way to begin a review of Howard Andrew Jones’s concluding volume of the Ring Sworn Trilogy, because it is both a very modern fantasy, and yet, in so many ways the product of growing up as a fantasy-reading GenXer – which both Jones and I are.

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Neverwhens, Where History and Fantasy Collide: Of Aztecs and Iron Chandeliers – Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s The Return of the Sorceress

Neverwhens, Where History and Fantasy Collide: Of Aztecs and Iron Chandeliers – Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s The Return of the Sorceress

The Return of the Sorceress (Subterranean, June 2021). Cover by Fang Xinyu

One of the best things about Moreno-Garcia is that she writes whatever the hell she wants, and it is up to others to categorize it. In an era where authors are often told to “stay in their lane” (be that about what ethnicities or cultures they write about, or what genres the can write in without resorting to pen names), SMG has, in a short span of years, written Gothic horror,  vampires, in a pseudo-cyberpunk dystopian near future, edited a feminist anthology of Cthulhoid terror, a dark fairytale of Mayan gods set in 1920s Mexico, romance, and a thriller set in 1979. Much like Quentin Tarantino, Moreno-Garcia takes the themes and tropes of pulp fiction — noir, crime, romance, horror, fantasy, and infuses it with something new; in her case, often via the landscape of 20th century Mexico.

Now, with her novella, The Return of the Sorceress, the prolific author adds sword and sorcery to the mix. It’s a slender volume, the long novelette or novella being sword & sorcery’s preferred and most effective form, and the tale is a fairly straightforward story of revenge vs. redemption. Yalxi rose from insignificance to leadership of the Guild of Sorcerers; a position she only achieved by murdering her master, Teotah, the Guild’s previous Supreme Master. Unfortunately, at the heart of her power, was a diamond “heart,” set in a pectoral collar, rested from Teotah, and not stolen by Yalxi’s lover and confidant, Xellah.

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Neverwhens, Where History and Fantasy Collide: Goblins, Giants and Blacktongued Rogues Abide! The Blacktongue Thief by Christopher Buehlman

Neverwhens, Where History and Fantasy Collide: Goblins, Giants and Blacktongued Rogues Abide! The Blacktongue Thief by Christopher Buehlman

The Blacktongue Thief by Christopher Buehlman
(Tor Books, May 2021). Cover by Marie Bergeron

“Christophe the Insulter” was for years the single funniest performer at the Bristol Renaissance Faire in Wisconsin, with one of the best cons… er…. shows: Pay me to insult your friends in front of an audience. The more you pay, the more I roast them. It was dark, it was brutal, it was wickedly funny and everyone went away feeling good — even the victims.

Interestingly, that sums up the writing of Christophe’s real identity as horror (and now fantasy) writer Christopher Buehlman; a man whose growing canon of work is filled with some of the most disturbing and dark portrayals of classic horrors — vampires, werewolves, demons (and angels, who are pretty scary, too), and necromancers — but also moments of just brilliant, wicked humor and you always close the back cover deeply satisfied. Consequently, I was deeply excited to read his first foray into mainstream fantasy — The Blacktongue Thief.

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Neverwhens, Where History and Fantasy Collide: Brilliance Gleams Beneath a Black Sun

Neverwhens, Where History and Fantasy Collide: Brilliance Gleams Beneath a Black Sun

Black Sun-small Black Sun-back-small

Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse (Saga Press, October 2020). Cover by John Picacio.

In the 14 months I have had this column, I’ve looked at “historicity and fantasy” from a variety of angles, one of which has been looking at current — and lauded — works by known authors, and assessing how well they weave the two together. Thus far, I haven’t been very kind. While I loved G. Willow Wilson’s The Bird King as a kind of modern fable, it creates its view of dying Al-Andalus by promoting a series of stereotypes about Christian Spain and the Inquisition that would be excoriated where the same treatment applied to the tale’s Muslim world. Conversely, Guy Gavriel Kay is the master of historical fiction masquerading at fantasy, essentially reinventing the earliest form of “Romantic fiction” with his post-Tigana work. Sadly, in Children of Earth and Sky rather than “jumping the shark,” Kay never gets up to speed, creating a tale that is so faithful to the history it is a thinly-veiled variant of, that nothing much ever happens.

So I thought it was time I praised something in this column — because I generally do like far more than I hate. And wow, what a gem I have to talk about with you today.

Over the winter holidays I read Rebecca Roanhorse’s debut entry into the world of epic fantasy: Black Sun. Billed as Volume 1 of Between Earth and Sky, this is clearly the start of an epic, yet just about works as a standalone tale in its own right.

Published last year, this is a departure for Roanhorse, whose work has mostly been contemporary fantasy, though again drawing on native themes. So what’s it about? Well, our official blurb actually does a pretty good job of teasing the plot. Here it is.

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Neverwhens, Where History and Fantasy Collide: Of Tudor Scum and Georgian-Gallants; an Interview with Peter McLean

Neverwhens, Where History and Fantasy Collide: Of Tudor Scum and Georgian-Gallants; an Interview with Peter McLean

My guest this month is Peter McLean, a successful short story writer and contemporary fantasy novelist who has cast his authorially eye on more traditional fantasy, with his War for the Rose Throne, series, the first two volumes of which (Priest of Bones and Priest of Lies) are now available, and currently in development for television by Heyday Productions. For those who may not have read them (and if that’s you, go do that now, we’ll wait) here is the bird’s view summary:

Tomas Piety was once a successful crime boss in the rough and tumble city of Ellinburg. Then came the War, which left its scars and also, ironically, his ordinance as a priest of Our Lady – not for any great change of faith, but because the unit needed a new cleric and Tomas could read. War-weary, the cynical priest heads home with Bloody Anne, his sergeant and confidant, to reclaim his streets. But rival gangs have carved up what was his and Ellinburg is collapsing from within. Tomas decides to reclaim what was his, with his new gang: the Pious Men. Unfortunately, there is more than just a few legs to be broken, as Tomas finds himself dragged into political and magical intrigue that extends well beyond the city.

The story is narrated by Tomas himself, and the limited viewpoint is used to great effect. We only see what Tomas sees, and while he is a mostly faithful narrator, there’s no doubt that he isn’t always entirely honest with himself, and there are times the reader is left sighing or shaking his head on Piety’s behalf.

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Neverwhens, Where History and Fantasy Collide: When History Gets in the Way of a Good Story

Neverwhens, Where History and Fantasy Collide: When History Gets in the Way of a Good Story

It’s been a little while since we visited. If you don’t recall, last time, I took to task G. Willow Wilson for writing a lovely tale in The Bird King, that at the same time it has been hailed for providing strong feminist and Muslim characters, did so by perpetuating centuries old stereotypes about the Spanish Inquisition and creating antagonists that literally could never have existed. In short, to tell the tale she wanted, Wilson mangles Iberian history, and doesn’t provide so much as a footnote to acknowledge it.

I ended that column with:

Wilson is one of a number of authors doing a beautiful job of mainstreaming and normalizing Muslim characters and settings in fiction. But it is problematic doing so while promulgating false historical narratives. Please, give us a more realistic presentation, a detailed Author’s Note at the end, or just make it a secondary world that is so obviously based on our own, but the names have been changed to protect the guilty. Guy Gavriel Kay has made an entire career at just this, and is probably blurring the line between Historical Fantasy and Low Fantasy. He’s absolutely one of my favorite writers.

Now, I get to have my Marc Antony moment: Friends, Readers, Countrymen, I come to critique Guy Gavriel Kay, not to praise him….

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In Defense of Corum, Elric’s Brother-from-a-Vadhagh-Mother

In Defense of Corum, Elric’s Brother-from-a-Vadhagh-Mother

Moorcock The Swords Trilogy-small

The Swords Trilogy by Michael Moorcock (Berkley, 1971). Covers by David McCall Johnston.

Wow, I don’t think I could agree less with a column.

Michael Moorcock is one of the tower giants of sword & sorcery and New Wave SciFi; a member of early Conan fandom who by 16 was a published author and editor, and has spent 64 years writing a vast body of work. Most of this work chronicles snapshots of his Multiverse, and the struggles of the Eternal Champion, the tortured, ever-reincarnating hero of the Cosmic Balance in the struggle between Law and Chaos. And, of course, no aspect of that hero is more famous than Elric, Doomed Prince of Melnibone, wielder of the demonic, soul-stealing rune-sword, Stormbringer. No character has perhaps come to symbolize Sword & Sorcery more, other than Conan himself (*maybe* Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser) than Elric.

Only, as Lin Carter wrote in Flashing Swords! #2:

In 1965 followed an Elric novel called Stormbringer, wherein Moorcock made the tactical error of killing off his hero and terminating the series by the simple method of blowing up the universe. Since then Mike has created many another fantasy hero, but he has recently confessed to me that he is tired of making up carbon copies of Elric: hence this story, and the good news that he is back at work, fitting new Elric tales in among the ones written almost a decade earlier…

And so, Moorcock began writing about other incarnations of the Eternal Champion (and retconning some of his earlier characters to become such). It’s quite a pantheon, but some characters are far better known than others. After our Albino Prince, the most famous must be Dorian HawkmoonJerry/Jhary/jeremiah Cornelius, and Erekosëwho alone of the various incarnations, recalls his past lives, and his dark fate. It’s a mixed pantheon to be sure, with a wildly varying quality of work — I find The Jewel in the Skull, first of the Hawkmoon novels, to be one of the best novels Moorcock wrote, but still can’t get through the Jerry Cornelius tales.

But for me, none of the other incarnations quite work the way Corum Jhaelen Irsei, the Prince in the Scarlet Robe does.

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