Ask a published writer at any level and they’ll tell you writing is, in some respect, a colossal pain in the ass. (Can’t remember if I’m allowed to say “ass” here but let’s leave it and see what happens.) Superstar authors with massive advances and multi-book deals rightfully claim that it’s tough to maintain the passion when writing becomes the day job. Folks at the opposite end of that career spectrum point out how demoralizing it is trying to break in. We’re all at the mercy of luck, circumstance, editor whims, etc, and it can be tough. But we’re passionate about telling stories, so we keep doing it anyway.
Readers typically differentiate stereotypical High Fantasy (elves, dwarves, wizards-with-pointy-hats with a slant toward happy adventuring) vs. Low Fantasy (more “realism” & “earthier” milieu, with a focus on humans defending trenches at a battlefront or crawling through crypts to save a maiden or rob a god). The latter encompasses sub-genres like Sword & Sorcery and the contemporary-named Grimdark.
Why stop at regular Grimdark when you can go further? This post highlights two New Treasures that are arguably Grimdark, but still push the boundaries of what is expected. At the very least, they should appeal to dark fantasy readers who desire something fresh (whatever label the books deserve). To learn if these are right for you, read on:
Janet Morris is a prolific author and has published a library’s worth of fantastic novels, enough to keep a reader busy for years. She has written everything from science fiction and heroic fantasy, to historical fiction and modern-day thrillers, many of them in collaboration with her husband, Chris Morris. Among her many novels are Outpassage, The 40-Minute War, The Kerrion Empire Saga, The Beyond Sanctuary Trilogy, andThe Sacred Band. In addition, Janet and Chris were among the original writers who contributed to Thieves’ World ™, the shared-world fantasy series first published by Baen Books in 1979. In 1986, the duo created,Heroes in Hell ™, their shared-universe series of anthologies and novels; they also edited and contributed stories to this Saga of the Damned. That series was first published by Baen Books, and ran from 1986 to 1989. In 2011, Perseid Press “resurrected” the series, and it has been going strong ever since. But I digress.
As you might deduce from the title, Perry Rhodan NEO is a newer rebooted take on the original Perry Rhodan series. It’s not so new in its homeland of Germany, where this version has been running since 2011 — although printed in its native language, of course. Having this particular series available digitally in English however, is definitely a brand-new development.
Despite its status as the world’s longest-running serialized science fiction story, it’s relatively unknown to most members of the English-speaking public. That’s not what drew my own interest though, as I first discovered Perry Rhodan back in its original English-language version decades ago, when it was published in paperback by Ace Books (when I was still in grade six?!). So, one might say that it had a fairly formative effect on my interest in the whole genre, or that it held some reasonably large amount of interest for me, at least…!
One of the problems with writing about great works is there’s so little for me to add to the volumes and volumes written by writers far and away more knowledgable than I. Still, maybe I can bring a newcomer’s eye to books that have nourished the roots of fantasy, and maybe encourage a few others to pick them up. So I shall ramble for a piece about William Shakespeare’s last solo play, The Tempest (ca. 1610).
The Tempest is believed to have been performed only a few times during Shakespeare’s lifetime, including once in 1611 for King James I at Whitehall Palace on Hallowmas night. It became part of the standard theatrical repertoire during the Restoration starting in 1660, but was edited to appeal more to upper-class audiences and support royalist policies. Finally, in 1838, when actor William Charles Macready staged an incredibly elaborate production using the unedited script, Shakespeare’s original became the preferred version.
Along with several other of Shakespeare’s final plays, including The Winter’s Tale and Cymbeline, The Tempest is categorized as a romance, fitting into none of the standard tragedy, comedy, or history categories. His later works, perhaps reflecting his own changing nature, changing tastes, and the growth of more elaborate productions, mix the comic and tragic, along with magic and mystical elements. The Tempest showcases this evolution brilliantly.
I’m doing a deep dive into Lin Carter’s Imaginary Worlds (first article), and I’ve finally gotten to his last chapter in which he gives advice to writers:
When a writer first begins evolving in his imagination and his notebooks, the raw materials that he intends to shape into an imaginary world, he should think through the problem through to its logical ramifications.
…despite the convictions of occultists and the religiosi of the several faiths, in the actual world magic simply does not work… and an invented world, therefore, that includes the super natural element must be–has to be–very different from his own. Any writer…. should think through all its implications.
If you’ve just tuned in, Lin Carter was a Fantasy author and editor who flourished roughly from the 50s to the 70s. He was a far better editor than author, however his stories are reliable comfort reads, and compensate for lack of depth with fast pacing and unconstrained imagination. No surprise, then, that his thoughts on Fantasy worlds are worth reading. He gives them in X entertaining secions.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll likely say it again (before this column dies the hero of Black Gate or lives long enough to become its villain): I love a novel that’s about conflict resolution through words.
I think most people are familiar with Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (1889). (Certainly, there’s a delightful musical from 1948 featuring Bing Crosby that I loved as a kid.) Twain’s hero is an engineer from Connecticut who receives a blow to the head and is somehow transported in time and space to King Arthur’s England. Although the story is a social satire, it celebrates homespun ingenuity and democratic values, among other things. Although not a satire, Lord Kalvan of Otherwhen (1965) by H. Beam Piper, similarly celebrates good old American ingenuity and values, but takes place on an alternate 20th century timeline instead of the far past. It’s Piper’s last work and part of his Paratime universe.
In this article I’m going give you six (relatively) spoiler-free reasons to read the book, and one reason that has a spoiler, but that I think will only enhance your enjoyment of the work.
“It’s just because I have picked a little about mystics that I have no use for mystagogues. Real mystics don’t hide mysteries, they reveal them. They set a thing up in broad daylight, and when you’ve seen it it’s still a mystery. But the mystagogues hide a thing in darkness and secrecy, and when you find it, it’s a platitude.” ― G. K. Chesterton
After a few unforeseen delays, Mystics in Hell has finally arrived. This is the latest edition in the long-running, shared-universe series, Heroes in Hell™. The gathering of real people from across our historical timeline, and the casting of fictional characters born of myth and legend, folklore and literature, is what makes this such a unique and fun series. Now, for those of you unfamiliar with the series or for those readers who may wish to be brought up to date, once again I’ll do my best to recap what’s been happening in our favorite Afterlife.
Mystics in Hellfollows on the hot hooves of Lovers in Helland the two volumes preceding it. The plagues which first manifested themselves in Doctors in Hell are evolving and mutating. In Pirates in Hell, disastrous floods swept through Hell, leaving behind wrack and ruin, and new islands and coastlines. The damned sought the help of pirates and other seafarers, seeking refuge and passage, hoping to escape to dry land and whatever safe harbor they could find. But there is no such thing as a safe harbor in Hell, and there is no escape.
This reviews Scott Oden Presents: The Lost Empire of Sol brought to you by the Rogue Blades Foundation. This is a fine collection that certainly achieved its mission of inserting a jolt into Sword & Planet offerings. With its interesting premise and cast of authors, The Lost Empire of Sol is destined to become a historic Sword & Planet anthology.
It is edited by two who are well known to the Black Gate community. Firstly, Jason M. Waltz, champion of Rogue Blades Entertainment and the Rogue Blades Foundation, is notorious for rounding up contemporary authors in themed anthologies (perhaps most well known for the 2008 Sword & Sorcery classic Return of the Sword …. and most currently known for Robert E. Howard Changed My Lifereleasing ~now (appropriately on June 11th, REH’s anniversary of passing). And we also have Fletcher Vredenburgh, well known for his outstanding reviews, who provides the “Foreword”: he explains how discussions on Facebook with Scott Oden (adored author of historical fiction, Conan pastiche, and the Grimnir series) escalated into this collection. Also, to dimension the genre and set the stage for a revival is the esteemed John O’Neill (our esteemed chief editor of Black Gate Magazine) provides an introductory essay “Sword & Planet is the Genre We Need.”