New Edge Sword & Sorcery issue #2,
Winter 2023 (December 8, 2023). Cover by Gilead Artist
The second issue of New Edge Sword and Sorcery has been getting far less attention than its debut, likely because it lacks a story by legendary writer Michael Moorcock, but that’s a shame, as it actually exceeds its predecessor in every demonstrable way. This is editor Oliver Brackenbury’s third time at bat (including the Zero Issue) and he’s clearly getting a feel for how he wants his journal to work. I don’t always agree on the editorial choices of what is included under the NESS banner, but so what? I’m not the editor, and what matters here is that Brackenbury is experimenting and producing.
With his double identity, outlaw status, and penchant for disguise, the Scarlet Pimpernel may have been the clear template for Zorro, but in the novels, he was more secret agent than swordsman, and most screen adaptations have been light on the action side. The BBC’s 1999-2000 series of TV movies, in direct competition with ITV’s swashbuckling Hornblower shows, sought to rectify that imbalance.
Richard Carpenter’s new version of the dapper outlaw of the French Revolution was given a hidden array of gadgets reminiscent of ‘60s spy heroes, and in most episodes found occasion to put a sword in his hand. And since Carpenter made the Pimpernel a good swordsman but not great, and constantly menaced him with guns and explosives, it added a level of urgent threat to the stories not previously seen. If Richard E. Grant as Sir Percy and the Pimpernel was less light-hearted than the Leslie Howard and Anthony Andrews incarnations, he had good reason.
As I blaze through my reading goal for this year (two books ahead, baby!), I’ve been thinking about the app/site I now use in order to keep track of my reading, and the functionality of how I’m able to interact with other readers. You see, though I still have an account, and I check in very occasionally, I all but abandoned GoodReads shortly after it was purchased by Amazon.
There are a lot of ways to go about writing a Sherlock Holmes story. Some folks attempt to very carefully emulate Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s own style, and to turn out a tale that feels as if it might have been penned (or typed these days) by the creator of the great detective himself. No surprise that results vary. GREATLY. Hugh Ashton and Denis O. Smith are the best I’ve found in this regard. Last week, I took a deep dive into Steve Hockensmith’s Holmes on the Range series. You might want to click over and read that. Below, I present a complete chronology of the series (along with a list in publication order, following). Each entry comes with a non-spoiler summary – the kind of thing you’d find on a dust jacket or on a back cover. I think this is a useful reference to a terrific series. Steve himself reviewed and assisted, so it’s accurate. Come back next week for a Q&A with Steve, to wrap up our series.
A HOLMES ON THE RANGE CHRONOLOGY
ss – short story; nvlla – novella; nov – novel
(ss) Dear Mr. Holmes (July 1892)
So begins the Holmes on the Range saga. Gustav (Old Red) and Otto (Big Red) Amlingmeyer travel to Brownsville, TX, to sign on for a cattle drive. They’re gonna help move three thousand Mexican longhorns all the way up to Billings, Montana. En route one night, there’s a stampede. As they get the herd back in place, two of the cowboys are found, stomachs slashed, eyes cut out, and scalped. Clearly, Indians had raided the drive and killed the men. Except, Gustav’s not quite so sure. For the first time, he gets to try out the Holmes methods he’d heard sitting around the campfire and listening to Otto read “The Red-Headed League.” A stranger shortly joins the group, a lawman shows up, fireworks ensue, and Big Red gets the detection’ bug.
The Last Man on Earth (Fawcett Crest / Ballantine, August 1982). Cover by Wayne Barlowe
I continue to dip into the (seemingly endless) supply of anthologies from the three amigos of science fiction, Isaac Asimov, Martin Harry Greenberg, and Charles G. Waugh. I’m not sure how many they actually produced together, but I’ve managed to track down around 80. They began collaborating in the 80s, and averaged over half a dozen books a year, until Asimov’s death in 1992.
This time I’ve set aside their popular series in favor of a fine standalone book: The Last Man on Earth, a collection of post-apocalyptic tales that present a wide range of imaginative scenarios built around a popular SF trope. They include William F. Nolan’s “The Underdweller,” the tale of a man living in the sewers of San Francisco, trying desperately to salvage mankind’s most important texts while avoiding the new rulers of the city; Gordon Eklund’s “Continuous Performance,” which sees a man struggling to survive by putting on magic shows for androids; Roger Zelazny’s “Lucifer,” the haunting story of the world’s last man and his visit to the mysterious ruins of a long-dead city, and many others.
January-February 2024 issues of Analog Science Fiction & Fact and Asimov’s Science Fiction. Cover art by Julie Dillon, and Maurizio Manzieri (for “Burning Grannies”)
It’s February 10th, and I’m a little concerned to see there’s no sign of the January/February issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. Not on their website or Facebook Page, both of which still show the November-December issue, and not on Twitter/X or Amazon. I can’t even find a copy of the cover, which I usually receive from publisher Gordon Van Gelder. The only news I can find online is from Sam Tomaino, who shares this Note From the Publisher (and an advance review) in his excellent Zines & Short Fiction column at SFRevu.
Due to a set of unfortunate circumstances, this Jan/Feb 2024 issue was delayed by more than a month. For the sake of our newsstand readers, we re-named the issue “Winter 2024.” Subscribers should not worry about being shorted an issue.
Fingers crossed this is just a temporary glitch. In the meantime, I’m enjoying the new issues of Analog and Asimov’s Science Fiction, both of which are packed with intriguing new fiction from Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Greg Egan, R. Garcia y Robertson, Sean McMullen, Jeffrey Ford, Ian McDonald, Rory Harper, Michael Cassutt, Stanley Schmidt, Robert Friedman and Barry N. Malzberg, Martin L. Shoemaker, Raymund Eich, and lots more. See all the details below.
Fernán Caballero was the pen name of Cecilia Francisca Josefa Böhl de Faber y Ruiz de Larrea (1796–1877). In 1811, she published the short fable “The Hump,” which is a take on the fairy tale trope of a king promising to give half his kingdom away to anyone who would marry his stubborn daughter.
What struck me in reading this story is the oddity of the trope. Sure, monarchs would marry their children (or themselves) off to make alliances with other monarchs, but part of this trope is that it is so random. Marrying the princess off to whoever could slay a dragon or whatever may demonstrate that the individual is skilled in combat, but it doesn’t necessarily equate to the skills to rule a kingdom.
In “The Hump,” the king determines to marry his daughter off to whomever can say what materials she used to have a tambourine made. Even less of an indicator of ability to rule a kingdom, although perhaps useful if the king is more interested in marrying his daughter off to a musician.
Sword & Sorcery is a clenched fist thrust into the sky, a raised middle finger in the face of the Unknown, an epithet spat into the dirt through a rictus of bared teeth. S&S demands an attitude of not merely surviving but of dominating living, all else—everything else—be damned. The heroes of S&S continue living deeply until there are no more breaths to take. The only -ism S&S promotes is LIVE!-ism. Absolutely a rebellion against meaninglessness, it also fully embraces an I-don’t-give-a-damn-if-it-is-all-meaningless creed. “I live, I burn with life, I love, I slay, and am content.” Robert E. Howard, through Conan, again saying it best in “Queen of the Black Coast.”
Jason M. Waltz from “It’s Not Gentle,” the foreword to Neither Beg Nor Yield
I reviewedReturn of the Sword: An Anthology of Heroic Adventure over at Stuff I Like: A Blog (called Swords & Sorcery: A Blog back then) twelve years ago. I had discovered the book by way of a mention here at Black Gate, which I had discovered while on the hunt for contemporary sword & sorcery. This book, more than anything else, convinced me there was a wealth of new and, more importantly, good S&S writing being done.
I had created my site to focus on ensuring the classics of S&S weren’t forgotten in the face of the seemingly irresistible tide of grimdark fiction that was new back then. Waltz’s book forced me to direct an increasing portion of my efforts toward the new stories. Howard Andrew Jones, James Enge, and John Fultz were all authors I first encountered in that period. There are also dozens of writers I found reviewing hundreds of new stories right here on the pages of Black Gate.
Galaxy December 1973, containing Part I of The Inverted World. Cover by Brian Boyle
I find myself writing another obituary for a major SF writer — this has been a terrible couple of months. Christopher Priest, one of the true giants of our field, has died at 80. He is survived by his partner, Nina Allan, a brilliant SF writer in her own right. (I suppose Priest had a “type,” as his two ex-wives, Lisa Tuttle and Leigh Kennedy, are also first-rate SF writers.)
When did I first know of Christopher Priest? That would have been when his novel, The Inverted World, was first serialized in Galaxy, December 1973 through March 1974, or at least when I first read the book. I have a probably false memory of reading the serial, which would have had to have been in back issues, as I first bought Galaxy in August of 1974. So likely I actually read the paperback from 1975. Be that as it may, the novel purely blew me away. I quickly read Darkening Island (the American title of his novel Fugue for a Darkening Island) and was entranced by its radically non-linear narrative, something new to teenaged me.
If you’ve been to Barnes and Noble lately, or on any major social media platform, there’s a word you’ve probably seen: Romantasy. It’s the marketing buzzword of 2024, and it refers to books that are the Reese’s cup of two very popular genres: Romance and Fantasy.
Did we need this portmanteau? Is it just marketing? Or is Romantasy a meaningful label?
First, some history. Because it’s me, and I can’t do a post without digging into a couple of millennia of history.
The first prose fiction we have are romances. The earliest novel we have in European literature is Callirhoe, written by Chariton of Aphrodisias somewhere between the first century BCE and the second century CE. The plot puts the modern soap opera to shame: our heroine, Callirhoe, is the most beautiful woman alive. Literally: she is Syracuse’s version of Helen of Troy. Did I mention this was set in Syracuse and that she’s the daughter of a famous hero of the Peloponnesian Wars? That’s right: our oldest known novel is a Mary Sue Historical Fiction.