Browsed by
Tag: fantasy

Warrior Women Watch-a-thon Part 1: The Good

Warrior Women Watch-a-thon Part 1: The Good

I am currently in the first draft mire of a fantasy novel, bogged down by self-doubt and synonyms, but bravely wading on regardless. It’s the sort of sweeping epic that could get picked up and made into a second-rate show by a streaming service desperate for content, but my lofty aspirations aren’t the problem right now; rather, it is my need to educate myself as a writer. I generally avoid over-describing characters, but on two occasions I found myself writing about a pair of fighters and focusing less on their motivations and more on the amount of exposed thigh between their boots and Faulds. This had nothing to do with serving the story, and more to do with titillating 14-yr-old me and, after some revision, it got me thinking about the influences that led me here.

Born in the late sixties, my formative years were spent in 1970’s Britain, surrounded by page 3, Benny Hill, Carry On and Leela on Dr. Who. Linda Carter’s Wonder Woman was all the rage, and Caroline Munro was in everything I loved. Women could be warriors but, by thunder, they had to be sexy too.

Read More Read More

By Crom: A Pair of Perrys (Conan)

By Crom: A Pair of Perrys (Conan)

I have talked about Conan pastiches in a couple of prior Black Gate posts; and I’ve linked to them at the bottom of this one. Here’s something from one of them:

From 1982 through 2003, eight authors (though primarily four) cranked out 43 new Conan novels for Tor. At two per year, the quality varied wildly, as you can imagine. John M. Roberts’ Conan the Rogue is an homage to Dashiell Hammett’s Red Harvest and one of my favorite Conan books. Steve Perry’s Conan the Indomitable is one of the worst fantasy books I’ve ever read (even though it is a direct sequel to Perry’s Conan the Defiant, which I mostly liked.)

So, let’s take a look at those two Steve Perry books. I think that Ryan Harvey may hold Roland Green in less esteem than he does Perry, but I suspect it’s a close call. I think that Perry was the Tor author cranking out Conan books just for the money. On the whole, they’re bad, and I recommend everyone else ahead of him. Though I don’t recommend Green much, if ever. I talk about the books, and Conan writers, who I like, in the other posts below. You can see what I consider good about them. I don’t think Perry respected the character, or cared about the quality of the plot. Having said that, Conan the Defiant wasn’t too bad as a sword and sorcery paperback. Unfortunately, its follow-up was tripe.

Conan the Defiant

Conan the Defiant is the second of the five novels which Perry wrote in the Tor Series. In William Galen Gray’s chronology it is the fourth Conan tale (following Conan of Venarium, “Legions of the Dead” and “The Thing in the Crypt”), and taking place before Sean Moore’s Conan the Hunter.

The young Conan comes upon a lone priest being waylaid by five bandits. Impressed with the stranger’s skill with a wooden staff, the Cimmerian wades in and helps the man dispatch his opponents. Cengh, a priest of the Suddah Oblates, is later murdered, sending Conan on a quest of justice for his short-time friend.

In typical Conan fashion, he beds Elashi, a desert-bred warrior maiden, as well as Tuanne, a beautiful zombie. Yep, a zombie. Being the irresistible stud he is, the trio engage in threesomes all along their trek to the bad guy’s castle. This one seems to rate higher than normal on the Conan adolescent fantasies scale.

Read More Read More

Rogue Blades presents: “Deep in the Land of Ice and Snow”

Rogue Blades presents: “Deep in the Land of Ice and Snow”

Return of the Sword-smallMy short story “Deep in the Land of Ice and Snow” originally appeared in the collection The Return of the Sword: An Anthology of Heroic Adventure by Rogue Blades Entertainment. Enjoy.


The wolves were too many. Belgad knew that as he soon as he spotted the beasts. There were nearly a score of them, and if that were not bad enough, the creatures were huge, each nearly the size of a riding pony. What was worse, the wolves were quiet and had managed to surround him without his spying them sooner.

No, this was no ordinary pack. They had appeared from nowhere, and they had no qualms about scaling the side of a mountain for their human prey.

Belgad forced himself to climb higher, the bitter cold winds whipping at his long yellow hair. His fingers, the tips protruding from rags he had used to swaddle them, gripped the edge of another boulder and lifted him with the help of solid placement from his fur-lined boots.

On top of the boulder, Belgad found a flat spot and sat there, letting the cold air fill his tired lungs. His body needed rest after days of hiking dense forests and climbing steep hills, but he would not close his eyes; the wolves were drawing nearer, below and above. It would only be a matter of time before they would pounce.

After what felt like hours to the big man wrapped in furs, one of the wolves, the largest, began to creep its way along a narrow path toward him.

Belgad watched the animal with anticipation, knowing soon he would be in battle.

Eventually the wolf was below Belgad, just out of reach of the man’s legs hanging off the side of his stone seat.

“Will you eat me today, wolf?” the large man said to the animal.

The wolf’s only reply was uplifted ears and a tilted head.

“I think not,” Belgad said, drawing in his legs and pushing off them so he was standing on the boulder.

The wolf blinked, and that was when Belgad took notice of its eyes. The animal had eyes the shade of morning blue ice.

Read More Read More

Rogue Blades Presents: Recalling a Fantasy Hero — Hanse Shadowspawn

Rogue Blades Presents: Recalling a Fantasy Hero — Hanse Shadowspawn

Thieves' World-Walter-VelezAs I’ve written before, my introduction to Sword and Sorcery literature came not through the more traditional routes of Robert E. Howard, Fritz Leiber, Michael Moorcock, etc. I first delved into Sword and Sorcery almost by accident about 1979 when at the age of nine I picked up a collection of fantasy short stories titled Thieves’ World, the first in what eventually would become a long series of anthologies and novels and even gaming-related material.

At that point in my young life I had discovered Tolkien, and I had read what was then the first of Terry Brooks’ Shannara books, but that was about the extent of my fantasy readings outside of comic books.

Thieves’ World opened my eyes to a much larger and somewhat darker potential for fantasy literature, one I had yet to envision at that time.

Yet my love for the series, and for Sword and Sorcery, would not come immediately upon opening the book. The introduction by series editor Robert Asprin proved interesting enough as did the first short story, “Sentences of Death” by John Brunner, and the following tales were also worthy reads.

Yet when I got to the fourth tale, “Shadowspawn” by Andrew Offutt, something … changed. Something opened within me.

This tale featured one Hanse Shadowspawn, a young, cocky thief who often wore bright garb by the day but dark garb by the night. And he also wore a dozen or so daggers about his body. Hanse showed himself to be a cocky, swaggering sort of fellow, though he also had a soft spot for those he loved.

Over the next forty or so years throughout multiple short stories and a few novels, Hanse Shadowspawn still remains one of my favorite fantasy characters. Despite his upbringing on the roughest streets of the city of Sanctuary, he became a friend to royalty, rescued a near-god from a fate worse than death, found love, grew old and learned his parentage consisted of … but that would be telling. I’ll try to leave more than a little mystery. Let’s just say, Hanse proved no mere thief, and he was the best at what he did for a reason, for several reasons.

Read More Read More

Neverwhens, Where History and Fantasy Collide: Of Lambs and Lizardmen

Neverwhens, Where History and Fantasy Collide: Of Lambs and Lizardmen

For the Killing of Kings-small Upon the Flight of the Queen-small When the Goddess Wakes-small

The Ring-Sworn Trilogy by Howard Andrew Jones: For the Killing of Kings (Feb 2019), Upon the Flight of the Queen
(November 2019) and the forthcoming When the Goddess Wakes (April 2021)

A bit of prologue and some full disclosure to the Gentle Reader

The purpose of this column has been looking at the challenges of historicity vs. fantasy in the process of world-building; well at least when the fantasy in question is trying to be either realistic or set in our world or a near-neighbor. From contrasting the visual departure of Jackson’s LotR films as a more effective means of showing the vast sweep of Middle Earth’s history, to critiquing the swordplay of the Witcher TV show, to interviewing authors who play in both the worlds of Historical Fiction and Fantasy,  I’ve come to realize we have a pretty clear continuum:

  1. Historical Fiction – just what it says. Whether it’s set in the Paleolithic or WWII, it’s a story set in our own past, with the ostensible goal of painting a portrait of that time and place.
  2. Historical Fiction with Elements of “Magical Realism” – really more of a technique of “literature” but the story is more or less as above but there may be hints or some unexplained and unexplainable element.
  3. Historical Fantasy – this is a specialty for folks like last month’s interviewee Scott Oden. Our historical past, only elements of magic, monsters, etc., exist, something like a “secret history.” A lot of traditional sword & sorcery exists here, but so does the fantastical work of writers like Judith Tarr or G. Willow Wilson.
  4. Low Fantasy in a Secondary World – the world I NOT ours, and may not even be based on any clear cognate of our civilizations, but it’s “realistic” in the sense that it’s technology and structure follows our historical models. Magic and monsters exist, but farming gets done with an iron plow and three-field rotation, people ride horses and camels (or something like them), etc. A lot, if not most, of fantasy fits this model and fantasy.
  5. High Fantasy – Magic is powerful and sweeping, there are non-human races who can do magical things, the gods may be capable of manifesting themselves or their will, etc. A lot of epic fantasy fits into this mode.

We can quibble on where those lines are (Tolkien is High Fantasy, but is Martin?), and maybe there are further subdivisions (for example, Urban Fantasy overlays the last two), but the definitions work for this column because the further you go from #1 on the continuum, the less important “historicity” becomes. 

Which brings me to my guest….

Read More Read More

Neverwhens, Where History and Fantasy Collide: Of Orks and Orkney

Neverwhens, Where History and Fantasy Collide: Of Orks and Orkney

Scott Oden Scott Odin

One of these men is an author, the other is Odin…there’s more commonality than you might think.

Scott Oden  is an American writer best known for his historical novels set in Ancient Egypt and Ancient Greece, and historical fantasy. Oden’s breakthrough novel was 2005’s Men of Bronze, set in late Pharonic Egypt; it was followed in 2006 by Memnon and in 2010 with The Lion of Cairo, which mixed pulp-style action and sorcery with Crusader politics in Fatimid Egypt. His most recent novels are the opening volumes of the saga of Grimnir, the last orc, following a quest for revenge across the centuries, from Brian Boru’s Ireland in the 11th century to 14th century Messina in the forthcoming third and final volume. Considering how much his areas of interest and writing overlap with Christian Cameron, whom I interviewed last month, it was fascinating to see how much the two authors methods of world building do, and don’t, overlap.

GM: So you’ve written both historical fiction and fantasy. Which genre was your first love?

SO: Definitely fantasy. The Hobbit was my gateway text, back when I was 8 or 9 years old, and I quickly followed that with The Lord of the Rings, Robert E. Howard’s Conan (the Ace editions), and eventually Moorcock’s Elric and Karl Wagner’s Kane. I liked some historical fiction as a kid, mainly the fictionalized biographies of Harold Lamb — especially Alexander of Macedon… what kid wouldn’t marvel to the feats of Alexander, as described by Lamb? I was — and remain — a huge aficionado of Greek, Roman, Egyptian, and Norse myth. I had this little pocket-sized encyclopedia from Scholastic called Gods, Demigods, and Demons by Bernard Evslin. I still have that battered old copy . . . [GM: So do I!!!]

Read More Read More

Rogue Blades Presents: It’s a Time for Heroes

Rogue Blades Presents: It’s a Time for Heroes

the-lost-empire-of-sol-front-cover-smallIn a matter of weeks, months, it has become a different world. Even within the confines of speculative literature and what’s oft referred to as nerd or geek culture, there have been big changes. For instance, disappointing to those of us who had planned to attend this year, Howard Days in Cross Plains, Texas, has been canceled, as have hundreds of conventions and gatherings across the globe. Closer to home for me, a board member of Rogue Blades Foundation, a nonprofit publisher focusing on all things heroic, we have had to push back to 2021 publication of the book Robert E. Howard Changed My Life (though The Lost Empire of Sol is still expected to be published next month).

Now don’t think this is grousing, complaining. I’m merely pointing out how some of the world has changed of late. For that matter, some of the changes aren’t all bad.

As a writer and editor, I normally work from home, so all this isolation most of us are having to contend with of late isn’t new to me. What is new for me is that everybody else is home. Including all my online gaming buddies. And most of them don’t seem to be working at home. Which means they have lots of time for Dungeons & Dragons. Which means I have lots of time for Dungeons & Dragons. And other games. Which means I’m getting less work done than usual.

Read More Read More

Rogue Blades author: Robert E. Howard, Conan and Me

Rogue Blades author: Robert E. Howard, Conan and Me

Howard changed my lifeBelow is an excerpt from author John C. Hocking’s essay for the upcoming book, Robert E. Howard Changed My Life, from publisher Rogue Blades Foundation.

I was a precocious reader.  By the time I was seven years old, guided by the taste of my father, I was reading Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, E.R. Burroughs, E.E. Smith, and Lester Dent’s Doc Savage stories.  Around this time my father, an art and history teacher, a martial artist and collector of swords, became a little frustrated that my mother was less than keen to accompany him to see a new, supposedly pretty hardboiled, Western movie called A Fistful of Dollars, so he took me.

In addition to thrusting upon my youthful eyes an unimagined example of cinematic style, the film presented a powerful vision of a highly qualified good and a frighteningly believable evil in stark conflict beyond anything I’d encountered before.  Every aspect of the movie resonated with me, but the depiction of fearsome, believably dangerous villains being faced down by a hero who was actually dangerous enough to confront and destroy them instantly made most of the reading, TV and movies I’d known seem somehow inadequate, even false.

Then, in the summer of 1967, my Dad brought me a copy of Lancer’s Conan the Adventurer.  The Frazetta cover promised much, but I read the first story in that collection, Robert E. Howard’s “The People of the Black Circle,” on a quiet sunny morning and it blew my little mind.

Read More Read More

Rogue Blades Presents: Out There in the Wilds with Robert E. Howard

Rogue Blades Presents: Out There in the Wilds with Robert E. Howard

Howard changed my lifePublisher Rogue Blades Foundation recently announced the upcoming release of the book Robert E. Howard Changed My Life. Below is an excerpt from author Joe R. Lansdale’s essay for the book.

You can feel so lonely, out there in the wilds.

Oh, I had my parents’ support. They were great. But it isn’t quite the same. I wanted to know other writers, meet an editor or publisher. As for an agent, I thought they worked for the CIA.

I knew this, though.

I loved books, and I wanted to write them, and I had figured out when I saw names on comic books, Bob Kane and Gardner Fox, that real people came up with this stuff, but I was told, by someone who didn’t know his butt from a hole in the ground, that everyone who wrote comics, or novels, or stories, lived in New York or Los Angeles.

I had never been to either.

Read More Read More

Neverwhens, Where History and Fantasy Collide

Neverwhens, Where History and Fantasy Collide

Captain Blood Sabatini-small

Fantasy and Science Fiction are often viewed as two distinctive, though related, forms of speculative fiction, but in reality, the genre is a continuum in which the dreamscapes of a Lord Dunsany or Robert Holdstock can lead us through twisting turns of possibility until we arrive at Andy Weir and Ian Banks, or a Neal Stephenson story of “digital resurrection” can turn into a story of gods, goddesses and quests.

The central theme, the true “Call of Cthulhu” behind good speculative fiction is not “swords, sorcerers or blasters,” but the author’s ability to take the reader out of the comfort of our mundane world, and by introducing varying degrees of what-ifs, neverwhens or neverwheres to take us on inward journey that stimulates our imagination, our sense of wonder, our ability to consider this spinning rock we live on today. Of course, what I am talking about is “world-building.” The world building may be subtle, introducing only the smallest tweaks to reality, or it may be the all-encompassing sweep of foreign lands, peoples and languages, most famously represented by Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.

There are a lot of ways to tackle world-building, but this column is going to focus on one: historicity in fantasy fiction. Full disclosure: I have a background in medieval history and have spent most of my adult life meticulous reconstructing medieval martial arts from primary source material. So, I’m a nerd. For the average fantasy reader, an obvious pushback is “it’s fantasy, Greg, what does it matter?” I am glad I asked for you!

Read More Read More