Friday, February 28, 2020

My top 25 sword-and-sorcery "stories"

One of my “whiff” moments in Flame and Crimson was failing to include a “seminal works” or a “suggested reading” list. So without further ado here are my top 25 sword-and-sorcery stories, by approximate publication date.

Some explanation.

Yes, they are dated, with nothing coming after 1981. I like a lot of new authors, but they don’t displace anyone on this list.

These are my favorite S&S stories that I return to again and again, not necessarily the “most important” or foundational.

These are in approximate order of publication, although some of the printings I am referring to (Imaro, Sailor on the Seas of Fate), contain stories that were written earlier. A couple of these are obviously not “stories,” but collections. But they can be read as such, and are strongly associated in my mind that way.

The first three stories are really proto sword-and-sorcery, but they tap the spirit of the genre and are among its direct spiritual predecessors.

Four Robert E. Howard, and four Fritz Leiber. Excessive? Perhaps. But these two are the best pure sword-and-sorcery authors in the cosmos, IMO. I can’t live without “Elephant,” “Red Nails,” “The Shadow Kingdom” or “Beyond the Black River,” the latter of which is arguably the finest story on the list. Although you can make a case for The Broken Sword. Some may not consider Anderson’s 1954 novel to be S&S, but I can’t bear to part with it.

As for Leiber, I think he hit his writing peak on “Stardock,” “Ill Met,” and “Bazaar,” but upon recent re-read of “The Snow Women,” I found Fafhrd’s origin story so rich and multi-layered and well done that I had to include it.

Clark Ashton Smith appears only once, and I could have included a few other of his amazing atmospheric catalog (“The Dark Eidolon,” among others) but he didn’t write a lot of S&S, and “Satampra” is everything I like about the genre. Just one by C.L. Moore, who again did not write a lot of S&S, but “Black God’s Kiss” is that good. I have a soft spot for Kuttner and “Dragon Moon” is probably his best.

I’m not a big fan of de Camp’s cynical posturing, but I have read and enjoyed The Tritonian Ring many times, and I think it captures the humor and whimsy and titillation found in certain corners of the genre.

Moorcock is uneven as a writer, but “The Dreaming City” and Sailor on the Seas of Fate are must reads, rich with atmosphere and imagination and the weird.

Three by Karl Edward Wagner is again a lot, but hey, I love the Kane stories. I called Bloodstone the Rosetta Stone of S&S in Flame and Crimson, and “Cold Light” and “Lynortis Reprise” are just bad-ass. Anderson makes his second appearance with “The Tale of Hauk.” I’m a fan of Norse mythology and the Sagas, and this tale is all about The Northern Thing. As is Drake’s “The Barrow Troll,” an extremely well done tale of action and horror.

I had many Vance tales to choose from but Chun the Unavoidable, unavoidably made his way onto this list. Terrifying villain/monster. And if you haven’t read any Imaro, what are you doing? Fix that pronto.

Thoughts? What are your favorites? Post them here.

1. Eric Brighteyes, H. Rider Haggard
2. The Sword of Welleran, Lord Dunsany
3. The Ship of Ishtar, A. Merritt
4. The Shadow Kingdom, Robert E. Howard
5. The Tale of Satampra Zeiros, Clark Ashton Smith
6. The Tower of the Elephant, Robert E. Howard
7. Black God’s Kiss, C.L. Moore
8. Beyond the Black River, Robert E. Howard
9. Red Nails, Robert E. Howard
10. Dragon Moon, Henry Kuttner
11. Liane the Wayfarer, Jack Vance
12. The Tritonian Ring, L. Sprague de Camp
13. The Broken Sword, Poul Anderson
14. The Dreaming City, Michael Moorcock
15. Bazaar of the Bizarre, Fritz Leiber
16. Stardock, Fritz Leiber
17. Sailor on the Seas of Fate, Michael Moorcock
18. Ill Met in Lankhmar, Fritz Leiber
19. The Snow Women, Fritz Leiber
20. Cold Light, Karl Edward Wagner
21. Bloodstone, Karl Edward Wagner
22. Lynortis Reprise, Karl Edward Wagner
23. The Tale of Hauk, Poul Anderson
24. The Barrow Troll, David Drake
25. Imaro, Charles Saunders

Monday, February 24, 2020

Flame and Crimson Kindle edition released, and reviews!

Some important and encouraging news to share today regarding Flame and Crimson.

First, the book is now available on Kindle for the low price of $7.99. If that's your preferred medium (full disclosure, I'm a paper guy and have yet to take the plunge into e-readers) head on over to Amazon and grab an (e) copy.

Second, there's been a few reviews posted and I'm happy (and humbled) by this small sample reaction to date.

Here's an outstanding piece on Spiral Tower, the blog of Jason Ray Carney. Jason is co-editor of The Dark Man, an academic journal dedicated to Robert E. Howard and the broader field of pulp literature, and is a professor at Christopher Newport University. He teaches some classes I wish I had the opportunity to take back in my undergrad days.

Here's another very comprehensive review over at Karavansara by Davide Mana.

These two pieces are honest, with praise but also some critique and disagreement. I like them because they show a deep engagement with the book, from two authors who took the time to read it and write thoughtful responses. I agree with most of their critiques. I had to do some amount of editorializing and interpretation in Flame and Crimson, and I fully anticipated some disagreements, large or small, with my approach, the definitions I laid out, and the conclusions I reached.

As I've stated I'm hoping the book gets more conversation started around my favorite subgenre, and these reviews have already accomplished a bit of that. But I'm glad they also enjoyed reading it and recognize Flame and Crimson as something S&S sorely needed.

Finally, if you'd prefer something shorter that cuts straight to the chase, Paul McNamee offers that here.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

News and updates: Jack London, Flame and Crimson reviews

A few items of note to share.

Buck and John Thornton, ready for adventure
Today I have a post running on DMR Blog, "Jack London, the Frontier, and Sword-and-Sorcery." Check it out here if you're interested. This past weekend I finished up a fat anthology of London's stories, 500+ pages of pure adventure in the Yukon and beyond. It was a needed palate cleanser after years of near mainlined sword-and-sorcery. I had almost forgotten how good London was, and many of these stories were new to me, and I wound up burning through it in no time. The particular edition I read is pictured here, a collection by Platt and Munk first published in 1960. I was given a 1980 printing of this book as a Christmas present that year, when I was just a young lad, I believe from my father. I'm glad I held onto it all these years.

In other news, a few reviews of Flame and Crimson are starting to trickle in, and so far I've been very encouraged. These include three reviews on Amazon, two four star and one five star, and two reviews on Goodreads, both five stars. A few folks have reached out to me via Facebook messenger or email with very positive comments and support. I had one relatively critical review from a member of The International Robert E. Howard Fan Association, who wanted something more fannish, with more checklists, and thought it too much of an overview. I will say he raised some valid points. Flame and Crimson is not an encyclopedic resource, and it lacks a comprehensive bibliography. I believe the genre needs such a book, something like Grady Hendrix' Paperbacks from Hell perhaps. And I'm kicking myself for not including a list of recommended reading or a top 20 list of S&S stories in the appendix. Ah well.

Overall I'm very encouraged with the positive responses. If you at all enjoyed Flame and Crimson, the best thing you can do is leave me a brief review on Amazon or Goodreads or elsewhere. I appreciate all who have done so!