Friday, February 25, 2022

In the house, with Rogues in the House

The latest episode of Rogues in the House is out, with me joining the crew for a panel session on the current state of sword-and-sorcery. Alongside stalwart S&S authors Howard Andrew Jones and Scott Oden, Matt and Deane and I discussed questions like:
  • What is the current state of sword-and-sorcery? Where is it strong, where is it not?
  • Sword-and-sorcery in gaming
  • Is the subgenre involved in a renaissance, and do we want it to be or are we better off staying off the beaten path?
  • What perception does the label have in publishing circles, and is it a help or hindrance to getting a work published?
  • Does it need a rebrand/new name to escape its past?
  • How does it differ from the more popular "grimdark" strain of hard-edged fantasy?
  • What do we hope to see in the future, and what does it need to continue to grow?
I had a lot of fun with this one, as always. The best part for me might have been seeing one of the co-hosts' legit armory pre-show. We're talking swords of all stripes, including replicas from The Lord of the Rings and Conan the Barbarian (1982), working crossbows, halberds (bec-de-corbin!), handcrafted chain mail armor, WWII armament, on and on. As I mentioned to Deane, I know where I'm going if the zombie apocalypse breaks out, or if I start seeing parachutes coming down Red Dawn style

A few notes I jotted down prior to the show... sword-and-sorcery today is a very small niche in an incredibly popular broader fantasy genre. Below are some of the interesting things going on it, but added up, it’s still quite small.

· A few good but niche publishers (DMR Books, Rogue Blades Entertainment, Pulp Hero Press, etc.).

· A good magazine (Tales from the Magician’s Skull).

· A swelling number of amateur publishing outlets (Whetstone, Flashing Swords, Heroic Fantasy Quarterly, etc.).

· Some watering holes (Whetstone Discord, a small Reddit group, various small groups on REH websites, Facebook, etc.).

· Some publicity on Black Gate, blogs like my own/Silver Key, DMR Books has a great blog, as is the blog of Tales from the Magician’s Skull.

· Some new anthologies. Swords and Sorceries (Parallel Universe Publications has 3 volumes), Savage Realms. Blood on the Blade (Flinch Books)

· It’s supported by one good podcast—Rogues in the House. Cromcast has at times supported S&S, occasional episodes from likes of Elder Sign. Oliver Brackenbury’s So I’m Writing a Novel explores S&S. Appendix N Book Club covers a fair bit of S&S.

· Some good authors—Scott Oden and Howard Andrew Jones, James Enge, Schuyler Hernstrom, Adrian Cole. Keith Taylor is still writing and Michael Moorcock is still with us, with an original Elric story due to publish next year and reportedly “definitive” Elric editions coming out.

· But, it’s still a widely misused and misunderstood term, which is what I tried to help repair with Flame and Crimson. Still used synonymously with “fantasy.”

· It’s not a genre that major publishers want to take a chance on, and therefore not commercially viable.


thedarkman said...

Maybe we gotta call it Heroic Fantasy (formally known as Sword & Sorcery)? Shake off the public’s/publishers misconceptions and link it to the all-popular Fantasy. I’m still going to refer to it as S&S to those who know the truth…

Ryan said...

Looking forward to listening to this one. The last Deathstalker II episode was great. I want to give a shout out to the Dungeon Dive channel on YT. I think Daniel over there deserves a tack and some string on the S&S evidence board. He covers all gaming S&S and adjacent, interspersed with discussions of classic books (currently doing the Elric series). I have no affiliation, but it's one my favorite tabletop gaming S&S sources.

Brian Murphy said...

Thanks for the comments guys, and I hope you enjoy/have enjoyed the episode. The guys at Rogues are good dudes and both opportunities I've had have been fun.

Ryan, I'm not familiar with the Dungeon Dive channel so will gladly check that out.

Unknown said...

I absolutely love the Rogues in the House. After reading the 3 Del Rey Conan compilations/novels for the first time (which I discovered due to another blog)--

--it was all down the rabbit hole after that. I found and read your Flame and Crimson book and absolutely devoured it. It led me to reading the entire Black Company series and others, so thank you. When I found out you were featured on the Rogues in the House I had to speed up my listening to catch up to the episode(s). The Deathstalker episode was their best so far and I'm already a huge fan.

I know we are in a hopeful age of always desiring a resurgence of Sword and Sorcery, and even the term is abused and losing its luster, but people like you and thankfully many others are not only keeping it alive, but causing a rumble in its massive but dormant potential; the quake to follow.

Unknown said...

casting and clubs
valor and voodoo
brutes and blades
guisarmes and gallantry

the "word-and-word" style holds a lot of power, especially when you hear a term like Dungeons and Dragons, Sword and Sorcery, Ice and Fire, just keeps it so succinct but at the same time elementally (sometimes literally elemental) plain and straight to the point. Unfortunately this term has been hijacked. To fully explain it people have to read Howard's works, move on through other authors and watch some good and some bad-good 80's heroic fantasy films.

I like the term heroic fantasy a lot as well which does BROADEN (broadswords and bastards??) the horizon a bit. I for one love Scott Oden's direction as taking things to the reality of Historical Fiction but sprinkling fantasy into it. That's what Howard did, to a great extent.

I've never heard the term but Historical Fantasy is a phrase I love, ever since reading Miles Cameron's (Christian Cameron) The RED Knight / Traitor Son Cycle. That showed me history mixed with fantasy can be enthralling. It ain't grimdark or sword and sorcery but it fits somewhere between them, and I loved it.

Grimdark, noblebright, grimbright, nobledark, etc., these terms are fun for a specific kind of story but S&S is somewhere between these as well. It's such a unique genre but to fit things like Willow AND Legend AND Conan AND Highlander AND "swashbuckling"

barbarians and bravery!

I'm having too much fun -- Luke Batchelor

Unknown said...


Sounds like a magic card...

Halcyon of Godsmantle said...

Mirth and Mythology, Might and Mysticism, Magic and Majesty, Mountains and Monsters, Medjai and Monks, Malice and Mortality!!!

There seems to be no easy buzzword term here. It's so easy to make a sword and sorcery feeling title or phrase but not a word for a brand new genre.

Undreamable savage wildbrand steelarm valorquest mighty colossal titanheart scoundrel behemoth brutal ancient primordial savage civilization

Brian Murphy said...

Unknown (whoever you are), thank you for the kind words! I appreciate it. Keep that S&S flame alive, brother.

Lots of good alternative names above, and there is something in the power of alliteration. Heroic fantasy is probably the safest bet here, to be honest. Some consider it a larger umbrella beneath which S&S can be easily slotted.

Unknown said...

I agree, at the end of the day there probably won't be a new buzzword for our special corner of the fantasy genre. Heroic Fantasy with the sub Swords and Sorcery will simply have to stay as it is (with all the inappropriate tie-ins that we will just have to tolerate).

If I wrote in the genre though I'd be sure to plaster WEIRD HEROIC FANTASY and SWORD AND SORCERY all over it, haha. Thanks for the response, and thanks for the book.