The Sword & The Sorcerer

So, when you hear the words swords and sorcery, what do you think of? What’s the first image that comes to your mind?

It’s a Frazetta painting, isn’t it? Or is it Boris Vallejo instead? Go on, you can say it. It won’t hurt my brain too much.

Okay, I lied. It will and it did hurt my brain.

Not that Frazetta wasn’t a talented artist or anything, and Boris Vallejo certainly knows his stuff, but this is why the swords and sorcery genre is on life-support! What started out in the 1930s with Kull (NOT Kevin Sorbo) and Conan (NOT Arnold Schwarzeneggar) and Solomon Kane degenerated into a mess of beefcake and T&A. The imagery became associated with it, mediocre writers clambered aboard like so many rats aboard a ship, and slowly eroded its legitimacy until the phrase swords and sorcery became synonymous with crap fiction that resides at the bottom of a used bookstore’s 50-cent bin.

I’m sure my view of history is skewed. Maybe the crap writers got on board first and the imagery came later, but there is an undeniable curl of the lip and sneer that comes on the faces of even the most geeky fantasy readers when you say those three words.

I like swords and sorcery. I love the old Conan stories (you can find Howard’s novel, Red Nails, for free on Project Gutenberg), Moorcock’s Elric stuff is good, and my absolute favorite is the Kane books written by Karl Edward Wagner, who was a true disciple of the genre.

What makes swords and sorcery different from other fantasy fiction? Epic fantasy suffers from ‘farm-boy’ syndrome, where the son of a blacksmith or some other ‘lowly’ profession turns out to be a great hero and grows up to save the world. (Read the backs of some fantasy books the next time you’re at a bookstore. It’s almost sort of revolting how many of Book 1-s carry this description.) It’s full of sprawling plots, monstrous casts, world-wide travels, and world-changing conclusions.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with epic fantasy. I happen to love it a lot – well, the good stuff at least. (There’s not nearly enough good stuff.) I’m just trying to draw a contrast here.

S&S, on the other hand, is tightly-focused. The cast is smaller, the stage is smaller. If epic fantasy is a Broadway show, S&S is a quiet municipal theater putting on some stunning drama with actors you wouldn’t know from anyone else on the street. S&S focuses (usually) on one central character, the hero, who undergoes his trials and suffers but comes out on top because he’s the hero, dammit. Conan of Cimmeria became King of Aquilonia but quit when it got too boring. He killed dinosaurs, discovered the ruins of ancient civilizations, met disadvantaged deities and more. Wagner’s Kane, on the other hand, was cursed by an insane god to live forever, and live forever he did among forgotten civilizations, brewing wars and fighting the machinations of dark gods, all for his own gain in the end. Kane was a Chessmaster (WARNING! WARNING! THAT LINK GOES TO TVTROPES.COM – if you don’t know what it is, do NOT CLICK unless you’re prepared to spend several hours not accomplishing anything) in the most basic sense, twisting everything and everyone toward his own ultimate goals.

In the past year or two, I have seen the tiniest hints of a revival of the S&S genre. I read Andy Remic’s Clockwork Vampire Chronicles and those definitely have the flavor, and a few other books have been described that way as well, though I’ve yet to have the chance to read them. I hope to see more of it, because I see fiction drifting away from the hero. With the success of George Martin’s Ice & Fire we’re starting to see more muddled, political fantasy which doesn’t really have a hero. Now, I like Mr. Martin’s work a lot, but it still makes me long for a real hero. Unfortunately (SPOILERS, SPECULATION) I believe that hero was Rhaegar Targaryen, and he died at the Trident.

Now, to tie it all back to me like any good narcissistic blogger: The Arbiter Codex is not strictly swords & sorcery. Elegy could be classified as such, because it is solely D’Arden’s story. Others may not possess all of the necessary qualifiers, but one thing’s for sure, that heart of adventure – strange places, strange things, and the struggle of a hero against impossible odds – will continue to be there.

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Review: The Walking Dead – Compendium One by Robert Kirkman

So, it’s perhaps a bit unorthodox to do a book review for a graphic novel collection… but I don’t care.

I’ve of course heard many things about The Walking Dead comic series, particularly after becoming a fan of the AMC show last year. I really like the show, but damn near everything I read called the comic series many times better, and there were a large number of people who seemed quite upset that the show was not a frame-by-frame reproduction of said comic.

I have a couple of problems with comics, overall. First problem is that I read too damn fast for comics. When they’re $2 to $3 apiece and I blow through an issue in about 15 minutes, that’s just not a cost-effective type of entertainment. Maybe it would have been better back in the days when they were a quarter each, but those days aren’t now, and I just don’t get enough enjoyment out of a single issue.

The other problem I have is that since I rarely read them, I’m not really connected to that world and type of storytelling. I do enjoy the occasional Marvel film and I like their heroes, but I’m not used to the comic/graphic novel medium at all. I tend to save what little comic reading I do to big compendiums and omnibus collections, since they’re somewhat more cost-effective overall. I did read, for instance, Joss Whedon’s run on Astonishing X-Men, but that was mostly because it was Joss and I’d just run out of Firefly at the time.

So, with all that being said, let’s move on to the review.

The Walking Dead: Compendium One is a collection of the first 8 volumes (smaller collections) of the series. This covers a fairly large area of the series chronology, and the book was heavy enough that I’m pretty sure it bruised my ribs from reading it in a reclining position.

The first volume, while not exactly the same, is pretty closely tied to the first season of the show, so that kind of felt like watching a repeat. The major difference was that, where some of the scenes in the show were very powerful, the comic felt sort of abbreviated, which at first inclined me more toward the TV show. It’s difficult going from the adaptation back to the original material, because sometimes you end up liking the adaptation more.

After I got past volume one, that’s when shit started to get real, if you’ll pardon the expression.

I love zombies. Man, do I love them. I’ve logged probably close to 500 hours on Left 4 Dead & its sequel, I’ve seen several zombie movies (although I still need to see Zombieland), but I’ve never read or seen anything quite like this comic before. It’s so real, it’s so visceral, and I’ll be damned if it’s not more bloodthirsty and gut-wrenchingly brutal than George Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire.

My plan is to avoid spoilers (although I really, really want to talk about some of them) so I won’t go into any plot stuff. Part of me wants to go start buying the smaller volumes just to continue the story, even though at $8 each I’m going to have a hard time justifying the cost.

Only know this: if you want a frank, bleak and so-real-it’s-disturbing look at the world following the zombie apocalypse, and you haven’t yet tasted Robert Kirkman’s engrossing writing and the stark, black & white visuals of The Walking Dead, you really should read this compendium.

Just don’t get attached to anyone.

Final Score: 5 out of 5. I love this comic – I really do. Read it!!

1st vs. 3rd Person POV

Point of view. It’s a pretty important decision when you’ve decided to write something. Both 1st person and 3rd person have their respective advantages and disadvantages, just like anything else, but how do you decide what’s right for the story you’re working on?

For me, it’s something about the feeling of the story. Obviously, there are genre conventions – urban fantasy is probably 90% 1st-person, whereas epic fantasy is probably 90% 3rd-person. I think romance is usually 3rd, and science fiction can go either way depending on the preference of the author and how the story flows, but probably a majority is 3rd-person.

All three of my published works to date are 3rd-person past tense, because that’s what I spend the most time reading and it’s what I’m most comfortable with as a writer. Plus, it works best with the particular feeling of those stories – Elegy and The Corpse King, as tales of the Arbiters, tend to require a certain distance from the characters’ thoughts. They also are more serious characters, and their internal thoughts wouldn’t be nearly as interesting if delivered in 1st-person.

The short story that I’m working on now, called Sorcerer’s Code, is also set in Eisengoth and is a tale of the Arbiters, but I decided to work from a different character’s point of view – in this case, one of the supporting characters from Elegy‘s sequel (currently entitled Prophecy). This particular character is shrewd and dangerous but also somewhat cowardly, and due to the setting I chose for this adventure, it has more of an urban fantasy flair, despite firmly being an Eisengoth story.

One of the beautiful things about self-publishing is the ability to experiment. I don’t know if Sorcerer’s Code will be as well-received as Elegy (4.5 stars on Amazon & Goodreads) and The Corpse King (5 stars so far) have been, but I certainly hope that the people who have come to appreciate my work will enjoy the 1st-person perspective of this particular character, and also a look at the Arbiters from a different angle.

Any other writers out there? How do you decide whether to write in 1st or 3rd person? Do you ever use present tense instead of past? (I haven’t done it yet.) Inquiring minds want to know!