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Author Topic: Sword & Sorcery - Recommendations and Opinions  (Read 22852 times)

Offline Yora

Sword & Sorcery - Recommendations and Opinions
« on: September 25, 2014, 11:57:14 AM »
Over the last two or three years, I've come to develop a great interest in the Sword & Sorcery genre. Located somewhere between what's now often reffered to as Heroic Fantasy and Dark Fantasy, it seems to have been fading into the background since a short boom of mostly rather trashy  movies in the early 80s. (Conan the Barbarian being the one noticable exception, and even that one is probably only really good if you know what you're looking for.) Interestingly, it seems to have made a recent comback in videogames. The Witcher, Dark Souls, Dragon Age 2, Skyrim, Bound by Flame and Heavenly Sword, just to name a few. Only after being familair with these did I discover that there's a really good comic series about Conan running since 2003 and still continuing. Four years ago, there was the anthology Swords and Dark Magic, but other than that there seems to be not much current literature that tries to aim at the genre, at least as far as I am aware.

Unlike most fantasy subgenres, Sword & Sorcery is relatively well defined. Fritz Leiber introduced it to refer to his own stories of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, and included the stories of Robert Howards Conan as another great example of the genre, as he was staking it out. I think there's a really good article on what constitutes Sword & Sorcery as a genre here, and I agree with the three main points made there.
  • The protagonists are highly capable and qualified to deal with the threats they encounter and rely on a combination of offensive action and cunning trickery to defeat their foes.
  • The protagonists in some way exist and live outside of normal society. They may have fame, power, and connections, but they are always different from normal and respectable folk, even when among their own people. They may be wanderers or outcasts, or simply following an occuptation that is not part of normal social life.
  • The protagonists are motivated by their own benefit and do what they want to achieve their own goals. In the most basic form it might be for gold and for glory, but it might also be the simple drive to survive and the desire to save someone they care for. They almost never do anything out of a sense of duty and their loyalties shift depending on who they consider the best ally to get what they want for themselves.
There seems to be a popular notion that Sword & Sorcery needs to be dark, violent, with protagonists who are overall terrible people, but I think in most works this is not actually the case. There tends to be a general abscence of idealism and situations often get quite uncomfortable, but the hero can still be a hero, doing good things and directing his wrath at the actually guilty. Some call it nihilistic, but I think it is rather something quite existentialistic and postmodern. The world is not black and white, try to make the best of it as you can.

I've only read a couple of Sword & Sorcery books and always looking for new recommendations. I think I read all of the original Conan stories by Robert Howard, and while some of them are stronger than others, I think not a single one of them could be called weak. Both the description of the scenes and the pacing, which I consider very important in a story, are very well done and the plots are generally quite interesting as well.
I also read the two collections Swords and Deviltry and Swords against Death of Fritz Leibers Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser series, and these ones I can not recommend at all. Descriptions are noticably lacking, pacing is poor, and the actual stories usually not interesting in any way. It's only two books, but from other people have told me about the others in reply to my criticisms, the other ones are not substentially different in this regard.

I am currently reading Sword and Dark Magic, which is much newer than the others that I mentioned, but I'm still not very far in, so I can't say too much about it yet.

Do you have other recommendations for the genre?
« Last Edit: September 25, 2014, 11:59:39 AM by Yora »
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Offline CameronJohnston

Re: Sword & Sorcery - Recommendations and Opinions
« Reply #1 on: September 25, 2014, 01:08:52 PM »
Some suggestions:

-Michael Moorcock's Elric books are definitely worth a look if you want sword & sorcery.
-Glen Cook's The Black Company
-William King's Gotrek and Felix stories are also good S&S, even if you don't like Warhammer
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Offline Elfy

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Re: Sword & Sorcery - Recommendations and Opinions
« Reply #2 on: September 26, 2014, 12:39:25 AM »
This is completely off the wall, but it may work. There was a graphic novel called Cerebus the Aardvark by Dave Sim. Sim was one of the first independent comic publishes. Cerebus went for 300 issues all up, with sets of varying lengths making up the 'books' that composed the entire series. The first 25 issues, titled simply Cerebus the Aardvark are very much sword and sorcery, although relatively funny, well the main character is an aardvark in a standard sword and sorcery world. It started as an homage to Conan and Sim's favourite artist of the comic: Barry Windsor Smith and it became a treatise on existentialism. Setting and tone changed for the second book: High Society (the best run of the entire series IMO), but the opening was very sword and sorcery. You could try and hunt out the Robert Jordan Conan's, and those by other authors. John Jakes wrote an fairly entertaining series about a character called Brak the Barbarian. The early Gor (about the first 5, before he became obsessed by the idea of female slavery) books by John Norman were very sword and sorcery in tone. Jack L. Chalker did a series called River of the Dancing Gods that to a certain extent parodied the sword and sorcery genre.
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Offline Doctor_Chill

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Re: Sword & Sorcery - Recommendations and Opinions
« Reply #3 on: September 26, 2014, 01:21:07 AM »
This is probably going to be a very loose recommendation, but I think you could argue that The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch is a nice off-shoot of the traditional S&S sub-genre.

But I think you'll probably want Elric right now.
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Offline Elfy

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Re: Sword & Sorcery - Recommendations and Opinions
« Reply #4 on: September 26, 2014, 01:32:18 AM »
This is probably going to be a very loose recommendation, but I think you could argue that The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch is a nice off-shoot of the traditional S&S sub-genre.

But I think you'll probably want Elric right now.
Lies is a picaresque book in the style of Fritz Leiber, and there's a scene in Swords and Deviltry that very much recalls a similar scene in Lies.
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Offline stevenpoore

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Re: Sword & Sorcery - Recommendations and Opinions
« Reply #5 on: September 26, 2014, 09:32:57 AM »
Throne of the Crescent Moon, by Saladin Ahmed, is a fantastic addition to the genre.
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Offline DDRRead

Re: Sword & Sorcery - Recommendations and Opinions
« Reply #6 on: September 26, 2014, 01:12:48 PM »
Along with Howard, Leiber, and Moorcock; Jack Vance is considered one of the S&S core writers.

Offline Yora

Re: Sword & Sorcery - Recommendations and Opinions
« Reply #7 on: September 26, 2014, 01:16:40 PM »
I think there is an Elric story in the book I am currently reading. Might be a good sample to give me an idea what to expect.
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Offline Elfy

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Re: Sword & Sorcery - Recommendations and Opinions
« Reply #8 on: September 27, 2014, 01:23:58 AM »
I think there is an Elric story in the book I am currently reading. Might be a good sample to give me an idea what to expect.
Elric was one of the many characters Sim parodied in Cerebus, he was called Elrond and for reasons known only to the creator of the book (he did take a lot of LSD at one point of the book's creation), he spoke and acted liked Foghorn Leghorn.
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Offline Roxxsmom

Re: Sword & Sorcery - Recommendations and Opinions
« Reply #9 on: September 27, 2014, 05:31:09 AM »
Now I liked Fritz Leiber's books, but they were originally written as a series of loosely connected shorts, which may be why the pacing feels strange.

There are the Conan books, of course.

Carl Edward Wagner's Kane books are very much in a S&S vein. Never got into them myself, but some people really like them.

I recently ran across a recommendation for something called Jirel of Joirey by CL Moore, which goes a loooong way back. I will disclose that I haven't read them.

Michael Sullivan's Rirya chronicles felt like a sort of return to traditional Sword and Sorcery to me in some ways, though it's got elements of HF as well.

Deborah Chester's books are also sort of halfway between swashbuckling S&S type stuff and HF.

Oh, and the Thieves' World anthologies, edited by Robert Lynn Aspirin has a definite S&S vibe to them. This is the one that started that shared world craze in the 80s, and they do retain that original S&S feel of revolving around a series of shorter stories. Some of the stories were better than others, of course, and you might find yourself skipping some of the authors' offerings.


Offline Yora

Re: Sword & Sorcery - Recommendations and Opinions
« Reply #10 on: September 28, 2014, 10:24:06 PM »
I am halfway through Swords & Dark Magic, and there is a painful absence of two rather important and crucial things: Swords and Dark Magic!
I made my displeasure with Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser clear, but at least Leiber delivered on what he had promised: Two guys fighting against a wide range of magical threats. This book calls itself a Sword & Sorcery anthology, but doesn't even seem to know what this genre is. You don't have to slavishly keep walking in the same old tracks as generations of writers have walked before you, but when you are writing for a specific genre, you should st least try to walk in the same general direction. What this book delivers is mostly generic fantasy short stories. Michael Moorcocks Elric story is so far the only one that really seems to grasp the concept fully. Of the other 8 stories, only a single one actually has a group of tough warriors fighting demons, which is almost as good as sorcerers, but seems to be written as comedy, which pulls the overall quality down.
What really surprised me is that Glen Cooks Black Company story is so far the only one that does not even show a single trait that is essential to the genre. The protagonists are grim, but that's about it. A group of official city guards in service to the sorcerer queen, sitting around and talking with no actual fight scenes or dealing with supernatural forces is the polar opposite of Sword & Sorcery. The stakes of the story are that a rival might badmouth the company at their boss, and they "win" this power strugle by having made copies of a document in which the rival wrote something rude about the boss. This is not a fast paced adventure of dangerous encounters with the supernatural.

Very disappointed and I don't expect it to get better with the other half of the book.
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Offline Elfy

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Re: Sword & Sorcery - Recommendations and Opinions
« Reply #11 on: September 29, 2014, 12:44:00 AM »
Glen Cook was one of the first people to fully embrace what we now refer to as 'grim dark' with his Black Company books. I haven't read the story you're referencing, but I have read most of the Black Company novels, and they drop you right in the action at the very start. In terms of magic there are regular magic duels between two of the Company's sorcerers who are continually trying to one up each other. I wouldn't call them S&S as such, though. The setting becomes very asian influenced in later books. I think Steven Erikson (Malazan) who was greatly influenced by Cook's work in the Black Company novels, referred to them as military fiction on peyote.
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Offline Yora

Re: Sword & Sorcery - Recommendations and Opinions
« Reply #12 on: September 29, 2014, 09:48:57 PM »
Can anyone recommend me any books that have a good amount of fancy action scenes? Something with lots of swordplay, brawling, and bruises? I am trying to get some better understanding on how writers make action work in their stories.

I've read the Dark Elf series by Robert Salvatore some 10 years ago and of course Howards Conan. Any others that could broaden my horizon? I read a story of Abercrombie in an anthology and his style seemed to be quite fitting the bill, but I don't have the slightest idea what else he has written.
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Offline Overlord

Re: Sword & Sorcery - Recommendations and Opinions
« Reply #13 on: September 29, 2014, 11:03:47 PM »
Can anyone recommend me any books that have a good amount of fancy action scenes? Something with lots of swordplay, brawling, and bruises? I am trying to get some better understanding on how writers make action work in their stories.

I've read the Dark Elf series by Robert Salvatore some 10 years ago and of course Howards Conan. Any others that could broaden my horizon? I read a story of Abercrombie in an anthology and his style seemed to be quite fitting the bill, but I don't have the slightest idea what else he has written.

The thing is that a lot of novels that have 'brawling' in are less of the 'sorcery' nature, because they tend to have magical battles instead. If you want swordplay and brawling you could try Doug Hulick's Among Thieves novels or Sharps by K.J. Parker (both popular).

I'd say that each of these titles fit 'dark, violent, with protagonists who are overall terrible people' (by today's standards). The one thing they do lack though, again, is 'sorcery' in any real quantity.

If not your thing, have you read any books by Richard A. Knaak? They may well interest you… He wrote books based on the Diablo and Warcraft games for starters, but also his own series, Dragonrealm, is very good.
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Offline stevenpoore

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Re: Sword & Sorcery - Recommendations and Opinions
« Reply #14 on: September 29, 2014, 11:38:21 PM »
I'd like to say Throne of the Crescent Moon again :) - a good mix of both swords and sorcery there. I'll add that I heard about it properly from a podcast with some Black Gate folks, so go check out the Black Gate site - blackgate.com - and search there.

ETA: in fact, try this link. Should go straight to a search. http://www.blackgate.com/?s=%22sword+%26+sorcery%22
« Last Edit: September 29, 2014, 11:45:19 PM by stevenpoore »
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