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Book Review: Skavenslayer by William King 1/7/07

Book Review: The Burning Shore by Robert Earl 1/7/07

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This is the home of Catspaw web comic, and a growing body of works about sword and sorcery and its related genres. Flashing Swords is a quarterly ezine published in winter, spring, summer, and fall, and its next issue is here now.

Newest Content
New content is usually added weekly! Stay tuned!
  • Paul McNamee reviews two Warhammer novels. William King's Skavenslayer and Robert Earl's The Burning Shore

    Added 1/7/07

  • The Catspaw web comic is here. Don't miss this sword-and-sorcery extravaganza from the minds of Storn Cook and John C. Hocking!

    Added 6/12/06 - page updated 11/15/06

What Is Sword-and-Sorcery?

Some people use “sword-and-sorcery” to mean any kind of fantasy fiction. While sword-and-sorcery is certainly a type of fantasy fiction (as a sports car is a type of automobile), the label “sword-and-sorcery” was proposed by award-winning speculative fiction author Fritz Leiber (originally to Michael Moorcock) to distinguish the genre from other categories of fantasy. So the simple answer to the question is that “sword-and-sorcery” is a label used for a sub-genre of fantasy.

What makes sword-and-sorcery different from other fantasy?

The environment, the protagonists, the obstacles, and story structure.
  • The Environment: Sword-and-sorcery fiction takes place in lands different from our own, where technology is relatively primitive, allowing the protagonists to overcome their martial obstacles face-to-face. Magic works, but seldom at the behest of the heroes. More often sorcery is just one more obstacle used against them and is usually wielded by villains or monsters. The landscape is exotic; either a different world, or far corners of our own.

  • The Protagonists: The heroes live by their cunning or brawn, frequently both. They are usually strangers or outcasts, rebels imposing their own justice on the wilds or the strange and decadent civilizations which they encounter. They are usually commoners or barbarians; should they hail from the higher ranks of society then they are discredited, disinherited, or come from the lower ranks of nobility (the lowest of the high).

  • Obstacles: Sword-and-sorcery’s protagonists must best fantastic dangers, monstrous horrors, and dark sorcery to earn riches, astonishing treasure, the love of dazzling members of the opposite sex, or the right to live another day.

  • Structure: Sword-and-sorcery is usually crafted with traditional structure, meaning that it isn't stream-of-consciousness, slice-of-life, or any sort of experimental narrative—it has a beginning, middle, and end; a problem and solution; a climax and resolution. Most important of all, sword-and-sorcery moves at a headlong pace and overflows with action and thrilling adventure.

What is Planetary Romance?

The structure of planetary romance (sometimes called “sword-and-planet”) feels absolutely identical to the structure of sword-and-sorcery; the other elements are very similar. In place of magic, planetary romance has telepathy and scarce technological leftovers from a remote, absent, dead, or dying race of advanced beings—so advanced that their technology might as well be magic. The protagonists of planetary romances, like those of sword-and-sorcery, are outcasts and foreigners, dropped in to strange lands (often by accident). They might be explorers from advanced civilizations, but all they are likely to carry are a beam weapon with a few shots and a handful of survival gismos. More often a planetary romance protagonist has to make do with his wits and the sword he wrested from the planet’s primitive culture. He or she faces obstacles very similar to those faced by sword-and-sorcery heroes.

What Is Swashbuckling Historical?

A swashbuckling historical is similar in tone to both sword-and-sorcery and planetary romance; a swashbuckling historical is an historical adventure or alternate history rooted in the past of planet Earth. The preceding comments about protagonists and structure are identical for swashbuckling historicals, and obstacles and setting are similar. Think The Three Musketeers or Captain Blood. A supernatural element is NOT required (though it is welcome), but action and excitement is a must.


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