Take a Look at Some Less-Known

March 8th, 2012

I’ve been trying to alert people to the Hugo nominations deadline this Sunday and the stuff from Beneath Ceaseless Skies that’s Hugo eligible; now I have to remember to send in my own nominations. :)

Neil Clarke, Hugo-winning editor and tireless advocate for the field of semipro zines, had a cool tweet yesterday that he hopes to see more new blood represented in the field of finalists this year, and another listing some of the quality semipro zines that have never made it to the finalist ballot.

I agree completely.  Of course, I do have a horse in this race myself: BCS is eligible for Best Semiprozine, and according to reviewer/editor Rich Horton, we publish more total fiction than any other online mag.

But leaving that aside, there are at least a dozen other less-noticed semipro zines doing great work. And the ballot in past years has seemed to feature the same magazines a lot.  (Glancing at thehugoawards.org for example shows Locus and Interzone on the ballot every year in the last ten years and Ansible seven of the last ten.)

So in recent years, I’ve been nominating those under-represented or less-noticed semipro zines who I think are worthy.  Neil’s list is a great starting point–On Spec (who just published a story of mine), Abyss & Apex, GigaNotoSaurus (a ‘sole proprietor’ zine like BCS, and I know the tons of work that entails), Black Gate (that stalwart swords & sorcery mag that never seems to get much notice). And may others.

So if you’re nominating for Hugos, before you fill out your ballot take a look at some of those less-noticed zines.  You might find their work just as worthy as the better-known ones.

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Lower That Crossbow, Pardner

March 1st, 2012

Last week while pondering swords & sorcery as I jotted notes for the roundtable S&S discussion for SF Signal Podcast #108, I had a neat revelation.  Lou Anders, Hugo-winning editor and huge S&S fan, mentioned the same thing during the podcast, so this connection has clearly caught other peoples’ eye too.

Swords & sorcery and Westerns are very close kin.

The similarities jump out at you.  A strong feel of adventure. A “gritty” hardscrabble environment.  Hardscrabble characters, often from the lower levels of society, trying to eke out a living. Often weighed down by emotional baggage or scarred backgrounds. Often on the darker side of law or morality. Often battling antagonists from higher levels of society (rich cattle barons instead of rich sorcerers!).

These parallels are quite fitting.  Westerns have a powerful lure in American culture–something about the freedom and adventure in gorgeous untamed lands, in elegant firearms, in carving out your own existence in a wilderness.  Swords & sorcery has a similar lure–not so much the American classics of freedom and carving out an existence, but definitely adventure in awe-inspiring (fantastical) lands and elegant (pre-gunpowder) weapons. And they both are a perfect backdrop for troubled heroes and bitter struggles.

This may explain why I so love “Weird West”–the uncommon spec-fic subgenre that combines paranormal stuff with Old West settings.  Whether a historical Old West, like Kenneth Mark Hoover’s Haxan stories, or a fictional Old West-flavored world like Erin Cashier’s “Hangman” or J.S. Bangs’s “The Judge’s Right Hand.” It has the same hardscrabble feel as S&S, but in a setting that feels fresher in SF/F yet still has a strong pull of adventure.

I wish there were more Weird West. And I’m going to add more Elmore Leonard and Larry McMurtry to my stack of Fritz Leiber and GRRM.

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Cheers to a Good Review

February 28th, 2012

My recent story “The Halberdier, by Moonlight,” out in the current (Fall 2011) issue of On Spec, got a great review on Locus online.

Lois Tilton, long-time short fiction reviewer, is well-known for being hard to impress and stingy with her praise.  So I was delighted to see her review of “Halberdier” include comments like this:

A tragic, moving tale, an effective portrayal of the horrors of war, as well as an individual’s yearning for atonement.

The halberdier yearns for atonement for a past incident in his life.  The story includes an odd concept for the afterlife, and I was quite pleased that Ms. Tilton said: “The afterlife is well-conceived.”

Not much of my fiction has gotten reviews, especially by a top-level reviewer such as Ms. Tilton. I’m delighted to be noticed and to get such good praise.  Thank you!

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Urban F: A Type of Swords & Sorcery?

February 23rd, 2012

Last night, during the recording of a roundtable discussion on swords & sorcery for an upcoming podcast at SF Signal, Hugo-winning editor and huge S&S fan Lou Anders made a really neat comment about urban fantasy.

Modern urban fantasy, as Lou said, is almost a type of swords & sorcery.  It has tough protagonists.  They are usually outsiders in their society, in one way or another; “rogue” sort of characters, if you will. They have weapons, often swords or daggers, and they kick ass on monsters. They are even often depicted in cover art as somewhat scantily clad.

The settings are different, of course–paranormal modern worlds instead of fantastical pre-tech ones. Although I’m told that urban fantasy set in historical settings is starting to come out.

The far cooler difference is that most all the protagonists in urban fantasy are women, whereas of course most all of them in swords & sorcery are/were men.

The parallels are fascinating.  Clearly the female protagonist kicking monster ass resonates with millions of readers. I wonder if that means we might see a renaissance in female-centered swords & sorcery? Or is there something about S&S, its innate D&D sort of vibe or the lingering vibe from its classic rather female-unfriendly days, that is never quite going to resonate with the female-majority readership?

I don’t know, but it’s neat to think about.  And I know I’ll never look at a badass vampire-slaying heroine quite the same way again. :)

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