Why am I involved in New Edge Sword & Sorcery Magazine? I have been a historical novelist for nigh on twenty years, but last year and this one – if our Kickstarter funds – have entangled me in a rush of enthusiasm for inclusive, and innovative, sword & sorcery. Let me explain myself.
There are a few key things I like about sword & sorcery. It is set apart from epic fantasy or high fantasy by its outsider heroes, its low or private stakes, and a weirdness that remains unexplained. At least, those three things are what I like. I’ll comment on them one by one.
Outsider heroes. Where do I start? By the time I ran into Colin Wilson’s cult classic The Outsider, I had already found for myself most of the books he features, and they had been important to me. It was like, yeah yeah, tell me something new. I had gone through my Seven Pillars of Wisdom craze, I had begun my continuing obsession with the works of Dostoyevsky, I had latched onto William Blake. This is not advice to read The Outsider, which is a grab-bag, probably, of popularisations and pop psychology. It is just to say what I gravitated to.
And why? Discussions on ‘what makes sword & sorcery’ have got into focus for me why. Of course, I’m a queer woman whose growing-up was bedevilled by gender expectations and your old heteronormativity. These were my serial foe, my Moriarty or my kryptonite, my danger. I do not know the person I’d have grown to be without them. I have a deadname, like an alien inside me to this day. Society excluded me from its basic institutions such as marriage. So, is S&S for queer people? You bet. The hero is an outsider, and stays that way: the hero doesn’t win a kingdom, isn’t reconciled into the majority, doesn’t join the forces of law and order in the end.
Which leads me to low stakes. Private adventures, serial adventures feel more true to my experience. Small gains – often lost again; survival; motivations that seem to the privileged to be selfish: these feel real to me.
And a weirdness that remains unexplained. I am not greatly into horror (one arm of S&S reaches into horror) but neither am I into magic in my fantasy. The weird is where I like it, and when I am writing weird, I am going to incline towards the monsters. Because I’ve been on the side of the monsters since I was a kid. Now, this isn’t necessarily the main thread of S&S, but it’s a strand. When the evil of your story lies in privilege, in civilization – when sword & sorcery, famously, from its Conan beginnings, takes a ‘barbarian’ perspective – then sympathy for monsters is just around the corner. My version of Beowulf (explicated in this poem) was always a monster himself, and rather than slay them for the safety of society, perhaps he should have joined them.
Here’s a photo representative of the sword & sorcery I grew up on. In genre, I grew up much more on science fiction and fantasy than on historical fiction, and there’s a lot to be said about that – or for that – which ought to be a post. I liked plenty of SFF flavours, and among them (particularly when they gave me an adventurous woman of her hands), S&S.
Special shout-outs to Charles R. Saunders’ Dossouye stories in the Amazons anthologies (also in the first few of Sword and Sorceress), who wrote a fighting woman with astonishing ease where others floundered and embarrassed themselves ; to M. John Harrison’s Pastel City, whose atmospheric prose and moody story were my Platonic Ideal as a young writer; and to Delany, for his wresting inside-out of sword & sorcery that engaged the intellect’s sense of adventure as well.
I won’t here go into sword & sorcery antecedents which have figured hugely in my history – from Beowulf and Gilgamesh to chivalric romances: if you know me you know these been my bread and butter, but they belong to another post.
In the S&S present, two that most excite me published in the last couple of years are Sometime Lofty Towers by David C. Smith, for its psychology and its postcolonial plot, and The Red Man and Others by Angeline B. Adams and Remco van Straten, for its realism, its relatableness, and for being a crafted artefact (get the paperback). And of course, New Edge Sword & Sorcery Magazine – its test Issue 0, its line-up for 1-2, and its potential.
We have a Kickstarter running until March 5 to fund issues 1 and 2. I beg the gods, not only to fund, but to reach the first stretch goal, which means not one but two illustrations to each story and nonfiction piece. Because you’ve got to preview the art, which you can do on the Kickstarter page with our nineteen artists’ samples. And look at the author names! Margaret Killjoy … an old bloke called Michael Moorcock …
Do I want to be in one of these issue’s ToCs, with one and maybe two illustrations to my story? You bet. More than I want much of anything right now, so – if you can help fund us, if you want these gorgeous magazines, puhleese have a look at our Kickstarter.
Have a look, too, at Issue 0, FREE in epub/pdf, available at-cost in paperback and hardcover.
1. The same can be said for Robert E. Howard’s Dark Agnes, but I discovered her only recently. I’d agree with and possibly push even further the argument in Nicole Emmelhainz’s ‘Gender Performativity in Howard’s “Sword Woman”’, in New Edge Sword & Sorcery Issue 0.