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SWORDS AND SORCERY: HEROIC FANTASY

In 1932, a sword-wielding barbarian, "black-haired, sullen-eyed," strode out of the pages of Weird Tales magazine and straight into the hearts of young men everywhere.  His name was Conan, and he and his savage homeland of Cimmeria were the creation of American writer Robert E. Howard.  Howard only wrote four years' worth of Conan stories-- he committed suicide in 1936-- but his creation outlived him in the pens of such authors as L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter, and in the face of a certain governor of California.  Thanks to Conan and other characters like him, Howard is generally credited with the invention of the heroic fantasy subgenre.  (To that, I have three words: Gilgamesh, Odysseus, and Beowulf.  But I'd happily grant him "popularization of the genre.")  Nearly 30 years later, Fritz Lieber (of "Fafhrd and The Gray Mouser" fame) coined the phrase it's best known by today-- "sword and sorcery."

Since I spent last month discussing hard-hitting SF, I thought some hard-hitting fantasy would provide a nice balance-- and what could be more hard-hitting than a good old sword-and-sorcery epic?  If you're a woman and you've avoided this type of fantasy in the past because it's a "guy thing," you might want to take another look. Some of the titles on my list this month may surprise you!  This genre has produced some very strong female characters, and a number of suprisingly complex men.  For those new to the genre, I offer an introduction to the classics: the "Old Guard" list below.  Titles on the "New Blood" list survey what's being done in the genre today, including some series that are still in progress (you have been warned!).

OLD GUARD:

Sword and Sorceress by Marion Zimmer Bradley, ed. (Pbk-Fantasy SS Sword)
White Wolf by David Gemmell (Fantasy Gemmell)
Icefalcon's Quest by Barbara Hambly (Fantasy Hambly)
The Essential Conan by Robert E. Howard (Fantasy Howard)
The Three of Swords by Fritz Leiber (Fantasy Leiber)
The Deed of Paksenarrion by Elizabeth Moon (Fantasy Moon)
Elric of Melnibone by Michael Moorcock (Fantasy Moorcock)
The Novels of Tiger and Del by Jennifer Roberson (Fantasy Roberson)
The Dark Elf Trilogy by R. A. Salvatore (Fantasy Salvatore)
Talion-- Revenant by Michael A. Stackpole (Pbk-Fantasy Stackpole)
Heroes Die by Matthew Woodring Stover (Fantasy Stover)
Gods in Darkness: The complete novels of Kane by Karl Edward Wagner (Fantasy Wagner)

NEW BLOOD:

The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie (Fantasy Abercrombie)
The Warslayer: The Incredibly True Adventures of Vixen the Slayer by Rosemary Edghill (Fantasy Edghill)
A Darkness Forged in Fire by Chris Evans (Fantasy Evans)
Fool's Errand by Robin Hobb (Fantasy Hobb)
A Woman Worth Ten Coppers by Morgan Howell (Pbk-Fantasy Howell)
Black Blossom by Boban Knezevic (Fiction Knezevic)
The Sleeping God by Violette Malan (Fantasy Malan)
Last Dragon by J. M. McDermott (Fantasy McDermott)
The Steel Remains by Richard K. Morgan (Fantasy Morgan)
The Covenant Rising by Stan Nicholls (Fantasy Nicholls)
The Last Hero: A Discworld Fable by Terry Pratchett (Fantasy Pratchett)
The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss (Fantasy Rothfuss)

 

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