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Third Wave Fantasy

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My review of Swords & Dark Magic, edited by Jonathan Strahan and Lou Anders, is up now at SF Site:

So Swords & Dark Magic is an excellent showcase for both its contributors and the subgenre itself. If epic fantasy is generally considered to be most comfortable with a word count measured in the millions, sword and sorcery proves to be the perfect genre for the short story. Like their protagonists, the authors follow the adventurers’ code: get in and get out. The result is an anthology with a remarkably high hit rate. In fact, this is probably the single best original fantasy anthology I’ve read. More please.

It turned out to be a cracker but I initially requested a copy of Swords & Dark Magic because of an increasing interest in commercial fantasy, its substance and its taxonomy. This was also the subject of two earlier posts:

Edit: I gave Gene Wolfe’s contribution, ‘Bloodsport’, short shrift in my review since I don’t think it really fits with the anthology. However, I did discuss it in detail here.

Written by Martin

16 August 2010 at 16:08

6 Responses

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  1. Very thorough review Martin, I rather enjoyed it. Disagree with you on a few points of its excellence, but I do find your review of this title to be one of the better ones (and I’ve read them all in addition to writing one over at Black Gate Magazine).

    Jason M Waltz

    17 August 2010 at 01:13

  2. Jason’s review is here at Black Gate. It opens with his own definition of the subgenre:

    Sword and sorcery does not pit the good against the evil. It is not about redemption or world-saving quests, and rarely is anyone in an S&S tale innocent. Sword and sorcery puts those who are ‘good’ in danger of losing their souls to the sorcerous evil that threatens to overwhelm them—they are the fodder for such tales. Sword and sorcery puts the pragmatic, self-serving, barbarian sword between them and that evil, not to save their sorry asses, but simply because our beloved barbarian enjoys spitting in the eye of impossible odds. That, and relieving those same good people of their wealth and their virgins of their honor once he or she has won the day.

    In other words, sword and sorcery is about wine, wantons, wealth and war—look for no underlying themes. There is no concept of ‘greater good’ even when the good are greater upon story’s end. S&S is the most hedonistic of reading delights, glorying in violence and sex, the two most adrenaline-infused events of a lively existence. As Conan says in Robert E. Howard’s ‘The Queen of the Black Coast’:

    “I live, I burn with life, I love, I slay, and am content.”


    17 August 2010 at 09:32

  3. Have to disagree about the title “Goats of Glory,” which I think is just a fitting ode to the subgenre as “The Fool Jobs.” Also, I actually give the edge to Erikson’s prose over Abercrombie’s, as to me the former offers a more subtle touch whereas the latter goes for a snappiness of sorts that seems a tad bit overwrought to me. With Erikson’s opening lines I get the sense of something potentially unsettling and unknowable lurking over the horizon (“gray as the dust hovering above the dirt tracks wending between them.”), while Abercrombie’s use of the “idiot’s hair” flourish to dress up his otherwise generic image of thatched roofs strikes me as sacrificing tension for a sarcastic bluntness of sorts which I suppose simply isn’t the atmosphere I most prefer.

    Enjoyed both stories, though, and so far I’m appreciating the anthology. Wolfe’s story in particular has stuck with me.

    Oh, and thanks for the review. Always good to see more in depth looks at S&S/adventure-style fantasy.


    17 August 2010 at 18:26

  4. Thank you for the cross-post Martin.

    As for the Erikson/Abercrombie styles, they write with different touches. Neither style here is better or less than the other, as neither can be properly compared beyond setting of locale. Both authors went for different tones and atmospheres, and both achieved them as far as I’m concerned. Shoot, if Erikson had chosen to go with his Bauchelain, Broach, and Reese tone he’d have been more than a match for Abercrombie’s. As it is, they are spectacularly fun tales in different ways, and they open and close the book just fine.

    Jason M Waltz

    18 August 2010 at 01:06

  5. […] notes that he is an admirer of both writers which chimes with my belief that he is at the heart of Third Wave Fantasy. Abercrombie then turns to the personal stuff; he deftly makes Grin look an arse but there is no […]

  6. […] anthology Swords and Dark Magic—that can be considered as what Martin Lewis has called "Third Wave fantasy," blending the sweep of epic fantasy with the intense personal stakes and moral compromises of […]

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