Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Go Read the Stories!

Eel Witch by Jon Hodgson
My monthly review of the last month's short stories just went up at Black Gate. Not a bad batch of stories and well worth a reader's time. I particularly liked "Mouth of the Jaguar" by Evan Dicken and "The Challenger's Garland" by Schuyler Hernstrom, both in Heroic Fantasy Quarterly #20.

The other day, the illustrious Janet Morris asked something I found interesting: "Here's a question for you, s&s fans and writers. Does your hero need a quest, or can he be motivated by long-standing goal, or revenge, or something as simple as his given word?"

My answer was quests are fine, but how many of REH's heroes adventures just happen when they're traveling from Point A to Point B? Like in real life, things just happen. Sometimes an overheard word leads them to a treasure, other times a fight leaves them on the wrong side of the law. The thing is, the heroes can be motivated by any variety of things.

It's one of the reasons I like short stories best when it comes to heroic fiction. Characters aren't locked into participating in some epic, endless plot. They maintain a bit of freewill in choosing what they'll do with their lives. 

I think of S&S characters as the blue collar heroes of fantasy. They want to get through the day, make some money and relax. It's not that they're not ambitious, they just don't have the breaks in life (inherited magic item, secret genetic inheritance making them the Chosen One, etc.) that set them up to be responsible for the world's destiny. I want to see S&S characters facing off against an uncaring and unfair world - and winning - not finding the lost Foofrah, the only thing that can stop the Evil Omni-Lord. A good S&S hero is too sensible to actively look to get caught up in that sort of dangerous nonsense.

S&S and long, questy sort of stories can work. Just look at Charles Saunders' Imaro or Ted Rypel's Gonji for proof. Still, I think those are exceptions. As good as Hour of the Dragon is, I'd rather reread "Beyond the Black River" or "Red Nails." Same with Karl Edward Wagner. The stories in Night Winds and Death Angel's Shadow are much better than the novels Bloodstone or Darkness Weaves

Next week I'm going to be reviewing Michael Chabon's Gentlemen of the Road. Even if McSweeney's Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales wasn't that good I really like Chabon's foreword calling for literary fictioneers to return to plot and genre. I've read much of his non-fiction but the only fiction so far is his Sherlock Holmes pastiche, The Final Problem. Not a groundbreaking book but a decent, heartfelt homage to the great detective.

I was inspired to finally crack the cover of Gentlemen because I'm still working my way slowly through Harold Lamb's Swords from the West. I'm hoping the Chabon book will be a nice companion piece to Lamb's. Here's hoping!