Friday, December 22, 2017

Art of the Fellowship of the Ring

We've been listening to the unabridged audio version of the Lord of the Rings for the past few weeks. We just got into The Two Towers, and it's terrific. It's been probably a decade since I read the series, and all the reasons I loved it in the past still work - epic story, noble characters, tremendous inventiveness.

Since I've been suffering some sort of writer's block for the past month and I don't want this site to die (of course that's not going to really happen. I'm a blathering bigmouth and am sure to find my voice soon enough), I'm going to give you some pictures for each of the trilogy's volumes.

Frodo, Sam, and the Elves by Alan Lee

The Black Rider and the Hobbits by John Howe

Fifth Day After Weathertop by Ted Nasmith

Riders at the Ford by Ted Nasmith

The Nine by Angus McBride

Khazad Dum by Alan Lee

Balrog and Gandalf by John Howe

The Pillars of the Kings by the Hildebrandts

Boromir and Frodo on Amon Hen by Ted Nasmith

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Early TSR Artwork That I Dig

Fantasy artwork has become unpleasantly slick over the past twenty or so years. That's been a primary point I've been making over the years when posting old book covers. Everything has to be so professional and sharp you could practically cut your fingers on it. There is little room for the truly pulpish, let alone the amateurish or semi-pro.

One of the things I love most about the early days of role playing was its embrace of the amateur, kludged nature of itself. A lot of the art in the original TSR booklets was used because it was cheap. It's rough, kinda lousy, and I absolutely love it. In my Black Gate article this week I wrote some of these pictures figure heavily in what I want fantasy to look like.

As D&D became more successful and professional, the art changed. Through the original AD&D books it remained very cool. So, with no more blather, here's TSR art that still strikes my fancy.

from the original Dungeons & Dragons rulebook

from the Greyhawk supplement

Some people hate Bell's art from Greyhawk, and if I looked at it unbiased, I might agree. I can't, though. These pictures conjure up memories of walking through the woods of Pouch Camp talking about the game, the smells of autumn and campfires, and the lure of role playing - they are perfect.

From the Blackmoor supplement

I don't love David Sutherland's work as much as some people, but this Umber Hulk is beyond perfection. What still stands out is its complete lack of connection with any sort of Euro-style fantasy. 

from the Basic Game boxed set

Maybe the first Trampier art I ever saw. He was the greatest of the original illustrators and the creator of the unfinished Wormy cartoon. He picked up and left behind illustrating and died a few years back.

I always wanted to play a campaign set in this subterranean world.

The first Tom Wham picture I ever saw. His art is the most cartoon-like of the original TSR artists and always makes me chuckle. He's also the designer of some terrific games, including The Awful Green Things from Outer Space and Search for the Emperor's Treasure.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

New(ish) Fantasy Cover Art I Like

I've posted numerous pieces on cover art, greats from the old days and poor modern examples as well. I'm on record about my distaste for today's photo-shop at. It's tacky, rarely looks cool, and much of it seems intent on downplaying fantasy stories being fantasy.

Now, I know we don't live in the glory days of Jeff Jones and Frank Frazetta, but there's no excuse for not having good cover art. As that thought percolated in my brain the past few days, I tried to remember modern covers I liked. Here's what came to mind.

Before I even knew who Enge and Morlock were, I saw the Blood of Ambrose cover and wanted to check it out. The later books in the series feature increasingly crappier photo-shop art.

The original Desert of Souls cover kicks ass. It belongs on the cover of an old-school TSR module or something. The dreamy blue and indigo skies, the improbably leaping swordsman, it all cries of serious heroic fantasy. Bones of the Old Ones isn't quite as good, but it makes no pretense about being anything other than heroes fighting a magical monster.

The covers for the Shaper series are good examples of bold, graphic designs some publishers are willing to use instead of photo-shopping. I love the colors and almost-silhouette figures. The only problem is the distracting text in the middle of the first and third covers.

Simply beautiful covers. I'd have put the subtitles below Bakker's name, but what do I know?

What contemporary covers do you like?

Wednesday, August 23, 2017


Howard Andrew Jones' exciting announcement yesterday of a new magazine, Tales from the Magician's Skull, is great news for swords & sorcery. My fantasy/sci-fi knowledge is pretty broad, but Howard's depth of S&S knowledge is amazing, and way beyond mine. If anyone can give Adrian Simmons and Co. over at HFQ a run for their money, it's Howard.

But then it's not a competition. It's a new berth for stories that don't really have enough editorial support for my tastes. Aside from HFQ and Swords and Sorcery Magazine, there's no magazine or site wholly dedicated to S&S. Cirsova's a smashingly good publication, but its focus is on a wide range of pulp stories, with as much sci-fi as fantasy. Grimdark Magazine's been better than decent, but again, S&S, particularly as inspired by Appendix N is not its focus. Skelos is good but publishes very little heroic fantasy. Beneath Ceaseless Skies, once upon a time, deigned to publish some very good heroic fantasy, but that seems like it was way back in the Year One. A few others - Lackington's, Pulp Literature among them - include a story now and then, but there really aren't many more places to read new S&S.

There's a bunch of magazines that I still keep up as links here at STUFF I LIKE, but I don't ever really look at them. I keep them there just because at this point, why not? Someone passing through here might get a sudden urge to visit Clarkesworld.

When I first started blogging, there seemed to be a real renaissance going on in S&S. Jones' Dabir & Asim, Enge's Morlock Ambrosius, and Fultz's Shaper series  (all Black Gate alumnus you may notice) were fresh and seemed to be getting the proper attention. Milton Davis was publishing. Rogue Blades was still a fully functioning operation.

Now, I'm not so sure the revival I touted five years ago ever really happened.  I swim in S&S weekly (sometimes daily) and I'm not sure I see it as a genre that's growing - in publications or readers. Grimdark has grabbed hold of much of those who would have been S&S's audience in its blood-streaked, grimy hands. I have yet to see a review of any of Davis' books reviewed on any major site except Black Gate. Dabir & Asim are on hiatus and Rogue Blades is silent. Fultz is no longer with Orbit.

It's not all disappointing. HFQ, and now TftMS, will roll out pure S&S on a regular basis. Fultz, Enge, and Jones are all still writing. Davis is a self-publishing juggernaut. The fine folks at Castalia House and Alex at Cirsova are waging a war for Appendix N and pulp goodness, which, while not solely dedicated to S&S, still conjures up some pretty boss stories. Also, their non-fiction goes a long way to keying readers into the history of the genre. Dave Ritzlin has published a trio of solid anthologies.

I'm not sure exactly what I'm getting at here. I guess I'm just examining where S&S is at and where it might be going. To the latter point, I really don't know. If Goodman Games thinks there's enough of a market for a whole new mag, I'll take that as a good sign. Maybe I should just be happy good writers are still weaving good S&S stories. If the genre became "huge" (whatever that would mean in these atomized days) it would probably mean just lots more terrible stuff like Robert Jordan's Conan pastiche. I'm rambling, so I'll call it a day on prognostication. I'd much rather hear what other readers have to say.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

A Return to Flashing Swords

I made it through eight sci-fi books during my hiatus from swords & sorcery. I didn't abandon it completely (see three roundups, Swords of Steel III, and Nyumbani Tales), but I really made an effort to thing about and read other things. Now I'm done with that. I have to admit I started getting a little bored with sci-fi. At least bored with picking shorter sci-fi works I want to revisit (Dune was a bit of cheat, having started it several months ago). I couldn't just keep reviewing Dickson, Anderson, and Niven over and over again. I mean I could, but I'm not sure John O'Neill at Black Gate would let even me do that.

At the same time as conversations have swirled around on the net and several boards got me jazzed to dive back in with both feet. Finishing Purity of Blood, the second of Arturo Perez-Reverte's swashbuckling Captain Alatriste novels was just the right thing to get me fully primed. This coming week I'll be reading Scott Oden's take on the Northern Thing, A Gathering of Ravens.

Looking ahead, I'm not sure exactly what I'll end up reading. It won't all be pure S&S. There'll be my usual mix of historical adventure and probably some planet adventure stories as well. Grimdark Magazine released an anthology called Evil Is a Matter of Perspective and there's a novella (novelette?) by Howie Bentley I need to read. I'd like to something about R. Scott Bakker's epic series. It's not S&S, but it's harrowing stuff and I've been meaning to take a longer look at it. Then there are all the older works I've been planning to write about as well. There's a lot to choose from.

So, starting next week, it's back to swords & sorcery. Come on over to Black Gate and let me know what you think.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

DUNE Gallery

Frank Herbert's Dune contains some of the most memorable images in all of sci-fi. As such, the book has drawn numerous artists to illustrate Herbert's prose. Then, there are the games and movies inspired by the novel and their attendant artwork.

I'll be reviewing the book this Tuesday over at Black Gate, so I pulled together various pictures I tweeted last winter and collected them here for your enjoyment.

An assortment of covers from Dune's early editions

Vincent Di Fate's seventies covers, complete with shiny text

John Schoenherr Gallery


Sunrise over Arrakeen 

The Sardaukar 

Stilgar and his Men 

Death of the Sardaukar 

Baron Vladimir Harkonnen 

Flight Through the Shield Wall 

Paul and the Hunter Killer  - interior art from Analog

Dr. Wellington Yueh - interior art from Analog

Character concepts by Moebius for Jodorowsky's aborted Dune film

Sam Weber Gallery from Folio Society Edition

Paul and the Gom Jabbar

Thufir Hawat

Baron Vladimir Harkonnen

Yueh and the Duke

Ornithopter before the Storm

Paul and Alia


Guild Liners over the Basin

Player shields from Avalon Hill's Dune game