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Independent Game Forums => Adept Press => Topic started by: Calithena on October 23, 2003, 06:31:27 AM

Title: [Sorcery & Sword] Query for R. Edwards re: Fantastic Fic
Post by: Calithena on October 23, 2003, 06:31:27 AM
Ron, I loved your take on the different genres of fantastic fiction in Sorcery and Sword. You have exquisite taste, which as F/SF editor and critic Don Herron once noted, means it agrees with mine. ['Tho, were we devoted to the HUMEAN philosophy, we might consider this to mean that we judge ourselves to be ideal critics, men possessed of high sensitivity, wide experience, and freedom from prejudice...but I digress.] However, I had two serious quibbles with what you wrote that I thought I'd bounce off you for your consideration/response.

[1] I assume you were looking for some sort of fight, and have something interesting to say on behalf of your position, when you lumped Jack Vance with MacDonald, Eddison, and Dunsany rather than with Leiber and Lee. Granted, Vance's picaresque style is not precisely in line with the tradition of S&S as defined by the prodigiously talented REH, but off-hand I would have placed him much closer to your core group of authors than to the high (British) tradition of fantastic fiction you lump him with. Please elaborate.

[2] In your conclusion you assert that true S&S role-playing has not yet really happened. Of course, in one sense this is obviously not quite so: many GMs and players going back to the very beginning have aspired to run games which owed more to S&S than to HF. But I take it that your point is that few, if any, games have actually supported this genre the way it reads in the books. Fair enough.

BUT, I would hasten to add that S&S was actually a much more centrally dominant influence on early gaming than HF was, with the sole exception of course of Tolkien, and that most of the early gaming authors were self-consciously trying to re-create the S&S feel in their worlds than that of the high fantasy novels. In particular, Gygax's Greyhawk, Bledsaw's Wilderlands, Hargrave's Arduin, and Barker's Tekumel all owe much more to the S&S tradition in terms of their conception than they do to the European tradition of high fantasy. Furthermore, Cidri of TFT and all those great Tunnels and Trolls solo dungeons (Naked Doom, Deathtrap Equalizer, Beyond the Silvered Pane, etc.) are all obvious homages to S&S. In fact, the ONLY early fantasy world of merit or notoriety which is not centrally a S&S world in its basic influences is Glorantha, whose basic conception seemed from the beginning to be pushing towards something more like 'mythic fantasy'.

Now, granted, the inclusion of dwarfs, elfs, and hobbits from the beginning in all these settings except Tekumel couldn't help - we see in hindsight - drag them towards the 'dreck', Tolkien-lite fantastic 'tradition' that clogs bookstore shelves today. But the fact is that almost all the original RPG designers were fans of S&S first and HF second, and tried to design worlds to support this, even if most (all?) of them didn't have rules that ultimately supported this kind of play.

The fact that so many early D&D players hate Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms with a passion seems also to testify to a certain S&S spirit animating at least a sizable fraction of the early players and authors of RPGs, and the narrative goals (such as they were) of the early games as well. Even Kuntz's adventures with Sir Robilar under Gygax as DM owe more to Vance and Leiber than they do to Tolkien. So I guess I'd like more explanation of this final claim as well.

In closing I'd just like to re-emphasize that these are quibbles, and that I LOVE your work. Keep bringing it - your stuff is awesome!

Title: [Sorcery & Sword] Query for R. Edwards re: Fantastic Fic
Post by: Ron Edwards on October 23, 2003, 07:17:00 AM
Hi there,

Literary quibbles! Nothing like'em.

Quick point: I'm not looking for a fight with anyone. My categories are intended to be non-controversial. That means that two authors - Jack Vance and Fritz Leiber - are going to be "above" them. As arguably the two finest writers of SF and fantasy of the 20th century, which puts them into the highest ranks of writers, period, they can transcend the feeble boundaries I listed all they (or any critic) want.

My response to Quibble #1 is based on two things. (a) Vance's Lyonesse trilogy is perhaps his seminal work, and it's as "high" as it gets. This is a mileage issue.

b) The presence of sword-and-sorcery in his Dying Earth books is actually pretty fleeting. In the first book (1960)? Absolutely. In the second, maybe a bit. After that, nope - all fluff and fun. I think that Vance was directly influenced by Clark Ashton Smith (there's a neat essay in my library about the correspondences between the two authors' plentiful proper name inventions), but I also think that the influence remained mainly stylistic after The Dying Earth and a few early stories were published.

I also like to point to most of his science fiction as "fantasy in space," much like (and as a major influence on) Wolfe's Book of the New Sun. In that sense, this "fantasy" is all as idea-driven and "high" in terms of allegorical outcomes. I'd point to the Demon Princes novels, the Tschai novels, and the Alastor novels as superior instances of high fantasy, exceeding even Lewis and Eddison (and I might add, with a very different philosophical world-view) and rivalling Cabell.

My response to Quibble #2 is that I think the early Leiber-ness and Vance-ness of D&D play was ... iffy, in terms of sword-and-sorcery. I'll concede the settings you mention, especially Arduin, but the means and practices of the play (as indicated by the published sources) seem off by a crucial element or two. Those elements would be what I'm trying to convey in my book.

Part of the problem, I think, comes from the fandom-element of appreciating Conan in the 1960s and Elric in the 1970s. This fandom seems to be all about power-fantasy, which admittedly shows up in both sets of stories, but in a weird, masturbatory way that's frankly painful to read - in terms of say, Carter/DeCamp Conan - and similarly painful to play - in terms of my experiences with overt fans of these stories in role-playing in the late 1970s.

Same goes for Vance and Leiber as influences - sure, we get the picaresque, occasionally sadistic, wacky rogue adventures, but nothing of the sardonic or existential power that underlies the source stories. Just the "I'm a dickweed protagonist!" frosting.

The above paragraphs apply from a very personal, Ron-ic set of experiences and impressions. I certainly don't have a bird's-eye-view of role-playing during that time. So, my ultimate response to this Quibble is, I'm afraid, acknowledging that you're seeing more of me than of what is, in those claims in particular in Sorcerer & Sword.


Title: [Sorcery & Sword] Query for R. Edwards re: Fantastic Fic
Post by: Calithena on October 23, 2003, 07:50:09 AM
Lots of great stuff here to think about - thanks for your reply. I've got to get back to work now, so just a couple of points:

1) On a psychological level, Elric's struggle with Stormbringer (the surrogate dick) just is the young male adolescent's struggle with his own sense of power. Moorcock does better with this in some places than others, but the power-worshipping Elric fans, while unsubtle, weren't making up what they were seeing.

2) Lyonesse is complicated, but that is the key point in the argument over where JV belongs in fantasy. Arguing the other side, I would tend to emphasize the ironic and/or satiric aspects of the Lyonesse trilogy, esp. in Madouc, and then put Planet of Adventure together with the Dying Earth. As to the Demon Princes, I love those books, but they're straightforward revenge fantasies.

Anyway, more later, work beckons...


Title: [Sorcery & Sword] Query for R. Edwards re: Fantastic Fic
Post by: Ron Edwards on October 23, 2003, 11:10:00 AM
Hi Calithena,

I agree regarding Moorcock's unsubtle imagery and themes, although I think that the sex/romance issues might be a little more complex than merely "my dick." For instance, I perceive Stormbringer as female, insofar as male/female are distinguishable in such a glam storyline. But that's not really to the point.

What I'm referring to among role-players, which is the point, is the entire dismissal of conflict from the Elric concept, and simply getting pumped about acquiring Stormbringer or "black moaning sword by any other name" during play. To these guys, you have this cool sword that does wicked damage, and that's that. It's better than other swords in the rulebook, because "everyone knows" Stormbringer is the single most powerful item ever. I have it? Cool! I win, because bringing in a more powerful item is not allowed.

That outlook, I submit, is (a) common among the historical period we're talking about (perhaps today as well) and (b) not consonant with the source material. In the three core stories in particular, Elric either doesn't have Stormbringer or has a very charged abusive/enabling relationship with it.

Regarding Vance, it's significant that you should cite Madouc ... because I regard it as the fall-down point in the trilogy. I see it as essentially just a comedic re-telling of Suldrun's Garden and the necessary fallout from Aillas' coming to manhood in The Green Pearl. Given that perception on my part, perhaps you can see why I categorize the work as primarily high fantasy.

But even including it in full, I don't see sardonic or black-comedy elements as necessarily hopping a story into sword-and-sorcery as opposed to high fantasy. Most of the high fantasy works I cite have several hilarious and/or vicious scenes in them, and thematically they range all the way from Lewis to Cabell (which is as far as I can tell pretty much the whole spectrum of morality right there).

The Face is a simplistic revenge/power story? Goodness. All right, I'll grant you that The Palace of Love and The Book of Dreams are comparatively weak, but the other three are solid stuff.


Title: [Sorcery & Sword] Query for R. Edwards re: Fantastic Fic
Post by: Calithena on October 23, 2003, 03:24:06 PM
So much to talk about here, and so much else to do. I'm printing out this thread so I can scribble out some notes on various topics this evening and maybe get back with some more serious discussion tonight.

Have you read Brian McNaughton's Throne of Bones? If not, I suspect you're in for a serious treat.

Right now I'm hung up on Alastor: Marune. I think if I went with a reading of that as High Fantasy I might be able to cede you a little more slack on your classification, but I haven't decided. Partly it feels right, but partly it doesn't.

I don't mean to belittle the Demon Princes books at all by calling them straightforward revenge fantasies. I mean, the Iliad is in a sense a Big Dick story, but that's not all it is, and it's one of the greatest works of world literature. The thing is, the consequences of not having a big dick, having a big dick, and thinking or acting as if your dick is bigger than it is no matter how big it happens to be, is one of the enduring human themes. Though they don't always describe it that way.

And the Book of Dreams is an absolutely astonishing book, a tremendous sort of literary suicide.

But like I said, I want to approach all this more systematically, so I'm going to print out the thread and prepare some systematic reflections to post later. Thank you for all your good work on S and S&S, and for this discussion.

Title: [Sorcery & Sword] Query for R. Edwards re: Fantastic Fic
Post by: Ron Edwards on October 23, 2003, 08:06:09 PM

A sense of gathering storm clouds ...

... or perhaps the sound of a blade's edge being sharpened.

I feel just a bit tosky,* all of a sudden.


* Who can spot the reference? Huh? Huh?

Title: [Sorcery & Sword] Query for R. Edwards re: Fantastic Fic
Post by: greyorm on October 23, 2003, 08:14:40 PM

I find it interesting that you place Lieber up there as a god of writing. I always found Lieber rather...I want to say I found his work amateurish or dull, but that isn't quite what I was an enjoyable read, meaning I didn't hate it, but beyond that I recall nothing particularly deep or psychologically impressing about the work.

This may be due to my lack of exposure to anything but his Lankhmar fiction, which I found pleasant but not terribly engrossing intellectually. Honestly, my memory compares it in style and tone to Saberhagen's Books of Swords -- in other words, a light fantasy read, even if the themes or scenery were of a "mature nature."

By comparison, I vastly preferred the Corum series by Moorcock, and a small novella whose exact title currently escapes me (dealing with the Eternal Champion in the far future of a frozen, dying Earth), in terms of intellectually stimulating, meaningful fiction, and consider Moorcock to be a far better word-smith and tale-weaver than Lieber.

If I were to compare them to games in terms of content and the maturity of the intended audience according to game goals and style, Lieber would be D&D, while Moorcock would be Riddle of Steel.

Just some thoughts and feelings, though I am interested in what your responses, the reasonings behind the inital statements, might be -- I'm certainly not looking for a debate with any hard-core literati, nor derail the conversation between you and Calithena.

Title: [Sorcery & Sword] Query for R. Edwards re: Fantastic Fic
Post by: joshua neff on October 24, 2003, 03:50:55 AM
Interesting, Raven. I love Moorcock, even his pulpy stuff (scratch that--especially his pulpy stuff, like Kane of Old Mars). In many ways, I like the Corum stories more than I like the Elric stories.

But honestly, I don't see him as a great wordsmith. Often when I'm reading him, I physically cringe at some of his wording. The plots are great, the characters are great, his imagination is brilliant, but I find a lot of his actual wordsmithing...similar to the wordsmithing of "Python Men of Lost City" or "The Black Bat and the Red Menace."

On the other hand, the language in, say, "The Circle Curse" or "Bazaar of the Bizarre" or "The Bleak Shore" is pure poetry, & I reread the Lankhmar stories constantly. I love Leiber (who, I found out recently, has the same birthday as me). The friendship between Fafhrd & the Mouser, & the way its dealt with in, say, "The Howling Tower" & "Bazaar" is much more touching to me than the relationship between Corum & Jaery or Corum & either of the women he loves.

Taste & preference. It's wacky, innit?

And while we're talking about S&S lit...I recently got my hands on a copy of Cyrion. Damn! Why doesn't Tanith Lee write like that anymore? Cyrion is great!

Title: [Sorcery & Sword] Query for R. Edwards re: Fantastic Fic
Post by: Ron Edwards on October 24, 2003, 05:20:55 AM
Hi there,

I think the Fafhrd and Mouser stories, although wonderful fantasy-adventure, are not Leiber's high point as a writer - his high points are beyond stellar. So my post above probably wouldn't make sense without knowing more of his work.

A Spectre is Haunting Texas (novel)
Gonna Roll the Bones (short story)

That said, the Fafhrd & Mouser stories have a lot of impact for the adult reader, far more than they have for a kid. (Raven, I don't know if you've read them recently, so I'm not saying this is the key variable in the discussion. I'm raising it from personal perspective.) The best ones for this purpose are probably The Bazaar of the Bizarre, The Bleak Shore, The Price of Pain-Ease, Lean Times in Lankhmar, The Snow Women, and Adept's Gambit. These are typically not the faves of teen readers, who are more interested in continuity-type stories like Ill-Met in Lankhmar or straight-up actioners like Thieves' House.

It's kind of shocking to consider Leiber's word/style and then to consider Moorcock's; I think the latter author is one of the single worst stylists available. I'm thinking mainly of his 1970s stuff, though ... later books like The Warhound and the World's Pain are at least competent.


Title: [Sorcery & Sword] Query for R. Edwards re: Fantastic Fic
Post by: David Chunn on October 24, 2003, 06:42:58 AM
For what it's worth, I write novels as an occupation (unpaid but starting to close in) and I'm trained as a poet.  So guess what, I find this stuff pretty interesting.

In terms of style and technique, Fritz Leiber is hands-down, imo, the best writer out of the many that I've read.  Especially when one notes that the style in say the Big Time and the Lankhmar stories is completely and vastly different, yet undeniably great.

Moorcock is great at the big ideas and obvious and subtle meanings.  Leiber is all about the subtle in Fafhrd and Grey Mouser, and most of that subtle will vault over the head of even most gifted teenagers.  If you read them young, read them again.  The genius in the Lankhmar books is that much of the writing is 'technically' bad, or at least it's supposed to be.  Too many adjectives, adverbs, lenghthy and complex sentences, awkward adverbs, etc.  And yet it works beautifully.  

Some people, however, are thrown by the style and miss the hidden stuff while parsing the sentences.  If you have trouble with it, read a couple of the stories out loud.  Then you'll get the hang of it.  The beauty is in the sound.  His experience with acting and long exposure to Shakespeare comes across.

Moorcock a poor stylist?  Most of his older books were written in 11 days or less (many in 3) and it shows sometimes.  However, if you pick up any of the recent White Wolf collections you'll find that he's patched up some of the most glaring style problems.  And all in all, I'd have to disagree.  I'm again reading the Elric series, this time out loud, and I find that there's a lot of beauty there that I missed before.  Some of the lesser Moorcock books, however, do suffer from a lack of underdeveloped plot.

Back to the topic of this thread, I think a lot of the early to mid-80's rpgs wanted to be heroic and wanted a S&S feel, and I think some genuinely tried.  However, they were quickly weighted down with fan and rpg cliches and gamism.  Few sought to adequately question the early rpg methods or to devote themselves to the story rather than the game play.  

DQ 2nd Edition, Dangerous Journeys, and Stormbringer 4th are the games I've played that allowed me to feel like I was engaged in S&S styled action.  Mind you, much of that was due to the setting and we dropped elements like elves and dwarves from DQ.  Stormbringer is the one that was most successful.  But everything was dependant on the GM and players bringing in and executing the proper feel.  And there was still something missing.  

Other games tried to throw a little bit of everything into the pot to satisfy everyone.  In an interview I read Gygax said that he added in Tolkien stuff to appeal to all the Tolkien fans and for variety.  I've never had the sense that he even likes Tolkien.  Like some others of us, I think he's quite the opposite.  He certainly likes Leiber and claims Vance as his favorite author.  (I agree that Vance is probably high fantasy, certainly not S&S.)

What the better of those games most lacked was the narrative power that drives S&S, that sort of dark, primal power and the freedom or railings against the lack of freedom demonstrated by the protagonists.  The settings had some of the style, but that's just the surface of the stories.  You can't really have S&S in gamist play or most, perhaps all, simulationist play.  Narrativist play makes it possible.

So I guess I'm saying that I agree with Ron.  

Btw, Ron, I love Sorcerer and Sword.  I've read it several times now.  I've found it helpful as a novelist in addition to being essential as a game player.  I write S&S and somewhat-gothic adventure fantasy with heavy S&S elements (some of that surface-level stuff).  

I wasn't familiar with all the authors on your S&S list, some I'm checking them out.  I'm currently reading Kane for the first time.  Just finished Death Angel's Shadow, and I'm starting the recently released Night Shade Book's collected edition of the Kane novels.  I noticed a small press publisher selling David Mason's books.  I figure I'll try him out soon.

I highly recommend David Gemmell's books, particularly the three Waylander books to anyone who's a fan of heroic fantasy (which I don't think is exactly the same as S&S but very close).  Imo, he's the heir of the Robert E. Howard spirit while being himself and a modern writer.

Jesus y'all, but I'm wordy today.  I gotta get to working.

Title: [Sorcery & Sword] Query for R. Edwards re: Fantastic Fic
Post by: Ron Edwards on October 24, 2003, 08:10:53 AM
Hi David,


Regarding Moorcock, it might be good to define "style" - you mention it as the topic (following my point), but then cite ideas and plot, which to me, isn't quite the same thing. I tend to think of "style" as a matter of word choice, sentence and paragraph structure, and moment-to-moment experience rather than theme or what might be called the "decision structure" of the story.

After Calithena dissects my points into small, feeble, bleeding pieces, and we come to whatever conclusion or comparison this thread is destined, I'll look forward to taking the topic directly to Sorcerer in applied play.


Title: [Sorcery & Sword] Query for R. Edwards re: Fantastic Fic
Post by: Calithena on October 24, 2003, 10:50:11 AM
Hi Ron (& all) - no worries here about bloody dissection. I gave this a lot of thought, but never arrived at the One True Systematic Breakdown of fantasy fiction that would settle once and for all the Place of Jack Vance.

(I'll leave that to Mr. Rhoads and the Vance Integral Edition - there is more pomposity in one sentence of Mr. Rhoads' prose than I could muster in a lifetime. Vance deserves a better editor/suck-up.

Incidentally, true story about Jack Vance: Frank Herbert, after an early career as a newspaper reporter, decided he wanted to write SF instead. He looked up Jack Vance and knocked on his door, asking about an apprenticeship. Vance sized Herbert up and asked him a single question:

"Can you shingle roofs?")

Okay: now, if the question is "Where, once and for all, does the fantasy fiction of Jack Vance belong: Sword and Sorcery, or High Fantasy?", then I'll opt for: neither.

The more interesting question is: where would he stand better? (Well, why not with P.G. Wodehouse, in the genre of social satire? Vance's vision of human nature is actually one of the most important things in all his writing.)

Stylistically, there is no question that Vance's fantasy and science fantasy is closer to Leiber, Lee, and Smith than to the great British high fantasists, although he is also very close to Cabell. But thinking about MacDonald and Eddison again I concluded that despite their older prose styles at least the Lyonesse trilogy was closer in spirit to HF than to S&S, as Ron says, and I can see some of the other stories (e.g. Alastor: Marune, which despite being the middle book of a trilogy the first and last installments of which are only average (for Vance, that is) is one of the best stand-alone science fantasy novels I think I've ever read) as having a more centrally HF themes. So there's a case to be made here - the claim is not quite as strange as it seemed to me when I started this thread, when I was thinking of it mostly in terms of broader literary influences and prose style.

(On the other hand, I still can't help thinking that even Suldrun's Garden verges dangerously close to slapstick at points, with poor Aillas in the oubliette for almost half the book and getting the shit beaten out of him for almost  the other half. There's a writer who knows how to make his heroes pay.)

Ron's view is also bolstered by the fact that JV arguably fits the S&S genre no better than he does the HF genre. Cugel might be regarded as a kind of Odysseus to Conan's Achilles, but even that would be a kind of stretch.

So I guess I can see your point of view, Ron. I think actually it would probably be better to put Vance into neither of the two categories, since he fits uneasily into both. It might be that there's a broader meta-category going back to the Arabian Nights in which Vance fits better not only stylistically with Leiber, Lee, and Smith but also in terms of a broad kind of approach to - what - the adventure story? But of course S&S is only a subgenre of that, one in which most of Vance's fantasy and some of Lee's fits only very uneasily, if at all.


Okay, now on to some of the other points discussed in this thread.

- Moorcock is a great fantasist. He is a marginal prose stylist, and sometimes not even that. Dostoevsky wrote Crime and Punishment in two weeks on a train evading gambling debts, so short production time is not an excuse.

- I agree with your core point that most of the early games failed to simulate S&S properly, except sometimes in the hands of hyper-competent playing groups (usually small ones) that managed to do this in spite of the rules. All I wanted to hold out for is that it wasn't for a lack of trying, or because they were all reading the Shannara books or some crap like that. S&S is the original and core inspiration of fantasy gaming and it's a damned shame that fantasy gaming has grown by incorporating tired stereotypes rather than by turning more people on to the good stuff.

- I did not mean to suggest in my earlier post that Glorantha got dragged down to shlockiness by the presence of elves and dwarfs, though I admit that even after Stafford's moderately impressive re-inventions I can't quite get into the Aldryami and Mostali.

- One set of supplements that we managed to use back around 1980 to get into the 'roguish mindset' in adventuring were the ten Thieves Guild books and the Free City of Haven, produced by Gamelords. These worked pretty well for us and didn't reduce the game to "I'm a dickweed protagonist!" But I might well agree with Ron that this was the main thrust of the way a lot of people used rogue adventures and maybe the TG supplements as well - I don't know.

I guess this is the issue: I tend to agree with Ron that the early games did not have rules that really supported the kinds of things they were trying to do - and that's one reason I'm so excited about Sorcery & Sword. But sometimes Ron expresses that point in ways which suggest that they weren't trying, and as someone who was gaming back before Reagan's darkness came creeping across the land, I know that a lot of us were.

- I don't have a lot against those kids who all wanted to have Stormbringer in retrospect. Yeah, it's tired, and it got tiresome to play with, but I had that fantasy at one time, and I guess I don't blame other people for wanting to play it out. I don't have to play it or DM it myself, but if someone wants to have the Runedick in their own possession, then hey, that's their fantasy. The psychological dynamic in Moorcock's book is more interesting, but then he's a writer, representing the conflicted male coming to terms with his (feminized? good call!) masculine power, where those little fuckheads running around with Blackrazor out of White Plume Mountain are actually acting out the fantasy instead of representing it or reflecting on it. But even though I experienced a lot of these kids as fuckheads personally, I don't necessarily mind that: they were acting out their power fantasy, just like I act out some of mine, and that's one of the things that FRPs are really, really good for. I might think their fantasy is unimaginative, or wish that the accumulationist psychology of D&D wasn't so incredibly attractive to members of my materialistic society, but I guess if that's their deal, then I don't have anything much to say about it, at least as a gamer - maybe as a connoissuer or moralist, but not as a gamer. But the 13 year old boy powergamer wanting to have the Runedick is actually acting out precisely the symbolic dynamic that Moorcock seems to me to be reflecting on in those stories.

- I wanted to write a little essay here on the Book of Dreams too, but I think I'm running out of steam. Basically, the reason that that book (which depressed the hell out of me once I finished it) is so interesting to me is that the antagonist's fantasy life is a double for the reader's and the writers, and the protagonist, with which the reader is identified, kills him, and the fantasy dies along with him. A little of the same sadness I always feel at the end of the Hobbit, except it has a totally different twist, because here it's not that we always have to go home again, it's that the final villain which is overcome is so obviously a stand-in for the reader and writer, the person fantasizing.

OK, that's it for now.

Title: [Sorcery & Sword] Query for R. Edwards re: Fantastic Fic
Post by: greyorm on October 24, 2003, 11:36:13 AM
Quote from: Ron Edwards
It's kind of shocking to consider Leiber's word/style and then to consider Moorcock's; I think the latter author is one of the single worst stylists available. I'm thinking mainly of his 1970s stuff, though ... later books like The Warhound and the World's Pain are at least competent.

I'm actually quite startled at the number of folks who support that Moorcock's prose style was akward/bad. I'm not calling anyone a liar, or even considering anything as weak as "well, tastes differ;" I'm just surprised that I missed such a flaw, as I'm the guy who becomes vocal about disgruntlement over poor wording in a novel, who glares furiously at typos and "forgives" the editor for missing them, and who mentally edits bad sentence structure while reading in order to enjoy the story.

If it had been a number of years since I had last read Moorcock, then it would be understandable (frex, I only vaguely recall Tolkien because I read him when I was eight; at this point, I couldn't tell you a damn thing about his writing, beyond the big plot events). However, I read the Corum series only about three years ago, along with Hawkmoon about two years ago, a couple singular books, and Elric about six years ago. I'm thinking I'll have to go dig my copies out of...wherever they've been put, just to see.

I think the Fafhrd and Mouser stories, although wonderful fantasy-adventure, are not Leiber's high point as a writer - his high points are beyond stellar. So my post above probably wouldn't make sense without knowing more of his work.

A Spectre is Haunting Texas (novel)
Gonna Roll the Bones (short story)

I'll check those out, thanks.

I'll have to go back and reread the Lankhmar stories to see what I get out of them this time around, to see if my impression is any different, as, interestingly, I did in fact read the Lankhmar books when I was around sixteen.

However, I recall, with varying degrees of detail, the specific stories you mention as being the ones adults are most impacted by, and recall enjoying them quite a bit, but the two you mention as action-biased...I'm actually drawing a blank of sorts. I believe I recall Thieves' House, but I can't be certain, and of Ill Met In Lankhmar I only recall that, yes, that's the title of a story. The others, however, recieved a "Oh, yeah, that's the one where..." upon reading the title.

So, overall very interesting. Thanks for the perspectives, everyone.

Title: [Sorcery & Sword] Query for R. Edwards re: Fantastic Fic
Post by: Ron Edwards on October 24, 2003, 11:42:56 AM
Hi Raven,

Huh, it strikes me that The Chronicle of Corum may be involved as a confounder, regarding Moorcock's prose style. I consider the second series (the Silver Hand stuff) to be among the best stylistic work he's done. That can overshadow a thing or two ...

Or maybe I'll relax my "God damn it, there's good and bad, and that's that" attitude a little and spot you some valid judgment-rights, too. In fact, I think I will.


Title: [Sorcery & Sword] Query for R. Edwards re: Fantastic Fic
Post by: David Chunn on October 24, 2003, 02:17:18 PM
Now, I'm going to have to go look at the Corum books again because I definitely liked the first series better (though that may have little to do with style).  

While I'm pondering that, I'll try to conjure my definition of 'style' which is likely different than what my instructors drilled into me.  More or less, I think of style as being a bit of everything squashed into one.  So later you can always break it into bits of style.  I think I was referring to two different aspects of style at different times in my post.  

To be specific on one thing, I find Moorcock's prose style to be good to excellent with a few exceptions.  It is, however, an acquired taste for some, I think.

I'll try to say more on style later when I'm not so tired as now.

Title: [Sorcery & Sword] Query for R. Edwards re: Fantastic Fic
Post by: Calithena on October 24, 2003, 06:01:02 PM
1) We've now reached an impasse in the discussion of Moorcock. How would we make progress?

We'd have to analyze his prose style seriously. I admit there are things I like and things I don't. I tried to re-read Elric of Melnibone a couple years ago and found it miserable, had that 'embarrassed that I read that and liked it so much as a kid' feeling that I have when I see Urshurak on the used bookstore shelves. On the other hand, I burned through the Hawkmoon books and loved them not long ago, and those are perhaps the cheesiest of all Moorcock. Ron reports a similar schizophrenia with respect to the second Corum series. So I suspect that something more complicated is going on here - there's something MM is doing really well as a writer, from a writerly point of view, and something he's not. If I had more time I'd try to analyze this, but maybe some of you guys would like to present the case. Any takers? Chunn the Unavoidable?

2) Ron, a good RP group is like a band, and S&S is the rock and roll of fantasy fiction, but the only kind of music that really fits your analogy is free jazz.

I can't emphasize enough how much mileage I'm getting out of S&S right now - it's absolutely wonderful. Thank you for writing it.

Title: [Sorcery & Sword] Query for R. Edwards re: Fantastic Fic
Post by: Calithena on October 24, 2003, 06:04:25 PM
(You're not going to believe me now, but I honestly didn't like Urshurak that much. I was just using it to make a point, coz, well, I did like it a little. When I was a kid, mind you.)

Title: [Sorcery & Sword] Query for R. Edwards re: Fantastic Fic
Post by: Rod Anderson on October 24, 2003, 06:24:37 PM
I'll hazard the opinion that it's not so much Moorcock being good at one thing and bad at another so much as him being, simply, uneven -- I gather during the period of his best-known books he wasn't much of a polisher, to say the least, and for any given value of "what writers do" he careens from good to bad like a pinball.


Title: [Sorcery & Sword] Query for R. Edwards re: Fantastic Fic
Post by: Ian Charvill on October 25, 2003, 02:26:54 AM
It is I think worth noting, that one of Moorcock's later, non-fantasy works was nominated for fairly prestigious English litarary award (Mother London was up for the Whitbread).  How this realtes to the quality of his earlier, fantasy works, is down to how much credence you put in the London LitCrit establishment.

W/r/t stormbringer, I tend to believe in the absence of other evidence that power fantasy's about big swords are about martial rather than sexual prowess.  I think that anyone who has ever been in a fight - especially anyone who has ever lost a fight - will understand instinctively that the desire to have a big and powerful sword needs no subtext other than 'I wish I was good at fighting and people couldn't bully me and push me around'.  Swords are not phallic - swords are just the right shape for killing people with.

Title: [Sorcery & Sword] Query for R. Edwards re: Fantastic Fic
Post by: Ron Edwards on October 25, 2003, 05:29:12 AM
Hi there,

Fun as it is, I think we've beaten the Moorcock/style issue pretty dead. All the variables or points are on the table, and the reader can choose. David, my apologies if I've cut you off from an intended post, but I hope you can see this is turning into a "Moorcock to me" free-association session, and it's time for that to finish up, I think.

And if I'm not mistaken, Calithena's response to me about Vance represents a meeting of minds: "high fantasy" is as good or bad a label as any for a writer of this breadth, and there's at least enough correspondence with the label to keep it from being utterly abominable. I can live with that.

Let's take a look at the passage in question anyway. In regard to the seminal works of sword-and-sorcery fiction in the 1930s through the 1950s, I wrote:

These works of course represent only a sub-set of fantasy fiction, and they have a specific relationship to two other branches that is beyond the scope of this essay. The interested reader might look into high fantasy (Lord Dunsany, George MacDonald, C.S. Lewis, E.R. Eddison, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Jack Vance) and serious, scholarly horror (William Hope Hodgson, Arthur Machen, Robert W. Chambers, and H.P. Lovecraft).

It is not correct to read this text and say, "Ron says Jack Vance is always and in every way a high fantasist." That's setting up a straw man to knock it down. It says instead, "If you want to learn more about high fantasy, read a bunch of writers, including Jack Vance." I'll stand by that. The fact that I'd reference him as well regarding a number of other literary achievements or labels (most especially social and philosophical commentary) is irrelevant to the point of the paragraph.

Side note: as long as we're criticizing people's writing styles, I would like to state that Ron Edwards uses "of course" too much in his Sorcerer books. To the extent that I want to scream and throw the book against the wall.

So - with some regret, it's time to pronounce this thread closed. If anyone wants to discuss some other authors, though, let's do it in new threads.


Title: [Sorcery & Sword] Query for R. Edwards re: Fantastic Fic
Post by: Calithena on October 25, 2003, 08:16:11 AM
I'm happy to end this discussion in favor of a new one too - especially since I don't feel inclined to analyze Moorcock's prose seriously right now.

I think Mr. Edwards and I reached mutual understanding with respect to both of the issues brought up in my original post. With respect to #2, Ron seems to have granted that the Sword and Sorcery influence was a vital one in the early days of the hobby, while I freely grant that there were dozens of things about those game systems (hit point based combat, the inclusion of horribly watered down 'faerie' creatures in nearly all the games, encumbrance, magic weapon shops, etc. etc.) that did not in fact support the inspiring genre. I have high hopes that the rules in Sorceror/Sorcery & Sword will do this, and am even now plotting to use them in play with my old 70's cronies, and some newer ones as well.

With respect to #1, the original point was just this. If I were teaching Intro to Fantasy Fiction and gave the following question:

Which group of fantasy writers is Jack Vance more correctly associated with?

a. Tanith Lee, Fritz Leiber, and Clark Ashton Smith
b. C.S. Lewis, George MacDonald, and J.R.R. Tolkien

I think the right answer would pretty clearly be a. On the other hand, if you changed the question to

a. Robert E. Howard, C.L. Moore, and Karl Wagner
b. C.S. Lewis, George MacDonald, and J.R.R. Tolkien

the student would have every right to protest the question as unfair.

To be fair to the original text cited above, Mr. Edwards was trying in that chapter to define the Sword and Sorcery genre, and I grant freely Ron's point that JV is not a core S&S author. What I was objecting to was just the listing of Vance alongside authors with whom he had less in common than he did with some of those on the core S&S list, and in a genre into which he fits arguably no better than he does into S&S. And I wasn't even really 'objecting' in an absolute sense, actually  - since Mr. Edwards is clearly a man of exceptionally penetrating judgment, I assumed that he had some reason for this slightly odd categorization. As it turns out, he did, and as a result of the exchange I've had fun and gained a little insight in thinking about Vance as a high fantasist, which I hadn't really done previously.

(I'm a great believer in the agonistic approach to learning. I don't mean to give offense by going on the offensive, though - I aim to understand the subject better by going as far as I can in the direction of sharp categorization. In this I see Mr. Edwards, whose passion for RPG theory and analysis is worthy of great respect, as a kindred spirit.)

So I guess that's it for me on this thread. The only other comment I had is that for very many people, and perhaps especially for very many young male adolescents, martial prowess vs. sexual prowess is a false dichotomy, psychologically speaking. What people are doing at this age is coping with their emergence as, well, people, and this has a lot of different components. Many of these components involve our personal sense of power: we want to use it, want not to misuse it, and want to get clear on what using and misusing it means. This has martial, sexual, social, intellectual, interpersonal, and lots of other dimensions. To say that the sword is a 'surrogate dick' is not to say that this is all some thinly disguised metaphor for sexual prowess. The stuff is connected - it's about wishing and having and the limits of both - and sex, self-defense, social stature, finding out your own abilities, and a lot of other things are all tied up in this. But that's way, way off topic, so I'm signing out.

Mr. Edwards, thank you very much indeed for your time and insight.

Title: [Sorcery & Sword] Query for R. Edwards re: Fantastic Fic
Post by: Ron Edwards on October 25, 2003, 12:18:41 PM
All done, then.

Post-script, though: "Mr. Edwards" won't do. It's "Ron."


Title: Style & Voice
Post by: Heraclitus on October 28, 2003, 02:16:31 PM
Hi All.

I'm new to this forum but not to the subjects at hand. Style, esp. style in fantasy fiction, is a particular interest of mine in both creative and scholarly terms. I'm also Sean's putative DM. He has successfully dragged me into this discussion, right when I'm supposed to be writing a paper on Nietzsche (thanx Sean--I'm plagarizing one of yours next time!).

I don't feel ready to weigh in in a fully formed fashion about why I regard certain wrtiers' style--Vance, Leiber--to be enormously superior to others being discussed (Moorcock esp. & to a lesser extent Howard). Nonetheless it seems helpful to think a bit more about what we mean by style.

David says:

"While I'm pondering that, I'll try to conjure my definition of 'style' which is likely different than what my instructors drilled into me. More or less, I think of style as being a bit of everything squashed into one."

While I suspect David has a good working understanding of style, he doesn't really articulate it here. I'm proposing we get a bit more explicit about style as a literary & rhetorical category. Being a rhetorician, I can't help but think that framing our discussion in rhetorical terms might help.

In clasical rhetoric, there are 5 stages, or "canons," that desctibe the composing process. These are:

1) Invention
3) Style
4) Memory
5) Delivery

Bizzell & Herzberg define style (somewhat unhelpfully) as "the use of correct, appropriate and striking language." We need to understand correct here as referring to 'correct' for the rhetorical situation--in a written text we might say the sentence or passage, or a particular moment in the narrative--not 'correct' in some grammatically prescriptive way.

So when we talk about Vance's skill as a stylist--he is, to my mind, the premiere stylist of 20th century fantasy--we are talking about word choice--how he builds sentences and paragraphs. We're talking about what I usually call the "line-level" for shorthand (as opposed to broader categories like 'story'or 'idea').

Unsurprisingly, I more-or-less agree with Sean & Ron: Moorcock is a mediocre stylist, esp his 60's work. Gloriana is quite stylistically interesting but closely wed to Victorian conventions. On the other hand Leiber, at his best, is a sublime stylist. Consider the opening of "When the Sea King's Away" and the long discourse on Lankhmar's divinities in "Lean Times in Lankhmar." You'll see great variety in sentence length, syntactic organization & subject (in a grammatical sense) choice. Such variety yields a range of cadences & reading aloud really emphasizes how effective these passages are.

Vance is not only a great stylist but a master of voice, which may or may not be the same thing as style but in any case is closely allied to it. Voice is that sense that a certain sensibility guides a narrator's word choice--the effect is very much like a tone of voice. Vance's narrative voice is, of course, famously sardonic. In Moorcock, Elric may be, and even act, sardonic but the narrative voice is not. Mostly it just just adds the adverb "sardonically" to Elric's dialogue tags, which is hardly the same thing.  

We are most accustomed to thinking about voice in terms of a first or third person limited narrator's individual psychology: when we read The Book of the New Sun Wolfe's narrative voice is subsumed into Severian, the ostensible author of the text we read. In books like A Wizard of Earthsea or Cugel's Saga we have what Ursual Le Guin calls "the involved narrator," an unspecified voice that provides us with context, reflection and commentary.

Le Guin dislikes the term "omniscent narrator" for this voice because she believes such a voice is never really omnisicent--its comments are deployed for certain discursive purposes. I tend to agree. No text ever fully documents experience. Storytelling is largely the art of omission.Vance is especially good at this as well. His ability to move readers around in time and place at the slightest whim is a quality I envy enormously.

Well that's plenty for now. I'm happy to be aboard and look forward to talking to everbody soon.



Title: Flogging a Dead Horse
Post by: Heraclitus on October 28, 2003, 02:35:11 PM
Ooops. I guess in my eagerness to get in the mix I missed Ron's note that this thread is dead. Apologies to any & all for surplus commentary.



Title: [Sorcery & Sword] Query for R. Edwards re: Fantastic Fic
Post by: Calithena on October 28, 2003, 05:45:37 PM
Hey Del! Glad you made it!

I think the format around here is new topic, new thread - so if we want to get into 'fantasy stylings' we should start a new thread about that. (Plus you followed the 'Rome rule' - you had a take and you didn't suck - so I'm sure no-one will mind.) I thought about doing that myself, but wasn't sure on the proper forum here at the Forge for posting literary quibbles. Ron, others, any suggestions?