Carl Jacobi (1908-1997) is one of the forgotten genre writers, penning weird tales, crime fiction, science fiction and fantasy for the pulps, and later in life for their successors. He’s an author I intend to keep an eye out for when browsing for something new to purchase. Why? Well, I happened upon a short-short of his by the title of A Pair of Swords. It’s a weird tale, from 1933, with just a touch of the swashbuckling fare I enjoy brought to life with the assistance of an unexplained supernatural occurrence. Classic pulp contrivance; museum antiques, weapons, the King’s Musketeers, an out-of-time encounter. Good stuff.
I’ve been considering Robert E. Howard’s Conan. As one does, you know. I don’t need to tell my discerning and intelligent audience that there is more to the character than a violent savage in a hairy diaper. But I thought I’d share a few of my thoughts.
Pulp Swords-and-Sorcery stories conveyed a certain esthetic. There was a focus and an energy to them that came through even with authors milking every penny from the word count. I like it. Practitioners of the artform have carried that energy from short stories to novellas and full-length novels. What I’ve wondered is if the esthetic can translate from secondary worlds and mythic history to contemporary fantasy. That is, can one remove the Swords from S&S and substitute modern weaponry while retaining both the driving adventure and the fantastical elements? While working through this, I’ve substituted the term “Semi-automatics” for “Swords.” It maintains the alliteration while holding a conceptual through line, I think.
You can, of course, wing it when it comes to descriptive writing. In fantasy and science-fiction that purely imaginative approach is unavoidable. No one has actually seen a dragon, for example, or a slime monster from Alpha Ceti. But if you are attempting to achieve a certain realism, it helps to have some experience with the subject matter you are describing.
Perhaps Idaho doesn’t spring immediately to mind as a summer vacation destination. But I had been getting a touch of cabin fever, I’d heard good things about Coeur d’alene, and it is only about a six hour drive from home. So I packed up, got MBW and the HA in the car, and we headed northeast for a mini-vacation.
When we think of a sword in a swords-and-sorcery yarn, most often we think of a barbarian swinging a broadsword. We know what that means. We can visualize it. No matter that “broadsword” is not a term of art, and that in fact a broadsword, properly speaking, is far from the heavy spatha or arming sword we associate with our barbarian hero. And that’s fine. Secondary world fantasy or fantastic fictionalizations of our world don’t demand technical accuracy.
Sing it like Aretha Franklin or scream it like Ted Nugent: Freedom!
Happy Independence Day, fellow Americans. And a pleasant July 4th to the rest of you. If I may, like everyone else, quote John Adams on this day of celebration, “It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.”
No battle plan, or so it is said, survives first contact with the enemy. Life comes at you fast. Shit happens. Etc. The point is, you cannot expect matters to run smoothly and according to a predetermined schedule. Things change, even as you’re walking out the door on the way to whatever is appointed. Don’t be surprised.
It really shouldn’t come as a pleasant surprise to open a book and find exactly what the title describes. But, such is my life. I picked up Isaac Asimov’s Magical Worlds of Fantasy 5: Giants based on the strength of the names Manly Wade Wellman and Clark Ashton Smith. Seeing David Drake’s name in the credits didn’t hurt. I had a pretty good idea, given the inclusion of Pohl, Asimov, and Knight — among others — that this would not be a purely S&S/Weird Tales affair. But I expected mostly strong stories, be they science fiction, fantasy, or some hybrid thereof.
I wasn’t disappointed. Let’s take a look, shall we?