Location, location, location. Setting is a vital component of Sword-and-Sorcery fiction. The action needs to occur in some pre-industrial locale, a secondary world, a fictionalized fantasy Earth, another planet, or some similar backdrop. Somewhere, that is, where the sword is a viable weapon, rather than an antiquated prop. The sword is that evocative. A steel, iron, or bronze weapon, whether sword, axe, or spear (though the sword is most iconic) instantly tells the reader he’s not in the here and now, but in a time of raw immediacy.
A Western, even if complete with a supernatural element, a rogue of a protagonist, somewhat low stakes, and a violent conclusion wouldn’t be Sword-and-Sorcery. Sixguns, perhaps. Not Sword. The setting matters. Conan needs his “broadsword.” Fafhrd needs Graywand. The stories wouldn’t be the same if the men were armed with laser pistols. The ambience would be wrong. Not bad, necessarily, just wrong.
I wrote a series featuring a protagonist that I hoped could stand in the company of the likes of Conan, Brak, Fafhrd, etc. Karl Thorson possesses that level of competence, self-assurance, strength, and will power. As the setting is contemporary fantasy, his stories cannot be Sword-and-Sorcery, despite otherwise following the tropes and attempting to adhere to the overall feel of the genre. Thus I called the series Semi-Autos and Sorcery. As of March 7, the fourth volume, Silver and Bone, will be released by Aethon Books on Kindle. The print edition should follow soon. The other three are available in print and digital formats, with audiobooks in progress. If you’re interested in seeing how Karl Thorson stacks up to his peers in a parallel genre, please give his tales a try.
Meanwhile, here’s the next installment of Magnus Stoneslayer’s journal.
Illusion, dear diary, whether concocted by mummery or chemically, riles me. The latter, I think, can be the worst. The fever dreams and hallucinations incarnated by inhalation of spores of exotic jungle plants, or caused by scratching the skin with a blade coated in distillations of batrachian or ophidian secretions, or the like alchemical mischief can give rise to horrendous headaches, or stomach roiling nausea. The supernatural illusions tend to leave no lingering physical effects – provided you survive the illusion itself unscathed.
Some diabolical magicians employ both, like the mystic denizen of the lonely tower arising deep in the desert’s inhospitable empty quarter. He had spirited away a captive from one of my recent pillaging forays. I cannot abide someone kidnapping what I have rightly abducted. Besides, she was a sweet girl and it was my intent to keep her out of the clutches of my ruffians and send her back home – in good time. She must have held some allure for Malantiz as well, considering the trouble he took in sending his demonic familiar to steal her from my tent. My hand picked trackers quailed once we’d trailed the familiar far enough into the waste for the more experienced of them to deduce where the tracks were leading to. It took all of my considerable persuasive power to keep them from turning back. They agreed to wait a night and a day for my return.
I’ve led an eventful life thus far, but when regaling drinking companions in the future I will always recount that journey across the burning sands, and overcoming the guards, wards, and traps protecting Malantiz’s tower for my topper, my conversational end game. But my concern here is illusion, not the extraordinary tale itself. Another time perhaps.
High up in the tower, in one of the upper floors, I eased open a door and stepped into a room glittering and shimmering with light reflecting from dozens of triangular silver mirrors hung on silver threads at head height. My entrance caused them to begin to sway, and that, or some unseen tripwire triggered a cascade of sparkling dust from above. It was too late to hold my breath. All too soon I was battling demonic monstrosities vomited up from the very bowels of hell. Now unknown to me, at the far end of the room opened a hole in the floor, a pit descending far into the tower’s foundations, a killing drop. The illusionary devils should send any intruder panicking towards certain doom. Malantiz committed a fundamental oversight in failing to factor in the iron will of the barbarian swordsman. My dread of the supernatural is ingrained. But my inflexible will prevents that fear from becoming panic. At length the drug wore off, leaving my panting and sweating amidst a tangle of silver shards and wires.
Malantiz’s surprise at seeing me alive was short lived, ending simultaneously with his heartbeat. The girl’s gratitude at her rescue lasted considerably longer, dear diary. No illusion.