Forgotten Sword and Sorcery authors.

Toby Frost

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I loved The Traveller in Black. It's like a dose of concentrated fantasy: totally fantastical, at points completely without logic, especially the tiny overlaps with the real world (which contradict each other) and really mysterious. It feels like the literary equivalent of a Hieronymous Bosch painting. It really is extremely strange.
 

j d worthington

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Well known as in the sense of widely known, not necessarily fondly remembered. I'm aware of the whole controversy regarding his pastiches, cannibalizations and rewriting of Howard's originals but really don't feel a need to make a big deal about it. The originals, unedited, are now easily available through the Del Rey/ Wandering Star collections, and the man himself is now dead, so it seems a little pointless to prolong the feud. Especially pointless, it seems, is relatively young fans who didn't live through the wilderness years carrying it on as though it were some tradition passed on by their elders. Correcting misconceptions as they arise, sure, I'm for that, but there's still far too much emotion and bad blood tied up in this whole thing that really should have died down a long time ago.

I'm not a de Camp fanboy, apologist or anything of that sort, but I recognise that he was a talented and influential writer with a fine body of original work to his name, who won numerous awards, and who helped pioneer an entire genre (alternate history). He was certainly not mostly known for just writing "terrible biography".

You really should check out the Enchanter series he did with Pratt. The first two novellas are classics of S&S (using a slightly woolly definition of the term) and very, very fun. More like Leiber than Howard, however, which might not be your thing.

The entire de Camp/Howard controversy reminds me very much of the Lovecraft/Derleth controversy. Derleth, too, wrote tons of pastiches, mostly pretty awful, both under his own name and as supposed "collaborations" with Lovecraft, who was some years dead when the earliest of them was published. He also promulgated a largely erroneous view of Lovecraft himself, which was accepted as gospel by nearly everyone for decades. (Much of it still is by the majority of people who are aware of HPL at all.) As a result, for a very long time -- almost the same amount of time, actually -- beginning shortly after Derleth's death, there was a severe backlash against him on all fronts. Neither is entirely without merit, but neither is quite balanced, either.

The fact is that, for all their flaws, there are points of interest to some of Derleth's Lovecraftian pastiches, and even some fine writing here and there. He manages to create an atmosphere quite well in several of the stories, though he also then proceeds to completely obliterate it before the story's end by going on in one of those cataloguings of all his misconceptions of the Lovecraftian mythos. Nor was his view of HPL himself entirely without truth, though he failed completely to understand his mentor's Weltanshauung, infusing it with his own Catholocism-influenced dichotomies. Nonetheless, he did both preserve HPL's writings in print -- including many minor items which otherwise would probably no longer be with us -- and kept at least some degree of interest in the Providentian's writings going during even the leanest of years.

So with de Camp. Not all his Howardian writings are without merits of their own, when considered as writings by de Camp rather than "in the style of Howard". While not sterling works, they are often entertaining, colorful, witty, and even occasionally have touches of poetic beauty and pathos which are well handled. His views on Howard himself deserve somewhat more censure, but are the nearly inevitable result of the popular uinderstanding of the psychiatric views of the time; nor are they entirely without merit, as Howard was obviously not an entirely balanced character himself. Do not misunderstand me: I wouldn't have Howard any other than he was, certainly not at the expense of the body of work he produced. But to deny that he had some severe emotional and psychological "quirks", is to deny the evidence of those who knew him, as well as his own body of work, including letters.

The difference is that de Camp's impact on Howardian studies is much more recent than that of Derleth on Lovecraftian studies; and Sprague himself has been dead a much shorter time. So we're still in the reactionary phase of this process, and it is likely to be at least another decade or two before the scales begin to become balanced, and we can honestly assess the pros and cons of de Camp's role in the history of Howard's writings. For myself, though, I am far from condemning him so wholeheartedly as many, though I would agree that what he wrote must be taken with a large amount of salt.

As for his own non-Howard-related writings... they provide quite a spectrum, both fiction and non-fiction (his writings on ancient civilizations and the like, in relation to mythology and fantasy, are both informative and entertaining, and I highly recommend them as popular guides to such a subject); his science-fiction is among the most literate of its day, with a shrewd observation of human beings and both their strengths and weaknesses; his fantasy is, as I've said above, both urbane and witty, and also shows a love of both heroic adventure and the realms of myth, dream, and fantasy, and several of them are either classics or near-classics of the genre, and I think most readers with a somewhat broader taste would find at least some of them well worth their time.

Like Derleth, for all his faults (and they were many) Sprague also provided an invaluable service to fantasy for many years, both as writer of fiction and as one of the first to treat the figures of fantasy seriously as writers worthy of study, and I think that, as time passes, we will find that, though he may not stand with the highest, he will nonetheless deserve a fairly respectable place in the annals of this "little teapot of a genre".

Karl Edward Wagner - Kane. I find this series a little overrated to be honest, given its underground reputation as a classic of S&S as well as its (excellent) general premise. Kane is a mad and immortal demi-god seeking meaning to his life throughout the ages of the Earth, none of which seem to be based on any actual historical period, disappointingly. The stories are mostly doom and gloom with the anti-hero Kane switching sides on a whim, becoming alternately hero and villain. The writing is serviceable and even rather Howardian in places, but the characters generally lack, er, character and the settings often seem rather bland and unmemorable. The short stories tend to be better than the novels, so that would be the place to start. I'd suggest Nightwinds, which last time I checked was still relatively affordable.

This was (save for Darkness Weaves, which impressed me with its stark shadows from the first) pretty much my own first impression of Kane, but a rereading some years ago brought my estimation of the series up several notches. I found that reading something like Bloodstone at a leisurely pace had much the same effect as reading the original Gothics in that manner; that there were all sorts of subtleties and atmospheric touches which are all-too-easily missed when reading them at the sort of pace most modern fiction has us accustomed to; and that actually Wagner was a rather acute observer of the nuances of human psychology (not surprising, given his training), giving his characters more depth than is at first realized. You may disagree with me on this point, but this is how I've come to see these stories over time....
 

Toby Frost

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JD, I still maintain that there is an excellent "Why you should read Lovecraft" article out there waiting to be written, and you are the man to do it...

(Although in fairness I do get irritated when people say "You! Write book!" Most of the time it's rather flattering, but I have had a couple of surprisingly brusque demands. Not from anyone on this forum, I hasten to add!)
 

j d worthington

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Thank you, Toby; I appreciate the compliment, and I may well sit down and write such a thing at some point. At the moment, however, I'm looking at a considerable amount of work dealing with the Georgian writers who influenced HPL....
 

nomadman

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The entire de Camp/Howard controversy reminds me very much of the Lovecraft/Derleth controversy...

Yes, there are very clear parallels between the two. I will say though that I found the best of Derleth's Lovecraft pastiches to be a lot better than the best of de Camp's Conan pastiches (though I've hardly read a large body of their work in this area). Derleth might have fundamentally misinterpreted Lovecraft's world view, and attempted to codify something which gained its very power from being nebulous and hazily defined in the Elder Gods, but he also brought a very fine local color to the more rural tales that adds rather than subtracts from the general effect. De Camp's Conan tales I found rather bland and almost parodical at times, though like you said they occasionally had elements of beauty. I think this came down to more of a matter of effort rather than skill though.

This was (save for Darkness Weaves, which impressed me with its stark shadows from the first) pretty much my own first impression of Kane, but a rereading some years ago brought my estimation of the series up several notches. I found that reading something like Bloodstone at a leisurely pace had much the same effect as reading the original Gothics in that manner; that there were all sorts of subtleties and atmospheric touches which are all-too-easily missed when reading them at the sort of pace most modern fiction has us accustomed to; and that actually Wagner was a rather acute observer of the nuances of human psychology (not surprising, given his training), giving his characters more depth than is at first realized. You may disagree with me on this point, but this is how I've come to see these stories over time....

I also found Darkness Weaves to be the strongest of the three novels, and not a bad bit of S&S in its own right. Bloodstone I really couldn't get into on several different levels, though I might reread it at a not so later date with your thoughts in mind. The short stories vary quite a bit in quality, tone, and even intent, with some, like Undertow and Two Suns Setting to be rather good slices of 'pure' S&S and others like Deep in the Depths of the Acme Warehouse to be merely quirky ephemera.
 

nomadman

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I loved The Traveller in Black. It's like a dose of concentrated fantasy: totally fantastical, at points completely without logic, especially the tiny overlaps with the real world (which contradict each other) and really mysterious. It feels like the literary equivalent of a Hieronymous Bosch painting. It really is extremely strange.

Absolutely. Very trippy stuff and wonderfully well written in places. Perhaps a little too out there to be considered S&S in the traditional sense, but its heart's in a similar place.
 

j d worthington

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Yes, there are very clear parallels between the two. I will say though that I found the best of Derleth's Lovecraft pastiches to be a lot better than the best of de Camp's Conan pastiches (though I've hardly read a large body of their work in this area). Derleth might have fundamentally misinterpreted Lovecraft's world view, and attempted to codify something which gained its very power from being nebulous and hazily defined in the Elder Gods, but he also brought a very fine local color to the more rural tales that adds rather than subtracts from the general effect. De Camp's Conan tales I found rather bland and almost parodical at times, though like you said they occasionally had elements of beauty. I think this came down to more of a matter of effort rather than skill though.

One thing to keep in mind, though, is that Lovecraft never had something such as the "Elder Gods" -- that was Derleth's invention, and at best based on a rather slender bit in The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath where Nodens cheers on Carter. The "Gods of Earth", on the other hand, were Lovecraft's, and obviously based on his love of classical mythology; but these were also presented as weak and ineffectual and entirely negligible in the face of the "Other Gods"; and even this was strictly within the Dunsanian tales, where their fantasy aspect were more appropriate.

As for the de Camp Howardian pieces being parodical... I see that more with the ones which were done by Carter (sometimes based on fragments by Howard) or where Carter and de Camp collaborated. Those were quite bad; whereas those by de Camp solo were written with a good deal more ability. (Bless him... Lin was, as I've said, a delightful person in some ways; but as a writer.....)

I also found Darkness Weaves to be the strongest of the three novels, and not a bad bit of S&S in its own right. Bloodstone I really couldn't get into on several different levels, though I might reread it at a not so later date with your thoughts in mind. The short stories vary quite a bit in quality, tone, and even intent, with some, like Undertow and Two Suns Setting to be rather good slices of 'pure' S&S and others like Deep in the Depths of the Acme Warehouse to be merely quirky ephemera.

Did you ever read the piece Wagner wrote for Tales of the White Wolf? That was an odd little piece, bringing Kane and Elric together....
 

Extollager

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That's interesting. May I ask why, and what were your impressions when you first read it?

I read The Tritonian Ring when I was in high school and would read almost nothing but fantasy, whether of Tolkien, Lovecraft, or Howard or the like. I don't remember much relating to my first impressions. Revisiting it in a library copy that I don't have at hand, I didn't find myself as amused as the author evidently was by the council of the gods, etc. I didn't hate the book, but I was conscious that it would take some determination to persevere with a yarn that was meant to be an entertainment.
 

Connavar

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Well known as in the sense of widely known, not necessarily fondly remembered. I'm aware of the whole controversy regarding his pastiches, cannibalizations and rewriting of Howard's originals but really don't feel a need to make a big deal about it. The originals, unedited, are now easily available through the Del Rey/ Wandering Star collections, and the man himself is now dead, so it seems a little pointless to prolong the feud. Especially pointless, it seems, is relatively young fans who didn't live through the wilderness years carrying it on as though it were some tradition passed on by their elders. Correcting misconceptions as they arise, sure, I'm for that, but there's still far too much emotion and bad blood tied up in this whole thing that really should have died down a long time ago.

I'm not a de Camp fanboy, apologist or anything of that sort, but I recognise that he was a talented and influential writer with a fine body of original work to his name, who won numerous awards, and who helped pioneer an entire genre (alternate history). He was certainly not mostly known for just writing "terrible biography".

You really should check out the Enchanter series he did with Pratt. The first two novellas are classics of S&S (using a slightly woolly definition of the term) and very, very fun. More like Leiber than Howard, however, which might not be your thing.

It is easy to forget the pastiches, the cannibalizations for younger fans that only know the original Howard work through Del Rey and co. The problem is there is many De Camp Conan older fanboys around that wont let the emotions die down. He is an icon to some. For what he did with Conan fun cheap pastiche, gimmicks, greed, parasitizing others work is ancient history and long forgotten.

The thing that is hard to forget is the biography, his comments, sayings things that he shouldnt have since he was no Freud exactly. Sure Howard was an easy mark because of who he was emotionally, his tragic short life but still.

Hey i like funny S&S alot, Cugel stories are witty sort S&S stories and i adore Leiber stories. His work with Pratt if i will read will depend if Pratt own stories are specially good. De Camp might have been a writer of his own but not in genres that interest me not a fan of Alternate History and in S&S there are many others that sound more interesting. De Camp must be judged for everything he did as editor, writer. He choose to be connected negatively with Conan,Howard. JD, other older readers might find the pastiche fun reads of their own.

Big difference with Derleth and HPL is the fact he was closer to HPL and he made sure HPL was reprinted with his original stories. More of a fan pastiching and printing a writer. That is why you dont hear him as being infamous, disliked by HPL fans.
 

Connavar

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To elaborate on some of my other picks.

Michael Shea - Nifft the Lean. An series of four novellas involving a master thief set in a Vancian/Leiberian/Klarkashtonian world of darkness and deceit. Wonderfully written and entertaining. I wrote a more detailed review of it here.

Karl Edward Wagner - Kane. I find this series a little overrated to be honest, given its underground reputation as a classic of S&S as well as its (excellent) general premise. Kane is a mad and immortal demi-god seeking meaning to his life throughout the ages of the Earth, none of which seem to be based on any actual historical period, disappointingly. The stories are mostly doom and gloom with the anti-hero Kane switching sides on a whim, becoming alternately hero and villain. The writing is serviceable and even rather Howardian in places, but the characters generally lack, er, character and the settings often seem rather bland and unmemorable. The short stories tend to be better than the novels, so that would be the place to start. I'd suggest Nightwinds, which last time I checked was still relatively affordable.

Michael Swanwick - Darger and Surplus. Rather modern and, thus far, short series of three short stories and a novel set in a post apocalyptic Earth, involving a couple of conmen and their often disastrous get-rich-quick schemes. Very Leiber-esque with a touch of Book of the New Sun about them. Not nearly old enough to be forgotten, but not as known as they should be either. So check 'em out. You can find them in Swanwick's collection The Dog Said Bow Wow.

How is the world building in Kane, the atmosphere ? Is it creepy S&S style ? Would you say he has strengths of REH type S&S?

Wagner is the really forgotten S&S author, he has underground classic sure but his books are very hard to find outside us. REH fans recommend to me all the time. I would hate it if he was overrated. He did write Bran Mak Morn pastiche that is the only pastiche i ever wanted to read.
 

j d worthington

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Big difference with Derleth and HPL is the fact he was closer to HPL and he made sure HPL was reprinted with his original stories. More of a fan pastiching and printing a writer. That is why you dont hear him as being infamous, disliked by HPL fans.

I'm afraid that isn't the case -- Derleth's name has pretty much been mud for quite a long time now with the HPL fans who know anything about this; in part because many of his pastiches were published as at least partially written by HPL, when even The Lurker at the Threshold (which holds the most actual Lovecraftian prose) only has a few hundred words by HPL, and even that Derleth tinkered with. His distortions of what Lovecraft was about completely stymied Lovecraftian studies for decades, and even now his shadow can be feld in some of the Mythos writers who, often unknowingly, are following more in Derleth's footsteps than Lovecraft's. His promulgation of the "cosmic" war between the Old Ones and the Elder Gods -- a scenario which came from Derleth himself -- pretty much made Mythos fiction from the late 1930s until after 1971 almost a dead-end, as there are only so many variations one can play on that basic framework. (The framework itself has been brilliantly parodied on more than one occasion; perhaps the best is that by, if memory serves, Robert Price.) This is the "Lovecraft" that so many readers of the older editions know, because Derleth's own fiction was published as being genuine Lovecraft, completed by Augie... not Derleth's own material taken from a line or two in HPL's Commonplace Book.

Also, the editions of HPL's work which Derleth published were often chock-full of errors, deletions, Derleth's own editorial tamperings, and utterly careless attitude about the texts... which caused decades of misreadings of HPL's material.

No, Derleth has long been very unpopular with Lovecraft fans, and it is only now, as I said, that we are beginning to establish a balance between the view of him as disciple and preserver, and that of being a ghoul and mangler of his mentor's works.

How is the world building in Kane, the atmosphere ? Is it creepy S&S style ? Would you say he has strengths of REH type S&S?

Some of them, yes. Some, no. They are quite variable in tone and approach. Darkness Weaves, and some of the tales in Death Angel's Shadow, certainly have that to them; Bloodstone, though definitely having an eerie feel to much of it, is nonetheless a rather different angle. I'd say Wagner was too much aware of psychology to quite follow in Howard's footsteps, though certainly his work can be dark and grim enough to please Two-Gun....

Wagner is the really forgotten S&S author, he has underground classic sure but his books are very hard to find outside us. REH fans recommend to me all the time. I would hate it if he was overrated. He did write Bran Mak Morn pastiche that is the only pastiche i ever wanted to read.

The Bran Mak Morn pastiche is another which hits different people different ways. The first time I read it, back when it was first published, I didn't care for it at all, and was quite disappointed, having rather liked what I'd read of Wagner's other work. On a rereading about ten years ago, I found it to be much more to my taste... again, like Bloodstone, it should be taken in a leisurely fashion for the full effect to sink in. Also, his Conan pastiche, The Road of Kings, is rather good. It isn't Howard, but it shows a good understanding of Howard's world, and stands with the starkest of Howard's own writings concerning the doughty barbarian -- close in feel, at times, to "Beyond the Black River", for instance....

Dask: As for Jakes' Brak.... I don't quite know what to say about that one. There are some fine touches to several of the Brak stories, as I recall, but there's also a good deal of dreck there. Even at the height of my fascination with S&S, I had some trouble with this series.... Mention My Name in Atlantis, however, is a rather fun romp, as I recall... quite irreverent, but enjoyable.

We also shouldn't forget some of the members of what Lin Carter called the S.A.G.A. -- or Swordsman and Sorcerer's Guild of America -- which also included Mike Moorcock from Britain (surprise!); people such as Avram Davidson, for his novels The Island Under the Earth, Peregrine: Primus (and Secundus) and The Phoenix and the Mirror, as well as a few other writings....
 

nomadman

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One thing to keep in mind, though, is that Lovecraft never had something such as the "Elder Gods" -- that was Derleth's invention

Yup. Cthulhu, Yog Sothoth and the crew. That's who I meant.

Did you ever read the piece Wagner wrote for Tales of the White Wolf? That was an odd little piece, bringing Kane and Elric together....

Can't say I have. Was it an anthology or a Moorcock collection?
 

Connavar

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JD:

My experience of Derleth, HPL comes from HPL fans in REH official forum. Im not well read about HPL, Derleth and co myself since im not a fan. I thought it was interesting those fans atleast didnt seem dislike him as much as they did De Camp. Maybe they have got past the pastiche, the old Gods cosmic war etc. As you say maybe there is today a balance of the preserver and the ghoul, the mangler heh well put.

Shame to hear his publishing of HPL stories was so badly done. Thats what i respected for him. Sort of Glen Lord and others for REH.
 

nomadman

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How is the world building in Kane, the atmosphere ? Is it creepy S&S style ? Would you say he has strengths of REH type S&S?

Wagner is the really forgotten S&S author, he has underground classic sure but his books are very hard to find outside us. REH fans recommend to me all the time. I would hate it if he was overrated. He did write Bran Mak Morn pastiche that is the only pastiche i ever wanted to read.

The world building is a little bland I felt. Most of the stories take place in different fictional times and locations so there isn't that much room to flesh out the background every time. The atmosphere can be pretty good. Very dark in places. His stories lack the historical flavor of Howard's and tend more toward the gothic but otherwise have many of the same qualities, visceral fight scenes, tough and uncompromising characters, and a (generally) brisk pace.

They're not bad, but to live up to some of the things people have said about them they'd have to be great. I'd say check 'em out if you see them in a used bookstore somewhere but don't pay any ludicrous amounts for them online.
 

Connavar

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The world building is a little bland I felt. Most of the stories take place in different fictional times and locations so there isn't that much room to flesh out the background every time. The atmosphere can be pretty good. Very dark in places. His stories lack the historical flavor of Howard's and tend more toward the gothic but otherwise have many of the same qualities, visceral fight scenes, tough and uncompromising characters, and a (generally) brisk pace.

They're not bad, but to live up to some of the things people have said about them they'd have to be great. I'd say check 'em out if you see them in a used bookstore somewhere but don't pay any ludicrous amounts for them online.

Thats why i havent bought one of the books online i cant pay 200-300 dollars for a writer i dont know. If it was rare REH or Vance or Lord Dunsany book i could pay that much.

Normally i found books like this in Bookmooch but not even there you can find Kane books.
 

j d worthington

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Yup. Cthulhu, Yog Sothoth and the crew. That's who I meant.

Ah. Yes, the nomenclature which has been used for HPL's "gods" has a confusing history, especially when Derleth enters the mix, as he used the same terms for both sides at different times; but generally the "Elder Gods" was the "goodies", whereas the "Old Ones" or "Ancient Ones" were the "baddies"....

Can't say I have. Was it an anthology or a Moorcock collection?

It is an anthology:

http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/pl.cgi?22068
 

Toby Frost

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"Into the thrice-fired Hell of Yob-Haggoth strode the yellow-haired giant of the North."

How can such a book be anything but mighty? And can you read those words without hearing a deep American accent booming them over a trailer? A once-fired Hell would be scary, and I really don't like the sound of a twice-fired Hell (twice-fired sounds too much like a fancy pizza or a glazed pot for my tastes). But thrice-fired? Thrice?!

I have a feeling that the Westeros forums did a good chapter-by-chapter read-through of Brak The Barbarian, and quite enjoyed it.

Incidentally, does anyone know who drew the cover to "Witch of the Dark Gate"? I'm sure I recognise the style.
 

j d worthington

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Incidentally, does anyone know who drew the cover to "Witch of the Dark Gate"? I'm sure I recognise the style.

Ummm... at risk of sounding thick -- was that intended tongue-in-cheek, or seriously? Either way, the artist was Frank Frazetta....
 

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