Wednesday, January 17, 2018

You Seem Upset...

[UPDATE: I have been corrected on a small bit of lore by a friend of mine, Todd Everhart (@Rolecasters). It turns out that Vlana and Ivrian, the lovers of Fafhrd & The Gray Mouser, were not in fact burned alive by the Thieves' Guild. They were hung by sorcerous magic and eaten alive by giant rats. The Mouser overturned a pot of coals and set his treasure horde on fire because he couldn't bear to look at what happened to them. Thanks for the correction, Todd!]

So apparently I unlocked an achievement earlier: Trigger a Supposed Major Author You've Never Heard of Before.

Before I get into whatever this turns out to be, I want to make it very clear I have no particular animosity towards Mr. Barron. Like I said, I'd never heard of the guy before a friend of mine showed me this screencap. I don't even have a Facebook, so the best I can do is a quick check of his wikipedia page, and from what I got there he has a lot of anthologies he's contributed to and stories out there.

Good for him.

I mean that seriously, good for him. It still doesn't change the fact that I have never heard of him before today in my entire life, but if he's getting it in this industry then good for him. 

I can't for the life of me figure out why he's so upset when a nobody like me criticizes an anthology that he didn't even contribute to. But there are some things in his little Facebook post I'd like to correct, and now seems as good a time as any.

This wasn't "a rant disguised as a review."

This was a rant. 

I like to think I was up front about that at the start, when I mentioned that I hadn't read the book, but trust the opinions of the reviewers of Castalia House to know whether a book will be worth my money and time. That is, after all, what reviewers are for. Maybe I should be clearer in the future with that kind of thing, so there's no more confusion. If I knew dick all about graphic design I'd make some kind of "RANT NOT REVIEW" image to put on these sorts of posts so that everything's nice and clear. We'll see what I come up with.

Now on to Mr. Barron's next point. Yes, all the characters listed have their bloodthirsty moments. But if all you're familiar with is, say, Conan pastiches, or the movies, or the media featuring the Cimmerian which was not written by Robert E. Howard, I can see how you'd think that's his overall character trait. I haven't been in the business of debunking individual statements of ignorance in a while, but I think I remember how to play this game.

In the very first published Conan story, the world's first introduction to the mighty barbarian, "Phoenix on the Sword," Conan is a king. He is a wise and noble ruler, willing to ride into the jaws of enemy armies woefully outnumbered (as is shown in the story "The Scarlet Citadel"), and is even a patron of the arts! In "Phoenix", there is a poet who is essentially spreading seditious material against Conan and lionizing the king he deposed and killed. Conan is reluctant to even say a harsh word against him, because, and I quote, "A great poet is greater than any king. His songs are mightier than my scepter; for he has near ripped the heart from my breast when he chose to sing for me. I shall die and be forgotten, but Rinaldo's songs will live forever."

Quite the thing for a "bloodthirsty prick" to say, wouldn't you think?

Quite the thing for the writer of said "bloodthirsty prick" to put into print, as well. 

As for Beowulf, if I recall that story properly he came upon a group of people in the grip of a terrible monster that invaded their homes at night and literally ate people alive. Beowulf killed that monster with his bare hands, and then went on to find that monster's mother and kill her, all to ensure that these very put-upon people he'd come across could sleep soundly at night. Sometimes being a "bloodthirsty prick" can do good for people in need. 

Fafhrd & The Mouser are perpetually broke thieves who nonetheless find ways to do good for people, despite their "bloodthirsty prickishness". In "Bazaar of the Bizarre", Fafhrd risks his own skin to save not only his companion but all of Nehwon itself. The entire reason they were so admittedly bloodthirsty near the end of "Ill Met in Lankhmar" is because the women they loved had been burned alive by the Thieves' Guild. Seems justifiable bloodthirst to me. And in "The Price of Pain-Ease" The Two make their way quite literally to Death's Door simply to say goodbye to those two women. But no, we can reduce the entirety of their adventures down to them being simply "bloodthirsty pricks." Right.

Now I have not read Tarzan, or watched any John Wayne movies, or read The Iliad, or the 12 Labours of Hercules, and as such I will not speak to them. When I do finally read or watch these, I'll let you know whether or not I find the heroes to be simply "bloodthirsty pricks."

What I can speak to is Mr. Barron's near-total ignorance of that which he speaks. Well, I can't say that, as I'm not a mind reader, now am I? I don't know if he's read a single word of Howard, or Leiber, or the Beowulf legend, or if he's just working off of what he's heard from other people or movies he's watched. If he's simply ignorant, that's forgivable, as he just doesn't know and can't be faulted for not knowing. Speaking while not knowing is another matter entirely. The other option, however, is that he has read these stories, and is simply lying.

Maybe he's upset that I attacked someone he likes. Fair enough, but if you're going to come riding to rescue your beloved sempai at least pretend like you know what you're talking about when you do. If your ignorant, misrepresenting, nuance-lacking assessment of these gods whose feet you dare to even approach, much less spit on is any indication of where science fiction, fantasy, and horror is as a whole, then thank you for proving my point. 

Howard, Leiber, and Vance are three of the most influential authors in the history of literature. Howard's characters are still read, written about, given new stories, and influencing everything from new writers like myself to massively popular tabletop RPG's, almost 100 years after his death. The "Fighter" class in the wildly popular Dungeons & Dragons franchise is directly influenced by Howard, and their magic systems still have more than a small smack of the Vancian. Mr. Barron, nor I for that matter, could not even have the faintest shimmering of a hope to ever be as influential or well-loved as these gentlemen. 

If you think that going back to the people who literally dug the well Dozois and Martin are attempting to poison is a bad idea, then there might be no hope for you. I'd suggest you actually go back and read some of these people whose work you're pretending to know anything about before you attempt to shit on their legacy by calling their most popular, enduring, and well-loved creations "bloodthirsty pricks" as if that's a bad thing 100% of the time. 

"Bloodthirsty pricks" are the absolute lifeblood of Sword & Sorcery literature. Without them, it is merely short experiments in bad writing pretending to be high fantasy. Allow me to quote myself, here: 

(the readers) came here to watch good guys bash bad guys (or at least reasonably okay guys bash bad guys), airship pirates conducting daring raids, wizards of vast and deadly power hurl spells, monstrous creatures eating people, underwater kingdoms threatened by ancient evil, unthinkably valuable artifacts stolen by intrepid thieves, and on and on the list goes of things you could be doing rather than putting people to sleep with your boring message fiction that seems to be trying to take up the majority of fantasy literature these days.

This is what Sword & Sorcery literature is about. If your Sword & Sorcery literature doesn't involve "bloodthirsty pricks" with swords either fighting against or wielding deadly sorcery, you're doing it wrong. It's quite literally in the name. 

I'll end on this. Mr. Barron, if you'd like to see my metaphorical ass, all you'd have to do is listen to my podcast where I put it on display about once a week. If you'd like to see what I and people like me are doing with the influence from people like Vance, Leiber, Howard, Tolkien, and all the rest, I gave you some very nicely curated links in the original post. There's even some free literature on Steemit you can peruse at your leisure, and the tags are linked there as well. I'll also remind you that I've sold an Old Venus-style story to Cirsova Magazine, and you can get a digital copy of the issue my story is going to be appearing in for $0.50, or one half-dollar. For the other half you also get their spring issue. Drop a dollar, read it when it comes out. 

Have fun.

But I would like to sincerely thank you for the 4-500+ views that post has gotten since you shared it. You've exposed a whole lot of people to an attitude, philosophy, and approach to writing that many people agree with but are too afraid to speak themselves. The time for attitudes like yours that do nothing but denigrate the masters we should be looking up to who created the genres we all write in (well, some of us actually write in them, others just pretend to) is nearing its end. Enjoy it while it lasts, because it won't last forever. 


  1. Sword and Sorcery was written in a time when people believed in good and evil. It only stands to reason that people obsessed with grey mush and "grey areas" as well as subversive storytelling would see the genre in such, ironically, black and white terms as "everyone being pricks" without any clear morality.

    The good guys in S&S are always better than the villains by virtue of the fact that they're attempting good while the other side is attempting evil. The character being morally flawed is inconsequential since in the story itself they have risen above themselves to be the better person or another who has lowered themselves to be the worse one.

    I don't think you can write S&S or pulp with a post-modern mindset because you tend to miss the basic undercurrents of morality underneath it.

    You also have to write sharper and shorter stories which few modern authors appear willing to try.

    1. I think it's absolutely hilarious that the people pretending that their fiction is nuanced and more evolved than the dusty old tomes of Howard, Vance, Burroughs, and Leiber are the ones actually seeing things in black and white terms!

      If only they had any understanding of morality!

  2. MegaBusterShepard here...

    At least Vance, Howard, Burroughs, Wayne and Lieber are fun. I've read modern drek known as current day sff. It all sucks. I'd rather not pay 7.99$ to read moral relativism or nihilistic crap dressed up in the trappings of genres that are supposed to inspire and create a sense of wonder.

    Fantasy is supposed to represent our cultural love of myths, history and heroism. Not be a six book series for Martin to push his sick, twisted incest fetishes amid protagonists that make Elric of Melinbone look like a fucking saint with how they act. I threw that shit in the trash where it belongs and picked up Tarzan and never looked back.

    George R.R. Martin isn't fit to lick the boots of Edgar Rice Burroughs, he is that far out of his league.

    1. I wish I was lying when I said that TWILIGHT held my interest for longer than GoT did. Yes, that Twilight. :V
      I honestly need to read the Tarzan books, but on the real Pellucidar is calling my name!

  3. "I like to think I was up front about that at the start..."

    Go easy on the guy, Laird clearly has a really hard time with reading comprehension.

    1. I appear to have gone into the business of picking on the retarded kids.

  4. It is utterly amazing that these new traditions tend to follow in the footsteps of a 50 year old anthology (Dangerous Visions) and a 150 year old literary philosophy (Realism) artistically and into poverty.

  5. You wasted too much time and wordage on a complete tool. The guy used the word "problematic" about imaginary fantasy characters.

    1. Of coursecthey're problematic the perpetuate rigid gender stereotypes heternormatakity bourgeois white virtues that marginalize alternative value systems and the rest of the repetitive magical't.serve. the.marrative(c)


  6. You might find this review about Laird Barron's writing by S. T. Joshi interesting:

  7. Very nice post really ! I apperciate your blog Thanks for sharing,keep sharing more blogs.