* = Re-read
Check out past years: 2012, 2013 (skipped), 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, and 2021.
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1) Sheepfarmer’s Daughter by Elizabeth Moon
Someone recommended this to me and, broadly, I understand why. But I’m afraid it was just too big a misalignment of my and the author’s tastes. This is comfort food in book form, which is fine, just not what I generally look for.
Thing is, I’m keen on quick moving tales with surprises in them. This steadily plods along and maybe caught me off-guard once in the 350 pages I read before I skipped to the last couple pages. It is extremely off-the-shelf, Tolkein/classic D&D style fantasy told from a perspective that I have to imagine was informed by the author having been a U.S. marine (Interesting!). Slowly but surely, like a marching troop of soldiers, it plods along, getting exactly where it repeatedly tells you it is going.
Again, that’s fine, but it’s not for me. If a book asks me to read 400+ pages, with promises of a long series of similar door wedges to follow, then boy howdy it better blow my socks off. This kind of takes them out of the dryer and puts them on your feet for you, which can be nice, but didn’t feel to me like adequate payoff for how much time it asks a reader to invest.
2) Ursula K. Le Guin: Conversations on Writing by Ursula K. Le Guin, David Naimon
3) Luster by Raven Leilani
4) Conan: The Road Of Kings by Karl Edward Wagner
I’m going to make a double-bill of it, following Road with KEW’s edit of THE HOUR OF THE DRAGON, and do a kind of compare & contrast before finalizing my thoughts. But for now?
I liked it! Great opening two chapters, an enjoyable story, the cast gets a bit crowded in the middle but that’s soon resolved (ahem), and I dug the third act, which I’ve heard some say is where it falls apart.
Wagner does like to invoke classic Conan tales (“…as once before he had scaled the Elephant Tower in Zamora…” p.195), which at first wrinkled my nose, but then I suppose in ‘79 there was still work to be done in making people aware of all of Howard’s stories, so I’ll give Wagner credit that he was thinking about spreading the good word, not trading on another man’s work (beyond writing a pastiche in general, I guess!).
Good stuff. Definitely worth a read, and I’d say Wagner adequately backs up his strong words re: Conan pastiches.
One odd moment: I cannot for the life of me figure out any significance to his insisting on making sure, late in the story, that I know a key female character has one breast smaller than the other…🤷♂️
5) The Return of the Sorceress by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Fun to read a sword & sorcery story from the perspective of a sorceress, rather than some mighty-thewed barbarian or slippery thief with a distrust of those who practice sorcery. “Return…” delivers on its promise of being properly sword & sorcery, a term too often used too loosely, while also feeling contemporary. Could easily be the first in a series, and I hope it is!
6) The Old Ways: A Journey On Foot by Robert Macfarlane
7) Swords of the Four Winds: Tales of Swords and Sorcery in an Ancient East That Never Was by Dariel Quiogue
8) Phantasmagoria Special Edition Series #5: Karl Edward Wagner by Mr Trevor Kennedy
I think this is best for those already invested in KEW who want to learn more, but for those people, and real KEW scholars, I can’t think of another comparable resource other than the THE LAST WOLF documentary. As someone who cares greatly about keeping important authors from slipping into obscurity, who regularly works with a spec fic archive, I find myself greatly respecting the efforts of all involved.
9) The Hour of the Dragon by Robert E. Howard
I took part in an Appendix N Book Club discussion of this work under its alternate title, “Conan the Conqueror”, which anybody can listen to here.
10) The Tombs of Atuan by Ursula K. Le Guin
11) Language of the Night: Essays on Fantasy and Science Fiction by Ursula K. Le Guin, Susan Wood
12) How to Take Over the World: Practical Schemes and Scientific Solutions for the Aspiring Supervillain
by Ryan North
I enjoyed this book so much I asked Ryan to come on my lit podcast so we could discuss it!
13) Frolic on the Amaranthyn by Chase A. Folmar
In short, I loved it! Chase really put his back into this, infusing a compelling, fast-moving tale of sword & sorcery centered on a romantic couple – not something you see too often – who get more than they bargained for when pulling a job in the first two chapters.
Chase clearly loves not only the genre of sword & sorcery, he also loves the language. As the back cover promises, fans of Jack Vance of Clark Ashton Smith will not be disappointed.
Frolic could easily be the first of many adventures staring Uralant and Emrasarie. I sincerely hope for more!
Full disclosure: Chase sent me an ARC to review. It was, however, entirely my decision – based on the high quality of the book – to invite him on my podcast to discuss Frolic. I’ll link to that here once it’s online, which should be April 4th.
ALSO: I’d later have Chase on my podcast to discuss this book and his work in general.
14) The Fortress of the Pearl by Michael Moorcock
15) Conan and the Emerald Lotus by John C. Hocking
16) Comedy Comedy Comedy Drama: A Memoir by Bob Odenkirk
17) Several Short Sentences About Writing by Verlyn Klinkenborg
One of the reasons I’m skeptical of a lot of writing advice books is for how they’ll clutter my head with a lot of rules – each of which I’ll need to spend time assessing to see if a) they make sense to me, b) they are a rule or a stylistic preference marketed as a rule, c) are important enough for me to put it in my shortlist of editing tools I always use or are more of a general maxim I’ll just try to keep in mind.
The reason this book really vibes with me, and why I’m comfy recommending it, is I found it does the opposite. It decluttered my mind and helped me see core, highly valuable writing concepts clearly for the first time in a long time.
18) Gate of Ivrel by C.J. Cherryh
A fine, restrained mix of scifi & fantasy that I’m blown away to read was Cherryh’s first novel!
I agree with others who’ve said Morgaine has a definite Elric vibe, and I think that’s a good thing. I also think it’s useful for the book to focus on her unwilling-to-start servant, Vanye, for his knowledge of the culture of the world this story takes place on, and his more grounded, relatable perspective.
Speaking of perspective, Wikipedia says: “Cherryh uses a writing technique she has variously labeled “very tight limited third person”, “intense third person”, and “intense internal” voice. In this approach, the only things the writer narrates are those that the viewpoint character specifically notices or thinks about. The narration may not mention important features of the environment or situation with which the character is already familiar, even though these things might be of interest to the reader, because the character does not think about them owing to their familiarity.“
I think this use of perspective was an excellent choice, one that played a role in how engrossed I was by the book, which I read quickly, then slowly as I tried to savor it, then quickly again as I neared the end! I will definitely be reading the rest of this series, as soon as I can track down a copy of #2.
19) A Country of Ghosts by Margaret Killjoy
20) Manhunt by Gretchen Felker-Martin
21) Wolf of the Steppes: The Complete Cossack Adventures, Volume One by Harold Lamb, Howard Andrew Jones (Editor), S.M. Stirling (Introduction)
It’s very easy to see how Lamb was one of the main influences on Robert E. Howard’s writing, but that’s not all this collection has to offer. Starting with a couple of shorter, fable-like tales, you then get a series of novella-length adventures centered on an older hero who can certainly handle his sword, yet survives mainly by his magnificent cunning as he travels across early 1600’s Asia after refusing to be retired by his fellow Cossacks.
Having taken my time reading these six hundred pages of story, I’ve no difficulty understanding why editor Howard Andrew Jones worked so hard to make sure Lamb and his Cossack tales didn’t fade away, and I’m grateful for his efforts.
If you’ve ever enjoyed historical fiction, sword & sorcery, Michael Chabon’s “Gentlemen of the Road”, or even if none of that has ever crossed your to-be-read pile, you should consider reading this!
22) The Looking Glass War by John le Carré
23) The Vanishing Tower by Michael Moorcock
24) Sometime Lofty Towers by David C. Smith
I just finished this and man, not only is it really good, I keep thinking about it – as both a reader who enjoyed the story and a writer who admires the craft. At a glance it can feel a bit grimdark, but keep going because it turns out to actually be a very mature work, as in written by an writer with lots of experience, that feels a bit like if Cormac McCarthy wrote S&S. There is wonder and beauty, but it’s more grounded and sublime than, say, some wild realm Elric is passing through.
Apparently Smith’s working on a book on writing S&S, from a craft perspective, and I admit I was a little skeptical before reading SLT, as I am skeptical of all books on writing. Now? I’m definitely going to pick up a copy when it comes out.
In the meanwhile, I give my firmest possible recommendation for this book, especially enhanced as it is by an interview with Smith placed at the back, one whose additional context deeply enhanced the pleasure I took from the story.
ALSO: After writing this review, I’d do a two-part podcast interview with David about his writing career (one, two), and would publish a story by him in New Edge Sword & Sorcery #0.
25)The Revenge of the Rose by Michael Moorcock
*26) The Living Mountain by Nan Shepherd
27) At the Edge of the World by Lord Dunsany
A lovely little book of very little stories that was a direct influence on Lovecraft, Tolkein and many more fantasy luminaries. If you want to better understand 20th century speculative fiction, you’d be wise to read Dunsany.
28) Landscape as Weapon: Cultures of Exhaustion and Refusal
by John Beck
29) Lapvona by Ottessa Moshfegh
A neat little medieval rumination on faith, belief, and power, told by Moshfegh in that subdued Palahniuk-like voice of hers. I tore through it in just a few sittings, and re-read the ending shortly after finishing.
30) The Obanaax and Other Tales of Heroes and Horrors by Kirk A. Johnson
31) The Peacekeeper by B.L. Blanchard
32) The Searching Dead by Ramsey Campbell
33) Skallagrim – In The Vales Of Pagarna by Stephen R. Babb
34) Blood, Sweat & Chrome: The Wild and True Story of Mad Max: Fury Road by Kyle Buchanan
35) Cross Plains Pilgrimage by Bobby Derie
36) Born to the Dark by Ramsey Campbell
37) Far Away and Never by Ramsey Campbell
38) The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water by Zen Cho
39) The Eternal Champion by Michael Moorcock
40) The Farthest Shore by Ursula K. Le Guin
41) Elder Race by Adrian Tchaikovsky
42) Track of the Snow Leopard by Dariel R. A. Quiogue
Wrote a long review for this over on Goodreads.
*43) Hard to Be a God by Arkady Strugatsky, Boris Strugatsky
44) The Barrow Will Send What it May by Margaret Killjoy
45) Bard by Keith Taylor
46) Well of Shiuan by C.J. Cherryh
Poetry Collections: 0
Comic Trades: 0
Wrote Myself: 0