War. War never changes… But the way we conceptualise and relate to it sure does! This episode we’re looking down the barrel at Glen Cook’s The Black Company (1984) the first installment of the eponymous series and a Grand-pappy of Grimdark as a fully realised sub-genre. Cook’s Black Company is a ragtag crew of lowlifes and ne’er-do-wells come elite mercenary unit bound together by the bonds of history, brotherhood and the certain knowledge that when shit hits the fan they’ll be the guys cleaning the upholstery.
On tonight’s discussion, we get heavy on Realism and what it’s doing sobering up my Fantasies and consider the Vietnam War and the impact of history on reading and writing. It’s a hoot!
Spoilers as always but you weren’t there man!
Up next with the Alcomancer: we slip through a rent in time and space and journey forth to the world of Raymond E. Feist’s Magician (1982). Pack something warm.
Links: Michael Herr the Vietnam War journalist, New Historicism, Mark’s article on violence in Fantasy
Back again from yet another adventure in far flung lands under alien skies we return with stories from the Islands of Dara. Stories which tell of a people beset by war, torn apart by ideals and of those amongst them who strive to build anew.
On tonight’s menu its Ken Liu’s much acclaimed ‘The Grace of Kings’ (2015) , the first installment of the Dandelion Dynasty series. We’ll be serving up hot topics such as the role of technology in Fantasy, the role of pig wrestling in military drills, and asking hard questions like what is a mechanical cruben really? And how the fuck does it work?
As usual this episode is not without its giveaways but rest assured, unlike inferior dishes served elsewhere, this plot will not spoil easy!
And for those already itching in their pants for where the life of adventure might lead next, be warned, for those who march with Glen Cook’s ‘The Black Company’, there’s no going home.
Links: Le Guin and Wicker Baskets, Liu on Silk Punk, Liu’s site , how we managed to remember anything about this book
Fantasy has two schools of thought on swearing. The first is that swearing should be completely made-up. This is to position the language in that world, and to stop those teens hearing nasty words during the three chapters of the dark knight doing wonderfully elaborate things with peasant intestines. This is why Robert Jordan’s WoT has such ridiculous swears as ‘bloody buttered onions.’ As most swearing is rooted in sex, genitals and/or excretions, I don’t really want to know what, in Jordan’s universe, buttered onions is slang for.
Tired of the whiz-banging razzamatazz of Fantasy in the modern world, we decided to cast our eyes back a ways to the unassuming adventures of Ged, a man alone amongst the deep waters of Earthsea, lost in contemplation and touched by a strange darkness.
In this episode we take to talking Magic, Taoism and the world of Ursula Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea. We happily find Ged a necessary bore but wonder why on Earthsea he doesn’t just settle down and fish his days away like we all dream we can. Still, too many wizards make staves a-clash is what they say.
Be forewarned, we leave no rock unnamed and no spoiler unspoiled.
And if you’re reading along or just hate surprises, next episode we’ll be reading from Ken Liu’s highly praised and debut novel The Grace of Kings.
Links: a hi-res map of Earthsea, a racist depiction of Earthsea, oh look another one, and just one more for fun , Harlan Ellison sounds like a bit of a jerk and yes I know he’s litigious af
One thing I’ve brought up in the podcast before is what is believable in a story and what’s not. Obviously in Fantasy there is a level of disbelief suspended so that the reader can enjoy fanciful tales of mages hurling lightning at each other’s trolls. It’s a given that the reader will go along with certain things so that they can enjoy the rest of it.
But what exactly should a Fantasy author ‘make up’ and what should they get right? Fantasy is going towards darker, more ‘realistic’ tones, where readers feel that the world’s environment is something more of a truthful depiction of ‘that time.’ Fantasy, after all, exists as a genre in a pan-medieval world that we’ve all agreed is the accepted Fantasy environment. There’s castles and knights and peasants, ploughs and saddles, crossbows, steel, parchment and all the rest of it which we all more or less know came from a period between 1000 and 1600 AD.
But I would say that this is an agreed-upon Fantasy version and not exactly drawn from history.
This week we take a tipple from the cup of Mark Lawrence’s Prince of Thorns, the first book in his Broken Empire series. Come and bare silent witness to our camaraderie.
We go over and over Lawrence’s treatment of evil protagonists and find it lacking. We love the idea of an unmitigated badass to follow around, stuffing our mouths with anachronistic food stuffs as we watch the carnage unfold. We just don’t want to be stuck with a 14-year-old who keeps telling us about everything they did.
Warning – the road ahead is dark and dirty and full of spoilers.
Next episode’s novel will be Ursula Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea.
Links: Mark’s Twitter, also a post on his website that isn’t as cool as ours, a review of thorns (be sure to read the comments)
Now let’s get off on the right foot. I love me some erotica, some smut, some writing just to get you off. Whatever literary category it’s deemed to fall into. From Anaïs Nin to Sacher-Masoch to Sylvia Day, it’s all good fun. Especially when it’s fanfiction. That is, the suggested coupling between Galadriel and Gimli. The anatomical difficulties and challenges in blowing a wookie.
However I don’t like when one genre attempts to emulate the other. Anaïs Nin wrote in order to get herself and her cool French friends off. They’re stories of threesomes written in lyrical phrases designed to be both stylistically and thematically sexy at the same time; they were masturbatory in more ways than one. Pauline Réage, pseudonymous author of Story of O, wrote because her lover at the time said that women can’t write erotica. Sacher-Masoch wrote for different reasons completely.
Tonight both our tavern and episode are jam-packed with changes and adventure – we welcome fan-fiction erotica historian Russ to the show to talk about the swashbuckling, genre-defining Crystal Shard by R.A. Salvatore. Dan talks about the collective nouns for goodly folk, and Mark offers gravelly insight into the evilest figure of the whole book – King Bruenor Battleaxe.
We talk about the challenges in translating DnD character sheets into stories, the difficulties in brewing tundra mead, racial attributes, stereotypes and why Cattie-Brie shouldn’t talk like a dwarf.
This episode contains spoilers.
Next episode’s book is Mark Lawrence’s debut novel Prince of Thorns.
Links: A frost-bitten outro, Erotic Fan Fic, Salvatore Interview, Gene Wolf – Fifth Head of Cerberus, Raunig – Dividuum: Machinic Capitalism & Molecular Revolution
Harry is a wizard, a lover, a fighter, a private eye and a dick.
This week we wet our beaks with Storm Front, the first in Jim Butcher’s long-running urban fantasy series The Dresden Files. In this episode we get talking about pulp, crime, magic and take a good, hard look at the inner workings of Jim’s mind.
This episode contains spoilers.
Next episode – prepare for the pure, uncut and unadulterated fantasy of R. A. Salvatore’s The Crystal Shard, a classic of the Forgotten Realms stable.
Links: Magical outro song
Come with us now as we toast to N. K. Jeminin’s The Fifth Season, a departure from our regular fare. Modern and challenging, blending genres and influences, turning traditional fantasy on its head.
As always spoilers abound.
Links: Outro song