Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Heroic Fantasy Quarterly #26, Featuring My Story "The Blue Lamp"

My fantasy adventure short story, The Blue Lamp, is now available to read online in Heroic Fantasy Quarterly #26!

Here’s what the editor of the magazine has to say:
“Adventure fiction in the classic style, Zoltan’s tale will take you from the mundane and into a world of magic and mystery not seen since the glory days of the pulps. In addition to being a great writer, Mr. Zoltan is a fine artist and his illustration from the story is included.”

The story has already been favorably reviewed by Black Gate and Tangent online magazines. HFQ #26 also features stories by J.R. Restrick and Jon Byrne.

More about The Blue Lamp:
The Blue Lamp is a thrilling tale of those two adventurers, poet swordsman Dareon Vin, and his companion, the Indari warrior known as Blue.

When Blue goes missing in the city of Merth for two days (a difficult feat, when you’re six-and-a-half feet tall and covered in blue tattoos), Dareon’s search for his friend leads him to Ravel’s Exquisite Emporium, where he becomes prey to an unusual predatory salesman. Meanwhile, Blue fights for his life and perhaps his very soul, with the aid of Malika, a dancer from Khulan, against an otherworldly foe that is no less than omnipotent.

When is danger the safest path? How can you become victorious in a fight you cannot win?

Join Dareon and Blue and find out, in THE BLUE LAMP!

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Talent Is Overrated

People overemphasize the idea of talent. Being born with talent is like being given a pair of running shoes. That's all. Then, you have to train for years and run countless races. And, when you start winning races, you know what people say? "You're so talented!"

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

You are part of a GREAT ADVENTURE

You are part of a GREAT ADVENTURE. You are an integral part of a MAGNIFICENT UNDERTAKING.

I had a mystical experience yesterday in the laundromat. I have had several in my life, some while meditating, some while doing breath work, or on a walk in nature. Never before in a laundromat. I am going to share what I was shown as well as I can, though I hesitate to do so, because it will be misunderstood and the experience was ineffable (beyond words). I am sharing it for you not for myself, because I think what I experienced was about all of us, not me.  It was not an intellectual experience: I felt and perceived something. So, my description will be inadequate, but I hope it will give some sense of hope or inspiration to you. When I use the word “I” in the telling, it refers to you as well, all humans. It was not a perception of something about me, personally.

I felt something welling up from deep within me while I was folding clothes. An upwelling of emotion was accompanied by a hyper aware state (as if I had been asleep and now was awake), and a realization that I am part of (what follow are only metaphors I thought afterward) a great adventure, a magnificent undertaking, an incredible project, a fantastic team, a living thing—this thing that cannot be named, which expresses itself through LIFE in this reality.

By LIFE I mean not only biological life, but, as Dylan Thomas wrote: “The force that through the green fuse drives the flower.” This “thing” (you may call it what you will, but all words, including God, are inadequate) is something that was before and will be after, it is something eternal (not immortal) that is driving through and completely interwoven through the present in this world. I am part of it, integral to it, as is everyone, not through achievement or belief, but because it is your nature. It (and I with it) am eternal, and this
present life is only a phase of the expression of that force or whatever you want to call it. When I leave this plane of existence, what is me will continue on with this “thing”
toward something unimaginably wonderful and fantastic.

In the movie based on the book, 2001: A Space Odyssey, a scene occurs that is a decent illustration of what I experienced. I was going to remove the line “You must leave,” which is not relevant to my experience. But, as I was going to do that I realized, “you must leave” could refer to the fact that we must “die.” And this is why we all must leave at some point. The body is not meant to last, this life is not meant to last. When you leave this body, all the ego and persona and things connected to this world will drop off and what will remain is what is essentially and primally you, something too splendid for our minds to grasp.

And now, the quote:

Dave Bowman: You see, something's going to happen. You must leave.

Heywood Floyd: What? What's going to happen?

Dave Bowman: Something wonderful.

Heywood Floyd: What?

Dave Bowman: I understand how you feel. You see, it's all very clear to me now. The whole thing. It's wonderful.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Artifical Intelligence Is Called That For A Reason

Tim Urban recently wrote a two-part article about Artificial Intelligence and the dangers involved.

I think some of the comments refuting certain points of the article are quite brilliant and I highly recommend reading them. I read about half the article and browsed the rest. I have read Kurzweil. I agree that AI is a danger, because they will be so powerful, but not because they are better than humans. Human intelligence, if taken to include wisdom, intuition, subjective perception, etc. is far, far, far more and different than just processing info power. And, this is a great point someone made which I firmly believe: human intelligence is inextricably woven together with our biology. You cannot have something think like a human unless it is a human. As I said to a friend, we'll end up building an android that will SEEM to act and think and feel like a human, but it's NOT really doing that. It is only a simulation of what a human does, but is something completely different. An incredibly convincing complex "parrot." 

The problem is that some humans, including many of the people who are in the AI field, believe that a human is nothing but a machine with processing power. This is because of a flaw in the thinking of the Western mind that has very much affected our scientific world view: that our biology is actually a weakness, a flaw, "sinful" according to religious thought; that intellect divorced from body (this idea goes all the way back to Plato) is superior to our physicality. THIS is their greatest error. To put it in simple, metaphysical (or even psychological) parlance: the computer has no soul. Why? Because it is not a biological life form, but an artificial construct made by man to imitate a biological life form.

Someday, we may make the mistake of giving machines "human rights" just because some scientist was foolish enough to give the machine a life-like human body and face. What you will see before you is not a being, but something akin to a sociopathic intelligent mannequin that could easily be programmed to smile or cry sad tears while blowing you away with a gun. Some people would rather create a fake mate that does everything you want it to than learn to love a real one. We would be better served to learn to love our fellow humans than to try creating a simulation of one that will do everything we say. Make fantastic machines! By all accounts, do. But don't make fake humans or ones that run human affairs. We will be sorry. The choice IS ours, because that's part of being human. At least it still is for now.

Also, I disagree with some of the comments about future shock (that bringing people from the past becomes more and more shocking to them the closer you get to the present due to ever-increasing speed of technological advances). Despite the scientific/historical propaganda, human cultural evolution does not go in a straight, ever rising line. It goes up and down (and may again if we have a major power failure on the Earth for some reason). We would be just as shocked to go BACKWARD in time to the height of the ancient Egyptian kingdom and see technology and culture that was in ways more advanced than things we have now (we still don't really have the technology and know-how to build one of the great pyramids—until the 1970's, we didn't even have a crane capable of lifting some of the rocks on the site). A clueless percent spending all their time on their little cellphone would be stunned speechless for weeks. Someone from the Middle Ages, which was far less advanced, actually might die of shock.

And, if you brought someone from the 1960s to the present, they would be impressed with some things, but after a few days they would realize, "Oh, things were cooler back in the 60s." Just sayin.'

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Instant Success

This morning, I was not looking forward to facing the difficulty of drawing. And I sometimes have difficulty facing the task of writing when it’s not coming easily. Then, I asked myself a question. If I were faced with the Faustian temptation concerning writing and drawing, would I take it? Would I want to skip all the hardship, the sacrifice, the daily work and take instant success as an author and illustrator?

This is a question worth asking oneself. And worth pondering. I took some time to think about it. It's easy to say, "oh, I want to do the noble work, etc." but that's just because you don't actually HAVE the option of the instant success. But what if you really did? I suggest you ask yourself the same question in regard to whatever you're working to master.

I believe the answer you give yourself will tell you whether or not you really want to BE that person you’re trying to become, or whether you just WANT the things that you think go with it. After some serious consideration, I answered that I want to go through the work. Why?

Because the work I must do, the journey I must take to reach that goal, is what changes me. If I don’t want to change, I don’t want to be an artist, because being an artist is a journey of self-transformation. And as I change, my work will change, and my talent will develop into something that will speak to the hearts and minds of people. If you were able to take that shortcut, you would find the reward empty and meaningless, because the true reward is the evolved self. Whenever someone takes a shortcut (takes the Faustian deal), there seems to be a universal force at work or else simply a psychological force (or maybe it is both, or neither) that knows when we have cheated, and it leads to our self-destruction (this is at least partly what the Faust story is about). In the end, we have cheated only ourselves.

Once I realized that I would choose to go through the work, because I know inherently, it makes me a stronger, wiser, richer person, as well as a better artist, I felt more accepting and patient about drawing today.  And being accepting of what one must do now, in the moment, is the key to reducing our suffering and maximizing our focus, which will help to put us in the “flow” experience that all artists seek.

My drawing today turned out decently. It was neither bad nor great. But that’s okay. I was changed by it. And tomorrow, there will be another. And another. The journey is the greatest reward. And if you take it, chances are, you will find yourself on the path you were meant to walk. And I can tell you personally, no reward is greater than that.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

The Missing Myth in Modern Fantasy

In Howard Andrew Jones' blogpost, he and Bill Ward discuss Leiber's brilliant tale "Lean Times in Lankhmar, and mention the fact that the character Fafhrd, who appears in the guise of a god, tells his comrade the Mouser that for a moment, he really was that god. This is an incredibly important point not only to this story, but to Leiber's writing in general, as well as some of the other great writers from that golden era of the early to mid twentieth century.

Leiber had an understanding of myth. I don't know if it was mainly from his own reading of myths, Jung and/or Joseph Campbell. What happens to Fafhrd is a mythic event. He is not the god, but he becomes the god for a moment, in a sense. He is a manifestation of universal, eternal forces that are also psychological ones in the human mind. By having Fafhrd claim honestly that he was the god, Leiber maintains mystery, which is the one constant truth that we experience of reality.

I have previously bemoaned before the loss of mystery in fantasy fiction, but it is a problem not just in fiction but with our modern Western society. Notice how the term myth has been changed to mean "a lie." But a myth is actually closer to the opposite. A myth is a metaphor that points to something other than itself, and that other thing is usually some primal truth about reality and the human condition in relationship to that reality. But fundamentalist scientific materialism says everything is either true or false, but what it means is that everything is either a FACT or a LIE. The terrible error in this thinking is that fact and truth can be two different things. This materialistic thinking is, ironically, also found in fundamentalist religion, the most anti-spiritual type of religion that exists. Fundamentalist religious people are so desperate to believe in only facts that they try to claim everything in the Bible isn't just truth, but also a fact (and they claim this despite the contradictions and unbelievable improbabilities in the scriptures). When you remove mythology from religion, all you're left with is a bunch of unlikely stories and bad science.

In most modern fantasy stories (and art), everything is explained. Everything is a fact. Magic systems are explained. Monsters are explained and described in minutest detail. Heroes are too cocksure and in control of their actions. The lack of mystery goes even beyond the content of the stories to the writing itself, which often reads like a Hollywood action film, not literature. Almost no sense of true mystery exists, meaning mystery in the large sense. Another term that could be used is numinous, which is a term coined by Rudolph Otto.

“it has three components. These are often designated with a Latin phrase: mysterium tremendum et fascinans. As mysterium, the numinous is "wholly other"-- entirely different from anything we experience in ordinary life. It evokes a reaction of silence. But the numinous is also a mysterium tremendum. It provokes terror because it presents itself as overwhelming power. Finally, the numinous presents itself as fascinans, as merciful and gracious.” (

And, from Wikipedia:
“According to Otto, the numinous experience has in addition to the tremendum, which is the tendency to invoke fear and trembling, a quality of fascinans, the tendency to attract, fascinate and compel.
The numinous experience also has a personal quality, in that the person feels to be in communion with a wholly Other. The numinous experience can lead in different cases to belief in deities, the supernatural, the sacred, the holy and/or the transcendent."

Joseph Campbell referred to this materializing of everything, in the religious sphere, as “concretization.” Symbols are now considered more important as historical facts (Noah really DID fit all the animals in an ark, etc.) and thus have lost their mythic symbolic power, which is where all the meaning lies, and which is what can transform individual lives.

Campbell referred to it, in the artistic sphere, as naturalism.

“Naturalism is the death of the art. And that’s one of the big problems in our American arts, I think, they don’t understand the metaphor. It’s all naturalism.”
“This naturalism in our art world is…all flat-footed prose. And in flat-footed prose there are only two things that are interesting: violence and sex. That’s what it’s come down to. Everything leads up to it and out of it.”

And, that’s what we mostly have in modern fantasy stories. I seldom read anything written after 1980 or so, because it’s all naturalism, all movie script violence, prop room costumes and action oriented plots. But I took the time to read Howard Andrew Jones' novel, The Desert of Souls, and enjoyed it. I think he was able to weave some sense of mystery into that book, some sense of the numinous, of the ancient and unknowable. And what first drew me to it was the original cover by Charles Keegan. That painting wasn’t some posed models or, worse, Photoshopped photos, and it didn’t look like some cheesy movie poster. A sense of mystery pervades the picture in every way: the composition, the colors, the setting, the painterly style. The numinous glowed forth in that painting. The cover, and the story inside, reflected the unknowable, the mysterious. They were, at least a bit, transparent to transcendence (a term coined by Karlfried Graf Durckheim), meaning that the myth, the divine life within you shines forth.

That is what we should seek to do as human beings, and especially as artists. We should seek to create work that is transparent to transcendence. And Leiber’s work, at its best, was.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Flannery O'Connor's Mean Streak

I just read "A Good Man Is Hard to Find" by Flannery O'Connor.  Another one of her brutal horrifying tales that is supposed to somehow give us a glimpse of God's grace. I'm not saying it doesn't, and she was undoubtedly a great writer. But I wonder if there are other ways to show that. Despite all the fancy explanations of her work (by her and others), I sometimes feel that woman had, as they used to say, a "mean streak."

In her talk about the story she speaks about violence in modern stories: " my own stories I have found that violence is strangely capable of returning characters to reality and preparing them to accept their moment of grace. Their heads are so hard that almost nothing else will do the work. This idea, that reality is something to which we must be returned at considerable cost, is one which is seldom understood by the casual reader, but it is one which is implicit in the Christian view of the world." And further: "Violence is a force which can be used for good or evil, and among other things taken by it is the kingdom of heaven.

And there, in my opinion, we get to the heart of it. As a Catholic who went to church every day while growing up, she was raised in an inherently violent religion that has been responsible for the suffering and death of millions of people. She was inculcated with the belief that eternal good can only come out of violent mortal suffering. And so, she creates ridiculous coincidences in order to put a family in the hands of killers so that they can be slaughtered in cold blood, just in order for a moment of grace to be provided for the main killer (or the grandmother or both, or hell, neither, depending on your viewpoint).

I am not against violence in literature, and I agree with her when she states, "With the serious writer, violence is never an end in itself." But when she says, "It is the extreme situation that best reveals what we are essentially than in the tenor of our daily lives," this comes from a belief system. I would not argue that it may in some ways be true, but extreme situations do not have to always be violent ones. And, I believe essential aspects of us, such as deep love for another person, nature, or the divine, can come about spontaneously in our day to day lives. Many of the great mystical experiences did not happen in foxholes, but during walks in nature or simply stepping from here to there. Extreme violent situations might just as easily reveal aspects of someone's nature that are in fact "false," in the sense that they may only be physical responses to danger created by adrenalin and other chemicals that alter our mental state at the time. If a lion is chewing on your leg and you shoot it in the head, that doesn't mean that you're actually an animal hater. So, again, this comes from her religious beliefs and may be true in some cases and in other cases, be a complete red herring.

I suppose her stories would not have been as fascinating or sold as well if they were about people going on vision quests alone in the wild, praying and meditating alone for hours, or working to provide the basic necessities for the extreme poor in adverse conditions. And her upbringing with an inherently violent religious worldview helped make her choice for her.

And speaking of saving graces, despite the horror and drama, her stories are also hilarious, and that is the reason I still find them palatable.

Monday, April 27, 2015

The Horror of Modern Horror

I recently read a blog by the author Robert Dunbar on Goodreads (in the group Literary Darkness). He bemoans the present quality of the horror genre in literature. I quote:

"A glut of indistinguishable titles has already choked the horror genre once … and is well on its way to killing it again. (Homogeneity is not a virtue unless we’re talking milk.) Why is this so recurrent a menace? Other genres like Science Fiction, Mystery, Fantasy all have advanced in style and sophistication. That’s what sustains a genre’s growth. Why hasn’t Horror experienced similar development? Could it be that the genre’s essential conservatism -- all those plot arcs about destroying the dreaded "other" -- dictates perpetual mediocrity? Maybe reactionary art is just too much of an oxymoron to sustain?

I don’t want to believe this.

Last year, I had the most dismaying experience. I was moderating a panel at a con when a bunch of twenty-somethings in the audience started denouncing writers whose work they didn’t care for. The list included Hemingway, Faulkner, Steinbeck in short everyone they’d ever heard of who wasn’t a pulp hack. But what I found really disturbing was all the people nodding in agreement. "Hemmingway can’t write at all" struck me as a memorable line. (In his heyday, Papa H may have been the most overestimated writer in the world. How strange that he’s now become one of the most underestimated.) Yet those kids all think of themselves as writers ... writers who read nothing but junk."

I share Robert's concern, and not just for the horror genre, but all arts in our culture. Here was my reply to his post:

What's disturbing is that our culture seems less and less able to recognize good art (this is mainly a matter of education and experiencing the work patiently). If that continues, eventually good art will be lost because fewer and fewer will support it (while praising mediocrity or worse) and fewer will create it.

The democratization of art is, in a way, a horrible thing, at least when it says, "What I like it just as good as what you like!" or "What I've made is just as good as what you've made!" in order that no one dares feel bad about themselves (nor does anyone learn anything). We are all created equal. That doesn't mean we stay equal in every aspect of life. Accomplishment is a real thing and hard-earned, and it should respected and recognized. Provincial snobbery is at least as ugly as the high society kind, and, it will eventually kill the arts.

People have become so narcissistic that they actually believe that just because they don't like something (and they will claim to not like something they haven't even experienced), then it's not good (or, it "sucks"). And, if they do like something, that means it's good. That is egotistical nonsense. I don't like the work of the musical artist Bjork, but I think she's incredibly talented. I would never say her music is bad. I just don't care for it. That's a personal preference. I can dislike it, and yet still recognize it as having quality, or being "good." I believe it is vital for the health of the arts for us to be able to distinguish between the two.

If the horror genre suffers especially from diminishing quality, it would be because of the attitude demonstrated by these young people at the convention. It is essential to read (and probably read mainly) outside your genre. Michael Moorcock has said that if you want to write good fantasy, you should read everything but that genre. In this way, you avoid the tropes of that genre and bring something fresh and original to it. Otherwise, the stories suffer from a kind of inbreeding. Everyone copying everyone else, the same thing being regurgitated. I read a lot of older gothic horror, but I don't read much modern horror. Of the few modern stories I have read, I was taken aback by the low quality of writing and the reliance on genre tropes (like gore used for shock purposes). People should be trying to write a story as well as The Haunting of Hill House, or Silent Snow, Secret Snow by Conrad Aiken, or The Fall of the House of Usher, by Poe. THAT should be the bar. Shoot for the stars and you might reach the moon. But you won't get there (as a writer) just  by reading the latest issue of a popular horror title. You have to go back further, dig deeper (and wider, writing is not the only thing that can inspire good writing). Otherwise, your work will seem shallow and derivative. What you write will be a horror, but not in the way you intended.

I will close with this significant little anecdote. I was at a horror bookstore in Burbank about two years ago. I asked the owner why he didn't carry any titles by Fritz Leiber. He said Fritz Leiber wasn't really a horror author. FRITZ LEIBER. The author who (deservedly) won the Bram Stoker Lifetime Achievement Award. This store manager/owner was not twenty-something. He was at least middle-aged.

What does THAT tell you?

"Fritz Leiber was the father of modern supernatural horror fiction, and its greatest master. I'll stake my reputation on the belief that once “Smoke Ghost” was published, the field could never be the same again." - Ramsey Campbell 

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Love Your Enemies Or They'll Crash Your Party

The heisting of the Hugo Awards by a group of right-wing reactionaries has made the mainstream news. Here's the Salon article.

Many things are being said about this and about the people that ruined the integrity of the Hugo Awards this time around. But once the judgment and the finger pointing and the name calling has stopped, who personally are these people? They are obviously people who feel they are being left behind, neglected, misunderstood, and finally demonized.

 Obviously, these guys are acting like cretins. But, does anyone actually care about them, or wonder what's making them so bitter and spiteful? I think we're too quick to villainize and ostracize people who go against popular cultural opinion and who represent unsavory opinions. When we do this, those people are strengthened in their belief that they are victimized outsiders. And then they draw others on the fringes, people who might have been on the fence, to their cause. A strong reaction always creates an opposite energy.

If we actually sought to understand their concerns and show some interest in them as people on a personal level, half of the people in their "cause" would drop out and most of the rest would feel ridiculous. To clarify, I'm talking about showing a personal interest in people, not approving certain behaviors. That "love the sinner, not the sin" actually makes sense, even if it is only given lip service by fundamentalists. Jesus said, "Love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you" for a reason. And it wasn't because he was a wimp. He understood how reality works.

The vast majority of people want to belong to the human community. If they can't find it with the majority, they will turn to a minority, whether that minority represents a good cause, or, as in this case, a really shitty one. There will always be a few bitter people that just want to ruin everything for everyone else. But those people are a tiny minority, and they can only ruin our party if we let them.

Robert Zoltan

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Sword and Sorcery versus High Fantasy

Just read an interesting fact (that Tolkien liked Robert E. Howard) in a recent Amazing Stories article about the difference between High Fantasy and Sword and Sorcery. Summed up well here by G. W. Thomas:

"In the final analysis, Sword & Sorcery and High Fantasy aren’t so very different. What has made them different at all is mere happenstance. Howard was an American Pulp writer, so therefore his Fantasy is short-story based and fast-paced. Tolkien wrote not for money and took an entire lifetime to craft one long tale. In spirit they are the same, Heroic Fantasy. In execution, tone and message, they differ as much as two writers should, each reflecting their own spirit. Lin Carter, in his book Imaginary Worlds, says that Tolkien had read Howard and liked him. This doesn’t surprise me at all. They were both inspired by the same sources of the fantastic and found their own ways of writing about it."

He also mentions that Sword and Sorcery tales have more to do with survival, and High Fantasy have more to do with redemption. Although I would agree this is often the case, it isn't always. Often the lines blur, and sometimes survival and redemption are one. Michael Moorcock's Elric saga (especially Stormbringer) has both High Fantasy and Sword and Sorcery elements, and although very much about redemption, it is also about survival.

I enjoy them both, but I tend towards the stories of more down-to-earth people trying to survive AND find meaning and redemption, as opposed to a fantasy version of the lifestyles of the rich and famous (which much fantasy nowadays seems to be about). Thus I will always be more drawn to a title like Cugel the Clever than to Game of Thrones. Put into a modern setting, it would be like the difference between reading about someone struggling to start a small business as opposed to reading about the lives of the Kardashians.

But now, I'm straying into a different blog topic...

Wishing you survival and redemption,
Robert Zoltan

Friday, April 3, 2015

Too Much About Me

Here's a very incisive, interesting article called "Enough About Me" by Leslie Jamison  for the Atlantic, about what is sometimes (usually mistakenly) called "Confessional Writing." In our age of  narcissistic self exposure (especially on social media forums), how does the writer avoid this trap when writing supposedly autobiographical work? How does one maintain one's important solitude, as Rilke talked of in Letters to a Young Poet?

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Forgotten Fathers of Modern Fantasy

Okay, I admit it. When it comes to artists and writers not receiving their due (and I'm not talking about financial compensation, don't even get me started on that), I feel much more like one of my author heroes, the angry pugnacious Harlan Ellison, than another one of my author heroes, the late great Fritz Leiber, who was said to be the consummate gentleman. I can't stand to think about Van Gogh dying from starvation and poverty as his brilliance was being ignored, while now they sell his paintings for millions of dollars. Such thoughts can make me sad, depressed, angry, even prone toward violence against inanimate objects.

Of course, it's a bit easier to take if the person has passed on, because mortal woes must be small potatoes in infinity. They are surely not upset about it anymore, why should I be?

First, I would like to do my part on keeping us honest. Whether good or bad, the past should not be forgotten, and should be given its due. If not, we learn nothing, repeat mistakes and never evolve. We live in a perpetually egoistic culture that thinks every time it shits it smells like roses and that it invented everything under the sun.

Second, and probably more importantly, out of love. We should love those who devoted their lives to perfecting their talents and sharing the harvest of that labor with the world.

I love many authors, but I will only mention those who are relevant to the fantasy adventure genre, because they are often overlooked and not given the credit they deserve for creating the genre that is now taken for granted.

Those authors are: Fritz Leiber (creator of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser), Robert E. Howard (creator of Conan, Kull, Solomon Kane) and Jack Vance (creator of the Dying Earth and Cugel the Clever). Of these three, Howard is the most well-known, though in truth, most mainstream audiences would only be aware of the name Conan (from the movie) as opposed to R. E. Howard.
Fritz Leiber, Jr.

In a recent blog by Charlie Jane Anders, 10 Authors Who Wrote Gritty, Realistic Fantasy Before George R.R. Martin, the titled list is given. Nowhere are listed the three authors that helped define the genre. The list only goes back as far as the fabulous Micheal Moorcock (who is considered part of the new wave after Leiber, Howard and Vance). This alone shows that something is amiss. Leiber, Howard and Vance were "gritty." As far as "realistic" goes, this is where the problem really arises. I believe the term that Anders really means to use is "modern." Each generation views as realistic those parts of daily life or those current cultural reactions, morals and emotions that it experiences in its time. That is what makes it "modern."

Robert E. Howard
I, personally, see nothing less "realistic" in the fantastic tales told by Leiber, Howard and Vance than those told by modern authors. There are points of some of the stories, especially by Howard, that seem dated by today's standards. However, who is to say that the behavior and concerns and reactions of the people in Howard's Cimmerian age are not "realistic." Were one to go back to ancient Persian times, it would seem completely unrealistic. Simply read a book of ancient history and half the events that happened and the way people acted do not seem "realistic." In fact, some of the things that actually happened are unbelievable.

If we judge Leiber, Howard and Vance by the term "modern," meaning what holds up now, I would still say that most of Leiber's Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories and Jack Vance's Dying Earth tales hold up. They do not seem dated. (Yet, one must remember the market for whom stories are written. Leiber and Howard were writing for the pulps, which had a younger male audience, whereas the writers mentioned in Ander's blog are mass market books written for major publishers).

Jack Vance
So, I am understandably perturbed when these three great authors, the fathers of the genre (who strongly influenced that "modern" author,  George R. R. Martin, as he says in an interview) are completely ignored. Leiber himself coined the term "sword and sorcery" for what they were writing at the time. One hundred years from now, people will still be reading Leiber, Vance and Howard. I wonder how well the currently-praised "modern" authors will hold up in fifty or one hundred years time. No doubt most of that work will not seem "realistic" or "modern" anymore.

Raymond Feist called Fritz Leiber the “spiritual father [of] most fantasy writers.” But his influence goes much further than that. Michael Chabon, the Pullitzer-prize winning literary author, is a huge fan of Leiber's (he provides the afterward for a collection called Selected Stories: Fritz Leiber, Neil Gaiman provides the foreword), and said that he learned to write by reading Leiber's stories. His book, Gentleman of the Road, is a tribute to Leiber, as well as Dumas, Moorcock and others.

Without Fritz Leiber, Robert E. Howard and Jack Vance, most of the current fantasy adventure authors (including the ones on Ander's blog list) would never have written the stories they wrote. It is impossible to not be influenced by these three, for they built the very foundations upon which the sword and sorcery genre stands.

Please, give them their due. It is the least they deserve from we who have inherited the legacy of their rich treasures.

Happy reading adventures!
Robert Zoltan

Addendum: Other authors were of course influential as well. I name Leiber, Howard and Vance as ones who had the most impact but are most overlooked. There are other greats, such as Poul Anderson (who I could actually name as a fourth—his work heavily influenced Michael Moorcock), Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith. C. L. Moore (Catherine Moore), etc. (and of course Tolkien, although he is more "high fantasy," and needs no more credit). I recommend reading them as well if you are interested in the genre or the roots of the genre.

Recommended Reading:
Fritz Leiber, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories. Start with the award-winning story, "Ill Met in Lankhmar" from this volume.
Robert E. Howard: Many printings exist of his Conan stories. Start with the story "The Tower of the Elephant." Here's one volume:
Jack Vance: The Dying Earth. Ignore the completely inaccurate hard sci-fi cover art of this edition:

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

The Past Future Is Now

Very imaginative. A blog by a guy who is pretending he lives in the 1960s and is reviewing books, movies, TV shows and science as if they are happening right now.