Sword and Sorcery article in Czech and German

Later this year, Czech SF, Fantasy and Horror magazine XB-1 will publish a Czech edition of my Sword and Sorcery article, which can be read over at Dreadful Nights. Many thanks to Martin Šust, editor at XB-1, and translator Roman Tilcer for making this possible. Both Martin and Roman have done some amazing work over the years in bringing genre fiction and criticism to the attentions of Czech readers in their own language. It’s very nice to be a small part of it.

My thanks also to Peter Mordio, who’ll be arranging for the translation of the same article into German to be published by White Train in their special S&S edition of IF-Magazin later this year.

I’m very grateful to all concerned.

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“THE GREAT LOVER” BY MICHAEL CISCO

The Great Lover by Michael Cisco  | Published by Chomu Press, 2011

The Great Lover is one of Michael Cisco’s most audacious novels in a writing career that screams with audacity. It features some of the most visceral and viscous scenes he has ever produced in fiction. It also features some of his most memorable creations – not least, the bio-technological marvel of the Prosthetic Libido, a Frankenstein’s monster of the modern age – in essence, a quasi-human repository of actual human sexual drives.

Nothing in The Great Lover conforms to any formal narrative process, plot structure or linguistic regularity.

Reanimated after death, its protagonist is compelled to amble randomly through the sewers and subways of the metropolis, seeking out corpses, invading the spaces of women’s dreams through his expertise in “nerve projection”. He becomes embroiled in the antics of an underground cult, whilst exposed to the persecutions of the retrogressive socio-political order.

As such, events are conveyed not so much through a prism of narrative point of view as through a kaleidoscope of thwarted perspectives that switch between first and third person narrators with sporadic fleetness, which is all the more disorientating because they belong to the same persona – the Great Lover himself.

Authorial interjections and violations of standard approaches to storytelling further disrupt the sense of reality created in the novel. Yet, remarkably, The Great Lovereffectuates a self-contained world that is disarmingly real in spite of its many tumultuous oddities.

Its dream sequences, for example, are presented in realistic terms as fractured courses of logic that rebuild themselves at the very moment their narratives unfold, resulting in crazy juxtapositions of tenuously connected scenes, sudden leaps in timeframes and insane behaviours that are rendered sensible by the dream-logic in question.

The Great Lover is darkly Carnivalesque – a sumptuous verbal riot of subversive styles and slapstick humour combined with grotesque violence and misanthropy-fuelled ironic farce. It presents a stimulus of confusion that is relentless and all-consuming. It offers a reading experience that is unique and, above all, is as mind-bending as it is enjoyable.

“Hulferde’s newfound energy plus knowledge acquired in creation of the Prosthetic Libido equals creation of Prosthetic Death. That means the transposition of his mortality into an artificial vessel to do all his dying for him so he never has to.” – The Great Lover, page 251

SWORD AND SORCERY

“If I am, what am I? And if I am something – why?” – Lord of Misfits

Distinguishing Features

Some of the most distinguishing features of Sword and Sorcery are also among the most rarely mentioned. For example:

Morality:

There is an absence of moral or social purpose in Sword and Sorcery, such as it normally inheres in Heroic or Epic Fantasy. The protagonists of Sword and Sorcery operate beyond moral and social restraints. Its protagonists are not heroes (see below), as sometimes described, but are embodiments of nature, primed to survive or perish in a world that throws up constant hardships against them. Against such a backdrop, morality is useless – an inadequate part of the mental and physical armoury required for survival.

“Behold, the competing demands of life and death – the only demands that truly matter.” – Clach of Skalaan

Heroism:

There are no heroes (reluctant or otherwise) in the true sense of the word – people performing valorous or commendable deeds to the benefit of others or for the sake of some abstract notion of serving the greater good.

The emphasis is on the warrior, not his or her idealisation or idolisation as a restorer of life to some fallen social order. Again, the fascination of Sword and Sorcery comes from the struggle for survival of its protagonists against natural and supernatural hazards placed randomly against them, without any kind of meaningful purpose or cohesion whatsoever.

Brutality:

Sword and Sorcery accentuates brutality for its own sake, often glorifying its consequences without illustrating the negative outcomes of them. Violence is seen as the foremost part of a process of survival in which anything goes; but, more than this, violence is also enjoyed and celebrated.

Sword and Sorcery is gratuitous without attempting to disguise the fact that it is gratuitous. It is too much engrossed in its gratuities to consider whether or not being gratuitous is the right thing to do. Which is to say that, for Sword and Sorcery, being gratuitous is always the right thing to do.

Structure:

Sword and Sorcery is episodic and fragmentary, not linear or cyclical. Connections between events are tenuous, random and unconnected. Chaos versus order is the predominant theme, as opposed to good versus evil. And the struggle is often one where chaos prevails as the overriding factor of causation in the turn of events. It does not conform to predefined archetypal tenets derived from some collective source of Christian allegory.

The narratives of Sword and Sorcery are structured accordingly, without a moral framework within which to operate or refer to beyond the constraints of the world of the story itself. There are no higher aims to ensure settled and conclusive outcomes. There is no illusion of completion in the rounding off of plots. No apotheosis of the hero-figure. No recovery of lost, iconic objects of restorative power and influence.

Sword and Sorcery completely avoids the trappings of the mythos. It is a fantasy world that fails to play out the allegory of the mythical cycle. It is autotelic fantasy which doesn’t operate within an archetypal framework. It is pared back to the bare bones of its own internal mythical projections. It posits a world of human endeavour without beginnings and ends. Everything is ongoing. And, to this extent, Sword and Sorcery is a very modern form of fiction. Much more so than the Tolkien fantasies that have their basis in the failed religious traditions of the western world.

Simplicity:

Sword and Sorcery avoids the complications of character and plot. It retains a simplicity and a lack of elegance – a hard-edged prose that can be colourful and lyrical without losing its raw descriptive impetus.

Its plots are almost non-existent and propelled by incidents and situations of forced dangers, pain and endurance which must be confronted without the alternative of avoidance or escape.

“The dynamic of conflict is conveyed with bluntness and rigour rather than artistry.” – Vral of Skains

Sensationalism:

Just as Aesthetes may use the slogan of “art for art’s sake”, so Sword and Sorcery advocates “sensationalism for its own sake”. In Sword and Sorcery, there is an intensive focus on the purely sensational aspects of fantasy action and setting. The stories are not about human relations, moral dilemmas, emotional impasses, social upheavals and the resolutions that may, or may not, determine their outcome.

Sword and sorcery is rawer and more violently and erotically charged – shamelessly open-minded in proposing violence and eroticism as self-contained elements of story-telling, which are worthwhile and purposeful in themselves.

“Sword and sorcery is the art for art’s sake of Fantasy.” – Brogan of the Icy Kingdoms

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Sexual Fetishism:

In Sword and Sorcery, the accentuation of the erotic is characterized by a fetishistic appeal to fantasies involving domination, bondage, enslavement, homo-eroticism, masculinisation of women, torture and sadomasochism of all shades. It also accentuates brutality as part of the fetish matrix, including: prolonged suffering or exposure to extreme dangers or persecutions; nakedness and vulnerability.

In Sword and Sorcery, sexual fetishism, closely related to violence, is the most outstanding characteristic of the subgenre. It is the thing that most acutely separates it from other forms of Fantasy fiction. Such other forms may tend to include sexual fetishism – not as defining – but as elements of plot and characterization, which are positioned within a broader mix of story telling elements, to aid the dramatic context, rather than satisfy the fetishistic indulgence of its themes alone.

Noble Savagery:

There is a definite sense in which the protagonists of Sword and Sorcery show an open mistrust and contempt for civilisation which can be associated directly with the concept of the noble savage.

In Sword and Sorcery, the assertion of noble savagery is posited as an alternative to a corrupt civilisation which is often scorned for its deception, sophistry, social hierarchies and power games, fripperies and culture of excess, emasculating comforts and material obsessions.

The rejection of civilisation can be seen as a valorisation of barbarism over the assumed superiority of the civilised world, in which morality is often cited as a confirmation of that superiority.

There is a tendency, too, towards a rejection of intellectualism which is best described by the dichotomy of sword versus sorcery in itself, where savagery is presented as an uncontaminated state of being, reminiscent of the natural intelligence of the human character – aka the noble savage – whereby barbarism posits an essential vitality against the nihilism of overly sophisticated cabalistic rituals and rites, which are often portrayed as wilfully destructive, disordered without purpose, callously indifferent towards suffering, and dangerous in the extreme.

This tension between opposing forces or states of being – of savagery versus civilisation, of natural intelligence versus intellectualism, of physicality versus occultism – lies at the core of Sword and Sorcery: it is the very source of a dynamic of positive versus negative opposition that defines the subgenre overall.

The Sum of its Parts

Unlike other forms of Fantasy, Sword and Sorcery exists in order to create conditions in which the elements described above are played out in a fictional space where they are not only allowed to happen, but are bound to happen.

The attributes of fetishistic indulgence, brutality for its own sake, wish-fulfilment gratification, the accentuation of barbarism – they are more fundamental to Sword and Sorcery than to any other form of Fantasy. In other forms of Fantasy, these attributes are present but are not core to the purposes they serve.

In Game of Thrones or The Blade Itself, for example, they are used as plot elements, as facets of character-building, as factors that contribute to the realism of brutal worlds undergoing periods of brutal political and social upheaval. They are not solely there to excite a response in the reader. They are there to construct a complex, three-dimensional narrative, which may excite the reader, yes, but only as part of a broader mix of emotional and intellectual inducements – not as bare-faced stimulations requiring a masturbatory response of crude appreciation for what they are.

By contrast, Sword and Sorcery is gloriously one-dimensional and utterly meaningless beyond its core contingencies of sordid, instant, irresistible gratifications.

And that is all.

What is Horror? #1

Horror, Dark Fantasy, Weird Fiction is a celebration of imperfections – an impetus of revealing the human imagination in all its inglorious detail.

It is ugliness unmasked and paraded. Freakery accentuated. Disturbances leaping out of the jack-in-the-box of pleasures that are not meant to be pleasurable.

Horror aligns the exotic with the perverse. It hurls them into a vacuum of atrocities and makes them appealing by exposing them to our malicious fascinations and the excitements they bring.

Moral Vacuum Cleaner

Fans of Horror, of Dark Fantasy, of The Weird, are capable of forming inappropriate responses to the shocks and upsets of horrors that people, really, should find distasteful, abhorrent and offensive.

Where normal people raise a hand to the mouth in surprise and shock, Horror fans titter. Titillation abounds where the reaction should be one of repugnance, indignation, disgust, moral outrage.

The problem is, almost anyone engaging with Horror Fiction (in films or books) responds in exactly the same way – the way they shouldn’t. Not just the aficianados and uber-freaks. But everyone. In spite of themselves. Everyone to a tee.

The appeal of Horror rests in the human genome like a lighthouse in the midst of an icy sea. The ship of desire is guided by the lighthouse and given safe passage through the straits of degradation, where the moralists sink without a trace and the hedonists ride like dolphins over the crashing waves.

The great thing about horror is that it’s an affirmation of the perverse that inhabits the human character. It gives license to the admission of thrills which are otherwise diminished by the wet blanket of common decency.

Horror provides a safe space in which morality can be stripped naked of its restraints and ritually humiliated by la bête sauvage with delight and fervour. It is the darkly carnivalesque – a Feast of Fools that allows us to indulge the sadistic and masochistic urgencies of the spirit without permitting any real damage.

The well of gratification seeps to the fore – gushes out in hot springs of lust and craving. The emotions are catapulted beyond the mental strait jackets of decorum. We are emotionally liberated, in awe of the cruel techniques of suffering made attractive by a raft of monstrosities, and the mad-god-creators who created them.

Self-Affirming Roots

The quasi-popularity of Horror is a self-affirmation of the twisted root that inhabits the garden of human servitude to social norms and codes of behaviour: it is not an admission of guilt but a brazen indulgence of it – a celebration.

It is the organism of the soul conspiring with its weakness for bloodlust, for suffering, for sensual appetites that writhe beneath the mask of inhibition, aching to be released, to be fulfilled by the pleasures of the flesh and the abstractions of emotions taken to riotous extremes.

It is a form of anti-catharsis – a means of filling up, rather than cleansing, the throbbing arteries of desire that pump through our brains and bodies with the efficacy of the fluids that inform them.

The Unreal Reality

Horror defies the logic of evolution. It contemplates the self-destruction of the species – fetishizes it – puts it on display in a glass case to marvel at and crave.

It doesn’t make sense. But this perhaps is where the attraction comes from. It is the disintegration of sense – the deposition of order by the underlords of the chaotic impulse – the undoing of everything that represents structure, coherence and human reason.

Horror is a vehicle for the paradox of the desire for chaos in a world where order prevails as the dominant psychology.

Horror is anarchy – emotional anarchy – the emotions set loose and recognised for what they are – base, primal, invigorating and accommodating of the immoderations of pure instinct and the voracity of basic needs.

It is the stark recognition of ourselves through the mirror of truth, reflected in fiction, which only a few of us will look upon with the prolonged scrutiny of the fanatic – aloof upon our battlements of ruined Gothic splendour – from the vantage point of the lunatic fringe.

Horror is unreality made real within the context of fiction – closed within its own space – where it challenges the false gods of the mainstream with open rebellion, and with the sole purpose of bringing them down.

 

THE SECRET TO GOOD WRITING

The secret to good writing is that there is no secret. There are no rules.

Writing flourishes according to the infinite stylistic variations that are applied to it from person to person, culture to culture, era to era – and it does so depending on a range of factors: of background, history, circumstances at the time of writing, the mind of the person who undertakes the task, and so on.

Writing is determined by the idiosyncrasies of the writer at the time of writing – Dr. Obvious

Perpetual Stifling

Imagine a world in which only one writing style was permitted, in which only one style was allowed to exist, in which only one style was encouraged for use by the arbiters of taste or public opinion (whoever they might be).

We would very quickly find ourselves vastly under-whelmed by the experience of writing – and doubly so where reading is concerned.

What would be the point of writing if its forms of expression were hemorrhaged by a repeated emphasis on the same nuances, the same tones and the same indications of proffered meaning? The meanings we intended would be limited to a rhetorical hall of mirrors reflecting proverbial blanks and platitudes ad infinitum.

Language ought to be a liberation of meaning, not its confinement to recurrent ideas of semantic or syntactic rules of law.

To advocate ‘rules’ or a ‘way’ of writing is to advocate a perpetual stifling of the human character which requires writing in order to thrive.

The Power of Writing

The power of writing comes from the very opposite of ascribing rules to its process.

It comes from the fact that we can manipulate, fuse, corrupt and bend the rules of language to work in our favour.

It comes from the individual shades of emphasis we give to its multitude of meanings, and from the styles we invent that are appropriate to the underlying condition in which such meanings are formed.

No language is fixed. No diction is governed by implacable dictates.

And this is how language has always functioned – as a system of rules that are systematically broken in order to thrive – a bit like people – because people, ultimately, are language, and languages, ultimately, are people.

The Freedom of Writing

Writing is a force for liberation that releases us from many retrogressive ills:

  • It helps us spread the message for improving our social or political conditions (as well as resisting the conditioning they put us under).
  • It helps us vent our frustrations or frame our thoughts to the effect of informing or inspiring others.
  • It helps us cope with psychological traumas for which writing is a placebo, if not an actual cure.

This is why it is essential to ensure that writing and reading are enshrined as basic human rights that are the entitlement of people the whole world over.

Without writing, freedom of speech is muffled, a mere cry in the dark that fades within its own echo.

A people that is educated in writing is in a position to challenge the hardships placed against it by the ruling elite.

There is no secret to good writing, but there are those who’d prefer to keep good writing a secret from you.

Writing is a gateway to freedom for all peoples in all societies across the world.

The secret to good writing, then, is to make it yours.

 

“BleakWarrior” Trade Paperback Edition now available

Trade Paperback Edition

The trade paperback edition of BleakWarrior has now been released and is available at:

Trade Paperback Edition – Amazon US – BUY

Trade Paperback Edition – Amazon UK – BUY

Trade Paperback Edition – Amazon Italia – BUY

Trade Paperback Edition – Amazon Deutschland – BUY

Kindle Edition

The kindle edition is available at:

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Limited edition hard back available soon.

“BleakWarrior” to be published by Blood Bound Books

Alistair Rennie’s novel BleakWarrior has been chosen by Blood Bound Books for publication in their Dark Fantasy category. In response to the announcement, Teodor Reljic (co-editor of Schlock Magazine and culture editor/film critic at Malta Today) remarks:

It will be one of the most talked about ‘genre’ outings of the year, and possibly beyond. Insane, rude but always linguistically on-point and lovingly crafted, it’s the kind of melange that defines ‘out of the box’ writing and will be catnip to anyone looking for something fresh and exciting.

Loncon 3

Alistair Rennie is appearing on two panels at this year’s World Science Fiction Convention (Loncon 3), namely:

The Animal Human
Capital Suite 7+12 (Level 3), 8pm – 9pm, Thursday 14 August

Images of animals are common in science fiction, whether as uplifted anthropomorphic companions like Ack-Ack Macaque, or problematic metaphorical others like King Kong. (The talking cats are sometimes both!) We’re used to talking about these stories in terms of how they reflect on our humanity; but what do they say about how we see animals? What does the SF of writers such as Sheri S Tepper and Karen Joy Fowler have to tell us about the blurry continuum of sentience and sensation that we share with other species on this planet, and about the value judgements we impose on that continuum? And which stories find a place in SF for animals as themselves?

The Lexicon Gap
Capital Suite 13 (Level 3), 10am – 11am, Saturday 16 August

Prose Stylings, Voice, and Narrative Structure: As a reader, why should I care? These terms are often thrown around, but what do they really mean? And more importantly how should a reader translate them in to something useful for evaluating what they read?

Horror Without Victims (ed. DF Lewis)

“The Carpet Seller’s Recommendation” takes its place in the latest anthology by legendary author and anthologist, DF Lewis. Horror Without Victims is available on Amazon.

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Cover by Tony Lovell

EMBRACE THE FALL OF NIGHT – John Howard
THE HORROR – Gary McMahon
CLOUDS – Eric Ian Steele
THE CARPET SELLER’S RECOMMENDATION – Alistair Rennie
WAITING ROOM – Aliya Whiteley
FOR AGES AND EVER – Patricia Russo
NIGHT IN THE PINK HOUSE – Charles Wilkinson
POINT AND STICK – Mark Patrick Lynch
THE BLUE UMBRELLA – Mark Valentine
LAMBETH NORTH – Rosanne Rabinowitz
THE CURE – John Travis
WE DO THINGS DIFFERENTLY HERE – David Murphy
LORD OF PIGS – DeAnna Knippling
LIKE NOTHING ELSE – Christopher Morris
IN THE EARTH – Rog Pile
SCREE – Caleb Wilson
THE WEEK OF FOUR THURSDAYS – David V. Griffin
IN DREAMS, YOU’RE MINE – Jeff Holland
WALK ON BY – Katie Jones
VENT – L.R. Bonehill
THE YELLOW SEE-THROUGH BABY – Michael Sidman
THE BOARDING HOUSE – Kenneth C. Wickson
THE CALLERS – Tony Lovell
STILL LIFE – Nick Jackson
YOU IN YOUR SMALL CORNER, AND I IN MINE – Bob Lock

Mythic Delirium #28

My poem ‘Doomcall’ features in Mike Allen’s Mythic Delirium:

Mythic Delirium #28

Día de los Muertos • F.J. Bergmann
The Beast • Rachel Manija Brown
Mice • Beth Cato
Maud Gonne, After • Alicia Cole
The Serpent Explains the Nature of Tricksters to His Wife • Ruthanna Emrys
The Princess Becomes a Prophet • Jeannine Hall Gailey
Wheels • Adele Gardner
The Last Siren • Andrew Gilstrap
The Green Green Rain • Neile Graham
skin • Lynn Hardaker
Circe in Manhattan • Wendy Howe
Gleaming • Mari Ness
The Theatre Golems • Dominik Parisien
Rare Annie • Caitlyn Paxson
How to Bring Your Dead Lover Back • K.L. Pereira
The Motor Prayer • Donald Raymond
Doomcall • Alistair Rennie
Persephone Set Free • Sofia Samatar
Revising Horror (The Wrong Mouth) • David Sandner
The Nostalgia of Roads • Alexandra Seidel
The Ceremony of Innocence • Sonya Taaffe