Monday, August 6, 2012

80s Sword and Sorcery

I have been following an interesting Facebook thread over at the Robert E. Howard Readers Group. It seems that the group's founder(s), as well as a good portion of the members, have become increasingly irked by a cadre of a boisterous fan-boys whose posts are frequently seen as childish, snotty, and frequently off-subject. They have been accused (rightly so) of repeatedly straying away from the subject of Robert E. Howard, an offense normally not damning in itself but when coupled with name-calling, strident personal challenges, the implied threat of violence and even thinly disguised plagiarism-for-profit scams...well, I think we can all agree that some changes are in order.

Now, where was I? Oh yeah; like I said, I've been following those posts with a certain indignant tolerance and all the while asking myself 'why?' I'm not exactly a model of self restraint when it comes to emotional volatility. I've dropped the gloves (much to my embarrassment) for lesser indignities than the verbal vomit these goofs are spewing. What was different this time and why the sudden tolerance; am I getting wiser and more tolerant as I age? Unlikely...

Thankfully, I didn't give in to frustration and leave the group - instead, I read a follow up thread started by Jeff Shanks and realized the answer was right in front of me all along and it had surprisingly little to do with Robert E. Howard, my friend's gripes, nor the moose-drooling blowhards that had been ruining the normally enjoyable back and forth chatter between Robert E. Howard fans. Here's what Jeff said that helped grease the wheels inside my punch-drunk brain; "Okay, why don't we put all the pastiche nonsense and bad 80's S&S behind us and get back to talking about Robert E. Howard."

That's it! Bad 80s Sword and Sorcery fiction. It wasn't so much that they were talking about 80s S&S it was that the aforementioned goofs were doing so both outside of the desired conversational direction/subject (Howard) and from a woefully ignorant and misinformed point of view. The reason I had waded through the crap wasn't tolerance after all. Thank goodness I'm not going soft after all. No, the reason was all that talk of "bad" 80s S&S had me fondly recalling my misspent youth which had been spent as often as not with my nose parked in one of those books.

Anyhow, this blog entry isn't about the goofs, it's about the 80s S&S references and how those references inadvertently roused in me a desire to revisit some of those 80s novels and short story collections. Amazingly, I have managed to successfully retain many of those old books in storage and can with a little physical effort muscle those old boxes out from under the dust and cobwebs and back into the light of day once more.

What a generic term - 80s Sword and Sorcery -  but to a guy who's teen years really were defined by the 80s, that descriptive is really just an umbrella term for "books with covers that featured heroic swordsmen, scantily clad women, and some kind of menace." This could be historical fiction, heroic fantasy, adventure, horror, D&D style adventures, reprints of old stories, epic fantasy and pastiche. Also, 80s S&S includes more than that work published, literally, in the 80s; it manages to thematically and creatively pierce the early 90s as well before giving way to new genres like steampunk that would come to characterize the death of rock and the birth of grunge. Heck, it might be argued that it covers stories that you first read in the 80s but had been published years or even decades before. At least that's how I see it.

So, in anything but the spirit of those now infamous goofs over at The Robert E. Howard Reader's Group, I will slowly revisit those stories over the coming months here at the Punch-Drunk Bard blog. Here's hoping that my stroll down memory lane will only reinforce how I feel about these stories and novels.


  1. I didn't really start reading fantasy much beyond Tolkien and Howard until the end of the 80s when I entered my 20s. My teen years were mostly spent reading science fiction. So I missed much of the 80s S&S. I'm looking forward to this series of posts.

  2. Thanks for reading, Keith. I was into Howard and Tolkien very early. Brooks, Maddox Roberts, and many many others came after - all first read by me in the 80s. I see we are about the same age so some of the titles I review (and these reviews will be, mercifully, short)ought to ring a nostalgic bell. I am betting more than a few books/stories/authors will not stand the test of time now as well as they have in my memory.

  3. I've got a fond place for Echoes of Valor. Good stuff.

    1. As do I, Charles. I also am close to finishing Book one of the Stormlands - a series by John Maddox Roberts that I thoroughly enjoyed during my late teens and early 20s. Let's see how much I like them 21 years later.