Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Fantasy by Definition: Part 2


2). The second category of Heroic Fantasy is Sword and Planet (S and P) fiction, which is often called Interplanetary Adventure. My Talera novels fall largely into this category, although there is only one poem in Bitter Steel that is S and P. In S and P, the basic story is about an Earthman (never an Earth woman as far as I can tell) who is transported to another world where he must use his wits, his muscles, and his edged weapons (almost always a sword) against a host of human and nonhuman foes.

Unlike with Sword and Sorcery, any supernatural forces present in Sword and Planet fiction play only a minor role, and when they do appear they usually turn out to be examples of super science rather than truly supernatural. Also, the S and P hero is generally not a barbarian, but, in fact, is most often quite chivalrous. The setting for S and P is not earth but an exotic alien world, often with multiple suns or multiple moons, and is populated by a variety of strange plants, animals, and intelligent beings. The intelligent aliens are usually humanoid (the better to sword fight with), but they will have some exotic elements such as extra limbs, beaks, feathers, etc. (Not unlike Star Trek come to think of it.)

Another difference between these two subgenres is that Sword and Sorcery often works best at short story length, while that is seldom true for Sword and Planet fiction. S and P short stories are pretty rare, although I’ve recently tried my hand at one. I think the reason is that S and P typically has a larger scale plot. The problem to be dealt with may even be world spanning, while with S & S the story often takes place in a relatively isolated valley or ruined city against a more local evil. This may, in part, be due to the different technologies seen in the two subgenres. In S and P, there is some form of air travel in open craft, sort of like sky-going yachts, while S and S is most often limited to the area that can be covered by horses and sea-going vessels.

Edgar Rice Burroughs, who was an influence on Robert E. Howard, is the father of Sword and Planet fiction. His John Carter of Mars books established the basic pattern. (Today’s illustration is borrowed from Frank Frazetta and shows John Carter and Dejah Thoris.) A contemporary of ERB, Otis Adelbert Kline, also wrote some good early S & P stories, and he was the agent for Robert E. Howard. Kline apparently persuaded Howard to try an S and P novel, and the result was Almuric, which broke the mold in a number of ways, particularly by adding anti-hero characteristics to the protagonist.

Some other examples of S & P fiction include the Michael Kane books by Michael Moorcock, the Alan Morgan books by Gardner F. Fox, and the Kaldar stories of Edmond Hamilton. Lin Carter wrote a lot of these books in his Green Star and Callisto series’. To my mind, however, the best post-ERB practitioner of S & P was Kenneth Bulmer, who wrote a long series about a character named Dray Prescot under the pseudonym Alan Burt Akers.

My first Talera novel, Swords of Talera is pure S and P, but the sequels, Wings Over Talera and Witch of Talera brought, I believe, some of the characteristics of Sword and Sorcery into the S & P format. I also added some horror elements, particularly to the third book.

Unfortunately, Sword and Planet fiction is even rarer today than Sword & Sorcery. There are writers who labor in the S and P vineyards, but they are, like me, relatively unknown. Yet, I know of quite a few readers who still pine for such grand adventures. To end part 2 of my Heroic Fantasy series of posts, here’s a sample from Swords of Talera that I hopes illustrates the basic themes I’ve been discussing.

“The gates started to open. I did not see the massive counterweights and pulleys that must have been necessary to move those tons of bronze. Nor did I hear them. In eerie silence the great doors opened outward, like some monstrous raptor spreading its wings.

Then the hair crawled to life on my neck. Something black, of awesome size, moved amidst the darkness behind the gates. Shadows billowed. The shape came forward, as black as a night on which all the moons had fallen.”
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28 comments:

Paul R. McNamee said...

Good write up on sword-&-planet, Charles.

I'm new to the sub-genre myself, but I'm enjoying the reading and the writing I've been doing in the sub-genre. I still have a lot of books to catch up on.

Interesting thoughts on s-&-p in the short form. It's definitely a rare find. Even some s-&-p 'shorts' tend towards novelette length, at least, I think.

I never picked up on the chivalrous vs. barbarian aspect of most s-&-p heroes. Very good point.

Charles Gramlich said...

Paul, The Kaldar stories are some of the few S and P short stories, and there's one by ALan burt Akers. Most do tend toward the novella length though. The one I recently did is pretty long.

Randy Johnson said...

Liked the post.

Like most, Edgar Rice Burroughs was my introduction to the genre. John Carter was the favorite, though Carson Napier or Pellucidar did fine for fill-in.

I think I read a few of the Dray Prescotts when I was much younger and, of course, I got onto Lin Carter's stuff because of his Conan work.

SQT said...

Is it the sword that keeps this genre from being straight scifi?

I wonder how many other stories you could put in this category--or close to it. I'm thinking of series' like Anne McCaffrey's Pern. That one wasn't so much sword-based, though there weren't any modern weapons and it wasn't uncommon for the characters to duel with knives. It's more the strange planet idea. It's basically a dragon novel (which probably has its own category) but they're scientifically created and the books bring more science in as they move along. But I would never put them in the straight scifi category.

ivan said...

I think I' ve been in warp drive too long--ask somebody--but that striking cover reminds me somehow not of S and P, but S and M.
Fetching space moll!
I'll say it again. It was de comic books that dunnit to me.
EC comics. MAD. Too much satire. Hoo-Hah.
Potrzebie.

Lana Gramlich said...

I think the strong, heroic, female figure is at least partially why I liked Lynn Abbey's stories about Rifkind, now that I think about it...

Lana Gramlich said...

I don't think I'd include the Pern novels, myself. There was more politics than action in those.

Charles Gramlich said...

Randy, me too with ERB. I liked the Venus books pretty well but Carson was quite a bit different than Carter. Some of the middle Dray Prescot books were really outstanding, particularly 13 and 14. And I also really liked A Sword for Kregen, which was the first one I read.

Sqt, it has a lot of similarities to SF in general, but is based on a planet rather than in space. I'll have to think more about that. I put the Pern books in High fantasy, which is coming up next.

Ivan, Frazetta's painting of women definitely oozed some sexuality.

Lana, I think I might put the Lynn Abbey books in high fantasy but I haven't read them so am not sure.

BernardL said...

The sword and planet type is a tough world building task, especially with the artifice of how it happens. You did a nice job in the Talera series but it's a real hard sell and usually requires a long imaginative leap.

SQT said...

I'll be interested to read your thoughts on high fantasy because my definition of high fantasy may be different. I don't know if you've read all the Pern books, but it's completely science based. They start from a place where they don't know where the dragons come from or why they can communicate telepathically with them. But as the story is fleshed out, everything, including the mind-to-mind communication, is a scientific development.

Cloudia said...

Never really thought about these categories....



Aloha from Waikiki, Friend

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Erik Donald France said...

"but they will have some exotic elements such as extra limbs, beaks, feathers, etc. (Not unlike Star Trek come to think of it.)" -- cracked me up . . .

In all, I like both kinds to think about after reading.

Charles Gramlich said...

SQT, hum, I've only read White Dragon, so I'd have to see, but, to me, telepathy is typically going to be an element of fantasy even if it is developed scientifically supposedly in the world. Otherwise we'd have to accept all PSI powers as being scientific. It may be, though, that the Pern books are more SF than fantasy. Like I say, I've only read one. I really don't read much high fantasy. but let me know what you think when you see my post on that, in two days.

Cloudia, It comes from being close to the field.

David J. West said...

Great snippet-I need to order the books.

I have Dray Prescott novel on the shelf somewhere I'll have to give it a chance.

Charles Gramlich said...

David, glad you liked the snippet. My favorite of the Dray prescot books were 13, 14, and 20, but I liked a lot of them pretty well.

David J. West said...

I just checked-I have Talons of Scorpio 30. That's quite a series and I'm sure what I have isn't the last one either.

Charles Gramlich said...

David, there are 52 books in that series. 39 were originally published in English and the rest in German. However, in the last few years they've been publishing the remainder of the books in English. They're well into the forties now, although the latest ones have just been published in ebook. I have them for the Kindle.

Barrie said...

I'm enjoying all these definitions!

benjibopper said...

Solid writing - I like the passage from Talera.

One question: why never a woman?

laughingwolf said...

is not 'red sonya' among the female sword slingers? can't think of others, atm, other than tv's 'xena'...

Charles Gramlich said...

Barrie, thanks. I'm not sure if you read this type of stuff or not but I do a lot of thinking about the books I read. Too much time on my hands perhaps?

Benjibopper, I don't know why never a woman. I do know some women that read them, and there can be and usually are strong women in the stories, but they are not transported earthwomen. The Gor books used transported earthwomen but they were only taken to Gor to be slaves.

Laughingwolf, Red Sonja would be Sword and Sorcery though, and there are quite a few sword and sorcery women, including Howard's Dark Agnes and, of course, Jirel.

Heff said...

I knew that had to be the work of Frazetta. His work almost makes me want to read. ALMOST.

BStearns said...

Absolutely brilliant! A very nice in-depth view at one of the types of heroic fantasy. I personally love heroic fasntasy, so I'm very interested to see what else you are going to come up with.

-Bryan
sff-hub.blogspot.com

Charles Gramlich said...

Heff, you should look at the book "Icon." Lots of Frazetta pictures and small entries of words telling about each. ;)

Bryan, thanks a lot. I'm glad you enjoyed, and thanks for stopping by. I have upcoming entries (every two days) on High Fantasy and Heroic Historical fantasy.

BStearns said...

Awesome! I'll be here, anxiously awaiting them. High Fantasy is my favourite of the bunch, so that one will be extra special. Thanks!

-Bryan
sff-hub.blogspot.com

Charles Gramlich said...

Bryan, I appreciate it.

Bernita said...

I have always liked that passage in particular. Darn near tore the page to read further.

Charles Gramlich said...

Bernita, I like that passage too. For some reason it feels very good to me.