Monday, January 23, 2023

New Edge Sword & Sorcery

New Edge Sword & Sorcery Magazine, Volume 1, #0. Edited by Oliver Brackenbury, Cover by Gilead.

This is issue 0 of a new sword & sorcery magazine, distributed in eformat and PDF for free, or sold for a little over 3 dollars in print format on Amazon. I picked up the print version. As a magazine rather than an anthology, it contains nonfiction articles as well as short stories. The stories are clustered up front, with the nonfiction more toward the back, and I found myself liking that format.

New Edge Sword & Sorcery is a term still undergoing a “shakedown.” In other words, it’s still finding its ultimate definition. According to Brackenbury, who has an essay on the concept at the end of the magazine, New Edge continues the older traditions of the “outsider protagonist,” “thrilling energy,” and “weirdness” while adding “inclusivity” and a strong support for “new works” in the field. This includes a greater inclusion of women authors and authors of color, as well as those who do not fit neatly into standard gender and lifestyle dichotomies. What I’m most concerned with here, however, are the stories and the information. Did I enjoy them as stories and essays? Below are my thoughts.

First up is a story by Dariel R. A. Quiogue, a Philippines based writer. “The Curse of the Horsetail Banner”  was an excellent choice to start the anthology because this is a very strong tale—both well written and exciting. As the name of the protagonist suggests—Orhan Timur—this tale is set in a pseudo Mongolian/Tibetan milieu. The writing really puts you into the cold, snowy climate as Timur flees from pursuers who want him dead, and finds a potential way to regain his lost position as Khagan, khan of khans. I’ve bought a book by Quiogue featuring this character, which I hope to get to soon.

Story 2 is “The Ember Inside” by Remco van Straten and Angeline B. Adams. Very interesting story in that it features a “storyteller” as the primary hero. There’s a twist as to how the stories get told, however, and I won’t reveal the surprise. The main character, Ymke, is not, to my mind, a completely sympathetic character, although her life has certainly given her some tough choices. She is certainly a complex character. There are elements of Ymke that remind me of Robert E. Howard’s Dark Agnes.

“Old Moon over Irukad” is next and is a real treat. The tale features Edrion and Virissa, sword companions who are hired for a questionable job that pays good gold, but are then betrayed. Not a good idea to betray this pair. The story is by David C. Smith, an old hand at sword & sorcery who became known in the late 1970s and early 1980s for his tales of Oron. I’ve been a fan of his since those days. This is a fun story written by a master.

“The Beast of the Shadow Gum Trees” by T. K. Rex, is definitely the weirdest story here. It’s certainly fantasy but only on the fringes of sword & sorcery. But it’s an enjoyable tale and the prose is extraordinary. I would have enjoyed reading this just for the prose, but the tale itself is quite good. An old being named “Moth,” who is not human but some type of minor nature god it seems, mourns the loss of his love and plans to let himself die. Turns out, he has one more task to perform, in a land far away. There’s a lot of feeling in this one and I was touched by the ending.

“Vapors of Zinai” is by J. M. Clarke. I’m not all that familiar with the “sword & soul” subgenre of S&S but I believe this one might fit there. It features a warrior/sorcerer as the protagonist, a man named Kyembe. Despite the setting in a sort of Alternate Egypt, this is—in many ways—one of the most traditional stories in the magazine. Kyembe is warrior in the Conan, Kane, Imaro tradition. I really enjoyed the character and have picked up another anthology with a Kyembe tale in it. I got a big kick out of the ending to this one. That last line is pure entertainment.

“The Grief-Note of Vultures” is next, by Bryn Hammond. Excellent title, but I have to admit I didn’t quite understand this story. It’s written in a very unusual style, a unique style certainly, and one that might take some familiarity with to become fully comfortable in the tale. (I had the same issue with Glen Cook’s Black Company books at first and came to love those.) I think it was probably the style that kept me from becoming fully immersed in this story.

After “Grief-Note,” there’s a short essay by Howard Andrew Jones on the “Origin of the New Edge.” This was interesting to me since I had very little knowledge of how it came about. (I’ve mostly been writing westerns and modern westerns for the last 3 years.)

Immediately after comes “C. L. Moore and Jirel of Joiry: The First lady of Sword & Sorcery” by Cora Buhlert. I’m a huge fan of Moore’s work, especially the Jirel and Northwest Smith tales, which have all the adventure you could want but also seem to have a little something more written into their characterizations. I’ve also written an essay talking about Moore’s work, so I didn’t learn a lot of new information from this essay, but it was fun to revisit some of this information. I did learn more about Moore’s post-Jirel work and appreciated that. A good essay.

We have an interview with Milton Davis up next, conducted by Brackenbury. I learned a lot of new information here. Davis’s name pops up frequently in recent conversations about new fantasy. He is firmly associated with the sword & soul moniker and was influenced to some extent by the 1970s and 1980s work of Charles Saunders, one of the first African Americans to put his unique stamp on sword & sorcery. I learned some things about Saunders, who I much admire.

Another article, “The Outsider in Sword & Sorcery,” is up next, by Brian Murphy. A short treatise on the role of the outsider in S&S. Interesting and enjoyable.

Nicole Emmelhainz produces the next essay, which is “Gender Performativity in Howard’s ‘Sword Woman.’” This piece examines Howard’s Dark Agnes stories at some length, focusing on gender issues.  Emmelhainz is a professor and this work certainly has an academic feel to it. As an academic myself, I quite appreciated it. This is something we might have run in The Dark Man, which I’ve been occasionally an assistant editor for. I thought the ending here, which talks about how modern authors can still learn some things from writers such as Robert E. Howard, was even handed, open minded, and powerful. It was also appreciated.

Magazines often have reviews and toward the end here we have a review of “The Obanaax and Other Tales of Heroes and Horrors” by Kirk Johnson. The review is written by Robin Marx. Not having read this book, there’s not much I can say. Marx seemed to enjoy it.

Finally, we have Brackenbury’s essay on “What is New Edge Sword & Sorcery,” which I’ve already mentioned earlier. I thought this was a really entertaining first issue for this new magazine. I was happy to see it since I would really love to see a sword & sorcery revival, given that I’ve written quite a bit of the stuff myself. I recommend it. For more information, check out their Facebook page under the same name, and I also understand there’s a Kickstarter launching on February 2, with a surprise on February 1. Here’s the link. First day backers will get an exclusive gift. A lot of effort is going into making the first issues dynamite, and there are some big ideas coming down the pipe. I’ll support the Kickstarter, and  I hope the quality of the work shown in this opening issue continues.