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text 2016-09-05 08:20
Guest Post: Seven Superbly Ensorcelled Swords by Jim Hardison, author of Fish Wielder

[caption id="attachment_12998" align="alignnone" width="5200"]KM_284e-20160815162841 Blurmflard- Thoral's Unbelievably Magical Sword... trust me, this thing is wicked cool![/caption]  


Seven Superbly Ensorcelled Swords He took out his sword again and it flashed in the dark by itself. It burned with a rage that made it gleam if goblins were about; now it was bright as blue flame for delight in the killing of the great lord of the cave. —J.R.R. Tolkien  


Ever since I first read those words about Glamdring the Foe-Hammer in The Hobbit, back when I was about ten years old, I’ve been in love with magic swords. Since then, every time I’ve come across one in the pages of a fantasy novel, I’ve compared it with those excellent blades, Glamdring, Orcist and Sting that Bilbo and his companions recovered from the Troll cave in the chapter Roast Mutton.  For your reading pleasure, and with a few, hopefully minor spoilers, here’s a list of seven superbly ensorcelled swords that I had in mind when crafting the magic sword Blurmflard for my epically silly epic fantasy novel, Fish Wielder.  


  1. The Barrow Blade of Westernesse: This is the blade Meriadoc, the hobbit, uses to stab the Witch King of Angmar in the back of the knee in L.O.T.R. I’m starting with this blade because it doesn’t get nearly the credit it deserves. Yes, Éowyn delivered the killing blow, but her strike wouldn’t have made the slightest bit of difference if Merry hadn’t stabbed the Witch King first. Tolkien clearly states, “No other blade, not though mightier hands had wielded it, would have dealt that foe a wound so bitter, cleaving the undead flesh, breaking the spell that knit his unseen sinews to his will.” I was very upset when the whole Barrow-Downs scene was left out of the movies—and consequently the finding of the excellent magic Barrow swords never happened. Without that ensorcelled sword and Merry’s blow, the whole War of the Ring might have ended differently.


  1. Dyrnwyn: While we’re on barrow swords, my favorite is the flaming sword discovered by Taran and Eilonwy in the barrow under Spiral Castle in The Book of Three, the first book of the Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander. Removing Dyrnwyn from the tomb destroyed the entire castle. The black blade had jewels studding its hilt and pommel, and an inscription was entwined around the hilt and scabbard (much of which had been scratched away) but which read, "Draw Dyrnwyn, only those of noble worth, to rule with justice, to strike down evil. Who wields it in good cause shall slay even the lord of death." The blade was the most powerful in Prydain and when drawn, glowed with fire. It would, however, kill anyone unworthy who tried to draw it. So, there’s that.


  1. Excalibur (Caliburn/Caledfwlch): And while we’re on swords that can only be drawn by a chosen few, what list of magic blades would be complete without Excalibur? Actually, there’s pretty solid agreement amongst experts on magic swords that Excalibur was not the sword from the stone, as Arthur was actually given Excalibur by the Lady of the Lake. You can read about Excalibur in literally tons of books, but I personally recommend Arthur Rex: A Legendary Novel by Thomas Berger.
  2. According to legend, Excalibur's blade was engraved on one side with, "Take me up" and on the other with, "Cast me away". Its flashing metal could blind the wielder’s enemies and its scabbard prevented the wearer’s wounds from bleeding. It was supposedly able to cut through iron like it was wood and conferred the holy right to rule on whoever could draw it (not a bad deal, if you can get it). The Excalibur legend was based on a blade from Welsh myth called Caledfwlch which is a compound of the Welsh words caled "hard" and bwlch "cleft" or “breach”. Don’t ask me how that got translated into Excalibur. I’m a sword enthusiast, not a linguist.


  1. Caladbolg: As long as we’re kicking around legendary Welsh blades (figuratively! Never kick a sword!), let’s not forget Ireland and the two-handed sword of Fergus mac Róich. When swung, it was said to make a circle like an arc of rainbows, and to have the power to cleave the tops from the hills. Some people have suggested that Caledfwlch and Caladbolg were the same blade, but I don’t believe that for a second. You should read about this sword in The Táin translated by Thomas Kinsella.


  1. The Vorpal Blade: This is one of my favorites, although probably the most mysterious of the magic swords. It is mentioned in the poem Jabberwocky in Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll and is used to slay the mighty Jabberwock. There’s really very little detail about it except this:

“One, two! One, two! And through and through The vorpal blade went snicker-snack! He left it dead, and with its head He went galumphing back.” So, apart from being able to chop off the head of a Jabberwock, it also clearly invented the Snickers bar as a tasty snack. Tons of people have borrowed the Vorpal blade for other stories, as in Ready Player One by Ernest Cline  


  1. Stormbringer: Another black blade, but unlike Dyrnwyn, this one is as evil as they come. Stormbringer is actually a demon that has taken the form of a sword. Its edge can cut through pretty much anything not protected by powerful magic, and it has the nasty habit of drinking the soul from whomever it wounds, even if it just scratches them. Its wielder, Elric, loathes the sword but he’s such a wimp on his own that he wouldn’t survive long without it. Unfortunately, the sword has a mind of its own and it’s an evil jerk. It often betrays Elric by blinding him with bloodlust so that he accidentally kills his lovers and friends. You can read all about this wicked, wicked blade in Elric of Melniboné (and its sequels) by Michael Moorcock.


  1. Anaklusmos (Riptide): There are so many great swords from fantasy fiction that it’s hard to end this with only one more, but I’ll finish up with Anaklusmos from Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson & the Olympians series because my older daughter would kill me if I left this one out. Anaklusmos was originally the sword of Heracles (that’s Hercules for you Romans out there), given to him by a daughter of the god Atlas.
  2. The sword is made of celestial bronze, which means it can harm gods, demigods and monsters, but will just pass through mortal flesh without damaging it. Anaklusmos also has the power to change shape, so that when it’s not in use, it appears as a ballpoint pen (although whether the pen is mightier than the sword, I can’t say). It also magically reappears in Percy’s pocket whenever it’s lost—which is really handy. The sword was given to Percy by Chiron the centaur, on the instructions of the god Poseidon. Read the books to find out why.


30168029   2893010 Fish Wielder is J.R.R.R. (Jim) Hardison's first novel novel (He wrote a graphic novel, The Helm, for Dark Horse Comics). Jim has worked as a writer, screen writer, animator and film director. He started his professional career by producing a low-budget direct-to-video feature film, The Creature From Lake Michigan. Making a bad movie can be a crash course in the essential elements of good character and story, and The Creature From Lake Michigan was a tremendously bad movie. Shifting his focus entirely to animation, Jim joined Will Vinton Studios where he directed animated commercials for M&M’s and on the stop-motion TV series Gary and Mike. While working at Vinton, he also co-wrote the television special Popeye's Voyage: The Quest for Pappy with actor Paul Reiser. Jim has appeared on NBC's The Apprentice as an expert advisor on brand characters, developed characters and wrote the pilot episode for the PBS children's television series SeeMore's Playhouse and authored the previously mentioned graphic novel, The Helm, named one of 2010's top ten Great Graphic Novels for Teens by YALSA, a branch of the American Library Association. These days, Jim is the creative director and co-owner of Character LLC, a company that does story-analysis for brands and entertainment properties. He lives in Portland, Oregon with his lovely wife, two amazing kids, one smart dog and one stupid dog.  

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review 2016-08-02 00:00
Behold the Man
Behold the Man - Michael Moorcock Not a bad story, although the truly religious may want to tread with caution.
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review 2016-05-10 14:16
A re-read
Elric of Melniboné - Michael Moorcock

This was a re-read because I hadn't read it in years. Classic sword and sorcery. Elric is one of the most depressing characters I've ever encountered in Fantasy, but he has a magic sword and a purpose in the grand scheme of things.


What's great about this book and the rest of the series is the writing and the world building. Moorcock shows Fantasy writers how it's done. This particular series in the broader Eternal Champion series has a tendency to leave me feeling melancholy, but it's still worth the read.

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text 2016-05-06 12:19
The Nine Novels that Defined Steampunk

(reblogged from The Steampunk Workshop)


I’m a librarian by profession, and a scholar by inclination, so when I got involved with the amazing confluence of ideas that was steampunk in mid naughts I naturally wanted to know where this idea of steampunk came from. Most steampunks know little about steampunk’s origins. We are part of a strange phenomenon in which loads of elaborately costumed people call themselves “fans” of books they can’t even name.
This is not too surprising since steampunk didn’t become popular as a genre until after it inspired an art and lifestyle movement. The few histories of the genre are too lengthy for most people to digest, but not knowing the basics about where steampunk came from leaves its enthusiasts wallowing in a shallow puddle of clichés when they could be swimming in an ocean of imagination. As a cure I suggest the reading nine of the most creative works of late twentieth century speculative fiction, the novels that defined steampunk.
The Original Steampunk Novels
A popular idea is that H. G. Wells and Jules Verne were the originators of steampunk. This is not really true. Despite its anachronistic veneer, steampunk is a very contemporary genre expressing contemporary interests and concerns. Wells, Verne, Shelly and others are important sources of inspiration for steampunk but they are not steampunk authors themselves. They wrote in a nineteenth century or nineteen century inspired setting because that’s when they lived. For a modern writer full of current ideas to choose such a setting is a totally different thing. There are isolated examples of writers revisiting Victorian settings throughout sci-fi’s history but steampunk as a word and concept has a clear origin in a letter to the science fiction trade journal Locus published in April 1987.
Dear Locus,
Enclosed is a copy of my 1979 novel Morlock Night; I'd appreciate your being so good as to route it Faren Miller, as it's a prime piece of evidence in the great debate as to who in "the Powers/Blaylock/Jeter fantasy triumvirate" was writing in the "gonzo-historical manner" first. Though of course, I did find her review in the March Locus to be quite flattering.
Personally, I think Victorian fantasies are going to be the next big thing, as long as we can come up with a fitting collective term for Powers, Blaylock and myself. Something based on the appropriate technology of the era; like 'steam-punks', perhaps.
—K.W. Jeter
Jeter’s letter tells us three important things.
1. K. W. Jeter invented the word "steam-punks" to describe authors of "gonzo-historical" "Victorian fantasies"
2. The other two steam-punks were Tim Powers, and James Blaylock.
3. Morlock Night was the earliest of the novels in the newly named genre.
Powers, Blaylock, and Jeter wrote a lot books between them, but of all the novels they wrote by 1987 only four of them were "gonzo-historical" "Victorian fantasies" so the original steampunk genre consisted of only four novels.
Morlock Night by K. W. Jeter, originally published in 1979
There is no clearer illustration of the distinction between steampunk and original Victorian adventure stories than comparing H. G. Wells The Time Machine to Morlock Night. Wells’ novel is a straightforward story about a device that allows one to travel in strictly linear time. It expresses the common modernist idea that technology can do anything but may destroy humanity in the process. In Jeter’s book the Morlocks seize the time machine and invade 19th century London with it. It takes a Victorian premise and mashes it with Arthurian legend and lost technology from Atlantis. More than thirty years after it was written it is still too “experimental,” for many people’s tastes. If read with an open mind you will find an adventure story with some highly imaginative twists. It shows the roots of steampunk as literature that took genre assumptions, smashed them, and made mosaics out of the most interesting bits.
The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers, originally published in 1983
This novel won the Philip K Dick award. It is stunningly well written. The central character is an English professor who travels back to 1810 to attend a lecture given by English poet. When he misses his return trip he must survive in City plagued by a mass murdering Egyptian god and an evil sorcerer clown. The plot snakes around like a serpent in the dark London sewers where so much of the action takes place. What is most surprising is how Powers combines a very hard science fiction approach to time travel with some of the creepiest portrayals of black magic you will find in late twentieth century writing. It’s worth noting that while Jeter grouped this book with his “Victorian fantasies” it is actually set in the last year of the reign George III.
Homunculus by James Blaylock, originally published in 1986
This is the first book about Professor Langdon St Ives and his archenemy the wicked Dr Narbondo. It involves a ghostly dirigible, undead slaves resurrected with fish guts, a stranded space alien and lots of Laphroaig whiskey. Blaylock writes with a dry absurdity that seems very English especially when coupled with his Victorian wording. One of my favorite scenes is when the Trismegistus Club debates what to do while smoking and drinking to the point of incompetence. Not exactly the behavior of heroes but a brilliant satire of the chattering classes.
Infernal Devices: A Mad Victorian Fantasy by K. W. Jeter, originally published in 1987
Not to be confused with Philip Reeve’s or Cassandra Clare’s later works by the same name. Jeter’s Infernal Devices is one of the funniest steampunk books ever written. The central character, George Dower is a hapless English “every man” character comparable to Arthur Dent in Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. All sorts of absurd things happen to Mr. Dower until the madcap plot is tied together with an elaborate dig about Victorian sexual repression. This was the first novel in the genre to heavily feature clockwork technology but there are elements of pure fantasy as well.


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review 2016-01-21 00:00
Behold the Man
Behold the Man - Michael Moorcock «The madman, the prophet, Karl Glogauer, the time-traveler, the neurotic psychiatrist manque, the searcher for meaning, the masochist, the man with a death-wish' and the messiah-complex, the anachronism, made his way into the synagogue gasping for breath. He had seen the man he had sought. He had seen Jesus, the son of Joseph and Mary. He had seen a man he recognized without any doubt as a congenital imbecile.»

from chapter four
Behold the man
by Michael Moorcock
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