DISCLAIMER: The Review was requested by Oliver Brackenbury, editor of New Edge Sword and Sorcery and I also donated to the Kickstarter for Issues 1 and 2 of the Magazine. Journalistic Integrity maintained.
More details, including how to pre-order to the fully funded can be found on https://newedgeswordandsorcery.com/
The publishing industry isn’t what it used to be. Especially when it comes to the magazine industry.
How many of the writers who defined Speculative Fiction in all its many facets like Asimov, Heinlein and Lovecraft allowed to hone their craft and ideas in the pulp magazines? Would Harlan Ellison have been able to craft each of his personal Dangerous Visions? While short-form fiction still has its avenues in both magazine and podcast form, it is far from the heyday of the format where everything your jobbing writer needed to survive was the creative drives fueled by 10 cents a word? As publishing houses expand into larger corporate monopolies, the avenues and opportunities for writers contract, especially in the most important market of all-the new generation of writers, especially those who wish to evoke the pulpier areas of the genre. When I was first considering writing my own adventures and universes, the only avenue a young man from England had was Interzone, a renowned magazine, but far more directed towards the New-Wave SF than Golden Age.
I first heard about New Edge Sword and Sorcery Magazine on an episode of the Michael Moorcock flavoured Podcast- ‘Breakfast in the Ruins’ (https://breakfastintheruins.com/category/podcast/) where Brackenbury was promoting the forthcoming Kickstarter while also talking about the Fall 2022 Issue 0 edition of the magazine. By the time the podcast was finished, I had already ordered a physical copy and was looking forward to seeing what the Kickstarter has to offer. I was intrigued by Brackbury’s desire to hearken back and evoke the pulpy blood and thunder of Sword and Sorcery by also combined with the inclusivity of the modern-day zeitgeist.
And the magazine honestly delivers on its mission statement.
The six stories presented in the magazine spread an incredibly wide range of style’s and tones, each one bringing something different to the table than the others, each separate courses of a meal (or a sorcerer’s spell) that work together to show an audience, both old and new to sword and sorcery that there is so much that can be done within this particular genre of fantasy without merely succumbing to a nostalgic idea of what S&S is believed to be, a mighty-thewed tapestry of childhood moments spread across well-thumbed Elric paperbacks and Conan pastiches where blood spills without hesitation, the breasts are heaving and the heroes grim and mighty. Of the six stories, I felt that Vapors of Zinai by J. M Clarke was my personal favourite with its strong willed hero caught up in a battle of wills between Priests and Priestesses, but showing a heavy influence of Egyptian history and with its hero Kyembe of Sengazi making a strong and distinctive impression (why are his eyes so strikingly crimson? I really hope that Clarke has more adventures for Kyembe in store for us, because I really wanted to know more about this character and what he’ll do in future) and this story did leave me laughing with its fantastic last line. The Ember Inside by Remco van Straten and Angeline B. Adams with its tale of a woman trapped in a life she never wanted, while dreaming of another just forever laid out of reach by the whims of another until some small form of freedom is taken in the only way it can ever be taken in these tales, in blood. David C. Smith’s Old Moon over Irukad gives us something very strongly honed and familiar with the Howard-ian tradition, but Smith never leaves us feeling that we’ve just sat through a mere pastiche and what starts as a theft planned in a tavern turns into a bloody face-off. (If someone out there with the publishing clout reads this, can you please reprint the Red Sonja novels he wrote with Richard L. Tierny back in the 70s? It’d make the Amazon scalpers unhappy, but that’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make on their behalf!) The opening tale The Curse of the Horsetail Banner by Dariel R.A Quiogue which opens our fiction selection is a furiously quick-paced story which leaves me wanting more with its lead, deposed Orhan Timur is pulled into a fight for survival on his nomadic quest for vengeance. The story I really had the most difficulty with was The Beast of the Shadow-Gum Trees by T.K Rex, but only because it felt more Fantasy than S&S and not along the lines of what I may have been anticipating at the time of read, but it was still home to some wonderfully evocative language and description with its tale of mourning and change. The wonderful thing about fiction is that in three to six months, you can pick something back up, read it again and your mind is now open to the story’s spell, the change might not always be just in the tale to be read, but also in the changes of the reader. On the whole, most of these stories left me wanting more of these characters and exploits.
As much as I loved the stories, I feel for me, where the magazine really shone was in its non-fiction section, with its articles on C.L Moore’s Jirel of Joiry stories (Her and Northwest Smith are perpetually on my ‘one day, one day I’ll get to them where pulp is concerned’) and it was great to see an overview of those stories, included too was an essay on Robert E. Howard’s swords woman stories, but the best was the transcribed interview with Milton Davis from Brackenbury’s podcast ‘So I’m Writing a Novel,’ talking about Sword and Soul, while I’m familiar with Charles R. Saunders and his Imaro books, I’ve never heard of ‘Sword and Soul,’ where sword and sorcery is infused with African History and Tradition as a sort of Fantasy equivalent to Afrofuturism and Davis’ passion and knowledge of the genre shone through with his words and I definitely found myself taking notes for who to check out. Honestly, I think that’s where the magazine’s non-fiction works at his best, we’ve debated and analyzed Conan to the Hyborian Age and back and if we can get more work of this caliber that serves to illuminate audiences to the tributaries and backstreets of the S&S genre.
My only criticism really boils down to the magazine’s layout and even then, its far more of a personal preference to have Fiction and Non-Fiction alternate to allow for more reading variety if you’re sitting down to read the magazine in a contained sitting, but also fully admit that keeping Fiction and Non-Fiction make up alternating halves of the physical magazine probably allows it to be easier to flip to over just leafing through the pages to find what you’re looking for, but that is the honest smallest of personal quibbles. As a test run for the magazine proper, Brackenbury has chosen his collaborators well to showcase what can be done going forward for a self-published periodical. Showing us the old traditions and how we can look back, but also look forward to what can pulp can say and I can’t wait to see what will waiting for us in Issue One.
Speculative Fiction, hell, all fiction, all art will look back to the past, taking this and that to remix it with today’s viewpoints and art to bring back old dreams with things much new to say, if the New Wave was about taking Asimov and Heinlein and slamming them against Burroughs and the horrors of the Vietnam war, what potential is there to bring Sword and Sorcery up to the present literary scene of N.K Jemisin at a time in our history where the Priest-Kings walk among us as the velvet tongued tech-bros are readying their power as the world burns around us?
We don’t need pastiches, ironic or otherwise, we need to re-invoke and reinvigorate the blood and thunder of the pulps, maybe just as much as in the real world as in our dreams.