I was intrigued to read about this bit of news from star editor and all-round Top Bloke, Lou Anders. It got me thinking about the differences between Swords and Sorcery Fantasy, and Epic Fantasy. I think there’s a distinction to make.
Epic Fantasy for me has multi-stranded plots, huge amounts of movement, deep worldbuilding, and is very much a complex beast. Writers such as Steven Erikson and George R R Martin etc have moved things on significantly in recent years. They are much more intelligent than many of the Tolkien clones of the 80s and 90s. They have matured, and the movement has gone on.
Swords and Sorcery may differ in that it’s much more lo-fi, less of the huge complexity (but not intellectually so) with an eye back to pulp-retro classics. Maybe it’s more fun and doesn’t take itself as seriously in some cases. Writers such as Abercombie, and Scott Lynch, are two of the more popular writers being labelled in this style. (But would they even see themselves in this category?)
The question of has Swords and Sorcery ever gone away is interesting. In bookstores, where the majority of people buy their fantasy books (let’s not forget this, not these online discussions we have), this distinction has never been there. There is fantasy or science fiction or horror.
Sub-genres are sometimes a case of who can be more anal, but in this case, I don’t think it has gone away. There have always been lo-fi fantasy novels on the shelves in lower numbers, they just never saw past the domination of bigger, Epic Fantasy titles.
Because that’s where the money is.
I think the review coverage online is skewing our treatment of these books to consider them as a significant movement. If we were to analyze book sales data (which I couldn’t really put online), I suspect the picture would be different, and the movement would be more difficult to see. And I for one would see those S&S writers I mentioned above treated as Epic Fantasy anyway. The term Swords and Sorcery for me is loaded with pulpiness. Whether that’s good or bad is up to you, but I’d certainly steer these aforementioned authors into more sophisticated categories.