Tag: fantasy

No Silver, No Swiss

“No silver, no Swiss,” commented Gian Trivulzio, a Milanese Condottiero during the Italian Wars. He was talking about the Swiss Mercenaries that served in the armies of the Italian City States. They were expensive and often sieges and sacks depended on the city’s ability to pay foreign soldiers.

A more recent quote “Amateurs talk about tactics, but professionals study logistics,” quoted to Gen. Robert H. Barrow, Commandant of the USMC.

The bravest warriors and the stoutest horses can’t fight without food and water. The most advanced military weapons can’t be operated without fuel and spare parts. Men can’t march without boots. Supplies can’t be used unless they arrive at the right place at the right time. Military supply and logistics is often if not the most important aspect of battle behind fate itself.

Yet so many fantasy and science fiction novels completely hand wave this critical aspect of military operations. Fantasy fiction is often the most grievous violator of basic common sense. Massive armies march across barren lands. Foot soldiers willing to leave their homes to die for whatever cause, yet pay is never mentioned, supplies never shown, equipment that in reality would cost a lifetime to acquire is just magically handed out.

The Cost of Infantry

During the Renaissance

Sergeants -5 Ducats per month

Corporals -3 Ducats per month

Pikemen -3 Ducats per month

Musketeers -3 Ducats per month

The Renaissance at War by Thomas F. Arnold

The above is in Venetian Ducats, one of Europe’s most popular and traded form of currency. While exact value and buying power is hard to pin down. You can approximate based on known sources. For example, Leonardo DaVinci and Michelangelo earned about 100-300 Ducats a year. Michelangelo earned up to 450 per statue, and he was a superstar.

The Ducal Palace in Urbino built by Federico da Montefeltro was estimated at 100,000 Ducats when it was first built. The richest Medici had savings of 200,000 and up.

Ducal Palace Urbino

Your average army had about 20,000 infantry, so you are looking at 60,000 Ducats per month in wages alone, ignoring food, water, clothing, and you know.. the really expensive aspects of an army, cavalry and artillery.

Emperor Charles V during the Schmalkaldic War took 54 artillery pieces, 10 of them were full cannon. A full cannon weighed 10,000 lbs, required 21 horses to move, and cost about 1,310 ducats. The price does not factor in the horses, carriage, spare parts, iron balls, and the wages of the 20 or so artillery men assigned to each gun.

Warfare was, and still is, monumentally expensive.

A Brightness Long Ago by Guy Gavriel Kay

The sailors say the rain misses the cloud even as it falls through light or dark into the sea. I miss her like that as I fall through my life, through time, the chaos of our time. I dream of her some nights, still, but there is nothing to give weight or value to that, it is only me, and what I want to be true. It is only longing.

A Brightness Long Ago by Guy Gavriel Kay

I discovered Guy Gavriel Kay several years ago when I returned to Fantasy. Originally I started reading A Song of Ice and Fire but quickly became burned out on the nihilism and onslaught of negativity in those books. Yes, the world is dark and often people are cruel, and nasty. But the world is also beautiful and people can be surprisingly selfless, heroic, and noble. More often than not people can be both cruel and selfless, both heroic and nasty.

After almost giving up on Fantasy because I didn’t want to read nihilistic grimdark or the bloated door stoppers focused on magical power systems, I stumbled on Guy Gavriel Kay’s Tigana and fell in love with Fantasy all over again. Here was a modern writer that wrote beautiful literary fantasy with a depth of emotion not found anywhere else.

Kay’s novels are poetically written historical fantasies. Worlds and characters in fantasy worlds slightly different but recognizable. His poetic writing and focus on theme over plot give his novels an almost impressionistic feel, full of sorrowful and nostalgic moods invoking a hazy watercolor like experience.

Some of his past novels that I consider some of my personal favorite, are The Lions of Al-Rassan and A Song for Arbonne. The first takes place in a fantasy version of Andalusia during the Reconquista. Lions is as story about war, love, friendship, and loyalty, in a world that is ceasing to exist. The latter, and my favorite, is set in a Fantasy version of south-western France somewhat inspired by the Cathars and the Albigensian Crusade. A mercenary from the north becomes involved in a web of war and politics involving the Troubadour culture of the Arabonne’s Court of Love.

I read a lot of Kay’s novels but my interest in his work began to taper once he switched his focus away from European inspired work and began writing several novels based on Chinese Dynasties, a historical subject I don’t have much interest in. But, randomly I came across news that he was about to release a new work, a novel set in a Fantasy version of Renaissance Italy, which has been my historical obsession for the past year. I pre-ordered right away.

A Brightness Long Ago might be my Kay’s best novel to date. A thematically complex work focused on memory and the intersection of choice and fate. Our main character is Guidanio Cerra, a well educated son of a tailor now a powerful member of Seressa’s(Fantasy Venice) ruling council. He mournfully recalls his youth where his life crossed paths with two powerful feuding Condottiere Folco d’Acrosi and Teobaldo Monticola di Remigio, and the fateful events surrounding their final confrontation.

Guidanio’s recollections are written in conversational first person and filled with his philosophical and religious musings on memory, love, fate, and will. But other characters and sections are written in third person, giving us a complex and satisfying view of the personalities populating this world.

The beauty of this novel is not in the plot, which is painted with broad strokes, but in the interconnected depth of characters and in the theme of fate and choice. Several times in the novel minor characters make small, seemingly inconsequential choices that turn out to have life changing consequences in later chapters.

What I personally loved is the lack of linear logic in the chain of events. Sometimes things just happen. People just die. People get sick. People make irrational decisions that lead to catastrophic results. Sometimes your favorite loses the race and you go home. Sometimes the heroes don’t answer the call. Sometimes you luck out and win. Maybe the person you randomly meet is ends up being the love of your life, or maybe not, and you quickly forget each other.

As humans we tend to think of our lives, the past, history, as a logical linear progression and our brains invent a connected narrative. But, real life isn’t like that, the narrative is always tacked on with hindsight. The future is hard to predict due to the vagaries of fate and choice. A Brightness Long Ago captures this like no novel I’ve read before. For the first time in awhile I was actually surprised at some of the events without it feeling contrived.

The setting is beautiful and full of depth and the characters, from the major players to the minor ones that only stay with you for a few paragraphs are perfectly written. Connoisseurs of Italian Renaissance history will recognize Kay’s fantasy stand ins for the city-states, the mercenaries, the Medici, the Popes, and numerous other Renaissance personalities like Michelangelo. The world has a magical quality but also feels real and more complex than fantasy worlds developed over numerous novels.

A Brightness Long Ago is a fantastic, beautiful, and elegant novel. The perfect mix of literary and fantastic writing. A novel that goes beyond plot, exploring complex theme, yet doesn’t sacrifice character, adventure, and magic. I have a feeling it stay at the top of my favorites for a long time.

Pre-Tolkien Challenge: The Sword of Welleran

PreTolkien

I decided to start the challenge by going back to the beginning of the 20th century by reading Lord Dunsany’s The Sword of Welleran. Edward Plunkett, 18th Baron of Dunsany, is considered by many the father of modern fantasy and credited as a major influence by Lovecraft, Tolkien, Howard, and even contemporary writers like Neil Gaiman.Dunsaney

The Sword of Welleran is his most popular short story and hands down one of the best, if not the best fantasy short stories I have ever read. These past two weeks I went back and re-read it several times and even listened to an audio version. Lovecraft said that Dunsany was the greatest prose writer of the day, after reading this story I agree.

The Sword of Welleran is about a magnificent city, a city of pure beauty, the city of Merimna.

I have never seen a city in the world so beautiful as Merimna seemed to me when first I dreamed of it. It was a marvel of spires and figures of bronze, and marble fountains, and trophies of fabulous wars, and broad streets given over wholly to the Beautiful. Right through the centre of the city there went an avenue fifty strides in width, and along each side of it stood likenesses in bronze of the Kings of all the countries that the people of Merimna had ever known.

It was a proud city built by war and protected by its ferocious and honorable heroes, Welleran, Soorenard, Mommolek, Rollory, Akanax, and young Iraine. Heroes that now are long dead and the current inhabitants have become ignorant about the art of war. They wonder the magnificent streets dreaming about the ancient ways, dressed like the warriors of the past, but in fear of the outside world.

But there was one young boy,

He was five years old, and they stood before the great glass casket wherein lay the sword of Welleran, and his mother said: “The sword of Welleran.” And Rold said: “What should a man do with the sword of Welleran?” And his mother answered: “Men look at the sword and remember Welleran.” And they went on and stood before the great red cloak of Welleran, and the child said: “Why did Welleran wear this great red cloak?” And his mother answered: “It was the way of Welleran.”

He dreamt of Welleran and the heroes, and he dreamt of a time when men were brave and defended Merimna.

Outside the city walls, the old enemies congregated, they began to realize that the heroes were gone, that no real men lived in Merimna that could stand up to their hordes. So they came, they came in the night.

Then the sun set, and it was the hour when the bats and the dark creatures are abroad and the lions come down from their lairs, and the desert robbers go into the plains again, and fevers rise up winged and hot out of chill marshes, and it was the hour when safety leaves the thrones of Kings, the hour when dynasties change.

Check out that line, wow, it sent chills down my spine. The short story ends in with a magnificent and moving climax that left me feeling completely inadequate about my writing.

But most of all it made me think about heroism, honor, duty, home, country, and family. This short, 10,000-word story moved me. Published in 1908 yet completely applicable today. Merimna, a beautiful culture built by honorable strong men whos descendants enjoy its glory but have forgotten how to lift a sword in her defense from the hordes of barbarians outside ready to plunder.

The theme of a magnificent martial civilization in decline is all over Tolkiens work. Gondor is Merimna, and the theme of having to embrace the violence a hero abhors to protect your home.

At the end of Welleran you have this amazing line, one of the greatest in all fantasy literature:

And Rold said: “O sword, sword! How horrible thou art! Thou art a terrible thing to have come among men. How many eyes shall look upon gardens no more because of thee? How many fields must go empty that might have been fair with cottages, white cottages with children all about them? How many valleys must go desolate that might have nursed warm hamlets, because thou hast slain long since the men that might have built them? I hear the wind crying against thee, thou sword! It comes from the empty valleys. It comes over the bare fields. There are children’s voices in it. They were never born. Death brings an end to crying for those that had life once, but these must cry for ever. O sword! sword! why did the gods send thee among men?” And the tears of Rold fell down upon the proud sword but could not wash it clean.

This line is echoed years later in Lord of the Rings, spoken by Faramir:

“War must be, while we defend our lives against a destroyer who would devour all; but I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I love only that which they defend.”

I honestly came to the challenge and expected to read a few fun stories, sword and sorcery types. Instead, I read Dunsany and everything I thought I knew about fantasy was demolished. I’ve spent the last two weeks devouring his work and won’t stop until I’m done with everything I can find. Reading modern fantasy without going back to Dunsany is like eating just a bit of frosting and some sprinkles instead of the whole magnificent piece of cake.

So, stop what you are doing, put on some headphones, turn some music on, and read Sword of Welleran.

But I’m warning you, once you dive into greatness modern junk becomes unbearable. Trying to read shit like Crapfuss after Dunsany will feel like a teenager listening to Britney Spears after discovering The Ramones.

 

Pre-Tolkien Fantasy Challange Roundup: Part II

PreTolkien

We are on week three of the Pre-Tolkien Challenge and the whole adventure has been very successful. A lot of great people have joined up and written about their favorite fantasy work from a great era of fiction. Check some of it here in the Pre-Tolkien Challenge Roundup: Part I.

Reading the classics of Fantasy and Science Fiction, writing about the great stories and great authors, and having good discussions is critical now more than ever. The relentless Cult of Resentment is constantly attacking every single pillar of our civilization and culture. Today the festering anal fissure of science fiction and fantasy Tor.com vomited another “problematic” book burning screed where the author flat out said that Lovecraft should never be recommended and that Tolkien makes him uncomfortable. Read the garbage here.

Of course once you look deeper you realize that the writer of the piece is a fantasy author himself. A creepy, balding, gummy creep with a pedoface like no other. He shits on the classics, shits on Tolkien and then hustles creepy cheap Narnia ripoff YA. Described by Kirkus “paid” reviews as “Madeline is white and blonde, Jason is Chinese-American, and their culturally diverse friend group in the Sunlit Lands includes an Apsáalooke and a Native Hawaiian boy. For Narnia fans who enjoy heavy snark, this is a must-read.”Check that part out Narnia fans who enjoy heavy SNARK. 

These two bit poverty pimp hustlers want to memory-hole and destroy the greats of our genre and replace their work with their own cheap soulless garbage. This example being Tor.com is appropriate, after all, Tor is the home of John Scalzi, the scribe of resentment who made a career rewriting Hadelman, Heinlein, Herbert, and Piper, but snarky. Fuck snarky. Nobody likes snarky. The snarky teenage girl trope was invented by pedo 80s movie writers. It isn’t real except maybe in the damaged mind of former child actors.

So, yes fellow pulp warriors. This isn’t just a fun exercise where we blog about our favorite stories. This is us taking the field against enemies that hate everything we love.

So, without further commentary, check out these posts:

Once again, these posts are awesome. I’m sure I’ve missed a few, so I will go through all my Twitter mentions and comments, and I have a few more of my own pending. Lets keep the conversation going. Lets talk about what made the old pulps and the old writers great. Because if we don’t we cede the ground to people like the Tor crowd who are hell bent on tearing down and destroying.

 

Pre-Tolkien Fantasy Challenge Roundup: Part I

PreTolkien

The Pre-Tolkien Challenge got started two days ago and there’s already been a great response. Some great conversation across blogs and on twitter. Exactly what I was looking for. Creating an interlinked community of like-minded people sharing our love for classic fantasy and discussing what made the old works fantastic and how to apply it to new fiction, is exactly what our community needs. Keep the posts coming and keep the discussion floating.

The Challenge

Completed Challenge:

Things I Like

Paul Lucas

Jeffro Johnson

Jon Mollison: Algernon Blackwood

Adventures Fantastic: William Morris 

Eldritch Paths: Clark Ashton Smith

Participants Taking up the Sword:

Adventures Fantastic

Jon Mollison

Woelf Dietrich

Fletcher A. Vredenburgh

Jeffro goes hard and opens up some great discussion on Tolkien being a man of his time, and comparing him to the more authentic and pure writing of Lord Dunsany. You’re going to have to follow the Twitter for that conversation if you are interested.

Keep them coming, and share this post and the challenge so we can get a lot of reviews. Let me know if I missed anyone and when you do complete your reviews tag me so I can compile.