East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Slapdash & Sorcery

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I’m back online for good, and to celebrate I’m doing three related posts on my three blogs.
The first post is already up on GreyWorld, the next is going up later, in Italian, on strategie evolutive.
Let’s say I’m doing a blog tour of my own blogs.

wwrAnd I mentioned the late Sir Terry Pratchett, on GreyWorld.
I love Pratchett’s Discworld novels – I loved them ever since I read about Pratchett in Michael Moorcock‘s Wizardry and Wild Romance, and decided to check this new writer out.
And if it’s true that the Italian versions of The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic were seriously unfunny due to some translation problems, as soon as I started reading Terry Pratchett in English, it was a cartload of laughs.
But not only that.
Which leads to the true topic of this post.

Terry Pratchett was an excellent writer.
He wrote good.
He used the right words and put them in the right order.
The same can be said for an awful lot of other writers in the fantasy genre – I might just mention Harlan Ellison, Fritz Leiber, Jack Vance, Gene Wolfe or Roger Zelazny.
But there’s a lot of excellent prose that’s been produced by fantasy autors out there.
Clark Ashton Smith has written some beautiful prose, and at his best Robert E. Howard not only was a master of action and imagination, but also a damn fine wordsmith.

And despite what some might think, in recent years the quality bar has been lifted higher – quite simply, because it’s hard to compete with the great old masters, and to come to the top of the field you have to write good.
And a lot of beautifully written fantasy – and sword & sorcery in particular – is being published right now.
And I like this very much – not as a fantasy writer, but as a fantasy reader.
Because ok, as a writer I know I’ll have to work hard, and I must rely on my beta readers and editors to cover my back and help me get better, just to have a chance to compete…
But as a reader… ah, the pleasure of reading stories that are not just great fun, and filled with adventure, larger than life heroes and heroines and thrilling, exotic locales, but that are also beautifully written!

And yet… and yet…
Today I stumbled once again on a sorry piece of badly written sword & sorcery.
Nothing tragic, mind you – wooden sentences, unfunny jokes, dialogues that set one’s teeth on edge, the occasional syntax blunder. Just the sort of first draft stuff that would benefit from the attentions of a good editor.
Only it was published – with a very nice cover! – after being vetted, apparently, by four beta readers and one editor.
And it is ok.
No, not for me, but for the general public, that apparently is ready to accept such slapdash job because “Hey, it’s sword & sorcery! It’s supposed to be poorly written!”
It’s pulp!
And pulp is considered, evidently, a synonym of bad.

This is the sort of thing that really gets to me.
It is not supposed to be poorly written, because it is not supposed to be rubbish.
Some of the best English language prose was printed in the pulps.
Some of the worst, too? Granted!
But why adopt the worst as a standard?
Yeah, right – probably because using the best as a standard would be too hard.
The alternative, the only alternative that comes to my mind, is, if possible, even sadder – these people that cherish (and write!) such crud are basically unable to tell the difference.
They are unable to recognize good, well-polished writing from a badly written, unedited first draft.
This is scary.

And really, as someone that tries to write some sword & sorcery that tries to be, if not great literature, at least honestly written, nicely edited prose, this state of affairs is really getting to me.
And as a reader, too, I feel sad and depressed.


Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

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