Sidearm & Sorcery Volume Two is out now! Get your copy here, and if you still haven’t acquired a copy of Volume One, it remains available as well, right here.
I wrote a post a while back, in anticipation of Volume One, in which I tried to define the sword and sorcery genre in order to explain how the premise of the book was S&S through the lens of urban fantasy. That holds true enough, but I recently ran across an elaboration on the subject of sword and sorcery which felt especially relevant in light of Volume Two.
In the above-mentioned post I talked about the protagonists and antagonists of sword and sorcery stories, but not the stakes. If the formula pits skilled but not supernatural heroes against more powerful, supernatural villains, does that make Lord of the Rings a sword and sorcery story? Gandalf is a wizard and Aragorn is a member of the long-lived Dunedain, but Frodo and Sam are the ultimate everyman characters. However, Lord of the Rings is high fantasy because Frodo and Sam go on a quest to destroy the most powerful weapon in the world, to prevent a diabolical evil force from conquering the entire world, and coincidentally help restore a royal dynasty and bring about the end of one age and dawning of another.
Sword and sorcery has far less to do with the fate of all existence or the preservation of life as we know it, or global politics, or the sweep of history. The S&S protagonist fights against the odds for mere survival, and the stories unfold on a smaller, more personal scale. Whether the hero carries the day or succumbs, the larger world will continue on its own trajectory, unbothered.
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy both high fantasy and sword and sorcery, and just about every other speculative subgenre out there. But I was struck by this observation about the lower stakes of S&S in particular when considering my own story, “Personal Mythologies”, which has a distinct lack of capital-E Evil and reality-shattering consequences. I might have attributed this solely to my conception of Kellan Oakes as a low-key, somewhat lazy individual who often gets caught up in the weird, but as it turns out it’s perfectly appropriate for a sidearm and sorcery protagonist.