Like many of the Hotlist's readers, I grew up devouring heroic fantasy novels by the truckload. And, of course, I still love a good novel, whether it's an absorbing GRRM doorstopper or a briskly-paced yarn like Howard Andrew Jones's The Desert of Souls (Canada, USA, Europe).
But in recent years I've also discovered that there is a wealth of short-form heroic fantasy out there waiting to be read – much of it instantly and freely available to anyone with an internet connection. In the early part of the century, of course, short stories in pulp magazines were the bread-and-butter of fantasy writers – this was the native land of heroes like Conan and Fafhrd & the Grey Mouser. Some of this amazing work has found its way into reprints and electronic formats (the excellent Conan novella “Red Nails”, for instance, is available in a free Kindle edition).
But for decades now, novels have been the dominant form in fantasy. That doesn't look to be changing anytime soon – and, as a guy who writes fantasy novels as well as short stories, I'm ok wit that. But there *is* a significant if sometimes under-the-radar renaissance of heroic fantasy and sword-and-sorcery short stories happening right now. The best of these works offer readers great pace, punchy prose, and glimpses of fantastic new worlds. What's more, they allow busy readers to enjoy the satisfying sense of a beginning, middle, and end in around 20 pages – and to get a foretaste of a writer's work without committing to an entire series of 400-page novels.
Anthologies like the excellent Swords and Dark Magic (Canada, USA, Europe) feature some of the top names in the field (Erikson, Lynch, Abercrombie, Moorcock, Nix, Cook). And writers like Peter V. Brett have produced collections of short works set in their bestselling worlds (The Great Bazaar and Other Stories, Brayan's Gold). But there are also some great short story ezines out there publishing the next generation of heroic fantasy writers: Heroic Fantasy Quarterly has made it their mission to bring back the pulp era with unabashedly larger-than-life adventures. Black Gate (the magazine where James Enge's awesome Morlock Ambrosius got his start) is also working hard to revive the sense of wonder that heroes like Conan and John Carter of Mars used to evoke in readers. And Beneath Ceaseless Skies specializes in what the editor calls 'literary adventure fantasy' – stories that combine excellent prose and psychological depth with fantasy elements like alchemists, samurai, werewolves, and talking swords.
We all love the familiar fare offered in seven-course epic fantasy banquets. But whether your tastes are for yesteryear's classics, today's masters, or tomorrow's superstars, remember that ass-kicking fantasy also comes in appetizer portions – and that some of it is damn tasty! --------------------------
Saladin Ahmed has been a finalist for the Nebula Award for Best Short Story, the Harper's Pen Award for best Sword and Sorcery/Heroic Fantasy Short Story, and the Campbell Award for Best New Science Fiction or Fantasy Writer. His short fiction has appeared in numerous magazines and podcasts, and his first fantasy novel THRONE OF THE CRESCENT MOON is forthcoming from DAW Books in 2012. His website is www.saladinahmed.com