Queer Blades/Rick Hollon, editor (Farther Trees Press, 2021): Harry Harrison wrote a fake quote attributed to Dr. Frederic Wertham in Great Balls of Fire (1977): “Conan is a crypto-homosexual and the entire school of sword-and-sorcery reflects this fact.”
Harrison was probably paraphrasing from Jan Strnad’s “The Psychological Conan” from Amra V2, #57 (June 1972). Strnad did write: “Howard would not have wanted our knowledge of Conan’s deviant sexuality to make us think less of Conan.”
Sexuality is baked into sword-and-sorcery fiction from almost the start. “The Devil in Iron” has lust as Conan’s driving force in the story.
That an anthology of LGBT themed adventure fantasy has arrived does not surprise me a bit. It is all part of the modern cultural obsession. The Farther Trees website states:
“Sword and sorcery has a lot of baggage. Its classic stories are laden with racism, sexism, homophobia, and other forms of bigotry. Those elements, obviously, are not welcome here. We want to get rid of sword & sorcery’s awfulness and instead explore its potential for awesome. Be inventive with your adventures!”
To get in the right mood, I put together a Spotify list of music by Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Pete Shelly (“Homo sapien”), Erasure, Culture Club, Wham!, and Bronski Beat.
This is not some 64 page chapbook but a full book of 247 pages divided by nine stories.
The first story, “Aurum & Indigo” is written in present tense. I don’t like that. A character is called Firecrotch. One story had a character in a tavern ask another if he was hydrating.
The majority of the stories are first person and rather naval gazing in execution. Settings are generic fantasy, maybe boilerplate vague medieval Europe. There is almost no color or pageantry. Dialogue dominates with little action. What action there is not done competently let alone well. If there is any sword-and-sorcery influence, it might be Fritz Leiber in a few stories. These sort of remind me of late period Sword & Sorceress volumes from Marion Zimmer Bradley though these are more at a fan fiction level. It was all rather meh. This has all my gripes on the lifelessness of most fantasy fiction that now goes back around 35 years. There was Janrae Frank who was in the Salmonson’s Amazons! that had an ambiguously gay female warrior duo that had some grit to it. This stuff is estrogen fantasy, even from the males.
If you are looking for Nurse Chapel and Lt. Uhura in a lesbian scene, Xena, Warrior Princess as a midnight taco, or some bathhouse Maciste peplum action, it is not here. Philip J. Farmer delivered more in the opening scene in A Feast Unknown when Tarzan gets violated
One author description has: “She’s autistic, disabled, and several different varieties of queer.” This is not so much the Village People as Land of the Misfit Toys.
These people really needed the help of Andrew Offutt in “John Cleve” mode.
Frankie says Relax!