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Fantacollana: Italy’s Take on the Swords & Sorcery Canon of the Seventies

Moreno Roncucci has written in on yesterday’s post:

Listing a “canon” at that time for Italy was really easy: there was a single publisher that published fantasy, in a single publishing line. That publisher had free rein, with no competitor, to publish the best authors of the past 50 years (Sword and Sorcery as a genre was totally unknown in Italy until the 70s, apart from a few things published in sf magazines).

This is a list of the book that publisher published in that line, as a “best of the best” of Sword and Sorcery

For someone looking for independent confirmation that Gary Gygax was not completely “out there” with his Appendix N list, this is huge. And those that have been campaigning for Clark Ashton Smith, C. L. Moore, and Gene Wolfe’s inclusion into Appendix N will be glad to see their names right next to these giants:

  • Poul Anderson
  • L. Sprague de Camp
  • L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt
  • Lin Carter
  • Robert E. Howard
  • Fritz Leiber
  • Sterling E. Lanier
  • Abraham Merritt
  • Michael Moorcock
  • Jack Vance
  • Roger Zelazny

Missing of course are Cthulhu Mythos pioneers Lovecraft and Derleth, planetary romance by Edgar Rice Burroughs and Leigh Brackett, fantasy classics from Lord Dunsany, science fiction by Stanley Weinbaum, Jack Williamson and Fredric Brown, and completely freaky stuff like Margaret St. Clair’s work. But that’s understandable. I regret not seeing Andre Norton’s Witch World stories here… but seeing A. Merritt in this company more than makes up for that.

The takeaway here is that, eleven out of then twenty-nine of the authors on Gygax’s list would have easily been considered to be representative of the all time best of the sword and sorcery genre during the seventies. That’s not bad for a moderately-educated insurance salesman from Wisconsin!

8 responses to “Fantacollana: Italy’s Take on the Swords & Sorcery Canon of the Seventies

  1. Moreno R. November 3, 2015 at 10:46 am

    Hi! Lovecraft and Deleth were published, but as horror fiction. Stanley Weinbaum, Jack Williamson, Fredric Brown and Leigh Brackett were published in sf magazines (as any other “planetary romance” novels. Williamson in particular at the time was big in sf magazines, and everything did he did ended up there.
    For another example, Andre Norton’s Witch World stories WERE published, by the same publisher, but in another line, dedicated to sf.

  2. Moreno R. November 3, 2015 at 2:37 pm

    I don’t know what happened in the USA, but what happened to sf (and Sword and Sorcery at the time was still definitively considered a sf subgenre, published by the same publishing houses) in Italy is easy to explain: the death of the magazines, and the arrival of multi-volumes sagas and cyberpunk.

    Being a reader of sf in the 70s meant reading MAGAZINES. I was an avid reader of Italian sf magazines like “Robot” and “Alien” where I did read not only the stories, but essays, articles, retrospectives, biographies of the great writer of the past, reviews… you had from the start the idea that you just entered a world with a canon, a list of “greats” that you “had” to know, at least by name. I began to search for old sf classics AFTER reading about them in these magazines. And finding them was really easy: they were routinely reprinted, everything was in print.

    At the end of the 70s these magazines folded, one after another. It was the big era of commercial TV in Italy, and books and magazines got hit by a sudden drop on sales. In the 80s the new readers could find a books and only books, that told you nothing at all about who the author was, who were his influences.

    I know that in the USA the sf magazines survived, but the way stories were published changed anyway: in the past, the “big cycles” like Nehwon, Elric, Conan, etc were formed by a succession of short stories, published first in magazines and later reunited in books. All the R.E.Howard Conan stories can be reprinted in a single big book (or three books with a more common page count). In the 80s this changed, and in Sword and Sorcery most of all: it was the start of the era of the “multivolume sagas”. Authors did not start with a short story, and another short story, and another… they started directly, from the beginning, with “this is the first volume in a seven-volumes sagas I am writing”.
    A lot of pages to publish, and publisher stopped routinely reprinting old books. It was all about the “new”, the “latest”. And no magazines to tell them that there was anything before.

    I have read Jeffro accuse New Wave sf, but I don’t agree. New Wave SF was born in a magazine,”New World” thet was edited by Moorcock. They were in magazines. Even if you are in polemics with the past authors and magazines, you acknowledge their existence. They talked about and to each other. I did read both, and you could find essays about Van Vogt in magazines that published Thomas Disch, and reviews about Thomas Disch in magazines that reprinted Van Vogt. And they both published often the same authors. And these magazines died together when the 80s arrived.

    In the 80s, it was the era of Cyberpunk. And I did know at the time a lot of people going ape about cyberpunk. And I heard that say (and read them write) that “nobody else had written sf about social issues before”. I was flabbergasted and asked if they had read Brunner, or Pohl. They had never heard of them. Publishing houses wanted to push the “new”, ignorant reviewers were telling these kids that “there was nothing else like this before”.
    I did lend my copy of Alfred Bester “The demolished man” to one of these kids and it blew his mind, He had absolutely no idea that this stuff existed. And hearing that this was the first novel to win a Hugo in 1953… it was totally against the construction of “the history of sf” in his mind.
    Probably it’s not right to blame cyberpunk on this. It was simply “the new thing” to sell to kids, and to sell things to kids you have to tell them, after the 80s, that is totally NOT like in the 70s (these kids are taught that the only thing that happened in the 70s were disco e bell trousers). But I have still a strong antipathy against cyberpunk for that.
    And in fantasy, I can’t stand people who start writing “the first volume of this multi-volumes saga”. If they can’t write short fiction, they are not good authors.

    • Cirsova November 3, 2015 at 4:35 pm

      Brunner is probably the oldest thing I’ve read that could’ve been considered “cyberpunk”, even though some of it is rather silly and dated (the super-programmers who could write millions of lines of flawless code), but with the number of Firesign Theatre “cyberpunk”, hacker and dystopian sci-fi comedy albums in the late 60s and early 70s, the notion of 80s cyberpunk being this new and cutting edge genre is kind of laughable. Hell, “I Think We’re All Bozos on this Bus” came out in 71; though the Brunner I’ve read was from earlier, it was still in the vein of “computers are wizardry” while Bozos actually used specific examples of contemporary code and input commands… to disable a robot Nixon.

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