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Todd McAulty

Exploring the Fine Art of Short Epic Fantasy

Todd: Hello, readers! We missed you, and it’s great to be back.

Howard: We didn’t actually go anywhere.

Todd: True enough. But it’s been a couple of years since we’ve collaborated on an article for the site. Those of you with long memories may remember some of our catchier titles, like “Five Classic Sword-and-Planet Sagas” and “Five Authors Who Taught Me How to Write Fantasy.” Today we’re going to continue the proud tradition of counting on our fingers by discussing the great works of short epic fantasy.

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Is Barbarian Prince the Supreme Achievement of Western Civilization?

Howard: For some reason, I’ve been thinking a lot about solitaire gaming. I’d like to say that it has something to do with so many of us staying at home, but truthfully I’ve been a solitaire gamer for several years now. This might be a good time to acquaint more people with the concept, though.

Todd: It’s a great topic, and I can’t think of anyone I’d rather discuss it with. I don’t know anyone who’s studied and enjoyed solo games with the depth you have, or come at them with such a profound appreciation of the craft of storytelling. Your search for excellence in solitaire games has inspired me over the decades, and I thank you. Let’s get started with a warm-up question: Is Barbarian Prince the supreme achievement of Western civilization?

Howard: What? No.

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Traveller: A Classic Science Fiction Simulator

Howard: So, I recently pointed Todd to a nifty-looking Kickstarter for a deep space exploration expansion for Traveller, and it got the two of us talking about what is arguably the best-known science fiction role-playing game, and one of the first.

Todd: “Arguably” is right. We were arguing, because of how wrong you are.

Howard: Future generations will decide that, my friend.

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Five Authors Who Taught Me How to Write Fantasy

Todd: Welcome back, readers. Big shout-out to all those who took the time to leave a comment or suggestion on our last articles, Five Forgotten Swordsmen and Swordswomen of Fantasy and Five Classic Sword-and-Planet Sagas.

Howard: We do everything by fives.

Todd: At least we have a system! Today, in honor of my friend Howard’s brand-new fantasy novel Upon the Flight of the Queen, which arrives in hardcover on November 19, we’re going to try something a little different. Since I have a real live fantasy author up here at the podium with me—and one whose influences are well known—we’re going to take the opportunity to look at some of the greatest fantasists of all time, and the different ways each of them teach us to write fantasy.

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Five Classic Sword-and-Planet Sagas

Todd: And we’re back! Thanks to everyone who commented on our previous post, Five Forgotten Swordsmen and Swordswomen of Fantasy! In our constant quest to improve ourselves through shorter titles, this one is called Five Classic Sword-and-Planet Sagas.

Howard: Sword-and-planet is one of my favorite genres. It is a field of unfettered imagination, and the men and women who wrote it were concerned chiefly with story and giving free rein to their imaginations. I think that makes it a unique form of fantasy, even in a body of literature that generally prides itself on imagination.

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Five Forgotten Swordsmen and Swordswomen of Fantasy

Howard: I suppose the first thing we should do is lay the groundwork. This is about FORGOTTEN fantasy swords, people—that doesn’t necessarily mean so obscure that no one’s ever heard of them, and it also doesn’t mean every sword-wielding character ever created. I’m thinking we should focus on neglected characters that ought to get discussed, celebrated, or read more often. Especially read more.

Todd: S’right.

Howard: I also think we ought to avoid characters who aren’t forgotten. Conan, say.

Todd: Dammit, there’s too many rules already. Let’s just get started.

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The Greatest Science Fiction Robots of All Time

Yesterday I got a phone call from a robot.

No kidding, a robot. If this had happened when I was 10, you never would’ve gotten me off the phone. I would have excitedly talked that robot, who’d innocently called our house to give my wife a programmed survey on politics or laundry soap or something, into a heuristic coma. Talk to a robot?? Are you kidding me? They would have had to pry the phone out of my tiny sweaty hands. I would’ve asked it a thousand questions about the future, and life as a robot, and if it had any friends from Jupiter, and ten million other things. Who wouldn’t want to talk to a robot, like, for hours?

My wife, as it turns out. “Those survey bots are annoying,” she said. They’ve been calling for months and she’s bored with them already.

Bored. With robots.

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