Epic Fantasy

I’ve been reading Footfall by Niven and Pournelle lately. It’s the second joint of theirs that I’ve read, the other being Mote in God’s Eye.

The conclusion I’ve come to is that they’re basically writing epic fantasy where they namecheck Carl Sagan.

>multiple POV
>world/empire-spanning action
>epic fate of the world stuff
>monsters and magic

One of the places where these works are different from most l’epic fantasies is that they’re self-contained works. You get all of your heroes, villains, factions and whatnot, and you get your complete story, beginning, middle, and end in one go.

Lately, there has been some very loud complaining that the market seems to be shifting against Epic Fantasy, and the blame is, naturally, being put on people like Martin, Rothfuss, and Jordan. Yes, sometimes authors never finish their foreverlong series cuz they get lazy or don’t have an ending planned and find they’ve written themselves into an inescapable corner. Other times, authors die, leaving their story to be completed by others.

But there’s also a general shift, I think, in what readers are wanting: stories with payoff. It’s not just a question of whether a series will finish, it’s a question of will it stick the landing and make the lead-up worth the investment. If a series goes for 5 books, and the ending sucks, readers might feel cheated by their investment in the previous 4 volumes. It’s been speculated that one reason Martin can’t finish his series is that he realizes he can’t offer any satisfying payoff in a series that was about destroying tropes and expectations of Epic Fantasies.

Conventional wisdom has been “Write long series to boost your numbers and milk the fans of your series.” There’s an assumption, with some data to back it up, that standalone books are harder to market than series, in part because series can build momentum.

But momentum is not exclusive to series: telling good stories and establishing a solid track record builds momentum, too. Michael Crichton only wrote one sequel, and he likely whiffed it to not become the series guy. Dick Francis’s stories were mostly standalone, though thematically tied. Tony Hillerman’s mysteries are part of a series, but they’re all standalone stories. There are not intense debates over the read order of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple books.

While everyone loves Tolkien, and some will go out of their way to posit him as a herculean be-all, end-all of fantasy, one of the examples no one wants to follow is “write your story first.” Tolkien submitted Lord of the Rings as a complete work which his publisher broke into separate volumes due to the length. He did not write the first 20% of a story and hope it did well enough to justify writing the other 80%. But no, some would argue, it’s impossible to expect that authors wanting to follow in Tolkien’s footsteps, these hypothetical “Tolkien 2s” as some writers have referred to them, follow their idol’s example and write their whole damn story before asking for reader buy-in.

While it’s taken awhile for us to roll out Mongoose & Meerkat serially, it was actually brought to us as a finished work. It could’ve been published as a single doorstopper volume, but it worked out better for us, and hopefully for Jim, to publish the stories first serially in the magazine and then as collections as the serialization progressed. But the series has been in the can since at least 2017, and we’ve had the full publication arrangements for it in place since at least 2019.

Wild Stars is a bit of a different animal, and I think that the realities of today’s market is what makes it a tougher sell for us. While Wild Stars is unfinished, we stepped in as publisher VERY late in its history [nearly 35 years in, to be exact], yet 2/3s of the Wild Stars in print now has been both written and published in the last 4-5 years. If anything, our own publication schedule has been slowing Michael down since his retirement, but we can only manage serializing and publishing one Wild Stars book a year. This year, we begin serialization of the 7th installment, collection of the 6th, and Michael has already shown me the draft for the 8th book in the series. While most of the Wild Stars adventures work as stand-alone stories, the length and history of the series, not to mention the drastic shift in mediums might make entry into the series somewhat daunting for new readers.

However, if you are waiting for Wild Stars to be finished before committing to the series, please know that I do not think you are, as one FamousTM Epic Fantasy writer so recently put it, an “entitled little shit.” Instead, let me say that I hope that you will check out the series when it is finished, which should be around 2028 at this rate. By then, we will probably have 3 coffee table omnibus collections, each collecting four volumes of Wild Stars. If you’re wanting to give the series a shot now, however, you can pick the first omnibus up for $68 + S&H if you use the promo code WELCOME15 at checkout.

Or, if you just don’t like huge sprawling epics or even series at all, we invite you to check out Misha Burnett’s upcoming anthology, Small Worlds, or his Chinaski Award-nominated An Atlas of Bad Roads (audiobook coming soon), Erik Rugar, or Endless Summer.

A Letter to Epic Fantasy Writers: Get over yourself, you’re not all that.

Misha Burnet shares his thoughts on the “Epic Fantasy” [foreverlong series] discussion.


Recently a hugely successful author went on a public rant regarding a critical review for one of his books.

The reader said mostly positive things about the novel, but went on to say that he was tired of reading unfinished stories, and he wanted to be able to buy a book and know that it was going to come to a conclusion, not end with “to be continued”.

Well, the hugely successful author took that as a personal attack on his professional integrity. He pointed out that while some other authors failed to finish popular series, he, himself, had always written books quickly and completed his contractual obligations to his publisher.

And while that’s true, I think it misses the point.

The word “epic” properly refers to a form of poetry, but has gained a popular prose usage of “really long, and with swords.” For years traditional publishers promoted the…

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Review of High Noon on Proxima B, ed. David Boop

Review by J. Comer

In 1872, author Ned Buntline teamed up with William “Buffalo Bill” Cody to produce The Scouts of the Prairie, a stage show based on Buntline’s novels.  Cody wove Buntline’s fiction and his own life into the myth of the cowboy.  Although the “wild west” of the Buffalo Bill shows was never real, the cowboy image has become central to American culture, and Science Fiction has reflected this with the emergence of the Space Western. Themes of settlers taming a wilderness abound in Heinlein; Andre Norton’s Beast Master had a Native American hero, as did the 1980s cartoon BraveStarr. And Firefly redefined a Space Western for the 21st century.

In High Noon on Proxima B, editor David Boop first gives us an introduction on hard SF, research, and knowledge.

The authors & stories include:

Milton Davis, author of the RPG Ki-Khanga, pens “Justice and Prosperity,” a tale of murder and revenge; the degree to which the robot avenger is a commentary on slavery, a la “Fondly Farenheit,” isn’t clear. 

Next comes “Five Mules For Madame Calypso,” in which a brothel is targeted by a trickster…who becomes the tricked. 

“Past Sins,” by Dayton Ward and Kevin Dilmore, is a tale of military deserters on a frontier planet.

And in “The Last Round,” by Susan R. Matthews, a Western duel happens on a monocrop-economy world.

The anthology’s title tale refers to a real place: Proxima Centauri’s planet[1], on which “High Noon” is a place, not a time; cyborgs and smart guns coexist with shantytowns and reptilian horses.

Peter Wacks’s “Black Box” is a somewhat confusing story set on a blasted world.

Brenda Cooper, the coauthor of Building Harlequin’s Moon and “Ice and Mirrors” with Larry Niven, contributes “The Planet and the Pig,” which sees a family team of poachers land on an off-limits world…with dark secrets, including that of how it’s cared for.

Ken Scholes’s “Harley Takes a Wife,” by the author of the Psalms of Isaak series, is a funny homage to the John Wayne classics.

“Warlock Rules” by Hank Schwaeble takes the Western gunslinger duel motif to extremes, as gunslingers duel aliens.

Finally, Walter Jon Williams, author of Aristoi and Metropolitan, adds the provocatively titled “West World.” This story has a Western movie being made in space a la The Technicolor Time Machine.  Williams’s eye for detail makes this one of the best stories.

The collection as a whole, like the West itself, is uneven. This West, like the Wild West of film and TV, is a fictional place, and that enables authors, steered by the editor’s love of hard SF, to trek different trails as they go. The Wacks and Ward/Dilmore stories took the theme more literally, while the Scholes and Williams stories were more entertaining.

All in all, this reviewer enjoyed the book; the variety of work here will appeal to hard-SF and space-opera types as well.  Again, the book is uneven, and some of the stories feel as though they don’t really all belong in the same antho; others pretty clearly weren’t written for this book, but that’s not a serious problem.  Recommended.

[1] https://exoplanets.nasa.gov/exoplanet-catalog/7167/proxima-centauri-b/

Small Worlds + First Chance at Atlas of Bad Roads Audiobook!

Production work on Misha Burnett’s Small Worlds is coming along briskly. We’re almost ready to order our initial proofs.

More importantly, the audiobook of An Atlas of Bad Roads is in the can, and backers of Small Worlds will be the first to have a chance at exclusive access before it goes live on Amazon! Along with the fantastic audiobook of Misha Burnett’s Endless Summer, backers will be able to preorder the audiobook of An Atlas of Bad Roads at an excellent discounted price of $10!

Coming Soon: Misha Burnett’s Small Worlds

Ours is a culture that adores the elephantine, the cyclopean, the Brobdingnagian. Bigger is better, we are told, and the biggest is the best. People love big stories, with a cast of thousands, and Vista-vision widescreen special effects. Heroes must be larger than life, and devils blacker than they are painted, and entire worlds must be set aflame to create an ever-growing hunger for spectacle.

Oh, says I, that’s interesting. But that’s not what I do.

I write short stories, about little people in small worlds. That’s what you’ll find in this collection. In a couple of cases, they are literally small worlds, flyspeck heavenly bodies far out in space. In others the constraints are more metaphysical, worlds bounded by the vision of their inhabitants, an event horizon close enough to almost touch.

But one mustn’t suppose that the Lilliputian character of these stories means that nothing of significance happens in them.

Small worlds need saving, too.Misha Burnett

Coming soon!

Just Some Quick Bits of News

Last week, I was on “vacation,” but it wasn’t much of a break.

Yes, I was personally affected by the tornadoes that destroyed a significant portion of Little Rock on Friday, but my own home was not hit and it should not cause any delays in the ongoing projects we’re working on.

Mongoose & Meerkat:

Mongoose and Meerkat digital files have been fulfilled and physical order has been placed for domestic backers. We’ll be direct fulfilling foreign orders soonish.

Sky Dance of Winter Fire:

Sky Dance of Winter Fire successfully crowdfunded. We’ll be placing the order with the printer very soon.

Misha Burnett’s Small Worlds

The Kickstarter project is in review. Signups will be through April and pre-Orders will be through May.

The Mighty Sons of Hercules

I’ve bumped The Mighty Sons of Hercules back to July because I need some breathing room. All of the stories are locked in at the moment, and once our copy editor is done with Small Worlds, I’ll be handing the manuscript off for review.

Wild Stars VI

The collected edition of Wild Stars VI is happening sometime in the Fall. Admittedly, my plans are a little hazy this far out.

A Bad Case of Dead

Still slated for early 2023.