In 1978 I turned nine years old. By that point, this future fantasy writer had rolled through Tolkien and had discovered Terry Brooks. In my own nine-year-old way, I thought I knew everything there was to know about fantasy fiction.
Oh, how naive.
That same year I discovered a sub-genre of fantasy known as Sword and Sorcery. Big guys with muscles swinging swords. Evil wizards. Damsels barely clad in chain string bikinis. Murky monsters. You know. Fun stuff.
And how exactly did I discover Sword and Sorcery?
Through a collection of short stories titled Thieves’ World.
The stories in Thieves’ World take place in the crumbling, cesspool of a city known as Sanctuary, one of the outer cities of the Rankan Empire. Within Sanctuary can be found mages, thieves, assassins and generally all kinds of shady characters. Every once in a while even a demon or something resembling a zombie will show up. It’s the kind of place you don’t want to visit after dark. Or even during daylight in certain parts of town.
The collection was filled with fantastic tales by such authors as Poul Anderson, C.J. Cherryh, Marion Zimmer Bradley and my personal favorite, Andrew J. Offutt. Offutt wrote about a character named Hanse Shadowspawn, a thief who dressed all in black and carried a dozen or more daggers hidden on his body. Despite his dark demeanor, Hanse was actually a pretty good guy and likable.
Thieves’ World proved to be popular enough to continue in a series, of which there were originally 12 books and probably another dozen or so independent novels. In the early 2000s, the series was started up again with three new books, but I don’t believe there have been any new works since 2004.
As a writer, I learned a lot from the original Thieves’ World book. It opened up new potentials to me, dark potentials. Before, all that fantasy I had read had been quest oriented with big, saving-the-world kind of stories. Thieves’ World showed me another way. It showed me little stories, but stories still containing excitement, stories of things that could happen just around the corner, deadly and mysterious things.
Also, Thieves’ World lead me to Andrew J. Offutt, who wrote several novels in the 1970s containing characters of Robert E. Howard, characters such as Conan the Cimmerian and Bran Mak Morn. Thus, Thieves’ World lead me to Offutt, Offutt lead me to Conan, and Conan lead me straight to Robert E. Howard, the father of Sword and Sorcery itself.
My writing and reading has never been the same since.