ROCKETS AND RAPIERS: THE F & SF CONNECTION
By Annie Morris
Don't let this scare you but I am a science fiction and fantasy fan. Let me assure you though that I have never gone to jury duty in a "Star Trek" uniform, camped overnight to get "Star Wars" tickets, or named my son or any pets after Tolkien characters. And, oh yeah, I don't have a single John Williams or Jerry Goldsmith movie soundtrack album among my tapes and CDs. As I write this, I am listening to the late but always great Buddy Holly.
SF and fantasy are nice additions to a life but they are not meant to be replacements for the real thing. I do know that Mr. Spock is only a character that actor Leonard Nimoy portrayed. Having said all this, I hope you do not think this is a case where "the lady doth protest too much."
Reading Hans Christian Anderson and the Brothers Grimm (the real stuff with none of the gruesome bits cut out or cleaned up) and watching "Peter Pan" and "The Wizard of OZ" on TV had an enchanting effect on me. Myths, legends, and tales of derring-do were obviously meant to be my soul's bread and butter. My first little girl crushes were on most dashing Richard Greene as Robin Hood and Guy Williams as Zorro. I've never been able to resist good lookin' guys with swords since and you find a lot of those in my favorite types of books and films.
Little did I know when I was 8 years old and using any long pointed thing I could find to mark "Zs" all over the place that oh so many years later, I'd have a really-truly sword and a place to go where other "kids" wanted to "play swords" too. Some of my loved ones probably think I'm crazy for taking the foil in hand but they contributed to keeping my interest in the sword alive. My long time friend, Darrell Schweitzer, has written scholarly works on Robert E. Howard and Conan as well as having written some wonderful stories about a one handed knight named Julian. My "big brother" Andy (Andrew Offutt) continued Robert E. Howard's Conan tradition with his books CONAN AND THE SWORD OF SKELOS, and CONAN THE MERCENARY, along with creating many characters of his own who had an affinity for the sword. My husband Kendall who has always been an avid science fiction reader, fenced a few times with friends in our living room. Though that was a long time ago, even before Disco, he was the one whofirst brought to my attention that fencing was something ordinary folks could do.
Even casting personal matters aside, the strength of the bond between my favorite reading and movie material and my favorite sport is not small. When you think of such works as the CONAN books, the BOOK OF SWORDS and it's sequels by Fred Saberhagen, Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd and Grey Mouser stories, and the Elric books by Michael Moorcock, the link between fencing and fantasy is obvious but you find swordplay in the works of famed science fiction authors Robert A. Heinlein (GLORY ROAD), C. L. Moore (JIREL OF JORY MEETS MAGIC), Gene Wolfe (THE URTH OF THE NEW SUN series), and Edgar Rice Burroughs (all of his John Carter of Mars books) as well.
Not only have many SF and fantasy authors written about boys with blades but some of them have taken places on the fencing strip themselves. Roger Zelazny, Robert Heinlein, L. Sprague de Camp, Fritz Leiber, Richard Lee Byers, Ben Bova, and Jerry Pournelleare a few of these. Recently, Ben Bova and Richard Lee Byers put on a fencing demonstration at a science fiction convention I attended in Orlando, Florida. Jerry Pournelle, who was the guest of honor for the convention, came into the hall and got into the act too.
A case might be made for the popularity of rockets and rapiers among SF and fantasy fans being due to phallic symbolism but I'm just a girl, so what would I know about that?
Some people name their cars and some fencers like to name their favorite swords. In SF and fantasy, a good deal of sword naming goes on. Excalibur shows up pretty darn frequently and you once in a while run across (and hopefully are not run through with) Thor's Mjolinar. There are also Elric's Stormbringer, Severian's Terminus Est, and Maureen Birnbaum's Old Betsy.
There is debate about the nature of the swordplay in the Society for Creative Anachronisms. It certainly does not adhere to modern sport fencing rules. However, it cannot be denied that there is a link to fantasy and fencing. I have never been a member of the SCA 'cause I'm just too much of an old flower child for all the hierarchy and rules. Yet, I have known quite a few people who were members and they all read fantasy and some have gone on to take up modern sport fencing after being introduced to swordplay at SCA events.
Among the fencers I have met in person and through various correspondences, a great many have, upon finding that I like fantasy and SF, confessed to a similar taste. This does not strike me as odd. It seems to me that fencers, for the most part, are people who not only want to be challenged athletically but also mentally. Fencing is paradoxical in that you must think a whole heck of a lot when you are learning and then you are challenged not to think too much when you are putting what you have learned into practice on the strip. Similarly, the best science fiction and fantasy makes you think and question and speculate and then asks you to forget everything you know and just let the author take you on a fantastic voyage. I think this may be why I have found so many fencers who share my love for this otherworldly fare. Or maybe we are all just masochists who like things that make our brains hurt.
When I started this, I mentioned that I was listening to Buddy Holly. Well, ya know what, kids? A guy named Bradley Denton wrote an extremely entertaining science fiction book called BUDDY HOLLY IS ALIVE AND WELL AND LIVING ON GANYMEDE. There is no fencing in the book but I fence and the main character has the same birthday (important in his story because John Lennon was killed on that day) as I have, so there you go. In one way or another, it's all connected.
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