One of the things I love about the way the fantasy genre has evolved in the new millennium is how it plays with its tropes. Every genre has them, and cherishes them. Tropes are what make a genre what it is.
But since they are tropes, that is, common and repeated themes, they can turn all too quickly into clichés. In swords and sorcery, that would be the brawny swordsman, the bawdy tavern, the wicked bandit, and of course various forms of spellcasters and their magics. If you see all those together, you know what you’re getting. Special bonus points for a clever sidekick and snarky dialogue.
I grew up on Conan, Elric (oh, the moodiness! ah, the Angst!), Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, and the women, too: Jirel of Joiry, Red Sonja. They were fun, they were exciting, they fought on all fronts with verve and gusto.
I was going to say they’re out of date now, but mostly they’ve been superseded by comics and superheroes. But they’re still a part of me, even while I’ve moved on with many of my fellow writers.
We’re woke now. We see sexism, racism, culture-ism, all the casual assumptions that used to pervade the genre. Still do, in too many parts of it. Worlds that consist entirely of males, most of them white. “Strong female characters” that add up to a single token “Smurfette,” while all the rest of the crew are male. “Diversity” that means the white guy is in charge, The Girl backs him up, and the black guy might as well be wearing a red shirt, because he’ll be gone before the final credits roll.
These things get called out now. Writers are noticing, and so are readers. We see what people did there for so long and so automatically, and we think about ways to change it.
So I was cruising along on social media, a year or two back, and people were talking, as they used to do before everything was all politics all the time, and someone—alas, I forget who—said, “What about realism in fantasy? Won’t the barbarian swordsman have to do his taxes?”
Why, so he would. And there’s an assumption in that, too: that he’d be male.
Time passed. Conversations rambled as they will. We talked about genderbending, and about shifting away from forced binaries. And somewhere in there, an editor observed that omniscient point of view has gone far out of fashion, which is too bad because it can be really effective when it’s done right.
All of that came together in my head, and suddenly there it was: Bron the barbarian swordswoman/tax accountant, trying to get her taxes done on the absolute last day, under literal combat conditions. Nevertheless, she persisted. And the rest is story. A story. With beloved fantasy tropes, tilted somewhat sidewise.
When the writers of Book View Cafe began to talk about an anthology in honor of a certain persistent Senator, I realized my odd little story might have found a home. I submitted “Tax Season” to Nevertheless, She Persisted, and editor Mindy Klasky allowed as how she had laughed aloud in public when she read it—and that was an acceptance. Bron and company have not only found an anthology-home, they’ve joined eighteen other excellent stories by most excellent (and persistent) authors. And that’s a happy ending.