The other day I read an interesting comment on a forum. An author said that he has defended the sword and sorcery genre many times and had a difficult time getting the topic included on panels. I assume he means fantasy fiction panels at Cons.
It's not surprising. Although I didn't come up with the idea for this award as a way of defending the heroic fantasy and sword and sorcery genres, they really are the red-headed stepchildren of literature. However, the question isn't how to defend them, the question is why do these genres need defending at all?
A few months ago I had a few choice words for a "serious" fantasy author regarding his declaration that The Lord of the Rings is for children, and his implication that adults who enjoy it are mental children. I'm a realist. I've been writing fantasy for about fifteen years. I've published four heroic fantasy novels. Truth is, heroic fantasy and sword and sorcery aren't "serious" literature because they aren't meant to be "serious" literature. They are what they are, and what they are are fantastic stories.
Fantasy, especially heroic fantasy, is humanity's oldest form of fiction, and many of the greatest works of fiction ever written, from The Odyssey to the Epic of Gilgamesh, Beowulf to Outlaws of the Marsh (and yes, The Lord of the Rings) fall squarely into the heroic/epic fantasy pigeon hole, much to the dismay and consternation of "serious" authors everywhere. The focus of these stories is Story, because our roots lie in storytelling round the fire, telling tales of heroes and gods, not deep psychological profiles about a person's inner struggle to overcome a tragic childhood. Conan had a tragic childhood - he overcame it by smashing heads with his ham-sized fist.
These days Story just isn't very popular among MFA graduates at the pretigious writing academies, nor with those authors who aspire to be recognized by them and obtain visiting author positions. But blaming sword and sorcery for not being French neoreductionism is like blaming the beermaker for not making wine. I have nothing against realist literature. I enjoy reading Faulkner - how many MFAs can say they ever read Absalom! Absalom! unless somebody forced them to, for a grade? Neither is there anything wrong with Harry Potter. But Harry Potter isn't Quentin Compson, nor was he ever meant to be Quentin Compson, nor did Ms. Rowling ever pretend that Harry should be taken as Quentin's literary equal. Quentin killed himself. Harry killed Voldemort. C'est la vie.
Heroic fantasy and sword and sorcery are what they are. The only question that can be asked of any story is - does it succeed at what it set out to become? Does it fulfill its own promise? You don't ask beer to be wine, nor judge the quality of beer based on the requirements of wine. Nor do you whine when your Corona doesn't taste like Corsendonk. To do so would be extremely silly. Yet this is done to literature every day by some very silly people.
The judging criteria for The Hammy is simple. First, does the story succeed within its genre? Second, is it the best story of those nominated?
So what is the best? It's entirely subjective, as you should know all too well. There are many excellent definitions of the genres, but I personally believe a sword and sorcery or heroic fantasy story should have those things which Yoda tells us a Jedi should crave not : adventure and excitement - two defining characteristics that set these genres apart from other types of fantasy. An editor once told me a good heroic fiction tale should contain the three M's - Magic, Monsters and Mayhem. It should also contain memorable characters, though not necessarily profound ones. Is that so wrong? But more than anything, a good story, no matter what genre, should produce a true emotional response in the reader. It could be Wow!, it could be Hell yeah!, or it could be I need a tissue!, just so long as it isn't That was stupid! As Bruce Lee said, "Emotion! Not anger. Now try again."
If a story succeeds, I see no reason to defend it for achieving its first, best destiny.