Obituary: Joel Rosenberg

Fantasy and science fiction author Joel RosenbergScience fiction and fantasy author – and presumed card-carrying NRA member — Joel Rosenberg died June 2; he was 57.

I confess I’ve never read Rosenberg’s work, but do know of it, thanks to my Dungeons and Dragons-playing friends back in high school. I believe Rosenberg was one of the first, if not the first, to to take the setting of DnD and similar role playing games and use them as the setting for several of his fantasy novels. That would include his first and perhaps most well-known series, Guardians of the Flame.

This series had an interesting conceit – very “meta” as the kids say today; it is literally about a group of college kids playing a DnD-like RPG who get magically transported to the realm depicted by the game. Suddenly they presumably have to wield actual swords as opposed to graph paper and 20-sided dice.

Let’s think about that a moment. So we have Tolkien and Lewis, et al, creating fantasy worlds that inspired the settings for tabletop RPGs. Then that came full circle with Rosenberg and everyone that came after him; today we have any number of authors writing fantasy series based on RPG games. It’s sort of the ultimate fan fiction, or perhaps meta marketing.

As I say, I’ve never read any his Guardian books, but I heard them discussed often enough; the first one in the series, The Sleeping Dragon, came out in 1983; over the next 20 years Rosenberg published nine more books in the series. I remember more than one DnD or some similar game getting an impromptu pause to compare and contrast the game in front of us with the one from Rosenberg’s novels.

More than once the dungeon master was compared to Rosenberg and found wanting.

The cover of The Sleeping Dragon by Joel Rosenberg, first in the Guardians of the Flame seriesNow that I think about it, I’m not sure how I never got around to reading any of his work. Many friends have read his stuff over the years; he was quite prolific, writing other fantasy series, such as Mordred’s Heirs – an alternate fantasy, so to speak, in which Arthur loses to Mordred. I know all this off of the top of my head, just from having listened to other people discuss it (okay, I did have to go to Rosenber’gs Wikipedia to look up the date Sleeping Dragon was published.

Apparently Rosenberg has also published science fiction – “I do write about Jews in space with big guns” – and mysteries (thank you Wikipedia). The Jews in space I believe refers to his Metsada Mercenary Corps series.

What I also didn’t know, having read a few other obituaries on Locus and whatnot today, was that Rosenberg was apparently quite the activist when it came to his Second Amendment rights – that would the be the right to bear arms, for those of you not paying attention in history and civics classes. No mention on whether he ever joined his state militia – arming state militias being the original intent of that amendment (something that gun lobbyists seem to be inclined to forget – sorry, couldn’t resist pontificating just a little bit; I’ll stop now).

Anyway, Rosenberg was a staunch advocate of gun rights and ownership; apparently he was involved in a legal brouhaha stemming from an incident in November of last year in which he walked into Minneapolis city hall wearing a handgun. How staunch was he? Very – I submit to you yon Youtube video in which Rosenberg demonstrates all the different ways one can wear a holstered handgun.

His wife posted the details of Rosenberg’s death on her blog:

On Wednesday afternoon, June 1, 2011, Joel had a respiratory depression that caused a heart attack, anoxic brain damage and major organ failure. Despite the very best efforts of the paramedics and the team at Hennepin County Medical Center, Joel was pronounced brain dead at around 5:37pm Thursday June 2nd, In accordance with his wishes, he shared the gift of life through organ and tissue donation.

He is survived by his daughters, Judith Eleanor and Rachel Hannah, and his wife, Felicia Herman. Today, June 3rd would have been his 32nd wedding anniversary.


It really is a shame to lose someone like that at only 57; surely there were more books to be written. Regardless of how one feels about the gun lobby, he sounds like an interesting character, and I know my young friends always spoke highly of his works.

Postscript: I cadged the photo of Rosenberg from his author entry at the Fantastic Fiction site; no credit is given on the photo. Should anyone happen upon this who does know who took the photo, please let me know.

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