Thursday, 12 October 2017

Recommend: Monsters of the World

For this month’s recommendation post, we’re asking readers to tell us about their favorite monsters of the world. What inhuman or almost-human beast, hybrid, giant or otherworldly creatures most fascinates, terrifies or speaks to you? As usual we have asked a handful of authors, artists and other friends to prime the pump with their suggestions, but what we really want is to hear from you.

Jo Thomas (Journeymouse; Elkie Berstein trilogy)

It probably comes as no surprise to people who know even a little bit about me that my favourite kind of monster is werewolves. After all, I’ve written three books that involve killing and/or living with them: 25 Ways To Kill A Werewolf, A Pack of Lies and Fool If You Think It’s Over. I’ve even written blog posts about why I decided to write werewolves, the rules I use, and what I see as the history I'm tapping in to. (Although I’m not an academic who specialises in werewolves in historic literature, and I may be wrong or filtering out the stuff I don’t make use of.)

However, here’s the thing. Furry monsters have been the most intriguing to me for a while, even before I had dogs of my own and even before I started trying to work out how they would actually, well, work. Werewolves seem to represent the monster within, the animal nature that's hiding inside every human being, just waiting for that “it’s in my nature” or “it’s just the way I am” excuse to come trotting out. I want to be better than that. I want to be a human being, a person in control of themselves. On the other hand, there are times I envy these monsters, even if it’s a curse and it means they are forced to exist outside of community and civilisation. After all, they get to be a rampaging monster with no thought to the consequences.

Ernest Hogan (Mondo Ernesto)

The best monsters though are the ones that haunt your dreams, give you nightmares, and change the course of your life. So I'll have to go with the mutant slaves from the original 1953 version of Invaders from Mars—those bug-eyed, furry brutes with visible zippers down their backs. In the dreams at least, there was only one, and he was coming after me. I would go to adults, but they couldn't see—or even believe in—him. This developed into a phobia of monsters, and hatred of science fiction.

Then one nightmare, after some adult had told me there was no such things as monsters, I turned around, and there he was. I grabbed one of his arms, and it snapped off, and crumbled. He was made of the same delicate, almost solid smoke of the Magic Snakes fireworks. I punched him, and he fell apart like those flimsy snakes. I was no longer afraid of monsters. I loved them. And I loved science fiction, too. Since then, my life has been full of monsters. It makes me smile.

Alina Dimitrova (academic page)

Baba Yaga is… an old Slavic perception of horror. In the numerous variations of her legend, spread over an enormous territory, she appears as an anthropomorphic, monstrous-looking figure, a cannibal and terrifying magician who hates humans. Dwelling in a deep forest outside the human realm, she is profoundly related to the wilderness and to nature cults. Her house on chicken legs reflects in a curious way an ancient burial custom of cremating the dead in small wooden huts built on tree stumps. Absorbing elements of witch and goddess, and often associated with some female evil spirits that exist beyond the Slavic imagination (just compare the horrifying tale of Hansel and Gretel…), her multidimensional figure provides infinite perspectives for exploration that trigger the curiosity of the researcher.

The most astonishing aspect of her mythological image is her ability to turn into a positive character that helps humans, sometimes involuntarily, especially the young hero who struggles to accomplish his task and save the day.

Don Riggs (faculty page)

I was born in the Year of the Dragon. A tarot instructor once said of the King of Staffs in a spread I head dealt myself with my own deck, a card which features an old dragon, “That is your job”—not realizing that I also worked at a school with a dragon as its mascot!

The dragon has differing associations in different cultures. Largely negative in Western culture, in Chinese tradition the dragon is associated with rationality (as opposed to the passion of the tiger). In the Near Eastern roots of Western Culture, the dragon is associated with the Female, as in the Babylonian Tiamat, which was slain by Marduk. Merlin Stone, in When God Was a Woman, argues that the killing of dragons by (male) heroes in Western myth and folklore reflects male fear of the primordial Mother Goddess, whom they were trying to obliterate even in memory. Tolkien glossed the medieval dragon as an emblem of “malitia,” or malice, and it is with this in mind that one may read Smaug in The Hobbit as manifesting pride, wrath, avarice, and possibly even sloth (sleeping on a pile of treasure for 100 years).

Literary dragons that have inspired me include: Fafnir, whom I remember from reading Sigurd of the Volsungs; the unnamed dragon from Beowulf; the combination of the two in Tolkien’s Smaug, also the delightful Chrysophylax, from Farmer Giles of Ham; the dragon in Ursula K. LeGuin’s A Wizard of Earthsea; Anne McCaffery’s dragons; Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s The Great Chinese Dragon.

Katharine A. Viola (art page)

My favorite monsters are trolls. I have been fascinated by these creatures since I was a child. I love how they are a diverse creature with several different species; mountain trolls, forest troll, etc. I particularly love how they are depicted as larger (much larger) than humans, but not too intelligent; they are scary and intimidating, yet easily escapable if you can outwit them.

Now tell us about your favorite/most nightmarish monsters in the comments. If you prefer, you can share your favorite monsters as images on social media, and have a chance of winning a prize (see rules from Classics International). And if you haven’t had enough of monsters, there’s a whole evening of them in London next Tuesday: Why do we need monsters?

Friday, 6 October 2017

Why do we need Monsters?

Later this month, TFF associate editor Valeria will speak at an event hosted by the Institute of Classical Studies, University of London, titled Why do we need monsters?

Date
17 Oct 2017, 18:00 to 20:00

Venue
The Beveridge Hall, Ground Floor, Senate House, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HU

Description
Today we worry about chimaeras - organisms created by combining genes from more than one species - and science fiction writers imagine bizarre aliens on other planets, just as nineteenth-century novelists placed them in the Centre of the Earth, on Lost Worlds or in Lands that Time Forgot.

Almost every society has imagined monsters, often as hybrids of humans and beasts. This free public event brings together some of the most interesting researchers on ancient monsters and invites us to reflect on what purpose these nearly humans serve in societies ancient and modern.

This is a free event but booking is essential.

Dr Valeria Vitale (ICS), ‘Making Monsters’

Does your house look too quiet during the night? Do you really want to scare off the annoying neighbour’s cat? Do you want to, literally, amaze your friends at parties? Nothing like having your own monster! Join us as we share our tips on how to make and customise the monster of your dreams! You can leave the clay at home as we’ve moved into digital technologies. We will start by looking at the most common features that make a class of imaginary creatures perceived as “monstrous”, and try to extrapolate the recurring rules behind their creation. We will then transfer the same concepts into 3D modelling, using free software to explore the combination and modification of different components in order to build brand new digital monsters ready for 3D printing and the monsters’ entrance into the material world.
Disclaimer: we cannot be held liable for the actions of your newly-created monsters.

Other speakers

Prof David Wengrow (UCL), ‘What is a monster, and do we really need them?’

Dr. Dunstan Lowe (Kent), ‘Real monsters in ancient Rome’

Dr Liz Gloyn (Royal Holloway), ‘Why does the ancient monster survive in the modern world?’

Monday, 2 October 2017

Recommend: progressive SFF movies

This week in our series on recommendations, we’d like to hear about your favorite progressive speculative fiction movies and television series. Films that reflect the importance of feminism, race issues, queer activism, the environment, class and politics and ethics of any kind. This is obviously a broad brush, and we’d like to hear about anything you've seen in any of the speculative genres that might talk a skeptic into giving cinema or TV a chance again.

To get us started, we have as usual asked a handful of authors, editors, and other friends to give us their suggestions:

Mari Ness (blog) (author: Through Immortal Shadows Singing)

On the surface a silly comedy about the afterlife, The Good Place (2016–) turns out to be a surprisingly deep, witty and hilarious meditation on ethics and social justice, and what good—and not so good—people should do. Veteran actors Ted Danson, in arguably his best work since Cheers, and Kristen Bell, shedding both her Veronica Mars and Anna personas, are anchored by a solid cast including William Jackson Harper and Jameela Jamil. Anything more than this would be spoilery, so just enjoy the ride.

E. Saxey (fiction site)

Get Out (2017) starts out with a domestic setting and some spot-on excruciating social commentary. Then it slews into something darker and more weird; I won’t spoil the film by defining it as science-fictional, fantastic or supernatural, but it’s brilliantly horrible. Before I saw Get Out, I feared the weird elements might undermine the critique set up in the first half of the film, and let society off the hook. However, the unfolding horrors only intensify what goes before. It’s gruesome and cathartic and definitely worth a watch, particularly at Halloween.

Valeria Vitale (TFF associate editor)

I came across the British TV series AfterLife by chance, but I quickly grew fond of it. The premise is quite traditional: a woman able to interact with restless ghosts, and a psychologist academically fascinated by what he believes is a case of self-delusion. Each episode is a self-contained ghost story, often original and always excellently written by Stephen Volk. But the reason why it is included in this list is that I have become more and more interested in the dynamic between the two main characters, how issues like gender, class and mental disability impact on them. The protagonist is a middle-aged woman, with low income, little education, and mental health issues. Her character is unapologetically unpleasant, and she often faces resistance, not because of her supernatural claims but just because of her fragile position in society. The contrast with the well mannered, balanced and agreeable male character, who is “naturally” trusted and respected is telling, and sensitively portrayed.

Alasdair Stuart (Man of Words)

Mad Max: Fury Road is the best sequel that’s also a reboot ever made. Tom Hardy’s monosyllabic, feral Max is a perfect heir to Gibson’s original and Hardy brings 1000% more intelligence and emotion to the role. Never before has a cautious, uncertain thumbs up been so moving. But what really makes this work is Furiosa, the women who raised her and the women she saves. The way that the rebirth of society and the path that takes is explored is stunning. The short sighted brutalist capitalism of Immortan Joe, and of Max, being replaced by a world that people can live in and a heroine that can protect it. The past, the green shoots of hope and seeds of potential, reborn in a present that may not take but is damn sure better than what it replaces. No wonder Max looks sad when he leaves. So do we.

Bruce Stenning (TFF emeritus editor)

Attack the Block (2011)—there are strong characters in this action-horror that also comes with some solid social commentary. They will be the women and people of colour. You will want all the white male characters to get ripped to shreds by the impending alien invasion—for their excruciatingly embarrassing cultural appropriation alone. Will it happen?

Djibril al-Ayad (TFF editor)

You probably saw this when it was getting all the Oscar nominations and rave reviews five years ago, but I still feel Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012) deserves a place in the speculative hall of fame for a movie that tackles several very topical issues of our time: climate change, disaster relief (especially of poor and marginalized communities), gender, race, wealth inequality, the importance of community, all while being subtle, beautiful, oneiric, magical, speculative and fabulously performed by two newcomer actors with great talent and heart. If you haven’t watched it in five years (or ever), give it another go. It’s an especially essential story at the moment.


Now please leave a comment and tell us about your favorites. I want to hear about science fiction, fantasy, horror, surreal, or other speculative movies that I may not have seen yet, or that I might not have thought of as progressive or political, and for you to talk me into giving them a chance.

Sunday, 24 September 2017

New Issue: 2017.42

“Toute ma vie, j’ai continué d’associer la musique avec l’émancipation des femmes.”

—Angélique Kidjo

Issue 2017.42

 [ Issue 2017.42; Cover art © 2017 Cécile Matthey ] Flash fiction
Short stories
Poetry
Full issue and editorial

Download e-book version: EPUB | Mobi

Friday, 15 September 2017

Speculative and Dark Fiction in Croatia

Guest post by Milena Benini

Croatian speculative fiction has a long and surprisingly rich history. Although fantastic ideas can be found even in Renaissance texts, it is usually considered that the key-work of autochthone Croatian fantasy is Jože the Giant (Veli Jože), the story of a gentle giant, the eponymous Jože, who works as a serf for the people of Motovun, a small and picturesque town in Istria, on the west coast of Croatia. The story is based on local folklore—Istria in particular has numerous stories about giants—but also addresses political issues, particularly the position of ordinary folk in contrast to (most often foreign) nobles and rich men. Although nominally a children’s story, this short novel remains a classic to this day, and has even given rise to a festival dedicated to all things Jože, held every year in Motovun.

In a twist from the usual ideas of genders and genres, while Croatian fantasy started with a man, science fiction in Croatia started with a woman: Marija Jurić-Zagorka, a novelist and journalist from the early 20th century, who would deserve a post all to herself—she ran from an abusive marriage, managed to become the first female journalist in the region, and went on to become one of the most prolific and beloved authors of her time. Her novel The Red Ocean (Crveni ocean), published in weekly instalments in 1918-1919, described the adventures of a young inventor, combining the fascination with technology typical of early SF with the political ideas of equality and a better future.

It can be seen even from these two examples that Croatian speculative fiction before World War II has often had a political bent: considered ‘light’ and ‘popular,’ such literature was seen by a number of authors as a means to spread national awareness (Croatia was long under the rule of foreign powers) and later, as a way to support ideas of democracy, equality and political change. Of course, there was also a number of adventure stories, most often signed by foreign-sounding pseudonyms, such as the novel often considered as the first ‘true’ science-fiction novel in Croatian, On the Pacific 2255 (Na Pacifiku 2255) by Milan Šufflay, who published it under the name of Eamon O’Leigh in 1924.

This approach continued all the way to the war: in 1940, two local writers, Tanko Radovanović and Zvonimir Furtinger, wrote Omega Master Conquers the World (Majstor Omega osvaja svijet) and signed it ‘Stan Rager.’ This novel, in which a mad scientist tries to conquer the world using a nuclear-powered submarine, could stand the comparison with any other techno-thriller of the era and, had it been published in the States, would have probably inspired a black and white film adaptation with spectacularly bad special effects showing atomic bombs falling over New York.

Mr. Furtinger continued working after the War, teaming now with Mladen Bjažić but no longer feeling the need to use pseudonyms. It should be noted that, after 1948, Yugoslavia, of which Croatia was part, differed significantly from the East Bloc countries, so Western speculative fiction was freely available and so was fiction produced in the Soviet Union, so that local writers had access to both worlds, so to speak. The Furtinger-Bjažić tandem produced a number of speculative novels, among which of particular note are The Space Bride (Svemirska nevjesta), from 1960, which combines humour, a love story and robots, as well as Professor Kružić’s Mysterious Machine (Zagonetni stroj profesora Kružića), published that same year, a young-adult novel in which a pair of children on vacation discover an antigravity-machine in the attic of the family house in a small seaside town.

No matter how popular these novels were, the true blossoming of Croatian speculative fiction came in the mid-1970s, with the start of a legendary and internationally awarded magazine Sirius. Modelled after American SF magazines such as Asimov’s or Astounding, it was the brainchild of Borivoj Jurković and Damir Mikuličić, and it served two important functions: on one hand, it provided readers with an opportunity to see current and historically important short-story production in the genre, but also gave writers a chance to get published and reach wide audiences (Really wide: in its heyday, Sirius would have met SFWA criteria for a professional magazine both by payment and by circulation.)

Perhaps following in the footsteps of Marija Jurić-Zagorka, or maybe thanks to the socialist gender equality efforts, Sirius also revealed a relatively high percentage of women interested and working in Croatian SF. It is important to note here that the focus of Sirius was almost exclusively on science fiction, while fantasy, if it appeared at all, was mostly limited to satire and liminal cases. This was due primarily to the editors’ tastes, but also to the more general attitude that science fiction could be considered at least somewhat ‘mature’, while fantasy was either for children or for metaphor: while a number of literary authors used fantastic elements in their stories, commercial fantasy was, at the time, practically non-existent.

However, female writers such as Veronika Santo, Biljana Mateljan, Vesna Gorše and many others wrote for Sirius, and are today considered among the best Croatian SF writers: the editors of Ad Astra, an anthology of Croatian short-form SF from 1976 to 2006, often stress that women were, on average, superior authors, more in touch with the times and more inclined towards stylistic excellence. The authors—particularly women—produced mostly postapocalyptic and dystopian stories, with some old-fashioned space opera thrown in for good measure; it is interesting to note that cyberpunk, for instance, did not gain any significant foothold among local authors, and it was only later, in the 1980s, that first Croatian cyberpunk stories began to appear.

Among the most prominent authors of the ‘Sirius years’ (1976-1989) was certainly Predrag Raos, whose epic novel Shipwrecked at Thula (Brodolom kod Thule), published in 1979, encompassed both classic futurism, describing a future society that builds first ever faster-than-light ship, Clarkean hard SF, page-turner race against time and fine psychological insights.

In the same period, Croatia made its first truly speculative film, The Rat Saviour (Izbavitelj), loosely based on the novella “The Ratcatcher” by Russian author Alexander Grin. The film, shot in 1976, follows the destiny of a poor writer who discovers rats have developed the ability to transform themselves into humanoid creatures, and predates The Invasion of the Body Snatchers by two years, rivalling the more famous American creation by the slow mounting of horror and claustrophobic atmosphere. The film won an award at the Trieste SF Film Festival, and was part of a short-lived horror wave in Yugoslavian film, of which the other most famous product is the Serbian She-Butterfly (Leptirica) from 1973, a rural horror with a truly Slavic take on vampires.

In the 1990s, with the dissolution of Yugoslavia and the ensuing war, Croatian speculative fiction had to struggle to survive. It did so largely thanks to the existence of Futura, a magazine started in 1992 that replaced Sirius as much as it was possible in the circumstances, providing local authors with a venue to publish their production, and the continued efforts of the local fandom, which managed to keep SFeraKon, one of the oldest SF conventions in the region and the oldest (and largest) in Croatia.

At the turn of the century, another important step for local community happened with the appearance of Mentor publishing house, a small publisher specializing in local authors of speculative fiction. Between 2003 and 2006, they published short story collections for twelve authors: Tatjana Jambrišak, Igor Lepčin, Darko Macan, Aleksandar Žiljak, Zoran Krušvar, Dalibor Perković, Zoran Pongrašić, Zoran Vlahović, Milena Benini, Goran Konvični, Krešimir Mišak and Danilo Brozović. They were also the publishers of the already-mentioned anthology Ad Astra, and continue working with local authors to this day, albeit on a much smaller scale.

In the late nineties, the first inklings of commercial fantasy production started to appear, in the form of two novels: in 1995, Zvjezdana Odobašić published a YA novel Miraculous Scales (Čudesna krljušt), and in 1997/98, Futura magazine serialized the novel Chaos (Kaos) by the author of this overview. However, even though there were a number of other works that appeared more or less at the same time or in the early 2000s dabbling in fantasy, most were poor copies of tolkienesque worlds; only in the 21st century, particularly with the start of annual Istrakon convention collections with Istrian folklore-themed stories will fantasy in Croatia truly start to take off. Among the most prominent names in the field is Vanja Spirin with his Junker’s and Vailliant series, in which the two heroes are named after famous brands of water heaters, conveying the ‘potboiler’ nature of the series but also, of course, playing off the name of one of the most famous fictional knights of all times, Prince Valiant.

Horror fared slightly better, gaining a rather popular proponent in Viktoria Faust, a writer whose vampire-related stories, particularly the novel In the Angelic Image of the Beast (U anđeoskom liku zvijeri), published in 2000, developed a strong following among local fans of Anne Rice. In 2007, Boris Perić wrote a novel loosely based on the existing local stories about vampires, The Vampire (Vampir), while Zoran Krušvar created his own take on the vampiric lore in the dark fantasy novel Executors of the Lord’s Intention (Izvršitelji nauma gospodnjeg). Later, Vladimira Becić entered the vampiric field with fairly popular YA urban fantasy Orsia, a novel about truly teenage vampires looking for a way to express their rebellion against old ways of life.

After the demise of Futura in 2010, the gap in the market was filled by not one but two magazines: the literary Ubiq, started in 2007, is a biannual magazine covering both theory and practice of speculative fiction, which publishes fiction only by local authors, while SiriusB, as its name suggests, is intended to replace the old Sirius and publishes both Croatian originals and translations.

At the same time, Hangar7, the publishers of SiriusB, have started publishing books by local authors, focusing exclusively on speculative fiction. So far, they have published several novels: dark thriller The Road (Drum) by Ivan Lutz and Goran Sundać, Deeper than the Abyss (Dublje od bezdana), a dark fantasy by David Kelečić, Night Train to Dukka (Noćni vlak za Dukku) by Danijel Bogdanović, a sort of a science fiction take on Murder at the Orient Express, Milena Benini’s space opera Dreamseller (Prodavač snova), a philosophical variation on space exploration When Darkness Rules (Kad tama zavlada) by Oliver Franić, young-adult urban fantasy about energetic beings trapped on human plane The Exiled (Izgnani) by Ivana Delač, and a breakneck-paced dystopia leaning on the heritage of William S. Burroughs and Dick, EschatonTV (EshatonTV) by Goran Gluščić.

For those seeking to find an introduction to the world of Croatian speculative fiction, probably the easiest way is to find Kontakt (Contact), an English-language anthology of Croatian SF published in 2012, when Eurocon was held in Zagreb. (The epub version of the book is available at Kobo and Amazon). Or you can visit one of Croatia’s numerous conventions—there are five big ones and so many smaller ones that Croatian con-goers need a jointly kept calendar, which can be found on Facebook—Croatian fandom will welcome you gladly, and since most of us speak English, communication won’t be a problem, either.

Milena Benini is the winner of a number of local awards, among which the tastiest Croatian award, a whole prosciutto ham, for the most Istrian story published in 2009. She also received five SFera awards, of which the latest for her novel Dreamseller, also the winner of the Artefakt award. Her English-language stories have been published in several magazines and anthologies, including Contact (an English-language anthology of Croatian science fiction) and Salacious Tales (a collection of erotic speculative fiction). She has contributed to The Complete Guide to Writing Fantasy and The Complete Guide to Writing Science Fiction, while her novel Priestess of the Moon was published in English before it appeared in Croatian. Her short stories have been translated into several languages, including Spanish and Polish.

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Wickchester University Library special collections

Last week a couple of the TFF editors paid a visit to the special collections department of the Mary Anning Library, at Wickchester University. As well as the manuscripts we were there to consult (probably not of much interest to you) some of the more unusual items and curiosities the very friendly curator showed us were super interesting, and might serve as writing prompts or inspirations to any of you. Sadly we were asked not to take photographs inside, but some of our favorite items included:
  • Several boxes of historical wax seals, dating from Elizabethan England to the Victorian colonial administration, mostly in a poor state of preservation, but one famous example (which we weren’t allowed to touch) is a poorly copied but generally believed contemporary forgery of the seal of Robert Carr Viscount Rochester, dated 1612. It’s impossible to disprove the theory that a third party forged an official letter from Rochester as part of some political intrigue, but the whole story is lost to history.
  • A late Victorian Handbook of Botany for Ladies entirely embroidered (including the words) on thin linen sheets. Not a huge book, the 60-odd pages already make it thicker than most print volumes, and the spine is now in bad shape, but as far as we know this is a unique copy, not a mass-produced title. The curator suggests that this was an attempt to make the formal study of science by young women acceptable, by combining it with home economics!
  • A former curator’s handwritten notes for a never-executed exhibition of fakes, including 19th cent. forged Greek vases; a rubbing of the epitaph of Christopher Marlowe; a clumsily emulated and photocopied “manuscript” of Mary Shelley; a collection of modified playing cards used by medium and charlatan Eusebius Shaw in the early 1900s (that was sold for surprisingly high price at an auction in 1937, before being donated to the library in the 60s); letters negotiating the loan of 20th century forged Latin lead curse tablets from the local archaeological museum; an “Egyptian” figurine gifted to a Wickchester biology professor as a bribe by a student; the Rochester Seal mentioned just now; a draft proposal (never sent, and presumably doomed to failure) to request the loan of the Piltdown Skull from the Natural History Museum in London; a spurious plaster model purporting to be a cast of the right hand of the composer Arthur Sullivan, clearly made well into the 20th century.
  • Collection of photograph albums, rubbings, and notebooks full of transcriptions from a local graveyard enthusiast. Very incomplete, dated 1922-24 and 34-38, and with an eccentric focus—perhaps (we wondered) on cemeteries where relatives of the enthusiast were buried.
  • A set of 17 scrapbooks filled with newspapers cuttings, pasted over every inch of the page, often overlapping or exceeding the margins, detailing every murder committed in Wickchester between 1968-1992, the death of the compiler. This item is on restricted access because of some disturbing hand-written comments in coloured pencil. The librarians apparently gossip that police were briefly considering whether this should be considered evidence.
I bet every research library has a collection of shit like this! If you ask your local librarian and come up with any good stories, please let us know.

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Speculative and Dark Fiction in Italy

We open our survey of Mediterranean dark literature with a guest post about the Italian scene, signed by Alessandra Cristallini and Andrea Gibertoni. Pronti al viaggio?

It hasn’t always been easy for Italian SFF authors to be successful: for decades the common opinion was that the country “of the sea and the sun” wasn’t able to produce dark literature, or that the Italians were just not very good at writing SFF at all. And yet, there’s a thriving SFF scene. Some of the best Italian authors have already been translated abroad: this is the case of Dario Tonani, one of the most popular Italian sci-fi writers. He has published several novels and short stories, and some of his works have been translated into English and Japanese. His most famous work is the universe of Mondo9, a desert planet full of dangers like poisonous sands and half-animal half-mechanical creatures where giant ships roam the sands. Always in the sci-fi scene, we find Francesco Verso, winner of several awards, the mind behind Future Fiction publishing house and much more. Some of his short stories have been translated into English, and his cyberpunk novel Nexhuman has been translated in English and Portuguese. Nexhuman is the story of an obsessions that consumes Peter Payne through all his life, the obsession for a perfect nexhuman woman torn into pieces. If you want to have a taste of Clelia Farris, one of the most popular female authors in this field don’t forget to check out this collection of short SF from around the world published by Future Fiction: it includes her short story Creative Surgery translated by Jennifer Delare.

Many works that have not been translated are definitely worth being taken into consideration. Just to mention a few:
  •  Dimenticami Trovami Sognami (Forget me, Find me, Dream me) by Andrea Viscusi, where a young man takes part in a science experiment with unexpected results. Published by Zona 42;
  • Senza Un Cemento di Sangue (Without a Cement of Blood) By Anna Ferruglio Dal Dan (who attended the Clarion workshop), a space opera that feels like an adult and cruel take on Star Wars. It’s a compliment. Published by Delos Books;
  • Real Mars by Alessandro Vietti, winner of the Italia Award in 2017 tells us the story of a space mission made into a reality show for financing reasons. Published by Zona 42.

Moving from sci fi to dark fiction, we feel like we have to start from some names of the “old school”, authors that have been in the scene for the past decades, and have heavily influenced the newest generations of writers. Impossible not to mention the great Danilo Arona, active for the past 40 years and author of an astonishing amount of short stories, novels, essays and articles. He is a passionate expert of traditional folk tales of his region (Piemonte) and has a past of proper “ghost hunter”. The Roman Paolo Di Orazio, mind and body of the magazine Splatter (that, during the 80s caused scandal for the violence and crudeness of the printed images), is also a prolific and interesting author of several novels that could be labeled as splatterpunk. Eraldo Baldini is one of the few genre authors that has managed to be published by a major publishing house like the historic Einaudi. Creator of the so-called rural gothic, it brings together, very personally, modern topics with the folklore and traditions of Italian rural areas, where the nights are still populated by archaic creatures and nightmares.  Nicola Lombardi, recognisable by his very elegant style, has been writing novels and short stories since 1989. His recent La Cisterna (The Tank, Dunwich 2015) was shortlisted for the last edition of the Bram Stoker Awards.

Some of the younger (and sometimes really young!) protagonist of the darker side of the Italian SFF seem to have learnt from the anglophone classics of the genre, but also to have added their own peculiar touches that make their work original and immediately recognisable. A very hot name is Luigi Musolino; only 30 years old, he has already won a flattering number of awards and is unanimously recognised as one of the best promises of Italian horror/weird. Piemontese like Arona, and passionate about local folk tales as well, he skillfully blends Italian popular tradition with atmospheres that reminds of Lovecraft and Barker. A completely different style characterises Pietro Gandolfi, prolific and talented author of “extreme horror” novels (inspired to Ketchum and Laymon, among others), and successful comic writer (The Noise, Cosmo editoriale). He prefers to set his stories in small, completely made up, American cities, creating a perfect, and quite convincing, personal microcosm.  Samuel Marolla, also comic writer for the prestigious Bonelli editore, is a brilliant narrator of metropolitan nightmares, usually set in Milano, his own city. Translated various times in English, his Black Tea has been the first Italian short story to be included into Apex’s Book of World SF. His two collections of stories Malarazza and La Mezzanotte del Secolo (Edizioni XII) are considered seminal works in the contemporary Italian horror.

Other honorable mentions are:
Alessandro Manzetti–the first Italian writer to win the Bram Stoker Award (2016) with his poetry collection Eden Underground–, Barbara Baraldi–author of novels and script writer for the iconic horror comic Dylan Dog–, Daniele Picciuti, Claudio Vergnani, Fabio Lastrucci, Maico Morellini (sci fi author who likes to explore, quite succesfully, much darker literary lands).
Moving from authors to publishing houses, in the last years, a number of brave and fierce PH (mostly small and independent) have been working to revive SFF literature in Italy, both translating foreign authors and publishing (or republishing) the best Italian voices. Besides the already mentioned Future Fiction, there is the Milanese Hypnos, founded in 2010 by Andrea Vaccaro, publishing for the first time in Italian classic authors like Hodgson, Chambers,  Aickman, Jean Ray. It is also thank to his work that the weird genre has been introduced in our country.

But many other names have contributed to carry the bloody ensign of dark fiction in Italy. Among them:
Dunwich edizioni, Nero Press, Vincent Books (PH emiliana offering names such as Arona, Di Orazio and Gandolfi), Elara (the first in Italy to publish Thomas Ligotti), Cut Up, Independent Legions, the amazing (and much missed) Edizioni XII and the very young people at Cliquot, who have just published, for the first time, a collection of horror story by Fritz Leiber.
The scene we have described so far appears to be dominated by male authors. The problem is that there are few women in the Italian fandom and among the authors. Since its creation in 1989 there has been only one female winner for Italy’s most prestigious sci-fi book award, the Urania Award: Nicoletta Vallorani with Il Cuore Finto di DR, which has been translated into French. It goes slightly better for the Robot Award, which has seen two female winners (Morena Medri and Emanuela Valentini) in its 12 editions so far. Another exception is Alda Teodorani, true dark lady of the Italian dark scene, influential member of the Neo Noir movement that animated Rome at the beginning of the 90s. She has written several stories, novels, poems, and has collaborated with cinema directors like Pupi Avati. She is still an important figure in Italian SFF. Her example has encouraged a number of young women writers and readers to approach a genre that too often seems reserved to men.

A certain lack of female presence in the Italian SFF scene can be seen already in the attendance at conventions and literary events. The important con Stranimondi, for example, is mainly composed of middle-aged men so far. Last year all the women invited to speak at a panel devoted to women in sci-fi had something in common: at least one of their works had been published with the picture of a naked/half-naked woman on the cover, even if their stories featured none. It doesn’t seem very welcoming, but there’s great determination behind many women in Italian SFF. This situation is probably due to sheer numbers as well: to give an example, this year Urania has created another award, specifically for short stories, and it has been revealed that of the 164 people who have sent a story only 20 are women. Statistics are against us, at least for now… but this doesn’t justify the naked women on the covers.

That being said, if you get the chance to attend Stranimondi do it, it’s definitely worth it: it has had only two editions so far (the third one will be held in October 2017 in Milan), but it has already established its importance in the field. It may be small compared to the biggest cons that are held abroad, but if you want to see what the Italian SFF/speculative fiction scene has to offer, that is the place to be. You can find out some of the most interesting independent publishers by looking at the list of publishers which will be present at Stranimondi. There you’ll see other publishers which also aim to publish works translated into English, like Acheron books.

We have no doubts that the internet is helping in keeping the local SFF community alive, and the more we look at the local scene the more we expect—no, we demand—an exciting future for it. We managed to convince some of the most reluctant readers, the Italians themselves, that Italian authors can write good sci-fi, crime, horror and weird so the future holds something promising indeed. Well, if global warming doesn’t kill us all first.

Many thanks again to our awesome contributors Alessandra and Andrea!

Alessandra Cristallini is the mind behind the blog Fragments of a Hologram Dystopia (bilingual page / English only page), a sci-fi blog where she collects pictures and posts short stories and reviews. She is a translator and has published two short stories for the charity event Penny Steampunk. She loves cats, tea and untranslatable grammar jokes.

Andrea Gibertoni born in 1975 in Reggio Emilia, where he still lives, makes ends meet with odd jobs until, on the threshold of his 40s, decides with his wife Giulia to open Miskatonic University: a bookshop dedicated to all sorts of speculative fiction. His shop has became a reference for all the Italian SFF lovers, and organises a number of event, exhibitions and launches. You can find more info at https://www.facebook.com/miskatonicuniversityre/ or drop Andrea an email at miskatonicuniversity@gmail.com

Sunday, 27 August 2017

Mediterranean Dark Literature Survey

Over the next few months, we’ll be running a series of posts showcasing the dark and speculative literary scenes in the countries of the Mediterranean region.

While working on the project that led to the Fae Visions of the Mediterranean anthology we came into contact with a diverse and stimulating range of authors and literary traditions, were introduced to new insights, unexpected connections and new friends. We want to learn more about this whole region, and we think that other readers and editors might benefit from this information as well, so we’re asking people to share it here. We have in the back of our mind the possibility that we may be inspired by this ongoing community and friendship to put together more anthologies in the Visions of the Mediterranean series at some point in the future.

Fae Visions of the Mediterranean cover art, © 2016 Tostoini

Friday, 18 August 2017

Interview with Rebecca Gomez Farrell, author of Wings Unseen

It is our pleasure to welcome on the pages of our blog Rebecca Gomez Farrell (author of the beautiful Good Genes in TFF#38), and chat with her about her upcoming fantasy novel Wings Unseen, published by Meerkat Press.

Rebecca Gomez Farrell conjures up short and long speculative fiction stories from her home in Oakland, CA, where she resides with her tech wizard husband and two trickster cats. Her debut epic fantasy novel, Wings Unseen, comes out August 22 from Meerkat Press. Her shorter works can be read in Beneath Ceaseless Skies, the Future Fire, and Bull Spec among other magazines. Look for “Treasure” in the Dark Luminous Wings anthology in Fall 2017. She also blogs about food, drink, and travel at theGourmez.com, and yes, she has opinions about candied bacon.

TFF: What makes your novel, and its characters, different from the other fantasy books that will be sitting next to it on bookstore shelves? 

Rebecca Gomez Farrell: While Wings Unseen was borne from my love of classic fantasy, it is firmly rooted in today’s sensibilities in terms of feminism and social and political theory. There is centralized power, but there are also clear elements of democratic principles and their opposites. I see no reason why fantasy needs to follow the Medieval social order of our own world exactly – secondary worlds are not our own. So while the setting and world-building should be an easy fit for fantasy lovers, I hope they find it a refreshing take on the genre. Also, Wings Unseen is not a tale of big battles and clashes so much as it is an intimate journey in the minds of its main characters. It also constantly questions and interrogates the notion of destiny and free will. Are we required to follow the paths laid for us? What compels us to?


TFF: Both Good Genes and Wings Unseen involve issues of family loyalty and the demands that arise there from. Is there a conflict between the micro- and macro-political that these sorts of story help to explore?

RGF: Absolutely, especially in terms of the excuses that humans can make for perpetuating systemic injustice on a personal level. In Good Genes, Carl is the voice of the town of Enos, which has essentially forced its own citizens to give up their lives for generations for the “good” of their community. He does his best to explain why to the newcomers in town, but no amount of explanation could ever convince Rockie to give up her loved ones, no matter the cost to others, which is the exact same choice that Jonah makes over a century earlier that results in the culture Carl is raised not to question. On a grand scale, Wings Unseen explores the wisdom of a great compromise made to bring peace after a war, a choice that many have considered a “good” one for a long time. But the main characters, particularly Janto, must reckon how his grandfather’s decision to save lives through truce has resulted in a society that ultimately threatens lives in many new, and horrifying, ways. And Serra has perhaps the hardest familial and societal conflicts to reconcile on a personal level, particularly in the challenge of what helping her people means after the murder of her brother.

TFF: You also write as a food and drink critic. Do you ever cross the streams between gourmet blogging and speculative fiction? A food-themed horror story, for example.

RGF: The way I usually describe it is that the sensual aspects of my food and drink writing inform my world-building. Eating and drinking are such essential pleasures in life, or at least in my life! How could I write a story that doesn’t factor them in? The taste, texture, and smell of food memories are so evocative. Who is not going to relate to a character’s bite of a buttery, grilled bread with crisped cheese around the edges?  It’s a basic building block of a society – what do they eat and why? Even the less appealing aspects of food and drink leave an impression: the stink of an onion rotting in its own juices or the taste of sour milk. I think such details are a great way to invite readers into the world you’ve created, even if the cultures seem very strange to them. But yes, maybe I should get going on that story about a blogger who writes recipes with fake ingredients that keep appearing in her pantry after she posts…

TFF: What can fans of your writing look forward to next? What is the recent work you’d most like people to track down and read?

RGF: I would love to say a sequel to Wings Unseen! But I am only a few thousand words into that…which is more than I ever thought I would be as I intended it to be a standalone book! I am on the second draft of a post-apocalyptic romance novel, Natural Disasters, which I hope gets to the finished stage next year. My newest short story, a humorous sci-fi tale called Garbage, is available now in the charity anthology Through a Scanner Farkly. Treasure, a fantasy fable, will appear in the Dark Luminous Wings anthology from Pole to Pole Publishing in the fall.

Thank you Rebecca, good luck with all your literary projects and especially with Wings Unseen that will be out on the 22nd of August.

Monday, 31 July 2017

Recommend: queer short stories

This time for our series on reader recommendations, where we shamelessly use you to add to our reading lists, we’d like to hear your suggestions of queer/LGBTQIA+ short stories that can be found online. To be clear, we want to hear about all the letters (and more) in that abbreviation, not just lesbian and gay stories, so hit us up with all the intersectional diversity you can think of. As always, to prime the pump we’ve asked a few editors, authors and other friends for their ideas. Read and enjoy, and then please tell us some of your favorites in the comments!

Rachel Linn (author page)

Full disclosure: “Something that Needs Nothing” (New Yorker 2006) isn't really speculative or fantasy fiction, though Miranda July’s way of seeing and describing the ‘real’ world often transforms it into an alternate reality.  Her writing feels like a more surreal version of The Catcher in the Rye, one in which you’re even less sure if the narrator’s perceptions are unreliable or if the world itself is.  I was intrigued the first time I read the story, but even more so after talking to a football player who was assigned it as a reading for a college class and chose to analyze it for his final paper.  He said he "related to the narrator's voice", which, coming from someone so different from myself, reinforced my impression of the story’s bizarre accessibility.  When the narrator says, "We were always getting away with something, which implied that someone was always watching us, which meant that we were not alone in this world," I think most of us know what she means.

Also, I should note that this story is explicit and—like much of July’s writing and performance art—plays with offensiveness (and therefore might not be everyone’s cup of tea).

Jo Thomas (Journeymouse)

If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love” by Rachel Swirsky (Apex Magazine 2013). What I like about the story with respect to queerness is the lack of detail about identity until the very end and, even then, it can be interpreted several ways. The writer uses first person so, if one realises the writer is a woman, there's a tendency to assume the narrator also is—but their gender identity isn't revealed until the narrator calls themself “the paleontologist’s fiancée with her half-planned wedding.” Likewise, the paleontologist love in question isn't definitively called a man until the very end and that only serves to show that the narrator and, presumably the love, recognise that identity for sure. So, with the the narrator saying that their love is called “a fag, a towel-head, a shemale, a sissy, a spic, every epithet they could think of, regardless of whether it had anything to do with you or not,” there is still an ocean of possibilities over gender and identity. There is room for questions—the most important possibly being why does the reader see it like that?

Claudie Arseneault (author page)

When asked for recommendations, choosing what to promote and fan over is often the hardest part of the task. Today I’ve picked two very different stories both featuring aromantic protagonists which I’ve discovered since the start of the year.

The first, “How My Best Friend Rania Crashed A Party And Saved The World” by Ada Hoffman (Unlikely Story 2014) is a near-future science fiction in which social media status heavily influences your place in the world. Emma is a Relator—she might not want to date, but she has over 2000 friends, and she’s ready to use those relationships to help her World Saver best friend. I love the way this piece defies the aromantic loner trope, the fullness of its characters, and how evocative those social media titles are. It’s a fun and free YA story that really stayed with me.

The second is “Nkásht íí” by Darcie Little Badger (Strange Horizons 2014), a brilliant short story steeped in Lipan Apache ghost lore. Friends of misfortune, Josie and Annie investigate a man’s car crash after he insists a malevolent spirit drowned his baby girl. Annie’s grandma has often warned her against restless ghosts. Haunting, tense and beautiful, “Nkásht íí” focuses on the unbreakable bond between two women, simultaneously providing horrified shivers and the warm glow of solid friendship. Easily one of my favourite reads this year.

If you ever feel the need for more free aromantic fiction available online, you can always check Penny Stirling’s great list. Happy reading!

Rachel Verkade (story; poem)

I first read Tim Pratt's story "Life in Stone" (Escape Pod 2006) in his excellent collection Hart & Boot. It seemed at first a fairly typical story that borrowed much of its premise from the ancient Slavic tales of Koschei the Deathless; a sorcerer has made himself immortal by placing his soul in an inanimate object and hiding it away. The trouble is that now, after many millennia of life, the sorcerer wants to die, and can no longer remember where his soul is hidden. So he hires a skilled but aging mercenary/assassin to find his soul and end his life.

What made the story stand out for me first was the setting—a bizarre future America where magic is rampant, and the characters are as likely to drive their SUV down to the local Italian eatery for supper as they are to fight their way through a den of lake monsters. And the other was the fact that the assassin and the sorcerer are lovers.

What unfolds is a story about aging, the loss of physical and mental capacities, about memory and the nature of the soul… and about love. About how sometimes what your lover wants may seem unfathomable, and sometimes the kindest thing to do is also the most painful. About two aging men working towards a single goal, each for their own reasons, and how one begins to question those reasons even as he commits acts of horrible violence to reach his end. It's also, of course, a very sad story… but also a very poignant one, and, in its own way, very hopeful. There aren't many older queer badass assassins in fantasy literature, and Pratt's Mr. Zealand makes an amazing impression in only ten pages.

Trace Yulie (author page)

K.M. Szpara’s “Small Changes Over Long Periods of Time” (Uncanny, 2017) is written from a trans perspective, by a trans author, and it isn’t a sweet story of acceptance or an inspiring story about transition struggle; I say this because these seem like themes some readers are more comfortable with. There is of course a space for affirming fiction, and sometimes queer stories just aren’t for non-queer folks, you know? But Szpara’s stories are not on those themes. Oh no, no, no. They are raw and vulnerable, and the narratives situate the reader firmly in the trans viewpoint in a way that I find at times deeply unsettling. And that’s good (at least for this privileged reader). If one goal of fiction is to create situations where the reader identifies and empathizes with the people depicted in the story, they should feel unsettled by the horror of finding oneself in the wrong body, or a changing body. The character’s experience is viscerally, vividly described. The character feels intimately embodied; the stories are about being trans in the body. The reader can’t look away or bounce off that perspective, as it isn’t sidelined into a token side character or pushed into the background. On the surface, “Small Changes” is a vampire story, but the transformative turn from human to vampire resists easy metaphor or resolution. It’s a heavy, dark analogue for the harsh complexities of sex, desire and a intense something-else that defies simple explication. The story was hard for me to read. But I don’t think the story was meant to be comfortable, and I’m glad I didn’t look away. I also recommend Szpara’s “Nothing is Pixels Here” (Lightspeed [QDSF], 2015), an older publication about a different kind of embodied terror, but no less complex and painful. I make no assumptions that these stories are written for a cis audience, but as a cis person I came away with a measure of empathy I didn’t know I lacked before reading them.

Please tell us about more great online queer stories in the comments!

Sunday, 23 July 2017

Shubbak: Imagined Futures

A couple weeks ago I spent an evening in the Barbican watching the only part of the Shubbak Film Festival: A Window on Contemporary Arab Culture that I made it to this year—a program of five short films titled “Imagined Futures.” These were not all science fiction, by any means, although at least two of them explicitly position themselves within the genre. I’m not going to try to review the films or the collective here, but give a few thoughts and reactions—if you can catch any of this series for yourself, you should surely do so.

Mare Nostrum is a Syrian/French production directed by Anas Khalaf and Rana Kazkaz, which in 13 minutes shows us a Syrian father apparently being irrationally cruel and abusive to his young daughter. The father’s own anguish at his daughter’s fear and suffering makes it clear that there is more going on, and the story ends on a heartbreaking—if all-too-familar—dénouement.

An animated short film from Lebanon directed by Chadi Aoun, Silence lasts only 15 minutes and is a beautiful/terrible dystopia where silence is obligatory (and brutally enforced by military agents), and rebels dance supernaturally to a music that seems to result from their choreography. Very nicely animated, tear-provoking film.

Selma, a joint Algerian/French production directed by Batoul Benazzou, is at 35 minutes the longest in this anthology, and rather than futuristic is about a girl worrying about her future after graduating school. Another longish piece, the 21-minute Lebanese parable Submarine, directed by Mounia Akl, is about the only woman who refuses to abandon her town when the garbage crisis gets apocalyptically out of control.

The shortest film of the evening was the 10-minute, Palestine/Denmark co-production Nation Estate, directed by and starring Larissa Sansour (who also joined us for a Q&A in the theater after the films), a squeaky clean dystopia in which the entire Palestinian people are housed in a single huge tower block. Their lives are luxurious, well-fed, with plenty of space for everyone and every resource and comfort they could want. The protagonist even has an olive tree in her living quarters, and instant, classic Palestinian food in preserved containers in her kitchen. The pseudo-utopian setting is so convincing that—Sansour tells us—a German critic went so far as to delightedly proclaim that this would be a good solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict! A spine-chilling, and more subtle science fiction offering than most of those shown here. Other than a couple of fascinating/infuriating anecdotes, the Q&A was brief and rather shallow (the questioners’ fault, not Sansour’s), but the collection of shorts made for some nice contrasts, and none of the films were duds.

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Recommend: Superheroine

For this month’s recommendation post we’d like to hear from you all about your favourite superheroines. They can be costumed comic characters, spandex-clad muscular movie heroes (or villains), or superpowered characters or people of any stripe—if they’re superheroines in your book, tell us about them and why. To prime the pump, we’ve asked a handful of authors and other friends to tell us their favorites. Read and enjoy—and then please tell us yours in the comments!

Priya Sridhar (author blog, story)

The Adventures of Superhero Girl is always a fun read, a project by Faith Erin Hicks that is currently on hiatus. Superhero Girl spends her days fighting crime, giving loose change to homeless people, and babysitting kids that have temporal powers. She also lives under her brother Kevin's shadow. Kevin has a huge superhero fanbase and merchandise collection. For the most part she has to be the ordinary kid sister who happens to have superpowers. Thus she gets little to no respect. But she keeps trying, and to keep herself from resenting her brother. The art has a loose, fun style that lends to large panels. I can get lost in SHG's story, her struggles which combine mundane resentment and fantastic adventures.

Omi Wilde (story; story)

Like Spiderman and Daredevil, Storme DeLarverie patrolled the streets of New York. But Storme, nicknamed “guardian of the lesbians,” was a real life hero who played a pivotal role in North American queer history. Described as a “gay superhero... tall, androgynous and armed” in her New York Times obituary, Storme walked the streets of downtown Manhattan well into her 80’s, always protecting her “baby girls” from any “ugliness.” She was present at Stonewall in 1969 and by her own admission and many reports, threw the first punch and inspired others to rebel against police persecution. As well as her work for the LGBTQ community, as a musician and drag king she organized and performed at benefits for abused women and children and is quoted as saying that she did so because “Somebody has to care… If people didn’t care about me when I was growing up, with my mother being black, raised in the south… I wouldn’t be here.” A biracial butch lesbian whose credo was caring and fierce protective love—she's very easily my favourite superheroine.

Check out Storme’s obituary and a short film on her life and career in the Jewel Box Revue.

Su J Sokol (website; Goodreads)

My recommendation for a superheroine is from the novella Scale Bright by Benjanun Sriduangkaew. One of the main characters of the story is Hau Ngai who is also Houy’i—the immortal archer of Chinese mythology who is married to Chang’y, the goddess of the moon. In this retelling of the ancient legend, the archer Houyi is interpreted as female.

Though technically an immortal rather than a superheroine, the setting of the story in modern-day Hong Kong, along with the almost cyberpunk feel to the aesthetic, gives the character of Houyi a distinctly super-heroic feel:
Houyi stands on the first letter of HSBC, ancient myth-feet resting on logo black on red, under which throbs a mad rush of numbers and commerce and machines: trades riding cellular waves and fiber optic, fortunes made and shattered in minutes. She does not shade her eyes.
As a feminist who grew up reading superhero comics, my heart thrilled to this description of Hau Ngai/Houyi. I could almost see her cape as it caught in the winds of flight.

Regina de Búrca (twitter; TFF bio)

C.B. Lee's Not Your Sidekick is set in a quasi-dystopian 22nd-century America where the line between hero and villain is often blurred. Jessica Tran, a bisexual Chinese-Vietnamese girl, is a superhero precisely because she struggles to figure out what her superpowers are, or if she even has any, growing up in a family of superheroes, in a town full of people with special powers! While working as an intern for the town supervillains' lab, Jessica comes into her own as she embraces her identity. The book’s title references the #notyourasiansidekick movement and this novel does an excellent job of challenging stereotypes and redressing imbalances in representation via Jessica's character. As Jessica plays to her strengths, her story shows that being empowered is not just for the realm of stereotypical superheroes.

Now tell us about some more superheroines in the comments, please!

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Interview with Joyce Chng, author of Starfang

We’re delighted to welcome back to TFF an old friend Joyce Chng (we published her story “Lotus” in We See a Different Frontier, the hauntingly beautiful “The Lessons of the Moon” in Accessing the Future, a poem “Lessons of the Sun” in TFF-X, and a mini-sequel to “Lotus” here as part of our ten year celebration). Her latest novel, Starfang: Rise of the Clan is now out from Fox Spirit Books, and Joyce joins us to talk about this book and her other work.

Joyce Chng is Singaporean. She writes science fiction, YA and things in between. She can be found at @jolantru and A Wolf's Tale.
Is a clan captain going to sacrifice everything for her clan? Tasked by her parents to kill Yeung Leung, powerful rival clan leader of the Amber Eyes, Captain Francesca Min Yue sets out across the galaxy to hunt her prey, only to be thrown into a web of political intrigue spreading across the stars. Is Yeung Leung collaborating with the reptilian shishini and playing a bigger game with the galaxy as a price? Is Francesca’s clan at stake? Welcome to Starfang: Rise of the Clan, where merchants and starship captains are also wolves.

TFF: In one line, can you tell us what Starfang is about?

Joyce Chng: Starfang is about werewolves in space, clan wars, and a female captain’s loyalty to her pack and clan. It is also a space opera with alien races and starship battles.

TFF: I thought most mashups of scifi and fantasy tropes had been done, but Werewolves in Space may be a new one on me. Where did the inspiration for Starfang come from?

JC: The inspiration for Starfang came from watching cargo ships. I like taking my daughters to this jetty and small beach. It faces out into a small channel whereby large cargo ships ply through.

One day it just struck me: why don’t I just write a space opera… with ships and werewolves? I have always liked the idea of space ports and stations. Plus the fact that Singapore has always been a port city. Imagine the type of stories that arise from this.

TFF: Do you already know where the rest of the Starfang series will go, or are you still making it up as you go? Any sneak previews for us?

JC: The other two books have been written!

Sneak preview from the second book: captain goes on a hunt for her hunted enemy:
The arrival of a Clan warship was normally a joyous occasion, as a tour of duty would take months up to a year. Its return would be followed with feasting and hunting. But for Starfang, there was no joy, no feasting. The warship was in mourning, the loss of an important member of the pack still keenly felt. An emptiness echoed on the bridge. Starfang was now in hunting mode, a predator on the trail of an elusive prey. Even a refit and refuel above Noah’s Ark would mean a delay. I itched to move on, to continue the hunt, the kill.

Francesca, illustrated by Rhiannon Rasmussen-Silverstein
TFF: Your previous trilogy, the Jan Xu series, was also a werewolf-themed story (and your blog is named A Wolf’s Tale!)—what is so important or attractive about wolves, for you?

JC: I love wolves. I love that pack and loyalty to family are part of wolf social structure.

TFF: Clan, pack and family seems to be crucial to this book and many of your other stories. Can you tell us more about the relationship between the individual and community in your work?

JC: I feel that the individual is part of their community, part of an intricate web that ties them together. What the individual does bears consequence to their family and community. In my other stories, I also explore the depth of family, both blood and found. My first YA web story Oysters, Pearls & Magic explores the important of family and how it ties the protagonist, first to her blood kin and then to her found family. Ultimately, she still returns to where she was born. The same goes for her daughter in Path of Kindness where, after years of wandering, she returns to her mother in the village.

In Starfang and in the Jan Xu series, clan, pack and family are part of the story, part of the protagonist’s identity. Captain Francesca’s ties to her family and her pack are deep and thick, sometimes even stronger than galactic politics.

TFF: The first two Starfang novels were originally serialized on your blog, before being polished and edited up for print publication. How does this change the way you sell or market the novel now?

JC: In a way, it doesn’t really change how I sell or market the novel. Serialization is one of the ways authors and writers can use to reach their audiences. For people who read my work and follow me on social media, they get to read the stories as they are written and uploaded on my Wattpad and Patreon.

TFF: What are you working on next? What can your fans look forward to?

JC: A couple of short stories, and a sword fantasy series.

TFF: And what about supporters of your Patreon—what bonus materials are they getting access to these days?

JC: They get poems and new stories that have been not published before in sff venues. Likewise, they get to read installments from an ongoing space opera I am writing. The space opera is inspired by Admiral Zheng He, a Chinese Muslim explorer who visited Southeast Asia in the fifteenth century.

Thanks so much for joining us, Joyce! Best of luck with Starfang (Amzn) and the rest of the novels.

Monday, 12 June 2017

Recommend: women in noir/crime

Noir is a genre of fiction too often plagued with sexist stereotypes. If you are tired of plots where women characters are either manipulative femmes fatales or naive girls in need of protection, and you would like to read a good crime story without rolling your eyes every other page… maybe this month’s recommendations can be of some help! TFF authors, editors and reviewers have shared quite different examples: from more traditional noir to contamination with other genres; from novels to comics; from the darkest stories for adult readers to humorous YA series. Feel free to join us in compiling this list, adding in the comments all the noir stories with women and/or by women that you have read and enjoyed! Mainstream or obscure, we want them all!


Petra Kuppers (website)

My choice of noir is Gail Simone’s graphic novel with illustrators Jon Davis-Hunt and Quinton Winter, Clean Room: Immaculate Conception (DC Comics, 2016). It’s got all the ingredients of a good noir: a besieged and heart-wounded hero (journalist Chloe Pierce), a scintillating set of beautifully realized locations (scenes are set in Germany, Norway, various points in the US), and an equally wounded and enigmatic femme fatale (Astrid Mueller, head of a cult-like organization). Members of Astrid’s organization visit the clean room, where they face their fears. They might end up killing themselves, as Chloe’s fiancee did, or, later in the story, a Hollywood action hero. Add to that mix intriguing monsters, skin gore, torture and self-mutilation, lots of nudity and sex, and more twists and turns than one can shake a stick at. The psychological tension runs high and makes this a brilliant read, with two powerful women leads, one black, one white, none of whom need rescuing, although both have an intriguing bunch of henchpeople (including a group in Chloe’s camp that reminds me of Mulder’s nerds in the X Files). Queer narratives complicate the story, releasing us from scenarios where there is only ever one ‘other.’

Valeria Vitale (TFF, blog)

The Blue Place by Nicola Griffith is a story that shows all the landmarks of the noir genre: a hardened former police officer, a corrupt aristocracy that flirts with criminal organisations, shady middlemen that love money too much, a fascinating client that are bound to bring troubles, and a city, Atlanta, that is, as in many noir, a crucial component of the plot. At the same time, Griffith’s novel eludes easy categorizations and keeps surprising the reader, choosing unexpected turns, changing pace and focus. What makes this story so interesting to me is not (only) that most of the main characters are women, but that this scenario is not treated as something exceptional: the novel unravels smoothly without anyone being disconcerted by the fact that, yes, women can be dark and dangerous too and, yes, they also make very good detectives.

The Blue Place portrays a number of relationships between women that are beautifully diverse and complex, and feed the plot without falling into stereotypes or being used as simple triggers: flirt and courtship, romantic involvement, friendship, solidarity, family bonds. They all feel real and profoundly human and make this story exceptionally engaging.

Cait Coker (TFF)

Jacqueline Carey's novels Santa Olivia (2009) and Saints Astray (2011) are unlikely to be read as noir, but I would argue that they are closer to that genre than to conventional dystopia, as noir is characterized through its ethical ambiguity and fatalism, and dystopia through omnipresent degradation. In Carey's world, there is a valid escape to be had from the shitty not-too-distant future southwest US, where a queer Hispanic teen named Loup is torn between revenge for her dead brother and escaping to a better life for herself and her girlfriend Pilar. The outer world, including Mexico and Europe, has rebounded after a devastating pandemic in a way that the isolationist US has not. Loup's and Pilar's journey evolves beyond a quest for survival to one of discovery of this outside world, from tourist beaches to fashion and pop music.

Their saga concludes with their search for social justice for their home, still under martial law, and for equal rights for genetically modified humans, both of which are impeded by the complex oligarchy of the US government and military, as in this case being born, for Loup, is a crime of itself.

Jessica Campbell (web page)

Robin Stevens’s ongoing book series Murder Most Unladylike is one of those things that’s tailor-made for those of us who like the aesthetics of classic English fiction but also like progressive politics (see also Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries). The books, intended for children and teens but very readable for adults, feature Hazel Wong and Daisy Wells, budding detectives at a girls’ boarding school in 1930s England. Daisy comes from the British gentry, while Hazel is from Hong Kong; they become friends and form their own detective society. The mysteries are interesting, and they frequently evoke the likes of Agatha Christie with titles like Arsenic for Tea and settings like a manor house and the Orient Express. Hazel’s first-person narration subtly invites readers into her experience as an Asian girl in a very Caucasian society. Then there’s her experience as a smart but quiet person who has to learn to assert herself with the brash Daisy. These are good things for kids to read about, and Stevens’s prose is never didactic. I was encouraged to read these books by a friend and her middle-school-aged son – and I’d be hard pressed to pinpoint which of them encouraged them more strongly!

Please let us know in the comments your favorite women in noir and crime—you'll be adding to my reading list!