Saturday, 15 September 2018

Guest post: Rent Asunder

Guest post by Misha Penton

I

“This was the darkness in which ghosts and monsters were active, and indeed was not the woman who lived in it… -was she not of a kind with them?”¹

A thunderhead churns in slow-motion, its high clouds billow white against a darkening blue expanse. Bats chirp a chorus under a bayou bridge and a falcon circles a slow descent. Thousands of grackles gather on powerlines to watch the end of day: the last rays of sun move across the city as it rises from the desert plain.

“…in 'visible darkness', where always something seemed to be flickering and shimmering…”

Her abdomen hovers above the sparkle of twisted skyscrapers and her thin, long legs easily navigate between metallic buildings: one furry claw here on the pavement (barely missing a sidewalk crack), and one claw there, next to a man asleep on a bench (he doesn't wake).


“The darkness wrapped around her tenfold, twentyfold…”

Now, beyond the buildings, she rests at the edge of a concrete-lined waterway. Above her, blue lights hang from the underside of a bridge, signaling the coming full moon. Between her two front legs she holds the remnants of a shattered porcelain bowl. Its glaze is a galaxy swirl of greens and blues—tiny bird silhouettes lift from its fractured surface and merge into the surrounding darkness.

With mother-like coaxing, she gathers the shards and makes her way to a deserted avenue. She ascends a slick glass tower. A shimmer of silk spools out from her spinnerets and wafts high on the breeze, sticking to the steel building across the street. One glimmering thread at a time, she crafts a magnificent web. At last, she settles in its center and starts to work on the shattered bowl: with silk and gold, she adheres each broken piece to its match, and makes what was once broken, whole—and more wonder-full and splendid than before.²

II

I find myself searching for examples of transformations that occur through physical trial—like the shattered cup renewed and made whole through craftsmanship and patience.

The wedding of tech and biology is often physically arduous, and a beautifully rendered example of such tech-craft is Star Trek’s iconic Borg, Seven of Nine. Too numerous to name, cybernetic transformations abound (not always physically difficult but always cool): from the Maschinenmensch (robot) in Fritz Lang's 1927 Metropolis to Darth Vader. I'll count Hugh Jackman's Wolverine transformation, too: physically difficult and very high-tech.

Mary Shelley's monster in Frankenstein is another grim physical transformation. Though her book gives few details of the physical trial, the many ensuing iterations of the work are full of state-of-the-art details of his making. Other ordeals that come to mind include the contorted physical changes of Dr. Jekyll into Mr. Hyde, and the pack of movie werewolves from Henry Hull and Lon Chaney to David Naughton³ and Michael J. Fox.

Angelina Jolie's Maleficent is one of my favorites, and her wing-cutting and reintegration is a dramatic and powerful symbol of dismemberment and wholeness regained.

Is losing oneself through transformation possible? Isn't that the fear? or the gift?—that through some monumental change we become unrecognizable to ourselves and to the world?

References
Tanizaki, Jun'ichirō. "In Praise of Shadows". The Art of the Personal Essay. An Anthology from the Classical Era to the Present. Phillip Lopate, ed. Thomas J. Harper and Edward G. Seidensticker, trans. New York: Anchor Books, 1995.

Notes
  1. Quotes in italics in are from Jun'ichirō Tanizaki’s essay, “In Praise of Shadows” translated by Edward G. Seidensticker (1995).
  2. Inspired by the Japanese art and concept of kintsugi: broken pottery mended with lacquer and gold to create something new and perhaps more beautiful than the original.
  3. H/T to Djibril al-AYAD for pointing out the painful lycanthropic transformation in the film American Werewolf in London (1981).

Misha Penton's projects blossom in many forms: live performances, audio and video works, and writings. She has produced and directed over 16 original evening-length performance works and more than six music video projects. Professional affiliations include Houston Grand Opera, Museum of Fine Arts Houston, Bath Spa University, and University of Houston Center for Creative Work. Upcoming projects: a new media monodrama celebrating the magnificent monstrous feminine. mishapenton.com. On Twitter: @divergencediva

Misha's flash story “Eclipse” can be found in the Making Monsters anthology.

Monday, 10 September 2018

Guest post: Childhood Monsters

Guest post by Neil James Hudson.

My childhood was full of monsters. My favourite book was Usborne’s All About Monsters by Carey Miller. The cover showed the fiercest possible Loch Ness Monster, green-skinned, yellow-eyed, and possibly a little over-supplied with fangs. Inside were lurid paintings and descriptions of dinosaurs, Sirens, Cyclops, Grendels, dragons, krakens, abominable snowmen and Godzillas. If this wasn’t enough, a weekly dose of Doctor Who kept my imagination topped up with an ever-changing parade of new creations. My worst behind-the-sofa moment was the Krynoid, a space plant that infected humans, turning them into an enormous mass of vegetation that would eventually engulf the planet. It owed an enormous debt to The Quatermass Experiment, but I watched it again recently and found it just as terrifying as when I was six and had to leave the room, unable to resist watching through the kitchen door.

On the face of it, I didn’t need them. Real life was quite terrifying enough. I had so many school bullies that sometimes I had to stay behind to catch up on some of the bullying I hadn’t had time for. Teachers tended to blame the victims, and would add extra punishment for missing work because I’d been too busy being bullied. And I found everyday social interaction so baffling and difficult that I was occasionally grateful to the bullies for getting me out of it. And yet, my favourite leisure activity was to scare the hell out of myself.

Bullies aren’t monsters; they’re too dull. Monsters, frankly, cheer the place up a bit. I’ve never heard of a monster that simply bored you to death; Douglas Adams might have pulled it off, but not Homer. Monsters are just more interesting than reality. School life was painful, but it was also boring, blow after blow after blow. Bullies didn’t breathe fire or turn you to stone, let alone lure you to your death by singing.

The other great thing about monsters was that you seldom defeated them fairly and squarely through single combat. You used your brain, and beat them through cunning and trickery. You approached Medusa with a mirrored shield. You stabbed Polyphemus in the eye and hid under his sheep. You put spikes on your armour and fought the Lambton Worm in a river. You turned off the Daleks’ power supply. The bullies would be eaten in no time, but their bright but weedy victim could save the world—after the removal of a few undesirables. And of course, to the enormous gratitude of a few desirables.

Ultimately, monsters aren’t real. That’s what’s so great about them. If they were real, they’d just be beasts. Instead, they’re discrete chunks of imagination, superimposed on reality to wreak a bit of havoc on a smug world. When I was a child, reality wasn’t good enough; I had to live in a world of my imagination instead. I still do. Here be monsters; let’s have more of them.



Neil James Hudson has published forty short stories and a novel On Wings of Pity, about incubi and succubi. He has been fascinated by mythology since finding a stray copy of Pears' Cyclopedia as a child, and has a diploma in Classical Studies from the Open University. His website is at neiljameshudson.net.


Neil’s story “A Song of Sorrow” appears in the Making Monsters anthology, available now.

Tuesday, 4 September 2018

Resist Fascism! Make the new Crossed Genres anthology happen

Our friends at Crossed Genres Publications are running a Kickstarter to fund the publication of their newest anthology Resist Fascism: An SFF Call to Action. A speculative fiction micro-anthology about fighting fascism any and every way possible or impossible. Apart from being an obviously timely and self-evidently important theme, wherever in the world you might look, at the moment, this anthology will be full of kick-ass and mind-blowing science fiction stories by a slate of talented and exciting authors.

Selfishly, I want this project to be funded, because I want to read the book. But for a better incentive, we’ve invited five of the Resist Fascism authors to TFF to tell us why they think it’s an important project, what their stories contribute to the anthology, and how the whole is an act of much-needed resistance against political repression worldwide. We’ll let Izzy, Marie, Barbara, Tiffany and JL take it from here…

Izzy Wasserstein


Crossed Genres Magazine was already legendary by the time I started writing speculative fiction. To my great regret, it was also closed. So when this project was announced, I was eager to be a part of it.

My story is set during one of the great failures in the fight against fascism: the Spanish Civil War. Fascists enthusiastically supported Franco, while the western governments, fearing communists more than fascists, failed to help the Republicans. I wrote this story because I believe that even small kindnesses and unwitnessed bravery can make a difference. It’s up to each of us to do what we can. I fervently hope this story helps make a difference.

What excites me most about this project is that it’s an important part of a larger effort to imagine how we can defeat fascism, and how we can cultivate a better world. Despair is a powerful temptation, but we must continue the struggle. We must be victorious. We owe it to the future.

Marie Vibbert


My story was about public housing. I have a personal tie to that, since the first home I remember was the projects. My grandparents lived in the same project. It's gone now, like so many others, and the lack of good, clean places for people to live galls me. The public perception of the projects is skewed, too. People think of public housing as hotbeds of crime, when in actuality they are islands of safety. It's harder to get into the projects than Harvard most of the time. You have to have a job. You have to have income to pay the rent. You have to have a clean record. The people in the projects are worried about the less vetted people living in tenements around them. Neighbors are kind and look out for each other. That's true everywhere, I think, other than wealthy home owner's associations. :P

Anyway, that's just pontificating. The story was inspired by an interaction I saw of a little girl scolding her obviously older brother at the base of steps in Cleveland's public housing. I was biking by, but the brief interaction really stuck with me, how girls were so often put "in charge" as kids. Expected to be more selfless, more mature at an early age. So I got this idea of an inner-city matriarchy.

Then I got worried about Own Voices, so I moved the setting to a smaller town with a predominantly white population. I made my main character black because I wanted people to see the role of the social worker as a minority and the poor being helped as white. Because that does happen and it's not what's represented. As a poor white kid, I got a lot of help from black professionals.

So yeah, I wanted to write something about the projects, and make it science fiction, and have the projects WIN, which might be the most science fiction part of it.

Barbara Krasnoff


I’ve known Bart and Kay for several years—Crossed Genres published three of my stories when it was a monthly magazine—and when I met Bart during the Readercon genre convention, and he told me about the upcoming anthology, I was very excited. I started working on it as soon as I got home, but it was difficult for me at first to come up with an idea. I made several starts before I got underway with “In the Background.”

Whenever I watch a show or read a story, I’m usually more interested in the characters who are not the front-and-center heroes—the best friends, the walk-throughs, or the unnamed individuals in the crowd. I recently spent three fascinating days working as an extra for a TV series, and I suddenly realized that this could be the basis for a story about those anonymous individuals and the real effect they can have. Just as a production can’t be made without its background actors, political and social movements depend on their background volunteers to call the voters, contact their representatives, type in the data, design the websites, and do all that other necessary work without applause or recognition—except perhaps from close colleagues, friends or family. My hope would be that stories like “In the Background” can help those of us who are not in the spotlight understand that we too are important.

Tiffany E. Wilson


Like most of us, I'm burnt out and often feel hopeless about the political situation in the US, especially because it feels like many of the horrific things that are happening are beyond my control. My story grew from that frustration.

“Meet Me at State Sponsored Movie Night” is about a future nation where fascism has taken hold, restricting people's access to resources, media, and education. It follows two teen girls and their small act of resistance to reclaim their community. I hope the optimism of the story serves as a reminder to readers that small actions matter, even if it only helps a small group of people for one night.

Art—especially science fiction—has a very important role in inspiring change. Since SF is often forward-thinking, it can help readers envision possible futures and the pathways to create or avoid them. As we near the midterm elections, this country is at a critical turning point where each citizen can help shape the trajectory of our future through the simple act of voting. Books like Resist Fascism can be a rallying cry, not only to encourage everyone to persist through the struggles and setbacks but also to remind people to step up and do their small part to resist.

JL George


I wrote “We Speak in Tongues of Flame” last year, though it had been percolating a while longer than that. The idea of an artist’s creation coming to life and spurring her on to a destructive act of defiance had been with me a long time, but the way it’s framed in terms of displacement and linguistic oppression comes out of my complicated feelings about my home country and about Welshness, especially in the wake of the 2016 Brexit vote and the rise in open racism and xenophobia that has followed. (Naïve nationalism sometimes claims, “The Welsh aren’t racist because we know how it feels to be colonised!” but, given how decisively Wales voted for Brexit, I think it’s pretty clear that this is bullshit.) My home country is there in Keris’s struggle to hang on to her native tongue—but also in the complicity of the townspeople who shrug and go along with the actions of their repressive government.

I found out about the anthology and about Crossed Genres via the Submissions Grinder, and after learning more about what they do and the ways they’ve championed diverse SFF over the years, I couldn’t be happier to be part of the anthology. Stories of resistance are important not just for showing us ways to oppose the rising tide of right-wing extremism, but also for giving us the catharsis that helps us get back up when it all feels hopeless.


For more context, Bart Leib and Kay Holt talk about the history of the Crossed Genres magazine and publishing house in an anniversary video.

Please support the Resist Fascism fundraiser, and help make sure this anthology happens!

Monday, 3 September 2018

Guest post: On Monsters and Heroes

Guest post by Liz Gloyn
Liz Gloyn, Senior Lecturer in Classics
Royal Holloway, University of London

As I have been thinking about the manifestations of classical monsters in the modern world, one critical thing I have learned is that they have an unhealthily co-dependent relationship with their heroes. Monsters are often ported into narratives purely for the hero to slay them; retellings of classical stories frequently take the moment at which a hero slays a monster as the story’s anchor. Perseus and Medusa, Theseus and the Minotaur, Hercules and a wide variety of supernatural fauna—although the slaughter of one by the other is predicated by the mythic tradition, they have clung to each other to survive through the centuries.

But now, in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, are we starting to see monsters break out of this toxic relationship? Certainly, more classical monsters are making lives for themselves in which they distance themselves from their heroes, or where the story they have to tell decentres conflict and death. I wonder how much of this is due to a relatively recent move in representations of monsters which has started to see them as sympathetic, enticing characters. Vampires are perhaps the best example; from Anne Rice’s brooding and sensual Vampire Chronicles, the erotic horrors of The Hunger (1983), and the sparkly romance of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight saga, the act of being transformed into a monster has become something to be courted rather than avoided. As the balance between fear and desire has begun to shift, monsters have become more complicated, less obviously evil.

The parallel development has been that we have started to see that the heroes are less nice. For the ancients, this would not have come as a surprise—they knew Hercules was horrible to his family, that Odysseus was duplicitous and self-centred, and they talked openly about these men’s failings as much as their virtues. However, nineteenth century versions of classical myths sanitised and valorised heroes, mainly so they could work as moral exemplars for impressionable youths; as such, heroes’ violence, white supremacy and patriarchal abuses were celebrated as worthy of emulation. Looking at these heroes and their sense of self-entitlement, their belief in their own right to trample over the earth and take whatever they felt like, the injustice of their actions and the way some post-classical cultures have uncritically honoured them now makes their heroism look much less appealing.

The general question of who gets to be a hero, and what makes someone heroic, turns our gaze back to the monster—because maybe, just maybe, monsters get to be heroes as well. Again, this is part of broader patterns of reclaiming what society might consider monstrous. There is a long tradition of coding monsters, particular in Hollywood cinema, as queer, giving LGBT+ audiences the uncomfortable experience of identifying with a villain only to see them vanquished as part of a heteronormative plotline. In recent decades, the LGBT+ community has reclaimed monstrosity—just think of how much Lady Gaga means to her Little Monsters who feel alienated and marginalised because of their sexuality—and with that reclamation comes power. Power to see the monster as important and valuable in and of itself, rather than simply as a victimised adjunct to somebody else’s story.

Where does this leave classical monsters? Certainly they will always be connected to their heroes; they have been fellow travellers for centuries. But perhaps we will see, in retellings of their stories in future years, a loosening of that binding, a relaxing of the tie, a shrugging off of the conventions which claim the classical monster’s only value lies in its defeat. Perhaps, after watching the catastrophic effects of letting heroes tell us what to do, it is time to see what lessons the classical monsters can teach us.

Liz Gloyn’s essay “Caught in Medusa’s Gaze: Why does the ancient monster survive in the modern world?” appears in the Making Monsters anthology.

Saturday, 1 September 2018

Making Monsters blog carnival

For the next few weeks we will be running a series of guest posts, appearing in interviews and panels, and running games and other activities on social media (including some giveaways) to promote the release of the Making Monsters anthology, which is on sale in print and e-book from all good bookstores today. To keep a handle on it all, and for posterity, we’ll be maintaining a list of blog posts and other links here. Please feel free to share individual links, or this page, as widely and in as many venues and media as you like.

Before the anthology was even complete, there were a few posts encouraging people to submit stories:
Micro-interviews with almost all the authors and contributors are going up daily on Facebook: so far we have Annegret Märten; Tom JohnstoneMathilde Skoie; Liz Gloyn; Hûw Steer.  I’m not going to add these every day—go to the TFF FB page to catch the rest.)

And finally the current blog carnival…

All of this is just tasters, of course. For the real goodness, get the Making Monsters anthology in print or e-book now (or ask your local library to order a copy).