Archive for category Dark Fantasy

Explaining What I Do. What Do I Do?

The people in my life–and there are many great ones–fall into a number of different groups. These groups are largely isolated from one another; there is little overlap, little interaction between them. I could chart them as a Venn diagram, but there would be a lot of circles. I would have to make myself a really big circle in the center, and everyone I know would have to be little tiny circles all around in order to fit and overlap with me. (That would make me look really conceited.) Furthermore, although the groups are largely discrete, there are some individuals who fall into more than one, and those circles should therefore overlap with others, and that might be difficult to work out. The resulting Venn diagram would look like curdled bubble bath.

Some Relationships Won't Easily Fit Into Venn Diagram

Groups (for example): Immediate Family, Extended Family (Dad’s side), Extended Family (Mother’s side), Band Mom Friends, Junior High School Friends, EastEnders Fan Club Friends, Hairdressers/Manicurist, Next-door Neighbors and their Contractor Son-in-Law, Arboretum Nursery Manager (a group of one), Science Fiction/Fantasy People, Online contacts, and so on. Most of these people know I write, but only a few, outside the Science Fiction/Fantasy People group, have a clear understanding of what I write.

I used to be told–yes, told–I write children’s fiction.

“No,” I say, “I have never written children’s fiction.”

“But yes,” says Acquaintance. “I’m quite sure you do.”

“No, honestly. I don’t.”

“But Suzie [not her real name] told me that you told her that’s what you do.”

I said no such thing, but I knew Suzie believed I told her I wrote children’s lit, because of her perception of what SF & F was. Also, I was a woman. Woman + SF & F=children’s lit, or so Suzie assumed. Once I had a child, my career as a children’s lit author was set in stone.

No one even asked. A friend bought my short story collection, Inside A Bear and Other Dark Places [published by Stone Dragon Press 1999, no longer available], and then came to me, puzzled, to ask if there were any stories in it that she could read to her very young kids.

Not really. I would say most of my stuff is PG-13-ish, leaning in the direction of R. I favor mostly less-than-happy endings. I felt bad that she had assumed.

Those days are past. Now that my daughter is in her twenties, the subject of SF & F brings up Hunger Games and Game of Thrones, both of which I have read or am reading, and one of which I am catching up with on TV. A few months ago, SF & F talk by non-fans centered around a certain teen vampire series, and we heard of a new sub genre: the paranormal teen romance.

Categories. Sub genres. Both are necessary to shelve books, even digital books. But oh my goodness I can’t stay in them, either as a reader or a writer. I love to mix it up, and read others who are doing the same.

Science Fiction: When I write SF, it usually has a strong sociological content. I am interested in our human society and what happens when you change this or that. I’ve dealt with gender issues, age issues, and political issues. I do my best with any hard science, but that is not my focus. My focus is how change affects us. Sometimes set on near-future Earth, sometimes on a far-off planet, but no space opera, no military.

Fantasy: It’s contemporary, urban, and always involves issues of control. It is psychological. Often, reality is melting. On various occasions, I’ve taken on God, Jesus, and Satan. One early story touches on zombies, but not in the George Romero sense. Elves and wizards appear rarely. Fantasy is more likely to be psychological; science fiction, sociological.

My reading closely tracks my writing, but only in the most general sense. I’ll never do what George R.R. Martin does in the A Song of Ice and Fire series. Nowhere in any part of my brain are there neurons sufficient to imagine that saga. Even as a reader. No way would I have said, “Hey, someone ought to write a minimally supernatural, very bloody late-medieval saga. That’s what I need to read!” Surprise. It was exactly what I needed to read. More than that, it is inevitable that it should exist, and that I should be fortunate enough to read it.

This is the highest aim any writer goes for, to be inevitable. Regardless of genre, whether  it’s for children or adults, pop fic or lit fic, we want people–not all of them, just some–not to be able to imagine a world without our work in it.

Imagine trying to explain that to all the parts of your Venn diagram. Some of them, I think, would understand. Some of them, probably not.

Photo: Wikipedia

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Zombies To Love, If Not To Die For

When I read the first chapter of Mira Grant’s Feed, I thought I had wandered into a YA novel. I asked my daughter (age 22), who had recommended it, if that’s what it was. She said no, just wait. Not that there’s anything wrong with a YA; I was only asking.

Feed‘s protagonists are brother and sister team of Shaun and Georgia Mason who, in chapter one, are chasing after zombies. We learn that they are online journalists, bloggers. Although they are in their twenties, they still live at home with their parents, who treat them very much like children.

Now, I’ve been mostly unimpressed with zombie novels in the past. Too many mad car chases, exploding heads, and flying viscera; not enough character development, zombie raison d’être, or depth. My daughter promised me this one would be different, and she was right.

Shortly into the novel, our protagonists are picked to join the presidential campaign of Republican Senator Peter Ryman, who is pitted against Republican Governor Tate for the nomination. At this point, the novel takes a huge u-turn, and we are not in young adult territory any longer. Also, by this time, we are given to understand the zombies, the rising of the dead, are not the result of supernatural forces, but the viral disease Kellis-Amberlee, inadvertently created by good-faith and successful efforts to cure both cancer and the common cold. Governor Tate believes the answer to the zombie problem is for America to get back to fundamental morality, kind of a get-tough-on-the-undead approach.

A couple years ago, I might have looked upon Tate as something of a cardboard villain. Alas, Tate would fit in quite comfortably with several of our current presidential candidates. Perhaps that’s because they seem like cardboard villains, too, although with the unfortunate added quality of being horribly real.

In this story, the monsters are not the zombies. The zombies are victims. The monsters are the humans. And this is the first zombie novel I have read in which the reader is acutely aware of the zombies as former human beings, family, friends, and loved ones, as the walking dead. That awareness is one of two elements that elevates this story from the run-of-the-mill zombie tale.

The other element is in the plot itself, and I’ll say nothing of the details so as not to spoil it. I’ll say only that it is quite well-plotted, and that it is gutsily plotted, in that Grant is willing to take her story to a place most authors won’t.

I have a few quibbles. One is that the decade of the 2030’s, as depicted here, doesn’t seem quite futuristic enough. My daughter and I disagree on this point. She feels the zombie uprising perhaps retarded technological and societal development. Maybe so. On the other hand, I couldn’t help but cringe when one candidate spoke disparagingly about the poor Thursday evening television lineup. I can’t see people talking about nightly TV that way in twenty years…we barely talk that way about it now. But these are quibbles, not real problems.

It is all satisfying enough for me to move on to Deadline, the next book in the series, which my daughter tells me is even better.

*****TIME LAPSE WARNING*****

******UPDATE*****

Since writing the above, I and my daughter have attended Renovation, and several panels/events there featuring Seanan McGuire (aka Mira Grant). She is funny, smart, and seems very unconceited. She can sing, too; she and her band did a mini-concert there. In the Lou Grant I-hate-spunk vein, I wish I could say I really hate people who are multi-talented and not even conceited about it, but alas, I can only admire and look forward to reading Deadline.

 

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Wolves, Were and Otherwise

I have three really cool songs on my ipod having to do with wolves and/or werewolves. They are:

Furr by Blitzen Trapper

Wolves by Phosphorescent

Werewolf by Michael Hurley

Canis lupus (the gray wolf) and its subspecies once blanketed virtually the entire northern hemisphere. Even now, gray wolves and their subspecies reside in Asia, Europe, and North America. Wolves are predators, they are a social species, and like many predators, they are beautiful. In both the speculative and non-speculative worlds, we love them and we hate them.

One subspecies of the gray wolf is Canis lupus familiaris, i.e., the dog. Dogs are descended from gray wolves, and are still closely enough related that they can breed and produce viable offspring. Wolves are not dogs, but dogs are wolves.

We control the domesticated wolf, most of the time. Sometimes, we cannot. We strive to civilize our pets, to fold them into our society, even as we can never forget their origin.

We humans strive to civilize ourselves, to fold ourselves into our society, even as we remember our wild selves. But we have diverged too far from the apes to interbreed, and besides, well, wolves seem way hotter than chimpanzees. So…when we imagine ourselves wild, why not transform into a wolf?

In Furr, Blitzen Trapper presents a coming-of-age tale. The boy leaves civilization at age seventeen, grows fur, joins the pack, and gives up his notions of right and wrong in favor of pure instinct. Sounds like he has a pretty darn good time. Then, at the age of twenty-three, he meets a girl, is moved to marry her, and gives up his fur for skin. Happy though he may be, on occasion, he finds himself nostalgic for the good times of his youth. We all have moments when we want our fur back, I guess.

Michael Hurley’s Werewolf is the most chilling of the songs. He plunges right into the violence, the predator’s love of violence, the synthesis of sex and violence, and of course reminds us the werewolf is just like you and me. Michael Hurley howls quite well.

My favorite of the three, Phosporescent’s Wolves, has a touch of dark humor to it. A boy is bewildered by the presence of wolves in his house. They might be Canus lupus arctos, as they are pure white. They do not behave well, mating, and fighting, and generally getting in his way. He tells his mother, but we are given the impression she is not exactly responding to the problem, as he sees it, anyway.

I don’t own a dog, have no Canis lupus familiaris eyes to gaze into, only the beady-black and vaguely reptilian eyes of three cockatiels, prey animals that nonetheless manage to cast an imperious gaze upon everything they turn their attention to. But sometimes, at night, I do hear the howl of Canis latrans, neighborhood killer of Felis catus, as well as smaller breeds of Canis lupus familiaris. I hear the coyotes howl, atop the hill behind our house, and a little tiny part of of me would like to go out there, climb the hill, and see just what they are up to. To see if they’re having as much fun as it sounds like they’re having.

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