From Modern Mythcraft to Magical Surrealism

Category Archive for ‘Non-Fiction’ rss


Guest Column: Roll the Dice and Be a Hero!

Many of us have taken various personality assessments from the Meyers-Briggs to the daily horoscope to Quizzilla’s “Which Firefly Character are You?” test. These allow us to pinpoint character strengths and weaknesses in ourselves. But results may vary.

Depending on the internet quiz, I’m Zoe, Snake Plissken, Han Solo, or Wile E. Coyote. More professional type assessments are often just as vague. This doesn’t really help me much. That’s why I think roll playing game companies should make personality assessment, based on various d20-type rules, where they take one’s personal attributes and career aptitudes and paint a more accurate picture than what we currently see with other tests.

This is what I rolled up so far, complete with Player’s Guide explanations:

Name: Clint
Character Name: Clinton A. Harris
Race: Human
Sex: Male
Class: Writer (Specialization: SF)
Level: 3 (Aspirant)
Armor Class: 8 (5 against Rejection and Criticism)

Strength: 12 (I should be working out more)
Dexterity: 13 (I can make coffee in my sleep without spilling!)
Constitution: 9 (I’m a cheap date, okay?!)
Intelligence: 15 (I’m no Cormac McCarthy, but I do okay)
Wisdom: 16 (You call it cynical, I call it “wise”)
Charisma: 14 (as a Writer, gain +2 with written word, suffer -3 in personal interaction)


No Objectivity: Fantasy’s Guide to Holiday Fashion

You know, I forget I can’t dress myself until the Holiday Fashion Guides come out. I know them well – they feature dresses that cost three figures and close-ups of eyeshadow palettes at ludicrous angles, and remind me what I should be wearing, and what I should avoid lest I get thrown out of all those holiday parties I will apparently spend all of December attending. I read them all, just to make sure I wouldn’t show up in lime green velvet two years in a row; unfortunately, I was watching movies the whole time, and what with all the pumpkintinis I was drinking (Fall’s Hottest Drink!) I got them sort of confused.

I did my best to bring you a brief digest of these edicts, so that you won’t find yourself stranded with nothing to wear just before the party starts. So take a load off, pour yourself a pumpkintini or six, and check out Fantasy’s Guide to Holiday Fashion.


Diversity in Speculative Fiction

It seems like a common trope that diversity and quality in speculative fiction are mutually exclusive. Or, at least not a double necessity. Whenever an internet discussion blows up over this issue (notably, the Eclipse 2 anthology and Helix Magazine debates just this past year), I see it frequently stated that quality is more important than diversity, to the point where you would think quality and diversity couldn’t live in the same story. And nobody ever questions this.

This feels like an intentional non sequitur. Quality isn’t something that you can judge universally; it’s highly subjective. One person’s gold is another person’s fool’s gold. But more to the point, quality as a criterion really has nothing to do with the health of the speculative fiction field. “Quality” may give us a little more prestige with the literary folks, but it doesn’t stretch the boundaries of what we consider “speculative fiction”. It doesn’t get us thinking new ideas, seeing new horizons. Diversity does.

Two fairly recent anthologies: Dark Matter: Reading the Bones (2005), edited by Sheree R. Thomas, and Cosmos Latinos: An Anthology of Science Fiction from Latin America and Spain (2003), edited by Andrea L. Bell and Yolanda Molina-Gavilán, showcase African-American and (mostly) Spanish-speaking spec-fic writers respectively. Both, as Silvia Moreno-Garcia remarked to me a few months ago, have stories that are far more likely to appear in literary publications than any spec-fic market. Now there’s an irony for you–quality according to literary terms is used as an excuse for not aggressively pursuing diversity in spec-fic, yet all the ethnically diverse spec-fic is in the Literary section of the bookstore.

This brings us to the central irony of downgrading the importance of diversity in speculative fiction. The term is “speculative fiction”. It’s not just about shiny, phallic rocket ships populated by deep-in-the-closet Aryan brethren conquering the Final Frontier, people. It’s about different futures, alternate realities, dangerous fantasies. You’d think such places, where dragons dwell, would be heavily populated with equally unusual people, but nope. Looks like everybody important there is white, male, anglophone and straight. Not to mention perfectly healthy physically and mentally.

Excuse me, but how is that “speculative”?


Don’t Feed the Plants

The version of Little Shop of Horrors that most people are probably familiar with is the 1986 film directed by Frank Oz, starring Rick Moranis and Ellen Greene. But unless you’re one of the lucky few who snagged the DVD release of the movie in 1998 before Warner Bros recalled it, you may never have seen the original filmed ending, which is closer to the plot of the Menken and Ashman stage musical.


Guest Column: Five Reasons Why I’m Psyched for the Watchmen Movie

More than 20 years after publication, after building a dedicated fan base and after a previous disastrous attempt, Alan Moore’s fantastic graphic novel Watchmen is finally turning into a big-budget movie. When I first heard the news I was cautious about being excited. After all, the story is huge; it’s a long comic with lots of focus on character over action, and subplots, backstory and parallel tales abound. But after seeing all the promotional pictures and trailers, I’m absolutely looking forward to seeing the movie. Here’s why:

5. The Story

Watchmen, first and foremost, is a wonderful story. As a deconstruction of the Superhero genre, Watchmen raises questions that we might not always think to ask, and many of them are left for us to answer for ourselves—Why do these characters dress up and fight crime? Is it right for vigilantes to break the law in order to save lives? What about just breaking the law? What makes a superhero—powers? Heroism? Do you have to be a good person?

Around the detective story and eventual big finish, Watchmen weaves characters with complicated motivations and relationships, plenty of secrets to be revealed and kickass moments all around. The subtlety of the writing and the understatement of emotional moments will be fantastic to see brought to the big screen by the cast, and if the movie’s anything like the comic, will require repeat viewing to catch everything.


Siobhan Carroll, Author of The Black-Iron Drum

Siobhan Carroll grew up in Canada and (briefly) Saudi Arabia, where she developed a taste for international travel that will no doubt serve her well in her villainous quest for world domination. When not trekking through exotic lands or building armies of superbots she is hard at work writing her dissertation at Indiana University. In her nonexistent free time she dances, sketches, and consumes more media than is good for her. Her fiction has been published in magazines like Realms of Fantasy, On Spec, and Son & Foe, but so far this has not appeased her desire to conquer the multiverse.


Sofa Sunday: Knight Rider Shows Off Its Geek Cred

I’ll admit something embarrassing: I watch the new Knight Rider. I know, I know! Shame on me! But here’s something you might not know about the show: it doesn’t totally suck. In fact, when comparing it to the original show, it’s not any more cheesy or less well-written. It’s not great TV, but it’s not My Own Worst Enemy bad.

Why do I watch it, you ask? I have to admit it was a combination of boredom and curiosity. The first episode was the curiosity — how bad will it be? I wondered. Not as bad as I assumed. But the guy playing Michael Knight (son of the Hoff’s original character) isn’t bad to look at, and neither is Sydney Tamiia Poitier. Plus Bruce Davidson is always good for a laugh.

The boredom part comes in late at night, when I’ve watched all the good shows on Hulu and, and need something to get me through the final part of my knitting. Knight Rider is more fun to watch than ALF… most of the time.

Like last week’s episode, “Knight of the Living Dead” (yes, all titles are puns on the word Knight… ugh), where the employees of Knight Industries dress up for Halloween. The show opens on one of the techs (Billy, a slightly geeky dude who always manages to reverse the polarity or whatever at the last minute) prancing around in a long coat. When I first saw this, I was like, “Why does that look so familiar?” Then I realized why and my brain turned inside out.

Dude was dressed at Captain Jack Harkness.

And then he says it! “I’m Captain Jack! …you know, Torchwood, Doctor Who, c’mon!”

Then begins a discussion as to whether Jack is gay or not and if Billy is trying to tell them all something with his costume.

The episode pretty much goes downhill from there. (Evil infiltrator is evil. Also, there was once a Knight Industries project called KARR. KARR. Jesus.) But those few minutes filled me with a respect for the show’s writers. Too often with shows like this — centered around some clearly SFnal object but otherwise based in reality — the creators try to convince the audience that they aren’t SF or geeky or anything but mainstream. In this episode they waved a big rainbow flag, shouting, “Look how f’ing geeky we are, we watch Doctor Who!” That is all kinds of awesome.

Click over to Fantasy Magazine to check it out for yourself. The Captain Jack joke happens in the first 3 minutes, so you can stop after that. Or you can keep watching to see KITT’s Halloween costume and hear Bruce Davidson say earnestly, “Of course I put a secret self-destruct program in KITT, I don’t want to have another KARR on my hands!!”



Saturday Morning Cartoons: Allegro non Troppo

The Italian film Allegro non Troppo (1977) is probably as far from traditional Saturday morning fare of the Disney variety as you can get. That was actually the point; directed by Bruno Bozzetto (also known for his shorter animated work and the feature VIP My Brother Superman), Allegro is a parody and commentary on Disney’s Fantasia.

As with the film that inspired it, Allegro alternates and blends live action and animation, setting the animated sequences to classical music such as Vivaldi’s “Concerto in C Minor”, Ravel’s “Boléro”, and Stravinsky’s “Firebird” (which, incidentally, Disney used years later in Fantasia 2000).

The live portions of the film largely feature the animator, director, and orchestra in slapstick situations as they produce the movie in real time. The animator (Maurizio Nichetti) is forced to create the animations, literally chained to his desk while the story progresses, and his moods and thoughts are often reflected in his work. The animations themselves vary widely in tone and style, from humorous to philosophical, and lewd to tragic. Each is a masterpiece in its own right, and the film as a whole stands as a remarkable work of art.

In the following sequence, set to Sibelius’ Valse Triste, a mournful cat wanders the ruins of a building, remembering its family and imagining a happy life, only for reality to intrude in a surprising and depressing resolution. It is one of the most striking and moving animations I’ve ever seen.


Crossing Lines: Stargate Atlantis — There’s No “I” In Team

One of the strengths of the final season of Stargate Atlantis so far has been the focus on the team. In the episodes: “Whispers”, “The Queen”, “Trackers”, “First Contact” (Part 1) & “The Lost Tribe” (Part 2) that strength has been tossed with questionable results to say the least.

“Whispers” introduces us to an all-female Stargate Team we’ve never met before – Major Anne Teddy (Christina Cox), Sergeant “Dusty” Mehra (Janina Gavankar), Captain Alicia Vega (Leela Savasta) and Dr. Alison Porter (Nicole de Boer) who are accompanied by John Sheppard and Carson Beckett on a visit to a planet where one of Michael’s early research facilities lies. Although I must say I enjoyed the inclusion of an all-female team in the Stargate universe and they were all fantastic in their roles it felt a bit “too little, too late” for my tastes. Some of us have been complaining about the roles of women and People of Color on the show since the beginning and to finally do something in the last season seems more patronizing than anything else. ‘Cause it’s not like we’ll get to see them again. Despite all that, Sgt. “Dusty” Mehra may be my favorite one episode character ever on the show, her propensity for violence and sarcastic attitude were great and really show what they could have done had they been invested in portraying Women of Color in a more interesting light from the beginning.


Guttersnipe: Partisans

The other week my friend Brendon Bennetts visited. Brendon is a comics writer and professional improviser and has the best comic timing of any human being I have met in person, which mostly manifests itself in waiting until I have my mouth full and then saying something devastatingly funny. In the aftermath, while I fight to breathe, he smiles gently.

We are both New Zealanders (though I live in Australia) but, despite the New Zealand election being held on November 8th, our major topic of conversation was the American election and our fervent hope for an Obama presidency.

When this waned, Brendon asked if he could borrow some of my comics.

“Oh, sure,” I said. “Alias is good, or New X-Men, or you might like New Frontier, actually, or–”

“Not superheroes,” Brendon interrupted.

Brendon thinks that most superhero comics are immature and uninteresting. I maintain that many are totally awesome, and also wicked sweet. I consider this anti-superhero stance to be something to batter down whenever possible, like unto the Hulk smashing the Juggernaut — especially since Brendon is the man who introduced me to Warren Ellis via The Authority — but I was so exhausted by watching a debate on healthcare in Arizona (imagine, we marveled. There are countries where people aren’t automatically entitled to healthcare!) that I caved and ransacked my shelves for non-spandex offerings:

Polly and the Pirates, by Ted Naifeh, Oni Press.
Fantasy Classics and Gothic Classics, Eureka Productions.
Rapunzel’s Revenge, by Shannon and Dean Hale, and Nathan Hale (no relation), Bloomsbury.
Tales From Outer Suburbia, by Shaun Tan, Allen & Unwin.
PS238: To the Cafeteria: For Justice!, by Aaron Williams, Dork Storm.

“There,” I said ungraciously. “I hope you choke on them. With your EYES.”