From Modern Mythcraft to Magical Surrealism

Category Archive for ‘Non-Fiction’ rss


Berrien C. Henderson, Author of The Nest Building Habits of Children Inclined to Ornithomancy and Other Such Auguries

Tell me a little about The Nest Building Habits of Children Inclined to Ornithomancy and Other Such Auguries. What was the first image or phrase or impetus that made you sit down and spin it out?

Many of my stories simply begin with that ubiquitous, “What if?” “What if in contemporary society there was a subculture of ornithomancers?” So, yeah, it’s high on the weird radar, but that’s right up my alley. The answer really came in the first sentence: “By the time I was four, my father began teaching me the subtleties of reading crow flight — most other birds, too.” Now, that particular sentence came to me while writing a totally unrelated short story. The idea, the image of a father and son, the fragmented memoir of the nameless narrator all gelled so fast for me that I had to stop mid-stream on that other story to write “The Nest Building Habits of Children Inclined to Ornithomancy and Other Such Auguries.” And the sucker spun me out.

Where do you get your ideas?

Finding the fantastic in the everyday. I want to see one of the Fey Folk in the shadows of a few acres of planted pines. See Celtic triptychs swirled in the dust of a dirt road. Watch some crows light in the trees across the road from my property and wonder… The ideas mostly come as images. Sometimes a snippet of dialogue. Again, in this particular story’s genesis, a first sentence. The ones that start with a last sentence are the most fun to me, though.


Pre-Columbian Cultures in Film

In a recent interview with MTV News, director Rob Cohen revealed that the next installment in The Mummy franchise might take place in Mexico. The Aztecs, apparently, liked to practice a bit of mummification in their free time.

Cohen’s knowledge of the Mexicas (commonly and erroneously referred to as Aztecs) seems to be taken from the campy Aztec Mummy series. If you want to check out what Mexican exploitation cinema looked back in the 50’s give the Aztec Mummy a try. But I’d steer away from it if you are in search of historical information.

The truth is the Mexica did not engage in funerary rituals involving mummification: high-ranking Mexicas were cremated.

But reality has never stopped eager filmmakers and the big screen has been filled with inaccurate and bizarre depictions of Pre-Columbian cultures.

The most common mistake is lumping characteristics from different cultures into a confused whole. In Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull the adventurer with the signature hat explains that he learned Quechua when he was kidnapped by Mexican revolutionaries. Although many indigenous languages are spoken in Mexico, Quechua is not one of them. Quechua is a language from the Andes which was widely spoken throughout the Inca empire. Indy might as well have said that he learned Russian while hanging out with Henry VIII.

The fourth installment of the Indiana Jones series also showcases the Mexica calendar-stone, a temple that looks like the Mayan pyramid of Chichen Itza, and several other architectural features from Maya and Mexica architecture including serpent-heads and painted murals. All of these in the middle of the Amazons.

It’s not the only movie which seems to suffer from a sudden case of geographical displacement. Aztec Rex has Mexicas running around the jungle near a Mayan temple. The Mexica presided over their empire from the powerful city of Tenochtitlan which was built upon a lake in the middle of the Valley of Mexico. If anything, Tenochtitlan at the time of the arrival of the Spaniards resembled Venice with its network of canals and bridges.

The result of such representations is a random sampling of culture with an implicit idea that all pre-Columbian cultures are interchangeable. After all, one loin-clothed savage is pretty much the same as another loin-clothed savage


Saturday Morning Cartoon: Cartoon All-Stars to the Rescue

If you thought President-elect Obama’s 30-minute infomercial simulcast on three networks just before the final game of the World Series was impressive, imagine my surprise on April 12, 1990 when a half-hour cartoon was run simultaneously on ABC, NBC, CBS, and many other local stations: Cartoon All-Stars to the Rescue. The very nature of reality was shaken the moment Saturday morning cartoons appeared on a Sunday.

The “All-Stars” in this case were characters from nearly all the popular animated series of the late 80’s and early 90’s, in some kind of fanfic writer’s wet dream. Here, for the first time, kids saw the Muppet Babies hanging out with the Smurfs, ALF and Garfield snarking at each other, Slimer from The Real Ghostbusters occupying the same screen space as Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck. Huey, Duey, and Louie (DuckTales) were there, as were Alvin and the Chipmunks, Michelangelo from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Winnie “Oh bother” the Pooh!

What could gather all of these beloved childhood friends together? That’s where “the Rescue” comes in. They’re there to tell kids not to use drugs. That’s right, this McDonald’s-sponsored program was nothing more than animated propaganda meant to prevent kids of all ages from indulging in illegal hallucinogens. In my case, it worked wonders–once you hear Baby Kermit sing “When your pal says ‘let’s get wrecked!'”, you never really forget it. Yes, there’s a musical number in this one, describing the “million wild and wonderful ways to say no.”


Michael Crichton 1942 – 2008

We at Fantasy Magazine we saddened by yesterday’s news that genre author Michael Crichton died after a long battle with cancer. He was a man of many talents — not only an author, but a director, producer, and medical doctor. Many of his books were about scientists trying to make a better world but accidentally destroying it.

He was sometimes accused of being anti-science, most recently due to the ideas he wrote into his 2004 novel State of Fear, which challenged claims of the dangers of global warming. Though some accused him of fostering distrust of scientists with his popular fiction, my exposure to his ideas made me think that science can do awesome things. Sure, if you recreate dinosaurs from amberized DNA they might eat you. But if you can keep that from happening: dinosaur! That’s completely awesome.

His top five books are: Jurassic Park (my favorite), The Lost World, The Andromeda Strain, A Case of Need, and State of Fear. Of the movie adaptations, my favorites are Jurassic Park and The Andromeda Strain (1971). What are your favorite Michael Crichton books and movies?


Randym Thoughts: Why We Need Scientist Heroes Again

Our nation, nay, our world, needs a new kind of hero.

Although the aliens are still keeping a low profile amongst us, and the robot armies have yet to attack, we still face a large number of problems.

Global warming. Bioweapons. Stem Cells. Cloning. Pollution and waste. Agricultural sustainability and genetics. National defense. Affordable HDTVs. Financial collapse. Talking apes.

And of course everyone’s talking about green energy — which I hope means we’re all going to get Green Lantern rings, because that would be way cool. But even if it doesn’t, it still sounds pretty sciencey to me.

In short, folks, we need scientist heroes in our media to inspire the Einsteins (or at least the Neil deGrasse Tysons) of tomorrow, and to make science literacy cool for everyone.

In the 1950s, during that golden age of angst over atomic energy and communism (as opposed to global warming and terrorism), we saw a number of classic science fiction movies with scientist heroes. And no, I don’t mean as a sidekick or minor team member. I mean the man with the plan, the lady who gets paidy.

War of the Worlds, The Day the Earth Stood Still, When Worlds Collide, This Island Earth, It Came from Outer Space — Golly gee whiz, they just don’t make them like that any more.

In fact, they even Unmake them. War of the Worlds with Tom Cruise replaced a scientist hero with an average Joe Sixpack.

But its time to put the sexy back in science. And no, I don’t mean scantily clad lab assistants.



I first encountered Mark Osborne’s short film More via Exposure, a SciFi Channel anthology series of short speculative films that ran from 2000-2002. Like most people, I was immediately blown away by the six-minute stop-motion animated film, which concerns an inventor who works a soul-killing day job while developing a device that will spread happiness, by tapping into his childhood memories.


Top 12 Latin Superheroes

I recently read Nameen Gobert Tilahun’s excellent article (published here in Fantasy) critiquing’s list of “Top 25 Black Superheroes of All Time.” It got me thinking about the relative lack of Latino superheroes (though there have been more recently), and the stereotypes and other oddities about the way Latinos are often featured in comics. I wondered, “Who are the biggest Latino superheroes?” Here’s my personal Top 12, ranked according to a highly unscientific combination of historical importance, popularity, and my own personal fondness (or lack thereof) for the characters.

The list includes Rictor, Isaac Mendez, The White Tiger, Kennedy, Spider-Man 2099, The Question, Araña and more


Deb Taber, Author of The Summoning of Spirits Too Far From Home

Deb Taber is Senior Book Editor at Apex Publications and a graduate of the Clarion West Writers’ Workshop. She is also Managing Editor at a horse magazine by day and the slave of three cats by the light of the moon. In 1993, she turned her back on her native Denverian heritage and trekked westward and northward to Washington State. On the way, she saw a really big pig. Really big.

Her fiction has appeared in Apex Digest and Shadowed Realms. Her nonfiction has appeared in many places, often as a ghost writer, but the only one she’s currently admitting to is a posting for the Nebula Awards blog. When not playing with words, Deb plays with moderate voltage at less moderate heights in her freelance work as a lighting designer for theatre. She’s been known to paint, sculpt, and make jewelry too, but lately she’s taken to something called “sleeping” instead. She’s not very good at it yet, but she plans to be.

You can catch her infrequent ramblings at her blog, or you can get more frequent but less direct rambles (and poetry) from her cats.

The only other thing you need to know about Deb is that she might possibly own the world’s largest private collection of Halloween socks.

I have to ask — what are your favorite Halloween socks from your collection?

You ask the hard questions, don’t you? I have a pair of black cat socks I like to wear to work because they have big yellow eyes that peek out from my clogs. Their stare makes one of my coworkers very uncomfortable. I also just bought a great pair that are bat argyle. I don’t think most people realize how conducive the bat shape is to an argyle pattern. Then there are the black cat socks with all of the fish skeletons… so many to choose from.


A Brief Pause

The Fantasy Magazine staff would like to take a moment to encourage you, if you’re an American citizen (and registered), to please vote today. No matter who you’re voting for, it’s important to do so and exercise your right. The evil alien overloads aren’t here yet, and until they are, we have a choice. Please use it!

Regular content will resume tomorrow. Until then, enjoy this bit of election humor and this week’s excellent story.


Geek Flashback: ALF for President

In case you live in a cave, or simply have good taste in television: ALF was a sitcom on NBC from 1986 to 1990. It starred “ALF,” an Alien Life Form who hails from the planet Melmac. One day he crash lands in the Tanner family’s garage, and they take him in out of pity or sheer stupidity.

in the second season episode, “Hail to the Chief,” ALF struggles to understand the American political system after watching a Presidential debate on television. We’ve all been there, ALF. It’s interesting to see the show’s simplistic portrayal of world issues of the 1980s. Anyone remember the Soviet Union? Through a series of dream sequences, wife and mother Kate Tanner imagines what it would be like to run for President of the United States; surely managing an unruly extraterrestrial while raising a family is as much a qualification as governing Alaska, eh? In each sequence, ALF alternates among the roles of moderator, debater, image consultant, and finally President elect–where he solves all of America’s problems by building more houses.

So check out this slice of American life, as it was on December 7, 1987. And while you watch, see if you don’t consider that things actually might not be worse if ALF were President. Too bad there’s that pesky Constitutional stipulation against aliens running for office.