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Taboos in Speculative Fiction

I was reading a blog entry recently by “Mighty God King” (subtle) called MGK Versus His Adolescent Reading Habits, as well as an article on the censorship of a Wikipedia page for the rock band The Scorpions by a British anti-pedophilia group a few weeks ago. In the blog, MGK takes old SF and fantasy book covers and gives them new titles, titles more accurate than the authors might have intended. My personal favorite is My Little Pony Goes to War (Mercedes Lackey’s Magic’s Price).

The censorship of The Scorpions’ Wikipedia page was a big flap for a week or two. Thirty years ago, The Scorpions put out a rather tacky cover featuring a naked preteen girl in a provocative pose. It didn’t help that the album was entitled “Virgin Killers” and the band subsequently changed the cover, having concluded (along with pretty much everyone else) that it had been a less than classy idea.

Flash-forward thirty years and a British anti-pedophilia group suddenly decided that this album was dangerous, that it might encourage pedophiles to do…whatever, and prevailed upon Wikipedia to cut it from the group’s Wiki page. This resulted in many British users being unable to access the page at all. Some of them couldn’t even use Wikipedia.

Cue much screaming about censorship by private groups and the like and much pointing out that when the album came out, people thought it was smut, but attitudes about this sort of thing were very different (Lolita, Pretty Baby, that sort of stuff). Who would have thought that the lame ’70s would be a time of happening experimentation compared to the Brave New World of the early 21st century?

And the biggest irony of all was that the album cover could be readily seen elsewhere, including on the band’s official site (though they’ve since removed it). Ooops. So much for closing the barn door after the horse had cantered out and gone romping around the fields.

Then there is the MGK experiment. Humor, of course, does a really good job of exposing, sending up and skewering taboos like so many clay ducks. Well…good humor, anyway

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Best Fantasy Story of 2008 Poll and Contest

Now that we’ve bid 2008 goodbye, it’s time to take a fond look back. We had an excellent year for fiction and many of our stories have been picked up for Best Of volumes. We’d like to give our readers the chance to tell us what their favorite stories are, though. You’re the reason we can keep publishing amazing stories, so you should get a say. Thus, our second annual Best Story Poll.

We’re adding a twist to this year’s poll. Not only will the story with the most votes get the author bragging rights, but it will also win them a prize: a Vosges chocolate gift box of their choice valued at $40 – $45.

But wait, there’s more! We’re also offering a prize to readers. If you leave a comment on any of the 48 original stories published in 2008 you might be entered in a drawing for a prize of your own. “Might be” because there are some rules:

  1. The comment must be substantive — not just ‘This story was awesome’. Tell us why you liked or didn’t like the story, make your case that it’s one of the best stories of 2008 (if you feel that way), or anything else you’re moved to say.
  2. You are allowed to comment on as many stories as you like, but only one comment per story is counted. (Example: if you comment 1 time on 5 stories, we throw your name in the hat 5 times, if you comment 5 times on 1 story, we throw your name in the hat only once.) Maximum number of entries is 10.
  3. Your comment must be timestamped on or after January 7th and on or before January 24th, 2009.

The winner is picked randomly, so the more you comment, the better your chances. The prize? A $25 gift certificate to Amazon.com.

You’ll find links to each of the stories in the poll and in the post. You’re allowed to vote for up to three. (And yes, we’re keeping track behind the scenes, so no ballot stuffing.) The poll will be open until January 23rd. We’ll announce the winning story and winning commenter on January 28th.

Click Here To Vote

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Best of Fantasy 2008: Columns

2008 was a year of major changes for Fantasy Magazine online.  We did a major site overhaul in June, not just to our look but also to our non-fiction department.  Readers were treated to many more columns by some amazing guests and beloved regulars.  Here are some of my favorites from last year.  What are yours?

No Objectivity: Dark Kingdom by Genevieve Valentine — Genevieve is a reader favorite, so picking from amongst her many awesome columns was hard.  I have a fondness for this one, though, because it took me quite a long time to code it.  It was worth those hours to bring her vision of an amazing deconstruction of a completely ridiculous movie to life.

No Objectivity: AZTEC REX by Genevieve Valentine — And of course who can forget the Rex?  (No one, obviously, as at least three people land on this page every day from Googling the title of this awful movie.)

Unbreakable Habits: The Lonely God is a Jerk by K. Tempest Bradford — Included because he’s still totally a jerk and I called it.

Guest Column: Saaaay… Why AREN’T there brown elves? by N K Jemisin — This column is just one facet of a very important and very interesting conversation that happens around the SF-sphere all the time.

The Jeremiads: Twenty Things I Learned From Bad 80s Genre Films by Jeremy Tolbert — Who doesn’t love a bad 80s genre film?  We all do.

Guttersnipe: Girls Do Play D&D by Karen Healey — Yep, we do!

Guest Column: Five Thoughts On The Popularity Of Steampunk by Stephen H. Segal — This column broke traffic records, so everyone behind the scenes loves it for that.  But the reason it got so much attention is due to the brilliance of Mr. Segal and his elegant way with words.  When one hits the nail on the head, one will be praised for it.

Randym Thoughts: Punk’d by Randy Henderson – Randy always delivers a funny, insightful column.  For our steampunk week, he went all out.

Crossing Lines: Deconstructing Black Superheroes by Naamen Gobert Tilahun — Naamen rightly took BlackVoices to task for their pathetic list of black superheroes.

Gamer+Girl: How to Get Your Girlfriend into Gaming by Robyn Fleming — 1. Consider dating someone who is already a gamer — FTW!

Why the Twilight Series Bugs Me by Cat Rambo — Because it bugs us all.  Also because the comments never stop and are an endless source of amusement.

Top 12 Latin Superheroes by Ben Francisco — I particularly liked this one because I had no clue some of these superheroes were Latino or that some of them even existed.  And we all know how I love to learn new things.

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Blog For A Hangover Cure

We usually  Blog for a Beer on Fridays, but since New Year’s Day was yesterday, we figured that most of you are still recovering.  Instead, you can blog for a good hangover cure.

Since it’s a vacation day for most people, I thought it would be interesting to hear what your comfort media is on sleepy, do-nothing days.  Do you curl up with your favorite Robert Jordan brick, confident that you won’t need to stir for hours (maybe days)?  Or do you turn to movies, where Will Smith saves the world over and over again, mostly in the same way?  Is a day watching the Sci-Fi channel a perfect one?  Particularly if Aztec Rex is playing again, I bet!

While you’re at it, share your hangover cures for those of us still getting over this week’s celebrations…

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Carole Lanham, Author of Keepity Keep

Where do you get your ideas?

Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader holds infinite possibilities. Then, too, I once saw a perfectly decrepit headstone in New Orleans with the name BASTIAN REBEL chiseled on it and vowed to use the name in a story. Yeah, sometimes vodka is involved. The most inspiring source for me though is history and travel. After reading about mortuary hospitals in Victorian times and making a visit to the UK, I wrote a story about a mentally handicapped man who invents a toe bell contraption meant to ferret out the living among the dead. That’s what history does to me — it sets pale lifeless digits to wiggling inside my head. History is better than anything I can make up.

I immediately zeroed in on the mention of ghost towns in your bio — having been to a few, I’m fascinated by them. Do you have any good stories from your visits, with or without ghosts?

Most of the stories that come to mind involve strange folks we’ve encountered in the middle of nowhere. Because we prefer to get off the beaten trail, it’s surprising enough to run into another four wheel drive bumping along in a similar direction, much less stray people. A man who looked like Charlie Manson once walked straight out of the ether and into our camp to mumble something completely incoherant, then disappear again. Because we were not far from Barker Ranch, where they arrested a large number of the family back in the day, his sudden appearance was even more spooky. Maybe it was a lost hippie still wandering the hills looking for his leader? I still wonder what he was trying to say. Another time, we passed a man standing outside his van in the blistering heat on a plain of endless scrub. He had an easel set up and he was painting, buck naked. Another naked fellow walked by us once and tipped his cowboy hat. He was wearing boots and a bandana around his neck and nothing else and I’ve never been able to cleanse my mind of the image.

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Happy Holidays

What with Christmas and Hanukkah and Kwanzaa and Solstice and all the other holiday celebrations going on this week, the Fantasy staff is taking a break.  We wish you all the best this festive season and know you will get drunk on egg nog or some other delicious concoction even if we don’t provide the money.

Next week we’re going to end the year by looking back at some of our favorite non-fiction pieces and Blog For A Beer discussions.  If you have any favorites you think we should mention, say so in the comments.

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The Myths and Legends Behind Christmas

Christmas is usually considered a Christian festival, but it’s probably the most syncretized holiday on the calendar. So syncretized is it, in fact, that the Puritans banned it in England during Cromwell’s dictatorship, from 1647 to 1660. Puritans also outlawed the holiday in Boston from 1659 to 1681. The Puritans recognized (albeit sourly) that Christmas was about as Christian as a pentacle.

This is one major reason why the Christmas season is so long–it incorporates traditions that go back centuries before Christ. In fact, Christmas wasn’t even incorporated into Christianity until nearly four centuries after Christ’s death. Before that, it was pagan.

The current season that we call “Christmas” or “Yuletide” includes ongoing holidays from at least two major religions (Christianity and Judaism) and pagan traditions from Africa (Kwanzaa) and Europe (winter solstice celebrations). Advent, the forty days before Christmas, was called “the forty Days of St. Martin” during the early Middle Ages and the Epiphany (January 6) was actually a more important feast than Christmas itself until later in the medieval period. Thus, the Christmas season is nearly two months long.

Needless to say, a very large number of legends surrounds Christmas. If you look at the television schedule (or literary classics), this surfeit of legend and myth is reflected in the huge amount of Christmas fiction that is fantastic. Charles Dickens’ novella A Christmas Carol, a ghost story that swings uneasily between fantasy and horror, is the most obvious example, but Arthur C. Clarke’s SF short story The Star and fantasy film It’s a Wonderful Life also come to mind. Christmas stories are as rife with life-affirming miracles and Santa-or-angel-sightings as Halloween stories are with deadly ghosts and monsters.

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Daniel Homan, Author Of The Queen of Hearts

Daniel Homan was born in Gainesville Florida and now lives in Austin, Texas. He teaches at Texas State University. In his free time, Daniel has been researching Ponce De Leon, the fountain of youth myth, and 15th century Spain for a new novel. Also, he is working on two internet series, one animated, the other involving puppets. Currently, Daniel is seeking representation for a narrative-nonfiction book, The Israeli Trail, about his travels in South America with Israelis recently released from the Israeli Defense Force.


Tell me a little about The Queen of Hearts. What was the first image or phrase or impetus that made you sit down and spin it out?

Long before it was commissioned into a novel, I actually wrote The Queen of Hearts as a poem. This was in 2002, after an incredibly vivid nightmare, most of which made it into the major scenes of the story and forthcoming novel. What I remember most were the city scenes, a crowded, frenzied market, wave after wave of people spreading rumors and gossiping about a murder. Behind me was a striking woman, mysterious, ethereal, but I didn’t know why she was with me. The nearby market-dwellers, which I came to call the “louts,” were whispering about black hands and the murder, and there was something searching for me.

The nightmare flashed between these street scenes and a high-society poker tournament in a manor on the hill. After I had woken, I wrote out the verse quickly, just to rid myself of the images, but I found the images compelling and they stayed with me for many years, even past the completion of the book.

The nightmare was after 9/11, of course, and in the writing of the novel, I came to realize that this probably had played a large part in the nightmare. Then, as the Iraq War commenced, the Patriot Act, Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib, the heavy stuff of my generation basically, the essence of the story became clearer.

The first line of the story/novel I remembered word for word from the nightmare, spoken by some unknown narrator: “But one question remains, did it begin or end in theft?” That was the mystery that I wanted to explore.

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Willow Fagan, author of Scatter and Return, the Eyes of the Princess

Willow Fagan was born in Southeastern Michigan, during an April snowstorm. He now lives in Ann Arbor. He appears to be in the “twenty-something-not-really-sure-what-he’s-doing” phase of his life. Currently, he works part-time as a tenant counselor informing tenants about their rights, while reading Tarot cards and engaging in various writing and activist projects on the side. Of these projects, he is most excited about a workshop that he will soon present for the second time: “Sculpting the Chaos of Trauma into Narratives of Change.” In general, he is drawn towards the intersection of creative expression, social justice work, and personal healing. His stories have previously appeared in Fantasy Magazine and Behind the Wainscot.

Tell me a little about Scatter and Return, the Eyes of the Princess. What was the first image or phrase or impetus that made you sit down and spin it out?

When I sat down to write this story, I opened with the line that remained the same throughout all the drafts to the published version: “Yes, yes, the princess is locked in the tower.” But there was some contemplation and coalescing of images and situations that I did before I began to write. I knew that I wanted the princess to have locked herself in the tower as a response to abuse from her father. That image resonated with me because of my own experiences of abuse from my father.

So this story is an example of the type of stories — those which turn the chaos of trauma into narratives of transformation — that the workshop I’m presenting focuses on. Writing the story helped me process and integrate my own traumatic experiences, a process which is mirrored within the story by the narrator’s strategy of telling stories in order to coax the missing pieces back to the princess.

I’m hesitant to reveal all of this but I think it’s important for survivors to speak out about their experiences. I also hope that this story helps others in some small way to understand their own histories and perhaps even to catch a glimpse of a path towards wholeness

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A Christmas Carol Redux

We all know the plot. It’s Victorian London, somewhere in the early 1840s. Mean, old Ebenezer Scrooge is a miser of the worst kind. You couldn’t get a ha’penny out of him no matter how much you begged. Somebody up there gets tired of Scrooge’s meanness. The ghost of Scrooge’s long-dead partner, Jacob Marley, appears to him on Christmas Eve to get Scrooge to mend his ways. Scrooge is predictably obstinate, so Marley tells him he will be visited by three more spirits. These ghosts are special, though–one is the sad and nostalgic Ghost of Christmas Past, one the jolly Ghost of Christmas Present and the third the terrifyingly skeletal Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come. We get a retrospective of Scrooge’s life, which starts out happy and hopeful in the past, and eventually turns into the grim spectacle of his present, ending with his projected lonely death in the future.

A terrified Scrooge wakes up thoroughly reformed and immediately orders a Christmas goose. He also swears to treat others much better than in the past, especially his much-abused assistant, Bob Cratchit, Cratchit’s wife, and Cratchit’s ecologically alarming number of children, including the now-famous Tiny Tim.

As the above synopsis shows, A Christmas Carol is a dark, supernatural fantasy, not really the usual genre of its author, Charles Dickens, who published the novella in 1843 to pay off debts. But it does reflect Dickens’ passion for social justice. At one point, Scrooge compares the Ghost of Christmas Present to religious reformers who were trying to get the bakeries closed on Christmas and Sundays. On these days, bakeries were open, but not allowed to bake bread. So, poor families who had no ovens were taking their meat to the bakeries to get them cooked for Sundays and holidays. Closing the bakeries on these days would have lost them a hot meal at Christmas.

A Christmas Carol ultimately reflects the hard-luck circumstances of the author, as well as some truly surrealistic fantasy, not unlike a winter version of The Wizard of Oz. This combination (not to mention the convenience that the novella is well out of copyright now) has resulted in many adaptations into all sorts of media. The Wikipedia page for these different versions lists over seventy.

Despite the fact that the novella is a ghost story, adaptations of A Christmas Carol are not common in actual genre fare.