ELFIN CHILD

February 22, 2018

I watched you dancing in your garden,
Elfin child;
threading your silver tears through
sunlight strands of your laughter.
And the pearls of your wisdom
hung about you in a shining radiance.

I felt the enchantment of your star studded music,
rippling through the aching contours of my being;
felt each quivering note peel away layers
of the mask I had moulded about me,
making me as naked and free as you.
Elfin Child.

The curtain of light
that hid your face fell away
and I saw my own face.
You held out your hand in silent invitation,
your eyes beseeching jewels of love,
and together we danced as one…

Stephanie Wilson

alien landscape1

I don’t think science fiction is a very good name for it (what I write), but it’s the name that we’ve got. It is different from other kinds of writing, I suppose, so it deserves a name of its own. But where I can get prickly and combative is if I’m just called a sci-fi writer. I’m not. I’m a novelist and poet. Don’t shove me into your damn pigeonhole, where I don’t fit, because I’m all over. My tentacles are coming out of the pigeonhole in all directions…

…I draw on the social sciences a great deal. I get a lot of ideas from them, particularly from anthropology. When I create another planet, another world, with a society on it, I try to hint at the complexity of the society I’m creating, instead of just referring to an empire or something like that…

…For most of my career, getting that label — sci-fi — slapped on you was, critically, a kiss of death. It meant you got reviewed in a little box with some cute title about Martians – or tentacles…

…I just knew from extremely early on – it sounds ridiculous, but five or six – that writing was something I was going to do, always. But just writing, not any mode in particular. It started as poetry. I think I was nine or ten before I really wrote a story. And it was a fantasy story, because that’s mostly what I was reading. By then, my brother and I were putting our quarters together to buy, now and then, a ten-cent magazine called something like “Fantastic Tales” – pulp magazines, you know…

…the fiction I read, because I was an early beginner, tended toward the fantastic. Realism is a very sophisticated form of literature, a very grown-up one. And that may be its weakness. But fantasy seems to be eternal and omnipresent and always attractive to kids.
But when people say, Did you always want to be a writer?, I have to say no! I always was a writer. I didn’t want to be a writer and lead the writer’s life and be glamorous and go to New York. I just wanted to do my job writing, and to do it really well…

…My first publications were all poetry, and that’s partly because of my father. He realized that sending out poetry is quite a big job. It takes method and a certain amount of diligence and a good deal of time. And he said, I could help you do that, that would be fun! He got interested in the subculture of the little magazines and realized that it is a little world, with rules all its own…

Ursula K Le Guin
Interview with John Wray for Paris Review fall 2013

fantasies

January 21, 2018

Pillow man was a soft and happy place
that made me feel something tingly
when I wrapped tiny legs around him,
playing a new game, pressing and rolling,
not really knowing why, but keeping
him secret and dragging him out from
the dark covers if mummy came to check
on me, of course then making out he
was just a pillow under my head
and sleeping, not touching me down there.

Pebble man was not one but many
mouths on shingle beaches in summer,
when I lay down on my stomach
and found that better than sun-bathing
I could kiss you all, shamelessly,
without preferring one above another,
just something to practise on, and afterwards
all you might see was a young girl
throwing away a stone, never thinking
she had learned the art of using.

Book man lived in the dirty passages
of my grandfather’s paperbacks next
to the coupons he raped from newspapers,
he was a real man who looked just like
Richard Gere and knew what to do and say
at the same time, not like the first boy man,
no better than stones, who bit me when
he kissed me and tried after clumsy
tongues to be a pillow and go down there,
making me close my eyes and pretend.

it can border on disgust

January 9, 2018

Suehiro Maruo

To me (Horror) is the genre of unease. It makes me feel really uneasy and it gives me kind of a creepy feeling. It can border on wanting to look away, it can border on disgust – but that’s a type of horror.

Horror can be any genre. There’s science fiction horror, there’s dark fantasy that’s really really dark, there can be mysteries that converge on horror. It depends on how far you want to go down the path of darkness. Science fiction is about the future, but horror can be about any period of time. As Doug Winter said, it’s your emotional response to the material. So I think it’s in the perception of the reader if something is horror or not.

In my mind, I subconsciously create a separation between dark fantasy and horror as I’m reading. I’ll think, “I’m not going to take this for the Best of the Year because I really like it but the story just isn’t quite dark enough for my purposes.” It’s a question of degree—my personal reaction to the material. I’m deep into working on my Best of the Year, so I’m reading a lot right now and as I read something I constantly judge the material – not just “do I like it” or “is it a good story” but “is it dark enough for me and my readers?” Is it hitting the buttons that makes me squirm and think, “ooh this is really creepy?” Is it making me uncomfortable?

That’s why I loved editing the horror half of The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror. Even though I didn’t choose the fantasy half, to me the choices were all on a continuum: fantasy, dark fantasy, and horror. High fantasy or light fantasy versus horror are separated in a sense, or joined, by dark fantasy, which is perhaps the gray area between white and black. To me horror is extremely dark in feeling, in how it makes the reader react.

Ellen Datlow
Interview with E C Myers, January 2013 for Nightmare Magazine

weird fiction

December 1, 2017

Duncan Halleck

I didn’t set out to do anything particularly new, but it is true that I am conscious of writing in a tradition that blurs the boundaries between three fantastic genres: supernatural horror, fantasy, and science fiction. I have always been of the opinion that you can’t make firm distinctions between those three.

The writing that I really like is what has been called “weird fiction.” If people ask me what I write, that is the label I give them. The weird fiction axis of people like Lovecraft, Lindsay, Clarke Ashton Smith, and William Hope Hodgson exists at the intersection and you really can’t say that it is horror not fantasy, or fantasy not science fiction, or whatever. It is about an aesthetic of the fantastic; you alienate and shock the reader. That’s what I really like.

China Miéville
Interview with Cheryl Morgan October 2001 for Strange Horizons

the rich juices of red meat

November 6, 2017

Blood and Crows by Jorge Jacinto

I have known many gods. He who denies them is as blind as he who trusts them too deeply. I seek not beyond death. It may be the blackness averred by the Nemedian skeptics, or Crom’s realm of ice and cloud, or the snowy plains and vaulted halls of the Nordheimer’s Valhalla. I know not, nor do I care. Let me live deep while I live; let me know the rich juices of red meat and stinging wine on my palate, the hot embrace of white arms, the mad exultation of battle when the blue blades flame and crimson, and I am content. Let teachers and philosophers brood over questions of reality and illusion. I know this: if life is illusion, then I am no less an illusion, and being thus, the illusion is real to me. I live, I burn with life, I love, I slay, and am content.

Robert E. Howard
Queen of the Black Coast

the language of dreams

October 28, 2017

The best fantasy is written in the language of dreams. It is alive as dreams are alive, more real than real…for a moment at least…that long magic moment before we wake.

George R R Martin
Included in Pati Perret’s The Faces of Fantasy

fortune teller

“WOMEN DON’T WRITE EPIC FANTASY.”

If I had a dollar for every time some dude on Reddit said something that started with “Women don’t…”, I’d be so rich I wouldn’t be reading Reddit.

Erasure of the past doesn’t always follow a grand purge or sweeping gesture. There’s no great legislative movement or concerted group of arsonists torching houses to bury evidence (that’s usually done to inspire terror). No, erasure of the past happens slowly and often quietly, by degrees.

In her book How to Suppress Women’s Writing, science fiction writer Joanna Russ wrote the first internet misogyny bingo card—in 1983. She listed the most common ways that women’s writing—and, more broadly, their accomplishments and contributions to society—were dismissed and ultimately erased in conversation. They were:

1. She didn’t write it.

The easiest, and oftentimes the first appearing in conversation, is the simple “women don’t” or “women didn’t.” If delivered to an indifferent or ignorant audience, this is often where the conversation stops, especially if the person speaking is a man given some measure of authority. “Women never went to war” or “Women simply aren’t great artists” or “Women never invented anything” are common utterances so ridiculous that to refute them becomes tedious. As I grow older, I’ve ceased making long lists of women who, in fact, did. More often, I’ll reply with the more succinct, “You’re full of shit. Stop talking.” If, however, the person who says this is challenged with evidence that yes, in fact, women have and women do, and here are the examples and the lists, the conversational misogyny bingo moves on to…

2. She wrote it, but she shouldn’t have.

I hear this one about my own writing a lot, and I see it applied to romance writers and other outspoken feminists in particular. The writing is too sexual, too political, too feminist, or even— funny enough—too masculine to be real writing. This type of writing, because it is written by women, is considered somehow deviant or disorderly. It puts me in mind of those angered at the idea that science fiction is only good if it isn’t “political,” which is code for “does not reinforce or adhere to the worldview shaped by my personal political beliefs.” The reality is that all work is political. Work that reinforces the status quo is just as political as work that challenges it. But somehow this type of work is considered particularly abhorrent when it’s written by women.

3. She wrote it, but look what she wrote about.

Men, famously, can write about anything and be taken seriously. Jonathan Franzen writes books about family squabbles. Nicholas Sparks writes romance novels. Yet these same subjects, when written by women, are assumed to be of lesser note; unimportant. Jennifer Weiner is especially vocal about this erasure of the weight of her own work. Yes, she wrote it, they will say, but of course she wrote about romance, about family, about the kitchen, about the bedroom, and because we see those as feminized spheres, women’s stories about them are dismissed. There is no rational reason for this, of course, just as there’s no rational reason for any of this erasure. One would think that books by women written about traditionally women’s spaces would win tons of awards, as women would be the assumed experts in this area, but as Nicola Griffith’s recent study of the gender breakdown of major awards shows, women writing about women still win fewer awards, reviews, and recognition than men writing about… anything[1].

Writers of colour also see this one in spades – yes, they wrote it, but it wasn’t about white people’s experiences. Toni Morrison laboured for a very long time to finally get the recognition her work deserved. It took a concerted effort, complete with very public protest, to finally get her a National Book Award. Arguments were made that Morrison’s work was dismissed because she wrote about the experiences of black people. This type of erasure and dismissal based on who is writing about whom is rampant. While white writers are praised for writing about non-white experiences, and men are praised for writing about women, anyone else writing about the experiences of the people and experiences they know intimately is rubbed out.

4. She wrote it, but she wrote only one of it.

Few creators make just one of anything, including writers. It generally takes a few tries to get to that “one-hit” book, if one ever achieves it. We also tend to remember writers for a single, seminal text, as with Susanna Clarke’s massive undertaking, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. Yet Clarke also has a short story collection available – though few hear about it. Others, like Frank Herbert, write a number of wonderful novels but become known for just one great text, like Dune. Few would argue that Herbert only wrote one novel worth remembering, but I have checked this off on the bingo card listening to someone dismiss Ursula Le Guin because “she really only wrote one great book and that was The Left Hand of Darkness.” A lack of reading breadth and depth is on the reader, not the author. But one sees this applied most often to women writers. “Yes, that was a great book, but she only wrote one book, so how great or important could she really be?” one says, forgetting her twelve other books.

5. She wrote it, but she isn’t really an artist, and it isn’t really art.

Genre writers have contended with this one for years – men and women alike – but this excuse for dismissal is still more often used against women. Even within the genres, women’s work is skewered more often as being not “really” fantasy, or science fiction, or simply not “serious” for one reason or another. It’s a “women’s book” or a “romance book” or “some fantasy book with a talking horse for God’s sake” (I actually saw a female writer’s book dismissed this way after it showed up on the Arthur C. Clarke Award shortlist one year, as if whale-shaped aliens and time travel were any less ridiculous).

Women’s backgrounds are also combed over more than men’s, especially in geek circles, and you see this with the “fake geek girl” backlash, too. Is she a real engineer? Okay, but did she actually work for NASA or just consult for them? “Yes, she wrote a science fiction book, but it doesn’t have real science in it” or “Yes, she wrote a science fiction book but it’s about people, not science” are popular ways of dismissing women’s work as being not “really” part of the genres they are written in, or simply not real, serious art the way that those stories by men about aliens who can totally breed with humans are.

6. She wrote it, but she had help.

I see this one most with women who have husbands or partners who are also writers. Women whose fathers are writers also struggle with this dismissal. Rhianna Pratchett, a successful writer in her own right, finds her work constantly compared to her father Terry’s, and, coincidently, folks always seem to find ways her work isn’t as “good,” though Rhianna’s style and her father’s are completely different. For centuries, women who did manage to put out work, like Mary Shelley, were assumed to have simply come up with ideas that their more famous male partners and spouses wrote for them. The question “So, who really writes your books?” is one that women writers still often get today.

7. She wrote it, but she’s an anomaly.

The “singular woman” problem is… a problem. We often call this the “Smurfette principle.” This means that there’s only allowed to be one woman in a story with male heroes. You see this in superhero movies (there is Black Widow and… yeah, that’s it). You see it in cartoons (April, in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles). And you see it in awards and “best of” lists, typically but not always written by men, who will list nine books by men and one book by a woman, and that woman is generally Ursula Le Guin, Robin Hobb, or Lois Bujold. The singular woman expectation means that when we do see more than one woman in a group, or on a list, we think we’ve reached parity. Studies have shown that when women make up just 30 percent of a group, men and women alike believe there are an equal number of men and women in the room. At 50 percent women—a figure we see so little in media representation that it appears anomalous—we believe that women outnumber men in the group. What this means is that every woman writer is given an impossible task—she must strive to be “the one” or be erased.

When we start to list more than one female scientist (“Yes, there was Marie Curie” tends to be the answer when one asks about women scientists), or astronaut, or race car driver, or politician, we’re often accused of weighting women’s contributions more heavily than men’s. Though my essay “We Have Always Fought,” about the roles of women in combat, was largely well received, most criticism of the piece rested on this accusation: that by focusing on remembering and acknowledging the roles of women in combat, I was somehow erasing or diminishing the roles of men. “Yes, women fought,” the (largely male) commenters would admit, “but they were anomalies.”

8. She wrote it BUT. . .

The experiences I write about in my fantasy and science fiction novels tend to be very grim. My work comes out of the tradition of both new weird—a combination of creeping horror and fantastical world-building—and grim-dark, a label most often applied to gritty, “realistic” fantasy that focuses on the grim realities of combat and a nihilistic “everything is awful” worldview. Yet when my work hit the shelves I was amused to see many people insist my work was neither new weird nor grim-dark. There was too much science fiction, or not enough sexual assault against women (!) or too much magic (?) or some other “but.” Watching my own work kicked out of categories I was specifically writing within was a real lesson in “She wrote it but…” And lest you think categories don’t matter, remember this: categories are how we shelve and remember work in our memory. If we’re unable to give those books a frame of reference, we are less likely to recall them when asked.

I am still more likely to find my work remembered when people ask, “Who are your favourite women writers?” than “Who are your favourite science fiction writers?”

And that, there, demonstrates how categorization and erasure happen in our back brains without our conscious understanding of what it is we’re doing. Yes, I’m a writer, but…

When you start looking at reactions to the work of some of your favourite women writers, you will see these excuses for why her work is not canon, or not spoken about, or not given awards, or not reviewed. I could read a comment section in a review of a woman’s work, or a post about how sexism suppresses the cultural memory of women’s work, and check off all of them.

The question becomes, once we are aware of these common ways to dismiss women’s work, how do we go about combating them? These ways of disregarding our work have gone on for centuries, and have become so commonplace that men are used to deploying them without challenge as a means to end all debate.

I’d argue that the easiest way to change a behaviour is first to become aware of it. Watch for it. Understand it for what it is. And then you must call it out. I’ve taken to typing “Bingo!” in comments sections when these arguments roll out, and linking to Russ’s list. When we see sexist and racist behavior, the only way to change that is to point it out and make it clear that it’s not okay. The reason people continue to engage in certain types of behaviors is because they receive positive feedback from peers, and no one challenges them on their assertions. If we stop swallowing these excuses, and nodding along when people use them, we take away the positive reinforcement and lack of pushback that’s made it possible for them to use these methods of dismissal.

Because I write such dark stories, many people think that I’m a pessimistic person. But that’s not true. I’m a grim optimist. I understand that the road to a better future is long and bitter and often feels hopeless. Yes, there is a warm gooey core of hope I carry with me at the very center of myself, and it is the hope of someone who knows that change is difficult, and feels impossible, but that even a history that has suppressed and erased so much cannot cover up the fact that change is possible.

[1] Nicola Griffith, “Books about Women Tend Not to Win Awards”.

Kameron Hurley
The Geek Feminist Revolution

the average adult heroine

August 18, 2017

The predominance of romance in women’s literature is stunningly unrealistic. The assumption that most heroines would necessarily focus that much attention on their love lives is ridiculous, particularly in the modern world. Real women, even if they aren’t queens, have real problems: jobs to do; bills to pay; families to raise; domestic and sexual violence to worry about; sexism to combat; and sometimes racism, homophobia, and other forms of bigotry as well. When the average adult heroine pushes these real problems aside in favour of worrying about how to live happily ever after with her prince, I don’t find her admirable, nor do I find her a good role model. I am likewise offended when a heroine who is perfectly interesting on her own must be forced to couple up in order to hold the interest of a fantasy demographic. I love escapist literature, but the contours of escapism shouldn’t define the rules for every heroine out there. When potential editors ask me why my incredibly busy, stressed, and belaboured queen can’t have a love life, something is wrong.

Erika Johansen,
Why We Need “Ugly” Heroines

Still, however desexualized, minimalized, and distanced, the crime is a rape, and the question is why – what, in other words, the male viewer’s stake might be in imagining himself reacting to that most quintessentially feminine of experiences. The answer lies, perhaps, in the question: it is precisely because rape is the more quintessentially feminine of experiences – the limit, care of powerlessness and degradation – that is such a powerful motivation, such a clean ticket, for revenge. I have argued that the center of gravity of these films lies more in the reaction (the revenge) than the act (the rape), but to the extent that the revenge fantasy derives its force from some degree of imaginary participation in the act itself, in the victim position, these films are predicated on cross-gender identification of the most extreme, corporeal sort.

Carol J Clover
Men, Women and Chain Saws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film