Tag Archives: Strange Horizons

Awesome Dinosaurs

People who know me personally will understand why I find this so awesome. It’s called “Let Us Now Praise Awesome Dinosaurs,” and it’s by Leonard Richardson, published in Strange Horizons. It’s one of the funniest things I’ve read in recent memory:

“Don’t guilt me! I love Cass like my sister who’s a different species for some reason. My half-sister. So, I’m putting in the legwork to find out who’s behind this. I did a web search for ‘I hate dinosaurs’ and it’s either the radical birdwatchers or the young-earth creationists.”

“I’ll tell you who’s behind it,” said Entippa. “Some idiot built an unsafe vehicle and another idiot named Cass signed off on it. She’s got carnosaur entitlement syndrome. People get hurt and everyone says ‘Oh, how could this have happened’ and it happened because carnosaurs think they own the world.”

“You’re neglecting the important point, which is, birdwatchers.”

“Birdwatchers.”

“I never realized the depths of their hate, Entippa. One faction that considers us birds, fit only to be watched. And another faction that considers us mere lizards, beneath their notice!”

This story is such a wild ride to read. It makes me want to use exclamation points. Dinosaurs from Mars! Dinosaurs on motocross bikes! Incredibly fun story, and with a pointed ending that makes it matter.

P.S. Leonard Richardson was one of the editors of Thoughtcrime Experiments, which I spent a great deal of time on this blog obsessing about.

P.P.S. In a truly awesome juxtoposition, Strange Horizons published Richardson’s story alongside Brian Trent’s article, “Was There Ever a Dinosaur Civilization?” which I haven’t had a chance to read yet, but certainly will.

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Million Writers Award Winners Announced

Jason Sanford has announced the winners of the Million Writers Award:

  1. First place (winner of $500): “The Fisherman’s Wife” by Jenny Williams (LitNImage)
  2. Runner-up (winner of $200): “Fuckbuddy” by Roderic Crooks (Eyeshot)
  3. Honorable mention (winner of $100): “No Bullets in the House” by Geronimo Madrid (Drunken Boat)

Congratulations to all!

He also kindly links here, which I appreciate. If you’re looking for my posts on the Million Writers Award finalists, here’s a list of finalists, followed by related posts:

If you still want more, you can check out:

And Now the Moment of Truth, Million Writers Finalists Posted, No More Teasing (which contains my nominees), Fantasy Magazine, Atomjack!, Million Writers Award Notable Stories. For a summary of last year’s results, see Congratulations to Matt Bell.

You can find even more from last year by typing “Million Writers Award” into the search box.

Nine Sundays, Ten Stories

Kris Dikeman’sNine Sundays in a Row,” published in Strange Horizons, and the last of the finalists for the Million Writers Award, is another fresh take on a classic theme: the crossroads. Here’s the form that this crossroads myth takes:

If you wanta learn you somethin’, go on down to a place where two roads cross. Get there Saturday ’round midnight, and wait there ’til Sunday morning—do that for nine Sundays, all in a row. The dark man, he’ll send his dog to watch on you while you wait. And on the ninth morning, the dark man will meet you. And he will learn you—anything you wanta learn. But you remember this: that dark man, he don’t work for free.

The narrator is the dark man’s dog, speaking as he watches a girl come Sunday after Sunday. At first, he doesn’t think much of her, but he’s true to the archetype of dog, and soon he is loyal to her–more loyal than she is to herself.

I think what really makes this story work is the voice, and the way the story stays absolutely rooted in its point of view. The dog’s not cutesy, and, while he does fit the traditional concept of dog, he’s not stereotypical. Dikeman uses just a touch of vernacular. This is so hard to get right, but I’d say she pulls it off. The dog’s diction comes through in a “mebbe” here and the way a contraction is used there.

The other characters all have stories of their own–the dark man, of course, and the girl, and the dog’s rival, Red Rooster. Dikeman doesn’t try to take any of that on. She just lets these other stories hover there, just visible at the edges of the dog’s perception. This is the dog’s story, the story of how it is brave, heroic, and loyal, but that story serves as a glass through which many other stories can be glimpsed. This viewpoint is what makes the crossroads story feel so fresh–that and the very specific sense of the dark man that the story creates.

A Satisfying Mixture of Light and Darkness

I’m slow to point this out, but Ramsey Shehadeh had a story in Strange Horizons at the end of June, called “Jimmy’s Roadside Cafe.” I’m crazy about Shehadeh’s work, based on this story and his debut story in Weird Tales, “Creature.” What gets me is that Shehadeh has this signature quirkiness that allows him to be very dark and very loving within the same story. An example from the Strange Horizons story:

His second customer appeared out of the north as well, pulling a large red wagon with two children inside, a boy and a girl, both laid neatly out and dressed formally, as if for a wedding, the boy in a black suit and a little red bow tie, the girl in a frilly blue dress with lacework at the sleeves.

Hello there! said Jimmy, scurrying up the bank to the road. This new visitor was large, bald, and broad-shouldered, and wore a charcoal Giants jersey and a pair of blue sweats, torn at the knees. He slowed, but did not stop, and fixed Jimmy with a hard glare.

The man snorted, and picked up his pace. He was leaving. Jimmy felt a thrill of panic. He said: You have lovely children.

The man stopped, dropped the wagon’s handle, and, in one fluid motion, spun around and slammed his fist into the center of Jimmy’s face. Jimmy heard his nose crack, and the world went dark. When he came back to it, he was on the street, and the man was straddling his chest, hitting him and hitting him. Every blow was seismic, the pain monstrous, and then incomprehensible. A gentle thrill of peace passed through Jimmy’s body. He felt sure that he would die soon.

I am absolutely convinced that the characters in a Shehadeh story are good people. They are wrapped, however, in a strangeness that is at once terrifying and delightful. Go read him.

How Much Fantasy Makes A Fantasy?

This question came up a few times for me today. It started first thing, when I read today’s story on Every Day Fiction, “Touched” by Kim McDougall. The bio underneath the story contained a strong statement about the limiting power of genre, and, out of curiosity, I clicked through to McDougall’s Website to see more. McDougall calls stories that fall between genres “Between the Cracks Fiction,” and she elaborates here:

As a reader I’m all for an errant knight epic or a sexy vampire thriller, but the books that stick with me, the stories that I find myself reviewing on sleepless nights, are those that break the barriers. As a writer, I strive to avoid stereotypes by writing a great story first and worrying about classifying it later. Unfortunately, writing in the gaps has its drawbacks too. I once sent the same story to two different editors, receiving polite rejections from both, one claiming that my story was fantasy and his magazine did not publish this genre, the other that the story was not fantasy and he only published such. Same story.

This is an interesting story, and it certainly got me thinking. I think there’s a counterargument that I’ll handle in a later post, but I certainly take the point that there are very interesting stories that are hard to place as a writer and hard to find as a reader precisely because they can’t be neatly characterized. This primed the pump for me to read Liz Williams’ “The Hide” today, another of the top stories up for the Million Writers award. Though it was published in Strange Horizons, which publishes speculative fiction, it takes a long time for “The Hide” to wind into its fantasy elements, and, even then, they’re done subtly. The magical elements are certainly not explained. They invade the main character’s life briefly but deeply, and are gone again. Though there is definitely a strong aspect of the unexplained by the end of the story, most of the story did not feel like reading a fantasy. It felt like reading a dense, pastoral work of literary fiction.

The latter is far from my favorite genre, and I would never read something in that style without the promise that at some point something very strange is going to happen. This leads me to my point. I think that in many of these pieces that fall between genre, authors can do interesting things with our expectations. I’m thinking also here of Emma Bull’s and Steven Brust’s book Freedom and Necessity. I also picked this book up expecting it to be a fantasy. Mainly, it was political and philosophical and romantic. It was that same thick and creamy style of writing, set up as an epistolary novel, and what fantasy elements it included were quite subtle.

However, because I was expecting a fantasy, my reading experience was very different. I was jumping at shadows, and seeing the mysterious in everything. Most of the fantastic experiences in the book could be explained away by a determined skeptic, and yet I did not take that stance. There is a state I reach sometimes in real life where I am open that way to magic and mystery. It’s the state good fantasy induces, and it’s also the state I’m looking for when I pick up a fantasy novel or fantasy story. When a story is presented in a way that makes me expect a fantasy, I think the author gets to toy with that effect, making me see magical elements in things I might otherwise see as mundane.

To be perfectly honest, this irritates me a bit. For example, I spent much of my time reading “The Hide” and reading Freedom and Necessity waiting anxiously for things of a specifically fantastic nature to happen. On the other hand, it’s a neat effect. I do want to come back to this argument and consider it a bit more, but, having written this, I think I disagree with some of McDougall’s vehemence. The bio at the bottom of “Touched” says, “She believes that genres are crippling literature.” In the course of writing this post, I’m thinking they’re another tool in the toolkit, and are therefore useful for setting expectations for a reader and then manipulating expectations. While I enjoy stories that cross genres, I think they’re a little delicate sometimes. I’m glad I read Freedom and Necessity, but it did frustrate me, and I think that, while I recognize that “The Hide” was well written, it ultimately isn’t a story that appeals particularly to me. In both cases, I think the issue was that the story promised me fantasy and didn’t deliver.

Should I expect to get fantasy when I’ve been promised fantasy? I don’t know. Perhaps McDougall would say the answer is no. All I know is that the expectation gets to be too much to bear sometimes. There are days that I order Mexican food and would be OK with getting Italian instead, and days when I just want Mexican food. Genre seems to present a similar situation.