Reality is Unrealistic

23 Sep

TV Tropes has an extensive selection of examples of the ways in which reality is unrealistic. That is, things that are true but which tend to strike readers or viewers as false. The same thing also afflicts editors, as I experienced twice recently.

My first experience was a passing reference, in a steampunk story set during the Prussian siege of Paris, to the loss of water pressure and the character’s need to wash at the sink. This struck the editor as liable to break a reader’s suspension of disbelief as “this is how everyone washed then.” Of course, this was in a story featuring electric artillery, massive land-battleships and a pneumatic postal system (not to mention the undead). Yet, while a reader could be expected to swallow such scientific advances, piped water was a step too far. Piped mail, but not piped water.

In real life, the French army introduced showers in barracks in the 1870s and the water supply of Paris was being overhauled, while gas was being piped into homes. So, the presence of a shower in an apartment in this alternate Paris was hardly a significant departure from the reality of the time, and one far less than the other elements in the story. Yet, it was one thing that stood out as something of a deal-breaker!

The second highlighted an apparent difference between the UK and the USA. The colours yellow and purple were relevant to a story I wrote, so I had an apparent Christmas present wrapped in yellow-and-lavender paper. In itself, it wasn’t a major plot point, but it did allow one character to observe those colours are associated with Easter rather Christmas, which served as a lead-in to a thematic element later in the story. All pretty inconsequential and throw-away, you might think.

Not at all! It seems that, unlike in Britain, where the story is set, the colours are indelibly linked with Easter, with stores being decorated in them (here, you’re likely to see greens and yellows). Thus, the American editor felt as if the story had blundered into some bizarro world, wondering why the fact was presented as if it were a piece of obscure Christian-only knowledge. Ironically, in the UK, I don’t know if you could even find Christians who are aware of the colour association (my limited researches have yet to show where the colour scheme actually derives from). Certainly, nobody I’ve canvassed knew the link. (I do have to wonder how many Americans would necessarily make the association at Christmastime.)

But, despite being entirely accurate to the British milieu in which it was set, the story lost credibility over what was essentially a minor element for the simple fact that the associations were different in the US.

So, if you need some entertainment, visit the TV Tropes pages and chuckle at the examples, but if you’re a writer, remember that, no matter how accurate you are, you will find someone who thinks you’ve made a mistake. And, if you are a reader, maybe double-check before leaping to criticise a writer for an error – they might actually be right, after all…

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Equal Opportunity Madness is here!

28 Aug

A panel discussion at Balticon 49 in 2015 about ‘problematic things’ in fiction led to this collection, EOM: Equal Opportunity Madness – A Mythos Anthology. As the editors note, and I’ve discussed before, the relationship between authors and their work can be an awkward one for readers and defies pat responses in either extreme. Instead of rejecting Lovecraft’s creations out of hand, a joking suggestion about creating an anthology of stories that would make the ‘old gent’ spin in his grave was taken up and made reality.EOM colour

Now, I must declare an interest in EOM as I contributed the story The Horror of the Atoll, which heads into Cthulhu’s stomping ground of Polynesia and features native Polynesian characters as protagonists.

Other stories go further in offering characters quite unlike those found in Lovecraft’s fiction. The opening story introduces us to an “old, crippled servant and the even older mute priestess” of Bast, for instance, while the penultimate story features a lesbian Rabbi taking on the evil out of Innsmouth with a golem!

I must say that the final, not exactly serious, story, in which Cthulhu awakens on the first day of Chanukah, bored and grumpy, was my favourite. Luckily, he is entertained then bored back to sleep with a dreidel and humanity is saved!

It’s not uncommon to find Cthulhu Mythos tales that feature protagonists unlike those used by Lovecraft (I’ve written a few myself), but this collection strives to provide a real variety.

So, rather than worrying about the old gent’s views on race, you should read this collection and see just how far his collection can be stretched.

Goodbye, Doctor Who…

17 Jul

So, the new Doctor is a woman. Apparently, she’s very good, so it may be that the BBC genuinely chose the person they thought was best, but, given a couple of decades of raising the prospect, it can’t help but wonder if it’s been done to chase headlines or burnish their inclusivity halo (unless it’s just cost-cutting, given the claims they underpay their female stars).

Of course, there have been howls of outrage of the ‘they’ve changed it, now it sucks’ sort, so my personal disgust at the decisions may seem like more of the same, but it’s not. (If it helps, as far I’m concerned, it reached the ‘they’ve changed it, now it sucks’ point a few seasons back and my views on this decisions are more fundamental. I won’t be watching the new series, but I’ve seen only a few episodes across the last three or four, so it’s hardly a great protest.)

Between the huffing of those who hate change and those crowing about a feminist victory, a couple of key points seem to have been overlooked as the BBC betrays a generation of boys and girls. (My apologies to any regular readers who will have seen all this before.)

Why the boys have been let down should be obvious to anyone who can see past issues of continuity and gender revolution: the Doctor represents a rarity amongst the role-models presented to young boys. He is serious (but not stuffy), clever, asexual and non-violent, yet still exciting and brave, a character that taught boys they didn’t have to grow-up to be a thug, a fool or a sex addict. It’s ironic that, as people supposedly become more accepting and inclusive, that boys should have their horizons circumscribed.

Why the girls have been let down might be less obvious given the cries that this represents a feminist victory. You could call it that, but only if your idea of a victory is a pathetic one built upon a foundation of over fifty years of men playing the part. Given that the BBC stands accused of underpaying its female stars, it probably shouldn’t be a surprise that they don’t believe a genuinely-female creation can be a success. If they wanted a female equivalent to the Doctor, they could have created a series based on, for example, Romana – no awkward baggage, no irate fans, no depriving boys of a role-model (Sarah Jane proved a success, in this regard – better even than the revived Doctor Who). Even better, create an entirely-new ‘verse without any male-lead hangovers. I’d actually like to see that. But, I don’t hold out much hope of the BBC or anyone else providing it. And, unless the novelty of a female Doctor can be translated into a much-better series, the declining viewing figures may well kill off the series altogether and we won’t have a female Doctor, either.

Are we reading the same thing?

12 Jul

About a year ago, I saw a lot of references to John Updike’s novel Rabbit, Run, all extolling just how brilliant it was. Intrigued, I decided to pick up a copy and read it. Boy, was I disappointed.

As I ask above, I had to wonder if we were reading the same thing. The book did open with promise. The description of Rabbit insinuating himself into a children’s game of basketball was a perfect meditation on loss and the disappointment of adulthood for childhood achievers. Had it been a short story, I would have definitely recommended it. (Updike was a short story writer prior to writing the novel.) But, other than two or three brief flashes of something interesting, the rest of the book failed to live up to that promise.

Perhaps the worst thing about it was that the writing was passable. There are novels that are as badly written as they are plotted that are easy to throw aside and there are novels that are badly written, but which contain good ideas – these are the real disappointments as, often, you can’t finish them, but you really wish they’d live up to their potential. Then, there are novels like this where the writing itself is okay, but the story is dire. encouraging you to keep on reading in the hope it will pick up, only it never does.

Updike possessed the technical skills to write a good novel, but this wasn’t it. I really can’t see what other people love about it. I’m not saying they’re wrong – taste is subjective – but whatever it is escapes me. It may be that his other novels would be a better fit for me, but I won’t be trying them – I’ve got far too many books to read as it is, without adding more on a vain off-chance! I certainly wouldn’t recommend it, but there’s always a chance it will be to your taste.

Download now!

22 Jun

You can now download issues of Awen and The Supplement (as well as DJ Tyrer’s fiction ebook, Black & Red) for free from this site. New issues will be added regularly. Enjoy!

The Problem with Inclusive Publishers

8 Jun

These days, more and more publishers are touting their inclusive credentials, stressing that they’re open to a diverse set of contributors. The argument is that, in the past, women, non-white and other minority writers didn’t feel welcome. Primarily, this seems to be an American and large press debate – the British small presses have long been welcoming to a diverse cast of authors and poets – but it is certainly the trend of the moment and, in many ways, a welcome one.

Some publishers, such as Black Girl Magic (issues are available on Amazon) do an excellent job, promoting characters that aren’t often seen in the mainstream and welcoming all sorts of writers. But, others, unintentionally, aren’t so welcoming. The main problem is that, naturally, wanting to welcome a diverse set of writers, they enquire rather intrusively into the lives of would-be contributors. Whereas Black Girl Magic, an excellent example of how to be welcoming, makes answering such questions optional, some make it compulsory. Yes, you could lie or put ‘not applicable’, but it does come across a bit strong. Not everyone wants to share personal details (actually, I’ve been more willing to do so with Black Girl Magic because I didn’t feel badgered). Then, there are those that disbar people who aren’t one of the groups they’re promoting from submitting – not only do I find this off-putting when I qualify to submit, but it’s problematic if you don’t neatly fit in a niche (of course, you can query, but that’s a problem if you’re not keen to discuss yourself with strangers).

Then, there are those that require (that’s require, not request) an author photograph. I suppose you could supply a fake or a non-portrait photo, but it’s not welcoming to people who might have an issue with their image being available online. And, of course, there are those publishers, mainly American, that ask for your ‘legal name’. In Britain, there isn’t actually such a thing, although many people doubtless assume there is and banks and such institutions often act as if there is (it’s actually a complicated topic). Of course, it’s a problem if you have a contract to sign (not that they’re usually worth the data saving them to your hard drive), but it does raise problems for people whose identity isn’t clean cut – the sort of people you might wish to include amongst your writers…

The irony is that, while I’ve found the majority of self-proclaimed inclusive publishers have at least one of these issues, many that make no such claims are actually far more welcoming. But, then, I think the vast majority of editors are only interested in high-quality writing and not who wrote it. I just hope that not too many people are being put off submitting their work by either unintentionally unwelcoming inclusive editors or repeated tales of how other editors aren’t so inclusive. Most are. Try them.

Equal Opportunity Madness!

26 May

EOM: Equal Opportunity Madness – A Mythos Anthology by Otter Libris

In the depths of the cosmos there is madness to be found and there are stories to be told…

H.P. Lovecraft first unveiled his dark and twisted vision of human insignificance to a wide audience with the publication of his short stories beginning in the early 1920s. He became a significant influence on horror writers and readers around the world and left a profound imprint on the horror genre itself. But something was missing in his work, things like positive portrayals of people of color and strong women.

Lovecraft is one of those problematic authors who created astounding work, but carried personal attitudes that most modern audiences find repugnant, like racism and anti-Semitism. Whether or not he was also a misogynist is a topic of spirited debate, but there is no question that his work lacks female characters, and when they are present they portrayed as weak or evil.

And then a group of feisty writers and one plucky little independent press, Otter Libris, decided to fill in some of the gaps in the Mythos….

What began as a joking suggestion to write stories that would make Lovecraft roll in his grave grew into the little anthology that could – EOM: Equal Opportunity Madness. Why should straight, white men of Anglo-Saxon descent get to have all the maddening fun?

EOM includes stories from writers in America, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Greece, and the protagonists are male and female, straight and not, and come in a wide variety of skin tones. Come enjoy all the madness of the Mythos in a rainbow of colors with EOM: Equal Opportunity Madness from Otter Libris, soon to be available in trade paper edition and your favorite e-book flavor.

Visit our Kickstarter and make sure you’re the first on your street to go mad!