How I Spent January 2022

Well, I started the new year telling myself I’d prioritise writing fiction over non-fiction, and so far I’ve kept up with that resolution. I’ve made headway on a couple of short stories, and the comic projects I’m invovled with are also coming along — although admittedly, right now that’s more a case of finding and paying artists than actually writing on my part. The downside is that I don’t have a great deal of blogging to speak of…

Articles of mine published elsewhere this month:

Article topics for February and beyond:

Feb22

January 2022: A Month in Horror

The month saw some major film releases. The fifth Scream came out — entitled simply Scream, as per a recent trend for sequels with the same titles as their originals — and received a generally favourable reception. Straddling the gap between horror and noir we find Guillermo del Toro’s adaptation of the William Lindsay Greshem novel Nightmare Alley (previously turned into a classic 1947 film), which examines exactly what happens when a mentalist’s act crosses the line from cold-reading to spookshow. I should mention that the film in question came out in the US in December — but your humble blogger was only able to see it come its January release in the UK.

In awards news, we had the release of the preliminary ballot for the Bram Stoker Awards. Conspicuously absent is the newly-announced category for middle-grade fiction: this will not be included until next year’s awards. More importantly for the readers of this blog, we also learnt the nominees for the 2022 Splatterpunk Awards and I have every intention of keeping up my annual tradition of reviewing each and every finalist. Special congratulations to Clive Barker, who has been announced as the latest recipient of the J.F. Gonzales Lifetime Achievement Award.

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“My Country is a Ghost” by Eugenia Triantafyllou (2021 Ignyte Awards)

“My Country is a Ghost” can be read online at Uncanny Magazine.

Eugenia Triantafyllou’s story takes place in a world where people are typically accompanied by the ghosts of departed loved ones, a phenomenon that is accepted as entirely natural. There are, however, boundaries that prevent ghosts from travelling out of the country where they died. Whether these boundaries are spiritual or merely bureaucratic is unclear, but either way, protagonist Niovi runs into trouble when trying to cross the border with her mother’s spirit:

When Niovi tried to smuggle her mother’s ghost into the new country, she found herself being passed from one security officer to another, detailing her mother’s place and date of death over and over again.
“Are you carrying a ghost with you, ma’am?” asked the woman in the security vest. Her nametag read Stella. Her lips were pressed in a tight line as she pointed at the ghost during the screening, tucked inside a necklace. She took away Niovi’s necklace and left only her phone.
“If she didn’t die here, I am afraid she cannot follow you,” the woman said. Her voice was even, a sign she had done this many times before. Niovi resented the woman at that moment. She still had a ghost waiting for her to come home, comforting her when she felt sad, giving advice when needed. But she was still taking Niovi’s ghost away.

Faced with the prospect of going back to her homeland to continue her dreary existence on unemployment benefits, and separating from her mother’s ghost so that she can emigrate, Niovi reluctantly chooses the latter. She successfully arrives in her new homeland but immediately finds herself a misfit: she is one of the few citizens not to be accompanied by a single ghost, “an oddity among people cloaked in spirits that followed their every step.”

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An Anti-Raytheon Protest Vote at This Year’s Hugos?

RaytheonBomb

In recent years the Best Related Work category at the Hugo Awards has been used by a sizeable chunk of the voting base (sizeable enough to impact the ballot, anyway) to protest aspects of past Worldcons. In 2021, one of the finalists was a blog post condemning George R. R. Martin’s mishandling of the 2020 ceremony; and in 2020 the winner was Jeannette Ng’s acceptance speech for what was to be the final Campbell Award, the title of which was subsequently changed in recognition of John W. Campbell’s racist views. Voting is currently open for the 2022 Hugo Awards, which raises the possibility of a similar protest nomination over one of the controversies attached to the 2021 Worldcon. The biggest of which, I imagine we can all agree, was the involvement of arms manufacturer Raytheon as a sponsor.

Before I should go on, I should mention that the practice of nominating short, emotive pieces like acceptance speeches or angry blog posts in Best Related Work — thereby taking spots that could have gone to longer works which took time, effort and research to construct and will better stand the test of time — is itself controversial. My views are conflicted. I would generally agree with this stance (my personal solution would be to split Best Related Work into long-form and short-form categories) but I have considerably stronger feelings about the deal with Raytheon. So, while I would like to see this Best Protest Vote practice to end, I don’t believe that 2022 is the right year for it to end. I would like to see a Hugo ballot this year that includes an uncompromising renunciation of last year’s Raytheon sponsorship.

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Werewolf Wednesday: “In the Forest of Villefére” by Robert E. Howard (1925)

WeirdTalesAug25“In the Forest of Villefére” was published in the August 1925 issue of Weird Tales. Its author, Robert E. Howard, was nineteen when he wrote both this story and its sequel “Wolfshead”, which was published in 1926. He would remark in a 1933 letter to H. P. Lovecraft that “it was two solid years before I sold another line of fiction”. His most famous creation, Conan, would come later; during this brief period of his young career, it was werewolves rather than Cimmerians that loomed large in Howard’s writing.

The story’s rapier-wielding protagonist – de Montour of Normandy – takes a twilight trip through a forest purportedly home to a werewolf. Here, he encounters a masked man; this stranger, who gives his name as Carlous le Loup, offers a peculiar explanation for his disguise:

“A mask!” I exclaimed. “Why do you wear a mask, m’sieu?”
“It is a vow,” he exclaimed. “In fleeing a pack of hounds I vowed that if I escaped I would wear a mask for a certain time.”
“Hounds, m’sieu?”
“Wolves,” he answered quickly; “I said wolves.”

The two men travel together, and de Montour grows increasingly perplexed with his new companion. For one, he is unable to identify Carlous le Loup’s nationality: “he had a very strange accent, that was neither French nor Spanish nor English, not like any language I have ever heard.” The conversation between the two men soon turns to the local werewolf. “The old women say,” remarks Carlous, “that if a werewolf is slain while a wolf, then he is slain, but if he is slain as a man, then his half-soul will haunt his slayer forever.” At the same time, the masked man appears to be in a hurry, encouraging de Montour to move on “before the moon reaches her zenith.”

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A Long Year’s Dreaming: January Progress Report

I’m still at work on my essay collection A Long Year’s Dreaming: Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror in 2020 and it’s steadily coming together. As noted before, my plan is to squeeze in as much work over the course of January and February before I’m distracted by my annual review cycle (hello, Splatterpunk Awards!) Right now I’m hoping to get the Last Emperox, Mulan and perhaps Tenent essays finished by the end of the month, then a few more essays come February. Then, hopefully, it’ll be plain sailing.

Here’s a list of the essays that are complete, in-progress or at least firmly decided upon:

  • Copter Crash: Isabel Fall and the Transgender SF Controversy
  • Coronaphobia: Horror Films in Lockdown
  • 2020 A.D.: Reviving the British Anthology Comic
  • MAGA 2020 and Beneath: The Strange World of Trumpist SF
  • Broken Futures: Iron Man 2020
  • Investing in the Gods: Jiang Ziya and the Fengshen Cinematic Universe
  • Out with the Old and into the Sun: The 2020 Hugo Awards
  • Dragons and Death Cults: The 2020 Dragon Awards
  • The Year we Had No Heroes, Except for This Lot: Superhero Films in 2020
  • Wit, Weirdness and Warped Ethics: Megan Giddings’ Lakewood
  • Cannibal Women, Laughing Lords and Ownvoices Iconoclasm
  • First Lady: Lilith as Icon of 2020
  • The Last Laugh: Animated Films Before the Pandemic
  • Prophets of Doom: Did these Authors Predict COVID-19?
  • Red Brains: Zombies in 2020
  • Blue Veins: Vampires in 2020
  • For Better or Worse, the Film of the Year: Tenet
  • Huns, Rouran and Uyghurs: Mulan goes to Xianjiang
  • Untitled Last Emperox Essay
  • From Smashing the klan to Killing Jimmy Olsen: The Superman Family in 2020
  • Bang in the Coffin: Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat’s Dracula
  • Ghosts of Christmas Present
  • Untitled Doctor Who Essay

Werewolf Wednesday: “The Werewolf” by Eugene Field (1896)

EugeneField

Originally published in the Ladies’ Home Journal, Eugene Field’s “The Werewolf” sets its story of lycanthropy in the Anglo-Saxon era (specifically, during “the reign of Egbert the Saxon”, although it is unclear which King Egbert is referred to). It opens by establishing a love triangle: Alfred is in love with Yseult, but Yseult is in love with Harold. Filled with envy, Alfred taunts Harold by mentioning the latter’s cursed ancestor, Siegfried:

Harold’s grandsire, Siegfried the Teuton, had been a man of cruel violence. The legend said that a curse rested upon him, and that at certain times he was possessed of an evil spirit that wreaked its fury on mankind. But Siegfried had been dead full many years, and there was naught to mind the world of him save the legend and a cunning-wrought spear which he had from Brunehilde, the witch. This spear was such a weapon that it never lost its brightness, nor had its point been blunted. It hung in Harold’s chamber, and it was the marvel among weapons of that time.

As it happens, while the curse of Siegfried’s bloodline has been “slumbering a century”, Harold is indeed afflicted with it. He keeps this a secret from Yseult, but his rival notices his habit of going off on his own, ostensibly to hunt. “‘Tis passing strange,” says Alfred, “that ever and anon this gallant lover should quit our company and betake himself whither none knoweth. In sooth ‘t will be well to have an eye on old Siegfried’s grandson.”

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On Dryden’s Amboyna, Part 3

AmboynaPlay

See also the first and second parts of this series.

With Towerson’s life having been spared — for now — his wedding to Ysabinda goes ahead. The celebrations include an epithalamium, a dance, and a song honouring Towerson’s heroics at sea (“Hark does it not thunder, no ’tis the guns’ roar/The neighbouring billows are turned into gore”). But the wedding is interrupted by the arrival of Captain Middleton and an unnamed English woman “all pale and weakly, and in tattered garments”. The minor character of Middleton was possibly based upon Captain John Middleton, who did indeed visit the island — but would have been dead years before the story’s events take place.

The woman details a harrowing tale: while at sea aboard an English ship, she and the rest of the passengers were invited on board a Dutch vessel; the treacherous Hollanders then proceeded to ply the guests with wine, steal their goods and throw them overboard. She narrowly escaped with her husband, who subsequently died of grief. Furthermore, she accuses the Dutch merchant Van Herring of being complicit in the crimes, thereby establishing that the play’s only Dutch character to show the faintest degree of moral nuance so far is as bad as the others after all.

Continue reading “On Dryden’s Amboyna, Part 3″

“Squeecore” and the Cartoon Mode in SF/F

The podcast RiteGud recently did an episode called “A Guide to Squeecore” that’s been causing quite a bit of buzz in SF/F circles. It touches on a number of topics and makes some good points about the uglier aspects of the contemporary genre establishment: behind the pride flags and celebrations of diversity, the authors wealthy enough to afford expensive writing workshops are the ones who make valuable connections while real outsiders remain on the outside. At the same time, a climate of complacency has led to such incidents as last month’s Hugo Awards being sponsored by Raytheon.

But the main focus of the podcast is the assertion that this cliquishness has led to a single aesthetic dominating modern SF/F, which the speakers Raquel S. Benedict and J.R. Bolt dub “squeecore”. They decide against naming any specific works that fit this aesthetic until some brief comments at the very end, however, which muddies their efforts to define squeecore.

I have nothing substantial to add to the podcast’s observations about backroom politics, so this post will concentrate on the question of the squeecore aesthetic. I’d also like to stress that none of the observations in this post should necessarily be taken as criticisms or objections: while the podcast is heavily critical of squeecore (even the chosen label is derisory) if the aesthetic exists, there’s room for it to be discussed in neutral terms.

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