“Dune Song” by Suyi Davies Okungbowa (2020 Ignyte Awards)

With the Ignyte Awards handed out this month, I’ve decided to take a closer look at some of the stories on the shortlist. There are a few I’ve already written about as part of my Hugo coverage at WWAC, but others are new to me. I’ll start with “Dune Song” by Suyi Davies Okungbowa

In a post-apocalyptic world carpeted with sand dunes, the inhabitants of a remote settlement are warned by their Elders never to leave. The outside world is dangerous, say the Elders; those who venture into the dunes will be killed by whistling gods.

But a girl named Nata yearns to see the wider world. She wants to visit civilisation, something she has glimpsed in one of the books from before the world was desertified – books that are ordinarily reserved for the Chief, Elders and other members of an elite. Most of all, she hopes to find her mother, who said that the whistling gods did not exist – and who disobeyed the Elders, leaving the settlement, never to be seen again. Partnering with the Chief’s young son, Tasé, she decides to head out into the dunes.

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Folklore Studies Gone Wrong: S. A. Swaffington’s The Supernatural World of the Anglo-Saxons

SwaffsaxonsNow and again I’ve posted on this blog about creatures of folklore, like the Dullahan and Jimmy Squarefoot. One of the things I found frustrating when researching them was how sloppy a lot of the writing available online was. Yes, we’re talking about creatures that don’t actually exist, but there’s a world of difference between documenting authentic folklore form the past and simply making things up on the spot.

The most galling thing is when this shoddy research escapes from wiki articles and makes it into actual books that purport to be authoritative. I’ve recently been reading a book by S. A. Swaffington called The Supernatural World of the Anglo-Saxons: Gods, Folklore and the Pagan Roots of Christmas and Halloween, and it’s a prime example of folklore studies gone wrong.

At first, I considered going easy on the book: it’s a self-published work by an obscure author, after all. But then I looked at its Amazon page and saw a fairly substantial number of ratings, more than half of which gave it five stars. Clearly, there are people being suckered by this terrible piece of work, so I felt it was time someone stepped in and helped prevent any of this tosh from contaminating future scholarship.

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How I Spent September 2020

Naturally, I’ve been working on essays to be posted over the Halloween period – and in the process, it came to me that the articles I have underway right now are probably the last articles of mine for 2020. After that, I’ll be cracking on with my longer-form projects – which, at the time of writing, includes one novel, two non-fiction books and a couple of short film ideas I’m playing with. So, you can expect to see my vanishing into hibernation somewhere before the year’s close as I stick my nose into my work. On the other hand, inspiration might hit for a new spate of blog posts. Who knows? Either way, Halloween beckons…

Articles of mine published elsewhere this month:

Article topics for October and Beyond:

Werewolf Wednesdays: Hammer Horror

It’s Wednesday, so here’s another entry in my Killer Horror Critic series about the history of werewolf cinema. This time I’m arriving in the sixties, when Hammer gave lycanthropy a full-colour makeover in The Curse of the Werewolf. Read on…

Past instalments:

How to End an SF/F Story

In an earlier post I went over some recent novelists honoured at two very different SF/F awards – the literary-minded Hugos, and the bloody-minded Splatterpunk Awards – and looked at how their opening lines worked. It was an interesting exercise, so I’ve decided to follow it up with a look at the opposite subject: ending lines.

This time, I’m going with short stories rather than novels. Why? Because the shorter the story is, the more important the last line. A novel can have hundreds of pages to win over its reader, but with a short story, the final sentence or two can make all the difference between the reader remembering the tale or merely shrugging and moving on to the next story.

So, here are the endings to the six most recent finalists for the Hugo Award for Best Short Story…

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How to Begin an SF/F Novel

I’ve been thinking about one of the golden rules that all writers are taught: grab your reader with the first line. It’s good advice, but (like so many golden rules in writing) can be followed badly. Writing a dull opening is bad – but so is writing a opening that yells at the reader for attention but does nothing to set up the novel as a whole. Writing the ideal first line is a craft in itself, and it can be interesting to see how different writers have tackled the challenge.

With this post I decided to look at the openings to a selection of fairly recent SF/F novels – specifically the first sentence or, if that’s too short, the first two sentences. For a little variety, I’ve gone with the novel finalists for two very different awards: the literary-leaning Hugos and the down-and-dirty Splatterpunk Awards.

Let’s start with this year’s Hugo finalists…

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Werewolf Wednesdays: How to Make a Monster

Another week, another chance to take your mind off the apocalypse with an instalment of my Killer Horror Critic column on the history of werewolf films! This time I’m looking at the little-known meta-horror sequel to I Was a Teenage Werewolf: How to Make a Monster

Past instalments: