Thursday, October 28, 2010

The end of Realms of Fantasy begs the question: Too much fantasy on the market?

This post over on the Cyclopeatron blog closely mirrors my own thoughts on why I think Realms of Fantasy and other magazines in the short fiction market are largely a dying or endangered breed.

It’s not necessarily the bad economy (though I don’t doubt this is a contributing factor). And it’s not necessarily the changing face of publishing, which is moving from print periodicals to PDF and/or web delivery (though this likely is a contributing factor, since publishers of all stripes have struggled with monetizing content delivered on the web).

Rather, like Cyclopeatron, I’ve long believed that there’s simply too much fantasy fiction on the market, and that magazines have gotten the squeeze as a result.

At first this may seem like a ridiculous notion. Realms of Fantasy, one of the few remaining print fantasy magazines in the market, goes under, and it’s because there’s too much fantasy for it to complete against? Yes, at least in my opinion. Here’s why.

To read the rest of this post, visit the Black Gate website .

Friday, October 22, 2010

Bruce Dickinson gives Liverpool a lift

Not that we all didn't know this already, but Bruce Dickinson is arguably the coolest, most accomplished dude on earth. Iron Maiden singer. Amazing solo artist. Former world-class fencer. Author. His latest love is flying, and today Dickinson, a licensed airline pilot, agreed to fly the Liverpool soccer team to Napoli for a Europa League match.

Here's the story as reported by ESPN and the British newspaper The Guardian.

Rock on Bruce.

That reminds me, I've got to do a review of Maiden's latest album The Final Frontier.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Robert E. Howard: A New Manifesto

We expect responsibility and accountability on your part. We are not interested in your grand pronouncement on a subject which has yet to be settled by people who have spent decades studying the issue at hand. We expect you to do your homework. There are a number of websites and literally stacks of new books that likely cover or answer most of your questions regarding Robert E. Howard. To not utilize those sources when doing your research smacks of willful ignorance and will not be tolerated by the fans of Robert E. Howard.

--Mark Finn, "Robert E. Howard: A New Manifesto"

Mark Finn, author of Blood and Thunder: The Life and Art of Robert E. Howard, has written an essay entitled "Robert E. Howard: A New Manifesto." It's currently making the rounds on the internet. You can read in its entirety at Al Harron's The Blog That Time Forgot

While I'm a little uncomfortable endorsing a manifesto in total and disagree with a few of its details, I am completely in agreement with the spirit of Finn's essay. One of the great things about the internet is that it allows anyone to post anything they want. Conversely, one of the awful things about the internet is that allows anyone to post anything they want. What the Manifesto says is that, if you introduce Robert E. Howard's life into a blog post or essay or argument, please take the added step of actually doing some homework (what a concept!). Read his biographies. Seek out his letters. Examine the many journals and works of criticism dedicated to his life and works. And if you insist on making outrageous, unfounded statements, be prepared to be called on it.

Finn's Manifesto is tough stuff and some may find it abrasive, but frankly wakeup calls are sometimes necessary. After some of the unfounded accusations, wacky theories, and uninformed, inflammatory, contextless arguments I've read around the internet recently, "Robert E. Howard: A New Manifesto" is a welcome wake-up call.

Shields up!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Zombieland: Bringing the fun, and a few rules to live by

Like most horror fans, I love zombie movies because they’re fun, gory, and suspenseful. I find the survivalist angle intriguing, too (I often find myself wondering if and how I could survive an initial outbreak of the walking dead. Equipped with my copy of The Zombie Survival Guide I’d like to think at least I’d have a fighting chance. But probably not).

But in the end the zombie films I like best are those that aspire to more than just empty action. Like all good movies, the best zombie films contain underlying social and/or political messages that give them an added dimension and another level on which they can be enjoyed.

I’m not a horror historian, but as far as I can tell the zombie film as social commentary started with George Romero. Broadly, zombies have always been a metaphor for death, but it wasn’t until 1978’s Dawn of the Dead that the walking dead were used to critique concepts like capitalism and unchecked consumer culture (as a sidenote this is why I didn’t like the new Dawn of the Dead as much as the original—the 2004 version is not only too nihilistic, but it removes all the subtext in favor of high-speed, sprinting zombie carnage).

Since Dawn other zombie films have hopped on the bandwagon of zombie apocalypse as societal/cultural critique. The most recent example is the comedic zombie horror of Zombieland (2009). Zombieland tells the story of a group of survivors trying to find their way in the aftermath of the zombie apocalypse. These include 20-something “Columbus” (played by Jesse Eisenburg), a nerdy, World of Warcraft playing recluse; “Tallahassee” (Woody Harrelson), a modern cowboy with an apparent death wish, a sardonic sense of humor and a mean streak a mile wide when it comes to zombies; “Wichita” (Emma Stone), a beautiful, guarded, hard-bitten realist, and “Little Rock” (Abigail Breslin), Wichita’s younger sister and resourceful partner in crime.

To read the rest of this post, visit The Black Gate website.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Sipping from a fresh draught of Dandelion Wine

I’ve mentioned before that I find genre categories useful. They help me to frame discussions about books and are a handy tool when I want to make a recommendation. But I also love the fact that there are authors like Ray Bradbury which defy their easy application. Though it may be the subject of a catchy song, to call Bradbury “the greatest sci-fi writer in history” isn’t particularly accurate. Dark fantasy, horror, soft sci-fi—Bradbury has written in them all, and sometimes all at once. He is in many ways genre-defying.

That’s about the only way I can categorize Dandelion Wine, a loosely autobiographical novel about a boy’s coming of age (or rather, his becoming) at age 12 in the summer of 1928. On the first morning of that magical summer Douglas Spaulding realizes that he’s alive. Consequently, he realizes that he will also die one day. The rest of the book is an episodic journey through the summer, with Bradbury switching the focus between Spaulding and a cast of other memorable characters in Green Town, Illinois. Green Town is a pseudonym for Bradbury’s real home of Waukeagan, IL, where one summer as a boy of 12 he made the decision to become a writer.

Bradbury’s books aren’t really about plot as much as they are about places and people and things. I recall an interview with Bradbury in which he described beginning his stories using a process of word-association, thinking of a word or series of words and building a story from that. This technique plays out wonderfully in Dandelion Wine, whose wonderful images become burned into your memory as if you lived them yourself. The old arcade and the coin-operated gypsy fortune teller. The ravine. Mr. Jones’ traveling junk wagon.

Bradbury treats us to several beautiful, stirring vignettes throughout Dandelion Wine. One of my favorites is the story of an unlikely couple: 31-year-old William Forrester and a 95 year old Helen Loomis. It’s not a love story but something just as moving, a genuine melding of two lost souls, which finally find comfort in one another’s company. Mixed with the friendship is the cosmic tragedy that they were born in different ages and so cannot consummate a physical love. Another favorite is the story of Leo Auffman, a man who tries to build a Happiness Machine and is mortified when his wife Lena breaks down in tears after using it:

Sunsets we always liked because they only happen once and go away.

But Lena, that’s sad.

No, if the sunset stayed and we got bored, that would be a real sadness.

Bradbury’s moral? Joy cannot exist without sadness. Without a contrast or a break, joy becomes routine and expected, and therefore paradoxically joyless. Permanent happiness is not our lot in life, but that’s the way things are meant to be.

Douglas’ becoming is not without its hardships, as he experiences death of some friends and relatives and the displacement of his best friend John Huff, who moves away after his father takes a job in Milwaukee. But although Dandelion Wine is tinged with tragedy and even takes us to the edge of despair, Douglas does not take the final leap into the ravine: Bradbury’s message is that life is ultimately worth living, even though we all must leave it and our loved ones someday. Dandelion Wine exalts the simple pleasures we take for granted—good food, wine, and the pleasant rituals of summer, sitting on the porch at night for a smoke and good conversation under the stars (this was before the age of television, of course, reminding us that change does not always equal progress).

But back to genre. One of Dandelion Wine’s central themes is that the world needs magic. When we try to classify and explain and categorize too much, the magic is drained away. Human beings operate in the realms of faith and mystery, not just cold, clinical materialism. One of my favorite scenes in the book is when an unhelpful aunt arrives in the Spaulding household and immediately sets to work “helping” the grandmother, a wondrous cook, by cleaning up her messy kitchen and neatly setting to order all her mysterious, unlabelled spices and ingredients. The result? Lousy food. When the family sends the aunt packing and returns the kitchen to its natural state of disorder and mystique, her cooking is again rendered exquisite.

You can say the same for Dandelion Wine. Experience it, savor its depths and symbolism, but don’t try to vivisect it under a cold, clinical light. Let it sweep you back to one summer of 1928 and enjoy the nostalgia and the journey. It’s a good one.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Stupid, fat The Hobbit reporter!

Title of post copyright Gollum.

Courtesy of my friend Falze, this story from Yahoo Movies: "Peter Jackson Running Into Union Trouble on 'The Hobbit'".

I've got no problem with the meat of the article, and I've pretty much resigned myself to the fact that it will be a long time (if ever) before we see The Hobbit on screen (though we still have the Rankin and Bass version, which isn't such a bad thing). Still, this seems to be another shovel full of dirt on the project.

Where things get rather funny (and stupid) is the reporter trying to show that he's "down" and "jiggy" with Tolkien, when in fact he's obviously never read word one of the good professor's works:

It's also worth noting that the weakest scenes in the "Lord of the Rings" movies take place in the shire where the hobbits live; basing two whole movies on just hobbit-land would seem far from the financial slam-dunk that the previous three movies were.

Come on dude, two whole movies on "hobbit-land"? Is this the same The Hobbit I read, where exactly ONE chapter ("An Unexpected Party") takes place in the Shire, before the action moves into the wild and a confrontation with trolls (Chapter 2: "Roast Mutton")? We barely get a whiff of "hobbit-land," and the rest of the action is a rousing series of adventures in the Misty Mountains, Mirkwood, the caves of the wood-elves, Laketown, the Lonely Mountain, the Battle of Five Armies, and then back home for what amounts to three pages in "hobbit-land."

If done right (or done at all), it's going to be mighty tough to screw up The Hobbit--it's almost pure adventure.

Also, "the weakest scenes in The Lord of the Rings take place in the shire"? You mean the wonderful scenes of friendship between Bilbo and Gandalf, leading to their confrontation over the One Ring, as portrayed by two great, perfectly-casted actors (Ian Holm and Ian McKellen)? Or the deft handling of "The Shadow of the Past" (which the screenplay wisely splits between the prologue and more superb Gandalf/Frodo dialogue at Bag-End)? Those weak scenes?

Leach's editorializing is so bad it's actually rather funny.