Why do we need all that baggage?

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I’m feeling the need to say more about the messages embedded in Star Wars: The Last Jedi. I expect I know where they come from. After the Force Awakens, there was controversy about new directions in the series. Presumably the producers were a little annoyed by this, and the result is all these messages about letting go of history. The loss of the old Star Wars is inevitable, actually, as the original characters are now too old to be dashing action figures, and the Princess is dead. As a traditional fan, I understand these messages, but how is a younger audience to take them?

The old Star Wars was about the resourcefulness, courage and discipline that it took to be a Jedi. It was about attaining wisdom and skill in the arts and sciences, and about how easy it is to slip off the narrow path and fall to the dark side. The reward for all the time and effort Luke put into his study was self-esteem, ability, adventure and success in the new world he helped to create.

To review: Most of the troubling messages in the film come from the conversations between Luke and Rey, where we see Luke has rejected his accomplishments and claims the Jedi “religion” is outdated and empty. He advises Rey to kill off history in order to reach her full potential. Rey is ambitious. She makes feeble efforts to train by herself, but blunders through obvious mistakes, while Luke still refuses to help her. We’re left in a universe of kids with no guidance, and the result is wild magic to get what they want, to defend themselves, and maybe to rescue their friends. There’s no emphasis on study, planning or organization. The message is that individual grandstanding, insubordination and mutiny against your leaders is both forgivable and all good in the end.

So, are these really good messages to send to children? I’m sure a lot of kids will love hearing they don’t need the older generation. But, should elders make a decision that the old order is dead and refuse to teach kids the skills and wisdom they’ll need to run the world by themselves? Do we really need to remember all that baggage about codes of honor, the Holocaust and the US Civil War?

I agree that there’s a certain weight to baggage like that. Minorities that see themselves only as victims of discrimination will have a hard time rising above it. If you spend all your time mired in events that ended over a hundred years ago, for example, then you won’t accomplish much that’s new. But civilization grows because we know about the past and pass on knowledge and wisdom to others. It grows because we, as a society, organize, study the mistakes of previous generations and come up with a common plan that most people support to deal with problems in our world.

Don’t grandstanding and individual self-serving only undermine this effort? Why do we, as a society, want to glorify that above study and hard work?

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Review of Third Flatiron Best of 2017 (Third Flatiron Anthologies Book 21)

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This is a collection of thirteen speculative fiction short stories edited by Juliana Rew, including her choice of the best stories from the Third Flatiron Anthologies published in 2017. These stories range from SF to fantasy to horror, and right now it looks it’s only offered as an ebook.

Third Flatiron Anthologies has proved to be a pretty reliable series for lightweight, entertaining fiction, mostly without the heavy political messages that sometimes turn up in short stories just lately. These offerings follow that standard, including everything from the quirky to the serious.

The stories include John Sunseri’s take on a different racetrack, James Beamon’s humorous tale of programmed troops, Konstantine Paradias’ projection of CRISPR in the kitchen, Brian Trent’s vision of Dorian Gray after the fall, Jean Graham’s spooky comeuppance for murder, Ville Nummenpaa’s contest for the most boring speaker, Wulf Moon’s Beast of the Month Club, Rati Mehrotra’s vision of the afterlife, Keyan Bowes’ integrated pre-school, Vaughan Stanger’s burdensome message, and Jill Hand’s projection of what your dog might say to you if it could talk. There were a couple of stand-outs. I especially liked J.L. Forrest’s witchy tale of rescue and Premee Mohamed’s vision of self-sacrifice.

Three and a half stars.

Review of “Bloodybones” by Paul F. Olson

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This novella was a finalist for the World Fantasy Award. It was published for the first time in the author’s collection Whispered Echoes.

David’s friend Amy disappears from her property at Vassey Point during a violent storm. David helps her father close up her home in the old lighthouse, but six months later, he’s drawn to return. He meets Amy’s sister Karen wandering on the property, and the two of them strike up an acquaintance. They begin reading through Amy’s journals, finding creepy things. Can they solve the mystery of what happened to her?

Good points: This is a psychological horror, a ghost story that takes shape as the supernatural closes down slowly but surely on the two protagonists. It’s very smooth and offhand, so I gather Olson is very practiced at this. It includes a lot of information from David (as the narrator) that gives us local color and background on Amy, Karen and the history of the point that’s led to its haunting. Also, I can see the film in my head. This is very cinematic.

Not so good points: The narrator’s casual, matter-of-fact tone keeps the events here from becoming really scary. It’s very white bread and traditional. The techniques for generating horror are fairly standard—enclosed spaces, violent storms, ghostly presences, etc. I appreciate Olson’s technique and subtlety, but this just shivered my nerves a little. It didn’t really scare me.

Four stars.

Still more shameless self-promotion!

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Afromyth

A while back I sold a story to Afromyth, an anthology from Afrocentric Books edited by J.S. Emuakpor. It looks like the e-book became available on December 9, and the paperback will soon follow. You can pick up a copy here. My story is “Death in Nairobi” about a Miami detective on holiday roped into investigating a local crime. Have fun reading!

Review of “Little Widow” by Maria Dahvana Headley

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This short story was a finalist for the 2017 World Fantasy Award. It was originally published by Nightmare.

Natalie is the Littlest Wife of the Preacher, a cult leader in Miracle. She’s at a sleepover when the cult suicides and the compound goes up in flames. Along with her surviving widows Reese and Scarlet, she is adopted by the Stuart family, and starts school. When the carnival comes to town, the girls go to what looks like a strip show, but the woman in the skimpy costume turns out to be Valerie, an angel from heaven who has come to contact them. Valerie has the Preacher in a cage and the girls confront him. She has also brought a shipment of T-Rexs from heaven that she lets loose to take care of some mistakes on the Earth. The four of them escape in a crop duster.

Good points: This story takes on a serious subject, which is how girls and women are often mistreated in patriarchal religious cults. It also takes a jaundiced view of miracles in general that fuel this kind of cult. It’s features good characterization, as we get background on the girls. They’re immigrant children, which suggests the problem with human trafficking.

Not so good points: This has a touch of surrealism, as the story moves from what could be reality to clear unreality when the girls meet Valerie. At this point, it’s actually less interesting. I was hoping it would follow through on the dramatic opening. Instead, this looks like another attack on the patriarchy. There are no male characters that don’t leer, and all the women are avengers. Even the dinosaurs are all female. Also, I’m not sure what the pterodactyl is about.

Three stars.

More Shameless Self-Promotion: Tales of Blood and Squalor Release

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Tales of Blood and Squalor
I recently sold a story called “The Offering” to a Dark Cloud Press anthology titled Tales of Blood and Squalor. My first horror sale, yah!

This will be available for sale at Amazon on November 20. There are 14 stories. From the Dark Cloud website, the description reads: “A novelist a tad too committed to realism in her craft, a tourist thirsting for blood, the king of a trailer park dungeon…” If you’re a horror fan, check it out!

Contributors:
Lee Allen Howard (Editor)‎
Joshua Bartolome
Lee Forsythe‎
Jay Seate
Sarah Gribble
Rob Francis
C. W. Blackwell
Rainie Zenith‎
James Edward O’Brien
Gab Halasz ‎
Bryan Dyke
Rachel Verkade
B. D. Prince
Lela E. Buis

The Legend of Guinevere

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In honor of the release of Tales of the Once and Future King by Superversive Press, I’m doing a background piece on my story in the anthology, “The Knight of Crows.” This is about Guinevere as a girl-queen, and the first encroachments of evil to bedevil her soul. This is just one contribution to a longer work. Look for the full tome available on Amazon.

Camelot is about perfection. The legend came together out of oral tradition, a tale of heroes that devoted their lives to defending Britain against the armies of evil. As Christianity came along, the legend absorbed these doctrines, becoming more and more about purity and the quest for the Holy Grail. This quest is about living your life properly, of course, and about trying to be perfect, but we all know how that goes. Bad things just happen to good people regardless.

In this case, the problem was falling in love. Guinevere the girl-queen is married to the perfect man. She has everything a woman could possibly want, but she falls in love with her husband’s best friend instead, the flawed but heroic Sir Lancelot. It’s uncertain in the tales about how this happens. Maybe it was engineered by the evil Morgan le Fay as a way to get to Arthur, and maybe it’s just the vagaries of the human heart, but whatever, it grows from the first tiny seeds to an obsession that extends through years and eventually grows so heated that it’s visible to everyone. At this point, the affair is a wedge set to crack the golden walls of Camelot into ruin. Arthur condemns Guinevere to death for adultery and goes to fighting his own knights, who see his distraction as a weakness and an opportunity to further their own ambitions. Guinevere escapes to a convent; Lancelot escapes to becomes a monk; Arthur wins his fight for the kingdom with the usurper Mordred, but is mortally wounded. The Lady of the Lake takes back the Sword Excalibur into her safekeeping. Fini. End. But will Arthur return in a different guise?

The interesting thing about the evolution of this legend is the way Guinevere became the central figure over a span of centuries. In the beginning, there was only the hero tales, and not much information about the queen—varying stories of her parentage and background, about how she came to marry the king. Stories of heroes are one thing, but they don’t tell us that much about the human condition. Fully developed, with Guinevere in place, we get to see how the quest for perfection is undermined by human nature and the inability to deal with our failings, our needs and the attractions of our darker side.

Tales of the Once and Future King from Superversive Press.

Contributors:
B Morris Allen
Bokerah Brumley
Lela E Buis
Katharina Daue
Jon Etter
Declan Finn
L Jagi Lamplighter
Anthony Marchetta (editor)
Mariel Marchetta (assistant editor)
K A Masters
R C Mulhare
Mandy Nachampassack-Maloney
Peter Nealen
Morgon Newquist
Victor Rodriguez
Matthew P Schmidt
Jonathan E Shipley
Justin M Tarquin
Joshua M Young
Ben Zwycky

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