Archive for the ‘Introductions’ Category

Fall has arrived and October is nearly upon us (seriously, where did September go?), bringing with it my absolute favorite holiday: Halloween.

I know you’re all really surprised . . .

Those of the uninitiated might believe that Halloween happens on October 31st, and on this strange, commercially-driven day small children scamper about in costumes demanding candy while young adults overindulge their Ids and get extra, extra plastered in skimpy outfits. Technically true, yes, but not nearly the whole truth. See, if approached correctly, Halloween can and should be a glorious monthlong event.

Given that this is the most unhindered October I’ve ever had and probably ever will have, I’m excited to announce a new project for this blog: 31 Days of Halloween. 31 Days of costumes, scary movies, spooky stories, eerily colored cocktails, pumpkin carving, writing prompts, arts and crafts, haunted house ideas, and everything else I can come up with. Yes, ladies and gents, we are welcoming the autumn and All Hallows Day in style.

What does this mean for the blog? At the very minimum, there will weekly updates on Halloween projects. In each update, I’ll fill you in on whatever I wore, watched, read, and mixed during the week. I’ll post a weekly prompt, fun recipes, trivia, and costume ideas. Maybe some how-to videos if I’m feeling really ambitious. Plus, there will be a book exchange and giveaways for All Hallows Read (details next week!).

Some things I’d like to do this month:

–watch 31 horror movies

–(re)read 31 scary stories/poems, including “The Raven” and “The Tell-Tale Heart”

–read 5 horror novels

–write a ghost story

–create 5 costumes

do a zombie run

–mix 13 Halloween-themed cocktails [I’ll provide virgin equivalents whenever possible]

–cook 13 Halloween snack/dessert recipes

–give away (at minimum) 3 books for All Hallows Read

Of course, participation is welcome! I’m going to kick off the movie-watching on October 1 by livetweeting The Cabin in the Woods at @julialivetweets. Feel to watch along and comment. And throughout the month, please share your own Halloween projects and ideas.

How do you celebrate Halloween? Is it a monthlong affair or just one night? And what would you like to see for 31 Days of Halloween on ‘The Girl Who Loved Zombies’?

It feels strange (and possibly insensitive?) to start a series of posts about the end of the world on today of all days, but it’s also strangely appropriate, I think. It’d be overly simplistic and naïve to say that the 9/11 terrorist attacks are fully responsible for our current fascination with the apocalypse, but it would be equally simplistic and naïve to say that they had nothing to do with it. Bottom line: just about every culture in the world has an apocalypse myth, from the Seventh Day Adventists to the Vikings. It is an ingrained part of any religious system; most polytheistic pantheons have a deity just for destruction. Kali Durga. Sekhmet. The Cailleach. (Funny how all of these are goddesses . . .)

So, no, our obsession with armageddon is not new. Our ancestors saw stars fall and floods happen and they got it. Life is fragile. The world as we know it can be over real quick if that’s what nature/Jörmungandr decides.

By the same token, a lot of contemporary anxieties about the end of civilization have to do, I’d argue, with current events. We see a similar fascination with the destruction of our society during the Cold War, when nuclear holocaust seemed like a real possibility to many. (By the way, Cold War B-movies are the best at expressing our cultural anxieties. They’re beautifully awful and not the least bit subtle.) Post-9/11–in an era when we worry about running out of water or, conversely, having too much water or being hit by asteroids or choking death in car exhaust or simply being undone by our own political system–is it any wonder that the apocalyptic genre has blown open like a faulty nuclear reactor?*

What I find most interesting is how this obsession translates to the dystopian genre, which, while related, is quite different. If there’s anything that fascinates us more than the end of the world, it’s what happens after the end of the world. Or to quote the truly terrible 2012, “the end is just the beginning.” Which, yeah, any zombie movie worth its salt knows that the story is about the survivors, the people who have witnessed the horrors of a cataclysm and by some ill luck lived. But the dystopian fiction of today takes it beyond the stragglers of Beckett’s Endgame or Matheson’s last man standing in I am Legend. These stories allow us to rebuild, to create new societies in the wake of utter disaster.

The problem is, we still manage to bungle it pretty horribly. Hence the dys— in dystopia. I mean, the Capitol in The Hunger Games has not learned any lessons from the totalitarian regimes of yesteryear. Neither have the soulless agricultural corporations in Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl. Or the isolationist residents of the Dome in Julianna Baggott’s Pure.

What do we draw from this? I think, yes, one of the reasons we obsess over the apocalypse is that it is a strange opportunity for a blank slate. After all, the survivors can be whoever they want in the wake of it, leave their old lives and old mistakes behind. And on a large scale, we can also do that as a society–eventually rebuild civilization as we see fit. But to what end? Because the message behind post-apocalyptic dystopian fiction is that we always manage to mess it all up again–sometimes worse than before.

Do you read apocalyptic fiction? Dystopian fiction? What draws you to it? What trends have you noticed?

*I know, I know, they don’t usually blow up. They just eat through their containers and render the surrounding countryside completely toxic and uninhabitable for centuries.

I keep intending to make a “Hope for the Genre” post about some of the books I’m reading, but honestly? There are so many good novels and story collections out there, I’m having trouble picking one to highlight. Therefore the only sensible thing is to post about 3-5 exciting genre or genre-bending books every so often. And feel free to friend me on Goodreads if you’re so inclined.

1. Johannes Cabal: Necromancer by Jonathan L. Howard: This gem came out in 2009, as many of you probably know, but I like to recommend the beginning of a series. Howard’s brilliant for-now trilogy kicks off our introduction to Johannes Cabal with a few of my favorite things: demonic carnivals, deals with the devil, the undead, killer freak shows, and razor sharp humor. Cabal is one of my favorite anti-heroes of all time. Fear Institutethe third book of the series which was released in the UK this year, takes us deep into Lovecraft’s Dreamlands. If you can get your hands on it, it is well worth it!

2. Fantastic Women ed. by Rob Spillman: A collection of surreal stories published by women in Tin House. Now, if you’re one of those people who thinks literary magazines are stiff and stodgy, you have to check out this collection. Enjoy work by Aimee Bender, Karen Russell, Kelly Link, Alissa Nutting, Kate Bernheimer, and other geniuses. My absolute favorite of this bunch is Link’s “Light” which deals with pocket universes, women with two shadows, and hurricanes, among other things. But there isn’t a dud in the whole set. If you love fantastic short stories, this is the collection for you.

3. Southern Gods by John Horner Jacobs: Nominated for a Stoker award, this collision between Lovecraftian and Southern mythos is a thrill ride steeped in blues music and 1950s culture. WWII vet, Bull Ingram, gets hired to track down a mysterious bluesman, Ramblin’ John Hastur, whose music supposedly drives men mad and makes the dead rise. As in all Lovecraft-inspired tales, Ingram finds himself in way over his head. Jacobs doesn’t pull a single punch in this horrific story and you’ll find yourself wanting to look away before the end–but if you’re like me, you probably won’t.

4. After the Apocalypse by Maureen F. McHugh: Published by the incomparable Small Beer Press, McHugh’s second collection is a goldmine of science fiction, horror, fantasy, and a few things in between. In these nine beautifully written tales, you’ll find zombies, bird flu, the development of artificial intelligence, medical testing, and an entirely man-made apocalypse (natural disasters and the walking dead need not apply). McHugh is a master storyteller who builds worlds and characters with the same care. My absolute favorite of this set was, surprisingly, “The Kingdom of the Blind,” which follows the story of IT employees who discover that the system they monitor may have developed awareness.

5. The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson: This YA novel came out last year, but I’m recommending it anyway, because the second book of the series is due out in January 2013 and if you haven’t read it, you should now! Johnson paints a meticulous picture of modern London entranced by the possibility of a Jack the Ripper mimic. CCTV cameras and rabid media dominate the case. But the heart of the story lies with Rory Deveaux, an American high school student studying abroad in London. Rory discovers more than the terrifying truth behind the copycat Ripper murders, as she comes in contact with the Shades of London. Definitely a page turner and a must-read if you’re into genre YA fiction.

Confession for you guys: I have a Kickstarter problem.

No, really. I could empty my bank account on Kickstarter without even trying. It’s worse than Etsy.

It’s not my fault! There are all these awesome projects with really cool prizes that might not happen without our help. And I love crowdfunding. It’s the internet at its best. (Okay, so is this.)

Unfortunately, I’m a student and therefore on the poor side so I don’t have a lot of extra money, even for awesome projects. So to atone for the fact that I can’t donate to every kickstarter that strikes my fancy, I’m going to feature a different one on the blog every week.

Project: Unstuck

End Date: Aug 29, 1:20am EDT

Prizes: A whole range of neat options–from robot thank you e-notes to copies of the first and second issues to handmade bookmarks to signed books to lifetime subscriptions to contests bearing your name. Or nothing but the warm, fuzzy feeling of having donated. That’s the beauty of kickstarter.

Current Goal: $10,000–so that they can start their very own surreal and fantastic fiction podcast! I don’t know about you guys, but I adore story podcasts and I bet this one will be nothing short of brilliant.

Current Number of Backers: 160

Current Pledges: $7, 096

Why they deserve your support: Unstuck is a fledging magazine–they released their first issue only this past year–but they’ve already made quite an impression on the literary and speculative fiction communities. (And, of course, all of us in between.) They’re doing a rare thing: circulating damn good stories and poems that occupy the center of that tricky realism-fantasy venn diagram. Plus, their first issue featured work by some of the best in the business, including Aimee Bender, Meghan McCarron, J. Robert Lennon, Amelia Gray and a slew of other crazy talented folks. There’s no shortage of ghosts, ghouls, or wives back from the dead in Unstuck #1’s pages. But there’s also an abundance of meticulous structuring, complex characterization, and drop-dead (haha) gorgeous prose. So if you love poetry and fiction, speculative or otherwise, I’d say the Unstuck kickstarter is well worth it, whatever you can afford to give.

Did I give: Hell yes! So excited!

So, what with this being a for-the-funs blog, I imagine the schedule will be fairly loose. I’m busy; you’re busy; we don’t need to meet for coffee every Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and every other Sunday. What I will try to guarantee is at least one post a week, preferably two, on a variety of topics. One segment I think will become a regular thing is this: Hope for the Genre. Essentially, we’re talking 250-ish words about a film/novel/album/game/website/art exhibit/zoetrope/puppet show that does something new and interesting with speculative fiction, which as we know, is always in horrible danger of dying out. Recommendations welcome.

Genre: Science Fiction

Medium: Mockumentary

The premise: Ghosts with Shit Jobs is an indie mockumentary (appropriately monikered “lo-fi sci-fi” by its creators) set in Toronto. BoingBoing called it an econopalypse and it is–at least from a Western standpoint. In a Chinese-driven economy, North Americans (we won’t talk about what happened to Europe) become the cheap labor for the Asian empire, doing the jobs no one wants: robot baby doll assembly, digital copyright blurring, face-to-face spamming, and (of course) mutant spider silk collection. Funny, smart, different. The film also earned its touring budget via Kickstarter, which is pretty neat.

Why it’s awesome: What amazed me most about Ghosts with Shit Jobs wasn’t the clever concept or the incredibly low budget ($5000!). It was the characters. A film which relied solely on its tongue-in-cheek role reversal of contemporary Western society would no doubt become stale after the first twenty minutes–in fact, I worried it would. But then the movie delivered deeper insights into its protagonists’ lives. The complicated (yet somehow how workable) relationship of the Babymaker couple, Karen and Gary. The human spam’s blistering (and sometimes violent) defense of her work, funded by–for serious–a Nigerian scam syndicate. The digital janitor’s love of the digital world and earnest desire to do a good job. Not to mention the silk collectors, two young brothers who literally work for clean water. The writing and performances here rarely fell flat and that is what makes this a compelling piece.

Why it’s hopeful: It’s not just that folks can make good, thoughtful, character-driven near-futuristic sci-fi on for crazy little money. It’s also that, via crowd-sourcing/funding systems like Kickstarter, we can all support it. And I think that’s one way speculative fiction is finding its footing in the our digital culture.

Bienvenuto!

Posted: July 17, 2012 in Introductions

Repost of the About section. New content coming soon!

Disclaimer: this is not a zombie blog.

Here’s the thing: I have always, always, always loved zombies. Zombie moviesZombie books. Any zombie memorabilia you can conjure. I dress up as a zombie on a semi-regular basis, not just for Halloween. I love zombie-inspired fitnessZombie PSAs. All of it. And it doesn’t bother me one ounce that other people — a lot of other people — have discovered that they love zombies, too. All the more undead to love, in my view.

But as a consumer of speculative fiction, I know that zombies (like vampires) are on their way out. We’ve had enough of them, for the moment. I don’t think they’ll go away entirely. But they will go underground (harhar) for a spell. As they should. There are reasons our love of different monsters comes in cycles. There are big reasons for that (cultural, social) which hopefully we’ll talk about soon. But for the moment, the reality: people are getting sick of zombies. Fortunately, zombies are only the beginning.

My interest is quality speculative fiction (science fiction, fantasy, horror) in this post-post apocalypse. Particularly with an independent or literary bent. We can have fun with the mainstream stuff, sure, and I have no doubt it’ll come up. But I want to discuss the stuff on the fringes. With some grit and some soul. Stories/movies/comics/games that transcend genres and bend the rules (ideally with their minds).

And probably the zombies will return to those fringes from whence they came. Hey, in some cases, they’re already there. And we’ll talk about them, too. Because who can resist, really?