All posts by SFF Book Bonanza

5 Kick Ass Women Warriors in Japanese History Who Fought in Battles

by K. Bird Lincoln

Part of what drew me to women warriors in Japan is that Japan has had very rigid, traditionally defined gender characteristics and roles for long periods in its history. Yet when I first encountered Onnagatta actors (boys/men who play women characters in the 1600’s) and Okama entertainers (transvestite or transsexual TV stars) I was surprised by how Japanese society accepted a chosen gender as long as the person abided by those rigid stereotypes.

The men are treated as women. The very rigidness of how to dress, how to speak, how to act actually seemed like a framework that allowed the men to be women in society’s eyes.

I was fascinated to see if the opposite held true. Could women also be accepted in a man’s gender role? Historically, there have been many women in Japanese history who picked up a sword, but that didn’t necessarily make them men. And to this day, the famous Takarazuka actresses who play male roles retain a sense of their femaleness.

But in creating my main characters in Tiger Lily, I wanted to delve into the lives of women, who born according to the twelve-year cycle zodiac calendar in the Tiger year, express their gender in unconventional ways. Here are some of the most famous historical women warriors in Japanese History that inspired me.

Empress Jingu

As the wife of an emperor sometime around 160-260 AD, Jingu has some historical legitimacy, although her exploits as regent after her husband died are somewhat in the legendary category. Apparently after taking power around 200 A.D, she invaded the Korean kingdom of Silla, starting a long-standing troublesome relationship between historical Korea and Japan. She’s depicted as a warrior and shamaness, using both sword and her ocean-controlling divine jewels to invade Korea. Jingu’s legend is intricately tied up with Japanese Nationalism, so it’s hard to tell what’s legend and what’s propaganda, but along with Himiko, who we’re not touching upon here, she’s one of the foremothers of women warriors in Japan.

Hangaku Gozen and Tomoe Gozen

These two women warriors (onna-musha or onna bugeisha) lived around the same time period but weren’t related. Tomoe is the more famous of the two, and noted in the famous 12th Century chronicle of battles called the Heike Monogatari. She is depicted artistically as wearing battle armor, was famed for her horsemanship and archery, and considered extremely brave. She went into battle for her master/lover Minamoto Yoshinaka with a sword, not just the traditional female bladed pole naginata.

She is also described as being beautiful, so despite her leading battles and wearing armor, she still was seen as primarily female. There is controversy over how her life ended. Some say she was forcibly married to another warrior, some that she was beheaded, and another that she died a nun. Tomoe has been immortalized in anime, videogames, movies, and books, including a historical science-fiction-fantasy trilogy written by Jessica Salmonson, titled The Tomoe Gozen Saga.

Hangaku Gozen rode into battle with naginata and bow with her nephew during the Kennin Uprising against the main military government in Kamakura. She led 3000 against a force of 10,000 warriors. Hangaku is said to have been ‘fearless as a man and beautiful as a flower’, so despite her male leadership role, history cast her into a female role. Her ending quite firmly teaches her a lesson about females daring to get mixed up with political battles: married off to an enemy warrior after she is wounded and taken prisoner by the Kamakura military government.

Nakano Takeko

Here we have our first entirely historical woman warrior who fought on the losing side of the Boshin War. Although not officially allowed to join the fight, Nakano teamed up with 20 other women, including her mother and sister, and formed a counter-attack to break the siege on her castle. She killed 5 enemy soldiers before taking a fatal bullet to the chest. But here’s where she doubled down on her kick-assery: fearful the enemy would take her head as a trophy and she might risk disgracing her family even in death, she asked her sister to cut off her head and bury it.

Rui Sasaki

Rui was a sword instructor in the mid-17th century. Although a known female, she would walk around town in men’s clothing and her hair in an unfeminine style on her way to her martial arts school. She would occasionally tangle with sword-wielding hoodlums. This got around, and apparently wasn’t considered the appropriate behavior for the daughter of a samurai. This meant certain authorities made it their business to find a husband to keep her in line.

So there you have 5 really kick-ass women warriors in Japanese history. None of them were able to shed their femaleness completely even when going into battle—and several of them experienced the subjugation of a husband figure to firmly put them back into their less powerful, female place. But their legacy of strength and honorable resolve is one I hope informs my characters who also have to find ways to battle despite not quite fitting into the rigid lines of what females should be—whether shamaness or warrior.

K. Bird Lincoln is an ESL professional and writer living on the windswept Minnesota Prairie with family and a huge addiction to frou-frou coffee. Also dark chocolate– without which, the world is a howling void. Originally from Cleveland, she has spent more years living on the edges of the Pacific Ocean than in the Midwest. Her speculative short stories are published in various online & paper publications such as Strange Horizons. Her first novel, Tiger Lily, a medieval Japanese fantasy, is available from Amazon. Her debut Urban Fantasy, Dream Eater, was published in April 2017 by World Weaver Press. She also writes tasty speculative and YA fiction reviews on Goodreads, ponders breast cancer, chocolate, and fantasy on her What I Should Have Said blog and hangs out on Facebook.

The Venn of Sci-Fi and Fantasy

by LC Champlin

Twenty years ago, when I was starting to read fiction, I gravitated toward Sci-Fi and Fantasy. Times were simpler then, and so were the genres. If you picked up a Fantasy book, it had dragons, swords, magic, and castles. If you grabbed a Science Fiction book, there were spaceships, aliens, and strange planets. But we live in a different world now! Click on Fantasy on Amazon, and you’ll get more subgenres than there used to be main genres in all of fiction. Same for Sci-Fi.

This Tribble-like multiplying of subgenres didn’t rain down on me, though, until I attempted to select a genre category for my novel series. You see, I hybridized genres, which makes for a fun read, but is tough to class. My story is a fusion of Thriller (terrorists attack), Horror (terrorists unleash a plague that turns people into cannibals), Action-Adventure (running and gunning galore!), and Sci-Fi (the man-made contagion doesn’t reanimate corpses, and it comes with some technologically-advanced features). And those are just the conventional, main categories.

As I explored categories, I started to see an overlap of my two favorites, Fantasy and Sci-Fi. Could it be, I thought, that the two are not as diametrically opposed as they once were? In my quest for answers, I Googled “sci-fi subgenres” and “fantasy subgenres.” Taking the first sites on page one gave more info than I ever wanted.

These are the common Fantasy subgenres, according to Thoughts on Fantasy.

High Fantasy / Epic Fantasy

Low Fantasy

Portal Fantasy

Urban Fantasy / Contemporary Fantasy

Paranormal / Paranormal Romance

Fantasy Romance / High Fantasy Romance

Young Adult Fantasy (YA Fantasy)

Children’s Fantasy

Fairy Tale Retellings

Sword and Sorcery / Heroic Fantasy

Medieval Fantasy / Arthurian Fantasy

Historical Fantasy

Comic Fantasy

Science Fantasy

Grimdark Fantasy

Gothic Fantasy / Dark Fantasy

The New Weird

But wait, there’s more!

These Sci-Fi subgenres are from SciFi Ideas.






Space Opera




Voyages Extrordinaires

Scientific Romance

Gothic Science Fiction

Mundane Science Fiction



Science Fantasy




Alien Invasion

Alien Conspiracy

Time Travel

Alternate History

Parallel Worlds

Lost Worlds


Space Western

Retro Futurism


Speculative F



Fanfiction (or ‘Fanfic’)


Make it stop!

How to make sense of this mess? How are you the supposed to find what you want to read? You can look up the definitions to all these genres, but I wanted a more overarching view. Why? Because nowadays, Sci-Fi and Fantasy have begun to fraternize with each other. I compared the descriptions, and found that no longer can you grab a Sci-Fi and know 100% that you won’t run into wizards. Or if you get a Fantasy, you won’t find aliens.

Thus, I bring you the down-and-dirty infographic, the Venn of Sci-Fi and Fantasy. Like any Venn diagram, the overlapping bits hold items that can belong in either category, or have elements of the other category. Purple text are the subgenres that blend Fantasy and Sci-Fi.

What do you think of the proliferation of subgenres? How about the crossing of genres? Are there any you believe shouldn’t be classed together? Did I miss your favorite? Then comment!

PS: If you’re curious what I ended up with for my book Behold Darkness, I chose:

Science Fiction > Post-Apocalyptic

Literature & Fiction > Action & Adventure > Mystery, Thriller & Suspense > Thriller

But I’m still experimenting.

About LC Champlin: I write fiction because the characters in my head have too much attitude to stay in my skull, I want to see the world through different eyes, and I want to live life through different souls. As a lover of all things Geek and Dark, I admire villains, antagonists, and rogues more than a little. My books’ characters are antiheroes, not angels.

Fantasy from Cradle to Grave

by Andy Peloquin

Imagination is such an important element of childhood. The more imaginative a child is, the more their brains grow and expand. Imagination and daydreaming fosters critical thinking skills, creative problem-solving abilities, and opportunities for cognitive growth. Simple things like painting, drawing, playing outside, and making messes gives children the opportunity to expand their imagination.

One article on Psychology Today says, “Fantasy-prone children (those who daydream and have imaginary friends) tend to have positive interpersonal, creative, and cognitive capacities. They tend to be more outgoing, better able to focus their attention, and more effective at seeing things from the perspective of others.”

The day they discover books is the first day they discover just how big the world is. Infants and toddlers learn about new countries and places they could never have imagined possible. They are taught about animals: fish in the sea, birds in the sky, mammals of such wondrous shapes, colors, and sizes.

As a child grows, they begin to find their own interest in books. They hear stories that teach them vital life lessons, lessons that will shape them into the men and women they will become. They learn that they are the hero in their own story, and that the only limits to possibilities exist in their minds.

Fantasy gives children a way to “put themselves in the mental shoes of others”. It goes beyond simple fiction—as one expert says, “this cognitive ability to adopt other perspectives is what makes elaborate pretend play so easy even before our brains are fully developed.”

As children grow into teenagers and adults, their imagination waxes and wanes depending on how much it is engaged. By the time they reach adulthood, many begin to seek out the escapism offered by fiction. With all of our daily troubles, nothing offers that escape like speculative fiction—fantasy, science fiction, dystopian, and more.

But that vivid imagination can follow us through the years, as we become adults. One psychologist drew an interesting comparison: “The joys of becoming caught up in entertainment are a big part of what many of us live for. In this sense, we are like those of firm religious faith who believe that a genuine paradise awaits them, except that we don’t even have to die to get there.”

As the narrative of our stories transport us to other realms—realms filled with monsters and aliens, wizards and space captains, heroes and villains—we step outside the limits imposed upon us by society and stretch the boundaries of “possible”. Even if we have to return to Planet Earth when we close the pages of our books, we know those worlds of impossibility are still there, waiting for us.

And, as we mature through our adult years and enter the later stages of life, that hunger for imagination follows us. We think back to our “glory days”, when we were young and strong and carefree. When we read about mighty heroes and warriors of renown, we get that sense of “I was like that once”. It brings back memories of the good times and the bad, and gives us hope that we had a live worth living.

From birth to death, cradle to the grave, imagination and the realms of fiction give us a way to step beyond our limits and experience something marvelous!

Space Opera – Are You a Fan?

by Milo James Fowler

The original Star Wars trilogy, Star TrekBattlestar GalacticaBuck Rogers, even comedies like Galaxy Quest and Guardians of the Galaxy are all examples of space opera, which, according to Merriam Webster, is “a futuristic melodramatic fantasy involving space travelers and extraterrestrial beings.”

Notice how it’s not referred to as science fiction? Probably because there isn’t a whole lot of actual science in this fiction. According to the Urban Dictionary: “Generally speaking, [space opera] refers to an epic adventure in space that focuses less on the technical details and more on good vs. evil and action.”

That’s fine by me. Sure, I enjoy cerebral sci-fi too, but there’s just something about the swashbuckling bravado of space opera that makes me feel like a kid again. (Cue Star Wars theme.) Which is probably why I’ve written so many tales featuring Captain Bartholomew Quasar and company. I can’t get enough of this stuff, so I have to write it myself!

But not all space opera is science-free. One has only to look as far as Alastair Reynolds’ Revelation Space series to see hard science coupled with the intergalactic trappings of classic spacefaring adventure stories. The Expanse series of novels by James S. A. Corey, while mainly character-oriented, includes plenty of real science in the fiction, as do the occasional space opera tales published by Analog every month. I find them just as enjoyable—maybe even more so, than the hard science stories. And while reading this variety of science fiction, I can’t help but feel like I’m being educated (or re-educated) in the process.

In the latest issue of Analog, James Gunn delineates what he perceives to be the difference between print science fiction and the variety we see on the screen. In many ways, the contrast is the same as that between space opera and traditional science fiction. Screen sci-fi (and space opera) is often about big ideas, character arcs, and genre tropes, while print sci-fi (hard science fiction) echoes more from the cutting edge science itself. Some critics have said that space opera stories could easily be recast as westerns if you took away the ships, lasers, aliens, and bounty hunters and replaced them with horses, pistols, natives, and banditos. The science just isn’t as integral to the plot.

Regardless, science fiction in all its forms looks at what’s ahead for humanity. Space opera in particular is often optimistic, for the most part. The Expanse and the latest incarnation of Star Trek can be dark at times, but there are still those characters we can get behind and root for. Sure, we’ll still have our struggles getting along with each other out in the deep black, but there will always be heroes to lead the way: kick-ass men and women like Malcolm Reynolds and Zoe Washburne from Firefly. And between you and me, those are the sort of folks I wouldn’t mind hanging out with.

Because I’m a big fan of space opera—as long as we’re not talking about anything operatic—and I’m proud to say it’s here to stay.

Milo James Fowler is a teacher by day and a speculative fictioneer by night. Over the past 5 years, his short fiction has appeared in more than 100 publications including AE SciFi, Cosmos, Daily Science Fiction, Nature, and the Wastelands 2 anthology. Find his novels, novellas, and short story collections wherever books are sold.

Seven Ways to Fight Dunning-Kruger Skill Gaps

by John M Olsen

The Dunning-Kruger Effect comes from a scholarly paper published in 1999 by social psychologists David Dunning and Justin Kruger. It describes a bias where people with low cognitive ability in a specific area also are a poor judge of their ability in that area. If you are good at something, you tend to know you are good at it. If you are very bad at something, you have a good chance of being unaware of how bad you are and assuming you have much greater skill than you really do. It’s like a drunk who believes he’s a better driver than when he’s sober, or that one guy you know who thinks it’s hilarious to constantly tell Dad Jokes.

A five-dollar word for this area of psychology is metacognition. It means thinking about how thinking works. But what does it do for us when we think about how our minds work, or how the minds of others work? That’s where the seven points come into play.

1. Awareness

Recognize there is infinitely more out there than what you already know. There are four categories of knowledge. Things you know you know (I know how to drive a car), things you know you don’t know (I don’t know how to perform open heart surgery), things you don’t know you know (Replacing that toilet float valve was simpler than I thought it would be), and things you don’t know you don’t know (Where did that come from?). In addition, there are things you think you know which are wrong. One name for this process and ability is self-awareness.

The trick is to migrate as much as possible into that first category, the things you know that you know, while removing both the ignorance and the lies you believe. You draw on this knowledge base every day.

2. Study Broadly

Study many subjects. Learn new things. Be curious. A broad base leads to better general understanding because different areas overlap. If I know how nuts, bolts, and levers work, I can apply that when I change a tire or assemble Ikea furniture.

Will I ever use this math?

When I started writing short fiction regularly, I thought I knew what I was doing. Then I started to study writing and discovered whole areas of story structure I didn’t even know about before. There were story structures I hadn’t heard of, and even vocabulary I didn’t know such as “meet cute” and “denouement.”

Your day-to-day behavior depends on what you know, so grow your knowledge base. There are several ways to do this, which I’ll mention next.

3. Read for Pleasure

Read Fantasy and Science Fiction. I read quite a bit and devoured my father’s library when I was a teenager. You probably read, too, if you’re here following this blog.There are some things that make Speculative Fiction different from other reading.

There are some things that make Speculative Fiction different from other reading. One of these is how information is delivered. Quite often at the start of a story you are bombarded with new things like names, concepts, geography, and a host of other things that are not all explained up front. Those who enjoy fantasy and science fiction have learned to package the dangling ends up and store them in a mental box labeled “the author will get back to this soon, so don’t worry about it.”

If a Borlox smells an iron-tipped carbonizer, you create a couple of boxes and drop the new terms in while fully expecting to learn what both things mean sometime in the near future.

This ability to package and delay the matching up of terms and definitions changes how you think, and how you deal with conversations. You have a built-in stock of questions to ask when someone talks to you about a new subject because you’re used to building up a list of unknowns to be defined later.

4. Expand Your Horizons

Push outside your bubble. We all have a comfort zone where everything is understood and accepted. Learn about new technical fields. Learn a language. Study history. Collect stamps, coins, or seashells. It doesn’t matter how you expand, but it does matter that you do something.

Everyone is ignorant in some area. Everyone is wrong about something. Everyone is right about something else. These bubbles we live in exist in a lot of areas. If you spend any time on social media, you can see where people divide into factions who all tend to share opinions and believe about the same way. You’ve probably seen this a lot related to politics and religion.

The problem is that these groups often don’t understand those they disagree with, which makes the others easy to label as the enemy rather than as an opportunity to learn something new. You may not agree with the other camp in the end, but if you understand them, you’re more likely to treat them as decent human beings.

If you’re generalizing, you’re probably looking at something outside your collection of bubbles, something outside your horizon. Learn about it from those who understand it. It will do you little good to learn about a subject from its critics.

5. Avoid Imposter Syndrome

Once you’ve improved a skill, you may notice that you take that skill for granted and assume everyone is as good as you, if not better. Dunning-Kruger shows this in the graphs of the study where the most skilled will underestimate their proficiency because they assume they are average.

You can become an expert. You may have heard the rule of thumb that you can become an expert at something by spending 10,000 hours doing it. That will vary wildly from one subject to another, just like the idea as a writer that your first million words are just practice and likely garbage.

The Dunning-Kruger study showed that learning a skill improved the ability to judge skill level in that area. As you become an expert, you will recognize your past ignorance and your current skill level more and more over time.

There is, however, one downside.

6. Retain Humility

Once you’ve overcome Imposter Syndrome, your biggest challenge is to remain humble about your improved skills. There are enough unknowns out there to keep you humble if you look for them. Go back and learn something new all over again. We are all horribly ignorant in so many areas that we can’t count them.

Some look on humility as a weakness. Here’s a different way to look at it:

There’s another step to this to keep in mind as well, since there’s something a lot of humble experts have in common from my personal experience.

7. Teach others

Encourage others to expand their horizons. Share what you know, whether it’s knowledge in a particular field or a general thirst for truth.


John M Olsen reads and writes fantasy, science-fiction, steampunk, and horror as the mood strikes, and his short fiction is part of several anthologies. He devoured his father’s library in his teen years and has since inherited that formidable collection and merged it with his own growing library in order to pass a love of learning on to the next generation.

He loves to create things, whether writing novels or short stories or working in his secret lair equipped with dangerous power tools. In either case, he applies engineering principles and processes to the task at hand, often in unpredictable ways.

He lives near the Oquirrh Mountains in Utah with his lovely wife and a variable number of mostly grown children and a constantly changing subset of extended family.

Strap on some safety goggles and see all his ramblings on his blog.

His debut Fantasy novel Crystal King is available on Amazon.

Putting the Science in Sci-Fi

by J.D. Lakey

Don’t tell anyone. This will be our little secret. I use a calculator when I write. I have to.

It started out small. I invented this planet full of humans who have traveled so far in space and time from human Earth that they have forgotten it exists. The world of Black Bead is full of psychic creatures, some of whom would dearly love to eat you. The main character, Cheobawn, lives in a dome that protects the humans from these predators. In the first book, the protagonists go outside the dome to have a bit of fun.

Here comes the math. Part of my world-building involved creating a unit of distance. A click – the distance an adult dome dweller can walk in an hour. The question became this. If you were an adult concerned about the well-being of your children without being a helicopter parent, how far would you let them travel? Next question. If an adult can walk one click per hour how long does it take for a group of kids to travel the same distance? How far would they go if they meant to break those rules? How far would they have to be from the dome if they had to run to get home in a hurry?

That was the simple math. In the second book, Bhotta’s Tears, the math became tricky. The people use huge elk as mounts and pack animals. So here is the equation. If a mule train on Earth can travel X number of miles in a day at Y miles per hour what does that equate to in bennelk miles on the planet Occonomara? Getting that number allowed me to confidently plot out an adventure to the edge of the Escarpment and back.

That math part was easy. The third book, Spider Wars, required the invention of a quantum entangled stone grown in the brain of a giant lizard that altered how humans traveled through space-time, a race of aliens who can drag a star ship around dimensional corners, thus eliminating that tedious time problem inherent in space travel, and a race of spiders who solved that same problem by recreating themselves, getting rid of the need for star ships or spacesuits. The trick to writing this without boring the reader to tears with explanation is to have the science firmly in mind and then have your characters walk around inside a world where these things are true. If I can make the reader believe it to be possible then the reveals in the fifth book, Arrow’s Flight, are easier to write because you have already explained all the science.

The ultimate questions become the ones concerning eugenics. If you were a highly evolved civilization who wanted to engineer your children to survive a hostile universe full of the aforementioned creatures, what would you change about yourself? Would you become as psychic as the animals on this alien planet? Would you become a race of physically adept warriors? Or would you simply engineer a brain that could process the immense amount of data required to do it all? Now walk around in this world with an avatar empowered with those skills and see what kind of trouble you can get into.

Welcome to Cheobawn’s world.

J.D. Lakey is the author of The Black Bead Chronicles. Find out more at

From Fairytale to Fantasy – How Did You Get Here?

by JA Clement

I write fantasy, and I’m just coming down from the mad amounts of work involved in a new release. I’ll not talk about that now, except to say that one of the aspects of it that I’ve really loved over the last couple of weeks was getting emails from readers who were as excited about it as I am. In particular this has meant a lot because for a lot of years when I was younger, there was no-one I knew who liked fantasy, so there was never any point in enthusing about it at all.

When I was a kid, I was considered very odd by my classmates because I hated Sweet Valley High and preferred to read fairytales. As far as they were concerned, I was still reading baby books; but I loved the endless possibilities of dragons and witches and giants, and there was nothing that called to me, as a clumsy, unfashionable girl who was no good at sport, in a set of books where shapely blonde teenagers vied for the attention of handsome young men, apparently through the medium of cheerleading.

At ten or eleven we moved to upper school, and the difference became even more pronounced. In my school library there was shelf after shelf of “girls’ books” like Judy Blume (in all fairness, her stuff was very good) and Malory Towers. All the good adventure books were apparently “boys’ books” or classics, so that’s what I gravitated to for a while (my reading choices became a source of ongoing puzzlement to the librarian, a lovely elderly lady who was very much a product of her time) but then one day hidden right at the back, at the bottom of the Reference stack, I found a pretty good beginner’s selection of sci fi and fantasy.

In the ten minutes it took me to skim a few blurbs, I was enraptured. There was just half a shelf, some very old, but there were swordfighters, robot civilisations, magic, spaceships, witches, new worlds, dragons – all by names I would soon come to recognise such as Asimov, Clarke, Pratchett, Andre Norton, and McCaffrey. I devoured them over the next couple of weeks, and the token novel they had for each new author was enough to send me down to the town library, a great hulking Victorian place where amongst what seemed like acres of books, they had a whole shelving unit full of all the rest of these authors’ works. Bliss! From then on, I would save up the change from my dinner money and buy book after book. I got a Saturday job in a bookshop – at the end of a year I had four pounds in my saving account and pretty much a year’s wage in books on the shelf…. But the only thing was, no-one I knew was at all interested in sci fi or fantasy, so every time I found a new author and came home bubbling about it, there was no-one to tell. It was very frustrating.

With the burgeoning of social media, I met a few likeminded souls, but through Uni and my earlier working years, there were not many. Gradually this started to change, and is changing faster all the time now: in recent years fantasy has become very much more widely-read, and more accepted. With the ascent to fame of such authors as Robin Hobb and George RR Martin, fantasy has changed tone considerably – even Pratchett changed from the silly, funny earlier books to much darker and more nuanced later novels (I love the earlier ones, but for me the later ones like The Night Watch are where it really became gripping). It’s a long time since fantasy was just for kids…

For me the real epiphany was when Worldcon came to London. I went, and did a couple of panels etc, but for me the shared references and commonality of taste meant that people-watching was the real fun. There was a joyful gusto about the whole thing – an uninhibited sharing that really lifted the heart. Everywhere there seemed to be fun – four jawas dashing about pushing a hostess trolley on which crouched Spiderman in full regalia; the very impressive Darth Maul who engaged in a lightsaber fight with a six year old Jedi and allowed himself to be horribly slain in the main hall with much groaning and theatrics, leaving the kid in fits of giggles (and the parents and most of the onlookers too). I saw Patrick Rothfuss take a selfie with two fans dressed as Adem mercenaries, and all three of them were geeking out as much as each other. I suddenly realised, with a shock of delight, that I had found my tribe, and there was a whole conference centre full of them… It was a truly magical moment.

These days I’ve got my whole family interested in fantasy. Even my mum, who thought fantasy was silly for about sixty years, got interested with the films of Lord of the Rings, progressed through Robin Hobb and is now as up to date with the lighter end of fantasy as I am, if not more so. It makes it all so much more fun when you can discuss your latest book with others, and hopefully pass it on for their enjoyment as well.

That community, that gleeful sharing is a large part of what keeps me going as a writer. I’d be writing anyway because I get twitchy if I don’t, but I go to the length of publishing for that magical moment when someone ‘gets’ your story, when these amazing tales and characters and events that play in your head like films translate well enough that someone else loves them too. That is a really magical sharing, an incredible privilege. That’s like a little bit of Worldcon right there….

So shout-out to you guys, to the readers. We do what we do for and because of you, and your words of encouragement are what keep us writing. I am still in touch with a handful of people I only ever met at Worldcon, people from all over the world, and I continue to meet interesting new fantasy fans all the time in cyberspace (and sometimes even in real life). I love that. It’s all about the sharing. And it all started with half a shelf of elderly books in the school library, Pratchett and Norton and Asimov.

Now, I have a couple of my own paperbacks on the shelf and mostly read ebooks – I only tend to buy the ones I really like in paperback now due to lack of space. I’m just catching up on a Lindsey Buroker or two, and next I’ve got a choice between rereading Rothfuss, a new book by N. K. Jemisin or a short by Mhairi Simpson, depending on what suits my mood when I come to choose. Decisions, decisions….! Or, of course, get on with writing the next one of my own. It all feels more than a little luxurious.

So that’s how I got into fantasy… Now it’s your turn – what was it that brought you to fantasy? Authors? Books? Films? Events? What are you reading right now, and what’s next on the list?

And what is your all time favourite fantasy or con-related memory?


Find out more about JAClement and her books at

How Fantasy Builds Real-Life Empathy

by Andy Peloquin

I love J.R.R. Tolkien’s perspective on fantasy (and all speculative fiction): “Fantasy is escapist, and that is its glory. If a soldier is imprisoned by the enemy, don’t we consider it his duty to escape?. . .If we value the freedom of mind and soul, if we’re partisans of liberty, then it’s our plain duty to escape, and to take as many people with us as we can!”

Some people would say, “But surely something that makes you escape the real world won’t have any real-life applications! It’s no better than a video game or movie.”

Well, try this on for a real-life application: fantasy (and all fiction) helps to create empathy for others, and encourages us to help others.

A study from Washington and Lee University put this to the test. They read participants a short 15-minute story, a story written with the intention of showcasing PRO-social behavior and encouraging empathetic and compassionate feelings for others.

After the reading, the experimenter would drop six pens, then record whether or not the participant helped to pick up the pens. The result was clear: the more engaged the participant was in the story, the more likely they were to help. They empathized with the characters in the story, and thus they empathized with people around them.

At the core of every story is a character or characters that the author wants YOU to empathize with. Whether it’s a half-demon assassin, a thief girl, a stuffy Victorian noble, or a hard-boiled detective, the story was crafted with the intention of connecting you to the character. Over the course of the story, you feel their feelings, think their thoughts, and experience what they experience. By the end of the book, you’re connected to them and empathizing with their feelings.

But the empathetic connection doesn’t always end when you put down the book. The more time you spend in those characters’ heads and the more deeply you are drawn into the story, the easier it is to feel that bond. Even if you have nothing in common with the character, you were bonded to them through the story. When you go out into the world and you find yourself interacting with people that share characteristics with the characters from the book, you find yourself empathizing with them on a subconscious level.

The researchers in this study didn’t ask the participants to help pick up the pens; instead, they read a story that encouraged the type of behavior desired and left it up to the participants’ brains to make the connection. Our mind is hard-wired to connect with others, and forming an empathetic bond with fictional characters can help us to form bonds with real people as well. The more we read, the more characters we are exposed to. Over time, that leads us to “connecting” with an even broader range of people and situations. When we find something similar in real life, we are able to empathize and share that connection in a real way.

Embracing the Darkness: 3 Reasons Why Dark Fantasy Matters

by E.A. Copen

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been fascinated by stories others might describe as scary or dark. Mostly, I like any genre of fiction that has the potential to make me a little uncomfortable or to challenge a commonly held belief. I’m in love with the darker side of fiction.

In recent years, that darkness has expanded beyond horror and mixed with science fiction and fantasy. One of the reasons I fell in love with urban fantasy is the potential for darkness to co-exist with humor, creating a dichotomy that just isn’t found in other genres. One minute, your wizard hero is cracking jokes, and the next he’s plunging a knife into the heart of the woman he loves to save his only child. That mix has bled into fantasy as well, creating subgenres like Grim/Dark fantasy, which is quickly becoming another of my favorite genres. We need humor in fantasy so we can make it through the more difficult parts of a book, but we need the darkness too.

1. Bravery is born of fear.

“Bran thought about it. ‘Can a man still be brave if he’s afraid?’
‘That is the only time a man can be brave,’ his father told him.”

— George R.R. Martin, A Game of Thrones

In dark fantasy, characters often face impossible odds and horrifying creatures straight of out nightmares. There are plenty of chances for them to give up, more so than in stories where the main character might easily use a spell or shapeshift to get away. Their fears become literal demons that must be confronted or else the entire world could come crashing down. These stories teach us bravery in the face of impossible odds. They show us that, while being afraid is a perfectly valid reaction to facing down monsters, it’s no excuse to back down and let the bad guys win. The familiarity of the setting in urban fantasy makes the situation that more relatable.

2. Darkness starts conversations.

“When kind men grow angry, things are about to change.”

— Jim Butcher, Blood Rites

Fantasy has long been a safe place to talk about and encourage social change or to criticize some aspect of society without making a direct political statement. In a day and age when we’re being bombarded on television and social media concerning politically charged topics, it’s easy to feel overloaded. We’re so saturated in these topics that they wash over us unnoticed all the time. Dark fantasy is a place where those same topics can be approached from a new angle. While some fiction chooses to serve simply as a distraction from the rat race of politics, crime, and social or racial inequality, darker fiction often addresses these topics head-on, creating a medium where fans can debate and discuss in forums and Facebook groups, sometimes with more civility than the same people can talk about their preferred political candidate.

3. It reminds us humans are complex, not black and white.

“I try to be a good cop. I try to be a good little soldier and follow orders up to a point. But in the end I’m not really a cop, or a soldier. I am a legally sanctioned murderer. I am the Executioner.”

— Laurell K. Hamilton, Skin Trade

Not everyone can stake vampires or sit in the Iron Throne, but everyone has a monster to slay. Dark fantasy gives these monsters faces and names, and their victims a medium to talk about them. Many adults I know have lived through something traumatic they don’t like to talk about. When they do, they often describe a feeling of helplessness in the moment. The heroes of dark fantasy are very often helpless, too. They get their spines broken. They’re drugged and forced to perform sick fantasies. They have literal body parts cut away and their identities destroyed. Even if we start out disliking something about these characters, even if they start out as the villains of the story, the potential is still there for us to become sympathetic to their situation, and for them to rise up and do good. A queen who commits infanticide may become someone we cheer for if we’re somehow presented with someone worse like a religious fanatic. No matter how evil someone is, there’s always someone out there a little worse. It’s easy to shoehorn people into little boxes of good and evil, but life just isn’t like that. When we remember that even the worst humans were, in fact, human, they become a little less frightening.

It’s a misconception that dark fantasy is depressing and full of meaningless death and scares. If anything, dark fiction provides more of an opportunity for positive messages like hope and bravery to shine through.

What’s your favorite dark fantasy read?

Spending a Year with Ray Bradbury

by Milo James Fowler

Ray Bradbury wasn’t always Ray Bradbury—not the Ray Bradbury we know and love who blessed us with Fahrenheit 451, The Martian Chronicles, Something Wicked This Way Comes, and Death Is a Lonely Business, just to name a few.

Once upon a time, Bradbury was just a struggling young writer in love with the craft. He wrote a short story every week, polished it as fast as he could, and submitted it to a magazine. Rejection letters flooded in, mainly due to his prolific submissions: the more you write, the more responses you get. There were also acceptance letters along the way, and they inspired him to keep doing what he loved: telling stories as only he could.

In the fall of 2009, I was fortunate enough to see Mr. Bradbury speak at a local library. Witnessing this great literary figure in the flesh was a surreal experience. I had to keep reminding myself that this was really happening, that I was really there. He spoke about being a “lover of life,” and that, for him, his writing was always a labor of love. I didn’t get a chance to shake his hand or tell him how much I appreciated him; he probably got enough of that already. There was standing room only, and an allotted fifty fans ahead of me were having him sign copies of We’ll Always Have Paris. I’ll always cherish this memory.

I’ve been writing novels since I was twelve years old, and I’ve loved every minute of it. Crafting tales from my imagination, polishing them up, sharing them with friends and family and, eventually, complete strangers—there’s nothing quite like it. In the summer of 2009, I started submitting my work for publication, and in January of 2010, my first short story was published. In the months that followed, I had a few other stories accepted by various publications, and I also collected quite the growing pile of rejection letters along the way. All par for the course.

One of my friends congratulated me after a particular story was published, joking, “You must be writing a story every week!”

Remembering Bradbury’s early years, I replied, “Not yet, but maybe someday!”

Someday turned out to be 2011, when I committed to writing and submitting 52 short stories in 52 weeks—drafting, revising, editing, polishing, and sending them out to publications. My goal was both quantity and quality, and somehow I was going to make it happen despite working full-time as an English teacher.

Writing 1,000-word flash fiction helped create a buffer for my longer works. If I wrote a couple flash-sized tales early in the month and submitted them ahead of schedule, I could then spend the rest of the month on a story that was 5,000 words or more. Once I got into the rhythm of writing, editing, and submitting, I found that my ability to write on demand improved. There wasn’t time for staring at a blank screen and doubting myself. I had to write, and the more I did, the more fluid my process became. Was every story awesome? Nope. With every rejection letter that came in, I tweaked each tale until it was just the way I wanted it and got it back out on the submission circuit. There was no time to obsess over every story; I had more writing to do.

Ray Bradbury’s point was that if you wrote 52 short stories, they couldn’t all be bad. There had to be a few that shone brighter than diamonds in the rough. I found that to be the case as half a dozen of my stories that year were accepted by top-tier SFWA-qualifying publications. But were all 52 of my stories published? It took about three years, but yes indeed, I managed to sell all of them to editors around the world.

The journey of a writer is exhilarating, frustrating, maddening, and life-giving, and I’ve signed up for all of the above. I’m determined to ride out the lows knowing there will be highs just as extreme waiting for me in the future. With everything I write, I’m a step closer to becoming the writer I want to be.

Every writer starts somewhere. My journey began in 6th grade with a manual typewriter and some pretty crazy ideas. I waited twenty years before I started submitting my work for publication. Now I’m making up for lost time.

Thank you, Mr. Bradbury, for inspiring me.

Milo James Fowler is a teacher by day and a speculative fictioneer by night. Over the past 5 years, his short fiction has appeared in more than 100 publications. Find his novels, novellas, and short story collections wherever books are sold.