Category Archives: Genre Delving

Gearing Up for the Apocalypse

by Joshua C. Chadd

James and Connor Andderson are two brothers who’re patriots and outdoorsmen. They’re suddenly thrown into the apocalypse, but unlike most, they’re prepared. Or so they thought. They have a plethora of badass gear throughout both of the Brother’s Creed books so far. They’ll also be getting more awesome gear as the story progresses in the next couple books. In this blog, I’ll go over that gear (a lot of which I own, so I have a working knowledge of it). Here we go!

Both brothers wear Kryptek hunting/tactical gear. Not only is it the best camouflage in both industries, but it is owned and operated by All-American Heroes. The brothers have full sets of the Highlander hunting line, but will later get suits more oriented toward the tactical side in the Typhon pattern. Check out Kryptek at https://kryptek.com/

Both brother’s also wear a typical tactical vest for their spare magazines and a few other assorted items.

James, the oldest but smaller brother, carries a Smith & Wesson M&P 15. This is an AR-15 style rifle that shoots .223/5.56 rounds. He has a foregrip, tactical light, IR laser, bipod, suppressor and Vortex Crossfire II 1-4×24 variable scope on it. It’s a very accurate and deadly weapon that is perfect for taking down the pesky zombies! He is also very capable shooting it, although not as much as his brother. James also carries a Remington 1911 handgun in .45 ACP.

Connor, the younger but more bulky of the brothers, carries a Bushmaster AR-15 that also shoots .223/5.56. His is equipped with a foregrip, tactical light, IR laser, bipod, and suppressor, but his scope is a Trijicon ACOG 4×32 BAC. He is an ace shot and his Marine training pays off as they face more than just zombies. He carries a Kimber Custom Pro 1911 handgun in .45 ACP.

Oh, another thing they always carry is a tactical tomahawk on the opposite hip from their handguns. Perfect for crackin’ skulls!

Now, the next stuff is gear that (more than likely) they’ll be getting in the next book. This stuff is awesome because I don’t have any experience with it and had to research it. This gear is on my wish list and way badass, get ready!

The Bushmaster ACR. This awesome gun not only looks slightly futuristic but has some awesome features. One of which allows you to change out the barrels without losing your zero! There are some other cool guns in this article as well, so check ‘em out! http://www.tactical-life.com/firearms/top-20-next-gen-combat-rifles/3/#bushmaster-acr-dmr-gen-evergreen-lead

Also something they will be finding is this tank of a vehicle! My sister-in-law actually found this and said it’d be awesome to have in the books, she was right! The Terradyne Gurkha is a force to be reckoned with and is perfect for the end of the world! I mean just check out these awesome specs! https://www.digitaltrends.com/cars/terradyne-gurkha-rpv-civilian-edition-news-specs-pictures/#ixzz4fVw2wKI1

Well, that’s all I have for now. I hope you have enjoyed this look into the Andderson brothers’ gear. If you’d like to know more about their gear or how they use it, be sure to check out The Brother’s Creed series on Amazon! https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B073HGF2YK/

PS- Here is the cover of the latest book, as it shows the characters with all their gear.

Speculative Fiction: A Safe Space for Exploring Topical Issues?

 

by Chloe Garner

I don’t know if you’ve looked around recently, but the world is kind of a tricky place. Issues concerning race and cultural identity live at the forefront of everything in the American news cycle, and I know that different versions of the same conversations are going on all over the world. Problems that I wouldn’t even imagine for the sake of my own fiction are very real, and no one wants anyone else to tell them what they are, what they should want, who they should be.

And I get that. There are no good answers.  Most of us have been mistreated at some point, and no one wants to see things they identify with painted as villainous, either in the real world or in fiction. It creates a situation that – I’ve gotta tell you – is challenging for a fiction writer. Fiction is about the way the world is, the way the world could be, the way the world has been, and the way the world should be. Underneath of that, there are statements, theories, ideas, perspectives, pictures of what it means to be human.  Thoughts about the way humans are, what’s normal, what’s not, what’s okay, and what really isn’t.

And those are really, really important to me, as a person, as a reader, and as a writer.

Conversations among authors are hot with passionate opinions about how to treat characters by type. I was in a class where a woman argued that describing a woman as ‘small’ was sexist, and I’ve more recently seen a statement that creating a bisexual assassin character plays on negative stereotypes about bisexual individuals. And sensitivity here is important. It’s also paralyzing. No one wants to see their people set up as villains. Even if the evil of the character has nothing to do with their race, class, or cultural associations, they don’t like it, and that’s perfectly rational, perfectly reasonable, and something I’m wholly empathetic to.

But fiction needs conflict.

And some women are small. And thieves exist most everywhere in the world.  As do cheats and liars and busybodies.

Add to this a genuinely held belief that a writer does not have the ability to speak from a perspective that he has not experienced, be it racially, culturally, economically, or elsewise, and I often find myself at a loss. Because fiction remains important.  Stories about people, regardless of where they come from or what formed them, they’re critical to empathy and our ability to look outside of ourselves and understand how others might experience the world.

We must tell stories.

More and more, both as a reader and as an author, I find that I take refuge in the world of fantasy. The things that are true about fantasy characters are also true about real people, but the divide between who is allowed to tell a story and whether or not their perspective is biased or inappropriate vanishes because we are now talking about races that do not have a real history – indeed, they have a complete history that exists solely in the head of the writer. Conflicts can be as complex as they need to be, but without the risk of underplaying a dynamic that is core to someone’s real life. Without the risk of speaking for the collective experience of a group, authors are free to create an experience that has an authentic and instructive perspective.

For much of my life, the grown ups have looked at fantasy as a form of childish play. Something that I would outgrow, that I would join the adult world in its pursuit of more adult fiction.

As I sit here today, thinking about what I want to write, what I care about, and the things that I believe are true, I wonder if maybe more childish play is exactly what we need.  Play is where we learn to interact safely and healthily with others, and it’s about instruction more than agenda. The things that we have always needed fiction for remain true, today, perhaps even more than ever, but we close doors and condemn them as venues of conversation. Some writers are simply brave, but in being brave, they take on an additional layer of responsibility for being fair to all of the parties and types and groups that they’re representing.

I love speculative fiction. I always have. I don’t want to write fiction that is necessarily fair: I want to write fiction that is authentic and real and meaningful, even if it is about vampires and demons and aliens and magic. I think that, rather than being a barrier to reality, these separations from the real world form a protective shield, a barrier that protects these stories from the pressure to conform to sincere, well-meaning rules, and just tell the story that needs to be there.

Urban Fantasy – What is It and Why Should You Be Reading It?

by R.R. Virdi

Urban fantasy is a subgenre of the traditional fantasy parent genre in literature. You know, kings, horses, courts, monsters, magic, mayhem, and typically a roguish hero. The genre’s come about in the last thirty or so years even though the term has been used since sparingly since the early 20th century. Urban fantasy has one notable difference from its sister genre, Contemporary fantasy. So long as—you guessed it, the genre takes place in an urban environment with some level of fantastical qualities, it counts as urban fantasy. Contemporary requires the story to be set in present day times.

This subtle difference allows people to play with the genre in ways to niche it into other genres and widen its appeal. The Daggers and Steele series by Alex P. Berg is a wonderful example of this. It’s a bit of a spoiler to give this away, but the great twist and wonderful part of this series is that it’s an alternative history like fiction with an urban fantasy emphasis. You’re aware of the genre from the get-go. The cover and blurb tell you all you need to know:

Elven side kick, tough guy investigator who sleuths into mysteries that defy normal convention, and urban setting. It’s a concentrated does of some of the urban fantasy tropes that old readers will resonate with and find familiar, and new ones will be sucked in by and glean understanding of in what makes the genre. Daggers and Steele is a series that helps show the flexibility of the urban fantasy subgenre and how far or…back (see what I did there) the setting can be taken and tweaked to add to the fantastical elements already within this brand of fiction.

The name really stuck to the style of fiction and began to describe it in the late 1980’s with a few scattered pieces of work then, to now with hundreds of series between traditionally published and indie.

Some of the earliest and most notable authors in the genre who helped it find its feet are: Laurel K. Hamilton of the Anita Blake series—often considered one of the most substantial works in the genre, Neil Gaiman’s masterpiece, Neverwhere (the urban fantasy adventure set in London and a twist off parallel London Below), and another in the genre that’s developed a major cult following: The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher. A series that follows the grizzled and snarky, self-abasing wizard, Harry Dresden.

All three of those works are some of the best examples to show the variances allowed in setting and style within the genre while all falling under its umbrella. Laurel K. Hamilton’s series follows a necromancer, Anita Blake, living in a world where the supernatural are widely known about and have rights. It’s a dark and seedy version of Missouri following the paranormal side of things. While it’s urban and set in a present day setting, the world is vastly different than ours on a series of levels.

Butcher’s Dresden Files takes a different route—set in modern day Chicago where the supernatural elements are mostly kept under wraps by their own powers. For the most part, his Chicago is pretty much along the same lines as ours. The paranormal lurk, are unexplained and unbelieved by most people. Freak accidents and occurrences are just that. The boldest and most shocking bit of overt magical presence is none other than the protagonist himself, Harry Dresden, Chicago’s only professional wizard. He’s in the phonebook as such.

And then Gaiman’s work falls somewhere, and lovably in between. Richard, the main character, crosses path with a young woman, Door, who possesses the uncanny ability of opening up doorways between the modern (at that time) London, and a twisted version, London Below. She accidently ends up dragging him along into her weird world of odd people selling odder things, a portal fantasy set within a major city where monsters and myths are real. Members of the normal world apart from Richard aren’t aware these places and things exist. In fact, as time passes and Richard becomes more immersed in London Below…people forget he exists.

All three references offer just a hint of how fluid the genre can be as well as welcoming to readers with different tastes and a want of setting that might be different and resonate with their personal interests.

My own series, The Grave Report, follows a disembodied soul, Vincent Graves, murdered by the paranormal and tasked with inhabiting the bodies of those killed by the supernatural and using their minds, bodies, memories, and skills to solve their murders. The series is predominantly set in the burrows of New York. Given that urban fantasy allows for so much flexibility, I wanted to play with that. So, the series shifts urban locales per novel/story, and yet always retains the urban fantasy vibe tinged with the classic noir investigator hints that permeate many novels in the genre. Given that he’s a soul that can bounce into any body murdered anywhere…the series isn’t limited by setting all. And, it still qualifies as urban fantasy.

That series has gone onto land award finalist positions alongside giants in the genre: Jim Butcher and Larry Correia, last year at the inaugural DragonCon Dragon Awards under the Best Fantasy (Paranormal) category. As noted, two other urban fantasy writers all with their own spins on the endlessly workable genre.

The urban fantasy subgenre has no limits on what can be done, and so very few constraints. So, make sure to dive into it, readers. I’m sure you’ll find something more along the flavors you yearn for. There’s certain no shortage of material and takes on the genre. Go looking, read on, I know there are works out there for you, and I’ve only named a few.

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.

Hard

Soft

Military

Robot

Social

Space Opera

Steampunk

Cyber/Bio/Nanopunk

Superhero

Voyages Extrordinaires

Scientific Romance

Gothic Science Fiction

Mundane Science Fiction

Horror

Comedy

Science Fantasy

Apocalyptic

Post-Apocalyptic

Zombie

Alien Invasion

Alien Conspiracy

Time Travel

Alternate History

Parallel Worlds

Lost Worlds

Dystopian

Space Western

Retro Futurism

Recursive

Speculative F

Slipstream

Pulp

Fanfiction (or ‘Fanfic’)

Erotic

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.

http://www.milojamesfowler.com/

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 www.jdlakey.com

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?

JAC


Find out more about JAClement and her books at http://jaclement.wordpress.com

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?