Monday, March 28, 2011

FU gets fantastic review

I am reprinting here a great review of our periodical Fantastique Unfettered. But you may want to instead visit its original posting at the Future Fire site because links to a lot of the writers are intact over there. 

Reviewed by Nader Elhefnawy
M-Brane Press, the publisher of small press science fiction magazine M-Brane SF, launched a fantasy counterpart to that publication last year, Fantastique Unfettered (or FU). Under the editorship of Brandon H. Bell, FU has as its stated purpose the publication of ‘well-written, compellingly readable, original stories of fantasist fiction,’ both short fiction and poetry, which is ‘unfettered by traditional copyright,’ so that all its content carries a Creative Commons CC-BY-SA license.

The authors appearing in the premier, Winter 2010 issue of the publication, which has eleven short stories and three poems in its 140 pages, offer a wide range of approaches and settings. Perhaps exemplary in this respect is the story to which the issue’s cover art is devoted, Michael J. Shell’s ‘The Death of a Soybean’, which presents an off-the-wall alternate version of the Manhattan Project and World War II. More a uchronia than an alternate history, ‘Soybean’ surreally scrambles the events of our timeline rather than exploring a counterfactual scenario, with Robert J. Oppenheimer just a Los Alamos security guard who happens to be eccentrically preoccupied with an idea called ‘nuclear fission,’ and a femme fatale lady physicist with the unlikely name of Maladi scheming, seducing and killing her way to fame, fortune and a place in scientific history.

Offering a nightmare complement to Shell’s noirish dream is Kaolin Fire’s ‘The Aetheric God’, in which a young technician named Asher who spends his days building steam-men for his employer ‘Chief Technician’ Father Isaiah. He spends his nights hiding in the cathedral’s library-desperately burying himself in its books to try and quiet ‘the voice of God within his head’ calling for Asher’s mutilation and destruction, a crisis that soon enough moves out of his head and into the physical world.

Going in a sharply different direction from either is Alan Frackelton’s ‘A Blessing From the Blind Boy’, the story of a disgruntled gaucho named Juan Hernandez who burglarizes the mansion of his ruthless landowner employer somewhere (and somewhen) in twentieth century Latin America, putting Hernandez’s young son Ramon in the center of a cycle of revenge, loss and longing.

In a lighter, more fanciful vein, Rochita Loenen-Ruiz’s ‘Breaking the Spell’ (a reprint from Philippine Speculative Fiction 4) has for its protagonist a little girl who becomes fascinated with the miniature world her father keeps under a bell jar. While her father’s fairy tales never ring true for her (she is ‘determined not to kiss a prince’), entry into that little world becomes the object of her own fairy tale quest.

However, in contrast with exoticism, the issue favors toward contemporary contexts, and compared with the world-changing (and rather nihilistic) events of Shell’s story, or the intense confrontation with the supernatural of Fire’s, subtler uses of speculative elements inside quieter, more personal stories. The descriptor that came to mind when I read Frank Ard’s story of a love triangle between a man, mer-man and woman ‘Small Fish in the Deep Blue’ is ‘slipstream.’ Others incorporate surreal intrusions into what might otherwise be a realist narrative, like in Mary J. Daley’s ‘The Book of Barnyard Souls’, in which a young farm girl named Kalee receives nightly visits from the souls of deceased animals; Natania Barron’s ‘Without a Light’, in which a sixth-grade teacher in a small town starts an affair with a mysterious colleague; Elizabeth Creith’s ‘Five Oak Leaves’, where a man encounters a young changeling girl living on the street.

In Anna Manthiram’s ‘Boris’, a meditation via fortune cookie-like clothing tags on the titular character’s involvements with various women; Christopher Green’s ‘Holding Hands’, in which a Vietnam veteran encounters a girl he left behind at thirteen many years later in his wife’s ballet studio; or Michael J. Deluca’s ‘The Driftwood Chair’, in which a man roams the beach trying to cope with the loss of a love; it is possible to blink and miss the speculative touch.

By and large the sensibility is ‘literary,’ and the quality is high (the two, of course, not always the same thing), virtually all the stories assembled here working, though to different degrees and in different ways. ‘Death of a Soybean’ succeeds on the strength of its pacing and strangeness, Fire’s ‘The Aetheric God’ on the nightmarish force of the telling. The poems offer similar grandiosity, particularly Bruce Boston’s rich, dark, chaotic ‘The Time Traveler Leaves History Behind’ and Alexandra Seidel’s glittering ‘In Babel.’ Daley’s touching ‘Barnyard Souls,’ is the most emotionally resonant story in the volume, though the pieces by Frackleton and Creith also succeed on this level.

That combination of quality and variety means that Fantastique Unfettered #1 offers something for many different tastes, in what seems to me a very promising start for the new publication.

This review is released under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license, (c) Nader Elhefnawy. You are free to republish this review anywhere you like, so long as you give attribution to the author and to The Future Fire and keep this license text intact in any copy.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

M-Brane 26 releases tonight; a few comments on Verday, Dragon Age

In a couple hours I will release the electronic edition of M-Brane SF #26 to subscribers. The following is a version of my editorial notes from the new issue. The first section is about the stories; the second part consists of some comments, with links, on a couple of matters that drew my attention this week: author Jessica Verday pulling out of an antho because the editor said her characters didn't have the right gender combo to be acceptable, and game company Bioware rejecting some whining from the beleaguered Straight Male Gamer.

UPDATED 3/28 to add button to purchase this issue's PDF at bottom of this post; funds raised by single-issue sales support future issues; copies are distributed by way of a link sent by email, so allow up to a day for delivery to your in-box.

This month, we have five terrific entries and a lot pro writers. I am about a week late in presenting them, so I won’t delay things too much further except to say that if you read only five stories this month, you could do a lot worse than reading these five. They are lovely. Of the authors, two have been seen here before. Rick Novy makes his at least sixth (maybe seventh—lost track!) appearance this month with a story that has not previously been printed but which he presented in audio form with music as part of Michelle Welch’s Theme and Variations audio anthology. Rick was also the guest editor of our twelfth issue, and the editor of the M-Brane Press anthology 2020 Visions. Michael Andre-Driussi appears here for a fourth time. His vast project of producing reference works for Gene Wolfe’s fictional universe makes him perhaps one of the coolest people around or one of the hardest-core geeks ever. Either way, we’re glad to see him here again. That we ended up with a great story from J.M. Sidorova forced me to conclude that she had exhausted all other possible publication options because every other editor had either lost his/her mind or perhaps had too many Sidorova items booked elsewhere already. In any case, I’m thrilled. I don’t know if I was intended to find a big “message” in Eric Del Carlo’s story, but I decided that it’s an appropriate item, especially for our American readers, in our present age of Permanent War where no one seems to directly bear the cost of armed conflict save for the soldiers themselves and their immediate families. Before I saw his story, I was not familiar with Gary Budgen, but his entry was one of those items that went directly from the slush folder to the “maybe” folder after I read the first page. When I went back to look at the “maybes,” it quickly went to the “yes” folder. It’s shorter than I usually choose for M-Brane, but it’s lovely.
Two items popped up in the last week that crystallized some common sense. The first is this item about Bioware telling a spokesperson for the “straight male gamer” demographic to get over it that there is an option for same-sex romance in the Dragon Age 2 game. The second is from Hollow Trilogy author Jessica Verday on her decision to withdraw a story from a forthcoming YA antho. 

The Bioware staffer who responded to a complaint about the possibility of gayness in that game said something that is so obvious when one thinks about it, but said it in a better way than I have seen in recent memory: “And if there is any doubt why such an opinion might be met with hostility, it has to do with privilege. You can write it off as ‘political correctness’ if you wish, but the truth is that privilege always lies with the majority. They're so used to being catered to that they see the lack of catering as an imbalance. [emphasis mine] They don't see anything wrong with having things set up to suit them, what's everyone's fuss all about? That's the way it should be, and everyone else should be used to not getting what they want.” 

This makes the point a lot more cogently and reasonably than what my response would have been. I am sick of every time someone tries to be inclusive of a minority in any kind of media, it is blasted as “political correctness” and—even more outrageously—as disrespect to the all-important straight-male demo. Because, you know, they’ve never gotten their way with anything. I applaud Bioware for thinking that romance can be for anyone.

Similarly, listen to this from Jessica Verday:
“You don't choose who you fall in love with and you don't choose to be gay. We're constantly bombarded with messages from sick people who try to tell us that it's a choice or a lifestyle or an agenda. But Wesley and Cameron's story isn't an agenda or an issue. It isn't an ‘I have to prove something to the world’ story. Wesley and Cameron's story is a love story. About one boy who loves another boy so much that when something bad happens to him, he'll do whatever it takes to get him the help he needs.

“Just bittersweet, hopeful, first love. And I think the world needs more of that.

“While I may not have intentionally written an ‘issues’ story, in the real world this issue is very personal to me. I have gay friends, fans, and family and by allowing my story to be changed in that way I would be contributing to a great disservice to them, the entire LGBT community, and to readers in general. You are not wrong or a dirty little secret for being who you are. Love is beautiful and rare. When you find it, you should hold onto it and not let go. You should not be made to feel inferior.”

The editor, Trish Telep, from whose antho Verday’s story was withdrawn, replied thus:

Oh dear. Might as well give you my two cents. Not that it really matters but... Don't take it out on the publishers, the decision was mine totally. These teen anthologies I do are light on the sex and light on the language. I assumed they'd be light on alternative sexuality, as well. Turns out I was wrong! Just after I had the kerfuffle with jessica, I was told that the publishers would have loved the story to appear in the book! Oh dear. My rashness will be the death of me. It's a great story. Hope jessica publishes it online. (By the way: if you want to see a you tube video of me wrestling a gay man in Glasgow, and losing, please let me know).”

While that’s lovely that Ms. Telep admitted that she made a boneheaded mistake, it’s too bad she did it in such a half-assed and ultimately non-serious way. What’s “wrestling a gay man in Glasgow” got to do with it? Is it supposed to be funny? Is it supposed to be a version of “oh, I don’t have a problem with gayness, I have gay friends.”? But here’s what really turns my crank about her response: there is no such thing as “alternative” sexuality. Sexual orientation is not an “alternative,” it’s not a “preference,” it’s not fucking choice, and I don’t propose to spend the rest of my life arguing about it with fools. The fact that Telep seemed to think that Verday’s story would be perfectly fine for the book if she simply (simply!) changed the gender of one of the characters belies a deep misconception and prejudice of which she may be honestly unaware of inside herself. She needs to take a look at that. I don’t think she is probably a homophobe by conscious intent, but she blithely expresses majority privilege nonetheless.

Privilege always lies with the majority. The majority gets pissed off if they ever detect that they’re not being exclusively catered to. And anyone who doesn’t fit into the majority is not just some “alternative” that everyone can set just aside. Love is for everyone. Thanks to these people in very different fields for making these points so cogently.

Buy a PDF of M-Brane SF #26 here.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Announcing M-Brane SF #26 contents

Running a little late this month, but not too badly so. Following is the list of stories and authors of M-Brane SF #26, the March issue will release probably Sunday. Rick Novy (editor of 2020 Visions), returns with a very cool item, as does Michael Andre-Driussi. New to our pages are J.M. Sidorova, Gary Budgen and Eric Del Carlo, all offering some remarkable visions.

J.M. Sidorova  “Watching the Rubber Band”
Gary Budgen  “Salt Cellar”
Michael Andre-Driussi  “Junkboy and Debutante”
Eric Del Carlo  “The Iron’s With Me”
Rick Novy “K.622”

Items from this electronic issue will also be compiled in print with items from issue #25 and April's issue #27 in the third M-Brane SF Quarterly.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

M-Brane SF Quarterly #2 has been released

My real job--the one that provides my paycheck--got rather unexpectedly busy over the last couple weeks, causing me to fall behind on normal updates in the M-Brane world, such as the release of M-Brane SF Quarterly #2 last week (thank you to the writers who have done more to spread the word on this so far than I have). This is the second volume of a print book series collecting the fiction from three electronic issues of M-Brane SF. Also, this book contains some items not included those issues: two spectacular stories by Zachary Jernigan and an interview with him. It's such a lovely book, way worth the $9.95 on Amazon. M-Brane SF makes a couple dollars profit on each sale, and all of this money goes right back into continuing the zine and our other publishing projects, so picking up a copy is a good way to support us and also to find some really fine fiction.


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