Lizard Brain is a shared blog about Science Fiction and Fantasy from Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck.

Call for Questions

10.17.10
by Daniel Abraham

Carrie Vaughn, Master Interviewer

So as part of the MileHiCon festivities next week, Ty and I (in our James S. A. Corey drag) are going to be interviewed by Carrie Vaughn on video. We’ve got the camera and the set up and the time and all those things, but I’m a little shy on ideas to hand to Carrie.  Knowing the three of us, it’s entirely possible that the entire interview will be about Firefly, Invader Zim, and exactly how you’d do a crossover between the two.

If there’s anything that any of the rest of you would be interested in hearing about, the suggestion box is hereby officially open.  Anything I’m willing to answer, I’ll pass on to Carrie to use at her discretion.  And anything that we don’t get covered in the video interview, I can try to answer here on the blog.

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Horror as cultural window

10.15.10
by Ty Franck

As it relates to his recent post on Urban Fantasy, Daniel has asked me to talk a bit about straight horror.  Now Daniel has read a fair bit of horror, and has written Flat Diane, one of the better horror short stories of the last decade or so and a Horror Guild Award winner.  But he’s less into horror films, and that’s where my expertise lies.  And, by expertise, I mean watching all of them and obsessing over the tiny details of their crafting.

It’s well covered territory when we talk about American horror cinema’s puritanical roots.  But even that isn’t entirely cut and dry.  Sure, the slasher films of the late seventies and early eighties carried the message that surviving the attack of a supernatural madman was as simple as avoiding drinking, drugs, and sex.  But go back a bit further and you find a less blunt Christian message hiding in the films.  Frankenstein is the classic, “things man was not meant to know!” storyline, with the eponymous doctor attempting to enter into God’s domain by creating life.  Dracula is the man who turns away from God out of anger, and is given the curse of Cain, immortality and constant anguish.  The Wolfman is the lesson that no matter how good you think you are, the devil can still get his hooks into you.  All very Christian lessons.

An offshoot of this with a slightly different take were the genre mixing horror films of the fifties and sixties.  Specifically, horror mixed with science fiction.  These seem to primarily take two positions.  The cold war era horror sci fi films that are set on planet Earth are primarily about the horrors of nuclear power, often in the form of giant insects or mutated humans.   The sci fi horror set on other planets are generally manifest destiny tales of noble Earthmen facing a terrible monster (read: savage native) and defeating it to pave the way for human expansion.  And you have the greatest sci fi film of all time, Forbidden Planet, which revisits the “things man was not meant to know” theme, only now replacing God with godlike aliens who were themselves destroyed by tampering with powers they should not have.

Seventies horror moved, largely due to the success of movies like the Exorcist and Rosemary’s Baby, into pure religious horror with demonic forces actively attacking hapless humans while noble churchmen fought using the power of God.  Notice how in many of these movies, the victim first turns to scientists and rationality for help.  Notice that in every case the scientist is humbled or killed by the supernatural, and that only reliance on God or other mystical defenses saves the day.

But morality tales all.  Whether it’s a lesson about not having sex, or not trying to play God, or how much you need religious mysticism to defend yourself from the devil’s constant attacks.

Because Americans watch American (or sometimes British) movies, most people thought that horror movies were morality tales.  That these things were inseparable.

But watch how Japanese horror evolved.  The late nineties and early part of this century saw an explosion of Asian horror in the US.  Movies like The Ring and The Grudge took American horror buffs by storm.  We’d never seen anything like them before.  The look, the tone, the manner in which people died, everything was completely different from American horror cinema.

Even the lesson they taught.  Like, how do you survive in a Japanese horror film?

The answer it turned out, was as foreign as the language.  You don’t get noticed.  Look at The Grudge.  The structure of the film is a mess.  It is basically three different stories about people going into a haunted house and then being killed by the angry ghosts that live there.  Some of them try to figure out the mystery, and one person even does mostly figure it out.  But they still die.  The only way not to die in The Grudge is not to go in the house.

Japanese culture has a strong taboo about drawing attention to yourself.  And their horror films reflect this.  People who don’t draw the attention of the powerful and inescapable forces surrounding them are free to go on living their lives.   Get noticed, and you die.  There’s no way to defend yourself from this.  It’s inevitable.  Whereas in American horror cinema the girl who doesn’t have sex with her boyfriend at camp lives, in Japanese cinema it’s the girl who thinks it would be disrespectful to go into the haunted house and goes home instead.

I’ve gone over long, so I won’t go into the seventies Italian horror and its emphasis on sensuality, but suffice to say that Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci were doing soft core S&M porn thirty years before Hostel stripped out the erotic part and just turned it into torture porn.

I have a whole rant on what torture porn is saying, and how it relates to the Italian erotic horror of the seventies, that I’ll save for another day.

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MLN Hanover on Urban Fantasy

10.14.10
by Daniel Abraham

I don’t know where to start.

This is the third time I’ve started writing this little essay, and it seems like no matter what I begin with — how MLN Hanover was born of Buffy and Anita Blake, whether the root word from which ‘religion’ sprang was religare or relegare, or Who Censored Roger Rabbit (the book that became Who Framed Roger Rabbit) — it all winds up coming out in a clot.

But that’s the point of writing, isn’t it?  It makes me put my thoughts in a line.  It’s just so hard to know where to start.

We’re coming up on the publication of Vicious Grace, the third book in The Black Sun’s Daughter, and I’ve been thinking a lot about urban fantasy.  What it is, what it isn’t, how and whether it can be defined, how and whether any genre can be defined, and what makes genre genre.  And I have a hunch.  It’s just not something I’ve ever been called on to explain exactly.  Intellectually, we’re looking at a work in progress here.  Hope that’s all right.

I started reading urban fantasy before it was urban fantasy.  I saw Buffy the Vampire Slayer when she was Kristy Swanson.  I had Guilty Pleasures when it had the little bat logo on top.  Back then, there wasn’t a term for it.  Anita Blake in particular had the trappings of horror, but the structure of a mystery and the emotional safety of a cozy or a romance.  And put together that way, they worked.

Not every mixing of genre works, though.  Who Censored Roger Rabbit, for instance, was a brilliant peice of work, and spawned a movie that’s a classic in its way, but not a body of following work.  There are other instances of plays on the idea of cartoon characters beaching the line of reality (Cool World, that A-ha video, etc.) but by and large, it didn’t take.  Urban Fantasy did.

Why, though, is an open question.  I don’t actually think it’s got anything to do with horror or mystery or even romance, but it has to do with what horror and mystery and romance (and science fiction and any genre, really) *do*.

And here’s where religion comes in.

There are two common etymologies for the word religion.  Pretty much everyone agrees that it comes from the Latin religio, but where *that* came from is open to more debate.  The one I’d always heard was that it started from religare — to bind together.  A few years ago, though, I came across another suggestion.  Relegare.  To re-read.  Religion, then, would refer to the stories we go back to time and again for comfort or wisdom or to see what the same tale means to us now that we’re older and more experienced than the last time we went through it.  (Romeo and Juliet, for instance, is a radically different play if you’re 13 and hitting your hormone rush or 40 with kids.)  I like this second version better.

So let’s go back to genre.  The thing that makes genre generic (to appropriate the sneering term of its enemies) is that it reimagines and retells a story you know going in.  In this way, genre is in a real tension with the novel-as-novelty.  But that’s a side point.  I didn’t mean to go there.  What I was trying to get to is this:  we go to romances for a particular story because that story is important to us.  We go to horror because there is something in the ur-horror story, the deeper story that both The Stand and The Exorcist retell, that we need.  We go back to mystery because there’s something there that comforts us.

I think that if we look at it, the genres in a popular culture form a map of its collective psyche (or at least the collective psyche of the part of it that reads).  And in particular, I think genres form around our vulnerabilities.  And even more, the forms that those genres take, they take for a reason.  I’ll talk about Ty’s take on horror stories as a reflection of their particular culture of origin sometime.  Or make him post it.  It’s convincing.

Urban Fantasy doesn’t take its power from having roots in other genres.  It didn’t bloom into one of the most important areas in publishing because it was horror or romance or mystery.  It took root because the story it’s telling matters to us, and it’s a story that wasn’t getting told elsewhere.  So, in fact, urban fantasy exists as a genre because it’s not horror and not romance and not mystery.  It gives us something else, and it’s something we as a culture are hungry for.

It is the narrative a woman with power.  It is where we are struggling with sexuality and intimacy and violence and gender and fear.  It is where we are retelling old stories about romantic love and trying out new ones about taking on traditional masculine forms of power.  Buffy Summers and Anita Blake — whether they meant to or not — touched a nerve, and all of us who love this new genre are still squirming from it.  And we’re coming back to it, rereading it.

And in my case — MLN’s case — writing it.

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Cool Hunting 10/13/10

10.14.10
by Daniel Abraham

Abebook.com has The Weird Room (thankyew Metafilter)

The Occult World of Dr. Strange Makes as much sense as any other occultism.

Because some things are basic. Interspecies Play Behavior (soccer)

AND

Hand dancing for the masses.

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MileHiCon October 22-24

10.12.10
by Daniel Abraham

I, Daniel Abraham/MLN Hanover/the James part of James S. A. Corey, will be appearing at MileHiCon toward the end of the month.  Right now, it looks like the schedule will be:

22 October

3pm Developing Your Writing Voice (with Bacigalupi, Caine, Hughes, and Swendson)

8pm Autograph Alley/Munch & Mingle

23 October

10am High Fantasy: Beyond Urban Life (with Bigelow, Hoyt, Kurtz, and Lowell)

12:30-2pm Speed Date and Author (with ohmigod too many to list)

24 October

9am Kaffeklatsch (with Kurtz, MacMillan, Giancola, Acevado, Snodgrass, and Stein)

10am Author Reading (with Carrie Vaughn.  Yay!)

11am Signing (also with Carrie Vaughn)

Ty Franck will also be at the convention, hanging out in the bar.  If you’re in the neighborhood, come hang out.

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Roland’s Codex: Leviathan Wept and Other Stories – Daniel Abraham

10.10.10
by Daniel Abraham

Behold, a new long-form review of Leviathan Wept.  Pretty much everyone who talks about this collection seems to have different favorites (and disappointments).  I think it’s a good sign, right?

Roland’s Codex: Leviathan Wept and Other Stories – Daniel Abraham.

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SF Signal: MIND MELD: The Next Big Genre Stars…In Their Own Words

10.09.10
by Daniel Abraham

A lengthy post about where to start with Daniel Abraham and a whole bunch of other good folks.

SF Signal: MIND MELD: The Next Big Genre Stars…In Their Own Words.

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Jimmy Corey’s Science Corner

10.08.10
by Ty Franck

This will hopefully become a regular feature here at the Lizard.  While I am not a scientist (just go ahead and mentally append IANAS onto everything science related I say) I am a voracious reader on science related topics.  Many of these tidbits find their way into my fiction and the worlds I create.  If they show up in a way that betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of the science, just go ahead and throw that mental IANAS onto them and we can all stand around awkwardly ignoring them until they go away

Why I believe filling up our solar system is inevitable:

We just can’t stop ourselves.  We’re Curious George with advanced technology.  If we find a closed box, we have to pry it open.  And, this was largely an evolutionary advantage.  We found shiny white boxes on the beach, pried them open, and it turned out there was food inside.  We found brown things just slightly less hard than rocks, but we bashed on them until they broke open, and we found tasty walnut treats hiding within.  When poking sticks into things got too boring, we built kilometers long magnetic racetracks so we could slam particles together at close to the speed of light so we could see what was inside of them.  No food yet, but I keep hoping.  I swear I heard someone somewhere say Quark Soup.

And as the technology gets cheaper and easier to use, more and more people will use it to satisfy their own personal curiosity.  Which leads us to things like this:

High Altitude Balloon Footage

Kids are doing this stuff now as science projects.  Private rocket clubs are competing for the X prize.  There are more corporate space launches than government launches.

Our future is in space.  We just won’t be able to stop ourselves.

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Toward a Unified Theory of Pseudonyms

10.08.10
by Daniel Abraham

I was talking about this a lot over on the Westeros forum, and Ty suggested I post a copy here.  He’s probably right.  He usually is.  And even when he’s wrong, he’s just so damn charming about it, right?

Anyway, here I am on a site dedicated to two and a half different versions of me.  So.  Why pseudonyms?

One of the folks on the Westeros forums posed the perfectly reasonable theory that a single recognizable name crossing several subgenres would drive up demand on all titles, pulling readers from one project to another.  Here’s what I said:

It’s funny, but that’s not really what the numbers show. People (apparently) become fans of projects more than of authors. In my circles, it’s called the Donaldson Problem after something Stephen R. Donaldson is alleged to have said after The Mirror of Her Dreams / A Man Rides Through sold massively less than Thomas Covenant, and The Gap Into sold a whole bunch less than *that*. It went something like “I thought I had a hundred thousand Stephen R. Donaldson fans. It turned out I had a hundred thousand Thomas Covenant fans.” (caveat: I don’t know that he ever actually said that.)

To pull out a couple other examples from my immediate circle, S. M. Stirling’s Embervese is pushing up against the NYT top 10, but his other stuff — some of which I think is even stronger than the Emberverse books — don’t do particularly well. And George’s side projects — Wild Cards, Hunter’s Run, etc. — do decently, but nothing compared to his Ice & Fire stuff.

By comparison, I’ve heard some analysis of Walter Jon Williams — who is for my money one of the most consistently solid authors in the field — and why he doesn’t own the world outright. That one went like this: You don’t know what a Walter Jon Williams novels is going to be like. It could be post-singularity, it could be high space opera, if could be near-future techno-thriller, it could be old school cyberpunk, it could be military space opera, it could be regionalist New Mexican literary SF, it could be New Weird. The man’s done it all. And so, if you’re in the mood for military space opera, you reach for someone who does that — Bujold or Weber come to mind — instead of Williams, even though Dread Empire’s Fall is a freaking brilliant set of books.

The exception to this appears to be YA. Scott Westerfeld can write anything he damn well pleases. My guess is that YA readers are still reading for novelty, where the rest of us read for comfort and consolation. That’s just my take on it, though.

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We had cover art (II)

10.07.10
by Daniel Abraham

Oops.

Looks like Orbit hasn’t actually released that art into the wild.   If you see copies of it elsewhere, be aware that Orbit hasn’t yet authorized its distribution.

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