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Author: Erik Amundsen

Erik has published several short stories and poems in places like Weird Tales, Fantasy Magazine, Goblin Fruit, Mythic Delirium and Not One of Us. He is always Chaotic Evil.
Cats, Angels, and the Words of Science: A Look at the 2013 Rhysling Award Winners

Cats, Angels, and the Words of Science: A Look at the 2013 Rhysling Award Winners

Lady Poetesses from Hell-smallIntroductions are hard. Let’s review poetry.

I’m always tempted to just keep that introduction, which is how I begin all my poetry reviews, before I return and write something that makes me sound like I have any business at all passing judgment on peoples’ art. My name is Erik, and I read poetry. I also write poetry, and when I can overcome my profound laziness, review poetry. Mostly, I am a jerk with opinions. So follows my opinions on the winners of the 2013 Rhysling Awards.

Introductions are hard. Let’s review poetry.

First Place, Short Form: “Cat Star” by Terry A Garey
(from Lady Poetesses from Hell)

Well, I like cats. I have lost some cats dear to me; the little bastards don’t live long enough.

This is a strange poem. There’s a lot of good in the parentheses that contain most of the poem. What comes before feels awkward, sounds awkward when I try to speak it; awkward in the familiar way that a lot of speculative poetry sounds to me. The invocation of photons and later of molecules throws me, feels like words tacked in to mark the poem as speculative. I know there are ways to invoke those ideas, and I have seen poems use the actual words of science responsibly, poetically, but it’s harder than it looks, and I don’t think this one quite manages its language right.

At the same time, it is compelling, and I notice that SF people and cat people share a lot of circular territory in the Venn diagram, which gives a lot of emotional purchase to the poem. The grief in parentheses is compelling, both in language and in image. I just wish there were no parentheses and nothing before where they were put.

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My Ansible

My Ansible

bgdispossessedI hate to explain. I know some people come to Fantasy for magic systems and political setups the way they go to SF for technobabble, but I came to fantasy from horror and I arrived with the belief that, as with many other forms of human discourse, when you’re explaining, you’re losing.

That said, let me explain: there might be a couple of people reading this who don’t know (and no reason to feel bad about that, no matter what anyone else tells you), but the ansible is a term coined by Ursula K. LeGuin for faster than light radio – a way you can talk to people over interstellar distances in more or less real time. How this gets accomplished is, well, up to the best guess of the author or script writer or showrunner in question. Quantum entanglement is the newest one I’ve heard, but tachyons, sub-space and its twin hyperspace have all done turns as culprits.

Some SF fans are cool with this trope unexplained, some want an explanation and will accept it if it sounds good and some will sniff at it, because in the immortal words of my last super-hero RPG character: “SCIENCE DOESN’T WORK LIKE THAT.” You know, except it might. But it probably doesn’t.

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Fantasyscapes 6: Setting as Character

Fantasyscapes 6: Setting as Character

bayouI have to imagine that it’s a pretty poor guide who gets lost, but here I am, having found the path after a couple of months wandering afield. The explanations and excuses for this straying off the path aren’t terribly interesting, I’m afraid. I won’t belabor with details, but I thought that returning after time away might give us a chance, before we start again, to talk about why I chose to do this in the first place. To tour all the different places you can go in fantasy with an eye for those who have already been there.

It doesn’t hurt matters that I have to speak intelligently about this subject in front of people who could hurt me if I speak foolishness and lies in about a month at Arisia. Unless I misread my schedule, I am actually moderating that panel, so if I seem unusually motivated, please understand. You see, in Boston, they have these squirrels, and they fear men nor fire and they hunger for the blood of those who speak foolishness and lies at SF cons. All those bark-rending talons, all those shell-cracking teeth…

So to that end, I want to talk more directly than we have in past about settings as character, and what the hell that even means.

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Fantasyscapes 5: Going To Town

Fantasyscapes 5: Going To Town

bglankhmarWe’ve gone some places together, you and I, haven’t we?  From humble beginnings in the swamp, we’ve traveled the road, the waste land, and the dark ways between.

But I hear some of you in the back (don’t think I didn’t hear, dears, I have the ears of a fox – or at least one of them, I think the other slipped out a hole in my pocket, actually) complaining that I never take you anywhere nice.  I must protest that I don’t know what you’re talking about, but I will admit that the places we’ve gone since we set out have been a bit lonely.

So, with that in mind, I invite you to break out the nice clothes from your traveling pack, for tonight, we’re going to hit the city.

A couple of ground rules before we set out: first, we’re not going to any city, whether it exists or not, in our world – we could spend a very long time prowling those streets alone, and our tour is by necessity, going to have to be brief.  Perhaps we’ll come to those places at a later date, but for now, we’ll stick to what Professor Tolkien termed secondary worlds.  And yes, he, as always takes his toll.  If this were black metal, the professor would be… quite unhappy where this metaphor is going, so we’ll stop here.

Ankh-Morpork
Ankh-Morpork

The other ground rule is we’re not going to Carcosa.  Lake Hali is kind of a tourist trap.

We build cities into fantsyscapes to be where the people are.  Cities are full of movement and life, they hint at stories moving behind the stories the authors tell us.

Let’s start with sinister old Lankhmar where Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser prowl.  Get acquainted with the town and its cadaverous gods and its capricious robed figures and it’s pretty clear that Lieber’s duo are just two of thousands who have adventures there (possibly the luckiest two, but still).

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Fantasyscapes 4: Dark Places

Fantasyscapes 4: Dark Places

bglangoWhen last we met, we walked into Mordor, because, well, finding a fantasyscape that I can talk about, not mention Professor Tolkien and also not be remiss isn’t something I’ve managed, yet (it’s not happening this time, either).  This month, Mordor’s following us home.

After last time’s trip to the wasteland, there was a lot of stuff left on the old conceptual cutting room floor, stuff that looked and felt similar, but walked and crept and stalked, and most important, meant differently.  It followed us, hunted us down, and now we are off the path, in a strange place, miles from home.  But then, that’s what these excursions are all about.  This time we’re going to the Dark World, or, more accurately, it’s coming to us.

The dark world is a reflection of what is; a shadow.  It’s often a forbidding and dangerous place, like the wasteland; no one wants to live there, like the wasteland; and what it is probably rates less important than what it means, like the wasteland.  The difference is what it means; to oversimplify Jung for a moment, the wasteland is other.  It is elsewhere, different, a blasted land and a dark lord on a dark throne.

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Fantasyscapes 3: The Wastelands

Fantasyscapes 3: The Wastelands

bgwastelandsThere’s part of me that wants to hold this one until the end; for this time, we’ll be exploring the wasteland, which is always at the end.  This is where you’re going to find the Dark Lord and/or existential dread, and the third installment of this column seems a little too soon.  And, oh, but do a number of sexual metaphors creep into my mind to cuddle up with the death ones; I think it’s appropriate, but I’ll spare Gentle Reader from having to go there with me.

Well, no, that’s a lie.  I’ll just try not to be crude about it (though I’ve set you up to be, in your head, if I did this right).  Wastelands are sex and death, or the gap between death and life, what happens after winter when the snow melts away and shows you what’s dead and what’s left behind to replenish the earth – an extended moment between winter and spring.  It’s harrowing, which, I suppose is why evil tends to like it so.

Wastelands are a little harder to pin down, sometimes, than the other fantasyscapes we’ve visited; like an overzealous moral guardian of my childhood once said, you know it when you see it.  They can be deserts or mountains, forests – but rarely; swamps or some awful combination of swamp and desert and volcanic burn-zone are popular.

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Fantasyscapes 2: At the Crossroads

Fantasyscapes 2: At the Crossroads

bgtolkien
Middle Earth

Let’s take a walk.

I like to move when I think; exercise clears the mind and after all that time in the swamp, I think anyone would be grateful for a chance to stretch their legs.  We’re taking this show, as the man says, on the road.

I thought this was going to turn out a lot easier than it has.  Fantasy, after all, is a genre all about journeys, both in the one simply walking into Mordor sense and the journey, comma, hero’s sense.  The road leads ever onward, and one thing I’ve discovered in a gradual but gradually increasing pace and desperation, roads don’t get as much love as I expected, and I think that’s really unfortunate.

Road plays synecdoche for journey; for travel and conflict and development, and it does this so often that it’s harder to find roads that are characters in their own right than I thought, even though they share a lot of characteristics in common.

The Dark Tower
The Dark Tower

Roads are complex creatures, or, at least, they are more complex than they seem at first.  They come from a place and they go to a place and, in between, they pass through a lot of other places, and though that comes off as obvious to the point of being foolish to just say, it’s the basis for what makes as road something special.

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Fantasyscapes 1: The Bog Blog

Fantasyscapes 1: The Bog Blog

blackbogstenchThere’s a good chance we haven’t met.

My name is Erik, I tell stories, but today, I am not telling you a story, exactly.   Today, and heaven willing, the next little while, I will be more like a travel agent.  A very bad travel agent, probably, since I’ve got no notion to listen to your vacation plans; I’ve got a list of locations we’re going to visit, and not a single one is the kind of thing that conjures to mind restful vacation.

The mighty editrix of this fine establishment has called on me to take you places, and she assures me that you folks have sort of peculiar tastes, and that the places I show you are places you’ll enjoy going, and probably, places a lot of you have already been.

So let’s put that to the test and go straight for the swamps.  I love swamps.  I own a pair of tall boots for tramping about in them.  Swamp is half of my heritage (the other half being Yankee), and it was the call of the swamp and the bog that netted me in the first place.

Fantasy belongs to and in the swamp.

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