German steel helmet and armor, 1916. I have no idea why the armorer included little steel nipples. Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.
After the initial couple of months of World War One, the front stagnated and both sides began to dig in. The war settled in for four years of trench warfare. While trench warfare was nothing new — the American Civil War, Russo-Japanese War, and the Balkan Wars all saw the use of trenches — this was on an unprecedented scale.
The new situation called for new measures. None of the participating armies had an adequate number of grenades and it took a year for supply to catch up with demand. Some countries never managed to produce enough. Artillery commanders discovered that shrapnel, deadly in the open battles of the past, did little against entrenched enemies unless the gunners were lucky enough to score a direct hit. There was a long lag before enough high explosive shells made it to the front.
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OMG!!! This fan is different than me! Panic!!!
This post is for whites only.
If you aren’t white, go away. Even if you are white but aren’t straight, I don’t want you reading my post. White women probably don’t need to read it either. And if you’re Muslim, get out of here.
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Back in 2011, I penned the first in this occasional series with an attempt at rating and relating the fantasy titles I’ve read aloud to my boys, then aged seven and eleven. They’re now two years older and two years larger, if not wiser (though they are sometimes that as well).
Sadly, older child Corey no longer cottons to a bedtime story.
Evan, however, is not only game, he’s adamant that he receive his daily dose of out-loud fiction. The question as always is what to read? What’s appropriate? And what does “appropriate” even mean?
Right now, Evan’s big wish is to see Catching Fire in the theaters. He was too young for The Hunger Games, but he’s now read all the books (on his own, like most of his fourth grade classmates), and seems quite keen to revel in the filmic gore of Panem bloodletting. We’ll see.
While that debate simmers, the fare of late has included L. Frank Baum’s The Magic Of Oz, Colin Meloy’s Wildwood, Mollie Hunter’s The Walking Stones, and Avi’s Crispin: The Cross Of Lead. Plus a short, Kenneth Grahame’s “The Reluctant Dragon.” Evan chose the Oz title, and I chose the other four.
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While Black Gate readers may (fairly) view me as a sword-and-sorcery writer, thanks to the Tales Of Gemen the Antiques Dealer, a good many of those who have stumbled across my fiction might (fairly) think of me as a horror writer. Since I never expected to fall into that particular category, I’ve been doing a good deal of soul-searching as to the value of what I’m up to – the value, as it were, of basing so much of my tale-spinning on the supernatural instead of, for example, “real life.”
Dare I take this moment to point out that an entirely different set of readers might quite reasonably think of me as a writer of literary fiction? Yeah, I wear that hat, too.
This odd combination of multiple caps has led me to the following conclusion: ghosts are a tool in the writer’s toolbox, as specific as more established weaponry like setting, length, voice, and theme.
Without further ado, I offer my list of why Things That Go Bump In the Night have worth. I don’t expect this to be an exhaustive list, but I trust that I have made a good start. Perhaps you, gentle reader, will be inspired to add to the till?
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I missed nearly all the seminal pop culture of my youth. When in eighth grade Andy H. asked me which I liked better, AC/DC or Pink Floyd, I honestly couldn’t answer the question. I was also much too tongue-tied to ask Andy if he’d ever heard of Doctor Who, which I’m quite sure he had not.
Anyway. One of the major events that I missed was Planet Of the Apes. True, Planet is from 1968, and I was only born in ’67, but even so, kids at my school through at least my sixth grade year sported Planet Of the Apes lunch boxes, thermoses, backpacks, and t-shirts. Planet Of the Apes (whatever it was) was cool.
My hipper-than-I friends informed me that Planet regularly played in re-runs on TV, and of course there was the short-lived spin-off series made specifically for the telly (1974). How was it that I had missed all this? Simple: I was building dams in the tributary streams of the Olentangy River, using whatever was handy: stone knives and bearskins, that sort of thing. I knew better than to explain.
Now that I’m older than Methuselah, or at least rapidly catching him up, I figured it’s time to see precisely what I’d missed.
And you know what?
If it weren’t for the execrable presence of Charlton Heston, it’s not half bad.
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Having panned Merlin some weeks back, it’s time to dive headlong into one of the best fantasy films of this century, and possibly one of the best, period.
Yes, Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) is that good. Director Guillermo del Toro, he of Hellboy fame, was clearly out to prove that given solid material, sufficient devotion, and a lack of Hollywood oversight, he could deliver a contender.
True, Pan does invite several divisive questions, such as why must contemporary filmed violence be so jarringly graphic? Del Toro loves jets of blood almost as much as that eternal child-man, Quentin Tarantino, and he indulges himself more than once along his tale’s labyrinthine path. But is it necessary? Does the vivid bloodletting aid the narrative? Pan is a hybrid, true, a film about war and revolution, and such chronicles cannot easily avoid bloodshed. But as anyone who has ever seen Pan’s sewing and stitching scene can attest, this movie achieves prime “I can’t look!” status. It’s visceral; it hurts.
Pan’s Labyrinth (El Laberinto del Fauno) also begs a second question, perhaps even more sinister: is it allowable to put a child (or child character) into such peril? Pan doesn’t pull its punches. Our heroine, young Ofelia (played with no affectation whatsoever by Ivana Baquero), is in mortal danger throughout this film, and unlike, say, Harry Potter or Buffy (Slayer of the Dentally Challenged Undead), there is no guarantee she will survive.
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Two weeks back, my Black Gate post took a stab at identifying a handful of the most hair-raising, spine-tingling short fiction ever written (in Vintage Scares). The more I looked at the stories that I (and others) came up with, the more excited I became about them. Unfortunately, my enthusiasm only served to underscore a curious fact that I have not always been ready to claim: I have become both a consumer and a writer of horror fiction.
That’s not something I would ever have expected. My version of horror, my “elevator speech definition,” would for years have centered on the gross-out work of Clive Barker (Hellraiser) and the voyeuristic nastiness of the movies I saw growing up: A Nightmare On Elm Street, Evil Dead 2, and Friday the 13th. Horror to me meant attractive but stupid teenagers getting slaughtered and it was strictly low-brow. Not worthy of serious consideration.
Never mind that I’d already read Mary Shelley and Bram Stoker, not to mention Arthur Conan Doyle and a fair amount of Poe. By the time I’d been thoroughly eddicated by college, I’d relegated horror to a very distant cultural bayou. It was, at best, the literary equivalent of junk food.
But then a funny thing happened. I bought a copy of The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror 14th Annual Collection, edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling. As with all of those (sadly now defunct) collections, fantasy and horror were presented back-to-back and face-to-face, bumped up against one another as inescapably close kissing cousins. Confronted by the likes of Susanna Clarke, Esther M. Friesner, Ian Rodwell & Steve Duffy, Tanith Lee, and Kelly Link, it was time to re-evaluate.
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In my fourth grade year, my teacher, for reasons still unknown to me, decided to read F. Marion Crawford’s “The Upper Berth” aloud to our class.
The story is not so well known these days, but back in the late seventies, it had gained a certain notoriety by virtue of its inclusion in Alfred Hitchcock’s Ghostly Gallery, an omnibus to which I have (with trepidation) returned to many times since. If Hitch was the source from which my teacher made her choice, perhaps she was gulled by the book’s subtitle, which read, “Eleven spooky stories for young people.”
Let me reiterate the salient feature of that rash, dangerous subtitle: FOR YOUNG PEOPLE.
To be sure, “Miss Emmeline Takes Off” (Walter Brooks) and “The Haunted Trailer” (Robert Arthur) are easy on the soul, but how to explain the inclusion of “The Waxwork” (A.M. Burrage) or “In a Dim Room” (Lord Dunsany)?
As for “The Upper Berth,” suffice it to say that just as my teacher reached the climactic moment, our rapt, wide-eyed class erupted into chaos. One child whimpered; another screamed. Poor Alicia literally leaped to her feet and fled the room, running for dear life for the imagined safety of any spot on earth where she could no longer hear the teacher’s voice.
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As of Sunday, August fourth, the last installment of my Gemen trilogy is up and published right here on the Black Gate site.
It’s a curious feeling to have these three closely linked tales “on display” at last. I wrote the first entirely on a whim back in 2004, but the storyline itself had actually evolved decades before, in 1986. How Gemen got to where he is today — that is to say, fictionalized, and available for public scrutiny — is a tale that will perhaps be instructive to rising writers, and hopefully of some interest also to those readers who’ve kept pace with my hero’s travails.
Yes, Gemen is the love child of Dungeons & Dragons (possibly too much Dungeons & Dragons, although that, I hope, will be left to the eye of the beholder), but consider this: in all the literally thousands of hours of role-playing in which I immersed myself from approximately 1980 until 1989, only one idea, one small glimmer of a scenario, presented itself later as worthy of being translated to fiction. Lucky Gemen: alone among my endless sword & sorcery imaginings, he has stumbled into a literary afterlife.
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A few weeks back, I had the good fortune to take in productions of The Tempest and Peter and the Starcatcher at the Utah Shakespeare Festival (Cedar City, Utah). As I drove away afterward, I could not but help thinking that plays, too, are literature, and that more than a passing handful of theater’s best, these two titles included, are outright, unabashed fantasies. Adventures, even.
It is admittedly difficult to keep current with theater, since stagecraft is not, as books, comics, and film/television most surely are, a truly mass media. Access is tricky; productions are both local and fleeting. Also, the habit of theater can be expensive.
Nevertheless, I’m going to make a case, here and now, that Black Gate’s readership should take stock and keep track of contemporary theater. Scripted plays, after all, predate the novel as a form by many centuries, and we would be as blind as Tiresias were we to forget that were it not for Oedipus Rex, we would know nothing of that fantasy staple, the talking, riddling sphinx.
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