Thursday, May 19, 2016

Out of the Metal Cage

       She got out of the car.  She really did it.  Left him.  It’s over, she thought.  It’s really over.
       At first she ran, down Eisenhower Street toward Market Avenue with her purse flowing out beside her clamped with one hand to her shoulder.  She looked to the road.  He wasn’t following her.  She decided to walk.
       It’s for the best.  From her wallet she pulled two 20’s and a 5, with her gift card for Chili’s.  Phone.
       Thank the Lord, still 20% battery.  “Uncle Jim,” she said.  “I’m in Carlsville, at the intersection of Eisenhower and Market.  Could you come pick me up?”
       “Well sure,” he replied in his soft-but-gritty vocal fry.  She hung up.
       The headline on the Carlsville Monitor declared “The War On Mars Is Over!”  She crinkled her bow, looking at it through the glass.  After a few lines, it was clear that the headline was just the usual media bait.  The war between the U.S.A. and China was still very much blazing on the Red Planet.
       What an age it is, she thought.  The wars on Earth had virtually ceased after the obliteration of the American East Coast and various parts of the other world superpowers.  Yet despite the peace on our home soil, humanity decided it could not survive without the taste of blood in its mouth.
       Isn’t that what I’ve been doing all along?  Giving up on Stephen just to go and date a bunch of low-lifes?  But I never needed any of them, did I?

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Four Years Two Days Ago

Into the Ravenous Maw had its fourth blogiversary on the 15th.  I was still a freshman in high school when I started this blog.  My writing skills have improved greatly over the last few years.  Though I won't denounce my early posts, I definitely feel that my more recent posts have been some of my best.

I'm still not back into any sort of regular pattern of blogging.  I'd like to post more often than I had been before April, and I have to time to do it until college starts back up at the end of August.  One post a week would suffice, I think.  I would like to focus on quality of posts over quantity, of course, but quantities hovering around zero have their weaknesses regardless of quality.  There may be some TV show reviews or analyses coming in the near future.  I've been spending a good bit of time watching shows on Netflix, time that I hope will both aid me as a writer and give me some blogging ideas.

My rate of writing is low as always.  I need to work on that.  I've been absorbing a good bit of writing lately though, which is great.  There's also some editing to do and stories that need to be sent out yet again.  I've had no luck in recent months besides the poems published in my college's literary magazine (and a win in the--sadly--final round--at least for the time being--of the Finish That Thought contest back in mid-January; you can read that story here).

All things considered, it's been a pretty good year.  I graduated from high school and slogged through two semesters of college (all with 4.0 GPAs) in the last blogging year.  I turned eighteen.  I wrote some good flash fiction and managed to pull off a few good poems.  I filled the pulpit at my church for three regular services and one contemporary service.  And so on.  The next year will prove even better, I pray.  I hope it goes well for all of you too.

Monday, May 2, 2016

What SFF Can Do With Theme

Science fiction and fantasy can do things that other genres cannot.  I've talked about it before in posts such as this one.  Today I'd like to talk about what SFF can do with theme.

I've always been skeptical of theme.  I think "message fiction" is very hard to do well, especially in the written word.  Television shows like Boy Meets World do it justice, I think, but few stories have been able to work such subtleties into an engaging narrative, Aesop's fables and parables aside.  I like general themes that don't wish to answer a question.  Think "Good vs. Evil" and "Identity."  These sorts of themes have little to no "call to action."  They only wish to broaden your perception of something, to make your question your thinking.

In his novella The Emperor's Soul, Brandon Sanderson deals with the concept of race; however, rather than dealing with the issue in real-life terms, he evaluates the theme from an exterior position.  There is no direct parallel between the racism faced by the protagonist Shai and racism in the real world.  Sure, it is similar in places, but there is a blend of multiple issues regarding race relations that could not be addressed in a story not set in a world removed from our own.

Is it wrong to exterminate an entire sentient species just because that species is trying to kill your own?  This is the philosophical question asked by Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game and its sequels, especially Speaker for the Dead.  Only SFF stories can delve into this sort of question.  As far as we know, there aren't any of sentient species in existence, so any story possessing such creatures would automatically be fantasy or science fiction (or horror, I suppose, though it would be a blend with SFF).

Susan Palwick's novelette "Hhasalin" from the September/October 2013 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction combines these two themes in an interesting way.  (I'm going to spoil the story for you, so if you'd like to read it first, I would recommend going no further.  It's an excellent tale.)  Unlike Ender's Game, this story is written from the POV of a member of the sentient species that was wiped out (though not completely, same as [spoiler alert] in Ender's Game).  Lhosi is a shaper.  Her race's planet has been invaded by humans.  The shapers fought back valiantly, but the clever humans developed a virus to eliminate their ability to shape (that is, fashion objects out of shapestone using a magical technique).  With their magic lost, the shapers were defeated.  The humans had only meant to cripple the shapers, yet in the process they inadvertently caused great illness to the native race.  Some of the shapers are immune.  Most have died out.  Their only consolations are that the virus left the shapers with an inkling of their abilities still intact and that some human families have been compassionate enough to take in orphaned shapers like Lhosi.  Lhosi herself is not subjected to a vast amount of racism, but the racism that she does face—and the greater racism faced by her race as a whole—is distinct from racism experienced in our world.  Even so, this racism is applicable to the theme of racism as it applies to our everyday lives.  The destruction of the shaper race was not intended by the humans, at least not on paper.  Some of the characters, especially the doctor character who pops in from time to time, are very sympathetic.  This is a different take on the question asked by Ender's Game and an interesting one.

Many of these sorts of themes can be explored by science fiction and fantasy.  There is no direct application for these themes in our lives; I don't think there needs to be.  The beauty of these themes, for me, is that they simply allow us to think from a genuine, neutral perspective about important issues.  Politics can be stripped in large part from these themes, making them more easily digested by people of all walks of life.  Other genres have a much harder time generating these perspectives.