Posts Tagged ‘mystery’

Clones, FairiesSpeculative fiction tends to be a weird mix of progressive and conservative.

I don’t necessarily mean “progressive” and “conservative” as synonyms for “left wing” and “right wing.” I’m thinking of a more apolitical context. An outlook based on change and reform, vs.one that favors the status quo.

On the one hand, you could argue that speculative fiction is progressive by nature. Science fiction in particular is frequently concerned with the future. It’s all about picturing what’s possible, and how it could happen.

At the same time, a lot of speculative fiction is bogged down in a series of rigidly defined subgenres, each with its well-worn tropes. And often, those fantastic adventures are played out by a cast of characters as ethnically and culturally diverse as your average small-town Republican Club meeting. Speculative fiction writers may be able to envision galaxy-spanning interstellar empires, but they frequently have trouble picturing them as inhabited by anybody other than a bunch of square-jawed heterosexual white guys named John Smith.

So it’s good to see an anthology come along that challenges both readers and writers of speculative fiction — and genre fiction in general — to broaden their outlook. “Clones, Fairies and Monsters in the Closet” from Exter Press is an anthology of science fiction, fantasy, horror and mystery with a LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) theme.

I should mention here that I’m a middle-aged straight guy who’s a big supporter of gay rights, but who’s had limited exposure to lesbian and gay culture. I bring this up because I ask for your indulgence if I use any outdated or insensitive terms or descriptions in this review. Should that happen, I assure you that it’s inadvertent.

Anyway, the book is a nice mix of genres, styles and perspectives, which is good in an anthology. Some take a more traditional and some a more experimental approach to the material. Can’t really offer any sweeping generalizations about them, except to say that they’re of consistently high quality and a rewarding read.

Yes, some of the stories touch on romantic or erotic themes. But none of them cross the line into flat-out erotica.

Unsurprisingly, a number of them deal indirectly or overtly with themes of discrimination and gay rights. Yet even the stories with a clear message don’t get overbearing with the preachiness, which I appreciated.

I’m as interested in current events and the opinions of the day as the next guy, and I’m totally OK with it if a writer wants to insert a political or social message into a work of fiction. But when I want to read editorials, I read editorials, not novels or short stories. When fiction writers get so caught up in delivering a message that they forget to tell a story, they lose me. A few of the stories in “Clones, Fairies and Monsters in the Closet” come close to that boundary, but never cross it.

Of course, you could argue that those stories are necessary for an anthology like this. They give somebody like me, who’s never experienced it first-hand, a glimpse of what it’s like to live in a society where you’re treated with systematic discrimination because of your sexual orientation. You might daydream of outlandish revenge scenarios against the people who treated you that way, or simply fantasize about a world where you can walk around hand-in-hand with your partner free of scornful glares.

Other stories don’t try to make any overt statement about the role of lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered people in society. They simply feature characters who fit those descriptions.

The LGBT people are frequently the heroes of the stories, but not always. In some, they’re just participants in the action. In a few, they’re even villains.

They’re just … people. Which I guess is kind of the point.

 

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Some sad news today. Donald J. Sobol, author of the “Encyclopedia Brown” books, passed away July 11 at the age of 87.

I was reminiscing with some friends on Facebook about how much we used to love those books, and one friend of mine in his 20s had no idea what we were talking about. Encyclopedia Brown was a 10-year-old detective who sometimes solved crimes for the other kids. Other times, the police would bring him in for his expertise, because … hey … why the hell not?

And the gimmick was that Sobol would reveal a clue at some point in the story that would incriminate the culprit. Like — OK, I’m just making this up here — there’d be a stolen ring. And the police would be interviewing the suspect, who says she couldn’t POSSIBLY have stolen the ring because she was inside doing the dishes for the past hour when the theft occurred. And she’d show off her smooth hands to demonstrate she wasn’t wearing the ring. Then Encylopedia Brown would say she’s lying.

The story would end with: HOW DOES ENCYCLOPEDIA BROWN KNOW SHE’S LYING? You could figure it out for yourself, or cheat and turn immediately to the answer section in the back. (What would I do? Ain’t tellin.) And it would be something like: “Her hands were smooth. Encyclopedia Brown knew that if she’d REALLY been washing dishes for the past hour, her fingers would have been wrinkled from the water.”

Sometimes I think the real hero of those stories wasn’t Encyclopedia Brown, but whatever prosecutor had to eventually get a conviction based on the evidence. “How do we know she was the thief? Well, a 10-year-old boy noticed that her fingers weren’t wrinkled. Therefore, she COULDN’T have been inside washing dishes when the theft occurred as she claimed and … uh … yeah. That’s basically all I got. Hey! Your Honor! Did you get the Superbowl tickets I sent you?”

OK, so it wasn’t exactly “The Wire.” You don’t read boy detective stories for their gritty realism. And Sobol inspired countless kids over the years to read. That’s an honorable legacy if I ever heard one.

By the way — Encyclopedia Brown’s nickname derived from the fact that he was so smart and well-read, he was like a walking encyclopedia. How about that? The smart, well-read kid was the hero in Sobol’s books. Another point in his favor.

These days, the kid would probably be named Wikipedia Brown, and he’d solve the mysteries with unfounded assertions about Ron Paul. What can I say? It’s a different world.

*Sigh*