Cover Reveal : Hobgoblin’s Herald

This summer has a couple of fantastic new releases coming. One of which is the fantasy novel ‘Hobgoblin’s Herald’ by A.R. Aston. 

The book will be launched on 1st July so there will be plenty of time to grab a copy before Edge.Lit and get Andrew to sign it. 

In the mean time, here is the cover by the fantastic Tabitha Sterling mudlarkdesign.tumblr.com and for your enjoyment, the Prologue. 

‘The fetters of the Aelf were made of sapphires, the walls of their cells silver and ivory. It was nothing like the dank black dungeons of menfolk, or the festering oubliettes of Hezra Half-Gremlin. This cell was bright, and cold and austere. It hurt her eyes to look upon the mirror-polished star metal that entombed her here. And so the Herald dangled in a darkness of her own imposing, eyes screwed shut.
Her shackles rubbed unpleasantly against her flesh, and when she cried out, the sound was without echo. The walls
seemed to consume her screams and nullify her protests. Her captors had no desire to listen to her entreaties. Everything she said would be considered a lie by the Fated Ones. Thus she was doomed to suffer an ignoble, yet relatively painless death by their hands. She had days at most, but it was impossible to judge just how long that would be, for days were meaningless in a realm without night to mark the cycles.
They’d taken her bone-threaded war braids, and stripped the Herald of her rune-etched armour of boiled leather and
foraged steel. Upon capture, they’d even scrubbed her face of the blood marks, leaving only the silvery scars that formed their base behind. Like a cat declawed, the Aelf divested her of her scimitar, her daggers, and her sling. Now she wore a simple habit of pale blue silk, but this did nothing to disguise the fact she was a reviled heathen fated to die. She dangled from the ceiling by her hands, a flank of beef hung for smoking. Her bare feet dangled helplessly beneath her. They were the palest they’d been in years. The Aelf could not tolerate filth, not a single gram of it, not even caking their prisoners’ soles.
They had kept her fed with bland wafers and crystal still water, which seemed to sap her strength and will to fight with every mouthful. They could have poisoned her by slipping something odourless and colourless into the daily rations, but she suspected not. They simply had no need to nourish her or poison her. That was the worst thing of all, they didn’t hate her. She meant nothing to the tall, gleaming nightmares. She was an obstruction to remove and her captors would carry out her sentence with a workmanlike efficiency.
The Herald wondered where her allies were now. Were they even alive? She didn’t even entertain the notion they’d
be coming to save her. These were not those kinds of allies. Polder might have helped, but that passive psychotic was next to useless in a scrap.
The Fated Ones would kill her, unless she fought for herself. That was always the way it went.
Each day, she felt her resolve weakening. Her will was maintained now by hate and fear. Curse them for their indifference! 
With her eyes closed, she dreamt of the spiralling nightmare which had brought her to this ignominious terminus.
The five-limbed leviathans of Ashebos, the flying cities, the incandescent Lance of Rael, the black naga, the Djinncallers, the Eater of Names; all these things she had seen, all that pain and wonderment she had experienced, had sprung from a singular event, back in a different life, a different world.
It had been an act of mercy, for one who did not deserve an ounce of it.
She heard the whisper-quiet footsteps of her gaoler in the corridor outside. The lock on the door rattled, as simultaneously the bolts barring it were thrown open one by one. The prisoner clenched her fists, bared her teeth, and drew her feet up to her chest, like an animal tensing for the pounce. She spat bloody phlegm on their pristine floor, which made her smile. If the Aelf wanted her dead, they would need to get their hands dirty. She’d tear at them like a mad shrike. She’d make them work for their kill. She would teach them hate.’

 

Not The Fox News: Digital House Gods

Let’s talk about immortality.

It’s the early 1990s and I am living on the Isle of Man. I am a teenager. I am a geek. I am an idiot. I am a walking open wound working his ass off to be the best student possible, keep his parents’ stress damaged psyches together and  not look the fact his best friend is looking at a third go round with cancer in the face quite yet. My adolescence is trench warfare. I am holding the line. It sucks.

I’m 15? I’m 6’1.  I can pass for 18 comfortably. I don’t drink. I don’t do drugs. I don’t smoke.  There are two videos stores nearby. And on one of my many forays there I find the first collection of War of the Worlds: The Resurrection.

This is the 1990s so it’s basically the dark ages in terms of entertainment deployment systems. What you get is three episodes on a VHS cassette released every couple of months. I watch the pilot until its threadbare, do the same with the rest.

The reason is twofold. The premise of WW: The Resurrection is PEAK 1990s and more importantly peak Me. In the wake of the Grover’s Mill assault depicted in the 1950s movie, the Martians are sealed in barrels and presumed dead. Their technology is mothballed, mass hysteria is assumed to be the cause of the event and everyone settles in to really enjoy the cold war.

Until nuclear waste wakes the aliens up. With all new, all-gore spattered bodysnatching abilities they set out to conquer the planet again and only an elite crisis response team can stop them. Let’s go say hi.

Look at that epic ’90s hair. Back left is Colonel Paul Ironhorse, a Native American, hyper-right wing soldier and veteran.  Next to him is Norton Drake, A paralyzed computer hacker and high end martial artist (Philip Akin would go on to be given MUCH more to do in the excellent Highlander TV series). Bottom right is Doctor Suzanne McCullough, a microbiologist and extremely disciplined precise scientist. Also a single mom.

And bottom left is Doctor Harrison Blackwood. A pacifist, vegetarian who was raised by the hero and heroine of the original movie after his parents were killed in the first attack.

So basically, Clever People Versus Aliens: The Series

There are two take homes from this; the first is that the 1990s were MUCH better at diversity and yet still tropey as Hell than a lot of current TV. The second is that Doctor Blackwood, all 6’2, gangly, over articulate nerd of him, was one of the first times I saw myself.

Harrison was kind, weird, funny and open-minded. He was endlessly enthusiastic, endlessly positive, a Doctor Who in a plaid shirt with none of the hand wavy nonsense or bow breaking decades of continuity. He was a hero who was clever. He was a hero who was BIG and clever. To me, trapped in a meatsuit that seemed three sizes too big and that automatically put 5 years on my perceived age and 10 points off my IQ in the eyes of strangers, Harrison was a lifeline, a message in a bottle:

It’s okay. There are people in the world like you. There are people in the world you can work to be like.

The show was occasionally brilliant, there’s an especially fun return to Grover’s Mill episode that I can still hit pretty much every plot beat of. It was also frequently gloriously, exuberantly bad in the most wonderful 1990s way possible. Hilariously gory, filled with stereotypes and written in a way that meant vital stuff often happened between episodes.

I LOVED it.

I missed it for a long time.

I may have sketched out a reboot or two.

And  I never forgot Doctor Harrison Blackwood or the effect he had on me. Like Egon Spengler, Jack Killian, Chris Stephens and Henry Rollins he showed me there was a place for me in the world and helped me to get there.

Jared Martin, who played Harrison, died last month. He wasn’t the only one.

Adam West, the single greatest Batman of all time passed away last week. Sir Roger Moore died recently too. As did Andy Cunningham (Bodger and Badger for life, yo) and Peter Sallis, the voice of Wallace from Wallace and Gromit. We lost Glenne Headley this year too, an actress so great she stole a movie out from under Steve Martin AND Sir Michael Caine.

We’ve lived long enough to see our heroes not live long enough. And, in the middle of two of the most turbulent, often horrific, emotionally draining years so far this century, that can be very hard to deal with.

But not impossible.

It’s cold comfort at times but the truth is these people and the effect they have on us never quite fade. I still write characters that could be Harrison Blackwood. I still, aspire to be him. Every time we need them these people, these household gods of the digital age, are there for us. We live in an ocean of signal, an age, despite our best efforts, of miracle and wonder. None of us will live forever but all of us, especially the artists we’ve loved, are just a little immortal.  And, for now at least, that’s enough.

 


Alasdair Stuart is a freelancer writer, RPG writer and podcaster. He owns Escape Artists, who publish the short fiction podcasts Escape PodPseudopodPodcastle and Cast of Wonders. He writes for Tor.com and MYMBuzz and blogs enthusiastically about pop culture, cooking and exercise at Alasdairstuart.com, and tweets @AlasdairStuart.

Waxing Lyrical : Asexuality in Fantasy

Images added by Aunty Fox, also check this out for some illustrations of asexuality and dumb things people say.

Asexuality in Fantasy

By Joel Cornah

Writing characters is so often about letting the reader know what they are, rather than what they are not. In our world, so much of how people’s identities are perceived is bound up in ideas of sexuality and romance that, in the words of comedian Charlie Brooker;

We’ve become so accustomed to seeing characters pairing off with one another that it’s now almost impossible to see a man and a woman together on screen at once without internally speculating about whether they’re going to have sex or not.”

 Indeed, the trope of having two people (often of different genders) who do little but argue and despise one another but end up falling madly in love is incredibly prominent. I might even go so far as to say that for a lot of people, seeing two characters bicker has become an almost sure-fire way of predicting if they’ll end up together. But even in these cases, the writers will often tie them together through some reconciliation scene that ends with physical intimacy of some sort. Just to hammer home the point.

When it comes to writing asexual characters, those who lack sexual attraction, it can be somewhat jarring to audiences who are used to characters getting off with one another simply by being in the same room. I think this might be the source of some anti-ace feeling some publishers may have, especially as a sexual or romantic subplot is expected of most stories as a matter of course.

With the world I created for The Sea-Stone Sword and The Sky Slayer, I decided that prejudices based on sexuality were not really a thing in most societies. It made the writing process a lot more open and gave me much more creative freedom. Openly gay and bisexual characters are comparatively easy to show through the relationships and romances the characters endure and pursue. The age old ‘show don’t tell’ rule runs smoothly in these cases. But when it comes to asexual characters it’s much harder to make it explicit.

So how do you address it in a way that can be easily grasped? Is it as simple as having characters who just never experience sexual attraction or is it something we should actively point out in a character? Should they internally reflect on their lack of attraction, should they explain it to others, should it be discussed openly or simply allowed to exist.

I have one ace character in The Sea-Stone Sword, but it is not explicit because the issue doesn’t come up. She is quite young, and there were also other aspects to her character that were a lot more active and so became the focal point.

For asexual characters, the temptation for me was to simply never address it at all, and to delve into nonsexual aspects of their relationships. I wanted to explore the friendships they made, the loyalties they formed and causes for which they fought. It was important to me to flesh them out as characters and how they related to others and have that be the focus.

However, asexuality is, perhaps by its nature, something of an invisible identity. Easily overlooked, easily ignored. As such, many of us feel decidedly alone, left out, and isolated. Rarely do we see explicate representation of people who feel the way we feel and experience the world as we do. Part of this is down to social assumptions where we automatically expect characters to be sexual in some way. This worried me as I continued to write.

In my second novel, The Sky Slayer, there is another ace character, but this time I made it explicit. She’s a smartass, a sarcastic brains-of-the-outfit who pulls everyone’s strings. As a result, other character slowly start asking her advice. Once you get past the put-downs and jibes, she can be quite wise, so it made sense to me. This I immediately saw as a way in to give her sexuality some notice. When asked for relationship advice, she raises an eyebrow and informs them, “Ask the Doctor. I have no interest or experience with these carnal matters.”

It was also important to me that the character accept this, rather than pressing her into something with the old ‘go on just try it!’ routine. When another character shows an interest in her, they are told, “She doesn’t feel that kind of attraction.” and all parties accept this as a real answer, rather than objecting or insisting on pushing her.

I think it is important to have multiple ace characters, to explore the variety of ways asexuality can be experienced. As with any demographic, the less characters within it you have, the less fairly you will represent it.

But even these examples from my own work sometimes make me cringe a little and I feel uncertain about whether I took the right path. On the one hand, I want it to be respected and given a real place in a characters’ identity. But on the other hand, I don’t want to bring it up for the sake of bringing it up. So how do we tackle this issue?

Being asexual myself, it isn’t an issue that comes up terribly often. I don’t have conversations about it, I don’t go out and tell my story precisely because, so often, if feels like there isn’t a story to tell. How many ways can you say, ‘nothing happened’ and have it be interesting? Except by way of contrast to the expected norm, it has rarely felt like an aspect of my life that is ripe for creative exploration.

The obvious answer is to look to other people’s experiences. Talking to other asexual people from different background and cultures grants a view into the wide range of stories that are there. The struggles and triumphs, the attitudes and fears, and the whole spectrum of people. That is where the spark of creativity lies.

I think this allies to a lot of aspects of writing, not just regarding sexuality. Our own life can seem mundane to us simply because we experience them every day and end up thinking they are unremarkable. The remarkable only becomes so when compared to other things, and if we don’t seek out other experiences and stories, we might not find the spark at all.

 

Links for books;

The Sea-Stone Sword

The Sky Slayer

Monster Writing Competition

Monster writing competition – We want your monster stories!

We published volume three of our Fox Spirit Books of Monsters: Asian Monsters a few months back and Margret Helgadottir is now working on editing volume four: Pacific Monsters, to be released in November. The mission with the series is to give the monsters their comeback, to reestablish their dark and grim reputation, and to bring into the spotlight the monsters hiding in the far corners of the world. To celebrate the monsters, we’re having a writing competition.

We hereby invite you to write your best monster flash story and send it to us before July 1st 2017 midnight (GMT). We want speculative and dark flash stories with full plot. We ask that the stories take place on Earth. We are not looking for fanfiction, satire, erotica, paranormal romance, splatter or overly gory stories. The stories must be written in English.

Only one entry per author. No simultaneous submissions allowed. All entries must be original and unpublished elsewhere, including your blog. We ask that the stories are at a minimum of 500 words, but no longer than 1500 words. Paste story in body of email and send to: ‘narjegerredaktor at gmail dot com’ and title the email with ‘Monster writing competition.’ Margret will read all the stories and select the winning story and to runners up.

The winning story will be published on Fox Spirit Books’ webpage. The winner also receives a copy of the three first monster volumes, plus a Fox Spirit Tote bag with awesome notebook and pen.

Story number two and three will also be published on Fox Spirit Books’ webpage plus win notebook and pen.

If any questions, contact Margret on the email address above.

Starfang Launch Day

And it’s a space opera so we can make rocket jokes! Now count with me 5.4..3..2..1..Blastoff! 

Is a clan captain going to sacrifice everything for her clan? Tasked to kill Yeung Leung by her parents, powerful rival clan leader of the Amber Eyes, Captain Francesca Min Yue sets out across the galaxy to hunt her prey, only to be thrown into a web of political intrigue spreading across the stars. Is Yeung Leung collaborating with the reptilian shishini and playing a bigger game with the galaxy as a price? Is Francesca’s clan at stake? Welcome to Starfang: Rise of the Clan, where merchants and starship captains are also wolves.

“Wolves should not be in space, but here we were, a clan of wolves and merchants. Instead of the preserved forests of New Earth and Noah’s Ark, we were in ships of steel and armor, reading data scans and commanding officers on the bridge. Wolves within the uniform of merchants and mercenaries, human seeming, claws and teeth sheathed.”

– Captain Francesca Ming Yue, of the warship Starfang.

Welcome to Starfang, a space opera with werewolves, politics and intrigue.

 

Joyce Chng is a Singaporean writer and we are pleased to be publishing Starfang is its full glory, complete with gorgeous cover art by Rhiannon Rasmussen-Silverstein. Joyce also writes as J. Damask

This book was previously available as a serial on our website but we think it’s well worth getting a copy for your shelves. 

Aunty Fox Reads…. quite a bit really

I have been asked about books. Not the ones we publish, but what I buy outside of Fox Spirit and specifically what other small presses I look to for my reading material.

I went for quite a long time since starting FS without reading much outside of it, then I changed jobs. Just over six months ago I found myself with a commute by train and it has been heaven. So let’s start with a list of books I have read and enjoyed since August and the reasons I read them.

A note before I start, every one of these books was excellent and I would recommend them all so assume high stars all round. I am bad at reading books that don’t draw me in quickly.

books delicious books

13 Minutes by Sarah Pinborough – I know Sarah a little and have read her work before, so was happy to buy and read her recent releases, confident I would enjoy them.
The Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho – Zen did a story for us which was superb. I like to support writers who have supported us with their stories by buying their books, add to which, I really like reading all the writers we work with so it’s a low risk strategy.
Burning Embers by James Bennett – James is a friend, a Fox Spirit writer and a fantastic story teller. No brainer.
Sparrow Falling by Gaie Sebold – I loved Gaie’s earlier novels, I nearly died of squee when she did a story for us so obviously I had to have this.
The Tiger and the Wolf by Adrian Tchaikovsky – Adrian is a fantastic writer and again, has worked with FS.
Alice by Christina Henry – The original Alice always struck me as darker than people think, I was intrigued. I was also looking for interesting novels by women.
Lost Girl by Adam Nevill – Apt 16 terrified me, Adam is a great writer and a lovely man, we must try and weedle a story from him one day.
Wolf in the Attic by Paul Kearney – this one just looked interesting and Paul’s name is one of those where I am always a bit, have we met? Or have I just come across his name so many times I think we have met?
How to be Dull by Basil Morley Esq – Basil Morely is actually K.A. Laity who writes and edits for FS among others and never fails to entertain me.
The Red Tree By Caitlin Kearnan – Picked this up years ago because it looked interesting, and it languished on the shelf. I thought I would give it a try as part of my bid to make my reading more diverse and I was rewarded richly.
Geekerella by Ashley Poston – recommended and indeed supplied by a publicist friend who knows what I like
Escapology by Ren Warom – Ren is amazing, which I know because we published her novella so obviously I had to read this.
How to be a Woman by Caitlin Moran – Rare occasion where I actually got around to the book group choice but a fantastic book that has set me off collecting up more feminist non fic.
Killer of Enemies by Joseph Bruchac – Part of my personal challenge to be more diverse in my reading. Joseph is a Native American writer and I loved the sound of this particular book. It’s great btw.
Nemesis by Agatha Christie – I love Christie, I love this story, charity shop comfort read.
Clockwork Heart by Dru Paliassotti – Bought this forever ago, and it appealed when I did a shelf search.
Miss Peregrine’s home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Briggs– enjoyed the film but was curious as a friend who loves the books was very cross about the changes.
Love across a Broken Map by The Whole Kahini – A friend was involved in editing and producing this and so I had great confidence in it being excellent. It was.
Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough – see previous Pinborough. Also one of the main characters is called Adele, how could I resist?
The Red Queen by Christina Henry – Sequel to Alice which I loved.
The Ocean at the end of the Lane by Neil Gaiman – again it’s been on the shelf a while, but I have read a number of Gaiman’s books over the years and had no doubt I would enjoy it. 
The Stars and Legion by Kameron Hurley – Read God’s War as a BFS judge, loved it, read the next one, love Kameron’s fiction and will just keep buying and reading them.

 

Books I am dipping into

They do the Same things Differently Here by Rob Shearman – Shearman is an incredible short story writer and possibly the loveliest man alive.
Nasty Women by various – Saw a lot about this and with the world as it is it felt like a must read.
Frazzled by Ruby Wax – Because I am basically.
The Good Immigrant edited by Nikesh Shukla – Part of my efforts to challenge my reading habits. Enjoying this greatly.

So you will start to see a pattern.

I like to support writers I know, especially ones I have worked with or who I enjoy chatting with on online of F2F, which is helped by the fact that I am confident I will enjoy their work.

I buy from small presses and indie authors a lot at events, it’s not well represented here but I have a stack of books I have read or want to read from the likes of Grimbold, Kristell ink, Newcon and others both past and present. Things I look for in small presses tend to be that people running them I know share some of my tastes or values, or writers in common as that is a good sign I will enjoy the stuff they put out. Some of the presses I love, like Boo and Jurassic sadly closed, which I talk about at length in the Sisyphus post, so I won’t go back over it here. Not all indie presses are so small of course, Angry Robot and Titan, along with Abaddon and Solaris often make their way onto my shelves, I recently discovered Quirk and will be going back there again. Then there are specialists, like 404Ink and Dhalia who offer something more specific but from time to time overlap with my genre preferences or just hit my needs in the moment and who are doing high quality work. There are lots I haven’t mentioned but browse the dealer room at any genre con and you are surrounded by people I would buy from. 

At bookstores I have a system. Check for new books by people I know/like already either F2F or from reading their work. Then browse for writers that expand my reading, so at the moment looking for books by non white writers is a big part of my store search technique for or openly LGBTQIA writers, writers of colour or non fiction books. Finally, anything that just looks interesting or a bit different (harder than it sounds tbh). I have been known to purchase books for their covers, or indeed because of the cover artist.

Starfang : Rise of the Clan

We are delighted to announce that the next release from Fox Spirit will be Joyce Chng’s ‘Starfang : Rise of the Clan’.

We ran this as a serial a couple of years ago but it’s coming out soon as a complete novel. Werewolves in space!!

Cover art by Rhiannon Rasmussen-Silverstein

Opening Paragraphs of Starfang

‘Wolves should not be in space, but here we were, a clan of wolves and merchants. Instead of the preserved forests of New Earth and Noah’s Ark, we were in ships of steel and armour, reading data scans and commanding officers on the bridge. Wolves within the uniform of merchants and mercenaries, human seeming, claws and teeth sheathed.

Our genes kept us apart from the homo sapiens race. Some merchant clans tried to spread the rumour that we were the product of genetic engineering, a pact made between the secretive flesh engineers and our clan progenitors, in exchange for sacred information we didn’t know and care about. Some rumours were more far-fetched, bordering on the mythical and mystical and the alien, alleging raptor-like shishini or grey-tinged jukka involvement.’

 

Singaporean, but with a global outlook, Joyce Chng write science fiction and fantasy, YA and urban fantasy. Her fiction has appeared in theApex Book of World SF IIWe See A Different FrontierVisibility FictionCrossed Genres and Bards & Sages, to name a few. Her urban fantasy novels are written under her pseudonym, J. Damask (which she will tell you is a play on her Chinese name).

 

The Curse of the Mouse and Minotaur

The virgins have been sacrificed, the sage burnt the incense lit and the libations poured.

I am delighted to announce that having done everything except raise the mummy (more luck than judgement tbh), we are finally releasing The Tales of the Mouse and Minotaur, the third and final volume of our Bushy Tales.

This series started with Tales of the Nun & Dragon which is the book that started Fox Spirit and it is the conclusion of our original project. As always a mixture of genres, with humour and darker stuff featuring greek myths and rodents, sometimes both. 

Stories from K.T. Davies, Chloe Yates, James Bennett, Nerine Dorman, Jay Faulkner, Sarah Cawkwell, Pat Kelleher, C C D Leijenaar , Joan De La Haye, Andrew Reid, Ben Stewart, Catherine Hill, Jan Siegel and T.J. Everley 

Not The Fox News: Nostalgia, Escapism and The Overton Window

So I’ve been thinking a lot about nostalgia recently, and how it connects to both escapism and the Overton Window.

There are jokes this month I SWEAR.

First off, nostalgia! It’s what was for dinner when you were a kid! You seem to remember!

We always look at the past through rose tinted glasses, even the parts of it which were less the best days of our lives and more the days of our lives we just had to GET.THROUGH. Things were easier in the past. TV was better. Adulting is hard. We didn’t used to be tired all the time.

At least two of those things are true but those Rose-tinted glasses are not twenty-twenty. Yes, I had more free time when I was 16. I also had dial up internet access, VHS video tapes and there was a single pizza joint within 30 miles of my house. We focus on the stuff that’s easy and fun because it was easy and fun. We don’t think, a lot of the time, about the awful stuff. Just the day to day drudge, that sense we sometimes get of these just being the weeks we have to get through to reach the next bit that’s good. Kate Bush once sang ‘Just being alive, it can really hurt’. She was right. Also being alive can often be really REALLY irritating and while I choose to believe that was in early drafts of the song, I feel the version she went with scanned better.

So nostalgia is an understandable reaction, especially in 2017: Year of The White Hot Garbage Fires Running The Western World. And that’s what leads to escapism.

I am a huge fan of escapism. I am sane and healthy in no small part due to being able to escape into a movie for two hours at a time. If anyone ever tells you escapist fiction is inferior or unneeded yell at them to get off your fucking dragon and fly back to your ice cube castle because it’s a lifesaver and you need it. In fact, I’d say escapism is mandatory now more than ever. We are almost incapable of being free of extra signal and the temptation to always be connected is a very strong one. It’s also one that will first exhaust and then kill you. Don’t let it. Escape.

Where I have an issue is where the two combine. Nostalgia, especially in genre, is more endemic than grumpy chaps in hoods, short people on walking holidays to volcanoes and female and POC authors being erased from the collective narrative.

Actually not as much as that last one.

Seriously though, throw a rock and you’ll hit something bemoaning the lack of golden age rockets, or pulp storytelling or the sort of stories that were told when all this was nowt but fields. It’s perpetuated by the success of genre fiction’s biggest TV shows and movies too. Star Wars began in 1977. Doctor Who is over 50 years old. Star Trek was airing for the first time during the Vietnam War. The future really is yesterday or sometimes seems that way.

And that brings us to the Overton Window. Here’s how Wikipedia describe it:

The Overton window, also known as the window of discourse, is the range of ideas the public will accept. It is used by media pundits.[1][2] The term is derived from its originator, Joseph P. Overton (1960–2003),[3] a former vice president of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy,[4] who in his description of his window claimed that an idea’s political viability depends mainly on whether it falls within the window, rather than on politicians’ individual preferences.[5] According to Overton’s description, his window includes a range of policies considered politically acceptable in the current climate of public opinion, which a politician can recommend without being considered too extreme to gain or keep public office.

 

And here’s a picture:

Basically the Overton Window is what society will accept at any given time. It’s moving right now and not in a good direction but for the purposes of this column let’s focus on the model and not the data. Because that idea can also be applied to genre fiction. Specifically genre TV for the purposes of this article.

Substitute the Overton scale for a timeframe. Park that time frame over the Victorian Era at one end and the 1970s at the other. That’s the period that influences a remarkable amount of genre fiction, even now. That’s in part because we live in a world where decades old cultural behemoths stride the zeitgeist plains like merchandise friendly lobstrocities from the end of The Mist. But it’s also partially because that time frame is what the culture we’ve grown up in draws from. It’s like the old marching song ‘we’re here because we’re here because…’. We’ve always lived in the Castle. We’ve always drawn inspiration from and escaped to these time periods.

 

Wouldn’t it be great if that changed?

 

Wouldn’t it be great if we could shift that window forward in time and, in doing so, provide a new cultural foundation for a whole range of stories?

 

I can even give you an example. Life on Mars was beloved, and deservedly so, in the UK. It wa as fiercely smart, metaphysical and metafictional take on the traditional cop show. Chock full of stereotypes that it also interrogated and satirized, it was deeply weird, profoundly odd TV.

It’s sequel, Ashes to Ashes, was better.

Not just because the addition of a female lead changed the show’s perspective immeasurably. Not just because it provided answers to every question Life on Mars left dangling. It was better because the cultural frame of reference was noticeably different. Instead of yet another British TV show trapped in the dour, blocky cars and terrifying facial hair of the 1970s, it was catapulted forward into the 1980s.

I was a kid in the ’80s in one of the most rural areas possible. Vibrant, and often awful, music and fashion aside it still frequently SUCKED. Seeing that acknowledged in Ashes to Ashes, as well as the amazing music and clothes, made the show feel completely unique even as it was woven from very familiar cloth. It felt, as the series both opened and closed, that we’d made some progress, that things had been, like the man once said, pushed forwards.

That doesn’t happen enough. But it does happen some and increasingly in a manner that’s less nostalgic and far more interesting. Firefly’s influence on The Expanse and Killjoys is obvious for example but neither show is beholden to their predecessor. Killjoys uses a multi-ethnic future to explore both the ethics of being a professional killer and the future of human society. The Expanse puts the diversity equations that Firefly toyed with front and Centre and resolves them into one of the most interesting, well rounded casts in recent history. And of course Stranger Things drags that window forward, dumps it over the 1980s and does truly extraordinary things with that time period.

None of these shows do anything particularly new. All of them do what they do extraordinarily well precisely because of what they use to build those familiar stories. They take time periods or influences that sit in living memory and use them as a foundation to do something new and vital in every sense of the word. And right now, that’s absolutely what we need. Something new. A better place to escape into. One where the new future will be built.

There’s a lot of talk about the Golden Age of TV and it always seems to have just finished. I’d argue that by moving that cultural window we have the potential to keep it rolling. Stranger Things was both a massive success and good. The Expanse has just been renewed, as has fellow drawn-from-the-90s show 12 Monkeys. Their success has raised the viability and visibility off the genre which has led to edgier projects such as Falling Water, 3%, The Leftovers and The OA being commissioned. Odds are you don’t like at least two of those shows. That’s the point. They are the antithesis of nostalgia. Something new built from something new and they only exist because of the environment created by the shows built on the nostalgia window.

Nostalgia is fine. Escapism is a basic human right. But like everything else, the tenets of escapist fiction cannot stand still or it will stop being somewhere we escape to and become something we are trapped in. That’s why it’s great that Buffy is 20 years old and still means so much. Because in a few more years, that will become the basis for something new, the window will shift again and we’ll grow, as a culture, again. It won’t be pretty. It won’t be fast. But it will happen. It will be great. And it’ll have a badass theme tune.

Waxing Lyrical : On Covers

Waxing Lyrical is an occasional series of blog posts. If you are interested in submitting an article please contact adele@foxspirit.co.uk a small fee is paid. 
The images are added by Aunty Fox.

Waxing Lyrical :On Covers by Tabby Stirling

Hello Authors!

My name is Tabby Stirling and I am a book-cover designer and author.  I’ve been asked to jot down a few ideas about how to make your cover really stand out and look ultra professional.  So here goes!

It is true that everyone can design a book cover.  But it is also true that not everyone can design a ‘good’ cover?

What do I mean by ‘good’.  Well, of course, it is very subjective but I always try to design a cover that would sit well on a major bookshop’s shelf.   A design where font and graphics work together to demonstrate the themes of the book and something about the author too.  Where colour balances with everything and a few risks are taken in the spirit of artistic endeavor.

I don’t believe that you have to have been to Art school to get it right but an ‘eye’ is very useful and that, much like the ‘voice’ in writing, cannot be taught (in my opinion).

So how can you design a cover that will be the envy of your friends and appear professional and creative?

Here are a few tips that I’ve discovered during my time as a designer.

FONT

 

There are a rich variety of free fonts that are accessible to the designer so be bold and don’t just stick to the fonts that come with Word and I have put a couple of links down the bottom to start you off.

However, fonts can make or break a cover and just because you love the swirling, medieval capitals sprawling across the cover of your historical romance – it doesn’t mean they work.  

DESIGN PRINCIPLES

A good idea is to remember the old adage about women’s fashion.  You can show off your legs or cleavage but never both at the same time after a certain age.

This is also true of design.  If you want 1000-volt cover you can achieve this by using graphics that ‘pop’ with a plain font and colours that balance.

Experiment with graphic placing – sometimes a slightly off-centre graphic can distribute menace much better than those Horror Fonts that are great on a 40’s film poster but not much else.

Less is more.  Please go with your instincts.  Being bold doesn’t mean that you have to have outrageous fonts, colour and graphics simultaneously.  Experiment with colour and font. Always back away from something you are not quite sure of.  And don’t ever feel that something isn’t quite bright enough without the hot pink graphics (especially if it is a book on chemical engineering).

COLOUR

 

Probably the trickiest one to handle, at least for me.  I love colour and often find myself  cavorting with highly inappropriate pantone colours for long periods of times.  It’s good to experiment, this is how we achieve the final result, but don’t let your experiments get the better of you.  One of the easiest ways to spot an amateur cover is the colour scheme used (or not). 

Great roaring oceans of colour, spewing like a Finnish volcano is not always a positive thing.  Think about how it will be perceived by others.  Try to become less self-indulgent about what you like and what you think will sell. 

LASTLY

Be prepared to put time and effort into your design.  A full book-cover  may take me 12 hours just for the initial mock up before it goes back to the client.  And then the inevitable to and fro where ideas are discussed and the design begins to come to life.  This is one of my favourite bits – being creative with the client. 

What I start with is invariably nothing like the final, approved design and it can be frustrating at times.

I think it is important to treat the author with great respect because writing a book is no easy thing and their ‘baby’ deserves attention. 

However, I would not be doing my job if I didn’t gently point out an idea that I don’t think would work.  I will always try it, if the client insists, because book cover design is a collaboration and a journey.  A quite magical thing really. 

I hope this has been helpful.  Please feel free to email me with any questions – my portfolio can be found at tabathadesigns.tumblr.com  but not all my work is there by a long shot.

Tabby J

Free Fonts

www.fontsquirrel.com

www.dafont.com

Graphics Programmes

Adobe Indesign  (Paid)

Pic Monkey  (free)