Not The Fox News: The Good News In The Bad News

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Markus Schreiber/AP/REX/Shutterstock (6975532f)
SJ Clarkson Director SJ Clarkson attends a photo-call for the movie Toast at the International Film Festival Berlinale in Berlin on
Germany Berlinale, Berlin, Germany

SJ Clarkson is about to have a very good year. You don’t know their name, odds are but believe me you’ll have seen some of Clarkson’s work. She’s directed for everything from Life on Mars to The Defenders and is one of the never ending stream of excellent female directors who drive the US TV drama industry along. Clarkson’s work, most notably on the first two episodes of Jessica Jones, is known for being clean, character-centric and elegant. She’s excellent and when it was announced last year she’d be helming Star Trek 4 it was a pleasure to see her get the slot, and to see the franchise’s directorial blinkers finally be lifted It was also confidently announced that Chris Hemsworth would be returning as Kirk’s dad. Most people instantly assumed it was time for the Mirror universe but I figured time travel and some sort of Quantum Leap situation.

Regardless it’s a moot point now as Pine and Hemsworth were caught up in a contract dispute with the studio that ended with them leaving the table. Now, Clarkson has left the project to direct the pilot of the upcoming Game of Thrones prequel and serve as executive producer for the series. Star Trek 4 appears to have been indefinitely shelved as a result.

And that’s brilliant news, for basically everyone, here’s why.

Clarkson first off. I wasn’t kidding about the legions of female directors keeping US TV afloat, there are dozens of them and they’re all brilliant and underappreciated and underpaid. Sandra Oh’s gag at the Golden Globes this year about ‘FIRST MAN!’ being the default choice for directors and a movie about Neil Armstrong is funny, and sad, because its true. So any time someone makes it over the fence, as Clarkson has done here, I’m delighted. GoT: 90210  or whatever the Hell it’s going to be called is the definition of a prestige gig and there must be a ton of confidence in her for her to be put in place. Deservedly so too.

Then there’s Game of Thrones itself. The world’s angriest Ren Fair is the largest TV show on the planet by a considerable margin and, now it has finally overtaken the books, has been having visibly more fun season by season. However, it’s also got a justifiably shitty reputation for how it deals with female staff. And characters for that matter. This is a great breakdown of the show’s massive fondness for ladymurder season by season but weirdly the horrific statistic isn’t the big number, it’s the small one. In the entirety of its run the show has had 3 women on the writing and directing staff.

3.

In 73 episodes.

With none either writing or directing for the final season.

On its own, that’s a hilariously shitty metric. Placed against the show’s cheerful willingness to use rape the way some people use punctuation marks, it’s disgusting. The largest show on Earth has employed three whole entire women in its biggest roles. That’s an unforgivable failure, if absolutely nothing else, of leading by example. But it does give you a starting position to row back from and, seven YEARS LATE, that’s exactly what the production office is starting to do by hiring Clarkson.

(As an aside, Mo Ryan should be your go to for this sort of thing on Twitter. One of the best entertainment journalists on the planet.)

But what of Star Trek? Well, it’s good news for that too.

The Kelvinverse movies get a lot of hate and the vast majority of it is undeserved. The original Star Trek is great, everything in Into Darkness that isn’t Khan being whitewashed is fun and Beyond is a legitimate love letter to the franchise. In fact, Beyond is a perfect capstone for these movies for all sorts of reasons. Also THIS IS STILL THE BEST THING. It gives Kirk the test he’s always needed and ties the present of this universe to the past it shares with the core timeline. It also sets up an ending that’s elegant, could absolutely stand a sequel or two but is in no way incomplete without them. And can stand toe to toe with the ending of The Undiscovered Country and The Voyage Home, where they get the 1701-A and the music swells and I become a human avatar of ugly crying.

But most importantly, bringing the Kelvinverse into land here salutes the cast members who are no longer with us. Don’t get me wrong, part of me would love to see a fourth movie with Jaylah sitting next to Sulu. But the rest of me is quite happy with that role being filled by Anton Yelchin’s instantly likable take on Chekov, off-screen and quietly, enthusiastically immortal.

Besides, Trek’s far more at home on bookshelves and the small screen now.  The astonishing work consistently being done by novelists like James Swallow and Doctor Una McCorrmack has continued to expand the core timeline. Meanwhile, the launch of Discovery last year, the imminent second season as well as the new Picard show and recently announced pair of animated series all speak to a new found dedication to Trek on TV.

Tellingly, the existence of The Orville does the same thing.  While the show is still very Seth MacFarlane’s bad days on its bad days, the rest of it is a fascinating look at established Trek tropes through new lenses. It is to Star Trek what Scrubs is to ER, a profoundly affectionate and respectful riff playing all the right notes, just in a different order. That’s why the the people who cite it as the ‘true Star Trek’ because it doesn’t let politics get in the way mystify me so much. Not just because they’ve presumably never seen Star Trek before but perhapsnot The Orville either. Social issues are at the core of both of them. It’s just sometimes on The Orville, there’s a punchline as well. Regardless, it’s existence and success speaks to the strength of Star Trek as a small screen concept, whether it’s branded as Star Trek or not.

So like I say, this is one of those rare occasions where a project falling through is good news. Clarkson has a great new job, Game of Thrones gets to take the NO GURLS ALOUD notice off the front door of the production office and the Kelvinverse gets the ending it deserves. Plus Trek as a concept gets to grow in new ways. Seek out new life and new civilizations. Perhaps even, boldly go?

Seriously though this is great news all round. Congratulations everyone. Now, who’s working on that Chief Miles O’Brien show? Take your time, I’ll wait. And turn up the beats and the shouting, yeah?

 

When Alasdair Stuart is not hosting PseudoPod and Escape Pod, or running Escape Artists Inc., he’s professionally enthusiastic about genre fiction on the Internet at places like Tor.com, Barnes & Noble, The Guardian, Uncanny Magazine, SciFi Now and MyMBuzz. He’s an ENie-nominated tabletop RPG writer for his work on Doctor Who: Adventures In Time And Space. His other RPG writing includes Star Trek, The Laundry Files, Primeval, Victoriana, All Flesh Must Be Eaten, N.E.W. and Chill, meaning he’s got a playbook for any variety of invasion you can name.  He also makes ketchup sometimes and can bake the HELL out of focaccia. Read about his ongoing culinary adventures, as well as a whole lot of pop culture enthusiasm in his weekly newsletter, The Full Lid, published every Friday around 5pm.

He lives in the UK with the love of his life and their ever expanding herd of microphones. Follow him on Twitter as @AlasdairStuart, or at his blog, The Man of Words.

Monster Blog – by Teresa P. Mira de Echeverría

SOUTHERN MONSTERS

by Teresa P. Mira de Echeverría

About fifteen years ago, a group of paleontologists made a discovery (just one of many that often take place in Argentine territory) that caught my attention. It was the fossil of a mosasaur, a marine animal that lived on this planet seventy million years ago. The name that the Argentine paleontologists gave to that fossil and the place where they’d found it really impressed me.

It is common that the denomination of a dinosaur or other prehistoric animal is based on the name of the region where it was discovered or after its discoverer. However, this mosasaur, this particular species, received a different name: Lakumasaurus antarcticus.

Yes, the specimen had been discovered in the southernmost place on Earth and bore the name of a mythological animal.

I loved the idea of a dinosaur with the name of a mythical spirit belonging to the Yámana culture, the original inhabitants of Tierra del Fuego and a large number of islands that mark the end of the American continent. “The end of the world”, as Jules Verne called that region … except for Antarctica.

That animal had lived on a very different Earth. What today is composed entirely of perennial ice at that time was a tropical, fertile and warm land. A landscape gone millions of years ago that could well have been another world.

When I was still studying astrophysics (later I decided to change my career and got my PhD in philosophy), I used to spend many hours at the Museum of Natural Sciences of La Plata (which is inside the campus). And every day I used to admire the replicas of the prehistoric animals that had lived on a planet very different from mine and, even so, the same one.

When I heard the news of the discovery of Lakumasaurus antarcticus I was already studying philosophy, in Buenos Aires. I could not help but to join the memories of my hours with those ancestral and gigantic bones with the myths that I was investigating at the time for my thesis. Yámana myths among many others. And the myth of Lakuma, the Spirit of the Waters, especially.

I felt that many things in my life were being reconnected by de magic of a very distant creature and place.

When, a few months ago, I was asked to write a story about a South American monster, I had no doubt about what it would be. It would have been impossible to speak of another monster that was not Lakuma: a “monster” that, at the same time, is mythical and scientific (indirectly, of course). And a monster that, far from being “terrible” to me, is deeply evocative.

After years of studying astrophysics and visiting the dinosaur room of the museum, after a PhD in philosophy and research, one day I decided to dedicate myself completely to my passion: writing. It seemed that I had always been jumping from one island of reality to another, just as the Yámanas had lived moving from one south island to another in search of food and dreams.

As a writer, Lakuma became a symbol of my life, of what it was and what it is, of worlds as different as the Cretaceous Earth and the Earth of the present … or as Mars, Jupiter or the space between asteroids. A symbol of the possibility of living completely different experiences and, from a certain point of view, all of them “in solidarity” with each other.

Thus my story was born, one that unites very different times, that interweaves mythical and factual realities, and that ultimately seeks to portray the importance of dreaming and creating “better worlds” (as the writer or the artist does) in the midst of a society that constantly attacks human dignity (a society that often considers its members an statistic).

There was a time when there were not in the South Pole, as there are today, miles and miles of ice as vast and deep as the geological abysses. A time where those lands exuded a green and exuberant vegetation. Days in which immense fusiform reptiles dominated the life and death of its warm seas, as if they were the spirit of its waters.

For millions of years, day after day, this was so. And if there had been humans at that time, they would never have hesitated to consider those landscapes and that life as “inevitable” or “eternal”. But now we know that was not the case.

Probably (hopefully) there will be a future in which humans will populate the Solar System and beyond as if we had always belonged to space. And surely there will also be those who will think of that reality as something “eternal” and “immutable”.

If science fiction is the literary form that announces change (all change), it is also the literary form par excellence that announces the possibility of the different, of the other. The non-immutability.

In our human history, monsters have always been “the Others”, the different ones, those who do not conform, those who demand to be respected for who they are.

Science fiction talks about monsters to be able to talk about the different in a symbolic way and show the need for that difference. The beauty of the monster.

Society loves the status quo, of course, but life shouts with all its strength that change is not only necessary but inevitable. The “monsters” exist, but they are not what people should fear.

We are all monsters as we seek our originality and we separate ourselves from “the establishment”.

Lakuma is my monster, the symbol of what adapts to the sway of the times (just like its body adapts to the waves of the sea), but also of what is capable of anchoring itself to the ideals of a better world (ideals dreamed and put into practice, like those of the Yámana shamans).

And what are those dreams that give me roots but also wings? Those that imply that everything can and should change, but that it is necessary to work so that this change is for the better. Those of a world in which we see the end of inequality between genders, the freedom to be what we are and want to be (and yes, I speak of the right to be LGBTIQ +), and where there is a true human brotherhood (beyond of cultures, socioeconomical differences, skin colors, countries of origin, capacities, etc.).

The Lakumasaurus antarcticus teaches us that nothing is permanent. That the kings of the sea, like the retrograde and inhuman ideas that are dominant in an era, must evolve or perish within the framework of the long marathon of time.

Lakuma, the mythological being of a vanished people, teaches us that the best of a human group, the noblest of what the human being can be, remains beyond themselves in those ideas that prove to be “monsters” before the dead and cold eyes of ossified prejudices.

In my case, these monsters allowed me to see myself (accepting myself as the “good monster” I want to be, without the fear of being different), and to think, to dream and to create worlds where the landscape is wide enough to shelter each and every one of the people (wonderfully different from each other, as we are all) who want to read my stories.

Monster Blog – Gustavo Bondoni

The Story Behind My Choice of Gualicho

A quick google search will inform anyone interested that a Gualicho (or Gualichu) is a spirit from the mythology of the original people of Patagonia.  It’s the kind of evil spirit that every mythology has, and was often used to explain away every misfortune that befell the tribe. 

Now, I’ll be honest: I knew very little about the Mapuche people—the native population of parts of Patagonia—until very recently.  Argentina is a mainly European country and native populations represent a tiny percentage of the overall population.  The history and traditions of the original inhabitants of the country are only superficially studied in school.  When one encounters a person of evident native ethnicity, most assume that they are more recent immigrants from Bolivia or Paraguay.

These attitudes are the result of initial wars of conquest followed by a few centuries of assimilation—unlike in other areas, the original sparse native populations succumbed mainly to intermarriage with the much more numerous Europeans.

 Nevertheless, I’ve heard the word “gualicho” countless times in everyday conversation.  It has lost its original meaning to become synonymous of any kind of magic spell cast by a witch or shaman.

But it survived.

Somewhere in the wars of subjugation of a people who were far from most centers of commerce and population, one concept burned so strongly that not only was it understood by the conquerors, but it survived and entered the dominant Spanish language to live on in the vernacular.

Two hundred years later, an Argentine writer of mainly Italian ancestry (only a quarter of my forebears were from Spain) sat down to choose a traditional monster from South America. 

My research identified dozens of candidates, from legendary monsters to native gods and from spirits only a handful of indigenous people ever believed in to entities that frightened the superstitious colonists hundreds of years later.

The process ended as soon as I found the Gualicho.  I became fascinated with the fact that a word could morph and survive one of history’s truly definitive wars of annihilation.  It must have had some powerful mojo.

As a term that reaches us through an essentially oral evolution, the etymology is pretty confused, but in my imagination, I can see the Mapuches repeating it again and again every time they came into contact with those Europeans who, through firearms or disease, had become so intimately connected to the unimaginable evil befalling their people.

There was nothing else you could call them, was there?  Those pale-faced interlopers must have seemed to be perfect stand-ins for the evil spirit that haunted their people.

It must have been a powerful spirit indeed, powerful enough to find a way to survive.  But surely a spirit strong enough to be familiar to someone unconnected to the history of the region two hundred years after the people whose legends it had sprung from were gone would find a way to abide, to plan for the time when it could vanquish not only its original victims but also the new interlopers…

But who would it fight?  Would it attempt to ally itself with the Mapuche against the new enemy?  Would it continue to torment the Mapuche’s descendants? 

The answer, once I understood the spirit, was obvious.  This thing would fight agains everyone.

But how?

Well, to get that answer, you’ll have to read the story.

American Monsters – Christopher Kastensmidt

The Many Faces of Kalobo

Hello all! I’m Christopher Kastensmidt, author of The Elephant and Macaw Banner series and “A Parlous Battle”, a story in that series published in American Monsters.

The Kalobo (or “Capelobo”, as it’s known in Brazil) is a relatively unknown legend in Brazil. Dozens of people have told me over the years that they’d never heard of it before the Brazilian publication of “A Parlous Battle” way back in 2011. In fact, if you Google images with “Capelobo”, the most popular images of the creature are those related to my series. I’d like to share a few of those here.

Since it was one of the first creatures that appeared in the stories, it was also one of my first art commissions. Brazilian artist Paulo Ítalo produced two drawings of the creature for me. I worked very closely with him on these and they are the closest to my own personal concept of the creature:

After that, I allowed other artists liberty to create their own interpretations, without any interference from me. U.S. artist Jay Beard created two very different pieces inspired by the creature:

When Czech magazine Pevnost published the story, the artist Jan Štěpánek drew this amazing illustration:

Finally, one of the most well-known illustrations is this gorgeous painting by SulaMoon:

Many thanks to Margrét Helgadóttir for the chance to introduce this creature to readers around the world in the American Monsters anthology. For those looking for more stories from The Elephant and Macaw Banner, the complete series is now available in one volume from Guardbridge Books.

American Monsters – Mariela Pappas

The duality of human nature is one of my favourite topics to write about, that’s why when I was invited to be a part of American Monsters, I immediately though about the lobisón; the Guaraní myth of the seventh male son becoming a wolf when the moon is full.

The word werewolf is often associated with fur, claws and fangs. Monsters howling at the moon. But besides all the horror movies clichés, the myth itself speaks about something else; the horrifying idea that someone you’ve met could turn into someone (or something!) completely different in just a split second. The fear that rationality can evaporate and unleash that inner, wild part of ourselves that we try so hard to control. No matter how civilised, rational and well-adjusted a modern man can be, he is still at the mercy of the moon phases. At the mercy of his own hidden nature.

But who benefits with supressing that wild part of the human soul? Despite some concessions must be made in order to coexist with others in a healthy society, institutions like the Catholic Church have gone too far in what repression concerns.

In my short story The Eyes of a Wolf, an orphan named Estanislao is forcefully adopted by a priest in a middle-of-nowhere town in Entre Rios, Argentina. Even though the boy is doomed to become a werewolf, the priest tries to raise him a good catholic. Just like the Church tries to bury that dark part of ourselves where there is lust and desire. But at the same time, the priest fails to bury his own shameful desires for the boy.

And when another young man named Tobias arrives town and Estanislao falls in love with him, there is simply no way to keep that wild, shadow side of him restrained. Tobias, like the full moon in the werewolf myth, is the trigger for Estanislao to reveal his true nature. Just like in the cheap horror movies I love so much the wolf transformation scene carries broken bones, growing fur and painful changes, confronting your own true self involves pain. And exposing that true self can be even more painful, even dangerous in a society that is becoming more and more conservative and fearful of everything that exceeds the norm. In Estanislao’s case, he has love waiting for him on the other side. The love that accepts us for who we truly are, and knows nothing about race, class or gender.

In times like these, when the Church aligns with the right-wing governments in an alarming manner (especially in Latin America) and true horrors like racism, misogyny and hate crimes against LGBT people flood the news, maybe we should look deeper into our inner wolf. Love and nurture ourselves during our painful transformations, and break free from what is keeping us bound, tamed, afraid. Find in the strength and the passion of our beasts, the freedom to be ourselves. And the courage to fight for that freedom before is taken away from us.

Not The Fox News: Turn The Page, Do The Thing

Good news everyone! I’m reliably informed by people in other time zones that 2018 does in fact end! Seriously, folks, the 1st of January 2019 has been confirmed as happening in several other places. It’s okay. It’s okay. This miserable hellscape of a year is about to be gone and the slate is wiped clean, the clock reset to zero.

I want to talk about that and why sometimes it can be frightening.

Like Ford once said, time is an illusion, lunch time doubly so. The end of a year is an entirely arbitrary temporal hinge, a left turn in our passage through linear time that it’s super easy to put a whole lot of unneeded pressure on. It’s why most fitness related new year’s resolutions don’t work, because when it comes down to it it’s only the top of the year for a little bit of time. 2019 only has that New Time smell for so long.

That can put extraordinary pressure on you, and by you, I mean us. But the thing I’m realizing this year is that pressure can be exerted two different ways. If you had a great 2018 part of you may be terrified that 2019 will be worse. If you had a terrible 2018 part of you will be terrified that 2019 will be worse. The House always wins. And the House is a Bastard.

We put ourselves under strain at this time of year even before you take into account the radical life reboots that are already rippling around the globe. Going from late nights back to early mornings if you’ve had time off, the sudden gaping hole in your day where the Quality Street used to be, the total absence of any version of A Christmas Carol. It’s always a little frightening to deal with, you always find yourself shrugging the coat of responsibility back on and wondering if it always had the mittens tied to the cuffs.

(it did. And they look awesome.)

And then you decide to run three times a week, finish a novel, write a novella and plan something else.

Here’s the thing. Do that. But add something else in too.

Downtime.

My partner and I have, between us, somewhere in the region of four jobs. She’s a lawyer, we run the podcasting company together, I’m an RPG designer and journalist, she’s an editor. We fight crime. And it really is, I am a blessed man who will go to his grave astounded at what his life is in the very best of ways.

But the one thing we absolutely stink at is downtime. And today we did something about that. Two nights off a week, one full day of weekend when we aren’t working. I promise you we will break those restrictions but I also promise we won’t do it every time. Because you need downtime and if you don’t take it, your body will take it for you. And I say this at the tail end of my second cold in three weeks, so believe me, I know whereof I hack up phlegm.

The New Year attracts us because it’s a new start. The New Year frightens us because it’s a blank page and the responsibility of what to put on there can bend you in two. Don’t let it. Or at least don’t let it for long. This is a new start. It’s one that’s unique to you and owned by everyone. It’s one arriving at the end of two of the darkest years in recent memory and with more, odds are, on the way. But that isn’t going to stop you and it’s not going to stop me either.

Write the words. Do the thing. Show it to others. Share your joy. Like the lady said, let’s get a shift on. Tomorrow is a new start and tomorrow’s on the way. I’ll see you in there.

 

When Alasdair Stuart is not hosting PseudoPod and Escape Pod, or running Escape Artists Inc., he’s professionally enthusiastic about genre fiction on the Internet at places like Tor.com, Barnes & Noble, The Guardian, Uncanny Magazine, SciFi Now and MyMBuzz. He’s an ENie-nominated tabletop RPG writer for his work on Doctor Who: Adventures In Time And Space. His other RPG writing includes Star Trek, The Laundry Files, Primeval, Victoriana, All Flesh Must Be Eaten, N.E.W. and Chill, meaning he’s got a playbook for any variety of invasion you can name.  He also makes ketchup sometimes and can bake the HELL out of focaccia. Read about his ongoing culinary adventures, as well as a whole lot of pop culture enthusiasm in his weekly newsletter, The Full Lid, published every Friday around 5pm.

He lives in the UK with the love of his life and their ever expanding herd of microphones. Follow him on Twitter as @AlasdairStuart, or at his blog, The Man of Words.

American Monsters – Editors blog

Editing American Monsters
By Margrét Helgadóttir

Five years ago, we demanded that something had to be done. We strongly felt that the monsters of this world are watered down and overused in the popular media and that only a few of them dominate the scene—vampires, werewolves, ghouls, demons, zombies—all from Western popular culture. We wanted to give the monsters a renaissance as real and scary monsters, a comeback so to speak, and we wanted to bring all of the world’s glorious and terrifying creatures out in the open.

On December 24th, Fox Spirit Books released the fifth volume of Fox Spirit Books of Monsters, a seven-volume series with titles published annually from 2014 to 2020. The series is like a grand world tour exploring old myths, folklore and monster tales continent by continent. The genres used span from horror, fantasy, science fiction, post-apocalyptic, YA, crime, and the more literary. The journey started in Europe in 2014 before it continued to Africa, Asia and the Pacific region. This year we stop in Central and South America.

In the latest book we present you tales of beasties and monstrous terror from Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia, Peru, Equador, Uruguay and Guatamala, told by fourteen authors who are either from, have lived in, or have another strong connection to this wide stretching region. This book is the first of two volumes covering the American continent. In American Monsters part two— out in November 2019—we will visit North America including Mexico and the Caribbean.

As editor for these books, it is always very exciting to start researching for a new volume and the most nerve-racking part is when I try to find contributors. I wish to give my thanks to the editors and authors who helped me out with the research and pointed me in direction of other talented authors. I regret to tell you that one challenge turned out to be too difficult to overcome; the search for authors able and willing to contribute from Central America has been extremely difficult. It is thus with sorrow that we can’t give you more stories from authors in Central America. I feel however that we are still bringing you enough stories to give you a small hint about the immense folklore and diversity of monster tales in the southern parts of America.
Language has been a barrier. Some of the authors in Central and South America don’t write fiction or even communicate in English, and I quickly realised that we needed to have several stories translated if I should be able to present this part of the American continent seriously. I am thus very pleased to tell you that we have five translated stories in this volume, four of these are translated (from Spanish) exclusively for this book. Thanks so much for the excellent translations from Fabio Fernandes and Mercedes Guilloux.

It’s been a steep learning curve. This is the first time I have been editing translated stories but even if the process on the translated stories stretched over more time than the other stories, we managed somehow—even though not all the authors communicate in English—to edit and polish these stories too. I have learned very much from this process, something I will use the next time I need translations.

So, language has been a demanding but a fun challenge. In general, I am struck by how language itself reveals an identity in storytelling. There is a certain poetic undercurrent in the voice in many of the stories, both translated and not. The stories feel dark yet oddly personal and honest. Also, I believe that the choice of words and sentence structuring give the tales a peculiar but mesmerising flow—you have no choice but to read them to the end without pause. I have been reflecting on this while editing: maybe it is the identity, the cultural identity of this geographical region that shines through? I don’t know but I hope you will like it as much as I have.

And then it’s the monsters. Humans of all times, regardless of geography, culture or demography, have created stories and myths about beasts and monsters. You can find traces of them in old texts and even in old sea maps. Monster folklore is passed down from generation to generation, and these stories are important in traditions and customs. The tales serve not only as entertainment, but often teach a lesson as well.

Some monsters are universal. You will always find the shape-shifters, the flesh-eating walking dead and the great monsters of the lakes and sea. But what is important to one culture might not be so vital to another.

In the Fox Spirit Books of Monsters I don’t just wish to scare people with monsters they have probably never heard of, but I also want the books to give their readers an insight into the continents we cover. The stories in American Monsters part one are dark and complex, several are a mixture of magic, realism and science. Most of the stories are tales about contemporary life set against a historical blend of the Catholic Church’s influence, indigenous questions, invasion and colonialism, dictatorships, and political struggles. Quite many of the stories tell tales about forbidden taboos or the struggle of minorities, be it indigenous, gender or sexuality.

The monsters portraited is also a complex mix. We have many shapeshifters, more than in previous volumes. There are beasts and spirits too. Then there are the weirder and mysterious creatures and creations, such as light, waves, mountains or even islands—all dark stories that will leave you in utter terror.

I wish to give my thanks to Adele Wearing at Fox Spirit Books and her wonderful crew, and all the artists and authors for making such a lovely book. I hope you will like this volume as much as I have while working on it. There are some monsters here I have truly fallen in love with, they are so hideous and horrible, they don’t sparkle or want to be our friend. They are the truest monsters. Enjoy!

Christmas Day! Enjoy a story on us.

SOOT

K.A. Laity

She hated London.

The grind, the grime, the grit—and that wasn’t even mentioning the basement flat. Lucky, she had been lucky to get it, everyone said so at the lab—and for the price! It was unheard of. Chance connections: her aunty Barbara who knew this woman from secretarial school back in the day—back when they had things like secretarial schools. This strange woman Mrs Cuttle who only rented to people after examining her crystal ball for the truth. The ball was not clear like glass but a smoky quartz—or so she said. What did Diana know about things like that? Hooey. That’s what her dad would have said but he was five years gone. With mum gone this summer in the slow free-fall of cancer, she was alone alone alone in this big city. Her first Christmas in London and she was on her own.

Diana was so low on Christmas spirit that when the fella in the shop around the corner wished her ‘Happy holidays!’ she very nearly snarled, ‘Bah humbug!’ Yet she found reading Dickens soothing. Not that one of course. She picked up a copy of Dombey and Son in Skoob Books, and read it on the bus, enjoying the characters’ suffering. Unmoved by little Dombey’s pathetic death scene, Diana did find some spark of interest in Alice’s plans for revenge. Revenge was an emotion she could nourish. Pity there was no one to aim it towards. You can’t kill death.

The habitual need to invest in holiday cheer would die hard though. Diana stirred herself to buy some baubles to hang around the room to try to make it look festive, though it looked more bedraggled than ever. The light was wrong. Perhaps it was the angle. The windows were small and because it was a basement flat you only saw feet, endless feet. Maybe it was the strobing effect: there really ought to be a warning for the flat like they have at the start of films: May cause seizures.

 

Foot parade until suddenly there weren’t any feet because it was the end of the working day. Single pedestrians wandered. It was worse because you heard each step distinctly on the pavement. There weren’t many: it was a cul de sac and there was no pub down the street to draw them, not even a café to get latté-drinkers. Diana found it mesmerising: the tap of shoes out of sight, getting louder, passing by, then fading away. She couldn’t tune it out. The only street light was a distance away so depending upon which direction the person walked from their elongated shadow would either fall before you saw the feet or linger afterward like some kind of ghostly presence.

Then there was the coal stove with its ash pit drawer. Mrs Cuttle made much of it as a feature of the flat. ‘Antique and very valuable! Why if I sold them off I could probably buy the house next door, too. Incredible iron works!’

‘So why don’t you?’ Diana asked, mystified.

Mrs Cuttle stared at her. ‘What would I do with two houses?’ Rapacious London capitalism seemed to have passed entirely by her notice.

The coal stove didn’t supply the heat, thank goodness. There was an entirely modern and efficient boiler set with hot water and heat so the little flat was snug and warm. Too warm at times, so she would open the doors on the coal stove. There was a little cool air that came in where once the coal burned or the ashes fell. It made Diana feel a little less suffocated by the subterranean rooms.

She must have been dreaming that night, of course. Or it was the lingering effects of her mother’s death. Grief ebbs and flows unpredictably: a tempest one moment, a puddle splash the next. Diana awoke to the sound of her mother’s laboured breathing and then wondered where she was. There was no hospital beep. As she stared off into the strange gloom she saw eyes glow golden.

Not her mother’s eyes. She caught her breath and then stayed silent. Some childhood memory persisted, warning that silence and stillness would protect you from whatever assailed you in the dark. For a few moments Diana clutched the covers of her bed and listened. The whole of London seemed to have disappeared in the night and there was only she and the eyes that watched her.

Then a blink and they were gone.

Diana heard a clicking noise and then only her own breath and wondered if perhaps it, too had been a dream. She lay back down, intending to sleep, tossing and turning and checking her phone for the time every forty minutes or so until it was nearly time to get up and only then falling asleep. Her alarm jarred her awake with its jaunty steel drums far too soon.

The whole day she felt out of step. She went to the lab although Dr Abbott had shooed them away until after the first of the year. Diana did not need to be there. She could have been anywhere: in Bruges, in Bucharest, in Brigadoon. No one needed her. Her aunty Barbara invited her to come back home and share the holidays with the endless brood of sons, daughters, children and grandchildren and the other foundlings that made their way to her door, their sad stories told and retold until they lost all meaning.

Diana did not want to be one of the foundlings. Better to be alone. Mrs Cuttle didn’t believe that. She invited Diana up for a rousing cuppa or to make gingerbread or toffee. Sometimes Diana found it too exhausting to fight against the constant cheer and submitted, drinking the milky tea and eating whatever was proffered, allowing the stream of running commentary to run over her like a cool breeze. Mrs Cuttle seldom required a response, so secure was she in her knowledge of the world. Whether she was talking about the man who came to dinner and surprised her with his scheme for renewable energy that required only a small investment on her part, or delineating the gremlins known to affect the baking of breads in the winter months and how to allow for their influence without altering the taste of the loaf, Mrs Cuttle was up to the challenge.

‘You don’t mind the stove?’ she said abruptly, startling Diana with a direct question.

‘Mind it? No.’ Why should she mind it?

‘Generally its good to have a source of iron in the place as it keeps ‘em away.’

Diana was confused. ‘Keeps who away?’

‘Why, the Gentry of course!’ Mrs Cuttle was off and running on the topic with such enthusiasm and a sure sense that her listener shared its familiarity, that it was some time before Diana figured out that by the ‘gentry’ the older woman did not mean people in DeBrett’s but those in the Sidhe.

 

Away with the fairies suddenly made so much sense: Mrs Cuttle and her crystal ball that wasn’t and her peculiar habits. Lucky, she was, lucky to get this flat, Diana reminded herself when she finally managed to extricate herself from the too-warm kitchen, the gingerbread and the elderberry wine—‘just a little, for your health!’

If her mum had lived it might have all been very funny to tell her about over their long phone calls but there was no one who might have been amused by it. Nursing someone over a long illness tended to cut down on your social life. Aunty Barbara remained steadfast but few others did. Mum’s bridge club sent baskets. But the day to day trudge made Diana wish for the umpteenth time that she had not been an only child.

‘You should get a pet!’ Mrs Cuttle had cried earlier. ‘What a comfort Fifi is to me.’ She turned to pat the old dog on the chair where it lay snoring. This indeterminate ball of fur woke long enough to snort, as it was perpetually short of breath, and fart noisily before lapsing back into its murmuring dreams. Diana blanched. She could not imagine anything less comforting than that smelly creature.

Yet lying wide-eyed in the dark later she wondered if there were not something in the idea. Without the lab to go to her days hung long and limp, waiting to be filled with something. Even Dickens was letting her down. Her eyes glazed over poor Florence’s fretting. She kept losing her place. Maybe she ought to have picked up something cheerier—Wodehouse or Heyer—but she could not bear the thought of such sparkling happy folk. Perhaps something fun but with a little suffering too: Trollope? Pym.

Contemplating possible novels finally allowed her to drift into troubled sleep until she woke with a start of fear. She could not breathe. A heavy weight lay on her chest. I’m dying. It’s a heart attack. A sliver of light shot across the room to illuminate the black shape that hovered upon her chest.

Diana cried out and the black shadow floated up and away in silence, disappearing into the darkness or perhaps the coal stove. For a moment all she could hear was the tell-tale beat of her heart—assuring her it was very much working—and her own ragged breath.

Was it a dream? The shaft of light had hit the shape with an uncanny accuracy. The room was dark once more. Diana took a deep breath and then shot out of bed, crossing the room in a bound to close the door to the coal stove, not daring to look inside. She had to kneel down to reach the ash pit door, so she dared a look inside. Golden eyes glowed back at her and she yelped, slamming the door shut.

She hopped back into the bed, tucking all her limbs in safely. A childhood belief that inside the covers was inviolable stuck with her. I’ll never get back to sleep now! Yet in what seemed like a twinkling Diana blinked awake in dappled sunlight interrupted by the legs of the morning commuters and shoppers.

Throwing back the covers she gave a cry of dismay: her hands, the blanket, the sheets all bore the blackness of coal, as if the creature had bled grim death upon them. Shaking Diana hastened to wash it off her hands. The coal dust swirled down the sink as if it were heading back to the pit.

What happened? Maybe it was a dream. Maybe she had imagined it all and had gone to the stove to slam the door—which was certainly closed now, both of them. There had been no weight, no golden eyes, no weird creature from her imagination and certainly no ray of light from the window with pinpointed accuracy like the lantern in ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’ of course.

Diana sat down at the little table in the kitchen area and rubbed her face. Some coal dust appeared on her fingers so she went back to the sink and looked at the mirror she normally avoided and grimaced. There was black on her neck and chin, doubtless from the bedding. She would have to do some laundry today.

Moving like an automaton, Diana stripped the bed and stuffed everything into the little washing machine, throwing her nightshirt in, too. I really need to get out. She took a quick shower, shivering because the washer monopolised the hot water. Throwing on random clothes, Diana shoved Dombey in her bag and headed out the door, locking it behind her and wondering if she was locking anything in there.

For a moment she stood on the pavement uncertain, allowing people to stream around her like a current. It was Christmas Eve. Where could she go? Maybe the British Museum was open at least for a little while. It gave purpose to her stride, yet when she got there it was shut. Diana wandered through some of the nearby shops, pretending to browse. Her eyes glazed, staring through windows as if to find answers—or at least to resist thinking a little longer.

In the window of Atlantic, her gaze fell upon a vintage book promising to reveal the secrets of the fairy folk and her heart leapt up. But then Diana caught herself and turned away from the colourful shop window. Are you mad?

After a beat, she thought what if I am?

Diana wandered along intending to buy something if only as a distraction. You need food, she scolded remembering nothing much would be open the next day. Diana treated herself to the upscale grocery store and even bought a bottle of wine and some cheese before losing the will to shop any more. As she came out the back entrance she spied that Skoob was indeed open that day and descended with gratitude into its depths. Books would never lose their allure. Definitely Trollope or Pym—funny but sad—or perhaps a Brontë to remind her what feelings were.

Diana reached up for a Pym on the new arrivals shelf and instead grabbed a book on the history of fairy folk. She set it down as if it were on fire. Her vision clouded with black soot for a moment, then she fled the shop.

‘You look like you’ve seen a ghost,’ Mrs Cuttle cried as they passed in the foyer. Diana tried to smile though she could feel only her teeth. ‘Come round tomorrow midday for sherry and mince pies, do. It’s a tradition here!’

Diana escaped to her flat. The winter light shone weakly, catching stray motes in the air. She put the groceries in the wee fridge and got the bedclothes out of the washer. Would they have time to dry before the night? No matter. She could curl up in the comfy chair. Maybe she would sleep better.

Fishing Dombey from the depths of her bag, Diana sat down to read. Five minutes later she still stared at the same page. Maybe some television. She reached for the remote and clicked it on.

‘…about the fairy tradition in Cornwall.’ Click.

This is madness. When you start connecting coincidence you might as well get your own crystal ball. Diana stood up, took a deep breath and strode over to the coal stove. One, two, the doors were open. Fine: there was nothing there. Let’s be really sure.

Diana grabbed her phone and tapped on the torch app. The light glared with a savage fury. The iron guts of the stove were black with old fire and burnt coal. The chimney pipe disappeared into the house above. Diana knelt to look through the ash pit. Like the stove above it the walls were black from the past burnings and a layer of ash coated the bottom. It seemed to be angled down. Where did the ashes go? Perhaps there was an exit door.

In any case, there was nothing in the stove.

All at once Diana felt exhausted. She washed the ash off her hands, turned on the television to some quiz show and sat in the comfy chair until she nodded off. When she woke it was dark. Everything felt wrong.

It took an effort but she got up, sliced some cheese and put it on a plate, poured a glass of wine and sat down again. There was some brash holiday show on now. Diana chewed the food and sipped the wine and tasted nothing. She considered another glass of wine but fell asleep before she could fetch one.

Something brushed her leg. She gave a startled yelp and her hand clanked against the empty plate on the little table. A documentary about some kind of factory was playing on the television. Her hand reached for the remote and snapped it off.

There was something in the room. She could hear it over her own breath. Or she imagined it. Had she left the stove open? Diana couldn’t remember. Her eye adjusted to the light. The drying sheets loomed in the darkness like an abandoned circus tent. Then they billowed as something moved behind them.

Fury more than fear propelled her from the chair. Diana snatched at the sheets and the rack clattered to the tiles. Out of the corner of her eye some vague black shape slipped away into the darkness leaving her all alone.

Diana wrapped the sheets around her like a shroud and curled up on the bed, willing herself to sleep.

She woke at dawn, exhausted, and made the bed properly. Her mother’s edict: if you make your bed you begin the day right. Happy Christmas, mum. I miss you. She sat down on the bed and cried. When she had cried enough, Diana forced herself to get up, shower and dress. After a few cups of tea she had the will to face the day.

Unable to manage reading, she watched mindless holiday television programmes until it was time to go to Mrs Cuttle’s little do. There were only a few people there yet the hubbub suggested a party three times the size. Music blared from tinny speakers whilst the television competed for attention. Everyone talked at the same time.

‘You made it! Have some sherry. Watch out for the mistletoe. There are mince pies on the table and chocolate and some kind of nut thing that Mr Cosmo brought.’ Mrs Cuttle had already downed a lot of sherry. Everyone had. Diana wondered how they would manage dinner later. Perhaps they didn’t.

She was the youngest there by decades. Miss Lastima, the Spanish boarder as Mrs Cuttle always called her, was probably nearest in age. She looked like a model, taut and impeccable, probably fifty though she looked a careful forty in her Prada jacket.

‘I think something’s got into the flue of the coal stove,’ Diana shouted to Mrs Cuttle when she could think of nothing else to do or say to these people.

She only nodded and bellowed back, ‘Mr Cosmo hears singing in his.’

‘Singing? In his coal stove?’

‘Yes, or maybe it was the bathroom vent. It’s not you, is it? No, I suppose not. Too far up.’ Mr Cosmo had the flat at the top of the flat with a view of Tavistock Park she claimed, though Diana suspected that was only if you were to hang out the window an squint a bit.

Mr Cosmo was conferring with three men in hats who looked as if they might be part of some secret government organization or perhaps some remnant of the Golden Dawn still haunting Bloomsbury. Diana decided it was not worth quizzing him on something so ephemeral.

‘I have a message for you,’ Mrs Cuttle said absently, as if it had just come to her then, though she added that it had come via the crystal ball. ‘Carpe diem, the spirits say. You must seize the day!’

Pithy as a mass-produced fortune cookie. ‘Oh yes, I see.’

‘Ah ha, a Sagittarian no doubt!’ Mrs Cuttle wandered off to pour more sherry all around and Diana helped herself to some cheese sticks and sausages before slipping out to head down to her flat.

The desultory baubles looked especially bereft now. There was no tree, there were no presents. Just Dombey waiting on the kitchen table. She could not stomach Florence just now. Diana poured a glass of wine and watched television until her head nodded again. Too early to go to bed, the winter light protested weakly. I’m the boss of me, Diana reflected. She put on an oversized t-shirt and got in bed.

She woke once more in a panic, a heavy weight on her chest. I’m dying!

With an effort, she shouted, ‘Get away!’ In a flash the black shadow leapt off her chest and bolted for the coal stove. Diana hopped out of bed and flicked on the lights. Black soot covered her chest and left a trail across the floor. She grabbed her phone and put on the torch. She drew a breath and crouched down to look into the stove.

It was a cat.

For a moment she just stared open-mouthed while its bright eyes took her in with panic. Then she laughed so loud that Mr Cosmo must have heard it through his sherry stupor four floors away. The black cat tried to flatten itself to the floor of the stove then started scrabbling up the flue.

‘No, come back!’ Diana cried. Thinking quickly she grabbed a bowl and poured the last of her cream into it. Cats liked cream or else cartoons lied. She put it in the stove near the door. ‘Here puss, puss, puss.’

Nothing.

Diana sat there for an hour, alternately calling the cat and babbling about all the stupid things she had imagined, the coincidences that she had weaved into magic and fairy tales. Finally she saw the green eyes peek out at her. Slowly the cat dropped from the flue and stared at her. Its eyes dropped to the bowl and then flashed back at Diana.

‘It’s all right now. The scary part is over,’ Diana said and cried because that’s what her mum always said after the Ghost of Christmas Past had gone.

The cat crept up to the bowl and started to lick at the cream. Droplets appeared at the end of the black whiskers. ‘I’m sorry if I scared you. I thought you were a nightmare. Maybe I should call you Nightmare. Or Night.’ Diana laughed. The cat seemed less spooked now.

It took another half hour to coax it out of the stove, but when it came out—warily sweeping the flat with its gaze—it crossed over to where Diana sat cross-legged. ‘Curiosity always, eh?’ She held out a hand to see if it would allow her. The cat sniffed her fingers and then brushed lightly against the hand. Diana ran one finger along its spine. It came away black.

‘If you don’t belong to someone already, I think I’ll call you Soot,’ Diana said with a laugh as the cat circled around her, fearless now.

Neither of them noticed the pair of golden eyes that blinked twice from the ash pit before disappearing into the black.

~THE END~

American Monsters Part 1 – Live!

Nope, not a political statement, but we are delighted to announce the first part of American Monsters, covering south and central America, with several stories in translation, is here!

Please don’t be put off by amazon ‘not in stock’ marker, it’s a quirk of using Ingram and the book is available here now.

Here be Monsters!

They lurk and crawl and fly in the shadows of our mind. We know them from ancient legends and tales whispered by the campfire. They hide under the dark bridge, in the deep woods or out on the great plains, in the drizzling rain forest or out on the foggy moor, beneath the surface, under your bed. They don’t sparkle or have any interest in us except to tear us apart. They are the monsters! Forgotten, unknown, misunderstood, overused, watered down. We adore them still. We want to give them a renaissance, to reestablish their dark reputation, to give them a comeback, let the world know of their real terror.

American Monsters pt 1 is the fifth volume in a coffee table book series from Fox Spirit Books with dark fiction and art about monsters from around the world, and the first of two volumes covering the American continent.

“A wonderfully eclectic and compelling monster anthology that offers fresh, and often subversive perspectives on the weird, the dark, and the scary. The stories in American Monsters bristle with fangs and claws, introducing us to creatures that are formidable and terrifying, often ancient, and often dangerously capricious. Prowling the outskirts of society and the fringes of reality, many of these monsters live among the poor and the oppressed, and end up using their otherworldly powers to frighten, devour, or punish the oppressors. This is visceral, gripping, and satisfying horror with monsters that will get under your skin to haunt your dreams and your nightmares.”

Maria Haskins, writer and translator with speculative fiction in numerous anthologies and magazines. Blogs about science fiction and fantasy for Barnes and Noble.

Countdown to Christmas Day 24

It’s Christmas Eve, so we are just going to remind you what has been covered so far this month.

December 1st – We gave a quick run down of some of the Fox Spirit titles available that we would define as winter reading.

December 2nd – Sarah Daniels gave us short reviews of five beautiful children’s books for Christmas.

December 3rd – Anna Thomas does short reviews of her five favourites by Japanese Writers, read in 2018

December 4th – Adrian Reynolds reviews The Motion of Light in Water

December 5th – We check out Children of Artifice and it’s author Danie Ware as they get the spotlight on a new writing blog.

December 6th – Michelle Fry does five favourites in brief including the Fabulous Juliet McKenna.

December 7th – Penny Jones reviews Priya Sharma’s new collection of horror shorts.

December 8th – Five top December reads in brief from Lynn E. O’Connacht.

December 9th – Penny Jones returns to take a look at Tracy Fahey’s latest collection.

December 10th  – Highlights James Bennett, regular skulk member and author of the Ben Garston series. 

December 11th – Fave Five Anthologies by Jenny Barber, who has edited some of ours.

December 12th – Carol Goodwin reviews The Enclave by Anne Charnock

December 13th – S. Naomi Scott takes a look at Fox Spirit title Emily Nation by Alec McQuay

December 14th – Carol Goodwin reviews a collection of short Shadow of the Apt tales by the lovely Adrian Tchaikovsky

December 15th – Kim Bannerman reviews Mycophilia: Revelations from the Weird World of Mushrooms, by Eugenia Bone

December 16th – Carol Goodwin reviews Jan Edwards’ Defender, book two of Hive Mind

December 17th – Jenny Barber reviews Into the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant

December 18th – Review by S. Naomi Scott of Kindred by Octavia Butler

December 19th – Penny Jones looks at Laura Mauro’s Naming the Bones

December 20th – Spotlight on K. Bannerman with Damien Seaman

December 21st – Part one of Penny Jones’ examination of tradition.

December 22nd – Part two of Penny Jones’ examination of traditions

December 23rd – Part three of Penny Jones’ examination of traditions

And on CHRISTMAS DAY we have a fabulous short story by K.A. Laity so pop by and read Soot.

Just a reminder that for every post not written by Aunty Fox, we are donating £5 to http://www.booktrust.org/ to help give some kids a happier new year, so thank you to everyone who took part in this years Christmas Countdown. 

We hope those of you visiting the blog found something new to enjoy too.