Book Review: Upside Down: Inverted Tropes in Storytelling, edited by Jaym Gates and Monica Valentinelli

2 Feb


Tropes get a lot of bad press even as we crave them. People expect the Happily Ever After for a romantic comedy, but the fiftieth inevitable betrayal by the mentor in an action movie gets seen as being cliched. Movie after movie gets made, and makes box office, with a Chosen One, especially as an origin story, and at the same cry decry it as being more of the same. The website TV Tropes is a time suck, as one can get lost for hours following links on various tropes in movies, books and more, falling into a rabbit hole of storytelling conventions.

So what can be said that is new about tropes? How can they be used, subverted, and rearranged? Upside Down: Inverted Tropes in Storytelling, a diverse anthology and essay collection edited by Jaym Gates and Monica Valentinelli, sets out to do just that.


The book is divided, like Gaul, into three parts. In Part One, Inverting the Tropes, a selection of stories is presented, with a piece of poetry by Valya Dudycz Lupescu to kick off the section. Each of the stories inverts or subverts a particular trope, even while at the same time trying to tell a good story. In Part Two, the anthology gets under the hood of tropes and storytelling with a diverse set of essays on the use of tropes in genre. Part Three lifts the curtain and lists the tropes that were explored in Part I, briefly outlining the trope and offering commentary from the author of the story that trope is linked to as to how and why they picked that particular trope for their story.

I found reviewing the contents of each story without tipping one’s hand as to what trope is being used and subverted to be a rather difficult task that I have decided not to attempt. That would spoil half of the value in reading this collection. The collection and anthology itself did skew, in my reading of it, more toward the intellectual than for the simple pleasure of the fiction and essays within. I found my writer brain constantly engaged, trying to figure out what trope was at use, and how it was being subverted. This is not to say that stories like Mike Underwood’s “Can you tell me how to get to Paprika Place” or “Hamsa, Hamsa, Hamsa, Tfu, Tfu, Tfu”  by Alisa Schreibman were not entertaining, excellent stories that would be at home in many other venues. But I did keep looking for the man behind the curtain each and every story I read.

I think the anthology is most valuable for writerly types, those who are extremely interested in how stories work, the reused trope parts, and what can be done to avoid uninteresting repetition. More casual readers might be interested in the book if they want to take their first steps into another world. The contributors list, itself, is a valuable resource into the kinds of authors who are willing to not only engage with tropes in a new way, but they think about them, here and in other works of theirs. The book stands well as a signpost, and completely fulfills its mission.


On Loving Bad Boys: A Villanelle — Valya Dudycz Lupescu

Single, Singularity — John Hornor Jacobs

Lazzrus — Nisi Shawl

Seeking Truth — Elsa Sjunneson-Henry

Thwock — Michelle Muenzler

Can You Tell Me How to Get to Paprika Place? — Michael R. Underwood

Chosen — Anton Strout

The White Dragon — Alyssa Wong

Her Curse, How Gently It Comes Undone — Haralambi Markov

Burning Bright — Shanna Germain

Santa CIS (Episode 1: No Saint) — Alethea Kontis

Requiem for a Manic Pixie Dream — Katy Harrad & Greg Stolze

The Refrigerator in the Girlfriend — Adam-Troy Castro

The First Blood of Poppy Dupree — Delilah S. Dawson

Red Light — Sara M. Harvey

Until There Is Only Hunger — Michael Matheson

Super Duper Fly — Maurice Broaddus

Drafty as a Chain Mail Bikini — Kat Richardson

Swan Song — Michelle Lyons-McFarland

Those Who Leave — Michael Choi

Nouns of Nouns: A Mini Epic — Alex Shvartsman

Excess Light — Rahul Kanakia

The Origin of Terror — Sunil Patel

The Tangled Web — Ferrett Steinmetz

Hamsa, Hamsa, Hamsa, Tfu, Tfu, Tfu. — Alisa Schreibman

Real Women Are Dangerous — Rati Mehrotra



I’m Pretty Sure I’ve Read This Before … — Patrick Hester

Fractured Souls — Lucy A. Snyder

Into the Labyrinth: The Heroine’s Journey — A.C. Wise

Escaping the Hall of Mirrors — Victor Raymond

Tropes as Erasers: A Transgender Perspective — Keffy R.M. Kehrli



Afterword — Monica Valentinelli & Jaym Gates

Trope Definitions/Index of Tropes


Upside Down: Inverted Tropes in Storytelling
Edited by Jaym Gates and Monica Valentinelli
Apex Book Company, 2016

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