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. Continue reading
Bastian Balthazar Bux’s passion was books. If you’ve never spent whole afternoons with burning ears and rumpled hair, forgetting the world around you over a book, forgetting cold and hunger —
If you’ve never read secretly under the bedclothes with a flashlight, because your father or mother or some other well meaning person has switched off the lamp on the plausible ground that it was time to sleep because you had to get up so early — If you have never wept bitter tears because a wonderful story has come to an end and you must take your leave of the characters with whom you have shared so many adventures, whom you have loved and admired, for whom you have hoped and feared, and without whosecompany life seems empty and meaningless — If such things have not been part of your own experience, you probably won’t understand what Bastian did next.
— The Neverending Story, by Michael Ende
When I was 8 years old, my father handed me a book with a magical symbol on the cover, with text in red or green by turn, with a protagonist that for all intents and purposes was ME. I doubt I could ever adequately express what this book meant to me at that particular point in my life, nor in the subsequent years in which I read the book again and again, till the corners of the pages turned soft and the imprint on the cover became something you could only see in the right light at the right angle. I first met the characters of The Neverending Story when the movie was released in 1984. I was enraptured by every aspect of the film, but it was the book that truly captured me. The movie is a near perfect adaptation of the first half of the novel, but it misses some crucial elements that make this book a powerful masterpiece of Children’s fiction.
In the 1970s Brian Aldiss published a seminal anthology of SF stories. Called Galactic Empires, it was a two-volume set of over two dozen stories set in such realms, with authors ranging from Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov and Poul Anderson to A.E. Van Vogt and Clifford Simak. The age of the stories spanned from the 1940s to the 1970s, not only showing a wide range of themes and ideas revolving around Galactic Empires, their rises, heights and falls, but also showing the breadth of style changes in the genre over that period. It was not only a snapshot of the subgenre, right at the time that Star Wars was dominating the cinema and changing SF forever, but a look backward to the roots of the subgenre as well.
Now, in 2017, Neil Clarke has stepped into the very large shoes that Aldiss has left, and created his own anthology called Galactic Empires. Clarke’s collection of stories have the same remit as Aldiss’: To show the Galactic Empire, in all of its forms, and with a wide range of voices, styles and authors. Clarke’s choices all date from the 21st century. While this does mean that Clarke’s anthology misses the 1980s and ’90s, he does manage to capture more recent eras in glorious diversity. For all of how important the Aldiss anthology was and is, Aldiss’ general overlook of half of the SF field and having an entirely American/British viewpoint was a weakness in his anthology. Only one female author, Margaret St. Clair, was included in Aldiss’ two-volume collection. By comparison, out of the stories Clarke has gathered, nearly half are by women. Further, Clarke’s choices includes significant contributions from the likes of Yoon Ha Lee, Tobias Buckell, and Aliette de Bodard. Continue reading