Category Archives: Fantasy Fiction

The Magic of Swamps

My wife and I just got back from Carolina Beach. We spent Tuesday hiking through Carolina Beach State Park, a 761-acre wildlife sanctuary in southeastern North Carolina bordered by the Intracoastal Waterway and the mighty Cape Fear River.
We need more places like this. After driving nearly 200 miles from Charlotte down I-74, much of which is garrisoned by countless installations of Burger This and Taco That, we were ready for something that wasn’t standardized and sterile.

The Swamp Trail was alive with surprises. Here’s the Lily Pond, which was overflowing with dark green lily pads and dotted with white blossoms, all floating in unpolluted water. The air around the Lily Pond smelled deliciously earthy and rich.

Not far away, large swaths of the pine forest still showed signs of this summer’s controlled burn. This process helps clear away old and diseased vegetation, thereby freeing up nutrients for the soil and new life, such as this little guy:

If this newborn pine reminds you of the young Groot, you’re not the only one.

Swamps reaffirm the astonishing resilience and adaptability of life. The Wilmington, North Carolina area is the only place in the world where you can find Venus Flytraps. Both Pitcher Plants and Venus Flytraps evolved in an environment lacking the proteins and nitrogen needed to sustain them, so these plants started feeding on meat. We didn’t come across any Venus Flytraps on our hike, but here are some Pitcher Plants we saw waiting for their usual customers, including flies, small frogs, and even birds:

Carnivorous plants. Pretty wild, huh?

Guess you could say swamps are to our everyday environment what science fiction and fantasy are to our routine reading. In the swamp, you’re face-to-face with nature’s more fantastical creatures, creatures whose vitality and outlandish attributes force you to pay attention to them. Swamps are the incubators of wild imaginings and unexpected beauty. My story “Hunting Ground,” which was included in the Unbound II: Changed Worlds anthology, was not only set in a swamp but inspired by my boyhood ramblings in local marshes. Did carnivorous plants get a starring role? Well, their (could be) cousins did …

Getting outdoors, and hiking in particular, help you sharpen your senses. And don’t forget how experiencing nature lets you encounter beauty and rediscover peace of mind, which can lead you to becoming a more balanced person and a better writer.

The Internet Speculative Fiction Database

I’ve recently been included in The Internet Speculative Fiction Database.

The ISFDB is a publication of the World Heritage Encyclopedia. It provides bibliographic information on past and present authors of science fiction, fantasy, and horror. Listings include author pseudonyms, series, awards, and cover art. The publication’s goal is to improve the coverage of speculative fiction to 100%, and they have earned a reputation for being fastidious about nailing down the facts. ISFDB won the 2005 Wooden Rocket Award for the Best Directory Site.

Cory Doctorow wrote in Science Fiction Age: “The best all-round guide to things science-fictional remains the Internet Speculative Fiction Database.”

I’m honored. My thanks to the ISFDB volunteers who included my works.

KZine Now In Paperback!

KZine is a British publication specializing in science fiction, horror, fantasy, and crime stories for Kindle. It’s now also offering paperback editions on Amazon, including issue eight, which features one of my stories.

The reviewer at Wizzley Magazine wrote that he “was impressed by the high quality of all eight stories” in that issue, and had this to say about my contribution, “Spell Check”:

“Jordan has accidentally created a creature that has invaded her house. She turns to an old customer, Floyd, for help. This is a quaint magical story, a little bit sad and a little bit scary.”

And here’s a 5-star Amazon reader review:

“Mike’s story is great; very clever, well-described, and quite creative, about an unwitting conjurer. Then I read the whole issue. Really impressed with the quality of the stories here. I liked them all, but also especially remember “Pickman’s Motel.” I’m an HP Lovecraft fan, and this story did a great job building on Lovecraft’s ‘Pickman’s Model.’ “

Sakura: Intellectual Property

SakuraZachary Hill had just finished the rough draft of Sakura when he suddenly died. Zach’s friends and family were naturally devastated. But two of his friends, both authors, did what only writers could do for Zach and his widow, and that was to polish the manuscript and get it published. Another friend and author, Larry Correia, is getting the word out to sci-fi/fantasy fans:

Zach was a very good friend of mine and one of the all around coolest people I’ve ever met. He finished the rough draft of this novel three days before he died suddenly from a pulmonary embolism.

Paul Genesse and Patrick Tracy are talented authors, who were also friends of Zach’s, and they vowed to finish his last book and get it out there because Zach thought it was the best thing he’d ever written.

No matter how good you are, rough drafts still need lots of work, and working with Zach’s brother Josh, and a great team of artists (it is beautifully illustrated) and editors, they did a fantastic job. They’ve received no compensation for this. It was done as a labor of love, and all the royalties go to Zach’s widow, Makenzie.

What a beautiful thing to do. Please pass the word about Sakura: Intellectual Property to other writers and readers.

Christopher Tolkien, last of the Inklings

Christopher Tolkien Hannah Long gives a well-deserved tribute to J.R.R. Tolkien’s son and literary heir Christopher in the latest Weekly Standard. Long’s introduction to Christopher Tolkien’s life work includes insights into what makes the elder Tolkien’s stories so enchanting and timeless.

The junior Tolkien’s task was not easy: He had to organize, polish, and edit 70 boxes of manuscripts his father left behind, many stuffed with scraps of poetry, notes, and incomplete short stories. But out of that chaos, Christopher Tolkien harvested 25 works the world would probably never have seen otherwise, including The Silmarillion and a prose translation of Beowulf. The latest, The Fall of Gondolin, saw publication this August.

Tolkien’s works continue to nourish a reading public hungry for the myths that Tolkien made new, accessible, and meaningful. Tolkien and his fellow Inklings were rebels who waged literary war against the bleak alienation and scientism of their age. As Long puts it in her article:

For the Inklings, the medium of fantasy restored—or rather revealed—the enchantment of a disenchanted world. It reinstated an understanding of the transcendent that had been lost in postwar alienation.

“The value of myth,” C.S. Lewis wrote in an essay defending The Lord of the Rings, “is that it takes all the things we know and restores to them the rich significance which has been hidden by ‘the veil of familiarity.’” In this, fantasy did precisely the opposite of what its critics alleged—it did not represent a flight from the real world but a return to it, an unveiling of it. A child, Lewis wrote, “does not despise real woods because he has read of enchanted woods,” but “the reading makes all real woods a little enchanted.”

And isn’t that what attracts us to fantasy fiction? Today, people find themselves in a blur of gadgets, images, and endless consumption that replaces, rather than enhances, human existence. The enduring appeal of the Inklings’ works, as with all good fantasy, is the astounding news that the enchanted dwells with us, that beauty and mystery surround and enrich us even when we’re too busy to notice.

The Pioneers of Pulp

Science Fiction and Fantasy, once despised by the creators of popular entertainment as well as literary scholars, have not only risen in the eyes of serious students of literature but among the general public. What accounts for this sea-change? We could point to the surprising success of both Star Trek (soft sci-fi) or Star Wars (sci-fan), but the origins of the near-dominance of sci-fi/fantasy in popular entertainment today goes back a little further, as this must-read from Open Culture argues:

Do we start with The Castle of Otranto, the first Gothic novel, which opened the door for such books as Dracula and Frankenstein? Or do we open with Edgar Allan Poe, whose macabre short stories and poems captivated the public’s imagination and inspired a million imitators? Maybe. But if we really want to know when the most populist, mass-market horror and fantasy began—the kind that inspired television shows from the Twilight Zone to the X-Files to Supernatural to The Walking Dead—we need to start with H.P. Lovecraft, and with the pulpy magazine that published his bizarre stories, Weird Tales.

I have to agree. Lovecraft’s the man!

Don’t miss the article’s treasure trove of links to the letters of H.P. Lovecraft, as well as links to classic editions of Weird Tales featuring stories by Lovecraft, Ray Bradbury, Dorothy Quick, Robert Bloch, and Theodor Sturgeon. What a great way to get ready for Halloween!

Peter Jackson’s Tribute to the heroes of The Great War

Peter Jackson, known for his movie adaptations of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, promises audiences they’ll experience the Great War as they’ve never seen it before in his latest film, They Shall Not Grow Old.

The teaser reveals an astounding technical achievement. Jackson has restored, colorized, and repaired hundreds of original films from World War One to show audiences what it was like to fight and die in that terrible conflict. By doing so, he’s made hundred-year-old images seem real and poignant to modern audiences.

I’ve searched numerous articles to see Peter Jackson’s thoughts on the making of this film, and what drove him to do it. I suspect, though I can’t confirm, that Jackson’s latest project grew from his research into the life and work of J.R.R. Tolkien. It was the shocking carnage at the Battle of the Somme, where Tolkien served as Battalion Signaling Officer of the Lancashire Fusiliers, that tormented and inspired the young scholar to capture in fiction the horror — and hope — he’d learned on the battlefield.

Tolkien’s way of making sense of what he’d gone through in WWI was to craft a tale that warned of the dehumanizing effect of technology while celebrating the courage and decency of ordinary people. That, I think, is the true power of fantastic fiction, which opens us to a realm of rediscovered and reimagined possibilities thought lost but still within our grasp.