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Uncanny Magazine – The First Issue

December 19, 2014

Uncanny Magazine, is the latest brainchild of veteran crowd-funders Lynne M. Thomas and Michael Damien Thomas. Former editors of Apex magazine and architects of the Hugo-winning People dig… series of non-fiction anthologies, the Thomases are so deeply embedded in the aspirational economy of genre culture that they could very well wind up serving as templates for the next generation of genre gatekeepers and social capitalists.

Uncanny is manifestly inspired by genre culture’s current commercial realities: Over the past ten years, the boundaries between genres have evaporated as the market for traditional science fiction has collapsed. No longer able to rely upon genre boundaries as means of filtering and marketing books, genre culture has taken its cues from social media and is now more likely to follow individual writers than specific types of story. The emerging nature of this reality also explains why most genre magazines retain science fictional names despite being mainly in the business of publishing over-written sentence fragments about magical people experiencing emotions. As an entirely new magazine, Uncanny had the option to step away from genre culture’s traditional aesthetic hierarchies in favour of a name and iconography that is better suited to the contemporary marketplace: “Uncanny” denotes horror while the space unicorn logo points to science fiction and fantasy as well as a willingness to take genre history, conventions and tradition with a pinch of salt.

As you might expect of a magazine built by social entrepreneurs to fit with current cultural realities, Uncanny tells us a good deal more about the people it is planning to publish than the stories those people will be writing.

 

The submission guidelines are two sentences long and cover both fiction and poetry:

 

We want intricate, experimental stories and poems with gorgeous prose, verve, and imagination that elicit strong emotions and challenge beliefs. Uncanny believes there’s still plenty of room in the genre for tales that make you feel.

 

The Kickstarter page includes photos of the people who have promised to appear in the magazine:

 

UC1

 

As well as making it clear that the editors of this magazine are very well connected, this approach to brand identity does reflect the fact that names seem to carry a lot more weight in genre culture than either genre or choice of subject matter. Few people aspire to writing about time-travel or zombie sex-play but writing in a magazine that publishes famous authors like Neil Gaiman and buzzy authors like Sofia Samatar? Now there’s a ladder worth climbing… and maybe donating money to them will ensure that your submissions are more charitably received? I suppose it can’t hurt…

Having breezed past its funding targets with relative ease, Uncanny’s first year will involve a massive six stories per month as well as poetry, interviews, podcasts and non-fiction articles. While the proportions may vary, these ingredients are now pretty much standard for all free online genre magazines. Podcasts are a recent addition to the template while the presence of poetry and non-fiction articles remains as puzzling as ever.

After more than ten years in the field, I have never once seen anyone discuss either a piece of genre poetry or an article that appeared in an online fiction magazine. Magazine support for genre poetry makes some sort of sense if you see it as a way of linking your magazine to authors who dabble in poetry (such as Neil Gaiman) but non-fiction articles often feel like an unnecessary homage to Gernsbackian science journalism, as though a genre magazine isn’t a proper magazine unless it contains the occasional article about space elevators.

True to form, the first issue’s non-fiction articles are mostly forgettable. The thank you note from the editors barely counts as non-fiction while the rambling but heartfelt essay by Sarah Kuhn about Sailor Moon and how pop culture makes her feel things lacks either the literary polish or the conceptual firepower to justify inclusion in a magazine. Blogs were invented for confessional outpourings about how someone couldn’t possibly live without the spiritual sustenance of popular culture and there’s nothing in Kuhn’s piece that elevates it above the thousands of identical pieces that are already scattered across the Internet.

Equally disappointing is Tansy Rayner Roberts’ piece about sex and science fiction. Anyone who has listened to the Galactic Suburbia podcast will know that ‘stories about love can so too be hard SF!’ is one of the author’ favoured saws but despite having had a number of years in which to mull the idea over, Rayner Roberts’ attempt to turn an off-hand rant into a serious piece of genre criticism feels under-researched, under-thought and poorly constructed. As someone who writes these types of essay quite a bit, I sympathise… there’s nothing worse than staring down the barrel of a deadline only to realise that you don’t necessarily have either the data or the theory to back up your bold opening claim and so you are forced to choose between finding something new to write about and trying to fudge the argument in the hope that nobody will notice. This is definitely an example of the latter: At a very basic level, an essay that poses a provocative theoretical question should provide a strong theoretical answer and not a list of disparate recommendations concluding with a request for books the author of the essay might like. ‘This feels thin… maybe if I ask for recommendations I can turn it into a think-piece? Yeah… that’ll do!’

The best article in the magazine was written by Christopher J. Garcia, a traditional fan-writer who is perhaps best known for publishing his holiday snaps as a PDF and calling the results a science fiction fanzine whilst denying such linguistic largesse to blogs about actual science fiction. Aside from being a real treasure trove of short science fiction films, Garcia’s piece is also a short and accessible piece that hangs from a very simple hook. In other words, it’s the type of piece you tend to find on Buzzfeed or IO9 but almost never in a traditional genre magazine. What better proof is there that genre magazines have no interest in actually being read?

The worst article in the magazine is also the funniest. Part of what we can only assume will be a recurring format, the editors brought together a group of fans to discuss Worldcon, how it compares to other types of con, and how it might be improved. Round-table discussions are an odd format that usually function best as a space in which people with radically different views can spark off each other and clear the air. However, rather than soliciting the opinions of people with extreme views, the editors of Uncanny got together a group of people who were too terrified to disagree with each other. The result is a hilariously timid roundtable discussion in which people try explain the awesomeness of Worldcon without offending anyone. This exchange perfectly captures the tone of the piece:

 

Uncanny: If you had the power to implement one specific improvement to Worldcon, what would it be?

Emma England: Given the discussion we’ve had so far, I don’t really feel comfortable suggesting one.

 

Well… I’m glad that someone has finally had the courage to stand up and say that they don’t feel comfortable standing up and saying anything! Next issue, let’s just have a bunch of people flinching and apologising to each other.

All snark aside, I recognise that genre non-fiction remains an incredibly tough editorial gig: Reviews sections are not only labour intensive but they also require the editors to maintain contacts with publishers and reviewers who can be trusted to deliver readable copy to a schedule. Also problematic is that honest reviewing must occasionally run contrary to prevailing PR winds and if you want to position your publication as a rung on the great aspirational ladder of Western civilisation then you want features that will harness the winds of PR, not protect against them. The reason that reviews are discussed in a way that most non-fiction articles seldom are is that publishers and writers work quite hard to make the release of certain books feel like events and when those events come to pass, reviews of the books feel timely enough to merit some attention. Move away from the PR bubble surrounding new releases and editors are forced to hunt for pieces that will organically capture the public imagination, something that is almost impossible in a publication with extended lead times. The alternate route is to solicit articles that can start conversations but that can be quite difficult to gage at a time when fear and indifference are causing the blogosphere to contract. For example, Strange Horizons recently published a suite of fascinating articles about the state of British Science Fiction but despite the quality of the insights meriting at least a BSFA nomination if not a 2015 Hugo nod, almost nobody took the time to comment on what was being said.

During my time in genre culture I have been a blogger, a reviewer, a non-fiction editor and a columnist but even I have begun to doubt whether anyone is interested in reading genre commentary or article-length criticism. There remains a huge appetite for publisher-lead hype, social media blood-letting, sentence-by-sentence analysis of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time and inspirational essays reminding people that women are allowed to write genre fiction but anything else struggles to find even the tiniest of audiences. Of course… if nobody is bothering to read your short fiction then a universal lack of interest in the non-fiction articles published around your short fiction isn’t likely to cause many sleepless nights. Most non-fiction articles function only to break up the home page and make a short fiction venue feel more traditionally magazine-y and, when judged according to this depressing yardstick, Uncanny’s non-fiction articles are entirely competent.

 

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Right… onto the fiction! With six new stories a month to deliver, Uncanny has wisely taken the decision to stagger its output in monthly increments. The November/December issue also featured a reprint of a Jay Lake story but I will limit my discussion to the new fiction alone.

 

 

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UC3

 

“If You Were a Tiger, I’d Have to Wear White” by Maria Dahvana Headley

Whimsical froth set in an alternate version of Hollywood’s Golden Age where (semi?) sentient animal stars enjoy many of the perks that we have come to associate with real world stars of that era. There isn’t much of a story here but the text is definitely atmospheric in a way that recalls both the squalor of Kenneth Anger’s Hollywood Babylon and the bad sex vibe of James Ellroy’s L.A. Quartet.

Towards the end of the story, Maria Dahvana Headley does try to engage critically with the concept of stardom and suggest that the old studio system treated its actors like performing animals but her ideas are too underdeveloped and her metaphors too on the nose for the story to have much impact.

I usually enjoy stories that present us with alternate histories of popular culture (I’m reminded in particular of Kim Newman’s take on the history of American horror cinema in Ellen Datlow’s Poe anthology) but this story seemed a lot less interested in developing a coherent or critical alternate history than it did in rehearsing the same shop-worn metaphorical Othering of male sexuality that underpins every sleazy vampire and werewolf novel published in the last ten years.

 

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UC7

 

“Presence” By Ken Liu

One of my more tedious rants about the state of contemporary science fiction is the lack of stories that engage directly with the world by using the trappings of fiction to help us to make sense of the change that surrounds us. Though far from perfect, Liu’s story is an attempt to do precisely that.

Set in a threadbare future where advanced robotics and telepresence software allow people to interact with distant places in real time using the Internet, the story revolves around a man who has left his family to begin a new life in a distant country. Upon hearing that his mother has had a stroke, the character’s first response is to abandon his job and return home but this would run contrary to the wishes of his mother who encouraged him to leave home and start a new life in the first place. Torn between two different forms of filial duty, the character uses the story’s technological conceit to square the circle and look after his ailing mother without abandoning the life she wanted him to pursue.

On one level, this is a story about immigration and the people who use social media to maintain connections to families they left behind in order to help support. On another level, this is a story about the death of a parent and a child’s need to do something for that ailing parent lest they be devoured by guilt.

Liu’s choice of subject matter is interesting but his execution leaves a lot to be desired: Thin on narrative and character, the weight of the story rests entirely on a rather old-fashioned middle section in which Liu explains why immigration poses challenges for dutiful children and why this technology might help them to resolve their difficulties. Liu’s decision to tell rather than show means that we grasp the immigrant’s plight on an intellectual rather than an emotional basis but while there is nothing wrong with embracing exposition and resting your story on the strength of its ideas, Liu refuses to develop either his technology or his social commentary to the point where they are substantial enough to support the story.

Liu’s lack of critical distance from the cultural phenomena in question is particularly regrettable as his willingness to dole out easy answers lends the story a rather consolatory tone. This stuck in my throat as I have some considerable experience of the guilt that follows the death of a parent… guilt is a corrosive emotion that leads people to do extraordinary things. I remember when my mother was dying she expressed a fondness for a particular kind of chocolate and my brother took it upon himself to buy entire carrier bags full of the stuff because he felt obliged to do *something* and buying chocolates was a *thing* that he could do. I can see how advanced robotics and telepresence software would allow people to do their own *thing* when life wouldn’t allow them to be with an ailing parent but I can also see how many people would spend the money on robots and luxury nursing homes and still torture themselves for not doing enough. Liu’s answer feels a little bit too straightforward to be credible and I regret his lack of critical distance from the ideal of the dutiful child. A little more madness and a little less acceptance would have made the story a lot more precise and a lot more powerful.

 

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UC4

 

“Late Nights at the Cap and Cane” by Max Gladstone

One of the reasons why I suspect that hardly anyone bothers to read short fiction anymore is that the types of story appearing in free online genre fiction magazines bear almost no resemblance to the types of story appearing in genre novels. While the economics of the publishing market mean that genre novels seldom ventures very far from traditional Portal Quest and Big Dumb Object narratives, these types of conventional genre story are increasingly absent from the world of genre short fiction.

In place of the narratives that have sold genre stories for generations, the online market for genre short fiction favours stories that invoke genre imagery as part of literary trajectories terminating in either a moment of deconstructive postmodern cleverness or an attempt at articulating a particular emotional state. Max Gladstone’s “Late Night at the Cap and Cane” offers a little from column A and a little from column B… with an emphasis on the little.

Set in a bar frequented by supervillains, the story revolves around an evil wizard who is hitting the bottle just that little bit too hard for comfort. Concerned for their colleague, the supervillains cluster round in an effort to console him after what they assume is another battle lost to the forces of good. However, as the story progresses, the wizard reveals that he didn’t lose his last confrontation… he won… and that thought terrifies him.

As the market for short fiction has shifted from genre stories to stories that use genre imagery, writers have learned to move further and further afield in search of new images. One increasingly popular source of imagery is American superhero comics. A generation ago, you would never have seen a genre magazine publishing a story about superheroes but now the sub-genre is robust enough to support both anthologies and novels. The problem with a lot of superhero fiction is that the mainstream of American superhero comics is now just as prone to deconstructive cleverness as genre short fiction meaning that the ideas in superhero fiction seldom seem all that radical when compared to the output of DC and Marvel. If your clever deconstructive fiction is only as clever as the current run of Spider-Man then I would argue that your clever deconstructive fiction is nowhere near clever enough.

Gladstone’s story reminded me quite a bit of Lavie Tidhar’s The Violent Century in that both fall into the trap of resting their stories on deconstructive gestures that are already old hat in the world of mainstream comics. Tidhar’s novel took a swipe at the values of Silver Age comics by dragging them kicking and screaming into the light of the real world where they were perverted by Nazism and the expediency of Western governments, a gesture alarmingly similar to that of Alan Moore’s Watchmen. Gladstone’s story rests upon an attempt to complicate comic book morality by humanising villains, demonising heroes and suggesting that the battle of good versus evil is actually a ritualised system with limits imposed upon both sides. This same gesture informs most anti-superhero superhero comics including Pat Mills’ Marshal Law, Mark Waid’s Irredeemable and Garth Ennis’ The Boys as well as Dan Slott’s The Superior Spider-Man in which Doctor Octopus takes possession of Peter Parker’s body and uses shockingly expedient tactics to destroy Spider-Man’s old nemeses, forcing him into an awkward conflict with the Avengers.

Superhero fiction that contrives to be less clever and subversive than the output of hideously conservative multinational corporations must be deemed a failure. Stepping past the emptiness of Gladstone’s column A we have a rather squalid and ineffectual little melodrama that leaves column B looking just as empty. I liked Gladstone’s ideas for superheroes and the story does have more narrative movement than most of the other stories appearing in the first issue of Uncanny but I struggle to understand why anyone would pay $0.08 per word for something so thin, tired and underwhelming.

 

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UC5

 

“Migration” by Kat Howard

There is no such thing as writing that is objectively good, there is only what we are used to and what our particular cultural milieu has trained us to expect. For a little while now, genre culture has been training its readers to associate ‘quality’ with sonorous prose built around arresting imagery. By these standards and these standards alone, Kat Howard’s “migration” is a quality piece of writing.

Set in a fantasy world where people are born and re-born according to some mystical process involving birds, a woman decides that she would rather die than be reborn again. Desperate for release, she performs rituals intended to disrupt the process but the-powers-that-be are not even close to being finished with her.

Like many of the short stories that find their way into print these days, “Migration” is built around a strong image that would doubtless work quite well as the climax of a novel. However, rather than allowing her imagery to be impregnated with meaning by the passage of hundreds of pages and dozens of narrative beats, Howard tries to achieve a similar level of emotional intensity with a run-up of only a few hundred word. The result is a story that focuses the reader’s attention solely on the language:

 

The crack in her egg had grown deeper. It branched, lightning–struck, fractal. Lara stretched out her hand to the egg, then pulled it back. Holding it made her nauseated. She avoided doing so whenever possible. Better to keep the distance between self and soul.

 

Linguists will tell you that humans tend to associate easily-parsed sentence segments with bold, primary-coloured emotions like happiness or sadness while complex and ambiguously phrased segments are associated with more muted emotional tones such as surprise, bewilderment, alienation, and disgust. Howard’s story is clearly aiming for bold primary colours as the entire thing is nothing but short, evocative sentences like:

 

Outside. In the air. It wouldn’t be like flying, not even close, but maybe outside the air would be light enough that she could breathe. She grabbed a jacket, huddled into it for warmth.

 

Genre culture associates this type of writing with quality because it shows technical accomplishment. Most genre readers grew up reading science fiction novels that aimed for clarity and fantasy novels whose idea of style was adding in the occasional ‘mayhap’ in an attempt to appear more authentically medieval. Unused to such levels of technical proficiency, most genre readers will see the effort that went into the style and react to the polish regardless of whether or not it brings out the best in the story. This fondness for quality writing is also being encouraged by the first generation of genre writers to have widely attended MFA and creative writing courses that not only teach stuff like prosody but also reward writers who produce prose that sounds good when read aloud in front of a class.

Howard’s bio on the Uncanny site mentions that “her work has been performed on NPR” and I think “performed” is probably a good choice of words as I can easily picture an actor standing in a recording booth with his legs apart and his chest jutting forward issuing a mighty oratorical roar before launching into:

 

There are other places, where souls must be carried between one life and the next. They are brought on bees, on butterflies gold and black. Sung to their rest by flights of angels. But always, always wings. Not because a soul itself has wings, or is meant to fly, I think. But because death is like flight trapped beneath a skin not made for such things, and wings are its escape.

 

She even lifted a bit of Shakespeare!

 

 

 

The ludicrously proclaiming actor was, of course, brilliantly satirised by Richard Curtis and Ben Elton in Blackadder but the roaring and the chest jutting out as though attached to a pair of charging elephants harkens back to a time when Shakespeare was performed for the sake of its prosody with the emphasis not upon what the words meant but upon the actor’s ability to use them to create beautiful mouth music. Kat Howard’s “Migration” is full of sentences that could be used to create beautiful mouth music but shift your attention from the language to the story as a whole and you will find that “Migration” is a story with nothing to say: There are no characters worth speaking of, there are no deeper themes and there is no narrative arc.

Howard’s use of language is tactically brilliant but strategically dire. As you read the story, you are confronted with one beautiful sentence after another but for all the care and attention lavished on those sentences, “Migration” feels emotionally inert as Howard never manages to force those sentences together to produce a particular mood or feeling. We know that the protagonist wants to die because she tells us that she wants to die but the sound-and-fury of Howard’s sentence-by-sentence writing adds neither depth nor nuance to the character’s emotional state. Are we supposed to feel sad for the character? Share her frustration? Feel anger at the Powers That Be who refuse to allow her the chance to die? No idea and that is a sure-fire sign that something is technically off-kilter in Howard’s writing. Technique is a means to an end, not an end in itself and technical flourishes that fail to connect to either an emotional or a thematic substrate have no reason to be in a story other than to bludgeon the reader into submission.

 

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UC6

 

“Celia and the Conservation of Energy” by Amelia Beamer

The first time I read “Celia and the Conservation of Energy” I found it profoundly perplexing. Here were several thousand words describing things happening and things being said but I couldn’t make sense of what the story was trying to get across. To paraphrase White Men Can’t Jump, I could see the words that Amelia Beamer had written but I couldn’t read them. The second time I read the story, I noted the presence of a few off-hand comments and the rather manic pacing and wondered whether this might not have been an attempt to write a frothy science fiction farce. Is Amelia Beamer trying to be funny? I really hope not…

The story is set in the near future where a high school student is making a time machine for the science fair. Concerned that nobody will believe that she was able to travel back in time, Celia decides that she needs to bring something back to the present as proof and rather than going with such obvious choices as old newspapers or dinosaur poo, she decides to bring back a copy of her dead grandfather’s lost novel.

I suspect that Beamer may be trying to be funny as “Celia and Conservation of Energy” is a grandfather paradox story about a story written by the time-traveller’s grandfather. Other hints as to the story’s purpose can be found in a series of off-hand comments that look a bit like zingers only without the laughs:

 

“Been spending most our lives/Living in a gangsta’s paradise,” she sings over the bangs and clangs she’s making in the kitchen. She likes oldies.

 

See what I mean? I guess it’s supposed to be funny because the Coolio song isn’t really old enough to be an oldie yet but it definitely would be one from the perspective of a teenager growing up in the future?

There’s a lovely moment in the third season of Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle where Chris Morris accuses the stand-up comedian Stewart Lee of having found a way to work the levers of stand-up comedy and solicit laughs from the audience without ever having to say anything funny. Beamer’s story doesn’t solicit any laughs and doesn’t contain any recognisable jokes but I suspect she may be trying to work the comedy levers as the story is written in a breathless style conveying manic energy while the time-travelling moments are all presented in that fish-out-of-water manner favoured by time-travelling comedies like Idiocracy or Just Visiting: Whuddaya meeean Gangster’s Paradise is an oldie? Whuddaya meeean teenagers build time machines for their science fairs?

The reason I am desperately trying to deduce the author’s intent from her use of style is that the story suffers from the kind of deep tonal and structural problems you would hope not to find in a professionally published work of fiction. Having diagnosed Beamer’s piece as a failed comedy, I wonder whether “Celia and the Conservation of Energy” might not be an attempt to engage with how we often use our family histories as a way of bolstering our attempt to inhabit a particular identity. For example, someone who is creative may wish to have a creative grandparent (‘it runs in the family’) and that desire for legitimacy may prompt the younger person to construct an image of their grandparent with only a very loose connection to reality. However, if Beamer was trying to engage with the idea of family history, why would she make Celia’s grandparent a writer rather than a scientist and why would she imbue a story about critical self-examination with energy levels usually associated with stories described as ‘romps’? The story ends with Celia’s grandfather begging her to leave him alone but I am genuinely unclear as to whether we are supposed to find this image comic or tragic. I can certainly imagine a story about genealogical self-analysis ending with a dramatic mise en abyme in which the illustrious and fictionalised forebear is forced to write something about being hassled into creativity by over-eager descendants but Beamer devotes so little attention to why any of the characters do the things they do that it seems unlikely that the focus of this story would be psychological. There’s an interesting story trying to claw its way out of this mess but it needed at least one armpit-to-arsehole re-write in order for Beamer to choose a focal point and match her tone to the ideas that she was trying to convey.

 

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UC2

 

“The Boy Who Grew Up” by Christopher Barzak

This is the type of story that is currently winning awards in genre circles. Less a genre story than a story that uses genre imagery as a means of punctuating an otherwise conventional literary trajectory, “The Boy Who Grew Up” concerns a young man who runs away from home and encounters Peter Pan.

The young man in question is locked into a series of horrendous confrontations with his father. Initially, the details of the disagreement are rather sketchy but the protagonist keeps mulling over his past and so we gradually get a pretty good idea of what happened: The protagonist’s mother lost interest in both her husband and her son and left home. The last thing she said before walking out on her family was to blame her husband for her son’s homosexuality thereby making the son aware of his own sexuality in the worst way possible while also ensuring that his father associates his son’s sexuality not only with the break-up of his marriage but also with his own failings as a man:

 

I wanted to tell him love for babies is far too easy. My mum proved that. I wanted to tell him about how my mum didn’t give a shit about me after I wasn’t a baby and took off when she didn’t like who I was becoming. I wanted to say, “You know what? While my mum was telling off my dad in the next room, right before she left us, she told him it was probably because my dad was such a weakling wanker that his son had become a poof.” A poof. A bleeding poof is what she’d called me that day.

 

Talk about chucking an emotional hand grenade over your shoulder as you walk out the room! This family dynamic is so magnificently fucked-up that it deserved to have a much braver story built around it.

“The Boy Who Grew Up” is a therapeutic story in so far as it opens with a psychological blockage that is gradually worked free by the events of the story. Barzak rods his protagonist’s emotional drains by having him wander around Kensington Gardens after dark in the company of Peter Pan, the boy who wouldn’t grow up. As is often the case with these kinds of meta-textual works, Barzak delves deeply into Pan lore and makes frequent allusions to the stories and characters on his way to suggesting that Pan’s perpetual adolescence is an unhealthy form of life that is born of cruelty and perpetuated only be acts of cruelty performed by the self against the self.

Barzak delves into the lore of the Pan stories and draws upon all sorts of obscure images and characters to construct an emotional and thematic landscape that feeds back into the story’s themes of coming-of-age and the need to assume responsibility for making positive changes in your own life. While these psycho-textual vignettes are undoubtedly well drawn, they are drawn at such length and in such detail that they drain the story of urgency and reduce a dark night of the soul into little more than a civilised amble around a darkened garden. This story could easily have lost a thousand words and been all the more focused as a result of it.

Most distressing is that while Barzak lavishes attention on Peter Pan the Spirit Animal, there is a very real sense in which these meta-textual elements distance us from the character’s story. Let us focus on the choice facing the protagonist: Unable to live on his own, the young man is stuck living with a father who not only resents his son’s sexuality but actively blames him for most of the horrible things that have happened in his life. Filled with displaced anger, the father choose to express that anger by directing it at his son forcing his son to keep running away from home for the sake of his own safety. No idiot, the son realises that this cannot go on and so he is faced with a stark decision: Continue serving as his father’s emotional punching bag, find a way of confronting his father and force him to accept his son’s sexuality or… what?

Barzak makes it clear that he thinks that his protagonist needs to confront his father but rather than unpacking the options that don’t involve remaining at home, he brushes them all under an ugly Peter Pan-shaped rug. In other words, rather than using genre elements to shine a light on how a gay character might feel in that situation, Christopher Barzak uses genre elements to protect (either the reader, the character, or both) from the fact that the protagonist’s failure to confront his father and make positive changes in his life might result in either becoming a Lost Boy (i.e. being forced onto the streets) or crossing over into the never never land (i.e. committing suicide).

Look… I would never argue that all coming-out stories need to be dark and depressing but “The Boy Who Grew Up” is a dark story set in a darkened garden about a dark night of the soul that involves a young man turning his back on whimsical fantasy in order to embrace the harshness of reality! To write that type of story with that type of moral and use genre elements to gloss over the unpleasantness at the heart of the story is cowardice at best and a betrayal at worse.

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