by Jaym Gates & Monica Valentinelli
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Jaym Gates and Monica Valentinelli have assembled a collection of stories with the aim of subverting the common tropes and clichés of science fiction and fantasy. In addition to the twenty-five stories, the book also includes five essays on the use of tropes in story-telling and an appendix which outlines which particular trope each story is a response to. This last piece is useful because it isn't always clear from reading a particular story which concept the author has elected to play with, although it may have been more effective to include them immediately following the stories they discuss.
Elsa Sjunneson-Henry related the story of a blind woman who helps the police in "Seeking Truth." Although the police and criminals believe that Sjunneson-Henry's heroine is a psychic, her abilities are much more reality based, although she uses people's preconceptions about her to her advantage. Although the focus is on a specific trope, Sjunneson-Henry's story can be seen as more encompassing, since the idea of a hero with special powers goes well beyond the idea that someone without sight can make up for it in other ways.
Sara M. Harvey's "Red Light" tackles the trope of the hooker with the heart of gold with a nice bit of misdirection. Her hooker/narrator's descriptions seem designed to lead the reader to believe that she is also tackled the clichéd vampire trope, however what Harvey is doing is much more subtle and, therefore, effective.
In "Nouns of Nouns: A Mini Epic," Alex Shvartsman takes a satirical look at the massive fantasy epics which were ushered in by J.R.R. Tolkien's Ur-work, The Lord of the Rings, and have only continued to grow with series like Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time. Part of Shvartsman's joke is how short his epic is, running to only three pages in length, but comprised of three (plus an additional half) "acts." (Although perhaps they should have been labeled "books.") Shvartsman not only gets some zings in about the formulaic nature of epic fantasy, but also some of the problems authors have in producing their works.
Alisa Schreibman's "Hamsa, Hamsa, Hamsa, Tfu, Tfu, Tfu" is the story of a hidden Jews, but unlike the hidden children of the Holocaust or the Jews who converted to Christianity in sixteenth century Spain while retaining Jewish customs, the Jews in this story are hiding in plain sight. By name, attitude, and surroundings, the characters clearly give every indication of being Jewish without being identified as such. In some ways, it is a masterful depiction, although it plays on stereotypes. At the same time, the it demonstrates who the "other" can masquerade as "not-other" until the difference is required.
In "The Refrigerator in the Girlfriend"*, Adam-Troy Castro literally reverses the trope his is attacking, the all too common damsel in distress concept of the girlfriend in the refrigerator. In his story of body modification, Amanda's decision to have a small refrigerator installed in her abdomen starts out as an intriguing, and slightly arousing, addition to her relationship with her unnamed boyfriend, but eventually becomes the focus of a relationship struggle as he refuses to get his own body modified, even mocking others who do.
Kat Richardson takes aim at not only the ubiquitous "Chain mail Bikini," found in so many fantasy illustrations (and skewered in Esther Friesner's long-running "Chicks in Chainmail" anthology series), but also attacks the idea that a woman's style of dress is an invitation for men's attention rather than a means of self-expression or comfort. In this case, the character's decision to wear the impractical article of clothing may not be entirely her own and the story works for both what it says about the way women are treated as well as a humorous tale.
The book ends with a series of essays examining tropes and the smashing of them. Victor Raymond talks about why science fiction uses clichés and makes a case that clichés are important when exploring new concepts, but also that science fiction authors need to be careful when using them so as not to fall into a rut. A.C. Wise uses the film Labyrinth to explore a counterpoint to Joseph Campbell's Hero's Journey, the Heroine's Journey as defined by Maureen Murdock, a recognized trope which subverts and reverses the better known masculine storyline.
While some of the stories in Upside Down are humorous, subverting tropes is a serious business. Tropes are used and become clichés because they are comfortable and familiar. Unfortunately, that also means that they represent conservative ways of thinking without taking into account the changes in society and story-telling. Writing stories which break from long-established tropes causes both the author and the reader to think about literature, and the world, in different terms, questioning their beliefs and actions.
*The title of this story appears in the book variously as "The Refrigerator in the Girlfriend" (table of contents and index of tropes) and "The Girl in the Refrigerator" (story and running headers).
|Valya Dudycz Lupescu||On Loving Bad Boys: A Villanelle|
|John Hornor Jacobs||Single Singularity|
|Elsa Sjunneson-Henry||Seeking Truth|
|Michael R. Underwood||Can You Tell Me How to Get to Paprika Place?|
|Alyssa Wong||The White Dragon|
|Haralambi Markov||Her Curse, How Gently It Comes Undone|
|Shanna Germain||Burning Bright|
|Alethea Kontis||Santa CIS (Episode 1: No Saint)|
|Katy Harrad & Greg Stolze||Requiem for a Manic Pixie Dream|
|Adam-Troy Castro||The Refrigerator in the Girlfriend*|
|Delilah S. Dawson||The First Blood of Poppy Dupree|
|Sara M. Harvey||Red Light|
|Michael R. Matheson||Until There Is Only Hunger|
|Maurice Broaddus||Super Duper Fly|
|Katy Richardson & Greg Richardson||Drafty as a Chain Mail Bikini|
|Michelle Lyons-McFarland||Swan Song|
|Michael Choi||Those Who Leave|
|Alex Shvartsman||Nouns of Nouns: A Mini Epic|
|Rahul Kanakia||Excess Light|
|Sunil Patel||The Origin of Terror|
|Ferrett Steinmetz||The Tangled Web|
|Alisa Schreibman||Hamsa, Hamsa, Hamsa, Tfu, Tfu, Tfu|
|Rati Mahrotra||Real Women Are Dangerous|
|Patrick Hester||I'm Pretty Sure I've Read This Before|
|Lucy A. Snyder||Fractured Souls|
|A.C. Wise||Into the Labyrinth: The Heroine's Journey|
|Victor Raymond||Escaping the Hall of Mirrors|
|Keffy R.M. Kehrli||Tropes as Erasers: A Transgender Perspective|
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