MIND MELD: Our Favorite Dragons in Fantasy

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With the arrival of The Desolation of Smaug on movie screens, We asked this week’s panelists about the most iconic of fantasy creatures: Dragons.

Q: What makes dragons appealing? How do you use dragons in your own writing? What are your favorite depictions in fantasy?

This is what they said…

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MIND MELD: Food in Science Fiction versus Fantasy

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This week we asked about Food and Drink in SF.

Food and Drink in science fiction sometimes seems limited to replicator requests for Earl Grey tea and Soylent green discs. Why doesn’t do as much food as Fantasy? Does Fantasy lend itself more to food than Science fiction? Why?
This is what they had to say…
Laura Anne Gilman
Author and Freelance Editor Laura Anne Gilman is the author of the popular Cosa Nostradamus novels, the award-nominated The Vineart War trilogy, as well as the story collection Dragon Virus. She also has written the mystery Collared under the pen name L.A. Kornetsky.

This will, I will admit, be a purely foodie view: I enjoy cooking, I enjoy eating, I enjoy reading about cooking and eating. And for a long time, it seemed as though we foodies were, if not the minority in genre, then certainly underserved.

There were the banquets in fantasy, of course, and the trail rations, and sometimes even a discussion of where the food came from, but – like bathroom breaks and sleeping – it often seemed tossed into the pile of “boring, don’t write about it.”

And science fiction? Mainly, science fiction mentioned food in context of technology: food-pills, space-age packets, vat-grown meat, etcetera. I suspect that many writers of the time had been heavily influenced by the early space program, and extrapolated their SF on the actual science. Surely, science fiction was saying, we had more important things to do than cook – or eat!

Even when they were dealing with an important, food-related issue (overcrowding, famine, etc), MAKE ROOM, MAKE ROOM made it a (very serious) punchline. So did “To Serve Man.” But scenes of characters preparing their food, or even enjoying it, were notably, if not entirely, absent.

(even CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY made the “too busy to eat” point with the 3-course-meal-gum…)
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MIND MELD: Monarchies in Fantasy

UPDATED to include a response from Delia Sherman

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Very often, in secondary world fantasy novels, the default political setup is to have a Monarch of some sort, often one that acts in a seemingly autocratic manner. Many times, this Monarch rules by some sort of divine right or providence.

Q: Why are kingdoms with monarchs the default political setup in many secondary fantasy world novels? What are the advantages and disadvantages of such political structures? What are some exceptions to this?
Mark Charan Newton
Mark Charon Newton is the author of the Legends of the Red Sun series. He is also a Whisky addict. Find out more about him at Markcnewton.com

When people create worlds, we only really have our own world for reference, or from which to glean conscious and subconscious influences. Kingdoms, empires, monarchs – that’s all human history has pretty much known. Even today, we’re under the illusion we have democracy, but it’s much more wishy-washy than true ancient Athenian democracy, where power was genuinely more equally distributed, and more citizens played a role in the functioning of society. Today our monarchs and empires now are largely trade-based hegemonies, imperial campaigns given the spin of delivering peace through drone bombings. We are now subject to political and financial kings and queens (well, strictly speaking, in the UK we’re still subjects to the queen, but hey).

So in one sense, that’s life. That’s all we’ve ever known.

Emphasizing this point, many fantasy writers tend to look towards history, consciously or otherwise, for inspiration. Given that, aside from moments in the ancient world, there are very few examples where there are not kingdoms and empires, it’s inevitable.

There’s a wonderful season of Shakespeare on the BBC at the moment, which is hammering the point that I think still lingers today, and that’s a fascination with those who hold ultimate power. The pressures. The mental state. The sheer audacity to rule. Holding a position of god on earth. It is the biggest stage in a nation. So what does that do to an individual? What does that do to their mind? Can they ever be truly human? Such questions continue to inspire fantasy writers today. We’re very much interested in that big stage and what it means when ordinary people connect with it in some way.

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MIND MELD: Genre Crossovers We’d Love to See

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From Jason and the Argonauts to Avengers Assemble, crossovers have brought the best of genres together in unexpected and pleasing ways. Instead of asking this week’s panelists what their favorite crossover is, I wanted them to share some of their own creations. So I asked them:

Q: If you had the liberty to do so, what genre figures would you crossover in a book, show or film?

Here’s what they said…

Tansy Rayner Roberts
Tansy Rayner Roberts is the author of Power and Majesty, The Shattered City and Reign of Beasts, a fantasy series about flappers, shape-changers and bloodthirsty court politics. She recently released a short fiction collection, Love and Romanpunk, from Twelfth Planet Press. She just received her first Hugo nomination for the Galactic Suburbia podcast. You can find Tansy on Twitter as @tansyrr and at her blog.

My first thought was that I want to see the universes of Blake’s 7 and Futurama collide because I think my head would explode with fannish glee.

Then there’s all the delicious possibilities from the Doctor Who universe, though sadly most of the crossovers I would love to see involve actors that are dead, or well past the age to convincingly play the part on screen.

But actually what I most crave is a colossal superhero comics crossover, with She-Hulk, Emma Frost, Black Widow, Spider-Girl and Kitty Pryde teaming up with Black Canary, Batwoman and the Batgirls, Wonder Woman and Power Girl, with Xena and Starbuck thrown in for good measure.

Together, they fight crime.

In space.

And then someone makes a movie about it.

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Constance Ash-Sublette has published three novels and some short fiction; she edited Not of Woman Born, the first original anthology short-listed for the Philip K. Dick Award. Currently her writing focus is history, including the forthcoming The American Slave Coast From the Chesapeake to the Gulf, co-authored with Ned Sublette.

Banner of the Damned is set in the secondary fantasy world of Sartorias-deles; the events take place four centuries after the close of the previous Sartorians-deles epic series: Inda, The Fox, King’s Shield, Treason’s Shore, commonly called the Inda series. It is not necessary to have read these books before reading Banner of the Damned. All these titles are available from DAW.

Armies vs. Melende

Sherwood Smith should rank high on any list of military writers, though her novels are not military fantasy fiction per se. Julius Caesar would have caveats about her cavalry battle scenes. Her naval campaigns and battles, and the hand-to-hand fighting scenes on board ship, are the equal of Patrick O’Brian’s.
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