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Matt Staggs

Notes From an Emergency Meeting of the Institute for the Study of Cephalopod Progress

Recently, video footage surfaced documenting tool use among common octopuses. We at the Institute for the Study of Cephalopod Progress recently exchanged a number of missives to consider the implications for the American public. We present to you an excerpt of this exchange among members Felix Gilman, Jesse H. Bullington, Matthew B. Dyer and I.

I think the first question the public is going to want to know is what this documentation of octopus tool use may mean for human/cephalopod relations. Can you address this?

Matt Staggs

* * *

Dear Sir, 

Speaking as a life-long professional Coconut-Carrier (Chartered) I am deeply concerned about competition from the octopus so-called “community.”  It is well known that the octopus will work for mollusks and they have low standards of professional craft. They will drive down wages and quality, and they have too many legs.  (Eight, or so they claim, if you can believe it!) 

It is with great regret that I must call urgently for tariffs upon the Ocean, or possibly some form of undersea bombing campaign.

Fingers yes, tentacles no!

Yours sincerely, 
Felix Gilman, C-C(C) (retired)

* * *

Dear Sir or Madam:

Speaking only on behalf of myself and all red-blooded American Homo sapiens, I say we can no more assume the cephalopod community means us harm than we can assume the recipient of any missives we may send is a sir and not, contrary to what any warhawk coconut-carriers may think, a madam. It seems that by simply seeking to care for his or her individual needs a single member of Amphioctopus marginatus has raised the ire of the entire right wing, fear-mongering horde—tariffs? Bombing raids? All for fear of competition? Clearly Mr. (or Ms) Gilman is opposed to the very same healthy competition in the marketplace that made this country great, and like some demented coconut baron seeks to maintain the human monopoly on what should be a free market.

All this because a single, brave cephalopod straightened his or her collar, ran a besuckered tentacle along his or her mantle, and dared to ring the doorbell at what certain individuals would prefer to be an invitation-only evolutionary dinner party. Is there any reason why the cephalopod should not be welcomed? “Too many legs,” is all the speciesist can come up with: Too. Many. Legs.

What happened to America? When did hatespeech become an acceptable mode of discourse? When did we stop feeding our love-squid and start feeding our hate-squid? Is there any reason, any reason at all, why we should not take to the beaches, the harbors, the aquariums, enter the water, and embrace our new friends? All we want is to love, and be loved, and to live, live, and occasionally dress up like a hermit crab with the aid of a coconut shell. When you get right down to it, isn’t that all that everyone wants? When did we lose our way?

I pray for this cruel, arid world. Love yes, fear no. Love yes, fear no!

Yours, be you sir or madam, sapien or cephalopod, sincerely,
Jesse H. Bullington, American

* * *

While I am sympathetic to Comrade Bullington’s red-blooded protests against Mr. Gilman’s economic solution, I believe it would be unwise to disregard the genuine reason the human race has to fear the rise of the tool-using octopus: revenge.

For hundreds of years, human fishers have been using tools to trap octopuses, haul them out of the dark depths of their home, and then plop them in a rickety boat. These fishermen then bite the octopus to death. Seriously. With their teeth.

The introduction of tools into cephalopod society can only mean that this cycle will be broken and then tragically reversed. Man-traps will await ocean travelers, fiendishly designed to bring the unwitting homo sapiens into the tentacled clutches of the octopus. Do we really believe that the octopus will not relish the opportunity to exact revenge upon mankind for the thousands, nay millions, of his brethren who have met a similar fate?

I support Mr. Gilman’s call for tariffs and bombing (perhaps even tariff-bombing?) because I am afraid of being bitten to death by an octopus. I had this fear before the advent of tool use in cephalopod culture. This fear has only grown in its aftermath.

Huddled in terror,
Matthew B. Dyer

* * *

Gentlemen, the ethics of interspecies coconut transport has been a matter of fierce debate ever since the topic was first broached by Mssrs. Chapman and Palin, over three decades ago. If those erudite minds could not resolve the issue to satisfaction, I have scarce faith that we will today. I’d like to move the discussion forward, instead, to focus on the cultural impact that the arrival of these clearly advanced octopus vagabonds may have on mainstream America. How can you see America changing? Will it?

Matt Staggs

* * *

Dear Sir or Viviparous Female,

How right you are! This is a question of culture. The ways of the octopus are not our ways.

The lot of a professional Coconut-Carrier has never been an easy one, and we are used to the derision of ivory-tower multiculturalists who think themselves our betters.  And yet has Mr. (or quite possibly Lady) Bullington ever handled a coconut? Ever picked one one up, moved it a little way, and put it down again? Would he (or she) even know how? How to lift, where to place, upside or downside?  I doubt it. 

The moving of coconuts is a complex and sophisticated matter, and central to everything that I, and I think most right-thinking folk, love about our wonderful Land-based culture.

Yet look at this shifty octopus fellow, caught on security camera, shirking his job.  Is that the sort of thing you want to see here, on this Land that we love so much?  Is that how you want our children learning to behave? Look how he dithers from side to side. Look how he kicks up sand.  Look how he curls up in his own coconut, sleeping no doubt on his long-suffering employer’s time. Look at all his horrible horrible little legs.

And it is not just a question of legs.  I also think that he looks sticky.

Spines! Spines! Spines forever!

Yours vertebrally,
Felix Gilman C-C(C), retired

* * *

Dear Mammal,

Further to our previous correspondence:

It has just been brought to my attention, by my good lady wife, herself a Coconut-Carrier of no small accomplishment, that increased octopus immigration may also bring with it a fashion for the worship of the Great Old Ones, the rising of R’lyeh, and the devouring of all human souls in the tentacled maw of Cthulhu.  Frankly I can see both sides of this issue.  I have no quarrel with a fellow who worships Cthulhu, so long as he carries his coconuts diligently and maintains the proper number of legs.  I myself worship Shub-Niggurath, as it happens.  Ia! Ia!  

I regard this as secondary to the issue of tariffs on ocean-based coconut-carrying services, on which matter I remain as firm and unbending as my beautiful, beautiful spine.

Felix Gilman, C-C(C), retired

* * *

Did…did the chair really just use the term vagabond to describe those individuals who have historically endured a nomadic lifestyle for a variety of external reasons? These are not aquatic bindlestiffs in search of a federal teat, these are intelligent, motivated, and talented workers who are committed to contributing their unique skill sets to our (dry) world economy. It is my dear hope that one of the first things to change about mainstream America is the casual speciesism endemic to most debates involving our newest, and hereto voiceless, members of society.

Culturally, I predict a huge upswing in conversion to the myriad denominations popular among cephalopods. Said surge in conversion will, ideally, parallel a decline in the hostility and fear that has long been directed at such misunderstood and perfectly reputable institutions as the Esoteric Order of Dagon, the Reformed Church of Dagon, Mother Hydraism, The Open Door of Night, The Black Brotherhood, The Cult of Cthulhu, The Cthulchurch of Cthulhu, and Scientology. The coveted tax-exempt status, so long denied the majority of these so-called “apocalypse cults,” will inevitably follow.

In addition to a return (yes, return, contrary to what the revisionist historians would have you believe) to the values and faiths that made life on this planet great, I think we’ll see the inevitable new fashions crop up here and abroad. One need look no further than your local Etsy shop to see that the youth of America has already welcomed the cephalopod in terms of attire and accouterments. On a global level, as our new peers continue to rightfully assert themselves in society I would be very surprised if Milan, Paris, and even the streets of the Harajuku District were not soon teeming with last season’s R’lyeh fashions.

In terms of a radical change in culture, and coconut handling, I just don’t see it—this is the Conservatives’ doomsday scenarios in regards to President Obama’s election all over again. If a Democrat ascending to the presidency didn’t ruin this country I don’t see how an uncounted number of highly intelligent cephalopods simultaneously joining American society could have much of an impact—contrary to Gilman’s accusation that “the ways of the octopus are not our ways,” I say now and forever that their ways, in fact, were our ways, and, indeed, are our ways, and, undoubtedly, shall be our ways.

After all, is it not the way of Homo sapiens to stroke the livestock, to raise it in ignorance, and to establish a false dichotomy between the quadruped one keeps in one’s home and takes to the vet when it gets a tummy ache and the quadruped one enslaves, one imprisons, one slaughters for the sweet, sweet taste of its supple flesh? Are we really that different? Do those who seek justice for the long-suffering cephalopod look down on the howdy-folks-how-ya-doin-getcha-beer-and-a-bump-Joe-or-Jane-the-Plumber from an ivory-tower of multiculturalism, as Gilman would scare America into believing, or do we look up from a tower of carven coral far beneath the waves, forever longing for what is ours by right? Metaphorically speaking.

I ask you, America, to preserve all that made this nation great, and say yes to cephalopods.

J.H. Bullington, All-American

* * *

In closing, gentlemen, do you have any advice to those living in coastal areas?

Safely inland,
Matt Staggs

* * *

Clearly the coasts are our first line of defense against the octopus menace.  Stand your ground, coast-dwellers! Don’t let Bullington and his ilk push you around! Stand up for yourselves! Yes, exactly—on feet

It seems to me that the obvious solution is a moat. But I leave the details to you.

Felix Gilman, C-C(C), retired

* * *

While I still maintain that murder from below is the most likely outcome of the rise of the eight-armed menace, Monsieur Bullington raises a good point. There is much to learn about the religion of the cephalopod. I myself was raised Roman Catholic, so the idea of awaiting the resurrection of a dead and dreaming god, indifferent to my existence, is comfortably familiar. 

One could perhaps hope for peace between the octopus and man, seeing as how members of both species worship the Old One. Commonly depicted with both humanoid and octopoid characteristics, it seems only natural that the two species should work together.

And this is precisely the problem. The octopus recognizes that there is nothing natural about the Old One, at least not as we think of “nature.” So, with murder in their hearts, they come to the surface world. And the mighty Cthluhu doesn’t give a damn, because that’s just how he rolls.

One might then assume that I agree with Mr. Gilman, in that we out to worship other fishy fellows. One oceanic overlord is as bad as an other as far as I’m concerned. Whether Cthulhu or Dagon, I’m confident the fate of man remains the same. I have no interest in sucking down seawater or having my brain devoured by a cephalopod.

With fear as my guiding principle, I propose that the proper course of action is the worship of Nyarlathotep and his Master from Beyond, Azathoth. I find the prospect of madness much more pleasant than the almost certain death that comes with the return of Cthulhu. 

Matthew B. Dyer

Jesse Bullington is the author of The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart. Matthew B. Dyer is a reviewer and author of short fiction. Felix Gilman is the author of Thunderer and Gears of the City. Matt Staggs is a book publicist and literary ne’er do well.

Series: December Belongs To Cthulhu

Editors Comment on Changes Planned for Best American Fantasy

The Best American Fantasy series has undergone a series of important changes, starting with the publisher. Underland Press has acquired BAF and will publish the third volume, Real Unreal, in January of 2010. Real Unreal will contain work by, among others, Stephen King, Lisa Goldstein, Peter S. Beagle, and John Kessel, as chosen by guest editor Kevin Brockmeier with assistance from series editor Matthew Cheney.

This will be the final volume to be edited by Cheney, whose duties as series editor will be taken up by co-founders Ann and Jeff VanderMeer in future volumes. Cheney will remain in an advisory capacity to the VanderMeers, who previously served as guest editors for volumes one and two of the series.
Jeff VanderMeer is excited about the future of the series.

“Going forward, it will be great to assist the new guest editors in realizing their own visions for their years. Best American Fantasy is the only fantasy ‘year’s best’ that has a different editor every year selecting the stories,” said VanderMeer. “That keeps the series fresh and relevant, while negating traditional hierarchies and ideas of privilege within genre. No one set of tastes can rule for more than one year.”

Privilege and bias have been hot topics of discussion in recent years—especially when it comes to anthologies. Cheney said that diversity in the BAF series begins with the kind of literature considered for inclusion.

[More after the jump]

Shared Worlds and real life fantastical cities

In what I thought was a great way to promote Wofford College’s “Shared Worlds” fantasy writing camp for young people‚ Jeff VanderMeer rounded up some of speculative fiction’s best writers to contribute their thoughts on what they thought were the most “fantastic” real world cities. Elizabeth Hand‚ China Mieville‚ Ursula LeGuin‚ Michael Moorcock and Nalo Hopkinson all weighed in on the topic‚ and you can read their contributions here.

[More after the jump.]

An interview with fantasy artist Erol Otus

I like to describe myself as a lifelong fan of the fantastic in the arts, but really, it all started for me in fourth grade.

My buddy Jason Thornton brought a new sort of game to school called Dungeons & Dragons. You didn’t need a board to play it, and with just a handful of funny-looking dice and a little imagination anyone could become a powerful wizard, master thief, swordsman or demon-smiting priest. It didn’t matter then that the only dwarves I knew hung around with Snow White, and that I preferred the kind of elves who lived in trees and baked cookies, or that I didn’t know J.R.R. Tolkien from H.R. Puffenstuff: being unfamiliar with  fantasy tropes added to the feeling of exploration. I was hooked from game one and spent the rest of that year begging my parents for my own copy of the Dungeons & Dragons rules, which became my gateway into a new world of fantasy fiction, movies and more.

I loved everything about the game, but one of the very best parts was the artwork. The early stable of Dungeons & Dragons artists was great, but in my mind the very best of the bunch was Erol Otus. There was something psychedelic, witchy even, about his work that held my eye then and still does today. The men and monsters in his paintings weren’t quite fully representational. Something was different about them: they were cartoonish in a way that both delighted and threatened, like a child’s cartoon gone awry. Maybe it was the bright colors or the way that he depicted even the most terrible of creatures with their own personalities that suggests this description. Whatever it is that Otus did, it stayed with me for decades. To this day, nothing says “adventure” like an Erol Otus painting. 

Dungeons & Dragons was only the beginning of a long and fruitful career for Otus. Since those days, he’s made a good living as a video game designer and freelance illustrator. I was recently able to spend a few minutes with the artist to discuss his career.

[More after the jump.]

Lin Carter’s Imaginary Worlds: The Art of Fantasy

Lin Carter’s Imaginary Worlds: The Art of Fantasy is a study of the evolution of fantasy fiction, beginning with its earliest predecessors to the work of then contemporary practitioners. Published in June 1973 as part of the Ballantine Adult Fantasy series, it is an ambitious title magnificently flawed by the hubris of its author.

The book’s first chapters on the careers of Lord Dunsany, R. A. Eddison, Mervyn Peake, William Morris and other early masters are extremely valuable, providing both biographical information and establishing a timeline for the evolution of fantasy settings from the mundane (earthly kingdoms and lost civilizations) to entirely original secondary worlds. Carter’s strong editorial voice and legendary ego are both at their most subdued during these first chapters. Unfortunately, both are soon enough loosed with disastrous results.

[Read on…]

Author Felix Gilman Supplies Seven Reasons Why You Should Read Gears of the City

Felix Gilman returns once again to the streets of Ararat in Gears of the City, a novel that Agony Column’s Rick Kleffel calls “A dark, dank and delightful combination of rip-roaring adventure.” In this sequel to 2007’s Thunderer, that novel’s priest protagonist Arjun is lost to himself, his memory shattered and his place uncertain in a city now abandoned of its once ubiquitous gods. Drawn into a quest to find a missing woman, Arjun learns that his destiny may be intertwined with that of Ararat itself.

I recently asked the author to share seven reasons why you should read Gears of the City if you haven’t yet. Read his response after the jump.

[Read more…]

Mythic Delirium, Mansquito and Mike Allen

Mike Allen: Hey! Matt! Got too much time on your hands? You want something to blog about? Well‚ I got something for you.

Matt Staggs: What? Who the hell are you?

MA: My name is Legion.

Or at least, there are legions of guys with my name. But I’m the only one that writes sf. (I’m surely the only one nominated for a Nebula Award.) And I’m the only one I know of publishing poetry. I’m even crazy enough to combine the two, sf and poetry, which some people swear should never be mixed, just like the silly folks in the old Reese’s Cup commercials.

You might think that’s strange, that someone would want to devote their time to writing so-called “speculative poetry.” But you know what? I don’t care.

I even publish a little magazine that’s full of this crazy soup. And I’ve been doing it for ten years.

[Continued after the jump.]

An Interview with Clarion South’s Robert Hoge and Kate Eltham

From left to right: Mark Tremble, Alex Hong, Aidan Doyle, Stephen Turner, Brendan Carson, MacLaren North, Steve Mitchell, Ben Julien,Trent Jamieson (week 5 instructor), Angela Slatter, Suzanne Willis, Su Lynn Cheah, Angie Rega, Amanda le Bas de Plumetot, Lisa Bennett, Liz Adkins, Stephanie Wong, Tracy Meszaros.

Robert Hoge and Kate Eltham run Clarion South, the Antipodes’ answer to Clarion East and West. Based in Brisbane, Australia, Eltham and Hoge have quickly established their own signature brand of the classic six-week workshop. It has become an invaluable opportunity for emerging Australian science fiction and fantasy writers to achieve significant creative and professional growth. Recently, interviewed the two about Clarion South, the latest iteration of which ended just a few weeks ago. Instructors were: Sean Williams (two weeks), Margo Lanagan, Jack Dann, Trent Jamieson, and Jeff VanderMeer.

Relevant links:
Clarion South website
Clarion South fund drive to offset unexpected costs
Student Aidan Doyle’s What I Learned at Clarion
Instructor Jeff VanderMeer’s posts on Clarion South and Australian fiction, both at Omnivoracious (parts one, two, and three) and his own blog (a teacher’s view, including links to student journals).

[Interview after the jump.]

Vampires: Not So Sexy Beasts

Thanks in part to bestselling books and blockbuster television shows and movies from the likes of Stephenie Meyers and Charlaine Harris, vampires are hotter than ever. And by “hot” I do mean hot. Never at any point in popular history have these otherwise gruesome creatures been more imbued with sexual allure, sometimes even made all the more conspicuous by its absence—Twilight‘s abstinent bloodsuckers, anyone?

However, that doesn’t mean that they’ve always been that way. The vampire myths that most of us are familiar with—those of Eastern Europe—have always depicted these creatures as somewhat less desirable. Rather than seduce you, the Vampir or Vrolok or Strigoi of Eastern Europe was more likely to consume you. As a matter of fact, the vampires of Europe’s past had far more in common with what we now think of as zombies rather than the sexual creatures we thrill to on page and screen.

Ancient vampires were often depicted as shambling, bloodsucking corpses that preyed upon family members and former loved ones with no sign of remorse or awareness of their former lives. Their skin was described as ruddy or even purple from stolen blood and their bodies swollen, corpulent even. As if this wasn’t bad enough, they smelled terrible, too.

[More after the jump!]

David Moody Shares Seven Reasons Why You Need to Read Hater

Something’s causing ordinary people to abruptly explode with homicidal rage in David Moody’s novel Hater. The phenomenon is inexplicable, unpredictable and growing more widespread with every passing day. As government and military authorities struggle to maintain control in the face of escalating violence, low-level civil servant Danny McCoyne and his family seek shelter, only to learn they can trust no one; not even each other.

Hater is a fast-moving, tense piece of fiction that yanks readers out of their armchairs and flings them with maximum force into a paranoid world of bloody, explosive violence. It’s just the kind of thing that you would expect from Moody, whose Autumn series already ranks highly with fans of apocalyptic fiction.

I recently asked the author to share seven reasons why readers should give Hater a chance.

[Read his answers after the jump:]

Vincent the Vegetarian Vampire and Other Fantastical Creatures

I’ve always liked monsters, and it all started with Morgan Freeman. Sure, he might be better known now for his roles in movies like Wanted and The Dark Knight, but when I was a kid he was Vincent the Vegetable Vampire on The Electric Company, an educational program on public television.

Vincent was a strange guy, even by educational vampire spokesperson standards. He sang odes to the joys of bathing in caskets (captured for posterity at YouTube-don’t click unless the idea of a topless Morgan Freeman vamping it up in a coffin full of suds does it for you), and offered children amusing couplets like “I’m Vincent, the Vegetable Vampire. In the nighttime, when tomatoes start to scream, it’s only Vincent the Vegetable Vampire creeping in the garden of your dreams.”

With characters like these lurking in the periphery of acceptable children’s programming is it any wonder that I developed an affinity for monsters? Decades later, it’s still there.

I love collecting bestiaries, encyclopedias and other tomes devoted to mythological beasts, and I’m always happy to snap up a new one when opportunity presents itself. One of my more recent acquisitions is Fantastical Creatures Field Guide, a slender volume by artist and writer Aaron Lopresti.

[Read more…]

James Morrow Talks Hiroshima, Giant Lizards and the Lessons of History

One of the benefits of working as a book publicist is that I get to spend time with a lot of talented authors. For a longtime science fiction and fantasy fan like me, getting the opportunity to rub elbows with some of the field’s best and brightest minds is almost payment enough for the work I do.

The most recent title I’ve been working with is the World War II era satire Shambling Towards Hiroshima. Written by James Morrow, Hiroshima is the story of B-Movie actor Syms Thorley, approached by the U.S. government to don a rubber monster suit and star in a film that simulates the destruction of a miniature Japan. Thorley’s handlers hope that the Japanese will be frightened into surrendering and spare the U.S. from having to unleash its real weapon: giant, fire-breathing mutant iguanas.

Morrow, the author of Towing Jehovah, has never been afraid to court controversy, but even I had more than a few questions about what brought him to address such a terrible episode in history and how he thought others might react to the novel. I thought that these questions might be best addressed in the medium of a short interview, which Morrow granted permission for me to reproduce here.

[Read more…]

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