Let me begin with Misha Burnett – author of the very well received Book of Lost Days series which by the way is a fantastically eerie tale about some really compelling characters: I urge you to read it for yourself, but for now let me simply say these books defy the “traditional” genre categories. There’s science fiction, fantasy, and horror in there, all mixed together in a wonderful bundle with a dash of noir and a healthy whiff of existential dread. But don’t trust me – let the folks at Goodreads guide you. And check out all those stars!
But I’m not just flogging books here. The fact is that Misha’s approach in Catskinner’s Book is the sort of thing I love from speculative fiction, the sort of thing that that used to be standard: a heady blend of the fantastic and the weird that doesn’t bother with genre labels. Everything is on the table, and the author just picks up the tools needed to make the story pop.
This is what I want for EXTANT! and this is why I decided to take the plunge and start off with this anthology that Misha pulled together.
I’d tell you how this collection came to be, but why make it up when I can go straight to the source and let Misha tell it for himself?
In the spring of this year I issued a challenge to a group of writers in the form of a question, “Is a modern setting incompatible with the Pulp aesthetic?”
Some lively discussion followed—discussion that is ongoing as I write this. However, many of us chose to make the attempt to recapture the action and adventure of the Pulp era in stories that weren't set in some retro-nostalgic version of the past or an imagined far-distant future, but in there here and now.
21st Century Thrilling Adventure is the result.
The rules of the game were these (proposed initially by Rawle Nyanzi and polished by suggestions from several sources).
1. The setting must be contemporary Earth. No “Twenty minutes into the future,” no 1950s/60s period pieces, and no alternate history. Stories should be set in the world that you see outside your window. No time travel, space travel, or dimension hopping. Exotic locations on Earth–uncharted islands, lost cities in the jungle, underground caverns–are allowed, but the heroes should be from a contemporary setting and purely human. High level and exotic skills are allowed, but no werewolves, mutants, or aliens.
2. That being said, all fantastic elements are allowed, from folkloric monsters to made-up creatures and everything in between. Magic is explicitly allowed. We are looking for stories in which humans face off against extraordinary threats. Secret histories involving supernatural creatures, hidden super-science, covert aliens and the like are encouraged.
3. All stories must have a conflict and a resolution. No stories where nothing happens. We are looking for Pulp Action and Adventure. We want danger, we want excitement, we want last minute rescues and hairbreadth escapes.
4. There must be a morality of some kind, but moral dilemmas and doubts can occur. We’re looking for heroes who are heroic, who stand up against evil, who gaze into the abyss and punch it in the face.
5. Gratuitous use of obscene or profane language is discouraged. This is more a matter of taste than anything else–we’re looking to recapture a spirit of high adventure. In the same spirit excessive gore should be avoided–violence, yes, explosive evisceration described in detail, not so much. Sexual situations are allowed, if they fit the story, but should be kept soft-focus. Leave it the reader’s imagination.
The results have been interesting. I had wanted to leave the issue of genre open, so this isn't a collection of Science Fiction or Fantasy or Horror stories—although you'll find elements of all of those—instead they are action oriented stories in which you can encounter just about anything, from purely human threats to vengeful spirits to alien invaders.
You'll find heroes who are elite members of secret agencies, and others who were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.
But, while you'll travel from the ends of the Earth and the shuttered house next door, you'll stay right here in the modern world. These stories all take place in the 21st Century, the world of cell phones and internet and 24 hour news networks. These are stories of the world where you live.
Well... almost, anyway.
So there you have it: like some kind of superhero origin story, the mysterious Misha Burnett gathered together a diverse team - each with their own unique powers - posed them a challenge, and this is the result.
In the interests of full disclosure, I suppose I should mention that I am one of the original group of writers who are continuing the debate on what made the pulps tick, and how that blood and sinew could be translated into modern fiction that has the same kind of verve.
This anthology is part of that discussion - it's the vision of a group of writers who are all looking on fiction through different windows and seeing it from different angles.
It's exciting and horrifying and bizarre and thrilling each by turns.
And it's coming soon!