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The Bridge-Dwellers of Neverwhere and Who Fears Death: An Uncanny Realization

Who Fears DeathDuring a recent medical mission trip to Costa Rica and Nicaragua, I encountered the term “bridge-dweller.” Before this trip, I lived in the United States, completely belonging to this society and not actively addressing other worlds around me. But that all changed. After two weeks abroad, I recognized these other peoples and worlds, and I somehow could not return to life completely narrowed to the United States. Yet I clearly did not belong to the world of the Costa Ricans or Nicaraguans either. I am, and will forevermore be, a “bridge-dweller.”

Both Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere and Nnedi Okorafor’s Who Fears Death feature protagonists who themselves are “bridge-dwellers.” Both novels contain main characters who are rejected from their own societies; Richard, from Neverwhere, and Onyesonwu, from Who Fears Death, both exist in between two diametrically opposed cultures, and yet belong to neither of them. NeverwhereThis allows for these characters to interact with other societies and cultures, never completely dwelling on one side or the other, but bridging the gap between the two. As a result, both characters are poised to challenge discrimination and injustice; in the case of Onyesonwu, she faces both racial and sexual prejudice, while Richard’s experiences highlight discrimination based on wealth and social status.

A critical difference in the analysis of these two narratives, however, comes through the endings. Who Fears Death provides a satisfying conclusion for the reader, the admirable traits of the main character shine through, and some degree of social order has been attained. In stark contrast, Neverwhere concludes with Richard, one of very few who is capable of enacting great community change, failing to address these appalling social discriminations. Due to Richard’s inaction, the reader is then obligated to examine real world consequences, and is compelled to act herself as the “bridge-dweller.”

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Judging a Book by Its Cover: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Charlie and the Chocolate FactoryIn this installment of Judging a Book by Its Cover, Tia Mansouri deviates slightly from the format of her original column on Joan Vinge's Snow QueenInstead of analyzing the cover of a book before she reads it, she takes a closer look at a new cover of a very familiar, well-loved book--Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.  Released today, the Penguin Deluxe edition of the novel features cover art by Ivan Brunetti and an introduction by Lev Grossman.


"I insist upon my rooms being beautiful! I can't abide ugliness in factories!" - Willy Wonka

When I heard of Penguin's re-release of several children's classics, I was surprised to find Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was selected to be re-done. As a kid, I found Quentin Blake's illustrations to be practically inseparable from Dahl's words. But illustration is about seeing words through the viewpoint of another's eyes, and despite how well known Blake's art is, Dahl's book has had enough visual incarnations not to let any one depiction be the definitive standard. The more I look at Brunetti's cover, the more I like it for being unlike Blake's style and entirely suited for Dahl's story. What Brunetti reminds us with his cover is that the point of what we visualize doesn't need to be the characters themselves, but how each of them interacts with the wonder and whimsy of Mr. Wonka's factory itself.

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Midweek Fiction: Neil Gaiman, "The Guardian"

I introduced Neil Gaiman once, at the Fantasy Matters conference, as it happens. After agonizing for a terrifically painful amount of time over how best to do this, I realized the best thing to do would be to make the introduction as short as possible, leaving out all the glorious things written, all the well-deserved awards won. So, gentle readers, I give you: Neil Gaiman.

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How do you know when the girl is imaginary?

Imaginary GirlsThe first thing I did upon finishing Nova Ren Suma's extraordinary book, Imaginary Girls, was to flip back to the beginning and read it again. Though I reread a lot, the one other time I have done so immediately is with Gene Wolfe's Peace. This is fitting, perhaps, as it is Wolfe's definition of good literature - "that which can be read by an educated reader, and reread with increased pleasure" - that came into my mind as I was reading Imaginary Girls.

Upon finishing again, my thoughts turned from the sublime to the practical. I thought, "Huh. I wonder where they are going to shelve this." I can see Imaginary Girls being described both as "the realistic book all genre readers should pick up" and "the work of the fantastic guaranteed to appeal to all readers of realistic fiction." I can see where both those descriptions are accurate, and both contain the important part - everyone should read this book. 

Suma herself describes it as magical realism. I don't disagree, but I am going to talk about Imaginary Girls specifically in terms of the fantastic. I'll try to keep the spoilers to a minimum, but to talk about this book, I need to talk about how it ends.

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Hey, That's Not Fantasy, Revisited: Thoughts on Songs of Love and Death

Songs of Love and DeathA few months ago, I wrote an article on Audrey Niffenegger's The Time Traveler's Wife in which I suggested that perhaps the novel wasn't fantasy literature.  This post inspired a number of comments, as well as a guest post by Ken Schneyer in which he explores the nature and limitations of genre definitions.  All of this was very interesting to me, and the question of how I define fantasy literature has been something that has been percolating in the back of my mind since then.

These questions came back to the surface when I picked up Songs of Love and Death, a collection of stories edited by George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois.  All of the stories engage both the supernatural, as well as the theme of love and romance, and this cross-genre focus made it an excellent volume to think about the nature of the fantasy genre.

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