Ah, fall. The end of summer and the beginning of random creative bullshit. Before #Inktober takes over, there is #swordtember, which asks artists to create new swords for the month of September. As one who’s art is primary RPG design, I have decided to spend the month creating one page awesome D&D 5E swords. I am of course late to the party on this blog (which I haven’t updated in literal years) but I’m just going to pick up where we are at. Therefore, i present to you #swordtember2022 entery 11: Neon.
Say hello to Sexalibur.
Note: This isn’t a review of Lovecraft Country, the HBO television series based on the novel by Matt Huff. Nor is it a critical analysis of either. Rather it is merely the distillation of a thought that has rattled around inside me since I started watching the show, so take it as such.
To best avoid burying the lede, I’ll state my thesis outright: the immediate value of diversity in genre fiction is that it creates the opportunity to view otherwise tried — or tired — stories within new contexts, making them fresh an interesting again. Even if one chooses to ignore the important work of examining mainstream — read: straight, white, male — culpability in the marginalization of others — read: queer, brown, non-male — one can still see how authors that are not straight, white men bring something important to the table.
Of course we should be examining that culpability, and we should be doing so in spaces that are traditionally the domain of the mainstream. By doing so, we expose those people to events and ideas they had not been taught or considered. A good example of this is the opening minutes of the first episode of HBO’s Watchmen series which revealed for the first time to many white viewers the destruction of the affluent, successful Black community of Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1921. That sequence did more to teach white American Gen-X and Millenial genre fans about the true nature of their country than most of their history education.
Lovecraft Country does not include so dramatic and shocking a singular event that would surprise white audiences. Instead it focuses on the every day kind of oppression African Americans in post-War, pre-Civil Rights America suffered. These cruelties are more well known to the average viewer: back of the bus, lunch counters, sundown towns and lynchings. This is partly because American education has done a better job of introducing the Civil Rights movement, and probably more due to the love that Academy Award hunters have for the era. In either case, Lovecraft Country certainly protrays these indiginities as the horrors they actually were and that itself is important.
But, that too veers wide of my thesis. The Lovecraftian tale of the young man who is drawn into a web of mystery, horror and eldritch powers by a letter from a lost relative is a thoroughly beaten trope. After all, it was already old when Lovecraft embraced it and his imitators have only further worn it down to a nub of its former narrative usefulness. By applying the trope to this new context, the trope becomes new again and we are engaged by an idea that would have otherwise had us yawning.
This is what diverse creators bring to genre entertainment, be it novels, comic books, video games, television shows and film, or tabletop games. These experiences, either personal or passed down through culture, do not invade or supplant or erase the foundational works, they enhance and update and reinvigorate them. Thankfully, they often also change them for the better by exposing their inherent biases, but at the core the immediate value is that they make otherwise rote stories into something worth exploring.
So suddenly after 60 chapters with a pretty clear sense of where I was going, I have hit a bit of a hiccup in Blood of Angels. I don’t know if it is just writer’s block or running into the usual “soft middle” of the story or what, but I feel stuck. If you are one of the handful of folks following the story, don’t worry: I am not abandoning it. But it might take a short while for me to find my footing on it again.
The people were stacked like lumber in the hold. Their sick and offal reek mixed with that of salt water. For nightmarish months they clung to life, until they couldn’t. If their captors noticed, they were cast overboard to feed the school of sharks that followed the ship across the broad Atlantic.
These were the lucky ones. The unlucky ones were brought onto the deck as sport for the captain and crew before being discarded alive into the hungry sea.
They were not the first people treated worse than animals by their fellow man, nor would they be the last.
“Hello? Sammy?” Chira called out. Their words echoed through the parking garage.
“I don’t like it,” Omar whisper-shouted.
“Here,” called Taiwo, faking a masculine voice.
“Fuck,” Chira said.
“I don’t like it. I mean, how–”
“Help,” Taiwo called. “I’m trapped.”
“Shit!” said Chira and Omar said. “No way,” but both still moved closer.
Taiwo hit Omar first. She emerged from behind a column and swung her scavenged pool stick. It broke across Omar’s skull and he collapsed soundlessly.
Chira spun and raised their keychain pepper spray too late. Taiwo shoved the jagged end of the stick into Chira’s neck.
Nichelle kissed Honor on her forehead then hugged her tightly.
“Mom,” started Honor with tears in her voice.
Nichelle held Honor at arm’s length. “Go. I love you,” she said and pushed her toward the gate.
She watched, weeping, until the plane taxied away.
In the car, she messaged Justin then dialed Bernie.
“Hey,” he said. “How are–”
“No,” she said. “We aren’t doing that.”
“The only reason I’m not on that plane with her is so we can nail this bastard. Tell me you have a plan.”
“I do,” said Bernie. “But it’s going to be unpleasant.”
“You are coming out here,” said Justin in his Dad Voice.
“I am not leaving the city to go live in the desert!” whined Honor into the phone, then yelled, “Mom, tell Dad I don’t have to go live with him!”
Justin did not hear what Nichelle yelled back but judging by Honor’s pouting, “It’s not fair!” he guessed Nichelle had held fast. He wished she had agreed to come, too, however.
“Look, Ho-Ho,” he said gently, “it’s important. It might be the most important thing in the world.”
Honor huffed her resignation.
“I love you,” he said. “Get packed.”
By the time Taiwo’s plane touched down and she exited customs and retrieved her luggage, she was exhausted. Upon finally reaching her small, dirty hotel room she collapsed onto the bed and fell immediately asleep.
The next day she sent the first text. She spoofed it to come from Sammy’s number.
I NEED YOUR HELP, it read.
She waited and watched the cellular traffic. Sammy’s friends texted each other frantically. After an hour the one called Chira texted back.
WHERE ARE YOU? ARE YOU OKAY.
Taiwo sent the address and added, I’M SCARED.
WE’RE COMING, said Chira.
Taiwo smiled hungrily.