Risingshadow has the honour of publishing a guest post by Ani Fox.

About the author:

Ani Fox lives in Luxembourg City, Luxembourg - the heart of ancient Europe. He's published short fiction in Jim Baen's Universe as well as in the Ragnarok Publications anthology Corrupts Absolutely? The Autumn War is his first published novel. In his spare time he holds down a day job, serves as Editor in Chief for the European Review of Speculative Fiction and does what his cat tells him. He holds a BA in History from the Rutgers University, a PhD (ABD) in World History from the Australian National University and a PhD in Indigenous Theology from ULC Seminary; none of which make him more fun at parties.

About The Autumn War:

Nothing is as it seems. After the mysterious death of his family, retired operative Spetz has come looking for answers, using himself as bait. The shadowy Syndicate has made him a job offer that a deranged cadre of Nazi super-soldiers, the various global Mafias, and a ship full of eco-fanatics would all prefer he decline. By midday, the U.S. Government has declared him a terrorist, and an unseen adversary has offered more than a billion dollars to have him killed.

In this covert global war, Spetz is forced to call in some favors from former associates: a rogue Artificial Intelligence, an ice-cold femme fatale, and a rescue team of former Soviet saboteurs. Among his enemies are Zeus, a genetically engineered soldier who styles himself a god; Mika French, the best assassin alive, and Hans Gutlicht, a mad scientist with a grudge... and the man who raised Spetz.

From the icy waters of the Canadian North Atlantic to the burning sands of Las Vegas, Spetz must keep two steps ahead of everyone, outfoxing some of the most brilliant and dangerous operatives alive. To unravel the conspiracies behind the Autumn War, he does the one thing he's always resisted: join 'The Game.' But can he win it in time to stop his faceless enemy? For Spetz, it's gotten very personal.

Game on.

Publisher website: www.ragnarokpub.com

GUEST POST: Epperperson and All Things Feminine when Writing

When I was a little boy, we had a family friend who changed her name from Epperson to Epperperson, much to confusion, derision and occasional admiration of the blandly lower middle class social set to which we belonged. My parents folk danced; they were hippies with day jobs who brushed me up against D&D playing adults, baklava, giant parties with bonfires, handmade sangria and bowls of tabbouleh and other assorted soft drugs which led to a life of critical thinking. They didn’t mean to expose me to feminism or new ideas; they just liked to dance to Hungarian music. But irradiated by notions of human equality and sent to my room to read Robert Heinlein and Edgar Rice Burroughs, one could argue I mutated.

Fast forward to college, where to fulfill some requirement or other for a special degree, I snuck into a weirdo theatre appreciation class taught by Elin Diamond. None of us punk kids knew she was famous and we certainly didn’t care. Not about the weird plays she made us read nor the odd assignments she gave us. We just wanted to get our easy A, stay out late, fight the Man and generally make excuses to eat Rutgers grease truck food at 2am while sounding high minded. Elin introduced us to the Bechdel test (but had some other academic name for it) which sorts literature, art, movies, etc., into two buckets: ones who have two female characters who talk to one another about something other than a man and those that don’t. It seemed so simple, so easy to pass and yet, when nineteen year old me wrote an experimental play for Diamond to avoid my final exam, I failed the Bechdel test.

Twenty seven years later my first novel will be published and I kinda sorta failed the test again. It’s been a quiet obsession of mine, this distinction between literature where women have agency and voice and where they don’t. Or visibly do not. In my book, the male narrator focuses on his direct experiences and conversations. Which automatically fails the Bechdel test unless he’s observing women surreptitiously and reporting on what they say. I’m ok with that – I play with the notion of gender and sexuality, of the female voice and presence, the effects of sexism and latent fear of women in my book. Really in all my writing, But it does raise a question for writers, especially with the recent swirl of ugly culture warfare around authenticity, appropriation and the “correct” role of an artist.

Come with me for a moment on what will be a small digression: in my free time (when not working my corporate day job) I’m a cultural historian with a concentration in queer theory but also genocide, indigenous ontology and resource systems. For me, systems interlock. It’s not a mistake that I view Epperperson as a name in the same circle as the food, music, social rhythms and local time / place of my youth. They are in dramatic terms a set piece, a snapshot of a system evolving. Even the Bechdel Test has evolved: we have the Mao Mori test for female narrative, the Vito Russo test and so on. These tests mean something to me, they indicate a need to interrogate our literature in new terms. No one reading Burroughs could possibly think Dejah Thoris, the naked princess waiting for rescue, had a narrative arc or a voice consistent with 21st century standards. But it makes the stories no less well written nor important, just terribly mired in their century and by our values hopelessly sexist.

I love his books like I love Loni Anderson from WKRP and Rambo movies – they are icons of my idyllic Cold War American childhood. I also view them with a rather critical eye and wince. For a kid raised on square ham, Cheez Whiz, calling the entire Soviet Union Russkies and a painfully simplistic world view boiled down to Us and Them, I’ve come rather far.  Especially since I realized I was part of Them as puberty hit. What then makes my work authentic? How may I be judged?

Digression over. We have the Sad Puppy wars at the Hugos. We have students on campus blasting folks for microaggressions and trauma triggers. Lionel Shriver pisses off the planet with her comments on appropriation. In short, in social terms our criticisms have increased ostensibly and our barometer for failure seems to be rigged. But we still pass the Bechdel test at about the same rate. Maybe a little bit better. We still produce mostly male oriented, male driven literature and media. We being the global media. We being the English speaking world. We being you and me. I picked Ragnarok in part because they do not give two f*&^s about trying to be inoffensive. We sell books about guys who eat eyeballs or pigs who murder tourists. We also publish great work and support great work regardless of gender, sexuality, political bent, or any other categorical slot. The Rok seems to just do good genre stuff, end stop no deep thought required.

The Bechdel test matters to me and likely it highlights something powerful in how writers deliver a verisimilitude of their world. Women being 51% of the population, it’s likely that two of them might talk to one another and about something other than, you know, men. As in ten standard deviations likely, 99.9999% likely. When a text or movie or game (any media fits) fails that simple test, it should raise an alarm. If there’s a clear reason, something obvious like The Name of the Rose where no women existed, then it’s a non-issue. Otherwise, then the writer may have to consider. How did I make a whole world, a realistic or outrageous portrait of some kind of reality that happens to have no women talking to other women? It means the system does not balance, that other meaningful details which contribute to the willing suspension of disbelief are also missing.

Which brings me back to The Epperperson. Every time she came into a room and certainly every time she left, she drove a conversation. She had tongues wagging from LA to Oakland. Mostly bitching and gossip, but nonetheless pressing on the system around her. Exposing the ragged edges of its flaws, its inherent inequalities, its cherished assumptions. She taught me how much an anomaly will stick out and cause friction. For some speculative fiction like Heinlein’s Friday or Number of the Beast, that drives a very purposeful literature. Or it rubs you wrong. We re-watched the movie “Swordfish” the other night. My wife and daughter while admitting Halle Barry naked had some merit, convinced me to turn it off. Why? The acting was so bad, the script so preposterous, it became silly then insulting to our intelligence. Swordfish has Oscar nominated actors, great people with some amazing films to their name. It also fails the Bechdel test.

I use the Bechdel test (and a bunch of other critical theory) as little litmus patches. If I can lay them on a story and the color comes right, probably the worldbuilding has been done well, the plot has no stupid holes, the characterization does not entirely stink and maybe it reads ok. Without the smallest doubt, the writing which fails will have some fatal flaw or several fatal flaws. At least for the things I write. Now for Dejah Thoris, Loni Anderson and Rambo style stories with a mere Us and Them, we need not elevate pulp to literature. For the rest, I’d recommend to my fellow artist to consider using a few simple tools like the Bechdel or Mako Mori test as a kind of fats and dirty system check.

Just remember – great art need not be austere, overly serious or joyless. Need proof? “Baby got back’ by Sir Mix a Lot passes the Bechdel test. “Oh, my, god. Becky, look at her butt. It is so big. [scoff] She looks like one of those rap guys' girlfriends...”

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