Hugosauriad 4.8: Uncanny Magazine and The Tale of the Three Beautiful Raptor Sisters… by Brooke Bolander

The history of the Hugo Awards is intimately connected to the history of science-fiction and fantasy magazines. For decades Best Novel winners were often first published as serialised stories in the most notable magazines. By 2019 the age of the news stand sci-fi magazine was long over, although some venerable magazines were still in publication (e.g. Analog) and Amazing Stories had returned via the power of Kickstarter.

The magazine was from dead though. The business models had changed and the mode of distribution was radically different but the Hugo Awards at the end of the second decade of the twenty-first century were still influenced by magazines. Uncanny is a ‘semiprozine’ a science-fiction magazine that pays writers but also has some of the volunteer qualities of a fanzine. Starting life at the end of 2014 just before the height of the Sad Puppy debarkle, Uncanny quickly gained a strong reputation for the quality of its stories. It won it’s first Hugo Award for Best Semiprozine in 2016 and then won each year up to and including 2019. Founders and editors of Uncanny, Lynne M. Thomas & Michael Damian Thomas have also been finalists in the Best Editor Short Form category in 2017, 18 & 19 and won the category in 2018. A total of six short stories published by Uncanny have been Hugo Finalists since 2017. It is an impressive CV.

Part of its popularity lies with how it uses a mixes of models as a business:

How You Can Read Uncanny:
” Uncanny issues are published as eBooks (mobi, pdf, epub) bimonthly on the first Tuesday of each month through all of the major online eBook stores. Every issue contains 5-6 new short stories, 1 reprinted stories, 3 poems, 4 nonfiction essays, and 2 interviews, at minimum.
Subscribers and those purchasing single issues get each issue in its entirety up front.
You can subscribe to Uncanny Magazine through Weightless Books. You can also subscribe through Amazon in order to get Uncanny Magazine sent directly to your Kindle. Subscriptions not only get you all of the content on the day of the release, they will also make it possible for Uncanny to continue past our Year Two Kickstarter.
Those reading online for free will be able to read the first half of the issue online when the eBook is released, but will have to wait a month for the second half to appear on the first Tuesday of the next month at http://uncannymagazine.com/.
We also produce a monthly podcast featuring a story, a poem, and an interview that is likewise released on the first Tuesday of each month.
https://uncannymagazine.com/about/

Uncanny Magazine, About https://uncannymagazine.com/about/

Providing stories online for free makes it much easier for people to share stories that they enjoyed which in turn helps any award buzz a story might get. Subscriber and advertising revenue is supplemented by crowdfunding for special issues. One such issues was the 2018 ‘Shared universes dinosaur’ issue (https://uncannymagazine.com/uncanny-magazine-issue-23-cover-and-table-of-contents/ ). The contents page alone shows the extent to which Uncanny influences and is influenced by the Hugo Awards with contributors who have been finalists or winners of artist, fan-writing, editing, short fiction and novel categories.

Editor Lynne Thomas has past form with the Hugo Awards and dinosaur having been the editor for Rachel Swirsky’s “If You Were a Dinosaur My Love” in 2013 at Apex magazine. A whole issue devoted to dinosaur stories arose out of a Twitter discussion in 2017 and evolved into a series of very slightly connected stories. The frame is a corporation experimenting with recreating dinosaurs and also with time-travel and perhaps inter dimensional portals.

“On the largest island sits a shimmering crater filled with mysterious energies, where dinosaurs sometimes wander and often end up elsewhere… or elsewhen. The portal, accidentally created by The Owen Corporation for unknown reasons, is a gateway to other worlds, times, and dimensions, and it is growing. Soon, the experimental dinosaurs may very well overwhelm the entire multiverse.”

The Uncanny Dinosaurs—Introduction by Brooke Bolander, Sam J. Miller, Mari Ness, Nicasio Andres Reed, A. Merc Rustad & Elsa Sjunneson-Henry, K.M. Szpara, JY Yang, and Lynne M. Thomas & Michael Damian Thomas, ed. Thomas, Lynne M. . Uncanny Magazine Issue 23: July/August 2018 . Uncanny Magazine. Kindle Edition.

The ten stories that follow place dinosaurs in different times and settings and genres. Only five of the stories directly connect with the “Owen Corporation” framing device, with K.M.Szpara’s “You Can Make a Dinosaur but You Can’t Help Me” looking closest. It follows the transgender son of the titular Owen of the Owen Corporation as he attempts to reconnect with his distance and unaccepting father on his Jurassic Park-like island. Red Lizard Brigade by Sam J. Miller imagines an attempted defection from a Soviet military unit that has gained access to dinosaurs via a portal that the Own Corporation wants. Bones in the Rock imagines a dinosaur who has been serially re-incarnated after a faustian pact at the end of the cretaceous, who is now a paleontologist searching for the bones of her dead lover. By Claw, By Hand by Silent Speech by Elsa Sjunneson-Henry and A. Merc Rustad is a story of deaf scientist attempting to teach sign language to a deadly raptor on the Owen Corportation’s island. Give the People What They Want by Alex Bledsoe uses the time travel premise to suggest a reason why people might attempt to make illicit videos of dinosaurs…

The other five stories place dinosaurs in more unusual settings. Mari Ness’s poem ‘Expecting a Dinosaur’ examines how social media would react to a sudden appearance of dinosaurs. Everything Under Heaven is a fantasy story with an East Asian setting where dinosaurs and flying reptiles have become an unwelcome intrusion of ‘dragons’. The Emigrants’ Guide to Oregon, California, and the Unknown by Brit E. B. Hvide, follows the doomed Donner Party on its 1840s trek westward but with the added addition of a ‘strange bird’ with a taste for meat. Mary Robinette Kowal’s ‘Nails in My Feet’ is a very short account of a puppet dinosaur abandoned in a cupboard, that I can’t help feel like a coda to Bradbury’s Prehistoric Producer.

The story I haven’t mentioned yet is Brooke Bolander’s The Tale of the Three Beautiful Raptor Sisters and the Prince Who Was Made of Meat. It does, as the old advert on British TV used to say, what it says on the tin. Three raptor sisters and a prince who was indeed made out of meat (as they normally are). The story starts in a very familiar and yet unusual way:

“Once upon a time, long, long, long, long, long, long, ago, there were three raptor sisters, hatched beneath a lucky star. They lived in a wood together, they stole sheep and cattle together, and all in all, there was no tighter-knit hunting pride of matriarchal dromaeosauridae between the mountains and the sea.”

The Tale of the Three Beautiful Raptor Sisters and the Prince Who Was Made of Meat by Brooke Bolander, ed. Thomas, Lynne M. . Uncanny Magazine Issue 23: July/August 2018 . Uncanny Magazine. Kindle Edition.

We’ve ,met as long ago as the 1950s, intelligent dinosaurs with functioning societies. More recently, Sawyer’s Far-seer had dinosaurs as protagonists within a dinosaur society. Bolander’s story pitches into a story where dinosaurs have a folklore and can partake in fairy-tales.

A foolish prince wanders into territory that is the hunting ground of three raptors. The raptors are surprised and decide that he must be part of some human plot. One of them (called Ceecee) decides to trick the prince into taking her back to his castle, so that she can ascertain what the humans are put to. Unfortunately for Ceecee, she had not planned on the obliviousness of the prince and she finds herself stuck in the castle. In the same castle she encounters the princess betrothed to the prince. The princess is both wise and a witch but is unable to win Ceecee’s trust. Inevitably matters come to a head and the prince using drugged meat manages to shackle Ceecee making her escape even more impossible.

“Ceecee was not asleep. She lay curled in a feathery heap in the floor of her stall. Already there were welts and bare spots among her snout plumage where the iron muzzle had rubbed. “I’m sorry,” said the Princess. “I didn’t know he was going to do this. I didn’t see it coming.” Rrr, said Ceecee. “He didn’t outwit me,” the Princess snapped, “he accidentally figured out how to stitch two thoughts together to make a third. But all that is beside the point. Listen.” Ceecee didn’t have much of a choice in the matter. “In my room, there is a scrying vessel, and in that scrying vessel I have seen your sisters, slipping towards the castle along the old road. They are coming to save you. If they kill the guards at the gate, more will come, with pikes and arrows and swords, and both of them will die.” All Ceecee could manage in response to this news was a low moan of misery. Her claws were dulled and her jaws held fast. Even if she escaped, how could she possibly help them? Perhaps sensing her thoughts—for again, this good mammal had many talents—the Princess raised a hand. “You cannot help them,” she said. “They cannot storm the castle by force. What they need now is stealth. They need trickery, and they need an ally to help them.” And here she smiled, with her flat, dull teeth. No beautiful curved sickle of bone, that smile, but it held its own kind of danger. “You cannot help them,” she repeated, “but I can.”

The Tale of the Three Beautiful Raptor Sisters and the Prince Who Was Made of Meat by Brooke Bolander, ed. Thomas, Lynne M. . Uncanny Magazine Issue 23: July/August 2018 . Uncanny Magazine. Kindle Edition.

Ever since Bob Peck said “clever girl” just before being eaten by a pack of velociraptors in Jurassic Park, the dromaeosaur has been the dinosaur most associated with cunning and intelligence. In Bolander’s story Ceecee picks up the role of the folk tale protagonist who lives by her wits and whose natural intelligence and curiosity gets her both into and out of trouble. It is a surprisingly good fit that puts the raptor into a class of animal characters along with foxes and cats. Smaller predators whose cleverness can backfire against them.

Bolander’s raptors are modern dinosaurs not just in terms of their wits or their capacity to shift beyond the normal dino-narrative but also because they are beautifully feathered.

“The court was more than a little disconcerted when the Prince came back missing his prize stallion. The fact that he rode a rainbow-feathered creature with cunning eyes, a snout full of sharp white teeth, and lethal claws on each bipedal foot, was also the source of much talk, but the loss of the thoroughbred was a blow to all and sundry, for he had been a stud of some renown.

The Tale of the Three Beautiful Raptor Sisters and the Prince Who Was Made of Meat by Brooke Bolander, ed. Thomas, Lynne M. . Uncanny Magazine Issue 23: July/August 2018 . Uncanny Magazine. Kindle Edition.

Of course I’m highlighting this story from the issue in particular because it was also a Hugo Award finalist in 2019 for best short story. Of the other stories in the issue, K.M.Szpara’s “You Can Make a Dinosaur but You Can’t Help Me” received enough nominations to appear on the long list but enough to be a finalist.

So where are dinosaurs at the end of 2019? The dinosaur as slow or redundant or past its time is not something we see but in this project we haven’t seen much of that view of dinosaurs. The idea of dinosaurs as intelligent is surprisingly old but a genuine change dating from Jurassic park forward is of some dinosaurs being cunning and wily. The association of dinosaurs with sex is a surprising development but not one confined only to porn parodies.

“On the screen, she watched the velociraptor mating orgy in the clearing ahead. Tails whipped through the air as partners changed, and high-pitched, bird-like cries rang out. It was a seething mass of feathers, claws, and teeth, with an occasional glimpse of the massive toe talons used both for killing, and for digging into the hides of mates. To Holden it was one of the least erotic things imaginable, but since the Breach of ’69, a small community of men—it was always men—had sprung up who found it unbelievably exciting, and were willing to pay for the privilege of jerking off to it. That image always left her a bit nauseous.”

Give The People What They Want by Alex Bledsoe, ed. Thomas, Lynne M. . Uncanny Magazine Issue 23: July/August 2018 . Uncanny Magazine. Kindle Edition.

The shift in popular understanding that dinosaurs, in particular theropods, were probably bird like is also a change in how dinosaurs are represented. The idea provides a richer range of templates of both behaviour and symbolism to draw upon.

Next time: Time to wrap up and call it a day.

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