Jean McKinney

Strange Stories for Strange Times

Tag: the moon road

Science Fantasy, Speculative Fiction or What?

Ah, the genres.  I’m  preparing a batch of new stories and the long planned Moon Road novel, “A Patch of Cool” for e-publication, and that brings up the issue of keywords, search terms, niches, genres and the like – all designed to help readers find what they’re looking for.

Figuring out just where your book fits in the catalog can be a bit of a challenge when it crosses genres, or mashes them up in a new way.  And as I expand the backstory of that odd living highway that connects worlds and dimensions, I’m coming to realise that the Moon Road’s original niche of urban fantasy no longer really applies.   So I’m looking for another way to describe these books, so that readers can find them.

Speculative Fiction: The Big Umbrella

If you’re writing about anything that runs counter to absolute physical reality of the kind we live every day, your work would broadly be called “speculative fiction” – a term coined, some say, by science fiction author Robert Heinlein to describe fiction that has some element that’s counter to reality as we know it.  That might be a bit of magic, or a spacecraft, or even a technology that doesn’t exist now – but could.  Alternate histories fit here, and so do historical fictions that feature magic or supernatural elements.

Many “mainstream” fiction authors play with reality enough that at least some of their works could fit in this umbrella category.  It overlaps – sort of – with another genre, “magical realism,” made popular by Gabriel Garcia Marquez and other Latin American writers, as well as others as diverse as  Salman Rushdie and Alice  Hoffman.

Huddling under the Spec-Fic umbrella are a host of other subgenres, including not just the usual fantasy, science fiction and horror, but also niches sliced as thinly as “western werewolf gay romance” and “fat chicks space opera.”  The list of variations is long, and it’s getting longer all the time. Each has its own mythos and themes, and readers expect to see them every time they pick up a book.

Science Fantasy: Mix and Match

Science Fantasy is a hybrid of fantasy and science fiction.  There can be elements of hard science, space travel and the usual icons of “hard” science fiction alongside  themes and elements from horror, fantasy of various kinds, steampunk and historical fiction too.  This kind of fiction sidesteps the rigors of true science fiction, which is often but not always an extrapolation of existing science in some way.  But it also avoids the tropes of true fantasy,  with its emphasis on creatures and themes from myth and legend, whatever time period they might inhabit.  Like crows gathering collections of random pretty things, science fantasy authors  steal shamelessly from whatever genre has the stuff they need to tell the story.

As more and more works with elements of both science fiction and fantasy hit bookshelves both virtual and “real,” the label Science Fantasy seems to be gaining traction.   It’s a place where you can have vampires and space travel, magic and machines in the Civil War (the Office of Extraordinary Phenomena is grateful) and – a space faring road that makes pit stops at  places of power on earth and other worlds.

Making of the Moon Road

So since the Moon Road universe is evolving determinedly in the direction of the ages old Shadow War and the  Runners who are trying to stop the Shadows from seizing the Road and all the worlds it touches, I’ve been reworking the flash fictions and the longer works to accommodate a few  more sci fi aspects of the Moon Road world.

That side of the Moon Road universe showed up most clearly in “Claudia’s Law,” which introduced you to the Runners, the War and Claudia’s cohorts led by the mysterious Major Flesher.  But on our Earth, Soledad City where the Moon Road runs is still the place where Mama Silva, Nettie Chubai and their kind keep the power humming along.   But the Shadows are no strangers to this old Earth, and upcoming books and stories will do more to explore the way those characters and agendas cross and collide.

As I build the larger mythos that drives the Moon Road stories, I’ll be mixing up all these elements even more. New stories are popping up and old characters are getting ready to take a turn in the spotlight too.  And who knows, there’s probably a western werewolf gay romance in there too.  Yeah, I know there is.**

Stay tuned.  And I’d love to hear any story ideas from you, dear readers!


**  “Bridie’s Song” and its forthcoming sequel “Longman’s Ride”


“Three Feathers,” Part Three

 Part Three of ‘Three Feathers.”  Read Part  One and Part Two first.

Henry Joe squints through the smoke at the little white storefront. Who hasn’t heard of Mama Silva? Catty corner from the boarded up liquor store, Mama Silva’s open all the time, working fearsome magics in her back room behind a curtain made of beads . Crack heads and knife fights and sirens in the night: Mama Silva just goes on. She’s older than the mountains and wiser than the moon, and she plays with people’s lives like they’re puppets on strings wet with blood.

Henry Joe keeps as far away from magic as he can. Before she died of drinking, his mother told him how the night that he was born, the wind cried till the dawn came, and when the sun came up, there were three feathers on the windowsill: one black, one barred, and one grey like a dove’s. She carried her newborn boy to the window, she said, and when he saw those feathers his tiny little hand reached out sure and strong, and picked up that black feather by its quill.

She spent her life convinced her fifth-born one had been touched by the Spirits, and Henry Joe’s spent his whole  life running from the thought.

If that’s possible, Mama Silva scares him more than Nettie Chubai.   So he and Sam sit staring at each other, at Mama Silva’s front door, at anything but that damn sack. They could be here all night while Sam screws up the nerve to pick it up, and Henry Joe can’t stand that crawling dread any longer.

“Ah shit,” he says, and swinging open the door, he grabs the thing from the seat. The sudden weight of it, far more than its size should allow, drags his arm to the ground. Sam’s eyes roll; he flings open the door and starts down the sidewalk, never looking back. Henry Joe hauls the sack up into both arms, ignoring the squishy shifting of the contents, and follows Sam to Mama Silva’s door.

Sam Bass eases open the carved front door and they step into a little room full of golden lamplight and the smell of incense. Shelves along the wall hold votives and little pots labeled in Spanish. Crucifixes and statues of the Virgin fill a glass display case in the front. By the window two old women dressed in black and silver whisper, heads together, over a box filled with bundles of dried herbs.

Beads rattle like mesquite beans. Henry Joe glances up, mouth suddenly dry. Lamplight fractures like tiny rainbows on the crystals hanging from the doorway of another room in back. They part, and a small woman in black steps through.

She has silver hair piled high with combs and the hard proud face of a Mayan queen, and with a smile she holds out her hand to Sam Bass.

“Welcome, mijo. And how is your tia keeping?”

Sam casts a wild eye at Henry Joe. His voice creaks. “She’s, well, she says, uh, hello. She sends this.”

Cued, Henry Joe leans around from behind him. The contents of the bag sag moistly against his chest. His arms ache from the weight. “Where do you want it?” he hears himself say.

“Give Nettie my thanks,” says Mama Silva, and reaching up, she plucks the sack neatly from Henry Joe’s grasp. Lifting it in one hand like a grocery bag full of feathers, she gestures the two of them into the curtained room.

The two old women by the window glance up from their herbs. Smiling, Mama Silva tells them something in rapid-fire Spanish; they beam at Sam and Henry Joe.

That smile sends a worm of fear across the back of Henry Joe’s neck. He clears his throat. Mama Silva turns her black-ice eyes upon him.

“Come in, querido, and have some tea. I knew your mother, once.”

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