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Posts Tagged ‘contemporary fantasy’

Photo by Jason Scragz

Photo by Jason Scragz

From ear piercing to tattoos to plastic surgery to scarification, body modification has long played a significant role in worldwide culture, and still does today. It’s a nearly universal practice; historically, tattooing, scarring, piercing and the like have been used to mark rites of passage, to enhance beauty, to denote tribal or other affiliations, for spiritual reasons, and, especially in current Western culture, for self-expression and even shock value. On the other hand, body modification is still a taboo in many circles. To some, any kind of body modification that isn’t medically necessary is considered a desecration, a dishonoring of the sanctity of the body. In short, a form of self-mutilation. And, of course, there’s a wide range of opinion and feeling on the matter.

Considering the long and widespread history of body modification, and its cultural significance, this should be a fertile area to explore in fiction, especially for speculative fiction writers. Do the people who inhabit your worlds modify themselves? How? Why? Is modification a subculture or counterculture? Or is the absence of modification uncommon?

If you write contemporary mainstream fiction, consider your characters’ attitudes toward modification. Do your characters practice any sort of modification? What are their attitudes toward the common types of modification, such as piercings or tattoos? Are they likely to encounter the more uncommon types, such as scarification? What would their attitudes to such kinds of modification be?

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Solstice Wood by Patricia A. McKillip (2007)

Sylvia Lynn has spent most of her adult life avoiding going home, staying away from the dark, tangled woods that surround her family’s estate. But she feels an obligation to return to Lynn Hall for her grandfather’s funeral. While she’s there, she meets the Fiber Guild, a group of women who, with needles and hooks and thread, stitch together things far more mysterious than torn hems and quilt squares. She has something to hide, and so do they, and their secrets form a pattern that could change Sylvia’s life forever.

Patricia McKillip, as always, paints vivid, magical pictures with her lush, lyric language, which is her chief strength as a writer. Instead of a secondary-world or historical fantasy, however, she turns her pen to the modern day, to a sleepy little village and characters who are reluctant to embrace the modern age, but are desperate to escape the stagnation and bonds of the past. She revisits the village that provides the setting for Winter Rose (2002), a couple of centuries after Rois Melior’s story, and Rois figures prominently in this novel as well.

McKillip’s characters in Solstice Wood are well-drawn, and even the tertiary and secondary characters are fully-fleshed. The book is divided into sections told from various characters’ point of view, and while their motivations and personalities are distinct, the tone and the language they use to describe their separate journeys are not; the language of a fourteen-year-old boy sounds suspiciously like that of a mature fantasy writer.

The plot here is nothing a seasoned fantasy reader hasn’t seen before; but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In McKillip’s very capable hands, a plot that might seem cliche from another writer is fresh and absorbing. The ending, however, seems a tad contrived, a bit pat for the intricacy of the rest of the novel.

All in all, Solstice Wood is a very satisfying read, but not an earth-shakingly good one. Grade: B+

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