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Authors: Jeff Conner

Classics Mutilated

BOOK: Classics Mutilated
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Foreword

This collection represents a multitude of takes on the so-called Monster Lit phenomenon, a trend that's spreading through the book trade like gossip at a church picnic. To recap, Monster Lit is the pub biz tag for breeding public domain classics and/or historical figures with outré genre elements, usually of the horrific supernatural persuasion. The absurd genius of "mashing" the English-speaking world's most popular dead author with its equally popular undead abominations that aren't vampires was brilliant, a laudable piece of literary pranking that—in a rare alignment of commerce rewarding art—was gobbled up by book buyers like Halloween candy laced with spicy brains.

Given the notable mass-market success of that first foray into repurposed prose, it didn't take long for a "remix recipe" to emerge, namely take one Public Domain Classic, insert choice of Generic Monster, mix well in favorite Word Processor, and serve to sales-starved Publishers.

Of course, the reality is that publishing is more art than science and such formulas don't adapt well to endless corporate replication. Public domain classics are like oil, there's only so much out there, so what happens when they run out, and all the good monsters have long been taken?

Can Monster Lit survive its inherent expiration date? This collection provides the answer. Here at Classics Mutilated Industries, we're endeavoring to rescue Monster Lit from its own termination by reframing the concept as a whole new concept: CTRL-ALT-LIT, literature remixed. This bit of editorial doctoring calls for injecting a healthy dose of Mashup Culture into Monster Lit's left ass cheek. So bend over, corporate publishers. It's our belief that CTRL-ALT-LIT can avoid the fate of other publishing fads and evolve into a vibrant, self-sustaining category all its own, like franchise fantasy, techno-thrillers, and celebrity tell-alls.

But just what is Mashup Culture, you ask? A simple demonstration provides the best answer: simply Google "Single Ladies (In Mayberry)" and watch the YouTube video—all will be revealed. (
Mashup
is also a term for hacker-made multi-function apps, basically the software equivalent of what's happening in the arts, especially music.)

Indeed, for over ten years now an underground global community of DJs and producers (music hackers, if you will) have been "mashing" together two or more songs and then playing the results at local clubs or putting them on their websites. (
Glee
had a mashup episode this year, signaling that the scene is either far from over or totally over, depending.) Because these unauthorized mixes use copyrighted material they are literally bootlegs, hence the term "bootie" to describe these types of illicit releases.

The best bootie mixes are startling juxtapositions of diverse musical elements, reflecting a prankish humor and refreshing energy that is strikingly reminiscent of the early Surrealist and Dadaist movements (e.g., "readymade" and "found object" reconfigurations; an anarchistic art stance that later influenced punk rock). It's this bootie vibe that informs CLASSICS MUTILATED collection and our CTRL-ALT-LIT movmement. (Deeper "remix fiction" is still too esoteric, even for this project.)

Of course, attentive readers of science fiction and fantasy will recognize that the recombinant genre blending at the heart of Monster Lit is very much like "fan fiction," a staple of SF fandom since the 1930s. Now a well-established form of self-expression and community participation—and an obvious precursor to the contemporary mashup movement—these self-motivated "franchise hackers" diligently craft new mix-and-match adventures for their favorite characters and franchises—without regard for copyright or NSFW content (e.g., gay-centric "slash" fiction with titles like "Brokeback To The Future").

And while bootie culture has spread globally, there is a thriving form of fanfic found only in Japan in the form of the somewhat low-profile
dōjinshi
communities. In this grey-market publishing phenomenon, artists and writers use copyrighted material for their own projects and then sell small, self-published quantities to fans and collectors at special conventions. The practice is tacitly encouraged by the country's mainstream publishers because the
dōjinshi
scene is an effective way for young creators to learn their craft, and it produces a lot of fresh content.

Another view of copyright enforcement is described in a recent article in
Der Spiegel
by economic historian Eckhard Höffner posits that the reason why Germany surpassed England's industrial and technological innovation during the early 19th century was due to its lax copyright laws (and corresponding strong ones in Great Britain). The theory has it that cheap bootleg editions of technical books and journals (an early form of "open source") allowed the German populace freer access to practical knowledge, leading to greater innovation as a society. And because strict copyright enforcement kept English book prices high, and thus out of reach to all but the aristocracy (who hadn't much interest in new technology in the first place), that country fell behind. This bolsters the "information should be free" ethos of many Internet communities, which is still different than downloading copyrighted material without paying for it—that's just theft. Really.

But it's no revelation that technology has always impacted society and the arts, or that the digital revolution has created many new arenas for expressing one's creative (often subversive) impulses. In this light, Monster Lit is just another in a long line of fringe phenomena that has been discovered, and in some cased absorbed by the mainstream—like hip hop fashion, extreme sports, waxing, or even the ecology and civil rights movements.

From the start, CLASSICS MUTILATED was designed as a "corrective" for cash-in Monster Lit, a vampire and zombie free one. The project started with commissioning talented writers, not adhering to a shallow formula. Asking smart creators to bring their own visions and sensibilities to our bootie party seemed like the best way to achieve our goals, and just about anything was fair game (as long as it wouldn't attract corporate lawyers, since this isn't Japan or 1830s Germany, at least not yet).

And now you can feast on the tasty results. Some stories use "classic" Monster Lit as a point of departure, while others approach their mashups from their own singular perspectives. And while the styles and stances may vary, the results are always highly entertaining and totally original.

Case in point, Joe R. Lansdale's masterful "Dread Island," which features Huck Finn narrating a strange new adventure involving familiar anthropomorphic creatures and a notorious ancient tome of inter-dimensional evil. Only Lansdale could effortlessly combine Mart Twain, H.P. Lovecraft, and Uncle Remus into one compelling, novella-length tale.

And speaking of compelling, "Little Women in Black" is undoubtedly the most rigorous example of Monster Lit ever written. Rick Hautala's deft "collaboration" with Louisa May Alcott is an authentically subversive work, created by slipping shards of new text into Alcott's original prose, transforming an extended Christmas interlude into something eerie and sinister. (We also have Mr. Hautala and writer Christopher Golden to thank for the "Classics Mutilated" moniker.)

Lezli Robyn's "Anne-droid of Green Gables" is a great example of Monster Lit
sans
monster, instead using Steampunk to recraft Lucy Maud Montgomery's beloved 1908 "orphan lit" novel. For an entirely different but no less effective result, Nancy Collins extends the adventures of Herman Melville's Capt. Ahab in "From Hell's Heart"; it's so heartening to discover that the crusty captain still wields a mean harpoon.

Taking on mythology, Chris Ryall's "Twilight of the Gods" features the outcast god Loki (you know him from the Thor comics), as done in the style of a very popular dark fantasy series. Working with another sort of mythology, Tom Piccirilli's "Benediction" mixes genres rather than specific literary or historical characters, effectively merging classic crime fiction with old world witchcraft.

Presenting one of the most anticipated match-ups in fantasy, Sean Taylor's "The Fairest of Them All" which pits Snow White and Lewis Carroll's Alice (via a certain enchanted mirror) in a magic-infused battle royale. Presenting a his own distinct twist on magic is Mike Resnick and his WWII period, alternate-history farce, "El and Al vs. Himmler's Horrendous Hordes From Hell," which headlines Eleanor Roosevelt and Albert Einstein. The two 1940s icons deploy good old American science against diabolical Third Reich necromancy. Moving on to the post-War period, Thomas Tessier's "The Green Menace" finds Sen. Joseph McCarthy, the infamous Red-baiting demagogue, fighting an insidious homeland invader that even his paranoid brain couldn't imagine.

Mixing historical figures with fictional characters is another hallmark of this collection, and one of the most evocative examples is Kristine Kathryn Rusch's "Death Stops for Miss Dickinson," which recounts the famed poet's heretofore secret graveyard hook-up. Meanwhile, John Shirley's "Frankenbilly" has Henry McCarty, aka Billy the Kid, encountering the "real" Dr. Frankenstein in the old west, with electrifying results.

Spotlighting a more recent outlaw, Mark Morris's "Vicious" details a pivotal moment in the too-brief life of John Simon Ritchie, aka Sid Vicious, the notorious Sex Pistol. Rio Youers' "Quoth the Rock Star" concerns another gone-too-soon rocker, namely the singer/poet Jim Morrison, and his strange encounter with Edgar Allan Poe (or at least something like him).

Mixing non-fiction style with fictional fact is Marc Laidlaw's "Pokky Man," an investigation into the fate of a passionate young naturalist whose intense study of the odd little "pokky" creatures leads to bizarre tragedy. Also set in a world like ours (yet thankfully not), the writing team of John Skipp and Cody Goodfellow unleashes "The Happiest Hell on Earth." Also employing documentary techniques, their story reveals how Dr. Moreau's man-creatures survived the House of Pain, only to be even more cruelly exploited as live-action cartoon characters. (Does the name "Darn Old Duck" ring a bell?)

And so CLASSICS MUTILATED goes out into the world, claws held high, turntables on stun, leading by example, showing those other be-yoches how Monster Lit/Mashup Fiction should be done.

Let the mutilation begin. CTRL-ALT-LIT has arrived.

Jeff Conner

Los Angeles, California

August 28, 2010

The Fairest of Them All:

A Symphony of Revenge

By Sean Taylor

First Movement—Once Upon a Time

They were nameless, though they had no trouble distinguishing one another. Short and squat, they smelled like the caves they mined, but that didn't bother them. They had done so and been so for more than two hundred of the humans' years, and they looked neither older nor younger than they had a few decades ago. 

The one who knew himself as the leader, and perhaps the eldest—it had been so long and who knew really—walked the tunnels in thought. 

The woman, the human woman, was waiting for them at the cottage. No more than a cleaned-out cave by her standards, no doubt, but for them it was as close to a cottage as they could tolerate. Before finding her, he had simply called the place home, but she had named it
cottage
and because they loved her, he could abide the change of terms. 

"Good day today, brother?" the one with the red beard said as he passed. 

"So far," Leader said. "Enough gold to justify another day of digging."

"That's not what I mean."

"Oh?"

"You'll turn gray from the worry I see on your face. You've got wrinkles on your wrinkles this morning."

He laughed, a coughing sound laden with rock dust. "I'm thinking about Snow."

"We all do. She's quite a beauty."

He shook his head. "Not like that. Something's wrong. There's a darkness growing in her and I fear we can't stop it. It's an ill wind, brother, and I fear for her safety."

"She's fine. The Queen thinks she's dead."

"The Queen is not a fool. She knows more than we hope. At any rate, what she doesn't yet know, she will learn soon through her dark arts." He cleared the dust again and patted his chest with a rock-like fist. "Snow is not safe and will not be until her mother is killed."

His brother dropped his voice to a whisper and cut his eyes askance. "Are you suggesting…."

"I'm suggesting nothing, brother. Merely stating a fact. Whether or not it is our role to play the assassin, who can know?"

Redbeard shoved his stubby finger in the elder's chest. "Be careful what you say. She has eyes and ears all throughout her kingdom, even as far as these Deadlands. If you don't want a price on your head too, I'd keep my tongue from waggling, or failing that, cut the damn thing out to keep it still."

He laughed and stepped away from the finger in his chest. "At any rate, it's not a matter for today. And there is more gold to be found to keep our little Snow's neck lined with jewels."

Redbeard raised his fist and opened it. Leader did the same then clasped it, and the two nodded twice and let go. 

Both turned when the tallest of their brothers, though still a stump of a man by human standards, tripped along the path toward them, panting and dragging his pick behind him. 

"Brothers!" he said. "We found something you need to see."

Leader reached up and grabbed his brother by the shoulders. "Calm down."

"What did you find?" asked Redbeard.

"We're not sure."

"Not sure? Then why are you running like a cowardly troll?"

Tallest grabbed his elder brother's dirty arm and pulled him closer. "It's a mirror, but we don't know what kind."

"What kind, what kind," said Redbeard. "What a stupid brother. A mirror is a mirror. There are no kinds. They're for women to crow about their vanity and little else."

"Not this one." Tallest crouched toward his brothers' faces, his breath hot and sweaty in their eyes. "This one has a girl inside it."

The cave stank of sweat and urine, and she cleaned it daily on her knees, then cooked whatever forest creature the little men captured and killed for dinner on the way home from the mines. She sang as she worked, a melody she remembered from when she was a child, perhaps no older than five or six. It was increasingly difficult to remember. The years had been far too unkind since her mother's death. 

Her father's second wife had been a beautiful woman, practically a goddess of a high order, but only on the outside. Inside her throbbed a heart of poison. She hated her stepdaughter from their first meeting, pretending to enjoy their time together and planning whenever she could events that would take the girl and her nanny away from the castle, leaving her alone with her new husband. 

She'd grown up lonely, and no matter how they smelled or how atrocious their table manners, the little men had become her friends, and she loved them. 

Still she shuddered. 

She'd seen the way the eldest of them and the redheaded one looked at her across the table. She'd heard that dwarves remained unmarried and merely mated when nature called for more of their species to arrive. Like something wild, something that was more a part of the forest and mountains, not part of her civilization of culture and glamour and pomp. 

But that place had forsaken her. After her father's death, her stepmother had grown more openly vile toward her, insisting on marrying her off to a distant prince from a nation of barbarians, so she had run away. 

To retaliate, her stepmother had thrown the blame of her father's death onto her and labeled her guilty of treason, then offered a reward for her death. 

"Just a little longer," she said to no one, gazing out at the reddening sun as it dipped into the edge of the world. "I wonder what we'll have for dinner tonight."

As she spoke, she walked to the row of beds sitting in the dark shade of the overhanging rock. Once there, she reached down to steady herself with one hand then sat down, her knees poking up even with her chest thanks to the small frame. 

The door burst open and a small dog with white matted fur bounded in and leapt into her lap, pushing her back onto the bed. Her feet hung off the edge and touched the floor, flat-footed, and the top of her head pressed against the head rail. The dog snuggled into her chest and licked her lips and nose. 

"Stop, Aspen. Stop," she giggled, covering her face with her hands. "That tickles. Stop." 

Of course the dog didn't stop. 

"And you probably tracked mud all over the clean floor."

She finally managed to push the dog off her chest and sit up again. Clean floor, she thought. Not very. Even freshly swept it was just a base of flattish stone cut out from the base of a mountain and etched with a grid to make it look fancier than mere rock. 

The little men had done that for her. They would have been content with a hole cut out from a rocky ledge, but for her they had created a floor. A pattern. A little bit of culture and glamour and pomp. For her. The same reason her larger wooden dresser and bed were adorned with spheres and cubes and statuettes of dragons and harts instead of the simple blocks of their own furniture. And the same reason her top drawer was filled with golden chains and colorful stones from the mines and the rest with fancy dresses they had traded for with the villages beyond the mountain. For her. 

They loved her. 

And she loved them. 

But that was no longer enough. 

For any of them. 

The faces were staring at her. Ugly. Wrinkled. Filthy. Prunes with noses, she thought. No. Rotten prunes with noses. She imagined that they'd smell horrible too if she could be close enough to fall prey to their odor. 

But the glass that had been her prison for years was in this case a grace, protecting her from the trollish monsters.

In her father's kingdom, years ago, he had gone to war with the creatures, and ultimately run them off his lands into the mountains. 

But her father's kingdom was long gone, lost for centuries in the world on the other side of the glass. Her family had grown old, died, rotted and nested forests in their remains while she remained a captive of a witch who had stolen her away and sent her to this land of nightmares and hallucinations. 

"Alice," said a voice she recognized instantly. "What are those horrid creatures?" 

"Long ago, when I was much younger and not younger at all, my father called them the darshve. He told me how they were creatures born from the sides of mountains and baptized to life in the blood of our ancestors. Monsters of the rock and greed."

She turned toward the voice and smiled. 

A white rabbit, dressed in armor save for his face and head stood before her, bowing. 

"What news, Ulysses?"

"Alas, none, Alice." The rabbit frowned. "I wish I had better news. But I've traveled as far as the ocean to the East and as far as the swamps of the Jabberwock to the West, and no one has any knowledge of another doorway into your home world. It appears that when the looking glass was destroyed behind you, that was the only path to your old world."

"No!" she screamed and flung her hands against the mirror between her and the darshve. "There is a way, rabbit, and you will find it for me. I will not be slave to this witch any longer than I have to." Alice turned and glared not at her companion but through him to the door of her chamber. "And when I do escape, she will die."

She glanced toward the wooden desk beneath the mirror. On it sat a book bound in leather. Ulysses caught her gaze and asked, "And the book?"

"Sadly, no. There are paths to and from other worlds, but none back to mine." She released a heavy burden of a breath. "Yet."

The air between them wriggled. Then rippled out. She touched the center of the motion and pulled back. 

"Damn."

"Her?" asked the rabbit.

Alice nodded. 

"I'm not going this time," she said and sat down on the floor, crossing her legs in front of her. "She can rot before I let her collar me again with her beckoning."

"But Alice…."

"Hush, rodent." Alice glared at him this time. "Leave me alone."

The rabbit bowed, saluted, then turned on his left heel and strode from the chamber. When he was gone, Alice gripped her stomach and doubled over. 

"No …" she said through gritted teeth. "Not this time, witch."

But the pain in her gut became a fire. In a few moments she crawled onto her knees, then lay her face down against the stone floor. Her stomach churned.

"No…."

She pressed both palms flat against the floor and raised her face a few inches from the stone. 

"I will not obey you."

Her gut twisted and bile danced in her throat. She coughed. Three drops of blood splattered from her lips to the floor. 

"I will n—"

Her stomach opened, pushing blood and water and acid and bile and pain and fire through her throat and thrusting it onto the floor in a puddle of green and red and brown.

"One day, witch," Alice said, reaching to wipe her mouth free of debris and mucous. 

But another churning sent her hand to the floor to brace herself as her stomach emptied its filthy contents into the puddle again. 

A voice in the air whispered, "Mirror, mirror on the wall…."

Second Movement—There Lived a Princess

"What's wrong with her?" asked Redbeard.

"She's beautiful, almost as pretty as Snow," said Tallest. "And she's young."

"Where is she?" Redbeard again. "Is she real, or the mirror a conjurer's trick?"

"Quiet, both of you," said Leader. "She's in pain." He tapped on the glass. The girl turned to face him and retched a third time. "She's real. That pain isn't a conjurer's game. No one could fake that. Look at her face."

His brothers crowded him at the mirror and he pushed them away. 

"One side," he said. Not waiting for them to move, he pushed them away from the mirror and traced his thick, calloused hands around the oval edges. He tried to dig his nails between the glass and iron rim. There was no rim, as if the glass and frame were somehow molded from one piece of material. But it couldn't be, he thought. As a miner he knew raw materials, and iron was as different from glass as he was from the human woman living with him and his brothers. "There's conjuring here, but not necessarily only inside the mirror. This is made and bathed in magic. This is no ordinary mirror."

The smallest of his brothers, a golden-haired one with a mere few inches of a beard, shoved through the melee to the front. "Let's take it to Snow!" 

"To Snow?" he asked. 

"Yes, she loves trinkets and jewels, and a magic mirror would be the perfect thing for her to use when she brushes out her hair."

The others sighed and oohed approval. 

"This is not a trinket, brother."

"No. It is a magic trinket," said Redbeard. "And our brother is right. Snow would love us even more when we give her this."

Tallest puffed out his chest and made himself a few inches taller. "And with the year of maturing coming soon, we will need to find women of our own kind or find something more wonderful than mere jewels to woo Snow."

"Here, here," said the others, in a sort of off-unison. 

"Quiet," Leader said and stomped his boot into the dirty trail. "I say this is a bad idea. This mirror is enchanted and until we know what it does, it is far too dangerous to remove from this mine. But, we are brothers, and we will do what we will do. Who knows what role even this cursed looking glass may play in the evil that rides on the air through our Deadlands? We will put it to a vote and we will play our parts."

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