Upside Down: Inverted Tropes in Storytelling edited by Jaym Gates and Monica Valentinelli
Apex Book Company (December 2016)
$13.48 paperback; $4.99 ebook
Reviewed by Anton Cancre
Anthologies based on meta-fictive themes can be a bit of a sticky wicket. Sure, we get bored with the same old over and over again, and it is super cool when someone messes with our heads. At the same time, those “look how deft I am at subverting literature” stories are self important in the most boring way possible.
Yup, I was more than a bit wary walking into this one.
Sure, Elsa Sjunneson Henry’s “Seeking Truth” plays with the super-powered-blind-person thing in a manner so on the nose the main character stops the narrative to explain their abilities came from years of work instead of magic blindness. Also, no matter how charming Alex Shvartman’s voice is, “Noun of Nouns: A Mini Epic” still comes across as a smarmy mess of self-aware nonsense. I need story and characters I care about to bother wasting my time.
That’s where stories like “Those Who Leave” by Michael Choi, which use the trope as a backdrop to twist the main character, wrings out all their humanity to drown me in waves of honesty and emotion. Oh, and “Can You Tell Me How To Get To Paprika Place,” with its oppressive sense of lost innocence and the struggle to regain what we always knew we were supposed to be before we were warped by the violent desires of others… just plain Oh My. We also get Alethea Kontis lulling us with disarming cutesieness (grizzled old Santa, the Noir hero) until roughly breaking our hearts before wrapping it all up in a bow of hopefulness.
Yes, there are the expected snooty bits which irked me a bit, but there are also some straight up barn burners which wrecked me. And the essays are a nice touch. Keffy Kehlri’s piece on transgender tropes needs to be a part of every damn college lit course, balancing heart with wisdom and intellect perfectly, and is worth the price on its own.