Who says that sci-fi/fantasy writers are "bad" at love and romance? YOG-SOTHOTH, LURKER AT THE THRESHOLD, THE BEYOND ONE, that's who! Last year we offered our recommendations for some perfectly swoony speculative fiction for Valentine's Day, and yet our offering displeased him. This year, we approach the Gate seeking only annihilation. Avert your faces, wretched ones, from these blasphemous recommendations, for to behold them is madness.
Lisa Mahoney proposes Twilight by William Gay
Because necrophiliac morticians need love, too!
The Pitch: It's a haunting coming-of-age story, southern Gothic meets noir: Tyler’s journey to bring two villains to justice takes him into the mystical and mythically dangerous Harrikin, a primeval southern forest where everyone gets lost. On his way he is helped by a sympathetic mentor, a woman widely acknowledged to be a witch, and he encounters a ruined southern mansion shadowing fallen-in miners’ and slaves’ cabins.
It’s so Romantic, Except: Tyler’s adventure begins when he and his sister steal photos and dig up graves to gather evidence that the town mortician has molested most of the town's dead loved ones. His sister’s decision to blackmail the mortician marks them for death.
But They’ll Love It Because: of the many gorgeous, atmospheric prose passages like this:
Somewhere deep in the Harrikin, Tyler began to come upon curious arrangements of sticks strung from trees, lengths of wild cane wired together in designs strange and oblique, some simple and composed of only a few sections, other intricate three-dimensional compositions, and all alike suspended by tiewire and turning slowly in the air like alien windchimes or hieroglyphs form some prior language no one spoke anymore. Like messages left by some otherworldly traveler who’d gone before him and left these signs in invitation or warning. They became more frequent, a veritable forest of them, asymmetrical and random and somehow sinister.
Odds of Breakup: Reduced. Lovers may grow to appreciate how sane, wealthy and peaceful you are, by contrast.
Price: on sale at the independent press publisher Dzanc Books for a mere $7.99.
Amanda Baldeneaux proposes The Fourth Branch of the Mabinogi,* translated by Sioned Davies
The Pitch: In The Four Branches of the Mabinogi, a collection of medieval Welsh tales, the Fourth Branch provides detailed instruction on what *not* to do for love. Gilfaethwy falls hard for the magician Math's human footstool, the virgin Goewin. (Rule #1, don’t force anyone to be your footstool.) After distracting Math, Gilfaethwy and his brother Gwydion rape the girl. (Rule #2: don’t rape.) Math, understandably angry, turns Gilfaethwy and Gwydion into animals; a light sentence in my opinion, although they are forced to give birth in animal form.
Next, we meet Lleu, a mostly-magic man who cannot be killed** except under a strange set of specific circumstances. Math creates a wife out of flowers for Lleu, named Blodeuwedd. (Rule #3: only marry people who willingly marry you.) Unfortunately for Lleu, Blodeuwedd falls in love with someone else, and killing Lleu is a more viable option that divorce. Bad news for Lleu (see Rule #3).
It’s So Romantic, Except: Rape is never romantic, and I’d argue plotting to kill your husband by picking him for information on the only way he can be killed is not ideal pillow talk. But the part about Gilfaethwy becoming a “mom” is kind of sweet?
But They’ll Love It Because: Revenge is the sweetest treat of all, and isn’t that what Valentines is all about?
Odds of Break-Up: Presentation is everything. Give The Mabinogi along with a bouquet of flowers that symbolically represent your beloved. Or with sushi. For a plate of sushi, I’d promise to not figure out how to stab a bad date with a spear as he stands spread-legged on a trough.
Price: You can order Sioned Davies’s translation for under $10.
*Amal El-Mohtar’s beautiful short story about love of family, heritage, self, and ornithology, “The Truth About Owls,” inspired me to pick up The Mabinogion. Read "Owls" online here, or listen to Levar Burton read it (even better) here.
**Unkillable dates your thing? Check out our own Theodore McCombs’s short story “Six Hangings in the Land of Unkillable Women” in this month’s issue of Nightmare Magazine.
CS Peterson proposes the Wolf 359 Episode "Brave New World," by Kinda Evil Genius Productions
The (spoiler-filled) Pitch: Wolf 359 is a podcast in the style of a ‘Golden Age of Radio Drama.’ The absurdist plot centers around the misfit crew of the U.S.S. Hephaestus Research Station, floating, tiny and alone, in orbit around the red dwarf star Wolf 359, which occasionally changes color because of aliens. After many suspicious mishaps and strange messages from command, the crew begins to rebel against the evil oppressive corporation that sent them there. The main antagonists, Pryce and Cutter, are introduced early on as the writers of the Deep Space Survival Procedure and Protocol Manual. By the end of season four they’ve been the cause of untold mayhem.
It’s So Romantic, Except: The relationship between Pryce and Cutter is never explicitly stated, apart from Pryce being mockingly called Cutter’s “work wife.” They’ve been working together for hundreds of years on a “bigger picture,” implying that their relationship is complicated at best. In the end (spoilers) they both explode, and are flung into the vacuum of space, having ruined their relationship with each other and with the aliens they tried to manipulate.
But They’ll Love It Because: It’s fun, freakishly adorable, full of explosions and ill-conceived mutinies. Good to have on in the background whether you’re making pasta or making out.
Odds of Break-Up: High - you and your date will have to wade through 61 half-hour long episodes of nebulous menace, unfulfilled plot teasers, and two dimensional characters with vaguely Eastern European accents in order to reach the two-hour long climax of the series contained in the episode "Brave New World."
Price: Free (but they’d love your support via Patreon). The perfect entertainment choice for a super cheap date. Just follow this link to play the podcast. Boil some water for the pasta and open a bottle of Yellow Tail Merlot. A candle on the table is a nice touch. Throw in a pack of contraband cigarettes if you really want to go for authentic.
Danyelle C. Overbo proposes Ahab’s Wife or, The Star-gazer by Sena Jeter Naslund
The Pitch: Inspired by a brief passage in Moby-Dick Ahab’s Wife gives a female voice, Una, to this epic and fascinating time in our past. Sure, she does become Ahab’s wife later on in the novel, but she has many, many adventures of her own and Ahab is just a small part of her story. Una is a strong, gorgeously written woman who dares to build a life for herself beside (and occasionally on) the sea. She is much more successful at it then the men in her life, but she loves them fiercely anyway. But not as much as the sea.
It’s So Romantic, Except: Well, the cannibalism. What do you expect from a story where the protagonist pretends to be a cabin boy and sneaks on a whaling ship? Whaling ships don’t seem to be safe places to go in literature. There’s also some dark, compelling commentary on slavery and a couple harrowing birth scenes. Fun stuff!
But They’ll Love It Because: Did I mention how gorgeously written this saga is? I don’t think I could sing its praises enough. If you love the ocean or lighthouses or powerful tales of triumph over tragedy, this book is for you.
Odds of Break-Up: Slim, unless your S.O. hates the ocean, historical romance, or epic tales. But then you’re better off without them.
Price: I paid $17.99 (worth it!) but looks like it’s on special now for $12.59!
Theodore McCombs proposes The Monk by M.G. Lewis
The Pitch: A Gothic classic, The Monk has one of the most convoluted, nutty plots of 18th-century British literature, but the basic idea is: in old Spain, the cruel and zealous monk Ambrosio pursues an innocent virgin, Antonia, with the aid of his cross-dressing novice and lover, Rosario. Meanwhile, the pregnant nun he ratted out, Agnes, is imprisoned by an evil Prioress until her lover, Raymond, who’d tried to elope with her but ended up in a carriage crash with a ghost called the Bleeding Nun—oh, just read the damn thing.
It’s So Romantic, Except: In the world of The Monk, lovers end up either nursing corpse babies or hurled by the literal Devil to a rocky death in the wastelands.
But They’ll Love It Because: It’s the pulpiest, wackiest, horniest rattletrap plot to roll out of 1796.
Odds of Break-Up: Slightly higher risk for Catholics.
Price: A cool $6 at the Tattered Cover!
Top photo: "A Shoggoth," by Nottsuo. nottsuo.deviantart - www.pixiv.net - twitter.com/nottsuo [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons