Friday, February 27, 2009

The Decline of Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine

Asimov's used to be my favorite science fiction magazine. There are stories I read in past issues that I still remember today. For me, it was what a science fiction and fantasy magazine should be, the standard by which all such magazines were to be judged.

After Isaac Asimov died, things changed. Some of these changes were harmless. Isaac Asimov liked to have the each issue's number of pages appear in the top-right corner of the cover, to let people know what a good deal they were getting. He also released 13 issues a year instead of the more traditional 12, as if he was going by the Jewish lunar calendar instead of the Gregorian solar calendar. I enjoyed these little eccentricities, but didn't grieve when they were discarded. I was much more concerned about the sharp reduction I eventually perceived in fiction quality.

Until recently, I wondered if it was just me. After all, art is a subjective thing. I felt vindicated when I read the February 2008 issue of Locus. On page 77 is quite an illuminating table. It lists the number of short stories that Locus has singled out for recommendation from each science fiction and/or fantasy magazine, as well as from anthologies. Here are their data for Asimov's:


You can see an almost steady decline. In fact, Locus recommended almost half as many stories in 2008 as it did in 2002. It would be interesting to look at the summary for 2002 and find out if the decline in Locus recommendations has been going on since Asimov died in 1992. I wouldn't be surprised if it has.

What is the cause of the magazine's decline? I believe it is twofold. The editors indiscriminately publish work by established authors while seldom giving new writers a break.

In issues following Asimov's death, the same author names began to crop up with unreasonable frequency. The names Brian Stableford and Michael Swanwick often appeared over stories that left me bewildered as to what they were doing in a magazine like Asimov's, either because they seemed pointless, came to no resolution or were boring. These two authors had apparently achieved the dubious distinction of being editor-proof, at least as far as Asimov's (post-Asimov) was concerned.

These days, the list of authors who appear in Asimov's magazine over and over again includes not only Stableford and Swanwick but also Kristine Kathryn Rusch and Kate Wilhelm and Nancy Kress. In fact, all fivefour of these authors appear in the latest issue (April/May 2009).

Somerset Maugham once wrote, "Only a very mediocre writer is always at his best." This is as true of Stableford, Swanwick and company as it is of mainstream writers. But that's not the only problem with this magazine's tendency to dip too often into its too-small stable of favorite writers. Even when these writers are at their best, they cannot encompass all of the possibilities of SF. By operating this way, the editors are not only reducing the quality of the stories in their magazine but also the scope and variety and therefore, ultimately, the level of interest the magazine can arouse. After all, a plurality of possibilities is just what SF readers are seeking, just what attracted them to the genre in the first place.

Too, when editors insist on publishing the same writers over and over again, there can only be that much less space available for new talents to make their debut. Which is ironic, because if you Google "asimov's science fiction magazine", the following text will appear under the link: "As one of science fiction’s most influential and prolific writers, Isaac Asimov wanted to provide a home for new SF writers--a new magazine for young writers ..." I'm sure this is true, just as I'm sure that the current editors have no such priority.

A new writer can get into Asimov's. It's just very, very hard. I know of two new writers who have recently managed the trick. One is Nick Wolven, whose story "An Art, Like Everything Else" was published in the April/May 2008 issue. It was one of the best stories, if not the best story, to appear in that issue. Another is this blogger, whose story, "Camera Obscured," has been accepted and will appear in a future issue. Both these authors have something in common: they took the Clarion workshop, an SF-writer boot camp of six weeks' duration.

It is possible, and may well be the case, that these writers only became publishable once they'd passed through the Clarion grinder. It is also possible that Asimov's makes a point of harvesting Clarion graduates. It strikes me that if an editor, for whatever reason, is reluctant to rely on her own judgement to select stories, she might like to publish mostly well-known authors, selecting an occasional new writer only if he'd proven himself by... oh, I don't know... ponying up four thousand dollars to attend SF's most prestigious workshop. And if a new author chose to hone his craft in some other fashion, he might be unable to wrest an acceptance from this editor until he'd racked up a number of publishing credits from other magazines. In which case, of course, he'd no longer be a "new" author.

I am speculating here. I don't know if Asimov's magazine has a prejudice against new writers that haven't graduated from Clarion. It just seems awfully coincidental that of the two new writers I know about who have recently appeared or will appear in Asimov's, both attended Clarion.

Isaac Asimov was able to found a great magazine because he cared, above all, about publishing good stories. His namesake needs to regain that spirit. If it cannot, some other magazine will take its place. I can only hope that one or the other will happen soon.

Edited Feb. 28, 2009 at 10:18 AM.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Missing Oscar Nomination

The 81st Academy Awards have come and gone. Slumdog Millionaire won eight awards including best picture. Milk can be said to have come in second, as it took two awards: Best Actor and Best Original Screenplay. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button got one more award than Milk did, but it got them for Visual Effects, Art Direction and Makeup; in other words, it was a movie that looked good.

I didn't go see Benjamin Button because I thought the premise sounded silly. Given how many times Jon Stewart has mocked and trashed the film on The Daily Show, I'm happy with my decision. I wanted to see Milk, but it disappeared from our local theatre before I got around to it. Such is the price one pays for living in a rural area. The one award-winning movie I did see was Slumdog Millionaire, which was a fine movie with a great soundtrack. If you haven't seen it yet, and you've been hearing it's a "feel-good" movie, I have to warn you that it contains scenes of torture and, most horribly, the deliberate blinding of a little boy. Really, it's only a feel-good movie if you forget everything that happened in the first half, something I'm not capable of. If you do go see it, have fun watching the main character Jamal's skin get lighter as he ages.

As far as I'm concerned, none of the above were the best film of 2008. The best film of 2008 didn't even get a nomination. I waited in vain to hear some mention of it as I watched the Oscars. I thought it might have made it into the category of Short Film (Live Action), but no such luck. Maybe it's too long to qualify. I don't know. At 40 minutes, it's too short to be called a feature film. It may fall through the cracks, not fitting into any category. Maybe it wouldn't have gotten a nomination no matter what, given the circumstances of its release.

The film in question is Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog.

I love this movie. For one thing, it's a musical. Hollywood doesn't make musicals anymore, unless you count the putrid Moulin Rouge, and I don't. For another, it's a story of superheroes and supervillains, but it's told from the point of view of the villain, who is not a villain at all, really, but a nice guy who's too shy to talk to the woman he's got a crush on. The superhero, on the other hand, is a conceited jerk. What's not to love about such a subversive story?

What's also subversive is that Joss Whedon wrote the screenplay during the writer's strike, and screened it for free over the Internet last July. Not being a Joss Whedon fan, I missed all of this and only got to see it on DVD last weekend. The movie is a tragicomedy in three acts. Acts 1 and 2 are comedy--there are some hugely funny lines--and Act 3 is mostly tragedy. All the way through are nifty musical numbers and fun visuals; for a film made on the cheap, it's got high production values.

Try not to miss the real best film of 2008. While you can no longer see it for free on the Internet, it is available on DVD and is quite reasonably priced, especially when you factor in the extras: making-of featurettes, commentary and musical commentary. (Yes, really. It's called Commentary! The Musical.) Besides, the makers need the money. As Joss Whedon says in his master plan: "We have big dreams, people, and one of them is paying our crew."

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

More on Repressed Emotions

Here are some things that I didn't find space for in my last post on repressed emotions.

Writing From The Body by John Lee and Ceci Miller-Kritsberg is ostensibly about becoming more creative, but also covers the freeing of repressed emotions, since this also frees one up to be more creative. This is a wonderful book that deserves to be much better known than it is.

Here is my favorite exercise from the book (in my own words, since I gave my copy away and haven't bought a new one yet). Choose a memory from your childhood that you want to write about. Sit and think about it for ten or fifteen minutes. Come up with a short sentence, the shorter the better, that sums up how you feel about this event. Scream the short sentence. If you live in an apartment or otherwise don't want to make too much noise, scream into a pillow. Sit with the release of emotions that follow. Finally, write about the event.

I came up with a modified version of this exercise to use when you don't have a memory in mind. Instead of starting with a memory, start with whatever symptom you have. As I mentioned in the first post on repressed emotions, a repressed emotion can manifest as a physical symptom like headache or back pain. What you can do is focus on the symptom for a while, and then ask that part of your body if it can give you a few words or a short sentence related to the feeling. It can take a few tries before you get an answer, especially if you're not accustomed to communicating with your body. It helps to get into a meditative, relaxed state. It also helps to suspend disbelief, because your body can come up with stuff that sounds weird and illogical to your mind. Resist the urge to dismiss; instead, take the words you're given and scream them. The rest of the exercise is the same.

Screaming can be helpful for releasing repressed emotions. Just ask the Primal Therapy people. What I appreciate about this exercise is the way that it works in verbalisation. Sometimes you feel something and you don't know why. Finding words can clarify what is going on.

Finally, I have a suggestion for people with chronic muscle tension. If you're one of those people, you can spend an inordinate amount of time stretching your ridiculously tight muscles out in an attempt to feel like a human being. It helps for a little while, then everything bounces back. Or you have a massage, which is not cheap, and everything bounces back. So the next time you stretch, try making some noise: a sigh, groan or even a scream if you feel like it. If the tension is connected to repressed emotion, making noise will release some of that emotion and loosen you up better than stretching alone. Try it next time you stretch. I'd like to say, try it next time you get a massage, but I find that massage therapists are not always up to speed on the repressed emotions thing and sometimes they will freak if you start crying on the table. I don't know why; they should know better. I imagine the reaction would be even worse if you screamed. You might end up like Jerry Seinfeld, unable to get another massage appointment.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Four Flavours of Horror

After a long hiatus, I've been reading and thinking about (and even writing, a little) horror fiction again. My father introduced my brother and I to horror as soon as we were old enough not to wet our pants and start crying. He read us Dracula by Bram Stoker, one chapter a night. He read us the short stories of Edgar Allen Poe, swooping his voice up at the climax, making me almost jump out of my skin. When I became a teenager, I went through the usual rite of passage of reading my way through the works of Stephen King.

But as an adult, I drifted away from King and horror in general, tired and bored of blood and guts. King once said, "If I cannot horrify, I'll go for the gross-out". He's far from being alone, and therein lies the problem. The easiest, laziest thing you can do in horror is be gory and disgusting. It's not a coincidence that this easiest of routes is also the least effective. I remember that ho-hum feeling creeping over me (not the kind of creeping the horror writer wants to induce) when I read Brian Keene and Steven L. Shrewsbury's short story "Death Comes For All" in Apex Magazine (vol. 1, iss. 12). Going nowhere and making no sense, this story features an army of zombies that emerge from the sea and have to be cut down in the usual tedious, limb-chopping way. Zombies have been so done to death (ha!) that their mere presence in a story usually signals mediocrity. This kind of thing gives horror a bad name.

The trick is to find horror that does something other (or at least more) than gross out. Sometimes you have to turn to the classics to remind yourself what horror is supposed to be. Poe had the ability to put the reader into the mind of his rage- or madness-driven characters. King, at his best, achieves this too. He develops Carrie and describes her miseries so well that even when she goes on her murderous rampage the reader cannot help but sympathize with her. This second flavour on offer in Horror's freezer might be called "psychological horror."

This is a bit parenthetical, but I'd like to mention that what made Poe a horror writer of unparallelled greatness was his ability to orchestrate the climax of his story so beautifully, getting it to land not merely on the last paragraph but on the last sentence or even on the last word. One of Poe's best-known stories is The Telltale Heart, and rightly so, for the climax is in the last two words. But though The Black Cat is less-well known, in it Poe achieves something even more impressive: a single-word climax. If you have not yet read these stories, do so now. Poe made horror into poetry. (Appropriate, given his name.)

H.P. Lovecraft came along about a century later than Poe but is no less influential. I hadn't read any Lovecraft until quite recently, when I played Munchkin Cthulhu and decided to find out what all that Cthulhu business was about. Somebody told me that Lovecraft stories are psychological. I disagree. Poe was much better at that sort of thing. Lovecraft makes his characters go mad a lot too, but it isn't as convincing. He seems to have conceived of the human mind as terribly fragile, as if you could go mad after finding something gruesome in your box of Cracker Jacks.

He also differentiates himself from Poe by his fondness for monsters. Many of Poe's short stories have nothing of the supernatural in them, and that is their strength: the recognition that every manner of evil arises from human beings, alone, unaided. Lovecraft, on the other hand, loves a good monster. To him, there is something monstrous about life already--"Life is a hideous thing," he wrote in his short story Arthur Jermyn, and I believe he meant it. So it was not a great leap for him from humanity to monstrosity.

Consequently, his flavour of horror is not so much the horror of psychology as the horror of the icky idea. A man breeds with an ape and produces a line of half-human creatures. An isolated family becomes so corrupted over generations that they transform into killing, burrowing creatures. Lovecraft was the master of concepts that were interesting in an awful sort of way.

The Holy Grail of horror is, of course, to genuinely frighten the reader. To induce not merely a wave of nausea or suspense or pity or laughter but actual fear in the reader, to keep him from dropping easily off to sleep that night, to affect his dreams--that is surely the horror writer's ultimate achievement. Few have managed it. King never has, and probably won't. I don't think Lovecraft did either. Poe could do it, in brief flashes. Curiously, the most frightening thing I have ever read was in not a horror but a science fiction novel.

Ventus by Karl Schroeder is mostly concerned with terraforming robots that are slipping out of control and need repair. But there's also a man who is part machine, and he's operated as a machine for so long that his humanity is completely lost to him, for a time. During this time, three grave-robbers cross his path in a catacomb. He murders one. Another escapes. The third has the worst fate:

Choltas had heard the footsteps of the devil fade away. He knew it would be back unless he stayed very still. This was the thing's home; it world not venture out into the world above. So though he couldn't hear it, he knew it was there. If he stayed completely still, wrapped around himself in this corner in total darkness, it might not find him. But if he so much as sneezed, he knew it would be on him instantly.

Even now it might be creeping up on him silently. He wrapped more tightly around himself, and tried not to breathe. Time passed, but Choltas did not move. When thirst began to torture him. he stayed still. He wet himself and shat in his pants, quietly. And eventually, delirium overcame him; he heard his mother's voice, saw drifting pictures of his home.

He kept his arms around his knees, and his face buried there against his own flesh. And he breathed weaker and weaker, aware at last only of the murmur of his own head and the torment of cold and thirst, overridden by a fear he could no longer identify.

Stay still, stay still.

Its hand hangs above me.

This is the most perfect depiction of primal, frozen terror I have ever encountered.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Bad Apples

One of the difficult things about winter in these northern climes is the lack of local fruits and vegetables. I try to avoid buying food that has travelled 2000 miles to get to me, due to the environmental impact, but at this time of year it's so much more difficult. At least in the case of apples, I don't have to buy Galas from New Zealand and Fujis from China, because locally-grown apples are available in bags. Unfortunately, they suffer a loss of quality with the long-term storage. Here is a roundup of things that can go wrong in your bag of supermarket apples. I've given each condition a punsy name, just for the fun of it.


A crapple is an apple devoid of any hint of tasty apple flavour. It is blah, lifeless, a waste of time and teeth. One bite, and you don't even want to bother eating the rest. In short, it's crappy. It's a crappy apple. It's a crapple.

How to avoid crapples:

Smell the apples before you buy them. The nose is such an underappreciated organ in our culture. People think I'm a weirdo when they see me sniffing apples and tomatoes in the supermarket. One guy cracked, "Does it smell like a tomato?" Well yes, but that's why I bought it. Many tomatoes, especially the ones imported from the U.S., smell more like, I dunno, Royal Doulton figurines than they smell like tomatoes. Which is to say they smell like nothing, and taste like nothing too. Oh, they look perfect, of course. It's all about looks these days, about things being shiny and pretty and perfect. Well, some of the worst-tasting crapples in existence are shiny and pretty and perfect. But usually (though there are exceptions) an apple that smells good will taste good.

It is a bit harder to smell apples when they're encased in a plastic bag, but even then you can often manage it. The plastic bags that the apples come in usually have perforations. Look for a perforation and stick your nose right up next to it. Don't worry if your fellow shoppers look at you funny. Let them eat crapples.


This illustrates perfectly the moral that looks aren't everything. The booby-trapple is an apple that looks fine on the outside--firm, red, pretty--but is completely rotted away on the inside. I fell for one of these this weekend. When I bit into it, a gruesome flavour filled my mouth. The heart of the apple was completely black. I rinsed my mouth out, but even that didn't get rid of the taste. Aaargh, it was awful. Since then, I've been slicing all the apples in half before I eat them. I don't trust them anymore.

How to avoid booby-trapples:

I wish I knew. I don't know if smelling would have helped because I have to admit I forgot to sniff this particular bag. But it might not have, since the rot was on the inside. One thing I know is that this has never happened to me with Cortlands. I buy Cortlands whenever possible, because they're the best apple breed ever. But they didn't have any the last time I was at the supermarket. What I bought was a bag of Spartans. It will be a while before I buy Spartans again.


Our previous bag of apples (the one before the bag that contained the deadly booby-trapple) was loaded with bruised apples. It seemed there wasn't an apple in the bag that hadn't been mercilessly worked over. Poor beaten-upples; who did this to you? And when will you see justice done?

Actually, this is the least bad of all the bagged-apple defects (for the human, that is; the beaten apple itself might feel differently). You can cut off the bruised bit if you want, or you can eat it. It's not that bad, just a bit mushy. And the rest of the apple usually tastes fine.

How to avoid beaten-upples:
Careful physical inspection should do the trick. Feel the apples through the plastic bag and make sure they feel firm and that you can't find a lot of squishy bits.

In general, my best piece of advice on buying tasty apples is: don't get them at the supermarket. Get them at a farmer's market or, even better, pick your own apples at a u-pick farm. This is the next best thing to having your own apple tree: it's cheaper, it's fun exercise out in the sun (if it happens to be sunny at the time), and the apples are so much better than anything you'll get at the supermarket. It's like an entirely different fruit. I wish I could get all my apples that way, and if I was a master canner and fruit-dryer, maybe I could. I'm not there yet. I did some canning and drying, but two litres of applesauce and one little bag of dried apples is not going to last you through the winter.

So if you're like me, and you live somewhere cold, you'll have to buy some supermarket apples too. For those times, my best advice is to remember to sniff, and buy Cortlands. Hang in there. Spring and strawberries will be here soon.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Eros in the Night Kitchen

In the last entry in this series on things that are unexpectedly sexy, I discussed a Muppet movie. Well, like Benjamin Button, my subjects keep getting younger. This one's about a classic children's book.

Maurice Sendak picture books were a part of my childhood. There are two I remember well. One was Where The Wild Things Are, with its beautiful monsters done in ink and tempera. The ending made a big impression on me: after sailing back "over a year and in and out of weeks and through a day," Max returned to his own room, where his supper was waiting for him, "and it was still hot." It didn't matter that I knew this to be impossible. When you're a child, you don't question things like that. You accept, and feel awe.

In The Night Kitchen impressed me in a different way. Right from the start, it was a more sensual experience. I remember the way the book smelled. It had a strong smell that was unlike other books, whether because it was newer or printed on a different type of paper, I don't know, but I liked it. The smell seemed right for a book involving dough, milk and nudity.

A little boy named Mickey falls out of his bed and pyjamas and into the Night Kitchen, where he gets mistaken for milk and mixed into cake batter by a trio of cooks who look like Oliver Hardy (my thanks to James for pointing this out). He makes his escape in an airplane made of bread dough, but the cooks still want milk to put in their cake. Happy to help, Mickey flies to a giant bottle of milk (the Milky Way), immerses himself in it and swims out with a cupful of milk. Mission accomplished, he slides down the side of the giant milk bottle and back into his bed.

It's all very tactile. Mickey experiences air, cake batter and milk on his skin. This is not a genitally-focused, adult sexuality but a whole-body sensuality. Still, that doesn't mean there is nothing sexual about it. I distinctly remember being turned on as a child when the bakers obliviously cracked eggs and poured sugar over Mickey and mixed him into the batter. It is probably this childish sexuality, so well captured by Maurice Sendak, that has initiated so many spasms of prudery. In the Night Kitchen has been making the ALA's most frequently challenged/banned lists for years. Librarians have been known to vandalize the book by painting a diaper on Mickey (source: Time Magazine, Dec. 29, 1980).

They need to get over it. Children are sexual, something Freud was well aware of back in the Victorian Era. It should not need to be said that this does not make it acceptable for adults to exploit them sexually. Children have the right to their sexuality and to explore it, on their own or with other children, without interference or abuse from adults. In that regard, a book like this might even be helpful.

If you think it's inappropriate for a children's book to contain anything erotic, even the innocent sort of eroticism of In the Night Kitchen, consider that Eros, the Greek God of Love, is also called Cupid and is depicted as a naked boy or baby with wings. Trade those wings for a dough airplane and he could be Mickey.

Serendipitously, Freedom to Read Week is coming soon. The displays are already up at my local library and perhaps yours too. Support freedom of expression. Read a banned book this February.

Monday, February 2, 2009

The Eros of Labyrinth

Welcome to the second installment in my series on things that are unexpectedly sexy. The first installment explored The Eros of Jeeves. This one looks at a children's movie that isn't a children's movie. Enjoy!

Labyrinth is a Jim Henson movie featuring David Bowie, Jennifer Connelly and a host of scruffy Muppets. David Bowie plays Jareth the Goblin King, ruler of the eponymous labyrinth. Jareth has a thing for a whiny teenage girl named Sarah. Much like the schoolboy who expresses his feelings for his crush by yanking her braid, Jareth steals Sarah's baby brother Toby (on her request, it should be said, though she regrets it instantly). Sarah must find her way through Jareth's labyrinth and brave its Jareth-created terrors so that she can rescue Toby and get him back home before her parents return from their party and discover him missing.

Labyrinth has never been a darling of the critics. Yes, it has its flaws, but it's got a lot going for it as well. It's got a great soundtrack courtesy of Mr. Goblin King himself, it's got some brilliantly creative scenes, it's got lots of amusingly ugly goblin Muppets, and it's got Bowie, looking scrumptious in eye makeup and big eighties hair.

The flaws include the movie's opener, which features dialogue and acting so unpersuasive it makes your teeth hurt; a bunch of irritating hairy creatures who sing the movie's one lousy song and pull off their own heads; a wholly unnecessary fencing chihuahua; and "The Bog of Eternal Stench". It's all worth sitting through, to get to the good bits.

What I think hurts the movie overall is its lack of focus. Its makers, it appears, were unsure of what, exactly, this flick was supposed to be about, so they shoehorned in extra themes like the importance of family and friendship (yeah, we really need more movies about that, don't we?) and made Sarah excessively bratty right at the beginning so she could mature as the movie progressed. Utterly beside the point. If only Jim Henson, Terry Jones (who wrote the script) et al had realised what the movie was really about: a girl's erotic coming of age.

Well, it's not surprising. Our culture has always had difficulty with the idea of girls having their own sexuality. We've no problem with the sexuality of boys; look at American Pie. But girls? God forbid. Girls may struggle with the sexual interest of boys but are not supposed to have any of their own. So perhaps the moviemakers could not bring themselves to admit, even to themselves, what sort of movie they were really making.

And yet there is at least one occasion when it becomes perfectly blatant. Sarah solves a well-known logic puzzle involving two guards and two doors, only to find herself falling down a hole full of hands that grab at her. At first, she is understandably perturbed, but the hands explain that they are "helping hands" and are holding on to her to prevent her from plummeting to her death. She then accepts their grappling.

Excuse me? A teenage girl falls down a dark tube, somewhat reminiscent of a vagina, and gets felt up by a bunch of hands, and we're supposed to believe that this is just another innocent kid's movie? No no no.

This scene is one of my favorites, not only because it's naughty but because the hands speak by clustering together in several different configurations to form faces. It's brilliant. Labyrinth is worth seeing for this bit of artistry alone.

Vagina-like tunnels abound. Sarah falls down them, slides out of them and walks through them. In one scene, we even get a scary penis. Sarah and her goblin guide Hoggle are walking down a tunnel when Jareth shows up and asks her how she likes his labyrinth. "It's a piece of cake," says Sarah, and is punished for her hubris. Jareth vanishes and a dangerous-looking cylindrical metal apparatus comes chugging towards them, filling the tunnel completely. According to Hoggle, the device is for cleaning the tunnel, but that doesn't explain the blades swirling around on the front (or glans, as I like to think of it). Sarah and Hoggle escape into a nook, and as the mechanism sweeps by, we see that it's operated by a couple of goblins working pedals, one goblin per pedal. The cleaner seems dangerous at first but becomes funny once you get a closer look at it. It is a symbolic disarming of the penis.

Speaking of penises, something I'm always happy to do, a certain web page brought to my attention just how much Jareth's, or rather Bowie's, package is on display in this feature. I didn't notice, at least not consciously, but far be it for me to object to an attractive man in form-fitting pants.

Near the end of the movie, as Sarah draws closer to Toby, Jareth meets her on a collection of impossible stairways out of the Escher woodcut "Relativity". This scene rivals the helping hands scene for clever effects. Sarah and Jareth chase each other up and down the stairs and finally come face to face for the movie's most smouldering exchange. Jareth tells Sarah he's been generous to her, and she reacts with scepticism, but he points out that everything he's done, he's done for her, starting with taking Toby away. "Just let me rule you," he says, "and you can have whatever you want. Fear me, love me, do as I say, and I will be your slave."

In other words, the labyrinth and its seeming dangers, the Goblin King's show of menace and tyranny, were all a sort of sadomasochistic seduction. Jareth was never any threat to her. He never wanted to be anything but her top. Everything he did was to give her the erotic thrill of fear.

Sarah's next statement seems on the surface to be a non-sequitor, but it is in fact an admission that she understands, and agrees: "You have no power over me." Indeed, Jareth, like any top, can maintain the illusion of power only as long as Sarah chooses to participate in his sadomasochistic game. As soon as she speaks these magic words, the spell is broken and she is back in her room, and Toby is back in his playpen. Her parents haven't even come home yet.

It's the perfect setup for a girl like Sarah. She can spend some time with an attractive male and mess around a little but put the brakes on as soon as she feels things have gone far enough. All the while, her parents remain completely unaware of what's going on. What teenager doesn't want that? Every girl should have a Goblin King.

In the next installment of this series, I will get even more controversial and argue that a children's picture book can have content that is erotic--to children. Yikes! So keep an eye out for that, or flee, depending on how openminded you are.