alisa alering

Writer of fantasy and other fictions


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Zombies vs. Unicorns (Review)

"Unicorn Drops," ca. 1853. Courtesy Library of Congress.

Let me state for the record, that I am solidly Team Unicorn. From the ages five to, oh, eighteen, I had unicorn stuffed animals, unicorn T-shirts, unicorn notebooks, unicorn puffy glitter stickers and unicorn daydreams. Possibly also a unicorn Trapper Keeper and a purple rainbow unicorn pencil with a scented eraser. Since I was still in the throes of this fascination well into the 1990’s, albeit somewhat ironically by then, I should probably count myself lucky that I didn’t end up with a unicorn tattoo. (It was this close. Truly.)

I am such a unicorn girl that when I moved to a new school in the 2nd grade and the music teacher (a lopsided troll of a man with a penchant for green suits paired with coordinating green ties) bade us cease tooting our plastic recorders and join him for a rousing sing-along of “The Unicorn Song” — I actually cried. Have you heard this song? It’s so appalling, and so Christianity trumps magic-pagans-and-all-things-fun that it should give the Potter-is-AntiChrist sect divine ecstasies. I’ll leave you to look up the full lyrics for yourself, but try this verse on for size:

The ark started moving, it drifted with the tide
The unicorns looked up from the rocks and they cried
And the waters came down and sort of floated them away
That’s why you never see unicorns to this very day

THE UNICORNS CRIED! Because they’re GOING TO DIE. Not only that, they’re going to DIE FOREVER, all of them, GO EXTINCT. Yeah, great song for 2nd graders. Especially sensitive horse-lovers who live a little too strongly in their imaginary world. And my new classmates? They LOVED this song. It was, like, their favorite song ever, right up there with “Little Rabbit Foo-Foo,”(which, oddly enough, didn’t bother me at all. Look, I never said I was consistent.) We sang this song at least once a week for the next 6 years. I managed to get the snivel response under control, but the zeal with which my fellow students happily belted out the celebration of the extinction of an entire species may well have been the seeding of my continuing DISTRUST OF THE ENTIRE HUMAN RACE.

Later on in high school, I had a summer job at a Miniature Horse Farm – which is sort of like a circus crossed with a riding stable  – where I was paid minimum wage to braid colorful ribbons into pony hair, lift sniveling kids on and off the mechanical pony ride, be abused by illiterate shift supervisors, scoop (miniature) poop, and walk in the performance show three times a day, leading the unicorn (whose foam horn I attached with an elasticized shoelace backstage, right after I painted her hooves with silver glitter glue). Fascinating Gender Note: Though there were male and female employees, only girls were allowed to lead the unicorn. No such bias applied to leading the bad-tempered quick-spitting llama, thankfully.

So you can see, my unicorn credentials are SOLID.

That said, the stories I enjoyed most were the (cringe) zombie stories:

  • “Bougainvillea,” by Carrie Ryan
  • “Cold Hands,” by Cassandra Clare

Best unicorn story?

  • “A Thousand Flowers” by Margo Lanagan

Honorable Mentions go to:

  • “Prom Night,” by Libba Bray for use of Zoroastrian funeral rituals
  • “Princess Prettypants,” by Meg Cabot for the cameo by my most-favorite-ever summertime ice cream shack of social equalization, “The Chocolate Moose.”
  • The cover and endpaper art!

So, I did it. I read an entire 415-page anthology of short stories and it didn’t kill me. I even liked some of the stories. But if it had been 415 pages of novel, I would have had a much better time.

Maybe next time, I can try reading by the light of a unicorn’s horn. If all else fails, I can still get that tattoo.


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Monster of the Year

The material forms of our collective nightmares are subject to fashion. This year would have to be the year of the vampire. Zombies are also popular.

But just as low-waisted flares get the shove from the fashion scene to make way for armpit-hugging granny jeans, there isn’t room for all our monsters at one time.

A monster we don’t hear much from lately is the cannibal.

Body parts for sale

Body parts for sale

I work in a library, and whenever I go to the water fountain, there’s always a reshelving cart parked right there, full of intriguing titles. This week’s winner was, ‘Our Cannibals, Ourselves,’ by Priscilla L. Walton.

Walton traces conceptual origins of the cannibal to Homer (Polyphemus the Cyclops enjoys the occasional meal of raw sailor), but notes that the word doesn’t enter European languages until Columbus.

As you might expect, there is a lot of ugly racism/colonialism hovering around the representation of cannibals, from H. Rider Haggard through Gilligan’s Island. But there is also the possibility that cannibalism doesn’t have anything to do with actual eating at all:

The admiral says that he well believes there is something in this [report of cannibals], but…they must be an intelligent people…He believed that they may have captured some men and that, because they did not return to their own land, they would say they were eaten.” -from Columbus’s diaries, Walton, p.2ocos_plw

I really love that. That being ‘eaten’ could mean being swallowed by another culture. In many ways, that would make the US, the British, the French, and all the other dominating cultures, the true cannibals, not the poor guy in the palm leaf sarong and the finger-bone necklace.

So where does that leave us in monster-movie land? I’m not sure, but from where I’m sitting, it looks like cannibals are due for a re-examination.


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Count Me In On the Side of the Unicorns

Justine Larbalestier, who seems like a lovely person, who writes delightful novels about magic, and who no doubt sparkles with fairy dust even under harsh fluorescent lighting, has a sad, sad, handicap: a predilection for useless zombies

Yet, as all right thinking people know…Unicorns Are Tops!

I mean, let’s think about this rationally. What, after all, can you do with a zombie? The best even Simon Pegg, zombie-supporter eloquenaire, could come up with, if I remember the end of Shaun of the Dead correctly, is to sit in a garden shed in his backyard with his pet zombie/best friend on a leash and play video games with him. Well…knock me over with a fun stick. 

Now, unicorns on the other hand…Unicorns are magic! If you’re very very nice to them and not at all condescending, you might get to go for a ride…and even on a real horse that’s pretty awesome – but this is a horse that is faster and stronger than any animal alive – faster even than Edward Cullen. You can also talk to your unicorn (zombie = poor conversationalist) and he will be very smart. Depending on who’s mythology you’re stumbling around in, you might get to fly. Unicorns purify poison water, make liars tell the truth, and bring you back from the dead. Also they are warm and quite good for snuggling up with in the cold forest.

So let’s sum up:

Unicorns = swift, airborne, uncatchable. / Zombies = slow, disjointed shamble.

Unicorns = poison-free eternal life. / Zombies = guts eating, eternal un-life.

Unicorns = better than an electric blanket. / Zombies = cold as the grave, and smelly.