My Unicorn Manifesto

(Okay, it’s really more of a pet peeve that may edge into a moderate rant, but there’s a part of me that has always wanted to write a manifesto, so here it is.)

Saw this post on Peter S. Beagle’s Tumblr yesterday, which references a debate I’ve seen played out on sites with fantasy and anthro art. In short, what do unicorns look like? (Although really, the question is better phrased as what they’re “supposed” to look like.)

This usually starts up because an artist has dared to portray a unicorn as a horse with a horn, or without cloven hooves, or with the ‘wrong’ kind of tail, or this or that or something else, and the viewer has gotten unreasonably ticked off and decided to act superior about how “it can’t be a unicorn if it doesn’t have (whatever),” and this is therefore not a Real Unicorn.

I hate to be the one to have to say this, but…

*drops voice to a whisper*

They’re not real.

At least, not in the way that, say, Sumatran tigers and snapping turtles and monarch butterflies are real. And what that means is, nobody — no, not even Peter S. Beagle — gets to define exclusively what a unicorn is or isn’t. It can look like a white horse with a horn (or a black horse, or whatever equine color variations you want to use). It can look more like a goat, or a deer, or an alien giraffe. It can use some combination of the classical elements described in various texts — or none at all. It can be a creature of purity and innocence, a fierce warrior, or a predatory monster.

And you know what? You can still call it a unicorn.

So to all the creative types reading this, I hereby give myself, and you, permission to write about, draw, paint, sculpt, imagine, and otherwise do creative things with, whatever kinds of unicorns can be dreamed up. I’m tired of the Fantasy Creature Police. If vampires can be everything from charming counts to sparkly pretty-boys to basically-pretty-much-zombies, then other fantasy creatures get the same leeway.

And yes, audience, you get to have preferences as to what you like in your fantasy creatures. I happen to like gryphons (or griffins, whichever; not getting into that) with four lion paws instead of having talons in front, which isn’t typical, but that’s what I personally like, so that’s how I picture them and how I’ve written them (or will write them, if I ever finish that story someday). But I don’t go to the comments section of everybody’s gryphon art and rant about how they’ve somehow gotten it “wrong” just because they’re not matching up to my combination of criteria. So if you’re going to bitch to artists, visual or otherwise, for not doing the cloven hooves, or the lion’s tail, or whatever else, I hope you have a skeleton in your closet — a unicorn skeleton, that is, or preferably a complete preserved specimen — because that’s the only way you’re ever going to be “right.”

[Postscript: I know the typical response to this boils down to “well, if you don’t have some guidelines for what it’s supposed to be, then you could just draw a dragon or something and call it a unicorn, and then the word unicorn becomes meaningless.” Well, yeah, I guess technically it is meaningless, anyway, because it designates something that doesn’t exist in the physical world and is therefore open to interpretation. I don’t get why unicorns are so much of a target for this. People don’t seem to get so bent out of shape about artists or writers reimagining dragons or vampires or zombies or werewolves or ghosts or anything else with no physical proof. (Okay, strike that — I have seen recent complaining about werewolves being drawn “just” as anthro wolves, so maybe every creature has its devoted band of nitpickers.) For myself, I’ve read a book with Pegasus portrayed as almost reptilian with bat-like wings, and another where they have vestigial hands as part of their wing structure. Both took a little mental acclimation, but it was interesting. In the end, your only limitation is what your audience is willing to accept and how much they’re willing to stretch their preconceptions.]

Giveaway: Win a free copy of By Sword and Star

BSS cover FAIt’s a book-iversary! My novel By Sword and Star has now been out for a year — well, sort of. (Technically, Amazon lists it as having been available in February, but I’m going by this date because it’s when the publisher officially announced it.)

To celebrate the first anniversary of Tiran’s journey (and mine), I’m giving away 2 copies of the ebook. Winners can choose either epub or Kindle format, with the file to be sent as an email attachment. (Just as a reminder, the book’s recommended for teen and adult readers.)

To enter, just leave a comment below. Two winners will be randomly chosen on April 3.

Good luck!


“Horseman” on Tales to Terrify

For those who might have missed “Horseman” when it first appeared in Black Static #29, it’s just been reprinted in audio format, as part of the Tales to Terrify podcast.

Check it out here in episode 61, read by Steven Howell.

Tales to Terrify March 2013 cover

(I apparently never sent them a formal bio, so it sounds like they got their info either from my “About” page on my website, or possibly my Amazon/Goodreads bios that use some of the same text. Nothing wrong with that at all; it was just kind of amusing to hear the part about Beatrix Potter being an influence when the story in question is about a freaky hellish cannibalistic horse-thing.)


Friday Finds: Shapeshifters, Alien Parasites, and Disney Princesses

Not all in the same item, unfortunately. Even so, here a few things that caught my attention recently that I thought were worth sharing.

First, from the girl geek blog The Mary Sue, What Disney Princesses Would Look Like If They Were Actually Human. (Incidentally, if you go to Mary Sue and search for “Disney princesses,” I hope you don’t have anything pressing to do for a while — there’s an amazingly deep warren of Disney princess reinterpretations to get lost in.)

Second, two stories from Daily Science Fiction. I admit I don’t read every story that shows up in my inbox just because my inbox can get a little overwhelming during the work week (and during the weekends I’d rather stay offline as much as possible), but sometimes a title catches my attention and the story itself doesn’t let go. Here are two of those:

What to Expect When You’re Expecting an Alien Parasite by Rebecca Adams Wright (warning: disturbing content)

I Heard You Got a Cat, I Heard You Named Him Charles by M. Bennardo

Finally, the Oscars last weekend got me thinking about a bit I remembered from the Academy Awards in 1992, when Belle and the Beast from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast presented the best animated short film award. (Mainly I remembered that the Beast put on reading glasses and it was freaking adorable.) And yep, it’s on Youtube — poor quality, unfortunately, but here we are anyway.

So what interesting stuff have you found online lately — music, art, writing, cat videos…?