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Upside Down: Inverted Tropes in Storytelling Kindle Edition
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This varying collection of work ranges from short stories to poetry and offers multiple approaches to addressing all too familiar tropes. It attempts to place a new or unexpected spin on them, providing the reader with an unanticipated read.
Perhaps to better understand what the overall goal is within Upside Down, we should exam tropes momentarily. So what is a trope? As a reader, many of you are painfully familiar with them. Some we come to love, others we avoid at all costs. Tropes can perhaps best be explained as overused and recurring themes or plots that we find within stories. A few common examples include:
The love triangle.
The tortured protagonist who must rise above.
The chosen one.
Damsel in distress.
I think you see where this is going, and I am sure you have encountered them all at some point. This is a very small list. Feel free to elaborate and share your own favorite or least favorite tropes. I often see dystopia listed among tropes, but I will adamantly disagree. In my opinion dystopia is a sub genre/genre. I stand by that statement.
I have discovered that YA titles often feel like a never-ending stream of tropes. Perhaps this is why YA is a love or hate relationship. As many of you know, I am struggling significantly with it of late. I attribute this to my disdain for the “love triangle” and certain common tropes and themes.
Upside Down has endeavored to evolve the trope. We are presented with a collection of shorts that begin with your typical and expected themes, but manage to end in a less that typical way. A new spin on the old classic if you will. Unfortunately for myself, each scenario still resonated too heavily with predictable. I did not feel that the authors fully accomplished the common goal here. There was still a solid presence of the cliché and foreseen. I was not caught off guard and the “twist” really did little to inspire a feeling of change or the new.
I am not going spend time dissecting each story, poem or essay. If I am being honest, which I always am, most were engaging or satisfying to an extent but not of the caliber that will leave a lasting impression. There was only particular story that was the highlight of my experience with Upside Down and that was Can You Tell Me How to Get to Paprika Place. The writer takes what is comparable to the world of Sesame Street and turned into a dystopian tale of death and sorrow. This short was the most successful in accomplishing the general goal of the anthology for me.
“1,2,3. I am angry that’s okay. 4,5,6. Count to ten and breathe today. 7,8,9 and 10. Now I’, fine and I can play.”
I became hopeful at this point as I picked up a Black Mirror sort of vibe. For those of you who are not familiar (and I do recommend you remedy that) Black Mirror is a spectacular British television series that features standalone episodes that are satirical tales addressing technophobia or paranoia. It is dark and very clever. It also happens to be available on Netflix currently. You can thank me later. Back on track, I was hoping this vibe continued moving forward but it was lost and so was I.
The quality of writing varied as each story felt it was written for an entirely different audience. Ranging from captivating to mediocre, this anthology was at times an uphill read. It was transparent that the choice of writers ranged for debut to more experienced. But there was one redeeming asset in the end, the index of tropes. I actually enjoyed reading through this small section more than I did the rest of the collection. Here within the index, each writer provides a detailed explanation of the trope contained in their contribution.
This is an anthology that I might struggle to recommend to most, but it has seemed to have found an audience among many others. I did however, manage to muster up a certain amount of appreciate for a few of the more solid attempts and how well the collection was actually compiled. It was a promising concept that just did not fully hit the mark for me.
*My appreciation to NetGalley and the publisher for providing this copy. This review is my own, unbiased opinion and thoughts.
⭐ ⭐ ⭐
As I usually do, I'll rate each story and then wrap it up at the end. So, let's get started!
On Loving Bad Boys: A Villainelle - Valya Dudycz-Lupescu 3 Stars
Since this one is pretty obvious what the trope is (Good Girls Love Bad Boys) I'm not going to bother with hiding it. I'm not a huge reader of poetry so I don't really know what the 'standards' are. It was ok, in my opinion, but I wasn't thrilled with it. Then again, someone else might like it better.
Single/Singularity - John Hornor Jacobs 4 Stars
I really, really liked the story. It's got a great story but I don't think it really flips the trope around that much. In fact, it's a story about a computer becoming self-aware and sentient. So I'm not exactly sure how it flips that particular trope around by creating a story with that very same trope at the heart of it. The reason for the destruction of humanity is a little different though.
Lazzrus - Nisi Shawl 4 Stars
I liked this story a lot. It's a good inversion of the trope they were (if you'll pardon the expression) taking aim at. It seems to be a trope that's slowly starting to fade but not soon enough.
Seeking Truth - Elsa Sjunneson Henry 4 Stars
I haven't read this trope in horror in a while but I don't read all that much fantasy so for all I know it might be alive and well in that genre. I did love the story, though.
Thwock - Michelle Muenzler 2 Stars
I didn't care for this story too much. It's just my opinion of course, but it's short and it doesn't feel like much effort was given to it. I also don't think the author explores the 'Names Have Power' trope as fully as it could be.
Can You Tell Me How to Get to Paprika Place - Michael Underwood 4 Stars
It kind of reminded me of a mix between Sesame Street and Five Nights at Freddy's mixed together. It is a good, dystopian telling of the 'Super Soldier' trope.
Chosen - Anton Strout 4 Stars
This story was hilarious and a great spoof of The Chosen One cliche. Ok, the ending is slightly depressing but I loved the rest of the story. It's got each variety of Chosen One (which always makes me think of the movie Kung-Pow). There's the Gunslinger/Brawler, the Antiquarian/Sorcerer/Spell-caster, The Mystical Asian Child and The One raised from birth to fight evil. I think they missed only one trope in that genre: The Hapless Bystander who ends up being the key to the whole thing.
The White Dragon - Alyssa Wong 4 Stars
Again, a trope that is used often particularly the 'Asian Crime Syndicate' but hopefully will be on the wane soon. Of course, 'The Villainous Crime Syndicate' isn't exactly unique to Asian culture, the Italians get hit with that one as well, quite often.
Her Curse, How Gently It Comes Undone - Haralambi Markov 4 Stars
An awesome story with a great flip on the infamous Damsel in Distress trope. That also seems to be a trope that's trying to wane but is dying hard. For every three that break the mold there are another ten out there that do nothing but reinforce it. No offense to romance readers but this seems to be a genre that highlights that in particular.
Burning Bright - Shanna Germain 5 Stars
I actually couldn't figure out what the trope for this was supposed to be because this is one that, at least in books, is starting to die out. In video games I don't think it's ever really been a trope too much. The whole "Guys Smash, Girls Shoot" thing I just don't see much anymore. Women have been getting much more physical in books, movies and games for quite a while now.
Santa CIS (Episode 1: No Saint) - Alethea Kontis 4 Stars
I really liked this one a lot. It's perfectly timed with all of the Krampus stories on the upswing. It also defines the trope very well. I don't really see this one going anywhere anytime soon but it really doesn't need to. It's a cliche, but it's an inoffensive one and a lot of good stories can start from cliche ideas. It's where the author takes it from there that makes or breaks a story. This story is very well-made.
Requiem for a Manic Pixie Dream - Katy Harrad and Greg Stolze 4 Stars
This one was perfect and I loved the flip. I was more expecting the Manic Pixie would be a male Manic Pixie (because you rarely see those, if ever) but I liked the way this story went as well.
The Refrigerator in the Girlfriend - Adam-Troy Castro 3 Stars
The trope they're going for is kind of obvious but the story was just so-so to me. It flipped the words around but did nothing for the trope itself which was a little disappointing. It also is a little creepy. Not in a good way, either.
The First Blood of Poppy Dupree - Delilah S. Dawson 4 Stars
I loved this story as well. I kind of figured where it was going but I loved the ending. I can see this trope being on its way out. With the internet and everything there's almost no way a girl could not know the facts of menstruation and all the wonderfulness that goes with it.
Red Light - Sara M. Harvey 4 Stars
Another very good story. I've seen stories in a similar vein. This one was very good though. I'm not sure if it really flips the trope but I'm not really sure how you could flip it without going the total opposite way and running into a whole other trope, the Druggie Hooker.
Until There is Only Hunger - Michael Matheson 5 Stars
A very good story. Awesome imagery. The trope is the world ending/resetting/rebooting and it's not clear which is going on in the story. I would assume that it's ending but it's hard to tell.
Super Duper Fly - Maurice Broaddus 3 Stars
It would be nice if this stereotype got buried. It goes with the Mystical Fill-in-the-Blank Other. The only reason for the lower stars is because the story is kind of choppy.
Drafty as a Chain Mail Bikini - Kat Richardson 5 Stars
Even though I do believe this trope is almost dead this story is hilarious. I love the practicalities of trying to deal with a chain mail bikini. I also love that they also worked in the "If you didn't want to be attacked why would you wear that?". That's something that I would happily see die out, in fiction and real life.
Swan Song - Michelle Lyons-McFarland 3 Stars
It's written well but it's not exactly a new spin on either trope: The "You're Enchanted So Now You Must Marry Me" and the "Wicked Step-Mother".
Those Who Leave - Michael Choi 5 Stars
Great story. I can definitely see what the author means. I've never thought that way but the general media portrayal certainly goes in that direction. Cold, emotionless and robotic. Just because people don't display their emotions does not mean they're robots.
Noun of Nouns: A Mini Epic - Alex Shvartsman 4 Stars
I love the mini-ness of it. As the author puts it the "Epic-fantasy genre is known for it's extra-thick volumes filled with Important People doing World-altering things and engaging in heroic quests." I've actually stayed away from quite a few of them because I don't want to get sucked into a hundred volume series.
Excess Light - Rahul Kanakia 3 Stars
The story was well-written. So why the three stars? I just didn't get what was going on, how the city worked or what they were. I didn't know if they were human or fish-people or what. I'm unfamiliar with the trope but I wouldn't knock stars off for that. It's not one that I run into much because I don't read much futuristic stuff. Again, like the 'Pro's Last Job' it seems like a cliche, but a cliche you can take a lot of different places.
The Origin of Terror - Sunil Patel 5 Stars
I loved this story a lot. Because what the author says in their notes is true. If a villain has a bad upbringing nobody thinks twice about it. "Of course, they did that! Look at their childhood!" It almost seems like an excuse for what they've done. A lot of people that do evil things come from backgrounds that are just fine, though. It certainly gives you something to think about.
The Tangled Web - Ferrett Steinmetz 3 Stars
A really creepy (as in creepy crawly creepy) love story about beetles (I think) that sit alone watching romantic comedies and digging knives under their carapaces for pleasure. They live in hope of finding the right female to eat them and fulfill their function. It's supposed to be 'love at first sight' but it struck me more as a failed romance kind of thing. While the story is ok, it doesn't really highlight the trope too well.
Hamsa, Hamsa, Hamsa, Tfu, Tfu, Tfu - Alisa Schreibman 4 Stars
I loved the story and the mythology behind it. The female lead was also awesome. But I also do get what they're trying to say. Any Jewish characters are always super-stereotypes or secret ones until they need a show minority.
Real Women Are Dangerous - Rati Mehrotra 3 Stars
I think the issues brought up are explored decently. At the same time the woman is what spurs the male to genius so, it's still a little on the icky side. She's also very sub-serviant and the male goes running back to her because he wants her, not a 'real' woman. so I'm not sure if it went where she was hoping for it too.
Section II contains different essays which go into further depth on some of the tropes that were not mentioned and deeper into some that were. These include: I'm Pretty Sure I've Read This Before... - Patrick Hester, Fractured Souls - Lucy A. Snyder, Into the Labyrinth: The Heroine's Journey - A.C Wise, Escaping the Hall of Mirrors - Victor Raymond, and Tropes as Erasers: A Transgender Perspective - Keffy R.M. Kehrli.
I didn't care for two of them and I may go further into the Fractured Souls essay at some other time. I think their reading of 'The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde' is off but now's not the time to go into it. I've demanded far too much of your attention already.
My only other complaint in how it's set up is that it would have been much easier to read the author's trope explanations come at the end of the story they were writing. Or perhaps a link to the back of the book and the story it goes with. Or, at the very least, in the Index of Tropes at the back to list them in order of their appearance in the book.
I don't know about other people but my memory isn't very good and it would be much easier to just be able to flip the page and get the trope rundown or at the very least be linked to them.
The only other thing that bothered me was an essay at the end. While the particular essay didn't bother me there was an author's note at the beginning saying to stay away from a particular website because they didn't like it as it did not agree with their opinion. I don't know about you but I don't think any author of anything has the right to tell someone, "No, you can't read that because I don't like/agree with it.
Received from Netgalley for an honest review.
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3.5/4 stars; I liked quite a few of these short stories, none of them made me roll my eyes, and to be fair,...Read more