Upside Down: Inverted Tropes in Storytelling is an anthology of short stories, poetry, and essays edited by Monica Valentinelli and Jaym Gates. Over two dozen authors, ranging from NYT-bestsellers and award winners to debut writers, chose a tired trope or cliche to challenge and surprise readers through their work.
Read stories inspired by tropes such as the Chainmaille Bikini, Love at First Sight, Damsels in Distress, Yellow Peril, The Black Man Dies First, The Villain Had a Crappy Childhood, The Singularity Will Cause the Apocalypse, and many more…then discover what these tropes mean to each author to find out what inspired them.
Join Maurice Broaddus, Adam Troy-Castro, Delilah S. Dawson, Shanna Germain, Sara M. Harvey, John Hornor Jacobs, Rahul Kanakia, Alethea Kontis, Valya Dudycz Lupescu, Haralmbi Markov, Sunil Patel, Kat Richardson, Nisi Shawl, Ferrett Steinmetz, Anton Strout, Michael Underwood, Alyssa Wong and many other authors as they take well-worn tropes and cliches and flip them upside down.
– S & S –
Upside Down: Inverted Tropes in Storytelling Review
I’ve said before that anthologies are notoriously hard to review. This one is no exception. In a way the difficulty is doubled because I’m not just rating the stories on their own merit but also by how well they subverted the tropes they’re trying to flip. I’m going to try not to reveal the trope they’re trying to flip but sometimes it’s not easy. If there are any major spoilers I will let you know ahead of time and you can highlight to see them, if you’d like to.
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.
So, there is my rather lengthy review and I hope it was at least enjoyable reading.
My final rating is:
4 out of 5 Skulls