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"Science Fiction" means—to us—everything found in the science fiction section of a bookstore, or at a science fiction convention, or amongst the winners of the Hugo awards given by the World Science Fiction Society. This includes the genres of science fiction (or sci-fi), fantasy, slipstream, alternative history, and even stories with lighter speculative elements. We hope you enjoy the broad range that SF has to offer.

The Ballad of the Toothpick, Yes it exists!

Ellis Horsback, in his book "The Decline of Logic in Fantasy," devotes a whole chapter to the omission from this imaginative literary genre of the subject of toothpicks, their use and their origin. How is it possible, he asks, in a narration so rich with feasts and meat consumption in castle halls or open fairgrounds, for such a blatant oversight? Eloquent and thorough is Mr. Horsback's thesis, but one wonders if he sat to read more than a dozen books of fantasy, instead of just the more popular ones.
The incredible anthology of Clopit Prissy alone begins with the very memorable chapter of the three weary travelers, who sit around a fire in the woods, sharing a roasted buffalo in the company of a fire-breathing dragon. Immediately after the meal, with their bellies full, and with a toothpick in their lips each, the men muse under the starlit canopy. Nox the dragon, in turn, uses a spear to dislodge flesh, armor, and other loot from between his sharp teeth. Very cleverly, each morsel out of the dragon's jaws becomes the source of a string of imaginative tales.
"He lifted the point close to his bulbous retina and gave a long look to the crushed helmet. There was still a bit of skull stuck to its inner seam, with a lock of blond hair hanging from it. 'I remember this head, so full of conceit. He came against me riding a white horse, his insolent smirk sparkling for one last time. '"
What a wonderful use for a humble toothpick.
In the third tome of the fascinating trilogy by Jane Featherly "The Mists of Prembon," "The Fall of Azurex," and "The Dew of Legends;" there is one particular chapter that saves the up-to-that-point tired narration. A merchant of arrows and a craftsman of toothpicks meet at an inn, in the town of Feras. The scene begins with a full three-page account of the wood industry of the province, a source of wealth for the realm. Rich and fat, the two businessmen begin talking about their occupation. Pontaf, the craftsman, raises first the irony of how much their products look alike, but while one's offer death, the other's offer relief. Korfelt, the merchant, defends armed conflict, stating that without them the economy could not prosper, not on toothpicks alone. He also underlines how boring or obsolete banquets would be without the telling of heroic deeds of battle. Pontaf counterpoints with the argument that men use arrows mostly when they wage wars, but they have to eat in times of war and times of peace alike. Furthermore, most minstrel songs are about the deeds of renowned hunters who bested fierce beasts. On any such occasion, a toothpick has been always useful. It is an argument that gets won in a grand manner, when the craftsman offers a toothpick to the merchant so that he can get rid of a bothersome bit of grit from his teeth.
In "The Call of the Lake Nymphs" by Hortance Papadaki, page 630, we have the banquet of Princess Apramilia, showcasing the hors d'oeuvres with the golden toothpicks. A quite amusing episode follows, regarding the troll ambassador who swallows them whole, and the ensuing bellyache.
In "Wine Centaurs" by Blake Makrapan, Stein and Yurik count the pints of drink they consume in their duel, by impaling toothpicks to the table.
Let us also include the odd "Salamandaria" of Wick and Pirter, where an army stricken by a spell shrinks to thumb size and instead of losing hope, unites under the ironclad leadership of Verek the Red. The march continues on, no need to hint what the archers begin using as arrows.
No Mr. Horsback, fantasy is not devoid of reality, or imagination and seriousness. So keep on reading, and be wary of the toothpicks.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, October 22nd, 2018
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