An Interview with Ada Hoffmann

Ada Hoffmann was kind enough to drop by today to talk about her debut fiction and poetry collection, Monsters in My Mind. To get things started, I’ll make introductions by way of shamelessly stealing from Ada’s author bio…

Ada Hoffmann is the author of over 60 published speculative short stories and poems. Her work has appeared in professional magazines such as Strange Horizons, Asimov’s, and Uncanny, and in two year’s-best anthologies. She is the winner of the Friends of the Merrill Collection Short Story Contest (2013, “The Mother of All Squid Builds a Library”) and a two-time Rhysling award nominee (2014 for “The Siren of Mayberry Crescent” and 2017 for “The Giantess’s Dream”).

Monsters in My MindWelcome and congratulations on the publication of your first collection! Care to give readers a little taste of what sorts of things they’ll find in the pages of Monsters in My Mind?

Dinosaur opera. Hive-mind squid. Non-neurotypical fairylands. Half-living spaceships in the shape of dragons, teenagers working together to escape cyber-surveillance, and Neolithic vampires who prowl in ancient ruins with their packs of human followers. Passionate and difficult relationships, both romantic and familial. Characters who are monsters, characters who love monsters, characters who fight against monsters with everything they’ve got, and characters who are all too human.

I’m always fascinated with the various approaches authors take to assembling their collections. How did you go about picking which stories and poems to include, and how to arrange them? Would you say there’s an emergent overarching theme, or groups of themes within the collection?

I’m glad you’re fascinated by this, because so am I. I always wanted to arrange an anthology around a theme. When I got the idea of working with NeuroQueer Books, I came up with a way of structuring a collection just for this publisher. If I put words to the theme of Monsters in My Mind, it would be the theme of feeling different, not fitting in some big or small way, and the countless ways characters respond to that.

I went through all my stories and poems that were available to reprint, and I jotted down how they engaged with the collection’s theme. I used those notes to put together a rough ordering felt like it made sense – as if the theme was its own meta-story, with its own establishment, development, rising action, and resolution. I knew the stories I wanted to start and end with, and that helped give the meta-story a shape. Finally, I put the rough collection together and read through it a few times, tweaking the order to make sure it flowed and wasn’t jarring or doubling back on itself.

I’ve published several stories and poems that I think are very good, but that didn’t fit into the collection thematically. Either they didn’t have anything to do with the theme, or they engaged with it in a way that didn’t feel like a fit with where the meta-story wanted to go. Those ones, I am saving for another collection!

I’m admittedly biased since it originally appeared in Unlikely Story, but one of my favorite among your stories is “How My Best Friend Rania Crashed a Party and Saved the World”. It also happens to be one of my favorite story titles ever, so I have to ask, which came first, the title or the story? I also have to ask the same question about the titles “An Operatic Tour of New Jersey, With Raptors” and “The Mother of All Squid Builds a Library”.

For “The Mother of All Squid Builds a Library”, the title came first, along with a mental image of the main character. The rest wrote itself. For “An Operatic Tour of New Jersey, With Raptors,” the idea for the story came first, but the title followed logically and was put on the page before the story’s actual words.

“How My Best Friend Rania Crashed a Party and Saved the World” was the reverse. The story’s working title was “AllBook, Rania, and the Infallible Cloud,” but that was a terrible title because no one who hasn’t read the story will know what any of it means. The actual title came in very late. It’s funny you should say it’s one of your favorites, because several readers complained that it was false advertising. Rania is a World Saver, and she crashes a party and engages in World Saving, but that’s a phrase that has a special meaning in the world of the story. The actual, literal world is not saved.

Switching gears a bit, you run an ongoing review series called Autistic Book Party. Could you talk a bit about how the series came about?

Back in 2012, I was a very shy little blogger who didn’t really know how anything worked. Autism representation was a thing I had started to pay attention to, and I had posted a couple of small things about it, but nothing huge. Then thanks to a signal boost by Jim C. Hines, I suddenly had people pouring in who wanted to know more. They kept asking me if I’d read this book, or that book. It should have been overwhelming, but I felt excited and inspired. I hadn’t known anyone was really interested in what I had to say.

I had actually not read most of the books, so I decided to fix that. I called it Autistic Book Party partly out of irony, but also because the glut of people did feel like a party to me. In retrospect I think that’s exactly how autistic people should party – by coming together and discussing a shared interest.

A question I always like to ask my fellow Canadians is about the idea of Canadian Literature. Do you think there’s a particular theme, tone, or some common unifying thread that makes a piece of writing particularly Canadian? If so, do you find it in your own writing, either surfacing unconsciously, or something you actively work toward or against?

Canada is such a big place with so much diversity. There are some obvious ways to make a story feel Canadian, like setting it in Canada. But I think it would be a mistake to identify Canadianness through just one factor – I think there are a lot of subgroups doing wildly different things. Even just within Canadian speculative fiction, I would say that’s true.

Since your Ph.D. studies focus on computer generated-poetry, I’m curious as to whether you’ve read “Caesura” by Hayley Stone, which was recently published in Fireside Fiction, and deals with an AI gaining self-awareness through poetry, and winning a major poetry competition no less. Do you think computers could get to the point of producing art, poetry, writing, and music that’s indistinguishable from human-created works? Or will there always be a kind of uncanny valley effect, for example the My Little Pony Names designed by a neural network (http://aiweirdness.com/post/164560090962/new-my-little-ponies-designed-by-neural-network) where some of them are spot on, and some are hilariously and/or terrifyingly wrong?

I have definitely read “Caesura” – in fact, it went on my list of favorite short stories from that month.
Computers in real life are at a point where the best of them can do a skilled pastiche of the patterns that emerge in human art. It’s not perfect, but it’s often good, and sometimes good enough to fool non-experts. But there is definitely an uncanny valley effect, especially in computer-generated creative writing, and it comes from the fact that computers don’t really understand what they’re doing. They don’t have a sensory experience of the things they are writing about; it’s just patterns in letters to them. There are ways to make inroads on this problem, but the only way to fully solve it is by inventing strong AI. The computer in “Caesura” is a strong AI, but we’re not anywhere close to that in real life, and we don’t even have a solid idea of how we’d get there or what it will look like when we do.

In the near future, we’re going to have a lot of cute silly bots like the My Little Pony one, a lot of pastiche machines that make convincing Muzak, and some really cool, really out-there art projects that are the result of humans and computers working together in novel ways. But I don’t believe computers will become better than humans at the kind of art humans are already doing – that’s a job for our wildly speculative, SFnal robot overlords.

Now that Monsters in My Mind is out in the world, what’s next for you?

I need to finish my PhD thesis, and I need to write more short stories and poetry – a few of those are already scheduled to come out in 2018. I have a book of dinosaur poems, “Million-Year Elegies,” that has been stalled out at about 75 or 80% complete for at least half a year now, and I need to get back on that. I also have a completed space opera novel that my agent is shopping around, but no idea if anyone will actually buy it or not. Anything could happen. Who knows?

“Million-Year Elegies” sounds amazing. Good luck with the PhD thesis, and thanks for dropping by!

You’re welcome! It was a pleasure.

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Non-Binary Authors to Read: Where to Start – Part 11

We’ve ticked over to 2018, and what better way to kick of a new year than with another installment of Non-Binary Authors to Read! For those unfamiliar with the series, you can catch up here. Onward to the recommendations!

CapriciousB.R. Sanders is a genderqueer writer who has also worked as a research psychologist and labor organizer. My recommended starting place for their work is The Music of the Spheres published in Capricious Issue Seven. Wren is a young musician stationed with a group of scientists on the planet Polyphemus. Even though she has no scientific background, Wren is uniquely positioned to be valuable on the planet, as the planet is uniquely suited to her. Polyphemus is largely dark, but thanks to medical implants, Wren sees via sonar, having been born blind. Her musical ability also ties her to the planet; when she plays her flute, Polyphemus responds. The indigenous life is neither plant nor animal, but both. Grass insects flutter their wings and dance in response to Wren’s music, but only when she improvises her compositions. A young doctor on the planet, Razza, is the only one who doesn’t treat Wren merely as a curiosity or a problem to be solved. Ze proposes a research project with Wren to determine why the planet responds to her the way it does.

Wren and Razza drove out to a lush valley, one of the strange spots on the planet where life abounded. Wren couldn’t see it, but she could feel it. There was a density in that valley unlike anything around Research Station Three. Her sonar pinged close, pinged softly. Noises rolled off the trunks of trees, off the smooth skins of the bulbous plant life that detached from the vines and bounded through the grass like puppies. The plurality of forms there in the valley came back to Wren. It beat against her body like soft rain.

Wren tries different instruments, and as she does, a pattern emerges, a rhythm that seems to point to a greater whole. With the recordings they make, Razza and Wren work together to learn more about the planet, deepening their friendship, and leading Wren to learn more about herself in the process. The Music of the Sphere is a gorgeous story, one which recognizes music as a form of math, but also as something magical beyond simple numbers. Throughout the story, Sanders draws parallels between Wren and the planet. Music connects Wren to the world around her, allowing her to communicate in a way that feels more natural that words. Polyphemus communicates in the same way, and Wren and the planet share other similarities as well. Wren hates that people see her as a riddle, and she alone sees the planet as more than a mystery to be solved. Polyphemus and Wren are the same in a way, and she finds a home there unlike any other, making a place for herself on an alien world. The story touches on friendship, the intersection between science and art, and the value of seeing the world in different ways, all of which makes it an excellent starting place for B.R. Sanders’ work.

Tender Feet of Cretan Girls by Sarah WebbJulian K. Jarboe is a writer and a sound designer, and my recommended starting place for their work is As Tender Feet of Cretan Girls Danced Once Around an Altar of Love. Isadora is the last of the snake women, constantly reborn over the years and thus essentially immortal. She lives in the Azores now, but remembers Knossos in the time of King Minos, the bull, and the labyrinth. Much of her time is consumed by memories of Ariadne, and seeking out and recording various versions of her story. As part of her obsession with her past, she joins a dig to unearth the labyrinth.

I had come to Crete and joined the Evans excavation in order to lord my expertise over him, and pocket sacred objects before they could be whisked off to the Ashmolean. Instead, I spent half a lifetime wiping sweat from my forehead and rubbing the sting of dust from my eyes with my monstrous hands. I watched as this man redesigned the rubble he found into impossible, triple story complexes of poured concrete and “restored” frescoes—really images entirely of his own direction with the modern hand of a father and son painting team.

Having found no satisfaction in literally unearthing her past, Isadora plans to leave her current life behind and reincarnate once more. As she’s making her preparations, she meets an elderly man named Dimas who seems determined to befriend her. She is suspicious of his motives at first, and eventually discovers he wants her to be his confessor for what he sees as his past sins – marrying his wife despite not loving her while carrying on an affair with her brother. A friendship grows between them, one that leads them both to be able to shed the weight of their pasts and move on. Jarboe weaves themes of memory, history, and story itself throughout the tale. Who owns history? Those who who lived it, or those who retell it and make it their own? The story explores the way narratives are built, and how each person shapes legends and even history to their own needs and preconceptions. The story also explores the way people use narratives to make sense of the world, how received narratives can erode authenticity and truth, and the way desire makes memory unreliable. It is a liminal and beautiful story, and an excellent starting place for Jarboe’s work.

TranscendentHolly Heisey is a book cover designer and an author. My recommended starting place for their work is Contents of Care Package to Etsath-tachri, formerly Ryan Andrew Curran published at EGM Shorts and reprinted in Transcendent: The Year’s Best Transgender Speculative Fiction. The story is short, but effective, opening with a list of the contents of the titular care package being sent to Etsath-tachri who has recently transitioned from human to Sedrayin.

In this package:
1. Three letters. (With our instructions on opening order, per Human dating system.)
2. One musical instrument, harmonica.
3. One plastic package containing three toothbrushes.
4. One tube of toothpaste.
5. One cloth Earth mammal, bear (unsure of further classification), filled with synthetic material. (We are sorry for the lack of symmetry, the cloth mammal was obviously damaged and repaired at some point. We were told not to modify it.)

The first letter is from Etsath-tachri’s former wife, Sophie, who is not taking the transition well, feeling betrayed. The second is from Etsath-tachri’s brother Gabe, who is far more supportive, and over the course of writing the letter comes to realize that his brother was never human but always Sedrayin, and the transition simply corrected things. The final letter is from Etsath-tachri’s mother, who is trying her best, though still occasionally makes mistakes, like calling Etsath-tachri Andrew. The story works as an effective metaphor for gender transition, but shown from an outsider’s perspective. We don’t get Etsath-tachri’s point of view, merely Sophie, Gabe, and Mom’s, with a sweet postscript about Etsath-tachri’s daughter Jenna. On the balance, the reactions of those who knew Etsath-tachri as Andrew are positive, with the exception of Sophie whose hurt is understandable from her point of view of having her marriage recently broken. Gabe’s supportive stance is heartening, as is Etsath-tachri’s mother’s response, ultimately making this a sweet and uplifting story. Even though Etsath-tachri has lost Sophie, there is the possibility she will come around to acceptance, and on the whole the relationships are supportive and happy ones. Heisey accomplishes a lot in just a few words, which is impressive, showing off the effectiveness of flash fiction as a form. It’s an excellent story, and an excellent staring place for Heisey’s work.

That’s it for this installment. As always, I’d love to see your own recommendations for work by non-binary authors in the comments. Happy reading, and I’ll be back with more recommendations soon.

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My Favorite Novels and Novellas of 2017

Last week I posted a big ole list of my favorite short stories and novelettes of 2017. This week, it’s time for my favorite novels and novellas of the year, because you can never have too much recommended reading, right?

Novels

AmberloughAmberlough by Lara Elena Donnelly – a truly stunning debut novel, set in a slick and decadent secondary world, full of politics, relationships and shifting alliances. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

Six Wakes by Mur Lafferty – a locked room murder mystery in space, with clones. Need I say more? (Well, in case I do, the book is reviewed in more detail here.)

The Art of Starving by Sam J. Miller – a lovely and painful story about a young man dealing with an eating disorder, a budding relationship, surviving high school, and unlocking superpowers.

The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin – a brilliant ending to a brilliant trilogy. All three books are breathtaking in their worldbuilding, character building, and their scope. They’re the type of books that punch you in the gut and grab you by the throat all at once, and refuse to let go.

My Favorite Thing is MonstersThe Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden – a beautiful story mixing Russian history and folklore, with fierce and wonderful characters at its heart. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

The Prey of Gods by Nicky Drayden – another stunning debut novel about emergent gods, designer drugs, friendships, family, following your dreams, and of course, dik diks. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

Horizon by Fran Wilde – another brilliant ending to a brilliant trilogy. All three books are full of stunning visuals, tense action, intricate worldbuilding, and wonderful characters. On top of that, Wilde pulls off the incredible trick of expanding the world and upping the stakes with each book, revealing her universe to be much darker, weirder, and more wonderful than ever imagined.

My Favorite Thing is Monsters by Emil Ferris – a breathtaking graphic novel dealing with violence, buried secrets, art, love, loss, and of course, monsters. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

Novellas

Agents of Dreamland by Caitlin R. Kiernan – a dark and weird novella about suicide cults, zombie fungus, and secret agents specializing in the paranormal. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

Passing Strange by Ellen Klages – a gorgeous love letter to queer history, and the history of San Francisco, glazed with a touch of magic. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey – a heist gone wrong in an alternate version of the swamps of Louisiana that have been overrun by feral hippos. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

A Song for Quiet by Cassandra Khaw – a dark mash-up of Lovecraftian horror, noir, and music, full of loneliness and gorgeous poetic language.

The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion by Margaret Killjoy – a novella with a post-apocalyptic punk feel, laced with weird, dark magic, and mythology come to life.

Pretty Marys All in a RowPrime Meridian by Silvia Moreno-Garcia – a near-future SF novella about Mars, movie magic, appearances versus reality, and longing for something that seems out of reach.

Pretty Marys All in a Row – urban legends, nursery rhymes, and old myths come to life (or afterlife) in a story about five ghosts trapped in a house, hunted by something dark and dangerous.

And Then There Were (N-One) by Sarah Pinsker – a murder mystery set in a world of parallel realities where multiple versions of the author converge on lonely and inaccessible island to ponder the variations on their lives and try to discover who would want to end one of them. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

A Portrait of the Desert in Personages of Power by Rose Lemberg – a gorgeous and poetic novella of fallen stars and magic, exploring power, consent, desire, and pain.

Honorable Mentions
(Being the novels and novellas I read this year and loved, but were published before 2017, but which I still really want to recommend.)

A Taste of Honey by Kai Ashante Wilson – a gorgeous novella moving fluidly through time and possible realities.

Aerie by Maria Dahvana Headley – a brilliant follow up to Magonia, which further complicates Aza Ray’s life as she’s caught between two worlds and coping with the fact that most people think she’s dead.

The DevourersThe Devourers by Indra Das – an absolutely drop-dead gorgeous novel about shifting forms and identities, desire, hunger, and power, which feels epic in scope while still being compact and tightly-woven. (Seriously, just drop whatever you’re doing and read it.)

The Fisherman by John Langan – an unsettling novel full of cosmic horror and deeply woven mythology.

Hex by Thomas Olde Heuvelt – another deeply unsettling novel with a mythology that feels embedded and real, concerning a witch haunting a particularly town, words that must never be listened to, and stitches that must never be undone.

Lexicon by Max Barry – a novel where words have incredible power, a secret society built around their use and protection, and an entire neighborhood quarantined and brought to its knees.

Waypoint Kangaroo by Curtis C. Chen – spies in space, a private pocket dimension, and one vacation on a interstellar cruise ship gone very, very wrong.

The Gilda Stories by Jewelle Gomez – a unique vampire novel spanning decades and lifetimes, touching on found family, race, queerness, love, and women making space for themselves in the world.

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My Favorite Short Fiction of 2017

Wanna know a secret that isn’t really a secret? I really like short fiction. I read a lot of it. I think it’s awesome. I want other people to read it and think it’s awesome too. That  said, I know I can’t read everything and there’s a lot of fabulous stuff I’ve missed. However, in the spirit of sharing work I did read and love, and hopefully helping other people find things to read and love, here are my favorite short stories of 2017 (in no particular order).

Clarkesworld June 2017The Ways Out by Sam J. Miller (Clarkesworld) – told as a series of reports by an agent assigned to watch a young girl with superpowers, the story touches on prejudice and fear of the other. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

Monster Girls Don’t Cry by A. Merc Rustad (Uncanny) – a disturbing story about who is considered monstrous and why, and the violence done against those who don’t fit within a certain narrow “norm”.

A Human Stain by Kelly Robson (Tor.com) – an unsettling Gothic novelette about hunger and the natural and unnatural world. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

Police Magic by Brent Lambert (Fiyah) – a painful story of police brutality and attempting to heal and move forward in the face of racial violence. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

Microbiota and the Masses: A Love Story by S.B. Divya (Tor.com) – an isolated scientist copes with lust, lies, and cleaning up the environment. (More detailed review here.)

Nine-Tenths of the Law by Molly Tanzer (Lightspeed) – a story about a unique mode of alien contact and experiencing life among a different species, with bonus sexy times.

BlueBellow by Alexis Pauline Gumbs (Strange Horizons) – a fluid and shifting narrative that calls to mind the horrors of slavery and forced migration while drawing on myth and fairy tale. (More detailed review here.)

Chesirah by L.D. Lewis (Fiyah) – a novelette with steampunk stylings about a mythical creature fighting back against those who would fetishize her and make her into a collectible object. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

Black Like Them by Troy L. Wiggins (Fireside) – a powerful story about a designer drug that lets white people appear black, and what that does and does not mean for them and their life experience. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

Probably Still the Chosen One by Kelly Barnhill (Lightspeed) – a slightly tongue-in-cheek, yet practical take on portal fantasies and the trope of saviors in fantasy narratives.

The Whalebone Parrot by Darcie Little Badger (The Dark) – a gothic tale of two sisters isolated on an island, faced with a chilling supernatural threat. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

The Wretched and the Beautiful by E. Lily Yu (Terraform) – a short and effective story about the plight of refugees in the form of an alien “invasion”. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

If We Survive the Night by Carlie St. George (The Dark) – a violent story tackling the final girl trope. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

Fiyah 2Talking to Cancer by Khaalidah Muhammad-Ali (Fiyah) – an excellent story about a woman whose supernatural ability to cure cancer is complicated by her husband’s infidelity.

Come See the Living Dryad by Theodora Goss (Tor.com) – a woman uncovers her ancestor’s dark past, and reclaims her story. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

Auspicium Melioris Aevi by JY Yang (Uncanny) – a story of clones, fate, and free will. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

Meat by Sandra M. Odell (Pseudopod) – a truly unsettling story about the lengths a woman goes to in order to stand out.

You Will Always Have Family: A Triptych by Kathleen Kayembe (Nightmare) – a dark and unsettling novelette about family, betrayal, and love. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

Shimmer March 2017The Cold, Lonely Waters by Aimee Ogden (Shimmer) – a beautifully-written story of mermaids in space. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

Aqua Mirablis by Stephanie Chan (Anathema) – a gorgeous story about scent, memory, and travel between worlds. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

Infinite Love Engine by Joseph Allen Hill (Lightspeed) – a slick and stylish story of cosmic travel and alien beings with a funkadelic feel.

Say, She Toy by Chesya Burke (Apex) – a brutal and disturbing story about androids designed to take on the physical and emotional violence directed at black women.

The Ache of Home by Maurice Broaddus (Uncanny) – a story of community and neighbors coming together to protect each other in the face of a supernatural threat.

Cooking with Closed Mouths by Kerry Truong (GlitterShip) – a gorgeous and painful story about being far from home and the power of sharing food. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

The Three-Tongued Mummy by E. Catherine Tobler (Apex) – a wonderfully atmospheric and evocative story about fate and ancient curses, set in the world of Jackson’s Circus.

They Will Take You from You by Brandon O’Brien (Strange Horizons) – an unsettling story about muses and the cost of genius.

A Place to Grow by A.T. Greenblatt (Beneath Ceaseless Skies) – a magical story about family, coping with loss, and characters finding their place in the world. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

Carnival Nine by Caroline M. Yoachim (Beneath Ceaseless Skies) – a story of wind-up automata that deals with issues of emotional labor and packs a punch.

Bear Language by Martin Cahill (Fireside Fiction) – two young children cope with a father who is more monstrous than the wild animal that moves into their house.

Red by Ramsey Shehadeh (Tor.com) – a clever take on a Clue-type game that deals with family, loss, and grief.

Small Changes Over Long Periods of Time by K.M. Szpara (Uncanny) – a wonderful novelette about a trans man being turned into a vampire against his will, and the complications that ensue. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

The Bois by R.S.A. Garcia (Truancy Magazine) – a bittersweet story about alien life, and a character living on the margins of society. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

Beauty, Glory, Thrift by Alison Tam (The Book Smugglers) – a lovely story that slowly unfolds the relationship between a thief and a program who believe she’s a god. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

We Laugh in Its Face by Barbara L.W. Myers (Fiyah) – an excellent story about the cost of immortality. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

A Question of Faith by Tonya Liburd (The Book Smugglers) – a story that explores the capacity of the human mind, and the intersection between faith and science. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

Graverobbing Negress Seeks Employment by Eden Royce (Fiyah) – a dark story about violence, community, loss, and healing. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

Skin Smooth as Plantains, Hearts Soft as Mango by Ian Muneshwar (The Dark) – a dark story about hunger, isolation, and being caught between two worlds. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

Apex August 2017If a Bird Can Be a Ghost by Allison Mills (Apex Magazine) – a lovely and bittersweet story about grief, coping, and learning to let go. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

These Constellations Will Be Yours by Elaine Cuyegkeng (Strange Horizons) – a gorgeous story soaked in poetic imagery, touching on power, control, and colonialism.

Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience TM by Rebecca Roanhorse (Apex Magazine) – a chilling story about identity, authenticity, received narratives, and appropriation.

Everything You Left Behind by Wen Ma (Anathema) – a story about the isolating nature of grief and pain in a world where time is frozen and nothing changes. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

In Search of Stars by Matthew Bright (GlitterShip) – a story of longing and shame with a dark edge as a man makes his problems literally float away. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

The Lamentation of Their Women by Kai Ashante Wilson (Tor.com) – a violent and bloody story about a deal with the devil in the face of generations of injustice. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

Clearly Lettered in a Mostly Steady Hand by Fran Wilde (Uncanny) – a haunting story about appearances, assumptions, and true selves, set amidst the trappings of a cabinet of curiosities. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

The Creeping Influences by Sonya Taaffe (Shimmer) – the uncovering of a bog mummy reveals intertwined stories of desire, secrecy, and sacrifice. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

Taiya by Vanessa Fogg (The Future Fire) – an eerie story of depression and grief manifesting as an implacable ghost. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

Uncanny September October 2017Fandom for Robots by Vina Jie-Min Prasad – an utterly charming story about the joyful side of fandom and finding community through shared enthusiasm for a fictional world. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

The Ouroboros Bakery by Octavia Cade (Kaleidotrope) – a story about the ups and downs of immortality achieved through the magic of baked goods. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

Airswimming by Aisha Phoenix – a lovely and painful story about overcoming the literal weight of grief and guilt. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

The Last Exorcist by Danny Lore (Fiyah Magazine) – a story about racism, deals with demons, and fighting back against oppression. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

Cracks by Xen (Fiyah Magazine) – a powerful novelette about parallel worlds, responsibility, and longing for what seems unobtainable.

Presque Vu by Nino Cipri (Liminal Stories) – a story of coping with ghosts, loneliness, and regret.

Aground, Upon the Sand by Jennifer R. Donohue (Syntax & Salt) – an effective piece of flash fiction that uses the selkie trope to parallel the experience of being a stranger in a new land. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

Other Names by Chloe N. Clarke (Cosmonauts Avenue) – a slowly unfolding story about coping with grief and guilt. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

The Sound of His Voice Like the Colour of Salt by L. Chan (The Dark) – an effective story about ghosts, and longing for more from the world. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

Them Boys by Nora Anthony (Strange Horizons) – a story about the power and danger of sexuality that flips traditional the mermaid story on its head. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

Caesura by Hayley Stone (Fireside Fiction) – a story about loss, AI, poetry, and what it means to be human. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

Pan-Humanism: Hope and Pragmatics by Jess Barber and Sara Saab (Clarkesworld) – a novelette about rebuilding in a world of scarcity and the complicated nature of human relationships.

Rivers Run Free by Charles Payseur (Beneath Ceaseless Skies) – a story of personified rivers fighting back against humanity’s desire to control and cage them for their own needs.

Forty Acres and a Mule by Stephanie Malia Morris (Fiyah Magazine) – a powerful story about a black family overcoming a history of violence turned against their ancestors to reclaim land and make space for themselves in the world. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

The Moon is Not a Battlefield by Indrapramit Das (Infinity Wars) – a beautifully told story about a war on the moon and the way human lives are used up by it.

Weather Girl by E.J. Swift (Infinity Wars) – an unconventional war fought through weather and suppressed information has unexpected costs.

The Old Dispensation by Lavie Tidhar (Tor.com) – a space opera novelette about Jewish law, artificial intelligence, and finding a new morality.

Anathema 3Learning to Swim by Mimi Mondal (Anathema Magazine) – a bittersweet story about found family, prejudice, and struggling to find your place in the world.

Neptune’s Trident by Nina Allan (Clarkesworld) – an alien invasion creates a world of scarcity where neighbors turn against each other, effectively interwoven with references to a classic M.R. James ghost story.

When Stars Are Scattered by Spencer Ellsworth (Tor.com) – a story of faith, suspicion, and the struggle for communication and understanding on an alien world.

Verweil Doch (But Linger) by Rich Larson (Omni Magazine) – a story about guilt and feeling powerless even with the ability to stop time.

The Rains on Mars by Natalia Theodoridou (Clarkesworld) – a miner on Mars copes with loss, guilt, and phantom rain.

Lost in the Dark by John Langan (Haunted Nights) – an effective and creepy novelette about a found footage horror movie and the line between reality and fiction.

There. I told you I read and loved a lot of short fiction in 2017, and even then I feel like I’m barely scratching the surface of all the fantastic work out there. I’m also working on a post about my favorite novels and novellas of 2017, so stay turned. But in the meantime, give me your recs! What did you read and love in 2017?

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Women to Read: Where to Start: December 2017

Welcome to December’s Women to Read. This month, I have four fabulous short stories to recommend to you. As 2017 comes to a close, I can only hope that 2018 is happier, gentler, and kinder. But if the new year does bring more of the same, I will continue to take solace in fiction – powerful stories that fight back and offer up hope, and wonderful, creative voices that refuse to be silent. So keep writing, keep reading, and keep resisting. We’ll get through this together.

Nora Anthony is a short fiction author and my recommended starting place for her work is Them Boys recently published at Strange Horizons. Right out of the gate, the story flips the traditional animal bride/selkie/mermaid trope on its head. All the mer-people in Anthony’s story are men, boys really, who come up onto the beach to flirt with girls, make out, gather the offerings they leave, and occasionally take them underwater. The girls who go underwater emerge shinning; everyone teases and hints and winks and nudges about what goes on, but no one openly talks about it.

I’m home now. I’m thinking of Aka and the girl and how she sparkled after they came out of the water together, like the ocean was stuck to her skin and lips. I am wondering what happened in the water when I walk into the kitchen.

So much of the story is familiar; even though there are mermen involved, the gatherings are still typical mating displays. It’s all about seeing and being seen, who is watching, who is jealous, who is being admired, who is being ignored. At its heart, Them Boys is a story about sexuality, and particularly the power and danger of female sexuality. Obviously there is the potential for girls who have sex to get pregnant, but beneath all their posturing the mermen seem to be the ones who are terrified. No matter how tough they act, the fighting they engage in, the innuendo and flirting, most mermen run scared from sex itself, afraid of how it will change them. Anthony plays with the imagery of surface and shore versus underwater to parallel expectation versus reality, and outward appearances versus inner life. What is expected of girls, of boys, what makes someone a “real man” or a “good girl”? The story explores the baggage that comes with sexuality, and wraps it all in gorgeous prose, making it an excellent starting place for Anthony’s work.

Fiyah #4Stephanie Malia Morris is an author and a librarian, and my recommended starting place for her work is Forty Acres and a Mule from Fiyah #4: Roots. Erin brings her white boyfriend home for Thanksgiving, and from the start, it’s clear he’s uncomfortable. He’s never been an “outsider” before, or been anywhere where he was in the minority. Erin mentally contrasts her family gathering with a work gathering she attended with Caleb where his white coworkers commented on her hair and where he spent the evening constantly touching her like a possession or a trophy. At home, however Erin is fully at ease, reconnecting with her home by climbing the pear tree in the yard before going inside for the meal. Caleb spends the whole time fussing at her, worrying that she’ll fall, further showing a disconnect between them. While he’s concerned for her, he doesn’t seem to know her or trust her to know herself and her own limitations. The tree, however, knows Erin well, catching her when she slips and holding her up. The land is her family’s, earned through blood, and intimately connected to them in a way Caleb can’t understand. In her childhood Erin found a half buried rope by the tree, leading back to the space under the porch, and when she pulled on it, something heavy hit the latticework until her mother told her to leave it alone. This incident and Morris’ language choice throughout slowly reveals a history of violence and lynching on the land, but Erin and her family have reclaimed it.

“This place has always been ours,” I say. “Whether we lived on it willingly or not. Always been ours. Through every. Single. Thing.” I offer him the pear. My hand is steady. “Nothing will make the terrible things that happened here go away. But we claim it, and the land – this tree – it takes care of us. Always. Can you understand?”

The story is a chilling look at racism and violence, but also a story full of hope. It is a story about rebuilding, finding a place in the world, and the land recognizing a wrong that was done and setting it right again. It’s a powerful story, and an excellent starting place for Morris’ work.

Kate Marshall is a short fiction author with a YA novel forthcoming in summer 2018. My recommended starting place for her work is Red Bark and Ambergris published in Beneath Ceaseless Skies. Sarai is taken from her home as a child and sent to live on a bleak and colorless island to learn the scent maker’s art. Despite her natural talent, Sarai is instead determined to become a poison tamer so she can leave the island and go to court to guard the queen. Her mentor/teacher Jarad tries to dissuade her, telling her poison isn’t her talent, but Sarai sees no other way off the island, and no hope of ever seeing her home again.

“The scent has power to you because of your memories,” Jarad said. “Poison strikes us all the same, but scent is individual. A scent-maker must know the moments of their client’s life, must know what scents define them. And then they can summon any emotion, evoke any memory. That is where our power lies.”

She studies, poisoning herself and mastering each poison one by one. Eventually she seeks advice from Nissa, a former poison tamer who saved the queen’s life from an assassin’s blade, but was banished to the island when she was no longer useful. Sarai learns that Nissa is the queen’s sister, and she is presented with a final choice – make a perfume for the queen and obtain her Mastery, or continue to pursue the art of poison in hopes of killing the queen and very likely herself in the process. It’s a gorgeous story full of rich sensory detail, evoking the way the sense of smell can trigger memory, and how different scents mean different things to each person. It’s reminiscent of Aqua Mirablis by Stephanie Chan, but in a very different setting, a gorgeously rendered secondary world. Along with the sensory detail, there’s a real sense of growth for Sarai’s character, as she evolves from a singular obsession to a more measured view point, and learns to see herself and those around her more clearly. It’s a lovely story, and an excellent starting place for Marshall’s work.

Mythic DeliriumBringing things full circle back to water, my recommended starting place for Premee Mohamed is The Water and the World from this month’s Mythic Delirium. It’s hard to talk about this story without spoilers, so consider yourself warned. Coach Vinsky is attending the Olympics with his new protege, Auggie. As the story opens, Vinsky is trying to keep Auggie from reading the tabloids. Even with multiple wins, the records he’s broken, and the clean drug tests to prove he’s not cheating, the tabloid still find a way to be nasty, calling Auggie ugly. Fans, on the other hand, adore him, swarming him everywhere he goes, practically tearing him apart just for a glimpse of him. Vinsky knows there’s something different about Auggie, but how different is something he hasn’t fully admitted to himself. He keeps the press away, deflects questions about Auggie’s past – where he’s from, how he came out of nowhere to be an Olympic super star at the “ripe old age” of twenty-six, and so on. Readers of Lovecraft and weird fiction will recognize the hints Mohamed drops – Auggie’s surname of Inns, his appearance. If that isn’t enough, his origins become clear as Vinsky recalls how he first met Auggie, appearing out of the waves one day clutching a strange, monstrous figurine in his hand.

The sun had been rising, just visible as a thick pink glow through the mist, and then we heard it, the familiar sound of a front crawl, a pleasant slap-slap-slap in time to that throbbing roar. As the fog lifted there he was, the hideous young man cutting through the water as if it simply were not there, his form so beautiful, his timing so precise, I felt my hand rise to my chest and stay there as if to hold my heart in.

What sets this story apart from most Lovecraftian fiction is its gentleness. Vinsky describes the unearthly grace around Auggie, and his compulsion to train him. Even in a relatively brief story, Mohamed does a wonderful job of portraying Auggie’s sweetness, his innocence, and his melancholy. The story shares a sensibility with Ruthanna Emrys’ Winter Tide in that both reclaim the Deep Ones and inject them with humanity. There’s a gut punch at the end of the story, where the repeated mention of Auggie’s age finally comes together with the revelation of his true nature. Deep Ones must go to the sea as they age. Auggie’s first Olympics is his last. There’s a purity about Auggie, a gentleness to the way he accepts his fate, that is at once lovely and wrenching. The Water and the World is an excellent story for people who don’t like traditional Lovecraftian fiction and enjoy seeing its tropes upended, and it’s an excellent place to start with Mohamed’s work.

That wraps up 2017’s Women to Read. I’ll be back in the new year with more recommendations. In the meantime, I wish you happy reading and a wonderful start to 2018.

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Award Eligible Work 2017

Awards season is upon us with the opening of the nomination period for the Nebula Awards. I’m still working on my Recommended Reading/Favorites of the Year post, but in the meantime, here’s what all I had published in 2017.

Novelette

Excerpts from a Film (1942-1987) published at Tor.com.

There are other dead girls, too, fitting themselves into the spaces between actors. As George fits the film back into the projector and runs it again, the ghosts are so obvious he can’t believe he missed them, spreading outward from the point that is Mary Evelyn Marshall. Like mushrooms, fruiting after a hard rain. Their skin soft, born on the edge of rot, and so easy to bruise. Once he’s seen them, he can’t un-see them, until the rest of the film blurs and they’re all he can see.

Short Stories

The Secret of Flight in Black Feathers: Dark Avian Tales: An Anthology

Last night’s opening of The Secret of Flight at The Victory Theater will surely go down as one of the most memorable and most bizarre in history. Not for the play itself, but for the dramatic disappearance of leading lady Clara Hill during the play’s final scene.

The Paradox Collection in Tales from the Miskatonic University Library

There was a monster outside, and any minute, it would break the door down and come inside.

Harvest Song, Gathering Song in For Mortal Things Unsung

Captain Adams hand-picked us, brought us to the top of the world – a blue place all ice and snow and screaming wind – with only the vaguest idea of our mission. And none of us had cared.

Crossing in Lamplight Vol. 5 Issue III also available in audio format at PodCastle

Through the salt sting, the world blurs blue and grey. She lets a few bubbles escape to rise around her like pearls. Just as she’s about to turn her head to breathe, a face appears below her.

Wendy, Darling in Daily Science Fiction

He hovers just beyond the glass even though the window looks out from the second floor. Of course, she thinks. And no, no, please no. His shadow stretches long across the bedroom floor. He taps and the windows swing open. Once invited, always welcome–that’s his way.

A Catalogue of Sunlight at the End of the World in Sunvault: Stories of Solarpunk and Eco-Speculation

In just over a week, the generation ship Arber will depart on its journey. The docking clamps will release, and it will go sailing off into space to find the future of humanity. This is my parting gift, a catalogue of sunlight from the world left behind.

The Stories We Tell About Ghosts in Looming Low

Growing up in Dieu-le-Sauveur, my friends and I told stories about ghosts – the Starving Man, the Sleeping Girl, and the House at the End of the Street. The summer I was twelve, I saw my first ghost for real. That was the summer my little brother Gen disappeared.

So that’s what I did this year. After I catch up on my reading a bit more, I’ll put up a post about my favorite reads from 2017.

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Women to Read: Where to Start: November 2017

Welcome to November’s Women to Read. I got a little enthusiastic this month, so I have five recommendations this time around. However, November is the perfect time to hunker down under a pile of blankets with a hot beverage and a good read, so here we go!

Bear and NightingaleMy recommended starting place for Katherine Arden‘s work happens to be her debut novel, The Bear and the Nightingale, which weaves together myth and history in medieval Rus’. Pyotr Vladimirovich’s wife Marina dies giving birth to their daughter Vasilisa. As Vasya grows, raised by Pyotr, the nurse Dunya, and her older brothers and sister, she proves to be a strange child. She runs wild, talks to household spirits no one else can see, shows an affinity for horses, and many believe she is a witch. Even so, her family and her nurse love her fiercely, and she loves them. As time passes as Vasya grows, Pytor reluctantly decides it’s time to take a new wife. Like Vasilisa, Anna sees spirits everywhere, however unlike Vasya, she believes they are demons and thus hates her new home, and comes to hate Vasya as well, believing her to be in league with the demons. It’s a familiar trope, the wicked stepmother, but in Arden’s hands, the story is so much more. The novel spans from Vasilisa’s birth until she is a young woman, her path continually crossing with the pre-Christian world of old gods and magic. The story is beautifully told, full of fragments of familiar fairy tales and legends told anew. The characters are fully drawn – from Vasya’s fierce love for her family and desire to be independent, to Anna’s faith-based torment and fearfulness – the core of who they are moves the plot and makes even the “villains” sympathetic. Against a backdrop of magic and the harshness of Rus’ in winter, Arden delivers a story that feels epic, providing real growth for each character. The relationships are where the novel shines the brightest, and the magic and fairy tale elements surround like a delicate setting holding a beautiful jewel. The Bear and the Nightingale is a gorgeous book,  a wonderful starting place for Arden’s work, and I look forward to the sequel, The Girl in the Tower, coming out at the end of the year.

Looming LowBetty Rocksteady is an author and an illustrator. My recommended starting place for her work is Dusk Urchin from the recently-released anthology Looming Low. Ashley is alone in her house when someone knocks at her door. She answers, despite her better instincts, and discovers her elderly neighbor, Mr. Peterson, accompanied by a child she’s never seen before. She assumes the child must be his granddaughter, but there’s something off about the whole situation. Her neighbor seems disoriented, and the girl is utterly silent. The neighbor asks for help. He claims the girl is his daughter, and at the same time he claims he doesn’t know her. He tells Ashley he killed the girl and buried her in his yard, yet she’s right there at his side. When she can’t get a straight answer, and doesn’t know how to help, Ashley guiltily sends her neighbor away. Then the silent girl shows up at Ashley’s door, calling her mommy.

Did she have a daughter? She must have a daughter. Her daughter was talking to her. Her daughter couldn’t be talking to her if she didn’t have a daughter. The knob of the closet was cold. She shouldn’t open it. She had to open it.

Rocksteady starts with a vague sense of unease and something wrong, and builds the tension to leave the reader with a sense of dread. There’s something truly terrifying about the idea of supernatural enemy that will not stop and cannot be reasoned with. There is no safe place, nowhere to hide; the little girl reaches Ashley even inside her own mind. The brevity of the story allows the reader to bring their own interpretation to the situation, delivering a perfect, bite-sized bit of horror that gets under your skin, making it an effective place to start with Rocksteady’s work.

Prey of the GodsNicky Drayden is a prolific short fiction author, but my recommending starting place is her debut novel, The Prey of Gods. The story is set in and around Port Elizabeth in the near(ish) future where animals such as rhinos and elephants are extinct, but genetically engineered replacement and hybrid creatures are common, and nearly everyone has a personal bot called an alphie. Through the alternating viewpoints of a teen named Muzikayise (aka Muzi), a councilman named Stoker, a pop singer named Riya Natrajan, a demi-goddess named Sydney, a young girl named Nomvula, and Clever 4.1, a bot in the process of gaining sentience, Drayden weaves a story about emergence, personal growth, and evolution. A designer drug is unleashed onto the market that not only causes hallucinations, but taps into the latent divinity of human beings. Meanwhile, Nomvula – a young girl whose mother was raped by a powerful demi-god – is accused by her mother of witchcraft when she befriends the demi-god and tries to learn about her own powers from him. As Nomvula tries to protect herself from the angry mob her mother calls down on her, she accidentally taps into her power and obliterates her village, drawing the attention of another powerful and ancient being. Sydney, a harpy-like creature, whisks Nomvula away, determined to use her for her own ends. Muzi is about to undergo the circumcision ritual that will make him a man. On the day of the ceremony, his best friend, Elkin introduces him to the new drug called godsend, which gives Muzi the power to control minds at the expense of reliving his targets’ worst memories. Councilman Stoker’s mother is determined to see him run for Premier, meanwhile Stoker’s heart is with his secret life as Felicity Lyons, a singer/dancer preparing to audition to be the opening act for superstar Riya Natrajan. The characters’ stories inevitably collide and intertwine as the world itself teeters on the cusp of change. Humans are experiencing emergent godhood, while bots are gaining sentience. The theme of evolution and growth plays out on a smaller scale as well, as Stoker becomes Felicity, Muzi and Nomvula struggle with their powers, and Riya tries become a kinder human being. Drayden offers up complicated characters, each on their own journey, with their own baggage and their own strengths. Prey of the Gods contains a wealth of complicated relationships – between Muzi and his grandfather, between Muzi and Elkin, between Nomvula and Sydney, and between humans and bots, to name a few. There’s plenty of action, and touches of humor as well. Drayden packs a lot into the novel, balancing it all perfectly, leaving no character’s growth or journey short-changed, while making the future setting feel real and fully lived in. It’s an excellent novel, and an excellent place to start with Drayden’s work.

Gilda StoriesJewelle Gomez is a writer and activist. My recommended starting place for her work is her Lambda Award-winning novel, The Gilda Stories. The novel returns to the roots of vampire fiction and one of the earliest works of vampire fiction, Sheridan LeFanu’s Carmilla, with a story focusing on women and women’s sexuality. At the same time, The Gilda Stories goes so much deeper, refuting Carmilla and even Dracula with its idea of female sexuality, and sexuality in general, as a dangerous thing. As a runaway slave in Louisiana in 1850, the Girl is rescued by a white woman named Gilda and her lover, a Lakota woman named Bird. They take her in and care for her, eventually revealing their true nature as vampires and bringing her into their family. Unlike the traditional idea of vampires as predatory monsters, Bird and Gilda teach the Girl their way of taking blood, which is built on love, and always giving something in return. They only consume what they need to survive and always leave something in return – fulfilling dreams, inspiration, a sense of well-being.

Some are said to live through the energy of fear. That is their sustenance more than sharing. The truth is we hunger for connection to life, but it needn’t be through horror or destruction. Those are just the easiest links to evoke. Once learned, this lesson mustn’t be forgotten. To ignore it, to wallow in death as the white man has done, can only bring bitterness.

Soon after welcoming her into their family, Gilda chooses to end her life, giving the Girl her name. Bird continues to care for the newly-named Gilda, teaching her multiple languages and how to survive. Eventually, Bird leaves Gilda, needing to reconnect with her roots and shed her bitterness over the first Gilda’s death. The story picks up again in Yerba Buena in 1890. Gilda is with Sorel, the man who welcomed the first Gilda into her new life as a vampire. Gilda learns from Sorel and his lover Anthony, but also befriends Eleanor another vampire created by Sorel. This is the first of many female friendships Gilda builds over the years, but it is tinged with lust, and ultimately violence. In Missouri in 1921, Gilda befriends Aurelia, a widow. Older and wiser now, Gilda helps Aurelia become her own person, gain confidence, and start school for the poor. In Boston in 1955, Gilda works as a beautician, and helps save a young woman named Toya from her abusive pimp. The novel continues through the year 2050. Gilds works in a theater. She is a romance novelist. She is on the run at a time when humanity is collapsing in on itself, resources are scarce, and vampires are hunted for the promise of eternal life. In each time period, while Gilda has a core family in Sorel, Anthony, and Bird, her life intersects with humans. Just as it is with the blood, there is give and take; she learns from them as they learn from her. Each relationship is different – Gilda relates to those around her as a friend, a sister, a mother, a lover. When she turns to violence, it is as a last resort. For the most part, Gilda’s relationship is about seeing those around her truly, and giving them what they most need to flourish. In the stories that make up Gilda’s life, we witness women making space for themselves and each other in a world dominated by men, black people making space for themselves in a world controlled by white people, and queer people, making space for themselves in a hetero-normative world. Gilda chooses and builds her family, and ultimately weaves that family together into a larger community, making the novel a stunning contrast to most vampire fiction which is often about loneliness, rivalry, violence, and suffering. It’s a beautiful novel, and a wonderful starting place for Gomez’s work.

Last, but not least, my recommended starting point for the work of Jennifer R. Donohue is Aground, Upon the Sand, a flash piece that tells a story of loss, longing, and being a stranger in a new land. The unnamed protagonist is a selkie. Her skin is gone, and she doesn’t speak about why. She can’t go home, and only one sister comes to visit her on the beach, the one place in-between worlds where they can meet. Here, the protagonist shares things from her new life, soft boots that remind her of walking on water and pumpkin spice lattes. On the surface, it is a story about selkies, but it can just s easily be read as an allegory for the experience many immigrants have, finding themselves alone in a new culture, trying to adjust and make new friends while aching for home.

Candy corn, one of my favorite things, some sweetness in the salt of her life. A trio of leaves: red, orange, and yellow. My work apron, grease-smelling even after repeated washings. A calendar, because time is days and weeks and months here, not the change of the currents and the movement of the birds, the tidal instinct in our bellies that’s impossible to describe and unnecessary to understand.

Donohue  balances the selkie’s sadness and loss with a sense wonder, allowing her to take joy in small things like blue nail polish and shared music. It is a bittersweet story, full of gorgeous descriptions and poignant moments, making it an excellent starting place for Donohue’s work.

So there you have November’s reading recommendations. Stay cozy as the weather turns, and as always, I’d love to see your own recommendations for women to read in the comments!

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What Have You Done, What Have You Loved? 2017 Edition

The Nebula Awards have officially opened up to nominations from SFWA members, which means it’s time for me to start assembling my annual meta post of reviews, round-ups, recommendations, and eligibility lists. The basic idea is to help folks find things to read, and maybe even nominate for various awards, by collecting links wherein authors post their eligible work for the year, or readers assemble lists of their favorite reads of 2017. This year, I’m going to attempt to be a little more organized, and divide the post into three sections – review resources, eligibility, and favorites/year’s best. As always, I’d love to include your links, so please drop me a note in the comment, or email me at a.c.wise (at) hotmail.com to let me know what you’d like included in the post. I’ll be updating this post fairly often, so be sure to keep checking back for new links.

ETA:Cat Rambo is also rounding up eligibility posts, so keep an eye on her list, and send her your links as well!

Review Resources

These are sites that post reviews throughout the year – short fiction, long fiction, media, fan works, and more. Browse around, and maybe you’ll discover something new to love. Not all works reviewed are necessarily published in 2017, so be sure to check before you nominate.

Bogi Reads the World – reviews of novels, short fiction, and poetry from Bogi Takács.
Earl Grey Editing Services – reviews of novels and novellas, along with essays and links posts.
Great Things I’ve Been Reading – a series of review and recommendation posts for short fiction and non-fiction from John Wiswell.
In Short – occasional short fiction reviews from Natalie Luhrs.
It’s a Jumble – novel and short fiction reviews from Vanessa Fogg.
Forestofglory – ongoing short fiction reviews.
Lady Business – novel and short fiction reviews, fan work and media recommendations, and other sff-relevant essays.
Locus Online – reviews of novels, short fiction, movies, and other sff-relevant essays.
Looking for a Rabbit Hole – weekly short fiction reviews from Jeff Xilon.
Monthly Short Fiction Round Up – monthly short fiction reviews and recommendations from Maria Haskins.
Nerds of a Feather – reviews of short and long fiction, games, movies, and other sff-relevant essays and discussions.
Quick Sip Reviews – short fiction reviews, posted almost daily from Charles Payseur.
SF Bluestocking – reviews of novels, novellas, media, and more.
SFF180 Reviews – reviews of novels and novellas.
SFF Reviews – short fiction reviews from various contributors.
SFRevu – novel and short fiction reviews.
Short Story Squee and Snark – a place for short story discussions by members of the SFF community.
Words for Thought – monthly short fiction reviews by me.

Eligibility Posts

These are posts where authors and editors round up the work they’ve published throughout the year and note its eligibility. (Authors, please, please do this. It’s extremely helpful to folks nominating, especially in determining which category certain works belong in, say, or whether an author is Campbell-eligible. It’s not pushy or bragging, it’s informative, and we loves it. Thank you!)

Acks, Alex – listing award eligible short fiction, novelettes, a novel, and fan writing.
Allen, B. Morris – listing award eligible short stories, a novelette, and a novel.
Anderson, G.V. – noting one award-eligible story, and the final year of Campbell eligibility.
Anathema Magazine – published award eligible short stories, novelettes, non-fiction, and original artwork in 2017.
Annorlunda Enterprises – listing the award eligible novella and novelette they published this year.
Aurora Awards Eligibility List – listing Aurora-eligible work by Canadian authors in various categories. (Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Association members can make updates to the list.)
Apex Magazine – listing award eligible short fiction and novelettes published in 2017.
Barber, Jess – published short stories and novelettes (including one co-written with Sara Saab) in 2017.
Barron, Natania – listing award eligible novellas and short fiction for 2017.
Bigelow, Susan Jane – published two eligible short stories this year, which can be found here and here.
Book Smugglers – listing the eligible short fiction, novelettes, novellas, and non-fiction published in 2017.
Broaddus, Maurice – listing award eligible short stories, a novelette, a collection, non-fiction, and editorial work.
Brothers, Laurence Raphael – listing award eligible short fiction for 2017.
Buchanan, A.C. – published three short stories this year, which can be found here, here, and here. They are also eligible for the Sir Julius Vogel Award for New Zealand SF/F.
Buhlert, Cora – listing award eligible short fiction, poetry, and non-fiction.
Cahill, Martin – published two award eligible short stories this year.
Campbell, Rebecca - listing award eligible short stories, and noting eligibility for the Aurora award as a Canadian author.
Carpenter, A.G. – published three novellas and a novellete, which can be found here, here, here, and here.
Castellucci, Cecil is the author of Shade, The Changing Girl. (Note, link goes to first title in the series, which is published in 2016, but other issues were published in 2017.)
Castroianni, Eleanna – listing award eligible short fiction, and noting the first year of Campbell eligibility.
Cataneo, Emily – listing award eligible short fiction and a short story collection.
Cato, Beth – listing an award eligible short story, novel, and a collection.
Chng, Joyce – listing award eligible novellas, poems, and stories.
Cipri, Nino – listing award-eligible short fiction for 2017, and recommending work by others.
Clarkesworld – listing a year’s worth of eligible short stories and novelettes, as well as highlighting eligible artists and Campbell-eligible authors.
Corbin, Andrea M. – listing award eligible short stories for 2017.
Daley, Raymond Peter – listing award eligible short fiction.
Dandenell, Karl - listing an award eligible short story.
Datlow, Ellen – lists the anthologies, short stories, novelettes, and novellas she worked on as an editor in 2017.
Dawson, J.R. – listing an award eligible short story and noting Campbell eligibility.
Dollarhyde, Kate – listing award eligible short stories for 2017.
Diabolical Plots – listing the award eligible short stories the magazine published throughout the year, and noting eligibility in other categories as well.
Donohue, Jennifer – listing award eligible short fiction for 2017.
Dovey, Matt – listing award eligible short fiction and noting year two of Campbell eligibility.
Duncan, Andy – published an award-eligible short story “Worrity, Worrity”, which can be found in the anthology Mad Hatters and March Hares.
Duncan, Robin – lists award-eligible short fiction, and notes the first year of Campbell eligibility.
Edelman, Scott – listing award eligible short stories and novelettes.
Elison, Meg – listing an award eligible novel and several short stories, and noting Campbell eligibility.
Fireside Fiction – listing the award eligible short stories, novelettes, novellas, and novel they published throughout the year, as well as noting non-fiction, editors, and artists who worked on the magazine in 2017.
Fogg, Vanessa – listing an award eligible short story.
Fontaine, Amy – listing an award eligible novel, along with short fiction and poetry.
Garcia, R.S.A – listing an award eligible short story.
Gray, Lora J. – listing eligible short fiction and poetry.
Greenblatt, A.T. – listing award-eligible short stories.
Habershaw, Auston – published an award eligible novelette in 2017.
Hardwick, C. Stuart – published an eligible novelette.
Harris, Nin – listing award eligible short fiction and poetry.
Haskins, Maria - listing award eligible short fiction.
Headley, Maria Dahvana – listing award eligible short fiction and novelettes.
Heartfield, Kate – listing award eligible short fiction and non-fiction.
Hines, Jim C. – listing award eligible short fiction and essays (in the form of a poem, no less!)
Horne, Annalee Flower – noting work eligible in the Best Fan Writer category.
Jarboe, Julian K. – published short stories, and is in the first year of Campbell eligibility.
Jessup, Paul – has one eligible short story this year, available in Interzone 272.
Johnson, L.S. – listing award eligible short stories, novelettes, and a novella.
Jones, Heather Rose published an award eligible short story in 2017, along with a lot of non-fiction work including essays, reviews, and podcasting.
Kassel, Mel – listing award eligible short fiction for 2017.
Khaw, Cassandra – listing award eligible short fiction and poetry.
Kinney, Benjamin C. – has two eligible short stories this year, and is in the second year of Campbell eligibility.
Kressel, Matthew – listing award eligible short fiction and non-fiction for 2017.
Laben, Carrie – published award eligible short stories in 2017.
Latin American Speculative Fiction 2017 – a list assembled by Silvia Moreno-Garcia of work published in English by Latin American writers in 2017.
Lechler, Kate – published two eligible short stories, which can be found here and here, and a poem.
Leitch, Stina – listing an award eligible novel.
Lemberg, Rose – points toward an award eligible novella.
Matheson, Michael – listing the author’s award eligible short fiction, and the award eligible short fiction published by Anathema Magazine, which they edit.
Miller, Sam J. – listing an award eligible novel, novelette, and short stories, along with some favorite short fiction reads of 2017.
Mitchell, Lia Swope – published an award eligible short story in 2017.
Mohamed, Premee – listing award eligible short stories for 2017.
Moher, Aidan – listing short fiction, a novelette, non-fiction, and noting the second year of Campbell eligibility, along with recommendations of work by others.
Mondal, Mimi – published an award eligible short story and an essay in 2017.
Moon, Dawn Xiana – listing several eligible non-fiction essays.
Moreno-Garcia, Silvia – lists an award eligible novel, novella, and a short story.
Morrison, Diane – published several novelettes and short stories in 2017.
Mulder, Allison – listing award eligible short stories for 2017.
Mythic Delirium – listing the award eligible short stories and poetry published by the magazine in 2017.
Ness, Mari – published a novella, a short story, several pieces of flash fiction, poetry, and related work in 2017.
Nevins, Jess – listing award eligible short stories.
North, Bennett – listing an award eligible short story and noting the second year of Campbell eligibility.
Novakova, Julie – listing short stories, a novelette, and translation work.
O’Brien, Brandon – listing award eligible poetry, fiction, noting Campbell eligibility, and recommending other work worth your time.
O’Meara, Shauna – had two eligible short stories, which can be found here and here.
Ogden, Aimee – listing award eligible short fiction, and noting the second year of Campbell eligibility.
Palmer, Suzanne – published two novelettes, a short story, and a poem.
Patt, Julia K. – published short stories and a novelette this year, and I believe is in the first year of Campbell eligibility.
Petrie, Simon – listing an award eligible novella, novelette, and short story, and noting eligibility for the Ditmar and Sir Julius Vogel Awards.
Pflug, Ursula – listing an award eligible YA novel and recommending work by others.
Phillips, Andrea – listing novelettes, short stories, game writing, and podcasting work for 2017.
Pinsker, Sarah - listing award eligible short stories, a novelette, and a novella.
Payseur, Charles – listing award eligible short fiction, poetry, and fan writing.
Prasad, Vina Jie-Min – published short stories, a novelette, and is in the first year of Campbell eligibility.
Reisman, Jessica – points to an eligible novel, Substrate Phantoms, and an eligible novelette, Bourbon, Sugar, Grace.
Roberts, Tansy Rayner – listing award eligible short stories, a novelette, and podcast work.
Roanhorse, Rebecca – listing an award eligible story and noting Campbell eligibility.
Robson, Kelly – lists eligible novelettes, non-fiction, and recommends work by others.
Rodriguez, Karlo Yeager – lists award eligible short fiction.
Royce, Eden – listing award eligible short fiction, and noting work by others for consideration.
Rustad, A. Merc – listing award eligible short stories, a novelette, and a piece of interactive fiction.
Saab, Sara – listing award eligible short fiction and a novelette.
Satifka, Erica L. – listing award eligible short stories and a novelette.
St. George, Carlie – listing award eligible short stories and recommending work by others.
Seiberg, Effie – listing award eligible short stories.
Sjunneson-Henry, Elsa – published an award-eligible essay and is eligible in the Fan Writer category.
Stewart, Kelly – listing an award eligible short story, and noting the second year of Campbell eligibility.
Stone, Hayley – listing award eligible short stories, noting the first year of Campbell eligibility, and recommending favorite work by others.
Strange Horizons – listing all the award eligible fiction published by the magazine in 2017.
Stufflebeam, Bonnie Jo – listing award eligible fiction and graphic work.
Sylver, RoAnna – listing sward eligible short fiction, poetry, a novelette, and two novels.
Takács, Bogi – listing award eligible short stories, a novella, a novelette, poetry, non-fiction, and editorial work.
Tang, Andrea – listing an award eligible novelette, several short stories, and noting the first year of Campbell eligibility.
Tanzer, Molly – listing am award eligible novel, along with short fiction, and editorial/related work.
Tenser, Margarita – published an award eligible story and a poem.
Theodoridou, Natalia – listing an award eligible novelette and several short stories.
Thompson, Tade – has an award eligible novella this year, The Murders of Molly Southbourne.
Tobler, E. Catherine – listing award eligible short stories, a novella, and a novel.
Tomaras, Joseph – listing award eligible short stories, translation work, and recommending work by others.
Tor.com’s Novels and Novellas, and Short Fiction
Townsend, Tracy – listing an award eligible novel and noting Campbell eligibility.
Triantafyllou, Eugenia – noting two award eligible short stories, and the first year of Campbell eligibility.
Trota, Michi – listing several non-fiction essays, along with editorial work.
Uncanny Magazine – listing the award eligible novella, novelettes, and short fiction published in 2017, along with their eligibility as Best Semiprozine, among other categories.
Vourvoulias, Sabrina – listing an award eligible short story and recommending work by others.
Walters, Damien Angelica – rounding up the fiction she’s published by year.
Ward, Cynthia – published an award eligible novel, which can be found here.
Ward, Marlee Jane – listing award eligible short fiction and a novella.
Wehm, M. Darusha – listing award eligible short fiction, poetry, a novel, and noting eligibility for the Aurora and Sir Julius Vogel Awards.
Weimer, Paul – listing award eligible related work and fan-casting, and recommending work by others.
Wiggins, Troy L. – lists award eligible short fiction, and highlights a few eligible stories from Fiyah Magazine.
Wilde, Fran – published short stories, a novel, non-fiction, and recommends a whole lot of great things by other people for your reading pleasure.
Wright, Tristina – listing an award eligible novel and short story, and noting the second year of Campbell eligibility.
Yang, JY – listing an award eligible short story, novelette, and two novellas.
Yoachim, Caroline – listing award eligible short stories and a novelette.
Young, Tyler A. – listing award eligible short stories for 2017.
Yuschik, Alex
– listing an award eligible short story, and noting the first year of Campbell eligibility.

Recommendations, Favorites, and Best of the Year Posts

Lists and posts where writers, readers, and reviewers opine about their favorite works of 2017.


49th Shelf Best Books of 2017

2017 Spec Fic by Black Authors – a round up of fiction by black authors, including novels, short fiction, magazines, and anthologies with links and recommendations.
A. Merc Rustad lists their favorite short fiction of 2017.
Amazon’s Best SF and Fantasy of 2017
Aqueduct Press Pleasures of Reading, Viewing, and Listening in 2017 (Series – Link goes to Part 1)
Audible Best Books of 2017
Barnes & Noble Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Books of 2017
Book Smugglers – posting recommendations for novels, short fiction, media, and more throughout December and Best Books of 2017.
Buzzfeed Best Fiction Book of 2017
Ditmar Eligibility List – a crowd-sourced list of works eligible for the 2018 Ditmar Awards.
Elle Best Books of 2017 So Far
Fantasy Literature Best of Short Fiction Monday (note, not all stories are 2017 titles)
Guardian Best Books of 2017
Maria Haskin’s 2017 Suggested Reading List
Hugo Nominees 2018 Wikia – a crowd-sourced list of works eligible for the 2018 Hugo Awards, broken down by category.
Hugo Awards 2017-2018 – a crowd-sourced list of works eligible for the Hugo Awards, broken down by category, with links.
Kirkus Reviews Best SF/F of 2017 and the Best of the Best list, cross-referencing multiple best of lists to find the intersections.
LA Times Best Books of 2017
Largehearted Boy Favorite Non-Fiction of 2017 and a List of Lists gathering best of 2017 posts from elsewhere (updated daily).
Nerds of a Feather Best Books of 2017
Newsday Best Books of 2017
NPR Best Books of 2017
NY Times Best Books of 2017
O Magazine Best Books of 2017
Paste Magazine Best YA Books of 2017 and Best Comic Books of 2017.
Publishers Weekly Best SF/Fantasy/Horror of 2017
Quick Sip Reviews Recommended Reading List 2017
SF Chronicle Best Books of 2017
SFWA Recommended Reading List
The Quill to Live Best Books of 2017
Jason Sanford Best of 2017 – including novels, novellas, novelettes, and short fiction.
Tor.com Reviewer’s Choice Best Books of 2017
Verge Best SFFH of 2017
Vulture’s Best YA Books of 2017
Washington Post Best Books of 2017
Waterstone’s Book of the Year 2017 Shortlist
Ziv W.’s Favorite Stories from F&FS 2017

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An Interview with the Sword and Sonnet Editors

Sword and SonnetToday, I’m delighted to welcome the editors of the upcoming anthology, Sword and Sonnet, currently running a Kickstarter that you can support right now! (And you really do want to, because it’s going to be amazing.)

Welcome! To start things off, could you please each briefly introduce yourself and talk a bit about your vision for Sword and Sonnet.

Rachael: I’m Rachael K. Jones, former editor of PodCastle, award-nominated author, professional Tyrannosaur, Nicolas Cage enthusiast, and secret android. (Wait, did I said that aloud?) When I think of an anthology of battle-poets, I think of all the ways people have used their words as weapons, in powerful and creative ways that have shaped the world. I’m thinking of the pioneers of hip hop. I’m thinking of Sappho writing in exile. I’m thinking of all the people in history whose pen was their sword, and especially people from marginalized genders whose work has been lost or forgotten. My hope is that our anthology can gather up a little bit of that spirit in one place, and have fun with it to boot.

Aidan: I’m Aidan Doyle, associate editor of PodCastle, short story writer, and frequent traveler. Like Rachael, I want to see stories of people using their words as weapons – fantastical sonnet-slinging spellbinders and brave bards.

Elise: I’m Elise Tobler and I am the senior editor at Shimmer Magazine, cupcake connoisseur, and trebuchet enthusiast. When Aidan proposed the anthology, I was pretty excited over what it could mean and humbled that he thought to invite me. Shimmer has published a few things that would fit my “vision,” but I hope all of our protagonists will be active, curious, and filled with a kind of poetry that overwhelms the reader when they reach the end of the story.

An anthology of battle poets, sonnet slingers, and Haiku-wielding heroines definitely sounds like a concept with a story behind it, possibly one involving shenanigans. How did the idea for this anthology come about?

Rachael: I blame Aidan. Picture me standing behind him jabbing both fingers at him. He instigated the shenanigans and press-ganged invited me along for the samurai-stuffed ride.

Aidan: I read Sei Shonagon’s The Pillow Book and fell in love with her writing. She was known for intimidating the men of Heian-era Japan with her knowledge of poetry. Fablecroft Publishing announced a call for stories for Cranky Ladies of History and I wrote a story featuring Shonagon using her knowledge of poetry to defeat demons. The story was rejected (a revised version later appeared in PodCastle) but SL Huang remarked that she would love to read a story about a badass battle poet and I had the idea for an anthology of battle poet stories. Elise and Rachael have a lot more editorial experience than I do and I was thrilled they wanted to be involved in the project.

Elise: I completely blame Aidan, too, but appreciate his invitation to play on this amazing battlefield.

As editors, I know it’s sometimes hard to pin down exactly what you’re looking for in a story, and sometimes the best stories are the ones you never knew you wanted to read until you’ve read them. That said, do you have any particular soft spots in fiction? Are there are any subjects, styles, themes, or anything else you’re hoping to see in the submission pile?

Rachael: I’m a complete sucker for stories with a strong sense of voice, and that will be doubly true in an anthology with a poetry motif. I want stories that make me care about the characters and take me into their lives. For a thematic anthology, we’ll also be looking for stories that harmonize and contrast nicely to one another. I am also always on the look out for stories by authors just entering the short fiction world. If you’re looking for your first publication, please submit! Speaking personally, I’m also secretly a huge Old English poetry nerd, and might actually die of joy if I ran across a feminist Beowulf riff somewhere in our submissions. Tyrannosaurs are optional, but always encouraged.

Aidan: I have a soft spot for dark humor and for intricate settings. Like most editors I want characters I care about and stories with a strong voice. I also have a weakness for bears.

Elise: I love to experiment. I love to jump off a cliff and dare the reader to follow. I hope we see some risk taking! I’ve always found poetry to be powerful. When I’m stuck in my own work, reading poetry can often get my brain back into gear and motion. I am hopeful we’ll see stories that show and explore that power. Poetry can so often be looked down on, but I think it’s just as vital to this world as fiction. Poetry can be quiet, but so can a punch to the gut.

Since you’re editing an anthology themed around fighting and poetry, I think it’s only fair to ask each of you to provide an inspiring battle cry in limerick form. Haikus are also acceptable. (Yes I’m aware this isn’t actually a question.)

Rachael:

There once was a lass in a bonnet

whose sword had strange writing upon it.

She translated the verse

into this lovely curse:

“Ye aught go to back Sword & Sonnet!”

Aidan:

There once was a poet whose love of words,

Transformed her sonnets into birds,

She fought her enemies with poems and puns,

They laid down their swords and guns,

And praised the power of her words.

Elise:

There once was a girl who did battle

With her sword, her book, and her…hey are those cattle?

She took to the sky

With a furious cry:

“Oh shit I’ve misplaced my saddle!”

Bravo! Now, if you yourself were going into battle, what would your weapon of choice be?

Rachael: The word Hospitality in sixteen languages, a dappled pink scarf, and my rebellious youth. I would ride behind my battle-poet army on a beat-boxing mastodon and pointedly refuse to smile when asked. It would be terrifying.

Aidan: A dancing Christopher Walken riding atop a giant sandworm.

Elise: The trebuchet, filled with a thousand thousand volumes of Good Poems for Hard Times, ed. Garrison Keillor.

I would follow all of you into battle without hesitation! Any closing thoughts you’d like to share about Sword and Sonnet, or other upcoming projects you’re working on you’d like people to know about?

Rachael: While many anthology Kickstarters offer story critiques as a backer reward, ours is offering a special round table-style crit from all three of us. This is a good opportunity to get a peek at the editorial process in a way you almost never get to see when you’re just starting out. We say all the time that editors aren’t a monolith, and different readers can have very different opinions on the same story, which means that often submitting your stories is really a game of finding your ideal reader. Otherwise there’s a tendency to thinking we need to flatten ourselves as writers to fit, to aim for a good generic blandness instead of embracing what makes our voices unique, powerful, and sometimes divisive. But the truth is that every battle poet causes conflict, right?

Aidan: We’d love the chance to see what stories writers can create about battle poets and hope that people are excited about the idea as much as we are.

Elise: I hope that we have the opportunity to bring you this anthology because the concept is truly unlike anything I’ve seen out there.

Thank you all for dropping by! I can’t wait for Sword and Sonnet to be out in the world!

Rachael: Thank you so much for having us!

Aidan: Thanks Alison!

Elise: Thanks for having us, Alison. I’m delighted you’re going to be part of this anthology!

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Non-Binary Authors to Read: Where to Start – Part 10

Welcome to another edition of Non-Binary Authors to Read, wherein I highlight non-binary authors and recommend a starting place for their work. If you’d like to catch up on the other entries in the series, you can find them here. For the purposes of this column, I use non-binary as a catch-all term to include authors identifying as genderqueer, agender, queer, neutrois, gender non-conforming, and other genders not aligned with the male/female binary. Now, on to the recommendations!

Fiyah Issue 3Danny Lore is a queer writer based in the Bronx. My recommended starting place for their work is appropriately enough their first professionally published story – The Last Exorcist from Fiyah Issue 3: Sundown Towns. As the editors write in their Letters from the Editors: “Sundown Towns were towns with curfews that applied to black people –essentially, black visitors had to exit the town before the sun set, or else they would face the wrath of the town’s white citizens. Authors were charged with submitting stories that discussed this painful history, but we also asked for stories that examined concepts of belonging, community, and of place.” Lore delivers a story that pushes the concept of sundown towns to the extreme, an extreme that sadly feels like it could logically grow out of the racism of our present day society. Naheem is an exorcist in a world where many white people have opted to offer themselves up as Residences for demons, voluntarily being possessed in exchange for protection and special privilege – i.e. things already granted to them in the real world by virtue of being white.  On a small scale, a white student feels slighted by what they perceive as a black student unfairly taking “their” place in college, and turns to demons for help. One a large scale, entire Helltowns are created where black people literally cannot go without the ground smoking under their feet and demons tearing them apart.

When Naheem gets worked up, he gestures emphatically, fingers twitching with every word. He tends toward lecturing, and his topic of choice is the accessibility of exorcism in a post-possession America. He is unimpressed by those who say the art is too complex, too archaic to pass on to the common man. On the contrary, he believes that becoming an exorcist is a task both necessary and easy, if we are to survive as a people.

The story is related through a reporter who begins by interviewing Naheem and ends up filming what turns out to be his last exorcism. The reporter is conflicted, having a white mother and a black father, never knowing which side the demons will see if they step into a Helltown. Lore gives a supernatural twist to the very real and ugly face of racism, scapegoating, fear of the “other”, and clueless privilege. At the same time, amidst the ugliness, it is a story about fighting back, about making the world better for others, and speaking out against oppression and power. It’s an excellent story, an excellent starting place, and I look forward to more of Lore’s work.

Shoreline of Infinity 9

Leigh Harlen is a writer of dark speculative fiction. My recommended starting place for their work is The Last Days of the Lotus Eaters in Shoreline of Infinity 9. Lita is the only one in her village who believes the world is changing. The stars are going out, trees are dying, and winters are lasting longer than they should. When she tries to warn people of this, no one believes her, not even her parents, except for one priest. He knows the truth, but believes it is better to keep the status quo, let people lead happy and ignorant lives. When Lita refuses to stay quiet, he poisons her, burying her alive in a ritual that feeds a dying tree whose blossoms bring forgetfulness, allowing people to be truly oblivious to the doom coming for them.
The earth and the creatures in it ate her flesh, but the tree kept her bones, its roots wrapped around and entwined every remaining bit of her.
While Lita’s body dies, her consciousness remains, forcing her to be the means that allows the other villagers – even her parents – to forget everything she tries to warn them about. In eating the lotus blossoms, the villagers’ memories transfer to Lita, so even in death she must bear the burden of knowledge alone. In time, however, another little girl comes along who refuses to accept common wisdom and sets out to force people to see the truth before it’s too late. With this story, Harlen offers an interesting twist on the trope of the buried child, the sacrifice that bears the sins of a people in order for everyone else to lead happy lives (e.g. Le Guin’s Omelas, or the story of Jesus Christ). Like Christ, the consumption of Lita’s transubstantiated flesh is literally the key to the rest of the village’s peace of mind. However, in this case, rather than salvation, the villagers only gain ignorance of their own destruction. Harlen weaves other elements into the sacrifice story, such as the idea of climate change denial, and the dismissal of women’s voices. It’s a wonderful story and an excellent starting place for Harlen’s work.

R.J. Edwards is a writer, librarian, and podcaster. My recommended starting place for their work is Riot Nrrd Comics, an online webcomic. While the comic is currently on hiatus, the good news is there are four years worth of comics currently available to catch up on. Riot Nrrd Comics is about all things geeky – comic books, video games, Star Wars, scientists, astronauts, and other delightfully nerdy stuff. But it’s also about being a marginalized nerd – being female, non-binary, black, fat, neurodivergent – basically being the type of person who doesn’t often get to see themself reflected in mainstream media. On the rare occasions when they do get to see themselves, those reflections are often problematic. For example, the first few comics call out Joss Whedon specifically for his depiction of “empowered women”. The comics tackle the questions of whether it’s still possible to love the things someone creates, while recognizing them as imperfect. Among the geekery, Riot Nrrd also touches on friendships, relationships, religion, work, stress, life, and every day problems and triumphs. Elements of it remind me of Chaos Life in its wide-ranging scope, touching on all aspects of life big and small, while reveling in nerdiness. At the heart of Riot Nrrd are characters who care about each other, who share geeky passions, and genuine friendship. It’s a lovely comic, and an excellent starting place for R.J. Edwards’ work.

That’s it for this installment of Non-Binary Authors to Read: Where to Start. As always, I’d love to see your recommendations in the comments, and I’ll be back with additional recommendations of my own soon. Happy reading!

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