Favorite Novels, Collections, and Anthologies of 2016

You know what I like an awful lot? Books. They’re one of my favorite things. I buy them in great quantities, fill up my bookshelves with them, stack them in tottering piles, and read them with delight. I generally start the year with great ambitions to Read All the Things. This year, I say to myself, is the year I will be fully prepared to make award nominations, because I will be so caught up on all the wonderful books published. Ha! Regardless, I did manage to conquer a good chunk of the many books I had my eye on for 2016. If I manage to squeeze in a few more before year end, I’ll update the post accordingly.

However, before I get to the works published this year, a slight diversion. The reading goal I set for myself for 2016 was to read more non-fiction. There are so many delicious fiction books to read, non-fiction tends to get neglected in my TBR pile, so I wanted to right that. Here are a few titles I particularly enjoyed.
My Life as a Whore
The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the American Dust Bowl
by Timothy Egan, an excellent and highly-readable history.

My Life as a Whore: The Biography of Madam Laura Evans by Tracy Beach, another highly-readable history about life as a prostitute in Colorado in the 1800s. Laura Evans went from prostitute to madam, didn’t take any shit from anyone, and wasn’t particularly interested in playing by the rules, for example sneaking her horse into an indoor winter dance, causing a scene, and a good deal of property damage.

Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic by Steven Johnson, a quick but fascinating look at disease theory, public drinking fountains, the London sewer systems, and discovering the cause of cholera.

Now on to my favorite novels, anthologies, and collections published in 2016 for your general enjoyment and possibly your award consideration.

Novels

Spells of Blood and Kin by Claire Humphrey is a werewolf novel that never once mentions the word werewolf. It also weaves in magic, and mythology, but at its heart, it’s a story about found families – chosen and by birth. It’s also about fighting or embracing the darker aspects of your nature, and finding a way to feel whole. I discussed the book in more depth here.

Kraken SeaThe Kraken Sea by E. Catherine Tobler. This one is a novella, but it’s right on the borderline of being a short novel, so I’m including it here. It’s a stunningly gorgeous book exploring the origins of Jackson’s Unreal Circus and Mobile Marmalade. I wrote about it in more detail here. Magic, monsters, living shadows, and cabarets. What more could you want?

Paper Tigers by Damien Angelica Walters is a ghost story about pain and feeling broken, and the terrible things people do to feel whole. There’s a haunted photo album, promising seductive freedom, a malign presence, and a mysterious house. I wrote more about the book here.

Sword and Star by Sunny Moraine is the final book in the Root Code trilogy. The story started in Line and Orbit feels truly epic in Sword and Star; the stakes are higher, and the world itself feels bigger. It’s full of action, adventure, and quieter moments, too. More thoughts on the book here.

All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders is a book of disparate parts woven into a glorious whole. Magic blends with science, humor with darkness, awkward teenage angst with the end of the world. It’s fun, heartfelt, and you can read more thoughts about it here.

Roses and Rot by Kat Howard is both a love letter to faerie tales and the importance of telling stories, and a literal tale about faeries. It’s also about art, sacrifice, and family, and is gorgeously told. I wrote about it in more detail here.

The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi is another novel that draws on myth and the stories we tell to weave a beautiful tale of mysterious strangers, other worlds, a self-rescuing princess accomplishing daring escapes, and a flesh-eating demon in the shape of a horse. Further thoughts can be found here.

Ghost TalkersGhost Talkers by Mary Robinette Kowal blends mystery, romance, and ghosts against the backdrop of WWI, with a group of women trained as mediums passing messages from soldiers who died in battle along to the allied forces. There are genuinely touching moments, and plenty of action. A more detailed review can be found here.

Cloudbound by Fran Wilde is the second book in the Bone Universe Trilogy, deepening the world first introduced in Updraft both literally and figuratively. The city and the characters are explored from new angles, revealing hidden secrets, evolving their relationships, and adding more tangled political intrigue. The descriptions are stunning, the action scenes visceral, and we finally learn what’s below the clouds and where the bone towers originate. More here.

Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia is a crime-thriller set in a Mexico City where vampires are a real, living alongside humans with varying degrees of cooperation and hostility. Domingo, a garbage picker living on the streets, meets Atl on the subway. At first she appears to be simply a beautiful girl with a genetically modified dog by her side, intriguing enough to Domingo as it is, but he’s even more fascinated when he learns she’s a vampire. He’s spent his life reading vampire comic books, but reality doesn’t quite match up to the fantasy. Atl sleeps in a closet, not a coffin, and she turns into something more akin to a hummingbird than a bat. There are different types of vampires, all with their own strengths, weaknesses, and abilities. Atl is on the run from a rich, spoiled, daddy’s boy of a vampire, seeking revenge for the latest killing in a long-standing feud between their families. Atl pulls Domingo into her world, and he willingly follows her, helping her to hide while looking for a way to get her safely out of Mexico City. The cast of characters also includes, among others, Ana, a cop caught up in the war between vampires and human gangs, and Bernardino, a Nosferatu-style vampire, who is incredibly powerful, but whose body is twisted and pained as a result of his vampirism. All of the characters are fascinating, well-drawn, and fully-rounded. There is a true otherness to the vampires; they aren’t simply humans with sharp teeth and very long lifespans. Their wants and needs are different, and they don’t tend to go around mooning over humans. Certain Dark Things is fast-paced, violent, and laced with quiet moments of humanity. I highly recommend it, particularly for those who think they’re burned out on vampire fiction.

The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin is the second book in the Broken Earth Trilogy, and it is every bit as fantastic as the first (The Fifth Season). Across the first two books, Jemisin does incredible things with voice, character, narrative style, time, and multiple points of view. She blends fantasy and science fictional concepts flawlessly to build what may be a far-future version of our own earth, or an alternate one, where orogenes have ability to manipulate the earth and essentially do magic. Orogenes are shunned and feared for their powers, turned into weapons and tools, and controlled by guardians. By this second book, Essun (who was Damaya, who was Syenite) has found a temporary home in a community that accepts orogenes. She’s still searching for her lost daughter, taken by her husband after he murdered their son. She’s been reunited with her old mentor and one-time lover, Alabaster, who is slowly turning to stone, and been given the impossible task of restoring the earth’s lost moon. She’s also being followed and watched over by Hoa, a wholly inhuman creature of living stone. Nassun, Essun’s daughter, gets her own point of view chapters in the book, as she comes into her own powers, learns to manipulate her father in order to stay alive, and tries to decide who and what she wants to be. The story is often brutal, by necessity, and the choices the characters are forced to make are terrible. They live in an unkind world, and must be unkind in turn. Sometimes love looks like pain, but Jemisin makes each character so rich and full and alive that all their decisions and actions are understandable and even inevitable. The first two books are gorgeous, and I’m very much looking forward to the third one.

Anthologies & Collections

Clockwork Phoenix 5 edited by Mike Allen is the latest installment in a series collecting stories that are mythic, poetic, lyrical, and liminal – not quite fitting easily into any one category. If you follow the link, you’ll find five sample stories posted for free online, which will give you a taste of the kind of stories Clockwork Phoenix has to offer. A few of my favorites include The Book of May by C.S.E. Cooney and Carlos Hernandez, The Souls of Horses by Beth Cato, and Sabbath Wine by Barbara Krasnoff.

Furnace by Livia Llewellyn, is the author’s second collection, and it is every bit as dark and weird, sexually charged and terrifying as her first. It reprints several stories, and offers up a new one full of malevolent nature come to reclaim the world. The collection is discussed in more detail here.

Singing With All My Skin and Bone by Sunny Moraine is the author’s debut collection, bringing together some of their best dark and bitter-edged tales, exploring the weird, the beautiful, and the painful in equal measure. I’ve already sung the praises of the third book in Moraine’s epic trilogy here, but their short fiction is just as stunning and well-worth your time.

POC Destroy SFPeople of Colo(ur) Destroy Science Fiction edited by Nalo Hopkinson and Kristine Ong Muslim is the latest in Lightspeed Magazine’s destroy series, preceded by women and queers, all with companion volumes focusing on fantasy and horror. Many of the stories and essays are free to read online, but the gorgeous paperback edition includes exclusive content. The anthology offers up original fiction and flash, reprints, essays, art, and author interviews. My favorite stories from the anthology include A Good Home by Karin Lowachee, Salto Mortal by Nick T. Chan, Firebird by Isha Karki, An Offertory to Our Drowned Gods by Teresa Naval, Chocolate Milkshake Number 314 by Caroline M. Yoachim, Four and Twenty Blackbirds by JY Yang, and A Handful of Dal by Naru Dames Sundar. Overall, it’s an incredibly strong collection, and I highly recommend  it.

Children of Lovecraft edited by Ellen Datlow offers up new stories inspired by Lovecraft – tentacled beasties, cosmic horror, and a quiet, creeping sense of dread, minus the racism. Datlow is a master at assembling anthologies, and this one is no exception. My favorites were Nesters by Siobhan Carroll, Little Ease by Gemma Files, and Excerpts from an Eschatology Quadrille by Caitlin R. Kiernan.

The Starlit Wood edited by Dominik Parisien and Navah Wolfe is a collection of retold and re-imagined fairy tales by a stellar line-up of authors. The book itself is also gorgeous as a physical object. My favorites included Seasons of Glass and Iron by Amal El-Mohtar, Reflected by Kat Howard, The Briar and the Rose by Marjorie M. Liu, and Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik.

Hidden Youth: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History edited by Chesya Burke and Mikki Kendall, is the follow-up to Crossed Genre’s wonderful anthology, Long Hidden. This time around the focus is on younger protagonists. Overall, it’s a strong collection, with some lovely illustrations. My favorites included The Bread-Thing in the Basket by K.T. Katzmann, Feet of Clay by A.J. Odasso, The Girl, the Devil, & the Coal Mine by Warren Bull, In His Own Image by E.C. Myers, and The Mouser of Peter the Great by P. Djèlí Clark.

That’s a lot of wonderful fiction to sustain you in the cold winter months, and perhaps mull over during award season.

To wrap things up, I offer a few bonus recommendations for novels, anthologies, and collections I read this year and would highly recommend, but which were not published in 2016.

Exeperimental FilmDream Houses by Genevieve Valentine

Dangerous Space by Kelly Eskridge

The Apex Book of World SF 4 edited by Mavesh Murad

Experimental Film by Gemma Files

Kindred by Octavia Butler

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay

So that’s me. What were your favorite books this year, old or new? And what are you looking forward to in the year to come?

Leave a Comment

Filed under Recommended Reading

Obligatory Award Eligibility Post 2016

It’s that time of year, time to look back and reflect on what all I did in 2016. Since I’ve been encouraging others to share their eligibility and recommendation posts (please do!), it seems only fair that I do it myself. I’m still catching up on reading, but I’ll be assembling my recommendation posts soon. In the meantime, here’s my award eligible work for 2016.

Short Stories 

Tekeli-li, They Cry, published in Tomorrow’s Cthulhu

Seven Cups of Coffee, published in Clarkesworld

The Ghosts of Mars, published as part of the March Geeky Giving bundle

A Guide to Birds by Song (After Death), published in Clockwork Phoenix 5

In the Name of Free Will, published in Superhero Universe (Tesseracts 19)

The Men From Narrow Houses, published in Liminal Stories

I Dress My Lover in Yellow, published in The Mammoth Book of Cthulhu

The Last Sailing of the Henry Charles Morgan in Six Pieces of Scrimshaw (1841), published in The Dark

How Objects Behave on the Edge of a Black Hole, published in Strangers Among Us

How to Host a Haunted House Murder Mystery Party, published in Bourbon Penn

Novelette

When the Stitches Come Undone, published in Children of Lovecraft

Collection

The Kissing Booth Girl and Other Stories, published by Lethe Press

The collection is eligible as a whole for things like the World Fantasy Award. It also contains two original short stories – Juliet & Juliet(te): A Romance of Alternate Worlds, and It’s the End of the World As We Know It – and two original novelettes – The Astronaut, Her Lover, the Queen of Faerie, and Their Child, and The Kissing Booth Girl.

As a Canadian, I’m also eligible for the Prix Aurora Awards, in addition to awards like Nebula, Hugo, World Fantasy, etc.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Writing

What Have You Done, What Have You Loved? 2016 Edition

The Nebula Awards are officially open to nominations for works published in 2016. With everything else going on in the world right now, award season may not be at the top of everyone’s mind, but the art we make is important. Stories are important. So as award season gets under way and 2016 comes to an end, it’s a perfect time to look back and celebrate what you’ve accomplished over the year, as well as celebrating the works you loved.

For the past few years, I’ve assembled a meta post linking to other authors’ awards-eligibility posts, along with recommended reading posts. This is an evolving creature, frequently updated. To get things started, I’ll highlight a few ongoing sites that review and recommend fiction throughout the year. If you have a review post or an eligibility post you want me to link to, drop me a note in the comments, or email me at a.c.wise (at) hotmail.com. On to the links!

Maria Haskins posts Monthly Short Fiction Round-Ups along with Book Reviews. They’re well-worth checking out! Maria has a few particular recommendations to point to, which she sent me via email. They are: So, You’re in an Alternate Universe by Jeremy Packert Burke, My Body, Herself by Carmen Maria Machado, The Night Cyclist by Stephen Graham Jones, Shadow Boy by Lora Gray, Tom, Thom by K.M. Ferebee, Songbird by Shveta Thakrar, The Men From Narrow Houses by A.C. Wise, 17 Amazing Plot Elements, When You See #11, You’ll Be Astounded! by James Beamon, A Certain Kind of Spark by Gwendolyn Kiste, Things With Beards by Sam J. Miller, El Cantar or Rising Sun by Sabrina Vourvoulias, and My Grandmother’s Bones by S.L. Huang.

Charles Payseur tirelessly reads and reviews short fiction throughout the year at Quick Sip Reviews and posts monthly round ups (paired with drink suggestions no less) at Nerds of a Feather in A Monthly Taster’s Guide to Speculative Short Fiction. The link goes to the latest post, but browse the archives for more excellent short SFF recommendations.

The good feminist ponies at Lady Business post Quarterly Short Fiction Recommendations, crowd-sourced through reader surveys. They also regularly post novel reviews, fanwork recommendations, and media reviews, so spend some time on their site for all sorts of recommendations.

It hasn’t been updated recently, but the twitter account SFEditorsPicks posts short fiction recommendations from a variety of Year’s Best editors including Steve Berman, Neil Clarke, Ellen Datlow, and Paula Guran, among others.

Jason Sanford posted a mid-year recommendation list of favorite short fiction from January to June. There are also book reviews and in-depth short fiction reviews on his site, so take a look at those as well.

Barnes & Noble posted their booksellers’ picks for The Best Sci-Fi & Fantasy for 2016. There are also monthly recommendations and on their blog.

The recently-launched Bogi Reads the World picks up on Bogi Tackács’ #diversestories and #diversepoems twitter threads with wonderful recommendations of all kinds. Spend some time on eir site and discover some excellent fiction.

SWFA hosts a recommending reading list for all Nebula award categories. Members can suggest works, and the lists are publicly visible whether you’re a members of SFWA or not.

Didi Chanoch started a Wikia of Hugo eligible works, and others can add their own recommendations.

My own short fiction review column, Words for Thought debuted at Apex Magazine in June.

Fred Coppersmith
posted a mid-year storify of his favorite reads of 2016 after reading a story per day all year.

Sam Tomanio has a monthly short fiction review column at SFRevu.

Squee & Snark reviews short fiction throughout the year.

Rocket Stack Rank, rates short fiction throughout the year.

That’s just to start. I’ll be assembling posts of my own novel and short fiction recommendations soon, and an award eligibility post. Now it’s your turn. Send me your links for recommendation and eligibility posts, and we’ll build this into a handy resource for discovering fabulous fiction from 2016!

Mary Alexandra Agner shares her award eligible short stories for 2016.

Amazon’s picks for Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Books of 2016.

AudioFile Magazine (via Tor) shares their list of Best SFF Audiobooks of 2016.

Helena Bell’s eligible short story for 2016 is I’ve Come to Marry the Princess.

Best Sci Fi Books picks their favorite reads of 2016.

Brooke Bolander’s eligible short story is Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies.

Aaron Cantor’s award eligible short stories and novelette for 2016.

Matt Dovey lists his award eligible short fiction and novelette, and notes his first year of Campbell eligibility.

Fantasy Literature posts short fiction reviews throughout the year, but note that not every work discussed was published in 2016.

forestofglory regularly posts short fiction recommendations, monthly round-ups, and other reviews. The link goes to the site in general, so spend some time browsing around!

Lora Gray lists their award eligible short fiction for 2016.

Nin Harris lists her award eligible short fiction for 2016, and notes that this is her final year of Campbell eligibility.

Kate Heartfield lists her award eligible novella and short stories for 2016.

Maria Dahvana Headley lists her eligible novel, novelettes, and short stories.

Heather Rose Jones’ award eligible novel, novelette, and non-fiction for 2016.

Benjamin C. Kinney shares his award eligible work for 2016. He is Campbell eligible this year.

Largehearted Boy has compiled a massive list of Best of 2016 lists.

Kate Lechler’s award eligible short story for 2016 is The Beautiful Bird Sits No Longer Singing in the Nest.

Locus Online regularly posts short fiction and book reviews, as does the print version of Locus Magazine.

S. Qiouyi Lu lists their award eligible short fiction, poetry, and novella for 2016, and notes their Campbell eligibility.

Lauren M. Roy lists her award eligible work for 2016.

A. Merc Rustad has several stories eligible in the Short Story category this year.

Elsa Sjunneson-Henry’s award eligible work for 2016 is her short story A Place Out of Time, and her non-fiction essay eligible as related work or fan writing, So You Wanna Write a Blind Character?

Jonathan Strahan shares his favorite short SFF novels of 2016.

Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam’s eligible short story for 2016 is The Split.

E. Catherine Tobler lists her award eligible short fiction and novella for 2016.

Tade Thompson’s eligible short fiction, novella, and novel for 2016.

Unlikely Story’s award eligible work for 2016.

Valerie Valdes shares her award eligible short story for 2016.

Monica Valentinelli’s award-eligible work includes We Have Always Been Here, Motherfucker, eligible as best fan writing or best related work, and Firefly: The Gorram Shiniest Language Guide and Dictionary in the ‘Verse, also available in the best related work and fan writing category (I believe). Additionally, Monica co-edited Upside Down: Inverted Tropes in Storytelling, which will be published in mid-December, and contains original fiction and essays, which are award eligible.

Sabrina Vourvoulias’ award eligible short story for 2016 is El Cantar of Rising Sun.

Washington Post’s picks for Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of 2016.

Fran Wilde shares her eligible novel, novella, and short story for 2016, along with tons of recommendations for her favorite short and long fiction, fan writing, comics, editors, and more!

Ziv Wities has assembled a list of favorite short fiction of 2016.

Alyssa Wong lists her award eligible short fiction and novelette for 2016.

Tristina Wright’s award eligible short story for 2016 is The Siren Son. She should also be Campbell eligible.

Caroline M. Yoachim has several eligible short stories, two novelettes, and a collection out this year.

13 Comments

Filed under Recommended Reading

An Interview with Heather Rose Jones

MotherOf SoulsHeather Rose Jones was kind enough to drop by today to talk about her latest novel, Mother of Souls. To get things started, I’ll make introductions by shamelessly stealing from her author bio…

Heather Rose Jones writes fantasy, historic fantasy, and historical fiction, including the Alpennia series with swordswomen and magic in an alternate Regency setting. She blogs about research into lesbian-like motifs in history and literature at the Lesbian Historic Motif Project which provides inspiration for her fiction. She has a PhD in linguistics, studying metaphor theory and the semantics of Medieval Welsh prepositions, and works as an industrial failure investigator in biotech. Find her on facebook and on twitter as @heatherosejones.

Welcome, and congratulations on the publication of Mother of Souls! Without giving too much away, would you care to tell readers a bit about your latest novel?

The Alpennia series follows a loose network of women in a fictitious early 19th century country inserted roughly around the intersection of France, Switzerland, and Italy. It’s a combination of a collection of personal stories and an overall political intrigue plot. Mother of Souls is about Serafina Talarico, an Ethiopian immigrant to Rome who is struggling to master her mystical talents and thinks that she can find a teacher in Margerit Sovitre, the Royal Thaumaturgist to Princess Anna of Alpennia. And it’s about Luzie Valorin, a widowed music teacher who discovers an unexpected talent when she sets her sights on composing an opera about the philosopher Tanfrit. It’s about Margerit Sovitre’s ambition to found a women’s college. And it’s about a sorcery that has the entirety of central Europe locked in a mystical storm that is beginning to break down the structures of magic that have stood for centuries. It’s…complicated.

This is the third book in your Alpennia series. Each novel seems to focus on very different characters – are they traditional sequels, or standalone books set in a shared world? When you wrote the first book in the Alpennia series, did you always intend to return to the world? Are there more Alpennia stories to come?

When I wrote the first book (Daughter of Mystery), it was supposed to be a standalone, but even as I was polishing it up the second book (The Mystic Marriage) grabbed me. By the time I’d finished that manuscript, I had a fairly good idea of the scope of the overall series, though the details are still working themselves out. At this point I’m planning seven books in the main series (with short fiction to fill in some of the cracks), plus an entirely independent novel set earlier in Alpennian history. It isn’t a traditional series that follows one central character throughout. I’m very much writing about community, and each book has a slightly different set of viewpoint characters.

As an author of historical fantasy and historical fiction, what is your research process like? What’s the strangest, most intriguing, or most obscure bit of history you’ve ever come across while researching? Have you ever written something into a novel that’s based on actual history, but which readers assumed you must have invented from whole cloth because it was too fantastical to believe, or vice versa?

I’ve been a history fanatic all my life and fell in love with European history when I was ten years old and my family lived in Prague for a year when my dad was on sabbatical. Most of my research is the background information I’ve been storing away over the last five decades. But it was a bit of a surprise to me to write a series in the 19th century because most of my research interests previously have been medieval and Renaissance. So I’ve had to do a lot of delving into post-Napoleonic politics and timelines to integrate the story into real history. It’s hard to identify the strangest thing I’ve turned up. That would probably be some very obscure bit of textile technology! But in terms of what I put in my novels, I do a lot of research on queer women in history, and the most surprising thing is probably finding all the ways that women managed to live outside the norms of society in different times and places. But for unbelievable details in my own fiction, I think I’d have to step outside Alpennia and point to my novelette “The Mazarinette and the Musketeer” which is a romp involving various outrageous women in late 17th century England and France. Since I self-published it as a freebie, I went so far as to include endnotes laying out how none of the most unbelievable bits were invented.

On a somewhat related note, in addition to your fiction writing, you also launched the Lesbian Historic Motif Project as a resource for other writers and researchers. Could you talk a bit about how LHMP came to be, your goals for the project, and how you’d like to see if grow in the future?

Originally the Lesbian Historic Motif Project was just my own research notes, gathering background for a variety of historic romances I wanted to write. I had this urge to write stories that were both historically accurate and fun escapist romantic adventures. So I needed to know as much as possible about what it could have been like to be a queer woman at various times and places. And then…well, I have the soul of a cataloger. I know that the hardest part of doing research is knowing that the information you want actually exists and having some idea how to find it. So I wanted to summarize my research in a way that was useful for other interested parties. Back when I started, I was thinking in terms of a published sourcebook, but fortunately the web came along in the meantime and a blog is a much more practical way to present it! The main idea is simply to say, “Here is information; here’s what these publications cover; here’s where you can find them.” Not everyone has the same goals and interests, so it was more important to me to be a conduit than an interpreter. As for the future, I don’t anticipate running out of material to cover anytime soon, so mostly I’ll just keep plugging along. I’d love for more people to know about the Project and use it as a start for their own research.

How does your academic background in linguistics inform your fiction writing process? Do you have any tips or recommendations for authors looking to incorporate the development or evolution of language into their world-building? Are there any invented fantasy language tropes you’ve seen used (or misused) that bother you as someone with a background in linguistics?

As a linguist, my main advice would be: “Kids, don’t try this at home!” But seriously, it’s easy to include over-simplified approaches to language in world-building; much harder to do it in a realistic way. The language aspects in Alpennia are two-fold. The more superficial aspect is in how I’ve created an underlying system for creating Alpennian proper names and small bits of vocabulary, so that it “feels” like a real language without being identical to one that exists. The deeper way I’ve used my linguistics background is in how the characters think about and use language in a multilingual society, and in a framework for using mystical talents that relies heavily on the structure and symbolism of language. It’s more a matter of an awareness of the importance of language than using any specific elements of linguistics. I think the language-related tropes that bother me the most in fantasy is sloppy use of personal names. For example, borrowing names or naming systems from an actual culture without thinking about what baggage those elements carry with them. But conversely, I think authors shouldn’t twist themselves up in knots about “getting language right.” In a very real sense, all historic or secondary world novels are “translated” for the reader. The question is only how well the translation works.

Now that Mother of Souls is out in the world, what are you working on next? Any other projects or works you’d like people to know about?

The next Alpennia book will be a bit of a change-up. I plan it to be a YA novel that can be a new starting point into the series. Floodtide will introduce a new protagonist, as well as bringing in several of the younger minor characters from the existing books. It overlaps a fair amount of the timeline of Mother of Souls but with an entirely different focus. But in the mean time, I’m working on a non-Alpennia project. I wrote a series of connected short stories about a shape-shifting clan in a sort of Iron Age not!Europe for the Sword and Sorceress anthology series, and now I’ve written a novelette that ties up the series and plan to collect them all up in a single volume and self-publish it. Working title is Skinsinger: Tales of the Kaltaoven.

Thanks for stopping by!

Thank you for inviting me!

Leave a Comment

Filed under Author Interview

Fall Book Love: Ghosts and Bones

Chilly weather makes it the perfect time to curl up with a good book. Here are three recent reads I’ve loved. Hopefully you’ll love them, too. (Warning, spoilers ahead.)

Ghost TalkersMy first exposure to Ghost Talkers by Mary Robinette Kowal was hearing her read an excerpt at World Fantasy, back when it was still a work in progress. I was immediately hooked and wanted more. The core concept of the book was just so cool: a group of mediums works with the British Army during WWI, collecting and relaying intelligence from soldiers killed in battle. Kowal takes the story far beyond a cool concept, however. There is an immediate sense of the emotional and physical toll communicating with the dead takes on the mediums, not to mention the horrors of war itself. Kowal doesn’t shy away from the violence, and she immediately makes the impact of war personal. Her protagonist, Ginger Stuyvesant, is one of the few Americans involved in the war before America’s official entry into the conflict. Her fiancee, Ben Harford, is killed early on, remaining with Ginger as a ghost, determined to uncover the traitor in the British ranks before he can move on. Kowal shows us Ginger and Ben’s loving and playful relationship, and almost immediately pulls the rug out from under the reader’s feet by killing Ben. Having him return as a ghost never feels like a cheat. Loss is threaded through his ongoing presence; the longer he remains on the mortal plane, the more he forgets of himself, bits of his personality drifting away, burning up more quickly when manifests himself as a poltergeist to protect those around him. Kowal makes the reader care for every one of her characters – Helen, the medium working with Ginger who comes up with the method of binding soldiers so they’ll report in as ghosts, Lady Penfold, Ginger’s aunt and founder of the Spirit Corp program, Pvt. Merrow, Ben’s assistant, and the men and women of Ginger’s circle who help keep her grounded as she communicates with the dead. The novel is part war narrative, particularly focusing on the roles of women, frequently overlooked in the dominant cultural narrative of war. It’s also part murder mystery, love story, and ghost story. Kowal slips in bits of humor as well, with the banter between Ginger and Ben, as well as references to Doctor Who. It’s a wonderful novel, with elements to appeal to fans of historical fiction, speculative fiction, and romance.

CloudboundCloudbound is the follow-up to Fran Wilde’s brilliant and award-winning Updraft. It continues the story of the city of living bone, showing the fraying edges of that city in the wake of the Spire’s collapse and the removal of the Singers from power. While Kirit is still close to the heart of the story, in Cloudbound, events are told from the point of view of Nat, Kirit’s best friend. This is a brilliant choice on Wilde’s point, allowing her to show the city from a different angle – literally, from the new areas explored, and figuratively, filtered through Nat’s perspective. Since the Spire’s collapse, there’s been a struggle to fill the power vacuum left by the Singers removal from power. Nat is a newly-minted Counselor, struggling to do the best for the people he represents, and his family – his mother Elna, his partners Ceetcee and Beliak, and the child they’re expecting. Nat’s heart comes through in every decision he makes, as does his inexperience in the world of politics. The web around him is tangled enough that he cannot see through to the end of every thread, but that never stops him from trying, or from fighting for those he loves. His point of view is contrasted perfectly with Kirit, who has been hardened by her experiences in the Spire. She’s come out the other side quicker to judgement, to action, and more war-like. There’s tension between the characters, and tension in the world itself. The crumbling city is a clock ticking down in the background, a constant reminder of how wrong things have gone, and how much worse they can get. As in Updraft, the descriptions in Cloudbound are gorgeous, and the action sequences stunning – whether fighting, flying, falling, or simply exploring, the details are beautifully wrought and visceral. As fantastic as the world is, it feels real, as do the characters. The novel ends with another world-altering event for the characters, their lives once again upended as secrets are revealed, and the danger level ramped-up. I’m already looking forward to the next installment in the Bone Universe series, which is due out next year.

Hammers on BoneHammers on Bone is a novella from Cassandra Khaw, whose short fiction I greatly admire. John Persons is a private detective approached by a young boy who wants to hire him to kill his stepfather in order to protect his younger brother. From the start, it’s quite clear there is something strange about the boy, the stepfather, and Persons himself. There’s a ghost yammering in John Person’s head, likely the real John Persons, as the being calling itself John Persons now is anything but a person. Lovecraftian horror and Noir fiction seem made for each other, and Khaw blends them effortlessly here into a slick and stylish whole that drips with atmosphere. I’m a sucker for both the Lovecraftian and Noir genres, and this novella was everything I hoped it would be. I’m hesitant to say too much or give too much away, especially since at novella length, Hammers on Bone is a quick read. I recommend diving in and devouring it all in one delicious and darkness-tinged bite. If you’re a fan of the hard-bitten detective genre, or weird horror, this is absolutely the book for you. I’m delighted by the fact that Khaw has a second novella forthcoming from Tor, which sounds every bit as wonderful – a sentient, living city losing its mind. What more do you need to know? I’m eagerly awaiting the release of In the Living City.

And because there’s no such thing as too many books, I’d love to know what you’ve been reading this Fall? What have you loved? What do I need to add to my already precarious and teetering TBR pile?

2 Comments

Filed under Recommended Reading

Pucker Up!

Kissing Booth GirlThe Kissing Booth Girl and Other Stories is here! The collection contains 14 stories, 4 of which are brand new. An e-book version is on the way, but right this very minute you can get your hands on a paperback copy direct from the wonderful Lethe Press at the link above, or through Amazon or Barnes & Noble. What is this collection, you ask? Well, it’s a little bit of darkness, a little bit of the weird, some sexy bits, some happy bits, and some bits that are hard to define. You want underwater nuns? I’ve got ‘em? A queer zombie love story? Got that, too. Witches, aliens, outer space, and a steampunk circus? Got ‘em all!

Publishers Weekly was kind enough to give the collection a starred review.

Wise’s inventive sense of weirdness and wonder comes to the forefront in this intense, graceful collection of stories in which plot plays second fiddle to quietly immersive world-building, longing and obsession are the forces of beauty, and grimness leads not to depressive dystopia but to desperately hopeful and brave, if still unsettling, solutions.

ETA: Lambda Literary had some very kind things to say about it, too!

They liked it, so maybe you will, too. To celebrate, I’m giving away a copy of The Kissing Booth Girl and Other Stories and a copy of my first collection, The Ultra Fabulous Glitter Squadron Saves the World Again. So step right up, try your luck, and throw your name in the hat below (aka the comments). One lucky winner will get two books, and maybe even a bit of extra swag thrown in. Comment by midnight on November 15, 2016 (wherever in the world you happen to be) and that winner might just be you!

ETA: The Random Number Generator has chosen lucky #1. Congratulations, Zach, and thank you to everyone who entered!

25 Comments

Filed under Glitter Squadron, Kissing Booth Girl

Apex Magazine: Delicious Fiction Since 2009

Apex Magazine kicks off its annual subscription drive today. Apex has been bringing readers dark, and strange, and beautiful fiction for the past seven years. Whether under the editorial direction of Jason Sizemore, Cat Valente, Lynne and Michael Thomas, or Sigrid Ellis, Apex has been committed to bringing high quality speculative fiction and new voices and visions to readers. I could go on about why you should subscribe, but I’ll let the stories speak for themselves. Here are a few of my favorites from the past seven years.

An Evening in the City Coffeehouse, With Lydia on My Mind by Alexander Zikjak

The Days of Flaming Motorcycles by Catherynne M. Valente

each thing i show you is a piece of my death by Gemma Files and Stephen J. Barringer

Ghosts of New York by Jennifer Pelland

The 24 Hour Brother by Christopher Barzak

Alternate Girl’s Expatriate Life by Rochita Loenen-Ruiz

Armless Maidens of the American West by Genevieve Valentine

Erzulie Dantor by Tim Susman

If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love by Rachel Swirsky

Build-a-Dolly by Ken Liu

Ilse, Who Saw Clearly by E. Lily Yu

Call Girl by Tang Fei

Becca At the End of the World by Shira Lipkin

This Is a Ghost Story by Keffy R.M. Kehrli

Jackalope Wives by Ursula Vernon

The End of the World in Five Dates by Claire Humphrey

Last Dance Over the Red, Red World by Gary Kloster

Candy Girl by Chikodili Emelumadu

Griefbunny by Brooke Juliet Wonders

Crow by Octavia Cade

Remembery Day by Sarah Pinsker

A Sister’s Weight in Stone by JY Yang

It is Healing, It is Never Whole by Sunny Moraine

Find Me by Isabel Yap

When the Fall is All That’s Left by Arkady Martine

The Laura Ingalls Experience by Andrew Neil Grey

1957 by Stephen Cox

Cuckoo Girls by Douglas F. Warrick

Check out the stories, and if you like what you see, consider subscribing to Apex Magazine. It’s a fantastic publication. You won’t be sorry!

Leave a Comment

Filed under Recommended Reading

Non Binary Authors to Read: Where to Start – Part Six

It’s been a while, far too long in fact, so now it’s high time for another Non-Binary Authors to Read post. If you’re new to the series and catching up, the first five installments can be found here: 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5. I use non-binary as a term-of-convenience, meant to include agender, genderqueer, genderfluid, neutrois, and other genders that do not align with the male/female binary. I do my best, but if I ever fuck up a pronoun, or misgender anyone, please let me know. I will make changes with my sincere apologies!

Foz Meadows is a genderqueer author, blogger, essayist, reviewer, and poet, and was nominated for a Hugo Award for Best Fan Writer for her blog, Shattersnipe in 2014. My recommended starting place for her work is Ten Days’ Grace, published by Apex Magazine in 2014. The story describes a reality that feels all too frighteningly possible, where family structures are mandated by law, for the ‘good of the children’. Each child must be raised by two parents, one male, one female, regardless of whether they love each other. Single parenthood is not an option, nor is same-sex marriage, or abortion. A parent who finds themselves widowed receives ten days grace to mourn before they must marry again. Julia, the protagonist of Meadows’ story, finds herself in just such a situation. Twelve years into a loveless marriage, her husband dies in a car crash. Julia’s daughter, Lily, was the result of an affair with a married man, leaving her little choice but to marry a stranger in order to protect her daughter. Now, she’s forced into the situation again. Meadows shows the emotional impact such laws might have on women and children, those who have the least say and power in the situation, and it is heartbreaking. The story is not hopeless however. Julia develops a relationship with the agent assigned to ensure she remarries, and they strike a deal. He is gay and has no more interest in marrying than she does, but a marriage will protect him, and help his career. It’s still a relationship of convenience, but one that seems like it could develop into a genuine friendship. Sora and Julia are both taking a risk, trusting each other when they barely know each other. By having Julia and Sora follow the letter of the law, if not the spirit, Meadows shows how useless said laws are. After starting with her fiction, I highly recommend checking out Foz’s non-fiction on her blog and elsewhere.

Lora Gray is a writer, illustrator, and dance instructor. My recommended starting point for their work is Shadow Boy, published in Shimmer’s September/October 2016 issue. Shadow Boy is a take on the story of Peter Pan, specifically one of its darker and more disturbing aspects – the idea of a boy whose shadow needs to be forcibly reattached. The focus is not Peter here, but PJ, whose family believes her to be a girl, but whose shadow is a boy. PJ’s shadow fights PJ from within, further adding to their struggle to decide who they are and who they want to be. PJ doesn’t fully identify as a girl, but doesn’t fully identify as male either. Their family is less than supportive, and when Peter comes into their life, at first it seems like a blessing. He scorns traditional gender norms with his clothing, and propriety in general, stomping around funerals and wearing dead pigeons as jewelry. PJ envies his freedom, but there’s something sinister about him as well. When PJ’S shadow escapes, Peter offers help, but he wants to keep PJ’s shadow in return. I’ve always been a sucker for Peter Pan stories, especially ones that touch on the darker side of his nature. There’s something truly unsettling about a boy who never grows up, who kidnaps other children, but abandons them if they refuse to live in his world of perpetual childhood. Gray does an excellent job of weaving familiar elements of the Pan story with issues of gender dysphoria, and outside perception vs. self identity. The imagery throughout the piece is striking, and beautiful language balances the pain in the tale.

S. Qiouyi Lu is a writer, artist, narrator, and translator. My recommended starting place for their work is Her Sacred Spirit Soars published in Strange Horizons’ Queer Planet issue. A pair of interdependent mythical birds, kimkim, with one eye and one wing each, are separated. One of the birds is forced into the body of a human woman as an experimental cure for her mental illness. The story is soaked in longing, as the woman remembers being the bird, and the bird slowly takes on the identity of the woman, becoming a ghost inside her skin. The doctors tell her she’s sick, but getting better; she remembers flying, and being part of something larger than herself. She remembers another being as part of herself, and there is a hole where that other half of her should be. In the center where she’s being treated, she  begins to develop a tentative relationship with her roommate, Yaulan. It feels both like a betrayal of her other half, and a moment of hope. They are both lacking something, both searching for a meaningful connection. Through gorgeous, poetic imagery, Her Sacred Spirit Soars explores the idea of identity and wholeness, while blurring the line between fantasy and reality. The story can be read as metaphorical or literal, and it works on both ways. It’s an excellent place to start with S. Qiouyi Lu’s work.

Margaret Killjoy is a genderqueer author and editor. My recommended starting place for their work is Everything That Isn’t Winter, recently published at Tor.com. Elements of Killjoy’s piece remind me of Emily St. John Mandel’s excellent Station Eleven. They are both ‘quiet apocalypse’ stories, taking place after the end of everything when the world is in a period of recovery. In the case of Killjoy’s story, the protagonist, Aiden, is a former fighter, trying to find a place in the new world. The violence of their past frightens them, and they are struggling to make a new life, rebuilding themselves as they help rebuild society. At the same time, Aiden is going through a rough patch with their boyfriend, Khalil. There’s a gap between them, a breakdown in understanding that Aiden doesn’t know how to bridge or heal. When the In-Between Lodge where they live with a small community, harvesting tea, is attacked, Aiden goes off to fight. The impulse to violence warring with the desire for peace, and the fear of losing Khalil for good, eventually leads to a breakthrough. Rebuilding isn’t easy work, for individuals, or for society as a whole, but it’s easier together, and together Aiden and Khalil will find a way forward. The story provides a fascinating look at what happens to soldiers once the war ends, and a look at the new shape societies take when the fundamentals they took for granted are no longer there. It shows both the brutality humans are capable of, and our ingenuity and determination in the face of adversity.

So there you have it, four fabulous authors and a recommended starting place for their work. But wait, there’s more! This time around, I have a bonus recommendation, and a wonderful-looking project to plug.

First up, my bonus recommendation is the Queering the Genre series curated by D Libris. D is a genderqueer reviewer and occasional essayist, and I only include this as a bonus and not a main feature since I don’t believe they technically self-identify as an author. Queering the Genre includes guest essays, reviews, and author spotlights with a focus on queer fiction, and it’s well worth checking out. You can find D’s mission statement for the series here.

Last, but not least, is a plug for Andi Buchanan’s IndieGoGo campaign for Capricious: The Gender Diverse Pronouns Issue. Andi edits Capricious, and I’ve covered their work in a previous installment of this series. The issue looks like it will be fabulous, and there are lots of fun rewards on offer for backing the campaign, including your very own adorable, handmade fuzzhog. Take a look and lend the project your support, if you’re so inclined.

Thanks for reading, and I’ll do my best to make sure there isn’t such a long gap before the next installment of the series.

 

3 Comments

Filed under Recommended Reading

Hey, It’s SOCKtober!

ETA: Our prize winners are Ralph Walker and Amy Bush. Thank you to everyone who participated and helped to make October a little cozier for those in need!

The weather is getting cooler, the calendar has flipped over, houses are draped in gauzy spider webs, and pumpkins are starting to make their appearances on front porches and lawns. All of that can mean only one thing – it’s time for #socktober2016! What is #socktober2016, you may well ask…. And I’ll tell you that it’s all Fran Wilde’s fault. Mostly!

From my perspective, SOCKTOBER started with this tweet:

Which was followed shortly by these tweets:

SOCKTOBER goes much deeper than fun socks. For that, I’ll step aside and let Fran herself explain: “I started posting socks for October yesterday because I was having a really hard day. Socks = whimsy = happiness, right? And then I figured it could go further and bring awareness to something I’ve known for a while. One of the greatest needs in domestic violence and homeless shelters, as well as for people on the move through upheavals is clean socks. Especially with winter coming, this is a huge deal. So I thought, I’ll post my sock pictures, but also plan to donate to a shelter a new set of socks with each photo I post. I have a massive sock collection, but No Idea if I can Make it 30 days, so it will be like a dance marathon, but with socks. I’m hoping others feel like getting involved too, but I don’t want to tell people how to do this right. Just working on awareness first, and maybe some socks for some people.”

As you can see, the upshot of this is, Fran is not only a wonderful author, she is a wonderful person. After seeing Fran’s tweets, I asked if I could help. We brainstormed, and came up with a plan to spread the socktober love. Throughout October, Fran and I and others will be posting sock pictures on Instagram and Twitter because socks are cool. We’d love for you to join us!

We also hope you’ll go a step further by donating socks to a homeless shelter in your area. As Fran mentioned, socks are one of the greatest needs at homeless shelters, especially as the weather gets colder. To find a shelter near you, and to find out how to donate, start here: www.homelessshelterdirectory.org.

Of course, you can donate other items of clothing, too. Many shelters on the website linked above list the items they most need, or provide contact information where you can inquire about donations.

But wait! There’s more! You can win fabulous prizes while you’re having fun and helping people. Here’s how it works. Donate a package of socks (or other clothing item of your choice), and post your favorite sock pictures on Instagram and/or Twitter between now and October 31, 2016. When you post @ us (@fran_wilde on twitter and Instagram; @ac_wise on twitter and @a.c.wise on Instagram), and tag your post with #socktober2016. You’ll be entered into our drawing for prizes including copies of Fran Wilde’s Updraft and Cloudbound (US-only for physical copies, audiobook anywhere in the world), a gift certificate to Sock Dreams, so you can add even more fabulous socks to your collection, and possibly some other cool stuff we come up with along the way. We’ll employ Ye Olde Random Number Generator to choose a winner on November 1st. It’s that easy!

So come join in the fun and celebrate #socktober2016 with us while helping those who need some toasty socks.

ETA: We’ve added a few additional prizes to the roster. Rachel Sharp has generously donated a $25 Amazon gift card, and a pre-release copy of her upcoming novel Phaethon (to be mailed out in December). On top of that, Rachel’s publisher, Pandamoon Publishing, is donating any three of their currently available titles. Thank you, Rachel and Pandamoon!

1 Comment

Filed under Random Rambling

Capclave & Children of Lovecraft Reading

Next weekend I’ll be attending Capclave, the DC-area convention run by the Washington Science Fiction Association. It’s a lovely, laid-back convention primarily focused on the literature of science fiction, fantasy, and horror. Here’s my schedule for the weekend.

Saturday – 12:00 pm – Writing and Selling Your Story
Panelists:Scott H. Andrews, Lezli Robyn, Hildy Silverman, David Walton, A.C. Wise (M)
What are the elements that capture a reader’s, editor’s or publisher’s attention? How do you get them to pick up the story, and keep turning the pages?

Saturday – 2:00 pm – Reading
I haven’t quite decided what I’ll be reading yet. Maybe some military-esque weird fiction? Maybe some eco-punk? Maybe a ghost story? Suggestions and/or votes welcome.

Sunday – 10:00 am – Cthulhu Wants You! For Breakfast!
Panelists:Alan Loewen (M), Tim Powers, Darrell Schweitzer, A.C. Wise
Love it or hate it, the Cthulhu Mythos and its related arcs are a literary phenomenon here to stay. Whether it be the Dreamlands, the Carcosa Cycle, the related King in Yellow, as well as other sub-genres, many a writer has cut their teeth on cosmic alienation and horror. Discuss the best and the worst of the lot as well as its future.

Sunday – 11:00 am – Feeding Off Fairy Tales
Panelists:Deidre Dykes, Bernie Mojzes, A.C. Wise
Many authors use fairy tales as an inspiration or even the basis of a new novel. The panelists will discuss why we keep going back to these stories, which ones are the most popular and which ones are ripe for use.

When I’m not on programming, I’ll be attending other people’s panels and readings, hanging out in the dealer’s room, hanging out in the bar, and catching up with friends. I’ll even have the corgi with me. He’s rather partial to people making a fuss over him and telling him he’s a good boy. If you see us, say hi!

The weekend after Capclave, I’ll be in NYC at Lovecraft Bar along with several other authors from Ellen Datlow’s latest anthology, Children of Lovecraft. I’ll be reading from my story When the Stitches Come Undone. Siobhan Carroll, Livia Llewellyn, Maria Dahvana Headley, David Nickel, Laird Barron, and Richard Kadrey will be reading from their stories. More details on the event here. Come join us!

4 Comments

Filed under con