Queer Rodents and Joyful Resistance

The Voyages of Cinrak CoverWhen there’s injustice in the world, it’s natural to get angry. It’s natural to despair and want to fight back, but joy is also a form of resistance. A.J Fitzwater reminds us as much in the introduction to their delightful debut collection, The Voyages of Cinrak the Dapper, Capybara Pirate, which is currently available for pre-order and will be published in April by Queen of Swords Press.

The fizzle started low in Cinrak’s stout belly. It wove around her ribs, along her spine, and ruffled the fur on the back of her neck.

Teetering atop the orphanage’s great oak, the capybara instinctively turned her broad snout toward the silver sliver of harbor glimpsed through the straight-backed buildings of Ratholme. The oak tried to be as tall and as graceful as possible for its charge, revelling at being a stand in for a pirate ship.

This is how we first meet Cinrak – a young orphan dreaming of sailing the high sees, whispering her desires to the sturdy oak that serves as her ship until she can get to the real thing – and it’s impossible not to fall in love her the moment she sets paw on page. In short order, Cinrak sees her dreams come true, proving her salt and not only becoming a pirate, but a captain and an extremely dapper one at that.

The best way to describe this collection of intertwined short stories is joyous. It’s fun, it’s charming, it’s packed full of adventure and glittering prose. The voice of these stories is perfectly suited to a rollicking sea adventure, with a rhythm and music all of their own. Honestly, the collection had me at dapper lesbian capybara pirate. I can’t imagine a more promising or intriguing combination of words to lure one into picking up a book, and the collection lives up to that promise. There are pirates and queens, mer-people and sea-beasties. There’s queer love and found family and swashbuckling. What more could you want? Cinrak sails the high seas uncovers dastardly plots, rides a star, and that just covers a few of her adventures. Grimdark, anger, and grief, all have their place, but so does happiness. Especially when it comes to queer characters, it’s important to see them being brash and triumphant and resplendent, reveling in who they are and winning the day. Cinrak does all that and more, and it’s a pleasure to follow this lesbian pirate cabybara on her adventures.

Again, you can pre-order the book now and I highly recommend doing so. This is a collection you don’t want to miss.

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Shiny Shorts: Ghosts in the Machine, Far From Home

It’s a new year, which means a whole new crop of short fiction to enjoy! January is off to a fantastic start, with new issues of magazines bringing forth haunting, beautiful stories. The month is only half over, but a few stories have already caught my eye, boding well for a year of wonderful fiction. Three of these stories feature characters far from home, longing for what was lost, or making their own way in the world, forging new paths and new futures. The other two explore the blurred line between technology and the supernatural, bringing back lost voices, and finding justice.

Fireside January 2020 CoverGreen Tunnels by Taimur Ahmad in Fireside Magazine packs an emotional punch in a very short space of time, telling the story of Alice, a young girl growing up among the stars who is trying to recapture the feeling of home.

Dad reaches into his pocket and pulls out a slightly battered picture. He holds it gently, like it is a flower that might bruise if touched too carelessly. He stares at the image for a long moment. His shoulders ease downwards, the subtle tightness in his body unwinding just a bit.

Alice barely remembers what it was like to feel the sunlight on her face, or breathe in the scent of green grass. Much of her longing is reflected from her father, which is part of what makes this story so effective. Alice sets out to recreate a garden in her room, nurturing flower and plants and mushrooms grown in a lab, transforming them from something functional into something beautiful. She does this as much for her father as she does for herself. With deep empathy, she recognizes his longing, and also the change just seeing a photograph of growing things brings about to his mood. While Alice’s father holds out the hope that they might go home one day, on some level, Alice seems to understand that they will never return to Earth, and home must be something they carry with them, paradoxically helping her father let go of the past by memorializing it and making it anew. It’s a beautifully-written story, and Ahmad does a wonderful job of infusing it with loss, longing, and hope.

Familiar Face by Meg Elison in Nightmare Magazine presents the simultaneously chilling and comforting idea that facial recognition software might allow the dead to communicate with those they left behind. Annie recently lost her wife, Cara, and is coping with her grief as best she can. Her roommates support her, and the caring network Elison depicts is wonderful to see. As Annie tries to process her pain and find a way to move on, the camera in their home begins insisting that it sees a familiar face at the door – Cara’s.

Annie stepped forward and opened the door anyway. She didn’t believe Cara would be there. She didn’t believe she had seen what she had seen. There was nothing on the doorstep. Fog swarmed in the streetlights and droplets of it landed on their parked cars.

As the story unfolds, it becomes clear that Cara’s death wasn’t ordinary, but that she was the victim of violence. The facial recognition technology built into the home’s security camera becomes the key to unraveling Cara’s death, and giving Annie a sense of closure and justice, if not peace exactly. Elison leaves it up to the reader as to whether Cara’s ghost is actually haunting the machine and Annie, or whether it’s merely a means to allow Annie to get in touch with her intuition and process her loss. Leaving enough room for either interpretation makes the story all the more powerful, and takes nothing from the eerie and atmospheric encounters Annie has with Cara’s ghost. The characters’ use of signing, and the way they adapt it into a highly-personal mode of communication adds an extra layer of poignancy to the story. It’s refreshing to see cameras and facial recognition software depicted as a means of broadening communication – and highlighting that communication isn’t limited to speaking aloud – rather than being painted as the big bad in a speculative story, especially one with horror overtones.

Miss Karami’s Academy for Time-Warping Ladies by Kat Otis in Kaleidotrope Magazine sets a very different tone than the first two stories. It is charming, cheeky, and above all, fun. It still deals with a character far from home, as Elzbieta finds herself exiled to Miss Karami’s Academy for warping time in an un-lady-like way. It’s not that women shouldn’t manipulate time, only that they should do it within certain socially-acceptable boundaries, a skill Miss Karami purports to teach her students. Of course, there’s always wiggle room, and the students of Miss Karami’s, Elzbieta and her twin sister Ryska among them, find a way to get firmly up to no good while putting on the face of innocence and making the stuffy Chronology Protection Agency look foolish to boot.

I suppressed a grin as I warped threads to slow the cup’s flight, then carefully plucked it out of the air before it could hit something and shatter. Miss Karami had sworn to me that manners were an effective weapon, when wielded properly—it looked like she was right.

The story presents a different angle on the idea of being far away from home allowing a character to establish a new life. Rather than mourning home, Elzbieta is more cranky than anything else, but she quickly discovers a new kind of freedom and the ways in which the very rules set to bind and limit her can be twisted to her advantage. Otis plays with the idea of women’s power lying at least partially in their tendency to be underestimated, and their ability to use society’s perceptions of them against that same society. It’s assumed Elzbieta, Ryska, and the other students of Miss Karami’s couldn’t possibly be clever enough to stage a cover-up, thus they must be just what they appear on the surface – up to mischief, but only the frivolous and silly girlish kind. Elzbieta and Ryska are delightful characters, the tone of their banter and interactions is perfect, and I would happily read more stories set at Miss Karami’s school.

Uncanny January February 2020 CoverMy Country is a Ghost by Eugenia Triantafyllou in Uncanny Magazine returns to a more melancholy and bittersweet take on the loss of home. In the process of immigrating to a new country, Niovi is forced to leave her mother’s ghost behind.

Foreign ghosts were considered unnecessary. The only things they had to offer were stories and memories.

Niovi had prepared herself for this, and yet she had hoped she wouldn’t have to leave her mother behind.

She gave the necklace to the impassive woman and let herself drift down the aisle as if a forceful gust of air ushered her away.

Niovi underestimates just how much of an impact cutting ties with her ghost will have on her. More than ties to her mother specifically, her mother’s ghost is a link to her heritage, her traditions, an entire life she’s leaving behind. Food and cooking play an important role in the story. Niovi struggles to prepare food for the Saturday of Souls, finding herself at a loss without her mother’s guidance her, and finding her relatives back home of no use either, seeing her as “other” and almost a traitor now. Triantafyllou perfectly captures the idea of a character caught between worlds. Niovi is trying to build a better life for herself, pursue opportunity, but fears that to do so, she will have to let go of who she is – assimilate as a ghostless person with no ties to her heritage and home. However, over the course of the story, Niovi learns there is balance to be had, she can move forward while still carrying the past with her, honoring her family, while still building a future for herself. This story is at once heartbreaking and filled with hope, and a gorgeous exploration of what it means to leave home and find a new one.

Fiyah 13 CoverThe Transition of Osoosi by Ozzie M. Gantrell in Fiyah Magazine is a novelette that once again blends technology and the supernatural. Mal is a young, black Choctaw man, thus a citizen, but not considered a “True American”. He is followed by cops, under suspicion, and constantly at risk of losing his life simply for existing in the world. He’s also an extremely skilled hacker, and along with his best friend Machine, he sets out to enlist the skills of the Anansi, a top-tier hacker collective who manifest themselves as African gods.

Still shaky from the turbulent introduction, I concentrate on the leader, the one who’d first spoken, and offer my thanks. He waves it off with one of his eight hands. His avatar wears the form of a dark skinned, handsome man with long dreads tipped in gold. Bulbous shades hide his eyes. Steel plates feather along his ribs in shades of iridescent black-blue.

With the Anansi’s help, Mal believes he can bring a measure of justice to the world, and change the way non-True Americans are treated. Change requires sacrifice however, and the Anasi ask Mal how far he is willing to go. He says he will gladly give up his life, but simply willing to be a martyr for the cause is too easy. To effect real change, Mal will have to transform himself, betraying those he loves, and giving up everything that made him human.

The blend of cyberpunk aesthetics with African mythology is brilliantly done, strongly hinting at the possibility that Mal is dealing with actual gods, and not simply very talented hackers. The exploration of empathy and the idea of sacrifice is also beautifully done, as Gantrell looks at the role technology might play in creating a kinder world. Mal and Machine’s different approaches to this idea set them up in opposition while working toward the same goal. Machine creates a VR experience which in essence summons the ghosts of water protectors in North Dakota, immersing the viewer so completely that it actually manipulates their emotions. Where Machine sees this creation of empathy as a voluntary process, Mal sees the potential to create a kind of empathy bomb, giving people no choice in having the pain they’ve caused turned back on them.

The story is wonderfully written, presenting justice and change as a double-edged sword. In order to win, Mal must lose part of himself, but is it worth it for the greater good? According to the ToC, this novelette is Gantrell’s debut publication, and what an incredible start. I can’t wait to read more of her work.

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My Favorite Books of 2019

The Luminous Dead CoverI recently posted about my favorite short fiction of 2019, so now it’s time to look at the longer fiction I read this year, including novels, novellas, collections, and anthologies, and highlight a few of my favorites.  I’ve included an honorable mentions section for work published before 2019, divided out in order to hopefully be more helpful for folks looking at recommended reading for nomination purposes. Even though I made a pretty good dent in my TBR pile, I know there are plenty of things I missed, so please do share your own favorites too!

Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James – a dense and twisting story full of myth, magic, pride, and passion, where a man named Tracker finds his life irrevocably intertwined with the shape-shifting Leopard, and experiences triumph, defeat, love, and loss, as he tries to protect himself and those around him.

The Ebon Jackal by E. Catherine Tobler – bringing the Folley & Mallory series to a close with a bang, this book deftly weaves together the stories of three generations of women, all bound together by their ties to Egypt and the god Anubis who seeks to remake the world according to his own design.

Riverland by Fran Wilde – the powerful story of two sisters facing abuse at home who fall into a magical world beneath the bed and discover their family’s long ties to an otherworldly river that they must fight to save while also learning to save each other. Reviewed in more detail here.

Storm of Locusts by Rebecca Roanhorse – the second installment of the Sixth World series finds monster hunter Maggie Hoskie with new allies and facing off against new foes, while still contending with her past and trying to heal the wounds there.

The Luminous Dead by Caitlin Starling – a tense and claustrophobic horror/sci-fi novel where cave diver Gyre must struggle to survive while unraveling a mystery, and untangling her complicated relationship with her unreliable handler, Em, who may be the only thing keeping Gyre alive. Reviewed in more detail here.

Amnesty by Lara Elena Donnelly – the final book in a decadent and stylish trilogy, dealing with the painful fallout of a life of espionage, war, lies, and politics.

Gods of Jade and Shadow CoverThe Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow – a gorgeous debut novel full of adventure, romance, and journeys to other worlds, all while the titular character, January Scaller, fights to carve out a place for herself in a world where she’s repeatedly told she doesn’t belong. Reviewed in more detail here.

This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone – a richly-written epistolary novella telling the story of two mortal enemies whose lives repeatedly collide as they move up and down the strands of time, falling in love even as they seek to undo and destroy each other.

Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia – a beautiful and stylish novel of gods meddling in human lives, as Caseopia is tasked with helping the god Hume Kame restore his power and defeat his brother who seeks to steal his kingdom.

Echoes: the Saga Anthology of Ghost Stories edited by Ellen Datlow – a hefty collection packed full of unsettling stories that explore a broad spectrum of ghosts and hauntings. (A few favorites are highlighted in my short fiction list.)

The Twisted Ones by T. Kingfisher – an evocative and eerie take on Arthur Machen’s The White People, which delves deeper into the otherwordly, the uncanny, and the horrific, as Mouse seeks to uncover her step-grandfather’s mysterious past after she’s tasked with cleaning out her hoarder grandmother’s home.

Gamechanger by L.X. Beckett – a dazzling tapestry weaving together multiple story threads, set in a period of recovery after an environmental collapse, where gamer and advocate Rubi Whiting must uncover the truth behind her mysterious new client and the charges against him, while protecting her father, and dealing with a growing attraction to her number one in-game rival. Reviewed in more detail here.

Escaping Exodus CoverThe Mythic Dream edited by Dominik Parisien and Navah Wolfe – a fantastic anthology full of talented authors putting new spins on old myths. (A few favorites are highlighted in my short fiction list.)

Desdemona and the Deep by C.S.E. Cooney – a lush and decadent tumble into fairy land where the titular character, Desdemona, must accomplish a daring rescue in order to undo the dark bargain her father made and save the lives of a group of otherwise doomed miners.

Pet by Akwaeke Emezi – a powerful story that explores the idea of monstrosity in a world where monsters have supposedly been eliminated, confronting the notion of evil hiding among those we love the most. Reviewed in more detail here.

A Song for a New Day by Sarah Pinsker – a novel that tells the intersecting stories of two women brought together by music as they each in their own way try to build a better world out of the collapse of the old one.

Escaping Exodus by Nicky Drayden – the story of a woman born to lead who discovers the dark truths that power the living generation ship where her people live as she fights to right old wrongs and repair broken relationships along the way.

Honorable Mentions (AKA books published before 2019)

Radium Girls CoverTemper by Nicky Drayden – a story set in a world of twins where one is assigned the characteristics of vice and the other virtue at birth, exploring the nature of good, evil, free will, divinity, and the complications inherent in families.

The Radium Girls by Kate Moore – a powerful, non-fiction account of the girls who painted luminous clock faces during WWI, slowly poisoning themselves in the process, and their search for justice against the factories that employed them.

How Long ‘Til Black Future Month by N.K. Jemisin – a stunning fiction collection from an amazing author.

The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters – dripping with Gothic atmosphere, a story of a country doctor pulled into the lives of a family seemingly cursed with bad luck, living in a crumbling English estate, which may or may not be haunted by something malevolent. Reviewed in more detail here.

Greener Pastures by Michael Wehunt – a delightfully unsettling collection of dark fiction from a wonderful author.

The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang – the first installment in what promises to be a brilliant trilogy exploring power, magic, and the horrors of war.

The Rust Maidens by Gwendolyn Kiste – an effective body-horror novel, where girls begin to mysteriously rust and decay, mirroring the decay of their industrial town, which also explores friendship, and the pressure to conform to societal expectations.

The Fated Sky by Mary Robinette Kowal – the sequel to the wonderful alternate history novel, The Calculating Stars, which finds the Lady Astronaut (aka Elma York) recruited for the first mission to Mars as the world continues to struggle with the climate change wrought by a meteor strike, set against a backdrop of social unrest and racial tension.

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My Favorite Short Fiction of 2019

Every year, I try to read as much short fiction as I can. And no matter how much I read, it never feels like enough. There are tons of fantastic stories out there, and I know I’ve missed many of them. That said, of the stories I have read this year, there are several I want to highlight in hopes that you’ll enjoy them too. It’s possible I’ll update the list as I continue to catch up. In that spirit, please share your own favorites in the comments or point me toward your own lists so I can see what you loved too!

Uncanny January/February 2019 CoverA Catalog of Storms by Fran Wilde (Uncanny Magazine, January/February 2019) – a gorgeous story about loss and one family’s contentious relationship with the weather. Reviewed in more detail here.

Beyond the El by John Chu (Tor.com, January 2019) – a story about messy family relationships and the magical and transformative nature of food. Reviewed in more detail here.

Monsters Come Howling in Their Season by Cadwell Turnbull (The Verge, January 2019) – another story of contentious relationships with storms, exploring compassion, guilt, and the humanity of AI. Reviewed in more detail here.

The Willows by Delilah S. Dawson (Uncanny January/February 2019) – a moody and atmospheric Gothic story where dark family history rises to threaten the present. Reviewed in more detail here.

Dustdaughter by Inda Lauryn (Uncanny, January/February 2019) – a story of hereditary magic and a young woman coming into her power and finding her place in the world. Reviewed in more detail here.

The Crying Bride by Carrie Laben (The Dark, February 2019) – another story of buried family secrets haunting the present, with Gothic overtones. Reviewed in more detail here.

In That Place She Grows a Garden by Del Sandeen (Fiyah Issue Ten: Hair) – a defiant story of beauty and refusing to conform to unfair societal expectations and standards. Reviewed in more detail here.

Fiyah Issue 10 CoverWhile Dragons Claim the Sky by Jen Brown (Fiyah Issue Ten: Hair) – a wonderful story of knights, dragons, and hair magic.

The Message by Vanessa Fogg (The Future Fire, February 2019) – a touching story of friendship, first contact, and the power of fan fiction to bring people together. Reviewed in more detail here.

Before the World Crumbles Away by A.T. Greenblatt (Uncanny, March/April 2019) – a quiet story about art, robots, the end of the world, and the value of hope. Reviewed in more detail here.

Treading Water by Tapanga Koe (Capricious, Issue 11) – a lovely story of fear, transformation, and finding acceptance of your true self. Reviewed in more detail here.

The Archronology of Love by Caroline Yoachim (Lightspeed Magazine, April 2019) – a story about unearthing the past and the ability of the observer has to impact history. Reviewed in more detail here.

Augur Issue 2.1 CoverRoots and Shoots by Laura DeHaan (Augur Magazine 2.1) – a story of friendship, artificial life, and the nature of humanity.

Moses by L.D. Lewis (Anathema Magazine, April 2019) – a painful story of unasked-for powers, family, and addiction.

Everything is Closed Today by Sarah Pinsker (Do Not Go Quietly) – a story of community and rebuilding in the face of an apocalypse shutting down the world through fear. Reviewed in more detail here.

Hey Alexa by Meg Elison (Do Not Go Quietly) – a surprisingly emotional story of virtual assistants fighting back against oppression. Reviewed in more detail here.

April Teeth by Eugenia Triantafyllou (Do Not Go Quietly) – a disturbing story of ritual sacrifice and one character’s refusal to go along with the status quo. Reviewed in more detail here.

The Judith Plague by Merc Fenn Wolfmoor (Do Not Go Quietly) – a story of abused synthetic humans rising up to fight for their rights. Reviewed in more detail here.

Kill the Darlings (Silicone Sister Remix) by E. Catherine Tobler (Do Not Go Quietly) a gorgeously-written story seething with anger where women who have been literally shaped by the male gaze reclaim themselves. Reviewed in more detail here.

Lest We Forget by Elizabeth Bear (Uncanny, May/June 2019) – a heartbreaking story about the manipulation of memory and the cost of war.

Apparition 7 CoverIbrahim and the Green Fishing Net by Omar William Sow (Fiyah Issue Eleven) – a bittersweet story of lost love and second chances. Reviewed in more detail here.

Many-Hearted Dog and Heron Who Stepped Past Time (Strange Horizons, June 2019) – a beautiful story of time travel, friendship, loyalty, violence, and love.

The House Wins in the End by L. Chan (The Dark, July 2019) – a dark and unsettling story of what it means to survive a haunting.

Shattered Sidewalks of the Human Heart by Sam J. Miller (Clarkesworld, July 2019) – a beautiful story of queerness, monstrosity, and a classic monster movie come to life.

For He Can Creep by Siobhan Carroll (Tor.com, July 2019) – a fantastic story of a cat, his poet, and a deal with the devil.

His Heart is the Haunted House by Aimee Ogden (Apparition Literary Magazine Issue Seven: Retribution) – a wonderful story of a ghost hunter and his ghosts that flips the script on the tortured loner archetype. Reviewed in more detail here.

Deepster Punks by Maria Haskins (A Punk Rock Future) – an atmospheric story of deep sea exploration full of suspicion, paranoia, and encounters with alien life. Reviewed in more detail here.

Vinyl Wisdom by P.A. Cornell (A Punk Rock Future) – a story about family, and honoring the past while yearning for the future. Reviewed in more detail here.

Music for an Electronic Body by R.K. Duncan (A Punk Rock Future) – an unsettling story about uploaded consciousness, and the unintended consequences of the power of music. Reviewed in more detail here.

One Thousand Beetles in a Jumpsuit by Dominica Phetteplace (Lightspeed, August 2019) – a story of robots, adaptation, and survival in a harsh environment.

When Are you Wearing by H.L. Fullerton (Capricious Issue 12) – a lovely story about memory, fashion, and feeling stuck in a rut. Reviewed in more detail here.

Fare by Danny Lore (Fireside Magazine, August 2019) – an innovative take on the werewolf trope that explores class and the divide between the haves and the have-nots. Reviewed in more detail here.

Lightspeed June 2019 CoverThe Weight of a Thousand Needles by Isabel Canas (Lightspeed, June 2019) – a gorgeous, fairy tale-like story of a powerful being caught in a spell, and the woman tasked with freeing him.

Still Water by Ian Muneshwar (Anathema, August 2019) – an eerie and tense story about navigating relationships, navigating seemingly calm waters, and the dangers lurking beneath the surface of each.

The Surviving Child by Joyce Carol Oates (Echoes: The Saga Anthology of Ghost Stories) – an unsettling story dripping with Gothic atmosphere, which takes place in the aftermath of a murder-suicide that may be more than it seems.

The Puppet Motel by Gemma Files (Echoes: The Saga Anthology of Ghost Stories) – another story that oozes with atmosphere about a rental property literally getting under the skin and into the head of the woman hired to care for it.

Deep, Fast, Green by Carole Johnstone (Echoes: The Saga Anthology of Ghost Stories) – an incredibly visceral and claustrophobic story about a man haunted by the horrific deaths that occurred aboard the submarine he served on years ago. Reviewed in more detail here.

Dave’s Head by Suzanne Palmer (Clarkesworld, September 2019) – a charming story about a robotic dinosaur and the challenges of dealing with family.

The Sloppy Mathematics of Half-Ghosts by Charles Payseur (Strange Horizons, October 2019) – a gorgeous and poetic story about ghosts, cats, ships sailing the stars, and seeking one’s heart’s desire at the center of the universe. Reviewed in more detail here.

And Now His Lordship is Laughing by Shiv Ramdas (Strange Horizons, September 2019) – a powerful story of a woman overlooked by a colonial government, and the subtle ways she uses her particular skills to enact her revenge.

The Devil Buys Us Cheap, and the Devil Buys Us in Bulk by M. Bennardo (Mithila Review, October 2019) – a story about the insidious nature of guilt and temptation, and one woman’s efforts to resist them.

Labbatu Takes Command of the Ship Heaven Dwells Within by Arkady Martine (The Mythic Dream) – a stylish story of family pitted against family and a starship captain taking her due.

Wild to Covet by Sarah Gailey (The Mythic Dream) – a beautifully-written story about what it means to be a woman caught in the grip of prophecy who fights back against destiny.

The Gorilla in a Tutu Principle, or Pecan Pie at Minnie and Earl’s by Adam Troy Castro (Analog, September/October 2019) – a charming story of impossible encounters on the moon, and alien beings using the comedy of Laurel and Hardy to initiate first contact.

Omenana 14 CoverTiny Bravery by Ada Nnadi (Omenana Magazine, October 2019) – a story of super-human abilities, friendship, and finding a place to fit in.

A Strange Uncertain Light by G.V. Anderson (Fantasy & Science Fiction, July/August 2019) – a story that weaves together past and present, bringing together a woman gifted (or cursed) to see ghosts, and a woman fighting to free her best friend from the clutches of an unscrupulous doctor.

You Were Once Wild Here by Carlie St. George (The Dark, December 2019) – a touching noir story reminiscent of Twin Peaks, set in a world of monsters and those who hunt them.

The Devil Squid Apocalypse by Alex Acks (GigaNotoSaurus, December 2019) – a story of music and a kick-ass older protagonist fending off an alien invasion.

The Lawman’s Boy by Setsu Uzumé (Bourbon Penn, December 2019) – a stylish weird western where the sins of the father are literally visited upon the son, and the ghosts of the past haunt the present.

Adrianna in Pomegranate by Samantha Mills (Beneath Ceaseless Skies, February 2019) – a gorgeous story about grief and the magic inherent in the act of writing.

The Tentacle and You by John Wisell (Nature, February 2019) – a fun story about the changes you can expect during the slow, tentacle-based invasion.

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An Interview with Gwendolyn Kiste

Gwendolyn Kiste was kind enough to drop by today to talk about her new novelette, the Invention of Ghosts. To kick things off, I’ll make introductions by way of shamelessly stealing from Gwendolyn’s author bio.

Gwendolyn Kiste is the Bram Stoker Award-winning author of And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe, from JournalStone; the dark fantasy novella, Pretty Marys All in a Row, from Broken Eye Books; and her debut novel, The Rust Maidens, from Trepidatio Publishing. Her short fiction has appeared in Nightmare Magazine, Shimmer, Black Static, Daily Science Fiction, Interzone, LampLight, and Three-Lobed Burning Eye as well as Flame Tree Publishing’s Chilling Horror Short Stories anthology, among others. Originally from Ohio, she now resides on an abandoned horse farm outside of Pittsburgh with her husband, two cats, and not nearly enough ghosts. You can also find her online at Facebook and Twitter.

Welcome, Gwendolyn! You are an incredibly prolific author, and now you have a new novelette out in the world. Without giving too much away, would you care to tell folks a bit about it, and where they can find it to read it for themselves?

Invention of Ghosts ArtFirst off, thank you so much for having me on your site! It’s so wonderful to be here talking with you!

My new novelette is called The Invention of Ghosts, and it’s part of the Charitable Chapbook Series at Nightscape Press. One-third of proceeds from all the books in this series go to charity; for mine, I chose the National Aviary, a bird sanctuary in Pittsburgh and one of my very favorite places.

As for the story itself, it’s all about two best friends in college who get wrapped up in the occult. As they delve deeper into the spirit world, the tenuous threads of their friendship begin to fray, and they become haunted in a way neither of them could ever expect. This is one of my more surreal tales, and I’m so excited for it to make its way into the world. It should be out sometime this winter, hopefully by the end of December or early January. The print run is a limited edition, and there are only a few dozen copies left at this point, so for those out there who are interested, it’s available exclusively from Nightscape Press.

It sounds wonderful, and the fact that friendship is at the heart of the story seems to be a recurring theme in your work. Which makes a nice segue into the next thing I wanted to talk about… Your novel, Rust Maidens, might be described as industrial horror, or perhaps economic horror, and of course body horror plays a big role too. The central image of girls turning into manifestations of rust and blight is so evocative. Did the novel start with the imagery, or did it grow out of the more mundane elements which are every bit as horrific – the pressure to conform, the fear of losing your livelihood, the idea of a town itself crumbling away as industry dries up?

The very earliest kernel of The Rust Maidens was definitely rooted in how much pressure there is for us all to conform. I had this image of girls in an oppressive neighborhood breaking free in some horrific way. Originally, the concept was that they all died and then got up out of their graves and just went home, much to the horrors of their families. However, that sounded a little too much like a zombie story—and I love zombies, but that isn’t what I wanted for this one—so I decided to shelve the whole idea for a while.

Then about six months later, I wrote a ghost story that was published in Black Static called “Songs to Help You Cope When Your Mom Won’t Stop Haunting You and Your Friends” that took place in Cleveland in 1980. I had so much fun researching that era, and I didn’t want to leave it behind quite yet, so I decided to revisit the previous idea of the girls in the oppressive neighborhood. From there, I blended it with yet another story that I wrote and didn’t want to let go: a coming-of-age body horror tale called “Reasons I Hate My Big Sister.” Each of those story concepts gave The Rust Maidens a huge puzzle piece of its existence, so the book had a bit of a Frankenstein-esque origin.

Also, I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned this before, but that earliest idea with the girls getting up out of their graves was going to be called Something’s Happening to the Girls on Denton Street. I thought that title would have had an interesting, almost campy horror quality to it in the vein of titles like Let’s Scare Jessica to Death. But once I started developing the newer version of the story, I decided a simpler, more evocative title would work better. Still, I just couldn’t let the original title go, so I named the neighborhood in The Rust Maidens Denton Street, and I worked that old title into the opening of the back cover description. It even became a sort of tagline for some of the book promotion, so it makes the campy horror fan in me happy that I still got to use it somewhere after all.

I also wanted to talk a bit about your novella Pretty Marys All in a Row. I love the idea of characters from urban legends, ghost stories, and rhymes forming a kind of club based on a common name. What was the inspiration behind the novella? What is your favorite non-Mary related urban legend or ghost story, and would you ever want to explore it fictionally?

Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been fascinated with urban legends and folklore. My husband grew up loving them too, so it’s long been a favorite topic of conversation for us. One evening on a road trip, we got to talking about Resurrection Mary again, and we started discussing how there are so many folkloric characters named Mary. We went through three or four right away, and instantly I imagined all of them together, sharing some kind of strange, unlikely bond. The story blossomed from there.

As for non-Mary legends, it’s hard to pick only one! If I had to narrow it down, though, it would probably be the person hiding in the backseat of the car, and the service station attendant trying to warn the driver before it’s too late. That one still gives me the shivers whenever I think about it, how someone is doing their best to help you, but you’re afraid of them rather than the real threat. Prior to this question, I’d never thought about incorporating that urban legend into a story, but now that you’ve got me thinking about it, maybe I will someday. It certainly unsettles me enough to be worthy of a horror story!

Switching gears a bit, but still somewhat related… You currently reside in the Pittsburgh area, a city that’s had its own share of ups and downs with industry. Did the city have any impact or influence on you while writing Rust Maidens? What are some of your favorite spots in Pittsburgh, either places you go to gather inspiration, hidden gems, or places you like to recommend to people visiting for the first time?

Overall, I would say that Pittsburgh didn’t have a huge influence on The Rust Maidens; the novel was definitely intended as an homage to my home state of Ohio. That being said, since I wrote most of the book in Pittsburgh coffee shops, being surrounded with so many reminders of the Rust Belt probably didn’t hinder my process, so maybe I do owe a bit of a debt to the Steel City for that. (Don’t tell Cleveland, though; there’s a big rivalry between the two cities!)

As for Pittsburgh, there are so many great spots to visit. I’ve already mentioned it but my favorite attraction is without a doubt the National Aviary. I’m a huge bird lover, and I’ve gotten so much inspiration from just spending an afternoon there with my husband. There’s also the Andy Warhol Museum and the Carnegie Museums, which are such amazing places and host so many cool events year-round.

As for locales more off-the-beaten path, Trundle Manor is a very nifty attraction for fans of the wondrous and weird. It’s a living museum dedicated to oddities, a kind of modern Wunderkammer. You won’t find anywhere else quite like it, so if anyone is ever in Pittsburgh, I certainly recommend scheduling a tour. You won’t soon forget it.

Speaking of residences, I have to ask about the abandoned horse farm, which is an evocative image all of its own. Have you every encountered any equine ghosts? Or any other types of ghosts around the farm?

No ghost horses, not yet anyhow, although my husband and I are always on the lookout! That being said, we do have what we call “Third Cat,” a little spectral feline that occasionally darts about the house alongside our two corporeal cats. My favorite part of this story is that my husband and I both started seeing Third Cat dashing in and out of rooms around the same time, but we opted not to mention it at first to each other, because we thought it was too weird. Then add to that the fact that a friend of ours has researched and written an extensive book about the paranormal in our area, and he told us that this exact phenomenon is very common in our region. So my husband and I are only one of many families with ghost pets apparently, which absolutely delights me to no end.

Changing topics completely, one of my favorite questions to ask authors is about non-writing related jobs. What is the most unusual job you’ve ever had? What did you learn from it, and has any aspect of that job worked its way into any of your stories?

Gwendolyn KisteI’m never sure what qualifies as unusual per se, but for almost fifteen years, I worked in different aspects of the fashion industry, both behind and in front of the camera, and that was definitely a unique experience. There was a lot I learned it from it actually—my ongoing love of photography came from that time, for example—but more than anything, I probably figured out how to multi-task from it. I did fashion design and then I also did my own fashion show production, so putting together a collection and also coordinating all the details for a live event certainly helped me learn how to prioritize tasks and work with groups of people. It also helped me get over any fear of public speaking since I had to go in front of crowds at the shows.

Also, yes, it has worked its way into my fiction, quite recently in fact. I have a story called “The Maid from the Ash: A Life in Pictures” that will be coming out in the inaugural issue of Weird Whispers, a new weird fiction publication from Nightscape Press next year. The story is told with a wraparound device of a photography exhibit, and the plot deals specifically with issues of body autonomy in the fashion industry. It’s a weird little tale and one I’m very proud of, so I’m thrilled for it to make its debut in 2020.

Last, but not least, what’s next for you? What are you working on, or have coming up that you want folks to know about?

I’m slowly finishing up my second novel right now. It’s all about witches and witchfinders, whispering shadows and ghost birds. It brings together so many fairy tale elements that I’ve loved since I was growing up, as well as plenty of real-world horror too. I’m very excited and eager about getting the book out into the world (although I do wish it would stop dragging its feet, so I can actually finish it!).

I’m also hoping to put together my second collection in 2020. Most of the previously published stories are selected at this point; I just need to finish a couple of the new stories before I’m ready to put it together. I’m a big fan of short fiction, so it will be a lot of fun to have another collection. Still, that’s months away at the moment. Always so many projects to work on, and so little time in the day to make them all happen!

I look forward to reading both the novel and the collection when they make their way out into the world. Thanks so much for stopping by!

Thank you again, A.C.! You’re the best!

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New Zealand Fantastic

Paper Road Press, founded by Marie Hodgkinson in 2013, launched the first volume of a new annual series this year – Year’s Best Aotearoa New Zealand Science Fiction and Fantasy Volume 1. The press was kind enough to send me a copy, along with a copy of From a Shadow Grave by Andi C. Buchanan. Together, these two books offer a taste of the fantastic work being done by Paper Road Press, and the wonderful science fiction and fantasy coming out of New Zealand.

Year's Best New Zealand Science Fiction and FantasyIn addition to collecting some of the best work published in 2018, in Year’s Best Aoteaoroa New Zealand Science Fiction, editor Marie Hodgkinson pairs and groups stories in such a way as to allow certain narrative threads to emerge. The anthology opens with the stunning “We Feed the Bears of Ice and Fire” by Octavia Cade, where the remnants of humanity are left to make desperate and futile sacrifices to the creatures they’ve awoken with their lies, their abuse, and their neglect.

We blister under them. We bleed and freeze. They take no notice. We’re so small, compared to them, to the blizzards and firestorms of their bodies. No wonder they see us as nothing but fuel.

Cade’s story is a stand-out, even in an anthology collecting the year’s best, getting the volume off to a strong start with striking imagery, and seething with poetic anger. It also sets the tone for the next few stories in the anthology, which deal with apocalyptic settings and environmental disasters. Following this opening, the anthology allows readers to take a breath in the form of the lovely “The Billows of Sarto” by Sean Monaghan, a quiet story about an encounter with alien life on a distant planet, showing that humans can peacefully coexist with nature and appreciate it on its own terms without fully understanding it, or trying to exploit it for their own ends.

More and more billows joining the others. Dozens of clusters of six. Hundreds. More and more slipping from the trees. Wings unfurling. Taking flight. It felt as if they would fill the caldera. They would sweep Kaufman up in their whirlwind.

From distant futures and far-off planets, the anthology travels to an alternate past, where a glass-blowing Venetian witch uses her powers to turn the tide of war in “The Glassblower’s Peace” by James Rowland. Here again, Hodgkinson pairs stories to draw out themes, following Rowland’s story with “Mirror Mirror” by Mark English, a haunting story of reflections and parallel universes.

The anthology finishes on another incredibly strong note, book-ending the volume with my other personal favorite among a collection of amazing work. Andi C. Buchanan’s “Girls Who Do Not Drown” uses the mythology of the glashtyn to explore gender, the weight of expectations placed on women and girls, and what it means to find acceptance and fight for your place in the world.

It’s not that they don’t love their daughters. It’s just that this is how it’s always been, and that history is stronger than love, and that the sea is stronger than them all.

From a Shadow GraveBuchanan’s “Girls Who Do Not Drown” pairs nicely with their novella, From a Shadow Grave, which also deals with the weight of history resting on the shoulders of women, and one particular woman fighting to reclaim her story and make her own fate. Phyllis Symons seems destined to become a ghost story, a young woman from a poor family who falls for an older man who brutally murders her and dumps her body in a construction tunnel when she reveals that she’s pregnant with his child. From this establishing event, the story branches, presenting multiple version of Phyllis’ story. The common thread that ties them all together: her death is only the beginning.

All ghost stories start with endings, but you are a woman, not a story; a woman stumbling your way into adulthood in a world of music and hunger. Let’s start with you, not with him. Let’s start with, perhaps, the music you play on your gramophone that you won’t sell even though you should, because music eases the pangs of hunger more than the money it’s worth.

This powerful opening forms the thesis statement for Buchanan’s novella – women are more than stories, more than cautionary tales, or “what ifs” or “if she hadn’ts”. Phyllis is a living, breathing person with dreams and ambitions, cut short by violence. Buchanan presents the reader, and Phyllis, with multiple paths to explore those dreams and the possibilities of her life, and afterlife. In one branch of the tale, Phyllis’ ghost helps bring about justice and save others from her fate; in another branch, Phyllis is rescued by a woman from the future who becomes her lover; and finally, Phyllis rescues herself, clawing her way from her would-be grave to reclaim her story and discover her future on her own terms.

The concept of beginning with a murder, and then up-ending the trope, by making that only the beginning of Phyllis’ journey of self-discovery is a wonderful one. From a Shadow Grave offers a fresh twist on the murder ballad/ghostly revenge/urban legend trope, mashing them all together to create something new that incorporates time travel, queer love, found family, historical drama, the horrors of war, but most of all women rescuing themselves and each other, and carving out space for their lives in an unforgiving world.

These two titles are proof that Paper Road Press is a publisher to keep an eye on. Their upcoming titles for 2020 look intriguing, and I look forward to checking them out: The Lands Girls by A.J. Fitzwater, The Stone Weta by Octavia Cade, Red Mage by H.D. Woolf, and of course Year’s Best Aotearoa New Zealand Science Fiction and Fantasy Volume 2.

 

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Awards Eligibility 2019

The nomination period for the Nebula Awards is officially open, so it seems like an appropriate time to share what all I published this year. I’m also collecting eligibility posts and recommendation links from other folks. As you’re catching up on your year-end reading, please do check out the list. I update it regularly, and if you have your own links to share, please let me know! I’ll be posting my own favorite works from 2019 at some point as well, but in the meantime, here’s what I did this year.

Short Stories

Uncanny Magazine July/August 2019 CoverHow the Trick is Done appeared in the July/August 2019 issue of Uncanny Magazine. It’s a story about illusions, real magic, unrequited love, ghosts, and a rabbit who is most definitely not named Gus.

How many people can say they were there the night the trick went wrong and the Magician died on stage? Certainly, that first morning on the strip—dazed gamblers blinking in the rising light, the ambulance come and gone, with the smell of gunpowder lingering in the air—everyone claimed they knew someone who heard the Magician’s Assistant scream, saw the spray of blood, saw a man rush on stage and faint dead away.

The Ghost Sequences, appeared in Ellen Datlow’s anthology, Echoes: The Saga Anthology of Ghost Stories published by Saga Press in August 2019. I highly recommend checking out the whole anthology. It’s full of unsettling, haunting, beautiful stories, and at nearly 800 pages of fiction, you’re definitely getting your money’s worth. My particular contribution looks at art, and the nature of hauntings – what causes ghosts to linger, and what happens when the ones you want to stick around don’t.

Now close your eyes and count to one hundred, then you can come back inside, Helen says. Libby closes her eyes and starts counting aloud while Helen walks backward toward the house. When she gets to the door, Helen is planning to lock it behind her, and then she’ll make the rest of the pack hide. But before Helen can get to the house, Libby screams, and Helen freezes. Libby is thrashing, clawing at the stocking. By the time the other girls run out of the house, it’s too late. Libby isn’t breathing. It’s as if something pulled her into the tree and left her there to hang.”

Novella

Catfish Lullaby CoverCatfish Lullaby is my first foray into longer fiction, a novella published by Broken Eye Books in September 2019. The best way I can think to describe it is Southern Gothic meets weird cosmic horror, with a helping of found family, family-by-blood, and queerness. It’s about monsters, but also the power of stories, and how legends are made.

There are stories about him from the Mississippi Delta all the way down to New Orleans. Every place’s got their own name for him – Wicked Silver, Old Tom, Fishhook – but where my people come from, smack dab in the middle of nowhere Louisiana, it was always Catfish John. Depending who you talk to, he’s either a hero or a devil, one so wicked even Hell won’t take him.
— Myths, History, and Legends from the Delta to the Bayou, Whippoorwill Press, 2016

 

Non-Fiction

My various review columns make me eligible for Best Fan Writer when it comes to the Hugos and, I believe, in the Related Work category for the Aurora Awards.

Words for Thought, at Apex Magazine was a short fiction review column that morphed into the Shiny Shorts column on my own website now that Apex no longer publishes monthly.

I also contribute two semi-regular review columns to The Book Smugglers – Non-Binary Authors to Read, and Women to Read.

That’s it. Don’t forget to share your own eligibility posts, and check back for updates to my links compilation and for recommended reading posts coming a bit later in the year.

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What Have You Done, What Have You Loved? 2019

An Interesting Story (Miss Ray)It’s that time of year again! Editors, publishers, and authors’ minds turn toward Year’s Best list, and awards. Which also means it’s time for said authors, editors, and publishers to get out there and self-promote. It can feel icky or uncomfortable, but it’s a valuable service to those who nominate for awards, and those who just want to catch up reading what they might have missed during the year. So step forward, take a deep breath, and shout about what you wrote this year. While you’re at it, shout about the things you loved too! No one can read everything that comes out in a given year, but together we can help each other find excellent things to read, and perhaps even nominate.

As I have in the past, I’m gathering award eligibility posts here as a handy reference. Cat Rambo also maintains such a list, so please do check out her blog, and reach out to her with your own eligibility links. If you have a link for me to add, or a correction to make, feel free to drop a note in the comments, tag me on twitter (@ac_wise) or email me at a.c.wise [at] hotmail.com. I also have sections below for recommendation posts and for general resources like review sites. But first off, the eligibility links!

Oh, and I will update this post regularly, so please check back often!

Author/Editor/Publisher Award Eligibility Posts

Skeleton Reading
Allen, Mike
Allen, B. Morris (Note: Includes eligible stories published at Metaphorosis Magazine as well.)
Anathema Magazine
Anderson, G.V.
Angell, R.R.
Annorlunda Press
Astounding Award Author Eligibility List
Atthis Arts
Bailey, Marika
Balthazar, Jason
Bangs, Elly
Barlow, Devan
Barsukov, Yaroslav
Barton, Phoebe
Beckett, L.X.
Bennett, Rebecca
Bolander, Brooke
Bowes, Keyan
Brothers, Laurence Raphael
Campbell, Rebecca
Cañas, Isabel*
Carpenter, Thomas K.
Carroll, Siobhan
Castro, Adam-Troy
Castroianni, Elena
Chakraborty, S.A.
Chan, L.
Chaney, Keidra
Charron, Carolyn
Chawaga, Tim
Chen, Mike
Chu, John
Cipri, Nino
Clark, M.L.
Cooney, C.S.E
Cornell, P.A.
Crilly, Brandon
Das, Indra
Datlow, Ellen
Daley, Raymond Peter
Day, Julie C.
Demuchuk, David
Diabolical Plots
Doige, Meghan Ciana
Donohue, Jen*
Donald, Ekepeki Oghenechovwe
Reading ImageDoyle, Aidan
Drayden, Nicky
Duckett, Katherine
Dudak, Andy
Duerr, Laura
Duncan, Andy
Duncan, R.K.
Eichenlaub, Anthony W.
Elison, Meg
Ellis, Jasre’
Engle-Laird, Carl
Eon, Louis*
EscapePod
Evans, S. Usher
Fedyk, Karolina*
Fiyah Magazine
Fogg, Vanessa
Frohock, T.
Fullerton, H.L.
Gable, Scott
Gale, Ephiny (Includes recommendations of favorite works by others as well.)
Garcia, R.S.A.*
George, Catherine*
Gidney, Craig Laurence
Ginther, Chadwick
Gray, Lora
Greenblatt, A.T.
Haber, Elad
Hagey, Catherin
Hanosly, Christine
Harris, Nin
Harrow, Alix E.
Haskins, Maria
Hayes, Tyler
Heartfield, Kate
Heijnderman, Joachim
Helfrich, Judy
Hemmell, Russell
Hilbert, Crystal Lynn
Hollis, Audrey R.
Hopkinson, Nalo
Houseman, Ariela
Howard, Kat
Hudak, Jennifer
Hudson, Andrew
Hunt, Walter
Hvide, Brit
Ilo, Innocent Chizaram
Jarboe, Julian K.
Jo, Jessica
Jones, Heather Rose
Kendall, Mikki
Ketchum, Brandon
Khan, Ahmed
King, Scott
Kiste, Gwendolyn
Krasnoff, Barbara
Kurella, Jordan
Reading ImageLawless, J.R.H.
Lee, Fonda
Lee, Kara
Lee, Sharon
Liburd, Tonya
Lingen, Marissa
Lu, S. Qiouyi
Lundoff, Catherine
Lyons, Jenn
Macia, Malena Salazar
Madruga, Elaine Vilar
Marcade, Jei D.
Mead-Brewer, K.C.
Miles, Jo
Miller, Steve
Mills, Samantha
Mohamed, Premee
Moher, Aidan
Mondal, Mimi (Includes recommendations of others’ works as well.)
Moren, Dan
Morrison, Diane
Mote, Rajiv
Moyer, J.D.
Mythic Delirium
Neugebauer, Annie
Nieman, Valerie
Nikel, Wendy
North, Bennett
Novakova, Julie
O’Brien, Brandon
O’Brien, Laura
O’Dell, Claire
Ogden, Aimee
Ogundiran, Tobi
Older, Malka
Ongle, L’Erin
Onwualu, Chinelo
Osborne, Emma
Osborne, Karen
Palmer, Suzanne
Palumbo, Suzan
Parrish, Rhonda
Reading ImagePayseur, Charles
Perry, Aaron
Phan, Cindy
Phetteplace, Dominica
Pinsker, Sarah
PodCastle
Prasad, Vina Jie-Min
Price, Laura E.
Pseudopod
Pueyo, H.
Pulp Literature
Pyles, Alexander
Racklin, Carly
Rambo, Cat
Ramdas, Shiv
Rappaport, Jenny Rae
Ratnakar, Arula*
Reisman, Jessica
Rew, Juliana
Rixon, Joanne
Roanhorse, Rebecca
Robinson, S. Brackett
Rockwell, Marsheila
Rodriguez, Karlo Yeager
Roshak, N.R.M.
Rowat, Frances
Rowland, Alexandra*
Royce, Eden
Sanford, Jason
Santiago, Gabriela
Sayre, A.T.
Seiberg, Effie
Sen, Nibedita*
Serna-Grey, Ben
Seybold, Grace
Shelby, Jennifer
Siddiqui, Sameem
Sir Julius Vogel Award (crowd-sourced list of authors eligible for the Sir Julius Vogel Award.)
Sjunneson-Henry, Elsa
Solomon, Rivers
Speculative Fiction in Translation (A listing of award-eligible novels and short fiction translated from other languages and published for the first time in English in 2019.)
St. George, Carlie (Includes recommendations of works by others as well.)
Stott, Romie
Stufflebeam, Bonnie Jo
Syntax & Salt
Takács, Bogi
Takahashi, Fumiki
Talabi, Wole
Taylor, Jordan
Theodoridou, Natalia
Thomas, Ebony Elizabeth
Thomas, Richard
Thompson, Tade
Three Crows Magazine
Toase, Steve
Toasted Cake
Tobler, E. Catherine
Tor.com Short Fiction and Tor.com Books
Triantafyllou, Eugenia
Trota, Michi
Truancy Magazine
Turnbull, Cadwell
Uncanny Magazine Fiction
Uncanny Magazine Poetry
Uzume, Setsu
Valdes, Valerie
Vibbert, Marie
Victoria, Ricardo
Wahls, Jamie
Wagner, Erin
Wagner, Phoebe
Wasserstein, Izzy*
Weaver, Kat
Weimer, Paul
Wendig, Chuck
Wiener Grotta, Sally
Wilde, Fran (Note: Includes recommended reading as well.)
Wilgus, Alison
Wiswell, John
Yap, Isabel
Yoachim, Caroline

* Indicates author who is eligible for the Astounding Award (formerly known as the Campbell Award)

Recommendation Posts

1000 Year Plan Best Dark Fantasy & Horror Short Fiction of 2019
1000 Year Plan Best SF Short Fiction of 2019
1000 Year Plan Best Fantasy Short Fiction of 2019
The Advocate Best Thriller & Fantasy Novels of 2019
African Speculative Short Fiction 2019 Recommended Reading List
Amazon Best Books of 2019
Augur Magazine Favorite Reads of 2019
Bogi Reads the World Favorite SFF Novels of 2019
Bookscrolling Best of the Best – amalgamation of several year’s best/favorites of 2019 lists.
Chaos Kind of Awards
Coleman, Kel Favorite Reads of 2019
Cooper, Jared Favorite Short Fiction of 2019
Duncan, R.K. Favorite Books of 2019
El-Mohtar, Amal Favorite Books of 2019
Fantasy Faction Best of 2019
Fellows, Kevin Favorite Books of 2019
Goodreads Best Books of 2019
Hammard’s Year Best Short Fiction
Handle, Matt Best Short Fiction of 2019
Haskins, Maria Recommended Reading List 2019
Hugo Book Club Recommended Reading
Hugo Award Nomination Wiki
Iriarte, Jose Pablo Recommended Stories of 2019
Kirkus Definitive Year’s Best Lists
Krasnoff, Barbara Award Recommendations 2019
Kirkus Best Books of 2019 by Category
Lady Business Hugo Recommendations
LAPL Favorite Books of 2019
Library Journal Best Horror of 2019
Library Journal Bet SF/Fantasy of 2019
Line-Up Best Horror of 2019
Lingen, Marissa Favorite Short Fiction of 2019
Locus Staff Picks – includes long and short fiction picks
McGee, Amanda Favorite Short Stories of 2019
Locus Recommended Reading List
Mills, Samantha Favorite Reads of 2019
Nerds of a Feather Top Books of 2019
Nerds of a Feather Hugo Recommendations – Fiction Categories
Nerds of a Feather Hugo Recommendations – Visual Categories
Nerds of a Feather Hugo Recommendations – Individual Categories
Nerds of a Feather Hugo Recommendations – Institutional Categories
NPR Book Concierge Best Books of 2019
NYPL Best Books of 2019
NY Times 100 Notable Books of 2019
Publishers Weekly Best SFFH of 2019
Quick Sips Reviews Recommended Reading 2019
SFWA Nebula Reading List (crowd-sourced, open to additions by SFWA members)
Silent Motorist 10 Weird Fiction Books Not to Miss from 2019
Tangent Online Recommended Reading List
Tor.com Reviewers’ Choice Best Books of 2019 and Best YA SFF of 2019
Triantafyllou, Eugenia Favore Short Fiction of 2019
Washington Post Best Horror of 2019
Washington Post Best SFF of 2019
Wiswell, John Favorite Short Fiction of 2019 and Favorite Novels of 2019
Ziv W. Recommended Reading Thread

Review Sites and Resources

Girl Reading1000 Year Plan – short fiction reviews
Antler Review (Meg Elison) – short and long fiction reviews (link goes to the most recent post)
Barnes and Noble Sci-Fi Blog – short and long fiction reviews, SFFH articles
Black Gate Magazine – book reviews, SFFH articles, etc.
Dark Matter Zine – a review site focusing on Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Diversity
The Fandomentals – SFFH reviews, articles, etc.
Ginger Nuts of Horror – horror book and media reviews, articles, etc.
Maria Haskins – short fiction reviews
Horror Bound – horror reviews
Hugo Eligibility Spreadsheet – crowd-sourced eligibility spreadsheet organized by category. Open for additions.
It’s a Jumble (Vanessa Fogg) – short and long fiction reviews
Kirkus Reviews – book reviews
Locus Magazine – short fiction reviews, book reviews, media reviews, SFFH articles and interviews
Miskatonic Review – weird fiction/Lovecraftican reviews
More2Read – multi-genre book reviews
Nameless Zine – reviews of books, media, etc.
Nerds of a Feather – short and long fiction reviews, SFFH articles and interviews
NPR Book Reviews (Amal El-Mohtar) – book reviews
Publishers Weekly – book reviews
Quick Sip Reviews (Charles Payseur) – short fiction reviews
SFF Reviews – short fiction reviews
Squee & Snark – short fiction reviews and discussion
This Is Horror – horror book reviews, news, articles, etc.
Tor.com – short and long fiction reviews, articles, interviews, etc.

All images in this post are public domain works from the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Top to bottom: An Interesting Story (Miss Ray), William Wood, 1806
A skeleton wearing a bishop’s mitre reading a book (vignette for the feast of dead), Jose Guadalupe Posada, 1890-1910
Reading by Lamplight, James McNeil Whistler, 1859
Woman in Robes Reading a Book, Julia Margaret Cameron, 1870
The Courtesan Hanazuma Reading a Letter from the series Beauties Compared to Flowers, Kitagawa Utamaro, 1790s
Study in a Wood, Daniel Huntington, 1861

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Shiny Shorts: Halloween Reads

We are deep in spooky season folks, and tomorrow is the spookiest day of them all. Just in time for Halloween, I have some recent haunting short fiction to recommend.

The Midnight Host by Gregory Neil Harris published in Fiyah #12: Chains finds brothers Donnie and Koda headed to the middle-of-nowhere North Virginia with their grandmother to visit their Aunt Pearl. One of the first things they notice on arriving at Pearl’s is a line of brick dust surrounding her property, which they mishear as being to keep away ants. The line is actually meant to repel haints, and Pearl sends the boys to the neighboring property to gather more. Next door, they meet Harlowe, who works for Mr. Hammond. He agrees to give them the brick dust, but seems very eager to get them off the property. As Donnie gathers dust, Koda wanders off and accidentally cuts himself on a piece of farm equipment. Harlowe tries to shoo them away again, despite the fact Koda is bleeding, and at that moment Mr. Hammond appears, seemingly solicitous of the boys’ health, offering bandages and cold drinks. That night, the boys return to Mr. Hammond’s property, intending to cut through his field on the way to town. They discover the fields watched over by an unsettling group of scarecrows, and the tobacco being worked by trapped black souls, bound to the land and forced to endlessly work the fields until they pay off an un-payable debt. Because Koda bled on the land, and because they accepted Mr. Hammond’s hospitality, now they are in danger of being bound too.

He scrambled over the fence and hurried to catch up to his brother, studying the nearest scarecrow with distaste. Even in the thin moonlight, there was something wrong with it. It looked too real. This one was a middle-aged white man with an unforgiving expression and pale grey eyes that practically glowed in the dark. A frown was evident above the thick, chest-length beard, and deep lines etched his sunburned face.

Harris effectively creates an atmosphere of tension and a sense of mounting dread. The first appearance of Mr. Hammond positively oozes menace even as he seems to express concern over the boys’ well being. While overtly supernatural and frightening things do occur, the true horror comes from the all-too-real system of “debt” keeping black workers enslaved on the plantation, pushed to the extreme of binding them to the land even after death, making for an unsettling supernatural tale rooted in real-world horror.

Luna Station QuarterlyThe Pet Owner’s Guide to Reptilian Hauntings by Jerica Taylor in Luna Station Quarterly is a bittersweet story with touches of humor. Maggie finds herself haunted by the ghost of her son Jason’s lizard, Howard. Meanwhile her wife, Kiersten, is deployed far away, and Maggie is trying to cope with solo parenting – getting Jason to the bus, and various after-school activities, while keeping herself going and helping her son come to terms with the concept of death.

Maggie immediately blames herself for forgetting something important in Howard’s care and feeding. His heat lamp is still on, but had she forgotten some supplement? It had been a terrible idea to get a new pet right before Kiersten left; animals were her wheelhouse. Maggie hugs her son, wipes his nose and encourages him to head downstairs and eat his cereal while she figures out what to do.

Howard’s ghost turns up in odd places, lurking by the coffeemaker and on top of the refrigerator. The desires of dead lizards, Maggie discovers, are largely unknowable, if Howard wants anything at all. She does her best to do right by the lizard, and even develops a strange fondness for his ghost, despite the inconvenience he adds to her life. Through Howard’s ghost and Maggie’s shifting relationship to him, Taylor explores loneliness, and the stress, guilt, and resentment that can come with solo parenting, parenting in general, or being separated from a loved one no matter how good the reason for their absence. It’s a lovely story that manages to make the idea of a lizard-based haunting sound almost soothing and therapeutic.

The Sloppy Mathematics of Half-Ghosts by Charles Payseur in Strange Horizons is another bittersweet story, but in a wholly different way.

Aboard the ghost ship Nine Lives there are the living, the dead, and a great many cats. And Jourdain, who likes to sleep in the observation nest, body caught somewhere between ship and stars—between everything. He half-sleeps, and half-dreams of a city he can almost taste, smog and sweat and endless endless streets alive with celebration. Then, with a shiver he’s not felt since he was beaten to death behind a theater ten years ago, knowledge crawls up his spine and into his half-conscious mind. “Napoleon is dead,” he whispers.

After that killer opening, Payseur treats readers to a weird (in the best sense of the word) journey that revels in beautiful language, and is suffused with longing. Even the dead, and the half-dead, can dream and desire things, and Napoleon has the power to grant wishes. The Nine Lives sets sail for Heart of the Universe to ferry the Emperor of All Things to his final rest, and perhaps get some of their own wishes seen to along the way. There are swashbuckling fights, and disdainful cats tasked with holding the ship together, and sex that manages to be intimate and tender and passionate despite, or perhaps because, of the lack of fully corporeal bodies involved. Payseur delivers a story that is queer and wistful with prose to leave the reader breathless and feeling like they do have been on an epic journey to the center of the universe and returned changed.

The Skin of a Teenage Boy is Not Alive by Senaa Ahmad from the August issue of Nightmare Magazine makes possession into a game played by bored, rich teenagers. The right kind of kids go to the right kinds of party, where the high school’s demon cult full of beautiful boys and girls invoke demons to possess their classmates.

It happens at one of their houses, a place built like a modern-day cathedral. The kind of hovel that has a saltwater pool with a vanishing edge and a wine cellar with someone’s entire life savings down there and red-glazed tiles cutting swoops into the Los Pueblos skyline. Six-day-old moon, a wide goblin grin from above. The hot strobe of synth-pop booming everywhere. The hazy, electrostatic currents of teenage bodies thrilling with vodka and happiness hormones.

Or rather ,one particular demon is summoned in a seemingly endless cycle to possess the young and stupid, causing them to harm themselves in its attempts to escape. The story moves fluidly through time, giving it a kind of timelessness quality, and Ahmad’s prose creates an almost dream-like feeling, with everything happening at a remove and no real consequences on the line. The style suits the story, underscoring the cyclical nature of demon possession, and also being young and feeling invulnerable. The demon cult kids and their classmates treat possession casually, like a demon is a trendy accessory, or a rite of passage, but they don’t appear to believe in their own mortality, or their ability to hurt those around them. Amhmad perfectly captures a sense of ennui that is frightening in its own right. Against this backdrop, best friends Aisha and Parveen search for a way to fit in, with Parveen acting the part of the perpetual outsider who will never be exactly the right kind of kid, trapped by a set of arbitrary rules that define popularity, just as the demon is trapped. The prose feels like a living thing, flowing and vibrant, carrying the story along and perfectly conveying the party atmosphere as well as the sense of alienation and being adrift, even among supposed friends.

Echoes CoverDeep, Fast, Green by Carole Johnstone from Echoes: The Saga Anthology of Ghost Stories is a standout story in an anthology full of incredible stories. In fact, I highly recommend checking out the whole anthology for nearly 800 pages of Halloween reads. Among so many incredible stories, Johnstone’s is one that keeps coming back to me, haunting me, if you’ll pardon the pun. Pinky lives with her mother, her mother’s boyfriend, and a great uncle who she thinks of as Gramps. Gramps is haunted, and as a result, the rambling old estate they live in is haunted as well, manifesting Gramps’ decades old trauma from his time on the crew of a submarine that sank with most of the crew still on board.

When it’s bad, the lights flicker, dim. Go black. Nothing to do but suffer it. Nothing to see but dark and the red small glows ae fags. Stink squatting over your head. Diesel and smoke and bad hydraulics, old cackleberries and jock roast, shit and sweat. The heat like a morass, sucking you down, drowning you dry.

Pinky is the only one who can calm Gramps when his PTSD manifests, but even she can only do so much. Some traumas are too deeply ingrained, and the only way to dig them out is to relive them by sharing the pain, something both she and Gramps are both reluctant to have him do. Meanwhile, Pinky’s mother and her boyfriend are largely useless, leaving Gramps’ care to Pinky, only interested in inheriting the house when he finally dies. Johnstone takes the idea of a character haunted by his past, and dials it all the way up. The prose is claustrophobic, the sense of the submarine closing in, the feeling of being trapped and drowning palpable. The idea of submarine-as-ghost, and a traumatized character acting as a conduit letting a haunting out into the larger world is a wonderful and terrifying one, and Johnstone handles it perfectly, creating a narrative that is wrenching, heartbreaking, and deeply unsettling all at once.

What are your favorite haunting Halloween reads, recent or otherwise?

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Baltimore Book Festival 2019

I’ll be at the Baltimore Book Festival next weekend. This will be my first year participating on programming, and I’m really looking forward to it. Here’s where I’ll be when. If you’re in the area, stop by and say hi!

Saturday, November 2 at 1 p.m.  Books That Renew My Love of Reading – SFWA Stage – UMS Columbus Center

Lara Elena Donnelly, Andy Duncan, Elektra Hammond, LH Moore, AC Wise

Saturday, November 2 at 5 p.m.  All Fiction in a Day: The Beauty and Brilliance of Commute-Length Reads – SFWA Stage – UMS Columbus Center

Nino Cipri, AT Greenblatt, Barbara Krasnoff, LH Moore, Karlo Yeager Rodriguez, Nibedita Sen, AC Wise

Saturday, November 2 at 7 p.m. With the Lights on It’s Less Dangerous – SFWA Stage – UMS Columbus Center

Nino Cipri, Scott Edelman, Craig Laurence Gidney, Micah Dean Hicks, AC Wise

This year the Book Festival is being combined with Baltimore’s week-long Light City Festival, which sounds really cool. Tons of books, and beautiful lights to read them by. What more could you want? More information about the festival can be found here. Hope to see you there!

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