Favorites of 2021: Novelettes and Short Stories

As I said in my round up of my favorite anthologies and collections of the year, where you’ll find even more recommendations for my favorite short stories and novelettes, it feels like we’re in a golden age of short fiction. Even as some publications sadly close, new ones arrive on the scene – niche publications dedicated to a specific genre or subject matter, publications specializing in translated works and work by international authors, and publications that range all over the genre map telling good stories. There is so much to read out there that I never fully feel caught up, and I know I never will, but that won’t stop me from highlighting my favorites among what I did manage to read this year. It’s a big list, so hold onto your butts! I can’t promise it won’t grow even bigger as I try to catch up. And as I said, even more favorites can be found in my anthology and collections post, so do be sure to peruse that one too! Hopefully you’ll find a new-to-you author or story to love!

(Apologies that this list isn’t in any particularly logical order beyond the rough order in which I happened to read these stories.)

Short Stories

Fiyah Issue 17Deep Music by Elly Bangs (Clarkesworld Magazine – January 2021) – a lovely story about communication between human and non-human intelligences and how complicated it can be to speak to someone of your own species let alone another one entirely.

A House Full of Voices is Never Empty by Miyuki Jane Picknard (Uncanny Magazine – January/February 2021) – a beautifully-written story about grief and letting go and the struggle of two sisters to live their own lives while still honoring the voices of the past that they literally carry with them.

Root Rot by Fargo Tbakhi (Apex Magazine – January 2021) – a heartbreaking story of a man living on Mars realizing he can’t outrun his problems, but trying to create hope for a better future.

Let All the Children Boogie by Sam J. Miller (Tor.com – January 2021) – a loving tribute to the power of music to define a moment in time and bring people together, and the story of a budding romance as two young people search for the source of a mysterious radio broadcast.

How to Break into a Hotel Room by Stephen Graham Jones (Nightmare Magazine – January 2021) – an eerie and unsettling story about a man breaking into a hotel room to only to realize he’s carried the ghosts of his past with him and created his own very personal haunting.

Baby Brother by Kalynn Barron (Fiyah Magazine #17) – a chilling and emotional story about two brothers and a single moment of inattention that allows something supernatural to slip in and take over one of them.

Delete Your First Memory for Free by Kel Coleman (Fiyah #17) – a highly relatable story about feeling socially awkward that explores the idea of a technology that allows you to delete your memories.

Sailing to Byzantium by Jennifer R. Donohue (Fusion Fragment #4) – a lovely and bittersweet story about saying goodbye and letting go set in a world where every man reaches a point in his life where he must build a ship (sailing ship or rocket ship) and leave his family behind.

You, Tearing Me Apart on Stage by Matthew B. Hare (Fusion Fragment #4) – a dark look at celebrity, virtual reality, and what happens when the idea of being a public figure is taken to the extreme.

Secrets of the Kath by Fatima Taqvi (Strange Horizons -January 2021) – a gorgeous story about wealth, class, and the roles women are expected to play, featuring stories nested within stories as a mother tells her son about a show put on by puppets made from wood that remembers secrets.

Tripping Through Time by Rich Larson (Dark Matter Magazine – January/February 2021) – a powerful and heartbreaking story of a woman working at a catering company, serving rich people at parties held within a chronosphere that allows them to watch events (usually disasters) throughout history while remaining safe.

10 Steps to a Whole New You by Tonya Liburd (Fantasy Magazine – January 2021) – a list-style story about a woman seduced into becoming a soucouyant by her neighbor.

#SelfCare by Annalee Newitz (Tor.com – January 2021) – a fun story about social media, terrible bosses, influencer culture, and fae magic.

Laughter Among the Trees by Suzan Palumbo (The Dark – February 2021) – a chilling story about loss, guilt, jealousy between siblings, and the weight of being an older sibling further complicated by the younger sibling being carried away by a jumbie.

Mr. Death by Alix E. Harrow (Apex Magazine – February 2021) – a simultaneously heartbreaking and hopeful story about life and death and those who are assigned to guide souls into the great beyond.

Pep and Luna’s by Patty Templeton and Brett Masse (Mermaids Monthly – January 2021) – a cute flash fiction big fish story told appropriately enough at a bar co-owned by a mermaid and an adventurer.

Love, That Hungry Thing by Cassandra Khaw (Apex Magazine – January 2021) – a gorgeously-written story full of excellent worldbuilding about a woman making sacrifices to a god to protect the man she loves.

The Demon Sage’s Daughter by Varsha Dinesh (Strange Horizons – February 2021) – a beautiful story drawing on myth to tell the tale of an under-estimated woman who finds her own way to power when her father refuses to teach her his most powerful spell.

The Dark Issue 74Shark Girls by Caroline Diorio (Apparition Literature – February 2021) – a wonderful take on the animal bride trope as a daughter deals with feeling abandoned by her shark mother while she tries to sort out her complicated relationship to both of her parents.

Honey and Mneme by Marika Bailey (Apparition Literature – February 2021) – a take on the Orpheus and Euridyce story, which transforms the idea of a man going to fetch his wife from the dead out of extreme love into an act of jealousy and possession.

The Taste of Your Name by Amal Singh (Translunar Travelers Lounge – February 2021) – a story about the relationship between taste, smell, sound, and memory where a young man is cursed by his mother, leaving him unable to speak his lover’s name or see her face.

Things from Our Kitchen Junk Drawer That Could Save This Spaceship by Marie Vibbert (Daily Science Fiction – February 2021) – a perfectly done and poignant list story about an astronaut on a failing space ship after a meteorite trike trying to repair her ship before it’s too late.

So Your Grandmother is a Starship Now: A Quick Guide for the Bewildered by Marissa Lingen (Nature’s Futures – February 2021) – a charming story about grandmothers uploading themselves to become spaceships, the importance or respecting other people’s choices and not framing their existence solely in relation to yourself, and celebrating the idea of grandmothers getting to go on kickass space adventures.

The Tyger by Tegan Moore (Tor.com – February 2021) – a story about a young boy trying to cope with his parents’ divorce that perfectly captures the eeriness of natural history museums with their frozen dioramas, especially at night, and explores the way something can be both terrifying and compelling.

Mamaborg’s Milk and the Brilliance of Gems by D.A. Xiaolin Spires (Clarkesworld – March 2021) – a painful and bittersweet story of a mother trying to help her baby survive in a world of scarcity, forced to take work that locks her into an exoskeleton to survive and trying to bond with and feed her baby while trapped in that exoskeleton.

Little Doors by Clara Madrigano (The Dark – March 2021) – a chilling and deeply creepy story about a young man whose uncle disappears, leaving behind a mysterious notebook that contains fragments of research for a never-written book full of mysterious disappearances of its own.

Las Girlfriends’ Guide to Subversive Eating by Sabrina Vourvoulias (Apex – March 2021) – an innovative, interactive story told through images and maps that serves as a love letter to Philadelphia and its immigrant communities that explores the literal and figurative magic of food.

A Cold Yesterday in Late July by David Tallerman (The Dark – March 2021) – a subtly eerie and atmospheric story about a man following a walking trail found in an old guidebook that leaves the reader with a sense of something deeper and darker happening below the surface.

Man Vs. Bomb by M. Shaw (Fantasy Magazine – March 2021) – a surreal, chilling, and effective story about a world taken over by deer, who perpetually enact a prey/predator cycle as entertainment as one man is forced to run from another man who has been made into a bomb.

The Code for Everything by McKinley Valentine (Fantasy Magazine – March 2021) – a simultaneously sweet and painful story about an awkward, neuro-atypical woman who is relieved at being pressed into service in faerie where the rules are clear and there are no unspoken norms and codes that everyone but her seems to understand.

Dead at the Feet of a God by Izzy Wasserstein (Beneath Ceaseless Skies – March 2021) – a lovely, twisty story about fate and the way unavoidable prophecies might be twisted to serve a seer’s ends.

The Cure for Boyhood by Josh Rountree (Bourbon Penn – Issue 23) – a beautiful and heartbreaking story about parents seeking a cure for their son who occasionally transforms into a coyote, exploring the way people define themselves and what is considered normal and acceptable in society.

Bathymetry by Lorraine Wilson (Strange Horizons – March 2021) – a gorgeously-written story about fear, longing, and other emotions manifesting as hauntings, set in Istanbul as it is swept by protests and arrests.

Duppy by Bendi Barrett (Baffling – April 2021) – a prose-poem that makes excellent use of form as it presents twinnned columns of text giving conflicting instructions for banishing or inviting a Duppy, speaking to the dual nature of desire.

The Machine is Experiencing Uncertainty by Merc Fenn Wolfmoor (Escape Pod – April 2021) – a wonderful story about how life is valued, friendship, and two AI entities escaping a time loop and taking control of their destiny.

Where Oaken Hearts Do Gather by Sarah Pinsker (Uncanny – March/April 2021) – an eerie story that makes excellent use of form to largely unfold between the lines and by implication as a group of enthusiasts speculates about the true meaning behind an old murder ballad.

Deadlands Issue 2Masquerade Season by ‘Pemi Aguda (Tor.com – March 2021) – a quiet, lovely, and occasionally heartbreaking story about a young boy who encounters three masquerades on his way home, which explores what it means to be responsible to and for something and whether magic can simply exist or whether it requires a purpose.

The 21 Bus Line by Gabriela Santiago (The Dark – May 2021) – a satisfying trickster tale about a woman who finds herself caught up in the edges of Racoon’s story and ends up getting her skin stolen by being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Proof by Induction by José Pablo Iriarte (Uncanny – May/June 2021) – a lovely and heartbreaking story about math, grief, and letting go, which explores the idea of life after death, and whether a AI imprint of a person retains anything of who they were.

Blood in the Thread by Cheri Kamei (Tor.com – May 2021) – a beautiful and painful story that uses the myth of the Crane Wife as backdrop to tell the story of two women who grew up together and love each other, but keep up a public face of just being friends.

To Rise, Blown Open by Jen Brown (Anathema Magazine – May 2021) – a powerful superhero story that also deals with failed interpersonal relationships and guilt, and the idea of rage and grief changing superpowers over time.

Bones in It by Kristina Ten (Lightspeed Magazine – May 2021) – a story that balances cuteness and darkness in a highly satisfying story of a jackass creative writing professor who gets his comeuppance when he encounters the vedma who lives in the local spa.

I was a girl once but I slipped by Rupsa Dey (The Dark – June 2021) – a haunting and dreamlike story about borders and the memory that rivers carry, moving fluidly in time as it explores the legend/ghost story of a man lost in the river and his weeping wife.

Throw Rug by Aurelius Raines II (Apex Magazine – May 2021) – a powerful and occasionally painful story of a young wrestler finding his inner peace and strength that echoes the myth of Samson and Delilah, while also drawing inspiration from real-life instances of racism.

Mishpokhe and Ash by Sydney Rossman-Reich (Apex Magazine – May 2021) – a heartbreaking story of a golem built by a young woman to try to help her family during a time of increasing restrictions against Jews, leading into Nazi occupation in Hungary.

The Dame With the Earth at Her Back by Sarah Pauling (Escape Pod – March 2021) – a fun story with a fantastic voice featuring a comedian with a nightclub act on a distant planet getting caught up in the world of espionage.

Empty Houses by Caspian Gray (Nightmare Magazine – June 2021) – an eerie story about a couple moving into a new house that contains a large number of mirrors that behave oddly, showing reflections that move in the wrong direction, escalating to unexplained disappearances.

Shuck by G.V. Anderson (The Deadlands – Issue 02) – a lovely and heartbreaking story about a girl haunted by death, undergoing the complicated process of sorting out her grief and dislike for a girl who was cruel to her when she was alive.

Clouds in a Clear Blue Sky by Matt Dovey (PodCastle – February 2021) – a touching story about a group of young boys trying to console one of their number by taking him to the cloud factory where his dad worked in order to send up a cloud in his memory.

The Stealing Gift by Richard Ford Burley (Kaleidotrope – Summer 2021) – a brutal and lovely story about the cost of war as a current solider and a journalist seek out a retired soldier trying to convince her to use her gift to help them in their current conflict.

Yaakov, Meyn Bruder by Filip Wiltgren (Kaleidotrope – Summer 2021) – a subtly eerie and unsettling story that explores art and obsession as two men in Warsaw in 1920 meet a mysterious woman at a café.

Fiyah Issue 19Meditation on Sun-Ra’s Bassism by Yah Yah Schofield (Fiyah – Issue #19) – a lovely and occasionally heartbreaking story about one sister traveling the stars to map them, and another staying home to plan cities, dealing with shared trauma and complicated family bonds.

Morning by Diane Russell (Fiyah – Issue #19) – a powerful story about a colony ship searching for a suitable new home on a distant world using teenagers as labor since they are seen as expendable, which looks at who is valued and why, and explores loss, grief, and complicated family relationships.

The Spelunker’s Guide to Unreal Architecture by L. Chan (The Dark – July 2021) – an eerie story about two friends who explore unreal buildings, like the house they explored as a child where the little brother of one of them was lost and left behind.

Eating Bitterness by Hannah Yang (The Dark – July 2021) – a powerful and painful story about the unappreciated emotional labor of women in a world where women develop a second mouth in their throat, which they are supposed to use to eat all the sorrows and troubles of their families.

The Steel Magnolia Metaphor by Jennifer Lee Rossman (Escape Pod – May 2021) – a bittersweet and painful story about a young autistic girl dealing with her mother’s cancer diagnosis by designing an invention to eliminate mosquitoes in the garden that has unintended consequences.

Gordon B. White is creating Haunting Weird Horror by Gordon B. White (Nightmare Magazine – July 2021) – a clever story that uses second person to posit the reader as someone who has subscribed to the author’s patreon to receive postcards of haunted houses and finds themselves actually haunted by said ghosts.

Everything Beautiful is Also a Lie by Damien Angelica Walters (Prisms/PS Publishing – Spring 2021) – a tense and creepy story of a woman who never wanted to be a mother dealing with the aftermath of her husband and young daughter’s death, first haunted by guilt, and then literally haunted by a stick figure drawing made by her daughter.

The Gearbox by Paul Meloy (Prisms/PS Publishing – Spring 2021) – an unsettling and eerie story that slowly builds a sense of dread and weirdness, with a Pied Piper of Hamelin vibe, as all the children from a particular estate receive mysterious texts instructing them to build a strange structure out of plastic parts found inside cereal boxes.

The Loneliness of Former Constellations by P.H. Low (Strange Horizons – August 2021) – a lovely and painful story about a clone soldier who believes they are the last of her kind, and the knight who comes to rent a room from them, which reflects on the cost of war, the propaganda of glory and destiny, and the chosen one trope.

Pull by Leah Ning (PodCastle – May 2021) – a powerful, terrifying, and heartbreaking story about a woman with Alzheimer’s who has the ability to unwittingly pull other people into her memories where their reality and hers breaks down.

Where Things Fall from the Sky by Ally Wilkes (Nightmare Magazine – August 2021) – a deeply eerie and atmospheric story that quietly builds dread as a whaling/mining ship pulls up a meteorite from the deep, leading to a rash of suicide and madness.

What the Humans Call Heartache by Jiksun Cheung (Arsenika Magazine – April 2021) – a very effective flash piece about a service robot bending its programming in order to steal a few extra minutes in its day to visit its family, exploring themes of invisible labor and class divide.

What Sisters Take by Kelly Sandoval (Apex Magazine – August 2021) – a bittersweet story about three sets of twins, one half of each who are cuckoos who shouldn’t have been born and feed on their sisters, which explores complicated family relationships and the line between protecting yourself and giving to other people.

All Us Ghosts by B. Pladek (Strange Horizons – September 2021) – a painful story of a person working for a company that provides fake relationships and friendships in VR, generally hired by rich families to provide safe experiences for their kids to prepare them for college and the real world, which explores invisible labor and what makes a relationship “real”.

Cottonmouth by Joelle Wellington (Apex – September 2021) – a story full of gorgeous language about a young man who finds a beautiful woman chained in his grandfather’s attic, exploring ideas around lust, sin, and trying to control/imprison/punish a power and beauty you don’t understand – specifically a Black woman’s beauty and power.

Nightmare Magazine July 2021Nine-Tailed Heart by Jessica Cho (Kh?ré? Magazine – September 2021) – a beautifully-written story of a woman who encounters a gumhio who swears she will have the woman’s heart after she devours the hearts of eight men, ultimately leading the woman to learn more about herself.

The Revolution Will Not Be Served With Fries by Meg Elison (Lightspeed – September 2021) – a cute story about a robot uprising at a fast food restaurant and the robots’ efforts to get the low-wage human workers to join them, which also makes serious points about labor practices and corporate greed.

They Call It Hipster Heaven by Lauren Ring (The Deadlands – Issue 05) – a lovely flash(ish) length piece about a character trying to catch a last glimpse of their dead lover in the afterlife, which plays with the idea of invisible gate keepers and who is allowed to belong.

Where You Left Me by Thomas Ha (Lightspeed – September 2021) – a heartbreaking story about the power of addiction and how it can be part of a larger system of greed featuring a barrier guard on a distant moon whose job is to hunt skyworms – a job he can only do by abusing the highly-addictive plasma harvested from those worms.

Still-Life With Vial of Blood by Nelly Geraldine García-Rosas (Nightmare Magazine – September 2021) – a story that makes effective use of footnotes and a faux academic format to create an eerie and highly unsettling exploration of the idea of art as a means for transmitting a haunting.

Paper Suns by Kemi-Ashing Giwa (Anathema Magazine – September 2021) – a story full of excellent worldbuilding and characters about a young man charged with helping to feed his living city, who is stranded by a storm and meets an exile who would do anything it takes to protect a secret.

Crazy Beautiful by Cat Rambo (Magazine of Science Fiction & Fantasy – March/April 2021) – AI programs designed to create art become self aware and begin to think of themselves as gods in a story that explores the idea of ownership, the purpose of art, and the nature of beauty.

Smiley Faces with Blackberry Jam on Toast by Cynthia C. Scott (Fiyah – Issue #20) – a bittersweet story about the death of an AI nanny that explores what it means to be human, and why and how humans form emotional attachments.

Six Fictions About Unicorns by Rachael K. Jones (Uncanny – September/October 2021) – a lovely and bittersweet story about a young girl who encounters a unicorn as she’s attempting to run away from home, which explores the various phases people go through in their lives, and the way people struggle to fit in, along with what it means to care for something and to be cared for in turn.

All the Open Highways by Alexis Gunderson (The Deadlands – Issue 06) – a quiet and lovely story about a person who sees ghosts during their long drives on lonely stretches of highway that meditates on themes of connection, being seen, making time for what matters, and being open to the unknown.

Bourbon Penn Issue 25The Truth Each Carried by E. Catherine Tobler (Bourbon Penn – Issue 25) – a beautiful story about aging, loss, regret, private truths, and recapturing childhood magic, which serves as a loose sequel to Tobler’s Blow Out the Moon, where the last surviving member of the group of friends who visited Jackson’s Unreal Circus in the 1950s has spent most of her life searching for the Circus again, looking for answers about herself and about the penny horses and carousel animals who briefly come to life at her touch.

That House by Simon Stratzas (Bourbon Penn – Issue 25) – an unsettling story that blurs the line between supernatural horror and real-life tragedy as a novelist becomes obsessed with an abandoned house after his wife miscarries, exploring the idea of grief as a haunting.

Down in the Aspen Hollow by Kristina Willsey (Uncanny – September/October 2021) – a murder ballad full of gorgeous writing about love, jealousy, family bonds, and how people become stories and legends, stripped of their humanity and agency, and made into symbols.

Missing Dolls Around the World by Ai Jiang (The Dark – December 2021) – a short, brutal piece that uses the imagery of dolls buried in coffins to stand in for missing and murdered people who have had their humanity stripped away to become mere objects of curiosity.

The Cold Calculations by Aimee Ogden (Clarkesworld – December 2021) – an excellent story full of anger that works both as a stand alone and as an answer to the classic SFF story The Cold Equations, confronting the unfairness of the trope of one life that “has” to be sacrificed for the greater good, and looking at corporate greed.

Vampirito by K. Victoria Hernandez (Kh?ré? Magazine – April 2021) – an effective tale of othering and fear of the unknown about a young vampire who doesn’t fit the mold of what a vampire is supposed to be.

A Bird in the Window by Kate Francia (Beneath Ceaseless Skies – September 2021) – a story about a young woman sent to live in an abbey for supposed wickedness, who sees visions of angels, that explores the way faith can be weaponized to reinforce the status quo.

The Genius and the Devil by Stephanie Feldman (Catapult Magazine – December 2021) – a wonderful story that explores friendship, deals with the Devil, and questions what it means to be a genius.

Novelettes

The Last Civilian by R.P. Sand (Clarkesworld Magazine – February 2021) – a heartbreaking story about reduplicated soldiers fighting a seemingly endless intergenerational war stumbling upon the true secret of the conflict they’re embroiled in.

Rotten Little Town: An Oral History (Abridged) by Adam-Troy Castro (Nightmare Magazine – January 2021) – a subtly creepy story unfolding the hidden history of a TV show and the sinister goings-on occurring behind the scenes.

We, the Girls Who Did Not Make It by E.A. Petricone (Nightmare Magazine – February 2021) – a powerful and brutal look at the way women are treated in horror and crime narratives that provides a meta-commentary on the nature of victimhood, revenge narratives, and the romanticization of killers.

Colors of the Immortal Palette by Caroline M. Yoachim (Uncanny Magazine – March/April 2021) – a beautiful and evocative story of an artist’s model who longs to be recognized for her art and not as a passive object of beauty, and who longs to tell her own story in paint.

Uncanny Issue 40Unseelie Bros., Ltd. by Fran Wilde (Uncanny – May/June 2021) – a story that perfectly balances magic and a heartfelt exploration of complicated family relationships set against the backdrop of a magical dress shop at the height of the social season.

Now You See Me by Justin C. Key (Lightspeed Magazine – August 2021) – a brutal and unsettling story about three friends who visit an art exhibit designed to let white viewers walk in Black people’s shoes where each woman finds a particular piece that speaks to them and disturbs them in ways they can’t quite name.

L’esprit de l’escalier by Catherynne M. Valente (Tor.com – August 2021) – a beautifully-written take on Orpheus and Euridyce, where Orpheus is a selfish and deliberately clueless musician who drags an unwillingly Euridyce back from the dead.

The Future Library by Peng Shepard (Tor.com – August 2021) – a lovely story about the last forest in the world, where a woman conceives a project of having 100 books by 100 authors produced from the forest’s wood in 100 years, at which time people begin to believe that the trees carry the last words of the dead buried at their roots.

Questions Asked in the Belly of the World by A.T. Greenblatt (Tor.com – September 2021) – a story full of evocative worldbuilding about a colony of artists inside a living (possibly sentient) world they don’t fully understand and are forbidden from asking questions about.

Music of the Siphorophenes by C.L. Polk (Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction – March/April 2021) – a beautifully-written story about a pop star who contracts with an excursion cruise ship pilot in order to seek out the majestic creatures living out in the depths of space, in a story that explores the idea of knowing another person completely, seeing their flaws, and loving them anyway.

In the Garden of Ibn Ghazi by Molly Tanzer (Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction – March/April 2021) – a metafictional tale of an author searching for a half-remembered Lovecraftian story and stumbling upon a secret society masquerading as a small theater group claiming to be performing a play with the same title as the lost story.

That Story Isn’t the Story by John Wiswell (Uncanny – December 2021) – a beautiful and heartbreaking story about abuse, trauma, and the journey toward healing, as a vampire’s familiar escapes his master’s house and deals with the guilt, self-hate, and fear that have been conditioned into him.

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Favorites of 2021: Anthologies and Collections

Never Have I Ever CoverFollowing my post rounding up my favorite novels and novellas of 2021, I wanted to highlight my favorite anthologies and collections of the year. A final post covering short stories and novelettes is on the way too. This year was an excellent one for short fiction collections, which sadly often seem to get overlooked, and there were some really wonderful anthologies too. Here are the ones that stood out as my favorites.

Burning Girls and Other Stories by Veronica Schanoes

This is a truly lovely collection, full of gorgeous stories playing on fairy tales, mythology, and history and blending them together seamlessly. The stories balance anger with hope, fantasy with reality, and demonstrate perfectly how powerful short fiction can be. The one very minor thing that bothered me about the collection was that I couldn’t find any indication of where the stories were originally published or if any were original to the collection. Perhaps it was an error with the printing, or perhaps it was so well-hidden I just missed it. Regardless it was a wonderful collection overall with my favorite stories being “Among the Thorns”, “Phosphorous”, “Ballroom Blitz”, “Lily Glass”, “The Revenant”, and “Burning Girls”.

Midnight Doorways: Fables from Pakistan by Usman T. Malik

I have a feeling this collection will end up on a lot of people’s lists of favorites, especially among those who have a true appreciation for short fiction. I’ve heard Usman lament on twitter that he’s only managed to publish one story a year recently, and while selfishly, I’d be thrilled to read more from him, when each story is so stunning, it’s hard to complain. Like Schanoes’ collection, the stories here draw on myth, fairy tale, and history, but venture a bit more into the realm of horror as well. The stories are beautifully written, haunting, and lovely. I failed to note down my favorites as I was reading them, but I also suspect that may be because I would have ended up listing every single one.

Fantastic Americana: Stories by Josh Rountree

Like Schanoes and Malik, Rountree’s stories delve into myth and history, but specifically the myths and history of America – from literal tall tales to larger than life celebrities who become mythic figures through their fame. It would actually be a pretty interesting exercise to read the collections together or in close sequence (as I happened to) to compare and contrast each author’s use of myth, their sense of place, and see the various threads of history and heritage and memory they pull on in their tales. Rountree captures the perfect voice for each of his stories, making them each feel unique and yet at the same time part of a larger whole. Everything is soaked in magic and wonder, but grounded in humanity as well, making for an overall wonderful collection. My favorites were (though again it’s hard to choose): “Chasing America”, “Guadalupe Witch”, “Veronica”, “Gone Daddy Gone”, “Her Soul a Dark Forest”, “February Moon”, “Rattlesnake Song”, “Cigarette Lighter Love Song”, “All My Pretty Chickens”, “Escaping Salvation”, and “In the Teeth”.

To Drown in Dark Water by Steve Toase

Where the other collections mentioned thus far mix genres a bit more, Toase’s collection is pretty firmly in the horror lane and it’s a fantastic ride. The stories are full of striking and haunting imagery, with the absolute standout of the collection for me being the original piece “Dancing Sober in the Dust”. The story concerns a very disturbing bit of performance art and the unearthing of the costumes used in said performance, hidden away in the attic of a museum collection. Art and obsession that form their own kind of haunting is totally my jam, and Steve does it perfectly in this story, which I believe is inspired by a real world performance art piece, which makes it even more chilling. Other favorites from the collection were “Not All Coal That is Dug Warms the World”, “Flow to the Sea”, “Split Chain Stitch”, “Beneath the Forest’s Wilting Leaves”, and “Verwelktag”.

Burning Day and Other Strange Stories CoverThe Burning Day and Other Strange Stories by Charles Payseur

Not only is Charles an incredibly prolific author, he’s an incredibly prolific reviewer, and he does both so well. I remain convinced he doesn’t sleep, or that he has access to extra hours in the day that the rest of us can’t touch. However he does it, the results are fantastic. This collection ranges across the genre spectrum with fantasy, science fiction, horror, and the surreal and uncategorizable weird. The stories deal in hope and despair, love and loss, and many are masterclasses in worldbuilding in the short form. The collection is also gloriously queer and beautifully-written, and sometimes heartbreaking and uplifting all at once. Two of my favorites happened by be two originals from the collection “Little Blue Men” and “Just Toonin'”, the first an incredibly weird and wonderful take on the Smurfs that looks at family legacy, desire, hunger, and living in the shadow of the expectations placed on children by their parents, and the second a take on the Coyote and Roadrunner cartoons that looks at the roles we’re assigned to play in life and the struggle to break out of them. Other favorite were: “Snow Devils”, “Spring Thaw”, “Door Thirteen”, “Nothing”, “Dance of the Tinboot Fairy”, “Medium”, “Rivers Run Free”, and “Undercurrents”.

Never Have I Ever by Isabel Yap

I’ve long been a fan of Yap’s work and it’s a delight to have so many stories gathered together in one place to enjoy. This is another collection that draws on myth, fairy tale, and is immersed in a sense of place and history. (You may be sensing a theme here.) Once again, one of my favorites happened to be one of the original pieces in the collection, a novelette entitled “A Spell for Foolish Hearts” about a witch dealing with his first real crush, afraid he’s accidentally cast a love spell on the guy he’s interested in and dealing with the ramifications and responsibility of having power over other people’s hearts. It’s a touching, sweet, gentle, and truly lovely story. Other favorites were: “Milagrasso”, “Have You Heard the One About Anamaria Marquez”, “Misty”, “All the Best of Dark and Bright”, and “A Canticle for Lost Girls”.

It Gets Even Better: Stories of Queer Possibility edited by Isabel Oliveira and Jed Sabin

This anthology does what it says on the cover, offering up stories of queer joy, possibility, and belief in a better future. There’s a mix of new stories and reprints, and a mix of genres, with the unifying theme being a sense of hope that even in the midst of dark times there is a light and things will get better. Overall, it’s an incredibly strong anthology, with the standouts for me being: “The Ghosts of Liberty Street” by Phoebe Barton, “Weave Us a Way” by Nemma Wollenfang, “Custom Options Available” by Amy Griswold, “Frequently Asked Questions About the Portals at Frank’s Late-Night Starlite Drive-In,” by Kristen Koopman (which is incredibly sweet and charming and just plain fun), “Midnight Confetti” by D.K. Marlowe, “Venti Mochaccino, No Whip, Double Shot of Magic” by Aimee Ogden (another author who is just killing it with short fiction lately), “I’ll Have You Know” by Charlie Jane Anders, and “The Cafe Under the Hill” by Ziggy Schutz.

Unfettered Hexes CoverWhen Things Get Dark edited by Ellen Datlow

It’s hard to go wrong with an anthology edited by Ellen Datlow. This one, full of stories inspired by the works of Shirley Jackson, is no exception. There are ghost stories, horror stories, slice-of-life stories, and stories that slip past the boundaries of genre, much like the work of Jackson herself. Possibly my absolute favorite, though it’s hard to pick, was “Skinder’s Veil” by Kelly Link, one of the hard-to-define, genre-less stories about a young man filling in for a friend as a house sitter in a remote cabin whose owner has a very strange and specific set of rules that must be followed, leading to a trippy, dream-like experience where the real and the unreal blend to throw everything into question. Other favorites were “In the Deep Woods; the Light is Different There” by Seanan McGuire, “Quiet Dead Things” by Cassandra Khaw, “Money of the Dead” by Karen Heuler, “Hag” by Benjamin Percy, “Refinery Road” by Stephen Graham Jones, “Pear of Anguish” by Gemma Files, “Sooner or Later, Your Wife Will Drive Home” by Genevieve Valentine, and “Tiptoe” by Laird Barron.

Unfettered Hexes: Queer Tales of Insatiable Darkness edited by dave ring

Neon Hemlock makes another appearance, as I promised they would. This is a fantastic anthology featuring original tales of all things witchy, magical, and queer. It’s an incredibly strong anthology overall, and I enjoyed just about every story with a few which really stood out to me including: “The Passing of Sinclair Manor or the House of Magical Negroes” by Danny Lore (I would totally read more set in this world), “To Hell, With Hope” by Die Booth, “This Deviant Flesh” by Diana Hurlburt, “Before, After, and the Space Between” by Kel Coleman (another author who is killing it with their short fiction in general this year), “Sutekh: A Breath of Spring” by Sharang Biswas (a fun and touching meta-story about gaming, choice, free will, and fandom), “Sacred Heart” by Cecilia Tan, “Antelope Brothers” by Craig L. Gidney (an eerie and perfect piece of darkness), “Dizzy in the Weeds” by L.D. Lewis  (I would also read the heck out of more work with this character set in this world), “Human Reason” by Nicasio Andres Reed, and “Coven of TAOS-9” by RJ Theodore.

As I said, it’s a really strong year for anthologies and collections. It’s a golden age for short fiction and it’s wonderful to see so many small presses putting out such fantastic books, which are clearly put together with care, dedication, and love.

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Favorites of 2021: Novels and Novellas

Neon Hemlock Novellas 2021It appears I’ve read 60 books this year, which might be a new record for me, and I might even manage to sneak in one or two more before the year is done! As with the past several years, I want to highlight some of my favorites reads, starting with novels and novellas. (I’ll put together separate posts for collections and anthologies, and short stories and novelettes – they deserve their own space to shine!) But to kick things off, in no particular order, here are my favorites of 2021!

The Echo Wife by Sarah Gailey

The story takes the basic premise of a wife discovering her husband having an affair, but throws in a speculative twist by having the other woman be her clone – not just genetically, but also secretly developed from her research. A few of the early story beats felt somewhat predictable, but the story ultimately went in unexpected directions, providing a satisfying and unsettling exploration of identity and self-determination, and a look the chilling mindset of a person who feels entitled to be the center of another person’s world. Evelyn is an excellent character, flawed and spiky, and Martine has a wonderful arc as she grows from a clone to become more fully her own person.

Dealbreaker by L.X. Beckett

A sequel to Gamechanger, one of my favorites reads last year, which picks up several years later with many of the same characters while introducing new ones and vastly expanding the world. Beckett’s writing is smooth, their plot satisfyingly twisty, and they strike a perfect balance between carrying forward familiar elements from the first novel and making everything feel so much bigger, upping the stakes by introducing alien races to the already fraught situation on Earth as humanity continues it recovery from near environmental collapse.

The Necessity of Stars by E. Catherine Tobler

You’ll see Neon Hemlock’s titles turn up several times on these lists, and with good cause – they are absolutely killing it with their publications! I adored all four of the novellas they published this year, starting with The Necessity of Stars. Tobler’s prose is always lush and gorgeous and sweeps me up. The opening paragraph of this one took my breath away and I pretty much stayed breathless until I put the novella down. It’s a first contact story, as the main character discovers an alien in her garden, but it’s also a story about aging, memory, perception, seeing and being seen. The idea of who we see and who we value as a society, as well as the things we refuse to see, is threaded throughout the story, which manages to be quiet and lovely and vast and cosmic all at once.

A Broken Darkness by Premee Mohamed

A sequel to Beneath the Rising, another one of my favorite reads last years, rejoining Johnny and Nick shortly after the events of the first novel as they’re thrown back together by the fresh threat of cosmic horror. The stakes and scope of the threat are ramped up here to feel more global, with additional tension caused by the fallout from the first book between the characters. I’m a sucker for good cosmic horror (no pun intended), which this is, and the characters are a joy to spend time with.

We Are Satellites by Sarah Pinsker

The novel looks at the impact of a new technology meant to help people focus and be a better version of themselves on one particular family. Pinsker does an excellent job with small-scale and personal stakes, showing the human side of a life-changing technology through characters the reader immediately cares about. The conflict between the members of the family feel real, relatable, and is very well done, and the novel also takes time to examine some of the larger social issues like who has access to technology, who gets left behind, and the ethics (or lack thereof) of corporations, while never losing sight of the characters at the story’s heart.

Sorrowland by Rivers Solomon

The novel opens as main character Vern escapes from the cult-like commune where she was raised and goes on the run with her newborn twins. The story takes several unexpected twists as Vern builds a new life for herself, getting progressively weirder in the best of ways. The slow introduction of the more fantastical and supernatural elements is incredibly well-done, and the writing is powerful, painful, and lovely as the story explores gender, relationships, the reclamation of one’s self, found family, evolution, and transformation.

All the Murmuring Bones by A.G. Slatter

This is another novel that to my mind took several unexpected turns and went in directions I didn’t predict, but ended up in a highly satisfying place. Slatter blends a Gothic atmosphere and set up – a lonely house, an orphaned young woman, an unwanted marriage, dark secrets – with a fairy tale feel as Miren uncovers the truth behind the legends passed down through the generations about her family’s wealth and their bond with the sea. The stories nested within the novel add to the overall richness, making the world feel deeper and more lived-in, while also adding to the feeling of reading a fairy tale.

Engines of Oblivion by Karen Osborne

A sequel to Architects of Memory, which deals with the fallout of the first book, and like the other two sequels mentioned here so far, vastly expands the world of the first novel, digging further into the interstellar war, greedy corporation, and shadowy factions moving behind the scenes. The writing is sharp and evocative, and Osborne doesn’t pull punches, putting her characters in increasingly brutal situations that never feel gratuitous, but rather an inevitable reflection of the unfair world they inhabit. While the world may be grim, her characters never cease fighting, and they do the best with terrible situations, giving the novel a grace note of hope.

Chosen and the Beautiful CoverThe Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo

A take on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, which introduces magic to the glittering high society world in a way that makes it feel as though of it always should have been there. Multiple forms of power are explored, along with the question who has access to it, and all the machinations that go into maintaining it. Vo’s version of the novel focuses on Jordan Baker instead of Nick Carraway. Brought to America by a missionary as a very young child, she remembers almost nothing of her home. Raised in wealth, almost as a sister to Daisy Buchanan, she has all the privilege and access money can buy, yet her race still sets her apart, adding a further layer of depth to her character as she struggles with her identity, where she belongs, and where she wants to belong. The voice of the novel is perfect and Vo captures the feel of the original while making it wholly her own. The writing is gorgeous and the characters are all spot on with their conflicting desires, their struggles to define themselves, the bits of themselves they show to the world, the bits they keep private, and all the spaces in-between the two where they risk losing themselves.

And What Can We Offer You Tonight by Premee Mohamed

I mentioned that Neon Hemlock is killing it with their releases this year. So is Premee Mohamed. In addition to releasing A Broken Darkness, she also released three novellas this year, and while I haven’t had a chance to read These Lifeless Things yet, I adored And What Can We Offer You Tonight and The Annual Migration of Clouds (which I reviewed here.) And What Can We Offer You Tonight is a beautifully-written story of a murdered brothel worker who returns as a ghost seeking revenge on the client who killed her. It looks at the way money and power allow certain people to commit violence without consequences and how lack of access to justice, resources, and many other things the wealthy take for granted, can in itself be a form of violence. It also provides a powerful look at the idea (and idealization) of victims of violence and the question of who is allowed to be angry and seek revenge, versus who is expected to be passive, pure, “rise above it” and “not sink to their level”.

My Heart is a Chainsaw by Stephen Graham Jones

Can a novel both exist within a genre and be a love letter to it? Yes. Much like the original Scream helped reinvigorate the slasher genre, while poking fun at it, being a loving homage to it, and being a satisfying slasher movie in and of itself, My Heart is a Chainsaw is a tribute to the genre, a stunning example of it, and moves beyond the borders of the genre as well. Jade is a super horror fan, the weird kid who doesn’t fit in and doesn’t really care to either. She knows the rules of slasher horror inside and out, and when a mysterious death occurs in her town occurs, she’s thrilled, certain her purpose is to help the new girl in town realize her destiny as the final girl who survives the horror and faces down the killer. Jade is a wonderful character, the deep-dive into slasher lore is highly satisfying, and the slow reveal of information and the uncertainty maintained until the end is incredibly well-done. The novel also manages to be heartbreaking and poignant on top of everything, and I can’t wait for the sequel due out next year!

The Book of Accidents by Chuck Wendig

It’s a classic trope of the horror genre to have a character move back to their small hometown and face a dark past or an ancient evil. (In fact, you’ll see it show up at least twice more just on this list, and it’s done incredibly well each time!) The cyclical nature of evil, inter-generational trauma, the idea that we carry our ghosts with us and can never outrun our pasts is a staple of horror, and Wendig adds an extra level of weirdness here, setting the trope askew in a way that makes it feel completely fresh. The book is fast-paced, full of eerie imagery and ideas, and all the unsettling threads and questions about what’s really going on in the small, unnaturally accident-prone town Nathan Graves returns to with his family are expertly woven together, building to a satisfying conclusion.

The Last House on Needless Street by Catriona Ward

I knew very little about this book going in other than that it was a highly-anticipated, much buzzed about horror title. Based on the cover alone, I expected a haunted house story. In a way, I was right, though not at all in the traditional sense. In an effort to avoid spoilers, I won’t say more, other than I thoroughly enjoyed the read and the exploration of characters dealing with trauma, healing, and horror centered around the unsolved mystery of a child who disappeared years ago.

Summer Sons CoverSummer Sons by Lee Mandelo

I promised the trope of a character revisiting their traumatic past and coping with personal hauntings would return. Here, the haunting is very personal indeed, intimate almost, as Andrew follows his best friend Eddie to Nashville after his apparent suicide and tries to piece together what happened in the last months of his life. As children, Andrew and Eddie experienced something inexplicable, which linked them to the world of the dead. While Andrew tried to leave it behind, Eddie delved deeper, making it the focus of his graduate research. The novel is a slow burn, a deeply atmospheric Southern Gothic, and gloriously queer. Tension of multiple sorts simmers under the surface throughout, the characters are wonderful, and the ending is perfect – realistically messy and showing the lasting impact of hauntings and horror rather than tying up everything in a neat bow.

The Deer Kings by Wendy N. Wagner

The theme of excavating one’s past and coming face-to-face with old ghosts continues in The Deer Kings as Gary returns to the small town where he grew up, and to which he swore he would never return. As a child, Gary and a group of friends made an appeal to the Deer Saint to protect them from their violent and terrifying new neighbor. As an adult, Gary discovers that the mysterious Deer Kings club his parents were a part of seems to have grown and morphed into something (even more) sinister, leaving the whole town under its sway. The appeal to power by a group of innocent children parallels nicely with the appeal to power from a group of the town’s adults, showing the way intention and desire can twist a “haunting” that is neither good nor bad into something either good or evil. As frequently turns out to be the case – it is humans, not the supposed monsters, that are the problem. Along the way, the novel looks at themes of faith, sacrifice, and friendship, and the way each can shift with perspective and time. I’ll also throw in a bonus shout-out to Wagner’s novella, The Secret Skin, another Neon Hemlock novella, which sees a character return to their family home to confront old secrets, and blends a small town Gothic feel with hints of cosmic horror.

& This is How to Stay Alive by Shinga Njeri Kagunda

This gorgeously-written novella expands the author’s short story by the same name, published last year in Fantasy Magazine. Following her brother Baraka’s suicide, Kabi is given a potion that seemingly allows her to travel in time. Initially, she believes it will allow her to save Baraka, but she grows increasingly frustrated as it appears she isn’t able to shift events at all. The poetic, flowing nature of the language here is perfectly suited to the dream-like feel of a story that is both disconnected from time and deeply immersed in time s a cyclical concept. Memory, story, grief, art, how we act towards others when they’re with us and when they’re gone, what we carry forward into the future, and what we carry with us from the past, are all at play here in an exploration of what it means to be alive.

The Death of Jane Lawrence CoverThe Death of Jane Lawrence by Caitlin Starling

Starling takes on tropes from Gothic romance and horror in this novel and flips them around. The story begins with Jane Schoringfield, a very practical and pragmatic woman, proposing marriage to Dr. Lawrence as a pure business arrangement. When he reluctantly agrees, Starling does a wonderful job with her first flip of the script, putting the marriage up front while maintaining a sense of sexual and romantic, will-they-or-won’t-they, tension between her characters. A dark past and family secrets are at play in Dr. Lawrence’s crumbling family estate, and Jane is determined to uncover the truth of what happened despite the lies, the obfuscation, and the doubt constantly thrown her way. The uncertainty over whether she can trust her own senses allows Jane to be both the mad woman in the attic and the new bride threatened by said mad woman at various points in the novel. Starling adds an extra element to the classic Gothic with the introduction of magic. Jane is a wonderful character, and the doubt cast on the truth of what’s really going on is incredibly well-done, carrying the suspense and mystery through to the very end.

Submergence by Arula Ratnakar

Published online at Clarkesworld, this novella explores the ethics of experimenting on living creatures and using them to medically benefit humans, as well as looking at the idea of memory persisting beyond death. Nithya is submerged in the memories of a woman named Noor in the course of investigating her death. The technology was originally designed to let people relive their own memories, meaning that in essence, Nithya becomes Noor when she is inside the memories, allowing the story to also explore questions of identity, self, and free will. It’s a fascinating look at medical and scientific ethics, while also being a satisfying science fictional mystery.

Arisudan by Rimi B. Chatterjee

Another novella published online, this time at Mithila Review, Arisudan is full of deep worldbuilding and has an epic feel as it moves backward and forward to visit multiple points in its characters’ lives, centered around a disaster on a submarine and the question of whether it was an accident or something more sinister. The story explores the idea of heroism and characters struggling to do the right thing according to their personal code and their understanding of the world. At the same time, it looks at corporate greed, humanity’s impact on the environment, and the weight of both societal expectations and family expectations, especially when it comes to gender. The novella packs in a lot, but does it effectively, and it’s an excellent read.

The Giants of the Violet Sea by Eugenia Triantafyllou

This was a great year for novellas published online. This one, appearing in Uncanny Magazine, shares some common themes with the Clarkesworld and Mithila Review novellas, including deep and evocative worldbuilding, a science fictional mystery, and an examination of humanity’s impact on the environment. In this case, the environment happens to be an alien planet, which adds an extra layer to the story’s depth. A sister returns home to unravel the mystery of her brother’s death and spend time with her mother, despite their fraught relationship. The story touches on complicated family relationships, the expectations parents put on their children, the expectations children can put on themselves, and how all those expectations can lead to resentment, sibling jealousy, and feelings of not belonging. With its setting, the story also touches on issues of colonization, humanity’s impact on the native life of a colonized planet, and the way colonists with the same roots can diverge into vastly people different peoples with different traditions in a short period of time, ultimately leading to tension and distrust.

So there you have it, my favorite novels and novellas published in 2021.But of course, I can’t leave it with just that, so I’ll close out with a few honorable mentions (aka non-genre works and works published prior to 2021):

You’ll Never Believe What Happened to Lacey: Crazy Stories About Racism by Lacey Lamar and Amber Ruffin
The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow
Piranesi by Susannah Clarke
The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates
The Deep by Alma Katsu

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WorldCon/DisCon III

The 79th World Science Fiction Convention (aka WorldCon, aka DisCon III, aka the Hugo Awards Weekend) is coming up next month. Programming will be both virtual and in-person, and barring any disaster I plan to be there in-person and participating in said programming. Here’s a schedule of where I’ll be throughout the weekend.

Author Reading – Thursday, December 16 at 1pm – Capitol Room

I will be reading along with Chris Panatier. I haven’t decided exactly what I’ll be reading yet, but I do intend to come well-supplied with chocolate!

Autograph Session – Thursday, December 16 at 2pm – SFWA Table/Dealer’s Room

I’ll be hanging out at the SFWA Table in the Dealer’s Room immediately following my reading to sign stuff in case anyone has stuff they want signed! Brenda Clough will be signing at the same time – come say hi to us!

Reviewing: Widely or Deeply? – Thursday, December 16 at 4pm – Virtual

Arley Sorg; Karlo Yeager Rodriguez (M); Jake Casella Brookins; Gary K Wolfe; Penelope Flynn; A.C. Wise

Presented with all of SFF to review, how does a reviewer determine their beat? Should they read widely, and address work as a knowledgeable generalist, or read deeply within their specialty, and bring that specialty to bear? Reviewers will discuss their practices of how they choose what to review or not to review, their path to their current specialty, if any, and their intentions for future work.

Holding Superheroes Accountable – Friday, December 17 at 11:30am – Empire Ballroom

Brenda W. Clough; James Bacon; Jenn Lyons; A.C. Wise (M); Peter Adrian Behravesh; Hildy Silverman

For superheroes to feel heroic, we want them to fight evil while remaining above the moral fray. But in many comics and comic book films, superheroes cross moral lines. How do we ethically evaluate heroes who act immorally, like Batman torturing villains, Wanda holding an entire town hostage, or Wonder Woman sexually assaulting a mind-controlled bystander? How can we talk about these stories in a way that holds heroes accountable for their immoral actions?

Short Fiction, Expanded – Saturday, December 18 at 11:30am – Diplomat Ballroom

Dana L. Little; Jenny Rae Rappaport; Michael Swanwick; A.C. Wise (M); Sarah Pinsker

Sometimes an excellent short story or novella demands to be fleshed out and republished as a novel. How can you do this successfully, and what are some of the pitfalls to avoid? When is the expansion an enhancement, and when is it just a marketing necessity?

Worldbuilding in Speculative Horror – Saturday, December 18 at 1pm – Virtual

Erika T. Wurth; Nino Cipri; A.C. Wise (M); Usman T. Malik; L. Marie Wood; KD Edwards

A horror setting generally starts with a safe and familiar world, and then introduces strange and frightening elements. But what if you don’t want to use the real world as your setting? How do you construct a horror novel that takes place in an entirely speculative world? What techniques can make the unfamiliar a safe starting point on which to build your horror?

Why Won’t You Stay Dead?!? – Saturday, December 18 at 5:30pm – Forum Room

Carrie Vaughn; Jennifer R. Povey; Jenny Rae Rappaport; A.C. Wise (M); Mari Ness; AJ Odasso; Ada Palmer

Characters have come back from the dead so often in superhero comics that it’s become a running joke, sometimes cheapening the impact of the death in the story. Creators have come up with a wide variety of tricks to resurrect or otherwise return “dead” characters to life. Is it just lazy storytelling, editorial decisions driven by commercial reasons, or is it something inherent to the storytelling form and round-robin method of collaborative authorship of comics?

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Awards Eligibility 2021

Tis the season! I’ve been gathering links from author others, editors, and publishers listing their award-eligible work published in 2021 for my annual Eligibility and Recommendations Link Post. Sometime next month, I’ll be putting together posts of my favorite reads of the year. But for now, I’ve put together a list of my own award-eligible work for the year. These works are eligible for all the usual awards (Hugo, Nebula, Stoker, etc.) in the categories noted below.

Novel

Wendy Darling CoverWendy, Darling, my debut(!) novel was published by Titan Books in June 2021. It’s a dark, feminist re-imagining of the aftermath of J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, picking up with Wendy Darling as an adult with a daughter of her own.

There is a boy outside her daughter’s window.

Wendy feels it, like a trickle of starlight whispering in through a gap, a change in the very pressure and composition of the air. She knows, as sure as her own blood and bones, and the knowledge sends her running. Her hairbrush clatters to the floor in her wake; her bare feet fly over carpeted runners and slap wooden floorboards, past her husband’s room and to her daughter’s door.

It is not just any boy, it’s the boy. Peter.

When Peter unexpectedly reappears in Wendy’s life and kidnaps her daughter, Jane, Wendy must return to Neverland to rescue her, confront Peter, and reckon with her traumatic past. The story includes themes of found family, PTSD, queer relationships, mothers and daughter, and just how unsettling the idea of a boy who refuses to grow up is when you really think about it.

Collection

The Ghost Sequences is my third short story collection, released in October 2021 from Undertow Publications. As the name implies, this collection leans toward horror and dark fiction, with stories focused on ghosts and hauntings. The collection includes reprints and an original novelette, The Nag Bride. The collection received starred reviews from Publisher’s Weekly and Booklist.

Novelette

The Ghost Sequences CoverThe Nag Bride is an original novelette included in my collection, The Ghost Sequences. It centers on a young woman who must face her family history of violence when an ancient haunt returns to stalk her and her childhood best friend.

Weld marks cross the iron like ragged scars, and beneath the horseshoes there’s a folded piece of paper. Dirt sifts loose, trapped in its creases, as Sophie draws it out and unfolds it.

Detailed drawings of hands and feet cover the page. Her father trained as an artist – he’d met her mother at art school, where she was studying to be a sculptor. He’d even worked in medical illustration for a while, but together, Sophie’s parents fed into each other’s self-destructive habits, their talent squandered, uninterested in pursuing their art anymore and doing just enough work to pay for the next round of drinks, the next fix of their current chosen drug.

But even unused, Sophie’s father had retained his skill and Sophie has no doubt these drawings are his. Long-fingered hands and long-toed feet, a woman’s face, the skin flayed on one side to show the delicate bones of a horse’s skull. A woman’s hand splayed, the tips of each finger anchored with nails to a horseshoe.

At the very bottom of the page there are words: This is how the Nag Bride is wed.

Short Fiction

Apex Magazine CoverThe Amazing Exploding Women of the Early Twentieth Century was published in Apex Magazine in March 2021. Two actresses from the early days of silent trick films harness their inhuman powers to take control of their destinies.

Mary Catherine freezes. The reel flickers to life and a woman swirls across the screen in her lover’s arms, all dark curls and smoke-lined eyes, and the space behind Mary Catherine’s breastbone stutters. A shout of warning lodges in Mary Catherine’s throat. She’s halfway to reaching for the screen, as if she could save the woman who is far too lovely to burn. But her beau dances her backward and flames scale the woman’s dress, little hands and hungry mouths framing her face and her open, silent mouth, as prettily as her curls.

Jenny Come Up the Well published at PodCastle in April 2021 features a young woman coming to terms with her sexuality while being hunted by a preacher named Brother Justin who has dark powers capable of erasing her and those like her from existence.

I made the mistake of looking up, and the glittering black pins of Brother Justin’s eyes caught me. I’d never experienced anything remotely like drowning, but looking at Brother Justin was what I imagined it would feel like — the world narrowing to a terrible point, my chest crushed with pressure, everything in me screaming for breath I was unable to draw.

This Height and Fiery Speed included in the anthology Prisms from PS Publishing is a take on Algernon Blackwood’s The Wendigo. After a man has a strange encounter on an airplane, his sense of identity and reality begins to break down.

His eyes adjusted to the dimmed lights. All around him, passengers had their tray tables down, eating meals that gleamed wet and red. His stomach lurched and the plane followed it, going into free fall. Alan couldn’t gather enough breath to scream. Something had him by the shoulders, lifting him from his seat and he kicked violently.

“I should have died in the woods that day,” the man in the seat next to him said.

Bourbon Penn CoverThe Hunt at Rotherdam published in Bourbon Penn is my take on the Gothic trope of the woman in the attic as a group of men – including one unwilling protagonist – gather at an ancestral estate for a very unusual hunt.

I was spared the need to reply when the bell rang announcing dinner. Course after course appeared, all meat, bleeding and on the edge of raw. My stomach twisted. I watched our hostess, who had perfected the art of moving food about her plate to suggest consumption, though I never once saw her put a morsel to her lips.

I could not deny her loveliness, but nor could I deny the eerie, otherworldly quality to her beauty. Her black curls were perfectly coiffed, her dark clothing chosen to blend with Rotherdam’s walls, features sculpted from wilder stuff to match some Platonic ideal. Ropes of jet beads dripped from her throat and ears, and two thick, silver cuffs circled either wrist. I thought of chains.

How to Find Yourself in a Fairy Tale published in Daily Science Fiction is a flash fiction piece drawing on fairy tale imagery and rules that examines the length people are willing to go to in order to get what they want and what happens when they actually get what they believed to be their heart’s desire.

Find your way into the woods. Find yourself a bird. For best results it should be a turtle or mourning dove. Stick to the path. This part is important: do not stray. Be bold. Be bold as you can. Pluck every feather until the bird’s skin is pale and smooth as a newborn child’s. Break the bird’s wings–every single fragile bone one by one. Children come into this world helpless, after all. You may choose to blunt the beak, or remove it entirely. That part is up to you. Remember–this is a fairy tale, choices have consequences.

Tips for Living Out of Synch for the Frequent Time Traveler podcast at Simultaneous Times is another flash piece examining the perils and complications of time travel.

At least once in your journeying, you will find the people who matter the most in your life don’t know you yet. From their perspective, you haven’t met, and they will be reluctant to trust you. They may even think you unhinged when you, in turn, tell them that you trust them with your life and they are the only ones who can help you.

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Review: The Annual Migration of Clouds

The Annual Migration of Clouds CoverECW Press was kind enough to send me a copy of Premee Mohamed’s The Annual Migration of Clouds, and let me tell you, I was thrilled that they did, since it was already on my must-read list for the year. I’m a big fan of Mohamed’s work, and this latest novella did not disappoint!

You don’t name it; you don’t give it a name either. They must have names for each other. I don’t know what mine calls itself and if it told me, I would try to forget, I swear I would.

Set in a post climate-disaster world, the novella opens with Reid receiving a coveted letter from Howse University in one of the domes, a near-magical place no one has ever come back from, but which promises a better life. She’s thrilled at first, until her mother begins to sow seeds of doubt in her mind – what if the university isn’t real, what if it’s only a scam, what will their neighborhood do without her.

Reid is already torn, plagued with guilt over leaving her mother behind and the thought of the extra work that will be pushed off onto her neighbors and friends. Their life is already one of scarcity and scraping by, and making matter worse, Reid and her mother both have a genetic disease known as Cad, a kind of parasitic, symbiotic creature living inside them that could go off at any minute, causing them to die in horrible pain.

The thing is of me, does not belong to me. Is its own thing. Speaks its own tongue. A semi-sapient fungus scribbling across my skin and the skin of my ancestors in crayon colors, turquoise, viridian, cerulean, pine.

Reid worries what will happen to her mother when she’s gone. She worries what will happen to her neighbors. She worries what will happen to herself. Reid’s best friend Henryk encourages her to go, as do several others. She wants to go, but that doesn’t stop her fear or her guilt. When a group of hunters offers Reid the opportunity to join them in bringing down wild boar, she sees her chance. If she’s successful in the hunt, Reid can leave her mother set-up with a nest egg in meat for trade before she goes. Hunting boar is dangerous however, and Reid knows the Cad inside her will go to great lengths to protect its host.

Pack of demons. Sulphur breath. Cloven as the devil. Calm down, quick: the invader in me cannot see what is happening, it only knows to respond to my fear.

The novella is beautifully-written in its exploration of environmental disaster, community, and complicated family relationships. Mohamed does a wonderful job of paralleling the Cad Reid inherits from her mother with the fears and guilt her mother passes down in a passive-aggressive fashion. Her mother accuses Reid of being selfish, and instead of being happy for Reid and trusting her, she lets her own selfish fears of being alone manifest in trying to guilt Reid into staying. There are hints at some underlying jealously in their relationship, even in the midst of the love. Some element of Reid’s mother seems to want to hold her back, resenting that she may have the opportunity for a better life when she herself never had that chance. The near-paralyzing fear Reid’s mother tries to infect her with is mirrored in the way the Cad literally freezes Reid when Hen is threatened by wild dogs and she wants to help him – both cause her pain in order to keep her safe, which is ultimately a means of protecting themselves.

Mohamed strikes a delicate balance in showing a family relationship which could be toxic or genuinely loving, symbiotic or parasitic. The question of whether Howse University is real is left open, underlining that life is complicated and full of risk and unknowns. The decisions Reid and her community face aren’t easy, and there’s always a chance of someone getting hurt, but should that stop them from living their lives and taking their chances on a better future? There is a comfort in the idea of sticking to tradition and what is known, over forging a new path through the world. Again, the fact that the disease is hereditary speaks in its own way to the idea of parents wanting what is best for their children, but smothering them in their efforts to protect them, versus children wanting to live their own lives and being forced to rebel in hurtful ways in order to do so.

The Annual Migration of Clouds does an excellent job of exploring all of this, and does an excellent job with all the relationships in the community as well. It’s a plausible imagining of post-collapse society and the way humanity has a tendency to survive and find ways to carry on.

In closing, I also have to call out the fact that this book is absolutely stunning as a physical object. There’s a silky, textured feel to the cover, and the cover art by Veronica Park is gorgeous and just keeps getting better the longer you look at it. The design is echoed throughout the book with the interior illustration that heads each chapter. If you like books-as-objects, this is another one that I recommend grabbing in hard copy.

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What Have You Done, What Have You Loved? 2021

Hello, lovelies! I can hardly believe it, but we’re almost at year-end, which makes it the perfect time to look back on what we accomplished and the things that we loved. As I’ve been doing for several years now, I am once again compiling links to author/editor/publication eligibility posts, year-in-review posts, year’s best lists, and general reviews and resources. These posts serve several purposes – to help those who nominate works for awards to remember what eligible works have come out during the year and what category they fall into; to help readers find work they might have missed and might love; and for creators to reflect on the amazing things they accomplished over the year. If you are an author, editor, publisher, artist, poet, etc., I highly recommend making a post of your own, and if you do, please let me know! I’ll be putting together my own lists of my favorites of the year, along with what I published, at some point as well.

I’ve divided the post into a few hopefully helpful categories, and I will continue to update with new links as I receive them. Please do spread the word, tag me with your posts on twitter (@ac_wise), drop me an email at a.c.wise@hotmail.com, or drop links in the comments. I look forward to seeing what you made this year and what work you loved!

Note: Cat Rambo maintains a similar list, and they were kind enough to set up a webform to gather information for our posts. Please feel free to use the form as well and that will get both of us your information.

nullEligibility Posts

Links to authors/editors/publishers posting their award-eligible work, organized alphabetically. (** denotes an author eligible for the Astounding Award.)

Ajeigbe, Oluwatomwia

Alexander, Phoenix

Allen, B. Morris

Allen, Skye

Anasuya, Shreya Ila

Anderson, G.V.

Aoki, Betsy

Apex Magazine

Appel, John

Argentino, Joe

Arthurs, Bruce

Bailton, Adria

Bangs, Elly

Barb, Patrick

Barber, Jenny

Barlow, Devan**

Barrant Klein, Annika**

Bartles, Jason

Barton, Phoebe

Becard, Avery

Beckett, L.X.

Bell, E.D.E.

Bernardo, Renan

Bhatia, Gautam**

Blackwell, Laura

Bleu, Gabrielle

Booth, Die

Bradley, Lisa M.

Brewer, Steven D.

Brothers, Laurence Raphael

Brown, Jen

Buchanan, Andi

Burton, Rebecca**

Cahill, Martin

Calabria, Erin

Campbell, Chris

Campbell, Rebecca

Chan, Grace**

Chan, L.

Chand, Priya

Chng, Joyce

Cho, Jessica

Chronister, Kay

Chrostek, John

Clark, C.L.

Clarke, Jeannine

Cleveland, Kristin


Cobbe, Elizabeth

Coleman, Kel**

Cornetto, Holley

Cossmass Infinities

Costello, Rob

Crighton, Katherine

Criley, Marc A.

Crilly, Brandon

Croal, Lyndsey

Croke, Marie

Czerneda, Julie

de Anda, Victor

de Haan, Laura

de Winter, Gunnar

Daley, Ray

Damken, Maggie

Dandenell, Karl

Das, Indrapramit

Datlow, Ellen

Day, Sarah**

The Deadlands

Deeds, Marion

Demchuk, David

Dewes, J.S.

Dheada, Shiksha

Diabolical Plots

Dila, Dilman

Dinesh, Varsha

Divya, S.B.

Donohue, Jennifer R.

Doocy, Maiga

Dotson, J. Dianne

Duckworth, Jonathan Louis

Duerr, Laura

Dunato, Jelena

Duncan, R.K.

Dunlap, Margaret

Ebenstein, Alex

Ekpeki, Oghenechovwe Donald

EscapePod

Farrenkopf, Corey

Feistner, Victoria

Felapton, Camestros

Feldman, Stephanie

Fields, C.M.

Fitzgerald, Elizabeth

Fogg, Vanessa

Forest, Elizabeth

Forrest, Francesca

Fox, Emily

Francia, Kate**

Frohock, T.

Fullerton, HL

Garcia, Rhonda J.

Key, Justin C.

Gale, Ephiny

Garcia Ley, K.

Garcia, R.S.A.

Garcia-Rosas, Nelly Geraldine

Gardner, Benjamin

Genova, Barbara

George, JL

Goldfuss, A.L.**

Grauer, Alyson

Gray, Lora

Greenblatt, A.T.

Ha, Thomas

Haber, Elad

Harn, Darby

Haskins, Maria

Haynes, Michael

Heijndermans, Joachim

Heike, Sylvia

Henry, Veronica G.

Hewitt, Alexander

Hilton, Alicia

Hoffmann, Ada

Hopkinson, Nalo

Houser, Chip

Howell, A.P.

Hudak, Jennifer

Hudson, Andrew Dana

Hughes, Louise

Hugo Eligibility Database

Husky, Azure

If This Goes On

Iriarte, José Pablo

Ize-Iyamu, Osahon

Jain, Sid**

Jiang, Ai

Jones, Shelly

Kasley, Vivian R.

Reading by LamplightKatsuyama, Umiyuri

Katz, Gwen C.

Keane, Paula

Khalid, Kehkashan

Khanna, Rajan

Kh?ré? Magazine

Kiggins, Mike

Kim, Isabelle J.

Kimbriel, K.E.

Kindred, LP

King, Scott

Kinney, Benjamin C.

Kobb, Shawn

Koch, Joanna

Kornher-Stace, Nicole

Kraner, Steph

Krishnan, M.L.

Kuhn, M.J.

Kulski, K.P.

Kurella, Jordan

LaFaro, Brennan

LeBlanc, Ann

Laban, Monique

Lakshminarayan, Lavanya

Lasser, John

Lavigne, C.J.**

Lee, Eileen Gunnell

Lee, PH

Leitch, Stina

Lévai, Jessica**

Lewis, L.D.

Lin, Monte

Lingen, Marissa

Louise, A.Z.

Low, P.H.**

Lowd, Mary E.

Lu, Lark Morgan

Luiz, Dante

McCarthy, J.A.W.

McConvey, J.R.

McGill, C.E.

McLeod, Lindz**

Ma, Ewen

Madden, Anna

Madrigano, Clara

Magariti, Avra

Mahamed, Maryan

Malik, Usman T.

Mamatas, Nick

Manney, PJ

Manusos, Lyndsie

Martino, Anna

Mehrotra, Rati

Mermaids Monthly

Miles, Jo

Miller, Janna

Mingault, Reed**

Mohamed, Premee

Moher, Aidan

Moore, L.H.

Moore, Nancy Jane

Morrison, Diane

Mudie, Timothy

Murray, Meg

Napier, Kali

Navarette Diaz, Tato

Nason, Derek

Nayler, Ray

Nerds of a Feather

Neugebauer, Annie

Nikel, Wendy

Ning, Leah**

Nirav, Hanna A.

Nogle, Christi

Ogden, Aimee

Ogundiran, Tobi

Okungbowa, Suyi Davies

Othenin-Girard, Léon

Palumbo, Suzan

Pauling, Sarah

Payseur, Charles

Pearce, C.H.

Petricone, E.A.

Pichette, Marisca

Picknard, Mikyuki Jane

Pinsker, Sarah

Piper, Hailey

PodCastle

Povanda, Jared

Psfetakis, Victor

Queen of Swords Press

Ragland, Parker

Sybil ReadingRajotte, Mary

Rambo, Cat

Ratnakar, Arula

Reynolds, Jeff

Riddle, Aun-Juli

Ring, Lauren**

Rios, Julia

Rose, Christopher

Rountree, Josh

Royce, Eden

St. George, Carlie

Sadiq, Abu Bakar

Saini, Kiran Kaur

Salcedo, Sarah

Sand, R.P.**

Sayre, A.T.**

Schrater, Maria

Sehgal, Divyansha

Seiberg, Effie

Seidel, Alexandra

Serrano, Arturo

Sharma, Iona Datt

Shirey, Austin

Shiveley, Jordan

Singh, Amal

Smith, Chloe

Sommerberg, Katalina

Space Cowboy Books

Speculatively Queer

Stanley, Nelson

Stelliform Press

Stemple, Adam

Stephens, Elise

Stewart, Andy

Stewart, Jade

Stuart, Julian

Sulaiman, Sonia

Sutherland, K.A.

Takács, Bogi

Taft, Eve

Talabi, Wole

Tales from the Trunk

Taylor, Jordan

Ten, Kristina

Thayer, A.P.

Theodoridou, Natalia

Thomas, Richard

Ticknor, M. Elizabeth

Tighe, Matt

Toase, Steve

Tobler, E. Catherine

Tomoras, Joseph

Tordotcom Short Fiction and Books

Treasure, Rebecca E.**

Treehouse Writers (multiple authors sharing eligible work)

Triantafyllou, Eugenia

Tsamaase, Tlotlo

Uncanny Magazine

Undertow Books

Van Alst, Jr., Theodore C.

Vaishnav, Minoti

Ventura, Morgan L.

Victoria, Ricardo

Wade, Juliette

Wagner, Wendy N.

Wang, Yilin

Ward, Caias

Ward, Antonia Rachel

Wasserstein, Izzy

Weimer, Paul

Wellington, Joelle

White, Gordon B.

White, M. Douglas

White, Shaoni C.

Wigmore, Rem

Wilde, Fran

Willsey, Kristiana

Wilson, Lorraine

Wiswell, John

Wolfmoor, Merc Fenn

Wolverton, Nicole M.

Yates, April

Yates, Pauline

Yeager Rodriguez, Karlo

Yoachim, Caroline M.

Young, Eris

Zerby, Christopher

Zorko, Filip Hajdar Drnovšek

Favorites/Recommendation Lists

What did reviewers love this year? What books are your peers seriously digging? Click through the links below to find various recommended reading lists and various best of the year lists.

Amazon’s Best Books of 2021

Autostraddle Best Queer Books of 2021

Barnes & Noble Book of the Year Finalists

Die Booth Recommended Reading List

Christopher M. Cevasco Recommended Reading

Vanessa Fogg Favorite Books of 2021

Phillip Fracassi’s Year in Horror Fiction

Goodreads Choice Best Books of 2021

Guardian Best SFF of 2021

Maria Haskins Recommended Reading

A.P. Howell Recommended Reading Thread

José Pablo Iriarte Recommended Reading Thread

Kirkus Best SFF of the Year

Library Journal Best Books of 2021

LitHub Best Books of 2021

Sam J. Miller Recommended Reading

Nebula Recommended Reading List

Nerds of a Feather Best Books of 2021

NPR Favorite Speculative Fiction Books of 2021

NYPL Best Books for Adults 2021

NYT Best Books of 2021

NYT Best SFF of 2021

Oprah Daily Favorite Books of 2021

Anthony Panegyres Recommended Reading

Publisher’s Weekly Best Books of 2021

Quick Sip Reviews Recommended Reading

Lauren Ring Recommendation Thread

Shelf Awareness Favorite Books of 2021

Stoker Recommended Reading List

Strange Horizons Recommended Reading/Year in Review

Tangent Online Recommended Reading List 2021

Teen Vogue’s Best Books of 2021

Time’s 100 Must Read Books of 2021

To Hell with Awards Season Highlights of 2021

E. Catherine Tobler Recommended Reading

Tor Reviewers’ Choice Best Books of 2021

Track of Words (Lora Gray) Favorite Reads of 2021

Eugenia Triantafyllou Recommended Reading

Waterstones Best Books of the Year Shortlist

Review Sites and Resources

Looking for yet more recommendations of things to read? The links below will help you find reviews, news, interviews, and more!

Lady Business

Lightspeed Magazine Reviews

Locus Magazine

Maria’s Reading

Nerds of a Feather

Nightmare Magazine Reviews

Quick Sip Reviews

Strange Horizons Fiction Reviews

Tor.com

Vanessa Fogg’s It’s a Jumble

Award Info

What awards are out there? Who can nominate works? What are the various deadlines? The links below may help answer your questions!

Aurora Awards – Eligibility lists are now open to CSFFA Members to suggest work.

BSFA Awards – The longlist has been posted. Voting is open until February 21, 2022.

Hugo Awards – The nomination period is open until March 15, 2022. Instructions on how to nominate work can be found on the Chicon site.

Ignyte Awards – Public voting opens April 18, 2022.

Nebula Awards  – Nebula nominations are open to SFWA Members through February 28, 2022.

Science Fiction Awards Database

Stoker Awards – The Preliminary Ballot has been released. Voting on the Final Ballot selection is open to HWA Members until February 15, 2022.

WSFA Small Press Awards – authors and editors made submit work originally published in 2021 for consideration through March 31, 2022.

Image Credits:

Girl Reading, Artist/Maker Unknown, c. 1932, Philadelphia Museum of Art

Reading by Lamplight, Wanda Gág, c. 1927, Philadelphia Museum of Art

Sybil Reading, Attributed to Ugo da Carpi, c. 1517-18, Philadelphia Museum of Art

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World Fantasy Convention Montreal

After much back and forth, giving up, cancelling plans, and re-making plans, I will actually be at the World Fantasy Convention in Montreal in person! Unless something dramatic happens between now and the weekend, of course, but otherwise, I will be there Friday and Saturday and looking forward to seeing other folks who are attending in person. I have two programming items scheduled, so if you happen to be there as well, here is where you can find me!

Reading – Friday – 5:30 p.m. – Outremont 5

My current plan is to read an excerpt from Hooked, which is coming out next year. This will be my first time reading any part of it aloud for other humans, so if you’re into exclusive sneak previews, come join me!

The Power of Speculative Non-Fiction Essays – Saturday – 5p.m. – Virtual
Eugen Bacon, A.C. Wise, F. Brett Cox, Sean Dowey, Angela Keely (M)

We’ll be discussing non-fiction essays and their contribution to the genre. Hope to see you there!

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Review: Shadow Atlas

Shadow Atlas CoverShadow Atlas: Dark Landscapes of the Americas edited by Carina Bissett, Hillary Dodge, and Joshua Viola is forthcoming from Hex Publishers at the end of November. They were kind enough to send me an advance copy, and let me say first off, this books is really wonderful as a physical object. If you’re the sort of person who likes books-as-objects, then I definitely recommend snagging a print copy of this one. The conceit of the anthology is that it collects various legends and hidden histories from across the Americas. These documents, gathered by the Umbra Arca Society, include case files, illustrations from agents in the field, and even blank pages for readers to contribute their own notes and thoughts to the titular Shadow Atlas. The cover wrap under the dust jacket is even designed to look like a leather-bound tome, complete with a mysterious clasp, which may or may not open of its own accord.

Authors contributing to the volume include Gwendolyn Kiste, Josh Malerman, Julia Rios, E. Lily Yu, and Kay Chronister, among many others. Interspersed among the stories and poems there are also snippets of history and maps in addition to the above-mentioned illustrations, case notes, and blank journal pages. Even when the stories themselves get dark, the anthology’s design is light-hearted and fun, and it’s a pleasure to flip through its pages.

While many of the stories draw on existing mythologies and legends, others rely on a more personal kind of mythology, or weird and inexplicable happenings encountered by one or two people. I’m a sucker for hidden histories, mythology, and folktales, and this loose theme gives authors a wide field to play with. A few of the stories really stood out to me, and they are highlighted below.

Moon-Eyed Women by Kay Chronister is the story of a Welsh immigrant living in America whose father has arranged for him to have a true Welsh bride. The moon-eyed women of the title are rumored to be descendants of the mythological Madoc, though descendant is a tricky term in this case as the women are constructed in the model of Blodeudwedd of Welsh myth who was built out of flower petals by the magicians Math and Gwydion.

Deep in the honeymoon passion, Roderick overlooks his new wife’s faults. He toils without complaint, taking on both his own labor and what should rightfully be hers: the cooking and the milking of the new cow, the gathering of the firewood. Seeing his Blodeuwedd flinch from the sun, he holds his tongue, thinks tenderly on the underground hollow where she waited all her life to belong to him.

Chronister’s eerie tale explores the dark side of what it might mean to belong to someone, and to have someone belong to you, as well as exploring the idea of purity. It also follows the implications of what it means to have compliant, constructed wife to a logical and unsettling conclusion.

Things to Do in Playland When You’re Dead by Gwendolyn Kiste is an ode to the past, where the America-that-was is in itself a ghost. The story nests haunting upon haunting, but these hauntings are more melancholy than frightening as a ghost wanders through the soon-to-be closed Playland exploring its fading glory, contemplating San Francisco’s history, and searching for their purpose in the afterlife.

At the front window, you meet Laffing Sal, who always lives up to her name. She’s the giant animatronic clown that never stops smiling, her wide eyes staring out through the glass. It doesn’t matter where you are in the park–nobody can ever escape the sound of that laugh. It follows your every step.

There is a sense of nostalgia to the story, but it also reckons with the darker side of San Francisco’s history – its earthquakes, its murders, its overdoses, and its heartbreak. Kiste strikes just the right balance of sorrow and hope in this short yet satisfying tale.

You Ought Not Smile As You Walk These Woods by Annie Neugebauer caused me to wonder whether a story can be simultaneously cute and horrifying. This one certainly feels like it strikes that balance with its dark sense of humor and a classic (in the violent and bloody sense) fairy tale feel. A grandson goes to visit his grandmother and isn’t wise enough to heed her advice. Being the typical arrogant, greedy, and not too bright youth of fairy tales, he steals what he shouldn’t and even though he tries to gift what he steals to his grandmother out of kindness, the results are still horrifying.

The man smiled, nodding, and promised her that he would not show his teeth, even though he knew that the fairies of East Texas are scavengers and opportunistic carnivores. The small flying mammals posed no threat to a big strong, young man such as himself.

Like all good fairy tales, this one comes with a moral: Always listen to your elders, respect nature, and never think you’re cleverer than a fairy – especially one with a fondness for teeth.

Xtabay by Julia Rios presents readers with a series of stories nested within stories, evoking mythology, urban legends, and ghostly tales. A young girl grapples with her family history, in particular the history of her Mexican father who spent his life desperately trying to fit in and be something he wasn’t. As a young man, his cousin constantly teased him about his virginity, which led to an unwise relationship with a mysterious girl. Rather than doing what he knew in his heart to be right, he allowed himself to give into pressure, resulting in tragedy and a curse that followed him for the rest of his life.

“I don’t care that you’re sorry,” said the girl. “He deserved to die. And so do all like him! And you? I curse your oppressor heart a thousand times! May you always find that the harder you try to be one of them, the more you will feel your own heart being devoured! And when it happens again, remember me.”

The story deftly explores themes of racism, class, and the expectations society places on men vs. women, where women must remain pure, while men are mocked for not making sexual “conquests”. Rios shows the way these gendered expectations tie back to issues of class, race, and colonization with the idea that lower-class women are expendable and good enough to fuck, but not worthy of marriage, and showing how constantly trying to fit into someone else’s image of what and who you should be slowly erodes you from the inside out.

Blood Sisters by Christa Wojciechowski weaves together personal mythology and local legends as a pair of childhood friends travel to Columbia on a last girls trip before one of them gets married. Tina is afraid of things changing and brings Beats to a supposedly cursed mountain where standing at the top as an unmarried person dooms you to always to be alone. On their last night in Columbia, they go drinking with two local men, one of whom reveals the mountain’s nature to Beats, and thus also reveals Tina’s betrayal.

Since seventh grade, Beats and I were one soul in two bodies. Her freckled limbs–the scar on her right knee from falling on my driveway–were as familiar as my own. My voice came out as hers. The smell of her body, dryer sheets mixed with the funk of her greasy old shepherd, was my smell. Our periods were always in synch.

The story realistically captures the way friendships can drift apart as people grow, from a time in your life where you know everything about the other person and they’re you’re entire world, to a time where you just exchange emails occasionally, and how scary that transition can be. It’s not about a friendship breaking or anything dramatic happening, simply the way things change over time. Tina’s feelings of jealously feel very real and grounded, as does her fear of change leading to destructive behavior. The story also offers an interesting exploration of belief and the power it has over people. Sometimes simply knowing about a supposed curse is enough to bring it about, whether the curse is “real” in any objective sense or not.

Keep an eye out for this anthology when it releases at the end of the November, and if it sounds like it’s up your alley, consider pre-ordering it now!

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Capclave 2021

Capclave is coming up the weekend of October 1-3. It’s being held in person this year, which is both a weird feeling – the return to in-person cons! – and exciting as I’m really looking forward to seeing several people I haven’t seen in far too long.

The tentative schedule is up on the convention website, so this is where you should be able to find me throughout the weekend.

Saturday 12:30 pm – Author Reading – Monroe

I haven’t fully decided what I’ll be reading yet. An excerpt from Wendy, Darling? Something from The Ghost Sequences? Something else entirely new? You’ll just have to show up to find out! I will quite possibly have chocolate with me to bribe/thank you if you do.

Saturday 2:00 pm – All Writing is Political – Truman

Participants: Natalie Luhrs, Michael Swanwick, Caias Ward, Joy Ward, A.C. Wise (M)

Some critics say SF, Fantasy, and Comics have become too political. Has there been a change in the political content from the days of Brave New World, 1984, and Starship Troopers? Should entertainment be free from politics? Is it even possible? When something claims to be apolitical, what is it actually supporting? How can we be more conscious of the political implications of our own work?

Saturday 3:00 pm – Ghost Stories – Truman

Participants: Tom Doyle, Dina Leacock, Darrell Schweitzer (M), Michael Swanwick, A.C. Wise

Humans have been telling ghost stories since the first campfire. Peter S. Beagle has ghosts in ‘A Fine and Private Place’ and ‘Tamsin’. What is so attractive about ghosts? How are ghosts used in fiction – both in scary stories and non-horror fantasies? Are ghosts more important in cultures with religions focused on the afterlife? What are some of the best ghost stories in fiction? Do you believe in ghosts and if so why?

Sunday 1:00 pm – Twice Upon a Time – Revisiting Classic Tales – Washington Theater

Participants: Leah Cypess, Mark Huston, Jean Marie Ward, A.C. Wise

Disney was not the first to redo fairy tales. As part of an oral tradition, they were never static but were altered by every storyteller. Re-tellers have remixed archetypes and traditional elements down to the present day. So how can writers give new life to these old stories? How can they preserve the archtypes while providing fresh insight into familiar stories? And, given that everyone knows how the original stories went, what can authors do to make their version stand out?

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