Category Archives: Recommended Reading

Way of the Laser Review

Way of the Laser CoverWhat might crime look like in the future? Will a terrifying bot tell us we have 20 seconds to comply before blowing us to smithereens? Will replicants hunt each other across bleak, neon-soaked cityscapes? Will crimes be prosecuted before they even occur on the advice of vaguely creepy mediums floating in vats of goo? The Way of the Laser: Future Crime Stories edited by Eric M. Bosarge and Joe M. McDermott brings together eighteen all-new stories by authors including Julie C. Day, Paul Jessup, EN Auslender, Patrice Sarath, Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam, and Marie Vibbert, among others offering up their own answer to this question. It’s not a matter of whether humans will continue to commit crimes in the future, but how will we do it, why will we do it, and how  technology and good old-fashioned intuition will factor into solving those crimes?

The authors have a wide variety of answers, providing fresh takes on crime tropes from heists to the quintessential English country murder. Algorithms are employed to pinpoint likely suspects in Patrice Sarath’s story of miners looking to make one big score that will solve all their financial problems, while clones come into play in Mur Lafferty’s whodunnit, complicating the question of inheritance and whether a murder has even occurred at all.

One of the most affecting stories in the collection is EN Auslender’s “Kalopsia”, which despite the futuristic touch of targeted advertising beamed directly at potential consumers, feels very of the moment. It concerns a woman named Angkasa, whose very existence is made illegal through unjust immigration laws, and her story is heartbreaking and hits very close to home in the current political environment as she struggles to simply survive while constantly being bombarded by ads for things she can never afford to buy.

When she dared peer through the wintry onslaught at the maelstrom of cars lined up and stuck in the road, barraged by bullets of ice, Optotrex’s holographic ad glowed in purple and blue hallows, stinging the rain and ice that fell through with holy desire. It bade her with a 20 meter tall male swimsuit model to see through the storm at the one true way: Optotrex would see for you if you saw your way to Optotrex.

In “Speculative Execution”, Julie C. Day offers up a tale full of slick and stylish prose and excellent worldbuilding that at once feels futuristic and echoes the smog-filled streets of old London with its mudlarks and rag and bone men scrabbling at the edges of society to make a living. Automatons and AI ghosts haunt the streets, and no one is ever truly un-watched or alone.

Dim light from a waning gibbous moon, along with orange-hued streetlamps, illuminated the glass-paned storefronts. The face of the human automaton in the Spirit Mother display window seemed equal parts arch and menacing rather than simply blank, something about the rivets running along the circumference of its hairless metal skull. Something about its heavy metal eyelids and thin metallic lips. And then there was the “Reserved” sign that hung around its bare metal neck.

“Our Lady of Turquoise Country” by Monica Joyce Evans takes place in a virtual game world populated by AI gods that wear the aspects of Egyptian and Aztec deities, which is at times reminiscent of Tad Williams’ Otherland series. Evans’ story feels epic in scope, while being relatively short in length, and packs and emotional punch as the protagonist is given a second chance to save a virtual child and help her grow.

Another standout in the anthology is “Sister Thrush” by Marie Vibbert, where the protagonist is drawn into a shady underworld by his hacker kid-sister who has paid the price for her crimes and is now on the run in the form of a mechanical bird. The story offers several clever twists, while also being a touching story of family caring for each other and fighting for each other while simultaneously frustrating the hell out of each other.

With a wide array of stories imagining the way crime might occur, be prevented, and solved in the future, this anthology is well-worth the read for SFFH authors doing what they do best – speculating about what changes the future might bring, and more importantly, examining the humanity at the core of those changes.

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Read the Rainbow 2020

Pride Story Bundle AuthorsThe Pride StoryBundle is here, and I’m delighted to once again be a part of it! This year’s bundle includes my Nebula-finalist novella, Catfish Lullaby, alongside a fabulous collection of queer books at a pay-what-you-wish price. If you choose to pay at least $15, you get all 11 books included in the bundle, and you can also choose to have a portion of your purchase support the Rainbow Railroad, a wonderful organization that helps LGTBQIA+ individuals escape persecution and relocate from countries and areas where they are unsafe due to their identity and/or sexuality.

As I’ve done in past years, I wanted to once again put together a Pride Month recommended reading list to help you queer up your summer TBR pile. As an extra happy bonus, several of my recommendations happen to be included in the Pride StoryBundle! And now, on to the recommendations…

General Resources

As always, the Lambda Literary Awards is a great place to look for queer reading recommendations across all genres including speculative fiction, poetry, romance, non-fiction and more. A list of this year’s finalists and winners can be found here.

Author and reviewer extraordinaire Bogi Takács focuses on QUILTBAG+ fiction and in particular own voices work in eir reviews, and eir website is a wonderful resource for adding more queer titles to your TBR pile. E also has a Patreon with monthly book-buying guides and more.

Author and reviewer Charles Payseur offers monthly Queer SFF Short Fiction round ups through his Patreon , another great source for your shorter fiction needs.

Author Xan West/Corey Alexander’s website is another excellent resource for queer fiction with a focus on romance, erotica, and kink, featuring various fiction rounds ups and useful links and resources.

Novels, Collections, and Anthologies

A Spectral Hue CoverTranscendent 4: The Year’s Best Transgender Speculative Fiction edited by Bogi Takács. This series continues to impress, gathering the best trans speculative short fiction of the year in one convenient place, and helping to highlight stories that readers might have missed. It’s always a wonderful collection and a great way to potentially discover new-to-you authors.

A Spectral Hue by Craig Laurence Gidney. Conveniently part of this year’s Pride StoryBundle, this novel is simultaneously gorgeous and eerie, positing art as both a haunting and a sanctuary, depending on your perspective.

The Voyages of Cinrak the Dapper by A.J. Fitzwater. Also conveniently part of this year’s Pride StoryBundle, this is an utterly delightful collection which recounts the daring adventures of one incredibly dapper lesbian capybara pirate and her gallant crew. Joyous and queer, full of found family, romance, and excitement. You can read a fuller review of the collection here and my interview with the author here.

Capricious 9: Gender Diverse Pronouns Issue edited by Andi C. Buchanan. I’ve mentioned it before and I’ll mention it again since it’s also part of this year’s Pride StoryBundle and because it’s always worth highlighting this wonderful collection of stories exploring diverse pronouns and identities in a speculative fiction setting.

The Rampant by Julie C. Day. This novella is a finalist for the 2020 Lambda Literary Awards and offers a fresh take on the apocalypse as best friends Emilia and Gillian try to bring about the Sumerian rapture rather than prevent it, while dealing with their own various losses, griefs, and their budding romance. A more detailed review of the novella can be found here.

The Luminous Dead by Caitlin Starling. I’ve recommended it before, and I’ll recommend it again – a tense and claustrophobic sci-fi/horror novel, which finds Gyre, a caver, alone on a dangerous expedition with only her handler, Em, for remote support. In addition to being an excellent sci-fi horror novel, the novel provides a fascinating exploration of unreliably characters and power dynamics through the growing attraction between Gyre and Em.

Pet CoverGamechanger by L.X. Beckett is an epic, sweeping sci-fi novel that explores climate disaster and recovery in both the real and virtual worlds, and features a wonderful rivalry to romance relationship. A more detailed review can be found here.

Pet by Akwaeke Emezi. A powerful YA/Middle Grade novel that explores the concept of monstrosity hidden in plain sight, along with the monstrous nature of angels. Reviewed in more detail here.

Escaping Exodus by Nicky Drayden. A novel with a richly-built world featuring living generation ships, unforgettable characters, dark secrets and impossible choices. I’ve loved everyone of Drayden’s novels so far and this is no exception.

Homesick: Stories by Nino Cipri. The debut collection from a masterful short fiction writer. You can read my interview with the author here and my review of their collection here.

I could go on and on, but how about some short fiction to mix things up? I do love a good short story, and these are some fantastic ones!

Short Fiction

Familiar Face by Meg Ellison. A haunting short story that explores technology as a means of communicating with ghosts, as well as touching on friendship, loss, and grief.

Clarkesworld Issue 154 CoverForgive Me, My Love, For the Ice and the Sea by C.L. Clark. A gorgeously-written secondary world fantasy where the protagonist is faced with the painful truth that she may have to lose her lover in order to save her.

Rat and Finch Are Friends by Innocent Chizram Ilo. A lovely and bittersweet story of friendship, budding romance, and characters who are forced to hide their true selves in order to survive.

Many-Hearted Dog and Heron Who Stepped Past Time by Alex Yuschik. A beautiful and twisting story of love, loyalty, friendship, time-travel, and sacrifice.

Shattered Sidewalks of the Human Heart by Sam J. Miller. A story exploring monstrousness through the lens of classic cinema brought to life.

The Devil Squid Apocalypse by Alex Acks. A bad-ass musician helps save the world from invading squid monsters with the power of music. What more could you want from a story?

These are just a few of the many wonderful queer reads out there that can help bulk up your summer reading list. On that note, since one can never have too many recommendations, what are your own favorite queer reads, long or short? Drop them in the comments and share the summer reading love!

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Shiny Shorts: Second Chances and New Perspectives

Here we are coming up on the end of May, which seems hard to believe. At least in this corner of the world, spring is upon us. Flowers are starting to bloom, leaves are getting greener, and everything is  bursting with color and life. At the same time, we’re not quite out of the dark and the world is still in a precarious state. It’s a good time for self-care, and stories and art are exactly that. In that spirit, I offer up five stories mixing melancholy with hope. They are bittersweet and occasionally frightening. They deal with liminal spaces, change, and coming to see things differently. They are about second chances and new perspectives, and I hope you enjoy them as much as I did!

Apparition 10 CoverThe Bear Wife by Leah Bobet in Apparition Literary Magazine is a take on the animal bride trope about seeing a person for who they are and not what anyone else expects them to be. Sanchez has been living with Betty Nosemaskwa since July, and now that winter is coming on, things are starting to change. She’s sluggish, slow, and sleeping most of the time. Dishes are piling up, the laundry is going undone, and the locals – something Sanchez is not – have repeatedly suggested the best thing for him to do is steal her bearskin, take control of her, and shape her into a proper bride.

He couldn’t have said when she faded. Between the rolling heat of August and the September leaves, before the snowstorm, she had already retreated to the house, and then two rooms. Before he could trace what had come over her, if it had entered by window or door, she took to her bed and stayed there, and he was here, coping with the remains.

It’s the way most animal bride tales go. A skin is stolen, and one party in the relationship is forced into a shape not their own, made to change to fit the other party’s worldview until something breaks and the whole thing falls apart. Sanchez, however, insists it’s not like that with him and Betty. He puts aside his fear – after all, a bear is a powerful creature that could destroy him – and he puts aside any thought that things could be easier if he followed the locals’ advice. Sure, he could have an “easier” woman, but then that woman wouldn’t be Betty anymore. So he meets her on her terms, instead of dictating his own, caring for Betty and trusting in her and their relationship even as she fully transforms in preparation for her long winter hibernation.

It’s a beautiful, touching, and quiet story, and can – at least to my mind – be read as a metaphor for someone coping with depression, or a neuro-atypical person who under other circumstances might be asked to be the one to bend and fit a neuro-typical world view. The story works perfectly on both levels, as the inversion, or refutation, of the typical animal bride story, and as a push-back against the world asking certain people, generally the most marginalized ones, to change, bend, and confrom, instead of shifting to accomodate them. Whichever way you choose to read the story, it’s a lovely one.

We Are the Flower by Claire Humphrey, a PodCastle original, is a bittersweet ghost story. MC comes across an exact replica of her bike down to the stickers and a tag with her initials on it. Every detail is so much the same that she knows it has to be her bike, despite the fact that she’s currently riding hers, and that the bike in front of her has been painted white and decorated with flowers – a sign that it has been turned into a memorial to commemorate a rider killed in traffic.

That’s what you do when someone dies in a bike accident. You paint their bike white and you set it up where they died. On rural roads people set up roadside crosses. In the city, you make a ghost bike.

That’s what you do when someone in the cycling community, a frequent rider, a bike lane advocate, dies. Someone like me. That’s what you do.

I said it like twelve different ways to myself, and it didn’t feel real.

Only it did feel real, because of some things like how I didn’t really know how I’d come to that corner that day, or where the other version of my bike had gone, or why the fuck I’d turned into a bird.

Once she’s accepted her death, MC is left to figure out why her spirit – occasionally in bird form – is still around. Is she meant to avenge herself, forgive the people in her life who did her wrong, or is there some other unfinished business she’s meant to attend? The anchor point in her post-life, the person she finds herself continually returning to, is her housemate Chris, who’d she’d only just realized she had romantic feelings for right before she died. In fact, she’d been planning to tell Chris as much on the day she died. “We Are the Flower” is both a love story and a ghost story, bitter for the fact that MC and Chris will never get the chance to see how their relationship might have grown, but sweet for the fact that MC is given a chance to see it blossom in a literal sense through one last moment of contact. Chris saw MC truly in life, respected her and understood her in a way no one else did. That ability to see her clearly, and the connection they formed, extends to the ability to see her clearly after death as well, if only for a moment, giving MC the chance to resolve her unfinished business and move on.

Driving with Ghosts by Clara Madrigano in The Dark shares an initial set up with “We Are the Flower” as the protagonist encounters a vehicle that shouldn’t be there, in this case, her grandfather’s Packard Hawk, the car he had when she was young, even though her grandfather is long dead. The car was both a source of joy and pain for Marina; she loved going for rides with her grandfather, but also suffered abuse at his hands while they were alone on the road together – a trauma she has locked away and never shared with anyone.

Many times, while at Penn and, later, in New York, I Googled a particular combination of words: ghosts, cars, loved ones. I never found what I was looking for, an experience exactly like mine, but I found a lot about women and cars. Women who accepted rides from strangers and were never seen again. Women who accepted rides from men they knew and were never seen again. Rides you could book in a serial killer’s car, the real deal; the people who ran the business would even lock you in the car’s trunk so you could live the full experience of the female victims.

Marina sees the car again as an adult as she’s fleeing an abusive relationship with her boyfriend, Mark. There’s a certain lure to the car, and Marina is tempted more than once to accept its invitation and climb into the passenger’s side – whether to confront her grandfather, or merely escape, she isn’t sure. The car becomes the link between Marina’s past and present in more ways than one as she comes to terms with two abusive men in her life and the way they both made her feel powerless. The car, both ghostly and real, reflects the complicated nature of Marina’s relationship with both her abusers, a combination of desire and pain, freedom and captivity, and the way they took her love and used it against her, making her doubt herself and taking away her sense of control. Marina ultimately finds a way through her trauma to reclaim her power, given a chance through this haunting to confont her past and seize the wheel to steer her own destiny.

Fiyah 14 CoverUniform by Errick Nunnally in Fiyah Magazine is an utterly heartbreaking story about a soldier who has essentially become a ghost haunting his own life. In order to help his family, Patrick joined the Marines at age 17, signing over his body to be transformed into a living weapon. Now that the war is over, Patrick is trapped. He can’t go back to the person he used to be, and doesn’t know where he fits in a world that no longer has a “use” for him.

On the street, pedestrians crossed out of his path at their earliest opportunity. A targeting matrix flashed over the scene in front of him, doing the only thing it was good for without a weapons system to command: snapping photos. Faces everywhere captured his attention. He wanted to forget his face, but the longing for that vestige of humanity haunted him with the pre-data memory of what he looked like, who he wanted to be.

Patrick withdraws from his family, and from almost every aspect of daily life, other than occasionally riding the subway in an attempt to connect with some shred of his former self. Everywhere he goes, however, he finds himself feared and reviled by the very people he fought to protect, who now see him as an abomination. Until a little girl grows curious about him and asks whether he’s a robot, giving him a second chance to reconnect with his humanity, moments before a tunnel collapse puts the entire subway in danger.

“Uniform” is simultaneously beautiful and brutal, and absolutely had me tearing up by the end. It’s a story that speaks to trauma, and the way soldiers are made into part of the machinery of war, literally in Patrick’s case. Sometimes, the most painful and terrible aspect of war comes after the fighting, when soliders are asked to return home to a “normal” life when they have had their humanity stripped away in order to become more perfect killers, and then are expected to re-integrate into a society that can see them as nothing but dealers of death and violence. Patrick is insulted, called names, assaulted, and suspected of causing the very accident he seeks to save his fellow passengers from when all he has ever tried to do is protect the people he loves, and it is absolutely wrenching to see him suffering, knowing his situation is all too real. However, there are moments of joy in the story as well as Patrick forms a connection with the little girl on the subway, providing a spark of brightness against the story’s powerful exploration of loss, grief, trauma, othering, duty, sacrifice, and what it means to be human.

Smilers by Chip Houser in Bourbon Penn is an eerie yet surprinsingly poignant zombie story. It’s told from the perspective of Aiden whose older brother Zach is doing his best to protect him from learning the truth about what’s happening to those around him.

Aiden rests his chin on the back of the living room couch, watching his older brother mow down zombies in ZomPlex. The zombies grab at Zach’s avatar, mouths moving like they’re chewing. Aiden’s not sure if they’re supposed to be hungry or angry or both. Their facial expressions don’t match any of the cards from the game he plays on Tuesdays with Ms. Hampton. Zombies don’t make a lot of sense to Aiden, but that’s okay, lots of things don’t make sense to him; he’s barely seven.

Outside of Zach’s game, the zombies in “Smilers” aren’t ravenous flesh-eating monsters. Whatever is affecting people started with the oldest among the population, and it’s steadily working its way down to the youngest, allowing Aiden to stay innocent and oblivious for as long as possible. Instead of turning them into ravening creatures, the transformation turns people into empty, mindless things, esmiling in a way that looks wrong and painful, caught in a loop of whatever they were doing when they changed – whether it’s texting a friend, like the cashier at the corner store, or perpetually reading the same page of a newspaper, like Aiden and Zach’s father.

Aiden reads as neuro-atypical, with his own way of processing emotions and the way people express them. He’s been told that smiling means happy, so if the people around him are smiling, everything must be okay, right? Aiden’s main priority is getting his brother to take him to the pool. He knows he’s not allowed to go alone, and besides sometimes there are bullies. Aiden finds it easier to deal with bullies and the world in general when he’s his true self – safely inside the wolf masks that lets him sneak and howl and be strong and unfraid. It’s a disguise that allows him to see himself more truly, even if others don’t fully understand him.

The relationship between Zach and Aiden is touching, and painful at the same time, as it’s clear to the reader and Zach what’s happening, even if Aiden doesn’t fully realize it. The image of the empty smilers is a truly unsettling one, and there’s a growing sense of dread as the world narrows and the plague closes in. At the same time, there’s a sense that some part of Aiden does know what’s going on, and yet rather than give in to fear, he embraces joy and innocence – his brother’s last gift to him. Rather than bend to the world, he shifts his perspective to see only the good things, like a pool all to himself  and no bullies to stop him jumping off the high dive board over and over again. Rather than letting the world change him, and conforming to its rules, Aiden remains fiercely and fully himself until the very end.

As always, I’d love to hear your own recommendations for short fiction you’ve loved, whether it be old or new. Take care of yourselves, stay healthy, and happy reading!

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Lisette of the Raven Review

Lisette of the Raven, Ash of the Rook by Suzanne J. Willis is part of the Broken Cities line published by Falstaff Books. Each story, novel, or novella is a stand-alone, but occupies a shared universe. Lisette of the Raven, Ash of he Rook was published last September, and the author was kind enough to send me a copy for review.

Lisette of the Raven CoverLisette comes from a long line of executioners. She has always known it is her destiny to follow in her mother’s footsteps, and the footsteps of all the other women in the family who came before her. However, at thirteen years old, Lisette is losing her hearing, leaving her unable to do a vital part of the executioner’s job – hear the condemned’s last confession. She tries to hide the truth from her mother, but her mother finds out and apprentices Lisette to an echo-catcher, setting her on a different path. During one of the last executions Lisette assists her mother with, one of the condemned delivers an ominous warning: The mothers are coming.

Seven years later, Lisette is still part of the cycle of life and death, gathering the last remaining echoes of the condemned and sending them through the labyrinth gate and into the next world. She has her raven companions, and she is content in her work, but one day a rook made of ash comes to Lisette with a message from a nearby charcoal burner’s camp. Obeying the rook’s summons, Lisette meets Gem, a young man who asks for her help with some mysterious branches he removed from the labyrinth and burned without realizing how dangerous they were. Soon after meeting Gem, a woman appears wearing a cloak of raven feathers, raising children made of ash from the remains of Gem’s fire. She is one of the mothers Lisette was warned of years ago, seeking justice for her lost children, and Lisette and Gem soon find themselves tangled up in her quest for vengeance and fighting for their lives.

The woman wandered–no slithered–around the camp, bending to sniff at the food bowls and passing her hands through the flame. Everything she touched froze, so that even the flame and smoke became delicate sculptures of themselves.

Even at novella length, Willis manages to infuse this story with an epic feel. The world is lush and gorgeously described, and one of the main joys here is simply reveling in the beautiful prose. The novella is a visual feast, with a highly cinematic quality, leaving it easy to imagine the magical world unfolding on every page. Another of the story’s highlights is Lisette’s relationship with her ravens, particularly Julio, her closest companion. The way they communicate, trust, and protect each other is lovely. As animal companions in fantasy go, birds are more frequently associated with villains, acting as aloof and threatening omens, but Julio shows the affectionate and brilliant side of corvidae. There’s some nice exploration of loss, destiny versus freedom, and a reminder to look beneath the surface as things aren’t always what they seem towards the end of the novella. Overall, Lisette of the Raven, Ash of the Rook is a quick, but satisfying high fantasy read.

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Hope and Transformation: The Four Profound Weaves

I was lucky enough to get an advance copy of R.B. Lemberg’s gorgeous novella, The Four Profound Weaves, which will be published by Tachyon Publications in August, and is currently available for pre-order. The story takes place in Lemberg’s Birdverse, featuring familiar characters who have previously appeared in stories such as “Grandmother-Nai-Leylit’s Cloth of Winds“, which was a finalist for the 2015 Nebula Awards.

Four Profound Weaves CoverThe same beautiful and poetic prose found in Lemberg’s other Birdverse stories is on full display here. The world is vibrant, rich, and Lemberg does a wonderful job bringing it to life and fully immersing the reader. Many of the themes touched on in other Birdverse stories are explored here as well –  transformation, hope, the role culture and context play in self-perception, and the idea that self-discovery is an ongoing process and that people are constantly in a state of evolving and becoming.

The story centers on Uiziya and nen-sasair, both of whom feel something missing in their lives, leading them to set off across the desert together on a journey of self-discovery. Despite transforming in body to the man he always knew he was, nen-sasair still isn’t sure where he fits in life. There are those who persist in seeing him as an eccentric woman who dresses in men’s clothing and builds mechanical wonders as men do. He longs to go into the men’s quarter of the city, and lift his voice in song with other men, but fear holds him back. Will he be accepted, or will he always be an outsider?

Uiziya’s aunt was a great weaver who long ago promised to teach Uiziya her art, including the secret of the Four Profound Weaves, but she vanished, and now Uiziya has been waiting over half her life for her return. Like nen-sasair, she is a grandparent, but life with her family is not enough for her. She is restless and tired of waiting, determined to find her aunt and demand answers. At the same time, Uiziya is afraid as well, uncertain whether she is willing to fully embrace the cost that comes with learning to weave from death itself as her aunt does.

A story floated like stars in the darkness that pulsed with the insistence of pain. I would catch them one by one, all the diamondflies my aunt had made, and I would know again the truth of the wide-open skies where the ancient wind meanders from sandwave to sandwave, revealing and hiding its secrets.

The theme of transformation at the heart of the novella is reflected in the imagery Lemberg uses – ever-shifting things like wind and sand and song, and even death, which is a transition from one state to the next. In their acknowledgements at the end of the book, Lemberg reveals that the novella is the first book written after their father’s passing. Thus, the book itself is an act of transformation, an act of becoming, and moving from a state of grief to one of hope, which death is often paired with over the course of the novella.

The meditations on death throughout the novella, and the different characters’ perspectives on death are deep, nuanced, and thoughtful. Uiziya’s aunt feeds on death and teaches her that true art can only come from sacrificing those you love. The Collector, who seeks to gather the four cloths that represent the Four Profound Weaves, sees death as an element of power, a power he can use to stop things from ever changing – a state that is worse than death.

“I want things to remain, sacred and sovereign and unchanging. I want to preserve what is best. It is a noble purpose… The landmass’s truest and brightest, its art, its desire, its will, stripped of the perversions and impurities of flesh and stored away to be treasured forever.”

Uiziya ultimately comes to a new understanding of death through her journey. It is not an end point, or a means to an end. It is a form of change, and the true power of it lies in bringing new life to the dead by giving them a voice and reconnecting them to the living. Giving them hope, and giving their loved ones hope that they haven’t truly lost those they care about.

Faith and belief are also a central themes in the book – both in the sense of structured, shared beliefs that shape a culture, and a more personal, interior kind of faith. Nen-sasari and Uiziya both have faith that their journey will be rewarded, and that their transformation will be complete one day. They both feel something missing in their lives, but ultimately it doesn’t bring a sense of hopelessness, only a realization that they are partway through their journeys, again circling back to the idea of transformation and life being a constant state of motion and discovery.

The Four Profound Weaves is a beautiful novella. I would be remiss if I failed to mention that as a physical object, the book is beautiful too. The interior illustrations by Elizabeth Story (who also designed the cover) are absolutely gorgeous, and the whole book just has a lovely, well laid out feel. Pre-order now, and be assured you will have something lovely to read come August.

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Shiny Shorts: Distances

In the midst of this time of social distancing, in addition to highlighting short fiction to enjoy while staying away from other humans, I thought it would be interesting to consider stories that deal with various forms of distance. It might be physical, emotional, or even the distance between perception and reality. Either way, all these stories offer some take on the idea of distance, how can be be bridged (or not), and what it means.

Yo, Rapunzel! by Kyle Kirrin published at PodCastle offers a fresh and charming take on that early social distancer, Rapunzel. In this case, instead of a princess passively waiting rescue, Rapunzel is quite content to be alone. In fact, the story opens with this irresistible line: And lo, the Princess said: “Motherfucker, I am content.” She has a Dragon to keep her company, the mural she’s painting, plenty of board games, and a Time Wizard who drops by occasionally to refresh her supplies. Of course that doesn’t stop an endless stream of Knights from demanding to be given Heart Quests in order to prove themselves worthy of  her hand. Despite her repeated protestations that she has no interest in getting married, and is in no need of rescue, they continue to show up, and so she dutifully sends them away with impossible tasks hoping to never see them again.

The Princess dropped her head into her hands. “Please tell me you’ve got a Quest in mind. I am so fucking tired of this.”

“Uhhh,” said the Dragon. “Drink the ocean? Swallow the stars?”

“Too figurative,” said the Princess. “He’ll just come back in the morning with a loose interpretation and a scroll full of shitty poems. It’s fine, I’ll figure something out.” She crossed the room and threw open the window. “Yeah, what you want?”

Everything changes when a Knight arrives with an adorable mini donkey named Steve. He is as uninterested in completing a Heart Quest as she is in giving one, going through the motions of accepting one in the same way she goes through the motions of giving them out. Intrigued by this break in the pattern, she invites him into the tower to play board games, and friendship develops between them.

The story is refreshing in its inversion of tropes, its foul-mouthed princess, its uninterested knight, its tame dragon, and the way it places friendship on equal footing with romantic love. The solution to the fairy tale conundrum isn’t a forced bridging of distance, where two strangers are thrown together, and expected to marry immediately because of destiny or a completed quest. Their friendship grows based on mutual interest, respect for each other’s boundaries, and a mutual decision to spend time together, while continuing to give each other space when needed. The story has a wonderful and engaging voice, and it has true heart beneath the light tone while still being a lot of fun. Plus, how can anyone resist an adorable mini donkey named Steve? Even if he is a bit of a dick sometimes.

Fireside Quarterly CoverThe Imperishable Birds by Vajra Chandrasekera in Fireside Magazine explores the distance between symbol and object, and the distance between  perception and lived reality.

Kusul burns the birds on camera. The shot is wide so that you can see all seven birds, yellow-billed babblers that won’t sit still long enough to catch fire. Whenever she lights a match and squats to hold it under their tails, they flutter up and come down again a few feet further away, so she crab-walks over to them and lights another match.

The imagery is striking and the prose lovely and evocative. In under 1,500 words, Chandrasekera delivers a gut punch of a story that captures the outsider, colonialist mentality of the Director who is only interested in forwarding his vision of what he thinks Kusul and her family should be. He barely sees Kusul, or anyone else in his film, and casually talks about using CGI to edit reality to fit his worldview. He transforms people into caricatures, flattening them into pieces he can move around, trying to further shorten the distance between symbol and object and make reality conform to him. The story does an excellent job of highlighting the grossness of misery porn, and the ways in which those who claim to “give voice to the voiceless” end up silencing those very voices by drowning them out with their own.

Forgive Me, My Love, For the Ice and the Sea by C.L. Clark in Beneath Ceaseless Skies deals with both physical and emotional distances that the protagonist must travel. Laema promised her lover that she was done with the sea, but with her lover falsely imprisoned, she agrees to sail with the Pirate Queen Issheth to the bottom of the world and arrange for her death, either by accident or assassination, in order to win her lover’s freedom.

For the next month, we sailed through wild seas, farther and farther from land. It felt like the world had gone as mad as Issheth and the ocean had turned devil, not the beautiful, if temperamental, creature I had fallen in love with. We had nights of blissful calm, only to be wracked by vicious storms all day—or the opposite. The further south we sailed, the longer the days became. One night lasted only a couple of hours. Frost coated everything—ropes, rails, coats, even beards for those of us that grew them.

To Laema, Issheth seems like a woman haunted, prone to wild changes of mood, but she soon learns they have more in common than she first realized. Issheth lost her wife to the sea, and the true purpose of her journey is to seek the goddess and ask to speak to her wife one last time. A relationship grows between them, one built on respect, attraction, and shared sorrow. Laema’s perspective shifts, as does her purpose on board the ship. She still seeks to free her lover, but her expectations for their relationship cannot stay the same. She has already betrayed her by breaking one promise, even though it was for the purpose of saving her, and she knows things can’t go back to the way they were. Laema can only hope that giving her lover space and time to deal with things will allow their relationship to heal.

Like Chandrasekera’s story, this is another piece with stunning imagery and gorgeous prose, though the settings of both stories are vastly different, and the imagery us employed to different effect. And like Kirrin’s story, Forgive Me, My Love, For the Ice and the Sea, reframes the standard quest trope as well as the way they relate to relationships and love. Laema knows there is a very real possibility she will lose the person she loves, but ultimately she chooses her lover as a person rather than attempting to preserve their relationship by any means necessary. It’s a lovely story on many levels, and well worth a read.

Rat and Finch Are Friends by Innocent Chizaram Ilo in Strange Horizons is a beautiful and heartbreaking story of friendship, love, and loneliness, that explores physical distance as well as the distance between the stated intention to protect and the lived reality of the harm done by that attempt at protection.

At twelve years old, Izu is sent off to boarding school. He’s afraid he’ll be lonely there, but he’s buoyed by his father’s parting gift of the Frog and Toad series of books and his wish that Izu find a best friend the way Frog and Toad found each other. At school,  Izu meets Okwudili, and discovers like that him, Okwudili can transform into an animal.

They said Nnemuru, my father’s mother, was a falcon when she was alive. Her wings were so radiant the rainbow envied them. She was beautiful. She was feared. They also said she swooped down on people’s farms and destroyed their crops. Nnemuru was found dead on a Sunday morning, her back pierced by the pointy cross on the church steeple, her wings arched and stiff. People called it witchcraft.

Izu inherited his grandmother’s power and can transform into a finch, where Okwudili can transform into a rat. As a child, Izu’s father could transform into a crow until his older sister clipped his wings and scraped off the mark on his neck that allowed him to change, all in the name of protecting him. She tries to do the same to Izu, but his father stops her, but also extracts a promise from Izu that he will keep his power hidden lest someone else try to take it away from him.

The friendship that develops between Rat and Finch quickly becomes something more, and the story creates a parallel between Finch’s attraction to Rat and his ability to transform. He’s asked to suppress both for his own good, and it is utterly heartbreaking. Even as his aunt and his mother try to take away aspects of Izu’s true self “for his own good”, Izu’s relationship with his father remains beautiful and heartening. He supports and understands Izu, and does his best to allow him to be himself until he feels he has no choice but to hurt him as well. The story is truly bittersweet in the way it explores relationships between friends, lovers, and family, and the way love brings people together and sets them apart, leading them to hurt each other in the guise of caring. In this way, the story shares similarities with both Clark’s story, and Chandrasekera’s story – in the way it presents the flipside of Laema’s choice to do what is best for her lover, not what is best for herself, and in the way Izu’s mother and aunt refuse to see Izu for who he is, fitting him into their own narrative of what is best and justifying doing him harm.

How We Burn by Brenda Peynado in Lightspeed Magazine explores the distance between generations and again, the idea of parents’ controlling their children’s lives in the name of protecting them.

Look at how bright we burn. I’m driving my spaceship with a hacked joystick and my friends in the side-seats: Tiger, Grizzly Bear, and Joshua Tree, my boyfriend. And me, Sequoia—all named after extinct species, as if our light could bring them back.

Tiger, Grizzly, Josh, and Sequoia view themselves as rebels, bucking their parents and grandparents’ unfair rules. They steal spaceships, hack the controls to drive them manually and recklessly, and take drugs, wanting to experience the world on their term, including the freedom to make their own mistakes. They consider each other siblings, but they also wonder what it would be like to have real blood siblings and build families by choice and outside of strict government control. When the group is arrested for joyriding, Sequioa ends up in a cell with a Procreator named Thalia,who lives off the grid and shuns society’s rules. Her lifestyle is both fascinating and frightening to Sequioa, and leads her to further questions the true shape of the world, and the possible lies her generation has been told.

The voice of the story is slick and stylish, and even at novelette length, it seems at times to rush by at breathless speed, mirroring Sequioa, Grizzly, Tiger and Josh’s headlong rush into danger of their own choosing. At other times, the narrative slows, allowing for quiet contemplation of the contrasting worldviews presented in the story. Rather than painting things in black and white, with the kids as clearly right and the parents and grandparents as joy-killing villains, both generations are presented with sympathy and both viewpoints are understandable. Sequoia’s parents and grandparents lived through scarcity and the near-destruction of the environment. Their rules are there to preserve society as a whole and ensure the survival of humanity. At the same time, Sequoia’s generation is stuck with a mess not of their own making, forced to follow handed-down rules that restrict their freedom and their choices through no fault of their own. There’s plenty of food for thought in the story and it’s wonderfully-written, with dazzling turns of phrase, characters with real depth, and a world that feels fully fleshed out and lived in.

I hope you enjoy these stories as much as I did. What brilliant short fiction have you been reading lately? I’m always on the lookout for more things to read.

 

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Queer Rodents and Joyful Resistance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Shiny Shorts: Ghosts in the Machine, Far From Home

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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My Favorite Books of 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Honorable Mentions (AKA books published before 2019)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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My Favorite Short Fiction of 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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