Category Archives: Recommended Reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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My Favorite Novels and Novellas of 2017

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

Novels

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Novellas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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My Favorite Short Fiction of 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Women to Read: Where to Start: December 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Women to Read: Where to Start: November 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review Resources

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

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

Eligibility Posts

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

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

Recommendations, Favorites, and Best of the Year Posts

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


49th Shelf Best Books of 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shoreline of Infinity 9

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

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

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

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Women to Read: Where to Start: October 2017

Welcome to another Women to Read: Where to Start! Last month’s recommendations were all about ghosts and the undead. This month, the themes range far and wide, and the forms include a web comic, a short story, a novelette, and a novella. Taken all together, they represent the work of four fantastic women, and four excellent starting points for their work.

Shattered StarlightNicole Chartrand is a concept artist and comic creator, and she just so happens to live in my home town of Montreal. My recommended starting place for her work is Shattered Starlight an ongoing web comic about what happens when Magical Girls grow up.  For those unfamiliar with the Magical Girl trope, think Sailor Moon – a band of girls is given magical powers by a mystical force, usually associated with a trinket that unlocks their power and transforms them, allowing them to battle evil. Shattered Starlight is reminiscent of Hurricane Heels by Isabel Yap at times while being completely its own thing. Instead of an ongoing friendship with her team, Farah Shaughnessy aka Arcturus , Guardian of Heaven, former leader of the Star Guardians, is on her own. Her team mates are scattered, and as as the story opens, she’s being “reassigned” after using her powers to throw her boss through a wall because, in her words, he was being a sack of dicks. The Empress sends her to work at The Dead End Cafe, staffed by other former Magical Girls, in an effort to keep her out of trouble. However, trouble insists on finding her. Figures from Farah’s past begin to reappear, including a former teammate, and a former enemy, and the spell that’s supposed to keep innocent bystanders from remembering encounters with Magical Girls stops working, adding an unsuspecting human to the mix. The story is fun, without being cutesy. The world is edged in darkness. Farah’s handler is an alcoholic rabbit creature, and there are hints of tragedy in the Star Guardians’ past, causing their broken friendship. The art is striking, largely black and white with splashes of color, and it accurately capture the feeling of Montreal. I can’t wait to see where the story goes, and I look forward to seeing what else Nicole Chartrand does in the future.

C.S.E. Cooney is an author, poet, singer, performer, a member of the Banjo Apocalypse Crinoline Troubadours, and a World Fantasy Award winner on top of all that. If you’ve ever seen her perform, you’ll understand when I say there’s a good chance she’s actually made of magic. If you haven’t seen her perform, you really owe it to yourself to find a way to do so. There are a good many starting places I could recommend for her work, but I’ve settled on The Big Bah-Ha, a novelette originally published by Drollerie Press, and recently reprinted by Apex Magazine. The Big Bah-Ha feels very much like a fairy tale, a story passed around playgrounds by children about the shape of their world, a legend in the process of being born. Beatrice wakes up dead, a victim of the Flabberghast. Only where she is now that she’s dead isn’t quite clear. She knows she’s left her gang behind – Tex, Diodiance, Granny Two-Shoes, and Sheepdog Sal –  after falling victim to the very creature she’d always warned them about.

And when they asked her why, she’d said, “Well, because he’s a Tall One. Because he appeared in the gravy yard with the other eight after the world ended. Because he’s here to eat the bones, and he’ll eat yours when you go.”

The end of the world is a hard place. The slaprash takes those over a certain age. Kids are left to fend for themselves against monsters, but they look out for each other, too. Even though Beatrice is dead, her gang is determined to parley with the Flabberghast to get her bones back, and perform a proper death rite. Cooney’s prose is lush and evocative, doing much of the worldbuilding just by setting the tone. The Big Bah-Ha simultaneously captures a sense of wonder, and a sense of darkness, underscoring childhood as the terrifying country it can be when everyone is bigger than you, and you don’t get to make the rules. It’s an excellent example of Cooney’s literary voice, and thus an excellent starting place for her work.

Future FireVanessa Fogg is a freelance medical and science writer, as well as being a fiction writer. My recommended starting place for her work is Taiya, published in Future Fire #42. Patrick and Karen have just moved to a foreign country. The country isn’t specified, but all that matters is it isn’t home, and there’s a ghost haunting their new residence. The taiya is a spirit that wails in their garden, whose name literally translates to ‘eaten’. There’s nothing that can be done to appease a taiya; the only thing to do is ignore it, and hope it eventually goes away.

Patrick turns off the water. It’s only then that they hear it: a thin cry at the edge of the world. They stand still, and it rises in pitch, comes close, and moves away—like a train whistle speeding away from them in the night, racing across empty fields. The sadness is nothing human. The sound dies, then rises once more, just once. This time it catches in something like a sob.

Patrick has a new job that keeps him busy and away from home. However, Karen’s former place of employment promised her contract work, but no jobs have come through yet, leaving her at loose ends. She tries to fill her days with language lessons, exploring the new city, meeting with other expats, anything to distract herself from the house and the ghost, but ignoring the taiya is harder than it seems. At its heart, Taiya is a story about loneliness, isolation, and depression. It’s a gut-punch, but one that’s beautifully told. Fogg neatly draws a parallel between a ghost no one can see, and a clinical condition many people misunderstand. The taiya cannot communicate its sadness, just as Karen can’t communicate what she’s going through, even to those closest to her. Depression here is literally an unspeakable disease; there is no way for those on the outside to know what it feels like to inside its grasp. It is not something one can simple ‘get over’, it is not a matter of being sad, or depressed with lower case ‘d’. Being clinically depressed requires medical treatment, and silence and ignoring it will not make it go away. Although Taiya is not a horror story in the traditional sense, there is horror here, and it comes from the way mental illness is too often viewed and treated in our society. Taiya is a powerful story, packs an emotional punch, and is a wonderful starting place for Vanessa Fogg’s work.

Water Into WineJoyce Chng is a prolific author and the co-editor of The Sea is Ours: Tales of Steampunk Southeast Asia. My recommended starting place for her work is her latest novella, Water Into Wine. The story begins with Xin inheriting a vineyard on the planet Tertullian VI from their grandfather. They are fresh off a divorce, with three children, and have never given a thought to viticulture before, but they pack up their family, including their mother, and make the move, determined to make the most of their grandfather’s gift and start a new life. They had been living as a man, the main source of tension with their ex-husband, but on Tertullian VI, Xin stops taking hormones. With this new phase in their life, they realize they are neither a man nor a woman, but simply themself. However, just as they begin to build a new life, learning about grapes, bottling and selling wine, and falling into a romance with a man named Galliano who helps tend the fields, war comes to their new planet.  Water Into Wine is a quiet story; the war is omnipresent, but largely happens off screen, with a few notable exceptions. Even so, it’s a driving force, shaping Xin’s family, and teaching them more about themself, their mother, their lover, and their children. There is a rhythm to the language throughout; spare, stripped back sentences contrast with and highlight moments of poetry where Xin describes the wine they are making, or their recurring dreams, born of the trauma of war. There is a satisfying arc for the characters, and by the end, Xin has undoubtedly grown, honed by their experiences into a truer version of themself: I give myself my own pronoun. I am qar. I am me. I am Ping Xin. At its heart, Water Into Wine is a lovely and contemplative story about family, building community, and learning to be yourself, which just happens to be set against a backdrop of war on an alien world. Overall, it’s a wonderful starting place for Joyce Chng’s work.

That does it for October’s Women to Read. I’ll be back in November with more suggestions. In the meantime, feel free to leave your own recommendations in the comments!

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Women to Read: Where to Start: September 2017

Welcome to another edition of Women to Read: Where to Start. We’re still the heat of August as I write this, which may be why I’m already projecting ahead to fall, October, and Halloween, anticipating cooler weather. By the time this posts, it’ll be September, which means Halloween is really just around the corner, and it’s never too early to start celebrating, right? By coincidence, all four of my recommendations this month are in the Halloween spirit, featuring the otherwordly, ghosts, and things returned from the dead.

Winter TideFirst up, my recommended starting place for Ruthanna Emrys’ work is appropriately enough her debut novel, Winter Tide. She’s also a short fiction author, and a columnist for Tor.com, where she and Anne M. Pillsworth dissect and discuss the works of H.P. Lovecraft, along with other authors playing in his sandbox. Winter Tide is set in the same world as Emrys’ short story, Litany of Earth, both reclaiming Lovecraft, and specifically the people of Innsmouth, and giving them a rich, nuanced, and misunderstood history. Aphra Marsh and her brother Caleb are the last surviving children of Innsmouth. When the town was raided years ago, they were put in a camp and forgotten until the location was re-purposed for Japanese internment during the war. As an adult, Aphra lives in San Francisco with her adopted family, the Kotos who took care of Caleb and her in the camp. She works in a rare bookshop with her friend and student, Charlie, who she is instructing in the rituals and rites of her people. Aphra also occasionally works for the government. Her sometimes boss, Ron Spector, calls her back to Innsmouth and Miskatonic to help track down a suspected Russian spy who may be using body switching magic derived from the Yith. Aphra sees it as an opportunity to reunite with her brother, and try to reclaim the books stolen from her people, and now housed at the university. Knowledge of Lovecraft’s works will enrich Winter Tide, but it isn’t strictly necessary. Emrys does an excellent job of giving the reader everything they need to know, peeling back the layers of Lovecraft’s mythos and making it more personal and sympathetic. In doing so, she touches on themes of cultural appropriation and theft, as Innsmouth’s heritage is locked up in libraries and museums, used by those who neither understand it nor respect it, and kept away from its rightful owners. While one of the prevailing themes in many of Lovecraft’s stories is the vast and uncaring nature of the universe, Emrys brings humanity to the race known as the Deep Ones. They aren’t monsters, just another branch of humanity – a fact Aphra asserts throughout the novel, refusing to let herself be othered. In addition to cosmic events, and potential spies, Aphra must also deal with the pressures of being one of the last of her people. Her ancestors who moved below the waves want her to help continue the species, something she isn’t particularly interested in, but feels obligated to consider. While Aphra is an individual, she is also part of a chain of existence, and the weight of its continuation rests with her. In Aphra’s circle, Emrys offers a well-rounded cast of characters, each with their own goals and desires. The world she builds is rich, making Innsmouth feels like a real place with traditions, rituals, and culture that needs to be protected and restored. Winter Tide is an excellent starting place for Emrys’ work, and as a next step there’s another book coming soon continuing Aphra’s story.

Apex MagazineAllison Mills is an author, archivist, librarian, and researcher. My recommended starting place for her work is If a Bird Can Be a Ghost published in Issue 99 of Apex Magazine. Shelly’s grandmother specializes in removing ghosts, catching them in her hair, and helping them to move on. She does most of her work for trade, or the occasional small fee, and she’s been training Shelly as an assistant even though Shelly’s mother doesn’t approve.

Grandma doesn’t get rid of every ghost she comes across. Sometimes ghosts deserve to do their haunting. Sometimes people deserve to be haunted.

“You don’t take ghosts from a graveyard,” Grandma says, braiding Shelly’s hair so she won’t catch any ghosts she doesn’t want. “Not unless they want to go, then you can let them out. Most of those ghosts, they’ll leave if they really want to. Same with churches and temples, sacred places. They deserve to stay.”

When Shelly’s mother dies, she can no longer accept the rules her grandmother taught her. She begins stealing ghosts in an effort to find her mother, wanting just a few more moments with her. Not every dead person becomes a ghost, but even though it seems Shelly’s mother has already moved on, Shelly finds herself unable to let go. It’s a beautiful story exploring family, loss, grief, and love. It packs an emotional punch, while offering moments of lightness and humor as well, and overall, it is an excellent starting place for Mills’ work.

Fiyah 2Eden Royce has been a bridal consultant, reptile handler, and a stockbroker, as well as an author whose work spans multiple genres. My recommended starting place for her work is Graverobbing Negress Seeks Employment from Fiyah #2. Prosper is a rootworker who uses the healing skills her mother taught her in order to brew tea to bring back the dead. She also saves a little for herself, just enough to ease her pain and extend her life by a few more years so she can keep doing the work that’s needed of her.

Even though most church-going Negroes claimed to be scared of me, saying I wasn’t natural, I eased their minds by returning their kin to them so they could rest on blessed ground. Whispers about me had been going around the city for years, in the parlors and in the paper mills, on the farms and in the ironworks. If you can find your dead, then you better find Miss Prosper next.

Most of those she brings back are lynching victims. Her work isn’t easy or pretty, but it’s important, bringing some small measure of peace to grieving families. A young boy comes to her after the remains of his brother, who had been missing for years, are found. They’re on the land owned by Runnin’ Jack, a notoriously dangerous man who deals in liquor and numbers and who doesn’t take kindly to trespassers. Prosper takes the job regardless of the risk. Jack finds her at her work, attacks her, and she discovers that not only is he a black man passing as white, he’s a serial killer who has been using lynchings and other violence to hide his crimes. Royce packs a lot into a relatively short story, delivering a powerful tale. Even though its set in the past, the story resonates with current events. It’s a story about those who are seen by society at large as disposable, against whom violence is so common that it’s almost expected, and therefore dismissed. For all the pain, there is a hopeful note to the story as well. It shares elements with Mills’ story, in its focus on healing and bringing peace to the dead and those who mourn them. Both stories also deal with community on a certain level as well. Royce’s story underlines how the death of a single person wounds a whole community, but also shows that community fighting back, as friends and neighbors who put their own lives at risk to help each other. It isn’t an easy or comfortable story, but it isn’t meant to be. It’s an excellent story, and a wonderful starting place for Royce’s work.

Six WakesMur Lafferty is a Campbell award winner, twice the winner of the the Manly Wade Wellman Award, and a Hugo finalist for her podcasting work. My recommended starting place for her work is her latest novel, Six Wakes. Maria wakes in the cloning bay of a ship, with dead bodies floating all around her, including her own. The gravity is off, there are clear signs of violence, and something is obviously very wrong. She wakes the other members of the crew, all clones, and even though they should have mindmaps from their previous selves, the last thing each of them remembers is boarding the ship. They soon discover the pilot’s previous clone hanged himself, while the captain’s is still technically alive, but in a coma. To make things even worse, the ship’s AI is unresponsive, and they’re off course. Since none of their cargo of cryogenically frozen colonists are awake, one of them must be the murderer. The basic premise could be likened to cult classics like House on Haunted Hill, and Clue, but instead of a guests invited to a creepy old mansion, clones are invited to serve on a spaceship. Each of them has a criminal past, accepting the job in exchange for wiping their records clean. Lafferty does an excellent job of slowly unfolding each character, and of course they all have secrets and a potential motive. The six wakes of the titles also gives the book its structure – from the waking of the clones, to the waking of the AI, to new knowledge being woken in the characters. The characters are well-rounded, and given new depths as the novel progresses. Lafferty manages to keep the tension high and maintain sense that any one of them really could be the killer. Among the grim circumstances, there are touches of humor, engaging character interactions, and excellent worldbuilding. The novel unfolds is tightly plotted and brilliantly executed, making it a wonderful starting point for Lafferty’s work.

That brings us to the end of September’s Women to Read. I’ll be back with more recommendations next month when it’s actually Halloween season. In the meantime, please do leave your own recommendations for fantastic women to read in the comments!

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Non-Binary Authors to Read: Where to Start – Part 9

Hello, my lovelies! It’s time for another installment of Non-Binary Authors to Read. If you’re looking to catch up on the series, you can do so here. And now that you’re all caught up, onward to new recommendations!

Anathema Issue 2Wen Ma is a queer, non-binary, author, editor, and translator  from Hong Kong who also dabbles in illustration. My recommended starting place for their work is Everything You Left Behind from Issue #2 of Anathema Magazine. The story takes place in a city where time is frozen. An event called the Nothing stopped it, and no one within the bubble can die or grow old. The protagonist’s lover disappears, and all they know about the disappearance for certain is that the last person to see their lover was The Pain Merchant, a man who takes hurts big and small away from people in exchange for a piece of themselves. The protagonist knows exactly what pain their lover sought to get rid of – the death of the couple’s daughter just before the Nothing froze time. Looking for answers, they seek out the Pain Merchant themself, and make an odd request – they want to take their lover’s pain rather than pain of their own taken away. A trade is agreed upon, and they drink the pain their lover gave up.

But this isn’t my pain, isn’t my grief. It’s yours, at once alien and achingly familiar. I’m drowning in it, trying to keep my head above the waves even as the storm threatens to pull me under.

By consuming it, the protagonist comes to understand the rift between them and their lover, the doubt and guilt their lover felt, the questions they couldn’t stop asking. If they’d never adopted Fara, if they’d lived somewhere else, would things be different? They see how their lover came to resent them in a way for processing grief differently, and come to understand why they left. It’s a lovely story, beautifully written, and despite the subject matter, it’s not without hope. While it is a story about grief, it’s also a story about finding a way through grief, and learning to see the world through someone else’s eyes. The story meditates on loss, family, and the fundamental isolation of humans. No matter how well we know someone, we can never see and feel and experience the world exactly as they do. This is echoed in the story by the unchanging nature of the city, cut off from the world, and bringing into question what the point of anything is in a world without time. However in this story, the protagonist is given the rare opportunity to understand at least one aspect of their lover completely, and that brings hope. It’s a gorgeous story and an excellent starting place for Wen Ma’s work.

Latonya Pennington is a queer essayist who regularly contributes to Black Girl Nerds, The Mary Sue, Beyond Words, and BuzzFeed. My recommended starting place for her work is actually two essays, which I see as being thematically linked – What Magical Girls Taught Me About Being Queer, and When Will Black Coming-of-Age Films Leave the Hood. The first article is more personal, discussing how Sailor Moon helped the author realize her queerness, and deal with coming out to her friends and family. The second article is more general, questioning the way many black coming-of-age movies follow the pattern of Boyz n The Hood rather than presenting a wider range of black, teenage experiences. Although their subject matter differs, similar themes resonate across both articles. Both pieces underline the critical importance of representation, and being able to find yourself in fiction and film. They also  highlight the importance of portraying a diversity of experiences. Growing up black is not a monolithic experience, nor is being female, queer, disabled, etc. Marginalized voices are already erased and dismissed, and presenting only one model of femininity, queerness, blackness, or anything else, only further erases individuals. It’s othering and alienating. Both articles also make the point that the more representation there is out there, the more likely we are to see ourselves reflected on the page and on the screen, and that can literally be a life changing and/or a life saving experience. They’re both excellent articles and a worthy starting place for Pennington’s work.

SunvaultT.X. Watson is an author, activist, and the co-founder of Solarpunk Press, a short fiction magazine celebrating the solarpunk sub-genre. Appropriately enough, my recommended starting place for their work is the opening story from the anthology Sunvault: Stories of Solarpunk and Eco-Speculation. The Boston Hearth Project is written as an admissions essay from a prospective student, Andie Freeman, who is applying to X.S.U. The question in particular zie is answering is “When have you worked well as part of a team?” The answer may be slightly illegal, but after being assured that application essays are confidential, zie relates the story of working with a team of activists to take over a first class hotel and turn it into a homeless shelter. Andie is an e-sports expert, and takes on almost Oracle-like role on the team, guiding Juniper, an urban explorer and parkour practioner, through the building – avoiding guards, and security cameras – in order to stage the takeover.

Practicing with AugR was like learning to operate another body. I learned new limits for what was physically possible. I know how far back Jupiter’s arms can go before they hurt, and how much farther before they’ll keep hurting afterward. I know how high she can jump. I know how soft she can land.

One of the defining characteristics of solarpunk is its hopeful nature. It imagines a better future, one that embraces diversity, and where people work together toward the greater good. Andie’s team can be seen as a kind of future version of Robin Hood and his merry men, robbing from the rich to give to the poor, and making innovative use of technology to do so. The structure of the story is clever, opening with an email exchange between Andie and an X.S.U. admissions counselor before going in to the essay. Because it’s written as a personal essay, the story doesn’t lose any immediacy, so Watson remains free to show us the friendship between Andie and zier team, along with the tense action of the break in and occupation itself. In a time when it’s all too easy to imagine a grim future where corporations and profit are valued over individual people, and hate-speech is given free rein, The Boston Hearth Project offers hope. It is a story of camaraderie, resistance, and working for a greater good, all of which make it an excellent, and timely, starting place for T.X. Watson’s work.

As always, please leave your own recommendations for non-binary authors to read in the comments, and I’ll be back with more recommendations soon!

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