Category Archives: Recommended Reading

Women to Read: Where to Start: May 2017

Welcome to another edition of Women to Read: Where to Start. If you’re new to the series, you can catch up with the tabs along the header, collecting my past posts by year. Basically, I recommend women whose work you should read, and point to a particular place to start. Here we go!

Queers Destroy Science FictionSusan Jane Bigelow is an author, librarian, political columnist, and is responsible for the Extrahuman Union series. My recommended starting place for her work is Die, Sophie, Die from Queers Destroy Science Fiction!, a special project of Lightspeed Magazine. The story centers on Sophie, a woman who finds herself the target of harassment due to an article in which she dares to express an opinion which proves unpopular with online trolls. She’s subject to rape threats, death threats, and doxxing – all the usual tools of online harassment. While most of the threats Sophie faces are sadly common, the uncommon element manifests in what appears to be a twitter bot with the power to circumvent all her blocks. At first it tells her to kill herself, as do many of the other messages she receives, but gradually the messages change until they seem to be asking for help. Sophie sets out to investigate, bringing her face to face both with an unexpected aspect of technology, and one of her all too human trolls. Bigelow states in the Author Spotlight accompanying her story that she’s luckily never been the target of online harassment in this way. However I suspect the story will strike a nerve with many/any women who have seen this very situation happen over and over again. The very fact that Bigelow considers herself lucky stands as a testament to how prevalent trolling and harassment are. What should be an aberration is sadly all too common. Women who express opinions in public have sadly come to expect this kind of treatment. In Die, Sophie, Die, Bigelow puts the horror of the situation front and center, showing the impact on every aspect of Sophie’s life. Bigelow gives her story an SFnal twist that offers a note of hope, but even this hope highlights the dark side of social media. Something new is born in the form of a singularity, however it makes itself known through harassment, realizing that hate is a surefire way to get itself noticed. The story serves both as commentary on a phenomenon impacting many women, and a satisfying SFnal tale. On both fronts, it is an excellent starting place for Bigelow’s work.

Next up, my recommended starting place for Khaalida Muhammad-Ali is Concessions published at Strange Horizons. The story is set against a backdrop of scarcity. The protagonist, Bilqis, is a doctor, one with the power to determine the health of mothers and the babies they carry just by touching them. Bordering the land of scarcity is a prosperous city, however entry requires the renouncement of faith. As a result, Bilqis and her lover, Sule, live in exile, scrabbling for their existence, and hoping for the best for the child Bilqis carries. The story shines in its relationships – between Bilqis and Sule, a relationship palpably suffused with love; between Bilqis and her mentor Miriama, a relationship of respect, but weighted with expectation; between Bilqis and Isa, her mentee, a protective relationship; and between Bilqis and Dorian, a relationship between colleagues turned deadly and sour. As the title implies, the story explores sacrifice, and the question of what compromises a person might be willing to make in order to survive. The question of spiritual survival (i.e. faith) versus physical survival (i.e. the ability to make a living) plays a central role, showing the potential complications and conflict inherent in the relationship between the two in a post-apocalyptic setting. It’s a lovely and painful story, and a worthy starting place for Muhammad-Ali’s work.

Lilliam Rivera is an award winning author whose YA novel, The Education of Margot Sanchez, was released earlier this year. My recommended starting place for her work is The H8TE, originally published in Sucker Literary, and reprinted at Nightmare Magazine. On the surface, The H8TE is a zombie story, but underneath it’s a story about the complicated love between a mother and daughter, and navigating the cliques, jealousies, and relationships that come with high school. Sarah’s mother has been stricken by the N1H8 virus, or as it’s known, The H8TE, reducing her to mindless, hungry creature. Sarah keeps her chained up in a bedroom, doing her best to keep her alive while keeping anyone else from finding out about her. Her best friend, Brenda, has a new friend, Alison, who seems intent on turning Brenda against her. Sarah’s only real ally is Ray, who is like a brother to her. However accepting help from Ray means putting him in danger, and putting her mother in danger as well. Lilliam perfectly captures Sarah’s isolation, both self-imposed, and from her peers. She’s in an impossible situation, forced to shoulder too much responsibility for her age, and left with nowhere to turn. As the best zombie stories do, The H8TE uses the supernatural to reflect very real fears – the idea of losing a loved one, and the idea of a child forced to take on the role of the parent, caring for the person who is supposed to care for and protect them, and doing it alone. At the same time, Lilliam weaves in social pressure and the casual cruelty of teenagers toward each other as they try to find their place in the world. For many, seemingly the quickest way to ascend in the social order is to separate and metaphorically consume the weakest in the pack. It’s an effective story, encapsulating many fears, and its an excellent starting place for the author’s work.

Never Now AlwaysFinally, my recommended starting place for Desirina Boskovich’s work is the novella, Never Now Always, which will be published by Broken Eye Books in June, and is currently available for pre-order. Lolo lives with other children in a vast labyrinth, overseen by the Caretakers, creatures with staring eyes, but no mouths or ears. The Caretakers experiment on the children, forcing them to remember events from their past, though each time they do, the memories seem different. From the start, Boskovich plunges the reader into the same disorienting world that the characters inhabit, where dreams, nightmares, and memories all blur together. Reality itself is in question, but the one thing Lolo is sure of is that she has a sister, and that her sister was taken from her. Some of Lolo’s memories are beautiful, like a Fourth of July cookout, and playing in the grass with her sister and their dog. Others are visions of loss, her sister ripped away from her on a playground, a strange city where Harvesters devour children and fill the streets with blood. The narrative is threaded with uncertainty. Which memories are real, the idyllic ones, or the terror? What do the Caretakers want? Boskovich uses language effectively to capture this uncertainty, and the shifting nature of reality. The children’s sense of time and even themselves is fragile, threatening to unravel at any moment. While Lolo struggles to hold onto her truth, and searches for her sister, a sense of despair hangs over the narrative as well. Boskovich draws parallels between her nightmare world and the dark side of being a child. Everyone is bigger than you. You have no power. Your reality is defined by the adults around you, and if they don’t have your best interests at heart, what then? How do you fight back? Can you? Or will the ones in control of your environment, your food and shelter, of telling you what to think and what’s best for you, prevail in the end?

“There have always been taller ones, stronger ones, ones who knew what we didn’t know,” Gor says, hesitant. “Before the structure. Before the labyrinth. Before the Caretakers. They’ve always been there. They’ve always hurt us.”

It’s a chilling statement, but one that carries a ring of truth. Along with this dystopian vision, Boskovich also explores the importance of stories, the ones we tell ourselves and each other, and how they help us navigate the world. Even when the situation is terrifying, the story is beautifully written. Never Now Always is frightening, effective, and disorienting, and a worthy starting place for Boskovich’s work.

That’s it for this month’s Women to Read. I’ll be back with more recommendations in June. As always, I would love to hear about your favorites. Drop me a note in the comments with women I should be reading, and where to start with their work.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Recommended Reading

Politics, Fungi, and Magic (aka Spring Book Love 2017)

In keeping with my effort to highlight books I’ve enjoyed in the year they’re published, and not leave it to the last-minute awards season to recommend them, here are a few recent reads I loved and I hope others might love, too.

First up, Lara Elena Donnelly’s debut novel, Amberlough. AmberloughFrom the first, I was absolutely captivated by the stunning cover art for this book, and found myself looking forward to it without knowing anything about it. After reading it, I was delighted to learn that two sequels have been announced, and I’m eagerly awaiting them. I’ll admit, on actually cracking the book open, the barrage of names, political affiliations, factions, and loyalties was a bit overwhelming, but a lot of that is down to my own reading preferences. The characters immediately won me over, and carried me past any initial difficulty in remembering who was loyal to who, and what each person had to gain by betraying/working with someone (or not). Cyril de Paul is a spy, who is vehemently in denial about his deep feelings for Aristide Makricosta, a flamboyant cabaret performer, and also a black market dealer in drugs, secret identities, information, stolen goods, and other things. Cordelia Lehane is one of Ari’s fellow performers at the Bumble Bee Cabaret, who agrees to run drugs for him and act as Cyril’s beard for her own ends. The relationships are complicated, but delicious. Every character has their own motivation, unfolded and explored more deeply as the novel progresses, and they are all fully realized, and beautifully drawn. The world is decadent and gorgeous, with settings, fashion, and meals described in loving detail. At the same time, the threat of political machinations, revolution, police crackdowns, and arrests, are never far from mind. The story is by turns heartbreaking, brutal, and tender. Watching Cyril and Ari deal with their feelings for each other, two characters who take great pride in their professions and never letting anything get past their armor, is wonderful and painful all at once. Similarly, witnessing Cordelia’s toughness and vulnerability as she deals with the changing reality of the world around her is incredible. She undergoes a harrowing journey, and emerges altered on the other side, but never betrays the core of who she is. Amberlough is a story of shifting identities and loyalties, with everyone living a double or triple life, but with each character staying true to themselves. At the heart of everything, it is a story about found family and profound devotion, with everyone doing the best the can to protect those who mean the most to them. It’s a slick and stylish book, and a fantastic read to boot.

Agents of DreamlandCaitlin R. Kiernan’s novella Agents of Dreamland is slick and stylish in a completely different way. Kiernan mashes-up Lovecraftian horror, suicide cults, off-the-books-men- in-black-style paranormal investigators, and real scientific phenomenon like Ophyiocordryceps unilateralis, the “zombie fungus”, which takes over ants and essentially forces them to do its bidding. An agent known as the Signalman is sent to investigate a suicide cult at a ranch house in the desert. What he and his fellow agents find there is horrifying – an unnatural scene of carnage with only one survivor. Following this harrowing discovery, the Signalman makes contact with Immacolata Sexton, a woman who also information about the cult to trade for what he knows. The narrative shifts between the points of the view of the Signalman, Immacolata, and Chloe, the sole surviving member of the suicide cult. The Lovecraftian touches are light, adding to the depth and richness of the story which feels like a small slice of a larger world. While the novella is completely self-contained, it does hint at a bigger story, with Immacolata seeming to be a semi-immortal being unstuck in time, and the Signalman being “a man with a past”. Chole’s viewpoint is particularly poignant, as a junkie caught up in the promise of a better world. The supernatural horror is grounded and lent extra weight with references to real life Heaven’s Gate cult, and the zombie fungus. As mentioned, the story feels like it takes place in a larger world, one that was unfolding before the reader arrived, and one that will continue after the reader leaves. At the same time, it’s a perfectly encapsulated bite of darkness, one with a strong and engaging voice. Lovecraft fans and non-Lovecraft fans should each find something to appreciate about this wonderful work.

Passing StrangeLast, but not least, another highly recommended work is Passing Strange, a novella by Ellen Klages. Like Agents of Dreamland, it’s a quick read, but one with a completely different tone. Set in San Francisco in the 1940s, the story focuses on a group of queer women who exist on the margins of society based on their sexuality, their ethnicity, and their relationship to their families. The story shifts between multiple points of view, which can be slightly jarring at times. While the information delivered in each section is crucial, and all the characters engaging, these shifts mean the story takes a while to hit its stride and find its heart. That heart is the romance between Haskell, a pulp artist, and Emily, a young woman who struck out on her own after being kicked out of boarding school for her relationship with a classmate, and disowned by her family for the same. Helen Young is also a central character, an American-born lawyer/dancer who plays up her Asian heritage for tourists at the Forbidden Palace supper club. The city of San Francisco is also a character in its own right, as is the World’s Fair, and Mona’s, a club primarily patronized by queer women. The story is a romance and a beautifully-told slice of life, and magic and the supernatural is woven in with a light touch. Helen can fold space and time through the art of origami, creating short cuts through the city, and Haskell has magic of her own, inherited from her grandmother. Art, queer life in 1940s San Francisco, and the wonder of the World’s Fair, all have integral roles to play in the story. As mentioned, the characters are all strong and engaging, even though the transition between their voices can lead to their stories feeling fragmentary at times. In the end, the shifting narrative isn’t truly a detriment. Dipping in and out of various characters’ lives gives a fuller picture of the city, making the world feel real, lived in, and well-populated. Haskell and Emily’s story is charming, and their relationship feels real. The first moments between them have genuine sparks, and that moment of passion only deepens as the story unfolds. Along with everything else, reading the story made me want to revisit San Francisco. It’s a magical city in multiple senses of the word, and Passing Strange accurately captures that.

Now that I’ve recommended several recent reads I loved, I’ll close out with some upcoming titles I’m highly anticipating.

Horizon by Fran Wilde, the final book in her excellent Bone Universe trilogy set in a world of man-made wings and cities of living bone.

River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey, a novella about feral hippos in the swamps of Louisiana and the people who wrangle them.

Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin, the final book in the Broken Earth trilogy, a world populated by, among other things, powerful orogenes who can manipulate the earth itself.

Shadowhouse Fall by Daniel José Older, the sequel to his excellent YA novel about graffiti and magic.

A Song for Quiet by Cassandra Khaw, the follow up to her Lovecraftian novella, Hammers on Bone, this one centered on a Georgia bluesman on the run from trouble.

The Beautiful Ones by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, a decadent historical romance.

Buffalo Soldier by Maurice Broaddus, a steampunk-flavored alt-history with a dash of espionage thrown in for good measure.

Mad Hatters and March Hares edited by Ellen Datlow, an anthology of stories inspired by Alice in Wonderland.

The Refrigerator Monologues by Catherynne M. Valente, a series of inter-connected short stories taking on the friged woman trope.

An Unkindness of Magicians by Kat Howard, a novel about magicians in New York City vying for control of a dwindling magic.

The Red Threads of Fortune and The Black Tides of Heaven by JY Yang, a pair of novellas about twins who may just be the key to the fate of their world.

Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado, a short story collection from a brilliant author.

So You Want to Be a Robot and Other Stories by A. Merc Rustad, a story story collection from a wonderful author, exploring sexuality, humanity, gender, and much more.

That’s by no means a comprehensive list of the books I’m looking forward to, but it’s a good start. Of course it doesn’t even touch on all the books I still need to catch up on either. If y’all could slow down with the writing of fabulous things for a while, it would really help me out.

1 Comment

Filed under Recommended Reading

Women to Read: Where to Start: April 2017

Welcome to another edition of Women to Read: Where to Start. This month’s stories deal with families, ancestors, superheroes, and ghosts, among other things. Four short stories by four wonderful authors – away we go!

BlueBellowAlexis Pauline Gumbs is primarily a non-fiction author, but my recommended starting place for her work is BlueBellow, published at Strange Horizons. The narrator, Serena is flying to London for work. In the airport, she catches a glimpse of a woman who looks a lot like her sister, and in fact a lot like Serena herself. She passes it off as a coincidence, and boards her flight, but the strangeness only continues in London. Gumbs unfolds the narrative in a dreamlike manner. Time feels fluid, with Serena at some future point relating events that have already happened, but which also feel as though they’re happening in an eternal now. The voice of the piece shifts throughout as well, from first person, to third, to the collective we. Rather than being a distraction, these shifts add to the liminal feeling of the story, existing on the border between the real and the unreal.

First you think it’s jet lag. At some point you make a joke to yourself about how you have finally internalized their thing about how “all black people look alike.” At the beginning a lot of us just tucked it away along with everything else that didn’t make sense about our lives. And we moved on. As always.

Serena is not the only one who has seen her ‘twin’. In London, she discovers a group of others who have also experienced the phenomenon. Specifically, a group of black people whose ancestors crossed the water on slave ships, from Africa to the Caribbean, to America, and Europe. These ghostly twins, who some think of as mermaids, appear in reflective surfaces – mirrors, puddles, glasses of water. They want something, but it isn’t clear what. The shifts in time and voice also help connect the story to a chain of history. Horrors happened to the present day narrators’ ancestors, and horrors are still happening to the black community here and now. Gumbs also weaves in contrasts between black Europeans and black Americans, along with questions of diaspora, identity, and family. The story is gorgeously told, even when the subject matter is painful. It’s an uneasy story, one that doesn’t offer answers, making the point that the story is still ongoing, and there’s a long way to go. It’s a beautiful and effective piece, and an excellent starting place for the author’s work.

Next up, my recommended starting place for Kathleen Kayembe’s work is the novelette You Will Always Have Family: A Triptych, from Nightmare Magazine. Isobelle is staying with her uncle while she goes to school. There are strange noises coming from her cousin’s old room – a cousin who disappeared a few years ago – which her uncle claims are made by a dog.

But dogs don’t bang on doors with the sound of a shoulder or a fist. Dogs don’t rasp obscenities in jagged French with a voice as sweet as sugar cane. Dogs don’t make fear rise up in your bones from somewhere so deep you didn’t know it was there. They don’t make you afraid to turn away from whatever space they could inhabit, or to sit with your back to the door they are behind, or to close your eyes—even to blink—for fear they will be in front of you when your eyes open again. They don’t fill your chest to bursting with a haze of adrenaline and sluggishness. The whispers of dogs are not meant to haunt our dreams.

Even though Isobelle is content to let the room be and not meddle where things are clearly not right, the thing in the room has other ideas. One night Isobelle hears noises outside the room, and when she investigates, she and her uncle are attacked by something wearing the skin of her cousin who disappeared, Mbyui, now a tattered, rotting corpse. Mbyui means older twin, and as a child Isobelle always asked her cousin why there was no Kanku, no younger twin. What unfolds from here is a complicated story of family, love, betrayal, and loyalty, told in three voices – Isobelle, Kanku, and Mbyui. Once upon a time, there was a younger twin, but Kanku and Mbyui’s father believed Kanku to be a witch responsible for their mother’s death. As a result, he abandoned Kanku to die in in Kinshasa and took Mbyui to America. Kanku learned to possess other bodies, spending years moving from one to the next, waiting for revenge. The rotting corpse is not the real horror of the story. The true horror comes from the betrayal of the father against his son. The idea of a child left behind by a parent, the person who is supposed to love and protect him, is heartbreaking. While Mbyui never gives up on his brother, the love between them is complicated, twisted by what their father did. Ultimately, it is a story of reconciliation and forgiveness, one that just happens to have the supernatural woven through the family dynamics that ultimately bring the brothers back together. It’s a beautiful story, and often painful, but does end on a note of hope, and it’s an excellent starting place for Kayembe’s work.

On a far lighter note, my recommended starting place for Kristen Brand’s work is How Lady Nightmare Stole Captain Alpha’s Girlfriend published in Luna Station Quarterly. I’m a sucker for superhero stories, and this one has fun with the trope of the girlfriend kidnapped by the supervillain to get the hero’s attention. At the same time, it adds depth to the scenario, and some genuinely sweet moments. The story opens with Sara being tied up by Lady Nightmare who then places a call to Captain Alpha, delivering the standard “if you ever wants to see your girlfriend again…” ultimatum. The story could easily be cheesy, or paint by numbers, but it’s neither. As Sara waits for Captain Alpha’s arrival, she immediately beings worrying about the state of her apartment.

Sara didn’t drink, so no, but she couldn’t say anything as Lady Nightmare strolled into her kitchen. Oh, crap, her kitchen. There must be at least two days’ worth of dirty dishes in the sink, and when was the last time she’d taken out the trash? If Sara had known someone would be breaking into her home today, she would have cleaned.

It’s a nice touch, humanizing her, as does her interaction with Lady Nightmare. It quickly becomes clear that Sara isn’t exactly Captain Alpha’s girlfriend. They went on one date after he rescued her from an armed robbery because she was too polite to say no. He spent the entire date talking about himself, talking over her, and when she tried to indicate her lack of interest, he brushed her off. Everyone is interested; he’s Captain Alpha after all. The title of the story gives away the ending, but the point of the story is the journey, not the destination. The story makes a point about a certain kind of toxic masculinity, and the kind of men who believe they are owed something by women, as well as the pressure on women to be nice, play along, and not make a fuss. To counterbalance the darkness, there are sweet moments between Lady Nightmare and Sara, whose chemistry and genuine interest in and concern for each other is evident from the start. The characters, and their ultimate humanity, are what carry the story, and make it a worthy starting place for Brand’s work.

FiyahFinally, my recommended starting place for L.D. Lewis‘ work is Chesirah from the debut issue of Fiyah. Chesirah, the title character, is a fenox, constantly burning and being reborn from the ashes. She’s spent most of her life in captivity, a curiosity for rich men. Her current captor is Nazar, a dollmaker who wants her to be his muse. He alternately beats her and tries to bribe her with gifts, claiming to love her, while refusing to let her go. She’s been plotting her escape, and makes it, but once she does, she finds herself on the run with few options. She’s a murderer twice over, and there’s almost a sense that she never expected to escape and thus didn’t plan too far beyond getting out of her cage. While trying to come up with a plan, Chesirah encounters a mysterious woman named Esperanza, and her companion, a man named Vannish, performers from the Cirque Nocturna who invite her to join them. There is something otherworldly about them, and Chesirah doesn’t entirely trust them. She’s determined to make it on her own, hoping to stow away on an airship. When she’s recognized by someone who has seen one of the dollmaker’s carvings of her, and is cornered and threatened, Chesirah is left with no choice but to burn. She fears for the fate of her ashes, but she wakes on a airship under the care of Esperanza and Vannish, and decides to give the Cirque Nocturna a chance after all. The worldbuilding and descriptions are rich and lovely, and the story feels like a a first step in  larger tale. While the story is perfectly self contained, it’s easy to imagine Chesirah’s life of adventure with the Cirque Nocturna. Underlying the sense of adventure and fun however, the story has a lot to say about freedom and captivity, different kinds of power, and those who use and abuse others, claiming all the while to be doing it for their own good or protection. There are chillings parallels to domestic violence situations, however the power of fiction is to give us hope and offer better endings where those who have been abused regain power, agency, and freedom. It’s a wonderful story, one which I hope may have a follow-up one day with Chesirah’s continuing adventures, and either way, it is an excellent starting place for Lewis’ work.

That’s it for April’s Women to Read. I’ll be back with more recommendations in May, and in the meantime, please leave your own suggestions for women to read in the comments!

Leave a Comment

Filed under Recommended Reading

Women to Read: Where to Start: March 2017

Welcome to March’s Women to Read! Yesterday was International Women’s Day, so really I should have had this post up yesterday. Actually, I meant to have this post up on March 1st, so I’m really late, but who’s counting? Any day is a good day to discuss work by women, so here we go!

KindredThere’s a good chance every one and their mother has already read Octavia Butler’s Kindred, but there are may also be folks like me who are embarrassingly late in reading it. Either way, with the recently-released graphic novel adaptation, now seems like the perfect time to read or re-read the original. Kindred is the sort of book that should be required on every high school curriculum. It’s far more relevant than many of the things that seem to be standard choices, however with the way required reading varies across schools, hopefully at least some teachers are getting this book into their students’ hands. The story centers on Dana, a young woman who finds herself repeatedly pulled out of her life in 1976, and flung back in time. Her fate, it seems, is linked to a white ancestor of hers, Rufus, the son of a slave owner. The first time she meets him, he’s  a young child and she saves him from drowning. She barely has time to speak to him, or anyone else, before she’s returned home, dripping wet and confused, where she and her husband, Kevin, try to determine what happened to her. Following this first brief encounter, Dana is pulled back several more times, always when Rufus is in danger. Extreme fear for her own life seems to be the key to sending her home, but beyond that, she has no control over when she’ll travel. From the start, Dana and Rufus have a complicated relationship. If he dies, she’ll never be born. She needs him, but he needs her, too in a way, despite the unequal degrees of power between them. When they first meet, Rufus is a frightened child; Dana is an adult who can protect him, but she’s also a black woman and he’s a white boy. Even though she doesn’t want to like him, Dana can’t help having  sympathy for him. He likes and trusts her, and wants her around. But each time Dana is pulled into the past, Rufus is a little older. The older he gets, the more he becomes like his father – a casually cruel man – which doesn’t pair well with Rufus’ natural spoiled, selfish behavior. On one hand, he’s cowed and terrified of his father, on the other, he’s indulged and spoiled by his mother, giving him a conflicted and confused world view. Dana does her best to guide him, but there’s only so much she can do. Things are further complicated when Kevin is pulled into the past with Dana on one of her trips. Now he finally sees the horrors Dana has witnessed for himself, however the privilege of his white skin protects him. They become separated, and Kevin is stuck in the past. When they are finally reunited, Kevin has been living in the past for years, and Butler shows the subtle ways it changes his attitude as a white man. He’s still Kevin, but not quite the Kevin Dana knew before. Every one of the relationships in Kindred is complicated, and Butler never shies away this fact. Dana’s relationship with her black female ancestor, Alice, is particularly complicated. Alice is married to another man, though Rufus claims to love her. When Alice and her husband Isaac try to run away, they are captured, Isaac is mutilated and sold, and Alice is savagely beaten. Rufus is still determined to have Alice, and Dana is faced with the horror of knowing that in order to exist, she will have to facilitate Alice’s rape. The last time Dana encounters Rufus, Alice has committed suicide, and their strange, intertwined relationship comes to a head. Now that he is older and has been fully indoctrinated into the attitudes of his time, Rufus’ love for Dana has become completely twisted. He wants to control her, possess her, and he hates that he cannot. He wants her to love him freely, replacing Alice in his life, but as with Alice, he is willing to break her in order to exert control. Dana ultimately kills him to save herself, breaking their bond, and returns home for the last time. Kindred is a relatively short novel, but it is packed full and feels epic in scope. The arcs Butler takes her characters through are painful, but as an author, she does not flinch away and she asks the reader not to either. Rufus goes from a somewhat sympathetic, scared and lonely child to a grown man who is terrifying in the ways he tries to fill the loveless hole in his life, whose selfishness has grown to the point where he doesn’t recognize the humanity of others. Dana, for her part, must viscerally live through horrors she’s always known about intellectually, and it leaves her scarred both mentally and physically. Kindred isn’t an easy book, but it is an important and worthwhile one, and an excellent place to start with Butler’s incredible body of work.

Next up, my recommended starting place for S.B. Divya’s work is Microbiota and the Masses: A Love Story, published at Tor.com. It’s worth nothing that Divya’s novella, Runtime, is nominated for a Nebula Award this year, and would also be an excellent starting place for her work. That said, Microbioata and the Masses is an excellent starting place as well. Moena Sivaram is a brilliant scientist who’s been living in isolation for years in a biodome of her own design. Moena’s immune system is such that she can’t be outside her biodome without getting sick, however inside she’s in perfect balance with her carefully cultivated environment and it keeps her safe. The perfect balance is upset when a crack develops in one of the biodome’s windows. At the same time, a crack develops in Moena’s resolve as the repairman who comes to fix the window is incredibly attractive. In addition to working for the window company, Rahul also works with the Hariharan Ecological Group to clean up the local water systems, which only makes him more intriguing. Even after he leaves, Moena can’t stop thinking about him, but she’s convinced he won’t want her as herself. She’s a living legend in the scientific world, and she’s sick. Despite the risk, she decides Rahul is worth it. She invents a false personality, Meena, and leaves the biodome to volunteer for the water clean up project. Where the story could have easily been about Moena sacrificing her life’s work and her health for the sake of a crush, the story becomes about two people meeting in the middle, and Moena learning more about herself and her humanity. She stays true to her scientific brilliance, working to find a solution for the water problem. While she partially does it to impress Rahul, she also does it for the greater good, and for the love of science. Moena ultimately comes off as a young character, not necessarily in age, but in experience. Circumstances have separated her from the world, and as a result, she is emotionally stunted. She is impulsive, prone to dramatic gestures like the image of teenage love in Romeo and Juliet. Underneath the impulsiveness, though, she is lonely, and part of what she does is out of fear. Over the course of the story, Moena essentially grows up, learning the value of honesty, and learning to let Rahul into her world, both literally and metaphorically. The story presents a satisfying arc for Moena; she grows as the narrative itself comes full circle, back to the biodome. Another of the story’s strengths are the sensory impressions it leaves, contrasting the verdant, idyllic world inside the biodome with the harsh, crowded world outside. Overall, it’s an excellent story, and an excellent starting place for Divya’s work.

There are many starting places I could recommend for Damien Angelica Walters’ work. Her writing is lyrical and poetic, and she has dozens upon dozens of short stories to choose from, as well as her excellent novel, Paper Tigers. However my recommended starting point is Paskutinis Iliuzija (The Last Illusion), which originally appeared in Interzone, and has since been reprinted in Walters’ collection Sing Me Your Scars, and in Apex Magazine. In addition to being all the things Walters’ work usually is – rich in imagery and full of gorgeous language – it will also break your heart. Andrias Kavaluaskas is the last magician in Lithuania, and his young daughter is dying. There’s nothing he can do but keep her company, tell her stories, and occasionally show her little bits of magic. While Russian soldiers, the same who killed wife, patrol the city, he tells his daughter stories of mermaids, and underwater palaces, conjuring snowflakes and rabbits to distract her from her illness. Inside the world of his stories, everything is beautiful, but outside, there is a sense of the world growing smaller, darkness closing in. Walters delicately balances hope and despair, and she perfectly captures the sense of an oppressive regime – people living in fear in their own homes, watching their friends, neighbors, and even family disappear, and knowing there’s nothing they can do against those in power. At the same time, Andrius does have power, his magic and his storytelling. Elements of the story are reminiscent of Pan’s Labyrinth, and as with the ending of the movie, much of the end of the story depends on the reader’s willingness to believe in magic. Literal magic isn’t the only element at play, of course. Paskutinis Iliuzija is also a story about the power of story itself, the ability of words to bend the world around them. It’s a lovely story, even as it punches you in the gut, and it is an excellent starting place for the author’s work.

Upside DownTo round things out, my recommended starting place for Alethea Kontis’ work is a story that could easily have been goofy and groan-inducing, but ends up packing a surprisingly emotional punch, while being dark and gritty as well – Santa CIS (Episode One: No Saint) from the anthology Upside Down: Inverted Tropes in Storytelling. The trope Kontis tackles is the one of the old pro, long since retired and gone to live a solitary and guilt-ridden life, being pulled back in for one last job. As the title implies, the pro in this case is Santa. The story is a perfect mash-up of crime procedural, and well, Christmas. Kids have been going missing, and Buddy, one of Santa’s former elves, and now a special agent, sets out to find the big man himself as the only one who can help them. He presents Nick with a series of chilling letters from the missing children, all containing a phrase: Dear Santa, Please save me from the bad man. As Buddy is trying to convince Nick to join the cause, an NSA agent, Zhara Munin, shows up to further complicate things. This brings together all the genre essentials – the rival agents/agencies, each with their own priorities, the old pro, and the race against time. The fact that Father Christmas is involved gives it a delightful twist, even as the tone remains dark. Nick agrees to help, and the first step is tracking down the kidnapper via The List (yes, that one), which Santa accesses via a creepy wooden puppet who speaks with the voice of Christmas Future. The team track down their kidnapper, Dwight Griswold, but something feels off about the situation that none of them can quite put their finger on. When they find Griswold, it turns out he was once a frightened and hurt little boy who prayed for Santa to come save him, and when Santa never came, he lost his faith. Here, again, Kontis skillfully wraps the tropes of crime procedurals around a deeper mythology, weaving the guilt of the old pro’s past failures around the idea of belief, its powers, and holiday traditions from around the world. The blend is surprisingly effective, and again, never silly or campy. It works, and the story, while it comes to an end, is left open-ended in a way that perfectly suits the feel of episodic television. Genre mash-ups are always fun, and Kontis’ is one of the more unique ones I’ve seen. I never would have expected Santa Claus in a crime drama but it works, really well. The story left me hungry for more, which makes it a perfect recommended starting place in my mind. I do hope someday in the future, we’ll get another episode of CIS Santa, and perhaps even a whole season even.

That’s it for March’s Women to Read. I’ll be back in April with more recommendations, and hopefully I won’t be so late next time. Until then, please do leave your own recommendations in the comments. Who are your favorite women to read, and where do you suggest starting with their work?

Leave a Comment

Filed under Recommended Reading

Non-Binary Authors to Read: Where to Start – Part 7

Today is Valentine’s Day. Whether you’re into the holiday or not, around here it’s all the excuse I need to show some non-binary authors a bit of love. If you’re unfamiliar with the Non-Binary Authors to Read series, it’s a sibling-series to Women to Read wherein I recommend an author along with a starting place for their work, simple as that. If you’re new to the series, you can catch up here. Now, on to the recommendations.

Hidden YouthA.J. Odasso is a queer/intersex/neutrois author, poet, and poetry editor at Strange Horizons. My recommended starting place for her work is Feet of Clay from the anthology Hidden Youth, the follow-up anthology to Crossed Genres’ Long Hidden. Kleia is a young slave girl living in Byzantium, using clay figurines and sympathetic magic to try to make her ailing mistress well. Kleia’s master is also her father, and though he knows this, he doesn’t acknowledge her as a daughter. With his wife, Ireni, on her deathbed, he has his eye on Kleia as his next wife as she reminds him of her mother, a slave who died in childbirth. Elements of the story, particularly Kleia’s relationship with her father, call to mind the fairy tales Silver Hands and Donkey Skin. However all the relationships in the story are complicated. Ireni could never have children of her own, and thinks of Kleia as a daughter. The dynamic between mistress and slave, master and slave, and master and mistress results in a complex story of love, lust, and loyalty. The power imbalance between Ireni and Kleia means their relationship will always be tainted by their respective stations in life. This is true of almost all the characters in the story. For example, Laksa and Zakarias, two other servants in the household, treat Kleia like family, but Laksa also thinks of Ireni as a daughter. The story never shies away from the darker side of these relationships. Despite familial feelings, the knowledge that Kleia is property in the household is always in play. Odasso does an excellent job of showing people in the margins working together and protecting each other while also exploring their vulnerability. The characters are at the heart of this story, and the speculative elements add an extra layer of richness. Within a strong anthology, it was one of my favorite stories, and an excellent starting place for the author’s work.

JY Yang is a genderqueer author, and an editor at Epigram Books. My recommended starting place for their work is Secondhand Bodies, published in Lightspeed Magazine.

I have bad genes. My mother’s mother had a round face and a body that bulged like a beehive, a victim of bad metabolism that spared my mother but resurfaced in me, her wayward daughter. Much as clinicians have tried to iron out the kinks in my DNA, each body they generate still goes soft and gelatinous within months. This is my fourth body since I turned twenty. Nothing sticks, not diets, not exercise. Only overhauls.

Agatha lives in a world where the rich can afford to move into new bodies whenever their old ones become aesthetically unpleasing. Her family – particularly her obnoxious cousin Aloysius – is pressuring her into a new body. He has connections at company that can set her up with a permanent solution, eliminating the need to constantly switch bodies, but since the company only grows a limited supply, Agatha has to be willing to illegally sell her current body. While consulting with the doctor, Agatha sees a picture of the woman who wants to buy her secondhand body. Maryam is beautiful and Agatha can’t understand why she would want to trade for a less than ideal body. She immediately becomes fascinated by her – attracted in a way that combines desire, with a desire to possess and subsume. Agatha initiates a relationship, even though donors and buyers aren’t supposed to meet; money can circumvent a lot of regulations. Like Odasso’s story, the relationship between Agatha and Maryam is complicated. There is an imbalance of power, wealth, social status, and Agatha has something Maryam desperately wants. Yang manages to make Agatha both an unlikable character, and sympathetic. There’s a lost quality to her; she genuinely doesn’t seem to know what she wants, and the societal and familial pressure she’s been under her whole life leads her to lash out at others in ugly ways. The story explores class, desire, beauty standards, and more, linking them all together to show the ways the world can make monsters of people and trap them at the same time. The story also explores the ethics of scientific and medical advances, and the divide been the haves and the have-nots when it comes to access. Overall, it’s an excellent story, and an excellent starting place for Yang’s work.

Since it’s Valentine’s Day, I’ll close out my recommendations with a bit of kink. Corey Alexander, who writes under the name Xan West, is a queer transgender erotica author. My recommended starting place for their writing is A Wolf’s Yearning, published on the author’s website as a Valentine’s gift to readers. While it’s more of a story snippet than a full tale, it’s still highly effective. Rocky is a sadist who also happens to be a werewolf, imagining taking hir new lover for the first time. As one might guess from the set up, the story involves pain play and dominance, and it is explicit. While the story itself might be brief, West/Alexander builds a lot into the character of Rocky, and the story is important for several reasons – it embraces kink unabashedly, and not only that, it embraces queer kink, non-binary kink, gender fluidity, and features a fat, middle-aged character of color enjoying sex. All too often in fiction of any genre, these identities are erased. In mainstream media especially, there is a narrow definition of what is considered attractive and thus what types of characters get to fully embrace their sexuality. Those characters are largely white, thin, young, and heteronormative. Everyone else is pushed to the margins. Fat characters, queer characters, and older characters are supposed to be sexless unless their sexuality is played for comedy, an outside gaze, or is strangely chaste, limited to hugs and the briefest of kisses. Pushing back against these norms, Rocky revels in hir sexuality and is unapologetic about it. West packs a lot into a short space, also exploring dominance, consent, and animal nature. Rocky doesn’t want to simply control Frankie; ze wants to possess her and mark her, the way a wolf does, for all others to see. The desire isn’t about claiming Frankie as exclusive property, but celebrating their relationship visibly and publicly, which circles back to the idea of pushing back against marginalized sexualities and identities being erased. It’s also a story of anticipation, of the act of wanting and desiring being fundamental to sex. There is a sense that both parties are entering new territory in this relationship; it will require trust, consent, and a willingness to give up a certain degree of control in order to obtain it. The story perfectly encapsulates the tipping point of setting off into the unknown, whether that’s embarking on a new relationship, or going on an adventure – anything and everything is possible. Yet gratification is delayed, leaving everything in the realm of imagination. Not only is this story an excellent starting place for the author’s work, it’s an excellent way to treat yourself to a bit of Valentine’s Day kink.

That’s it for this installment of Non-Binary Authors to Read. Spread the love and leave your own recommendations for non-binary authors to read in the comments.

2 Comments

Filed under Recommended Reading

Women to Read: Where to Start: February 2017

Here we are in February, the shortest month, but just because there are few days, there’s no excuse to slack on reading fabulous fiction.

ClarkesworldMy recommended starting place for Kali Wallace’s work is First Light at Mistaken Point from the August 2016 issue of Clarkesworld. It’s a story about fractures – the ones that develop in families mirrored by the ones that can develop in memory, or even in reality. Charlie returns home for her mother’s funeral and to help her sister Cath clean out their mother’s house. Simultaneously, she’s dealing with a crisis at work. The manned mission sent to Mars has suddenly gone silent. The ship is still there, they can see it, but they can’t communicate. Then a message comes back, an unintelligible burst of sound, followed a few days later by a second garbled message 47 seconds long. It’s just long enough to make out voices, but not what they’re saying, or who is speaking. One voice seems to be Harris, leader of the mission, though one member of Charlie’s team claims it sounds more like Dr. Rivers, who was pulled from the mission at the last moment and is at home with his family. Charlie’s lover, Lisa, is also on the mission, and her voice can be heard in the background. The more Charlie listens to the clip, the more she convinces herself that the voices are saying Everything is fine. As the story unfolds, it plays with memory and the idea of branching realities. An eeriness underlies the narrative, a never-resolved sense that something is terribly wrong. It’s not a quite a ghost story, but it is haunted. When Charlie plays the clip for her sister, Cath distinctly hears Everyone is dying instead of Everything is fine. As Charlie tries to unravel the message, she’s also trying to unravel her own family history. She and her sister grew increasingly distant over the years – Charlie accusing Cath of giving up on her dreams, and Cath accusing Charlie of being too wrapped up in her work to ever let anyone in to her life. Charlie is also dealing with guilt over not visiting her mother more often, and never telling her family about Lisa. It’s never explicitly stated, but it’s implied that Charlie was unwilling to admit to herself the strength of her feelings for Lisa and kept her a secret as a distancing mechanism. Wallace pairs Cath and Charlie’s differing memories of their childhood and even more recent events with the branching possibilities of what is happening on the shuttle. The early debate over the voice on the tape being Dr. Rivers or Harris is the first hint that two realities may be unfolding simultaneously. Dr. Rivers both is and is not on the ship. Everything is fine, and everyone is dying, two equal possibilities held in uncertain balance. With the possibilities presented, the story can be one of hope, or one of despair. Wallace handles both subtly, leaving it up to the reader to choose their own meaning. Family, space travel, the risks of loving someone – whether a family member or a romantic partner – are all wrapped into a kind of multiple choice ending make this an excellent starting place for Wallace’s work.

Let's Play WhiteNext up, my recommended starting point for Chesya Burke is Walter and the Three-Legged King, which is the opening story in her collection Let’s Play White. (And since you’re already there, I heartily recommend continuing on to read the rest of the collection. All the stories are fantastic, and I particularly enjoyed The Teachings and Redemption of Ms. Fannie Lou Mason, which closes out the collection.) In Walter and the Three-Legged King, Walter is a man with a rat problem. He’s a man with a lot of other problems, too. He’s out of work, and his shut-in white landlord who was given his job by his uncle hassles Walter for rent while passive-aggressively suggesting Walter’s inability to find work is his own fault. Walter knows the system is rigged against him. The ingrained racism in America makes it harder for him to find a job as a black man, something his landlord can’t understand. On top of all this, Walter can’t get rid of the damned rat in his apartment. After staking the rat out, he finally manages to catch it briefly, just long enough to get bitten, and tear off one of the rat’s legs. The next morning, he wakes to find the three-legged rat staring at him, and talking to him. The rat invites him to play white, telling Walter he has to acquiesce, and everything will be okay. Walter is justifiably freaked out and flees his apartment. Outside, looking ragged and disheveled from his harrowing experience, Walter sees a white woman trip. When he tries to help her up, she screams and accuses him of trying to rob her. After finally convincing the police to let him go, without an apology of course, Walter returns home to find the rat waiting for him. Walter decides to finally acquiesce, as the rat says, and they play white, putting on well-refined white voices, the voice Walter admits he uses for job interviews, and telling each other the world is fair and fine and there’s nothing to complain about at all. The encounter works a kind of sympathetic magic, but not the best kind. Walter finds a job as a doorman, but as the rat implied with his invitation, it means giving in. Walter has to conform to the racist system, or let it tear him apart. Walter and the Three-Legged King isn’t a cheerful story. It pulls no punches in pointing out the inequalities built into the system, as well as pointing out the privilege white people have in being blind to them. The story is brutal and effective, flipping the helpful talking animal trope into something sinister and disturbing, and making an excellent starting place for Burke’s collection, and her work as a whole.

People of Colo(u)r Destroy SFMoving on, my recommended starting place for Karin Lowachee’s work also happens to be one of my favorite short stories from 2016. A Good Home, which appeared in the People of Colo(u)r Destroy Science Fiction issue of Lightspeed Magazine, is the story of a Tawn, a veteran who takes a decommissioned android designed for war into his home. Now that the war is over, there’s no place for either of them, and the government has set up an adoption program for the androids they can’t legally destroy. Tawn’s mother disapproves of and fears the android. Similarly, his neighbors are unnerved by the way it stands at the window all day, staring out at the street. Mark, as the android is called, refuses to speak. As a fellow veteran, Tawn can tell he’s experienced trauma, and has been scarred by the war. He does his best to reach out to Mark, reading to him from war novels like The Red Badge of Courage, and All Quiet on the Western Front, when a thunderstorm triggers Mark’s PTSD. They begin playing Scrabble together, which allows Mark to communicate without actually needing to speak, laying down tiles to spell out words like SAD, LOST, and COMPANY. A Good Home is a story about survivors, and about the casualties of conflict who must go on living every day in a world that no longer needs them, and would prefer not to see them as they are a reminder of the inconvenient truths of violence and war. Tawn and Mark are both cogs, part of war’s machinery, but Tawn is determined not to let that machinery grind him down, or grind Mark down either. It’s a touching story, but bittersweet as well, never letting the reader forget the situation – war – that ultimately brings Mark and Tawn together.

Mythic DeliriumTo round things out, my recommended starting place for Darcie Little Badger’s work is The Famine King from the January-March 2017 issue of Mythic Delirium. Irene suffers from sleep paralysis. As a child, she wakes one night, helpless and unable to move, and sees the face of her neighbor, Mr. Botello, at her window. He speaks to her of hunger before vanishing, leaving an eerie imprint of his face behind. That same night, Irene’s mother is wakened by sirens, and they see emergency vehicles swarming outside Mr. Botello’s house. In the morning, they learn that he murdered his wife and child before killing himself. As an adult, Irene sees a trailer for a movie called The Famine King while sitting in the bar where her friend Az works. It’s a movie about a wendigo, a father who devours his family during a snow storm. At the library where Irene works, people come in droves to check out books on the wendigo and cannibalism, inspired by the movie. A history of cannibalism haunts Irene’s town. In 1908, the Fiddler brothers were famous, one for butchering his wife and children for meat, the other for strangling people he believed to be wendigos, starting with his wife. Irene herself repeatedly dreams of being strangled, and dreams of the ghost of Mr. Botello. Her dreams, her town’s past, and the fictional account of real crimes all blend together. The fascination with cannibalism spills over into the real world. Irene catches sight of a vegan friend of hers at a burger restaurant, eating what clearly looks like meat and imagines it is vat-grown from human cells. A woman is attacked in a bus shelter, with the implication that the man who attacked her bit her ear. Irene sees the ghost of her mother walking the streets, mentally framing her mother’s death as an act of cannibalism. Irene starved her with a need for attention, for comfort, and literally through breastfeeding as a baby until her mother had nothing left for herself and died. Hunger, devouring, and consumption echo throughout the story to chilling effect. Irene’s guilt over her mother’s death pairs with the accounts of men murdering their families and the legend of the wendigo. In Irene’s case, a child – herself – is a parasitic creature, draining her mother and subsuming her life, the next generation literally taking the prior generation’s place. In the historical account and the wendigo legend, it is the opposite, fathers devouring their children to gain themselves a bit more life against the threat of starvation. The story calls to mind Ray Bradbury’s The Small Assassin, about a baby murdering its parents, a metaphor for children taking over their parents’ lives. It also calls to mind fairy tales such as The Juniper Tree, and Snow White, which feature wicked mothers and stepmothers fearing their children taking their place and thus murdering and consuming them, or feeding them to others. It’s a powerful theme, one that speaks to the fear of aging, and the cycle of life. The idea of sacrifice, willing and not, plays out in the story, as well. A cow has no choice about becoming meat, but what about a willing human? The story is unsettling and effective, layering dread through patterns echoed through history, fiction, mythology, and the events of Irene’s life. All of this makes it an excellent staring place for Darcie Little Badger’s work.

Speaking of women to read, readers of this column may be interested in the upcoming anthology Problem Daughters edited by Nicolette Barischoff, Rivqa Rafael, and Djibril al-Ayad, which is currently running an IndieGoGo Campaign. The anthology’s focus is intersectional feminism, with speculative fiction by and about marginalized women often left out of mainstream feminism, including women of color, queer women, disabled women, and sex workers, among others. It looks to be an excellent collection, so please do check it out!

I’ll be back with more Women to Read in March. In the meantime, please leave your own suggestions for fantastic work by women in the comments.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Recommended Reading

Women to Read: What’s Next

Hello, and welcome to 2017! It’s a new year, which means it’s high time for a new Women to Read post. From 2013 to mid-2016, Women to Read was a monthly series highlighting work by women and appearing at the much-missed SF Signal. When SF Signal announced their closure in May 2016, many kind people expressed their hope that Women to Read would continue, and few folks offered to give it a home, which I truly appreciate. Before I go further, I just want to say thank you to everyone who read, signal boosted it, said kind things about Women to Read over the years. I’m always delighted to hear of people enjoying the posts, and finding new-to-them authors. I’d hoped the series might end up somewhere that could bring it a wider readership and bring more attention to the work of some wonderful authors. Alas, several possibilities fell through, and rather than see the column vanish, I decided to experiment with hosting it here.

The column may or may not be monthly, we’ll see how things go, but I’ll do my best. I’ll also continue posting the sibling series, Non-Binary Authors to Read here as well. (For more general reviews, I also contribute a monthly Words for Thought column at Apex.) If you’re new to Women to Read and are curious about what I’ve done in the past, all the posts are archived by year and you can find them on the tabs below the header. I do my best not to repeat authors, and make every effort not to screw up identity, but if I ever make an incorrect assumption and mis-gender anyone, please let me know!

I hope people will continue to read, enjoy, and discover new authors through this series and spread the word about their amazing work. Here we go!

ClarkesworldCarolyn Ives Gilman has been nominated for awards including the Hugo, the Nebula, the Tiptree, and the Locus Award for Best First Novel. There are many starting places I could recommend for her work, however I’m recommending Touring with the Alien from the April 2016 issue of Clarkesworld because I’m a sucker for a stories featuring truly alien modes of being. Too often aliens come off as thinly-disguised humans, different from us in appearance, but possessing human ways of thinking and human (frequently white and western) values. The only thing recognizably human about Gilman’s alien is that it is referred to with male pronouns, but that appears to be matter of convenience for the human characters in the story. Avery specializes in transporting dangerous things, and is assigned the job of essentially babysitting an alien and his human translator, Lionel, who like all translators was taken from his family at a very young age and raised among aliens. Lionel is almost as alien as the alien he translates for, and Earth isn’t home to him. As they set off on a modified tour bus, which has been loaded with a shipping crate containing the alien, Lionel slowly opens up to Avery. He does his best to explain the aliens; they exists in the realm of the unconscious, and their intelligence is an autonomic function, like humans’ breathing. However Mr. Burbage – as Avery comes to refer to the alien – is curious about consciousness, and has formed a unique bond with Lionel, one that is killing him. The act of being conscious is burning him up, and soon he will progress to the final stage of his lifecycle, dissolving into distinct cells and soaking into the ground. The story unfolds with a slow burn, raising questions about the nature of consciousness and living. What is it to be alive? What is the definition of a family? What role does free will play in the alien/translator relationship? Gilman leaves the questions open – a prompt to the reader rather than an attempt to provide a point of view. Touring With the Alien is a lovely, meditative, and touching story, even as it explores grand questions of thought and consciousness. Between that and the truly alien alien, it is an excellent starting place for Carolyn Ives Gilman’s work.

Apex 78Next up, my recommended starting place for Day Al-Mohamed’s work is The Beacon and the Coward from the November 2015 issue of Apex Magazine, a steampunk flavored story about the nature of heroism. Danville is a surfman at a lighthouse staffed entirely by black men. They’re all veterans of the Civil War, but unlike Danville, most of them have had metal limbs or mechanical eyes grafted onto or into their bodies against their will. Because they are black, the military felt free to experiment on them, and Danville is one of the few ‘natural’ men on the crew. He’s also a coward. When the order came to charge, he lost his nerve; this mark on his military record, and his conscience, has followed him ever since. As the story opens, Danville is preparing to leave the lighthouse. His past has caught up with him again, and even though his boss trusts him, Danville has no desire to deal with the scorn of his fellows. A massive storm and a passenger ship threatening to wreck on the reef cuts Danville’s plans short. Despite his fears that he’ll once again freeze at the critical moment, Danville joins the rescue. As a natural man, it’s up to him swim a line out to the sinking ship. Despite their increased strength, the soldiers with mechanical parts would sink and drown. Danville saves the lives of one of his colleagues, and a young girl from the passenger ship, proving his boss’ trust in him, and proving to himself he’s not a coward after all. The Beacon and the Coward is a story of redemption and second chances. It’s also a story about trust, and not being defined by a single moment of fear. That it is inspired by a true story, which you can read about on the author’s website, makes the story even more incredible. Al-Mohamed draws a thoughtful parallel between the two situations Danville finds himself in – a battlefield, and sinking ship. Even when fighting for a good cause, war can seem like a wasteful act. Danville saw friends cut down by bullets on the battlefield and was unable to act, but when a random act of nature put innocent lives at risk, he waded in (literally) and proved himself a hero. The steampunk element is incorporated with a light touch, and Al-Mohamed uses it to great effect to comment on the horrors of war and the colonial mentality often inherent in the genre itself. The Beacon and the Coward directly addresses the idea of brown bodies as lesser, disposable cogs in a machine, by making them part of the ‘wonders’ of the mechanical age without their consent. It’s a powerful piece, and a worthy place to start with the author’s work.

Superhero UniverseSticking with the heroic vein to round out the post, my recommended starting place for Leigh Wallace’s work is Bedtime for Superheroes from the anthology Tesseracts 19: Superhero Universe edited by Mark Shainblum and Claude Lalumiere. One of the tropes of SFF, and the superhero genre in particular, is that going on quests and saving the world is a game for the young. Older characters are sidelined as wise mentors, and those roles are typically reserved for men. Old Bruce Wayne mentors young Terry McGinnis, Hollis Mason passes the torch to Dan Dreiberg, Yoda and Obi Wan mentor Luke Skywalker, Dumbledore aids Harry Potter on his journey, and so on. There are fewer examples of wise old women passing their knowledge on to the next generation. There are plenty of wicked crones and jealous stepmothers plotting to stealth youth and beauty, as if those are a woman’s only assets, not her knowledge. In Bedtime for Superheroes, Wallace turns things around and gives reads what feels like The Facts of Life, but with superheroes. The story opens with Marie making tea for herself, then laying out three extra mugs, each with their own personality and flavor of tea. Just as she’s about to settle in, a ninja appears on her living room couch. The ninja is her granddaughter, Lacy, a superhero, lamenting the loss of buttons on her ninja costume and asking her grandmother to make repairs. Lacy is soon joined by a pirate and an angel. Each is given her own mug of tea, and Marie quietly listens to their complaints, tidying up after them and giving them gentle nudges toward good habits. She does all this unobtrusively, playing the role of an invisible old woman, just as society expects her to, stepping aside and making way for the young. Throughout the story, Wallace nudges the reader the way Marie nudges her charges, making it clear there’s more to Marie than meets the eye. The ultimate reveal of her true identity comes as a satisfying end to the tale. The quiet details of domestic life – the way Marie cares for her girls, preparing their tea, matching their mugs to their personalities, knitting and quietly gathering more girls into her fold – provide the key to Marie’s character. She notices everything, no action she takes is wasted, and every movement has a purpose as she directs the lives around her without anyone noticing. Like Al-Mohamed’s story, Bedtime for Superheroes expands on the notion of what it means to be a hero, and who gets to be a hero. There are different ways of wielding power, and not every path to victory involves kicking ass. Bedtime for Superheroes is an excellent addition to the superhero genre, and an excellent starting place for Wallace’s work.

Three recommendations seems like a good start for the series reboot, so I’ll leave things there for now. Keep an eye out for more Women to Read posts to come, and in the meantime, leave your own suggests for women to read in the comments!

Leave a Comment

Filed under Recommended Reading

Favorite Short Fiction of 2016

I recently posted about my favorite novels, anthologies, and collections of 2016. As with my longer form reading, I had the best of intentions of staying caught up with All the Things in short fiction, but the truth is, that was never an achievable goal. We’re in a golden age for short fiction; there’s so much of out there, and so much of it is truly excellent. Of course I’m going to miss stories, and I’ll miss a lot of them. That said, I did read a lot, too. Here are my favorites for the year thus far. Should I manage more catching up by the year’s end, I’ll update the post accordingly.

Palingenesis by Megan Arkenberg – Short Story – Shimmer -  Art, loss, shifting truths, family, and nature reclaiming its own.

The Virgin Played Bass by Maria Dahvana Headley – Novelette – Uncanny – A style-soaked retelling of the Bremen Town Musicians, laced with war, death, and resurrection.

The Tomato Thief by Ursula Vernon – Novelette – Apex Magazine – Shapeshifters, gods, and transformation, both willing and unwilling, set in the same universe as Vernon’s excellent and award-winning Jackalope Wives.

Secondhand Bodies by JY Yang – Short Story – Lightspeed – What happens at the intersection of wealth, beauty standards, jealously, and technology.

The Sincerity Game by Brit Mandelo – Short Story – Uncanny – A relationship played as a game of chicken, mixing truth, lies, and transformation.

Salt and Cement and Other Denials by Sara Saab – Short Story – Lackington’s – An epic story of unrequited love, self-identity, entitlement, gender roles, and self-actualization, all taking place between barnacles rooted to a rock.

Lotus Face and the Fox by Nghi Vo – Short Story – Uncanny – Gods, grief, identity, and determination. (Reviewed in more detail as part of Women to Read: Where to Start – March 2016)

The Opening of Bayou St. John by Shawn Scarber  – Short Story – Strange Horizons – A gorgeous story soaked in a sense of place, about desperate women, unwanted children, and the one person willing to help them.

Godfall by Sandra Odell – Short Story – Giganotosauraus – The bodies of gods as salvage opportunities and what happens to those who mine myths for scrap. (Reviewed in more detail as part of Women to Read: Where to Start – March 2016)

The Shadow Collector by Shveta Thakrar  – Short Story – Uncanny – Sentient flowers and court intrigue.

Red Mask by Jessica May Lin – Short Story – Shimmer – Ghosts, vengeance, and the worth of women combined in what feels like it could be a superhero origin story. (Reviewed in more detail as part of Women to Read: Where to Start – April 2016)

A Fist of Permutations in Lightning and Wildflowers by Alyssa Wong – Short Story – Tor – A haunting story of branching realities, weather, magic, sisters, and loss.

The Governess with the Mechanical Womb by Leena Likitalo – Short Story – Clarkesworld – An unsettling story of semi-mechanical creatures, an eerie invasion of Victorian wannabes, and two sisters coping with grief over the loss of their parents. (Reviewed in more detail as part of Women to Read: Where to Start – April 2016)

A Salvaging of Ghosts by Aliette de Bodard – Short Story – Beneath Ceaseless Skies – An atmospheric and lonely story of deep sea divers, salvage, and ghosts.

Foxfire, Foxfire by Yoon Ha Lee – Novelette – Beneath Ceaseless Skies – A science-fantasy blend of magic, mechs, tricksters, and little gods caught in the midst of a war.

The Right Sort of Monsters by Kelly Sandoval – Short Story – Strange Horizons – What would you sacrifice to gain your heart’s desire? What if what you wished for turned out flawed?

Touring with the Alien by Carolyn Ives Gilman – Novelette – Clarkesworld – A first contact story about truly alien aliens and the struggle to communicate.

The Signal Birds by Octavia Cade – Short Story – Liminal Stories – The brutality of war, and the uses the military might have for women who grow metallic wings. (Reviewed in more detail in June 2016’s Words for Thought.)

Cloud Dweller by E. Catherine Tobler – Short Story – Beneath Ceaseless Skies – A tightrope walker who walks invisible lines in the sky and catches a glimpse of an alternate world beneath and inside his own. (Reviewed in more detail in June 2016’s Words for Thought.)

Left the Century to Sit Unmoved by Sarah Pinsker – Short Story – Strange Horizons – Mysterious vanishings, the weight of grief, and the freedom of falling. (Reviewed in more detail in June 2016’s Words for Thought.)

The Haferbrautigam by Steve Berman – Short Story – The Dark – A disturbing story about appetites left unchecked and the bargains people make in order to live with themselves. (Reviewed in more detail in June 2016’s Words for Thought.)

A Dead Djinn in Cairo by P. Djeli Clark – Novelette – Tor – A steampunk-flavored whodunnit, mashing up myth, mystery, a dapper detective, and gorgeous creatures out of myth and legend. (Reviewed in more detail in June 2016’s Words for Thought.)

Wednesday’s Story by Wole Talabi – Short Story – Lightspeed - Stories nested within stories, highlighting the importance of tales and the power and limit of storytellers. (Reviewed in more detail in July 2016’s Words for Thought.)

1957 by Stephen Cox – Short Story – Apex – Desire, shifting timelines, and the malleable nature of reality.

Things With Beards by Sam J. Miller – Short Story - Clarkesworld – A queer retelling of The Thing/Who Goes There, exploring identity and disguises adopted in order to survive. (Reviewed in more detail in July 2016’s Words for Thought.)

The Drowning Line by Haralambi Markov – Short Story – Uncanny – A story that blurs the line between fantasy and reality as a father is torn between a family curse, the seductive notion of drowning, and trying to save his daughter. (Reviewed in more detail in July 2016’s Words for Thought.)

A Good Home by Karin Lowachee – Short Story - Lightspeed – A man and a machine, both veterans of war, struggle to find a place for themselves in a world where they are uncomfortable reminders of realities people would rather forget.

Cuckoo Girls by Douglas F. Warrick – Short Story – Apex – Final girls and the creatures who hunt them.

Life in Stone, Glass, and Plastic by José Pablo Iriarte -Short Story – Strange Horizons – A heartbreaking story about art and memory, and what deserves to be memorialized. (Reviewed in more detail in August 2016’s Words for Thought.)

The Non-Hero’s Guide to the Road of Monsters by A.T. Greenblatt – Short Story – Mothership Zeta – Tackling the trope of quest stories and slaying monsters while exploring friendship and what heroism truly means.

.subroutine:all///end by Rachael Acks/Alex Acks – Short Story – Shimmer – A painful story about the loss of memory, and an AI caregiver. (Reviewed in more detail in August 2016’s Words for Thought.)

Painted Grassy Mire by Nicasio Andres Reed – Short Story – Shimmer – An atmospheric story about a girl caught between worlds, and the power of her inheritance. (Reviewed in more detail in September 2016’s Words for Thought.)

Her Sacred Spirit Soars by S. Qiouyi Lu – Short Story – Strange Horizons – A gorgeous and poetic story of loss, separation and identity. (Reviewed in more detail in Non-Binary Authors to Read Part 6.)

The Night Bazaar for Women Becoming Reptiles by Rachael K. Jones – Short Story – Beneath Ceaseless Skies – A story of transformation and desire full of gorgeous worldbuilding. (Reviewed in more detail in September 2016’s Words for Thought.)

Those Brighter Stars by Mercurio D. Rivera – Short Story – Lightspeed – A first contact story that explores the relationships between mothers and daughters. (Reviewed in more detail in September 2016’s Words for Thought.)

glam-grandma by Avi Naftali – Short Story – Shimmer – A fun and stylish story about breaking away from expectations and being yourself.

Only Their Shining Beauty Was Left by Fran Wilde – Short Story – Shimmer – A haunting and beautiful story of transformation, longing, and trees. (Reviewed in more detail in October 2016’s Words for Thought.)

My Body, Herself by Carmen Maria Machado – Short Story – Uncanny – An effective story, seething with quiet rage, about women being seen as disposable. (Reviewed in more detail in October 2016’s Words for Thought.)

With Her Diamond Teeth by Pear Nuallak – Short Story - The Dark – A story of blurred identity, laced with violence. (Reviewed in more detail in October 2016’s Words for Thought.)

The Life and Times of Angel Evans by Meredith Debonnaire – Novelette – The Book Smugglers - A stylish, noiresque story about ghosts and destiny.

Shadow Boy by Lora Gray – Short Story – Shimmer – A dark re-imagining of Peter Pan, about a character fighting with their shadow, and searching for themselves. (Reviewed in more detail in Non-Binary Authors to Read Part 6.)

The City Born Great by N.K. Jemisin – Short Story – Tor – Living cities and eldritch beings. (Reviewed in more detail in November 2016’s Words for Thought.)

The House That Creaks by Elaine Cuyegkeng – Short Story – The Dark – A disturbing story about what causes a house to be haunted. (Reviewed in more detail in November 2016’s Words for Thought.)

Everyone from Themis Sends Letters Home by Genevieve Valentine – Novelette – Clarkesworld – A heartbreaking story about virtual reality, and the line between truth and fiction. (Reviewed in more detail in November 2016’s Words for Thought.)

Rooms Formed of Neurons and Sex by Ferrett Steinmetz – Short Story – Uncanny – The nature of self, a phone sex operator, and a brain in a jar. (Reviewed in more detail in November 2016’s Words for Thought.)

Terpsischore by Teresa P. Mira Echeverría (translated by Lawrence Schimel) Novelette – Strange Horizons – An uneasy story of multiple realities. (Reviewed in more detail in December 2016’s Words for Thought.)

Ever Changing, Ever Turning by Yukimi Ogawa – Short Story – Lackington’s – A story about friendship and harsh standards of beauty.

The Wreck at Goat’s Head by Alexandra Manglis – Short Story – Strange Horizons – A gorgeous story of deep sea diving, loss, and ghostly apparitions.

Standing on the Floodbanks by Bogi Takács – Novelette – GigaNotoSaurus – A subtle and layered story exploring magic and the nature of power.

Number One Personal Hitler by Jeff Hemenway – Short Story – Shimmer – A story of grief and loss, complicated by time travel.

Screamers by Tochi Onyebuchi – Short Story – Omenana – A dark story of racial tension, police brutality, fathers and sons, and rage made manifest.

The Orangery by Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam – Novelette – Beneath Ceaseless Skies – A story about women reclaiming their place in myth, and exercising the power of choice.

Painter of Stars by Wang Yuan (translated by Andy Dudak) – Short Story – Clarkesworld – A robot searching for purpose, and finding it through art, losing and gaining hope for humanity along the way.

Marion’s War by Hayden Trenholm – Short Story – Strangers Among Us – An aging solider fights her programming and the treacherous nature of memory and her own unreliable thoughts while she continues to wage a war that ended years ago.

There’s my list as it stands right now. As I said, it may continue to grow. And on that note, what were your favorite stories from 2016? What did I miss that I need to add to my must-read list right now!

6 Comments

Filed under Recommended Reading

Favorite Novels, Collections, and Anthologies of 2016

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

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

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

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

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

Novels

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anthologies & Collections

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Exeperimental FilmDream Houses by Genevieve Valentine

Dangerous Space by Kelly Eskridge

The Apex Book of World SF 4 edited by Mavesh Murad

Experimental Film by Gemma Files

Kindred by Octavia Butler

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay

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

2 Comments

Filed under Recommended Reading

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

ETA: The Nebula Awards are officially closed for nominations, but Hugo nominations are in full swing for attending and supporting Worldcon members. Voting is also open for the Locus Awards, and those are open to anyone who wants to vote.

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

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

Maria Haskins posts Monthly Short Fiction Round-Ups along with Book Reviews. They’re well-worth checking out!

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

The good feminist ponies at Lady Business post Quarterly Short Fiction Recommendations, crowd-sourced through reader surveys. They also regularly post novel reviews, fanwork recommendations, and media reviews, so spend some time on their site for all sorts of recommendations. There’s also a recently-added post rounding up some favorite novels of 2016. A specific Hugo Recommendation List post was also recently added to the site.

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

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

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

The recently-launched Bogi Reads the World picks up on Bogi Tackács’ #diversestories and #diversepoems twitter threads with wonderful recommendations of all kinds. Spend some time on eir site and discover some excellent fiction. Updated to note a few round-up posts added to the site: favorite novellas of 2016 and favorite novels of 2016.

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

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

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

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

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

Squee & Snark reviews short fiction throughout the year.

Rocket Stack Rank, rates short fiction throughout the year. They also have a Hugo nomination page, breaking down their ratings and reviews of 2016 novellas, novelettes, and short fiction, among other things.

There is a Tumblr of Hugo-eligible artists.

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

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

K.C. Alexander has an award eligible novel in 2016. She is also Campbell eligible.

Mike Allen lists his award eligible short stories and collection for 2016.

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

G.V. Anderson has an award eligible short story, and is also eligible for the Campbell award.

Apex Magazine list their award eligible short fiction for 2016.

Liz Argall’s ongoing Things Without Arms and Without Legs webcomic is eligible in the Best Fan Art category.

Madeline Ashby lists her award eligible novel and short fiction for 2016.

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

Richard Auffrey (aka the Passionate Foodie) lists his Favorite Novels and Anthologies of 2016.

The Aurora Awards
site has compiled lists of eligible works in all their categories. Authors and editors are encouraged to add eligible works to the list.

Beauty in Ruins Best of 2016 list.

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

Beneath Ceaseless Skies has a handy voting guide covering how the Hugos work, along with listing their own eligible works in various categories.

Best Sci Fi Books picks their favorite reads of 2016.

Brooke Bolander lists her award eligible short fiction for 2016.

Book Riot lists their Best Books of 2016.

Book Smugglers Smugglivus 2016 invites a series of guest bloggers to talk about their favorite works of the year. Check back for new posts throughout December.

Books, Bones, & Buffy chooses their favorite books of 2016.

Breaking the Glass Slipper rounds up fantasy, sci-fi, and horror novels published by women in 2016.

Martin Cahill lists his award eligible novelette for 2016.

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

A.G. Carpenter lists her award eligible short stories and novella for 2016.

Beth Cato lists an award eligible novel and a short story for 2016.

Didi Chanoch’s favorite books of 2016 Part 1 and Part 2.

Chicago Review of Books lists their picks for Best Books of 2016.

Joyce Chng lists her award eligible short fiction, poetry, and non-fiction for 2016.

John Chu lists his award eligible short stories and translation work for 2016.

Chloe N. Clark lists her award eligible short fiction and poetry for 2016.

Clarkesworld’s award eligible short stories, novelettes, and novellas for 2016.

Carrie Cuinn shares her award eligible short fiction for 2016.

Aliette de Bodard notes some of her award eligible fiction, and recommends works by others that she considers award worthy.

Alyx Dellamonica lists her award eligible novel, novelettes, and short story for 2016.

S.B. Divya lists her award eligible novella and short fiction for 2016.

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

Diane Duane lists her Young Wizards books, which are eligible in the new Best Series Hugo category.

Amal El-Mohtar recommends some of her favorite picks for various Hugo award categories and lists her own award eligible work.

Electric Literature names the 25 Best Short Story Collections of 2016.

Eva L. Elasigue lists her award eligible novel for 2016.

James Everington lists his award eligible books, novella, short fiction, non-fiction, and editorial work for 2016. He also rounds up his favorite novels and favorite short stories of the year. (Note, not all favorite works listed were published in 2016.)

Fantasy Literature posts short fiction reviews throughout the year, but note that not every work discussed was published in 2016. They do also have a specific post noting their favorite books of 2016.

Bill Ferris points to his award eligible short story for 2016.

Fireside Fiction lists the award eligible work they published in 2016.

Elizabeth Fitzgerald gathers up her reviews of award eligible works with a particular focus on the Ditmars, the Nebulas, and the Norton Award.

forestofglory regularly posts short fiction recommendations, monthly round-ups, and other reviews. The link goes to the site in general, so spend some time browsing around! ETA: There is a round-up of forestofglory’s favorite short fiction of 2016 at Lady Business.

Teresa Frohock lists her award eligible novella and collection for 2016.

Sarah Gailey lists her award eligible fiction and non-fiction for 2016. She is also Campbell eligible.

Cate Gardner lists her award eligible short fiction and novella for 2016. She also rounds up her favorite novels and novellas and her favorite short stories of the year.

Anne Gibson posts her award eligible short fiction for 2016. She is also Campbell eligible.

Max Gladstone lists his award eligible novel, novelette, and short fiction, and recommends some works he loved in 2016.

Shira Glassman lists her award eligible novel, short story collection, short stories, and novelettes for 2016.

Jeremy Gottwig lists his award eligible novelette and short stories.

Lora Gray lists their award eligible short fiction for 2016.

A.T. Greenblatt lists her award eligible short fiction for 2016.

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

Alix E. Harrow’s award eligible work for 2016 is The Autobiography of a Traitor and a Half-Savage.

Maria Haskins lists her award eligible short fiction and poetry. She also rounded up her favorite, novels, novellas, novelettes, and short fiction of 2016.

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

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

Ada Hoffmann lists her award eligible novelette, short story, and poems for 2016. She also lists her favorite speculative poems and short fiction by other authors.

Annalee Flower Horne is eligible in the Best Fan Writer and Best Related Work categories for her writing at The Bias and on Twitter.

Crystal Huff lists her award-eligible fan writing and podcast work for 2016.

Alexis A. Hunter lists her award eligible short fiction for 2016.

José Pablo Iriarte lists his award eligible fiction for 2016.

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

Rachael K. Jones lists her award eligible short fiction for 2016.

Kaleidotrope gathers up the award-eligible short fiction they published in 2016.

Keffy R.M. Kehrli lists his eligible work for 2016, which includes a short story, and his podcast work on Glittership.

Cassandra Khaw lists her award eligible short fiction and novella for 2016.

Caitlin Kiernan lists several pieces of award eligible short fiction written and published in 2016.

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

Kirkus Reviews picks their Best of the Best for 2016.

Gwendolyn Kiste lists her award eligible short fiction for 2016.

Barbara Krasnoff lists her award eligible work and recommends some of her favorite work by others as well.

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

Latinxs in Kidlit list their favorite picture books, early reader, young adult, and new adult titles for 2016.

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

Rose Lemberg lists their award eligible short story, novelette, poetry, and editorial work.

Mina Li’s award eligible work for 2016 is Of Peach Trees and Coral-Red Roses, and Dreaming Keys in An Alphabet of Embers.

Darcie Little Badger lists her award eligible short fiction for 2016.

Little Red Reviewer
picks her favorite books of 2016.

Locus Online regularly posts short fiction and book reviews, as does the print version of Locus Magazine. As of February, they have also posted their 2016 Recommended Reading List, which covers multiple categories.

The Los Angeles Public Library chooses their favorite fiction, non-fiction, children’s, and teen’s books for 2016.

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

Natalie Luhrs is eligible in the Best Fan Writer and Related Works categories for her writing at Pretty Terrible and The Bias. ETA: Check out her eligibility post here!

David Mack lists his award eligible story for 2016.

Arkady Martine
lists her award eligible short fiction and poetry.

Michael Matheson lists their award eligible short fiction for 2016. They have also assembled an extensive list of recommended work in multiple categories.

Sam J. Miller lists his award eligible short fiction, and recommends some of his favorite reads of 2016.


Aidan Moher
lists award eligible fiction and non-fiction, and notes his favorite works by others for 2016. He is also Campbell eligible this year.

Sunny Moraine lists their award eligible novel, short stories, and collection for 2016.

Silvia Moreno-Garcia lists her award eligible novel and editorial projects for 2016.

Cheryl Morgan lists her award eligible short fiction and podcast work for 2016.

Heather Morris lists several award eligible short stories for 2016.

John P. Murphy lists his award eligible novella for 2016.

Mythic Delirium Books lists their award eligible publications for 2016, including links to some of their eligible stories and poetry.

Nerds of a Feather picks their favorite books of 2016. They have also posted their Hugo recommendations in fiction, visual works, individuals categories including best editor, fan writer, the Campbell award, etc, and institutional categories, including best related work, best semiprozine, fancast, etc.

Mari Ness lists her award eligible short fiction, non-fiction, and poetry for 2016.

Wendy Nikel lists her award eligible short fiction for 2016.

Sara Norja lists award eligible short fiction and poetry, and also notes the first year of Campbell eligibility.

NPR’s Book Concierge lists their picks for the Best Books of 2016.

Abigail Nussbaum lists her favorites short stories, novelettes, and novellas of 2016.

Sandra Odell lists her award eligible short fiction for 2016.

Suzanne Palmer lists an award eligible short story, two novelettes, and a novella for 2016.

Charles Payseur highlights a few of his award eligible short stories for 2016, and notes he is also eligible in the Best Fan Writing category, and this is his second year of Campbell eligibility.

Sarah Pinsker lists her award eligible short stories and novelette for 2016.

Pop Culture Beast’s list of the best books of 2016.

Quill & Quire lists their Books of the Year.

Cat Rambo lists her award eligible work for 2016. She’s also compiling her own list of eligibility post. Add yours to the list!

Renay at Lady Business has put together a helpful Google doc of Hugo eligible work that folks can add to as appropriate.

Kelly Robson lists her award eligible short fiction and non-fiction for 2016.

Anton J. Rose lists his award eligible short fiction and notes this is his first year of Campbell eligibility.

Christopher Mark Rose has one eligible short story for 2016. As it is a pro sale, he is Campbell eligible as well.

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

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

C.C.S. Ryan lists her eligible short stories for 2016.

Jason Sanford rounds up his favorite novels and short fiction of 2016.

Erika L. Satifka lists her award eligible novel and short fiction for 2016.

Salik Shah has an eligible non-fiction essay at Strange Horizons. He’s also the editor of Mithila Review, which published several original pieces of fiction and poetry in 2016, including the Asian SF Special Double Issue. He also runs an Asian Science Fiction and Fantasy facebook group where you can find fiction recommendations and discussions.

SF Bluestocking’s picks for the best short fiction of 2016.

Eve Shi lists her award eligible fiction for 2016.

Alex Shvartsman lists his award eligible short stories for 2016.

Elsa Sjunneson-Henry lists her award eligible fiction and non-fiction, and notes she is also Campbell eligible this year.

Carlie St. George lists her award eligible short fiction for 2016, and recommends some of her favorite short fiction by others.

David Steffen lists his award eligible short stories for 2016 along with the award eligible fiction he edited for Diabolical Plots.

The Stoker Awards have released a recommended reading list for eligible works in 2016.

Jonathan Strahan shares his favorite short SFF novels of 2016.

Strange Horizon’s reviewers round up their favorite works read and reviewed in 2016 – Part 1 and Part 2. (Note, not all works are published in 2016.)

Jerome Stueart’s award eligible short fiction and fiction collection for 2016.

Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam lists her award eligible short story and novelette, and recommends some of her favorite work by others as well.

RoAnna Sylver lists work eligible in the short story, novel, novelette, related work, and dramatic presentation categories.

Wole Talabi lists his award eligible short stories, novelette, and non-fiction for 2016. He also lists his favorite African Short Science Fiction and Fantasy for 2016. He is also Campbell eligible this year.

Bogi Tackács lists eir eligible novelette, short stories, poetry, and fan writing for 2016.

Tangent Online’s
Recommended Reading List breaks down their reviewers favorite short stories, novelettes, and novellas of 2016.

Shveta Thakrar lists her award eligible short fiction and poetry for 2016. She is also Campbell eligible.

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

Joseph Tomaras’ award eligible work for 2016, and favorite books of 2016.

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

Tor.com’s Reviewers’ Choice Best Books of 2016. Tor also has posts for their award eligible novels, novellas, and novelettes, their original short fiction, and a round-up of the Best YA of 2016.

Uncanny lists their award eligible novelettes and short fiction for 2016.

Unlikely Story’s award eligible work for 2016.

Valerie Valdes shares her award eligible short story for 2016.

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

The Verge picks their favorite fantasy and sci-fi of the year.

Ursula Vernon lists her eligible short fiction, novelette, children’s books, and novel.

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

Holly Lyn Walrath lists her award eligible poetry for 2016.

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

Paul Weimer lists his Top 5 Books of 2016. He has also updated his site with a post listing his award eligible fan writing and podcast work for 2016.

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

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

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

Bryan Thao Worra lists his award eligible poetry and non fiction for 2016.

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

Writertopia’s list of Campbell-eligible authors, noting their year of eligibility.

YA Interrobang chooses their favorite YA books of 2016.

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

39 Comments

Filed under Recommended Reading