Category Archives: Recommended Reading

Review: Wild Time

Wild Time CoverWild Time by Rose Biggin and Keir Cooper (who were kind enough to provide me with a review copy) is a charming re-imagining of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The story focuses primarily on the fairies and the company of players as they make their own respective preparations for the wedding of Theseus and Hippolyta. Though the setting remains ancient Athens, where gods and magic are very much real, Biggin and Cooper give the novel a more contemporary voice that leads to a timeless feel.

Titania looked at the Changeling, who was waiting calmly, hands on his hips and looking very casual. There was a confidence to his shoulders, and his body was as smooth as if it had been newly polished. He wore a piece of cotton, delicately printed, that bared his hips, and at some point one of the fairies had picked a red flower and placed it lovingly in his hair. ‘My word,’ she said leading him beneath the tree. ‘You’re completely gorgeous, do you know that?’

The novel incorporates familiar elements from Shakespeare’s play – the wedding, Puck’s mischief, and Bottom’s transformation – but it also introduces new ones, including Theseus and Oberon doing shots on the night before the nuptials and getting increasingly drunk, nostalgic, and maudlin, and a raucous Amazonian bachelorette party riding through the streets of Athens, descending on unsuspecting vendors demanding custom-made weapons and a sampling of local cuisine. Other elements are familiar, yet given a fresh twist, such as the play performed by the players becoming a mash-up of the story of Pyramus and Thisbe and Death of a Salesman. One of the most refreshing updates is Oberon and Titania’s relationship, which is presented here as much healthier and more respectful, with actual communication between the two, and genuine love and passion, as opposed to full of bitterness, jealously, and trickery.

The lovers Lysander, Demetrius, Helena, and Hermia, play bit roles as cosmic phenomenon and celestial bodies on the margins of the story. There’s sex magic and revelry and a brief interlude where Puck steals a train in what appears to be modern-day London. Somehow, all these elements work together, feeling like fun nods and clever updates, never tipping over into being too cheesy or ridiculous. Despite the more contemporary language, the story somehow feels more firmly rooted in ancient Athens than many interpretations of the original play. Overall, Wild Time is a fun and sexy read, straddling the line between novella and novel (though I think it technically falls onto the novel side). If you’re a fan of re-imagined classics, this is definitely one to check out.

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Howls from Hell Review

Howls from Hell Anthology CoverHowls from Hell is a forthcoming anthology from the HOWL Society (Horror-Obsessed Writing and Literature Society), edited by members of the Society, and showcasing the work of sixteen emerging writers from among its members. The anthology officially releases May 18, 2021, but is available for pre-order now. The Society was kind enough to provide me with an early copy for review.

The cover art by P.L. McMillan, who also contributes a story to the anthology, is striking, and each story is accompanied by an original illustration. All the illustrations, along with the design and layout work is done by Society members as well, proving this is a multi-talented group. The anthology as a physical object is sharp, professional-looking, and very nicely put together. Beyond the connecting thread of the HOWL Society, the anthology is un-themed, allowing authors to tackle a wide variety of subjects and approaches to horror. In these pages, you’ll find everything from quiet horror to the hyper-violent, supernatural horror, body horror, rural and suburban horror, and genre mash-ups with science fiction and fantasy. The variety of themes and approaches to horror is impressive, with a few stories in particular that  stood out to me.

“She’s Taken Away” by Shane Hawk is presented in the form of a police transcript of a conversation between Dr. Jay M. Landry and Annie Ellis, whose twin sister has been put away for terrible crimes. The piece is short, but with a strong voice, playing with the good twin/evil twin trope and exploring nature vs. nurture as the twins’ paths diverge and one sister engages in increasingly violent and disturbing behavior.

“Suspended in Light” by Alex Wolfgang is one of the quieter and more subtly unsettling stories in the anthology. A film student takes on a job cataloguing old film reels donated by a daughter cleaning out her mother’s estate. The first reel she watches features a man staring unnervingly at the camera, then setting up a second camera which seems to look back through the screen at her, causing her image to appear in a film shot over 80 years ago. The story effectively builds a sense of dread as it plays with the relationship between the viewer and the viewed, and looks at the sinister side of immortality on the silver screen, and what it means to capture memories through film.

“Possess and Serve” is a solid piece of sci-fi horror, imagining a future where individuals can subscribe to a service that allows them to summon an Assumed Control Unit officer to temporarily remotely possess their body to deescalate conflict and deal with other potentially dangerous situations. Sarah is one such officer who is summoned to the scene of a crime only to find that another Assumed Control Unit officer has possessed the body of the person who summoned them and is using said body to commit a horrific act. The story is tense, and nicely shows both the potential good enabled by technology and the ways technology might aid and abet the worst aspects of human nature.

“Sprout” by M. David Clarkson is another piece with a strong voice, offering up an atmospheric story of nature reclaiming and repurposing life to its own ends in gruesome ways. The story also explores the dynamics of power in a relationship built solely on lust, and the dangers of both feeling owed access to someone else’s body and blaming them for your actions.

“A Fistful of Murder” by Lindsey Ragsdale closes out the anthology with a unique twist on the cursed object trope. While making a purchase at a pet store, a man receives change which includes a $10 bill with the word kill written on it in red ink. The cashier is seemingly unable to see the message, but a mere accidental glance is enough to fill the man with an uncontrollable urge to cause pain and take life. The story brings into questions the idea whether violence is essential to the nature of man, or whether external factors – for example the literal idea of money as the root of all evil – is to blame.

With its wide range of themes and styles, there’s a little bit of something for everyone here, making Howls from Hell a satisfying read for horror fans.

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And Then the Gray Heaven Review

And Then the Gray Heaven CoverOnce again I’m dipping my toes into the non-genre waters with an upcoming novella from Dzanc Books. And Then the Gray Heaven by RE Katz, which will be released on June 15, 2021, is a lovely meditation on loss, processing grief, queer found families, art as legacy, and networks of people supporting each other through the roughest times in their lives.

Jules is mourning the death of their partner, B, an artist and museum exhibition designer. Their grief is complicated by the fact that the hospital refuses to recognize their relationship, so Jules has to break into B’s hospital room to be with them at the end. B’s family is similarly wary of Jules, except for B’s brother, Alvin, though even he wasn’t there for B or Jules when they needed him the most. Following B’s death, Jules feels unmoored and alone. Seeing this, Jules’ neighbor Tina sends a family member to keep an eye on Jules – Theo. Theo and Jules strike up an immediate, sweet, and supportive friendship, which is the true heart of the novel. When Alvin unexpectedly arrives with a portion of B’s ashes to give to Jules, Jules hatches a plan to honor B’s memory by burying them within various museum exhibitions they helped design. Theo becomes Jules’ partner in crime, and they set off on a journey of remembrance and healing that brings Jules into contact with other people who were important to B’s life – an extended queer family that helps support Jules through their grief and helps them see that despite their initial feeling, they are far from alone.

We held cups of coffee with both hands and looked at each other. I said nothing. I was thinking about how I hadn’t talked to anyone about what had happened yet. This is what people have families for. I felt crushed into a fine powder–I was pigment. Windowsill blue. Ash taking air before gusting apart. No one to talk to and no reason to reach out. I didn’t want our friends to worry, and I had no information or comfort to offer them.

And Then the Gray Heaven feels deeply grounded in every day life, while also dealing with immense and complicated subjects like loss, love, grief, and neuroatypicality. The characters are richly drawn, and the web of support – the larger queer family – that B and Jules find around them at various points in their lives is heartening and immensely touching. The connectivity between people is mirrored through art, which weaves in and out of the story in various ways, from Jules’ first job as an airbrush artist, to B’s line of work. Art doesn’t merely connect individuals personally, but reflects a queer lineage and legacy, as subsequent generations of artists honor those who came before in their work, extending the network beyond a specific place and time, and opening up a larger world of people seeing and understanding each other.

The setting of the novel mirrors Jules’ journey, from the close confines of their apartment to the larger world of their roadtrip with Theo. As their network of friends grows, the world opens up, bringing them from the claustrophobia of grief and loss, back into the open spaces of hope and possibility. At such a short length, Katz manages to pack a lot into their work, making for a very impressive debut.

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Lagoonfire Review

Lagoonfire CoverLagoonfire by Francesca Forrest is the second novelette in the author’s Tales of the Polity series published by Annorlunda Books. I reviewed the first entry in the series, The Inconvenient God, for The Book Smugglers in 2018. The novelettes each stand alone fairly well, centering on Decommisioner Thirty-Seven, also known as Sweeting, as she deals with a discrete case involving the decommissioning of gods once their worshippers have moved on.

In Lagoonfire, Sweeting is sent to investigate an incursion of sea water in a new development under construction to determine whether it might have been caused by Laloran-morna, the former god of warm waves. Even though she decommissioned him, the process didn’t entirely take, leaving him with a limited version of his powers. Since the development is going up in an area once sacred to Laloran-morna, Sweeting’s superiors suspect the former god may be trying to sabotage the construction, even though the now-mortal Laloron-morna currently lives in a compassionate care facility, close to dying. Over the years, he and Sweeting have become friends, and when she goes to ask him about the seawater, which he claims to know nothing about, he tasks her with helping him fulfil his dying wish to get a message to his lost love.

Sweeting quickly discovers the situation is far more complicated than it initially seemed. Laloron-morna’s love may be a forgotten goddess of an ancient people that most believe are only a myth. As she attempts to gather more information, Sweeting runs into a history professor named Ateni whose research seems to support her theory, but shortly after they meet, Ateni is accused of terrorist action and arrested. Convinced of Ateni’s innocence and trying to prove it, Sweeting gets herself caught up on the wrong side of the investigation as a possible co-conspirator as she seeks to unravel the mystery, clear Ateni’s name, and keep her promise to Laloron-morna before his time runs out.

And then the sun returned in full force, drawing mist up from the ground all around us and from our sodden clothes. It was clammy and uncomfortable–but also unearthly, beautiful. I turned slowly, letting my arms pass through the glowing streamers. So soon they would fade away, but in that moment, it was like being among celestial beings, clothed in light. I caught sight of Ateni’s face, lips parted, eyes shining. Yes, this was better, much better, for a dedication to Laloran-morna’s unknown love. I returned to the water’s edge and poured the palm wine, Ateni and the ghostly curls of mist my silent witnesses.

Forrest once again perfectly blends magic and bureaucracy with touches of humor to bring the unique world of the Polity Series to life. Lagoonfire expands on The Inconvenient God, introducing more of Sweeting’s co-workers, along with several other decommissioned gods who act as an occasionally snarky, occasionally helpful chorus, but also as a found family, supporting each other and Sweeting. Sweeting’s character is deepened as well, as we learn why she’s so reluctant to share her name and prefers to go by her title or her childhood nickname. Coming to terms with the past is a major theme in the novelette, as is the question of who controls the narrative of history. Love, loss, memory, friendship, and found family are also resonant themes. Even at a short length, Forrest delivers a satisfying story and plenty of character development, while exploring the way history, including personal history, continues to shape the present. Identity, as a people, and as an individual person, can be shaped by history, but it’s always worth asking – whose history? Who is telling the story, and what do they have to gain by telling it that way? Forrest creates several interesting and effective parallels between the personal and the political when it comes to understanding the past and the ways in which the past informs the present and the future. Lagoonfire is a highly enjoyable novelette, and I hope there are more entries planned in the series.

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Call it Horses Review

Call It Horses CoverOccasionally I do remember to stray outside the bounds of SFFH genre reading. My latest such foray was Call It Horses by Jessie van Eerden, courtesy of Dzanc Books who were kind enough to provide me with an advance copy of the book due to be released in March 2021. I’ve read several books published by Dzanc now, and I’m regularly impressed with the works they publish, books that are unafraid to experiment with voice and style, primarily literary, but also straying into genre territory with titles such as The Archive of Alternate Endings by Lindsey Darger and Nino Cipri’s collection Homesick.

Like Homesick, Call It Horses is the winner of the Dzanc Prize for Fiction. Set in 1990, the story follows the journey of three women – Frankie, Mave, and Nan – as they take a road trip into the desert, fulfilling Mave’s last wish as she’s dying of cancer. The novel is framed as a series of musings from Frankie (Mave’s niece) written to Mave’s lover, Ruth. Frankie’s parents died when she was sixteen, and Mave essentially raised her, though her role was more of a guardian, living in the house next to Frankie’s and keeping an eye on her from that distance, treating her more as an adult and a friend than a child in need of parenting. One of the core threads in the novel is the relationship between Frankie and Mave, which speaks to the larger questions the novel asks about love. What forms does love take? Does love need to be expressed to prove itself? Is love a finite resource, and are some people only capable of giving and receiving so much of it in a lifetime?

These questions are explored in a myriad of ways through the complicated relationships that exist between the characters. Nan is married to Dillon, who was the one truly passionate relationship of Frankie’s life, first a childhood friend, then briefly a lover. Frankie is married to Clay, a man she doesn’t love, but who is kind, gentle, and understanding. Ruth passed away several years ago, but she was the one true love of Mave’s life, and there hasn’t been anybody since. As a child, Frankie wrote letters to Ruth and received letters in exchange which fired her imagination, but as an adult, Frankie realizes she never really knew her.

Often you wrote of the desert, how in Sinai you heard the original language inside of language. How in Persia there could be no larger sense of night, of scope. Mostly you wrote about words themselves and about my own letters to Mave, which you’d been reading all along. Words without limits, blurred at the edges like bog land; words as rooms one walks into, words holding million-year-old-species like amber — see the trilobite and the ancient fern, the spinal column of something extinct still preserved in a word’s withered curve.

These explorations are quiet and meditative, as is everything in the novel. The story repeatedly touches on grief and loss, but not as dramatic touchpoints in the character’s lives, but rather as an inevitability, the cost of living. There’s an interesting tension between stillness and motion in the book. The story is that of a road trip with the characters literally always in motion. The narrative itself is constantly in fluid motion throughout time, recollections folded inside recollections in a non-linear exploration of the women’s intersecting lives. Yet at the same time, each character feels firmly stuck in place. They are either unable to pursue their desires, or uncertain what those desires are, caught in lives that aren’t fulfilling, and unable or unwilling to move on from their pasts. Ruth ends up representing a kind of ideal for all of them – the perfect love, the perfect life – but she is not a desire to move toward, she is safely in the past where she can remain idealized rather than realized, and no one has to hurt themselves further by trying to live up to her or confronting the reality of her existence.

The novel leans heavily into the literary and the poetic. It is grounded in the mundanities of everyday life, and yet dreamlike in its treatment of time, and fantastical in the flowery dialog the characters employ. It is a study in contrasts, and an interesting read for the rhythm of its language and its intimate exploration of the characters’ inner lives and the constant push and pull that exists between expectation and reality.

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Eurasian Monsters Review

Eurasian Monsters CoverEurasian Monsters edited by Margrét Helgadóttir is the seventh and final installment in the Fox Spirit Books Monsters anthology series. Like the other installments in the series, including African Monsters, Asian Monsters, European Monsters, and more, this book is a lovely physical object. The 8.5 x 8.5 square format gives the anthology the feel of a children’s book of dark fairy tales or ghost stories, and each entry is accompanied by its own illustration. The majority of the stories are original to the volume (published in December 2020), with a few reprints thrown in, and includes work by authors such as Haralambi Markov, Alex Shvartsman, Bogi Takács, and Ekaterina Sedia. The anthology also offers a mix of stories originally written in the English language, and translations. As the title implies, all the tales offer their own take on monsters, legends, and supernatural creatures in various Eurasian settings. Overall, it was an enjoyable anthology, with a few stories in particular that really stood, highlighted below.

Daemons in Their Time by Marta Magdelena Lasik (translated by Piotr Swietlik) offers a fascinating blend of a technologically advanced world and old mythology. There’s a dreamlike quality to the prose as a rusalka follows a man through a desert wasteland, trying to get him to admit he’s not human, while he refuses to believe could possibly be anything but human.

You are lying. Perhaps even without knowing it, but you’re not telling the truth. I understand riddles. I recognize the correct answers even if I don’t know them. When you answer my question, my puzzle, I know, with the wisdom of a centuries-old rusalka, that it is not the correct answer.

Of all the stories in the anthology, this is probably the one that edges closest to science fiction, yet there’s also a timelessness to it, despite the post-apocalyptic setting. The story deals with questions of identity and self knowledge, and coming to accept truths, even when they are difficult to face.

Bagatazh by Karina Shainyan (translated by Mike Olivson) has the feel of a classic ghost story, told around a campfire. Indeed, much of the story does take place in the vicinity of a campfire, as Katya, one of two guides tasked with guiding tourists on hike and camping excursion, begins to suspect they are being stalked by a local legend.

Boom. There is something large stirring in the night shadows beyond the fire. Katya recoils, as the air wheezes into her lungs and freezes, transforming into stone. Boom, says the heart, beating painfully in her eardrums. Boom-boom-boom. The dark mass stirs and mutters. The low flames dance as the details of the approaching figure come into view. Recognizing it, Katya relaxes, and realizes she can breathe again.

Tucked within the eerie, supernatural tale is the story of a woman who feels caught between two worlds, and thus like she belongs nowhere. Katya’s predicament is mirrored by the monster of the tale, a massive ancient frog, cursed by the spirits of the mountain for refusing to pay tribute to them because it claimed to be a creature of the water as much as a creature of land, not living full time in either, and thus owing allegiance to no one.

Nine Tongues Tell Of by Haralambi Markov is lovely story of the friendship that develops between an orphaned woman caring for her elderly grandfather, and a nine-headed mythical creature. Similar to Katya in Shainyan’s story, Damyana in Markov’s story never feels entirely as though she belongs to the human world. While the hala she faces is terrifying, and does have its monstrous aspects, the gifts she gives it in order to keep it from devouring her ultimately become an act of healing, allowing her to let go of her grief and lighten her spirit.

When her grandfather died and she truly became an orphan, Damyana brought his ashes, neatly packed in an urn–a ceramic box decorated with cherubs and painted in a mournful green. All seven heads shed tears then and gently the hala took the box into one of its maws and stored it away for safe-keeping.

As with many of the stories in the anthology, the monster in Markov’s tale shows itself to be more compassionate than many humans in its own way. While some of the monsters are truly monstrous, most stand in for various states of mind – anxiety, fear, a lack of belonging, or a desire to be loved. The humans are often the monstrous ones, where more often than not, the monsters simply are what they are – obeying their nature, and holding up a mirror to the mortals who encounter them.

The Visit by Maria Galina (translated by Mike Olivson) tells the story of Sergey Stepanonvich, a middle-aged man who is visited one night by Ded Moroz, a frightening Santa Claus-like figure. At first Ded Moroz claims he has come to make amends for Sergey’s childhood disappointment when he wished for a telescope for Christmas, and instead received a drum. Ded Moroz tells him that had he received the telescope, he might have achieved his childhood dream of becoming an astronomer, instead of ending up in a dead-end job he hates, divorced, alone, and overall let down by life. He brings gifts of food and whiskey as an apology, but the longer they talk, the more Sergey begins to suspect that Ded Moroz’s motives may not be entirely pure.

At the border where light met shadow, he could see red, gold, green, and silver reflections, somewhat unclear and out of focus. But if you looked at them indirectly, from the corner of your eye, they somehow became a sled with a high back, decorated with shining patterns, and unmoving white silhouettes which stood out from the snow, either wolves or huge dogs…

The slow unfolding of the tale, and the ultimate reveal of Ded Moroz’s nature is nicely done. The imagery is evocative, and the author deftly blends touches of humor with an increasingly dark exploration of whether simple external factors have the power to shape our entire lives, or whether humans are ultimately responsible for creating our own success and happiness, but would rather look to those outside forces as convenient things to blame when our lives don’t go as we imagined.

Veruska and the Lúdvérc by Bogi Takács spins a classic fairy tale of a young, kind-hearted girl named Veruska who discovers what appears to be a strange, orphaned bird, and takes it home, only to find that she has unwittingly brought home a monster.

Yet suddenly she heard a popping sound. The chick jumped off the oven-ledge and squealed with human words, in a little girl’s voice. “What shall I bring? What shall I bring?” Veruska rubbed her eyes, opened the curtain over the ledge and tried to see better in the light of the full moon. The fledgling suddenly looked much larger, like an adult’s fist in size.

The lúdvérc at first seems only mischievous, pulling pranks which Veruska is blamed for, but then turns more sinister. If Veruska isn’t able to fulfil its demands, it threatens eat her, as it has eaten many children like her before. The story unfolds in a satisfying battle of wits, as Veruska must rely on her cleverness to out-trick the trickster to save her life and that of her family.

Each story in the anthology offers its own unique take on the monstrous, with a wide variety of supernatural beings that range from frightening to tragic and everything in-between. It’s a fantastic addition to the Monsters series, all of which are well-worth checking out.

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My Favorite Books of 2020

The year is almost done. I’m still trying to catch up on all the wonderful books that came out this year. I will always be trying to catch up on all the wonderful books that came out in any given year. It’s a delightful problem to have. I will never truly feel sufficiently caught up, but that’s not going to stop me from sharing a list of my favorites novels and novellas thus far!

In fact, I already started the process with a post at Vernacular Books. But, as is my way, I have more books to add! To quickly recap, here are the books included in my Vernacular post. You can read about each in more detail over there.

Trouble the Saints by Alaya Dawn Johnson
Ring Shout by P. Djèlí Clark
Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Beneath the Rising by Premee Mohamed
Flyaway by Kathleen Jennings
No Man’s Land by A.J. Fitzwater
The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones
Riot Baby by Tochi Oyenbuchi
Deathless Divide by Justina Ireland
The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin

And now that your TBR pile is already teetering perilously, the list grows…

The Grand Tour by E. Catherine Tobler

The Grand Tour CoverThis is a collection I’ve been waiting for since I first encountered E. Catherine Tobler’s circus stories. Did my need to read it will the collection into being? Probably not, but you’re free to thank me anyway. The Grand Tour brings together many, but not all, of Tobler’s stories set in and around Jackson’s Unreal Circus and Mobile Marmalade. Like the circus itself, the stories move fluidly through time and space, revealing wonders and terrors along the way. Tobler’s writing is breathtakingly gorgeous, and the collection offers up a delightful blend of horror, science fiction, fantasy, history, and even a hint of romance. There are vanishing acts, found families, and jars of marmalade that hold moments in time. There are people donning costumes in order to shed their disguises and become their true selves. It’s a truly gorgeous collection, and once you’ve properly immersed yourself in Jackson’s world, I highly recommend picking up a copy of The Kraken Sea as well so you can go back to Jackson’s roots and see how it all began.

Thin Places by Kay Chronister

An atmospheric, moody, and haunting collection full of beautifully written stories. A few in particular truly stood out, namely “Too Lonely, Too Wild”, “Roiling Without Form”, and “Life Cycles”. If you’re new to Chronister’s writing, this is an excellent place to start in order to get a sense of her strong voice and her eerie and lingering characters and settings. If you’ve read her work before, then you know how wonderful it is, so why not treat yourself to a whole collection?

Docile by K.M. Szpara

A near-future science fiction novel that presents a frightening and all-too-plausible look at the economic systems designed to allow the wealthy to hold onto their position and power, while everyone else is caught up in a endless cycle of debt passed down from generation to generation. Elisha sells himself into service as a Docile in order to protect his sister and pay off his family’s debt. As a Docile, he must absolutely obey the will of his owner, Alexander Bishop III, whose family just so happens to be behind the invention and manufacture of Dociline, a drug designed to completely remove a Docile’s will. Elisha saw Dociline ruin his mother’s mind, leaving her an empty shell, and swears he will never take it, meaning he will be fully aware of everything that goes on during his term of service where he must completely submit himself to Alex’s will. Docile is by no means an easy read, exploring uncomfortable territory around consent and abuse. The discomforting nature of the story is deliberately done, and it is balanced and grounded by characters that feel deeply human, whose choices and actions grow out of their worldviews, no matter how unsettling those world views might be.

The Four Profound Weaves by R.B. Lemberg

Set in Lemberg’s Birdverse, this novella explores transformation and self-discovery, as two trans elders seek answers about themselves and where they belong in the world. The prose is poetic, and the worldbuilding rich and immersive. The fact that the story centers on two grandparents taking on an epic journey filled with magic and danger sets it apart from other quest stories, and highlights one of the novella’s central themes – to be alive is to be constantly in the act of becoming, and one’s self is not a finite, but a thing that constantly evolves and grows. Earlier this year, I wrote a post discussing the novella in more depth, which can be found here.

Architects of Memory by Karen Osborne

Architects of Memory CoverA fast-paced space opera, which like Szpara’s Docile explores systems of debt, and questions of who has access to resources. Ash Jackson is a salvage pilot doing her best to hide a chronic illness that would leave her out of a job if her employers ever found out. After an encounter with a mysterious alien artifact, Ash’s entire world beings to unravel and she is caught up amidst companies out for profit, conspiracies, and secrets, unsure who to trust or where to turn. The writing is sharp and brilliant, the worldbuilding fantastic, and the characters highly relatable, which makes the situations they are forced into even more brutal and heartbreaking. Not only does Osborne do a fantastic job of exploring the uncaring nature of corporations and the distribution of wealth, she perfectly captures the physical and emotional cost of war and its ongoing impact long after the fighting itself is done.

The Worm and His Kings by Hailey Piper

Piper blends cosmic horror with the real-world horrors of transphobia and a system that allows people to fall through the cracks into poverty and homelessness. After losing her job, falling out with her family, and nearly dying at the hands of a back-alley surgeon, Monique is simply trying to survive, living in the abandoned tunnels beneath New York City. When the only good thing in her life, her girlfriend Donna, disappears, Monique sets out to find her. She knows Donna was taken, and that she isn’t the only one. Others have disappeared, people like herself and Donna that nobody else will care about or miss. Monique encounters a creature known as Grey Hill, a monster out of urban legends, who is responsible for the disappearances. She gives chase, and finds the mystery goes much deeper than a lone creature snatching people away. There’s a whole secret society living beneath the music hall with a plan to unleash horrors of cosmic proportions. Piper offers up truly unsettling and haunting descriptions, striking imagery, and a unique monster in Grey Hill. The cosmic horrors waiting to be unleashed are a troubling mirror for the real-world horrors Monique faces. The doctor who nearly ends her life and the cult (and their cosmic masters) she encounters underground are two sides of the same coin – uncaring beings who see people like her as fodder, a means to an end. The Worm and His Kings is a highly-effective novella that explores horror on multiple levels – both supernatural and mundane.

Survivor Song by Paul Tremblay

This tense and eerie novel is either the perfect thing to read during a pandemic, or the worst, depending on your state of mind. Written well before the outbreak of the coronavirus, Tremblay accurately captures so many aspects of a global medical catastrophe – the scramble for resources and a response, the distrust and misinformation, the paranoia, and the breakdown in communication leaving people stranded. Natalie is eight months pregnant when the virus hits, a rabies-like sickness that turns people and animals  into violent, zombie-like creatures. She and her husband are attacked in their home, her husband is killed, and Natalie is bitten. Natalie turns to her friend and college roommate, Dr. Ramola Sherman, for help, and she and Rams begin a desperate race against the clock to get Natalie to a hospital where she can hopefully be vaccinated before it’s too late, or if worst comes to worst, her baby can be safely delivered even if she succumbs. Tremblay puts a unique spin on the (don’t call them)zombies trope with ravenous creatures who spout unsettling nonsense that sometimes sounds like religious doctrine. The characters and relationships at the heart of the story lend it real emotional weight, making for a surprisingly effective ending that had me tearing up at times.

Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse

Black Sun CoverA highly satisfying epic fantasy with perfect pacing that makes it feel like a fast read despite the hefty page count. Roanhorse weaves together multiple storylines and points of view, as the characters are slowly drawn together for the impending celestial event known appropriately enough as Convergence. Serapio was blinded and scarred by his mother as a child to make him a living vessel for a lost god; Xiala is a sea captain who frequently finds herself on the wrong side of the law, and is equally feared and revered for her ability to command the sea through song; Naranpa is the current Sun Priest, caught at the heart of a conspiracy to depose her. The worldbuilding is rich, the characters wonderful, and the writing beautiful as Roanhorse explores the notion of epic destiny and what happens when the purpose you’ve been building toward your entire life goes completely off the rails.

The Hollow Places by T. Kingfisher

Where Kingfisher’s delightfully creepy The Twisted Ones (published in 2019) took on Arthur Machen’s classic horror story “The White People”, The Hollow Places takes on Algernon Blackwood’s cosmic horror novella “The Willows”. In the wake of her divorce, Kara (known as Carrot to friends and family) moves into her uncle’s Wonder Museum to take care of the place for him while he has surgery. The Wonder Museum is an establishment crammed full of strange taxidermy and other oddities, and when one more oddity arrives – a small carving from the Danube region labeled “corpse otter” – Carrot thinks nothing of it. Until a mysterious hole appears in one of the Wonder Museum’s walls, and she and her neighbor Simon, who runs the coffee shop next door, discover an entire world behind the wall. The novel is rife with intensely creepy imagery and truly skin-crawling moments, and captures the spirit of Blackwood’s original novella, while giving it a fresh spin. The cosmic horror on display here is of the vast, uncaring universe, coupled with the awesome and terrifying power of nature variety, rather than the squamous, tentacled variety, which is refreshing as not as many authors seem to be playing that corner of the sub-genre playground. I highly recommend picking up The Twisted Ones as well and giving that a read while you’re at it!

The Midnight Bargain by C.L. Polk

A glorious manners and magic novel reminiscent at times of The Beautiful Ones by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, while being utterly its own thing. Beatrice is a powerful sorceress, practicing magic in secret, collecting grimoires in order to learn how to make The Great Bargain and bind a major spirit to her will. She isn’t merely seeking power for her own sake, but also to help her father with his business, and ensure her family’s financial future without having to get married. Her family, and society at large, has other plans for her however. Marriage, however, means Beatrice will be forced to wear a collar that will suppress her powers in the name of keeping any potential children that might be conceived safe from demonic possession. In her quest for grimoires, Beatrice crosses paths with Ysbeta Lavan and her brother Ianthe. Beatrice learns that Ysbeta is after the same thing she is, and they strike a deal to share knowledge, which quickly blossoms into a friendship. At the same time a romantic relationship blooms between Beatrice and Ianthe – one which could endanger all of her plans, even as it delights her family. The novel is sumptuous, filled with glorious descriptions of fashion, food, and buildings, and the characters are wonderful. The intricate social relationships, and delicate balance Beatrice must keep between all the people in her life in order to pull off her plans mirrors perfectly the bargains she must make with the spirit Nadi in order to accomplish her goals. Everything in her life is a negotiation, and there are rules to be followed and cleverly subverted. The worldbuilding is fantastic, the choices Beatrice faces brutal and heartbreaking, and the characters’ and the way they deal with each other brings it all together. Even when there is subterfuge involved, characters respect each other, have honest conversations, and genuinely try to understand each others’ viewpoints, something which doesn’t happen often enough in fiction. Polk provides a masterclass in a narrative that offers up plenty of tension and obstacles for characters to overcome without relying solely on said characters butting heads literally or figuratively.

The Blade Between by Sam J. Miller

The Blade Betwen CoverMiller perfectly blends crime, mystery, and the supernatural in a story set in a fictionalized version of Hudson, NY – a town with a bloody past rooted in the whaling industry, currently caught between dying and gentrification. Ronan finds himself on a train from Manhattan, headed back to his hometown. Hudson is the place he deliberately left behind, where his mother committed suicide and he was ruthlessly bullied by homophobes as a kid. He hadn’t intended to return, and in truth, he isn’t entirely certain why he has, as he has no memory of boarding the train of what he’s doing there. The first person he encounters on his arrival is Dom, his best friend, and first love, now a cop married to another former classmate, Attalah. Ronan quickly rekindles his friendship with Dom, which leads to a rekindling of their romantic and sexual relationship as well, even as he deepens his friendship with Attalah over their mutual hatred for the outsiders taking over their town. Attalah and Ronan develop a plot to drive out the gentrifiers and retake Hudson, but in doing so, they accidentally tap into something larger and more powerful than themselves, a supernatural force fueled by hate, which neither of them can control. The Blade Between is beautifully-written, the fantastical elements meshing perfectly with the real world issues of eviction and substance abuse, and the complicated and messy human relationships at the book’s heart. The Blade Between is by turns painful and hopeful, not shying away from the ugliness and hatred humans are capable of, but showing their capacity for kindness and caring as well. Miller’s Hudson is both a haven and a hell, a thin place slipped out of time where great wonders and great terrors exist side by side, and occasionally, the ghosts of long-dead whales sail the skies.

Despite the length of this list, I’m always looking to add to my TBR pile. What books did you love this year?

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My Favorite Short Fiction of 2020

It’s been another stellar year for short fiction. There is so freakin’ much good stuff out there! I know there’s a lot I’ve missed, and I know there are stories still coming out through the end of the year, so I reserve the right to update this list as time goes on. That said, I know many other people are trying to catch up on reading as well, and thinking about award nominations, so I wanted to share some of my favorite short stories and novelettes of the year (thus far) in the hopes that you might enjoy them too.

Note, the list appears roughly in the order I read the pieces in question, and I’m not 100% I have all the lengths right in terms of short story vs. novelette, but I’ve done my best. Thank you to all the publications that include word counts somewhere, either in a year-end round up or with the story itself. You are the best!

Uncanny Magazine Issue 32 CoverMiss Karami’s Academy for Time-Warping Ladies by Kat Otis (Kaliedotrope/Short Story) – an absolutely charming story of twins, time travel, and trickery as a group of young women get firmly up to no good in the best possible ways.

Familiar Face by Meg Elison (Nightmare/Short Story) – a haunting story of loss, and the possible intersection between ghosts and technology.

My Country is a Ghost by Eugenia Triantafyllou (Uncanny/Short Story) – a beautifully-written and bittersweet reflection on immigration and what people leave behind when they move to a new country, exploring themes of assimilation, loss, memory, and ghosts both literal and figurative.

Claudette du Lac and the Devil of the North by Genevieve Sinha (Beneath Ceaseless Skies/Short Story) – a fun adventure story with a strong voice about hunting monsters in the frozen north.

Monster by Naomi Kritzer (Clarkesworld/Novelette) – a fascinating study of monstrousness, friendship, and what it means to recognize something monstrous in someone close to you.

Every Tiny Tooth and Claw by Marissa Lingen (Beneath Ceaseless Skies/Short Story) – a wonderful use of the epistolary format to tell the story of a growing rebellion between the lines.

One Song Ending by E.A. Petricone (Apparition Lit/Short Story) – a heartbreaking yet hopeful story about animal testing, disease, medical research, and how we value life.

Apparition Lit Issue 12 CoverYo, Rapunzel! by Kyle Kirrin (PodCastle/Short Story) – a fun and foul-mouthed take on an old fairy tale, featuring a princess who has no interest in being rescued and is quite content to stay imprisoned in her tower playing board games.

The Imperishable Birds by Vajra Chandrasekera (Fireside/Short Story) – a powerful story full of striking imagery, about the ways people and stories can be colonized, and the way lived experiences get reframed to seem more “authentic” to the white gaze.

Forgive Me, My Love, for the Ice and the Sea by C.L. Clark (Beneath Ceaseless Skies/Short Story) – a story of peril and adventure, where a woman must confront a goddess and break her promise to the one she loves in order to save her.

How We Burn by Brenda Peynado (Lightspeed/Novelette) – a slick and stylish story set in a world struggling to recover from scarcity and near-total environmental collapse exploring the conflicting ideals of the generation who lived through the disaster, and the younger generation trying to carve out their own place in the world.

Rat and Finch Are Friends by Innocent Chizram Ilo (Strange Horizons/Short Story) – a lovely and heartbreaking story of friendship, budding romance, animal transformations, and the harm done by a mother who believes the pain she causes is for her child’s own good.

The Old Ones, Great and Small by Rajiv Moté (Diabolical Plots/Short Story) – a surprisingly emotional story using Lovecraftian mythos to explore themes of captivity and human cruelty.

Way of the Laser Anthology CoverKalopsia by E.N. Auslender (Way of the Laser: Future Crime Stories/Short Story) – a story set in an ad-infested cyberpunkish future, exploring the all-too-familiar contemporary issue of how immigrants are treated, and the unfair systems that create poverty and crime.

Distant Stars by P.H. Lee (Clarkesworld/Short Story) – a bittersweet story about dark matter, gravity, and the distance that can grow between people no matter how hard you try to hold on.

Sister Thrush by Marie Vibbert (Way of the Laser: Future Crime Stories/Short Story) – a fun and fast-paced story of crime and double-crossing, as a brother tries to protect his sister after she gets herself in trouble with some dangerous people and goes on the run with her consciousness uploaded into the body of a mechanical bird.

The Bear Wife by Leah Bobet (Apparition Lit/Short Story) – a lovely take on the animal bride trope about meeting someone on their own terms rather than trying to change them to fit your expectations.

Uncanny Issue 34 CoverUniform by Errick Nunnally (Fiyah/Short Story) – an utterly heartbreaking story about a cybernetically-enhanced soldier returning from war and trying to find his place in a world that no longer wants anything to do with him.

Smilers by Chip Houser (Bourbon Penn/Short Story) – an eerie and emotional story about two brothers caught up in a mysterious plague that empties people out and leaves them as hollow, smiling shells.

We Are the Flower by Claire Humphrey (PodCastle/Short Story) – a bittersweet story of ghosts, unfinished business, and finding love when it’s almost too late.

Burn or the Episodic Life of Sam Wells as a Super by A.T. Greenblatt (Uncanny/Novelette) – a fun, heartfelt, and occasionally snarky look at the less glamorous side of life with superpowers.

An Explorer’s Cartography of Already Settled Lands by Fran Wilde (Tor.com/Short Story) – a beautifully-written story about maps, exploration, what it means to “discover” a territory and how the act of discovery can transform both the land and the explorer.

We’re Here, We’re Here by K.M. Szpara (Tor.com/Short Story) – a story of friendship, music, and love that explores the question of who own an artist’s voice.

Dominion Anthology CoverA Mastery of German by Marian Denise Moore (Dominion: An Anthology of Speculative Fiction from Africa and the African Diaspora/Short Story) – an exploration of memory and the troubling implications of a technology that would allow memories and knowledge to be transferred from person to person.

Open House on Haunted Hill by John Wiswell (Diabolical Plots/Short Story) – a charming story of a haunted house that just wants to be loved and to make the family that moves into it happy.

The Moon Room by Maria Romansco Moore (Kaleidotrope/Short Story) – a story of a photographer grappling with her past, her missing memories, and coming to terms with her true self, exploring alienation and otherness.

Two Truths and a Lie by Sarah Pinsker (Tor.com/Novelette) – an eerie and unsettling story of an unreliable narrator confronted with the sudden reality of a creepy children’s show she’s certain she made up.

A Stick of Clay in the Hands of God is Infinite Potential by Neon Yang (Clarkesworld/Novelette) – a beautifully-written story of mechs and pilots, full of striking imagery, exploring the idea of people and faith used as weapons.

The Satellite Charmer by Mame Bougouma Diene (Dominion: An Anthology of Speculative Fiction from Africa and the African Diaspora/Novelette) – a story with an epic feel that traces the life and transcendence beyond humanity of a man whose fate and existence is inextricably linked to a mining satellite devastating the land outside his village.

Needles by Kali Napier (The Dark/Short Story) – a dark and satisfying story about a mother using “women’s work” to protect her daughter and herself from her abusive husband.

Fiyah Magazine Issue 15 CoverThe Last Testament by Aurelius Raines II (Fiyah/Short Story) – a story of loss and a sister seeking revenge for her brother’s murder, told from the perspective of the AI she builds in his image to help her in her work.

The Black Menagerie by Endria Isa Richardson (Fiyah/Short Story) – a beautifully written story about people trying to control what they don’t understand, and how fear can be cultivated and put to good use.

Baba Yaga and the Seven Hills by Kristina Ten (Lightspeed/Short Story) – a charming story about community, learning not to take people and places for granted, an old witch learning new tricks.

Bobbie and Her Father by Gillian Daniels (The Dark/Short Story) – a twist on the Frankenstein story, about a prideful man creating life from death, told from the perspective of an awkward young girl who just wants to be loved.

Slipping the Leash by Dan Micklewaite (PodCastle/Short Story) – a gorgeously-written story with a distinctive voice that plays with the werewolf trope to explore music, desire, and the traumas of war.

Seven Parts Full by Anya Ow (Translunar Travelers Lounge/Short Story) – a sweet and charming story that takes on the trope of a competition to win a legendary weapon and turns it on its ear.

Anathema Issue 11 CoverTara’s Mother’s Skin by Suzanne Palumbo (PseudoPod/Short Story) – an unsettling story of women who are labelled monstrous, exploring the line between what is supernatural and what is merely human cruelty.

Tiger of the New Moon by Allison Thai (Anathema Magazine/Short Story) – a lovely story about a legendary supernatural tiger and a young woman overcoming their pain and trauma together and forming a friendship.

Cycle of the Eternal Witness by Adelehin Ijasan (Omenana/Short Story) – a story with a classic sci-fi feel exploring questions of beauty, sacrifice, ultimate power, and destiny.

The Goatkeeper’s Harvest by Tobi Ogundrian (The Dark/Short Story) – an unsettling story of a young mother trying to protect her family from cosmic horrors after she unwittingly breaks a pact with an ancient being.

The Last Trophy of Hunter Hammerson by L. Chan (Hexagon/Short Story) – the story of a journalist uncovering the truth behind the exploits of a legendary monster hunter who isn’t quite what he claims to be.

Deep in the Drift, Spinning by Lisa L. Hannett (Beneath Ceaseless Skies) – a lovely and poetic story of a woman with the power to wring magic from seabirds, complicated family relationships, and losing those who care about by trying to hard to hold on.

Tea with the Earl of Twilight by Sonya Taaffe (Nightmare/Short Story) – a gorgeous and melancholy story about the intersection of art, memory, and ghosts.

Bourbon Penn Issue 21 CoverMiss Bulletproof Comes Out of Retirement by Louis Evans (GigaNotoSaurus/Short Story) – a story of a trickster god and a superhero who is drawn back into her old life by the need to protect her family.

To Inherit Hunger by Crystal Lyn Hilbert (Bourbon Penn/Short Story) – a powerful story of the relationship between a daughter and a mother whose dementia manifests as hallucinations other people can see.

Down to Nifhel Deep by Maria Haskins (Kaleidotrope/Short Story) – an emotional story about a very good dog undertaking a perilous journeys into the underworld to save his human.

Lingua Franca by Amelia Fisher (Metaphorosis/Short Story) – a painful story about choosing between family and society, and how lack of access to technology can further marginalize those already on the edges of society.

The Front Line by W.C. Dunlap (Tor.com/Breathe Fiyah/Short Story) – a powerful story about the way Black women’s pain is discounted, and how they are often expected to be shields for others.

Blue Hole, Red Sea by E. Catherine Tobler (Evil in Technicolor/Novelette) – an eerie and lovely story of an underwater archeologist discovering a sunken temple populated by forgotten gods who do not take kindly to those who would try to claim their treasures.

Clarkesworld November 2020 CoverCity of Red Midnight: A Hikayat by Usman T. Malik (Tor.com/Novelette) – a series of interlocking tales, myths, and legends, telling of tricksters, demons, magicians, and the power of stories to shape the world.

Girls with Needles and Frost by Jenny Rae Rappaport (Beneath Ceaseless Skies/Novelette) – a beautifully-written story of magic, war, revolution, and “mere dressmakers” fighting back against an oppressive regime.

Where the Old Neighbors Go by Thomas Ha (Metaphorosis/Short Story) – a lovely story of trickster gods and gentrification and those who are overlooked and pushed aside in the name of progress.

The Little Witch by M. Rickert (Tor.com/Novelette) – an eerie and charming story of ghosts and witches and unlikely friendships.

Lost in Darkness and Distance by Clara Madrigano (Clarkesworld/Novelette) – a beautiful and heartbreaking story about complicated family relationships that grow even more complicated with a technology that allows them to bring back lost loved ones.

And This is How to Stay Alive by Shinga Njeri Kagunda (Fantasy Magazine/Short Story) – a lovely and bittersweet story about loss, grief, guilt, and trying to hold onto someone and bring them back after they’re gone in a way that honors who they truly are.

Bourbon Penn 22 CoverWhat Friends Don’t Tell Friends About Basements by Corey Farrenkopf (Bourbon Penn/Short Story) – a wonderful story about friendship and the fear of drifting apart, and a teenager whose life is complicated by her family’s sworn duty to protect the world from the cosmic horrors growing in her basement.

High in the Clean Blue Air by Emma Törsz (Strange Horizons/Short Story) – a beautiful story of friendship, betrayal, secrets, and animal transformation.

Color, Heat, and the Wreck of the Argo by Catherynne M. Valente (Strange Horizons/Novelette) – a haunting story about memory as time travel, featuring an old video camera that gives the woman who finds it a glimpse at the small and big moments that define and change people’s lives.

Collections by E.L. Chen (Lackington’s/Short Story) – a story of gods and archivists and the role museums play in both preserving and consuming culture.

The Cat Lady and the Petitioner by Jennifer Hudak (Translunar Travelers Lounge/Short Story – a charming story about inter-dimensional rifts, cats, and finding your true purpose in life.

An Important Failure by Rebecca Campbell (Clarkesworld/Novelette) – a breath-taking story about the interconnectedness of life, the long cycle of history, climate failure, recovery, and the power of music.

Head Static by Sheree Renee Thomas (Nine Bar Blues/Novelette) – a story full of energy and poetry about a goddess/muse who inspires and feeds off music, which also explores the power of music to uplift people and connect history and moments in time.

AirBody by Sameem Siddiqui (Clarkesworld/Short Story) – a bittersweet story about food, memory, regret, and a technology that allows people to lease out their bodies to other people’s consciousnesses for a while.

Where the River Turns to Concrete by Brooke Bolander (The Book of Dragons/Short Story) – a lovely and heartfelt story about an ancient river spirit simultaneously discovering his true nature and his humanity.

Renovation of a Finite Apartment by Toby MacNutt (Strange Horizons/Short Story) – a lovely and melancholy story of an alien consciousness trapped in a human body learning to make a space for itself in the world via home decor.

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What Have You Done, What Have You Loved? 2020

Interrupted Reading, Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, 1870It’s getting to be that time of year again, when award eligibility and recommended reading lists begin to crop up around the internet. And if people are posting them, it means it’s time for me to start collecting them! This has been a hard year for folks, for a multitude of reasons, but there are still plenty of things to celebrate, like all the wonderful books, short stories, poems, essays, and art made and consumed throughout the year. I am a huge proponent of authors and artists sharing the award-eligible work they produced during the year, and I personally find it immensely helpful as a reader for catching stuff I missed. So please, creators, do let people know what you made and where to find it!

As in years past, this post is designed to help folks find work to nominate for various awards, or simply work to enjoy. The post is divided into three sections – author/artist/publication eligibility posts, recommendation posts, and general resources/review sites. I will update the post regularly over the next several months, so if you don’t have a post yet, don’t worry, there’s plenty of time!

If and when you do create an eligibility or recommendation post, I definitely want to see it! Please ping me on twitter (@ac_wise), drop a note in the comment, or email me at a.c.wise [at] hotmail.com to share links, and I will add them here. If you’ve never done an eligibility post and aren’t sure what they should look like, check out what some of the other authors on the list have done this year, or in years past. As an extra bonus, you may find some new work to read while you’re at it! Cat Rambo also maintains a list of eligibility posts, which you can find here so do check that out as well, and make sure she gets your links too. Now, lets get on with sharing the links and sharing the love!

ETA: The SF Awards Database is a handy resource for authors, publishers, and editors wanting to research what awards their work might be eligible for. The list is fairly comprehensive, and includes links to individual award pages with rules and eligibility requirement.

Nerds of a Feather also has a handy “How To” guide for the Hugo Awards for those considering voting for the first time, or those who need a refresher!

Links and Deadlines

Stoker Awards (Must be HWA member to vote) – deadline for voting on the Preliminary Ballot February 15, 2021

Nebula Award (Must be a SFWA member to nominate and vote) – nominating deadline February 28, 2021 Voting deadline April 30, 2021.

Aurora Awards (Must be a member of CSFFA to list eligible works, nominate, and vote) - deadline to list eligible works February 28, 2021; nomiation deadline April 24, 2021

Hugo Awards (Must be a member of WorldCon 2020 or 2021 to nominate and vote) – nominating deadline March 19, 2021

WSFA Small Press Award (Juried award, but authors, editors, and publishers can submit work for consideration) – deadline to submit work for consideration March 31, 2021

Locus Award (Anyone can vote) – voting deadline April 15, 2021

Ignyte Awards (anyone can vote) – voting deadline May 21, 2021.

World Fantasy Award (Must be a member of World Fantasy Convention to vote) – deadline to submit works for consideration (membership not required for this stage) – June 1, 2021

British Fantasy Society Awards (Must be a member of the British Fantasy Society or member of FantasyCon) – deadlines TBD

Philip K. Dick Award (Now reading science fiction works published in paperback in 2021 for next year’s awards. Authors/editors/publishers can submit work to listed judges for consideration.)

Award Eligibility

This list contains eligibility posts from authors, editors, artists, and publications, listing award-eligible work published in 2020. Wherever possible, I will note authors who are also eligible for the Astounding Award for Best New Writer with an *.

Reading by Jean-Pierre Prudhon
Aikawa, Eisuke*
Alexander, Phoenix
Allen, B. Morris
Allen, Mike (includes Mythic Delirium Publishing)
Anderson, G.V.
Apparition Literary Magazine
Astounding Award Eligibility List
Atthis Arts
Baltazar, Jason
Barb, Patrick
Barlow, Devan
Barsukov, Yaroslav
Barton, Phoebe
Bell, Helena
Best Editor Short Form Eligibility List (compiled by File770)
Bhatia, Gautam*
Boden, Derrick
Broaddus, Maurice
Brothers, Laurence Raphael
Bryski, K.T.
Buchanan, Andi
Buhlert, Cora
Burgis, Stephanie
Campbell, Lisbeth
Campbell, Rebecca
Casson, H.E.
Cerridwen, Minerva
Chan, L.
Chase-Young, Jordan
Chen, Mike
Chng, Joyce
Cho, Zen
Choi, Charles Q.
Chong, May
Chronister, Kay
Cipri, Nino (includes recommended works as well)
Clarke, Chandra
Claybourne, Z.Z.
Cooney, C.S.E.
Cossmass Infinities
Crighton, Katherine
Criley, Marc
Crilly, Brandon
Cuinn, Carrie
Daley, Ray
Das, Indra (includes recommended reading as well).
Datlow, Ellen
Dawson, J.R.
de Bodard, Aliette (included recommended reading)
Deng, Ashley
Deonn, Tracy*
Diabolical Plots
Divya, S.B.
Dominion: An Anthology of Speculative Fiction from Africa and the African Diaspora
Dong, Maria
Young Woman Reading PaintingDonohue, Jennifer
Dorós, Vraiux*
Doyle, Aidan
Duckett, Katharine
Duckworth, Jonathan Louis
Dudak, Andy
Duerr, Laura
Duncan, R.K.
Ekpeki, Oghenechovwe Donald
Engstrom, Doug
Evans, Louis*
Farrenkopf, Corey
Ferreria, Illmani*
Fitzwarer, A.J.
Fiyah
Fogg, Vanessa
Fusion Fragment
Gailey, Sarah
Gale, Ephiny (includes recommended reading)
Garcia, R.S.A.
Gibbon, Emma J.
Gidney, Craig Laurence
Ginther, Chadwick
Glitchy Pancakes Podcast
Gragg, Austin
Gray, Lora
Greathouse, J.T.
Greenblatt, A.T.
Greene, R.W.W.
Grimmer, Mika*
Gunnell Lee, Eileen
Ha, Thomas
Haber, Elad
Hansen, Essa*
Harlen, Leigh
Haskins, Maria
Heartfield, Kate
Heijndermans, Joachim
Heike, Sylvia
Hernandez, Carlos
Hilton, Alicia
Holborn, Stark
Howell, A.P.
Hugo Eligibility Database (lists eligible work by category, crowdsourced, anyone can add work to the list)
Reading Girl PaintingHudak, Jennifer
Hudson, Andrew D.
If This Goes On
Ize-Iyamu, Osahon
Jain, Sid*
Jo, Jessica
Jones, Rachael K.
Josephs, Anya
Kajifune, Keishi*
Katsuyama, Umiyuri
Katz, Gwen C.
Kelly, Ava
Kelly, Michael
Kemp, Juliet
Kindred, L.P.
King, Scott
Kinney, Benjamin C.
Kiste, Gwendolyn
Knight, Zelda
Kobb, Shawn
Koch, Joanna
Kurella, Jordan
Lakshminarayan, Lavanya
Lavigne, C.J.
Lawless, J.H.R.*
Lee, P.H.
Lemberg, R.B.
Lewis, L.D.
Li, Mina
Lin, Monte
Lingen, Marissa
Little Badger, Darcie
Louzon, Monica
Lu, S. Qiouyi
Luhrs, Natalie
Lundoff, Catherine (includes Queen of Swords Press author eligibility as well.)
MacGriogair, M. Evan
MacNutt, Toby
McCarthy, J.A.W.
Madrigano, Clara
Malik, Usman T.
Manusos, Lyndsie*
Martino, Anna
Miles, Jo
Miller, Lawrence
Mills, Samantha
Mohamed, Premee
Moore, Elisabeth R. *
Moore, L.H.
Moraine, Sunny
Moren, Dan
Myer, Ilana C.
Nayler, Ray
Ndlovu, Yvette Lisa
Neon Hemlock Press
Nerds of a Feather
Neri, Celia
Ness, Mari
Nikel, Wendy
Ning, Leah*
Niskanen, Nina
Nogle, Christi
Novakova, Julie
O’Dell, Claire
Odell, Sandra M.
Ogden, Aimee
Ogrundian, Tobi
Ow, Anya
Dancer ReadingPalmer, Suzanne
Patterson, Irette
Paul, Shari
Payseur, Charles
Petricone, E.A.
Picchi, Amy
Pinsker, Sarah
Piper, Hailey
PodCastle
Prasad, Vina Jie-Min
Pseudopod
Queen of Swords Press
Rajotte, Mary
Rappaport, Jenny Rae
Rambo, Cat
Ratnakar, Arula*
Rendi?, Igor
Reynolds, Jeff
Reynolds-Ward, Joyce
Richardson, Endria Isa*
Ring, Lauren*
Roanhorse, Rebecca
Robson, Kelly
Rountree, Josh
Rowat, Frances
Sabin, Jed
Salazar Macia, Malena*
Sanford, Jason
Sand, R.P. *
Sargeant, Lynne
Satifka, Erika
Sayre, A.T.*
Shannon, Adam
Shelby, Jennifer
Siddiqui, Sameem*
Siebert, T.R.
Sjunneson, Elsa
Space Cowboy Books/Jean-Paul L. Garnier
Srivatsa, Prashanth
St. George, Carlie (includes recommended reading and eligibility)
Starling, Caitlin*
Stelliform Press
Strandberg, Mats
Strange Horizons
Stuart, Alasdair
Sulaiman, Sonia
Takács, Bogi
Tales from the Trunk
Taylor, Jordan
Ten, Kristina
Theodore, R.J.
Theodoridou, Natalia
Thomas, Sheree Renée
Ticknor, M. Elizabeth
Toase, Steve
Tobler, E. Catherine
Tordotcom Publishing
Tordotcom Short Fiction
Treasure, Rebecca E.
Triantafyllou, Eugenia
Tristen, Sienna
Uncanny Magazine
Vance, Marcus
Ventura, Morgan L.
Vilar Madruga, Elaine*
Washington, Kelly
Wasserstein, Izzy
Weimer, Paul
Wells, Martha
White, M. Douglas
Wigmore, Rem
Wijeratne, Yudhanjaya
Wilde, Fran
Williams, Brittany
Wiswell, John
Wolfmoor, Merc Fenn
Yeager Rodriguez, Karlo
Yoachim, Caroline
Yoakeim, Ramez
Zeenah
Zorko, Filip Hajar Drnovšek*

Recommended Reading

Two Women Reading Harunobu PrintThis list includes various year-end round-ups, recommendation posts, favorite reads, and year’s best lists.

Aardvarkian Reviews Year in Books
The Atlantic 15 Best Books of 2020
Carina Bissette Best Books of the Year
Books and Books Favorites of 2020
Book Riot’s Best of 2020
Eric M. Bosarge Top TV Shows of 2020
British Science Fiction Association Long List 2020
Laurence Raphael Brothers Recommended Reading
Alex Brown 2020 Year in Review
Karen Burnham Year in Review 2020
Buzzfeed Best YA Spec Fic of 2020
Buzzfeed Best Books of 2020
M.L. Clark Recommended Reading
Comic Years Top 10 Fantasy Books of the Year
Crime Reads Best Gothic Fiction of 2020
Den of Geek Best Books of 2020
Aidan Doyle Favorite Novels and Novellas of 2020
Andy Duncan Recommended Reading from 2020
Entertainment Weekly 10 Best Books of 2020
The Guardian’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Books of 2020
Paula Guran Year in Review 2020
Edward Austin Hall Recommended Reading
Maria Haskins Recommended Reading 2020
Rich Horton Year in Review 2020
Gabino Iglesias Favorite Horror of the Year 2020
iHorror News Top Horror of 2020
Paul Jessup Best Short Fiction of 2020
Kirkus Reviews Best Books of 2020
Kirkus Reviews Best Indie Paranormal Books of 2020
Lady Business (Bookgazing) Favorite Short Stories Read in 2020 (note, not all stories are 2020 publications)
John Langan Year in Review 2020
Russell Letson Year in Review 2020
Library Journal Best Horror Books of 2020
Library Journal Best Sci-Fi and Fantasy Books of 2020
The Line-Up Best Horror Books of 2020
Marissa Lingen Recommended Reading
Lit Reactor Best Books of 2020 Part 1 & Part 2 and Part 3
Locus Recommended Reading List 2020
Joe M. McDermott’s Best Books of 2020
Ian Mond Year in Review 2020
Colleen Mondor Year in Review 2020
Mother Horror (Sadie Hartmann) Favorite Horror Anthologies, Collections, and Short Stories of 2020
Locus Year in Review Magazine Summary
Nebula Award Finalists
Nerds of a Feather (Joe) Top 9 Books of 2020
Nerds of a Feather Hugo Recommendations: Fiction Categories
Nerds of a Feather Hugo Recommendations: Visual Categories
Nerds of a Feather Hugo Recommendations: Individual Categories
Nerds of a Feather Hugo Recommendations: Institutional Categories
NPR Favorite Speculative Fiction Books of 2020
NYPL Best Books of 2020
Tim Pratt Year in Review 2020
Quick Sip Reviews Best Short Fiction of 2020
Jenny Rae Rappaport Recommended Reading Thread (Scroll down.)
SFWA Nebula Reading List (SFWA members can add their own recommendations as well.)
Simon and Schuster Best Books of the Year
Sleeps With Monsters/Liz Bourke Best Books of 2020
Graham Sleight 2020 Year in Review
Arley Sorg 2020 Year in Review
Stabby Award Nominees 2020
Stoker Award Recommended Reading List
Jonathan Strahan Year in Review 2020
Table of Contents for the Year’s Best Science Fiction edited by Jonathan Strahan
Strange Horizons Reviewer Recommendations
Stoker Award Preliminary Ballot
Time Magazine’s 100 Must Read Books of 2020
Tor.com Reviewers’ Choice: Best Books of 2020
Tor.com’s Best YA Science Fiction Fantasy and Horror of 2020
Eugenia Triantafyllou Recommended Reading
Vanity Fair Best Books of 2020
Vox Best Books of 2020
Washington Post Best SFFH of the Year
Westport Library Best of 2020 Staff Picks
John Wiswell Recommended Reading
Year’s Best Dark Fantasy and Horror Vol. 2 Table of Contents
Caroline Yoachim Recommended Reading
James Yu Recommended Reading
Alvaro Zinos-Amaro Non-Fiction Year in Review 2020

Reviews and Resources

This list includes websites and publications that regularly review speculative fiction/media, along with publishing other speculative fiction-relevant content. Not all of the work reviewed or discussed will necessarily be award eligible in 2020, but they can be a useful resource/starting place for finding work. (Note, some links go to a specific instance of a monthly column with multiple installations.)

It’s a Jumble/Vanessa Fogg Reviews
Kirkus
Lady Business/Short Business
Locus Magazine
Maria Haskins Monthly Sci-Fi, Fantasy & Horror Short Fiction Round-Up
A.P. Howell Recommendation Thread
Quick Sip Reviews
Shiny Shorts (reviews by yours truly)
Strange Horizons/Short Fiction Treasures Quarterly
The Book Smugglers
The Coil Magazine/Reviews and Weekly Indie Reading Recommendation Round-Ups
Vernacular Books/Paul Jessup’s Monthly Short Fiction Round-Up

Images

All images in this post are COZero/No Rights Reserved images drawn from various museum collections. In order, they are:

Interrupted Reading, Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, 1870, Art Institute of Chicago

Reading, Pierre-Paul Prud’hon, 1822, Art Institute of Chicago

Young  Woman Reading, Alexandre-Louis-Marie Charpentier, 1896, Cleveland Museum of Art
Just a Couple of Girls, Henry Wilson Watrous, 1915, Brooklyn Museum
Dancer Reading, Charles Felix Gir, Date Unknown, Brooklyn Museum
Two Young Women Reading, Suzuki Harunobu, 1767, Art Institute of Chicago

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Shiny Shorts: Monster Summer

October isn’t the exclusive domain of monsters. Maybe it’s because I just finished re-watching  Gravity Falls, with its perfect summer of monsters, but monsters and summer seem like they should go hand in hand. After all, sometimes the oppressive heat makes monsters of us all, and we need a reminder of the chill of autumn creeping in. While not all of these stories are shiver inducing – some are more tragic, while others speak of hope – they all explore different facets of classic monsters.

Fiyah 15 CoverThe Black Menagerie by Endria Isa Richardson in Fiyah Issue #15 features shape-changing creatures, but the true monster of the story is fear itself, and what happens when people try to control that which they don’t understand.

Alta has lived in San Francisco for a very long time, longer than a single human lifetime. Her house, which bears a plaque identifying it as The Black Menagerie, is filled with all manner of animals, just as her body is covered with tattoos of animals, which she calls her siblings. She has been called by many names over the years, including witch. Her specialty is fear, drawing it out of one body and into her own, cultivating and tending it. Depending on perspective, she might be tending that fear and taking it into herself to protect others, or she might be honing it to use as a weapon.

She is no stranger to what fear can do to a body. She knows how to pull fear from people, ride it out of them–because fear needs to be kept and her body can keep it better than ours–but it has always been a choice, a relationship. Rituals are followed; roles are acknowledged. A door or a window is left open, and thus she is invited to complete the haunt.

The story is beautifully-written, full of evocative language and imagery as it explores humanity’s relationship to fear. Do we view fear, or the object of our fear, as an enemy, something to be caged and kept at bay? Or do we view fear as a companion, a healthy emotion ultimately keeping us safe? Are we willing to learn to walk beside our fear, understand the thing that makes us afraid, and cultivate a respect for it, or do we ultimately let fear make us destructive towards ourselves and others? Alta’s role as a woman, and as a Black woman specifically, plays into this dual-sided exploration of fear. How she is perceived often depends on who is looking. Fear of the “other” and dehumanization of women and Black people are themes threaded through the story, with parallels drawn to animals and the way they are treated by humans throughout. Alta is self-possessed and comfortable in her own skin; it is those viewing her from the outside who are the problem. They are the ones who ultimately weaponize their own fear, seeking to turn it against Alta simply for being a confident Black woman. A thread of sexuality and desire runs through the story as well, tied to the idea of comfort in a body versus the attempt to control, possess, or shame women for their sexuality. What is monstrous is in the eye of the beholder, and like many of the best monster stories, “The Black Menagerie” holds up a mirror to show us that what and how we fear says more about ourselves than it does about the things that frighten us.

Baba Yaga and the Seven Hills by Kristina Ten in the July Issue of Lightspeed is also set in San Francisco, and sees the titular witch of Russian mythology coping with the modern world. After a life (or more) of feeling unappreciated, Baba Yaga’s chicken-legged hut takes off on its own, forcing her to go in search of it. Along the way, she finds herself contending with roommates for the first time in her life, and seeking the advice of modern day magicians.

Why San Francisco? Baba Yaga needs help—serious help, magical help—and she knows San Francisco to be a place of magic. The city built on seven hills. Vehicles that drive themselves. Eyeglasses that hold alternate universes. Buildings that stay standing when the ground beneath them splits in two. If anyone can help her, they will be in San Francisco.

In the course of her search, Baba Yaga learns that magic doesn’t always look like spellcraft. Sometimes it looks like community, and making sure those around you feel loved and are fed. Magic potions aren’t always brewed up in cauldrons, sometimes they are baked into pot brownies to serve as a peace offering, take the edge off anxiety, and ultimately bring people together. Marketing can be its own form of magic, as can technology, leading an old witch to consider new perspectives, including kindness to roommates, even and perhaps especially, if your roommate also happens to be your house.

It’s a charming story, and sticks mostly to the light side of things, though Baba Yaga does occasionally still find herself with a craving to eat children. Ultimately, it is a story about turning over a new leaf, learning to see things from another person, or house’s, point of view. San Francisco is lovingly described, making it a character in its own right, vibrant and full of life, and possessing its own unique brand of magic, the way certain cities do.

The Dark August 2020 CoverBobbie and Her Father by Gillian Daniels in August’s issue of The Dark gives off a distinct Frankenstein vibe. Bobbie is a young girl who we first meet sitting on the couch, watching TV, a normal enough activity, but from the start there is a sense of something off. Bobbie isn’t allowed to open the door to strangers, which is normal enough as well, but what isn’t normal is that Bobbie has never interacted with another human other than her father. Naturally, she’s curious, and when one of her father’s co-workers comes looking for her father, Bobbie can’t resist opening the door, the first step to her world coming disastrously undone.

He stitches her up with clear thread, as if one more scar on her face would somehow be painful to her. One less scar wouldn’t give her the ability to dance or go outside. It will just be another line on her skin when she looks in the mirror and brushes her hair before bed, alone for hours in the dark, pretending she sleeps the way he sleeps.

Add to the idea of Frankenstein’s monster the awkwardness of being a pre-teen girl, cut off the from the world, and therein lies the story’s true monstrosity. Much like Frankenstein’s monster, Bobbie is a created thing, born of her father’s hubris, and much like Frankenstein’s monster, she is ultimately an innocent, a victim of the circumstances of her creation. Bobbie is stronger than any human, constantly having to be aware of the dangers of her own strength. She is deeply lonely, and merely wants to be loved, and that is her tragic downfall. The story is by turns heartbreaking and frightening, and while it is not without its death and gore, at its heart, it is a story of monstrous loneliness rather than monstrous rage. At the end of the day, Bobbie is like any other child, trying to find her place in the world, wanting be liked and understood and to form a connection with another human being, proving she too deserves to be considered part of humanity.

Slipping the Leash by Dan Micklethwaite published by PodCastle is a unique take on a werewolf story, one that may or may not actually contain a werewolf at all. The story is short, hovering just around flash length, but it packs in a lot, including war-related PTSD and family trauma. Aloysius “Louie” Proctor only wants to play music, but he knows he shouldn’t. He supposed to be content with being a family man, working a job he hates, keeping his head down and staying away from devilish things like smoky clubs and hot jazz.

All of these rules, these enforced expectations, they bristle the hairs on the nape of his neck. They carry him back to patrols in the forest, with gunfire and mortars, and the bark of trees splintering close to his head. Ears always ringing. Nose always streaming with the cold and the fear. Teeth always chattering, chewing through cigarettes before they caught light. And he couldn’t re-spark the Zippo, because what about snipers? Couldn’t retreat or go AWOL, because what about Freedom and what about God? What about whatever his daddy would say?

But despite what he knows he’s “supposed” to do, music has its hooks in Louie, exerting a pull as sure as the moon. There’s a crackling energy and rhythm to the prose that evokes the music Louie so wants to play. Micklethwaite perfectly evokes the tug-of-war beneath Louie’s skin, desire versus duty, true self versus the person he’s been told he should be. Werewolf imagery is effectively employed here, giving the story a sense of urgency, a sense of something buried rising to the surface. Is Louie truly monstrous, or is he simply slipping out of his day-to-day skin for a few brief and glorious moments of freedom?

In tangentially-related news, with the return of Apex Magazine next year, my Words for Thought review column will be coming back as well. Hopefully, in the interim, you’ve enjoyed Shiny Shorts. The year isn’t done yet, and I may post one or two more columns here as the mood strikes me, and either way, I’ll be on twitter shouting about short fiction and hopefully helping people find new stories to love. Happy reading!

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