Category Archives: Recommended Reading

Women to Read: Where to Start: November 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review Resources

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

Bogi Reads the World – reviews of novels, short fiction, and poetry from Bogi Takács.
In Short – occasional short fiction reviews from Natalie Luhrs.
It’s a Jumble – novel and short fiction reviews from Vanessa Fogg.
Lady Business – novel and short fiction reviews, fan work and media recommendations, and other sff-relevant essays.
Locus Online – reviews of novels, short fiction, movies, and other sff-relevant essays.
Monthly Short Fiction Round Up – monthly short fiction reviews and recommendations from Maria Haskins.
Nerds of a Feather – reviews of short and long fiction, games, movies, and other sff-relevant essays and discussions.
Quick Sip Reviews – short fiction reviews, posted almost daily from Charles Payseur.
SF Bluestocking – reviews of novels, novellas, media, and more.
SFF Reviews – short fiction reviews from various contributors.
SFRevu – novel and short fiction reviews.
Short Story Squee and Snark – a place for short story discussions by members of the SFF community.
Words for Thought – monthly short fiction reviews by me.

Eligibility Posts

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

Haskins, Maria - listing award eligible short fiction.
Heartfield, Kate – listing award eligible short fiction and non-fiction.
Jessup, Paul – has one eligible short story this year, available in Interzone 272.
O’Brien, Brandon – listing award eligible poetry, fiction, noting Campbell eligibility, and recommending other work worth your time.
Tor.com’s Novels and Novellas, and Short Fiction

Recommendations, Favorites, and Best of the Year Posts

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

2017 Spec Fic by Black Authors – a round up of fiction by black authors, including novels, short fiction, magazines, and anthologies with links and recommendations.
Barnes & Noble Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Books of 2017 Thus Far
Maria Haskin’s 2017 Suggested Reading List
Hugo Nominees 2018 Wikia – a crowd-sourced list of works eligible for the 2018 Hugo Awards, broken down by category.
Hugo Awards 2017-2018 – a crowd-sourced list of works eligible for the Hugo Awards, broken down by category, with links.
Kirkus Reviews Best SF/F of 2017
O Magazine Best Books of 2017
Publishers Weekly Best SF/Fantasy/Horror of 2017
Quick Sip Reviews Recommended Reading List 2017
SFWA Recommended Reading List
Tor.com Reviewer’s Choice Best Books of 2017
Waterstone’s Book of the Year 2017 Shortlist
Ziv W.’s Favorite Stories from F&FS 2017

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

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

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

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

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

Shoreline of Infinity 9

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

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

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

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Women to Read: Where to Start: October 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Women to Read: Where to Start: September 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Women to Read: Where to Start: August 2017

Welcome to another Women to Read: Where to Start. Last month, I focused on non-fiction, but this month I’m back to fiction with a mix of short stories, novels, and novellas. Away we go!

Heroine ComplexSarah Kuhn has written for comics, has written essays on geek culture scattered across many publications, and her novella One Con Glory is in development as a feature film. My recommended starting place for her work is Heroine Complex, the first book in a trilogy following the adventures of Evie Tanaka, personal assistant to superheroine Aveda Jupiter. The novel opens with Evie filming Aveda’s battle against a horde of demons who just happen to have taken the form of cupcakes and are wreaking havoc on a local bakery. With an opening like that, the novel has high potential to be goofy or cheesy, and while  what unfolds from there never loses its sense of fun, Kuhn layers in a serious examination of complex relationships while dismantling several tropes. Aveda and Evie are fiercely devoted to each other at their cores and have been since they were children, bonding over being the only two Asian girls in their kindergarten class, teased by the white kids. However that doesn’t mean their relationship is always perfect – Aveda’s obsession with pleasing her parents and living up to their ideal image of her often leads her to be domineering, bossy, and controlling, while Evie’s fear of her own superpowers lead her to push people away, or lash out at them in anger. The story explores female friendship, lust, family relationships, insecurity, and the desire for parental approval. While many of the characters present as stereotypes at first (e.g. the means girls, the tomboy, etc.) Kuhn peels back the layers of each character over the course of the novel to refute those stereotypes. The storytelling is slick and fast-paced, and as mentioned, never loses its sense of fun. For example, one of the epic showdowns with the villain takes the form of a karaoke battle. It’s not a typical superhero story, though it does hit some of the familiar beats – the hero/villain dynamic, the superhero support team, and a character coming into their powers. Kuhn puts her own spin on things though, and always keeps her characters at the story’s heart. The relationships in Evie’s life are the prime driver for everything that occurs – her loyaty to Aveda, her burgeoning lust for Nathaniel, her efforts to keep her sister Bea safe and give her a normal life, and her alienation from her father. Even Evie and Aveda’s relationship with the villain is important, playing with the idea of women cutting each other down because there’s only room for so many women in the world. There’s action, humor, sex, and genuinely touching emotional beats between the characters, and they all blend smoothly to make a wonderful whole. The sequel, Heroine Worship, was just released, and I look forward to reading it.

A Question of FaithTonya Liburd is an author and the Associate Editor at Abyss & Apex. My recommended starting point for her work is A Question of Faith published at The Book Smugglers. Ceke works in the Temple of Ra, researching the connection between the human mind and the concept of divinity. Her primary subject is a young man named Wahibra who was abandoned on the temple doorstep as a child. Wahibra is uniquely talented, manifesting psychoacoustic phenomena through singing, and Ceke believes he may be the key to unlocking higher planes of consciousness and essentially transcending humanity. Just as Wahibra begins to manifest some unusual results during his tests, he goes missing. Meanwhile, Ceke’s co-wife and co-worker, Ngware, is home on maternity leave getting ready to have their first child. Ceke has fears and doubts about raising a child. She wants to be there for Ngware, especially with the extra medical risks associated with child coming from two eggs and no sperm, but she can’t abandon work. Things become even more complicated when rumors begin to circulate of Wahibra performing miracles and attacking people. Ngware vanishes as well, and Ceke knows Wahibra is involved. She tracks him down, discovering he’s become something more than human and can’t control the divinity inside him, and she must help him fight it off in order to save her wife and unborn child. Liburd explores science and faith on multiple levels throughout the story. Ceke must learn to have faith in her relationship with Ngware and in the future of their child. This is paralleled with the idea of humans ascending to divinity and attaining godlike powers, questioning whether divinity is an external force or something that comes from within. The same parallels exist with the science in the story – the medical advances allowing Ceke and Ngware to have a child together, and the science elevating human consciousness and transforming the understanding of religion. Both big picture questions are also happening on a small scale, affecting very intimate and personal things within Ceke’s life, and Liburd blends them together seamlessly. A Question of Faith is an excellent story and an excellent starting place for Liburd’s work.

K.T. Bryski is an author, playwright, fellow Canadian (woot!), and a person who is extremely knowledgeable about beer. My recommended starting place for her work is La Corriveau, which is currently a finalist for the Sunburst Award for Excellence in Canadian Literature of the Fantastic. The story centers around the legend of La Corriveau aka Marie-Josephte Corriveau, whose second husband died under suspicious circumstances, resulting in both Marie-Josephte and her father being accused of murder. Legends grew around her until it was rumored that she married and murdered seven husbands and practiced witchcraft. Bryski’s story attempts to reclaim Marie-Josephte from history, making her into a real woman with hopes and dreams. Marie-Josphte was ultimately found guilty of murder, hanged, and her body displayed in an iron cage post mortem. While some question remains as to Marie-Josephte’s guilt as a historical figure, Bryski offers up a sympathetic portrait of an innocent young woman married at age sixteen, learning to love her husband, losing him to war, and being forced to remarry an abusive man in order to support her children. Marie-Josephte’s hope for the future is palpable, and her loss  is crushing. The story underlines the relative powerlessness of women during Marie-Josephte’s time, as well as the power of history to write people out of existence. This is especially true of women and other marginalized people who were rarely the ones writing the official history, making it easier for their stories to vanish under sensationalism, convenient lies, and outright slander. Whatever the truth of La Corriveau’s life, this fictionalized version is a lovely and painful story, and worthy starting place for Bryski’s work.

River of TeethSarah Gailey is an author, a columnist for Tor.com and Barnes and Noble’s Sci Fi Blog, and a 2017 Campbell and Hugo Award finalist. My recommended starting place for her work is her debut novella, River of Teeth. The novella posits an alternate history where the US Government’s plan to farm hippos for meat actually came to pass. Set in the 1890s in Louisiana, the story follows Winslow Remmington Houndstooth as he assembles a band of outlaws and mercenaries to rid the bayou of the feral hippos that have overrun it and are interfering with trade. His team includes Regina Archambault aka Archie, a con artist and pickpocket, Hero Shackleby, an expert in explosives and poison, Cal Hotchkiss, the fastest gun in the west (or the world, if you ask him), Adelia Reyes, a deadly assassin, and, of course, their hippos. The first half of the novella sees Houndstooth building his crew, a familiar scenario, but one that is elevated beyond the ordinary but Gailey’s exquisite worldbuilding and wonderful characters. The world feels real and lived in, and her characters are people you want to spend time with, even though you’d have to constantly watch your back and your wallet.  Gailey gives each character a history, and many of them a history with each other, and these histories and unique personalities drive the story. The hippos have unique personalities in their own right, and they are every bit as much central characters in the story as the humans. The writing is smooth and sharp, highly visual and cinematic while not neglecting the other senses, and by turns fun, violent, emotional, and action-filled. The sequel Taste of Marrow, is out in September, and I’m very much looking forward to reading it. While I am recommending River of Teeth as a starting point for Gailey’s work, I’d highly recommend her Tor.com and Barnes and Noble essays as well. They’re insightful, and in the case of her Women of Harry Potter Series, pack an emotional punch. Basically, seek out her work and give it a read!

That wraps up another Women to Read: Where to Start. Because one can never have too many things to read, I’d love your suggestions for your favorite female authors and a good starting point for their work. Fire away in the comments, and happy reading!

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Women to Read: Where to Start: July 2017

Welcome to July’s Women to Read: Where to Start. One of my reading goals in recent years has been to read more non-fiction, so it seemed only appropriate to put together a Women to Read column focusing on just that very thing. Here we go!

Tracy Beach is a Colorado author, and my recommended starting place for her work is My Life as a Whore: The Biography of Madam Laura Evens 1871-1953. I picked this book up on a whim while visiting Colorado. After all, who doesn’t like a bit of colorful local history? This book certainly doesn’t disappoint. Beach writes in a very engaging style, often using dialog provided by Laura herself from a series of interviews conducted by another local historian, Fred Mazzulla, before Laura died. She also builds the story from her own interviews conducted with those who knew Laura, and a wealth of primary sources including letters, diaries, and photographs kept by Evens’ family. Laura Evens was very firm about calling herself a whore, dismissing euphemisms such as “soiled dove” or “lady of the evening”. Beach honors that with the title of her book, and invites readers to meet Laura, a headstrong,  funny, caring woman with an occasionally violent temper, who was not opposed to a bit of mischief and chaos. Beach chronicles Laura’s journey from her choice to leave her husband and become a whore, to her purchasing her own parlor house and becoming a Madam. Had Laura been alive in the age of internet memes, I suspect she would have made liberal use of “Behold! The field in which I grow my fucks. Lay thine eyes upon it, and see that it is barren”, and variations thereupon. The book paints a fascinating portrait of the lives whores lived in Salida at the time, from the auditions to earn them a place in the houses, to their lodgings, and the way they spent their spare time. Laura was careful with her money, and was able to afford a certain degree of luxury for herself. She was also generous, buying the local school football team brand new uniforms. Her savings allowed her to purchase her own house, and become her own boss. She spent her life refusing to back down, and refusing to apologize to anyone. She wasn’t above throwing a punch if she felt a man was disrespecting her, and she wasn’t above causing property damage in the name of fun. One particularly charming (or possibly horrifying depending on your perspective) incident recounts how she brought her horse, Charlie, into a bar at the Ice Palace set up for a winter fair, and the ensuing chaos he caused when he spooked and kicked over a four foot tall ice display. It’s a fun book, and an enlightening one. It shows the humor and joy Laura found in aspects of her life, but doesn’t shy away from the hardships either. Overall, it’s a fascinating look at a slice of history, and a worthy starting place for Beach’s work.

A New Orleans Voudou PriestessA New Orleans Voudou Priestess: The Legend and Reality of Marie Laveau is another book I picked up on a whim, and it’s my recommended starting point for Carolyn Morrow Long, who specializes in books dealing with religion, spirituality, and the history of New Orleans. In contrast with Tracy Beach’s writing, Long’s accounting of the life of Marie Laveau is often very dry. Rather than a narrative style, her writing reveals her research process, presenting legends and rumors about the famed Voudou Queen, and laying out the meticulously-researched evidence to support or refute those stories. Reading through the book is almost like watching a detective at work, as Long digs through old birth records, baptism certificates, marriage announcements, property records, newspaper articles, and more. Like Beach, Long refers to interviews with those connected to Marie Laveau, and does her best to reconstruct a life largely lost to myth and sensationalism. The ultimate conclusion of Long’s research is that some details may forever be unknown. One of the most fascinating things about the book is that it reveals how easily truth can be lost under layers of imperfect memory and incomplete record keeping. The amount Long is able to reconstruct is amazing when you see her sources and methods laid out. During Laveau’s time in New Orleans, everyone seemed to be known by at least ten different names, and the spelling of those names was highly inconsistent. Long’s dry style actually helps in reclaiming Laveau from the sensational legends that have grown up around her since her death, and even within her own lifetime. Long reminds us that there was a real woman behind the stories, one with a family and deep ties to her community. Long also gives readers a glimpse into the unique history of New Orleans, its racial politics, and its blend and clash of cultures. The thoroughness of Long’s research and the precise way she lays it out makes this an excellent starting place for her work, and has me wanting to read her other titles.2424

Sticking with the theme of books picked up on a whim that illuminate some aspect of local history, my recommended starting point for Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz’s work is Dr. Mütter’s Marvels: A True Tale of Intrigue and Innovation at the Dawn of Modern Medicine. Today, Dr. Thomas Mütter is best known for the Philadelphia museum that bears his name, a museum of medical oddities containing anatomical casts, skeletons, medical instruments, and jars full of specimens. Rather than typical medical specimens, the collection focuses on unusual cases, and includes a plaster cast of the conjoined twins Chang and Eng, the tallest skeleton on view in North America, and “the soap lady”, the exhumed remains of a woman encased in adipocere, a fatty substance formed in rare cases under certain burial conditions. Like Beach, Aptowicz writes in a very engaging and easy to read narrative style. Far more than a collector of unique medical specimens, Aptowicz reveals Mütter as a deeply compassionate and highly innovative man. He pioneered delicate facial reconstruction surgery in North America, using techniques learned in Europe, and giving new hope to those who injuries and birth defects were considered un-treatable by most surgeons at the time. He was also a fierce advocate for many things we take for granted today – anesthesia, basic hygiene in the operating room, including the revolutionary idea that doctors should wash their hands in-between treating patients, after-care and recovery rooms, and working closely with patients at every stage of their surgery, before, during, and after so that they understood the process. The book is as much the story of early medicine in North America, and particularly Philadelphia. It is occasionally horrifying, but always fascinating, showing how the pioneers of modern medicine shaped hospitals, surgical facilities, and even medical schools. Due to the subject matter, it’s not a book for the squeamish, but it is an excellent and informative read, and a wonderful starting place for Aptowicz’s work.

Natalie Luhrs is a writer, reviewer, editor, and finalist for this year’s Hugo Award in the Best Fan Writer category. She is co-founder and co-editor of The Bias, and her reviews and essays are thoughtful, informative, and well-researched. My recommended starting place for Luhrs’ work is her essay, Failures of Empathy, which perfectly captures the type of issues she writes about, and her style. The essay opens with an incident on twitter, where a writer brought up an issue with their copy editor, and another writer called them out for being unprofessional and threatened them with a “blacklist” that would damage their career. Luhrs uses this as a starting point to talk about larger issues of privilege, marginalized voices – who is publicly chastised or threatened for their actions and who is not – and the idea of empathy as a whole. She relates the situation to topics discusses in Daniel Goleman’s Focus, which outlines three types of empathy, along with how empathy relates to wealth. Within the SFF community (as a microcosm of society as a whole) there are imbalances of power. Luhrs outlines how imbalances of power can create the same gap in empathy that Goleman describes. It’s an excellent essay, taking a relevant, current situation and placing it in a larger context. This is something Luhrs frequently does in her essays, which is why I recommend it as a starting point. I also highly recommend her reviews, her essays at The Bias, Uncanny, and elsewhere, and her excellent weekly links curation posts. What I’m saying is – follow Luhrs and read her work wherever you find it.

That wraps up my non-fiction edition of Women to Read: Where to Start. I’ll be back with more fiction recommendations next month, but in the meantime, I’d love to see your recommendations for non-fiction books and essays by women in the comments.

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Non-Binary Authors to Read: Where to Start – Part 8

It’s time, past time really, for another installment of Non-Binary Authors to Read. For those unfamiliar, this is a sibling series to Women to Read wherein I recommend work by non-binary authors, along with a starting place for their work. I use non-binary as a term of convenience, but the series includes agender, genderqueeer, gender fluid, neutrois, and more – essentially, authors who do not identify along the male/female binary spectrum. If you want to catch up, the other entries in the series can be found here. Onward to the recommendations!

K.C. Alexander is a genderqueer author whose SINless series begins with the novel Necrotech. Many of her works revolve around the theme of transhumanism, and so my recommended starting place for her work is her first transhumanist story, Four Tons Too Late (written under the name Karina Cooper). Four Tons Too Late follows Frank Mooney, a police officer who is part of an experimental program that has made him both more and less than human. As the story opens, Frank is near the end of his life in a nursing home, watched over by nurses who can barely be bothered with him. He’s an obsolete piece of tech, trapped in a failing body. All he has left are his memories, and even those offer little solace. His ex-wife remarried his partner, Jenkins. His colleagues on the force called him derogatory names like scrap squad and bucket head. The one bright spot in his memories is a young girl he saved from the streets, who he tried to raise as his daughter, but even that ended poorly, and now they’re estranged. There are comparisons to be made with RoboCop, but Four Tons Too Late is a story on a much smaller and more intimate scale. Frank’s least human qualities serve to underline his humanity. His struggle with simple things, like trying to pick up a coffee cup with his augmented hands without shattering it, or opening a refrigerator door without ripping it off the hinges, convey a sense of isolation, a loss of dignity, and a vulnerability, can be seen as a metaphor for aging or sickness. Frank’s servos and sensors that he wills to cooperate could just as easily be arthritic joins, or muscles impacted by a stroke. At the heart of the story is the reminder that sometimes is the loss of elements of our humanity that reminds us most sharply of who we are at our cores. Four Tons Too Late is a powerful story about family, the complicated nature of love, and the cost of being alive, and it’s an excellent starting place for K. C. Alexander’s work.

Hunger Makes the WolfAlex Acks is a writer, reviewer, and a sharp dressed sir. I have long been a fan of their short fiction, but my recommended starting place is their debut novel, Hunger Makes the Wolf (written under the name Alex Wells). Acks immediately drops readers into a world that feels lived in, with characters whose lives extend beyond the page. By the time we meet Hob Ravani, she already has a strange encounter with a phoenix in her past, and is imbued with witchy power she doesn’t fully understand. She also has a fall from grace in her past, which has left her clawing her way back up to a respected position within the Ghost Wolves, the mercenary biker gang that makes up half of her adopted family. As the story opens, the other half of Hob’s adopted family is in the process of being torn apart. The man who raised her is found murdered in the dunes, and her sister Mags is missing. Hob sets out to find the truth, and help her sister if she can, even though she’s been estranged from that side of the family for years. The story is set against the backdrop of Tanegawa’s World, a hardscrabble mining planet controlled by the TransRift Corporation. There’s a mysterious and not-quite-human being called the Bone Collector, who may or may not be Hob’s ally, and there are Weathermen, genetically engineered creatures under company control who are definitely not on Hob’s side. People with Hob’s powers are being hunted, and TransRift is tightening its grip on the people of Tanegawa’s World to a chokehold. Hunger Makes the Wolf is gritty in the truest sense. There is dust and dirt everywhere, and you can practically feel it between your teeth as you read. Elements of the novel are reminiscent of the best parts of Firefly, with a band of underdogs fighting back against a faceless central authority. The story feels more embedded though, showing the daily struggle of the miners’ lives, and their quiet acts of resistance alongside the more dramatic ones. There’s a cinematic quality to the novel, which would make it brilliant source material for a television series or mini-series. It’s full of action, and there’s even a train heist! Acks doesn’t skimp on character however. Hob’s relationship with her family, including the Ghost Wolves, is complicated and messy, making it all the more real. They don’t always get along, but they fight fiercely for each other, and new layers to the characters unfolds as the story does. The characters and worldbuilding are unique, and in the Weathermen, Acks offers a truly unsettling and intriguing new monster. The fact that it is reminiscent of Firefly makes it the perfect book for those still holding out hope for the series to be resurrected, and either way, it is an excellent starting place for Acks’ work.

Raven Kaldera is an intersex author, Pagan shaman, and an activist. My recommended starting place for his work is CyberFruit Swamp, originally published in Genderflex: Sexy Stories on the Edge and In-Between, and reprinted in Queers Destroy Science Fiction. CyberFruit Swamp is a decadent story about hook-up culture in a future where gender, sexuality, and physical bodies are more mutable than they are today. The protagonist is a nachtlei, trans and mostly male-presenting, but not rigidly fixed to one gender or sexuality.

I used to call myself pansex, but men and womyn think you’re great at first, and then they get to thinking. Thinking. Wondering what they are in relation to you. Queer. Straight. Husband. Wife. Then they get uncomfortable. So when I fill out for the forms for the Net personals now, I check off NQ – Nachtlei Queer. I only sleep with my own kind. It’s safer that way.

GenderflexOn the hunt, they leave the house dressed to kill, packing two of their seven APPles, also known as Artificial Penile Prosthetics, or CyberCocks. They have one for each situation, each mood. They wear chains signifying their preference, reminiscent of real life dress codes used within the queer community in the time when it wasn’t as safe to be out in the open. In a bar the protagonist meets a Boy, one who seems naive but also irresistible, and with a way of getting past their defenses. The story is short, but manages to cover a lot of ground along the way – exploring questions of gender, sexuality, consent, and control. On top of those themes, the story also touches on questions of who is protected by the law, and what gaps are left by a limited understanding of sex and sexuality. There’s a BDSM element to the story, and the question of the law and who it protects arises as the second half of the characters’ consensual encounter gets mistaken for attempted rape, which, within the world of the story can only be considered rape if it’s committed with a “real” penis. It’s a fascinating story, stylishly told, and sexy to boot. Overall, it’s an excellent starting place for Kaldera’s work.

Three excellent authors, three recommended starting places for their work. I’ll be back with more non-binary authors to read soon, but in the meantime, please leave your own recommendation in the comments, and happy reading!

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More Than Margaret

To paraphrase the Simpsons: it’s easy to miss Canada, all tucked away down there. However, today is Canada Day, so in hono(u)r of that, I wanted to share some recommendations of my favo(u)rite Canadian speculative fiction. When people think of Canadian SF/F/H, they often think of Margaret Atwood and no further. But there’s a whole host of authors out there, born, living, and working in Canada, and their work deserves love and recognition, too. So let’s get to the recommendations, eh?

Novels and Anthologies

Signal to NoiseExperimental Film by Gemma Files – a haunting and unsettling novel about an early film, a mysterious disappearance, and something caught on camera that cannot be unseen.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel – a quiet novel about the apocalypse, survival, and the importance of art and stories.

Spells of Blood and Kin by Claire Humphrey – a novel of magic, healing, found family, violence, and fighting against a bestial nature versus embracing it.

Someplace to Be Flying by Charles de Lint – an urban fantasy in the truest sense, with a city alive with magic, and  spirits walking among humans, sometimes for good and sometimes for ill.

Children of the Black Sabbath by Anne Hebert – exploring the intersection of religion and darkness, where the line between the rituals of the church and the rituals of a backwoods cult are dangerously blurred.

Signal to Noise by Silvia Moreno-Garcia – a novel moving between the past and the present, centered on a group of friends who learn to cast spells using vinyl records.

The Salt Roads by Nalo Hopkinson – a novel interweaving the lives of various women, and goddesses, across years and countries.

Imaginarium: The Best Canadian Speculative Writing – an anthology series with varying editors, collecting the best speculative short fiction and poetry of the year.

Tesseracts – an anthology series from Edge Publishing, now up to twenty volumes, with varying editors and varying themes.

Masked Mosaic: Canadian Super Stories edited by Camille Alexa and Claude Lalumiere – an anthology of Canadian superhero (and villain) stories.

Dead North edited by Silvia Moreno-Garcia – an anthology of Canadian zombie stories.

Clockwork Canada edited by Dominik Parisien – a Canadian steampunk anthology.

Fractured edited by Silvia Moreno-Garcia – an anthology of Canadian post-apocalyptic tales.

Northern Stars edited by David Hartwell and Glenn Grant – an unthemed anthology of Canadian science fiction.

Short Fiction

Tesseracts 9And in That Sheltered Sea, A Colossus by Michael Matheson – a woman haunted by the ghosts of the past in a world watched over by the remains of ancient gods.

The Half-Dark Promise by Malon Edwards – a young girl fights monsters and shadows in her new home town.

The Waters of Versailles by Kelly Robson – a charming story about the magic of indoor plumbing, the glamour of the French court, and staying true to your roots.

The Color of Paradox by A.M. Dellamonica – a story about time travelers trying to prevent a terrible future.

No Sweeter Art by Tony Pi – a story about a candy maker who infuses his delicate creations with life and magic to save the day.

How My Best Friend Rania Crashed a Party and Saved the World by Ada Hoffmann – a charming story of friendship, social hacking, and digital media.

Eleusinian Mysteries by Charlotte Ashley – a mapmaker whose art leads her to a stunning discovery about the moon.

A Good Home by Karin Lowachee – two survivors of war, one human and one not, bond over their loss and trauma in a world that would rather forget about them.

Seasons of Glass and Iron by Amal El-Mohtar – a gorgeous new fairy tale about two women overcoming their fates and their pasts, and forging a friendship.

Scent by Maria Haskins – a creepy little piece of flash fiction about transformation, rich with sensory detail.

Limestone, Lye, and the Buzzing of Flies by Kate Heartfield – a story about two friends who get summer jobs at a historic site and find the ghosts of the past reaching out to claim them.

The Hanging Game by Helen Marshall – an unsettling story about a dangerous children’s game, and kids paying for their parents’ sins.

Notes from Liminal Spaces by Hiromi Goto – a story blurring the line between reality and fantasy and exploring questions of identity, being, and transformation.

The Correspondence Between the Governess and the Attic by Siobhan Carroll – a retelling of Jane Eyre drawing on fairy tales and the Gothic tradition and reclaiming the stories hidden in the margins.

If all those recommendations still aren’t enough, you can browse the past winners and nominees sections of the Sunburst Awards and the Aurora Awards for even more fantastic Canadian fiction. Happy Canada Day, and happy reading!

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