Category Archives: Recommended Reading

My Favorite Long Fiction of 2018

I recently posted a big ‘ole list of my favorite short stories of the year.  It was a fantastic year for short fiction, and I’m still trying to catch up, even though my list is quite long already. As it turns out, it was a fantastic year for long fiction, too. So as with my short fiction list, I feel like I’m just scratching the surface of what’s out there, and I still have reading to do. However, since I’ll never catch up in the next six days (or otherwise), I humbly submit my favorite long reads of the year. Mostly, this means novels, but I’ve also included other things I read in book format, like novellas, novelettes, collections, and anthologies. There are also a few honorable mentions for things not published in 2018, since I’m still playing catch up from prior years’ fantastic crop of publications.

The Speed of Clouds by Miriam Seidel

This novel, at its heart, is a love letter to fandom. Seidel explores the way fan fiction makes space for  the stories and people left out of canon narrative, and revels in the joy of geeky communities. It isn’t just one kind of fandom either, there is love for collectibles, science fiction, music, art, and more, along with fantastic characters, and touching friendships. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

The Only Harmless Great Thing by Brooke Bolander

An absolutely stunning novelette about communal memory, myth, radium girls, elephants, and those the world tries to use up and cast aside. It’s seething with anger, full of poetic language, and all around just a fantastic read. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach by Kelly Robson

A novella set in a post-environmental-disaster world where humans have harnessed time travel, and are using it to try to clean up their mistakes, or least build a better future. Humanity looks very different than it does now, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t subject to the same problems, squabbles, and misunderstandings. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

Blackfish City CoverBlackfish City by Sam J. Miller

Like Robson, Miller’s novel is also set in a world that  is post environmental disaster. In this specific case, a floating city where multiple parties are vying for power and control, while other people are merely trying to survive. There are elements of cyberpunk and ecopunk here, and a fantastic cast of characters, coming together in a story of family, secrets, and revenge. Oh, did I mention the killer whale and the massive polar bear? You definitely want to pick up a copy of this one.

The Mere Wife by Maria Dahvana Headley

In a year of truly incredible novels, this one may well be my favorite. It’s a modern re-telling of Beowulf, focused on the female characters, which explores what it means to be monstrous, what it means to become monstrous, and what society sees as monstrous. The novel takes on issues of racism, sexism, the treatment of veterans, class-ism, and so much more. At the same time, it’s a novel of budding friendship and fierce love, and all of it is absolutely gorgeously written. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

The Quartered Heart by E. Catherine Tobler

I am an absolute sucker for E. Catherine Tobler’s Folley & Mallory series. They’re full of adventure, kissing, were-creatures, archaeologists unearthing mysterious tombs and uncovering secrets, danger, gods, and delicious sensory descriptions. Whether it’s Paris in the 1800s, ancient Egypt, or the Realm of the Dead, Tobler brings every single setting in these books to brilliant life. This entry in the series – the second to last – does not disappoint. It deepens Eleanor’s story, and unravels more of her past, while vastly complicating her present. The cast of characters grows, and some familiar faces return, but I don’t want to say to much for fear of spoilers. Suffice it to say, these are excellent books, and everyone should read them. I’ll be sad when the series is over, but luckily there’s also a collection of Tobler’s circus stories coming out next year, and I am already looking forward to it and making extreme grabby hands in its direction.

Dread Nation by Justina Ireland

Ireland presents an all-too-plausible scenario in her alternate history where the civil war ended when the dead rose. Black girls are trained as “attendants” – in reality body guards who put their own lives on the line to keep their white charges safe. Jane, the main character, has a fantastic voice, and Ireland does an excellent job of slowly unwinding her past and revealing family secrets, all while offering up a fantastic, action-packed story that is by turns chilling and touching. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

The Calculating Stars CoverThe Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal

This is another alternate history novel, though with a very different flavor then Ireland’s. It imagines the space-race accelerated as a matter of necessity after an ecological disaster leaves Earth in the process of rapidly becoming uninhabitable. Kowal focuses on the women of the space program who made so many of the astronauts’ flights possible through their calculations and behind-the-scenes work. With everyone needing to leave Earth eventually, sooner or later, women will have to be allowed to actually go into space, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t still a whole lot of resistance to the idea of “lady astronauts”. Kowal does a wonderful job of showing multiple types of prejudice, and how they might play out in the scenario she presents. Her world is meticulously built, and her characters are wonderful. I haven’t yet had a chance to pick up the sequel, The Fated Sky, but I look forward to doing so, as well as reading the other books in the series when they come out.

Witchmark by C.L. Polk

Is an absolutely gorgeous book set in a world of magic, ghosts, war veterans, and family machinations. Dr. Miles Singer is a doctor at a hospital specializing in treating those recently returned from war. He’s a veteran himself, and also happens to be a witch, a fact he needs to keep secret. However when a stranger arrives carrying a dying man in his arm, everything in Miles’ world is turned upside down. Polk uses the lens of magic to look at serious issues such as a trauma, PTSD, and class-ism. This is Polk’s debut novel, and I can’t wait to see what she does next. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse

This is another novel set in a post-ecological-disaster world (funny how that seems to be on people’s minds lately). Rather than a floating city, or an alternate past, Roanhorse gives us a series of scattered settlements in the desert. When the waters rose, the Dinétah managed to survive,  finding themselves in a new world of gods, monsters, and legends. Maggie Hoskie was the protegee of a living god, drawing on her own clan powers to hunt monsters, but she withdrew from the world when her mentor abandoned her. A family comes to her for help finding a missing girl, and Maggie comes out of her semi-retirement to find that someone is deliberately creating monsters and setting them loose on the world. Maggie is a fantastic character, spiky and violent, but allowed to be vulnerable and frightened too. Despite her fear though, she never backs down, and fights fiercely for her friends against monsters, gods, and tricksters. It’s a fantastic, action-packed novel, with wonderful characters, and I look forward to reading additional books in the Sixth World series.

Collections and Anthologies

Transcendent 2 & 3 edited by Bogi Takács

This series just keeps getting better every year, collecting the best transgender speculative fiction from the prior year. There’s a reason Transcendent 2 won the Lammy last year, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see another win for Volume 3 this year.

Robots vs. Faeries edited by Navah Wolfe and Dominik Parisien

With a title  like Robots vs. Faeries, this anthology could have easily been goofy, but Wolfe and Parisien are a bad-ass editing team who assembled a truly fantastic line-up of stories. Some are dark, some touching, some humorous, but they are never silly or frivolous. The standouts in the collection were by Seanan McGuire, Tim Pratt, Annalee Newitz, Sarah Gailey, Jonathan Maberry, Madeline Ashby, Delilah Dawson, Alyssa Wong, Maria Dahvana Headley, and Cat Valente.

Sword and Sonnet CoverForget the Sleepless Shores by Sonya Taaffe

A gorgeous collection that draws on myth and history to tell stories of ghosts, loss, longing, love, and so much more. Taaffe’s writing is poetic, rhythmic, and lovely throughout. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

Sword and Sonnet edited by Aidan Doyle, Rachael K. Jones, and E. Catherine Tobler

In the interest of full disclosure, I have a story in this anthology, so I’m slightly biased, but it’s full of so many other wonderful stories, it’s worth mentioning. Playing on the theme of battle poets, authors offered up a wide variety of tales, from bear-haunted warriors, to living storms, to a doctor calling on ancient power and song to heal her patients. It’s a truly gorgeous collection through and through, but the stories that stood out to me in particular were by C.S.E. Cooney, Malon Edwards, Anya Ow, Matt Dovey, S.L. Huang, Khalidaah Muhammad-Ali, Samantha Henderson, and Alex Acks.

Honorable Mentions (AKA Non-2018 Titles)

The Beautiful Ones by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

As with all of Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s work, The Beautiful Ones is gorgeously written. It’s a novel of manners, magic, love, and complicated relationships. And while I’m on the subject, I cannot wait for the author’s Gods of Jade and Shadow out next year. Just look at that gorgeous cover!

An Unkindness of Ghosts CoverUnder the Pendulum Sun by Jeanette Ng

I adored everything about this book – the rich language, the creeping sense of dread beneath the surface, the Gothic sensibilities, the characters struggling to make sense of their situation, and Ng’s take on the world of Faerie. Seriously, just go read it now. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon

This is an absolutely gorgeously-written book, though it is by no means an easy read. It’s set on a generation ship that replicates the structure of plantations, with black people as a distinct underclass, working to provide for the rich white folks, and subject to humiliation and violence at their hands. Even so, it is a novel of resistance, friendship, and unraveling family mysteries that does an excellent job of showing what life on a generation ship might actually be like. Solomon does an excellent job of showing the way scientific and technical knowledge is lost and gained over time, and how language and culture shifts by region and through the years. It’s an incredible read, and I cannot wait for the author’s next book, which is inspired by Clipping. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

So there’s my list, woefully incomplete as it may be. What were your favorite reads of the year, published in 2018 or otherwise?

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My Favorite Short Fiction of 2018

The year is almost at an end, and I’m still frantically trying to catch up on everything I missed, but now seems like as good a time as any to reflect on all the wonderful things I did read this year. 2018 was another fantastic year for short fiction. I read a lot of it, but even then I feel like I only scratched the surface. Still, as folks think about what to nominate for various awards this year, I figured I’d share my own favorite reads from the year that was…

In Her Bones by Lindiwe Rooney The Dark – a disturbing and violent story about magic, power, and a woman taking control of her destiny. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

Big Mother by Anya Ow, Strange Horizons – a coming of age story about monsters and a group of children straddling the space between worlds. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

To Blight a Fig Tree Before It Bears Fruit by Benjamin Naka-Hasebe Kingsley, Apex Magazine – a chilling story about bodies as commodities and fighting back against those in power. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

The Hydraulic Emperor by Arkady Martine, Uncanny Magazine – an obscure fragment of a cult film, an alien auction, and the power of desire and sacrifice.

Hehua by Millie Ho, Fireside Magazine – a story of murder, identity, assimilation, and the dark side of technology. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

The Glow-in-the-Dark Girls by Senaa Ahmad, Strange Horizons – a powerful story of girls turned into living weapons, and the cost of war. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

Wild Ones by Vanessa Fogg, Bracken Magazine – a beautiful story about mothers and daughters, the temptation of being stolen away by faerie, and those who stay behind.

A Witch’s Guide to Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies by Alix Harrow, Apex Magazine – a lovely and bittersweet story of magic, librarians, the power of fantasy, and finding the right book for the right person.

Granny Death and the Drag King of London by A.J. Fitzwater, GlitterShip – a story about queer identity, music, communal grief, and death personified. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

The Secret Lives of the Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington by Phenderson Djeli Clark, Fireside Magazine – another story about bodies as commodities, and various kinds of ghosts.

Flow by Marissa Lingen, Fireside Magazine – a story of nature magic and refusing to be defined by others’ perceptions. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

And Yet by A.T. Greenblatt, Uncanny Magazine – a story that brilliantly combines a haunted house with quantum science, alternate realities, family, and regret.

The Triumphant Ward of the Railroad and the Sea by Sara Saab, Shimmer Magazine – a story of survivor’s guilt, the hungry sea, and a mysterious train. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

The War of Light and Shadow, in Five Dishes by Siobhan Carroll, Beneath Ceaseless Skies – a sensory feast of a story about war, told by a character on the margins of battle, highlighting the power of a good meal, and the importance of a good narrative in shaping history. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

Sandals Full of Rainwater by A.E. Prevost, Capricious – a beautiful story of found family, language, and building a new life far away from home. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

Snake Season by Erin Roberts, The Dark – a creepy story of children born wrong and unreliable narrators. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

The Sower by Takim Williams, Fiyah #6: Big Mama Nature – an unsettling and effective horror story about nature taking back the planet. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

Furious Girls by Julianna Goodman, Fiyah #6: Big Mama Nature – a story that deals with the way society tries to repress and control women’s anger, and the power that anger has to be turned toward good. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

I Frequently Hear Music in the Very Heart of Noise by Sarah Pinsker, Uncanny – a dream-like story about magical architecture, and the confluence of creative works and creative people.

White Noise by Kai Hudson, Anathema Magazine – an eerie story of family, ghosts, and loss. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

The Right Way to Be Sad by Shankar Gopalakrishnan, Strange Horizons – a story about animal empathy, loss, healing, and a very good dog’s capacity for love.

Strange Waters by Samantha Mills, Strange Horizons – a story of accidental time travel, and a sailor trying to get home to her family. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

The Pine Arch Collection by Michael Wehunt, The Dark – a deeply creepy story about an unsettling amateur film project.

He Sings of Salt and Wormwood by Brian Hodge, The Devil and the Deep – an effective horror story of a diver and his artist girlfriend who find themselves the recipients of disturbing gifts from the sea.

Sea Shanties by Amelia Fisher, Apparition Literary Magazine – a story of drowning, and the longing to believe in the otherworldly. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

Salt Lines by Ian Muneshwar, Strange Horizons – a queer man longing for home finds himself haunted by a supernatural creature. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

Learning to Drown by Kristi DeMeester, Three-Lobed Burning Eye Magazine – a family with a mysterious link to the river, and the jealousy that threatens to tear them apart. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

Meat and Salt and Sparks by Rich Larson, Tor.com – an uplifted chimp detective and her human partner set out to solve a murder in a story that explores the nature of sentience and humanity.

The Synchronist by Fran Wilde, Infinity’s End – a literal race against time in a story that explores the complications of clocks, families, museums, and memory.

The Fall, the Water, the Weight by Lina Rather, Augur Magazine – a lovely story about guilt and grief as childhood friends reunite to confront the disappearance of a a friend years ago in the pool beneath a waterfall, which may be a gateway to another world. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

Leviathan Sings to Me in the Deep by Nibedita Sen, Nightmare Magazine – an unsettling story of obsession, science, violence, and the songs of whales. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

You Can Make a Dinosaur, but You Can’t Help Me by K.M. Szpara, Uncanny Magazine – a painful, yet hopeful, story about fighting to be seen, complicated family relationships, love, respect, and dinosaurs. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

Speak Easy, Suicide Selkies by E. Catherine Tobler, Beneath Ceaseless Skies
– a gorgeous story about found family, transformation, the circus, and the sea. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

The Trees of My Youth Grew Tall by Mimi Mondal, Strange Horizons – a bittersweet story about a woman who loses her son, but finds her way back to a connection with her heritage and herself. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

By Claw, By Hand, By Silent Speech by Elsa Sjunneson-Henry and A. Merc Rustad, Uncanny Magazine – a story about understanding between species, and communication with dinosaurs.

The Passenger by Emily Lundgren, Shimmer Magazine – a dream, or nightmare-like, story about friendship, longinh, and elusive, shifting reality. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Memphis Minnie Sing the Stumps Down Good by LaShawn M. Wanak, Fiyah #7: Music – a story about the mysterious appearance of otherworldly creatures, friendship, and the power of music and voice.

The Chariots, the Horsemen by Stephanie Malia Morris, Apex Magazine – a story about women who fly, and those who try to keep them down.

She Don’t Fade by Die Booth, Vulture Bones – a ghost story about making peace with one’s past.

The Anchorite Wakes by R.S.A. Garcia, Clarkesworld – a story full of gorgeous imagery, about an A.I. learning to transcend her programming. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

Dead Air by Nino Cipri, Nightmare Magazine – a found footage story of voice, silence, and a town that guards its secrets with malevolent force. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

A Bond as Deep as Starlit Seas by Sarah Grey – a touching story of a captain and her starship, a bad deal, and fighting to save a friend. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

Carborundorum>/Dev/Null by Annalee Flower Horne, Fireside Magazine – a chilling story of technology used to limit women’s freedom, and simultaneously an uplifting story of friendship and women using technology to reclaim control over their lives. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

She Searches for God in the Storm Within by Khaalidah Muhammad-Ali, Sword and Sonnet – a simultaneously gorgeous and painful story of abuse, and women who are storms.

The Pull of the Herd by Suzan Palumbo, Anathema Magazine – a lovely and bittersweet story of animal brides, and being true to one’s nature.

By the Hand That Casts It by Stephanie Charette, Shimmer Magazine – an action-filled story of poison, flowers, assassins, and secret identities. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

Memento Mori by Tiah Marie Beautment, Omenana Magazine – a beautifully written and touching story about the friendship between a woman who collects souls and Death. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

It’s Easy to Shoot a Dog by Maria Haskins, Beneath Ceaseless Skies – a tense story of a witch, a dog, a brother, a sister, a debt, and a wish. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

Sea-Crowned by H. Pueyo, The Dark – a story of siblings, the sea, and fear of the other.

Some Personal Arguments in Support of the BetterYou (Based on Early Interactions) by Debbie Urbanski, Strange Horizons – a story of AI and “difficult women” with a touch of Gothic flare. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

Coyote Now Wears a Suit by Ani Fox, Apex Magazine – a story about tricksters, family, and learning to be yourself. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

Toward a New Lexicon of Augury by Sabrina Vouvourlias, Apex Magazine – a story about the literal and metaphorical magic of community, and fighting back against those in power.

The Starship and the Temple Cat by Yoon Ha Lee, Beneath Ceaseless Skies – a lovely yet heartbreaking story about ghosts, loyalty, and the casualties of war.

Variations on a Theme from Turandot by Ada Hoffmann, Strange Horizons – a story of opera, destiny, and taking control of your own fate.

The Last Banquet of Temporal Confections by Tina Connolly, Tor.com – a mouth-watering story of food, memory, love, and pastries with the power to topple an empire.

How to Swallow the Moon by Isabel Yap, Uncanny Magazine – a gorgeous story of friendship, loyalty, longing, and monsters.

Again, I feel like these stories only scratch the surface of all the wonderful work published this year. In fact, I may continue to update this post as I do more catching up. In the meantime, happy reading!

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What Have You Done? What Have You Loved? 2018 Edition

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Or is that the most nerve wracking? It’s the beginning of award season in SFF world, kicked off by the opening of the Nebula Award nomination period.

As I have done every year for the past few years, I am assembling here a links post compiling various awards eligibility posts from authors, editors, and publishers, along with recommendation posts, and links to various review sites. The goal is to help folks remember what was published this year, or catch work they might have missed. If you are an author/editor/publisher/reader with a post of your own, please let me know! Drop a note in the comments, reach out on twitter (@ac_wise), or send an email to a.c.wise[at]hotmail.com. I update this post regularly and try to keep it in folks’ minds throughout award nomination season, so do check back often!

If you’re in doubt about whether or not you should make an eligibility post – do it! Self-promotion can feel squirmy and awkward, but it’s incredibly useful to those who nominate to know what works are out there, and what category they fall into. You’re doing people a service, so please, please, please, post and share! Now, on to the links, which are broken down by category and organized alphabetically by last name.

Eligibility Posts

Anderson, G.V.

Anathema Magazine

Apex Magazine

Apparition Lit

Ashby, Madeline

Bangs, Elly

Bear, Elizabeth

Beck, Rachel

Beckett, L.X.

Beneath Ceaseless Skies

Best Series eligibility list compiled by File 770

Blackwell, Laura

Bolander, Brooke

Booth, Ruth EJ

Bovenmyer, Karen

Broaddus, Maurice

Broadswords and Blasters

Buhlert, Cora

Byrne, Kerrie Colleen

Cahill, Martin

Camp, Bryan

Case, Stephen Reid

Cato, Beth

Charette, Stephanie

Chen, Curtis

Chng, Joyce

Cipri, Nino

Clark, P. Djèlí

Codair, Sara

Cohen, L.J.

Coppersmith, Fred

Criley, Marc

Crilly, Brandon

Czerneda, Julie

Daley, Raymond

Dandenell, Karl

Dawson, J.R.

Day, Julie C.

DePass, Tanya

Diabolical Plots

Dollarhyde, Kate

Donnelly, Lizz

Donohue, Jennifer R.

Douglas, Carol Ann

Dovey, Matt

Drayden, Nicky

Duncan, R.K.

Edelman, Scott

Elasigue, Eva

Fan Writers List

Feistner, Victoria

Feldman, Stephanie

Fitzgerald, Elizabeth

Fiyah Magazine

Fogg, Vanessa

Forest, Susan

French, Lee

Gailey, Sarah

Gale, Ephiny

Gallery of Curiosities

Garcia, R.S.A.

Ginther, Chadwick

Greenblatt, A.T.

Goslee, Sarah

Gower, Jasmine

Gray, Lora

Grigsby, Sean

Griswold, Amy

Hardwick, Stuart C.

Harris, Nin

Haskins, Maria

Heartfield, Kate

Heijndermans, Joa

Held, Rhiannon

Hutchins, M.K.

Inklings Press

Iriarte, José Pablo

James, Lauren

Kania, Kathryn

Kemp, Juliet

Kinney, Benjamin C.

Kritzer, Naomi

Kunsken, Derek

Kurella, Jordan

Lawrence, Briana

Levine, David

Lewis, L.D.

Li, Mina

Liburd, Tonya

Lingen, Marissa

Lundoff, Catherine

Mack, David

MacNutt, Toby

Malik, Joseph

Mamatas, Nick

Manuel, Keith

Martine, Arkady

Matheson, Michael

Maxwell, Matt

Mayer, Jaime O.

McCosh, Emily

McGuire, Seanan

Mead-Brewer, K.C.

Mohamed, Premee

Moher, Aidan

Mondal, Mimi

Monroe, Ben

Moore, L.H.

Morrison, Diane

Mythic Delirium

New York Review of Science Fiction (NYRSF)

Nikel, Wendy

Nordhagen, Johnnemann

Novakova, Julie

O’Brien, Brandon

O’Dell, Claire

Odell, Sandra

Ogle, L’Erin

Oghaegbu, Chimedum

Older, Malka

O’Reilly, Finbar

Osborne, Emma

Osborne, Karen

Palumbo, Suzan

Payseur, Charles

Pinsker, Sarah

Piveral, C.

Polk, C.L.

Powell, Gareth L.

Prevost, A.E.

Rabinowitz, Ted

Rakunas, Adam

Rambo, Cat

Ramdas, Shiv

Rappaport, Jenny Rae

Reardon, Matthew

Roanhorse, Rebecca

Roberts, Erin

Robson, Kelly

Rodriguez, Karlo Yeager

Rossman, Jennifer Lee

Rowat, Frances

Rowland, Alexandra

Royce, Eden

Rustad, A. Merc

Sabet, Amman

Sanford, Jason

Santiago, Gabriela

Schoffstall, John

Seiberg, Effie

Seybold, Grace

Singh, Amal

Sjunneson-Henry, Elsa

Stone, Hayley

Stufflebeam, Bonnie Jo

Strange Horizons

Stuart, Alisdair

Szbranski, Henry

Teffeau, Lauren C.

Theodore, R.J.

Theodoridou, Natalia

Toase, Steve

Tobler, E. Catherine

Tomaras, Joseph

Tomlinson, Patrick

Townsend, Tracy

Triantafyllou, Eugenia

Trota, Michi

Uncanny Magazine

Valentinelli, Monica

Vogel, Dawn

Vourvoulias, Sabrina

Walker, Tammy

Wallis, Wren

Wanak, LaShawn

Wasserstein, Izzy

Weber, Christopher

Wehm, Darusha

Weimer, Paul

Westin, O.

Wilde, Fran (And a bonus thread specific to non-fiction work.)

Wiswell, John

Worrad, James

Yap, Isabel

Recommended Reading/Favorites Fiction

Amazon Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of 2018 (So Far)

Barnes and Noble Best SFF of 2018

Barnes and Noble Bookseller’s Picks for 2018

Barnes and Noble Best Horror of 2018

Barnes and Noble Blogger’s Choice Best of 2018

Book Smugglers Best Books of 2018

British Science Fiction Association Recommended Reading List (Crowd-sourced. Add your own recommendations!)

Cameron N. Coulter Favorite Short Fiction of 2018

Diabolical Plots Recommended Reading

Earl Grey Editing’s Recommended Reading

Fantasy Faction Best Books of 2018

Fantasy Inn’s Best of 2018

Maria Haskins Recommended Reading

Hugo Spreadsheet (Crowd-sourced. Add your own recommendations!)

Hugo Wikia (Crowd-sourced. Add your own recommendations!)

Kirkus Reviews Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of 2018

Kirkus SFF Blog’s Best of the Best

Latinx Authors Database 2018

Library Journal’s Best Books of 2018

Marissa Lingen’s Short Fiction Recommended Reading

Nerds of a Feather Top 9 Books of 2018

Nerds of a Feather Hugo Recommendations: Fiction, Visual Works, Individual Categories, Institutional Categories.

NPR’s Best Books of 2018

New York Public Library’s Best Books of 2018

Paste Magazine’s Best YA of 2018

Quick Sip Reviews Recommended Reading List

Jason Sanford Best Short SFF January – June 2018

Shouting About Queer SF 2018 Recommended Reading

Elsa Sjunneson-Henry’s Recommended Reading

SFWA Recommended Reading List (Crowd-sourced. SFWA members, add your own recommendations!)

Strange Horizons Favorites of 2018

Tiptree Award Recommended Reading List (Note: not all recommended works are 2018.)

E. Catherine Tobler’s Favorites of 2018

Joseph Tomaras’ Favorites of 2018

Tor.com Reviewer’s Choice Best Books of 2018

Tor.com Best Comics of 2018

Eugenia Triantafyallou’s Favorite Short Fiction of 2018

Paul Weimer – Best Books of 2018

John Wiswell’s Favorite Short Fiction of 2018

Review Sites and Resources

The links in this section point to ongoing sites/columns etc. that review work throughout the year. Note, not all work reviewed is published in 2018, so double-check its eligibility before nominating.

Antler Review (monthly reviews, short fiction, long fiction, non-fiction, etc.)

Fiction Unbound (various)

Forest of Glory (short fiction)

In Short (short fiction)

It’s a Jumble (short and long fiction)

Kirkus SFF Blog (short and long fiction)

Lady Business (short fiction, long fiction, media, fan works, etc.)

Locus Online (short and long fiction)

Nerds of a Feather (long fiction, media, comics, etc.)

Non-Binary Authors to Read (short and long fiction, not all 2018 titles)

Otherwordly/NY Times (long fiction)

Quick Sip Reviews (primarily short fiction, some longer works)

Reading the End (various)

Reviews and Robots (various lengths)

Robots with Keyboards
(monthly lists of favorite short fiction)

Salute Your Shorts (monthly short fiction round-ups/reviews)

SFF Reviews (short fiction)

Skiffy and Fanty
(various)
Squee and Snark (short fiction)

Strange Horizons Reviews (short fiction, long fiction, media, etc.)

Tor.com (short fiction, long fiction, media, etc.)

Women to Read (short and long fiction, not all 2018)

Words for Thought (short fiction)

X Marks the Story (short fiction)

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Halloween Favorites: Novels

Another Friday means another round of Halloween recommendations, and this time, I’m talking about novels. Many of these are works I’ve recommended in one form or another before, but they’re worth recommending again. After all, there’s a reason I keep coming back to them over and over again.

The Red Tree by Caitlin R. Kiernan is a dark, unsettling, psychological tale. Don’t let the cover fool you; the author herself has complained about it on numerous occasions, and it sadly doesn’t do the work justice. On the surface level, it’s a haunted house story. Underneath, it’s the portrait of a woman slowly unraveling, and it pairs nicely with another of my favorite Kiernan novels, The Drowning Girl. Both are novels that get under the skin, and in my case at least, left me uneasy for days after finishing them.

Experimental Film by Gemma Files is another novel I find myself thinking of frequently, even years after first reading it. Like Files’ “each thing i show you is a piece of my death” mentioned in my short story recommendations, the horror revolves around found fragments of film. But that horror quickly seeps off the screen and into the real world, and the truth the characters uncover is far older and stranger than they could have imagined. A highly effective novel, and again, one that definitely lingers.

Hex by Thomas Olde Heuvelt was originally written and published in Dutch, then not just translated, but rewritten, by the author and released in English with a new setting and – as I understand it – new ending. A small New England town is cursed by a presence referred to as the Black Rock Witch. Her eyes and mouth are sewn shut, she can appear and disappear anywhere around town at will, but as long as the stitches remain, and no one tries to leave the town, she won’t do them harm. It’s a story about becoming complacent in the face of horror, and the horrors people visit on each other growing out of that complacency. And as far as striking imagery goes, it’s hard to beat an ancient witch with her eyes and mouth sewn shut.

My Favorite Thing is MonstersMy Favorite Thing is Monsters by Emil Ferris is less a work of horror in its own right, though horrifying things do happen, and more an homage to horror. As suits a graphic novel, the pages are full of stunning art, and it pays tribute to classic horror movie monsters, and the covers of old horror magazine, as well as referencing works of fine art. It’s a deeply human story, and the horrific things that happen are all human-made. The monsters in this case are a shield against the dark, not the things in and of themselves that make the dark terrifying.

A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay is a possession story. Or is it? Fourteen year-old Marjorie may be mentally ill, or she may be the victim of demonic possession. Running out of options to pay for her care, her family agrees to a reality television show being filmed in their house, documenting Marjorie’s supposed possession. Again, the prime source of horror here is the humans involved, but there’s plenty of eerie imagery to go around, and the sense of haunting does linger,whether it be of a psychological nature or a supernatural one.

Once again, these are just a few examples of my favorites. And as always, I want to know your favorites as well.

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Halloween Favorites: Short Fiction

Halloween is my favorite season, and yes, it is a full season and not just a single day. The cooler weather, the leaves rattling in the trees, all things pumpkin, and of course candy and costumes – what’s not to love? It’s also the perfect time of year to immerse oneself in seasonal fiction. In that spirit, every Friday in October, I’ll be posting some of my favorite reads and watches that never fail to put me in mind of Halloween, starting with short fiction.

Scary Stories to Tell in the DarkFirst beloved, best beloved, and always in my heart is the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark series, three volumes of folklore gathered by Alvin Schwartz, from urban legends, to campfire ghost tales, to eerie poems and rhymes, and everything in-between. Of course, the definitive version of these collections are the ones illustrated by Stephen Gammell whose horrifying illustrations make the stories that much more unnerving. My first encounter with the books was being read one of the stories in a classroom by a teacher. I immediately sought out the full collection in the school library, and eventually purchased copies of my own, reading and re-reading until the covers were cracked and tattered. They make regular appearances on the most frequently banned books list, and probably with good cause, but that’s all the more reason to read them, no matter what your age.

The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman – a classic tale of gas-lighting whose true horror lies in the treatment of the protagonist by her physician husband, but which doesn’t skimp on the haunting and unsettling imagery.

The Color Out of Space by H.P. Lovecraft – elder gods and unimaginable horrors from the deep are all well and good, but for my money, the creepiest of Lovecraft’s stories is this one about an unnatural color that slowly and steadily drains the life from the land and people around it.

October CountryIt’s impossible to pick just one Ray Bradbury story to recommend, so I’ll recommend a whole collection, The October Country, which perfectly encapsulates the notion that Halloween isn’t just one day, or even a season, it’s a whole damn country. It’s a state of mind, a turning of the leaves, and a creeping dark. So many of my favorites are gathered here: Skeleton, The Jar, The Small Assassin, Homecoming, but really, the whole collection is brilliant from beginning to end.

each thing i show you is a piece of my death by Gemma Files and Stephen Barringer – I’m a sucker for found footage and horror stories about film, and this is one of the best, the kind of story that sticks with you long after you put it down.

eyes i dare not meet in dreams by Sunny Moraine – dead girls climbing out of refrigerators, dead girls on train tracks, dead girls wanting everything and nothing and refusing to stay in their graves. This isn’t a traditional ghost story, but it is certainly haunting.

The Husband Stitch by Carmen Maria Machado – another story where the true horror lies in a husband’s treatment of his wife, but playing off the kind of urban legends gathered by Alvin Schwartz, and drawing on the very act of storytelling, complete with instructions to the reader on how to interact with their audience.

Really any collection edited by Ellen Datlow that tends toward the dark and the horrific is a sure bet for Halloween reading, and there are plenty to choose from: The Doll Collection, Nightmare Carnival, Hauntings, or any one of her Year’s Best Horror anthologies.

The stories above are just a small sampling of horrific tales, but they’re certainly a good place to start. What are your favorite short stories to read and re-read around Halloween?

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Queer Collections

In among shiny novels, novellas, and even multi-author anthologies, single author short story collections often get overlooked. I’m admittedly biased since they published my two collections, but Lethe Press, publishes some really standout collections, and there are a few recent releases I want to highlight.

Forget the Sleepless ShoresForget the Sleepless Shores by Sonya Taaffe is hot off the presses this month. It’s a gorgeous collection, echoing with themes of loss, longing, and separation. Many of the stories either draw from mythology and history, or create their own, giving them a timeless, fairy tale feel. As a result, the characters have a sense of lives extending far beyond the page, as though the reader is merely peeking in on a slice of their lives. They feel familiar and strange all at once, giving the stories a haunted, and unsettling feel, in the best of ways. Another common thread tying the collection together is Taaffe’s meticulous use of language. Not only is the imagery striking, but sentences are constructed with a unique sense of rhythm that shakes the reader out of complacency and makes them carefully consider each word, its placement, and what Taaffe is saying. There’s a poetic quality and a flow to the language that only increases the dreamy, magical feel saturating the collection.

His scream shocked silence into his mouth, brought him scrambling upright in bed as though he could climb out of his flame-ridden flesh: plaster cool against his sweating spine, late moonlight in watery bars across the wicker-backed chair draped with his pants and Niko’s socks and somebody’s under-shirt, and Niko in the darkness beside him, slow with sleep and sharp with worry, saying “Blake? Blake, love. What’s wrong?”

–Little Fix of Friction

There are ghost stories, a father trying to reconcile with a daughter born of the sea, a dybbuk carried inside a lover’s skin, restless spirits, bodies buried in peat, and a monster born from the weight of history and science and the atomic bomb. Each story is unique, but again connected by that timeless feel and a beauty of language. In an overall strong collection, the stories that stood out as my favorites were “Little Fix of Friction”, “On the Blindside”, “The Boatman’s Cure”, “The Dybbuk in Love”, “Like Milkweed”, “The Salt House”, and “The Creeping Influences”.

Not Here Not NowNot Here. Not Now. was published earlier this year, and contains both short stories and novellas. The settings are far-ranging in both geographical location and time period, from historical to contemporary, and from the Greek isles, to the streets of New York, from a desert island, to the canals and opera houses of Venice. Jeffers adapts the voice of each piece to suit the setting, and does an impressive job of it. In the introduction to “A Handbook for the Castaway”, the author admits to inventing a “faux-seventeenth-century dialect”, however it feels authentic, perfectly suited to the piece, making the characters’ words come alive so the reader hears the cadence of them as they go along. Some of the same themes encountered in Taaffe’s collection are here as well, in particular myth and history, but they play out very differently. There’s less of a fairy tale feel to Jeffers’ pieces, but again, the language employed for each makes them feel grounded, imbuing them with a sense of place and history.

Hunger drove me out at dusk. I followed the trail my brother had made dragging what was left of our sister. I began to smell fresher blood and to hear noises, horrible noises, chuckles and coughs and chirps. Peering between a rock and a leafy bush, I saw a wake of black vultures squabbling over the corpse of my small brother and our sister’s few disjointed bones.

— The Hyena’s Blessing

While there are ghouls and sirens to be found in the collection’s pages, many stories do away with the fantastical element altogether, or touch on it very lightly. Alongside the fantastical creatures, there is also a castrato singer, and a young boy suffering terrible migraines and obsessed with the Harry Clarke illustrations of the work of Edgar Allan Poe. There is love, both unrequited and reciprocated, lust and sex, hearts broken and hearts mended. It’s a deeply human collection, one that elegantly straddles worlds real and unreal. The stories that stood out to me in particular were “You Deserve”, “Seb and Duncan and the Sirens”, “A Handbook for the Castaway”, “The Hyena’s Blessing”, “Captain of the World”, and “The New People”.

Acres of PerhapsAcres of Perhaps by Will Ludwigsen, also published earlier this year, just happens to be part of the special sale Lethe Press has going on right now, so it’s the perfect time to snag a copy. It’s a slender collection, but one with an interesting conceit. Many of the pieces are fragmentary, describing episodes of a non-existent, Twilight Zone-like TV show, called Acres of Perhaps. Like The Twilight Zone, Acres of Perhaps occasionally pushes boundaries to make both political points and artistic ones, while other episodes are straight up campy sci-fi. All of this is established in the opening story of the collection, appropriately titled “Acres of Perhaps”. The story focuses on the fictional show’s writers, each with their own vision for the series. The “tortured genius” of the bunch, David, believes he’s had an actual encounter with the supernatural, after falling through a hole in a massive stump in the woods, and emerging in a weird mirror-world where everyone is almost, but not quite like themselves, and where he is more creative and productive than he ever could have been in the reality where he belongs. The story plays with and deconstructs the idea of genius, and the creative muse, and what counts as an acceptable sacrifice in the name of art – health, family, friendship, love? The story blurs the line between reality and fiction, never fully answering the question “of whether anything supernatural is going on, and it’s all the stronger for it.

It was dark, just as David had described. There was a slight intimation of a breeze, breathing also like he’d said. My eyes couldn’t focus on the bottom, black and speckled with something like stars. It might have been night on the other side, where David Findley was still writing in an attic somewhere with a bottle of gin beside him.

–Acres of Perhaps

The story feels true – the rivalry and affection between the writers, the struggle against budget constraints and studio notes, David’s battle with alcoholism, and Barry and his lover having to live a closeted life due to the attitudes of the time, yet still being able to enjoy support and acceptance within their writers’ circle. The snippets of episodes interspersed with the other stories in the collection add richness to the opening story and vice versa. While the other stories are not directly connected to Acres of Perhaps, they do have the uncanny feel of stories that could take place within the series’ universe, with many exploring alternate timelines – particularly “Night Fever”, which places Charles Manson in the era of disco, and “Poe at Gettysburg”, which imagines Edgar Allan Poe as president – and asking the all important question at the heart of that type of science fiction show: “what if”.

To close things out, I’ll include a shout-out for two slightly older Lethe titles – A. Merc Rustad’s wonderful So You Want to Be a Robot, and  Livia Llewellyn’s Engines of Desire. Both contain stories that are simultaneously brutal and gorgeously written, delivering gut-punches and breathtaking prose in one go. Many of Rustad’s stories explore the complexities of gender and humanity through the lens of the fantastic, while Llewellyn turns that same lens on sexuality, desire, and violence. Llewellyn’s collection skirts the edge of horror, and indeed was twice-nominated for the Shirley Jackson award, while Rustad’s collection spans genres, from rich, secondary world fantasy, to contemporary science fiction, and all the interstitial spaces in-between.

I’d highly recommend browsing Lethe’s catalogue, especially now with the aforementioned sale going on. The press also publishes novels, novellas, and anthologies, all worth checking out. In addition to the content of the collections being top-notch, Lethe’s books look and feel good too, with striking covers and excellent layout and design. As always, I remain a firm believer in there being no such thing as too many books in a TBR pile. Happy reading!

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A Shimmery Appreciation

These days, the news feels like a relentless cycle of horror. Every day, every hour, brings something new and terrifying. It’s hard not to cringe, while looking at social media or scanning headlines, reflexively tensing for whatever new blow is sure to fall.

Shimmer MagazineBut I’m not here to talk about the bad things. I’m here to talk about one very good thing, a lovely thing that has been bringing joy and art and beauty into the world for thirteen years – Shimmer Magazine. While this post is a celebration of a fine publication and the hard-working badgers who bring its digital and physical pages to life, it is a bittersweet post as well. A farewell. Recently, Shimmer announced it will be closing its pages for the last time this coming November. It will be very much missed.

Since 2005, Shimmer has consistently published gorgeous, dreamy, gut-punching, heart-wrenching and haunting stories. These are stories about outer space and unseen realms, the living, the dead, the possible and the impossible. Its pages are full of realms that were and might be and never were – magic, love, friendship, ghosts, witches, birds, and so much more. Above all, stories that were and are undeniably…shimmery.

I’ve had the good fortune to be published by Shimmer on several occasions. When I was first starting out as a baby writer, Shimmer was a publication I  aspired to. My first acceptance from them was a dream come true, and that thrill never went away. Publisher Beth Wodzinski, Senior Editor E. Catherine Tobler, and the entire Shimmer team have always been a joy to work with. My favorite piece of editorial advice, in fact, came from Shimmer, and it was simply this: add more tentacles. That, my friends, is never ever the wrong answer, no matter the situation.

Shimmer July 2016Even though the era of Shimmer is ending, it will always have a special place in my heart. Rather than mourn its loss, now seems like the perfect time to celebrate its exsistence by highlighting some of my favorite Shimmer stories (or least my favorites since I started keeping track). There are a lot to choose from. In these dark times, may I suggest pouring yourself your favorite beverage, snuggling up with a pet or a loved one, and reading something beautiful as an act of resistance? Browse through Shimmer’s vast archives, and you’re bound to find something that strikes your fancy. I certainly did.

The Earth and Everything Under by K.M. Ferebee – a beautiful and haunting story of magic, birds, love and loss.

Be Not Unequally Yoked by Alexis A. Hunter – a powerful story of first love, transformation, and finding your place in the world.

A Whisper in the Weld by Alix E. Harrow – the story of a woman working under brutal and punishing conditions, and the fierce love for her family that transcends death.

Shimmer March 2017In the Rustle of Pages by Cassandra Khaw – a bittersweet story of honoring family members at the end of their lives, and keeping loved ones with us, even though they are gone.

The Star Maiden by Roshani Chokshi – an otherworldly and fairy tale-like story of a grandmother, a granddaughter, and a magical dress.

States of Emergency by Erica L. Satfika – a unique take on an apocalyptic tale.

A July Story by K.L. Owens – a story full of longing, about a strange and impossible house that steals people away.

Red Mask by Jessica May Lin – a story about death, ghosts,  survival, and the origins of a super hero.

.subroutine:all///end by Alex Acks – a gut-punch of a story about an AI caregiver and the messy, complicated nature of human relationships.

Painted Grassy Mire by Nicasio Andreas Reed – a highly atmospheric story of monstrous creatures and the call of blood.

Shimmer March 2018Glam-Grandma by Avi Naftali – a delightful and stylish story about old ladies who take no shit, make no apologies, and live life to the fullest.

Only Their Shining Beauty Was Left by Fran Wilde – a dreamy and poetic story of transformation, longing, and nature reclaiming its own.

Shadow Boy by Lora Gray – a take on Peter Pan that explores identity and who we are inside versus how we appear to others.

The Cold, Lonely Waters by Aimee Ogden – a journey between the stars in search of survival, or, simply put: mermaids in spaaaaaaace.

The Creeping Influences by Sonya Taaffe – a beautifully written story of desire and fear wrapped around the mystery of a bog mummy.

The Triumphant Ward of the Railroad and the Sea by Sara Saab – a story of hunger, journeying, and trying to outrun hurt on an impossible and fantastical train.

As I said, these are just a few of the fabulous stories Shimmer has published over the years. Which ones are your favorites?

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Short Stack: Of Elephants & Monsters; Of Tombs, Scientists & Mars

We’re in a golden age of novellas, and what’s not to love about that? Novellas are the perfect, not-quite-bite-sized read, just right for a plane ride, a long train commute, or a few blissful hours to yourself to sit down and devour a story in one go. Assuming you’re looking for a few more books to add to your TBR pile, because who isn’t, I have recommendations for you! That’s another nice thing about novellas; they’re slender enough that you can sneak them into your towering book stack without anyone noticing it getting taller. Right?

Prime MeridianPrime Meridian by Silvia Moreno-Garcia was released first to backers of the novella late last year, and will be available for wide release in July. It made the 2017 Locus Recommended Reading List, which also makes it eligible for a Locus Award (voting closes soon, but there are still a few days left to make your voice heard), and it was picked up for Gardener Dozois’ Year’s Best Science Fiction.  All with good cause; it’s a fantastic novella. Mars lies at its heart, and the intersecting stories of two women orbit around it. For Amelia, Mars is in her future. At least she tells herself it still could be, though every day her dream of leaving Earth and going to the Red Planet seems to be getting farther away. She’s broke, with no funds to buy her passage off planet, and barely enough money to make ends meet – living with her sister, selling her blood for cash, and working as a rent-a-friend, providing companionship and conversation for those with the means to pay. One of Amelia’s clients is an aging actress, and for her, Mars is in the past. Hers is a cardboard Mars though, the stuff of Hollywood magic and movie dreams. Both women’s stories are stories of longing, and both provide a thoughtful reflection on the distance between perception and reality, whether it’s the perception of a desired object/person/place, or the outside perceptions placed on people, telling them who they should be. Neither woman’s life is what she hoped; time, expectations, and responsibilities weigh them down, but both are still working to achieve escape velocity, even if their trajectories aren’t the ones they planned. It’s a lovely and poignant story, full of genuine emotion, and for all that it is a novella about reaching for space, it is grounded and full of humanity.

Gods Monster & the Lucky PeachGods, Monsters, and The Lucky Peach by Kelly Robson, released in March, is set in the future, post ecological disaster, as humanity is just starting to recover. Banks and corporations run a complex economy, moving around debt and human capital. Plague babies, those who survived the ecological disaster, have modified bodies that might give them extra limbs like an octopus, or the powerful legs of a gazelle, and the ability to control their heart rate, adrenaline, and just about every other autonomic function. Oh, and time travel is well within humanity’s grasp. Minh and Kiki are part of a team chosen to travel back to 2000 BC to perform an ecological survey of the Tigris and the Euphrates in hopes of reclaiming the rivers in their own time. While the company that holds the monopoly on time travel technology swears up and down that time lines collapse the moment travelers leave to return to their own time, thus making it impossible to accidentally fuck up the future, both Minh and Kiki have their doubts. The timeline they find themselves in certainly feels real, as does their ability to impact it. They aren’t merely observers, they are part of events, and those events include a king who believes it is his destiny to kill monsters. Kiki and Minhwith their inhuman-looking limbs, their egg-shaped ship, and technology that looks like magic, appear just like the sort of monsters in need of killing.  Against this backdrop, Robson does an excellent job of setting up interpersonal conflict. The time travelers are pit against each other, and their environment, and it is a joy to watch each character evolve and grow in their attitudes and relationships over the course of the story. The structure is clever, with two timelines converging on a single point, adding to the level of tension, and the world-building is fantastic.

The Clockwork TombThe Clockwork Tomb by E. Catherine Tobler is the fourth, and second-to-last (noooo, I’m not ready!), book in the excellent Folley & Mallory Series. This time around, we find the adventurous pair in Egypt, exploring a tomb referenced in Eleanor’s father’s journals. Despite not being the first to enter the tomb, Eleanor and Virgil have made it farther than anyone else. The tomb presents them with a series of puzzles, leading them deeper into the maze of its interior until they aren’t even certain they’re still in the mortal realm. Not only does the tomb cause them to doubt their sense of place and reality, it forces them to doubt themselves, testing their relationship and the strength of their wills in new ways. As with each new entry in the Folley & Mallory series, The Clockwork Tomb brings Eleanor a little closer to unraveling the mystery of her family’s past, and the truth of what happened to her mother and her grandmother. It also deepens Folley and Mallory’s relationship, as they come to know themselves and each other better, learning to trust each other completely in order to survive. Like the books that came before it, The Clockwork Tomb is full of rich, lush, descriptions that puts the reader right alongside the heroes on their adventure. Tobler perfectly balances action, romance, and mystery, to deliver a highly-satisfying read. I love these books as books, and at the same time, they’re full of so many wonderful visuals I keep hoping that someone will make them into movies.

Little Homo Sapiens ScientistThe Little Homo Sapiens Scientist by S.L. Huang is at once an inversion of the story of The Little Mermaid, and a meditation on the nature of sentience, and an examination of cultural biases and the problems they cause in the field of ethnography. Most people insist on thinking of the atagati as mermaids, or sirens. They’re an aquatic peoples, certainly, and their language sounds to human ears like singing, but they are nothing at all like the fanciful stories we tell about mythical creatures with human upper halves and fish tails. They are a sentient race, with a deep history and culture of their own, and they have no place inside the boxes humanity tries to cram them into. This is the conflict at the core of The Little Homo Sapiens Scientists. Dr. Cadance Mbella is one of the few humans who has managed a rudimentary understanding of the atagati language, and even then, there’s so much about them she doesn’t know. Almost everyone else around her seems unable to let go of their preconceived notions about what the atagati should be, insisting on seeing them through the lens of human culture. As a result, they dismiss them as a lesser species based on their own inability to understand them, or assume – like humans – their prime interest must be in attack and conquest. When the military captures an atagati who calls herself Aioëe, Caddie is roped into being a translator, interrogating the atagati so the military can better understand their supposed enemy. Caddie finds herself confiding in Aioëe, feeling a connection that may or may not be one-sided. She helps Aioëe escape, but she can’t stop thinking about her, and all she doesn’t know about the atagati and longs to learn. She hears a rumor of a man who has harnessed medical technology to transform humans into atagati, however the procedure leaves them unable to communicate, and with only a short time to live. Caddie decides to risk it, hoping against reason that she’ll be able to find Aioëe again and, even voiceless, make herself understood. The parallels to The Little Mermaid are obvious, but Hunag up-ends the traditional story by de-centering humanity, making it something to be left behind, instead of the ultimate goal the hero desires. Through the lens of two species coming into contact, the story challenges the colonial mentality of assuming cultural superiority, and confronts the problem of looking at others through a framework that doesn’t match their lived reality. It’s a beautifully told story, with thoughtful underpinnings, and packs a punch.

The Only Harmless Great ThingThe Only Harmless Great Thing by Brooke Bolander, published in January, brings together the imagined mythology of elephants, and a take on the true history of the Radium Girls who unwittingly poisoned themselves painting matches and watch dials with luminous paint, leading to their slow and painful deaths. Topsy, a former circus elephant, famously publicly executed after killing a spectator, is part of a long, matrilineal line of elephants stretching back to prehistoric time. She carries the memory of her people, in stories passed down from mother to daughter, including the horrors visited on elephant kind by humanity. The latest horror is humans teaching elephants to wield paintbrushes so they too can paint clock dials with luminous paint, consigning them to the same terrible fate as the women already rotting from the inside out. With the various threads it weaves together, The Only Harmless Great Things is a story about stories. Narratives shape our lives, define us as a people, help us make sense of the world, and are sometimes used as a survival mechanism, both literally and figuratively. Tricksters of old steal and seek and horde stories to build power and sometimes to save lives, and in modern times, tricksters of another kind deploy stories to get their way, increase their wealth, and offload their problems. Bolander weaves these threads together seemingly effortlessly – the myths told by the elephants, the story of Topsy , the story of Regan, one of the Radium Girls, and the story of Kat, a translator who, years after the Radium disaster, is tasked with telling a story that will redeem the public image of elephants by convincing them to become the guardians of irradiated land, even after everything humans have done to them. The language is stunning, the kind that guts you and leaves you breathless, and the story is both utterly satisfying and leaves you craving more.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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My Favorite Novels and Novellas of 2017

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

Novels

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Novellas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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