My Favorite Media of 2020

Tis the season for year’s best lists and award eligibility posts. While I’m still trying to catch up on more reading before I post my favorite books and short fiction of the year, I figured I’d share some of my favorite movies and TV shows from 2020. Maybe you’re looking for viewing suggestion in order to nominate for the Bradbury, or other awards, or perhaps you’re just looking for something to watch while wrapped up in a cozy blanket as the weather gets colder. Either way, these are a few 2020 titles I really enjoyed, and I hope you will too!

Birds of Prey PosterBirds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn

Yup. It came out in 2020. Can you believe it? It feels like a million years ago. Initially, I was somewhat skeptical about this movie, as I have become skeptical of many recent DC movies, though a few have managed to pleasantly surprise me. The trailers made Birds of Prey look worthwhile though, and I am a sucker for Harley Quinn, not to mention the general idea of a female-led, female-directed anti-hero movie. Birds of Prey did not disappoint. I get the sense that the movie struggled to find it’s audience, and that a narrative was put forth about its failure before it was even released, leading to a lot of people missing it, which is a shame. The movie is tons of fun. Hyper-stylized violence, energetic fight scenes literally exploding with glitter, fight scenes that simultaneously involve highly-impractical roller skates and highly-practical hair ties, several very excellent velvet jackets, superhero/anti-hero team ups, and a very good hyena named Bruce. What more could you want from a movie? It resists the male gaze, and actively deconstructs it at several points. It’s fun and it’s funny, and Margot Robbie is a wonderful Harley Quinn. It’s partly a double-crossing heist movie, partly a break-up movie, largely an over the top action movie, but above all, it is a love story, between a woman and one very special breakfast sandwich. If you missed it when it came out, I highly recommend catching up on it now.

She-Ra and the Princesses of Power

It’s not just the hit of nostalgia that frequently sent me off on google image searches and down Wikipedia rabbit holes as I tried to figure out which of the characters I had toys of as a kid, and what I remembered of their backstories that kept me hooked. It’s the reinvention and reimagination of the characters and the world, and the show’s underlying message of people being stronger when they work together, trusting and supporting each other, and love literally saving the universe. The character redesigns are wonderful, as are the new and/or the deepened backstories and relationships. There are queer characters, snarky characters, fat characters, awkward characters – all things princesses are usually not allowed to be. There’s even a non-binary character and no one ever makes a big deal of using they/them pronouns. There’s also magic and universe saving and epic stakes, and a few moments that genuinely had me choked up. I kept going back and forth trying to decide who my favorite characters were, and ultimately decided on all of them. The whole series is wonderful, and amidst the various horrors of 2020, it was a joy to watch the final arc and see the showrunners absolutely nail the ending.

Star Wars: Clone Wars: Season 7

Speaking of nailing the ending… Long-awaited and eagerly anticipated by fans, Star Wars: The Clone Wars finally got the wrap-up and series finale it deserved in 2020. A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away – 2008, to be precise – Star Wars: The Clone Wars debuted on Cartoon Network. Timeline-wise, it filled in the gap between the second and third prequel movies, between the time when Anakin went on a rampage and slaughtered an entire village of sand people and when everyone around him who somehow missed that warning sign was shocked when he turned to the dark side and ultimately became Darth Vader. Over the course of the series, we get to actually see the Clone Wars alluded to, but never really covered in the movies. We get to know the clones themselves, and get a deeper, more nuanced view of the characters (for example, did you know Darth Maul is actually interesting and there’s far more to his story than grunting, taunting Obi Wan, and getting cut in half?), as well as Anakin’s fall to the dark side. We also get to know Anakin’s young Padawan, Ahsoka Tano. Ahsoka grows from a somewhat bratty kid into one of the most badass force users around. Her story is full of equal parts triumph and tragedy, and the final season rightly focuses on giving her story closure, rather than rehashing Anakin’s slaughter of the younglings, or his final fight with Obi Wan on Mustafar. The events covered in Revenge of the Sith form the backdrop of the final season of Clone Wars. Everyone who has seen the movies knows what’s coming, but even if it isn’t a surprise, it is surprisingly effective, seeing Order 66 through the eyes of the clones we have come to know and care for over seven seasons, and watching Ahsoka cope with that one final loss and betrayal. The closing arc of episodes is beautifully and powerfully done, and include some of the best lightsaber battles in Star Wars. Not to mention the emotional content that feels like it’s missing from a lot of the movies, and some truly spectacular voice acting and motion-capture animation, including Ray Park reprising his role as Maul in the aforementioned battles. Together, the Clone Wars and Rebels animated series are where some of the best Star Wars stories are being told, in my opinion. After you’re done catching up on Clone Wars, go catch up on Rebels as well. You can thank me later.

Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts

Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts PosterKipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts has had three seasons so far, all of them released on Netflix in 2020. It’s a charming series, which like She-Ra, emphasizes the power of friendship and talking out your problems rather than resorting to violence. The show is set in a post-apocalyptic world where humans have moved underground, and the surface is ruled by mutant animals, some who can talk, others who are merely giant, or sport more limbs or heads or eyes than their real-world counterparts. In the first episode, Kipo becomes separated from her father and the rest of her burrow during a giant mutant attack. As she searches for a way back to her people, she makes new enemies, new friends, and discovers that there’s a lot more to the world and its inhabitants than she ever knew. The world Kipo inhabits is delightfully weird. There are a trio of goats who tell the future via vats of cheese, a group of fitness-obsessed skunks, and a K-pop-style boy band made up of narwhals, and that’s just scratching the surface. While the show is overall light, humorous, and family-friendly, there are darker moments and genuinely weighty emotional ones as well. One of the main characters is openly gay (the show’s creator insisted on it, including insisting he actually get to say the words “I’m gay” out loud and not have it merely hinted at or pushed into the background), and he gets to be in a healthy and adorable relationship, which is wonderful. The relationships in general are the heart of the show, friendships, family, and an ever-growing alliance against those who would tear it all apart. It’s bright, colorful, fun, and might occasionally make you tear up as well. Oh, and did I mention there’s a giant, six-legged corgi?

Relic

For a complete tonal switch from Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts, how about a small Australian horror movie about dementia? Relic falls into the category of movies where I’m genuinely not sure how I felt about the ultimate resolution (see The Witch and Hereditary), but I’m certainly not sorry I watched it, and I would still definitely recommend it. A woman and her 20-something daughter travel to visit their mother/grandmother after growing concerned about her increasingly erratic behavior. They arrive to find her missing, encounter strange noises, and find alarming notes left about the house. The mother/grandmother reappears, offering no explanation for where she’s been, but even with her return, the unsettling events and the sense of a haunting continue to escalate. The movie is moody, atmospheric, and tense, and combines moments of truly unnerving body horror, with far quieter emotional/psychological horror. The imagery is striking, the acting excellent, and even if I wasn’t entirely sure how I felt about the movies choices by the time I reached the end of it, it has certainly lingered with me, and is the kind of movie I suspect I will continue to think about for many years to come.

The Queen’s Gambit

The Queen's Gambit PosterIt’s not genre, if you’re primarily thinking about genre award nominations at this time of year, but the Queen’s Gambit is an utterly brilliant mini-series. Anya Taylor-Joy, who’s been incredible in everything I’ve seen her in, plays a young chess prodigy in the 1960s, going from orphan to world champion. The acting is amazing all around, as are the set design, costume choices, and locations. The show does an excellent job of regularly subverting expectations in the way the characters interact with each other and the dynamics between them. We get messy characters, imperfect characters, and a masterclass in how to put obstacles in a characters’ path, and how to allow them to have troubled and broken relationships without resorting to lazy tropes and archetypes. The whole thing is beautifully shot, and once again, Anya Taylor-Joy is amazing. The camera adores her, and with good cause. I’m pretty sure you could watch the show without sound or closed captions, and just her moving around on screen would still be captivating. Definitely highly recommended.

So there you have a few of my favorite viewing experiences from 2020, not counting things I watched or re-watched not originally released in 2020. I know there are tons of things out there that I’ve missed or haven’t gotten around to watching yet. What are your favorites? What do I absolutely need to bump to the top of my must-watch list for 2020?

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Award Eligible Work 2020

Evil in Technicolor CoverSince I’m gathering links and encouraging others to make their own award eligibility posts, I figured now would be a good time to put together my own. Here’s what I had published this year, by category.

Novelette

“Exhalation #10″, Final Cuts: New Tales of Hollywood Horror and Other Spectacles edited by Ellen Datlow (Penguin Random, June 2020)

During the entire fifty-seven minutes of play time, the woman’s body slumps against a concrete wall, barely conscious. She’s starved, one arm chained above her head to a thick pipe. The light is dim, the shadows thick. The angle of her head, lolled against her shoulder, hides her face. The camera watches for fifty-seven minutes, capturing faint, involuntary movements—her body too weak for anything else—until her breathing stops.

“A Thousand Faces Minus One”, Evil in Technicolor edited by Joe M. McDermott (Vernacular Books, October 2020)

Donovan dreams of a man without a face. Or rather, the man has a face, but Donovan can’t see it. It’s hidden under a black hood, like a criminal in an old movie might wear as he’s about to hang. The man doesn’t do anything other than stand in the corner, but somehow that simple act induces a sense dread. The man has a message, or there’s something important Donovan has forgotten. The man has come to take away something Donovan loves. Donovan wishes the man would get it over with, but he only stands there, breathing, and the cloth over his mouth goes in and out, in and out.

Clarkesworld November 2020 CoverTo Sail the Black“, Clarkesworld, November 2020

The ghost ship Xanthic Promise sails the black, powered by the slumbering heart of a dying star. And its captain, Antimony Jones, stalks its decks in a swirl of crimson coat and fox fire lighting, dogged by voices. The recent dead, the long dead, and the dead-to-be, all murmuring as to how she’s only three months into her command and it’s all coming undone.

Short Stories

“Split-Tail”, GlitterShip, Winter 2020

My sisters and mothers and aunts warned there were dangers on land, but not what those dangers might be. They never told how a kiss might undo me, take me from myself, make me want to wind the length of my tail around that sweet, shy man who spoke of sea stars and corals and blushed like the sun, and never let him go. I bruised his lips with mine, scraped my teeth against his fragile skin, and it wasn’t enough. I hungered, and so I fled, knowing if I stayed, I would drag him beneath waves and kiss him ’til he drowned.

Teeth Long and Sharp as Blades“, Pseudopod, October 2020

Have you ever thought about how fairy tale heroines are like final girls? We survive poisoning, curses, imprisonment, mothers who want to cut our hearts out and hold them in their hands. But we survive, and our survival is an object lesson: act this way, and you’ll be all right. Be pure of heart. Be kind to strangers. Don’t go into the woods at night.

Non-Fiction

Women to Read at The Book Smugglers

Non-Binary Authors to Read at The Book Smugglers

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What Have You Done, What Have You Loved? 2020

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

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

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

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

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

Links and Deadlines

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

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

Aurora Awards (Must be a member of CSFFA to list eligible works, nominate, and vote) - deadline to list eligible works February 28, 2021; nominations open March 27, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

Award Eligibility

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

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

Recommended Reading

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

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

Reviews and Resources

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

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

Images

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

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

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

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

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An Interview with Hailey Piper

Worm and His King CoverHailey Piper was kind enough to drop by today to talk about her new novella, The Worm and His Kings. In order to kick things off, I will make introductions by way of Hailey’s author bio.

Hailey Piper writes horror and dark fantasy, and is a member of the Horror Writers Association. She is the author of The Possession of Natalie Glasgow, An Invitation to Darkness, and Benny Rose, the Cannibal King. Her short fiction appears in publications such as Daily Science Fiction, The Arcanist, Flash Fiction Online, Year’s Best Hardcore Horror, Tales to Terrify, Blood Bath Literary Zine, and many more. She lives with her wife in Maryland, where she haunts their apartment making spooky noises. Find her on Twitter via @HaileyPiperSays and on Instagram via @haileypiperfights.

Welcome, and congratulations on The Worm and His Kings! Without giving too much away, would you care to give folks a taste of what your novella is about?

Thank you so much! I’m happy to be here! The Worm and His Kings is a cosmic horror novella that follows Monique Lane in her search for her missing girlfriend beneath Manhattan in 1990. She faces both her past horrors that haunt her and the shadows and secrets that lie ahead.

You do a wonderful job establishing character, mood, and mythology in the novella. What came first for you, in terms of inspiration, or did the story arrive as a whole package?

Weirdly enough, the lore came first. That’s usually not the case for me, I’ll have a concept or characters in most cases, but here the mythology grew in pieces. The characters who would approach that, and what they chose to do about it, developed later and had a few false starts.

On a related note, I’m particularly interested in Gray Hill and the empty place, as both are so effectively described. I was wondering if you could talk a bit about Gray Hill’s origins, and the idea of the empty place. I love the idea of absence as a horror concept, a place that people instinctively avoid because it just feels wrong.

Some elements of Gray Hill are essential to the lore, but how she impacts the story in some ways emerged from Staten Island urban legend Cropsey (there’s a 2009 documentary on Netflix by that same name if anyone’s curious!), and as was the case with my last novella, Benny Rose, the Cannibal King, urban legends seem to seep into my work. The empty place started as a bad feeling. I’d experienced this myself not over any particular place, but it would just come upon me sometimes, exactly as you say. Sometimes a spot would just feel wrong, and I’d move away from it. But that grew into the events of the book, even if Monique can’t immediately understand what’s haunting her.

Another thing you do a fantastic job with in the novella is blending supernatural horror with very human horror like the rejection Monique experiences at the hands of her family, or the idea of losing someone you love. As an author, is one type of horror – human versus supernatural – more interesting to you to explore, or do you prefer to combine them as you do here?

I think horror is at its strongest digging into those human elements and at its most interesting when digging into supernatural elements. Supernatural ideas and beliefs have been part of that human experience for all of human history, and I think it’s hard to untether that from our emotions. That’s probably an overlong way of saying that I prefer to combine the two. The story, characters, themes, and reader all benefit when the speculative elements of a story draw from humanity, even if they’re presented as monsters.

The majority of your published work to date has been horror. What in particular appeals to you about the genre? Are there other genres you’ve written in, or would be interested in exploring in the future?

For me, horror is the truest genre. We can peel layers from our emotions and cut to the bone when we look at our fears as sources to draw from, and I think often characters are the most themselves when afraid. I’ve written some science fiction and fantasy too, and one steampunk detective story that showed up in Planet Scumm #9 in September, but many of those still carry darker or horror adjacent elements.

Switching gears, you currently reside in Maryland. What are your favorite spots in the area, or places you like to bring guests visiting for the first time?

With it being 2020, I’m struggling to remember places that aren’t home or the grocery store (or what guests are!). There’s a place with a pond near the movie theater where we like to walk, and it’s pretty through every season.

Now that The Worm and His Kings is out in the world, what’s next for you? What are you working on, or have coming up that you want folks to know about?

I’m juggling a body horror novel and a novella that I’m struggling to classify, though I should have that situated soon. The kind people over at The Seventh Terrace are also working with me to get my first short story collection out the door, Unfortunate Elements of My Anatomy, full of queer horror, isolation stories, and the monstrous feminine. That should release in spring 2021.

The collection sounds fantastic! Thanks for stopping by!

Thank you again for having me! It’s been lovely!

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Philcon 2020

Like so many events this year, Philcon 2020 will be entirely virtual. The con will run from November 20-22, and it’s free to attend with a suggested donation to help the organizers cover costs. Even though we can’t all gather in person, it promises to be a lot of fun, with panels, readings, a virtual dealers room, and an art show. Here’s where you’ll be able find me. I hope to see you there!

Not-So-Epic Fantasy – Saturday November 21, 11:30 a.m. EST – Plaza 3

A.C. Wise (moderator), Miriam Seidel, Anthony Dobranski, Aaron Rosenberg

Not all fantasies are epics. Novels such as Tess of the Road by Rachel Hartman and The Goblin Emperor by Catherine Addison get away from the usual tropes and cliches. Are there new fantasy subgenres arising? What is interesting when an epic is not involved?

Cosmic Horror’s Recent Growths – Saturday November 21, 2:30 p.m. EST – Plaza 3

A.C. Wise (moderator), Miriam Seidel, James Chambers, Premee Mohamed

Works such as The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle, N. K. Jemisin’s The City We Became, and Matt Ruff’s Lovecraft Country invoke Lovecraftian elements in intriguing new ways. How have the perspectives of these creators affected their choices as to how to use, expand upon or modify the original lore?

Science Fiction Horror – Sunday November 22, 2:30 p.m. EST – Plaza 2

Barna William Donovan (moderator), Darrell Schweitzer, James Chambers, Hildy Silverman, A.C. Wise

What are the best works in this subgenre? Which authors manage to nail down *both* the Science and the Horror elements? Why do they succeed (or fail)?

Reading – Sunday November 22, 4:30 p.m. EST

I haven’t quite decided what I’ll read yet. Space pirates? Exploding women? Something else? You’ll have to tune in to find out!

The full schedule for the con can be found here.

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Capclave 2020

Like many cons, Capclave is going virtual this year. While I will miss running into friends in the halls, and making the annual pilgrimage to Dogfish for ridiculous grilled cheese and delicious beer, I am looking forward to running into friends in the virtual halls and attending the con from the comfort of my own home. Back when Capclave was held in a dog-friendly hotel, the elder corgi used to attend with me. Now, both dogs, and the cat can attend again – hopefully quietly.

Capclave is coming to a computer screen/smart device near you October 17-18, 2020. Here is my official schedule for the weekend. All times are EST. The full schedule for the con can be found here. Hope to see you there!

Breaking the Genre Boundaries – Saturday – 10:30 a.m.
Participants: Kenneth Altabef, Scott Edelman, B. Sharise Moore, Joshua Palmatier, A.C. Wise (M)
What is the purpose of genres? How do they help and hinder authors and readers? How do bookstores know how to shelves slipstream or multi-genre books? How do some authors intersect SF/Fantasy with Horror, Romance, Erotica, Literary fiction, young protagonists, Mystery, Thriller, and other elements? Who does this well and who tries to overload a book?

Author Reading – Saturday – 12 p.m.
Do you like ghosts? How about pirates? And what if they were all in space? I’ll be reading an excerpt from my forthcoming novelette, To Sail the Black. Ghost pirates in spaaaaaaaaaaaaace!

Best Fiction 2020 – Sunday – 3 p.m.
Participants: Beth Cato, Andy Duncan, Sarah Pinsker, A.C. Wise (M)
Best Novels & Short fiction of 2020. What is the best new fiction you read (or heard about) in 2020. Suggestions for what should be nominated for various awards.

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An Interview with Karen Osborne

Architects of Memory CoverKaren Osborne was kind enough to drop by to talk about her debut novel, Architects of Memory, which is officially out today, and which my alerts inform me is on its way to my mailbox right now. I can’t wait! To get things started, I’ll make introductions by shamelessly stealing from Karen’s author bio.

Karen Osborne is a Nebula finalist, visual storyteller and violinist. Her short fiction appears in Uncanny, Fireside, Escape Pod, Robot Dinosaurs, and Beneath Ceaseless Skies. She is a member of the DC/MD-based Homespun Ceilidh Band, emcees the Charm City Spec reading series, and once won a major event filmmaking award for her work on a Klingon wedding. Her debut novel, Architects of Memory, is forthcoming in 2020 from Tor Books.

Welcome, Karen, and congratulations on your novel! Without giving too much away, would you care to tell folks a bit about Architects of Memory?

I began Architects of Memory purely to rekindle my love of writing after months of hustling in the content generation mills after I lost my job back in 2015. The book quickly became serious and deliberate and terrifying and just plain fun to write, and I highly recommend that anyone struggling with writing a novel simply lean in and embrace all of the elements that make you feel thrilled as an artist, no matter how ordinary or how strange.

Architects is the story of Ash Jackson, a terminally ill, indentured salvage pilot putting her life back together after losing everything in the war with the inexplicable alien Vai. It’s not easy—her new company, Aurora, can never know she’s sick, or they’ll stop considering her a good investment and she’ll never see her new love, ship’s captain Kate Keller ever again.

When Ash finds an alien weapon in a dead starship near the war’s last battlefield, she and her crew stumble into, and I’m gonna quote from the logline so I don’t give away spoilers, “a conspiracy of corporate intrigue and betrayal that threatens to turn Ash into a living weapon.”

So Architects draws all of the gorgeous tropes I’ve loved in space opera all my life—found families, truly alien aliens, complicated relationships, twisty wild macropolitics—as well as a bunch of questions I had surrounding how corporations and corporate-adjacent entities like nonprofits and megachurches might metastasize in the future. After all, Elon Musk has already intimated on Twitter that workers interested in going to Mars could pay their fare with work once they arrive…

It also centers on what I consider to be the important healthcare question of our time: what’s more important to a society, a person’s productive valuation to the economy or their intrinsic worth as a human being? When I started writing Architects of Memory, I never thought that we’d be having this conversation in our society on this kind of macro level. We’re all talking about “personal responsibility” to keep us safe because our public health system has completely broken down. We’re just going along with the abdication of the U.S. government’s public health responsibility like it’s normal. We’re putting immigrant workers and grocery workers at risk of death just so we can eat meat and paying them with lip service. Ours is absolutely a world that Ash Jackson and the Aurorans would recognize intimately, and I definitely wish it wasn’t.

In addition to your novel, you’re also a prolific short fiction author. You have a particular talent for creating rich, secondary worlds and stories that feel epic in scope within just a few thousand words. Would you ever consider writing epic fantasy at novel length? And on a related note, do you find it difficult to switch back and forth between science fiction and fantasy, or are you equally comfortable in both worlds?

I certainly plan to. Writing careers are slippery beasties at the best of times, and you never really know where you’re going to go next, but I do have a synopsis and outline ready to go for at least two epic fantasies when it becomes time to write them. One is the novel version of “The Two-Bullet War,” which was published at Beneath Ceaseless Skies in mid-2019. I’m extremely excited to get my hands dirty with gunslingers, ancient mountain sorcery, democratic revolutions, and secret marriages. So there’ll be cars and telephones and guns, but also that epic feeling I know I certainly crave while reading fantasy.

I honestly can’t wait to do the worldbuilding. Most of my science fiction centers around stories that rely on the claustrophobia and physics of being in space—moon bases, tiny starships, shuttles and the like—which is a milieu I’m extremely comfortable writing in after focusing on it for so long. The Two-Bullet War will need me to build this wild, complicated, huge world, with a specific ecology, a complicated political system, and more characters than I’ve ever dealt with in a piece this long before.

I suppose it makes me a little nervous to switch, but I think writers always are, and should be, just a little scared of their next book. I think that fear is both healthy and helpful. I think it sharpens our abilities, keeps us on our toes, and makes everything just that much better.

I wanted to talk a bit about “The Bodice, the Hem, the Woman, Death”, which is one of my favorites among your stories. I love the idea of people carrying the souls of their ancestors around in their jewelry, and the way you use fashion to reveal aspects of the main character’s personality, and her relationship with her mother. Where did the seed for this story come from? Do you have any ties to the world of fashion that informed this piece?

Fewer ties and more baggage! I actually have a lot of baggage when it comes to fashion, and that’s exactly where the story came from. I was teased relentlessly for my looks in middle and high school and then spent most of my adult life in a plus-size body, working low-paying but wonderful journalism jobs where conservative dress was more than required. I didn’t think fashion had anything to say to me, which is definitely where the main character of “Bodice” also starts. There were years of my life where the only place I could get appropriate clothing was the clearance rack at that one expensive plus-size mall store, and in the early aughts, everything they sold made me looked like a walking baked potato.

My outlook completely changed once I started freelancing again in 2017, and I was no longer working with clients that needed me to be in business dress. Designers had finally gotten the message that plus-size women were human beings that didn’t want to look like potatoes or wear 1028384832 cold-shoulder tops. I started following Instagram personalities like Katie Sturino, began bleaching and dyeing my hair, and started buying the clothes I’d always wanted to wear when I was younger but could never find for my size—skull sweaters, long maroon dusters, chunky boots. I taught myself to sew, and that’s where I learned all that vocabulary for “Bodice.” And suddenly, with all of these new experiences under my belt, I had to ask the question: who was Karen Osborne if she was allowed to look awesome?

It sounds gauche and conceited and vain but finding out has made me more confident and happy. I’ve grown as a person and feel better in my own skin, and I didn’t have to stoop to self-hate or guilt or self-excoriation to do it. I’m not hiding in the corner anymore like society wants fat people to do. I’m taking selfies!

So that’s where this story comes from. It’s partially why Lia sews the travelling-dress for her mother: fashion is a cage for Lia, but it’s the way her mother, whose worldview is more limited, expresses herself and feels freedom. It’s only in respecting each other’s worldviews—Lia in making the terrible traveling-dress, and her mother in donning it—that they’re finally able to leave the house where they were both trapped. And, of course, their jewelry reflects their society and their journeys in very much the same way.

(I think I should mention here that shopping with my own mom is always a total blast.)

As for the souls in the jewelry, that one’s directly mapped. I own some pieces of jewelry from my maternal grandmother, who died when I was sixteen. I think of her every single time I pick them up. She was very special to me, and I wonder sometimes what she would say about how I turned out. So those pieces were the inspiration for the entire soul-economy in “Bodice,” which I hope I can write about again down the line.

You refer to yourself as a “visual storyteller”, which strikes me as accurate. You’re a photographer as well as an author, and your prose itself is very visual and evocative, almost cinematic at times. Do you see your work as a photographer and your work as an author informing each other, or are they different creative spheres in your brain? On top of all that, you’re also a musician. What role, if any, does music play in your writing and photography?

Karen Osborne Author HeadshotNice catch! I spent several years as a wedding videographer in Orlando, and it absolutely changed how I write. Modern wedding videography is the most exhilarating and exhausting thing I’ve ever done, and it basically requires you to be the director, lead camera, second camera, sound mixer, boom operator, and gaffer all at once, while never flubbing the first take—ever.

As a wedding videographer, you have to be omnipresent and omnipotent. You’re hypervigilant, hearing everything, watching everything, taping everything, knowing where the light is, knowing what the DJ or the presider is doing next, knowing where Uncle Joey is with his iPad so you don’t step on his toes, knowing which accessories the bride wants featured and which relatives were just invited so Aunt Patty stopped complaining and—you start noticing things you don’t notice in “real life,” and that absolutely trained my writing eye to notice the little details, too. Photography—especially news and portrait photography—is similar. It’s all about telling an entire story in one frame. You have to be both economical and incredibly creative all at once. Harnessing that aesthetic is a delightful challenge for a writer.

My relationship to music is similar. There’s a reason so many writers put on soundtracks before diving into their novels. Music is a language like English or Japanese or C++, and the more you pay attention to how to tell a story in lyrics and notes and orchestral swells, the easier you’ll find sentences and paragraphs. The structure of a novel is very much like the structure of a symphony, for example, and anyone who’s been to a folk festival has witnessed a master class in economical storytelling. I’ve spent most of my life playing the violin—when not in a pandemic, I fiddle with a ceilidh band—and music is a delightful warm place to return when things get tough.

Switching gears, you currently reside in the Baltimore area, a which seems to have a very active speculative fiction community. Do you think there’s something about the area that attracts speculative fiction writers and readers? What spots do you like to bring guests, or recommend to people visiting for the first time? Are there any particularly fantastical or weird spaces in the city that have inspired your fiction?

Baltimore is weird. It’s a great city. It’s the most American place I’ve ever lived, full of wonderful art and unbelievable contradictions and wild disparities and activism and people that care deeply about their communities. I haven’t actually written about Baltimore yet—I still feel, in many ways, like I have a lot to learn before I can, because the city is so complicated. Living here is more affordable than any of the other places I’ve been. I think artists, writers and musicians have a lot more room to breathe, to worry about art instead of rent, and it shows in all of the great stuff going on.
Because there’s art. So much art. One of the things that non-Baltimoreans don’t always know is that the city is covered in murals! There’s community theater of all kinds—tons of places to hear music, a rock opera society, an orchestra, a film district—and the support system for book culture continues to grow. There are tons of indie bookstores—The Ivy, Greedy Reads, Bird In Hand, Atomic Books, Red Emma’s, The Book Escape and more.

So I’d probably take a person new to Baltimore on a morning bookstore crawl, then stop by the Visionary Art Museum in the afternoon, which is a wonderful space dedicated entirely to self-taught and folk artists. For dinner, it’d be tapas at Clavel in Remington, followed by a jaunt across the street to WC Harlan, a candlelit speakeasy, or perhaps, chili fries at an Orioles game.

One of my favorite questions to ask authors is about non-writing related jobs. What is the most unusual job you’ve ever had? What did you learn from it, and has any aspect of that job worked its way into any of your stories?

Being an event videographer is kind of like being a social engineer—we make wedding days look perfect, even if it wasn’t. You can really say that we’re—ha ha, and just so you know, I didn’t plan this phrase at all—the architect of the client’s memory. We remove familial discord and create familial bliss. We “forget” to tape the bouquets that aren’t perfect, and if you spend the day frowning or grumbling or annoyed, you’ll most likely get left out unless you’re on a client’s must-film list. I have removed unwanted family members, made unhappy brides look adorably nervous, chosen clips that make the groom look adorably hilarious rather than regrettably drunk, et cetera.

Since I’m a documentarian and not a director, I tend to stay unnoticed while filming. This allows the family to really be who they are, and for you to observe the way the family actually functions when they’re not performing for an audience. While editing, you spend hours with that family, watching them hug and laugh and celebrate and snipe at each other, and you really feel like you get to know them. It was a fabulous way to learn how people tick.

(You do need to be careful when delivering the project—despite the forty-odd hours you just spent editing the video, to our client you’re still just a stranger that showed up, said hello, then disappeared into the woodwork for the rest of the day. It’s such a weird dynamic. If you say things like “oh, my God, your Uncle Hugo has the most amazing drunk facial expressions,” you’ll sound like a complete psychopath, even if it’s 100% true.)

And yes, I’ve tried to weave that job into my written work! I wrote a wedding video horror story at Clarion, but I haven’t been able to move it out of tropey rejected territory into anything saleable. Someday I’ll figure out how to do it, when my abilities catch up with my ideas.

Now that Architects of Memory is out in the world, what’s next for you? What are you working on, or have coming up that you want folks to know about?

I’ve just turned in the sequel, Engines of Oblivion, and it’s a really wild adventure that builds on the events of the first book. There are more Vai, more Natalie Chan, more corporate shenanigans—well, more of everything, really, turned up to 11. The book should be out during the first quarter of next year and is currently available for pre-order, so you can basically get both books at once.

Other than that, I’d like to encourage readers to support debut authors during this time—and purchase their books from their local indie bookstores! It’s so important that our indies survive the pandemic, and they can only do that if we continue to support them.

Buy more books you say? I can totally get behind that. Thank you for stopping by!

Thank you very much for having me!

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Shiny Shorts: Monster Summer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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No Man’s Land Review

No Man's Land CoverNo Man’s Land is a new novella from author A.J. Fitzwater, published in June by Paper Road Press. Set in North Otago, Aotearoa New Zealand during WWII, the story follows Dorothea “Tea” Gray, whose brother Robbie has gone off to war to be a sapper. Wanting to do her part, Tea joins the Land Service, and takes over Robbie’s former job shearing sheep and working on the MacGregor farm. Tea is joined by three other Land Service girls, Alison, Carmel, and Izzy, and a young man named Grant whose illness kept him from joining the service.

On the day she arrives at the farm, Tea is followed by a strange, shadowy dog, and her feeling of something odd going on only builds from there. Her senses are heightened, and she hears her brother’s voice in a way she becomes increasingly sure isn’t just her own inner monologue or wishful thinking. Grant and Izzy are secretive around her, as if they know more about Tea than she knows about herself. She hears a persistent hissing, like something calling to her, especially when she’s around water. She also experiences sensations, sights and sounds, she’s certain don’t belong to her, and might just belong to her brother Robbie on  distant continent in the midst of war. While trying to understand what’s happening to her, Tea still has to contend with daily life, the exhausting work of the farm, and not drawing the ire of Mr. MacGregor. Contrasted with the mundane world of the farm, hidden just beneath its surface, it seems there’s a whole other world waiting for Tea. Sometimes it seems as though there’s another being inside of her, one that frightens her, and that she can’t entirely control. Further complicating matters is Tea’s attraction to Izzy. All her life, Tea has been taught that a woman loving another woman, or a man loving another man is unnatural, not to mention illegal. Tea’s conflicted feelings strain her relationship with Izzy, who could be Tea’s closest ally, helping her understand the power within her, and her true magical nature.

A border collie, mostly black with a scattering of white on the bib and paws, yelped and skittered. Her shadow! It wasn’t male after all. The look the dog cast back at Tea made her shiver for a third time. The familiar-strange scent hit Tea, making her flinch. It was a scent she thought she’d only dreamed, one she associated with starlight, fresh-turned soil, warm cotton.

No Man’s Land is gorgeously-written, wrapped in beautiful cover art by Laya Rose Mutton-Rogers. Fitzwater has a real gift for prose and sensory description, which they deploy to great effect, creating a sense of breathless disorientation around the ebb and flow of nature, the magic within Tea, and the chaos of war. The language is the kind that snaps you up and gets you lost in the best of ways, but at the same time, the characters, especially Tea, keep the story grounded. We get snippets of Grant and Izzy’s perspectives as well, but for the most part, we’re in Tea’s head, right alongside her as she experiences frustration – from her mother unpacking all her practical clothes and filling her suitcase with clothing designed to help her catch a husband, to the way the men on the farm goad her and tease her and expect her to fail at “men’s work”, and her conflicted feelings about Izzy and the growing power she discovers within herself.

Need and desire are an underlying current in all of Tea’s thoughts and actions – not just physical desire, but the desire to be respected, taken seriously, and to do something that matters, especially when it comes to the war. With her brother so far away, Tea feels helpless, made worse by the fact that she feels trapped by the box of expectations placed around her as a woman. She wants to break out, forge her own way in the world, but at the same time, she’s afraid. All her life she’s been taught there’s a natural order to things – magic belongs in stories for children, and women are meant to be wives and mothers and nothing more. Even though Tea doesn’t truly believe either of those things deep down, she’s been conditioned to accept them. The war forms a backdrop, but the conflict in the novella is far more personal, as Tea wars with herself, and what she’s been taught to believe about the world versus the larger possibilities of who she is allowed to love, who she is allowed to be, and what she’s allowed to do with her life.

No Man’s Land brings to the forefront women’s history, and the kind of stories that often go untold in war narratives, shifting the focus from soldiers on the front line to those doing vital work back home. Farm labor is just as important to keeping the world turning, but history often overlooks jobs considered “menial” or “women’s work”. The novella also touches on queer history and rights, particularly in the epilogue taking place years after the war. Tea’s self-discovery is rooted in history and a personal journey, but soaked in the magic and wonder of the hidden world existing alongside ours. It’s a lovely book, and I highly recommend getting your hands on a copy right now.

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Dominion: An Anthology of Speculative Fiction from Africa and the African Diaspora

Dominion CoverDominion: An Anthology of Speculative Fiction from Africa and the African Diaspora edited by Zelda Knight & Ekpeki Oghenechovwe Donald brings together an incredible group of authors, spinning tales of near-future science fiction, post-apocalyptic worlds, distant and mythic pasts, and more, imagining what might be, and what never was. The anthology officially comes out in August, but I was lucky enough to get a sneak peek.

As the title states, the common thread binding these stories is Africa and the African Diaspora, but the stories themselves range across the genres and sub-genres of speculative fiction, from horror, to fantasy, to science fiction, and everything in-between. A wide variety of voices and styles are on display here, and there’s a little bit of something for everyone. The editors assembled a strong collection, with several stories that were true standouts for me.

“Red_Bati” by Dilman Dila is a charming and touching story of a robot dog programmed with sentience by his former owner, who finds himself scooped up as salvage. With only the ghost of the old woman who was his former charge as his companion, he must plot his escape or risk being scrapped for parts. Red_Bati sees himself as a human trapped in a robot dog’s body, and at its heart, the story is a very human one as Red_Bati copes with feelings of obsolescence, abandonment, and searches for his place in the world.

Once his battery ran down, he would freeze and that would damage his e-m-data strips. Though these could be easily and cheaply replaced, he would lose all his data, all the codings that made him Red_Bati and not just another red basenji dog, all his records of Granny. He would die.

“A Mastery of German” by Marian Denise Moore explores the idea of inherited memory, and the ethics of gene editing. The story touches on how easily history can be lost, especially Black history, by looking at whose stories get preserved and told, versus whose stories are forgotten because they’re merely “ordinary” people. Moore raises complicated questions about how science might be deployed to pass skills and knowledge from generation to generation, and how easily the ability to do so might be exploited and corrupted.

Somewhere in the world, there is a man, seventy years old, a native New Orleanian who has never left the city save for the occasional Category 5 hurricane. He has a sixth-grade education but he has always held some kind of paying job. However, if you ask him a question in German, he will answer you without hesitation in an accent reminiscent of the region around Heidleberg.

“Sleep Papa, Sleep” by Suyi Okungbowa Davies edges into horror territory, with an unsettling story of a son who finds himself drawn into the family business of grave-robbing and body harvesting, despite his best efforts to escape and make a life for himself elsewhere. When he sells pieces of a corpse from an unmarked grave, he finds himself haunted by the remains of his father, and he must confront his choices – his guilt over leaving, his decision to return, and his unwitting breaking of taboo.

There are mud tracks on the floor tiles that he didn’t notice before. They run from the door, but don’t end at Max’s feet at the entrance to the kitchenette. The TV’s light is insufficient, so Max squints to follow the tracks, which he notices are odd because while one is a complete footprint, the opposite foot has most of the sole with no trace of toes.

Davies effectively harnesses truly chilling imagery to ultimately tell a story about family, responsibility, and being caught between a sense of duty, and a desire to make one’s own way in life.

“The Satellite Charmer” by Mame Bougouma Diene feels epic in scope as it follows the transcendence and evolution of Ibrahima, who throughout his life has felt a strange connection to the mining satellite stripping and exploiting his people’s land. The writing is lovely, and the story’s structure itself mirrors Ibrahima’s journey, opening into something larger as the tale progresses, the language shifting to hold the reader at a greater distance as Ibrahima increasingly loses touch with his humanity and becomes something more.

The beam was death: he knew that; but to him it was life, in a way he couldn’t quite understand. His senses heightened when it dropped, turning the clouds a deep red, every action anticipated by just a fraction. The future was not so much ahead of him, but already waiting for him to reach out and touch, if only he could break out of his body. Sometimes it almost felt like he could; that if he took a step forward and over the cliff to certain death he wouldn’t fall.

“Ife-Iyoku, The Tale of Imadeyunuagbon” by Epeki Oghenechovwe Donald closes out the anthology on a strong note with a powerful tale of a woman repeatedly denying the expectations placed upon her, and refusing to play the role others would assign her. Like “The Satellite Charmer”, the story has a post-apocalyptic feel, and follows the transcendence and evolution of one character, Imade, as she becomes something more than human. A small group of people survive the fallout of nuclear war in Africa and develop powers as a result; the sacred charge to survive leads them each to make difficult choices according to their beliefs, however Imade alone refuses the idea of destiny, and refuses to be used as a vessel for the survival of her people. The story explores of power, the expectations placed on men versus women, and like “Sleep Papa, Sleep” the weight of  tradition and society versus personal freedom.

She felt the blowing of a chilled wind, but Mama Inkiru’s wrapper did not stir in the wind. Mama Inkiru sailed slowly to her, and now she realized why everything seemed to hazy to her, why the wind had no effect on her, why she cast no shadow: Mama Inkiru was dead.

Dominion: An Anthology of Speculative Fiction from Africa and the African Diaspora is currently available for pre-order. I highly recommend getting your hands on a copy of this fantastic anthology and reveling in the wide variety of wonderful speculative tales within!

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