Tag Archives: Recommended Reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Favorite Short Fiction of 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Favorite Novels, Collections, and Anthologies of 2016

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

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

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

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

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

Novels

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anthologies & Collections

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Exeperimental FilmDream Houses by Genevieve Valentine

Dangerous Space by Kelly Eskridge

The Apex Book of World SF 4 edited by Mavesh Murad

Experimental Film by Gemma Files

Kindred by Octavia Butler

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Squee & Snark reviews short fiction throughout the year.

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

There is a Tumblr of Hugo-eligible artists.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Apex Magazine list their award eligible short fiction for 2016.

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

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

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

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

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

Beauty in Ruins Best of 2016 list.

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

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

Best Sci Fi Books picks their favorite reads of 2016.

Brooke Bolander lists her award eligible short fiction for 2016.

Book Riot lists their Best Books of 2016.

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

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

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

Martin Cahill lists his award eligible novelette for 2016.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carrie Cuinn shares her award eligible short fiction for 2016.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

forestofglory regularly posts short fiction recommendations, monthly round-ups, and other reviews. The link goes to the site in general, so spend some time browsing around!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jeremy Gottwig lists his award eligible novelette and short stories.

Lora Gray lists their award eligible short fiction for 2016.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

José Pablo Iriarte lists his award eligible fiction for 2016.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kirkus Reviews picks their Best of the Best for 2016.

Gwendolyn Kiste lists her award eligible short fiction for 2016.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Little Red Reviewer
picks her favorite books of 2016.

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

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

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

Natalie Luhrs is eligible in the Best Fan Writer and Related Works categories for her writing at Pretty Terrible and The Bias.

David Mack lists his award eligible story for 2016.

Arkady Martine
lists her award eligible short fiction and poetry.

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

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


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

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

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

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

Heather Morris lists several award eligible short stories for 2016.

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

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

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

Wendy Nikel lists her award eligible short fiction for 2016.

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

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

Sandra Odell lists her award eligible short fiction for 2016.

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

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

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

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

Quill & Quire lists their Books of the Year.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eve Shi lists her award eligible fiction for 2016.

Alex Shvartsman lists his award eligible short stories for 2016.

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

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

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

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

Jonathan Strahan shares his favorite short SFF novels of 2016.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unlikely Story’s award eligible work for 2016.

Valerie Valdes shares her award eligible short story for 2016.

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

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

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

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

Holly Lyn Walrath lists her award eligible poetry for 2016.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

YA Interrobang chooses their favorite YA books of 2016.

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

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Fall Book Love: Ghosts and Bones

Chilly weather makes it the perfect time to curl up with a good book. Here are three recent reads I’ve loved. Hopefully you’ll love them, too. (Warning, spoilers ahead.)

Ghost TalkersMy first exposure to Ghost Talkers by Mary Robinette Kowal was hearing her read an excerpt at World Fantasy, back when it was still a work in progress. I was immediately hooked and wanted more. The core concept of the book was just so cool: a group of mediums works with the British Army during WWI, collecting and relaying intelligence from soldiers killed in battle. Kowal takes the story far beyond a cool concept, however. There is an immediate sense of the emotional and physical toll communicating with the dead takes on the mediums, not to mention the horrors of war itself. Kowal doesn’t shy away from the violence, and she immediately makes the impact of war personal. Her protagonist, Ginger Stuyvesant, is one of the few Americans involved in the war before America’s official entry into the conflict. Her fiancee, Ben Harford, is killed early on, remaining with Ginger as a ghost, determined to uncover the traitor in the British ranks before he can move on. Kowal shows us Ginger and Ben’s loving and playful relationship, and almost immediately pulls the rug out from under the reader’s feet by killing Ben. Having him return as a ghost never feels like a cheat. Loss is threaded through his ongoing presence; the longer he remains on the mortal plane, the more he forgets of himself, bits of his personality drifting away, burning up more quickly when manifests himself as a poltergeist to protect those around him. Kowal makes the reader care for every one of her characters – Helen, the medium working with Ginger who comes up with the method of binding soldiers so they’ll report in as ghosts, Lady Penfold, Ginger’s aunt and founder of the Spirit Corp program, Pvt. Merrow, Ben’s assistant, and the men and women of Ginger’s circle who help keep her grounded as she communicates with the dead. The novel is part war narrative, particularly focusing on the roles of women, frequently overlooked in the dominant cultural narrative of war. It’s also part murder mystery, love story, and ghost story. Kowal slips in bits of humor as well, with the banter between Ginger and Ben, as well as references to Doctor Who. It’s a wonderful novel, with elements to appeal to fans of historical fiction, speculative fiction, and romance.

CloudboundCloudbound is the follow-up to Fran Wilde’s brilliant and award-winning Updraft. It continues the story of the city of living bone, showing the fraying edges of that city in the wake of the Spire’s collapse and the removal of the Singers from power. While Kirit is still close to the heart of the story, in Cloudbound, events are told from the point of view of Nat, Kirit’s best friend. This is a brilliant choice on Wilde’s point, allowing her to show the city from a different angle – literally, from the new areas explored, and figuratively, filtered through Nat’s perspective. Since the Spire’s collapse, there’s been a struggle to fill the power vacuum left by the Singers removal from power. Nat is a newly-minted Counselor, struggling to do the best for the people he represents, and his family – his mother Elna, his partners Ceetcee and Beliak, and the child they’re expecting. Nat’s heart comes through in every decision he makes, as does his inexperience in the world of politics. The web around him is tangled enough that he cannot see through to the end of every thread, but that never stops him from trying, or from fighting for those he loves. His point of view is contrasted perfectly with Kirit, who has been hardened by her experiences in the Spire. She’s come out the other side quicker to judgement, to action, and more war-like. There’s tension between the characters, and tension in the world itself. The crumbling city is a clock ticking down in the background, a constant reminder of how wrong things have gone, and how much worse they can get. As in Updraft, the descriptions in Cloudbound are gorgeous, and the action sequences stunning – whether fighting, flying, falling, or simply exploring, the details are beautifully wrought and visceral. As fantastic as the world is, it feels real, as do the characters. The novel ends with another world-altering event for the characters, their lives once again upended as secrets are revealed, and the danger level ramped-up. I’m already looking forward to the next installment in the Bone Universe series, which is due out next year.

Hammers on BoneHammers on Bone is a novella from Cassandra Khaw, whose short fiction I greatly admire. John Persons is a private detective approached by a young boy who wants to hire him to kill his stepfather in order to protect his younger brother. From the start, it’s quite clear there is something strange about the boy, the stepfather, and Persons himself. There’s a ghost yammering in John Person’s head, likely the real John Persons, as the being calling itself John Persons now is anything but a person. Lovecraftian horror and Noir fiction seem made for each other, and Khaw blends them effortlessly here into a slick and stylish whole that drips with atmosphere. I’m a sucker for both the Lovecraftian and Noir genres, and this novella was everything I hoped it would be. I’m hesitant to say too much or give too much away, especially since at novella length, Hammers on Bone is a quick read. I recommend diving in and devouring it all in one delicious and darkness-tinged bite. If you’re a fan of the hard-bitten detective genre, or weird horror, this is absolutely the book for you. I’m delighted by the fact that Khaw has a second novella forthcoming from Tor, which sounds every bit as wonderful – a sentient, living city losing its mind. What more do you need to know? I’m eagerly awaiting the release of In the Living City.

And because there’s no such thing as too many books, I’d love to know what you’ve been reading this Fall? What have you loved? What do I need to add to my already precarious and teetering TBR pile?

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Apex Magazine: Delicious Fiction Since 2009

Apex Magazine kicks off its annual subscription drive today. Apex has been bringing readers dark, and strange, and beautiful fiction for the past seven years. Whether under the editorial direction of Jason Sizemore, Cat Valente, Lynne and Michael Thomas, or Sigrid Ellis, Apex has been committed to bringing high quality speculative fiction and new voices and visions to readers. I could go on about why you should subscribe, but I’ll let the stories speak for themselves. Here are a few of my favorites from the past seven years.

An Evening in the City Coffeehouse, With Lydia on My Mind by Alexander Zikjak

The Days of Flaming Motorcycles by Catherynne M. Valente

each thing i show you is a piece of my death by Gemma Files and Stephen J. Barringer

Ghosts of New York by Jennifer Pelland

The 24 Hour Brother by Christopher Barzak

Alternate Girl’s Expatriate Life by Rochita Loenen-Ruiz

Armless Maidens of the American West by Genevieve Valentine

Erzulie Dantor by Tim Susman

If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love by Rachel Swirsky

Build-a-Dolly by Ken Liu

Ilse, Who Saw Clearly by E. Lily Yu

Call Girl by Tang Fei

Becca At the End of the World by Shira Lipkin

This Is a Ghost Story by Keffy R.M. Kehrli

Jackalope Wives by Ursula Vernon

The End of the World in Five Dates by Claire Humphrey

Last Dance Over the Red, Red World by Gary Kloster

Candy Girl by Chikodili Emelumadu

Griefbunny by Brooke Juliet Wonders

Crow by Octavia Cade

Remembery Day by Sarah Pinsker

A Sister’s Weight in Stone by JY Yang

It is Healing, It is Never Whole by Sunny Moraine

Find Me by Isabel Yap

When the Fall is All That’s Left by Arkady Martine

The Laura Ingalls Experience by Andrew Neil Grey

1957 by Stephen Cox

Cuckoo Girls by Douglas F. Warrick

Check out the stories, and if you like what you see, consider subscribing to Apex Magazine. It’s a fantastic publication. You won’t be sorry!

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Non Binary Authors to Read: Where to Start – Part Six

It’s been a while, far too long in fact, so now it’s high time for another Non-Binary Authors to Read post. If you’re new to the series and catching up, the first five installments can be found here: 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5. I use non-binary as a term-of-convenience, meant to include agender, genderqueer, genderfluid, neutrois, and other genders that do not align with the male/female binary. I do my best, but if I ever fuck up a pronoun, or misgender anyone, please let me know. I will make changes with my sincere apologies!

Foz Meadows is a genderqueer author, blogger, essayist, reviewer, and poet, and was nominated for a Hugo Award for Best Fan Writer for her blog, Shattersnipe in 2014. My recommended starting place for her work is Ten Days’ Grace, published by Apex Magazine in 2014. The story describes a reality that feels all too frighteningly possible, where family structures are mandated by law, for the ‘good of the children’. Each child must be raised by two parents, one male, one female, regardless of whether they love each other. Single parenthood is not an option, nor is same-sex marriage, or abortion. A parent who finds themselves widowed receives ten days grace to mourn before they must marry again. Julia, the protagonist of Meadows’ story, finds herself in just such a situation. Twelve years into a loveless marriage, her husband dies in a car crash. Julia’s daughter, Lily, was the result of an affair with a married man, leaving her little choice but to marry a stranger in order to protect her daughter. Now, she’s forced into the situation again. Meadows shows the emotional impact such laws might have on women and children, those who have the least say and power in the situation, and it is heartbreaking. The story is not hopeless however. Julia develops a relationship with the agent assigned to ensure she remarries, and they strike a deal. He is gay and has no more interest in marrying than she does, but a marriage will protect him, and help his career. It’s still a relationship of convenience, but one that seems like it could develop into a genuine friendship. Sora and Julia are both taking a risk, trusting each other when they barely know each other. By having Julia and Sora follow the letter of the law, if not the spirit, Meadows shows how useless said laws are. After starting with her fiction, I highly recommend checking out Foz’s non-fiction on her blog and elsewhere.

Lora Gray is a writer, illustrator, and dance instructor. My recommended starting point for their work is Shadow Boy, published in Shimmer’s September/October 2016 issue. Shadow Boy is a take on the story of Peter Pan, specifically one of its darker and more disturbing aspects – the idea of a boy whose shadow needs to be forcibly reattached. The focus is not Peter here, but PJ, whose family believes her to be a girl, but whose shadow is a boy. PJ’s shadow fights PJ from within, further adding to their struggle to decide who they are and who they want to be. PJ doesn’t fully identify as a girl, but doesn’t fully identify as male either. Their family is less than supportive, and when Peter comes into their life, at first it seems like a blessing. He scorns traditional gender norms with his clothing, and propriety in general, stomping around funerals and wearing dead pigeons as jewelry. PJ envies his freedom, but there’s something sinister about him as well. When PJ’S shadow escapes, Peter offers help, but he wants to keep PJ’s shadow in return. I’ve always been a sucker for Peter Pan stories, especially ones that touch on the darker side of his nature. There’s something truly unsettling about a boy who never grows up, who kidnaps other children, but abandons them if they refuse to live in his world of perpetual childhood. Gray does an excellent job of weaving familiar elements of the Pan story with issues of gender dysphoria, and outside perception vs. self identity. The imagery throughout the piece is striking, and beautiful language balances the pain in the tale.

S. Qiouyi Lu is a writer, artist, narrator, and translator. My recommended starting place for their work is Her Sacred Spirit Soars published in Strange Horizons’ Queer Planet issue. A pair of interdependent mythical birds, kimkim, with one eye and one wing each, are separated. One of the birds is forced into the body of a human woman as an experimental cure for her mental illness. The story is soaked in longing, as the woman remembers being the bird, and the bird slowly takes on the identity of the woman, becoming a ghost inside her skin. The doctors tell her she’s sick, but getting better; she remembers flying, and being part of something larger than herself. She remembers another being as part of herself, and there is a hole where that other half of her should be. In the center where she’s being treated, she  begins to develop a tentative relationship with her roommate, Yaulan. It feels both like a betrayal of her other half, and a moment of hope. They are both lacking something, both searching for a meaningful connection. Through gorgeous, poetic imagery, Her Sacred Spirit Soars explores the idea of identity and wholeness, while blurring the line between fantasy and reality. The story can be read as metaphorical or literal, and it works on both ways. It’s an excellent place to start with S. Qiouyi Lu’s work.

Margaret Killjoy is a genderqueer author and editor. My recommended starting place for their work is Everything That Isn’t Winter, recently published at Tor.com. Elements of Killjoy’s piece remind me of Emily St. John Mandel’s excellent Station Eleven. They are both ‘quiet apocalypse’ stories, taking place after the end of everything when the world is in a period of recovery. In the case of Killjoy’s story, the protagonist, Aiden, is a former fighter, trying to find a place in the new world. The violence of their past frightens them, and they are struggling to make a new life, rebuilding themselves as they help rebuild society. At the same time, Aiden is going through a rough patch with their boyfriend, Khalil. There’s a gap between them, a breakdown in understanding that Aiden doesn’t know how to bridge or heal. When the In-Between Lodge where they live with a small community, harvesting tea, is attacked, Aiden goes off to fight. The impulse to violence warring with the desire for peace, and the fear of losing Khalil for good, eventually leads to a breakthrough. Rebuilding isn’t easy work, for individuals, or for society as a whole, but it’s easier together, and together Aiden and Khalil will find a way forward. The story provides a fascinating look at what happens to soldiers once the war ends, and a look at the new shape societies take when the fundamentals they took for granted are no longer there. It shows both the brutality humans are capable of, and our ingenuity and determination in the face of adversity.

So there you have it, four fabulous authors and a recommended starting place for their work. But wait, there’s more! This time around, I have a bonus recommendation, and a wonderful-looking project to plug.

First up, my bonus recommendation is the Queering the Genre series curated by D Libris. D is a genderqueer reviewer and occasional essayist, and I only include this as a bonus and not a main feature since I don’t believe they technically self-identify as an author. Queering the Genre includes guest essays, reviews, and author spotlights with a focus on queer fiction, and it’s well worth checking out. You can find D’s mission statement for the series here.

Last, but not least, is a plug for Andi Buchanan’s IndieGoGo campaign for Capricious: The Gender Diverse Pronouns Issue. Andi edits Capricious, and I’ve covered their work in a previous installment of this series. The issue looks like it will be fabulous, and there are lots of fun rewards on offer for backing the campaign, including your very own adorable, handmade fuzzhog. Take a look and lend the project your support, if you’re so inclined.

Thanks for reading, and I’ll do my best to make sure there isn’t such a long gap before the next installment of the series.

 

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Summer Book Love 2016

Summer is upon us. With the exception of the occasional minor drop in temperature, the days are full of warm weather and sunshine, at least in these parts. Since it stays light so much longer, there are extra hours to sit outside and read. Whether you’re on a porch swing, sipping a cool drink while the bees bumble lazily by, or stretched out on a beach towel listening to the surf crash, summer is a glorious time to get lost in a book. Of course, to be fair, any season is a glorious time to get lost in a book. Anyway, regardless of season, here are a few recent books I’ve thoroughly enjoyed and perhaps you might enjoy them, too.

Kraken SeaSince 2004, E. Catherine Tobler has been spinning incredible tales of Jackson’s Unreal Circus and Mobile Marmalade. Now, with The Kraken Sea, published by Apex Books, readers can go back to the beginning and see where it all began. As an infant, Jackson was left in a daffodil box at the steps of an orphanage. As a young man, he boards a train, bound for Chicago and a new life, along with several other orphans. Jackson isn’t like the other children, however. There’s something inside him, something terrible and powerful and wonderful. He struggles to keep it hidden, but sometimes he can’t help himself. He unfolds, and scales and tentacles burst forth from human skin. As he struggles to control his nature, Jackson is thrust into his new life as an errand boy at Macquarie’s  working for Cressida, an imposing woman who runs a good portion of the town. There are shadows at Macquarie’s, things Jackson may or may not be meant to see, and questions he certainly shouldn’t ask. He’s mean to do his job, keep his head down, and stay out of the neighboring territory run by the Bell family. Of course, he does none of those things, particularly after he meets Mae, the youngest of the Bell children, a lion tamer in a burlesque show that is at once fantastic, terrifying, and brutal. Jackson finds himself drawn deeper into the intrigue between the rivals who run the city, and the darkness that runs under it. Like Jackson himself, there are things hidden beneath the city’s skin, waiting to burst free, and nothing is what it seems. The Kraken Sea is a gorgeous novel, alive with sensory detail, and imagery that will steal your breath away. There is darkness under every glittering surface, but a darkness that begs to be explored. While the Kraken Sea stands alone, it hints at a larger world, at Jackson’s future, and the many dimensions of his character and his story. It’s a novel about love and family, loss and pain, and finding a place in the world. And, of course, binding everything, Tobler offers up the first tantalizing glimpses of her circus, calling you to run away and partake of its wonders.

Spells of Blood and KinI first encountered Claire Humphrey’s Spells of Blood and Kin by hearing her read an excerpt at Readercon, and I was immediately hooked. Spells of Blood and Kin is a werewolf novel, except it isn’t at all, and it’s so much more. The word werewolf is never once mentioned, leaving room for everything else Humphrey weaves into the story. There’s Russian folklore, magic, and witches, but in its deepest heart of hearts, it’s a story about family – the one you find, the one you make, and the one you’re born into. As the story opens, Lissa is dealing with the sudden death of her grandmother. Lissa’s grandmother provided spells, cures, and healing for the local Russian community, and now Lissa must take on her role, while trying to maintain the semblance of a normal life and not let anyone know she’s a witch. This complicated by her stepsister, Julia, showing up out of the blue, determined to help Lissa because family – no matter how distant – needs to stick together. Even further complicating things, a man named Maksim comes to Lissa, claiming her grandmother knew him and owed him a debt. He says he is kin, but explains very little other than that he needs very powerful magic to control a dark and violent aspect of himself that her grandmother’s magic helped keep dormant. The their stories run in parallel  – Lissa working to find a magic strong enough to put the wolf in Maksim back to sleep, while Maksim works to track down, tame, and train Nick, a young man he bit and accidentally turned – and of course, they eventually collide. As the title implies, the themes of kinship and blood echo throughout the novel. In Maksim’s case, family is those with whom he shares the horror of an existence tied to violence and pain. Before accidentally turned Nick, he purposely turned Gus, a young woman who would have died without his his intervention. They are pack, a family, dealing with their violent nature by turning their brutality against each other, rather than hurting someone they could actually break. Rather than romanticizing the animal nature of the kin, in Maksim Humphrey gives us a character who is truly haunted by his past actions, physically pained by his drive to hurt others, and desperate to shed that part of himself. In fact, all the characters in Spells of Blood and Kin have aspects of themselves they would rather keep hidden, from what they see as necessity, but they must learn to trust each other – something which is not easy for any of them. Humphrey flips several tropes in her characterization, which is another of the novel’s strengths. Despite her role as a healer, Lissa is one of the most closed off characters. Instead of being nurturing and drawn to others, she does her best to isolate herself. Maksim, a former soldier and a boxer, wants nothing more than to shed the violence of his past, while Gus embraces the freedom that comes with being kin. She tempers it with alcohol and fighting, she knows her limits and how to exercise self-control, but she has no interest in denying or burying the animal part of her. Nick starts as seemingly harmless, a slacker, but once he’s bitten he embraces the wrong parts of being kin. He tries to control those around him using his new superior strength. His life before being bitten was stagnant; as change is forced upon him, and he uses that change to try to resist the larger forward progress of his life so he never has to grow up and start acting like a responsible adult. Overall, Spells of Blood and Kin is a fantastic novel. It’s also Humphrey’s debut, and I can’t wait to see what she does next.

Sword and StarSword and Star is the third and final book in Sunny Moraine’s Root Code trilogy. I’ve raved about the others – Line and Orbit, Fall and Rising, and the related-yet-stand-alone book, Labyrinthian – in various places before. Sword and Star is no exception. In addition to be a satisfying wrap-up to the series, the final book in the trilogy builds on the first two in a way that expands the universe in which they’re written. Everything feels bigger in Sword and Star – the stakes are higher, the world larger, and every decision carries more weight. Taken together, the three books can be compared to a single camera shot, continuously pulling back so more and more of the world fills the frame. Line and Orbit was a fairly personal story, focused primarily on Adam and Lochlan, their budding relationship, and the immediate danger to both their lives. Fall and Rising broadened the focus, showing the way Adam and Lochlan’s decisions in the first book impacted those around them, their friends and loved ones, as well as people they barely knew, but who they would come to call allies. Fall and Rising also deepened and matured Lochlan and Adam’s relationship, taking it from the heat of battle and passion to a more complicated and contemplative level as they learned to live with each other, and learned who each of them were alone and together, in battle and outside of it. Now, in Sword and Star, the camera is zoomed all the way out, showing the larger consequences of the actions begun in Line and Orbit as they ripple across the galaxy to touch alien planets, shake the foundation of the government back on earth, and threaten to tear the fleet apart. Lochlan and Adam’s relationship has expanded as well, encompassing the possibility of loss in a new way as they both change and grow, and deal with their own pain and challenges. The emphasis is less on the immediacy of sex and romance, and more on the consequences of love, how it makes people vulnerable and stronger all at the same time. This idea is echoed in multiple relationships across the novel – Kae and Leila, Rachel and Aarons, Kyle and Eva. Friendships are tested, limits are pushed, and worlds both personal and all-encompassing hang in the balance. As usual, it’s all wrapped in Moraine’s gorgeous prose, and while I’m sad to see this series ending, I can’t wait to see what they move onto next.

All the Birds in the Sky
All the Birds in the Skyby Charlie Jane Anders perfectly captures what it’s like to be an awkward kid precisely at the age when everyone is doing their best to fit in, be liked, and present some kind of face to the world that will allow them to be accepted. Patricia is a witch who discovered her power at a young age after rescuing a bird and hearing it talk. Laurence is a computer and science whiz who followed schematics he found online to build a two-second time machine. Both of these incidents early in their lives set them on paths that will having far-reaching consequences for their own futures, and the future of humanity as a whole. Patricia and Laurence are special, and that sets them apart, but as is often the case, their specialness sets them too far apart. Laurence’s parents want him to keep his head down, not rock the boat, and be normal. Patricia’s parents think she’s a little hooligan. None of the other kids at school like them, and by the time they reach middle school, this social ostricization throws them together and they become friends. Anders perfectly captures the cruelty of kids towards each other, and the vicious things they’ll do to those they perceive as weak in order to secure their own status in the pack. However it isn’t just kids who are cruel in Anders’ world; adults are willfully clueless, if not outright hostile at times, further isolating Patricia and Laurence. The story resists the usual chosen one narrative. While Patricia does get accepted into a magical school, the invitation only comes after weeks of being tormented on all sides, and by accepting the invitation, she essentially has to cut all ties with her family. For all this though, All the Birds in the Sky isn’t a bleak novel. The future is laced with hope to counterbalance the despair. After middle school, Laurence and Patricia find their way back into each others’ lives as adults. Patricia is struggling with her powers, constantly being told by the other witches around her to avoid Aggrandizing herself, overreaching her powers and causing something terrible to happen. Laurence is working for a billionaire, building secret super science projects and trying to access other dimensions. At the same time, he’s struggling to maintain a budding relationship with his new girlfriend who he’s terrified of losing. Anders repeatedly teases the possibility of several catastrophic outcomes from either Laurence or Patricia’s particular talents. There are world-changing events in the offing, apocalyptic even, but even as these events come to the fore, the story never loses sight of the characters. It’s the little moments of interaction, and the humor Anders laces throughout, that make the novel shine. Patricia and Laurence aren’t always kind to each other. Their relationship is complex, and it evolves over time, and it feels all the more real and human because of it. Anders manages to balance charm, quirkiness, and dark moments as deftly as she blends the magic and science within the book so none of it ever feels out of place. All the Birds in the Sky is a kind of tapestry, one woven from wool and silk, hemp and ribbon, artificial intelligence and spells, feathers and electrical wires. Taken separately, the elements seem like they’ll never form a picture, but when you step back, the result is glorious. It’s a fun book, but one full of genuine emotion as well. As with Humphrey, this is Anders’ debut novel, and I can’t wait to see what she does next.

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Spring Book Love 2016

Here we are. It’s already spring somehow, although the weather seems somewhat confused about just what that means at the moment. Can you blame it? Didn’t the year just start? Time is flying, and unlike last year, I haven’t been quite as good at keeping up with recent publications. However, I have managed to read a few things published in 2016 thus far. I really dug them, and I think you might too, so please allow me to gush about them in your general direction.

Honey MummyThe Honey Mummy by E. Catherine Tobler is either the third or the fourth book in the most excellent Folley & Mallory series, depending on how you’re counting. I want to say this is my favorite in the series thus far, but they’re all brilliant, and it doesn’t seem fair to play favorites. This book sees Eleanor Folley and Virgil Mallory return to Egypt, along with Cleo and Auberon, to unravel the mystery of a whole new set of rings. The story kicks off with a break in at Mistral, the secretive agency where Folley, Mallory, Cleo, and Auberon work. A fire in the archives at first appears to be cover for a theft, but Eleanor quickly discovers something has been left behind rather than taken. A ring, to be precise, left exactly where she will find it, made of strange material she can’t quite identify. It’s enough to intrigue her, as is an invitation to an auction taking place in Alexandria, Egypt. As with any proper adventure, things do not go as planned. The group from Mistral soon find themselves faced with a theatrical and slightly unhinged collector, a sarcophagus full of honey, a member of an elite ancient order sworn protector Egypt, and that’s just the beginning of their troubles. The discovery of the sarcophagus brings up a host of memories for Cleo, just as she was beginning to come to terms with the loss of her arms during an archaeological dig two years ago. The doctors believe that the only thing that saved her then was honey, mysteriously present in the collapsed tomb as it is in the sarcophagus here and now. As Cleo’s past and present collide, the psychological wounds of her trauma prove to be as raw as ever. The Honey Mummy is as much her story as Eleanor and Virgil’s. History is a major theme throughout the novel –  the ancient sort, the personal kind, and the intersection between the two. Tobler deftly weaves the story’s threads, the larger mysteries of the plot informing and strengthening the characters as individuals and as they relate to each other as the story unfolds. Time is cyclical here, echoing the first books in the series, and the physical circularity of the rings themselves. Past and present bleed into each other, and Tobler explores the consequences of that, along with the weight of power, and the potential horror true magic can hold. History and mythology flow into each other and, as always, the whole story is soaked in gorgeous sensory detail and haunting imagery. On top of all that, it’s a kissing book, and an adventure book; a book with dastardly villainy, and tender moments. It’s  a joy spending time with these characters and watching them grow, and I can’t wait for their next adventure!

DatesDates! An Anthology of Queer Historical Fiction is just what it says on the label – a comics/graphic anthology of queer historical fiction. This is a project that first caught my eye on Kickstarter. The cover alone was enough to make me rush to back it, and the spirit in which the anthology was assembled only made it better. In their introduction to the anthology, editors Zora Gilbert and Cat Parra state their mission for the collection – to gather queer stories from across time and around the world, with one important rule: they couldn’t be queer tragedy. They had to show queer people living happy lives, having adventures, and being active players in their own stories. The pieces in the anthology more than deliver, though most of them fall more into the realm of vignette or slice of life than full story. Proving the adage that a picture is worth a thousand words, the art speaks volumes and is worth the price of admission alone. There are a wide range of styles on offer here, from whimsical to art-deco and everything in-between. This type of project is important and worth supporting. We need more happy queer stories, and stories where queer folks are front and center, living their own lives rather than sidelined, killed off, or erased. As another bonus, according to their bios, most of the creators are young artists and writers at the beginning of their careers, which is another thing worth supporting and celebrating. Dates! is definitely an anthology worth getting your hands on.

Paper TigersPaper Tigers by Damien Angelica Walters is a novel about healing, about feeling broken, and what people will do to feel whole again. Years ago, Alison was caught in a terrible fire. Roughly half her body is covered in scars. She lost an eye, two fingers, and sees a physiotherapist regularly to manage her pain. She rarely goes out, and when she does, it’s at night, when no one else is around. She covers herself with a scarf and glasses, and hardly speaks to anyone except her doctors and her mother, and even then, they are the ones to initiate the conversation. However, on one of her nighttime walks, Alison happens on an antique shop that keeps hours as odd as hers, and is drawn in by a photo album in the window. She purchases the album and quickly discovers an entire world within its pages – a house she can literally visit, populated by ghosts who seem real. While she’s in the album, and for a brief time after she emerges, she’s whole. The healing doesn’t last, and her scars return, but Alison ventures into the album again and again, despite the feeling that something is terribly wrong. The album’s primary ghost, George, gives off an air of malevolence, and in the real world, she’s wasting away, neglecting to eat, and wanting nothing but to sleep. Paper Tigers could easily have been a straightforward story – hapless character finds a spooky item in a mysterious antique shop and bad things happen, but it’s so much more. The idea of a haunted photo album is a fascinating concept on its own, but on top of that, there are the hauntings within hauntings, in multiple senses of the word. The character of Alison takes the book beyond a straightforward ghost story. Her pain is real, the trauma she’s suffered coloring her entire life. Her desire to feel normal is palpable, and it makes her need for the world inside the album completely understandable. Walters doesn’t succumb to an easy, hand-waving solution where magic makes everything better. This isn’t a ‘cure narrative’, but it is one of acceptance as Alison moves toward an understanding that there are different ways to be whole. The ghosts are presented both as a genuine haunting, and a kind of addiction. Alison goes through withdrawal, she fights, she backslides. Nothing is easy or pat, and the book is stronger for it. There is some genuinely creepy imagery here, as is often found in Walters’ work, along with a thoughtful examination of pain, recovery, acceptance, and the stages of grief.

FurnaceFurnace is Livia Llewellyn’s second collection, and it is every bit as dark and weird as her first (Engines of Desire: Tales of Love & Other Horrors, which I also highly, highly recommend). A sense of cosmic horror underlies Llewellyn’s tales, even when they aren’t overtly Lovecraftian. They capture the spirit of the Weird in the classic sense, and update it, injecting overt sexuality and horror in new ways. For example, In the Court of King Cupressaceae, 1982, a story original to the collection, hearkens back Algernon Blackwood’s The Willows with the idea of nature as a malevolent force. Unlike Blackwood, however, Llewellyn’s vision of nature isn’t a passive, lurking horror, but an active one, one her characters can either choose to embrace (literally) or refuse. There is an erotic edge to many of the tales, and like her first collection, desire plays dangerously close to the edge of pain and terror, often slipping over that edge. Love and want are kinds of violence, after all, with the power to tear people inside out. There is a dream-like (nightmare-like) quality to many of the stories. Haunting imagery flows throughout the collection, carrying the reader along with its power, making them willing to accept things that would be irrational in the real world, but perfectly logical in the world of the tales. Women buzz like lawn mowers, and sisters swap body parts to merge into one terrible and beautiful creature. Massive spiders occupy the penthouse floors of an impossibly tall apartment building. The subway system is a living, wanting thing. Giants rise out of the ocean and birth horrors upon the world. Many of the stories in the collection were new to me, but even in those I had read before I found myself discovering new things – previously hiddden sharp angles ready to draw blood and strange mirrors displaying warped visions of the world. It’s an incredibly strong collection, and if you’re a fan of weird fiction, horror, erotica, or just damn good stories, it’s one you should definitely read.

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Non-Binary Authors to Read: Where to Start – Part 5

It’s been a while, but it’s time for another edition of Non-Binary Authors to Read. If you’re new to this series, here’s where you can find part 1, 2, 3, and 4. Now that you’re all caught up, let’s get this part 5 party started!

Penny Stirling is an agender author from Western Australia. My recommended starting place for ous work is Kin, Painted from the Summer 2015 issue of Lackington’s Magazine. The language in this story is flat-out gorgeous. It concerns a family of artists, each with their skin painted or adorned in a way that both makes them a living work of art, and expresses something about their personality. The protagonist’s father is decorated with game boards for chess and backgammon worked into his skin, their mother is a dancer coated in glass and reflective paint, one of their sisters is a royal guard painted in camouflage, and one of their brothers, the lover of the Duchess’ son, is tattooed with roses from the Duchess’ garden. So it goes for every member of the family, except the protagonist who still struggles with how best to define themselves. Over the course of the story, they try on a myriad of different art forms – watercolor, ink, mosaic, chalk. Each attempt is lovingly described, as are the characters. Stirling gives readers a world of gender fluidity, of family, and of finding oneself. Each character feels fully realized, with their own arcs to follow in the tale. The result is a portrait (if you’ll excuse the pun) that feels epic, yet on an intimate scale. Taken all together, it’s a very worthy starting place for Stirling’s work.

Laurie Penny is an author, journalist, feminist, and activist. My recommended starting place for her work is How to Be a Genderqueer Feminist published at Buzzfeed. While Buzzfeed is better known for clickbait articles in the vein of 21 things you can list that will make people follow this link, Penny’s essay is heartfelt, honest, and speaks to a larger truth. In it, Penny discusses her own gender identity, and growing up feeling like she never fit in with either binary of girls or boys. Similar to David J. Schwartz essay about the restrictive nature of masculinity, which I discussed in an earlier installment of this series, Penny talks about how her early understanding of feminism was damaging to her. The restrictive category of female can be as problematic as the restrictive category of male. Penny’s journey took her through an eating disorder, suicidal ideation, questioning of her sexuality and gender identity, and eventually emerging on the other side to find a supportive community that helped her understand her identity. How to Be a Genderqueer Feminist is an important essay furthering the discussion around the spectrum of gender, pushing for less limited definitions, and showing there is room for a wide range of expressions of self. Hopefully it is the kind of piece that will help others struggling with their notions of who they are, and either way, it is a wonderful starting place for Penny’s work.

Sarah Benwell is a YA author, and my recommended starting place is the essay Knights, Defenders and Double-Edged Swords at Gay YA. The essay is brief, but important. It is a call to action, a call for representation of genderfluid characters in YA literature. It is the kind of thing, if acted upon might help youth going through the same journey Laurie Penny describes in her essay feel less alone. As most people are painfully aware, young adulthood is a formative time, and can be a confusing one. People try on identities and figure out who and how they want to be in the world. Many of us turn to literature for role models, and as Benwell points out a lack of genderfluid and non-binary characters can be actively damaging. To quote directly: How can anyone feel good, normal, okay, wanted, valued, if they cannot find themselves? With no role models to look up to, and no language to explain themselves? No stories. When society either confronts them or denies that they exist (and sometimes does both in one breath)? You can’t. We need representation. Erasure of marginalized groups is too common in literature overall, but in YA it’s especially impactful. Benwell’s essay draws attention to the importance of representation, and pushes for more of it across the field, making it an excellent starting place.

Alex Dally MacFarlane is an author, editor and historian. My recommended starting point for their work is Two Bright Venuses from Clockwork Phoenix 5. The story takes its inspiration from a real 17th century BCE astronomical record, which describes the rising of a superior and inferior Venus. The story posits two Venuses as fact. Because of their twin nature, exploration of them is only possible through a unique form of synchronicity – astronauts made to be exact mirrors of each other in every way, acting in complete unison. This is the kind of story that slips between the cracks of genre, straddling and blurring the line between science fiction and weird fiction. It is both a tale of space exploration, and a tale of ghosts, as the planet Venus reaches out to overwrite the astronauts trying to understand it. There are shades of Jeff VanderMeer’s Area X trilogy here, as MacFarlane presents the reader with an unknowable Venus, a wild place that is ancient and changes those who try to explore it. The story also explores elements of identity as the astronauts, Inferior Irunn and Superior Irunn, are linked to both each other and the planet. Which feelings are truly their own, which are external to them? Where do the boundaries lie, and in the end, does it matter? What is self in the face of something so vast? There are hints of mythology at play, and while the story doesn’t necessarily give readers an easy path by explaining itself upfront, it is well worth it. The story is richer for making readers pay close attention and work to understand the shape the of the world. Haunted and haunting, it is an excellent starting place for MacFarlane’s work.

Four more authors, four more excellent works to read. As always, I invite you to leave your own suggestions for work by non-binary authors in the comments.

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