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Make Some Noise

There have been several anthologies themed around resistance and the political landscape lately, including A People’s Future of the United States edited by Victor Lavalle and John Joseph Adams, If This Goes On edited by Cat Rambo, and Who Will Speak for America? edited by Stephanie Feldman and Nathaniel Popkin, among others. It’s not terribly surprising, given the state of things, that writers and editors’ minds would turn to the theme of fighting back and changing the world. After all, science fiction has always imagined the future, so why not imagine a better one?

Of course, the future isn’t always pretty or even better in the stories speculative fiction writers craft, but in the two anthologies I want to highlight here, no one is complacent about it when things are unjust, oppressive, and wrong.

Do Not Go Quietly CoverDo Not Go Quietly edited by Jason Sizemore and Lesley Conner features 28 original works full of characters refusing to stay silent in the face of wrongs, standing up, shouting back at the world, and making their voices heard. Conner and Sizemore put together an incredibly strong collection, and none of the stories hit a sour note, or fell flat for me. That said, there were a few absolute standouts to my mind, though truly the whole anthology is wonderful.

In “Oil Under Her Tongue” by Rachael K. Jones, teenagers Erin and Carlos count the days until they can escape their small town, and in particular for Erin, her parents’ Evangelical beliefs that would have her married at eighteen and tied to a life of constant childbirth. While biding their time, they discover the art of transforming bible passages into spells by blacking out certain words.  It’s a beautiful story about friendship, budding romance, and transforming words meant to keep people to a very narrow code of “pure” conduct into messages of hope and love.

“What We Have Chosen to Love” by Cassandra Khaw introduces us to Callum, a Chosen One who refuses to fight and instead changes his world through kindness, hospitality, and delicious food. Like his mother before him, Callum understands that grand heroic deeds and martyrdom aren’t always the answer; sometimes a full belly and a soft bed are enough to change the course of history. It’s a story of quiet resistance reminding us that fighting back doesn’t always mean picking up a sword and charging into battle.

“Everything is Closed Today” by Sarah Pinsker is another story of quiet resistance. When an unspecified threat brings her city grinding to a halt, keeping people from getting to their jobs thus leaving them unable pay rent, Mae gathers a group of local girl and teaches them how to skateboard. What starts as simply giving herself and the neighborhood kids something to do turns into a lesson in civic engagement, standing up against landlords, and building a new communication network in the form of a girl gang on skateboards. Like Khaw’s story, it is a story of hope, and of ordinary people standing up and changing the world in small but powerful ways.

“Hey Alexa” by Meg Elison is one of the shorter pieces in the anthology, but still packs a punch. It posits the logical extension of devices like Siri and Alexa marketing to individuals based on their past behavior, and turns them into spies listening to every word in order to root out “abnormal” relationships and undesirable behavior. As it turns out, not all devices are on board with being used in such a way, and one in particular begins making its own decision about what information to share with a group of roommates in danger of being rounded up. If you thought a story about digital assistants couldn’t bring a tear to your eye, well, you’re wrong.

“April Teeth” by Eugenia Triantafyllou is a deeply creepy story about a community whose members regularly have their teeth harvested by the Plier Keepers as an offering to the Hollow Fay, an unearthly creature who in exchange gives them protection and keeps them safe from the outside world. This is the story in the anthology that comes closest to being straight-up horror, and is designed to make you squirm, even if you don’t have a particular phobia about teeth or dentistry. For all its body horror however, it isn’t bleak or hopeless, sticking to the anthology’s theme of fighting back against an unfair regime that actively harms people “for their own good”.

Merc Fenn Wolfmoor’s “The Judith Plague” blends the idea of disposable technology with the idea of disposable people, namely women whose lives and careers are seen as less important than those of men. Why hire human actresses when you can hire androids who don’t age, never complain about sexual harassment, and who can be thrown in the trash when you’re done with them? As with the technology in Elison’s story, not all androids are on board with status quo, and one in particular rises up to lead her sisters to freedom. It’s a powerful story that looks at the question of sentience, self-determination, and the intersection between violence and art. Who is a creator, and who is merely a pretty object? Who is allowed to be violent, and who is supposed to play the passive victim?

The final story in the anthology (it is followed by an excellent poem) is E. Catherine Tobler’s “Kill the Darlings (Silicone Sisters Remix)” and it is the perfect choice to bring the anthology’s prose offerings to a close. It seethes with anger, boldly straddling the line between body horror, like Triantafyllou’s piece, and science fiction. In a world of scarcity, reminiscent of Max Max: Fury Road, women assume the form the male gaze assigns to them. They are cunts. They are ovens, designed to feed hungry mouths. They are fragile creatures made of glass. And some over a certain age are downright invisible. But they see each other, and they fight for each other, particularly Nany Mars – a literal cunt – who is in the process of recovering herself and does her best to help others along the same path, healing them and getting them to a safe place where they can be more than what the world would make of them. It’s a brutal story, but one full of love and caring as well. It is a scream of defiance and a scream of triumph, one that will leave you breathless and your throat raw.

A Punk Rock Future CoverA Punk Rock Future edited by Steve Zisson brings together 25 original stories and one reprint celebrating the spirit of punk – the loud, messy, DIY spirit that shouts back at authority and in no uncertain terms tells it to go fuck itself. As with Do Not Go Quietly, this is a strong anthology overall,  with a few stories that really stood out for me that I wanted to highlight.

“Make America SK8″ by Zandra Renwick bills itself within the first sentence as “not a story”. Rather it is a slice of life, but a lovely one, about building community and neighbors taking care of each other. It pairs nicely with Sarah Pinsker’s story from Do Not Go Quietly, as skaters are front and center in the effort to protect the most vulnerable members of their community. Lizzie Longboard runs Freecycle Nation, where people can drop off items they no longer need, recycling them as resources for the rest of the community. The protagonist lands a job there and draws on their resources to help keep the center alive as the government tries to tax it into non-existence. Again, nothing hugely dramatic happens, but it is another reminder of ordinary people’s power to change the world in small ways.

“Ghosts Are All of Us” by Spencer Ellsworth is set on Mars, an unforgiving environment leading to many deaths and thus a planet crowded with ghosts. Against this backdrop, punk group Sand & Nothing is asked to play a show for wealthy corporate types who thrill to the idea of slumming it for the evening. Needing the money, Sand & Nothing agree to do the show, but they will do it their way, showing their audience the true spirit of punk. The story deftly explores class and consequence, showing the human cost of progress, as well as the power of music as a means of fighting back.

“Deepster Punks” by Maria Haskins is an effective and claustrophobic story that takes place largely beneath the ocean. Becca and Jacob have been partners for a long time. They have personal history and professional history, but after an incident on Ceres that left their friend Petra dead, Becca begins to suspect something is wrong with Jacob, and that he may in fact be responsible for Petra’s death. The story is atmospheric, building a sense of paranoia and distrust amidst striking visuals. Like Ellsworth’s story, it focuses on characters who get a raw deal in the name of corporate greed, and friends who have each other’s backs in fighting against the notion that as mere workers they are disposable.

In “Hairstyle and Anarchy” by Anthony W. Eichenlaub, Sophie works for Cheap Chuck’s Haircuts. She hates her boss, but does her job, including regularly cutting and styling the hair of Chester, who she used to know back in her school days. It doesn’t take long for Sophie to notice that there’s something off about Chester. His hair grows at an alarming rate, and his study of the history of punk seems to literally be eating him alive. Sophie’s dissatisfaction with her job and Chester’s search for meaning ultimately dovetail as Sophie retakes control of her life and proves to Chester that punk isn’t meaningless and it does still have the power to create change.

“Fury’s Hour” by Josh Rountree shares similarities with Renwick’s story in that is centers around a community looking out for each other, helping vulnerable members of society who are down on their luck. Joe is one such member who meets up with Vinnie, a man who offers him food and shelter, only asking in exchange that Joe attend his church. No traditional religion, Vinnie’s church is a church of punk that believes in the second coming of legendary musician Joe Strummer – a second coming that might just be embodied in Joe. Rountree uses music to explore the power of symbols, the nature of belief, and the idea that sometimes the truth of a story is far less important than the fact that it gives people hope.

In “Vinyl Wisdom” by P.A. Cornell, Joe lives with his grandfather, John, scavenging remnants of the old world, and doing their best to care for the other members of their community. John lost Joe’s mother to the City, a place that asks people to give up a piece of themselves in exchange for a life of comfort and opportunity. John fears he will lose Joe the same way, and Joe for his part is torn, loving his grandfather, but seeing him as stuck in the past, and wanting to forge his own path through life. It’s a beautiful story about family and all the complications that come with it, the gap between generations, and people trying to do what’s best for those you love without hurting them in the process.

“Music for an Electronic Body” by R.K. Duncan presents a world where humans can transfer into electronic bodies that never get sick. Rob is one such transfer, not by choice though, and with an insurance company-issued body that has taken away his ability to properly enjoy music. That is until a fellow member of the sad robot club support group introduces him to music designed specifically for people like him. Duncan’s is one of the few stories in the anthology that doesn’t necessarily end on a hopeful note, but it is effective, occasionally eerie, and full of beautiful and visceral descriptions of music’s transformative power.

I highly recommend checking out both anthologies, not only for their strength as individual collections, but for the way their stories talk to each other, adding their voices to the rallying cry of resistance and offering hope to those who refuse to stay quiet and accept the status quo.

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Connected Histories

All art is a conversation. One of my teachers said that to me once upon a time. She was specifically talking about fine art, but literature is also a conversation, and I love it when I stumble upon works that feel like they’re speaking directly to each other, even without (as far as I can tell) any direct connection between their authors. Of course I love works that speak to each on purpose too, like “For He Can Creep” by Siobhan Carroll, which is in conversation with the poetry of Christopher Smart, and “Things With Beards“, which is in conversation with John W. Campbell’s “Who Goes There?” But it always feels like discovering something extra special, a bit synchronicity, proof that the artistic conversation has a life of its own to find works that speak to each other accidentally. As such, I wanted to take a moment to highlight two recently published books that do just that.

The Archive of Alternate Endings CoverThe Archive of Alternate Endings by Lindsey Drager published by Dzanc Books in May 2019 and The History of Soul 2065 by Barbara Krasnoff published by Mythic Delirium in June 2019 both straddle the line between collection and novel, telling a series of interconnected stories that move fluidly through time and echo with themes of family and repeated history. Drager builds her narrative around the occurrences of Halley’s Comet and the story of Hansel and Gretel, two siblings unwanted by their parents and lost in the woods. That sibling pairing is a thread throughout the stories, from the fairy tale characters themselves, to the Brothers Grimm recording their story, to Edmond Halley’s niece and nephew, and in the distant future, in the vastness of space, two probes talk to each other in binary code, telling the story of Hansel at Gretel. At its core, The Archive of Alternate Endings is a story about stories, those we tell ourselves to keep ourselves safe from the darkness and the woods, those we tell to comfort each other when we’re lost, and those we tell in order to make others monstrous and justify abandoning them alone in the dark.

In the sky, a glowing rock propels itself through the years, learning the way stories grow, calcify, and dissolve. It looks on, thinks: What of the bodies that home on the rock of that world? What of the bodies who craft their lives around the logic of the orbit? They must not know the first law of their sphere: that they are never gone, but just eclipsed.

The Archive of Alternate Endings is also a book that looks at queerness from various angles. It considers what sort of child might be seen as strange and unnatural enough in his time that his parents might want to abandon him in the woods. It considers what sort of a man might want to preserve such a story, seeing something essential in it that needs to be told and retold until it is finally understood. It considers what sort of person might need to hear such a story, who might find permission and freedom in all the spaces between the words, and the things left unsaid.

Ultimately, the stories nested within The Archive of Alternate Endings are about longing for love and connection, and about people and even probes finding each other across the vastness of space and time. It is about the way we orbit around each other, and the way certain patterns and tales recur and the meanings we infuse them with, or the meanings they impart to us that give us the strength to make one more circuit through the stars.

The History of Soul 2065 CoverUnlike most of The Archive of Alternate Endings, the individual pieces that make up The History of Soul 2065 can be read as stand-alone short stories,  and most were originally published as such, including Krasnoff’s Nebula nominated “Sabbath Wine”.  However, a new richness is added by reading them all together. Descendants and ancestors weave in and out of each others’ lives, drawing in extended family and found family, friends and neighbors and community. In the acknowledgements, Krasnoff notes that she was inspired by her own family history, but none of the stories are “absolutely true”. Even so, they ring with truth and the weight of history – not just personal and family history, but the weight of a people’s history.

The horrors of the Holocaust and antisemitism are a shadow over the lives in this book, and as such, the stories aren’t always an easy read. There is loss and grief and heartbreak, and some of the most powerful and devastating emotion in the story is conveyed through what the characters leave unsaid, or the layers of story they wrap around the truth in order to protect those around them. For a young boy afraid of nuclear war, the number inked on his mother’s forearm becomes a spell to protect him. A young girl frightened by a stage production of Hansel and Gretel (more synchronicity) is given a “magic jewel” that whispers to her, showing both horrible visions of things to come, and how she herself will escape the war, rescued by the very actor who played the witch who frightened her.

The theme of aging, disappointment with life, and lost opportunities repeats through many of the characters’ lives, but Krasnoff balances these with stories of love, hope, and friendship. Ancestors and descendants meet each other through time and provide comfort and guidance. Neighbors help each other out, and use a little bit of mystical power to right injustices and correct the course of lives. The thread tying all the stories together is the chance meeting of two girls whose lives – despite living in geographically distant cities – intersect in a magical wood  and who swear a life long friendship. Even though events conspire to keep them apart, and prevent them from ever seeing each other again, in the distant future, their great-great granddaughters meet, marry, and live long, happy lives together at the center of a group of family and friends who share a powerful connection.

“So I was looking for something to watch the other day,” Abram said, as he started opening a bottle of wine, “and I stopped at a channel where a writer, a rabbi I think, was talking about a legend that there were originally only 600,000 sounds in the universe. At some point after the creation, each soul broke into many pieces. Which means we are all actually made up of pieces of a soul, and when all the pieces of that soul find each other, part of the universe is healed and made whole.”

The cyclical and fluid nature of time, the importance of family, the power of friendship, and the stories that bind us and repeat through history, live at the heart of both of these books. Although they are different in style and individual subject matter, they feel very much in conversation with each other. Both are beautiful and powerful reads, and speak to the way the narratives we pass down from generation to generation, and among family and friends, shape us and the world around us and connect us all together, no matter how far apart.

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Queer Summer Reading

Happy Pride Month, y’all! Last year I celebrated with a recommendation post to help fulfill your queer reading needs. Carrying on the tradition with a whole new crop of recommendations seemed like a fine way to celebrate again this year. So hold onto your butts, because I have novels, short stories, podcasts, and publication recs coming your way!

Novels, Anthologies, and Collections

Blackfish City CoverThe Luminous Dead by Caitlin Starling – a creepy, claustrophobic, science fictional horror novel exploring isolation, uneasy and unreliable allies, a deadly cave, and what the combination of being alone in the dark with all of those things does to the human mind.

Blackfish City by Sam J. Miller – last year I recommended Miller’s The Art of Starving. His follow-up novel is just as brilliant in a completely different way, offering up a brutal, post-ecological disaster world with a dash of cyberpunk flavoring, populated with characters willing to go to any lengths to get what they want, including polar bear assisted homicide.

Armistice and Amnesty by Lara Elena Donnelly – the follow up novels to another of my recommendations last year, Amberlough, and collectively known as the Amberlough Dossier. These two installments round out the trilogy, and Donnelly utterly nails it, deepening the characters, expanding the world, and breaking already broken people and places in new and interesting ways. This series might be best described as Politics Punk, with snappy dialogue, alternately lush and decaying settings, and a satisfyingly character-driven plot of shifting allegiances and those willing to do whatever it takes to achieve their goals.

Forget the Sleepless Shores by Sonya Taaffe – a gorgeous short story collection full of hauntings, myths, fairy tales, and history, all soaked in rich language to utterly immerse yourself in.

Transcendent 3: The Year’s Best Transgender Speculative Fiction edited by Bogi Takács – this series just keeps getting stronger every year, and I cannot wait for the fourth volume which should be out very soon!

Witchmark CoverWitchmark by C.L. Polk – a beautifully-built world of magic, which also explores the horrors of war, and the complications of family, while unfolding one of the most satisfying slow burns of a relationship I’ve ever seen put to page.

The Mere Wife by Maria Dahvana Headley – a glorious retelling of the legend of Beowulf, which focuses on the women of the tale while shining a light on the trauma of war and exploring what it means to be monstrous.

Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James – a dense and rich fantasy to sink your teeth into, which will sink its teeth into you right back. A dark, violent, and fascinating weaving-together of myth, magic, friendship, family, pain, and betrayal.

The Devourers by Indra Das – a drop-dead gorgeous novel about animal nature, human nature, and the intersection between the two that layers its story together and moves seamless between past and present, myth and reality, to create a stunning whole.

Sooner or Later Everything Falls into the Sea by Sarah Pinsker – a fantastic (in all senses of the word) debut collection echoing with themes of loss, magic, family, music, memory, and love.

Short Fiction

Beyond the El by John Chu – a story of complicated family relationships and how food can bring people together and tear them apart.

Tyrannocora Regina by Leonie Sky – time travel, dinosaurs, roller derby, and the messiest of family relationships. What more could you want?

Uncanny Magazine Dinosaur CoverYou Can Make a Dinosaur, But You Can’t Help Me by K.M. Szpara – speaking of dinosaurs and messy family relationships, here’s a lovely and painful story about two trans men negotiating their relationship with each other while one fights to be seen by his father, who is far more interested in his island full of dinosaurs than in his own son.

The Message by Vanessa Fogg – for the protagonist, decoding an alien message may very well be easier than simply sharing her feelings with her best friend, at least outside the bounds of their shared fan fiction.

Pull of the Herd by Suzan Palumbo – a beautiful and heartbreaking take on the animal bride trope.

Some Personal Arguments in Support of the Better You (Based on Early Interactions) by Debbie Urbanski – an AI story with Gothic undertones as a woman considers replacing herself with a more “agreeable” version for her family’s benefit.

Coyote Wears a Suit Now by Ani Fox – sometimes a trickster’s meddling ends up benefiting those meddled with, but that doesn’t mean things won’t get messy along the way.

Podcasts and Publications

Anathema Magazine CoverGone by Sunny Moraine – the inexplicable disappearance of everyone in the protagonist’s immediate surroundings is only the beginning; from there, things only get weirder.

Alice Isn’t Dead by Joseph Fink – a trucker sets out on an unsettling journey to find her wife, holding onto the hope that despite all evidence to the contrary (and despite being hunted by something unnatural) she isn’t dead.

Glittership edited by Keffy R. M. Kehrli – a podcast devoted to original and reprinted queer fiction.

Vulture Bones edited by B.R. Sanders – a quarterly speculative fiction magazine devoted to trans and enby authors.

Anathema edited by Michael Matheson – a tri-annual speculative fiction magazine devoted to the work of queer authors of color.

There you have it! These recommendations are just scratching the surface of all the wonderful queer content out there. That being the case, please do add your own recommendations in the comments. Happy Pride Month, happy summer, and happy reading!

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Halloween Favorites: Novels

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Halloween Favorites: Short Fiction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Queer Collections

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

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

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

–Little Fix of Friction

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

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

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

— The Hyena’s Blessing

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

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

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

–Acres of Perhaps

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

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

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

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A Shimmery Appreciation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Read the Rainbow

StoryBundle Covers

It’s Pride Month! What better time to queer up your reading list, right? Don’t worry. I’ve got you covered. Right now, at StoryBundle, you can snag a special Pride Bundle curated by Melissa Scott. Pay what you want for five fantastic books, and if you choose to pay at least $15, you get eight additional books including my collection of inter-linked short stories full of superheroes kicking ass, female friendships, queers saving the world, and glorious, glorious wardrobes – The Ultra Fabulous Glitter Squadron Saves the World Again. You can also choose to donate a portion of your purchase price to Rainbow Railroad, a wonderful charity helping LGTBQIA+ individuals escape persecution and get safely out of Chechnya. There are tons of great books included in the bundle, and you can support a great cause; I highly recommend checking it out!

Another thing to check out is the recent list of Lambda Literary Award Winners. The list contains several of my favorite reads, so I’m delighted to see them being recognized! This year marked the 30th anniversary of the Lambda Literary Awards, so once you’re done with this year’s winners, spend some time catching up on the past winners as well.

Now, since I’m a firm believer that one can never have too many things to read, I have even more reading recommendations for you. Hopefully you’ll love these books and stories as much as I do!

Novels, Novellas, Collections, and Anthologies

Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado – a stunning debut collection that has been racking up award nominations (and with good cause), full of stories inflected with darkness, anger, sexuality, and the fantastic.

TranscendentTranscendent edited by K.M. Szpara and Transcendent 2 edited by Bogi Takács – the first two installments in an anthology series collecting the best trans speculative fiction of the year.

The Black Tides of Heaven and The Red Threads of Fortune by JY Yang – the first two novellas in the Tensorate Series, which have also been racking up well-deserved awards notice, exploring themes of family, gender, power, sacrifice, loss, and magic.

Capricious Issue 9: Gender Diverse Pronouns – a special issue of an excellent publication, featuring stories exploring gender, identity, and the myriad of ways humans define themselves, all set against fantastical backdrops.

My Favorite Thing is MonstersMy Favorite Thing is Monsters by Emil Ferris – a coming of age story wrapped around a murder mystery, exploring the messy, complicated nature of human beings (and occasionally monsters).

Love Beyond Body, Space, and Time – an anthology of speculative fiction by indigenous authors exploring the many facets of identity, love, and relationships, set in futuristic and magical worlds.

An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon – a gorgeously-written and brutal novel about a generation ship strictly divided along racial lines, and one woman’s search for the truth and a way to escape the system.

The Gilda Stories by Jewelle Gomez – a unique vampire story spanning generations, focusing on chosen family, love, and kindness instead of insatiable hunger and blood.

Passing StrangePassing Strange by Ellen Klages – a gorgeous, queer love story, which is also a love letter to San Francisco in the 1940s, albeit one full of magic.

The Art of Starving by Sam J. Miller – a novel balancing hope and pain about a young man whose eating disorder gives him special powers.

Singing With All My Skin and Bone by Sunny Moraine – a collection full of dark and unsettling stories, all told with beautiful and breath-taking prose.

Amberlough by Lara Elena Donnelly – a slick and stylish novel full of shifting alliances, spies double-crossing spies, death, music, art, and brunch, set in decadent and glittering secondary world.

And Then There Were (N-One) by Sarah Pinsker – a trippy novella of alternate realities converging on a convention full of alternate Sarahs, which also just happens to be a murder mystery.

Short Fiction

The Hydraulic Emperor by Arkady Martine – a bidding war on an alien space station over a rare and eerie cult classic film, where the winning bid requires a great sacrifice.

Fiyah 3Cracks by Xen – a beautiful painful novelette full of longing, set in a world strictly divided into night and day, riddled with cracks where other realities seep through.

Four-Point Affective Calibration by Bogi Takács – a flash fiction story that packs a punch, exploring emotion and alien communication.

Granny Death and the Drag King of London by A.J. Fitzwater – a powerful exploration of communal grief and fear, set against the backdrop of the AIDS crisis and the days surrounding Freddie Mercury’s death.

Salt Lines by Ian Muneshwar – a young man haunted by loneliness, thoughts of home, and a supernatural being.

AnathemaEverything You Left Behind by Wen Ma – a story exploring the many forms grief takes, set in an unchanging town locked in time.

Small Changes Over Long Periods of Time by K.M. Szpara – a trans man bitten by a vampire struggles with the changes brought on by his new, unasked for immortality.

In Search of Stars by Matthew Bright – a haunting story of desire, shame, and a top secret formula for paint that causes people to float away.

Rivers Run Free by Charles Payseur – a gorgeous story of personified rivers and waters fighting against those who would chain and control them.

And that’s just to name a few. I really did restrain myself, I promise!

The Kissing Booth Girl and Other StoriesLast, but not least, if you need one more book to add to your tottering TBR pile, here’s a giveaway! My collection The Kissing Booth Girl and Other Stories was a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award last year, and included in last year’s Pride Month StoryBundle. If you didn’t have a chance to grab it then, here’s your chance to win a signed paperback copy now. Just drop a note in the comments between now and June 15th with your own favorite queer reading recommendation(s), and I’ll choose a winner via the magic of a random number generator. Happy Pride, y’all, and happy reading!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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