Tag Archives: silvia moreno-garcia

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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Spring Book Love

Spring might not be the right word, given this post was written in the midst of a snow storm, but the season isn’t important. The books are the important bit. Typically I do a year-end wrap-up of books each December. I’ll still do that, but this year, I figured why wait? I want to babble about the books I love now.  Wonder of wonders, several of the books I’ve loved this year are even published in 2015. If I gush about them now, there’s even more time for other people to read them before a new year ticks over and there’s a whole fresh crop of books to fall behind on.

Karen Memory

First up, Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear. I’d been looking forward to this novel since I first heard about it, and snapped up a copy as soon as it came out. The action centers around the “soiled doves” of Madame Damnable’s high-class parlor in a steampunk-tinged weird wild west. (If you don’t fall in love with the book based on the name Madame Damnable alone, then there’s just no help for you.) The titular Karen and the other girls of Madame Damnable’s are a family. They’re full of fierce love for each other, and they watch each other’s backs no matter what happens. They even look out for strangers, too. An injured escapee from a less reputable brothel brings the girl who helped her escape to their door, bleeding from a gunshot wound. Madame Damnable’s girls take them in, no questions asked, despite the world of trouble it’ll bring on their heads. What follows is action, adventure, and a good dose of daring. Above and beyond all of that, the beauty of Karen Memory is its focus on female friendships. It also places front and center the voices frequently overlooked by the Western genre. Instead of the typical square-jawed cowboys, we get whores and cooks, politicians and lawmen, and they all come from different backgrounds and have different body types, genders, races, and sexual preferences, showing that history is not a monolithic culture. On top of all that, there are escapes, bravery, horses, love, and gunfights. There’s even a cat. In short, it’s everything you could want from a weird, wild Western.

Signal to Noise

Next up is Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Signal to Noise, another book I’d been looking forward to since first hearing about it, which I grabbed as soon as it was available. Set in Mexico City in 1988 and 2009, the story follows three teenagers who learn to cast spells using vinyl records. The narrative moves back and forth between the 80s, when the three were best friends, and the present day, when their friendship has long since fallen apart. Meche, the main character, comes back to her home town to attend her father’s funeral. Her return inevitably dredges up old memories, and plunges her back into a life she tried hard to leave behind. Meche is a truly wonderful character. She’s allowed to be prickly and surly angry. She’s allowed to push people away without making concessions to their feelings. She’s allowed to misunderstand and fuck up and get things wrong. In short, she’s allowed to be human – something sadly still lacking in many female characters, even today. Moreno-Garcia maintains a delicate balance. Despite her anger, Meche is never unlikable. You understand where she’s coming from, and why she acts the way she does. She inhabits a world full of other human characters, all flawed and strong in equal measures, all imperfect as humans tend to be. It is precisely because they are imperfect that you care about these characters. They are people you know. They may, at one time or another, have been you. The magic and fantastical elements here are a bonus. The real heart of the novel is the relationships. This is proved out by the last scene of the book, which is breathtakingly perfect, and a magic all of its own.

Labyrinthian

Last, but not least, Labyrinthian by Sunny Moraine. I was so eager to read this one, I apparently bent the laws of time and space and received my copy before the official release date. Take that, time! You’re not the boss of me! Ahem. Sorry. The novel is set in the same universe as Line and Orbit by Sunny Moraine and Lisa Soem. While it isn’t a sequel, it shares many sensibilities. Taur is a genetically modified human on the run from the people who made him. Theseus is a bounty hunter who accepts the job of tracking him down. As frequently happens in this sort of tale, the people who set the bounty on Taur’s head betray Theseus. Instead of paying him, they try to kill both him and Taur. With nowhere else to turn, the two go on the run. Theseus and Taur discover a budding attraction for each other, while trying to stay alive, save Taur’s siblings, and unravel the mystery behind the creation of these genetically engineered super-beings. Oh, and just in case the stakes weren’t high enough, there’s also a chip embedded in Taur’s skull, ticking down toward killing him. The novel is sexy and fun and proves definitively that romance and space opera do in fact mix. As it turns out, feelings do not ruin a perfectly good story about spaceships, genetic modification, and bounty hunters. They make it better. Also, it’s sexy. Did I mention sexy? Luckily, there are more novels set in this universe on the way.

So there you have it – three excellent books, and the reading year has just begun. There are plenty more delicious books on the way, and I look forward to devouring them. Now it’s your turn. What have you read so far this year that you’d recommend? There’s always room for more on my tottering to read pile.

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Apocalypse, Canadian Style

The moment Silvia Moreno-Garcia announced her anthology, Fractured: Tales of the Canadian Post Apocalypse, I knew I wanted to write something for it. I like Silvia’s work. I like the anthologies being published by Exile Editions. I like post-apocalyptic stories. And I’m Canadian. It seemed like a natural fit.

Fractured

However, I have this little problem when I try to write stories specifically set in Canada – I trip myself up by making it too personal. Instead of authentically Canadian details woven smoothly into a story, I end up with rambling tangents that go nowhere, people and places and things all knotted up in a way that would only be interesting to me. I get a lot of half-finished tapestries that way.

True to pattern, the story I excitedly started for this anthology got stuck. I let it languish. But lo and behold, months later, when I’d all but given up inspiration struck. Driving back from a trip to the Southern U.S., a climate decidedly the opposite of Canada’s, I started thinking about Canadian mythology, and things that were quintessentially Canadian. I tried to find the Canadian equivalent of the Matter of Britain (Arthurian Legend) or the Matter of France (Charlemagne). I came up with Anne of Green Gables. I mean, what could be more Canadian?

Fractured: Tales of the Canadian Post-Apocalypse is now available. I hope you enjoy my odd little contribution. And if not, don’t fear. As you can see from the ToC below, I’m surrounded by an awesome amount of talent, so you’re sure to find something you love.

No Man is a Promontory, Hilary Janzen
Persistence of Vision, Orrin Grey
The Dome of St. Macaire, Jean-Louis Trudel
Kalopsia, E. Catherine Tobler
White Noise, Geoff Gander
Edited Hansard 116, Miriam Oudin
The Body Politic, John Jantunen
D-Day, T. S. Bazelli
Matthew, Waiting, A.C. Wise
Jenny of the Long Gauge, Michael Matheson
Snow Angel, A. M. Dellamonica
Keeper of the Oasis, Steve Stanton
Manitou-wapow, GMB Chomichuk
Saying Goodbye, Michael Pack
Of the Dying Light, Arun Jiwa
@shalestate, David Huebert
City Noise, Morgan M. Page
Brown Wave, Christine Ottoni
Ruptures, Jamie Mason
River Road, Amanda M. Taylor
Last Man Standing, Frank Westcott
Dog for Dinner, dvsduncan
Maxim Fujiyama and Other Persons, Claude Lalumière

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An Interview with Silvia Moreno-Garcia

For those of you not familiar with Silvia Moreno-Garcia, first, what’s wrong with you? Second, allow me to introduce her by shamelessly stealing the bio from her website.

Mexican by birth, Canadian by inclination. Silvia Moreno-Garcia lives in beautiful British Columbia with her family and two cats. She writes speculative fiction (from magic realism to horror). Her short stories have appeared in places such as Fantasy Magazine, The Book of Cthulhu, Imaginarium 2012: The Best Canadian Speculative Writing and Shine: An Anthology of Optimistic Science Fiction. She is also the publisher of Innsmouth Free Press, a Canadian micro-publishing venture specializing in horror and dark speculative fiction. She has co-edited the anthologies Historical Lovecraft, Future Lovecraft, Candle in the Attic Window and Fungi. The upcoming Dead North will be her first solo anthology.

I have been lucky enough to publish Silvia, be published by her, and share several ToCs with her. I have yet to meet her in person, but I am determined it will happen one day, and there will be poutine involved. In the meantime, she was kind enough to drop by to talk about her first short story collection This Strange Way of Dying, due out in June 2013.

Thank you for dropping by to talk about This Strange Way of Dying. Your list of published stories is quite long. How did you choose which ones to include in the collection? Was there a particular tone you were going for with the selection and order? Were there any you would have liked to include that didn’t feel right, and thus were left out?

I picked a lot more stories than what ended in the final book. I was going for stories that would show my range, but my editor thought the result was a collection that was a bit scattered. My editor suggested two stories that needed to go because the book was too long, then asked me to consider two more for the chopping block. I ended cutting three. What we cut were mostly secondary-world stories. The collection as it is now has a heavy emphasis on Mexican folklore, settings and characters. I think it is a more organic whole than it was with some of the other stories I had originally selected.

Speaking of selection, the title of the collection changed a few times before you finally settled on This Strange Way of Dying. What made you ultimately choose that one over the others? Did the informal polls you conducted over social media play a role in the title selection?

Well, one of the first stories to be cut out was “This Strange Way of Dying” so it became a practical case of naming it after something that was actually in the collection. We had long discussions about the title. I think people on Facebook liked This Strange Way of Dying and Twitter people preferred Driving with Aliens in Tijuana. I joked with the publisher that maybe Facebook people were more suicidal.

Ultimately we went with This Strange Way of Dying because I think it was much harder to come up with a defining cover image for Driving with Aliens in Tijuana. The image we landed upon is a catrina, a Mexican Day of the Dead popular image of a skull-woman which ties perfectly with the story that gives the collection its title.

In addition to your own writing, you’ve also co-edited numerous anthologies and you’re the publisher of Innsmouth Free Press. Aside from the temptation to ask whether you ever have time to sleep…I’m curious about how Innsmouth Free Press came to be. What inspired you to found your own small press?

It was Paula R. Stiles’ fault. We were chatting about books and publishing. I floated the idea of starting a small press and doing a little magazine. Paula encouraged me instead of stopping me. That’s how she ended as Editor-in-Chief of Innsmouth.

What we wanted to do was to create a small press that focused on stuff that was Weird, Lovecraftian, horror, kind of niche, but that still had high production values. Beautiful covers, interesting themes, dynamic writers, diverse settings and characters.

I wrote a little business plan for the first year and we bought a domain name. Neither of us truly realized how much time and effort it was going to take to get this thing going.

As if all your other projects weren’t enough, you’re also working on a YA novel about vampires set in Mexico. Based on the excerpt you posted on your blog, Young Blood feels almost like a response to modern vampire and paranormal romance tropes, in the tradition of novels such as The Orange Eats Creeps and Blood Oranges, is that something you set out to do, or am I reading into things?

I really like vampires. I do. And vampires have had a strong romantic/erotic undercurrent for many decades. Carmilla is sexy as hell. But she’s also dangerous. I think that some modern vampire treatments have lost some of that danger and some of the more predatory aspects of vampirism in favour of straight romance, taking away the more dangerous aspects. I’ve written several vampire stories and none of them are romantic because I’m interested in other questions these creatures pose rather than the romantic questions.

Young Blood is an expansion of a story I published a few years ago called “A Puddle of Blood.” I started writing it because in Latin American and Caribbean folklore vampirism and witchcraft often go hand in hand (this is also true in a bunch of Medieval European traditions). Some of these vampire-witches feed exclusively on children. That’s what the female vampire of this novel is. She’s a vampire that feeds on young people, hence Young Blood. I think this explained why a vampire might be interested in a teenager. Otherwise, I think it makes little sense for vampires to be hanging out around a high school. But if that’s your food source…

The other thing that bothered me was the high school thing. These vampire victim/lovers are always middle class people in high school or university, etc. The human protagonist of Young Blood is not. He’s a garbage collector. He lives in the streets. He meets the vampire and he’s taken with her. Most people don’t even look at him in the subway, so when she looks, he’s immediately hooked. But she’s a vampire and the member of a drug cartel. She’s not a good person. There are people after her and they’re also bad people, but that doesn’t make her a nice person. She’s exploiting him.
So I wanted to explore this relationship and what it means. I also wanted to set it in Mexico because it seems like vampires never exist in this country. This, mind you, is the second vampire novel I have attempted. The first was called Bullet to the Back of the Head and it was a noir about a woman who tries to solve the murder of her alcoholic vampire cousin. Also set in Mexico City. I loved the first opening line, I didn’t finish it. Some of the characters and ideas ended being borrowed for “A Puddle of Blood” and now Young Blood. I hope I finish Young Blood. I’m terrible about finishing novels.

Are there any other stories, anthologies, or upcoming projects you’d like to talk about?

The first solo anthology I’ve ever edited, Dead North, is out this year. It’s all about Canadian zombie stories. Next year I’m doing an anthology of Canadian urban fantasy for the same publisher.

For my own press, we are working on Sword and Mythos. It’s a heroic fantasy anthology. It should be out before the end of the year. Cross my fingers.

If I finish Young Blood (or don’t dump it) I’m toying with writing something set in 1930s Mexico City. Sort of an expansion of another short story I sold recently called “Men in Blue Overcoats” about a young woman and the titular man in the blue overcoat. He’s a swindler, a liar, a thief. He’s handsome and exciting and maybe he’s the devil, maybe just a con-artist with great looks. They steal a car and go off to the city, where she’s going to find her biological dad, and he’s probably going to try another con job. Or maybe he’s just bent on ruining her and damning her soul to eternal hellfire. Who knows.

Thank you for dropping by, Silvia. I can’t wait to pick up a copy of your collection!

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