These Are Not the Droids You Are Looking For


Women to Read: Where to Start: April 2017
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Welcome to another edition of Women to Read: Where to Start. This month’s stories deal with families, ancestors, superheroes, and ghosts, among other things. Four short stories by four wonderful authors – away we go!

BlueBellowAlexis Pauline Gumbs is primarily a non-fiction author, but my recommended starting place for her work is BlueBellow, published at Strange Horizons. The narrator, Serena is flying to London for work. In the airport, she catches a glimpse of a woman who looks a lot like her sister, and in fact a lot like Serena herself. She passes it off as a coincidence, and boards her flight, but the strangeness only continues in London. Gumbs unfolds the narrative in a dreamlike manner. Time feels fluid, with Serena at some future point relating events that have already happened, but which also feel as though they’re happening in an eternal now. The voice of the piece shifts throughout as well, from first person, to third, to the collective we. Rather than being a distraction, these shifts add to the liminal feeling of the story, existing on the border between the real and the unreal.

First you think it’s jet lag. At some point you make a joke to yourself about how you have finally internalized their thing about how “all black people look alike.” At the beginning a lot of us just tucked it away along with everything else that didn’t make sense about our lives. And we moved on. As always.

Serena is not the only one who has seen her ‘twin’. In London, she discovers a group of others who have also experienced the phenomenon. Specifically, a group of black people whose ancestors crossed the water on slave ships, from Africa to the Caribbean, to America, and Europe. These ghostly twins, who some think of as mermaids, appear in reflective surfaces – mirrors, puddles, glasses of water. They want something, but it isn’t clear what. The shifts in time and voice also help connect the story to a chain of history. Horrors happened to the present day narrators’ ancestors, and horrors are still happening to the black community here and now. Gumbs also weaves in contrasts between black Europeans and black Americans, along with questions of diaspora, identity, and family. The story is gorgeously told, even when the subject matter is painful. It’s an uneasy story, one that doesn’t offer answers, making the point that the story is still ongoing, and there’s a long way to go. It’s a beautiful and effective piece, and an excellent starting place for the author’s work.

Next up, my recommended starting place for Kathleen Kayembe’s work is the novelette You Will Always Have Family: A Triptych, from Nightmare Magazine. Isobelle is staying with her uncle while she goes to school. There are strange noises coming from her cousin’s old room – a cousin who disappeared a few years ago – which her uncle claims are made by a dog.

But dogs don’t bang on doors with the sound of a shoulder or a fist. Dogs don’t rasp obscenities in jagged French with a voice as sweet as sugar cane. Dogs don’t make fear rise up in your bones from somewhere so deep you didn’t know it was there. They don’t make you afraid to turn away from whatever space they could inhabit, or to sit with your back to the door they are behind, or to close your eyes—even to blink—for fear they will be in front of you when your eyes open again. They don’t fill your chest to bursting with a haze of adrenaline and sluggishness. The whispers of dogs are not meant to haunt our dreams.

Even though Isobelle is content to let the room be and not meddle where things are clearly not right, the thing in the room has other ideas. One night Isobelle hears noises outside the room, and when she investigates, she and her uncle are attacked by something wearing the skin of her cousin who disappeared, Mbyui, now a tattered, rotting corpse. Mbyui means older twin, and as a child Isobelle always asked her cousin why there was no Kanku, no younger twin. What unfolds from here is a complicated story of family, love, betrayal, and loyalty, told in three voices – Isobelle, Kanku, and Mbyui. Once upon a time, there was a younger twin, but Kanku and Mbyui’s father believed Kanku to be a witch responsible for their mother’s death. As a result, he abandoned Kanku to die in in Kinshasa and took Mbyui to America. Kanku learned to possess other bodies, spending years moving from one to the next, waiting for revenge. The rotting corpse is not the real horror of the story. The true horror comes from the betrayal of the father against his son. The idea of a child left behind by a parent, the person who is supposed to love and protect him, is heartbreaking. While Mbyui never gives up on his brother, the love between them is complicated, twisted by what their father did. Ultimately, it is a story of reconciliation and forgiveness, one that just happens to have the supernatural woven through the family dynamics that ultimately bring the brothers back together. It’s a beautiful story, and often painful, but does end on a note of hope, and it’s an excellent starting place for Kayembe’s work.

On a far lighter note, my recommended starting place for Kristen Brand’s work is How Lady Nightmare Stole Captain Alpha’s Girlfriend published in Luna Station Quarterly. I’m a sucker for superhero stories, and this one has fun with the trope of the girlfriend kidnapped by the supervillain to get the hero’s attention. At the same time, it adds depth to the scenario, and some genuinely sweet moments. The story opens with Sara being tied up by Lady Nightmare who then places a call to Captain Alpha, delivering the standard “if you ever wants to see your girlfriend again…” ultimatum. The story could easily be cheesy, or paint by numbers, but it’s neither. As Sara waits for Captain Alpha’s arrival, she immediately beings worrying about the state of her apartment.

Sara didn’t drink, so no, but she couldn’t say anything as Lady Nightmare strolled into her kitchen. Oh, crap, her kitchen. There must be at least two days’ worth of dirty dishes in the sink, and when was the last time she’d taken out the trash? If Sara had known someone would be breaking into her home today, she would have cleaned.

It’s a nice touch, humanizing her, as does her interaction with Lady Nightmare. It quickly becomes clear that Sara isn’t exactly Captain Alpha’s girlfriend. They went on one date after he rescued her from an armed robbery because she was too polite to say no. He spent the entire date talking about himself, talking over her, and when she tried to indicate her lack of interest, he brushed her off. Everyone is interested; he’s Captain Alpha after all. The title of the story gives away the ending, but the point of the story is the journey, not the destination. The story makes a point about a certain kind of toxic masculinity, and the kind of men who believe they are owed something by women, as well as the pressure on women to be nice, play along, and not make a fuss. To counterbalance the darkness, there are sweet moments between Lady Nightmare and Sara, whose chemistry and genuine interest in and concern for each other is evident from the start. The characters, and their ultimate humanity, are what carry the story, and make it a worthy starting place for Brand’s work.

FiyahFinally, my recommended starting place for L.D. Lewis‘ work is Chesirah from the debut issue of Fiyah. Chesirah, the title character, is a fenox, constantly burning and being reborn from the ashes. She’s spent most of her life in captivity, a curiosity for rich men. Her current captor is Nazar, a dollmaker who wants her to be his muse. He alternately beats her and tries to bribe her with gifts, claiming to love her, while refusing to let her go. She’s been plotting her escape, and makes it, but once she does, she finds herself on the run with few options. She’s a murderer twice over, and there’s almost a sense that she never expected to escape and thus didn’t plan too far beyond getting out of her cage. While trying to come up with a plan, Chesirah encounters a mysterious woman named Esperanza, and her companion, a man named Vannish, performers from the Cirque Nocturna who invite her to join them. There is something otherworldly about them, and Chesirah doesn’t entirely trust them. She’s determined to make it on her own, hoping to stow away on an airship. When she’s recognized by someone who has seen one of the dollmaker’s carvings of her, and is cornered and threatened, Chesirah is left with no choice but to burn. She fears for the fate of her ashes, but she wakes on a airship under the care of Esperanza and Vannish, and decides to give the Cirque Nocturna a chance after all. The worldbuilding and descriptions are rich and lovely, and the story feels like a a first step in  larger tale. While the story is perfectly self contained, it’s easy to imagine Chesirah’s life of adventure with the Cirque Nocturna. Underlying the sense of adventure and fun however, the story has a lot to say about freedom and captivity, different kinds of power, and those who use and abuse others, claiming all the while to be doing it for their own good or protection. There are chillings parallels to domestic violence situations, however the power of fiction is to give us hope and offer better endings where those who have been abused regain power, agency, and freedom. It’s a wonderful story, one which I hope may have a follow-up one day with Chesirah’s continuing adventures, and either way, it is an excellent starting place for Lewis’ work.

That’s it for April’s Women to Read. I’ll be back with more recommendations in May, and in the meantime, please leave your own suggestions for women to read in the comments!

Originally published at A.C. Wise. You can comment here or there.


Women to Read: Where to Start: March 2017
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Welcome to March’s Women to Read! Yesterday was International Women’s Day, so really I should have had this post up yesterday. Actually, I meant to have this post up on March 1st, so I’m really late, but who’s counting? Any day is a good day to discuss work by women, so here we go!

KindredThere’s a good chance every one and their mother has already read Octavia Butler’s Kindred, but there are may also be folks like me who are embarrassingly late in reading it. Either way, with the recently-released graphic novel adaptation, now seems like the perfect time to read or re-read the original. Kindred is the sort of book that should be required on every high school curriculum. It’s far more relevant than many of the things that seem to be standard choices, however with the way required reading varies across schools, hopefully at least some teachers are getting this book into their students’ hands. The story centers on Dana, a young woman who finds herself repeatedly pulled out of her life in 1976, and flung back in time. Her fate, it seems, is linked to a white ancestor of hers, Rufus, the son of a slave owner. The first time she meets him, he’s  a young child and she saves him from drowning. She barely has time to speak to him, or anyone else, before she’s returned home, dripping wet and confused, where she and her husband, Kevin, try to determine what happened to her. Following this first brief encounter, Dana is pulled back several more times, always when Rufus is in danger. Extreme fear for her own life seems to be the key to sending her home, but beyond that, she has no control over when she’ll travel. From the start, Dana and Rufus have a complicated relationship. If he dies, she’ll never be born. She needs him, but he needs her, too in a way, despite the unequal degrees of power between them. When they first meet, Rufus is a frightened child; Dana is an adult who can protect him, but she’s also a black woman and he’s a white boy. Even though she doesn’t want to like him, Dana can’t help having  sympathy for him. He likes and trusts her, and wants her around. But each time Dana is pulled into the past, Rufus is a little older. The older he gets, the more he becomes like his father – a casually cruel man – which doesn’t pair well with Rufus’ natural spoiled, selfish behavior. On one hand, he’s cowed and terrified of his father, on the other, he’s indulged and spoiled by his mother, giving him a conflicted and confused world view. Dana does her best to guide him, but there’s only so much she can do. Things are further complicated when Kevin is pulled into the past with Dana on one of her trips. Now he finally sees the horrors Dana has witnessed for himself, however the privilege of his white skin protects him. They become separated, and Kevin is stuck in the past. When they are finally reunited, Kevin has been living in the past for years, and Butler shows the subtle ways it changes his attitude as a white man. He’s still Kevin, but not quite the Kevin Dana knew before. Every one of the relationships in Kindred is complicated, and Butler never shies away this fact. Dana’s relationship with her black female ancestor, Alice, is particularly complicated. Alice is married to another man, though Rufus claims to love her. When Alice and her husband Isaac try to run away, they are captured, Isaac is mutilated and sold, and Alice is savagely beaten. Rufus is still determined to have Alice, and Dana is faced with the horror of knowing that in order to exist, she will have to facilitate Alice’s rape. The last time Dana encounters Rufus, Alice has committed suicide, and their strange, intertwined relationship comes to a head. Now that he is older and has been fully indoctrinated into the attitudes of his time, Rufus’ love for Dana has become completely twisted. He wants to control her, possess her, and he hates that he cannot. He wants her to love him freely, replacing Alice in his life, but as with Alice, he is willing to break her in order to exert control. Dana ultimately kills him to save herself, breaking their bond, and returns home for the last time. Kindred is a relatively short novel, but it is packed full and feels epic in scope. The arcs Butler takes her characters through are painful, but as an author, she does not flinch away and she asks the reader not to either. Rufus goes from a somewhat sympathetic, scared and lonely child to a grown man who is terrifying in the ways he tries to fill the loveless hole in his life, whose selfishness has grown to the point where he doesn’t recognize the humanity of others. Dana, for her part, must viscerally live through horrors she’s always known about intellectually, and it leaves her scarred both mentally and physically. Kindred isn’t an easy book, but it is an important and worthwhile one, and an excellent place to start with Butler’s incredible body of work.

Next up, my recommended starting place for S.B. Divya’s work is Microbiota and the Masses: A Love Story, published at Tor.com. It’s worth nothing that Divya’s novella, Runtime, is nominated for a Nebula Award this year, and would also be an excellent starting place for her work. That said, Microbioata and the Masses is an excellent starting place as well. Moena Sivaram is a brilliant scientist who’s been living in isolation for years in a biodome of her own design. Moena’s immune system is such that she can’t be outside her biodome without getting sick, however inside she’s in perfect balance with her carefully cultivated environment and it keeps her safe. The perfect balance is upset when a crack develops in one of the biodome’s windows. At the same time, a crack develops in Moena’s resolve as the repairman who comes to fix the window is incredibly attractive. In addition to working for the window company, Rahul also works with the Hariharan Ecological Group to clean up the local water systems, which only makes him more intriguing. Even after he leaves, Moena can’t stop thinking about him, but she’s convinced he won’t want her as herself. She’s a living legend in the scientific world, and she’s sick. Despite the risk, she decides Rahul is worth it. She invents a false personality, Meena, and leaves the biodome to volunteer for the water clean up project. Where the story could have easily been about Moena sacrificing her life’s work and her health for the sake of a crush, the story becomes about two people meeting in the middle, and Moena learning more about herself and her humanity. She stays true to her scientific brilliance, working to find a solution for the water problem. While she partially does it to impress Rahul, she also does it for the greater good, and for the love of science. Moena ultimately comes off as a young character, not necessarily in age, but in experience. Circumstances have separated her from the world, and as a result, she is emotionally stunted. She is impulsive, prone to dramatic gestures like the image of teenage love in Romeo and Juliet. Underneath the impulsiveness, though, she is lonely, and part of what she does is out of fear. Over the course of the story, Moena essentially grows up, learning the value of honesty, and learning to let Rahul into her world, both literally and metaphorically. The story presents a satisfying arc for Moena; she grows as the narrative itself comes full circle, back to the biodome. Another of the story’s strengths are the sensory impressions it leaves, contrasting the verdant, idyllic world inside the biodome with the harsh, crowded world outside. Overall, it’s an excellent story, and an excellent starting place for Divya’s work.

There are many starting places I could recommend for Damien Angelica Walters’ work. Her writing is lyrical and poetic, and she has dozens upon dozens of short stories to choose from, as well as her excellent novel, Paper Tigers. However my recommended starting point is Paskutinis Iliuzija (The Last Illusion), which originally appeared in Interzone, and has since been reprinted in Walters’ collection Sing Me Your Scars, and in Apex Magazine. In addition to being all the things Walters’ work usually is – rich in imagery and full of gorgeous language – it will also break your heart. Andrias Kavaluaskas is the last magician in Lithuania, and his young daughter is dying. There’s nothing he can do but keep her company, tell her stories, and occasionally show her little bits of magic. While Russian soldiers, the same who killed wife, patrol the city, he tells his daughter stories of mermaids, and underwater palaces, conjuring snowflakes and rabbits to distract her from her illness. Inside the world of his stories, everything is beautiful, but outside, there is a sense of the world growing smaller, darkness closing in. Walters delicately balances hope and despair, and she perfectly captures the sense of an oppressive regime – people living in fear in their own homes, watching their friends, neighbors, and even family disappear, and knowing there’s nothing they can do against those in power. At the same time, Andrius does have power, his magic and his storytelling. Elements of the story are reminiscent of Pan’s Labyrinth, and as with the ending of the movie, much of the end of the story depends on the reader’s willingness to believe in magic. Literal magic isn’t the only element at play, of course. Paskutinis Iliuzija is also a story about the power of story itself, the ability of words to bend the world around them. It’s a lovely story, even as it punches you in the gut, and it is an excellent starting place for the author’s work.

Upside DownTo round things out, my recommended starting place for Alethea Kontis’ work is a story that could easily have been goofy and groan-inducing, but ends up packing a surprisingly emotional punch, while being dark and gritty as well – Santa CIS (Episode One: No Saint) from the anthology Upside Down: Inverted Tropes in Storytelling. The trope Kontis tackles is the one of the old pro, long since retired and gone to live a solitary and guilt-ridden life, being pulled back in for one last job. As the title implies, the pro in this case is Santa. The story is a perfect mash-up of crime procedural, and well, Christmas. Kids have been going missing, and Buddy, one of Santa’s former elves, and now a special agent, sets out to find the big man himself as the only one who can help them. He presents Nick with a series of chilling letters from the missing children, all containing a phrase: Dear Santa, Please save me from the bad man. As Buddy is trying to convince Nick to join the cause, an NSA agent, Zhara Munin, shows up to further complicate things. This brings together all the genre essentials – the rival agents/agencies, each with their own priorities, the old pro, and the race against time. The fact that Father Christmas is involved gives it a delightful twist, even as the tone remains dark. Nick agrees to help, and the first step is tracking down the kidnapper via The List (yes, that one), which Santa accesses via a creepy wooden puppet who speaks with the voice of Christmas Future. The team track down their kidnapper, Dwight Griswold, but something feels off about the situation that none of them can quite put their finger on. When they find Griswold, it turns out he was once a frightened and hurt little boy who prayed for Santa to come save him, and when Santa never came, he lost his faith. Here, again, Kontis skillfully wraps the tropes of crime procedurals around a deeper mythology, weaving the guilt of the old pro’s past failures around the idea of belief, its powers, and holiday traditions from around the world. The blend is surprisingly effective, and again, never silly or campy. It works, and the story, while it comes to an end, is left open-ended in a way that perfectly suits the feel of episodic television. Genre mash-ups are always fun, and Kontis’ is one of the more unique ones I’ve seen. I never would have expected Santa Claus in a crime drama but it works, really well. The story left me hungry for more, which makes it a perfect recommended starting place in my mind. I do hope someday in the future, we’ll get another episode of CIS Santa, and perhaps even a whole season even.

That’s it for March’s Women to Read. I’ll be back in April with more recommendations, and hopefully I won’t be so late next time. Until then, please do leave your own recommendations in the comments. Who are your favorite women to read, and where do you suggest starting with their work?

Originally published at A.C. Wise. You can comment here or there.


Non-Binary Authors to Read: Where to Start – Part 7
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Today is Valentine’s Day. Whether you’re into the holiday or not, around here it’s all the excuse I need to show some non-binary authors a bit of love. If you’re unfamiliar with the Non-Binary Authors to Read series, it’s a sibling-series to Women to Read wherein I recommend an author along with a starting place for their work, simple as that. If you’re new to the series, you can catch up here. Now, on to the recommendations.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Originally published at A.C. Wise. You can comment here or there.


Women to Read: Where to Start: February 2017
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Here we are in February, the shortest month, but just because there are few days, there’s no excuse to slack on reading fabulous fiction.

ClarkesworldMy recommended starting place for Kali Wallace’s work is First Light at Mistaken Point from the August 2016 issue of Clarkesworld. It’s a story about fractures – the ones that develop in families mirrored by the ones that can develop in memory, or even in reality. Charlie returns home for her mother’s funeral and to help her sister Cath clean out their mother’s house. Simultaneously, she’s dealing with a crisis at work. The manned mission sent to Mars has suddenly gone silent. The ship is still there, they can see it, but they can’t communicate. Then a message comes back, an unintelligible burst of sound, followed a few days later by a second garbled message 47 seconds long. It’s just long enough to make out voices, but not what they’re saying, or who is speaking. One voice seems to be Harris, leader of the mission, though one member of Charlie’s team claims it sounds more like Dr. Rivers, who was pulled from the mission at the last moment and is at home with his family. Charlie’s lover, Lisa, is also on the mission, and her voice can be heard in the background. The more Charlie listens to the clip, the more she convinces herself that the voices are saying Everything is fine. As the story unfolds, it plays with memory and the idea of branching realities. An eeriness underlies the narrative, a never-resolved sense that something is terribly wrong. It’s not a quite a ghost story, but it is haunted. When Charlie plays the clip for her sister, Cath distinctly hears Everyone is dying instead of Everything is fine. As Charlie tries to unravel the message, she’s also trying to unravel her own family history. She and her sister grew increasingly distant over the years – Charlie accusing Cath of giving up on her dreams, and Cath accusing Charlie of being too wrapped up in her work to ever let anyone in to her life. Charlie is also dealing with guilt over not visiting her mother more often, and never telling her family about Lisa. It’s never explicitly stated, but it’s implied that Charlie was unwilling to admit to herself the strength of her feelings for Lisa and kept her a secret as a distancing mechanism. Wallace pairs Cath and Charlie’s differing memories of their childhood and even more recent events with the branching possibilities of what is happening on the shuttle. The early debate over the voice on the tape being Dr. Rivers or Harris is the first hint that two realities may be unfolding simultaneously. Dr. Rivers both is and is not on the ship. Everything is fine, and everyone is dying, two equal possibilities held in uncertain balance. With the possibilities presented, the story can be one of hope, or one of despair. Wallace handles both subtly, leaving it up to the reader to choose their own meaning. Family, space travel, the risks of loving someone – whether a family member or a romantic partner – are all wrapped into a kind of multiple choice ending make this an excellent starting place for Wallace’s work.

Let's Play WhiteNext up, my recommended starting point for Chesya Burke is Walter and the Three-Legged King, which is the opening story in her collection Let’s Play White. (And since you’re already there, I heartily recommend continuing on to read the rest of the collection. All the stories are fantastic, and I particularly enjoyed The Teachings and Redemption of Ms. Fannie Lou Mason, which closes out the collection.) In Walter and the Three-Legged King, Walter is a man with a rat problem. He’s a man with a lot of other problems, too. He’s out of work, and his shut-in white landlord who was given his job by his uncle hassles Walter for rent while passive-aggressively suggesting Walter’s inability to find work is his own fault. Walter knows the system is rigged against him. The ingrained racism in America makes it harder for him to find a job as a black man, something his landlord can’t understand. On top of all this, Walter can’t get rid of the damned rat in his apartment. After staking the rat out, he finally manages to catch it briefly, just long enough to get bitten, and tear off one of the rat’s legs. The next morning, he wakes to find the three-legged rat staring at him, and talking to him. The rat invites him to play white, telling Walter he has to acquiesce, and everything will be okay. Walter is justifiably freaked out and flees his apartment. Outside, looking ragged and disheveled from his harrowing experience, Walter sees a white woman trip. When he tries to help her up, she screams and accuses him of trying to rob her. After finally convincing the police to let him go, without an apology of course, Walter returns home to find the rat waiting for him. Walter decides to finally acquiesce, as the rat says, and they play white, putting on well-refined white voices, the voice Walter admits he uses for job interviews, and telling each other the world is fair and fine and there’s nothing to complain about at all. The encounter works a kind of sympathetic magic, but not the best kind. Walter finds a job as a doorman, but as the rat implied with his invitation, it means giving in. Walter has to conform to the racist system, or let it tear him apart. Walter and the Three-Legged King isn’t a cheerful story. It pulls no punches in pointing out the inequalities built into the system, as well as pointing out the privilege white people have in being blind to them. The story is brutal and effective, flipping the helpful talking animal trope into something sinister and disturbing, and making an excellent starting place for Burke’s collection, and her work as a whole.

People of Colo(u)r Destroy SFMoving on, my recommended starting place for Karin Lowachee’s work also happens to be one of my favorite short stories from 2016. A Good Home, which appeared in the People of Colo(u)r Destroy Science Fiction issue of Lightspeed Magazine, is the story of a Tawn, a veteran who takes a decommissioned android designed for war into his home. Now that the war is over, there’s no place for either of them, and the government has set up an adoption program for the androids they can’t legally destroy. Tawn’s mother disapproves of and fears the android. Similarly, his neighbors are unnerved by the way it stands at the window all day, staring out at the street. Mark, as the android is called, refuses to speak. As a fellow veteran, Tawn can tell he’s experienced trauma, and has been scarred by the war. He does his best to reach out to Mark, reading to him from war novels like The Red Badge of Courage, and All Quiet on the Western Front, when a thunderstorm triggers Mark’s PTSD. They begin playing Scrabble together, which allows Mark to communicate without actually needing to speak, laying down tiles to spell out words like SAD, LOST, and COMPANY. A Good Home is a story about survivors, and about the casualties of conflict who must go on living every day in a world that no longer needs them, and would prefer not to see them as they are a reminder of the inconvenient truths of violence and war. Tawn and Mark are both cogs, part of war’s machinery, but Tawn is determined not to let that machinery grind him down, or grind Mark down either. It’s a touching story, but bittersweet as well, never letting the reader forget the situation – war – that ultimately brings Mark and Tawn together.

Mythic DeliriumTo round things out, my recommended starting place for Darcie Little Badger’s work is The Famine King from the January-March 2017 issue of Mythic Delirium. Irene suffers from sleep paralysis. As a child, she wakes one night, helpless and unable to move, and sees the face of her neighbor, Mr. Botello, at her window. He speaks to her of hunger before vanishing, leaving an eerie imprint of his face behind. That same night, Irene’s mother is wakened by sirens, and they see emergency vehicles swarming outside Mr. Botello’s house. In the morning, they learn that he murdered his wife and child before killing himself. As an adult, Irene sees a trailer for a movie called The Famine King while sitting in the bar where her friend Az works. It’s a movie about a wendigo, a father who devours his family during a snow storm. At the library where Irene works, people come in droves to check out books on the wendigo and cannibalism, inspired by the movie. A history of cannibalism haunts Irene’s town. In 1908, the Fiddler brothers were famous, one for butchering his wife and children for meat, the other for strangling people he believed to be wendigos, starting with his wife. Irene herself repeatedly dreams of being strangled, and dreams of the ghost of Mr. Botello. Her dreams, her town’s past, and the fictional account of real crimes all blend together. The fascination with cannibalism spills over into the real world. Irene catches sight of a vegan friend of hers at a burger restaurant, eating what clearly looks like meat and imagines it is vat-grown from human cells. A woman is attacked in a bus shelter, with the implication that the man who attacked her bit her ear. Irene sees the ghost of her mother walking the streets, mentally framing her mother’s death as an act of cannibalism. Irene starved her with a need for attention, for comfort, and literally through breastfeeding as a baby until her mother had nothing left for herself and died. Hunger, devouring, and consumption echo throughout the story to chilling effect. Irene’s guilt over her mother’s death pairs with the accounts of men murdering their families and the legend of the wendigo. In Irene’s case, a child – herself – is a parasitic creature, draining her mother and subsuming her life, the next generation literally taking the prior generation’s place. In the historical account and the wendigo legend, it is the opposite, fathers devouring their children to gain themselves a bit more life against the threat of starvation. The story calls to mind Ray Bradbury’s The Small Assassin, about a baby murdering its parents, a metaphor for children taking over their parents’ lives. It also calls to mind fairy tales such as The Juniper Tree, and Snow White, which feature wicked mothers and stepmothers fearing their children taking their place and thus murdering and consuming them, or feeding them to others. It’s a powerful theme, one that speaks to the fear of aging, and the cycle of life. The idea of sacrifice, willing and not, plays out in the story, as well. A cow has no choice about becoming meat, but what about a willing human? The story is unsettling and effective, layering dread through patterns echoed through history, fiction, mythology, and the events of Irene’s life. All of this makes it an excellent staring place for Darcie Little Badger’s work.

Speaking of women to read, readers of this column may be interested in the upcoming anthology Problem Daughters edited by Nicolette Barischoff, Rivqa Rafael, and Djibril al-Ayad, which is currently running an IndieGoGo Campaign. The anthology’s focus is intersectional feminism, with speculative fiction by and about marginalized women often left out of mainstream feminism, including women of color, queer women, disabled women, and sex workers, among others. It looks to be an excellent collection, so please do check it out!

I’ll be back with more Women to Read in March. In the meantime, please leave your own suggestions for fantastic work by women in the comments.

Originally published at A.C. Wise. You can comment here or there.


An Interview with Merry Jones
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Child's PlayMerry Jones was kind enough to join me today to talk about Child’s Play, the latest novel in her Elle Harrison thriller series. Before we get to the questions, I’ll kick things off with an introduction…

Merry Jones is the author of the Harper Jennings mystery series, which includes Summer Session and Behind the Walls, and the Philadelphia-based Zoe Hayes series, which includes The Nanny Murders and The River Killings. Over the years, she has written a wide range of material in a variety of styles and for diverse media. In addition to her thrillers, she has written non-fiction, including Birthmothers, and the best-selling humor book I Love Him, But…, and has contributed articles to Glamour, Ladies’ Home Journal, and American Woman. Her books have been translated into Spanish, Chinese, Hebrew, French, German, Norwegian, Turkish, and Dutch.

Welcome, Merry! To start things off, could you talk a little bit about your latest book, Child’s Play?

Hi Alison, thanks for inviting me to be interviewed!

So, Child’s Play begins with a second grade teacher, our protagonist Elle Harrison, preparing for the first day of school. She finds out that a former student, Ty Evans, has turned twenty-one and been released from juvenile detention where he’d served eight years for killing his father. Almost immediately, people against whom Ty has had grudges begin to get murdered—starting with the school principal, whose disfigured corpse Elle finds on that first day back. Ty seeks Elle out and, before long, she is assaulted. As she recovers, she worries for her own safety and that of her colleagues, and she questions her assumptions about family, childhood, female friendships, justice and innocence.

Child’s Play is the third book in the Elle Harrison series, and you have two other thriller series with recurring characters. What appeals to you about writing series? Is there a long arc for your characters that spans their entire series, or do you tend to have complete arcs within each book that build on each other as the series progresses?

Writing a series is fun for lots of reasons. You build a readership who have their own relationships with the characters. And these readers have expectations which are fun to meet/surpass. Also, you get to know your characters better with each book, so writing another one is like spending time with old friends. And it’s comfortable to begin a novel with “givens” about the protagonist and some of the other characters, not to have to reinvent new people with each book.

The arcs, I think, do complete in each book, enough so that if you only read one, you’re fine. But they also span the entire series in that the characters’ lives change and develop across titles. A divorcee might remarry, or a married person get divorced. A child might be born. A father might die. The characters’ arcs proceed through life after they survive the arcs of the individual books.

Crime and thriller novels often require authors to know grisly details about the ways people can die, what happens to their bodies after death, and how crimes are solved. How do you go about your research? What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever had to look up, or ask an expert? What’s the oddest or most unexpected thing you’ve learned while doing research? Do you ever get concerned looks from people while doing research, or when letting slip an obscure fact at a cocktail party?

I love this question. The concerned looks do happen. For example, I was in a bar with a friend, talking about a book-in-progress. “That effing rapist! I’m glad you killed him. He deserved to die.”

You can imagine the people in the next booth, overhearing this. So, yes, people do get uneasy with talk about murders and mayhem, but so far no one has called the police.

Research, though not always about cadavers and murder, provides some of the best fun of writing. In the course of a dozen suspense novels, I’ve had to learn about pre-Colombian religion, human trafficking, art smuggling, brain damage, sleep disorders, military secrets, Bible prophecy. Also about the juvenile detention system. Elective plastic surgery. Narcissistic personality disorder. Survivalists. I do a lot of research online, for sure. But I also interview experts like police detectives, surgeons, soldiers, prison guards. And I travel to relevant locations, for example, a sleep clinic, a museum, a national park, a funeral home. Getting details right is essential.

As to what I’ve learned during all this research, the list is long—Each book brings more information. Facts about rigor mortis, about how long it takes for bodies to start smelling. About the lack of an antidote for the puffer fish poison, and about its symptoms (which include sweating, hallucinations, a sense of flying, and horrible pain.) About the phase of sleep in which people are paralyzed but conscious, able to hear and see but not move or speak. I can list more examples, but you get the idea.

The research is important, but to me, the real terror in thrillers comes not from poisons or sleep paralysis or weapons of death, but from the characters who happily employ them.

A simple steak knife, for example, can be horrifying in the hands of a cheerfully sociopathic pre-teen. The tension and suspense about what she might do with that knife is far scarier than showing the hilt protruding from a victim’s chest.

Switching gears slightly, you’re a member of a group called the Liar’s Club in Philadelphia. Could you talk a bit about the group, how it came to be, and the work you and your fellow authors do to support those who are just starting their writing careers?

Sure, though this is my point of view, not an official mission statement. Loosely, Liars Club is an organization of writers of all genres who are committed to building and supporting their writing community. It was started by two Philly writers, Jonathan Maberry and Greg Frost, in a bar about a decade ago. Since then, we’ve spent a lot more time in bars, but we’ve also accomplished a number of projects, including touring and signing at Indie book stores, publishing an anthology, and holding monthly free Writers Coffeehouses to which anyone—new writers, longtime writers, or anyone else interested in writing–can come and talk about the business and craft of writing while bonding over coffee. Liars Club is growing, having already spread to several cities including San Diego, where Jonathan now lives. Philly Liars Club hopes to increase its impact, so we’re planning a podcast, workshops and other projects. It’s a group with great heart, and I’m proud to be part of it.

On a somewhat related note, there are quite a few authors in the Philadelphia area. Do you think there’s something particular about Philadelphia that draws creative types? Do you have a favorite spot in Philadelphia where you go to recharge your creative brain, or gather inspiration?

Honestly, I think there are creative people everywhere. Writers find stories no matter where we are. We can’t escape them. So, no, I don’t think Philadelphia in particular draws creative types. It has a lot of them, but so do other big cities.

When I want to recharge, I don’t have a particular place to go. I simply break my patterns for a while. Change my rhythm. I might travel, might not. Might clean the house. Might stop writing for a week or two. There’s no particular place or activity involved. It’s more about slowing down, letting go, changing perspective. Letting my mind breathe.

In addition to being a phenomenal and prolific author, you’re also a rower. Does rowing ever help you solve snarled plot points, or is it what you do when you need to completely get away from writing for a while? How did you get into rowing, and do you compete, or row just for fun?

Rowing, yes, is what I do to get away from writing and life. While I row I rarely think of anything but rowing—the condition of the water, the motion of the boat, the position of my oars, the fluidity of my strokes. What rowing might do is realign my brain so I can look at my work refreshed. But it doesn’t necessarily help me untangle plots.

As to how I started: It was eighteen years ago, when a community rowing program offered free lessons on the Schuylkill. My older daughter was then 12, and we signed up together. We both loved it and have been rowing ever since. I’m a member of Vesper Boat Club, but I race only rarely—most recently this fall with my daughter in a double. Mostly I row for the joy of being on the river. In fact, when my husband and I travel, we try to connect with local rowing clubs, so we’ve skulled on a bunch of rivers.

To finish things off, what are you working on next, now that Child’s Play is out? Are there any other projects in particular you want people to know about?

I think for writers, the next book is the most important one. I’m heavy into one but let’s talk about it when it’s finished. Not that I’m superstitious. Just that talking about it is bad luck.

Totally understandable! Thank you for joining me!

Thank you, Alison. This was fun!

Originally published at A.C. Wise. You can comment here or there.


An Interview with Kelly Robson
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Kelly Robson was kind enough to drop by today to talk about her new Gothic Horror novelette, A Human Stain. To get things started, I will shamelessly crib some notes from Kelly’s author bio…

In 2015, Kelly Robson’s first fiction publications appeared in major Science Fiction markets Clarkesworld, Tor.com, and Asimov’s Science Fiction, and in the anthologies New Canadian Noir, In the Shadow of the Towers, and License Expired. Her work has been a finalist for the World Fantasy Award, the Nebula Award, the Prix Aurora Award, the Theodore Sturgeon Award, and the Sunburst Award. After years in Vancouver, she now lives in Toronto with her wife, fellow SF writer A.M. Dellamonica.

Human StainWelcome! Without giving too much away, what can readers expect to find within the virtual pages of A Human Stain?

A Human Stain is a lesbian gothic horror set in a remote Bavarian alpine schloss in 1905. Thematically, structurally, and in many of its plot elements, the story is the evil twin of my 2015 novella Waters of Versailles. It’s very dark indeed. Ellen Datlow says it’s one of the ickiest stories she’s ever bought for Tor.com.

The art is absolutely stunning. Did you have any input in terms of choosing the artist, or nudging them in a particular direction?

Not at all! The covers are always a complete surprise. I don’t see them until they hit social media. It wasn’t what I was expecting (it never is), but I love it. And the cover certainly lets you know what you’re going to get in this story isn’t pretty.

I’m a touch obsessed with your novella, The Waters of Versailles. Would you mind talking a bit about where the inspiration for the story came from, and how you made a story about toilets so damned amazing?

From 2008 to 2012, I wrote the wine column for Canada’s largest women’s magazine, Chatelaine. It was a great freelance gig with a lot of perks – free wine, free gourmet meals, free trips. All of a sudden I was hanging out with a lot of classy people, which is not my milieu at all. That “fish out of water” feeling definitely informed the story.

An important theme for me is the question of what people do when they are given power. Sylvian has an incredible gift – the love and devotion of a creature with complete control over water. What he chooses to do with it is kind of interesting. If I were in 1738, I one of the first things I’d miss would be toilets, so I can’t fault him at all for inventing them – I might do that too! But he gives them to people who can’t truly appreciate them, and that’s where he goes wrong.

I have two more novellas planned in this universe. They’re going to be about central heating and electricity.

I also have to ask about License Expired. You and Alyx both have stories in the anthology, which for those who don’t know is a Canadian anthology of James Bond stories, as the character is considered public domain in Canada. Did you grow up a James Bond fan? Did you and Alyx collaborate or consult each other at all as you worked on your respective stories? What was the best part of writing in Bond’s world?

Actually, Alyx and I kept our Bond stories completely secret from each other until we were both done. The reveal was a totally hoot.

My Bond story is absolutely my favorite thing I’ve ever written. I’m not a huge Bond fan, but I’ve always liked the honeypot/spy dynamic. It brims with sexy dramatic tension. I loved being able to turn that dynamic on its head.

The best part of writing in Bond’s world is it’s just one hell of a lot of fun. Having a massive canon behind the story means you can set events into motion without having to do the hard lifting of backstory, setup, or setting. You can just have fun with it, and the reader is right there, colluding with you from the first paragraph.

Shifting gears a bit, you currently live in Toronto, as do a good number of speculative fiction writers. Do you think there’s anything particularly speculative or science fictional about Toronto that draws authors there? What is your favorite spot in Toronto to gather inspiration, or to hang out in general?

Toronto is Canada’s largest city, so the concentration of SF writers is inevitable. But we’re a lovely coherent group because of the monthly SF readings ChiSeries on the third Wednesday of every month. When we moved to Toronto three and a half years ago, the gang there welcomed us with open arms. ChiSeries is definitely my favorite spot in Toronto!

I like to ask my fellow Canadians about the idea of “Canadian Literature”. Do you think there’s a particular theme, tone, or some common unifying thread that makes a piece of writing particularly Canadian? If so, do you find it in your own writing, either surfacing unconsciously, or something you actively work toward or against?

CanLit is generally obsessed with the unpredictability and danger of our harsh climate, unforgiving terrain, isolating vast distances, and unpredictable natural forces. I believe it’s said that the climate is always a major character in Canadian Literature.

I do write about the natural world and I can’t seem to keep from writing about water. But in my stories, it’s usually not an unspeaking force. It’s something the characters are aware of and are negotiating their lives around. I would probably never use natural or climatic disasters just to amp up the drama.

Now that A Human Stain is out in the world, what’s next for you? What are you working on, or what else do you have coming up that you want people to know about?

For the past year and a half I’ve been working on a time travel novella. It’s out on submission now. *fingers crossed* Here’s the elevator pitch:

“The Last Landing of the Lucky Peach” is set several hundred years in the future. The world has just begun to recover from a mass extinction event, but the invention of time travel by secretive think tank TERN has blocked the flow of funding for long-term ecological restoration projects. Minh, an elderly fluvial geomorphologist, is enraged at having her life’s work disrupted by the illusion of quick-fix solutions to the world’s problems, so when she’s given the opportunity to travel to 2024 BCE for a past-state ecological assessment of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, she jumps at the chance to uncover TERN’s secrets.

It sounds amazing! Good luck with it, and thanks for dropping by!

Thank you for having me!!!

Originally published at A.C. Wise. You can comment here or there.


Women to Read: What’s Next
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Hello, and welcome to 2017! It’s a new year, which means it’s high time for a new Women to Read post. From 2013 to mid-2016, Women to Read was a monthly series highlighting work by women and appearing at the much-missed SF Signal. When SF Signal announced their closure in May 2016, many kind people expressed their hope that Women to Read would continue, and few folks offered to give it a home, which I truly appreciate. Before I go further, I just want to say thank you to everyone who read, signal boosted it, said kind things about Women to Read over the years. I’m always delighted to hear of people enjoying the posts, and finding new-to-them authors. I’d hoped the series might end up somewhere that could bring it a wider readership and bring more attention to the work of some wonderful authors. Alas, several possibilities fell through, and rather than see the column vanish, I decided to experiment with hosting it here.

The column may or may not be monthly, we’ll see how things go, but I’ll do my best. I’ll also continue posting the sibling series, Non-Binary Authors to Read here as well. (For more general reviews, I also contribute a monthly Words for Thought column at Apex.) If you’re new to Women to Read and are curious about what I’ve done in the past, all the posts are archived by year and you can find them on the tabs below the header. I do my best not to repeat authors, and make every effort not to screw up identity, but if I ever make an incorrect assumption and mis-gender anyone, please let me know!

I hope people will continue to read, enjoy, and discover new authors through this series and spread the word about their amazing work. Here we go!

ClarkesworldCarolyn Ives Gilman has been nominated for awards including the Hugo, the Nebula, the Tiptree, and the Locus Award for Best First Novel. There are many starting places I could recommend for her work, however I’m recommending Touring with the Alien from the April 2016 issue of Clarkesworld because I’m a sucker for a stories featuring truly alien modes of being. Too often aliens come off as thinly-disguised humans, different from us in appearance, but possessing human ways of thinking and human (frequently white and western) values. The only thing recognizably human about Gilman’s alien is that it is referred to with male pronouns, but that appears to be matter of convenience for the human characters in the story. Avery specializes in transporting dangerous things, and is assigned the job of essentially babysitting an alien and his human translator, Lionel, who like all translators was taken from his family at a very young age and raised among aliens. Lionel is almost as alien as the alien he translates for, and Earth isn’t home to him. As they set off on a modified tour bus, which has been loaded with a shipping crate containing the alien, Lionel slowly opens up to Avery. He does his best to explain the aliens; they exists in the realm of the unconscious, and their intelligence is an autonomic function, like humans’ breathing. However Mr. Burbage – as Avery comes to refer to the alien – is curious about consciousness, and has formed a unique bond with Lionel, one that is killing him. The act of being conscious is burning him up, and soon he will progress to the final stage of his lifecycle, dissolving into distinct cells and soaking into the ground. The story unfolds with a slow burn, raising questions about the nature of consciousness and living. What is it to be alive? What is the definition of a family? What role does free will play in the alien/translator relationship? Gilman leaves the questions open – a prompt to the reader rather than an attempt to provide a point of view. Touring With the Alien is a lovely, meditative, and touching story, even as it explores grand questions of thought and consciousness. Between that and the truly alien alien, it is an excellent starting place for Carolyn Ives Gilman’s work.

Apex 78Next up, my recommended starting place for Day Al-Mohamed’s work is The Beacon and the Coward from the November 2015 issue of Apex Magazine, a steampunk flavored story about the nature of heroism. Danville is a surfman at a lighthouse staffed entirely by black men. They’re all veterans of the Civil War, but unlike Danville, most of them have had metal limbs or mechanical eyes grafted onto or into their bodies against their will. Because they are black, the military felt free to experiment on them, and Danville is one of the few ‘natural’ men on the crew. He’s also a coward. When the order came to charge, he lost his nerve; this mark on his military record, and his conscience, has followed him ever since. As the story opens, Danville is preparing to leave the lighthouse. His past has caught up with him again, and even though his boss trusts him, Danville has no desire to deal with the scorn of his fellows. A massive storm and a passenger ship threatening to wreck on the reef cuts Danville’s plans short. Despite his fears that he’ll once again freeze at the critical moment, Danville joins the rescue. As a natural man, it’s up to him swim a line out to the sinking ship. Despite their increased strength, the soldiers with mechanical parts would sink and drown. Danville saves the lives of one of his colleagues, and a young girl from the passenger ship, proving his boss’ trust in him, and proving to himself he’s not a coward after all. The Beacon and the Coward is a story of redemption and second chances. It’s also a story about trust, and not being defined by a single moment of fear. That it is inspired by a true story, which you can read about on the author’s website, makes the story even more incredible. Al-Mohamed draws a thoughtful parallel between the two situations Danville finds himself in – a battlefield, and sinking ship. Even when fighting for a good cause, war can seem like a wasteful act. Danville saw friends cut down by bullets on the battlefield and was unable to act, but when a random act of nature put innocent lives at risk, he waded in (literally) and proved himself a hero. The steampunk element is incorporated with a light touch, and Al-Mohamed uses it to great effect to comment on the horrors of war and the colonial mentality often inherent in the genre itself. The Beacon and the Coward directly addresses the idea of brown bodies as lesser, disposable cogs in a machine, by making them part of the ‘wonders’ of the mechanical age without their consent. It’s a powerful piece, and a worthy place to start with the author’s work.

Superhero UniverseSticking with the heroic vein to round out the post, my recommended starting place for Leigh Wallace’s work is Bedtime for Superheroes from the anthology Tesseracts 19: Superhero Universe edited by Mark Shainblum and Claude Lalumiere. One of the tropes of SFF, and the superhero genre in particular, is that going on quests and saving the world is a game for the young. Older characters are sidelined as wise mentors, and those roles are typically reserved for men. Old Bruce Wayne mentors young Terry McGinnis, Hollis Mason passes the torch to Dan Dreiberg, Yoda and Obi Wan mentor Luke Skywalker, Dumbledore aids Harry Potter on his journey, and so on. There are fewer examples of wise old women passing their knowledge on to the next generation. There are plenty of wicked crones and jealous stepmothers plotting to stealth youth and beauty, as if those are a woman’s only assets, not her knowledge. In Bedtime for Superheroes, Wallace turns things around and gives reads what feels like The Facts of Life, but with superheroes. The story opens with Marie making tea for herself, then laying out three extra mugs, each with their own personality and flavor of tea. Just as she’s about to settle in, a ninja appears on her living room couch. The ninja is her granddaughter, Lacy, a superhero, lamenting the loss of buttons on her ninja costume and asking her grandmother to make repairs. Lacy is soon joined by a pirate and an angel. Each is given her own mug of tea, and Marie quietly listens to their complaints, tidying up after them and giving them gentle nudges toward good habits. She does all this unobtrusively, playing the role of an invisible old woman, just as society expects her to, stepping aside and making way for the young. Throughout the story, Wallace nudges the reader the way Marie nudges her charges, making it clear there’s more to Marie than meets the eye. The ultimate reveal of her true identity comes as a satisfying end to the tale. The quiet details of domestic life – the way Marie cares for her girls, preparing their tea, matching their mugs to their personalities, knitting and quietly gathering more girls into her fold – provide the key to Marie’s character. She notices everything, no action she takes is wasted, and every movement has a purpose as she directs the lives around her without anyone noticing. Like Al-Mohamed’s story, Bedtime for Superheroes expands on the notion of what it means to be a hero, and who gets to be a hero. There are different ways of wielding power, and not every path to victory involves kicking ass. Bedtime for Superheroes is an excellent addition to the superhero genre, and an excellent starting place for Wallace’s work.

Three recommendations seems like a good start for the series reboot, so I’ll leave things there for now. Keep an eye out for more Women to Read posts to come, and in the meantime, leave your own suggests for women to read in the comments!

Originally published at A.C. Wise. You can comment here or there.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Originally published at A.C. Wise. You can comment here or there.


An Interview with A.M. Dellamonica
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Nature of a PirateI’m delighted to welcome A.M. Dellamonica back to my blog today to talk about The Nature of a Pirate, the latest installment in her Hidden Sea Tales series, which is officially out tomorrow. To refresh your minds, or to introduce Alyx to those new to her work, I’ll shamelessly steal from her author bio…

A.M. Dellamonica moved to Toronto, Canada, in 2013, after 22 years in Vancouver. In addition to writing, she studies yoga and takes thousands of digital photographs. She is a graduate of Clarion West
and teaches writing at the University of Toronto and through the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program. Dellamonica’s first novel, Indigo Springs, won the Sunburst Award for Canadian Literature of the Fantastic. Her latest, A Daughter of No Nation, was released by Tor Books in the summer of 2015 and won the 2016 Prix Aurora for best SF/F novel.

She is the author of more than forty short stories in a variety of genres; they can be found on Tor.com, Strange Horizons, Lightspeed, and in numerous print magazines and anthologies.

Welcome back! Congratulations on The Nature of a Pirate, the final (more on that later) book in your Hidden Sea Tales trilogy. Without giving too much away, can you tell us a bit about the final installment in the series?

I sometimes call the Hidden Sea Tales trilogy “Narnia for environmentalists,” and by this third stage of the story, Sophie Hansa and her brother Bram are having huge problems maintaining their lives in San Francisco while simultaneously vanishing for months so they can conduct research into the magical realm, Stormwrack, that they’ve discovered.

On Stormwrack, meanwhile, there’s a new scheme afoot to topple the delicate international balance of power. Someone is sinking ships within the Fleet of Nations, and tempers are rising each time a ship goes down. The the sinkings are magical in nature, but the government is desperate enough, once again, to ask Sophie and Bram if science can shed any light on what’s happening.

A follow up question, as the cool kids say. I assume cool kids say that, don’t they? Anyway. In our last interview, you described the Hidden Sea books as ‘at least three books’, to paraphrase, and you’ve written several related short stories. Are there more stories to tell in this world, and what form do you think they’ll take – short form, novel, other?

You do seem awfully cool to me. I do have an idea that the short story series, The Gales, will need one or two more novelette-length chapters to bring it to a conclusion. There are four of those stories out now and a fifth coming from Tor.com next year. The stories are about Gale Feliachild at the height of her career, and about how her life has been shaped by a prophecy that she will be murdered.

In CHILD OF A HIDDEN SEA, the first book, we see what becomes of that prophecy. But in the stories, Gale’s fate is still years off, and she’s grappling with, among other things, the accumulated consequences of living every day of her life as if it might be her last.

My dream is to do a third series exploring the relationship between Tonio, the first mate of the sailing vessel Nightjar, and Bram Hansa. There just wasn’t room to do that justice in the first trilogy. I’m not sure yet what form that storyline might take.

A follow-up to my follow-up – what is it that keeps you coming back to this world? The characters? The world? A combination of both? Or something else?

When I created Stormwrack I rolled out a massive canvas for myself–it’s a big world with a lot of countries, each with their own form of government, their own microclimate and their own magical spells. I wanted a world I could revisit for the rest of my life. I wanted room to plant seeds in one story and then see what they could grow into in another. It was scaled for this kind of bigness all along.

I love creating cultures, and a world like this offers a chance both to build new island nations and simultaneously place them in the greater context of the Fleet. What if there’s an island where all the medical students are magically given a third eye, one which allows them to perceive the nature of their patient’s injuries and ailments? How do you poison someone right under their noses? How do they offer their services to other countries? What if someone’s poaching the manta ray whose sting is necessary to the inscription that runs the spell?

I haven’t even created that island and I have three story ideas right there!

Your Hidden Seas novels and stories touch on marine biology, sailing, pirates, magic, and many other complex subjects. What kind of research did you do to inform the background of your world? What’s the oddest, or most obscure fact you learned in the course of your research, whether or not it made
it onto the page?

The best thing I did was go on a sail on a tall ship in Victoria, British Columbia, to get a sense of what hauling sails and travelling asea under wind power was like. The rest was far less hands-on: I watched a lot of nature documentaries, for example, and read a lot of books.

One of the coolest books I read for this most recent novel was called “Suspect Identities: A History of Fingerprinting and Criminal Identification,” by Simon Cole. It talks about how fingerprinting proliferated, as a forensic science, via the mail: police in various parts of the British Empire, and elsewhere, wrote to each other and taught each other dactyloscopy. Cole talks too about how a lot of the impetus for those early efforts was a desire by white law enforcement officers to distinguish between the people of color whom they had colonized and were, in various awful ways, oppressing.

Fun fact: what some cops wanted from fingerprinting was actually predictive. They wanted to be able to say “This kind of fingerprint means this person is inherently bad.” We see an echo of that kind of misguided desire within practices like racial profiling, and the attempt to track various kinds of traits within human DNA.

To switch gears a bit, I like to ask authors about their non-writing related jobs. Stephen King was a janitor and J.D. Salinger worked as the entertainment director on a luxury cruise line. What’s the weirdest non-writing job you’ve ever had, and did it inspire any stories or teach you anything you’ve used in your writing?

I have had lots of weird jobs. I’ve been a bouncer in a Star Trek IRC channel, and I’ve written questions for trivia games… but I think the strangest and most story-gristy thing I ever did was go to work on the graveyard shift for an answering service and alarm monitoring company. It was about 1990, a time when phones were getting fairly computerized. But this particular place was the phone hell that time forgot, complete with mid-century cord boards and alarms that ran–I kid you not–on frickin’ ticker tape. If someone broke a window at a car dealership (or, sometimes, if the temperature reached 30 below zero), the ticker tape would start banging out a code in zigzags on a spooling piece of paper. The printout looked rather like a heart rate monitor! The operator then had to decode the zigzags–which client was it, where in the building was the alarm coming from, etc.?–and call the police.

In between alarm calls–a whole year’s worth of false alarms generally netted one actual burglar–I was taking body pick-up calls for a funeral home, emergency calls from drunk drivers to the city’s one 24-hour lawyer, oil rig emergency repair calls, and even calls from random perverts who’d worked out that they could raise a woman at 2:00 a.m. on one or another given number.

That sounds like an amazing job, in a really strange way. Switching gears again, I have to ask about License Expired. Subject to the timey-wimey nature of interviews, I have either already asked, or will ask, your wife, Kelly Robson, about this as well. You both have stories in the anthology, which for those who don’t know is a Canadian anthology of James Bond stories since the character is considered public domain in Canada. Did you grow up a James Bond fan? Did you and Kelly collaborate or consult each other at all as you worked on your respective stories? What was the best part of writing in Bond’s world?

I wasn’t a Bond fan before the antho: there were movies I’d liked, and movies I hadn’t cared for. When LICENSE EXPIRED came up, I had to re-evaluate, which meant first of all taking a good look at an actual Ian Fleming book, CASINO ROYALE.

I had decided upon a Moneypenny story quite early in the process, and had also settled on the idea that it’d be fun to write a story where James Bond was literally incapable of telling women apart. After that, and after I’d had time to research a neurological condition that somewhat fit the bill (prosopagnosia) the story almost wrote itself.

My memory of the writing period for the story was that neither Kelly nor I told the other much, if anything, about what we were working on beyond saying, in gleeful tones, “OMG, my story is so coooooooollll!!!”

If you could pick any other character (whether they’re currently public domain or not)
to write an original story about, who would it be?

I love being paid to write fanfiction, so that list would be long. It would also, probably, change every day. Right this minute, though, that part of my brain has been thinking a lot about the Marvel Cinematic Universe characters, perhaps especially Natasha Romanov, Matt Murdoch, and Tony Stark.

I would absolutely read any and all of those! To switch gears yet again, I adore your story ‘The Color of Paradox’. One of my favorite things about the story (and there’s a lot to love) is the fact that a woman is the first time traveler. In many traditional time travel stories, women are either completely absent, a goal the time traveling man is working toward, or someone left patiently waiting at home. Was this trope something you consciously sought to address with your story? Regardless, how do you feel about the trope? What was the original inspiration behind the story?

Part of the idea behind Wills is that she isn’t the first time traveller, exactly. She’s the first who survived. Project Mayfly dropped two men into its base in 1920s Seattle, and they both died. Only then did they decide to see if trying a female traveller would make a difference. Wills had the intestinal fortitude to crawl off the decomposing bodies of her predecessors, beat back the madness, and figure out how to get on with physically surviving her mission.

The next people Mayfly sends–some of them, anyway–are able to survive because Wills has made a place for them. Unlike her, they have somewhere safe to land, medical assistance, and a nice hot cup of soup waiting.

I’ll leave you to decide what I’m addressing there.

The core idea is a difficult one for me. Time travel in the Souring universe is a one way voyage. You can go back, but you can never go home. You can send information forward, via time capsules, but it’s a very imperfect process.

I have done tons of noodling and planning and imagining in that universe–a few times, I’ve even conceived it as a TV show!–and for years, none of that work had ever quite come to anything. Then one December, Jules came to me, like a brilliant and horrid little holiday visitor, and with him came the Mayfly device and Dr. Stefoff. “The Color of Paradox” came together.

I want to write more there. I’m still struggling to find another way in.

Finally, now that the last (maybe) installment in the Hidden Seas trilogy is out, what else are you working on or do you have coming up that you want people to know about?

I am simultaneously working on a novella and a novel that are near-future greenpunk. The novella takes place in about twenty years time, during a period called the Setback–a period when climate change is escalating, fascism is on the rise, and war and other kinds of chaos have the world on the edge of falling apart. In this novella, a young journalist named Drow tries to level up his approval rating within global social media networks… and instead he ends up a pariah. This forces him to do something quite desperate.

The novel takes place during Drow’s daughter’s time, during the Bounceback. After decades of rationing and various other measures, humankind is slowly bringing down atmospheric carbon levels and the population, and there’s some hope that we’ll terraform Earth back into a sustainable habitat for homo sapiens. The next step is reoxygenating the oceans, a project that’s moving towards success even as it slowly crowdfunds the carbon credits needed for its launch.

In the novel, which is called Win Conditions, Rubi is a public defender working for Crowdsight, the organization that determines everyone’s social capital. She basically does advocacy on support tickets for people who’ve fallen into huge disfavour with the rest of the human population. But now Interpol thinks her latest client–a guy who’s been trying to draw Likes away from the oxygenation project–might be an AI, constructed by someone who doesn’t want humanity to survive.

That sounds fantastic! Thanks for stopping by!

Thank you for having me!!

Originally published at A.C. Wise. You can comment here or there.


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

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

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

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

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

Novels

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anthologies & Collections

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Exeperimental FilmDream Houses by Genevieve Valentine

Dangerous Space by Kelly Eskridge

The Apex Book of World SF 4 edited by Mavesh Murad

Experimental Film by Gemma Files

Kindred by Octavia Butler

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay

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

Originally published at A.C. Wise. You can comment here or there.


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