These Are Not the Droids You Are Looking For


Obligatory Award Eligibility Post 2016
Smaug
acwise

It’s that time of year, time to look back and reflect on what all I did in 2016. Since I’ve been encouraging others to share their eligibility and recommendation posts (please do!), it seems only fair that I do it myself. I’m still catching up on reading, but I’ll be assembling my recommendation posts soon. In the meantime, here’s my award eligible work for 2016.

Short Stories 

Tekeli-li, They Cry, published in Tomorrow’s Cthulhu

Seven Cups of Coffee, published in Clarkesworld

The Ghosts of Mars, published as part of the March Geeky Giving bundle

A Guide to Birds by Song (After Death), published in Clockwork Phoenix 5

In the Name of Free Will, published in Superhero Universe (Tesseracts 19)

The Men From Narrow Houses, published in Liminal Stories

I Dress My Lover in Yellow, published in The Mammoth Book of Cthulhu

The Last Sailing of the Henry Charles Morgan in Six Pieces of Scrimshaw (1841), published in The Dark

How Objects Behave on the Edge of a Black Hole, published in Strangers Among Us

How to Host a Haunted House Murder Mystery Party, published in Bourbon Penn

Novelette

When the Stitches Come Undone, published in Children of Lovecraft

Collection

The Kissing Booth Girl and Other Stories, published by Lethe Press

The collection is eligible as a whole for things like the World Fantasy Award. It also contains two original short stories – Juliet & Juliet(te): A Romance of Alternate Worlds, and It’s the End of the World As We Know It – and two original novelettes – The Astronaut, Her Lover, the Queen of Faerie, and Their Child, and The Kissing Booth Girl.

As a Canadian, I’m also eligible for the Prix Aurora Awards, in addition to awards like Nebula, Hugo, World Fantasy, etc.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Squee & Snark reviews short fiction throughout the year.

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

There is a Tumblr of Hugo-eligible artists.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Apex Magazine list their award eligible short fiction for 2016.

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

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

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

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

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

Beauty in Ruins Best of 2016 list.

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

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

Best Sci Fi Books picks their favorite reads of 2016.

Brooke Bolander lists her award eligible short fiction for 2016.

Book Riot lists their Best Books of 2016.

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

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

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

Martin Cahill lists his award eligible novelette for 2016.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carrie Cuinn shares her award eligible short fiction for 2016.

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

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

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

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

Diane Duane lists her Young Wizards books, which are eligible in the new Best Series Hugo category.

Amal El-Mohtar recommends some of her favorite picks for various Hugo award categories and lists her own award eligible work.

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

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

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

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

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

Fireside Fiction lists the award eligible work they published in 2016.

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

forestofglory regularly posts short fiction recommendations, monthly round-ups, and other reviews. The link goes to the site in general, so spend some time browsing around! ETA: There is a round-up of forestofglory’s favorite short fiction of 2016 at Lady Business.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jeremy Gottwig lists his award eligible novelette and short stories.

Lora Gray lists their award eligible short fiction for 2016.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

José Pablo Iriarte lists his award eligible fiction for 2016.

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

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

Kaleidotrope gathers up the award-eligible short fiction they published in 2016.

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

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

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

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

Kirkus Reviews picks their Best of the Best for 2016.

Gwendolyn Kiste lists her award eligible short fiction for 2016.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Little Red Reviewer
picks her favorite books of 2016.

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

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

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

Natalie Luhrs is eligible in the Best Fan Writer and Related Works categories for her writing at Pretty Terrible and The Bias. ETA: Check out her eligibility post here!

David Mack lists his award eligible story for 2016.

Arkady Martine
lists her award eligible short fiction and poetry.

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

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


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

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

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

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

Heather Morris lists several award eligible short stories for 2016.

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

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

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

Mari Ness lists her award eligible short fiction, non-fiction, and poetry for 2016.

Wendy Nikel lists her award eligible short fiction for 2016.

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

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

Abigail Nussbaum lists her favorites short stories, novelettes, and novellas of 2016.

Sandra Odell lists her award eligible short fiction for 2016.

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

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

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

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

Quill & Quire lists their Books of the Year.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eve Shi lists her award eligible fiction for 2016.

Alex Shvartsman lists his award eligible short stories for 2016.

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

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

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

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

Jonathan Strahan shares his favorite short SFF novels of 2016.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unlikely Story’s award eligible work for 2016.

Valerie Valdes shares her award eligible short story for 2016.

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

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

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

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

Holly Lyn Walrath lists her award eligible poetry for 2016.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

YA Interrobang chooses their favorite YA books of 2016.

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

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


An Interview with Heather Rose Jones
Smaug
acwise

MotherOf SoulsHeather Rose Jones was kind enough to drop by today to talk about her latest novel, Mother of Souls. To get things started, I’ll make introductions by shamelessly stealing from her author bio…

Heather Rose Jones writes fantasy, historic fantasy, and historical fiction, including the Alpennia series with swordswomen and magic in an alternate Regency setting. She blogs about research into lesbian-like motifs in history and literature at the Lesbian Historic Motif Project which provides inspiration for her fiction. She has a PhD in linguistics, studying metaphor theory and the semantics of Medieval Welsh prepositions, and works as an industrial failure investigator in biotech. Find her on facebook and on twitter as @heatherosejones.

Welcome, and congratulations on the publication of Mother of Souls! Without giving too much away, would you care to tell readers a bit about your latest novel?

The Alpennia series follows a loose network of women in a fictitious early 19th century country inserted roughly around the intersection of France, Switzerland, and Italy. It’s a combination of a collection of personal stories and an overall political intrigue plot. Mother of Souls is about Serafina Talarico, an Ethiopian immigrant to Rome who is struggling to master her mystical talents and thinks that she can find a teacher in Margerit Sovitre, the Royal Thaumaturgist to Princess Anna of Alpennia. And it’s about Luzie Valorin, a widowed music teacher who discovers an unexpected talent when she sets her sights on composing an opera about the philosopher Tanfrit. It’s about Margerit Sovitre’s ambition to found a women’s college. And it’s about a sorcery that has the entirety of central Europe locked in a mystical storm that is beginning to break down the structures of magic that have stood for centuries. It’s…complicated.

This is the third book in your Alpennia series. Each novel seems to focus on very different characters – are they traditional sequels, or standalone books set in a shared world? When you wrote the first book in the Alpennia series, did you always intend to return to the world? Are there more Alpennia stories to come?

When I wrote the first book (Daughter of Mystery), it was supposed to be a standalone, but even as I was polishing it up the second book (The Mystic Marriage) grabbed me. By the time I’d finished that manuscript, I had a fairly good idea of the scope of the overall series, though the details are still working themselves out. At this point I’m planning seven books in the main series (with short fiction to fill in some of the cracks), plus an entirely independent novel set earlier in Alpennian history. It isn’t a traditional series that follows one central character throughout. I’m very much writing about community, and each book has a slightly different set of viewpoint characters.

As an author of historical fantasy and historical fiction, what is your research process like? What’s the strangest, most intriguing, or most obscure bit of history you’ve ever come across while researching? Have you ever written something into a novel that’s based on actual history, but which readers assumed you must have invented from whole cloth because it was too fantastical to believe, or vice versa?

I’ve been a history fanatic all my life and fell in love with European history when I was ten years old and my family lived in Prague for a year when my dad was on sabbatical. Most of my research is the background information I’ve been storing away over the last five decades. But it was a bit of a surprise to me to write a series in the 19th century because most of my research interests previously have been medieval and Renaissance. So I’ve had to do a lot of delving into post-Napoleonic politics and timelines to integrate the story into real history. It’s hard to identify the strangest thing I’ve turned up. That would probably be some very obscure bit of textile technology! But in terms of what I put in my novels, I do a lot of research on queer women in history, and the most surprising thing is probably finding all the ways that women managed to live outside the norms of society in different times and places. But for unbelievable details in my own fiction, I think I’d have to step outside Alpennia and point to my novelette “The Mazarinette and the Musketeer” which is a romp involving various outrageous women in late 17th century England and France. Since I self-published it as a freebie, I went so far as to include endnotes laying out how none of the most unbelievable bits were invented.

On a somewhat related note, in addition to your fiction writing, you also launched the Lesbian Historic Motif Project as a resource for other writers and researchers. Could you talk a bit about how LHMP came to be, your goals for the project, and how you’d like to see if grow in the future?

Originally the Lesbian Historic Motif Project was just my own research notes, gathering background for a variety of historic romances I wanted to write. I had this urge to write stories that were both historically accurate and fun escapist romantic adventures. So I needed to know as much as possible about what it could have been like to be a queer woman at various times and places. And then…well, I have the soul of a cataloger. I know that the hardest part of doing research is knowing that the information you want actually exists and having some idea how to find it. So I wanted to summarize my research in a way that was useful for other interested parties. Back when I started, I was thinking in terms of a published sourcebook, but fortunately the web came along in the meantime and a blog is a much more practical way to present it! The main idea is simply to say, “Here is information; here’s what these publications cover; here’s where you can find them.” Not everyone has the same goals and interests, so it was more important to me to be a conduit than an interpreter. As for the future, I don’t anticipate running out of material to cover anytime soon, so mostly I’ll just keep plugging along. I’d love for more people to know about the Project and use it as a start for their own research.

How does your academic background in linguistics inform your fiction writing process? Do you have any tips or recommendations for authors looking to incorporate the development or evolution of language into their world-building? Are there any invented fantasy language tropes you’ve seen used (or misused) that bother you as someone with a background in linguistics?

As a linguist, my main advice would be: “Kids, don’t try this at home!” But seriously, it’s easy to include over-simplified approaches to language in world-building; much harder to do it in a realistic way. The language aspects in Alpennia are two-fold. The more superficial aspect is in how I’ve created an underlying system for creating Alpennian proper names and small bits of vocabulary, so that it “feels” like a real language without being identical to one that exists. The deeper way I’ve used my linguistics background is in how the characters think about and use language in a multilingual society, and in a framework for using mystical talents that relies heavily on the structure and symbolism of language. It’s more a matter of an awareness of the importance of language than using any specific elements of linguistics. I think the language-related tropes that bother me the most in fantasy is sloppy use of personal names. For example, borrowing names or naming systems from an actual culture without thinking about what baggage those elements carry with them. But conversely, I think authors shouldn’t twist themselves up in knots about “getting language right.” In a very real sense, all historic or secondary world novels are “translated” for the reader. The question is only how well the translation works.

Now that Mother of Souls is out in the world, what are you working on next? Any other projects or works you’d like people to know about?

The next Alpennia book will be a bit of a change-up. I plan it to be a YA novel that can be a new starting point into the series. Floodtide will introduce a new protagonist, as well as bringing in several of the younger minor characters from the existing books. It overlaps a fair amount of the timeline of Mother of Souls but with an entirely different focus. But in the mean time, I’m working on a non-Alpennia project. I wrote a series of connected short stories about a shape-shifting clan in a sort of Iron Age not!Europe for the Sword and Sorceress anthology series, and now I’ve written a novelette that ties up the series and plan to collect them all up in a single volume and self-publish it. Working title is Skinsinger: Tales of the Kaltaoven.

Thanks for stopping by!

Thank you for inviting me!

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


Fall Book Love: Ghosts and Bones
Smaug
acwise

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

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

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

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

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

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


Pucker Up!
Smaug
acwise

Kissing Booth GirlThe Kissing Booth Girl and Other Stories is here! The collection contains 14 stories, 4 of which are brand new. An e-book version is on the way, but right this very minute you can get your hands on a paperback copy direct from the wonderful Lethe Press at the link above, or through Amazon or Barnes & Noble. What is this collection, you ask? Well, it’s a little bit of darkness, a little bit of the weird, some sexy bits, some happy bits, and some bits that are hard to define. You want underwater nuns? I’ve got ‘em? A queer zombie love story? Got that, too. Witches, aliens, outer space, and a steampunk circus? Got ‘em all!

Publishers Weekly was kind enough to give the collection a starred review.

Wise’s inventive sense of weirdness and wonder comes to the forefront in this intense, graceful collection of stories in which plot plays second fiddle to quietly immersive world-building, longing and obsession are the forces of beauty, and grimness leads not to depressive dystopia but to desperately hopeful and brave, if still unsettling, solutions.

ETA: Lambda Literary had some very kind things to say about it, too!

They liked it, so maybe you will, too. To celebrate, I’m giving away a copy of The Kissing Booth Girl and Other Stories and a copy of my first collection, The Ultra Fabulous Glitter Squadron Saves the World Again. So step right up, try your luck, and throw your name in the hat below (aka the comments). One lucky winner will get two books, and maybe even a bit of extra swag thrown in. Comment by midnight on November 15, 2016 (wherever in the world you happen to be) and that winner might just be you!

ETA: The Random Number Generator has chosen lucky #1. Congratulations, Zach, and thank you to everyone who entered!

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


Apex Magazine: Delicious Fiction Since 2009
Smaug
acwise

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

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

The Days of Flaming Motorcycles by Catherynne M. Valente

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

Ghosts of New York by Jennifer Pelland

The 24 Hour Brother by Christopher Barzak

Alternate Girl’s Expatriate Life by Rochita Loenen-Ruiz

Armless Maidens of the American West by Genevieve Valentine

Erzulie Dantor by Tim Susman

If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love by Rachel Swirsky

Build-a-Dolly by Ken Liu

Ilse, Who Saw Clearly by E. Lily Yu

Call Girl by Tang Fei

Becca At the End of the World by Shira Lipkin

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

Jackalope Wives by Ursula Vernon

The End of the World in Five Dates by Claire Humphrey

Last Dance Over the Red, Red World by Gary Kloster

Candy Girl by Chikodili Emelumadu

Griefbunny by Brooke Juliet Wonders

Crow by Octavia Cade

Remembery Day by Sarah Pinsker

A Sister’s Weight in Stone by JY Yang

It is Healing, It is Never Whole by Sunny Moraine

Find Me by Isabel Yap

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

The Laura Ingalls Experience by Andrew Neil Grey

1957 by Stephen Cox

Cuckoo Girls by Douglas F. Warrick

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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


Hey, It’s SOCKtober!
Smaug
acwise

ETA: Our prize winners are Ralph Walker and Amy Bush. Thank you to everyone who participated and helped to make October a little cozier for those in need!

The weather is getting cooler, the calendar has flipped over, houses are draped in gauzy spider webs, and pumpkins are starting to make their appearances on front porches and lawns. All of that can mean only one thing – it’s time for #socktober2016! What is #socktober2016, you may well ask…. And I’ll tell you that it’s all Fran Wilde’s fault. Mostly!

From my perspective, SOCKTOBER started with this tweet:

Which was followed shortly by these tweets:

SOCKTOBER goes much deeper than fun socks. For that, I’ll step aside and let Fran herself explain: “I started posting socks for October yesterday because I was having a really hard day. Socks = whimsy = happiness, right? And then I figured it could go further and bring awareness to something I’ve known for a while. One of the greatest needs in domestic violence and homeless shelters, as well as for people on the move through upheavals is clean socks. Especially with winter coming, this is a huge deal. So I thought, I’ll post my sock pictures, but also plan to donate to a shelter a new set of socks with each photo I post. I have a massive sock collection, but No Idea if I can Make it 30 days, so it will be like a dance marathon, but with socks. I’m hoping others feel like getting involved too, but I don’t want to tell people how to do this right. Just working on awareness first, and maybe some socks for some people.”

As you can see, the upshot of this is, Fran is not only a wonderful author, she is a wonderful person. After seeing Fran’s tweets, I asked if I could help. We brainstormed, and came up with a plan to spread the socktober love. Throughout October, Fran and I and others will be posting sock pictures on Instagram and Twitter because socks are cool. We’d love for you to join us!

We also hope you’ll go a step further by donating socks to a homeless shelter in your area. As Fran mentioned, socks are one of the greatest needs at homeless shelters, especially as the weather gets colder. To find a shelter near you, and to find out how to donate, start here: www.homelessshelterdirectory.org.

Of course, you can donate other items of clothing, too. Many shelters on the website linked above list the items they most need, or provide contact information where you can inquire about donations.

But wait! There’s more! You can win fabulous prizes while you’re having fun and helping people. Here’s how it works. Donate a package of socks (or other clothing item of your choice), and post your favorite sock pictures on Instagram and/or Twitter between now and October 31, 2016. When you post @ us (@fran_wilde on twitter and Instagram; @ac_wise on twitter and @a.c.wise on Instagram), and tag your post with #socktober2016. You’ll be entered into our drawing for prizes including copies of Fran Wilde’s Updraft and Cloudbound (US-only for physical copies, audiobook anywhere in the world), a gift certificate to Sock Dreams, so you can add even more fabulous socks to your collection, and possibly some other cool stuff we come up with along the way. We’ll employ Ye Olde Random Number Generator to choose a winner on November 1st. It’s that easy!

So come join in the fun and celebrate #socktober2016 with us while helping those who need some toasty socks.

ETA: We’ve added a few additional prizes to the roster. Rachel Sharp has generously donated a $25 Amazon gift card, and a pre-release copy of her upcoming novel Phaethon (to be mailed out in December). On top of that, Rachel’s publisher, Pandamoon Publishing, is donating any three of their currently available titles. Thank you, Rachel and Pandamoon!

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


Capclave & Children of Lovecraft Reading
Smaug
acwise

Next weekend I’ll be attending Capclave, the DC-area convention run by the Washington Science Fiction Association. It’s a lovely, laid-back convention primarily focused on the literature of science fiction, fantasy, and horror. Here’s my schedule for the weekend.

Saturday – 12:00 pm – Writing and Selling Your Story
Panelists:Scott H. Andrews, Lezli Robyn, Hildy Silverman, David Walton, A.C. Wise (M)
What are the elements that capture a reader’s, editor’s or publisher’s attention? How do you get them to pick up the story, and keep turning the pages?

Saturday – 2:00 pm – Reading
I haven’t quite decided what I’ll be reading yet. Maybe some military-esque weird fiction? Maybe some eco-punk? Maybe a ghost story? Suggestions and/or votes welcome.

Sunday – 10:00 am – Cthulhu Wants You! For Breakfast!
Panelists:Alan Loewen (M), Tim Powers, Darrell Schweitzer, A.C. Wise
Love it or hate it, the Cthulhu Mythos and its related arcs are a literary phenomenon here to stay. Whether it be the Dreamlands, the Carcosa Cycle, the related King in Yellow, as well as other sub-genres, many a writer has cut their teeth on cosmic alienation and horror. Discuss the best and the worst of the lot as well as its future.

Sunday – 11:00 am – Feeding Off Fairy Tales
Panelists:Deidre Dykes, Bernie Mojzes, A.C. Wise
Many authors use fairy tales as an inspiration or even the basis of a new novel. The panelists will discuss why we keep going back to these stories, which ones are the most popular and which ones are ripe for use.

When I’m not on programming, I’ll be attending other people’s panels and readings, hanging out in the dealer’s room, hanging out in the bar, and catching up with friends. I’ll even have the corgi with me. He’s rather partial to people making a fuss over him and telling him he’s a good boy. If you see us, say hi!

The weekend after Capclave, I’ll be in NYC at Lovecraft Bar along with several other authors from Ellen Datlow’s latest anthology, Children of Lovecraft. I’ll be reading from my story When the Stitches Come Undone. Siobhan Carroll, Livia Llewellyn, Maria Dahvana Headley, David Nickel, Laird Barron, and Richard Kadrey will be reading from their stories. More details on the event here. Come join us!

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


Hidden Worlds
Smaug
acwise

It just so happens that three of my recent reads all deal with hidden worlds, the idea of seeing and choosing not to see, and the ways in which people themselves can be invisible. On top of that, I thoroughly enjoyed all three books, and that seemed like as good an excuse as any to group them together and talk about them here. Warning: Spoilers Ahead!

Roses and RotKat Howard’s debut novel, Roses and Rot, centers on two sisters Imogen and Marin. An author and a dancer respectively, they are accepted into an exclusive residency program at Melete, an artists’ colony that transforms the lives of those lucky enough to attend. The stakes for Imogen and Marin are more than just the promise of success. Even as adults, the sisters are still trying to escape their abusive mother, and Marin in particular sees Melete – and the opportunities it provides – as a way to ensure that neither sister will ever deal with her again. The hidden world in this case is Faerie. An initial sense of too good to be true, coupled with a vague unease, grows to the reveal that Melete’s true patrons are the Fae, and those who gain the greatest rewards from their time there are those who give themselves to Faerie for seven years as tithe. Howard also plays with the idea of glamour and perception, but there’s a secondary layer of hidden-ness as well. As victims of abuse, Imogen and Marin are invisible. Even though they bear scars, both physical and emotional, they’ve never told anyone about their mother. Like so many victims of abuse, they feared not being believed, or that speaking out would cause their mother to do even worse things to them. Abuse, and the darker side of humanity, is something many would rather not see and so we look away, pretend it isn’t there. Marin and Imogen’s situation also speaks to the authority adults have over children to convince them they are powerless. It’s a theme that comes up often in fairy tales, as does the reversal of that power, and Howard works with both throughout her novel. Imogen’s specialty is fairy tales. The project she intends to tackle during her residency is a novel that weaves together various well-known stories to tell a larger story, with the fairy tales she picks inevitably echoing themes of sisters, mothers, loss, and sacrifice. The passages of Imogen’s re-working of fairy tales that Howard scatters throughout the Roses and Rot are some of the most lovely and heartbreaking in the novel. Through Imogen’s eyes, we get at the heart of Roses and Rot – that stories have power. Fairy tales, as some of the earliest narratives we’re given as children, are a way to codify and make sense of the world. They are a way to reveal what is hidden. Stories do not have to be objectively “real” to be true, but of course, because Roses and Rot is a fantasy novel, the stories are real as well as true. The novel is told from Imogen’s point of view, but all the characters are fully drawn, making the choices Imogen faces even harder because it’s so easy to see things from Marin’s point of view. The prose is lush and gorgeous, but Howard doesn’t shy away from the dark side of faerie, or humanity either.  Ultimately, it’s a story about family, their love for each other, the ways they can hurt each other, fail to understand each other, and grind up against each other’s sharp edges. As in fairy tales, the path worth taking is rarely the easy one, and rewards never come without a cost.

Alif the UnseenAlif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson deals with both the hidden world of the jinn, and the hidden world of grey hat hackers. Alif is one such hacker, willing to work for anyone who will pay him – from pornographers to extremists, revolutionaries to major corporations. At the novel’s opening, Alif seems to be deliberately unlikable. He’s self-centered, impatient, and rarely thinks of anyone but himself. At the same time, he manages to be a sympathetic character, which isn’t an easy trick to pull off. The people surrounding him – his neighbor and childhood friend Dina, Vikram the Vampire, Sheikh Bilal – are such compelling characters that because they care about Alif, the reader does, too. All the trouble in the novel begins when Intisar, the wealthy girl Alif loves, reveals she’s agreed to an arranged marriage. Alif goes slightly off the deep end and sends her a rather unsavory ‘gift’, evidence of their sexual relations, which could ruin her. She returns a mysterious ‘gift’ of her own – a book of tales called the Thousand and One Days – along with making it clear she never wants to see him again. Out of spite, Alif takes it literally. He writes a computer program to erase himself from her sight, a bot that uses language patterns, keystrokes, and other indicators to pick her out no matter what name, IP, or email address she uses and block her from seeing him. The program works a little too well, even though Alif doesn’t entirely understand why it works at all, drawing the attention of a powerful individual known as The Hand, who has been trying to shut down Alif and his hacker community for quite a while. The Hand, it just so happens, is also the man Intisar is set to marry. On top of all that, the Hand is after the Thousand and One Days. Alif and Dina go on the run, discovering the hidden world of the jinn to be very real, and the tales of the Thousand and One Days to be more than stories after all. As the novel’s title indicates, invisibility, seeing, and being hidden play a major role in the story. Alif and the other hackers hide behind screen names to protect themselves and their work. The world of the jinn is invisible to most humans until they learn to see it. Dina chooses to wear a veil for religious reasons, and as a way of protecting herself. The Thousand and One Days contains hidden meanings in each of its stories. Invisible code has a major impact on the characters and their world. In addition to literal unseen things, Wilson weaves more metaphorical interpretations of unseeing through the story as well. Alif spends a great deal of the novel refusing and/or unable to see Dina because of his own prejudices against her religious choices, and the sort of person he believes her to be. Just as he has to learn to see the world of the jinn, he has to learn to see her, and the others around him, leading to his growth as a character. On a larger scale, revolution and uprising are key to the plot, with the overlooked and ignored classes of society forcing themselves into the public eye and refusing to let the world ignore them anymore. Wilson doesn’t shy away from the uglier things in life – imprisonment, torture, murder – but she infuses the book with wonder and beauty as well with the jinn and their unseen world. All the elements come together beautifully, making Alif the Unseen a wonderful read.

Star-Touched QueenThe Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi tells the story of Maya, one of the many daughters of the Raja, but shunned by most of the women in the harem due to the ill-fortune assigned to her by the stars at her birth. Maya’s horoscope promises that she will be wedded to death and destruction and as such, she is looked down on, avoided, bullied, and blamed for any bad luck that occurs. Her father declares she will be married, allowing her to choose a husband from one of several politically advantageous matches, however it is soon revealed he doesn’t expect her to go through with it. Instead, he expects her to drink poison, sacrificing herself and preventing a war. Imprisoned, and seeing no other options, Maya nearly agrees, but at the last moment, a mysterious hooded man appears, saying he can save her and give her a whole world to rule if she only trusts him. She hastily throws the marriage garland at him, choosing him as her husband, and he spirits her away to Akaran, a hidden realm between worlds. At first, Amar refuses to show Maya his face. He asks again for her trust, telling her all will be revealed at the next new moon. In the meantime, he will help her develop her powers, she will rule equally with him, and nothing will be denied to her. Except for the fact that the world they rule appears devoid of people, the palace is full of locked doors and whispering voices, and Maya has the feeling of being constantly watched. Many classic elements of fairy tales and myth are at play here – the lover who won’t reveal his face, the locked door the bride must never open. Roughly midway through, the novel takes a sharp left turn, the story and its expected path completely upended to become something else. Akaran is revealed to be the realm of the dead, and Amar the lord of death himself. Already distrustful of Amar because of all his secrets, Maya allows herself to be convinced by a woman claiming to be her best friend from another life she can’t remember, but sees glimpses of in a room full of bottled memories, to betray her husband. Maya steals the noose Amar carries, the source of his power, and the world crumbles around her. She is exiled, realizing too late that Amar is indeed her true love; in the life she barely remembers, she betrayed him, abandoned him, and forced herself to reincarnate. Now, she must find Amar, and restore his power, thus restoring the balance between life and death. The second half of the novel is a quest story, again with classic elements from myth and fairy tale – retrieving a lost love from an evil influence, hidden identities, and supernatural companions. In this case, Maya’s companion is an undead demon horse with a penchant for eating human flesh, and she is one of the most delightful talking animal sidekicks ever to accompany a hero. Like Roses and Rot, and Alif the Unseen, the theme of the hidden in The Star-Touched Queen operates on multiple levels. There is the hidden world of the dead, as well as Maya’s true identity, hidden from herself and leading to a journey of self-discovery. There is also the idea of trust earned versus trust given, and Maya learning to see those around her more clearly as she grows as a character. The prose throughout is lush and gorgeous and absolutely breathtaking. A Crown of Wishes, focusing on Maya’s sister Gauri, is available for pre-order now, and due out in March 2017. I’m already eagerly anticipating it.

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


?

Log in