Short Fiction Fridays: Upgraded

Another review elseweb, in which I Have Opinions about Neil Clarke’s 2014 cyborg-themed anthology Upgraded.

I’ll actually be moving this slot to a monthly short fiction column at Skiffy and Fanty. This blog has become very crowded with it of late, and I can’t really keep up the pace. Also, I don’t even remember the last time I reviewed an actual *novel*. Maybe I’ll do that. After Women Destroy Fantasy! which, by the way, available now I believe.

Short Fiction Fridays: Fangirlgasm

I reviewed Phantasm Japan, a 2014 anthology edited by Nick Mamatas and Masumi Washington, on Skiffy and Fanty today, and this post title is the resultant completely unintentional bad pun that brings me shame, but I am constitutionally unable to keep it to myself. My review is basically a giant fangirlgasm; this anthology has a greater proportion of stories that I’d classify as mind-blowing than any I’ve read since The Other Half of the Sky. As a whole it won’t be for everyone — some of the stories are very cerebral (there were a couple that were over my head in fact), which isn’t everybody’s thing. I loved it. Lots of genre-bending, mythic fiction, and post-apocalyptic stories.

And within it is one of the most viscerally satisfying feminist SF/F stories I’ve ever read — “Those Who Hunt Monster Hunters,” by Tim Pratt. It’s a revenge tale concerning supernatural sisters as they navigate the world of Internet dating, and one falls on the radar of the wrong kind of dude.

There are many reasons to love this story. The pacing, for one. The tone, for another — it manages to be angry, funny, and sad at the same time. The sisters’ dialogue seems so naturally like the way women talk to each other when men aren’t around — for several reasons, I can’t believe a dude wrote this. But mainly… the villain:

The monster hunter owns several Samurai swords and often wears a fedora

And he fetishizes Asian women, trawls Internet dating sites, won’t take no for an answer, and is generally the douchiest douche to have ever douched.

He’s almost a caricature, though the narrator sister mentions the “points in his favor”: he’s not “the type to send unsolicited pictures of his dick to girls on dating sites… but he is the type to send five messages in three days, with the last one calling you a stuck-up bitch who’s honestly too ugly to be so picky, if you don’t reply.” I think it works because he’s basically a cipher on which you can project any douchebag you’ve ever met. The racist douchebag. The entitled douchebag. The pick-up artist douchebag. The cyberstalking douchebag. Really, he’s all-encompassing in his douchiness.

Read this story, and re-read it every time some douchebag creeps into your Garden of Apathy and pisses all over its dormant seeds, expecting fucks to blossom.

Short Fiction Fridays: Sisters

Having a little sister — who is my partner in crime, general mayhem, and comedic performance art — I’ve always loved stories about them, whether they’re sisters of the blood or those of the heart. And I’ve read one of each this week, both stellar.

In Polenth Blake’s “Never the Same” the unnamed protagonist, who is trusted by no one, must solve the mystery of the failed terraforming of their world in order to save their sister.

“Girl, I Love You,” Nadia Bulkin’s story in the 2014 anthology Phantasm Japan, is a tale of revenge in a haunting post-apocalyptic world where magic is cheap and life is even cheaper.

Both are stories of loyalty, of the lies that people tell themselves, and of what it means to be tethered to a star that’s brighter — but more easily extinguishable — than yours.

Short Fiction Fridays: Long Hidden

longhiddenIt’s difficult to do justice for a collection like Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History. When I first came across it, I knew what I expected: narratives that were non-Anglo in origin, perhaps with some LGBTQ and disabled protagonists. Unto themselves, these are noble and worthwhile goals, because not only does representation matter, but differences in perspective improve the quality and variety of our aggregate reading. And certainly, as a girl who hasn’t gone a week without ranting about the dearth of diversity in fantasy settings — because Europe gets boring after a while — I welcome any speculative fiction set outside the British diaspora.

I expected a lot from this anthology, and yet what I got was so much more than that. Long Hidden is, in the words of its editors Rose Fox and Daniel José Older, …a book of counter-narratives. It is an act of literary resistance. In whispers, shouts, and moans, these stories combine into a collective outcry that is both joyous and mournful, a forgotten praise-song that puts flesh on the bones of our hidden dreams. Continue reading

Review: Scale-Bright

bs_scalebrightThe first fully-formed thought I had about Scale-Bright, a 2014 novella by Benjanun Sriduangkaew, is that it begs to be made into a graphic novel. A demon theater with pendant lights of upside-down jellyfish and patrons with dragonfly wings, threaded with “blue capillaries that as on a leaf catch light, the wing-membrane thinner than a whisper of glass,” cry for visual artistry. Book me a ticket to Banfaudou, kthx? Continue reading

Pretty Like a Weight — Guest Post by Bee Sriduangkaew

“The fox’s hair is blue highlights and ringlets, her eyelashes dusted gold, her wide mouth lipsticked peach orange. Everything clashes. She is still breathtaking…”

Almost without meaning to, when I wrote Scale-Bright I filled it with beautiful women. Some of them so absurdly alluring they can pull off this outlandish combination of blue, gold, and orange!

The reasoning for this was shamefully superficial — most of them are goddesses or shape-shifting demons, all traditionally depicted as lovely; Chang’e is meant to be one of the most enchanting in heaven while the White Snake and the Green Snake are meant to be seductresses. But honestly, ‘it’s traditional’ isn’t that wonderful of an excuse; I genderflipped one of the gods without hardship, and bringing these mythical figures to a modern world is hardly in keeping with tradition. Folklore is terribly, terribly obsessed with prettiness (whether it is a sign of virtue or indicative of voracious danger); no reason for us, today, to necessarily emulate it. Continue reading

Short Fiction Fridays: Solaris Rising 3


Solaris Rising 3, a 2014 science fiction anthology edited by Ian Whates, is a solid and memorable collection. There’s a story from Aliette de Bodard’s award-winning Dai Viet universe, a far future postcolonial space opera, that brings to mind the horrifying real-world consequences of left-behind minefields. Ken Liu’s anti-colonialist “Homo Floresiensis” is told from the perspective of modern biologists in Indonesia and contains my favorite line, as it encapsulates so succinctly the failure of the artistic legacy of the colonialist perspective: The jungle, he saw now, was neither Eden nor the heart of darkness. Beautiful, right? Continue reading

Short Fiction Fridays: The Lost

Only one story this week, as events have left me feeling so lost; I went about ten days without being able to focus on a blessed word of fiction. “Cold as the Moon” by Sunny Moraine, in which protagonist Susan loses her family to the cold and solitude, broke the hiatus. Favorite line: You used to think about walking away, about running but you stayed, because someone had to, because someone had to be human, because you thought there might still be some love buried deep down with the rot, and finally because you hated, because hate binds tight and cold as chains.

This one’s quite emotionally resonant, particularly if you’ve ever watched your family break down, and is told in the very engaging — and very real — voice of an adolescent girl.

Dystopia in Live Action

I’ve tried to write. I’ve tried to read. But it’s pretty much impossible to concentrate on either when there’s some live Orwellian dystopian shit going down in middle America. I have Ancillary Justice on my e-reader, I have de Bodard and Griffith and Elizabeth Hand and I can’t even.

Media blackouts and snipers and tear gas and politicians/journalists being arrested for taking video recordings and because… what? Some folks did about as much damage in reaction to a cop killing an unarmed kid as you find in a southern town after a particularly exciting SEC football game? The Bill of Rights have been suspended in a city in America, a teenage kid is dead and more have been injured all at the hands of police, and if you care as much about some TV’s being stolen as all that? Stay the hell away from me.

I don’t have words. Not adequate ones, anyway. The racism in the media coverage (and lack of coverage) of these events has been appalling, as has the racism of law enforcement involved. I hope to be book blogging again soon, because I know that even though my brain doesn’t work that way, for a lot of people horror is made more bearable with the escapism that fiction provides.

But today, my mind and heart are in Missouri.