Lovely Stories, Things for Ballots

A wee handful of things I’ve read recently for which it’s very tempting to post nothing but links along with an endless sequence of hearts.

“Seven Commentaries on an Imperfect Land” by Ruthanna Emrys is a vision of a Jewish Narnia. I read it first on Saturday; yesterday, while passing on the link as a recommendation to a friend, I was sucked in once more. This short story packs so much in its tiny package: its narrative structure is unusual. It aces the Bechdel test (mostly female characters talking to each other mostly about not-men). And the world building is loving and atmospheric. Magical mint plants! Golem librarians! I hope one day we have another opportunity to visit Tikanu. Continue reading

Provisional Short Fiction Round-Up

Since award nomination season has begun in some quarters, I figured I’d spotlight what I have found to be the most memorable novelettes and short stories of the year so far. While this list includes several stories that could not be separated from my Hugo ballot by any force of gods or nature, I’m still making my way through a lot of short fiction I’ve missed and doing some rereading, so this post has a provisional status.

Not all but most of these stories could be described as feminist, and for anyone visiting who is unfamiliar with this blog, I like SF&F that make sad puppies cry. Without further ado, these are my recommends:

“Among the Thorns” by Veronica Schanoes (novelette), Tor.com — a retelling of the Brothers’ Grimm anti-Semitic myth “The Jew in the Thornbush” told from the perspective of the “villain’s” daughter Ittele. Jewish mysticism, dark fantasy, and a coming-of-age tale in 17th century Europe.

“Written on the Hides of Foxes” by Alex Dally MacFarlane (novelette), Beneath Ceaseless Skies a story about giving women back their stories and the tools to tell them.

“Tongtong’s Summer” by Xia Jia, Clarkesworld (originally printed in Upgraded anthology) — an optimistic view of growing old in our future as well as a sweet story about the love for a grandparent. Tissues need to be handy.

“Makeisha in Time” by Rachael K. Jones, Crossed Genres — time traveler Makeisha lives a thousand lifetimes and confronts no challenge so daunting as that of erasure, from history as well as her own present life.

“The Bonedrake’s Penance” by Yoon Ha Lee (novelette), Beneath Ceaseless Skies — a mythical Bonedrake raises a human orphan in a fortress at the center of the universe.

“Because I Prayed This Word” by Alex Dally MacFarlane, Strange Horizons — women’s love and companionship in a city made of words and a city made of sound.

“Medu” by Lisa Bolekaja, Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History — a black cowgirl embraces her hair in a story that takes back stolen mythology; I see this as Afrofuturism reaching into the historic.

“The Lonely Sea in the Sky” by Amal El-Mohtar, Women Destroy Science Fiction! — a diamond ocean on Neptune has strange effects on the scientists that handle its remnants.

“What Glistens Back” by Sunny Moraine, Lightspeed — the last conversation between lovers as one’s lander explodes and he plummets to the surface of an unknown planet.

“Crocodile Ark” by Oluwole Talabi, Omenana — near future SF in space about the mythology of earth and a corrupt revolutionary.

Last but not least are two fantastic debuts that should not be overlooked:

“In the Sight of Akresa” by Ray Wood (novelette), Tor.com — tragic lesbian romance about what it means to lose your voice and never again find it.

“Whisper in the Weld” by Alix Harrow, Shimmer — mythic fiction about Rosie the Riveter and a loving ghost story.

 

5 2015 Fantasy Books To Look Forward To

I Am Princess X by Cherie Priest

Once upon a time two best friends created a character together and told her adventures in comic book form. When one of the pair dies in a tragic accident, so ends the storytelling — until years later May, the surviving member of the duo, begins to see their beloved protagonist Princess X everywhere, and discovers a webcomic continuing her stories. Who is its author? — and thus, the mystery begins.

Cold Iron by Stina Leicht

Flintlock fantasy with pirates, swords, cannons, and just a little magic? A really nerdy royal protagonist that finds himself exiled to the military? A setting (18th century) set sometime in between the medieval and Victorian eras, which the genre seems to have forgotten, well — happened? While I have what could be described euphemistically as limited patience for epic fantasy, Leicht’s first foray into it looks like a hell of a lot of fun.

The Boy Who Lost Fairyland by Catherynne M. Valente

Boy cooties in my beloved Fairyland…? Seriously though, if you haven’t been reading Catherynne Valente’s award-winning Fairyland series, you need to get on that. In this fourth novel, Hawthorn is stolen from Fairyland and left as a changeling with a human family in Chicago. When he comes of age (in Fairyland-speak, 12) he goes back home only to find that it is, as per its wont, in disarray — this time with an endless summer and a brewing changeling revolution.

The House of Shattered Wings by Aliette de Bodard

The clans of the magical underworld vie for control of shell-shocked Paris, which has only begun to recover from the aftereffects of being the stage for a war in heaven. This appears to be a genre-bender of epic and urban fantasy, in which an alchemist, a god, and a magic-wielder fight for the survival of one doomed House.

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

The Dragon in this tale is not a literal dragon, but rather a powerful wizard that protects the village where protagonist Agnieszka lives. His price for this protection is a decade’s worth of servitude from a villager girl of his selection — will that be Agnieszka or her beautiful best friend Kasia? A new fairy tale with female protagonists and classic tropes like a dangerous and mysterious Wood, this book has my name all over it.

Five 2015 Science Fiction Books To Look Forward To

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The Book of Phoenix by Nnedi Okorafor

A genetically modified woman is the protagonist of this Afrofuturist prequel to Who Fears Death, Okorafor’s compulsively readable post-apocalyptic vision of epic fantasy. The setting and protagonists — a biracial east African young woman and her fellowship that grew out of a core group of childhood girlfriends — make the 2011 World Fantasy Award winner totally fresh in spite of the use of many traditional epic fantasy tropes, and this mythic sci-fi prequel is at the top of my 2015 must-read list.

Radiance by Catherynne M. Valente

In an alternate Hollywood in an alternate universe in which all the planets are inhabited, Severin is a rebellious documentary filmmaker whose project, in which she investigates the disappearance of divers on an oceanic Venus, may be her last. I highly anticipate next year’s Fairyland book, but this “decopunk pulp SF alt-history space opera mystery” — I don’t even know what that means, but yes.

The Year’s Notable Feminist Science Fiction, Volume 1 edited by Nisi Shawl

I can’t wait to see what Nisi Shawl, co-founder of the Carl Brandon Society and editor of the Bloodchildren anthology, selects for Aqueduct Press’ first feminist SFF collection. You can nominate 2014 short stories for consideration here.

Labyrinthian by Sunny Moraine

Did I mention I love the combination of mythic fiction and science fiction? This retelling of Theseus and the Minotaur is part space opera, part love story. The author’s short fiction I’ve read, in which an uncomplicated genre concept is a backdrop for complex characters and the relationships between them, convinced me to stray from my comfort zone (i.e. ladies) to read this m/m romance in space.

Company Town by Madeline Ashby

Hwa is the only human that isn’t part cyborg on the oil rig in which she lives in this novel of genetic enhancements, far futures, and a time-traveling serial killer. Winning.

Girl Cooties in your FTL Drive!

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Last week I wrote about the dearth of female protagonists in stories about time travel. This is somewhat less true for the cluster of subgenres with space as their setting — women rarely get to travel in time, but they at least occasionally travel in space. Part of this may be due to the fact that stories that take place in space are more likely than most to have ensemble casts, where a total absence of women in action would be pretty damn noticeable. However, it seems that stories where women primarily drive the action are still relatively rare. And it remains the case that you can find more of it in short fiction than in novels, though I hope Ancillary Justice has broken this barrier once and for all. Continue reading

I Want to be the Time-Traveler, Not His Wife

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That the book title The Time Traveler’s Wife even exists speaks to a problem in a meta-sense. It’s telling that, right in the damn title of one of the most celebrated books of last decade, one of the most classic and defining science fiction subgenres intersects with the problematic way fiction is marketed to women — that is, in terms of their relationships with men. (Both common title constructions The ___’s Wife and The ___’s Daughter, in which ___ is a dude virtually 100% of the time, can be burned with fire now. Editors and marketers, please do better.) And in spite of its huge success, it’s a novel frequently excised from genre conversations because of its romantic subplot. Girl cooties in our time machine, oh noes! This book — or rather, the dialogue and signals around and about this book, more than the text itself — is symbolic of erasure on so many levels that it hurts my brain even worse than it chaps my ass. Continue reading

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.