The Drama Around

I’ve been doing some thinking and discussion lately about short fiction and what sorts of forces elevate some stories to be discussed, included in best of anthologies, and nominated for awards. Looking at examples from last year and the early ones for this year, in my judgment they often aren’t very good and certainly aren’t the best. And as a group, they tend to exhibit certain patterns.

Additionally, since I started a short fiction column and thus widely increased my zine reading — I’m going to have to get more mercenary about my reading soon because mental health is important — I’ve read some utter dross, emblematic of the same pattern.  Continue reading

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Happy Birthday To My Blog

Manic Pixie Dream Worlds is one year old today (give or take a week or two; I’m not good with dates). The endeavor began as something of a lark, escapism after the worst year I’d ever had, and it kept me going through the second. I never expected that book blogging would result in so many new friendships, so many new ideas, so much intellectual expansion. So many great things.

Hence the blog makeover, and a few randomly assorted announcements/thoughts/whatever: Continue reading

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Diverse Short Fiction Discussion Group

There’s been much discussion lately of the lack of filtering mechanisms for short fiction in SF/F. Dozens of short fiction publications publish hundreds of stories each month, which is overwhelming for people who aren’t immersed or well-versed in short fiction already. The only way I can think of to filter short fiction is to find a regular reviewer or editor that shares your taste — the inherent problem being that you don’t know whether you share their taste until you’re actually reading short fiction regularly.

We’ve got a signal-to-noise ratio problem, folks. Continue reading

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Two More Lovely Stories, and Ringing in the New Year

Once there was a little girl, born at midnight during the Feast of the Sacrifice, in a certain city of Arabia. The baby’s mother, sighing, named her Dunya. Dunya means “the world,” but what her mother meant by that, no one ever knew…

So begins Catherine F. King’s “The Ninety-Ninth Bride,” the last and longest of the stories from Book Smugglers Publishing last year, and a transformation of the frame story in One Thousand and One Nights. There are several changes from the original tale: historical details and fantastical and mythic elements are added; the primary characters’ roles are shifted, slightly at first and gradually more as the narrative progresses; and most notably, the protagonist is not Shahrazad — more familiar to Western readers as Scheherazade, and named Zhara in this retelling — but Dunyazad. Dunyazad, the younger sister present in some versions in which she hides in the marriage chamber and asks for a story — the ancillary, clandestine character who begs for a tale to be told to spare Shahrazad from the bloodthirsty Sultan, one night at a time. Continue reading

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Book Selfie! With The Mammoth Book of SF Stories by Women

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The Mammoth Book of SF Stories by Women, edited by Alex Dally MacFarlane, was published last month. Not sure when I’ll be able to get to reviewing it because mammoth, but wanted to commemorate the occasion somehow.

So I tracked it down in the wild and took this here book selfie.

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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

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Provisional Short Fiction Round-Up (Updated)

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.

“Seven Commentaries on an Imperfect Land” by Ruthanna Emrys, Tor.com – an envisioning of a Jewish Narnia with sweet and atmospheric worldbuilding.

“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.

“The Litany of Earth” by Ruthanna Emrys, Tor.com (novelette) — an ethereal story from the perspective of a Lovecraftian Deep One after they’ve been all but hunted from Earth.

“The Ninety-Ninth Bride” by Catherine F. King, Book Smugglers Publishing (novelette) — a retelling of the frame story of 1,001 Nights from the perspective of Dunyazad, younger sister to Scheherezade.

“Women in Sandstone” by Alex Dally MacFarlane, Beneath Ceaseless Skies (novelette) — secondary world fantasy about the winds, and pure poetry.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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