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Books read, early January

Charlie Jane Anders, Even Greater Mistakes. Anders’s work is very bifurcated for me–the hits really hit and the misses really miss–but not in a way that’s offensive, just in a way that’s, oh, that’s definitely not for me. Which makes a short story collection a great format for me to read her, because it’s very easy to go YAY YAY skip skip YAY skip YAY (not necessarily in that order), which for me is a much better reading experience in a short story collection than fine-I-guess fine-I-guess okayish sure-fine.

Marc David Baer, The Ottomans: Khans, Caesars, and Caliphs. This book’s main thesis is that treating the Ottoman Empire as a thing apart from Europe because it is a thing (mostly) apart from Christendom (except for the parts of its population that aren’t) is…not very justifiable, actually, and let’s stop doing it. And when you look at that point, uh, yes? Actually? And Baer makes very clear points throughout about the Ottoman Empire’s participation in various movements in European cultural and intellectual history in ways that seem embarrassingly obvious to have pointed out. I hope this book is one of those popular histories that people find baffling in a decade or two: like, yes, of course the Ottomans were not completely isolated from the Renaissance except to throw old manuscripts on it and run away, literally what are you talking about. It did sometimes feel rushed, but, well, there is a lot of Ottoman Empire to cover in a not very long book. So.

Freddie Bitsoie and James O. Fraioli, New Native Kitchen: Celebrating Modern Recipes of the American Indian. I got two cookbooks by Indigenous chefs (and cookbook-writing assistants) for Christmas this year, an interesting theme gift. This is the more elementary of them. If you’re looking to give a cookbook to someone who has very little knowledge of First Nations peoples in North America and will want to use a lot of familiar European-transplant ingredients in any recipe they make, this is the correct choice of the two.

Michael DeLuca, Gabriele Santiago, AÏcha Martine Thiam, et al, Reckoning Issue 6. Kindle. What an issue, what a barnstormer of an issue. I am going to be tweeting out links to favorites all year long as they come out. Brianna Cunliffe’s essay “Sweetwater, Poison.” In fiction, Nicasio Andres Reed’s “Babsang Luksa,” Wen-yi Lee’s “Rooted,” Mari Ness’s “Footnotes from ‘Phosphates, Nitrates and the Lake A Incident: A Review.'” In poetry, Russel Nichols’s “Move, Mountain, Move,” Tom Barlow’s “Surprise,” Cislyn Smith’s “Water-logged Roots,” Grace Wagner’s “Onions,” Ellie Milne-Brown’s “Carcinisation,” Laura Adrienne Brady’s “Tyrni.” There was just so much in this issue. I couldn’t believe it, it just kept going.

Alison H. Deming and Lauret E. Savoy, eds., Colors of Nature: Culture, Identity and the Natural World. This is a collection of BIPOC nature essays. Many of them touch either directly or indirectly on the question of why there isn’t more nature writing from BIPOC viewpoints, which is an interesting and valid question. This is more a starting point than an ending point for that question, I think.

Brian Jay Jones, Jim Henson: The Biography. As I have read a bunch of biography lately I have gotten a feel for the spectrum of approaches biographers can take. Brian Jay Jones is very much in the “my subject can do no wrong, and any flaws he might happen to have automatically do not matter because what a great guy” camp of biographers. And in some ways this is good, because…let’s be honest, very few of us pick up a biography of Jim Henson for heaven’s sake looking for muckraking. Do you? Really? About the guy who came up with the Muppets? No, you want wonder and coolness and a little bit of pathos from time to time. I do too. And this delivers that, absolutely. It gives you what you really want in a biography of Jim Henson. Even if…even if there are places where you should stop to say, wait a minute. Even if there are places where Jones sweeps things under the rug about Henson’s general sexism, pushing his wife Jane out of the Muppets that she helped create, sowing difficulties at work by sleeping with multiple employees in ways and at times that caused definite problems in how the work got done…even if there are places where Jones deliberately creates a fine haze of that not really mattering, because it isn’t the vision of Jim Henson we want to see. It isn’t, is it? Surely not. Well. We’ll just…gloss over all that. This is definitely the biography of Jim Henson we wanted, then. Good.

Michael Kleber-Diggs, Worldly Things. A poet close to my home–closer than I knew, as a few references clarified. Some shattering and gorgeous things here in his debut. The kind of poetry that makes me go off and write response poems.

Hope Larson and Rebecca Mock, Salt Magic. A graphic novel about a young girl whose brother comes back from WWI changed, and the changes she makes in turn–and the desert witches she meets in the process.

Yoon Ha Lee, Dragon Pearl. I read this series out of publication order, but it worked fine that way. This one was full of shapeshifter foxes trying to find their own way in a galaxy that did not particularly welcome them.

Ken Liu, The Veiled Throne. Let me make it clear that I enjoyed this book. However. It is not the length it is (nearly a thousand pages) because it could not have been any shorter. No. Liu is having fun here. Each scene has the theme and variations he wants, and each scene in turn contributes to the larger baroque structure that he wants, and could I honestly say that not a word is out of place, not a scene extraneous? Absolutely I could not say that. But you know what? Not every piece of prose has to be trimmed to the bone. Minimalism is not an unlimited virtue. So know going in that this is the third book in a series full of ramifications–for heaven’s sake do not start here–and that it is not going as fast as it could, and be prepared to enjoy the pace that this book is taking. There will be more.

DaVaun Sanders, B. Sharise Moore, et al, Fiyah Issue 21. Kindle. My favorite piece in this issue was C.L. Polk’s poem “Delivery.”

Sean Sherman with Beth Dooley, The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen. Obviously this is the second of the two Indigenous-themed cookbooks I got for Christmas, and for me the more successful–this one will probably take specialty shopping for ingredients like maple vinegar, but it’s proposing recipes that aren’t things I’ve basically made before, and it doesn’t assume I need my hand held on very introductory cultural elements to the people who live around me. We’re all in different places in cooking and in Indigenous studies; this is the one that better fits where I am.

Jason Sizemore and Lesley Conner, eds., Apex Issue 129. Kindle. The standout story for me in this issue was Bianca Sayan’s “Sheri, At This Very Moment.”

Lynne Thomas, Michael Damian Thomas, et al, eds., Uncanny Magazine Issue 44. Kindle. Several favorites in this one: Kylie Lee Baker’s “Lily, the Immortal” on the fiction side, and in poetry Sonya Taaffe’s “The House Snakes” and Lisabelle Tay’s “Weaver Girl Dream.”

Claire Tomalin, Charles Dickens. Here is how good Claire Tomalin is: I don’t actually like Charles Dickens that much, and I already read her book about his relationship with Nelly Ternan, so when the library’s copy of this came through on my hold requests, I thought, I’ll just glance at it. Probably I don’t want that much Dickens, ever, and I’ll send it back unread, and that’ll be fine. And within a few pages I was absolutely convinced that I was going to read this entire biography of an author I don’t even like, and I was right to do it, it was a sharp, keen perspective on a fully-fledged person and the era he lived in, she takes no prisoners, she turns over all the stones and thinks very hard about the invertebrates beneath them but knows that beauty can be found there as well as squalor, she is so good. Gosh I’m going to be glad to be reading another of her books. Especially when it’s not about Charles Dickens, though, because while I came out with a greater cultural appreciation of his place and time, that did not translate to “I should reread some of this.” At all.

Matt Wallace, Bump. Middle-grade fiction, no speculative elements, about a young girl (Maya/MJ) who is struggling to figure out her place in a world with family upheaval and begs her mother to let her train as a luchadora at her next door neighbor’s school. Maya and the school both have challenges to overcome, and this is fun and lovely and goes very quickly.

Sheila Weller, Girls Like Us: Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon–and the Journey of a Generation. So you have to ask yourself: are you willing to put up with an entire book about the music of the 1960s and ’70s by someone who thinks that furniture appraisal is a crucial part of “Norwegian Wood.” Because that is the level of missing the mark Sheila Weller achieves here, and no, that is not a made-up example. Weller is one of those incredibly tedious upper-middle-class coastal Boomers who thinks that the Sexual Revolution fixed several varieties of “everything” (she is willing to concede that AIDS later un-fixed some of them but only some), blithely stating that now if a female musician gets pregnant the baby is a marketing accessory, and Sheila, unless you’re providing free babysitting to the working-class women who got pregnant as teenagers and are trying to break into the music scene, I’m going to need you to shut your yap on that one. Also, every time you make a claim that now reproductive care is completely available, yay! in a book about Roberta Joan Anderson goddamn Mitchell, you have to donate ten bucks to a clinic somewhere sparsely populated, preferably the prairie, I don’t make the rules, wait, I do, I just made that rule, but it’s a good rule. So this book is full of brilliant women, and also hey, some brilliant men, that’s great, but for some reason Weller decided that it was a great opportunity to carry as much water as possible for as many shitty men as possible. Like. This is not a he-said she-said situation. I have read interviews with Chuck Mitchell where he freely says just loads of stuff–boatloads–that indicates, without any apparent self-awareness, what a piece of shit he was, both in general and to his ex-wife Joni. You absolutely do not have to make excuses for people that their own testimony and behavior does not make for them. That’s not journalism, that’s…well, that’s a lot of things, but in this case, it starts to add up to look like the damn patriarchy. She makes classic victim-undermining statements about domestic violence. She strongly implies that Carly Simon not only should have tried harder to stay married to James Taylor (to what end, Weller? and who asked you? because I sure did not) but also that Simon was somehow to blame for Taylor’s heroin addiction which he had before he met her. So–there was all kinds of good stuff here, but also it is not, when you get right down to it, a good book, it is not a book I can recommend, it is clueless about its own privilege in some staggeringly important ways, it misses understanding of several pieces of art crucial to the artists in question, it’s politically incredibly shallow, and WOW is it mired in the sexism it would like us to believe is a thing of the past. Oh, and the font changes a couple of times from one section to the next for no reason. So. Yeah.

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Getting back to the roots

This is technically not my first publication of ’22 but my last publication of ’21: this story came out for subscribers in the December ’21 issue of The Deadlands.

But! It is now available for free to you, the general public! Here you are, Roots of Lamentation. In which there are more rivers in the Greek hell than we usually get to talk about….

Please note that The Deadlands is a magazine dedicated to fiction about death and the afterlife, so this is a story dealing with death and grieving; judge when you want to read it accordingly.

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Books read, late December

Anta Baku, The Cell Phone Towers of Elfland Season 1. I put books in these when I finish them, and this was a long-running serial that wrapped up in December…for now. Light-hearted, unexpectedly full of hedgehogs, fun.

Kate Elliott, Servant Mage. Discussed elsewhere.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Becoming the Villainess and Unexplained Fevers. Two volumes of poetry from more than a decade apart, watching Gailey grow in her explorations of fairy tales and comic books and other feminist takes on fantastical tropes.

Gwynne Garfinkle, Can’t Find My Way Home. Discussed elsewhere.

Matthew David Goodwin, ed., Latinx Rising: An Anthology of Latinx Science Fiction and Fantasy. I particularly appreciated how much room this anthology made for very short and literary pieces so that there was a range of voices, many of whom I had never read before.

Amelia Gorman, Field Guide to Invasive Species of Minnesota. A beautiful slim volume, each poem lavishly illustrated, gently science fictional, amazing, highly recommended, snuck in under the wire to be one of my favorite books of the year.

Alex Hernandez, Matthew David Goodwin, and Sarah Rafael Garcia, eds., Speculative Fiction for Dreamers: A Latinx Anthology. Though one of the editors of this volume was the same as the volume above, it was a very different feel, a more genre-central feel. Sabrina Vourvoulias’s story was the stand-out piece here, but it was a very solid work in general, and again had a wide range of voices.

Judith Herrin, Ravenna: Capital of Empire, Crucible of Europe. Late Antiquity/early Christendom in a city that doesn’t get as much attention as perhaps it should–lots of politics, lots of mosaics. This was really interesting. The Goths still confuse me. (I think this is a case where the Goths are fractally confusing, though, because I read an entire book about the Goths and got more confused, not less.) It was a relief when we got to the Lombards and were on much more solid ground.

Kirk Wallace Johnson, The Feather Thief: Beauty, Obsession, and the Natural History Heist of the Century. “Now wait just a minute,” Johnson says at several points where other people should have said it, and I am grateful for that. This is just a weird situation and a weird book about a weird situation. A flutist stole a bunch of rare birds more or less because he could, and people behaved extremely strangely about it thereafter. It’s not a long book. It’s one that will leave you going, huh. Huh.

Patrick Radden Keefe, Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty. This, on the other hand, is a longish book, and it’s just horrifying at so many turns. Keefe seems to specialize in writing beautifully and meticulously about people doing just hideous things to each other–seeing their humanity and not letting that sway him from seeing what horrible things they’re doing. And it’s the sort of thing where you might think, oh yes, I understand how the opioid epidemic is terrible, and–I still learned so much, I still learned so much about the details in ways that I think really are important, pieces of propaganda that neighbors and relatives repeated and did not know that they were pieces of propaganda meticulously crafted to make this family a buck (many, many bucks) from the suffering of others. The details really do matter, and Keefe documents them so well and writes about them so humanely and also I hope he has taken some nice walks and eaten some nice apples and petted some nice dogs to balance out the horrors he deals with in his work, my God. There’s a reason this is on all the recommended nonfiction lists this year, though. So important, so well done, such a terrible topic.

Yoon Ha Lee, Tiger Honor. Discussed elsewhere.

Ada Limón, Lucky Wreck. A reissue of her first book of poems, worth your time from the very beginning, still amazing to watch her grow as a poet, so great.

Xueting Christine Ni, Sinopticon: A Celebration of Chinese Science Fiction. I found this more intellectually interesting than emotionally engaging, but I’m very glad this sort of work in translation is becoming more available so that I can have more and less favorite volumes of Chinese SF in translation rather than having only one that’s all we get.

Richard Rhodes, John James Audubon: The Making of an American. Lots of Audubon running about trying to figure out how to make a place for himself in the world being the singular figure that he was. Lots of Audubon nearly getting himself killed in novel ways in the process–I did not expect nearly so many cliffhanger chapter endings as there were, and part of that, sure, was how Rhodes chose to frame it, but honestly, we almost did not have Audubon so many times, apparently. Huh. This jaunt into the world of biography has more plot twists than I ever would have guessed.

Dave Ring, ed., Queer Space Force. Kindle. It’s good for us to read things for which we are not the central audience, and this is one of those for me.

Elsa Sjunneson, Being Seen: One Deafblind Woman’s Fight to End Ableism. There’s a lot of this that I nodded along with already knowing, and a lot more of it where the details were new to me, even me, even as interested as I am in disability activism–so how much more, if you aren’t already interested in disability activism. The personal and the political entwine very well here.

Tracy K. Smith, ed., The Best American Poetry 2021. A surprising lot of this is poetry that is trying, very actively, to be about 2020, and yes, I wrote poetry that way this year too, but also I wrote poetry not that way, and…I don’t know, it will be interesting to me to look at this series later and compare what the editors thought was important poetry in the year vs. what actually turned out to be important poetry. Or interesting poetry, or all the other adjectives a poem can have. But mostly important, and that’s…kind of the problem I’m having, even though I was not sorry to have gotten this volume from the library and read it.

Yoss, Red Dust. Hey, do you want a science fiction novella from the 1950s, complete with psionics, particular kinds of alien and robot, and lack of girls? Cuban writer Yoss absolutely has you covered. If you read enough of those earlier in your life, well, this one is another one of those.

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Recommended short stories 2021

…and a few novelettes and poems mingled in….

On a Branch Floating Down the River, A Wren Is Singing, Betsy Aoki (Uncanny)

The White Road or How a Crow Carried Death Over a River, Marika Bailey (Fiyah Issue 18)

The Red Mother, Elizabeth Bear (Tor.com)

Trojan Road, Leah Bobet (Plenitude)

The Station of the Twelfth, Chaz Brenchley (Tor.com)

Below Salt-Heavy Tides, Andi C. Buchanan (Mermaids Monthly)

Radioactivity, Octavia Cade (Uncanny)

When I fell apart my mother put me back together, Renee S. Christopher (Fiyah Issue 20)

Demon Fighter Sucks, Katherine Crighton (Apex)

From the Fire, Leah Cypress (Asimov’s Nov/Dec 2021)

Salvage Song, Julia Da Silva (Reckoning)

The Last Days of Summer in the City of Olives, Filip Hajdar Drnovšek Zorko (Beneath Ceaseless Skies)

When Your Being Here Is Gentler Than Your Absence Hard, Filip Hajdar Drnovšek Zorko (Beneath Ceaseless Skies)

For the World’s More Full of Weeping, Andrew Dykstal (Beneath Ceaseless Skies)

Quintessence, Andrew Dykstal (Beneath Ceaseless Skies)

The Revolution Will Not Be Served With Fries, Meg Elison (Lightspeed)

Cause and Manner, Jeannelle Ferreira (The Deadlands)

Women on the Edge of an Atomic Breakdown, Jeannine Hall Gailey (Allium)

I Swim Up From Below, Sarah Gailey (Mermaids Monthly)

Redwood Houses, Amelia Gorman (Climbing Lightly Through Forests)

All the Open Highways, Alexis Gunderson (The Deadlands)

Hourglass, Jordan Hirsch (Star*Line, Fall 2021)

Alexa, Play Solidarity Forever, Audrey R. Hollis (Fireside)

The Case of the Turned Tide, Savitri Horrigan (Grist: Imagine 2200)

City Lights As Myth, Yong-Yu Huang (Strange Horizons)

The Wizard’s Book Tastes of Flight, Jennifer Hudak (Flash Fiction Online)

A Serpent for Each Year, Tamara Jerée (Strange Horizons)

Six Fictions About Unicorns, Rachael K. Jones (Uncanny)

To Rest, and to Create, L.A. Knight (Fiyah Issue 19)

Frequently Asked Questions About the Portals at Frank’s Late-Night Starlite Drive-In, Kristen Koopman (It Gets Even Better: Stories of Queer Possibility)

Fractured, Aimee Kuzenski (Translunar Travelers Lounge)

The Bear Prince, P.H. Lee (Lightspeed)

Friendship and Other Anomalous Results, P.H. Lee (Nature Futures)

Just Enough Rain, P.H. Lee (Giganotosaurus)

Kuemo of the Masks, Naomi Libicki (Giganotosaurus)

My Mother’s Hand, Dante Luiz (Constelacion)

Birds Are Trying to Reinvent Your Heart, Jennifer Mace (Baffling)

Letters from the Ides, Jennifer Mace (Reckoning)

Ossify, Jennifer Mace (Climbing Lightly Through Forests)

Photolinguistics, Jennifer Mace (Reckoning)

My Custom Monster, Jo Miles (Fireside)

The Deflection of Probability, Premee Mohamed (Escape Pod)

The Badger’s Digestion; Or the First First-Hand Description of Deneskan Beastcraft by an Aouwan Researcher, Malka Older (Constelacion)

A Better Way of Saying, Sarah Pinsker (Tor.com)

Where Oaken Hearts Do Gather, Sarah Pinsker (Uncanny)

The Music of the Siphorophenes, C.L. Polk (F&SF)

The Shape of Wings and Feathers, Jenny Rae Rappaport (Beneath Ceaseless Skies)

From the Embassy of Leaks to the Court of Cracks, Catherine Rockwood (Reckoning)

Meditations on Sun-Ra’s Bassism, Yah Yah Scholfield (Fiyah Issue 19)

All Worlds Left Behind, Iona Datt Sharma (Khoreo)

As I Wait for the Killing Blow, M. Shaw (Fireside)

Forward, Victoria, Carlie St. George (The Dark)

Thirteen of the Secrets in my Purse, Rachel Swirsky (Uncanny)

Every Night and All, Sonya Taaffe (Nightmare)

Comments on Your Provisional Patent Application for an Eternal Spirit Core, Wole Talabi (Clarkesworld)

Letters from a Traveling Man, W.J. Tattersdill (Beneath Ceaseless Skies)

Phases of the Moon, Alice Towey (Fireside)

The Burning Girl, Carrie Vaughn (Beneath Ceaseless Skies)

Saint Simon of 9th and Oblivion, Sabrina Vourvoulias (Speculative Fiction for Dreamers: A Latinx Anthology)

Bathymetry, Lorraine Wilson (Strange Horizons)

Unseelie Brothers, Ltd., Fran Wilde (Uncanny)

How to Find Yourself in a Fairy Tale, A.C. Wise (Daily SF)

For Lack of a Bed, John Wiswell (Diabolical Plots)

Gender Reveal Box, $16.95, John Wiswell (Fireside)

Guidelines for Appeasing Kim of the Hundred Hands, John Wiswell (Fireside)

That Story Isn’t the Story, John Wiswell (Uncanny)

The Tyrant Lizard (And Her Plus One), John Wiswell (Drabblecast)

We Are Not Phoenixes, John Wiswell (Fireside)

The Machine Is Experiencing Uncertainty, Merc Fenn Wolfmoor (Escape Pod)

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Short stories I liked this winter

(Note that the recommendation post for the whole year is a different post and coming soon thereafter.)

On a Branch Floating Down the River, A Wren Is Singing, Betsy Aoki (Uncanny)

The White Road or How a Crow Carried Death Over a River, Marika Bailey (Fiyah Issue 18)

When I fell apart my mother put me back together, Renee S. Christopher (Fiyah Issue 20)

Demon Fighter Sucks, Katherine Crighton (Apex)

From the Fire, Leah Cypress (Asimov’s Nov/Dec 2021)

The Last Days of Summer in the City of Olives, Filip Hajdar Drnovšek Zorko (Beneath Ceaseless Skies)

Women on the Edge of an Atomic Breakdown, Jeannine Hall Gailey (Allium)

I Swim Up From Below, Sarah Gailey (Mermaids Monthly)

All the Open Highways, Alexis Gunderson (The Deadlands)

Hourglass, Jordan Hirsch (Star*Line, Fall 2021)

The Wizard’s Book Tastes of Flight, Jennifer Hudak (Flash Fiction Online)

A Serpent for Each Year, Tamara Jerée (Strange Horizons)

Six Fictions About Unicorns, Rachael K. Jones (Uncanny)

The Bear Prince, P.H. Lee (Lightspeed)

Friendship and Other Anomalous Results, P.H. Lee (Nature Futures)

Just Enough Rain, P.H. Lee (Giganotosaurus)

The Deflection of Probability, Premee Mohamed (Escape Pod)

A Better Way of Saying, Sarah Pinsker (Tor.com)

Forward, Victoria, Carlie St. George (The Dark)

Every Night and All, Sonya Taaffe (Nightmare)

Letters from a Traveling Man, W.J. Tattersdill (Beneath Ceaseless Skies)

The Burning Girl, Carrie Vaughn (Beneath Ceaseless Skies)

Saint Simon of 9th and Oblivion, Sabrina Vourvoulias (Speculative Fiction for Dreamers: A Latinx Anthology)

That Story Isn’t the Story, John Wiswell (Uncanny)

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Year in Review 2021

Well, I went and ran my mouth about how other people needed to take the time to be proud of what they’ve accomplished in this year, and…if it isn’t the consequences of my own actions. I say all sorts of stupid crap about being kind to oneself, too, it’s terrible what I set myself up for. All right, okay. Here goes.

The thing a lot of people are saying about how surviving, getting vaccinated, being kind to other people, those things are the achievements for the year: that’s really true. It really is. But also I managed to arrange retreat time for myself to work on a novel I’m still pleased with–and I managed to identify when working on it was being really terrible for me and stop for awhile, and I consider that an achievement as well.

I also wrote a book completely for fun, unexpectedly, and revised it, and beta readers so far seem to like it. So that’s a thing I did this year. And also a bunch of short stories, an essay, some poems when I couldn’t make them stop, and bits and bobs of other things. And major planning for other other things. So yeah. Not an easy year, and I kept from calcifying, and I feel good about that. And here’s what I published:

In the Garden of My Ancestors’ Statues (Kaleidotrope): A long time in coming. I began to feel for the trolls, for their feelings in stone, and this is what happened.

The Billionaire Shapeshifters’ Ex-Wives’ Club (Fantasy): I wanted to make my friends laugh. I am not, by temperament, a romance writer, though I have edged much closer to it of late. So this is a bit…post-romance.

Beyond the Doll Forest (Uncanny): About curses, and upon whom they rest. About tiny precious things. About the wilds.

So Your Grandmother Is A Starship Now: A Quick Guide for the Bewildered (Nature Futures): Space: the final transition. These are the voyages of your gran, your auntie. Maybe you someday.

Look Away (Daily SF): It’s a disaster, but it’s not your disaster, right?

Planned Obsolescence (Nature Futures): Friends, it’s a robot-dinosaur combination platter.

Oppenheimer in Valhalla (Deadlands): Norse mythology and Manhattan Project-era physicist nerdery: friends, this is my wheelhouse. It’s also a poem.

Quieter Songs Inland (Analog): climate change when public policy doesn’t quite catch up with the important people in one’s life in time

A Worm to the Wise (Grist Imagine 2200): climate change and finding–making–new soil for new dreams when your old dreams won’t grow

MONSTROUS BONDS and its stories–okay this in itself was an entirely new accomplishment. I have never done a chapbook before. It was a lot for me, and I’m really proud of it. Within it there are five stories. Two of them are reprints. The three new ones are:
Shrapnel from my Cousin’s Kaiju Battle: $229 Plus Shipping: family, ingenuity, friends in strange places, shaping the environment to fit new needs
Accountable Monsters: only we really understand ourselves, strange as we are
The River Horse Who Almost Ate Me, and His Lawyer: when you’re the friend in need, be sure you can be a friend indeed, even if your new friends need some unusual deeds

Without a Password (Nature Futures): signals of belonging, working together in all new ways

The Last Navigator (Daily SF): the closed system of generation ships, taking us somewhere new

Chalk and Carbon (Asimov’s): across spacetime, a love poem

Star Corps Crew Manual Section 15-A37: On Mental Dislocation (Nature Futures): you’d think we’d get some regulations for this sort of thing, it keeps happening

Re-Wilding Time (Star*Line): in an infinity of possible worlds, a poem that has room for conservation

The Precarious Now (Uncanny): an essay about the nuts and bolts of writing things in the present and near-present when it’s moving particularly quickly

Roots of Lamentation (Deadlands): there’s more than one river in the Greek underworld for a reason

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Can’t Find My Way Home, by Gwynne Garfinkle

Review copy provided by the publisher. Also I have once again known the author just short of forever On Here.

Jo is a young actress trying to make it in New York in the mid-1970s. She’s got a role on one of the few soap operas still filming there–not her dream job, but steady work she unexpectedly loves. It’s all interrupted by the reappearance of her best friend Cyn from her younger, activist days protesting the war movement, who is determined not to let Jo settle into complacency in her new life.

Cyn does not happen to be alive any more. She died in a protest bombing of a draft office gone wrong–and Jo was supposed to be there with her.

So what does her ghost want? How can Jo exorcise Cyn, or help her find peace, or…whatever it is that falls between antagonism and collaboration in their complicated friendship? She keeps being thrown into might-have-beens in her own life that last longer and longer, showing her more and more of her own potential, roads not taken but worth considering…but why? How will they help her with the ghost of her best friend?

I am a total sucker for explorations of mid-twentieth century women’s work lives and choices, and I don’t mind a bit if the speculative element of something takes awhile to unfold, so I was absolutely the target audience for this book. Jo’s soap opera work was not something I’d really thought about before, but Garfinkle clearly did her research into the details of that field and treats it with respect but not reverence–just the right balance. Jo’s reconsideration of what was needed, what was useful, what was right, in regards to her past activism is well-situated in the ’70s–she is close enough to our own attitudes to be engaging but not unduly contemporary, and some of the questions she grapples with are still of interest today. This one is frankly feminist and takes its time with some very worthwhile questions, and it allows its humans to be human rather than insisting on Good Guys and Bad Guys. I’m so glad I got this copy.

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Tiger Honor, by Yoon Ha Lee

Review copy provided by the publisher. Also I have known the author since the beginning of forever.

One of the problems with writing a lot is that it’s hard enough to have people compare your work to other people’s work–you can quite justly object that you are not someone else and cannot be expected to write their stories–but an entirely different kind of frustrating to have it compared to your own previous work. And I…loved Phoenix Extravagant more than anything else Yoon has written. And Tiger Honor is not Phoenix Extravagant.

But it’s not trying to be. It’s a different category–middle grade–a completely different genre and tone and characterization. Sebin is a young would-be spacefarer–spacefaring officer–in a long tradition of proud tiger spirits in their family serving in the Space Forces. They are just preparing to start their cadet term when disaster strikes: their admired Uncle Hwan, a respected officer in the Space Forces, is disgraced, stripped of his rank. Instead of using their time as a cadet only for the usual purposes of learning the ways of Space Forces and gaining a toehold on the ladder to fame and glory, Sebin now has to do those things and attempt to figure out what went so badly wrong with the relative they so admired. Surely he can’t be guilty of the things he’s accused of–so what happened? And who among the other cadets and officers can Sebin trust?

Sebin is believably guarded and focused, given their upbringing in the ruthless Juhwang Clan. The other cadets’ characters are mostly hinted at in outline, but that’s totally appropriate for the shape and length of the story. This is related to Lee’s previous MG book, Dragon Pearl, which I haven’t read yet, but now I want to–it worked perfectly well in this order, leaving me wanting more, but it seems like knowing more about the titular object would also have made this an interesting story. Not everything can be Phoenix Extravagant, and not everything should. Tiger Honor, like its protagonist, comes into its own as it progresses and is very much what it needs to be in itself.

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Servant Mage, by Kate Elliott

Review copy provided by the publisher.

I often say that the failure mode of a novella is to have the exposition of a novel and the payoff of a short story. I was concerned about Servant Mage because so much of Kate Elliott’s work is so epic. How would she adjust to the novella format?

Well, I find the results interestingly mixed. Servant Mage reads to me like the beginning of a longer work rather than a truncated stand-alone. There’s a lot of exposition going on here–five types of mages and several political factions with characters attached to each, which is exactly my jam. The ending is not so much anticlimactic as it is an opening of possibilities. Our heroine Fellian remains inquisitive despite her difficult circumstances, an ideal character for exploring a large and varied world. Which is what we’re getting here, I think; we’re getting the beginning of a world with a lot going on. But this is only the beginning. It’s Kate Elliott, and it’s Tor.com. We can feel confident that there will be more.