Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, Noopiming: The Cure for White Ladies

Review copy provided by the publisher.

There is a tendency among speculative writers and readers to use “literary fiction” to mean mimetic fiction, to mean “anything that isn’t us or maybe, maybe romance or mystery.” But Noopiming genuinely is a literary work, experimental and varied in its form, swerving from prose frament to poetry as the work requires. It’s very short–I’d estimate about novella length–but so intense that it’s still messing with my head a day later.

Noopiming is about a being called Mashkawaji, who is frozen in ice and experiencing the modern world through a host of other characters, human/tree/caribou/goose. The humanity of some of the characters is fluid, blending into other species and entities, ways of thought and modes of being. This is not genre fantasy but rather a piece about an interconnected multispecies community in Toronto and environs, figuring out ways to be all right, to heal and connect and learn.

It is honestly not like anything else I’ve read, and you know I read a lot. Fascinating, brief, vivid.

Books read, early January

Claire Eliza Bartlett, The Good Girls. Impeccably characterized YA thriller. CW for in-depth, thoughtful discussions of suicide, sexual assault, eating disorders, and more–this is a no-holds-barred journey, everything impeccably well done but may be difficult for some readers.

Kathleen Belew, Bring the War Home: The White Power Movement and Paramilitary America. Oooof, the subtitle is the Content Warning here. This is unleavened terrible, and it is somewhat specialized terrible: Belew doesn’t do a lot with the links to past and current versions of these movements, she is very focused on the era immediately following the Vietnam War up through the early 2000s. Really interesting background on that era and the stories it tells itself, but probably not a good thing if you’re only up for reading one book on this topic.

Susan Berfield, The Hour of Fate: Theodore Roosevelt, J.P. Morgan, and the Battle to Transform American Capitalism. Berfield makes a compelling case that both Roosevelt and Morgan felt that they should be the hand on the wheel of American capitalism, and that this brought them into considerable conflict. There are many moments where I feel like she wished she was writing biographies of someone else–several Progressive Era figures take her fancy–but there’s plenty out there about the two titular figures, so I didn’t really mind the sidetracks.

Tim Clarkson, Aethelflaed: Lady of the Mercians and Strathclyde and the Anglo-Saxons in the Viking Age. The first of these books was a disappointment. It was focused on Aethelflaed’s time, not her person, not even to the extent that we can know about her personally; Clarkson did not seem to notice that the female half of Early England might exist or be important. It was a very standard southern-England focused history from that period, which is a fine enough thing but not at all what I was looking for. The northerly-focused volume was much better, because I didn’t expect that he would have much to say about anyone but ruling-class men, so I knew going in that I’d get that and get what I could out of it. He’s the author of several more books about this area and period that I may well read, but lordy am I glad that there are other authors who know that farmers and women exist.

Elwin Cotman, Dance on Saturday. What an amazing collection. Weird and lovely and it unfolds in some deeply strange ways, sometimes right up front and sometimes slow burn. “Seven Watsons” was just astonishing. So glad to have read this, looking for his prior work soonest.

Rene Depestre, Hadriana In All My Dreams. This is billed as a classic of Haitian literature, and they got Edwidge Danticat to do the intro to it, in which she refrained from detailing every aspect of the plot, thank you, Edwidge, you are a true hero who understands why people read novels. As for this novel itself, it’s lyrically written and is an interesting demonstration of what actual Haitian people do with zombies thematically as opposed to what (mostly) white people have done with them since. (0% shambling hordes, 100% slavery-related zombies, thematically.) However, be warned: this is a book that has a sex butterfly in it quite a lot. Wow does this butterfly screw a lot of ladies. If you are just not going to be able to even, in the face of a giant sex butterfly, this is not the book for you. Hoo. It’s like the Canlit bear thing but they don’t have bears in Haiti, so I guess you make do.

Jared Farmer, Trees in Paradise: The Botanical Conquest of California. Four different sections focus on four different families of tree and their role in the state of California and its self-image and external image and economy and like that. There’s some interesting stuff in here, but the closing line makes me think that Farmer thinks he did a lot better with his case for the native California scrublands than he actually bothered to do.

Rachel Ferguson, The Brontes Went to Woolworths. Kindle. I have been trying to figure out how to talk about this book, because I love it so much, and yet it has one of the best-constructed plot twists I have ever read in my life, and I really want everybody else who reads it to have the chance at the experience of “oh yeah, I see what she’s doing here…OH WOW I DID NOT SEE WHAT SHE WAS DOING HERE” that I had reading it. It starts out both criticizing and accepting its place in the genre of “funny, well-written books about wacky families of sisters” and…expands from there quite a lot. There are things about it that are astonishingly sweet and some that are astonishingly weird, and…wow, yeah. It is from the early 1930s, and there is at least one place where the ambient anti-Semitism of the period shows up in passing in the text, but in general it is not going to smack you with a lot of racist idioms while it’s rattling along doing its thing.

Adam Kucharski, The Rules of Contagion: Why Things Spread — And Why They Stop. This book came out in 2020, late enough in 2020 to be able to talk about some COVID things and dodge some assumptions that COVID might have invalidated, although Kucharski quite rightly did not refocus the entire book to be about COVID. This book covers social and economic ideas of contagion as well as biological ones. Not more cheerful than you’d expect from the title, but not as bad as it could have been.

Matthew Loux, The Time Museum Vol. 2. A teen adventure comic through space and time. Wacky time loop hijinks, teen relationship hijinks…the jinks in this are extremely high, is what I’m saying. I’m…not that thrilled with the use of Richard Nixon, did not find it particularly thoughtful even in this context. Ah well.

Honor Moore, ed., Poems from the Women’s Movement. This is 1-3 poems by tons of different women, very much political/movement poems for the most part. Some of them are amazing, a lot of them are more the kind of writing that you get when people are new to a space and trying to feel out what can be done in it–expansion work rather than refinement work, which is interesting if you’re studying that but not a good representation of the best work women can do on political topics. Historically very interesting, though.

Ryan North, Erica Henderson, and Rico Renzi, The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: I’ve Been Waiting for a Squirrel Like You. Full of dinosaurs. Full to the brim with puns and dinosaurs. A lot of series work makes me say, “don’t start here,” but go ahead and start here, you’ll pick up everything you need to know about Squirrel Girl and friends. And dinosaurs.

Arden Powell, The Faerie Hounds of York. Really does what it says on the tin. Between the type of magical setting and the type of love story, it sort of sits on a shelf with Emily Tesh’s work–I prefer Emily’s, but this is a fun read too.

Neil Price, The Viking Way: Magic and Mind in Late Iron Age Scandinavia. This is so great. Lots of stuff about the traditions of shamanism in this place and time, some of the best understanding and integration of Saami material into a book that is primarily but not solely about the adjacent Norse culture. Lots of research notes in here, yum.

Richard Rothstein, The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America. I think a lot of Americans should read this book. A lot of us (including me) were explicitly taught in school that outside the South, segregation in cities was a de facto segregation, not a de jure segregation–enforced by bigoted private individuals and custom rather than by the law of the land. Rothstein lays out chapter and verse of how that is very, very much not the case, and how federal government institutions worsened segregation conditions with explicit policy and in some cases created segregation in formerly integrated neighborhoods. I would love a follow-up volume called The FHA: Holy Crap How Did They Get So Completely Terrible, but this is still really valuable stuff. Especially since it’s the sort of stuff that ordinary citizens can easily live through in their own lifetimes and not know is going on, even as it directly affects them.

Stephen Spotswood, Fortune Favors the Dead. This extremely charming mystery is set in the ’40s and has a gender-swapped Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin feel. The elder of the detective pair has relapsing-remitting MS, and the younger used to be a circus hand. They are fun and entertaining, and I want a whole bunch more of their adventures as soon as that can reasonably be arranged.

Lilah Sturges and Polterink, Lumberjanes: True Colors. I have now read enough Lumberjanes to have clear favorites in art style, and Polterink is right up there at the top. This is a beautiful volume with the classic Lumberjanes themes of being yourself with friends who appreciate just that.

Lynne Thomas, Michael Damian Thomas, et al, eds., Uncanny Magazine Issue 38. Kindle. I make a policy of not reviewing anything I’m in, and I have a story in this. But I did indeed read it!

Nghi Vo, When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain. The second novella in its series, storytelling from multiple cultural points of view, one of which is a tiger shapeshifter. So much fun, I want more of this, yay. I particularly liked the mammoth companion.

Shannon Watters, Kat Leyh, and Anne-Marie Rogers, Lumberjanes: Mind Over Mettle. Not as pretty or as focused as the previous Lumberjanes of this fortnight, but still good fun when we need just that.

Yi Lei, My Mind Will Grow Like a Tree. Poems from a Chinese woman poet in the 1980s and on. Fascinating to see some of the commonalities, having read a bunch of American women’s poetry of that era, and some of the differences. I’m a little perplexed by the translator wanting things to seem “familiar” to American readers, and I was left wondering which things and what they originally said. But if I was bilingual, this beautiful volume had all the original texts, so I could look and see.

Books read, late December

Chaz Brenchley, Mary Ellen–Craterean! Chapters 5 and 6. Kindle. The Martian boarding school adventure rattles breathlessly on.

Sarwat Chadda, City of the Plague God. Discussed elsewhere.

Roland Enos, The Age of Wood: Our Most Useful Material and the Construction of Civilization. Enos is coming at this from a biomechanical perspective, which is really interesting. He goes into the physical and chemical details of wood’s reactions to various inputs, and also into how humans biomechanically interact with some of them, and there are all sorts of technologies along the way, literally all sorts. He is very much a wood booster, but it’s okay, so am I.

Rebecca Giggs, Fathoms: The World in the Whale. Whales and their ecosystems. Do you like whales? Of course you do, and so do I, and so does Rebecca Giggs. Not everyone she writes about does, be forewarned, but it’s still a lovely book.

A. Kendra Greene, The Museum of Whales You Will Never See, and Other Excursions to Iceland’s Most Unusual Museums. In addition to thoughts about whales, penises, and other Icelandic museum specifics, this very short volume is thoughtful about museums and collections and how and why we do them.

Barbara Hambly, House of the Patriarch. The latest Benjamin January novel takes our hero to the religious revival movements of western New York in the years before the Civil War. The constant awareness of Ben’s peril makes all of these pretty tense, but it’s short and not more tense than you’d expect for that setting. I feel like Hambly choosing to range within the setting available to her is a good thing, overall, even though there’s a lot more she could still do with New Orleans; I feel like it’s part of her trying not to get into too much of a rut with these but to deliberately explore different aspects of the theme and setting.

Nina Kiriki Hoffman, The Thread That Binds the Bones. Reread. This is very much id fiction. “We have to get married right away upon meeting each other! Never mind why! Also we are both amazingly magically gifted and I can instantly sift through your family and sort good from bad and neutralize your bad relatives!” I mean. If you want that, it is very that. Wish fulfillment and all. And sometimes people very much do want that. I didn’t remember quite how much it was that, though.

Kathleen Jamie, The Overhaul. These are beautiful local nature poems and personal poems, and I just love her. More please. (Her “local” is Scotland.)

Helen Jukes, A Honeybee Heart Has Five Openings. This title sounds like it goes with a very metaphorical, lyrical short story collection full of little lapidary stories that make you gasp. In fact it is about bees. It is a memoir of this author’s beekeeping. And it is very straightforward, it is not particularly lyrical. But if you’d like a person who finds solidity in her life through bees, this is that book.

Guy Gavriel Kay, The Darkest Road. Reread. The last of the Fionavar Tapestry, and I 100% do not recommend reading it without the first two, although I know someone who tried going without the first one. It is high-contrast and mythic and thoroughly itself.

Madeleine L’Engle, The Summer of the Great-Grandmother. Reread. Oh, this was terrible. Oh my God it was so terrible. She keeps telling stories of her father and her husband being just terrible and she does not seem to know that they’re terrible. And then she gets to the point where she’s trying to justify her Southern plantation-owning ancestors as somehow seeing their slaves as doing honorable work because they referred to them as servants. Aaaaagh. Like, the story about how her alcoholic father was rude to waiters and this was a sign that he was awesome and her mother just didn’t understand was bad enough, but then when she got into slavery and the parts that she is literally not the person able to forgive these people…aaaaaagh. Oh Madeleine no.

C.S. Malerich, The Factory Witches of Lowell. A lovely novella that is about what the title tells you: labor movement plus witchcraft in the mills, hurrah, this was so much fun, I want more like this.

Sarah Moss, Signs for Lost Children. This is a sequel, and frankly I think you will do much better if you read Bodies of Light first; it actually gives weight to some of the consequences that are playing out in this book. I feel like this is one of the most elliptical books I’ve ever read. So many important, crucial things happen off the page, between scenes, and must be inferred. I also frankly found only one of the two viewpoint characters, Allie, to be interesting. I wanted to care about the lighthouse builder visiting Japan, but I really didn’t. Ah well. Still a topic and type of book I don’t see enough of.

Carla Nappi, The Monkey and the Inkpot: Natural History and Its Transformations in Early Modern China. An interesting short book that deals with how we know things and how various cultures have approached that and how a shift in it works.

Favorite short stories of 2020

…one of these years I’m going to get the formatting on these posts consistent throughout the year, but you’ll figure it out, I do not have it in me to stress about this right now.

Gilded, Elizabeth Acevedo (A Phoenix First Must Burn)

Anta Baku’s recent story project including/starting with Ian and the Beanstalk and The Emperor’s New Beth

On Safari in R’lyeh and Carcosa With Gun and Camera, Elizabeth Bear (Tor.com)

Stephanie Burgis, Burning Bright (Daily SF)

Doorway, Smile, Kiss, Fox, Jeremy Packert Burke (Beneath Ceaseless Skies)

Rebecca Campbell, Thank You For Your Patience (Reckoning)

Rae Carson, Badass Moms in the Zombie Apocalypse (Uncanny)

An Incomplete Account of the Case of the Bird-Talker of Yaros, Eleanna Castroianni (Fireside)

Eleanna Castroianni, Who Goes Against a Waste of Waters (Beneath Ceaseless Skies)

L Chan, Field Reports from the Department of Monster Resettlement (PodCastle)

L. Chan, Sonata (Metaphorosis) — Part 1Part 2Part 3

Enchanted Objects: Buy-Sell-Trade Group, YOU MUST BE APPROVED TO JOIN, Tina Connolly (Daily SF)

Rjurik Davidson, Benjamin 2037 (Tor.com)

All the Time in the World, Charlotte Nicole Davis (A Phoenix First Must Burn)

Five Quests and the Oracle, Pamela Dean (Her Magical Pet)

The Inaccessibility of Heaven, Aliette de Bodard (Uncanny)

The Scholar of the Bamboo Flute, Aliette de Bodard (Silk & Steel)

A Voyage to Queensthroat, Anya Johanna Deniro (Strange Horizons)

Aidan Doyle, The Tail of Genji (Robot Dinosaur Fiction)

A Feast from Tile and Stone, Ryan Eric Dull (BCS)

You and Whose Army?, Greg Egan (Clarkesworld)

Catherine George, Calling on Behalf of the Dark Lord (Translunar Travelers Lounge)

Exile’s End, Carolyn Ives Gilman (Tor.com)

Seams of Iron, Adriana C. Grigore (Common Bonds)

Essa Hansen, Save, Salve, Shelter (F&SF)

The Ransom of Miss Coraline Connelly, Alix E. Harrow (Fireside)

The Heart That Saves You May Be Your Own, Merrie Haskell (BCS)

A Tally of What Remains, R.Z. Held (BCS)

Claire Humphrey, We Are the Flower (Podcastle)

Words We Say Instead, Brit E. B. Hvide (Uncanny)

Born Again, Innocent Chizaram Ilo (Lolwe)

Innocent Chizaram Ilo, Rat and Finch Are Friends (Strange Horizons)

Alex Irvine, Chisel and Chime (F&SF)

Uncontrolled Variable, Sara Joiner (Her Magical Pet)

Fight Some Crime Or I’ll Tell Mom, Rachael K. Jones (Daily SF)

Nicole Kornher-Stace, Getaway (Uncanny)

Five Tips for Sealing Away an Ancient Evil, Ann LeBlanc (If There’s Anyone Left Vol. 1)

R. B. Lemberg, To Balance the Weight of Khalem (Beneath Ceaseless Skies)

Story for a Bottle, Darcie Little Badger (Love After the End)

In the Salt Crypts of Ghiarelle, Jennifer Mace (Silk & Steel)

Saltwashed, Jennifer Mace (Uncanny)

Jennifer Mace, Upon What Soil They Fed (Syntax and Salt)

How to Burn Down the Hinterlands, Lyndsie Manusos (F&SF Nov/Dec)

Elinor Jones Vs. the Ruritanian Multiverse, Freya Marske (Silk & Steel)

Arkady Martine, A Being Together Amongst Strangers (Uncanny)

Yellow and the Perception of Reality, Maureen McHugh (Tor.com)

Devin Miller, Fox Red, Life Red, Teeth Like Snow (Beneath Ceaseless Skies)

A Layer of Catherines, Elisabeth R. Moore (Strange Horizons)

Note to Self, Sunny Moraine (Lightspeed)

The Science and Artistry of Snake Oil Salesmanship, Timothy Mudie (BCS)

The Necessary Arthur, Garth Nix (Tor.com)

Aimee Ogden, Never a Butterfly, Nor a Moth With Moon-Painted Wings (Beneath Ceaseless Skies)

Tony Pi, These Wondrous Sweets (Beneath Ceaseless Skies)

Aimee Picchi, Advanced Word Problems in Portal Math (Daily SF)

C.L. Polk, St. Valentine, St. Abigail, St. Brigid (Tor.com)

How to Survive the Apocalypse for Native Girls, Kai Minosh Pyle (Love After the End)

Wherein Abigail Fields Recalls Her First Death and, Subsequently, Her Best Life, Rebecca Roanhorse (A Phoenix First Must Burn)

Emery Robin, Ambient and Isolated Effects of Fine Particulate Matter (Reckoning)

Ambrosia, Margaret Saunders (Fiyah No. 16)

Heard, Half-Heard, in the Stillness, Iona Datt Sharma (Anathema)

Waverly SM, The Last Good Time to Be Alive (Reckoning)

We’re Here, We’re Here, K.M. Szpara (Tor.com)

Margo Lai’s Guide to Dueling Unprepared, Alison Tam (Silk & Steel)

Allison Thai, Caring for Dragons and Growing a Flower (Podcastle)

Emma Törzs, High in the Clean Blue Air (Uncanny)

Together We Can Be More!, Juliette Wade (Analog Nov/Dec)

Fran Wilde, An Explorer’s Cartography of Already Settled Lands (Tor.com)

John Wiswell, Alien Invader or Assistive Device? (Robot Dinosaur Fiction)

John Wiswell, Gender and Other Faulty Software (Fireside)

Open House on Haunted Hill, John Wiswell (Diabolical Plots)

The Bottomless Martyr, John Wiswell (Uncanny)

John Wiswell, Tucking in the Nuclear Egg (Nature Futures)

Biologist Naming Privileges Revoked, Chloe Woods (Daily SF)

Late 2020 recommended stories

Please note that this is NOT REPEAT IT IS NOT my year in review post of recommended stories. That will come later (tomorrow, maybe, if I’m speedy; after if not). This is JUST what I enjoyed most from the short stuff I read in the late part of the year. Okay? okay good.

Anta Baku’s recent story project including/starting with Ian and the Beanstalk and The Emperor’s New Beth

On Safari in R’lyeh and Carcosa With Gun and Camera, Elizabeth Bear (Tor.com)

Enchanted Objects: Buy-Sell-Trade Group, YOU MUST BE APPROVED TO JOIN, Tina Connolly (Daily SF)

Five Quests and the Oracle, Pamela Dean (Her Magical Pet)

The Scholar of the Bamboo Flute, Aliette de Bodard (Silk & Steel)

A Feast from Tile and Stone, Ryan Eric Dull (BCS)

You and Whose Army?, Greg Egan (Clarkesworld)

Seams of Iron, Adriana C. Grigore (Common Bonds)

The Heart That Saves You May Be Your Own, Merrie Haskell (BCS)

A Tally of What Remains, R.Z. Held (BCS)

Words We Say Instead, Brit E. B. Hvide (Uncanny)

Born Again, Innocent Chizaram Ilo (Lolwe)

Uncontrolled Variable, Sara Joiner (Her Magical Pet)

Fight Some Crime Or I’ll Tell Mom, Rachael K. Jones (Daily SF)

Five Tips for Sealing Away an Ancient Evil, Ann LeBlanc (If There’s Anyone Left Vol. 1)

Story for a Bottle, Darcie Little Badger (Love After the End)

In the Salt Crypts of Ghiarelle, Jennifer Mace (Silk & Steel)

How to Burn Down the Hinterlands, Lyndsie Manusos (F&SF Nov/Dec)

Elinor Jones Vs. the Ruritanian Multiverse, Freya Marske (Silk & Steel)

A Layer of Catherines, Elisabeth R. Moore (Strange Horizons)

Note to Self, Sunny Moraine (Lightspeed)

The Science and Artistry of Snake Oil Salesmanship, Timothy Mudie (BCS)

How to Survive the Apocalypse for Native Girls, Kai Minosh Pyle (Love After the End)

Ambrosia, Margaret Saunders (Fiyah No. 16)

Heard, Half-Heard, in the Stillness, Iona Datt Sharma (Anathema)

Margo Lai’s Guide to Dueling Unprepared, Alison Tam (Silk & Steel)

Together We Can Be More!, Juliette Wade (Analog Nov/Dec)

The Bottomless Martyr, John Wiswell (Uncanny)

Biologist Naming Privileges Revoked, Chloe Woods (Daily SF)

2020 round-up post

I actually…did a lot this year. I really did. I didn’t do as much as I wanted to, but that’s a chorus I think you can all sing along with even if you know slightly different verses–and not just this year, every year. I don’t honestly put a lot of stock in the turning of the year, personally. I am more likely to make random day resolutions than New Year’s resolutions, and I did that this year, I did that a lot. I did “let’s try this” and “I want to be better about that.” Some of it even worked.

We pause to write a poem that might get posted here later if I get a chance. One of the things I’ve learned about myself and my writing process this year is that it’s not a good sign if there are several solid weeks when I’m not writing poems. That’s a marker of a bad time. I’ve had a few of those this year, as I know everyone else has too–but since I’m this new to writing poetry, it’s a little surprising to find it moving to that place in my writing practice. Huh. Well, okay. I have no idea whether it’ll still be like this after the pandemic, but that’s okay; I’ve cycled through enough variations in writing practice to know that it’s natural for things to vary, it’s natural for something to be crucial for a time and then completely unnecessary, or vice versa. We are not who we were, and that’s all right, that’s how life goes.

And speaking of things not as they were: I did a lot of revisions this year, and I avoided a lot of revisions by writing new things this year, so I expect I will do a lot of revisions next year. A lot. No, really, more than that. I like to have things at various stages of done so that I can work on something at any time, whether it’s research or planning/outlining or drafting or so many revisions.

I appeared on podcasts this year, and I participated in panels online, and I read two of my stories myself as podcasts, one of which will appear next year I guess. I’ve already got an author copy for something that will appear next year, and it’s not even the first something. I list twenty-two acceptances on my spreadsheet, which is pretty darn good actually. I’ll mark the reprints, poems, and essays below, otherwise it’s short stories all the way down. For now.

I’m really proud of the substance of these. I think it’s easy for this kind of year-end post to get caught up in quantity, but I am really proud of the things I managed to do and say with this work, and that’s the ballgame, that’s why I’m here. Thanks for still being here with me. I hope you enjoy this year’s work.

Every Tiny Tooth and Claw (Or: Letters from the First Month of the New Directorate),” Beneath Ceaseless Skies, January 2020.

Save Me a Seat on the Couch: Spoiler Culture, Inclusion, and Disability,” Uncanny, January 2020. (essay)

“Finding Their Footing (Chinese translation),” SF World, March 2020 (reprint)

Quality Control,” Toasted Cake, March 2020. (podcast reprint)

The Solace of Connection,” Reckoning Creativity and Coronavirus project, March 2020. (essay)

Loosestrife,” New Decameron Project, April 2020.

The Curse,” Daily Science Fiction, May 2020.

“Upside the Head,” Consolation Songs: Speculative Fiction for a Time of Coronavirus, edited by Iona Datt Sharma, June 2020. (reprint)

The Watercolors of Elfland,” New Decameron Project, June 2020.

Addison and Julia Tell the Truth to Pemmaquid Beach,” Daily Science Fiction, July 2020.

The Foolish Man Built His House Upon the Sand,” Nature Futures, July 2020.

This Will Not Happen To You (Spanish translation podcast),” Las Escritoras de Urras, July 2020. (reprint)

COVID Summer: After, Now,” Reckoning Creativity and Coronavirus project, July 2020. (poem)

COVID Summer: Against Dystopia,” Reckoning Creativity and Coronavirus project, July 2020. (poem)

Pre-Apocalyptic Meeting Minutes,” Mobius, Summer 2020. (poem)

“Fenrir and Sigyn, After Ragnarok,” Star*Line, Summer 2020. (poem)

After the Monster,” Daily Science Fiction, August 2020.

The Past, Like a River In Flood,” Beneath Ceaseless Skies, August 2020.

The Swarm of Giant Gnats I Sent After Kent, My Assistant Manager,” Translunar Travelers Lounge, August 2020.

Press Play,” Nature Futures, September 2020.

The Roots of Hope: Toward an Optimistic Near-Future SF in a Pandemic,” Uncanny, September 2020. (essay)

“The Thing, With Feathers,” The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy and Horror Vol. 1, October 2020. (reprint)

“We Care,” If There’s Anyone Left Vol. 1, November 2020.

“Peaceweaver,” Analog, Nov/Dec 2020.

“Grief, As Faithful As My Hound,” Asimov’s, Nov/Dec 2020. Podcast version read by me!

Old Age Wrestles Thor Again,” Daily SF, December 2020.

“My Favorite Sentience,” We, Robots, December 2020. (reprint)

City of the Plague God, by Sarwat Chadda

Review copy provided by the publisher.

I am worried about this book.

It’s a romp through Mesopotamian mythology, transported into the present day in a story about a Sikander, an Iraqi-American kid who works at his parents’ New York deli. Gilgamesh makes cookies, there are some truly excellent cats and demons and fashionistas–generally it’s a really fun middle grade fantasy.

I am concerned that people might not find that out for themselves, because of the title and the year in which it’s coming out.

And I can’t even say, oh no, that’s just a marketing convention…because actually it’s not, it definitely is a book about a plague god ravaging New York, all sorts of people get horrifically ill in this book, including the protagonist’s parents. There is a section where the protag can’t visit his unconscious parents in their hospital rooms but can only observe them through the windows, and…yep, that’s a very real thing right now. If you’re not up for dealing with that in your fun kids’ fantasy, you’re going to want to steer clear of this quite well-done book, because that’s the book it is. With writing and publishing being what they are, I expect it was written before any of this, and yet…well. You can see why I’d be concerned. It’s sort of an “enjoy at your peril” situation.

Books read, early December

Claudie Arsenault, C. T. Callahan, B. R. Sanders, and RoAnna Sylver, eds. Common Bonds: A Speculative Aromantic Anthology. For me the absolute stand-out story of this anthology was Adriana C. Grigoire’s “Seams of Iron.” It played with speculative tropes in a deft way that had me captivated throughout. I enjoyed other stories, but “Seams of Iron” is one of my favorite all year.

Jane Austen, Persuasion. Kindle. My booklog does not list this book, and when I read it I had more the sense of having seen it discussed than the sense of having read it before, even back in the mists of time when I read some other Austen. In any case, it was keenly observed and very funny in parts, and everything came together very satisfyingly. As you’ve probably heard, since it’s Austen, but: yes.

Rachel Manija Brown, ed., Her Magical Pet. Kindle. I bought this to read Pamela Dean’s “Five Quests and the Oracle,” and I was not disappointed. Pamela’s family relationships and new adults finding their way never disappoint, and the theatrical setting of this one was particularly satisfying. I also found that Sara Joiner’s “Uncontrolled Variable” was a lovely nerdy piece of fun. Many of these stories are structurally romance genre stories with some speculative elements rather than speculative genre stories with some romance elements, which is neither good nor bad but something I hope helps the volume find its proper readers. (They’re all f/f romances, if that matters to you.)

Olivia Chadha, Rise of the Red Hand. Discussed elsewhere.

P. Djeli Clark, Ring Shout. This is not really my genre, since it’s pretty horror-y, but I am fascinated by the ways in which supernatural horror and psychological horror are blending in some works like this one, maybe…social horror? super-psycho-social horror? Where there are indeed monsters, and also there are humans who are (some of) the real monsters, and also monstrousness added to itself has sweeping social effects. With action scenes. Very well done.

Julia Corbett, Out of the Woods: Seeing Nature in the Everyday. This, on the other hand, is a fairly standard example of its local nature-writing genre. Basically everything it quotes is something I’ve already read and found more worthwhile than this volume. There wasn’t anything particularly wrong with it, but that’s not, it turns out, the highest recommendation.

Megan Crewe, Fearless Magic. Third in a trilogy, all the pieces falling together in a satisfying action-packed ending but for heaven’s sake don’t start here.

Paula Guran, ed., The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy and Horror Vol. 1. I make a policy of not reviewing books I’m in, and I’m in this one. Still: I read it.

Zeyn Joukhadar, The Thirty Names of Night. A beautiful family narrative, a beautiful trans narrative, two strands of Syrian-Americans working out who they are and who they can be, with art and birds and family interwoven. I found this captivating.

Guy Gavriel Kay, The Summer Tree and The Wandering Fire. Rereads, and I’m in the middle of the third one now. There are obviously things that are not how Kay would do these books now–things that are not contemporary about them–for example, the fact that the characters start out studying the law and medicine in our world is basically irrelevant, in a way that I don’t think would be how he’d structure it now. But from the first sentence I could relax into these books and know that they were exactly the kind of high heroic fantasy they’d always been, that the suck fairy had not visited their heroism and left something nasty in its place. High drama, myths in a blender: sometimes you want that. This is how I learned to want it, and I still do.

Francois Neveux, A Brief History of the Normans: The Conquests That Changed the Face of Europe. Quite often when I read a book in search of an answer to a particular question, I end up with a bunch more questions, and that’s what happened here. Interestingly focused on the Normans rather than on one particular place they ended up, so this ranges over much of Europe.

Patrick Samphire, At the Gate and Other Stories. Kindle. And speaking of a wide range, these stories have a lot of different tones and elements, some funny and some serious, all sorts of different speculative elements. An interesting snapshot of a career at this point.

DaVaun Sanders, B. Sharise Moore, et al, eds., Fiyah Issue 16. Kindle. Joy is such a great theme for a magazine right now, right on, let’s do this. For me the stand-out was Margaret Saunders’s “Ambrosia,” but the Fiyah staff continues to publish really solid issues.

A.J. Sass, Ana on the Edge. This is a charming kids’ book about a young competitive ice skater who is negotiating that extremely gendered world while figuring out her (for now, her) own nonbinary identity. For some kids this book will be life-changing; for me as a cis adult it was still a fun evening’s read.

Janine A. Southard, ed., Silk and Steel: A Queer Speculative Adventure Anthology. Kindle. Lots of fun lovely stories in this! I basically romped through the entire volume, so glad I got it. If Her Magical Pet was weighted toward “romance story, speculative elements,” Silk and Steel is the opposite balance, “speculative story, romantic elements.” (Again f/f throughout.) Hard to pick favorites, but mine were Alison Tam’s “Margo Lai’s Guide to Dueling Unprepared,” Freya Marske’s “Elinor Jones Vs. the Ruritanian Multiverse,” Jennifer Mace’s “In the Salt Crypts of Ghiarelle,” and Aliette de Bodard’s “The Scholar of the Bamboo Flute.”

Lynne Thomas, Michael Damian Thomas, et al, eds., Uncanny Magazine Issue 37. Kindle. Another solid issue. Favorites from this one included John Wiswell’s “The Bottomless Martyr” and Brit E. B. Hvide’s “Words We Say Instead.”

Elizabeth von Arnim, The Adventures of Elizabeth in Rugen. Kindle. A charmingly odd bit of entertainment–a lightly fictionalized travel narrative from the very early 20th century, when a writer with a German husband could use the phrase “blood and iron” without knowing how horrifying it would get later. Mostly she is trying to circle a small Baltic island and being wry and observational about the other humans she encounters there.

E. Lily Yu, On Fragile Waves. Discussed elsewhere.

Ovidia Yu, The Betel Nut Tree Mystery. Second in its series, more of Singapore as a Crown Colony before the Second World War, more of its determined but quiet heroine Su Lin, more of her expansive and alarming family and circle of friends. I immediately put the third one on my list when I’d finished.