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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)

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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.

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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.

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On Fragile Waves, by E. Lily Yu

Review copy provided by the publisher.

This debut is only gently fabulist, but what it lacks in magical fireworks, it makes up for in human relationships. It’s the story of a young Afghani girl whose family travels as refugees to Australia. She continues to have a relationship with a friend she meets along the way that is the most speculative element of the book, and also one of the warmest elements.

Because life in Australia is not the welcoming paradise of their dreams. Firuzeh, her parents, and her brother Nour have profoundly different struggles from each other, making it hard for each family member to understand the others’ behavior. Their stories diverge, but Firuzeh’s relationship with story is a major part of what gets her through some of her worst struggles and brings her family back together.

For me the chapter where “the writer” appears from America, doing research into her book, is the least effective part of this story. If Yu hadn’t chosen to apply the language of a calling to writing about this specifically, I would not have questioned it in those terms, but bringing it up felt like trying to stave off criticism rather than enhancing Firuzeh’s story–and some of the most pertinent questions remained unasked. (For example, “why was your ‘calling’ to criticize another wealthy nation’s handling of the immigrant crisis in ways that were impeccably researched to be specifically Australian rather than turning your thoughts to a similar system in which you personally might be implicated?” Not, apparently, on the list of earnest self-searching questions; ah well.)

But when Yu gets out of her own way, Firuzeh’s relationships and struggles are compelling, and this is a book well worth reading.

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“Everybody’s wishing they could go to the south of France”

The lussekatter dough was weirdly cold this year, colder than the whole wheat dough from Wednesday. I can still feel the chill in my hands, even though it’s risen fine, avidly even.

And the blueberries–the blueberries are not the good blueberries, because we haven’t been to that grocery store in ten months. The blueberries are the fine-I-guess-if-this-is-what-we-can get blueberries.

They’re still here. They’re still lussekatter. And oh, is it dark.

My tinydog has gotten old, this year. Her hearing has gone, and she’s shakier on her feet. Sometimes when I’m cooking–and this happened while I was making the lussekatter–she follows me around the kitchen much more closely than she ever did before, staying at my heels when I go from fridge to counter to sink. I take more breaks to wash my hands, crouch down and snuggle the dog, wash my hands again. I pick her up and let her lean into my chest, and I tell her she’s a good girl, I tell her I love her, in case she can still hear it through bone conduction. Or else just to get a chance to lean into each other. Because…what she mostly seems to need, these days, is the reassurance that yes, I am still here, we’re still together.

We are. Hi. Happy Santa Lucia Day.

I am, you know. I am still here. We are still together, making lussekatter, even if you can’t smell mine and I can’t smell yours. Even if it feels like the world is taken apart in pieces. I’m still doing this thing, this piece of fragrant golden light. I was relieved, this week, to hear that a friend had gotten his panettone, because I know it’s important to him, and this is not a year to skip important things. While the lussekatter dough was rising, Mark made himself childhood treats he’s only made once in the last twenty years, because they just sounded comforting and nice.

I may be singing “Coldest Night of the Year” to myself as I knead, but I’m still singing. I’m still kneading. I won’t say, “it can’t get us,” because of course it can, that’s how viruses work. But so far it hasn’t. We may be struggling, but we are still struggling. There’s more dark to come yet–the darkest is yet to come–but there’s light coming too. And we know that. We do. Even this year. Even now.

Happy Santa Lucia Day.













2007: and

2006: — the post that started it all! Lots more about the process and my own personal lussekatt philosophy here!

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Thor and more

New story this morning! Old Age Wrestles Thor Again on Daily SF. In the Prose Edda we see Thor wrestling an old woman called Elli who turns out to be Old Age personified, and…they can’t quite quit each other. Hope you enjoy!

And an old story this morning! My story “My Favorite Sentience” is among the stories reprinted in the anthology We, Robots, available in the UK and Canada.

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A podcast for you

Each issue Asimov’s has someone record their story to spotlight in podcast form. When they asked me to do “Grief, As Faithful As My Hound” that way, I was simultaneously excited and terrified. Excited, because I believe in accessibility and was so glad that more readers would have a chance to experience this story. Terrified, because I was supposed to read this story, myself, without crying?

I did it mostly without crying. You may hear my voice catch in a few places. But I think that’s okay–that’s the nature of this story. Despite its difficult nature (the title is the content warning, basically), I hope you enjoy the audio version of Grief, As Faithful As My Hound.

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Rise of the Red Hand, by Olivia Chadha

Review copy provided by the publisher.

This is the second time in its comparatively short life that I’ve been surprised and impressed by Erewhon Books putting out something that is a very fresh, very modern instance of a genre I don’t see much. Olivia Chadha’s Rise of the Red Hand is dead-center-of-the-genre classical cyberpunk. It deals with a gigantic gap between the haves and the have-nots; it literally uses the word cybernetics for its concerns; there is even a character who gradually goes more and more by their hacker name over the course of the book.

But utterly modern. Yes. This book is set in South Asia, in a world divided into continent-spanning provinces by the powers that be. The environmental concerns are entirely pervasive, much more successfully so than in old-school cyberpunk. The way that issues of family and truth and social balance are handled are fresh and contemporary. The “punk” sensibility is on every page, with dismantling toxic systems on every level the main concern–including the way those toxic systems are reflected in individual and familial relationships.

So if you’ve been missing cyberpunk and yet know that you wouldn’t react the same way to old cyberpunk if you encountered it for the first time now–Olivia Chadha’s got your back. And since this says “book one of The Machinists,” it looks like she’s got plans for more. Yay.

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Books read, late November

Melissa Bashardoust, Girl, Serpent, Thorn. Poisonous girls and Persian mythology. This was captivating and lovely.

Eileen Hunt Botting, Artificial Life After Frankenstein. Discussed elsewhere.

Hayley Chewins, The Sisters of Straygarden Place. This is a middle-grade book about a family in a magical house and the creepy and delightful things the house does and the sisters do and…how they put it all back together.

Danielle Evans, The Office of Historical Corrections. Elegant, insightful, lovely, offbeat short stories. Very excited to discover this author.

R.F. Kuang, The Burning God. The third in its series–do not start here–it is relentless in its follow-through, it is going all sorts of places that are alarming and inevitable.

Darcie Little Badger, Elatsoe. This was so much fun and so engaging. I read it all in one gulp while waiting in the car for a family member to have a medical procedure. The ghost dog is amazing! I love everybody here!

L.M. Montgomery, Emily’s Quest. Reread. This was always my least-reread volume of this trilogy, and I can now see why: it feels more like a summary than a novel. It’s as though Montgomery knew what was to happen in Emily’s life in broad career and romance strokes–and as a child I was thrilled that the career part got as much focus as it did, compared to Anne–there is all sorts of stuff about sending out manuscripts and how it all worked at the time. But the little anecdotes where Emily does something funny or Cousin Jimmy says something weird or whatever (hashtag Team Cousin Jimmy 4eva) are very sparse on the ground here. And the romantic relationships are…well, Dean Priest remains incredibly odious and terrible and I hate him forever, Emily forgave him but I do not. And Teddy Kent…is a Ken doll, basically; he is a label that says “childhood artist friend,” he is not a person. So when Emily achieves publishing success comparatively early in the book and her happy ending is, “hey also you get to be with this potted plant of a man,” well. I hope Ilse and Perry stop by often, is what I’m saying.

Danielle Fuentes Morgan, Laughing to Keep From Dying: African American Satire in the Twenty-First Century. Discussed elsewhere.

Jan Morris, Battleship Yamato: Of War, Beauty, and Irony. I had only read her Hav books, so when I heard the sad news of her death, I went to see what the library had of hers. And it was this: an exceptionally small book of photos and thoughts on the topic of the subtitle. As much as Hav connected for me, this completely did not; Morris had ideas about how “we” respond to war imagery that…I don’t, no, I really totally do not. Still interesting, and I’ll be curious to see how much her other nonfiction is alien in a way that Hav is not, if at all. Maybe this is an outlier.

Trung Le Nguyen, The Magic Fish. Graphic novel with fairy tale retellings tangled up in family stories in a beautiful way. Another one I read in one sitting. Just lovely.

Scott D. Seligman, The Great Kosher Meat War of 1902: Immigrant Housewives and the Riots That Shook New York City. Discussed elsewhere.

Merlin Sheldrake, Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds, and Shape Our Future. Sheldrake has that “we are our own best experimental subjects” attitude that you find baked into a lot of mycologists and mycological enthusiasts, but the enthusiasm is in some ways lovely and refreshing, and reading about a lot of nice fungus in the midst of this year is not a terrible life plan. I wanted some of this to be deeper, but not any more so than with most popular science books.

Shveta Thakrar, Star Daughter. I mistook the genre of this completely and thought the girl on the cover was a starship captain. In defense of the lovely people who actually worked on marketing the book, I could not have made that mistake if I’d read any of their copy at all instead of just saying “ooh Shveta’s book!” and sallying forth. Anyway this is a YA fantasy with stars and art and love and friendship, and it was a lot of fun, so go ahead and say, “Ooh, Shveta’s book!” and pick it up anyway.

Django Wexler, Ashes of the Sun. I think this is the best thing Django’s written. Siblings with divergent life paths, sometimes fighting at cross purposes, both stubborn and fierce and committed to their view of the right thing. Such a fun epic fantasy.

Joshua Whitehead, ed., Love After the End: An Anthology of Two-Spirit and Indigiqueer Speculative Fiction. Lots of interesting work here, and the beginning of something good I think. My favorite stories were Kai Minosh Pyle’s “How to Survive the Apocalypse for Native Girls” and Darcie Little Badger’s “Story for a Bottle.”