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Someone You Can Build a Nest In, by John Wiswell

Review copy provided by the publisher. Also the author is a dear friend and I read an earlier draft of this.

I am so excited that the rest of you are going to get to read this in only a few months, because John and I have been making jokes based on the protagonist for the entire time since he wrote it, and soon you can too. Shesheshen is a shapeshifting slime monster! She is a blob! She is my favorite blob ever! She is grumpy and eats people! And this is endearing as only John can do it. She has a pet bear named Blueberry, and rosemary is poison to her, and humans are a lot of trouble but sometimes good for parts.

And sometimes interesting.

So that’s a surprise, really, because who would have thought that humans would be interesting. But don’t worry, it’s definitely not all of them. Some of them are interested almost exclusively in hunting monsters, which in addition to being single-minded and unpleasant, is bad for Shesheshen and Blueberry. But maybe…just maybe…there’s a human out there who’s different. A human who’s worth more than the use Shesheshen can make of her bones and pancreas.

Worth more than bones and a pancreas? Seems like you’re gonna have suspension of disbelief issues with that one, huh? Seriously, John gives us monster perspective with all the warmth and humor he’s always brought to short stories, but this time he’s got room to really get comfortable in the voice and let Shesheshen’s revelations develop and her choices ramify. You’ll be rooting for this monster all the way through. I know I was. This book hooks you like a pair of borrowed steel jaws and pulls you in like a persistent tentacle. You won’t be sorry you formed eyeballs to read this one–or ears to listen to someone read it to you if that’s your thing. Highly recommended.

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The (not very) old and the new

Earlier this year Sunday Morning Transport published my story Exiled to Gravity. Now as part of their Storyflod event, it’s free for everyone to read! I hope you do, and I hope you enjoy it! It’s got a young woman discovering that the truth about her relationship with her mother–and herself–is not what she thought it might be. (What’s a storyflod? It’s like the Icelandic Christmas tradition of Julabokaflod, where we all wallow in words for the dark of the year. What a great tradition! Yay!)

And speaking of wallowing in words–I’ve got my first 2024 byline available for order! “Lost on a World Tree” is in the January Issue of Not One of Us, officially issue #77. You can order a copy here!

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Off the Air, by Christina Estes

Review copy provided by the publisher.

This is a cozy mystery about a TV journalist investigating the murder of Rush Limbaugh.

He’s not called Rush Limbaugh, of course; enough of the details are changed that it’s a different shape of story. But this is very much a “right-wing blowhard gets poisoned; plucky TV journalist pursues the story and also tries to promote her own career.” Estes is definitely getting some mileage out of how satisfying it is to watch the loathsome people who gather around such a horror show snap at each other over the corpse.

In the interest of making the protagonist not too saintly to be real, she comes out a bit the other side, whining about how hard it is to do her job and seething with jealousy for a local rival. Estes’s enthusiasm for the Phoenix setting comes through positively, but I didn’t actually like her detective as much as I wanted to. I felt she was supposed to come off beleaguered and instead read self-pitying to me, and on the whole I don’t really want to spend as much time with loathsome people as this book required me to do.

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Exordia, by Seth Dickinson

Review copy provided by the publisher.

I can’t actually decide which thing to tell you first, that this is funny or that it’s toward the gory and horrifying end of science fictional examinations of human nature and the nature of the universe.

Because both turn out to be critically important to what kind of book this is. It’s not a slapstick, it’s not a “skidding in the pool of blood” kind of funny. The humor is wryer and better done than that, deeper than that. But also the gore is deeper, it’s not an incidental “and then one of the sidekicks was shot but you won’t have to think about it, you won’t have to think about them as a person or what shooting them really means, how it might affect the protagonist to do it.” It’s entwined like a nest of snakes.

Anna Sinjari is a young Kurdish-American whose past has left her not particularly engaged with her life as an office worker. An encounter with a disturbing alien no one else seems to see quite as she does tips a series of dominoes that puts Anna in line to try to save humanity–because her alien is not only not entirely pleasant, she is not the only alien with an eye on the planet earth and its inhabitants. And, apparently, their souls.

Because yeah, there’s a lot of guns-and-shooting SF here, there’s a lot of different-mentalities-aliens SF here…but we’re also doing shape-of-the-universe-itself-and-sentient-soul SF. It’s a big book. There’s a lot going on. Most of the SF that gets described as breathless is a bit dewy-eyed, a bit young, and this is the opposite, this is breathless because it has been running an obstacle course of varied human bullshit to get here and you will have to excuse it if that’s a *little* much sometimes. There’s a lot to juggle, but Dickinson manages the flaming torches, the chainsaws, and the bowling balls with aplomb.

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Favorite short work of 2023

As always I do not limit my favorites to five–I’m not a nominating slate, you can make your own nominations. I’m just telling you what I’ve liked. I’m happy to say I’ve liked a lot! I’m thrilled that there are names here that were on last year’s list and names here that were not on last year’s list! I’m thrilled that there are new places to find stories and that some of the places I found stories last year are still good! And yeah, I have to say that I’m sad that there are people whose stories are their last and magazines whose stories are their last. But this is a post about the good–short stories, novelettes, and some poems. I hope you find something to love here. I know I did.

Our Grandmother’s Words, M.H. Ayinde (BCS)

Notable Escapes, Leah Bobet (Strange Horizons)

“At the Heart of Each Pearl Lies a Grain of Sand,” Marie Brennan (Sunday Morning Transport)

Yours, Wickedly: A Story in Thirteen Letters, Stephanie Burgis (Sunday Morning Transport)

flood fish/pumpkin moon, Grace Cahill (The Deadlands)

The Naming of Knots, M. A. Carrick (BCS)

The Sand Knows Its Way Home, L. Chan (Reckoning)

Merciful Even to Scorpions, Kay Chronister (BCS)

“Equal Forces Opposed in Exquisite Tension,” John Chu (New Suns 2)

“What I Remember of Oresha Moon Dragon Devshrata,” P Djeli Clark (The Book of Witches)

Held at the Roots, Jennifer Crow (Kaleidotrope)

Perhaps in Understanding, Anamaria Curtis (Uncanny)

Five Easy Hairstyles for Snake-Haired Girls, Jelena Dunato (Small Wonders)

“John Hollowback and the Witch,” Amal El-Mohtar (The Book of Witches)

After encountering the grey whales in El Burbujon, Laguna Ojo de Libre, Naila Francis (Reckoning)

“Forever the Forest,” Simone Heller (Life Beyond Us)

Junebug, Sarah Hollowell (Apex)

The State Street Robot Factory, Claire Humphrey (Apex)

“Between Truth and Death on the Murmansk-Saint Petersburg Line,” Zohar Jacobs (Sunday Morning Transport)

“The Corruption of Malik the Unsmiling,” Naseem Jamnia (Sunday Morning Transport)

“Catechism for Those Who Would Find Witches,” Kathleen Jennings (The Book of Witches)

“The Five Lazy Sisters,” Kathleen Jennings (F&SF Mar/Apr)

My Bonsai Lover in Winter, Rachael K. Jones (The Deadlands)

The Sound of Children Screaming, Rachael K. Jones (Nightmare)

The Big Glass Box and the Boys Inside, Isabel J. Kim (Apex)

Better Living Through Algorithms, Naomi Kritzer (Clarkesworld)

The Year Without Sunshine, Naomi Kritzer (Uncanny)

Still Life With Slain God and Lemon, Anne Leonard (Translunar Travelers Lounge)

“Juan,” Darcie Little Badger (New Suns 2)

“Dragons of Yuta,” Rochita Loenen-Ruiz (New Suns 2)

Steve Irwin and the Unicorn, Theo Nicole Lorenz (Strange Horizons)

“Bayanihan,” Maricar Macario (F&SF Sept/Oct 23)

A Princess With a Nose Three Ells Long, Malda Marlys (Fantasy)

His Guns Could Not Protect Him, Sam J. Miller (Lightspeed)

“The Far Side of the Door,” Premee Mohamed (Life Beyond Us)

Imagine Yourself Happy, Premee Mohamed (Small Wonders)

“So Spake the Mirrorwitch,” Premee Mohamed (The Book of Witches)

The Kingdom of Darkness, Sarah Monette (Uncanny)

The Spoil Heap, Fiona Moore (Clarkesworld)

Discreet Services Offered for Women Ridden by Hags, Stephanie Malia Morris (BCS)

Somewhere, It’s About to Be Spring, Samantha Murray (Clarkesworld)

Enchanted Mirrors Are Making a Comeback. That’s Not Necessarily a Good Thing., Mari Ness (Fantasy)

A Chronicle of the Mole-Year, Christi Nogle (Strange Horizons)

To Dust Returned, Rita Oakes (BCS)

To Whomsoever Remains, Brandon O’Brien (Uncanny)

“The Dangers We Choose,” Malka Older (Life Beyond Us)

“The Plant and the Purist,” Malka Older (New Suns 2)

Little Apocalypses, Aparna Paul (Reckoning)

The Changeling and the Child, Pooja Peravali (BCS)

There’s a Door to the Land of the Dead in the Land of the Dead, Sarah Pinsker (The Deadlands)

Ivy, Angelica, Bay, C.L. Polk (

What Will Bring You Home, Jenny Rae Rappaport (Beneath Ceaseless Skies)


Till the Greenteeth Draw Us Down, Josh Rountree (The Deadlands)

“Amrit,” Kiran Kaur Saini (F&SF May/Jun)

Blooms, Grace Seybold (Beneath Ceaseless Skies)

Always and Forever, Only You, Iona Datt Sharma (Strange Horizons)

“Cowboy Ghost Dads Always Break Your Heart,” Stefan Slater (F&SF Jan/Feb)

Drained,” Sonya Taaffe (Not One Of Us #74)

Construction Sacrifice, Bogi Takács (Lightspeed)

“Cyclic Amplification, Meaning Family,” Bogi Takacs (Life Beyond Us)

To Carry You Inside You, Tia Tashiro (Clarkesworld)

“Approved Methods of Love Divination in the First-Rate City of Dushagorod,” Kristina Ten (F&SF Jul/Aug 23)

“The Cost of Doing Business,” Emily Y Teng (The Book of Witches)

I Should Have Been a Pair of Ragged Claws, Alice Towey (Fantasy)

Five of Cups, Ali Trotta (The Deadlands)

What It Means to Love a City, Mo Usavage (Reckoning)

“Silk and Cotton and Linen and Blood,” Nghi Vo (New Suns 2)

She Blooms and the World Is Changed, Izzy Wasserstein (Lightspeed)

“Defective,” Peter Watts (Life Beyond Us)

“Manic Pixie Girl,” AC Wise (The Other Side of Never)

Bad Doors, John Wiswell (Uncanny)

The Three O’Clock Dragon, John Wiswell (

The Father Provincial of Mare Imbrium, E. Lily Yu (Uncanny)

In Memories We Drown, Kelsea Yu (Clarkesworld)

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Favorite short work from the end of 2023

This is not my year-end round-up of short pieces! That will come soon! This is just my late fall/early winter faves!

Held at the Roots, Jennifer Crow (Kaleidotrope)

Five Easy Hairstyles for Snake-Haired Girls, Jelena Dunato (Small Wonders)

Junebug, Sarah Hollowell (Apex)

“The Corruption of Malik the Unsmiling,” Naseem Jamnia (Sunday Morning Transport)

My Bonsai Lover in Winter, Rachael K. Jones (The Deadlands)

The Sound of Children Screaming, Rachael K. Jones (Nightmare)

The Year Without Sunshine, Naomi Kritzer (Uncanny)

Imagine Yourself Happy, Premee Mohamed (Small Wonders)

Ivy, Angelica, Bay, C.L. Polk (

What Will Bring You Home, Jenny Rae Rappaport (Beneath Ceaseless Skies)

To Carry You Inside You, Tia Tashiro (Clarkesworld)

Five of Cups, Ali Trotta (The Deadlands)

In Memories We Drown, Kelsea Yu (Clarkesworld)

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2023: year in review

Whew, another year? are we sure? yeah, I guess that’s what that adds up to, and it sure adds up to a lot. I signed contracts on another story sale today, I’m putting the finishing touches on a revision to send to my agent, and there’s a lot more stuff in the pipeline, so once again it’s probably good for me to take a moment to stop and breathe and review what I did this year.

I had the following stories come out, and they were a very mixed group in terms of theme and genre. There’s cranky dolphins, reluctant revolutionaries, aliens doing improv, :

Exiled to Gravity, Sunday Morning Transport (February)

Tourist Season, Nature Futures (April)

Monster of the Month Club, Haven Spec (August)

Spark of Change, Translunar Travelers Lounge (August)

Yes And, Nature Futures (August)

A Piece of the Continent, Uncanny (December)

I kept going with poetry, too, with a small clutch of poems. They’re just as varied as the fiction, ranging from a response to a beloved childhood series to science fictional feelings about the world we’re in right now to grief for nerds to fairy tale commentary:

Elegy for Another Hollow Girl, Not One of Us (April)

The Plural of Apocalypse, Strange Horizons (April)

Object Permanence, Analog (Sept/Oct)

Like Other Girls, F&SF (Nov/Dec)

Just the one essay this year, and I hope it encourages you to do things you enjoy:

Failing the Marshmallow Test: On Not Saving Books for Later, Uncanny (December)

I also had some fun reprints! “A Worm to the Wise” came out in Afterglow, and The Deadlands Year One featured both my poem “Oppenheimer in Valhalla” and my short story “Roots of Lamentation.”

That’s the year in publishing, though, which is not exactly the same as the year in writing. In the later part of the year I was more focused than usual on longer-form work, so taking a moment to write some poems and a short story in the last month has been a bit of a breath of fresh air, and I’ll want to do a bit more of that again early in the year. On the other hand I’ve liked doing two novellas and some novel work. Balance in all things? We know that’s not my strong suit. But looking for where balance might hypothetically be if I was another person completely? Sure, let’s go for that. Stranger things have happened at sea. And probably will happen on land in 2024, if the work I have coming out so far is any indication.

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Books read, early December

A.S. Byatt, The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye and Elementals. Rereads. These were not my intended memorial rereads when A.S. Byatt died, and in fact I still have that intention (Possession) on my pile. But I just sort of fell back into these, the familiar cadences of semi-fairy tale language and the places where she is thoughtful about creative work happiness and the chill of grief and all the other places.

Catherine Chidgey, Pet. A disturbing novel about a young girl in the thrall of a manipulative teacher who also has most of the adults around her conned. I didn’t like the way that her epilepsy played into some of the twists in the end–I don’t think it was entirely thoughtfully handled–but the prose and characterization were well-done.

Samuel K. Cohn, Lust for Liberty: The Politics of Social Revolt in Medieval Europe, 1200-1425. I can’t think of a better way to handle subtitling something when you want to talk about a small but not clearly defined subset of Europe so you can’t say “Western Europe” (because it’s not all of Western Europe) or any other category like that, but really the subtitle vastly overstates the case here, Cohn is only going to talk about Italy, France, and Flanders. Which is a shame, because I was really interested in the whole–I was particularly interested in the overarching comparisons, but I think what was going on in the Germanies was interesting and hoped that he would have insights into Eastern vs. Western Europe that he obviously isn’t going to have if Italy is as far east as he goes. There was interesting stuff here, but it really wasn’t the book I wanted, and also he had a disconcerting habit of referring to France as Northern Europe (stop that, Cohn).

Camille T. Dungy, Guidebook to Relative Strangers: Journeys Into Race, Motherhood, and History. After I finished Soil, I went immediately to find out what else the library had, and this did not disappoint, a collection of explorations of place and reception of herself and her daughter. Beautifully done.

Max Gladstone, Wicked Problems. Discussed elsewhere.

Hilary Leichter, Terrace Story. This was a very short novel, interesting in its way, about a couple with a toddler, living in a cramped apartment, who discover that when one friend comes over–and only then–they have a beautiful terrace. The handling of the speculative conceit as it unfolds is very literary, but the fact that additional speculative elements are introduced into this story with a fundamentally literary focus and resolution makes me feel even more like the speculative genres have made their way into the culture–it feels like the kind of short surreal novel that would have been trying to distance itself from genre fiction 20 years ago, not matter-of-factly ending with some characters on a space station.

Robin McKinley, The Hero and the Crown. Reread. I was reading The Blue Sword for book club last month, and this one was always more of a favorite. One of the things that interested me about it was that when it shifted the geography of Damar, it also substantially shifted the culture, so that it felt like all the references to things in The Blue Sword were very much “oh yes, they’ll have that later” and not “I have to deal with the cultural choices I already made about what will be important here.” I still love Aerin’s experimentalism so much. I am completely confounded by some of the age differences in characters now, though, and while I don’t think it was written as an explicit argument against monarchies (“don’t have a king, kids, or you might end up with the one guy in charge being barely functional while he’s personally grieving for decades, and that’s in the event that you got a halfway decent one to begin with!”), it sort of came out like one.

Megan O’Keefe, The Fractured Dark. The second in its series about mind-control parasites taking over a space opera series. Er, I mean humanity. And the humans who love them. And would like to not love them, but can’t, because see above. Do not, do not, do not start here, it’s very much a second book.

O No Yasumaro, The Kojiki: An Account of Ancient Matters. This very much read like a listing of spirits and how they came to be. It was a very different kind of origin epic than many of the origin epics I’ve been reading. I can’t say that it resonated as strongly as a narrative, but taken in small chunks it’s fascinating, all the ways people can enumerate parts of spirituality and place.

Paz Pardo, The Shamshine Blind. It feels deliberately hilarious to describe something as noir that’s so full of color, I really appreciate Pardo’s sense of humor about this. This is a novel in which mood-altering pigments allowed Argentina to win what we know as the Falklands War and become a world-dominating power, and the subtlety and thoughtfulness of the worldbuilding from there is only one of the novel’s many charms, since it’s by turns an investigative mystery, the story of someone pulling her career together, and the story of someone sorting out her interpersonal relationships (of various shapes) in a very difficult time for doing that. It was simultaneously doing something no one else is doing and behaving as though the good parts of cyberpunk hadn’t died all those years ago.

Namwali Serpell, Stranger Faces. A collection of essays about different aspects of how we interact with human faces and expectations thereof. Slim and well-done.

Genevieve Warwick, Cinderella’s Glass Slipper: Towards a Cultural History of Renaissance Materialities. Kindle. A monograph about luxury goods, particularly in dowries and marriage goods, in the Renaissance and their influence on the specific shape of the stories we get told as fairy tales. Small enough not to overplay its hand.

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The hope gets proofed with the yeast.

Hope isn’t the same thing as wishes.

You can wish for whatever you want, and there are a million stories about why you shouldn’t–stories of wishing for things done to be undone, for the dead to be with us again, for all the things that are beyond our reach to be here, now. And some of those stories are frankly asshole stories–some of those stories are about not getting above yourself. Stretch, friends. Climb. Get the heck above yourselves, and then get above that. Do it all you want. Do it more. But some of those stories are saying: don’t batter your heart against the impossible when you could be spending that energy looking for a climbing route. And…finding that line between can be hard.

That hard line is some of my job, as a science fiction and fantasy writer: what’s hopeful, what’s unrooted, a soap bubble dream. If we tell each other that we can dream of a better world, but the only better worlds we can dream of require humans to not react like humans–require the past not to have happened–require invented interventions we can’t summon–we’re telling people that nothing will ever be better. So we need to do a little better than that, even when the worlds we’ve dreamed up are three doors over and can’t happen–we need not to people them exclusively with shapes of hope that can’t.

It’s also some of my job this year as a family member. Trying to figure out shapes of hope that can join up with the reality that we have: the conditions, the diagnoses, the treatment plans. Because “I wish all this would go away” is not hope, it’s not support, it’s not caring. I can say it to myself anyway, and sometimes I need to; the emotions aren’t wrong. But saying it to the family members who are most struggling is of limited use compared to doing the work of helping, of making things a tiny bit better in some direction for their actual lives. Of getting them fed with something special, of getting some candles lit for them if I can, one day and then another day if I can, literally or metaphorically.

This is not a writing post. This is the one about the bread. Because good morning. It’s Santa Lucia Day. And when we’re making the lussekatter, when we’re lighting the wreath, those actions ground us. They keep us here in the real. The real smell of the yeast and the saffron, the feel of the dough stretching in our hands. It reminds us that sometimes the hopes we build for each other need to be built on something solid–and sometimes those are the very things we wanted to look away from in the present. But we have to reach out and feed and warm each other now, as we are, not as we wanted to be, and we have to recognize that we’re going to have to do this some more in a minute. It’s not going to be a quick job. I fed my neighbor, and my neighbor was still hungry: yes, that’s the job, friends, it’s more than one day’s worth. I lit my neighbor’s path, and my neighbor still stumbled. I still stumbled–well, yes. Because we’ve got a lot of light yet to shed before we have anything like a clear path here. We have to remember that we are in the darkest of days, and if we’re lucky we get the most perfect saffron we’ve ever worked with–oh, you would not believe how perfect, it crumbled at the first touch of the pestle and scented the entire house–but no matter what size batch we bake, we’re going to be done with them while it’s still getting darker. And we’re going to have to turn our hand to the next task that feeds and warms us through the darkness, and the next. But we know that, we know that’s the work, and we’re ready. We’ve got this. And some mornings, the work is delicious.

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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Wicked Problems, by Max Gladstone

Review copy provided by the publisher. Also the author is a friend.

The world is on fire, so I did not successfully hold off reading Max’s book about how the world is on fire until closer to its release date. Also, I’m not sorry.

Okay, look, middle books in trilogies are the traditional place for the wheels to come off, right? Everything has been set up in the first book with Tara’s apprentice Dawn making some god-level dubious choices with the Craft, and now’s the time for all the pieces on the board to scatter into chaotic woe, that’s how trilogies work. But this isn’t just a trilogy, it’s also the culmination of the Craft books from before the trilogy, so when we say all the pieces on the board

The gang really is all here, friends. Is there a major character you’re missing from one of the previous Craft books? Because Max has dropped them in the shit here. Basically all of them. Many of the fires are literal, people die (gosh that’s inconvenient and hard on their clothes), and the conviction that you and your team are saving the world…doesn’t actually guarantee that the world will get more saved by the stuff you get yourself into.

Because wicked problems are not just “problems! wicked!” They’re the ones with no stopping point, the ones that are complex to the point of insolubility. They’re the ones where attempts at solution reveal more problems. And all of that, absolutely all of it, comes up here, as literal apocalypse bears down on gods, priests, lawyers, family, friends, and whoever else they can rope into helping. Or hindering, or…if they can even tell the difference.

Seriously don’t start here, but if you think you might be excited about all this? Yeah. You’re excited. Because this book just does not let up.