The Tuesday List: Tiny Steps

Today is the day!  We leave for our trip to Glasgow and Inverness, a trip we’ve been planning for over a year.  So in honor of our big trip, I’m making a list of stories featuring tiny steps with big effects.  This could be transformations, or parallels steps, or anything that seems small but has big consequences.  So here goes!

1. The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe, by Kij Johnson

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This little novella published by Tor is a Lovecraftian retelling, in which the main character must figure out how to follow a young student at her school from their own world–with monsters of all sorts and a fixed number of star– into the real world of cars and cell phones and baristas.  And all she has to do is step through the right doorway.

2. The Wanderers, by Meg Howrey

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The true space age is upon us, but before we can blast off for Mars, we have to do the test run.  In a seventeen month long experiment Helen and her two crew partners will simulate every possible aspect of leaving the surface of the earth, making the journey, landing, staying for a few weeks, and then leaving to come back to earth.  In this fascinating thought experiment, Howrey creates real conditions for what three people who barely know each other would go through on the longest space journey humans have taken so far.  And all without leaving the dust of Idaho.

3. Hammers on Bone, by Cassandra Khaw

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This novella isn’t about stepping through a doorway, or simulating a long journey, but about stepping into another being.  John Persons is a tentacled alien god-being who has assumed the body of an actual human, and is a private eye in seedy London, tasked with taking down the sinister step-father of a latchkey kid with a little too much savvy for a boy his age.  Chaos, of course, ensues.

4. The Girl from Everywhere, by Heidi Heilig

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Nix is a scholar, a historian, a sailor… and a time traveler.  All she needs is a map, and she can go anywhere in the time it was created.  Swept up by her father’s quest to get back to her mother, when Nix was just a baby, she steps from one world into another, sometimes even into fantasies, with a change of wind and sail.

5. Kabu Kabu, by Nnedi Okorafor

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This book of short stories has the best prologue I’ve ever encountered for a collection.  A young woman, running late for the airport, takes the most unexpected cab to the airport, but instead of dropping her off at the terminal, it takes her directly to her destination–her family’s home in Nigeria where she’s expected for a wedding.  And then the reader is treated to a series of short stroies that represent some of the best of Okorafor’s writing, even among her novels.  These stories have presence, the characters stick with you, and they are both speculative and nostalgic in a way only someone who has really been there can manage.

October Library Checkouts, 2017

The best part about October is not, as some would argue, getting to Halloween at the end, but getting to my birthday in November!

But first, let’s talk about what I checked out from my local library this October, 2017.

The New Voices of Fantasy, edited by Peter S. Beagle.  I was very pleased to peruse my library’s  new books shelves and find this title.  I’d seen it fly by on Twitter multiple times, and there are many authors in it that I’ve either enjoyed in the past or am interested in.

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The Prey of  Gods, by Nicky Drayden.  A South African setting with AI and post-apocalyptic aspects made this novel intriguing.  Drayden is an author I’ve never encountered before, so I’m excited to get to know her work.

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An Unkindness of Ghosts, by Rivers Solomon.  A generation ship, exploration, social issues! Of course I was going to pick this up.  It’s also highly recommended by publications like Publisher’s Weekly.

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The Tuesday List: Selkie Stories are for SFF Lovers

Bear with me.

I’m not into the kind of paranormal fiction that features werewolves and other shape changers, but for some reason selkies really intrigue me.  So here’s a list of stories with Selkies, some short stories, some not.

  1. “Selkie Stories are for Losers” by Sofia Samatar, as published in The New Voices of Fantasy, edited by Peter S. Beagle.

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This quick read takes the familiar mythology of the selkie and gives it a modern twist.

 

2. “Jackalope Wives” by Ursula Vernon, also as published in The New Voices of Fantasy.

This isn’t about actual, named Selkies, but Jackalopes, which also change to human women by shedding their skin.

3. The Story of the Selkie in Cat Valente’s Orphan’s Tales: In the Night Garden.  Like all the tales in this book, it’s monstrous and wondrous and a little tragic, all rolled into one.

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4. The Promethean Age novels, by Elizabeth Bear, featuring Uisgebaugh, a Kelpie, which is of course not actually a Selkie, but it is a mythical creature that lives in water and can take human form.  But in this case, it’s a horse, not a seal, and it usually becomes a man when it takes human form.  Oh, and also it eats people.  But if you’re into fae-based fantasy with a touch of urban and a lot of people making questionable decisions, this series is for you.

 

5. Song of the Sea, a 2014 animated film from the people who created The Secret of Kells, it’s about Ben and his younger sister Saoirse, who must discover the secret of their mother’s life and death in order to save Saoirse’s life and return to their lighthouse-keeper father.  It’s adorable, and well-animated, and has really neat music and sound effects.

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Short Fiction I’ve Enjoyed Lately, Oct 2017

Hey, this is my semi-regular post where I throw a bunch of short fiction at you, so here goes.

The first few are from the recently released New Voices of Fantasy, edited by Peter S. Beagle and Jacob Weisman, which I checked out from my local library.

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“Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers” by Alyssa Wong
“Selkie Stories are for Losers” by Sofia Samatar
“Jackalope Wives” by Ursula Vernon
“The Cartographer Wasps and Anarchist Bees” by E. Lily Yu
“The Practical Witch’s Guide to Acquiring Real Estate” by A. C. Wise
“Tiger Baby” by JY Yang

The next few are from Uncanny Magazine (uncannymagazine.com)

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“The Green Knight’s Wife” by Kat Howard (Uncanny Magazine Podcast Ep 13B)
“Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies” by Brooke Bolander (Uncanny Magazine Podcast, Ep 13A)
“The Witch of Orion Waste and the Boy Knight” by E. Lily Yu (Uncanny Magazine Podcast Ep 12B)

And the last one is a story I’ve talked about in brief on this blog, originally published by Apex Magazine (apex-magazine.com)

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“Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience™” by Rebecca Roanhorse

Short Fiction I’ve Loved Jan-Jun 2017

Note, most of the stories on this list were not from 2017; most of them are circa- 2015.  I’m making an effort to expand my short fiction reading, so hopefully I’ll be able to make this a monthly post, rather than semi-annually.

“Celia and the Conservation of Entropy” by Amelia Beamer, as read by the author on Uncanny Magazine Podcast Episode 2

“Pockets” by Amal El-Mohtar as read by the author on Uncanny Magazine Podcast Episode 4

“Translatio Corporis” by Kat Howard, as read by Amal El-Mohtar on Uncanny Magazine Podcast Episode 3A

“Planet Lion” by Catherynne M. Valente, as read by Heath Miller on Uncanny Magazine Podcast Episode 4A or in the anthology The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2016, edited by Karen Joy Fowler and John Joseph Adams

“In Libres” by Elizabeth Bear, as read by C.S.E. Cooney on Uncanny Magazine Podcast Episode 4B

“Ye Highlands and Ye Lowlands” by Seanan McGuire, as read by Amal El-Mohtar on Uncanny Magazine Podcast Episode 10A

“Rat Catcher’s Yellows”  by Charlie Jane Anders in the anthology The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2016, edited by Karen Joy Fowler and John Joseph Adams

Neither Here Nor There, by Cat Rambo

Dip into the many worlds of Cat Rambo in this collection of short stories, many originally published in themed anthologies, all glimpses into fantastic worlds of myth, legend, and memory.  Will you find yourself in the world of a hyper-intelligent mechanical man who runs on the energy of highly valuable phlogiston?  Or in the city of Serendib where anything is possible, trailing along in the wake of the Dark, once the most skilled assassin in all the world?  Or in another place entirely?

Whimsy connects these stories, no matter where they take the reader, even in the darkest haunts and most disturbing recesses of the human mind.  Rambo writes as though storytelling truly were a joy and a gift, reveling in the possibilities of fantasy and folklore.  Many of her stories are connected by the worlds in which they take place, such as the steampunk environment of Elspeth and Artemus, Pinkerton detectives seeking criminals in a world of werewolves, vampires, and other supernatural creatures.  In stories such as these, the everyday turns to horror; in other stories what is accepted is subverted—common points of view are turned inside out and power lies with those not usually given such luxury.

In Neither Here Nor There, Rambo shows skill in writing more mythic fantasy, distanced from the real world by both time and the pervasiveness of the fantastic, but also with more contemporary urban fantasy; such stories as “The Coffeemaker’s Passion,” “Elections at Villa Encantada,” and “So Glad We Had This Time Together” share a fascination with the mundane and prove that any story can become a fantasy story, with the right measure of imagination and skill. Rambo’s writing is reminiscent of such writers as Katherine Addison, Elizabeth Bear, Mary Robinette Kowal, and Catherynne M. Valente.

Readers looking for short bursts of high-concentration fantasy need look no further than Rambo’s newest short story collection.  Those who enjoy a wide variety of fantasy genres are sure to find their next favorite story in Neither Here Nor There.  This collection is a gift that keeps on giving, and would make a great addition to anyone’s fantasy shelf.

Falling in Love with Hominids, by Nalo Hopkinson

Falling
In Love With Hominids
is a collection of short stories
published during an eight to ten-year span, and published in various journals
and anthologies.  The stories are
of disparate themes, but unified by a general fascination with humans and
humanity, and take many forms. 
Some stories are quite short meditations on a singular event or topic,
while others show a longer character arc. 
Hopkinson’s stories are never written in a vacuum, however, and all
feature vividly realized worlds, often with a range of flora and fauna—some
even using them as characters.

Of
the more interesting aspects of the collection are Hopkinson’s short prefaces
to each story, which tell the reader a little about when the story was written,
and what the inspiration was for it. 
Getting this rare glimpse into an author’s process is fascinating, and
speaks to Hopkinson’s genius as a writer. 
“The Easthound” is a dystopic look at what happens when a mysterious
disease begins taking all the adults. 
Teenagers and children have to look out for themselves, staving off the
loneliness and fear of their situation by playing games and singing songs.  From a simple story idea to its grim
conclusion, “The Easthound” is an eerie look at notions of safety and
civilization.

An
orchid becomes the protagonist in “A Raggy Dog, a Shaggy Dog,” where the teller
is an underground horticulturalist and her favorite orchid takes on a life of
its own, with motivations and survival strategies far beyond the capabilities
of your average flower.  And in
“Shift,” the tale of Caliban made famous by William Shakespeare in The Tempest moves through time and
becomes a protagonist in his own right, joined by his mother and sister as he
tries to find his identity through falling in love with women in the modern
world. 

Hopkinson
thrives on subverting traditional texts and re-centering cultural focus from
traditional protagonists and traditional Western settings.  Even stories set in North America have
a foreign feel, as though the ghosts of many different people are seeping
through.  Readers not afraid to
confront, or be confronted by, uncomfortable characters or situations will
enjoy the immense imagination and wonder that Hopkinson puts into each
story.  She writes with a easy
style that keeps engaged and wondering until the end.  Readers who enjoy a bit of horror in their fantasy will be
intrigued by the way that Hopkinson doesn’t shy away from the darker side of
human nature.  And of course,
anyone who has read any of Hopkinson’s novels will love this collection.  If not, get a taste of her talent, and
then check out some of her novels!

Time travel: Recent Trips, edited by Paula Guran

Time
Travel: Recent Trips
is a collection of eighteen short
stories which feature time travel as a major or minor element, in all its
various forms.  It’s a wide-ranging
collection of themes and modes, to be sure, with something that is guaranteed
to appeal to any time travel enthusiast. 
Guran has pulled stories from a number of sub-genres and to top it off
the book has great cover art by Julie Dillon herself.

All
stories were published within the past ten years, though some belong to newer
writers in the field, while others are from established authors, and range from
literary, to experimental, to pulp science fiction in style and subject.  Paul Cornell is perhaps best know for
his television and novel work with Doctor
Who
, and his comics work with DC and Marvel, but his story The Ghosts of Christmas is a visceral
trip into the life of one scientist working with schizophrenics who discovers a
way to move through time along her own timeline.  The story explores the notions of infinite possibility and
predetermination through the story of one character, letting the reader mull over
all that was going on in the background after the story is over.  Mating
Habits of the Late Cretaceous
, by Dale Bailey and Bespoke, by
Genevieve Valentine, both deal with the concept of tourism through time in
quite different ways.  The former
is a saw on the familiar unhappy married couple trope, while the latter
examines desire and need through the lens of a clothing maker specializing in
exact replicas of period clothing for time travelers.

Mary
Robinette Kowal makes an appearance with a meditation on the notion of aging
and being remembered, in a world where one can only travel backwards in time
within one’s own lifetime, and suddenly the forgotten elderly are important
again.  For those feeling the loss
of Kage Baker, “The Carpet Betds of Sutro Park” explore another aspect of time
travel tourism with an employee of a company that films historic places for
future use spending a lifetime observing the same place in San Francisco and
the people who visit it throughout its lifetime, seeing the degradations of
time in a way that humans can’t. 

Other
notable stories in this collection come from Ken Liu, Elizabeth Bear &
Sarah Monette, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Suzanne J. Willis, and Eileen Gunn.  Readers looking for a collection with a
variety of tastes, old and new, will find much to enjoy in this
collection.  Many of the stories
are tightly plotted and experimental in nature, making them natural expressions
of their time travel subjects and riveting reads. 

The Very Best of Kate Elliott

The Very Best of Kate Elliott is a
somewhat career-spanning collection of short fiction from an author who
generally writes multi-volume fantasy and science fiction with extensive world building
and character development.  It’s
career spanning in that the stories run the gamut of the worlds and characters
Elliott has created throughout her career, and then some.  The collection also features a very
moving introduction and four essays representative of Elliott’s views on
writing and the types of stories she creates. 

This
collection will be a joy to readers who love any of Elliott’s novels, as it is
true to the philosophy she espouses in every novel of developing whole
societies, cultures, and worlds that don’t rely on status quo settings or plots
that leave out pesky details like what happens to agrarian societies when
whole-scale war breaks out. 
Elliott finds the beautiful details in every person’s story and tells it
with a grace that lends depth and importance to characters whether they are
queens or peasants or something else entirely.  The very young and the very old alike have their own
stories, and are not relegated to supporting roles in someone else’s story arc. 

 Among
the stories in this collection are some from the Crown of Stars world, one from
the Spiritwalker world, one from the Crossroads world, and one from the Jaran
world.  Further stories are
generally modeled on a pre-industrial Earth period, whether it be a farming
village on the edge of a kingdom or a fishing village in an unnamed world.  The most powerful story, to me, was
titled “The Queen’s Garden” and is the tale—told almost as myth or folktale—of
two princesses whose matrilineal kingdom was stolen from them by their greedy
father.  Because it begins as a
folktale, one might expect the traditional plot: that one of the princes who
visits their kingdom would stand up to their father and win the kingdom back,
marry one or both princesses, etc. 
Elliott happily subverts this expectation, however, showing how women
can both be the hero of their own tales and not turn themselves into men in
order to maintain agency.  This is
an important theme that Elliott carries throughout her writing.

Elliott’s
short stories do not have quite the force that her novels and series have in
terms of prose and style, however the themes are strong and hint at worlds and
ideas yet unexplored and undiscovered. 
 As some of the stories are
a bit longer than average short story length, this collection is recommended to
fantasy lovers who usually read novels but are looking to get into short
stories.  The Very Best of Kate Elliott is of course recommended to all
lovers of her novels, and to readers interested in reading a wide range of
characters and voices.  Elliott’s
stories invoke a broad range of feelings without being sentimental, and deal
with violence without losing the humanity either of the violent or their
victims.  Lovers of Bujold, LeGuin,
K.J. Parker, and other realist fantasy will find much to love in Elliott’s
stories.

Get in Trouble, by Kelly Link

            Kelly Link has a wonderful gift for fitting an entire novel
into every one of the short stories in this collection.  But heed this dire warning: the further
in you fall, the better the odds you’ll get in trouble.  Link leaves a lot left unsaid,
expecting instead that readers will fill in the gaps with their own
understandings and meanings.  You
might be led in directions you didn’t expect.  In Get in Trouble,
like in life, it is often the things we don’t say that have the greatest
significance, that tell the most important stories. 

            Link
writes in a conversational, sometimes colloquial tone that belies the heavier
themes in her stories.  Whether
she’s playing with the trope of the vampire lover, unable to be seen in
mirrors, who transformed into a needy former lover in “I Can See Right Through
You,” or what happens to a lonely girl just looking for a way out of her dreary
hometown in a world in which everyone, literally, is a superhero in “Secret
Identity,” Link seamlessly blends fantasy and reality.  “Origin Story” and “Light” both ask the
reader to decide what that phrase—get in trouble—really means.  Is trouble a place you can go to?  Something you can create or cause?  Is it a state of being or state of mind
that certain people just inhabit or embody? 

            Do
the stories in Get in Trouble
enumerate all the ways in which people can get in trouble, or exhort readers to
go out and do it?  Get in
trouble.  Go on, do it.  In some stories, characters don’t seem
to have a choice.  “Two Houses” is
a tale within a tale, describing ever-widening arcs of narrative and meaning.  Reality, it seems, is being written
only as fast as a story can be told. 
What is real, what is imagined, and what is enacted can’t be explained
or anticipated until after it has happened, and sometimes not even then.  And once it is over, the characters are
left to wonder, now that it is no longer happening, did it really happen at
all? 

            Get in Trouble first and foremost will appeal
to readers who love short stories, as each story in this collection is
carefully executed and tightly plotted. 
There is much more than meets the eye in each story.  Readers fascinated by the Gothic
stylings of Edgar Allan Poe or the more Macabre aspects of Neil Gaiman will
enjoy Link’s work.  Though she
doesn’t shy away from dark subjects, Link infuses each story with a
lighthearted sense of wonder at the possibilities and promise of a universe
unfettered, and readers who enjoy forward-looking science fiction or urban
fantasy will be swept off their feet by the vast universes that Get in Trouble’s stories inhabit.