New Review of WOMEN AND OTHER CONSTRUCTS (plus links & giveaway)

There is a great new review of my short fiction collection, Women and Other Constructs! At SF Signal, Carl V. Anderson gave it 4.5 out of 5 stars, saying:

Women and Other Constructs is a varied, powerful collection of stories that showcases the range and talent of an author who will hopefully continue to rise in exposure in the SFF community.  Her work demonstrates that the short fiction format, particularly in SF/F/H can be a vessel that contains effective plotting, strong characterization, and worthwhile examination of important topics while still being highly entertaining.  This collection is not light, by any means, conversely it is not heavy to the point of getting in the way of good storytelling.  The stories Carrie Cuinn includes in this volume show that “thought-provoking” need not mean “inaccessible” to the average reader.”

Read the rest of the (very long, detailed, and glowing) review here: SF Signal

Plus, Anderson is giving away a copy of the book at his website. Comment there to be entered.

Please click through to my online shop to buy DRM-free ebooks of this book, directly from me. PDF, ePub (suitable for your nook, tablets, and more) and Mobi (for Kindle) versions are available for instant download, so you can read it across any of your devices, or on your computer.  You can also order signed copies of the print book!

Bundle of signed print book + instant download of all ebook formats $12.99, or just the signed book, $10

Bundle of all ebook formats $2.99, or individually: ePub, Mobi, or PDF, just $1.99

CLICK HERE TO BUY MY BOOKS

Also available via Amazon: Kindle ($1.99) and print ($5.99)

Oh, did you see the interview I did with AC Wise? You can find out more about the collection here. Thanks for reading!

womenprintcoverSMALL

#SFWApro

Review: Nature “Futures” April, May, June 2013

Nature magazine publishes flash science fiction under the collective title “Futures“. They accept unagented submissions, pay a pro rate, and have an interesting target word count: 850-950 firm. Overall, I was less impressed than I expected. There were stories that seemed to be badly told copies of common tales we’ve heard a hundred times before.  I thought there’d be a lot more working science, too. But there were also brilliant pieces that are absolutely worth reading. (My favorites were by Lin, Liu, Spruck Wrigley, Stanger, Shvartsman, Starks, and Powers-Smith.)

June 2013

Probability-1: termination” by Euan Nisbet. (Alt history. Scientists plan to change a single molecule in the fertilized eggs that would become King George and Queen Victoria, in order to save America from worldwide sanctions.) The story seemed based too much on name dropping the alt-world’s leaders, and relied too little on plot. Plus, a scientist has a workable machine that can change molecules anywhere in time, paid for by government funding, and yet has free range to use the machine without any supervision? 2/5

Buzz off” by John Grant. (Aliens arrive to help humans become civilized, are surprised to find we won’t listen.) Straight-forward, common tropes. Relies on a joke reveal at the end. 2/5

Mortar flowers” by Jessica May Lin. (Artist in a war zone making beauty out of desolation.) Lovely. The backstory is subtle but clear, the mood sombre with the memory of lost hope, and using the scientific names for flowers–instead of a description of what they look like–works perfectly. It’s a moment with a history, a beginning, and a believable end. 5/5

Continue reading

Free Fiction: “Notes On My Recent Job Interview With Your Firm”

Excerpt:

Dear Nancy from HR,

I am writing to reply to the survey I found attached to the letter informing me that, “we have determined that other applicants’ skills and experience more closely meet our company’s needs”. I realize your letter was mailed several weeks ago, but I was unavoidably detained during that time, and was unable to respond earlier. I have been advised that answering the questions in depth may relieve some lingering feelings of unease I have been experiencing since my interview. Please bear with me, as your form has limited space for additional notes. Some answers continue on the back.

1. How clear was the information you were given before the interview?

C. Moderately clear

After a pleasant phone call asking me to appear for an interview with your firm, I was emailed an itinerary which included the names of staff members I would be meeting, as well as a schedule of events. While I admit that a few of the items seemed strange, I assumed this was your department’s attempt at job-related humor. In hindsight, the schedule was extremely accurate, and I accept the blame for not realizing “enter Applicant Tracking System” meant I’d be injected with a radioactive tracer. (The bruise has mostly faded.)

Download a PDF of the whole story here!

#sfwapro

UPDATED List: 150+ Asian Speculative Fiction Authors (with links)

Updated to add suggestions from the comments/email/Twitter. All authors mentioned prior to 8/18/2016 are now included. If you’re not on this list but should be, or you’re on it but want me to link to a more recent story or current website, please comment below.

I’ve been wanting to expand my reading to include more international speculative fiction, and more non-white American authors. I am privileged to know a couple of brilliant writers who also happen to be Asian, and that seemed a good place to start my reading*. I put together a list of work I’d been meaning to explore, and then solicited ideas from Twitter and the SFWA forums. Most people suggested the same couple of names over and over again… while it’s, honestly, wonderful that we’ve reached a point in SF/F where these authors are being read and discussed at all, there’s so much more diversity in our fiction, if we just look for it. There’s almostover a hundred and fifty published writers on this list, and I know it isn’t everyone.

The authors are listed alphabetically by given name, so the list doesn’t imply hierarchy. I also didn’t sort by ancestry, current geographic location, or place of birth (though I noted it where it’s listed in author bios**), because the writers listed here have placed varying degrees of importance on those facts. Some work in American tropes, subverting the “classic” science fiction of the 50s, while others retell the myths of their homeland in new and unique ways. Some look to the future, extrapolating possibilities from their own experiences. There’s no one style, structure, or emotional context that can be called “Asian writing”. What these authors have in common is that they’re all of Asian descent, and they all write speculative fiction***. These authors write primarily in English—I’ve included a few translated works, but I can’t vouch for the authenticity of voice, so I tried to choose English-language stories wherever possible.

I want to thank Clarkesworld, Apex Magazine, Crossed Genres Magazine, Lightspeed Magazine, Strange Horizons, Giganotosaurus, The World SF Blog, and Daily Science Fiction for repeatedly publishing these authors. Looking for diversity in short speculative fiction? Look to those publications. (Or my own, Lakeside Circus.) When I could find it, I’ve linked to the author’s Twitter, website, blog, list of publications, and/or a sample short story. I’ve also noted if the author works primarily in YA or MG fiction.

  1. Aditya Bidikar (Indian, shorts) story: “You Cannot Fight the WarWorld SF blog
  2. Alec Austin (Chinese-American, shorts) twitter website story: “Brief Interviews with TherianthropesDaily Science Fiction
  3. Alice Sola Kim (shorts) website publications story: “Hwang’s Brilliant DaughtersLightspeed
  4. Alliete de Bodard (French/Vietnamese, shorts stories/novels, Nebula and BFSA winner) twitter website publications story: “The Weight of a Blessing” Clarkesworld
  5. Alexander Osias (Filipino, shorts) G+ twitter
  6. Apol Lejano-Massebieau (Filipino, shorts) story: “The Sewing Project” Best of Philippine Speculative Fiction 2009
  7. Amish Tripathi (Indian, novels) twitter
  8. Amitav Ghosh (Indian, novels, Arthur C. Clark award, Man Booker shortlist) website publications blog
  9. Andrea G. Stewart (Chinese-American, shorts/novels) website Twitter
  10. Andrew Drilon (Filipino, shorts/comics/editing) blog
  11. Andrew Fukuda (Chinese/Japanese, novels) (YA) twitter website blog
  12. Andrew Vu website twitter facebook
  13. Anil Menon (Indian, shorts/novels/editing) website blog story: “ArchipelagoStrange Horizons
  14. Ashok Banker (Indian, novels) wikipedia
  15. Benjanun “Bee” Sriduangkaew (shorts) twitter blog story: “AnnexClarkesworld
  16. Berit Ellingsen (shorts, novel) website
  17. Brenda “B.W.” Clough (shorts/novels, Hugo and Nebula nominee) website publications
  18. Bryan Thao Worra (Laotian-American, shorts/poems) twitter blog poem: “No Such PhiLakeside Circus
  19. Budjette Tan (Filipino, comics/shorts, Philippine National Book Award winner) twitter blog story: “The Last Full ShowAlternative Alamat
  20. Camsy Ocumen (Filipino, shorts) story: “The Day the World Lost Its Gravity” Best of Philippine Speculative Fiction 2009
  21. Cassandra Khaw website
  22. Cecelia Manguerra Brainard (Filipino-American, novels/shorts/editing) website wiki
  23. Cecilia Tan (novelist, editing, shorts ) twitter website publications free fiction (sample chapters/serials)
  24. Celestine Trinidad (Filipino, shorts) story: “Under a Mound of Earth, part 1Philippine Genre Stories
  25. Charles Tan (Filipino, shorts/editing) twitter blog publications story: “The Fortunes of Mrs. Yu” The Dragon and the Stars”
  26. Charles Yu (shorts/novels, John W. Campbell nominee) twitter
  27. Chitra Divakaruni (Indian-American, shorts/novels/poems, Pushcart prize) website blog
  28. Cindy Pon (Taiwanese, novels) (YA) twitter website blog sample: first 70 pages of Silver Phoenix
  29. Claire Light (Chinese, shorts) website blog publications story: “The Apocalypse ArtistStretcher
  30. Crystal Koo (shorts, lectures) website twitter publications story: “HeartlandAbyss & Apex
  31. Dean Francis Alfar (Filipino, shorts/novels/plays/editing) twitter wiki story: “The New Daughter” Philippine Genre Stories”
  32. Derwin Mak (Chinese-Canadian, shorts/novels/editing Aurora award) twitter website publications blog novella: “Kleinheimat
  33. Dinesh Rao (Indian, shorts) blog story: “The Portal PlagueThe World SF Blog
  34. Don Pizarro (Filipino-American, shorts/editing) twitter website publications story: “Life After Wartime” Lakeside Circus
  35. Dwight Okita (novels) website
  36. Dung Kai-Cheung (Chinese, novels/plays) bio Continue reading

I Read David Marusek’s “Getting To Know You”

I’d never heard of David Marusek when I was handed this collection*. Just told that I would like it, and I should read it. It sat on my bookshelf for a few months while I caught up with other reading material, but lately I’ve been trying to get through my back catalog, finish tasks, let go of things I don’t need anymore, and move on. Clear out my inboxes. Turn in what I owe people.

Read books that aren’t mine so I can give them back.

The collection of ten short stories was put together after his 2005 novel, COUNTING HEADS, got great reviews. Half of the stories are set in the same future, and one (“The Wedding Album”) won the Sturgeon Award.

“The Wedding Album” is a novella, the longest piece in the book, and switches perspective between a couple of different characters, though mostly it’s told from the view of a simulated Anne, captured on her wedding day. A couple of hundred years pass as civilization rises and falls through the evolution of their technology, but wedding-Anne has no say in what happens around her. It’s sad with brief bits of loving, though it’s mostly a look at how selfish one man can be.

“The Earth Is On The Mend” is a flash piece, well done, a slightly rambling account of one survivor’s day in the frozen wasteland that was the Earth. It tells you enough to suspect this story will end badly. That’s what flash is about – setting a scene, giving you one moment, and enough other bits to hint at a great deal more.

“Yurek Rutz, Yurek Rutz, Yurek Rutz” was written as a letter to editor Gardner Dozios, who published it and gave Marusek his start as a published writer. The epistolary style isn’t one of my favorites, but this version is light-hearted. It’s got dying husbands and cryogenics and Alaska small-town culture – it qualifies as a science fiction story, certainly. In the end it’s just cheeky, daring you to enjoy it and daring Mr. Dozois to publish it. Worth a read.

“A Boy In Cathyland” was originally a chunk of “The Wedding Album” but was cut from the final version. Marusek revised it into a stand-alone short. It explains a minor detail from the novella, but that’s not what’s important about it. The best part of “A Boy” is that Marusek blends Russian into the dialogue without explaining the meaning. He places description and action around the non-English parts to give the reader enough context to suss out the meaning on their own. The story is weak without the knowledge of what happens in “Wedding Album” but I like his use of language a lot.

“We Were Out Of Our Minds With Joy” is another novella, Marusek’s second published piece and the first of this length. It’s set in the same universe as “Wedding Album” and makes up the beginning of his novel. Like several of his other stories, Marusek introduces an idea, then ignores it while he goes through all of the history and scene-setting, then gets back to his opening toward the end.

The introduction to “VTV” warns that it was an exercise in writing a miserable story, and the reader should feel free to skip it. I didn’t, and I’m glad, because while it contains many of Marusek’s most-used elements, it stands out from the others because of its subject matter. It’s more concerned with making a point which, while still negative, has the potential to affect our lives now instead of centuries in the future. One of the more interesting pieces.

“Cabbages and Kale or: How We Downsized North America” is another one about the same old things. So is “Getting To Know You”. Not bad, but dull after reading all of the rest.

“Listen to Me” is written in second-person perspective, which immediately makes it stand out. It’s about boredom and, again, about isolation and selfishness. But it’s also set aboard a starship, which is different. It’s very short, and I liked it.

“My Morning Glory” is another flash piece, forcefully exuberant, a quick-step shuffle off the edge of the cliff that is the end of the book.

There isn’t much to connect with, emotionally, in this collection, except the overriding feeling of sadness. It’s sad that these people can’t be happy for long. It’s sad that technology outpaces humanity. It’s sad that the only other feeling to come across is one of isolation. I don’t know if Marusek is disconnected from the world or if it’s the one emotion he knows how to write well, but it’s there, with the sadness, in every story. They’re two sides of the same coin – the characters are sad because they’re distanced from the things that make us happy, like love and companionship and hope.

In a way, that’s what makes the book kind of boring. Marusek has a few ideas which he clearly loves, so much that he recycles them through several stories. His “original” ideas, the ones not part of his “Wedding Album” universe, appear in the shortest stories of the book, as if he didn’t want to  – or couldn’t – write about them in the same way he writes about his holos, simulacrum, and clones. He even recycles characters (not just Cathy from “Cathyland” but Yurek Rutz, who’s mentioned in “VTV”) and locations – Alaska comes up a lot. I don’t mind any of that as much as I mind him recycling plot points. After all, so many of the stories are about the exact same thing: how do you handle living in a future where artificial people are common and naturally-born humans are not? 

Apparently Marusek only has one answer to that question. I would like his work much more if he had more to say.

Overall I’d suggest reading this collection for the technique. The structures are crisp, the writing is clean, there’s rarely anything unnecessary going on. Parts which appear to be side stories get mentioned or dealt with again before the tale is finished. Marusek is a skillful writer and is able to keep control of stories with circular natures. This tight hold on where his writing is going takes some of the surprise out of the ending but I look at this collection like the start of something good. If he has this much skill when he’s starting out, all he needs to do is maintain that level of writing while adding in whatever he’s fascinated by next.

Read GETTING TO KNOW YOU one story at a time and take a break in between. You’ll appreciate it better that way.

* Another book loaned to me by Don, who has the best taste in reading, and has shaped the course of my literary education the last few years. He gave me copies of Craig Strete’s THE BLEEDING MAN, Maureen F. McHugh’s AFTER THE APOCALYPSE, Brian Wood’s DMZ, M. Rickert’s various stories, Fran Lebowitz’s METROPOLITAN LIFE and The Best Short Stories of J. G. Ballard. He convinced me to buy INTERFICTIONS, Ray Vukcevich’s BOARDING INSTRUCTIONS, Aimee Bender’s THE GIRL IN THE FLAMMABLE SKIRT, Karen Joy Fowler’s WHAT I DIDN’T SEE, AND OTHER STORIES, Kelly Link’s STRANGER THINGS HAPPEN, Stephen Elliott’S MY GIRLFRIEND COMES TO THE CITY AND BEATS ME UP and Ted Chiang’s STORIES OF YOUR LIFE AND OTHERS.

He also loaned me Etger Keret’s THE NIMROD FLIPOUT, though, sadly, I had to give that one back. (Click on the links to read my reviews of these titles.)

Writer Wednesday: Fran Wilde

Photo courtesy of A. E. Bogdan

Fran Wilde is a writer and technology consultant hard at work on her third novel. You can read her short stories online at Nature Magazine and Daily Science Fiction She can tie various sailing knots, set gemstones and program digital minions. She blogs at franwilde.wordpress.com.

1. You have two novels completed and two more in progress. Tell us about them.

Moonmaker is adult science fiction. It’s my first novel, and I’ve recently received some fantastic feedback on it. The story is pretty ambitious, given that I’d never written a novel before. I am lucky to have people who believe in it, since the process of finishing a novel and getting it out there is so complex. Moonmaker combines game building and programming with a bunch of things I didn’t know much about until I dove into the research. A friend was kind enough to loan me an astrophysicist at one point (he’s awesome), so I had some great insights when it came to moons and orbits. I did a very light query on the book last fall, but have decided to take it back into editing. A few spin-off short stories are in process too.

The second novel, Bone Arrow, is my baby right now. It’s young adult fantasy, with a lot of low-tech engineering. I was a house writer for university engineering programs for a long time, and my first job was proofreading engineering articles. The tech behind bridges and towers and a few other things got stuck in my head, I guess. But that’s just setting, and offstage background. The characters in Bone Arrow — they ran away with the book. I had all these plans for what was supposed to happen, and… yeah. They had other plans. I loved watching the story unfurl. I love hearing reactions from people who have read it.

One thing I should say is that my friends from Viable Paradise who have urged me on while writing this book, and who are a really incredibly generous source of support, even while deep in their own work, have been there from the start on this. I’m very grateful for them. In addition, I took Bone Arrow with me to Taos Toolbox last summer. After an all-night plot-breaking session with my roommate and several amazing upcoming writers and friends, I’d grown a whole new grasp on how to plot story. Bone Arrow and the stories that come after are much stronger for these experiences.

The third novel is set in the same world as Bone Arrow, and the fourth is a distant-future offshoot of Moonmaker.

2. What short fiction publication are you most proud of, and why?

All of them, for different reasons. If you press me, I’d say, so far, the 2012 Nature story, “Without.” It’s short, but there’s a lot in it. I’m proud of it mostly because the story wasn’t working, even after a critique. Then I quit taking one character’s side over the other and let both characters have completely valid points, as they saw it. Then it worked. That was an important lesson.

3. You’ve interviewed an impressive collection of genre authors for your “Cooking the Books” project. Where did you get the idea to talk about writing by talking about food?

I’m having a ridiculously fun time with Cooking the Books. I’ve gotten a lot of encouragement along the way, especially from author A.C. Wise and all the writers who have agreed to be interviewed so far.

Back in a previous life, I interviewed a lot of people for work. I missed doing it. When I started the column, it felt a bit more risky: this time I was interviewing people not for a client, or a journal, but because I really cared about the answers, for me. It’s exciting and terrifying all at the same time.

The whole thing started at Viable Paradise. Steven Gould (who not only has a new book out, Impulse, but is running for SFWA president – go check him out!) and I were talking about a recipe I had in the back pages of a foreign service cookbook. The recipe was for “Elephant Stew.” (the book also had “Stuffed Camel” and something for cobra.). The first direction is “Cut elephant into bite-sized pieces.” Steven Gould said “That sounds like a recipe for a novel.” I asked him if he’d say that in print, and we were off to the races. Shortly after, Elizabeth Bear and Gregory Frost agreed to interviews – and then people began suggesting others who might like to participate as well. I had a lot of fun interviewing more of the Viable Paradise faculty last fall: author James D. Macdonald, Macallister Stone (of Absolute Write), Bart, and author Steven Brust. The December interview with Aliette de Bodard was just amazing, and the upcoming interviews — well, they’re going to be awesome.

I’d love to have a dinner party with the recipes. Except for the marmot. And Joe Haldeman’s foxhole pizza. Also, we’d need more beverage recipes to pull off a good party. I’m also dreaming up ways to do a Cooking the Books game show at a convention.

4. Which fictional recipe would you most like to try?

Oh gosh. All of them? I love new tastes. I might skip the alien food from Neal Stephenson’s Anathem.

I’m a little limited by food allergies in real life, so that’s probably why I like fictional food so much.

The best source for someone who makes fictional recipes come to life is Chelsea over at Food Thru the Pages and the folks at Fictional Food. Not only are the recipes fantastic, the photography is gorgeous.

5. You attended Viable Paradise in 2011. Now that you’ve had a year to process that experience, what stands out in your memory as the best moment of the workshop? Continue reading

I Read Craig Strete’s “The Bleeding Man and Other Science Fiction Stories” (1974)

The Bleeding Man and Other Science Fiction Stories (1974) is a fascinating blend of genre-bending ideas, outsider perspective  and misogyny. I simultaneously loved and rolled my eyes at these stories, and while you absolutely must go into Strete’s work aware of his bias, I still think it’s worth reading. A quick look at each story:

“Into Every Rain, a Little Life Must Fall” –  bored cop doing surveillance on a rainy night finds a man he can’t arrest because the system doesn’t recognize him. Prescient, for the early 1970s. Sparse, quick writing.

“White Brothers from the Place Where No Man Walks” – I liked the recursive storytelling beats in this myth. It’s strange and won’t appeal to everyone, which is part of what I like about it. You’re not going to read a story like this every day.

“When They Find You” – My favorite piece in the collection. It’s sad, callous, and innovative in turns. Probably the best written story in the book.

“A Sunday Visit with Great-Grandfather” – about the power of not believing in science. If you imagine that magic only works if you believe in it, then perhaps technology works the same way.

“Mother of Cloth, Heart of Clock” – sad, first person perspective tale of a zoo animal (an ape, most likely) who’s about to be put down. Second best story in the book.

“The Bleeding Man” – The government emissary is a heartless woman who doesn’t understand drinking, gambling, or storytelling, and therefore deserves to be cut into little pieces. Oh, and something about a god-being who might be Jesus.

Overall this collection deals with themes of otherness, magic vs. science, and the oppression of living in someone else’s society. Ironically, Strete creates stories of oppression of Native American men which are meant to show how wrong that oppression is, but does so by substituting women as acceptable to denigrate instead.

The main characters are all male, and though females (human, alien, and animal) appear in most of the stories, they’re all one-dimensional. Grandmother, mother, bitch, fuck toy – each woman has a role to play, that of an object that the males move around and influence. There are no women in the first story at all. The mothers in “White Brothers” and “Bleeding Man” are there as containers of a baby and no more – and both are subsequently killed without having uttered dialogue. They’re also named for the men in their lives: “Old Coat’s daughter” and “my sister by law” (also called “the mother” and “his wife”). The Grandmother in “Sunday Visit” is a repetitive caricature, kicking the shins of her cantankerous husband while also making sure to be there in case he has a coughing fit. The narrator’s mate in “Mother of Cloth” is taken away to be experimented on and then put down when her personality changes to violent.

The Riyall woman that Gantry buys for a mate in “When They Find You” is called “Bkaksi” once, by her father, when he’s selling her in exchange for a shirt. (The father doesn’t even wear the shirt; he folds it up and sits on it.) Bkaksi doesn’t speak, is the perfect lover and servant, empathically knowing Gantry’s ever need, but he never falls in love with her. He barely learns not to hate her for being human. She doesn’t complain when he takes her into town to get a surgery that will allow her to bear his children, though he doesn’t ask if she wants it.

Miss Dow, the only named woman to get dialogue in Strete’s stories, is mean, stupid, and might have been attractive if only she’d smile, according to her coworker in “Bleeding Man”. It gets worse from there, as if her insistence on being a person who makes decisions – or at least, enforces them – proves her unworthiness to be cared for or kept alive. I saw what the author was trying to do with the tale but couldn’t get invested in it.

Interestingly, the forward – written by a woman, author Virginia Hamilton – skips over Strete’s treatment of women entirely.

All of that said, the book is still worth reading. Blame the era, blame the author, blame … whatever you want, the book is awful to women and there’s no ignoring that. But the stories are still mostly innovative, and at times uncomfortably emotional. They push the boundaries of genre, remind us that there are more than white Anglo writers in the US, and suggest new ways that we can tell a story. I will look at my own work with new eyes after reading this collection, and I would be very surprised if I didn’t incorporate some of Strete’s ideas about structure into my future writing.

Review: Apex magazine (Issues 40, 41, 42, and 43)

I subscribed to Apex Magazine for the first time this year. By the time I got a chance to read the accumulated issues, I had four of them waiting for me, so I’m going to do one big round up. Because this is a multi-genre magazine, I made a note of what I suspect each story’s genre is after the review.

My favorite pieces from Issues 40, 41, 42, and 43 are:

Issue 40

“Sexagesimal” by Katherine E.K. Duckett takes the idea that the Afterlife was always meant to be a short term excursion  a place where we could digest the moments of our lives before letting go of everything else, and gives it a structure that makes logical sense. Very smart, great read. Shades of Ellison’s “Repent, Harlequin! Said the Ticktockman.” SF.

“Sonny Liston Takes the Fall” by Elizabeth Bear invokes the image of real-life boxer Sonny Liston, mixes in some of the history of greatness, gives us a know-it-all narrator, and spins a story about winning that is more about the way it’s told than what’s being said. What’s being said is good, no doubt, but it’s the words that matter here, and Bear tells you this story like it wants to be told, needs to be told, so shut up, sit down, and let her tell it. (Reprint from The Del Rey Book of Science Fiction edited by Ellen Datlow, 2008.) Lit bordering on SF/Fantasy in an alt-history kind of way.

Issue 41

At first I thought Cecil Castellucci’s story, “Always the Same. Till it is Not” was a prose poem, a jagged, off-kilter stream of emotional words, growing into phrases, but those words developed as the narrator’s view of himself evolved, until the story appeared. Nicely done. Horror/Fantasy.

“Simon’s Replica” by Dean Francis Alfar makes me wonder why no one has pointed me toward Alfar’s work before now. Seriously, I expect better from you people. “Replica” is deceptively simple-seeming with a touching ending that makes the set-up worth the time invested in reading it. It says something beautiful. Lovely. Lit bordering on Fantasy.

Issue 42

“Splinter” by Shira Lipken is short and blunt, to the point, and a perfect piece of flash fiction (though I think it may have a few too many words to strictly be called “flash”). It’s a moment, a conversation, a story, a thing that happened, and it says just enough to be all of those things without having to be anything else. Wonderful. Fantasy/SF.

“Erzulie Dantor” by Tim Susman is a werewolf/ghost story set in Haiti after the earthquake. I appreciate when American authors try to reach outside of the US for source material, and the setting enlivens an otherwise straight-forward tale of a jealous woman. Didn’t love it but liked it. Horror.

Issue 43

Alethea Kontis takes a classic gothic horror trope and gives it new life by showing the us lovesick girl who gave the bad baron his start. “Blood from Stone” tells the oft-retold story of the baron in his castle, killing young brides one after the other, beginning not with the final girl whose brothers will save her from the baron’s clutches, but the first sacrifice that happened before the story as we know it. The modern dialogue toward the end felt out of place, but if you assume that Death is timeless, you’ll be fine. Horror.

“Labyrinth” by Mari Ness made me cry. I didn’t expect the ending, though it fit perfectly, and the first person narration wasn’t overwhelming. I’m labeling it Lit bordering on Fantasy, though there’s no magic in it, because maybe it’s alt history, and maybe it’s not.

“Relic” by Jeffrey Ford is a strange tale about a saint’s relic, talking fish, myth and thieves. It was I’m just starting to get into Ford’s work; if this is a typical story from him I’m going to love his writing. Weird Fiction.

Overall I’m enjoying Apex. Editor-in-Chief Lynne M. Thomas has a taste for borderline stories, tales that are just barely in genre, and that suits my reading tastes. It reminds me of Goss and Sherman’s selections for Interfictions, which I reviewed two weeks ago. In fact, Apex publishes work that is similar to my own writing, and I definitely need to submit to them soon.

You Should Read Maureen F. McHugh’s “After The Apocalypse”

I knew that Maureen F. McHugh was going to be a Guest of Honor at the 2013 Readercon, but I hadn’t read any of her work. Luckily I was given a copy of her short story collection, After the Apocalypse, and I found time to open it over the holidays. Well, there were some stone steps involved, and a patch of ice, and a day spent lying in bed trying to not move anything that was sore, but it was during the holiday break so that’s close enough.

I had no idea what I was going to get into when I opened the book. The first page of the first story opens on a zombie preserve. A guy, a prisoner, dropped off there to survive, and oh yeah it used to a be a real city, this place full of walking dead. It used to be Cleveland.

Yeah, that’s when I fell in love with the book.

I wasn’t wrong, either. McHugh’s prose is easy, flows well from one sentence to the next, without too many sharp edges or dictionary words, but the stories aren’t simple. They’re full of smart ideas. “The Naturalist”, the first in the collection, skips past the zombie apocalypse to a point where we could get rid of the last stragglers if we wanted to … but what we had another use for them? From that concept comes another simple idea – what if the guy sent to get eaten by zombies started studying them instead?

It’s not too much of a stretch, and in fact, none of McHugh’s stories are. There a few steps beyond what we have now, in some cases just a little hop into tomorrow, but you can trace them all back to something recognizable. “Special Economics” takes the idea of biotech advances in China and reduces it down to a young factory girl working off her debt. “Useless Things” shows us an American Southwest after an economic crash but doesn’t use the setting to explore large-scale effects of poverty. McHugh focuses tightly onto one older woman, living in the desert, making ends meet with a skill she learned before the jobs disappeared.

It’s that focus that makes McHugh’s work personal and accessible. “Lost Boy” investigates the unusual amnesia affecting a boy lost during a dirty bomb attack in Baltimore. Not the aftermath of the bomb in the conventional sense, not the terrorists, not the long camera pan across a pile of bodies lying in the street outside of the bomb site. Just one teenage boy, misplaced in the chaos.

“The Kingdom of the Blind” includes a tech girl who loved Mycroft from Heinlein’s Moon is a Harsh Mistress – one of my favorite books – so there may have been a little fangirl squee on my part at that moment. The story itself wasn’t one of my favorites; it felt a little forced in places, though not much. It’s followed by “Going to France”, which is the only piece in the book that I didn’t like. I’m not sure if it’s the rambling tone of the story, or the fact that it included a mute autistic character who only served to be a part of the scenery. She’s got a superpower – flight – like some of the other characters, but while McHugh describes one flyer as being nervous after a brush with mortality, and another who “seemed caught up in dealing with logistics”, she then says “the autistic one was just pure compulsion”.

Not a fair description of most autistic people I know.

“The Effect of Centrifugal Forces” had an odd narrative flow and while the story mentioned an Avian Flu it’s really about a teen girl torn between a dying parent and an irresponsible one. It’s a story about a personal apocalypse, the end of life as she knew it. “After the Apocalypse” ends the book on a strong, dark, note, making up for the minor missteps of “Kingdom” and “France”. It blends the personal trauma with loss on a larger scale and puts into perspective a woman’s choice to save herself instead of anyone else. Doesn’t make light of it or, I think, approve of it, but the explanation is there. McHugh also plays with a present tense voice that isn’t as distracting as it could have been.

In the end, I loved this book. These stories are wonderful. McHugh writes in a evocative yet minimal way that I like to shoot for my own writing. She rarely tries to make it complicated, because she doesn’t have to. The stories are strong, they’re good, without making them fussy or overtly decorative. It’s a small book of short stories but it’s also a fine example of what writing can be: smart, clean, powerful.

I’m very glad I read it.

You Should Read INTERFICTIONS: An Anthology of Interstitial Writing

Synopsis: Nineteen writers dig into the imaginative spaces between conventional genres—realistic and fantastical, scholarly and poetic, personal and political—and bring up gems of new fiction: interstitial fiction. This is the literary mode of the new century, a reflection of the complex, ambiguous, and challenging world that we live in. These nineteen stories, by some of the most interesting and innovative writers working today, will change your mind about what stories can and should do as they explore the imaginative space between conventional genres. The editors garnered stories from new and established authors in the United States, Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom, and also fiction translated from Spanish, Hungarian, and French. The collection features stories from Christopher Barzak, Colin Greenland, Holly Phillips, Rachel Pollack, Vandana Singh, Anna Tambour, Catherynne Valente, Leslie What, and others.

At Readercon this last July I got both Interfictions: An Anthology of Interstitial Writing and Interfictions 2, collections of short stories that are considered interstitial – not necessarily of one genre or another, but something in between. Strange but not quite speculative; often based in realism but still unreal. They were put out by the Interstitial Arts Foundation (disclaimer: I’m a member and you should be too), and I’ve been working my way through the books. Since it’s just been announced that the anthology series is moving online and will be open to submissions in February, it’s a good time for a review of book one.

I’ll give my quick thoughts on each story and then an overview at the end:

Christopher Barzak, “What We Know About the Lost Families of – House” – Easily my favorite story in the collection. The first person collective voice fits the story perfectly and adds that little bit of a strange, not the same kind of strange as reading a ghost story (which it also has), but the “what kind of story is this” strange that makes it interstitial. Loved it. Continue reading