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FICTION NUGGETS superpost: Jan – Mar 2015

FICTION NUGGETS superpost: Jan – Mar 2015

So it turns out that if you’re trying to run a monthly short fiction round-up, the moment you fall behind it leads to a rolling avalanche of neverending stories that will bury you.

Sorry for the long lull in fiction roundups for me. I was planning to do a roundup of November & December stories in Jan, then it turned to Nov-Jan stories in Feb, and then here we are. I had to make a choice, and I picked dropping the end-2014 stories for the ability to actually reasonably handle the 2015 stories. (Part of my reason for doing this is because these roundups will be super-useful for picking my nomination slate for the next awards season, so I had to prioritise the 2015 stories.)

Moving forward, I’ve come up with a new system to help me tackle these roundups a little more easily. For each month, I’m going to spotlight about three or so stories I highly recommend, and then a longer list of stories I also really enjoyed reading. For this round, I didn’t get to read as many venues as I’d like, something I will fix in the upcoming monthly roundups.

So, without further ado, the stories I liked from Jan to Mar:


Three Cups Of Grief, By Starlight  by Aliette de Bodard (Clarkesworld) – A tale of tea, talking ships and family ties. Three people deal with the death of someone close to them. I have a soft spot for sentient ship stories,  (a mushy, boiled-in-the-pot lump the size of Jupiter), but this one raises the bar with its lush prose and subtle tangle of emotions.

Documentary by Vajra Chandrasekera (Lightspeed) – On the notebook I lost I scribbled down: “A WEREHELICOPTER STORY VAJRA OMG ILU”.  Seriously, though. werehelicopters. If that weren’t enough to sell you in the story, consider this: A haunting story about the costs of war told in the spliced-together narration of a documentary . One of the most brilliant and imaginative things I’ve read in a while.

Folding Beijing by Hao Jingfang (Uncanny) – Ken Liu is a gift to the SFF community, both for his incredible fiction, and his translations of amazing Chinese SFF stories, like this one. This tale of a Beijing partitioned in space and time is a parable of the way wealth and class divide our societies. From the description of working class life to the bureaucratic twists of life in the civil service, everything was layered with a thick crust of realism that spoke to me (hi there! civil servant from a working class background speaking!). I must admit that reading Chinese SFF always comes with a  bittersweet pang for me, because on one hand, everything just sings to me so much more, yet at the same time I’m aware my Mandarin language skills are so poor that I can only rely on English translations.

The Sixth Day by Sylvia Anna Hiven (Beneath Ceaseless Skies) – Two sisters living in a barren, apocalyptic landscape struggle with the responsibilities of their special powers: One can raise corn from the cold dead ground, one can jump six days into the future.  When it comes to fantasy, my preference is for contemporary or near-future fantasy is totally my wheelhouse, and the deft handling of emotional weight makes this story a compelling read.

Of Blood And Brine by Megan E Keefe  (Shimmer) – I was delighted by the sensory tapestry of this story, the way scents are described.

Thus prepared, Child gathered the cloth into her hands and brought it as close to her nose as she dared. The aroma was warm, spice-tinged. Cardamom and violet with the faintest whiff of balsam. The sea would be a pleasant addition to such a scent, but Child had no idea how to blend such an aroma.

The story is straightforward, but its impression lingers on the tongue and in the mind. It tastes like a little sliver of a richer, bigger world I want to find out more about.

Meshed by Rich Larson (Clarkesworld) – I’m surprised by how much I liked this story, considering that it’s about sportsball of some sort, populated almost entirely by a cast of men (there is a brief mention of the protagonist’s girlfriend, but that’s it). But somehow, I was won over by the snappy prose and the pace of the story. A sports agent tries to recruit a potential star athlete, but there’s a catch: He doesn’t want implants put in for sensory broadcasts of his exploits. An entertaining read.

The Language of Knives by Haralambi Markov (tor.com) – This is a story about a world where you turn dead people into cakes. People cakes, my friends, people cakes. That alone should have made it the best story ever, but there’s thread about destiny and strained family ties all laced into it, and it is a juicy, delicious read. Not even sorry, guys. Not even sorry.

A Beautiful Memory by Shannon Peavey (Apex) – Here I have to confess a bias: I read this story when it was baby at Clarion West, and that makes me inordinately fond of it. But this was one of my favourite stories from CW, which, you know, included Nebula- and Bram Stoker- nomimated stories, so that’s saying something. The protagonist of the story has an unusual skill: She pulls emotion-birds out of her head and sells them. Full of spare, gorgeous prose and twisted spikes of imagination.

Pocosin by Ursula Vernon (Apex) – A little god comes to die at the doorstep of a witch, and she has to deal with all the people who come after it. The charm of this story lies in its lush sense of location. It’s so grounded in the place it’s set, and it was a delight to read.

This is the place of the carnivores, the pool ringed with sundews and the fat funnels of the pitcher plants.

This is the place where the ground never dries out and the loblolly pines grow stunted, where the soil is poor and the plants turn to other means of feeding themselves.

This is the place where the hairstreak butterflies flow sleekly through the air and you can hear insect feet drumming inside the bowl of the pitcher plants.

This is the place where the old god came to die.

Sing Me Your Scars by Damien Angelica Waters (Apex) – The titular piece of Damien’s short story collection is a beautiful heap of body horror. A young woman has her body replaced, part by part, by her mad scientist husband, turning her into a stitched-together manniquin of other women. Creepy, dark, and delightful to read.

I ALSO LIKED:

Unravelling by Julia August (Lackingtons‘)
Coming Of The Light by Chen Qiufan (Clarkesworld)
The Shape Of My Name by Nino Cipri (tor.com)
Indelible by Gwendolyn Clare (Clarkesworld)
The Half Dark Promise by Malon Edwards (Shimmer)
The Animal Women by Alix E. Harrow (Strange Horizons)
And the Winners Will Be Swept Out To Sea by Maria Dahvana Headley (Lightspeed)
The Apartment Dweller’s Bestiary by Kij Johnson (Clarkesworld)
What the Highway Prefers by Cassandra Khaw (Lackingtons’)
Maiden, Mother Crone by Ann Leckie and Rachel Swirsky (Lightspeed)
Cassandra by Ken Liu (Clarkesworld)
The Ticket Taker of Cenote Zaci by Benjamin Parzybok (Strange Horizons)
Requiem for Solo Cello by Damien Angelica Walters (Apex)
Drinking With The Elfin Knight by Ginger Weil (Giganotosaurus)

Fiction Nuggets, Nov 2014 edition

Fiction Nuggets, Nov 2014 edition

And we’re back!

Miscreants and gentlebeings, here we go again–I may not have blogged anything in the month of November itself, but I can still do my fiction nuggets!

With these roundups, I’ve decided not to stick to a strict number of 10 stories a month. 10, in fact, is going to be my upper limit. Going forward, I’ll be featuring fewer stories per month, but the ones I really really liked.

A running theme of family in this month’s picks, of parenthood and obligation and loss. My sister got married over the weekend and my brain is still a barren wasteland of scorched earth from the proceedings, so this roundup shall be written as starkly and shortly as possible.

 

A Whisper In The Weld  by Alix E. Harrow (Shimmer) – Three paragraphs into Shimmer’s latest cover story I thought: This one is going into my fiction picks of the month. I cried actual tears reading it, no lie. Set during the Second World War, this is all at once a ghost story, a tale about motherhood, and a critique of the image of Rosie the Riveter as a middle-class white woman. The prose glows on the page and then sticks to you like furnace dust. One of the best stories I’ve read this year.

The Stagman’s Song by Ginger Weil (Apex) – Dip your canteen deep into this heavy, atmospheric piece and drink up. Taste cold, and forest-damp, and raw dirt. Susan’s family is bound to the mountain, hunting stagmen for the alchemists from the city, often with fatal consequences. A slow-walking parable of how poverty traps people in their circumstances. An incredible debut work from the author.

She Commands Me And I Obey by Ann Leckie (Strange Horizons) – This story revolves around a game of sportsball. I generally have no appreciation for sportsball of any sort whatsoever, unless it involves pointlessly being a secret Scouser and pointing & laughing at Mancs online**. Even so, not really. But the rich tapestry of this world, the religion and the intrigue, kept me glued to the story. It reminded me of why I used to love space opera yarns as a child. What’s not to love about a world in which the fate of political succession is left to a fight-to-the-death game of sportsball with religious undertones? Seriously, just read it.

Presence by Ken Liu (Uncanny) – This quiet little piece stood out to me and remained in the tide of Uncanny’s strong debut issue. The speculative element in this piece is pretty slight, balanced as it is on the premise of telepresence robots, which I consider to be science fact, not fiction. The hook of the story is emotional; it’s the a story of a man, a Chinese migrant to America, coping with his mother’s terminal illness on the other side of the world. The small, poignant observations are what makes the story:

You think about how strange it is to describe what happened as losing someone when the real loss happened years ago, so gradually that you weren’t even aware when it happened. You can’t remember the moment you decided you would not go back. You can’t remember the moment you accepted that she would not come to join you. You can’t remember when you became American. You think about how a thousand small decisions add up to irrevocable changes, how not deciding is the same as deciding.

Stone And Bone, From Earth And Sky  by A.C. Wise (Giganotosaurus) – A coyote. A woman half born of the mud. A tale of sex, and revenge, and deceit, set in a carnival, unfolding in re-told narratives named after the major arcana of the tarot. It may be a longer read, but it’s riveting all the way to the end. There’s so much to love here, so much to unpack. This is a story I could read over and over again.

Touch by Debbie Urbanski (Interfictions) – Bearing shades of Atwood and Orwell, the story charts the story of an asexual protagonist in a world where sexuality is compulsory. The story is compellingly told, in the way tumbling down a hill is a compelling experience.

People have asked me, “When did you know?” They figure there was a particular moment, when the sky darkened, or all the pines in front of me fell down, and I realized that I was different. But it’s not like that. It’s more a series of moments, like picking up the broken pieces of something, and you don’t know what it is that you’ve broken, so you never bother to put the pieces together until it’s towards the end, until it’s obvious to a lot of people, including yourself.

Stalemate by Rose Lemberg (Lackington’s) – A tightly choreographed gem of a story that unfolds before you like a puzzle box, with its imagined-spaceworld setting and its forgetful protagonist and their longing for what they have lost. Also, chess. It’s like Monument Valley in story form, except less quiet, and you guys know how much I love Monument Valley. (No I’m never going to shut up about this game, deal with it). I’m not going to spoil it for you, because you should read it. It’s beautiful.

 


 

**My favourite footy-related activity is actually watching fans of rival clubs fling mud at each other in the comments section of Grauniad stories. I don’t even watch the bloody matches, who has the time, they’re ninety minutes and change each! (Says she who will happily sit down and watch 22 cars go around the same track fifty times over the course of three hours)

Fiction Nuggets, Oct 2014 edition

Fiction Nuggets, Oct 2014 edition

 AND HERE IT IS!

On time, I kick off the inaugural edition of Fiction Nuggets, a monthly roundup of the 5-10 stories I liked best in a month. WHOOO I’VE DONE IT GO ME SELF PAT ON BACK. Shush, this is an achievement, okay.

When I made the decision that this was to be A Thing, my initial thought was “Oh no, I’m such a picky reader, I’ll never find ten stories I’ll like enough.” In the end? I had to regrettably trim down the list I originally had because I was several stories over. SO MUCH GOOD FICTION, SO LITTLE TIME.

The overall theme of this month’s selection might be: People suck and family hurts. Or, it might be: Men are awful, avoid at all costs. No, sorry, that’s just the soundtrack to my life.

Some general guiding principles: I’m only looking at original short stories that first appeared in October. I don’t have the fine grasp of poetry to review that, so I won’t. EVERYTHING SOUNDS GOOD TO ME. I CAN’T DECIDE. So, short fiction it is.

Here we go!


 

Seeking boarder for rm w/ attached bathroom, must be willing to live with ghosts ($500 / Berkeley) by Rahul Kanakia (Clarkesworld): This month’s Clarkesworld was incredibly strong. I had to resist listing every story in the issue here. They were just that good. This tale, one of my particular favourites, starts off goofy, a spooky send-up of Craigslist ads, but by the end has twisted its barbed-wire fingers around your heart and pulled tight. I also have a soft spot for stories that play with format, although I was bothered when the epistolary telling subtly shifted into narrative style in the third or so segment. Still, it was worth sticking through to the end.

Lovecraft by Helena Bell (Clarkesworld): In the opening paragraph of the story, a tiny cthulhu crawls out of a mouth that opens up in the side of an old woman’s neck. You expect the rest of the story to drip with eldritch horror and slowly-creeping madness. What you find instead is a tale of sparse, aching domesticity, where human vulnerability is the scariest monster of all. Strange and beautiful.

Hunting Monsters by S L Huang (The Booksmugglers): A girl is raised by two women in a world where it is expressly forbidden to hunt men who have been turned into beasts. Her world is shattered when her mother is arrested for murder, her murky past catching up with her. Deft prose keeps this story swift-moving while still rich with emotion and drama. The ending left me with an ache in my stomach. (I like that sort of thing because I’m a masochist.)

At First Glance by Shannon Peavey (Daily Science Fiction): Sam is on the road, on the run with her sister Brynn, who bears a deadly gift under the dark glass of her shades. A smoke-and-grit vision of Americana, like that neverending CW show Supernatural, but with actual good writing. Hark:

Brynn hasn’t seen her sister in years–not since the start of this whole thing. But she can put together something of a picture from all the bits and pieces, the occasional glances. Sam has big feet, and her boots are worn. Underrun at the heels. She has long, thin fingers and she bites her nails. But her face–that’s three years out of date.

DSF’s flash offerings are a hit-and-miss with me, but I almost always enjoy their long Friday piece. I’m sorry that’s going away now that they’re only looking to buy flash fiction.

Drowning In Sky by Julia August (Women Destroy Fantasy): As a rule, I’ll strive to stick to short stories that are available online to read for free. But I enjoyed this piece in the special Women Destroy Fantasy! issue of the Fantasy magazine so much I had to give it mention here. Set in ancient Greece and thick with myth, Drowning In Sky traces the tale of Ann, a witch who flees her dead city to Khelikë, across the sea, where she finds gold and honey and betrayal. The prose is gorgeous, sensuous, I wanted to drink it. Well worth the read. You can purchase the special Women Destroy Fantasy! issue here.

Santos de Sampaguitas (Part 1, Part 2) by Alyssa Wong (Strange Horizons): I kept seeing rave reviews about this story online before I got a chance to read it. When I did, the first paragraph grabbed me by the throat and showed me why. A searing tale of family and the supernatural set in Manila, of dead gods and bloodlines and tragedy, told in prose that fills your mouth and burns as it goes down. Feast on words like these:

The pressure on my chest, the terrible prescience that something very bad is about to happen, and the sound of distant screaming, like a boiling saucepan of human voices, are too familiar to me.

By the way, throughout the entire thing I imagined the story’s dead god to be a giant skeleton, which is not unsettling after all considering I only have a cRIPPLING FEAR OF BONES AND SKELETAL REMAINS.

Jupiter Wrestlemania by Marie Vibbert (Lightspeed): Karen’s partner, Two-Ton Tony, is found dead on a Jupiter mining station. His death is ruled accidental, but is it really? A well-told SF romp. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed reading this story. It’s a simply-told whodunnit offering little in way of plot twist, with heavy doses of subjects I don’t particularly care about, working out and wrestling. Yet the meticulous detail in the worldbuilding and the suppleness of the prose kept me captivated. At the end of it I thought, “What a great little story set in a well thought-out world!”

Because I Prayed This Word by Alex Dally MacFarlane (Strange Horizons): One of the reward levels for SH’s annual fund drive**, and what a delicious treat it was. Gorgeous treacly prose about a magical city crafted by desire. Poetry and myth and history woven into beautiful narrative. Also, come on, as if I would leave a story about a literal city oF LESBIANS out of this list! ****

The Husband Stitch by Carmen Maria Machado (Granta): Literary magazines are somewhat outside my usual reading oeuvre (so many venues, so little time!) I saw this linked on social media and decided to give it a try. I started reading. And then kept reading. And kept reading. The beauty of this story is the way it takes urban myth, freshly scraped off the walls of the Internet, and kneads it into something electric. Anyone familiar with the reams of creepypasta crouched in the dark bowels of the online world will be familiar with many of the figures that appear in the story, from the wife with a ribbon around her neck to the hook-handed man. It’s a story about the place of women in the world, but it’s also a story about stories and how they get to be told. (It’s Halloween. Perfect time to google “creepypasta” if you’ve never heard of it.)

Toadwords by Nathaniel Lee (Daily Science Fiction): And this one, just out today, squeaks past the line and squeezes into the carriage before the October train leaves the station. The fairy tale of the girl who speaks in toads is one that’s been retold and refashioned any number of times, but I was particularly fond of this one. Something in the imaginative variety of amphibians that pour forth from the protagonist’s mouth just appealed to me. There’s also a fairly useless prince, which amused me. See, sometimes I like stories that are funny!


AND THERE WE HAVE IT. Tell me what you think?

By the way, I’m always open to suggestions of good literary markets to follow. That’s a part of the map I don’t often go to, in fear that I may get tangled in the bramble hedges of typewriter tape and folded-over scarves. Or trapped in forests of brutally precise typography. Or maybe, with my luck, I’ll just be run over by a fixed-gear bike.

 

**Donate to SH’s fund drive to unlock more goodness. Go on then, do it.

****HOW DO I APPLY TO BE A RESIDENT OF THIS PLACE SERIOUSLY SOMEONE TELL ME