The first is "Happy Hour at the Tooth and Claw" by Shira Lipkin.
Agony Jones is less than five feet tall. She compensates with screaming red hair cut short and choppy, tall boots, and an aggressive stomp. She cases the joint as she walks in; she notes all of the exits. She’s freshly fed and looks nearly human, if a bit out of date. She claims a table in the corner and watches the crowd; she winces when the beginning of karaoke night is announced.
Mary Magdalene Kendall, all worn denim and soft black tee and long black hair, goes by Maggie or Mags. Too many Marys in her family. She walks in with a few women from her pack, laughing; she nods at Jack when she passes him, and he nods back. Mags and her pack aren’t trouble. Or, well, they are, but they keep the trouble outside. Here they are model citizens whose only crime is that they hog the pool table sometimes.
A witch who can bend reality flits through different dimensions--magical, science fictional--tweaking the lives of the people she meets and sometimes loves.
This story is written in an experimental format which some will see as gimmicky, but I suggest you give it a moment to adjust. It starts to read smoothly, and the structure has a significant purpose that makes it inherent to the story rather than just being an add-on. Shira Lipkin is a poet and you can see that in the way that the writing, though usually simple, provides little, intriguing hooks that work with the story and also outside it. I liked the way that the splashiness of the setting and conceits contrasted with development of emotion.
I could have wished for slightly better development of one of the plot lines, and the title is terrible for the piece as it sets altogether a different (and lesser) mood and expectation, but overall this was unusual and interesting, and the strange texture of the writing and format created that mood.
The second is "Inventory" by Carmen Maria Machado.
One girl. We lay down next to each other on the musty rug in her basement. Her parents were upstairs; we told them we were watching Jurassic Park. "I'm the dad, and you're the mom," she said. I pulled up my shirt, she pulled up hers, and we just stared at each other. My heart fluttered below my belly button, but I worried about daddy longlegs and her parents finding us. I still have never seen Jurassic Park. I suppose I never will.
Exquisite telling detail transforms this list story (a format that I have a weakness for) into something emotional and poignant. Machado has experience writing in the lit world and brings those chops to the development of this sad, post-apocalyptic tale, told on a very personal level. By detailing moments of togetherness, Machado creates in the reader the sensation of loneliness that her character feels, isolation that persists despite touch and intimacy. Read for character, language, and emotion.
We didn't end up using anywhere near enough of her intelligent commentary in my article which had a specific focus as a compare/contrast between the SFWA experiences of brand-new SFWA member Adam Rakunas and established member Eileen Gunn.
Luckily for readers everywhere, Eileen consented to having the interview published in Q&A form on the SFWA website.
Eileen is a Nebula Award winner and a fantastic writer. She has supported the science fiction and fantasy community in numerous, important ways, including her hard work with the Clarion West Writers Workshop. I've been lucky enough to know her since I started out and benefit from her knowledge and general awesomeness.
Here's an excerpt from the interview that I found particularly useful/interesting/exciting:
I’ve never been a huge fan of the “mentoring” concept, as it describes itself – it seems patronizing and self-aggrandizing. We’re all adults here: let’s treat one another as equals. However, I’ve benefitted enormously over my writing life, including in my advertising/marketing career, from people who have shared their knowledge with me when I needed it. In offering advice, there’s a fine line between being descriptive and being prescriptive, and a not-so-fine line between advising from one’s experience, and simply nattering on. I try to return the favors I’ve received without crossing those lines.
My father was a successful graphic designer in Boston, and he always made time to see students and new graduates of design schools. He’d meet with them, review their work, tell them who was hiring, and generally encourage them. I worked for my father for eight years, during high school and college, and scheduled those appointments for him, usually during his lunch hour. He set me a very good example, as did Kate and Damon, Joe and Gay Haldeman, and editors such as David Hartwell, Gardner Dozois, and Sheila Williams.
There are certain kinds of writers I’m particularly concerned about: writers who write slowly, or who deal with difficult subjects or subjects outside the mainstream – writers who deliberately choose, for whatever reasons, to write outside the marketplace trends. These writers are the potential heirs to Octavia E. Butler, Ted Chiang, Howard Waldrop, and, strange as it may seem, William Gibson and George R. R. Martin. I think SFWA and the Clarion and Clarion West workshops, indeed speculative literature in general, have historically supported those kinds of writers by providing community, feedback, and role models. SFWA has honored those writers with Nebula awards and nominations. I hope that, as it widens its reach and relevance, SFWA will continue to attract and support the wildly original writers, the writers with limited patience for advance marketing, and the brilliant but stubbornly self-effacing writers. They give energy to the entire field, and we need to save them some seats at the awards banquet.
I am particularly pleased because I love my category. I'll be thrilled to see anyone win.
Here's the SFWA press release which includes a list of other recognized works.
2013 Nebula Awards Nominees Announced
Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America are pleased to announce the 2013 Nebula Awards nominees (presented 2014), the nominees for the Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation, and the nominees for the Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy.
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, Karen Joy Fowler (Marian Wood)
The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Neil Gaiman (Morrow; Headline Review)
Fire with Fire, Charles E. Gannon (Baen)
Hild, Nicola Griffith (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Ancillary Justice, Ann Leckie (Orbit US; Orbit UK)
The Red: First Light, Linda Nagata (Mythic Island)
A Stranger in Olondria, Sofia Samatar (Small Beer)
The Golem and the Jinni, Helene Wecker (Harper)
‘‘Wakulla Springs,’’ Andy Duncan & Ellen Klages (Tor.com 10/2/13)
‘‘The Weight of the Sunrise,’’ Vylar Kaftan (Asimov’s 2/13)
‘‘Annabel Lee,” Nancy Kress (New Under the Sun)
‘‘Burning Girls,’’ Veronica Schanoes (Tor.com 6/19/13)
‘‘Trial of the Century,’’ Lawrence M. Schoen (lawrencemschoen.com, 8/13; World Jumping)
Six-Gun Snow White, Catherynne M. Valente (Subterranean)
‘‘Paranormal Romance,’’ Christopher Barzak (Lightspeed 6/13)
‘‘The Waiting Stars,’’ Aliette de Bodard (The Other Half of the Sky)
‘‘They Shall Salt the Earth with Seeds of Glass,’’ Alaya Dawn Johnson (Asimov’s 1/13)
‘‘Pearl Rehabilitative Colony for Ungrateful Daughters,’’ Henry Lien (Asimov’s 12/13)
‘‘The Litigation Master and the Monkey King,’’ Ken Liu (Lightspeed 8/13)
‘‘In Joy, Knowing the Abyss Behind,’’ Sarah Pinsker (Strange Horizons 7/1 – 7/8/13)
Best Short Story
‘‘The Sounds of Old Earth,’’ Matthew Kressel (Lightspeed 1/13)
‘‘Selkie Stories Are for Losers,’’ Sofia Samatar (Strange Horizons 1/7/13)
‘‘Selected Program Notes from the Retrospective Exhibition of Theresa Rosenberg Latimer,’’ Kenneth Schneyer (Clockwork Phoenix 4)
‘‘If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love,’’ Rachel Swirsky (Apex 3/13)
‘‘Alive, Alive Oh,’’ Sylvia Spruck Wrigley (Lightspeed 6/13)
Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation
Doctor Who: ‘‘The Day of the Doctor’’ (Nick Hurran, director; Steven Moffat, writer) (BBC Wales)
Europa Report (Sebastián Cordero, director; Philip Gelatt, writer) (Start Motion Pictures)
Gravity (Alfonso Cuarón, director; Alfonso Cuarón & Jonás Cuarón, writers) (Warner Bros.)
Her (Spike Jonze, director; Spike Jonze, writer) (Warner Bros.)
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (Francis Lawrence, director; Simon Beaufoy & Michael deBruyn, writers) (Lionsgate)
Pacific Rim (Guillermo del Toro, director; Travis Beacham & Guillermo del Toro, writers) (Warner Bros.)
Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy
The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, Holly Black (Little, Brown; Indigo)
When We Wake, Karen Healey (Allen & Unwin; Little, Brown)
Sister Mine, Nalo Hopkinson (Grand Central)
The Summer Prince, Alaya Dawn Johnson (Levine)
Hero, Alethea Kontis (Harcourt)
September Girls, Bennett Madison (Harper Teen)
A Corner of White, Jaclyn Moriarty (Levine)
Damon Knight Grand Master Award: Samuel R. Delany
Special Guest: Frank M. Robinson
About the Nebula Awards
The Nebula Awards are voted on, and presented by, active members of SFWA. Voting will open to SFWA Active members on March 1, and close on March 30. More information is available from http://www.sfwa.org/nebula-awards/how-t
About the Nebula Awards Weekend
The 49th Annual Nebula Awards Weekend will be held May 15-18th, 2014, in San Jose at the San Jose Marriott. The Awards Ceremony will be hosted by Toastmaster Ellen Klages. Borderland Books will host the mass autograph session from 5:30 p.m. until 7:30 p.m. on Friday, May 16th at the San Jose Marriott. This autograph session is open to the public and books by the authors in attendance will be available for purchase. Attending memberships, and more information about the Nebula Awards Weekend, are available at http://www.sfwa.org/nebula-awards/nebul
a-weekend/. Membership rates increase on March 1. The Weekend is open to non-SFWA members.
Founded in 1965 by the late Damon Knight, Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America brings together the most successful and daring writers of speculative fiction throughout the world.
Since its inception, SFWA® has grown in numbers and influence until it is now widely recognized as one of the most effective non-profit writers' organizations in existence, boasting a membership of approximately 2,000 science fiction and fantasy writers as well as artists, editors and allied professionals. Each year the organization presents the prestigious Nebula Awards® for the year’s best literary and dramatic works of speculative fiction.
Media: For information on obtaining press passes, interviews with nominees, or questions about the event itself, please contact SFWA's Communications Manager, Jaym Gates, at email@example.com.
Detours on the Way to Nothing
First, I am really pleased to say that one of my older stories, "Detours on the Way to Nothing," has been reprinted in Lightspeed Magazine. It originally appeared in Weird Tales which was being edited by Ann Vandermeer at the time and I am *so glad* that I got to be part of her run. It was one of my first five or ten acceptances, and I was over the moon. I'm glad that the story is out there for more people to look at now.
Here's a link and a taste:
It’s midnight when you and your girlfriend, Elka, have your first fight since you moved in together. Words wound, tears flow, doors slam. You storm out of the apartment, not caring where you go as long as it’s far away from her. When you step off the front stoop onto the sidewalk, that’s the moment when the newest version of me is born.
Jude Griffin also interviewed me about the story. Another excerpt:
What was the genesis for “Detours On The Way To Nothing”?
I usually start writing stories with an idea, instead of an image, but for this one, it just started with an image.
How the World Became Quiet
Also, my short story, "How the World Became Quiet: A Post-Human Creation Myth," is going to be reprinted in John Joseph Adams' anthology, WASTELANDS 2. You can see the cover here and the table of contents includes super cool people like Junot Diaz, Paolo Bacigalupi, Genevieve Valentine, Keffy Kehrli, Maria Dahvana Headley, and Nancy Kress.
"How the World Became Quiet" is the titular story from my Subterranean collection which came out this fall, HOW THE WORLD BECAME QUIET: MYTHS OF THE PAST, PRESENT, AND FUTURE, which is sold out from the press but still available from some vendors like Amazon and Barnes and Noble.
Here's a brief excerpt from the story:
During the first million years of its existence, mankind survived five apocalypses without succumbing to extinction. It endured the Apocalypse of Steel, the Apocalypse of Hydrogen, the Apocalypse of Serotonin, and both Apocalypses of Water, the second of which occurred despite certain contracts to the contrary. Mankind also survived the Apocalypse of Grease, which wasn’t a true apocalypse, although it wiped out nearly half of humanity by clogging the gears that ran the densely-packed underwater cities of Lor, but that’s a tale for another time.
Humans laid the foundation for the sixth apocalypse in much the same way they’d triggered the previous ones.
MY FAVORITE NOVELETTES:
“Paranormal Romance” by Chris Barzak - This rang really true to a lot of my experiences which I'm sure is part of why I like it. Also, my father is named Lyle, which is significant for reasons. The short pitch--a witch who can cast love spells contemplates her own love life--sounds mildly cutesy. The story is, indeed, very gentle, and has a sense of humor with itself. I like the warmth it has for its characters. I felt like this was a great example of how to do light-hearted well with candor and intelligent observation.
“Painted Birds and Shivered Bones” by Kat Howard - I feel like Kat Howard and I are circling the same images and obsessions, writing-wise, which creates this interesting web of reactions for me, both positive and negative, this deep intrigue often mixed with a yearning for the story to be slightly different (where I'm sensing the difference between her artistic obsessions and mine?). Anyway, we're clearly in the same wheelhouse here with painters, feathers, transformation, fairy tales, which are the building blocks of this story. I think I'd vaguely like something a bit more from the plot, but of course I would. ;) Rich imagery, interesting read.
“Monday’s Monk” by Jason Sanford (downloadable versions at link) - A Buddhist monk works to preserve nanotechnology. A sense of humor, warmth to the characters, interesting plot and imagery.
“Boat in Shadows, Crossing” by Tori Truslow - Really funky writing style, cool setting, awesome weird gender stuff, neat images like wicker basket fish. I now want an aquarium full of wicker basket fish. Please make that so, Tori Truslow. Second-world fantasy, an unusual fairy-tale-like piece about a farmer's child who goes off to the city to make a fortune and meet a haunted bride. But a lot weirder than that and more unexpected.
ALSO QUITE GOOD:
“The Litigation Master and the Monkey King” by Ken Liu - In historical China, a clever man can manipulate the court system, and enjoys playing tricks on the wealthy that can't come back to harm him. He is forced to evaluate his choices when a court case threatens his own skin. I liked the light, funny style of this, in particular with the way that it contrasted with the material as it veered darker.
“A Rumor of Angels” by Dale Bailey - I don't know whether or not this is fair, but in my head, this kind of became Biblical Dust Bowl. Closely observed, strong detail, and strongly well-woven language. Also reminds me of Chiang's "Hell Is the Absence of God."
I SHOULD MENTION:
"Say Goodbye to the Little Girl Tree" by Chris Reynaga - I haven't read this story in a couple of years so I can't be specific in my recommendation. I'm pretty sure it needs a trigger warning. It's a deeply dark story, boundlessly disturbing in ways that exceed the actual text. It's a tangle that I didn't feel totally capable of deciphering, though I've discussed it a bit with the author. Read at your own risk because it is so disturbing, but I also found it odd and unique.
"They Shall Salt the Earth with Seeds of Glass" by Alaya Dawn Johnson - I wanted to like this more than I did and I fear that the fault may be with my reading and not with the text. In a post-apocalyptic world where aliens (or as good as aliens) have taken over, an older sister helps her younger search for an illegal abortion in order to spare her the pain of raising a child in the unstable and dangerous world. I liked a lot about it including the writing and the characters, but somehow it never "sang" for me, and I wonder if that was just because I was tired when I read it. Alaya's work is always worth reading. (And I'll mention here, again, that her young adult novel THE SUMMER PRINCE is excellent and the best piece of her work I've read so far.)
EDIT: It was just pointed out to me that "A Hollow Play" is a novelette, not a short story. Slot it in with "also quite good."
"A Hollow Play" by Amal El Mohtar - A sweet story, but not in a saccharine way--more sort of an odd, unexpected sweetness, the kind that comes from unusual character observation.
I'm doing my write-up quickly so I won't be hitting all the stories I enjoyed and won't be writing as much in depth as I have in other years.
Methodology was to gather recommendations from editors and other curators of the field (including authors whose taste I respect) where I could and start my reading with those, followed by reading things based on the author. Some other methods including year's best lists (such as Tor's) crept in as a proxy for contacting editors personally. I didn't reach everything I outlined as something I wanted to read.
“The Traditional” by Maria Dahvana Headley - A fierce, surreal story as two lovers give each other anniversary gifts that riff on the old traditionals even as they try to survive the apocalypse. Visceral, weird language and imagery in a way that felt very muscular to me, a little acid and angry. Sometimes these types of heavily surreal stories don't work for me, especially if I feel that the imagery is being included for being neat or pretty rather than having an underlying strength of being connected to the narrative emotionally in some way. In this case, the emotion strongly came through to me, although the story is one that it's very difficult to create a capsule comment on because of its oddness. I valued it for the way that it focused my sight and my emotion in a strong punch of words and images. It's a story that rides the reader.
“this is a ghost story” by Keffy Kehrli - This story riffs off of Kurt Cobain's suicide of which I admit I know little; luckily, friends of mine who do know about it say that the story works well when you do. I can say that it worked well for me even though I knew I was missing large swaths of references. Like Headley's story, this one has a savageness of emotion and prose that cuts through the story itself; it's a very direct, emotional shout at and with the reader. I found it raw and real. It has some of the best prose I've read this year.
Both of these stories are very strange and almost like poetry in the way that they use language and imagery to demand the reader take them on their own terms. I think that's what I was craving this year; I see a strong thread of it in the stories that I picked.
ALSO SUPER GOOD:
“The Shoot-Out at Burnt Corn Ranch over the Bride of the World” by Cathrynne M. Valente - Another strange, demanding story that I can't intellectually quantify my interest in, although I do note that it's similar to M. K. Hobson's "The Hotel Astarte" which was an influence on me early in my career and which uses many of the same tropes as this one does. The title does a good job of summarizing it, though I'll add that it takes place in a magical, post-apocalyptic America, ruled over by mythologically ordained royalty and wizards. But not in a very literal way. It's odd and slippery and heavily voiced; it demanded of me, and I followed.
“Silent Bridge, Pale Cascade” by Benjanun Sriduangkaew -- I'm rapidly learning how to spell Benjanun's last name without looking at a reference which I will have to learn to do because her work is just so interesting. All her work that I've read is very interesting, although I thought this story was her winner from the year. It's a far future about a colonial empire, in which an incarnation of an uploaded general must confront her ex-wife on behalf of her empire in order to prevent her colonized home from succeeding. Like much far future work, this story loops away from the comfortable details of the present into very strange imagery, wrapping around toward the oddness of surrealism or high fantasy. I love the many-mouthed orchid sword that the main character carries.
“Selected Program Notes from the Retrospective Exhibition of Theresa Rosenberg Latimer” by Ken Schneyer -- As someone who took many years of art lessons and a very little bit of art history, I am a total sucker for stories that are told through the lens of art criticism. I thought this story did a really striking and intelligent job of it. I won't lie; the strength of the story lies in the format; it will strike people for whom it doesn't work as a gimmick story, I expect, and that's not unreasonable. But the gimmick has the strength of being one that is wholly integrated with the narrative in an intelligent way. Plus, I like it.
“Bess, the Landlord's Daughter, Goes for Drinks with the Green Girl” by Sofia Samatar -- My favorite story from GLITTER & MAYHEM, although no one else seems to have recognized that it was quite as brilliant as I recognized it to be. Well, everyone else who didn't recognize that, recognize it now! This surreal story is about two ghost girls who are known by their ghost stories and how they navigate their unlives in the wake of that endless, unavoidable trauma. I thought it discussed living with violence really intelligently as well as being beautifully written.
“The Master Conjurer” by Charlie Jane Anders - I'm just totally disarmed by Charlie Jane's whimsical, sarcastic, funny love stories, of which this is one. (The other is below.) In this one, a man casts a spell without any kickback, and everyone goes bananas over his "clean casting" even though he doesn't want or think he deserves the attention. He's strange, and the people he interacts with are strange, but they all feel like warmly observed people, rendered from a sharp perspective that regards the world with a bit of a sigh and calls us all silly and pats us on the head. "Oh, you," says the perspective, half-smiling. "Oh, us. Oh, life."
"Complicated and Stupid" by Charlie Jane Anders -- See above. This one is about a therapy that can revivify love.
OTHERS TO ENTHUSE ABOUT:
"Sister Twelve: Confessions of a Party Monster" by Chris Barzak - Retellling of twelve dancing princesses--I was particularly hung up on some of the images in the night club which were rendered in beautiful language.
"With Her Hundred Miles" by Kat Howard - Another gorgeously imagistic story, in Howard's trademark style, this one about dreams and Hades. Somewhat disturbing, very vivid and emotionally demanding, didn't quite all tie together for me.
"Abyssus Abyssum Invocat" by Genevieve Valentine - Works primarily for me as a mood piece with, again, striking imagery, particularly several embedded mermaid stories, and the image of a woman's wrist appearing and disappearing (into a jacket, into the waves).
"Ghost Days" by Ken Liu - The story of an artifact told in several timelines, from its creation in 1905 to its possession by a half-alien girl in the far future. I loved all the little character vignettes and the definitions of different times, places, and crises. I was prepared to love this even more than I did, but unfortunately, I felt that the end didn't stand up to the beginning, and that it became a bit sentimental. Still strong and interesting.
"Hear the Enemy, My Daughter" by Ken Schneyer - The mother of a young daughter comes to know the aliens that she's been warring against, and realizes their soldiers are mother/daughter teams. One thing I particularly liked about this was the unsentimental rendering of children and motherhood, which didn't deny strong ties between them, but also looked at moments of pain and weakness and tediousness.
"Call Girl" by Tang Fei - A young girl sells stories which she finds by looking at the code of the universe. On finishing the story, it felt a bit slight to me, perhaps because I didn't have any characters to hold onto and the idea itself wasn't interesting enough to me to hold the whole story. But it was interesting and unusual and I was absorbed while reading.
"Invisible Planets" by Hao Jingfang - A frame story underpins the descriptions of a number of planets and their cultures. I was, on the one hand, quite charmed by this, but on the other, felt that the structure was something I'd seen several times before, and wasn't quite sure it transcended it... but it was definitely a worthwhile and interesting read with some lingering details.
"Old, Dead Futures" by Tina Connolly - Strong mood piece about a young man kept in a perpetual state of anger so that he can manipulate the future. Very dark.
"In Metal, In Bone" by An Owomoyela - Rich, precise detail, and a certain emotional layering that I'm unused to associating with Owomoyela's work (although sie is usually brilliant, I was struck by the ways in which this built on but was different from earlier work). A man who can divine history from objects is set to identifying bones in a war zone.
"(R + D) / I = M" by E. Catherine Tobler - Martians and misunderstandings, spun out in a delicate kind of prose that made the story persuasive and absorbing.
"Cry of the Kharchal" by Vandana Singh - Unusual mix of science fiction and fantasy with some gorgeous language, imagery and moments, although I wasn't sure that I felt it hung together as a whole (largely because the pieces didn't match up for me when I tried to hold them against each other; why would X cause Y specifically? etc)
"The Insect and the Astronomer" by Kelly Barnhill - Two strange creatures search for love with each other. Heavy imagery, very weird and somewhat humorous, no real strong plot driver, very Kelly Barnhill.
"A Fine Show on the Abyssal Plain" by Karin Tidbeck - I'm a bit mixed on this one as the morbid ending felt a little predictable to me, I guess? Or rather, I suppose, the striking strangeness of the beginning led me to expect that the whole piece would be as cut free from prior narrative assumptions, which it wasn't. But I liked the way it unfolded, the imagery and the mood, and how I felt when I was reading it.
MY NOVELLA FAVORITES THIS YEAR:
"Burning Girls" by Veronica Schanoes: Veronica is fantastic with writing vivid, striking Jewish historial pieces such as this retelling of Rumplestiltskin that follows the story of two sisters as they try to survive the pogroms of the old world and the garment factories of the new world. I didn't feel that the ending was entirely earned by the story, but I love the characters and their exchanges, the fantastic detail, the clever interweaving of the fairy tale and the history, and I said this already, but the character, who is acidly wonderful.
"Wakulla Springs" by Ellen Klages and Andy Duncan: I'd been anticipating this collaboration for years, and it's been ongoing for longer than that! This novella tells the stories of people whose lives are bound up with the Wakulla Springs park and the movies that were filmed there, including Tarzan and The Creature from the Black Lagoon. Both Andy and Ellen excel at historical pieces with rich characters and amazing dialogue; together, they create really beautiful language, and I just am bowled over by the dialogue. This is a piece to get lost in the beauty of! Complex social issues make this even more interesting. I would argue that it's not speculative fiction, but who cares?
"The Weight of the Sunrise" by Vylar Kaftan: Vylar's been calling this piece her "Incawank." It's an alternate history wherein the Incan empire managed to survive and flourish, though it is still plagued by smallpox outbreaks. When America wants to rebel against Britain, the fledgling republic offers the Incans a vaccine in exchange for a huge sum of gold. The gold has religious associations and giving it up would be terrible for the Incans, but the American doesn't care. I thought there were some problems in this with bluntness and with awkward exposition, but overall it was a really interesting and unusual read.
"Spin" by Nina Allan: I'm ashamed to say that I have on hand two more novellas by Nina Allan and haven't had time to read them and it's entirely possible that they would both be on this list with "Spin" if I could carve out the hours. My lack of time this year is very frustrating. Nina is an underappreciated, brilliant short fiction writer, and it frustrates me that she doesn't get more traction. You should read her! Her calm, precise linguistic control and gift for telling detail of setting and character makes her writing intriguing, emotional, and immersive. In a Greek-myth-inspired modern world where magic exists and the oracles at Delphi were really clairvoyant, the daughter of a silk dyer foretells the future in tapestries, brilliantly and beautifully described. This is a beautiful, luxurious piece to read, with beautiful descriptions of the art, the setting and the character's emotional states.
WITH BONUS DISTINCTION TO:
"Martyr's Gem" by C.S.E. Cooney: High fantasy about a stuttering fisherman who everyone assumes is stupid and his unexpected marriage to a wealthy woman who is obsessed with avenging her sister's murder. There are some world-building consistency issues, especially inasmuch as my inner anthropologist wanted to argue with the way that some of the cultural details didn't match up, but they weren't drastic. There were also some structural issues, but again, they weren't drastic. It felt more like the story felt rough hewn in a way that worked for me, especially since it was partially about old-fashioned storytelling, which wouldn't necessarily be polished and ground down to a smooth surface. It carries itself on verve, humor, interesting details, unexpected threads, and strong characters. It's a rewarding read that reaches beyond the rough patches to something unusual and memorable.
I really wish I'd had a chance to read the rest of Nina's novellas. If I do, and I have the time and energy, I'll try to review them. Repeating that Nina Allan is a really brilliant, under-appreciated writer, and people should check her out if they can.
I primarily gathered the list of books I read by asking trusted readers -- people whose opinions I hold in high esteem, such as some of this year's Norton jurists, and my friends who are young adult authors. Most other years I would have asked authors whose young adult novels I like to let me know if they had published anything I missed; this year, I didn't. I also looked at recommendations that passed through the SFWA list for YA/MG authors, both by people discussing books they enjoyed and people discussing books they had written; I didn't end up picking up all of these.
At my request, two authors sent me electronic copies of their books, but I have been unable to read either at this point due to my recent loss of internet access. My apologies to both of those authors and to their publishers; I will read them for the Hugo best novel, although I know young adult doesn't always get a fair shake there.
While I didn't read very widely this year, I did find a *really high* density of books that I liked a lot. I turned up two books that I marked as "average" (3 stars) and one that I didn't finish reading (it was the second or third in a series that I hadn't been especially fond of to begin with). Everything else I marked as "interesting" (3.5) or above. I'm pretty sure there was a higher number of books that I rated 4.5 and 5 than I ran into last year.
BOOKS DEFINITELY ON MY BALLOT:
THE SUMMER PRINCE by Alaya Dawn Johnson
Young adult: In future Brazil, a teenage street artist learns about the politics of her city as she falls in love with the summer prince who will be ritually killed at the end of the season.
I had a little bit of trouble with this at first because I was listening to it in audio and it took me a while to adjust to the narrator (who did a lovely job, but I still had to adjust to her). However, the story is beautiful, remarkably lush and sensory, evoking a strong sense of what it's like growing up. The science fiction elements are wonderful. The story moves in fluid and unexpected ways and balances wonder and confusion and growing awareness and all those other attributes of adolescence beautifully.
17 & GONE by Nova Ren Suma
Young adult: If this book is nominated for the Norton, the first debate will likely be whether or not it's actually genre. I resort to my general opinion in cases like this: who cares?
Seventeen-year-old Lauren discovers the MISSING poster for Abby Sinclair who went missing from the site of a summer camp near where Lauren lives. She begins to be haunted by Abby, and later the ghosts of other girls who went missing at age seventeen.
This is one of the most effective ghost stories I've ever read, slowly and beautifully building its mood through setting and deep immersion in the main character's point of view. It does a beautiful job of exploring the fragility of being seventeen, right on the boundary between adolescence and adulthood; in this story, that boundary marks radical and potentially fatal change. It explores the terrible mundanity of violence against girls without dropping into any easy or trivializing narratives.
BOOKS POSSIBLY ON MY BALLOT:
ZOMBIE BASEBALL BEATDOWN by Paolo Bacigalupi
Middle grade: Three best friends make their way through the zombie apocalypse.
A fun and action-oriented adventure, amusingly laced with Bacigalupi's politics. I gave this to my nephew and it was as well-received as I expected it to be.
THE COLDEST GIRL IN COLDTOWN by Holly Black
Young adult: A teenage girl wakes up at a party and discovers that everyone else has been murdered by vampires. Exploring, she finds her ex-boyfriend has survived but been exposed to vampiricism. A strange vampire helps save their lives, and in return they try to save his, while trying to figure out how to make it through the next few months without being killed by other vampires, turning into vampires, or being endangered by vampire-phobic human society.
CONJURED by Sarah Beth Durst
Young adult: A teenage girl in witness protection has both amnesia and magical powers. Relocated to a small town, she tries to figure out the meaning of both.
Immediately interesting. Vivid imagery. Although I tend to find amnesia plotlines annoying, this one really worked for me. I liked the development of the mystery, and how many strange possibilities seemed feasible as the text continued. Kept turning and twisting in ways I didn't expect, all of them interesting, although there were a few moments in the last third that didn't quite work for me.
SEPTEMBER GIRLS by Bennett Madison
Young adult: A teenage boy visits the beach where he discovers "The Girls," strangely beautiful blonde women whose surreal appearances and behavior suggest that they are otherworldly.
Very beautiful and detailed, with strange and poetic interstitial passages. I thought at first that the "unreachable, unattainable, mystical girls ARE ACTUALLY MAGIC" thing would annoy me, but the novel manages to overturn those tropes, endowing the characters with individuality and motivations. The surrealism works with the piece rather than against it and develops unusual and emotional content with a lot of metaphorical resonance for exploring adolescence and emotional boundaries. Lots of vivid, striking details. I got a bit sick of the casual misogynist chat between male characters, although that's not an indication that it shouldn't have been there or wasn't well done; I just had a personal pet peeve about it after a while. Beautiful, beautiful writing.
BOOKS I RECOMMEND:
GHOULISH SONG by Will Alexander
Middle grade: When a little girl becomes detached from her shadow, her family and community conclude that she is dead, and send her away.
There were moments when I felt that this novel wasn't tied together as well as it could have been, but it worked quite well for me when considered as a series of vivid and strange images. (There is totally a plot; it just seems sometimes as if the main character is being blown through it. I don't think it would bother me if I could turn off writer-brain which is not always helpful as a reading tool.) There are some really beautiful and odd moments about bones and music, and the vaguely disturbing magical imagery in this book (and Will's first book) reminds me a bit of Miyazaki.
DOLL BONES by Holly Black
Middle grade: Three young children discover that a doll who featured in their games contains the ashes of a dead little girl.
Another really interesting haunting story. Definitely the best "creepy doll" story I remember reading. The haunting and related details are well-developed (and I had no idea that bone porcelain had bones in it!), but the particularly interesting thing for me was the development of the main character. I thought it had an interesting perspective on masculinity, and on that moment growing up when "playing pretend" is no longer permitted or easy, which I have to confess drove me nuts as a kid.
MIRAGE by Jenn Reese
Middle grade: The second book in the series that began with ABOVE WORLD which was on last year's Norton ballot.
In this world, many parts of humanity have split off into groups genetically engineered to survive in different environments, such as mermaid-type people, harpy-type people, etc. As part of their epic adventure to oppose the man trying to take over the world, the young protagonists (two mermaids who don't yet have tails, a harpy, and a centaur born with a genetic abnormality that made him express as only human) journey to the desert where they try to recruit the society of genetically enhanced centaurs to their side. Two things stand in their way: 1) the centaurs have already been recruited by the other side, and 2) the centaur-boy who travels with them has been sentenced to death if he ever returns.
This is a lot of fun, with neat world-building details and particularly cool fight scenes.
THE WAKING DARK by Robin Wasserman
Young adult: The novel follows the stories of several teenagers who all live in the small town of Oleander. On a strange day in Oleander, five people went mad and murdered every living person they could find, killing themselves afterward. Four of the protagonists are the survivors. The fifth is one of the murderers who lived.
This is a very dark and unforgiving novel. I loved the way that its rotating points of view were created with such detailed precision, the lives of each teenager, and the town as a whole, feel exceedingly well-realized. I thought that, perhaps, it was longer than it needed to be.
In total, I published seven original stories this year. It's not so bad for a year in which I've been primarily noveling, although I wish I had finished a few more that are in the late stages of revision.
Many of the stories are available online, but if you'd like to access one of the ones that isn't for awards consideration, contact me and I'll send you a copy.
The story of mine that seems to be getting the best reaction this year is:
"If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love," at Apex Magazine. It's a short-short with a poetic rhythm.
The one that's probably my favorite is:
"All That Fairy Tale Crap" which first appeared in GLITTER & MAYHEM, but was reprinted in Apex Magazine this December. (It's still original to this year.) It's a meta-fictional take on Cinderella with some rated R content.
I also published three other original stories in magazines and anthologies:
"Beyond the Naked Eye" appeared in John Joseph Adams and Doug Cohen's OZ REIMAGINED. It's not available for free online, but it is available as a Kindle single for 1.99. The prompt for this anthology was to reimagine Oz as a different genre; I wrote about Oz as a reality show, but the character of the narrator--a jeweler--took over the story as I was writing.
"Abomination Rises on Filthy Wings" appeared in Apex Magazine. It's got a trigger warning on it for sexual (and other) violence. I wrote it on a dare because there's a particular kind of story that appears a lot in horror slush, where writers seem to be working out autobiographical fantasies of killing their wives or ex-wives. I wanted to see if I could follow all of the "rules" of the genre while creating a narrative that carried an opposite message.
"What Lies at the Edge of a Petal Is Love" is a heavily imagistic story that appeared in the first issue of The Dark.
Two original stories appeared in my collection, HOW THE WORLD BECAME QUIET, which came out this year from Subterranean Press.
"Speech Strata" is another heavily imagistic story about a far-far future that's largely indistinguishable from fantasy.
"With Singleness of Heart" is the other story on this list that has a trigger warning for sexual (and other) violence. It's very short, and deals with the topics of rape as a weapon of war, and the abuse of soldiers.
I wanted to explain a little more about my reaction to Jason Williams and Resurrection House. This is partially adapted from a post I made on the private SFWA forums, but also changed significantly.
A fair chunk of this is also restatement and expansion of my previous post on the subject, so don’t expect anything too new.
First off, as someone who was on the board during the Night Shade mess, I had the opportunity to hear from a lot of people about their experiences with Night Shade and with Jason Williams. Of course, I wouldn’t talk about what I heard as an officer. However, since people knew I was studying the situation, some talked to me not member-to-officer, but colleague-to-colleague. Sometimes in confidence, sometimes not. I won’t tell their stories without permission because that’s their business, but I did hear a lot.
Based on what I heard, I will probably never work with Jason Williams. I say probably–time is long, and people can radically change their behavior. However, we’re not far distanced in time from when all this went down.
Another thing that would make me feel more comfortable would be to hear a mea culpa from Jason personally, and his intentions going forward. I have worked with other people who have harassed authors in the past. My requirement for that was that they describe to me what happened, what they did, and importantly, how they have changed their behavior to make sure that it never happens again. I felt that the situation was resolved in a way I could deal with, but I would never tell anyone else they needed to work with this person; sometimes one’s prior actions just mean that you lose future opportunities, such as some authors forever refusing to work with you.
In general, I think these discussions should happen publicly when possible. I think that for a few reasons:
1) When the discussions are all whispered from person to person, new writers don’t have a chance to learn about the situation.
There have been a number of situations in my career when I’ve known from other people’s personal reports that someone had a tendency to do X (like get really drunk and start insulting authors and anyone else nearby), and so when I published with that person, I knew what I was getting into. Then later when they got really drunk and insulted everyone nearby, I wasn’t taken by surprise. I already knew how to react. I thought that everyone knew this person had a tendency to do those things, but in fact, they didn’t. I did because I was under the wing of more experienced authors. Other writers who came into the industry at the same time as I did were caught flat-footed by the phenomenon. Some of them had invested parts of their careers with this person, and suddenly things went quite wrong for them.
This is effectively the same phenomenon that happens with sexual harassment at cons. People (often women) maintain a background network — “don’t get into the elevator alone with that person” — but the new person who doesn’t know anyone also doesn’t know not to get into that elevator.
2) People complain that rumor mills can ruin someone’s reputation, but actually, I think this is much more likely to happen with things that get passed whisper to whisper. An event can be easily distorted out of true when the evidence is hidden. A joke or speculation could be misconstrued as testimony more easily than if the words are out there to be double-checked.
2) When things are kept behind closed doors, it’s hard for individuals to realize that what’s happening to them is part of a pattern. For instance, I noted in my last post that Jason Williams had sent me (and a number of other authors) a bizarre, aggressive email. That’s only one data point. It doesn’t have a lot of meaning until other data points are highlighted.
A pattern can also help corroborate things. One person’s first-hand report that an editor has a tendency to get drunk and yell at everyone could be a grudge; two could be coincidence; ten is a heavy thumb on the scales.
This isn’t going to get rid of the whisper-to-whisper. There are lots of reasons why information has to be passed that way. People fear retaliation or further harassment if they speak out about their experiences. Again, this is parallel to what happens with sexual harassment where victims can be questioned, blamed, impugned, and so they keep their own counsel. There are other reasons, too, like not wanting to harm one’s career, or to burn bridges with mutual acquaintances.
I don’t want to tell people how they have to handle their bad experiences with publishers. No one’s obligated to go public. Sometimes warning your friends is the best you can do. But these are some of the reasons why I think going public can be helpful.
So, back to Resurrection House specifically. (This is the bit that’s adapted from my forum comment. It shouldn’t reveal anyone else’s private comments, but if someone feels it does, please let me know.)
1) It doesn’t seem likely to me that Resurrection House is going to terminate its relationship with Jason Williams no matter what happens from here. Whether or not I think that’s an ideal situation, it’s the one that exists on the ground.
2) There would have been a potential reason to keep stories private if there were a strong possibility that Jason wouldn’t be working with the press. Since there doesn’t seem to be, there are good reasons for people to be public. Writers who are going to sign up for a working relationship with Jason deserve to have as much information as possible so that they can make decisions about what to do.
I don’t know what information will become public. Maybe not much more, for all the reasons I’ve previously listed. Maybe a chunk more if there are fora provided for people to speak anonymously. I don’t blame people for deciding not to share stories publicly, but I think there are good reasons for those who decide they can.
3) I will therefore help support and publicize people who want to speak.
4) However, there are also actions Resurrection House could take that I would be happy to support and publicize as well.
Resurrection House has enough information now to go forward with the types of actions that would make me more comfortable with its existence and with its association with Jason Williams. If there were a question of terminating Jason’s employment, it would probably be necessary to have iron-clad proof, and to make sure to settle important questions about prior incidents. If employment isn’t on the line, then all that doesn’t matter. It’s clear: there’s a personnel problem. That’s obvious from the number of reports. One person could be a grudge, two a coincidence, but… well, it probably depends on your personal network how many reports you’ve seen, but the number isn’t small. It doesn’t matter who is essentially in the right; the facts at hand indicate that Jason is perceived by writers to have been abusive toward them.
So, I’d like to see Resurrection Press set up a plan. I’ve made suggestions on what that plan might be, and I’m sure there are lots of people who are smarter than me who could clarify or revise that plan. It should probably include some form of training on how to prevent harassment, both for Williams and other employees.
If Resurrection House makes such a plan and makes it public? I will totally link to that. That’s the first step in me being able to trust that this house won’t perpetuate previous problems.
If Resurrection House had come out with a plan to start with, I know that I personally would have been a lot less wary. It would have been a big step. I’d have known they were aware and on the ball to start with. “Hey, we know this is a thing that happened, but it won’t again, and here’s how.”
4) I probably won’t work with Jason Williams, as I said at the beginning of this post. But you know what I’d love? Never to hear another horror story. I’d love that a lot. I bet we all would.