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.
From Writer Beware:
A brand new publisher has hung out a web shingle: Resurrection House. As of this writing, its website is pretty bare: a single page with a mission statement, a call for submissions, and a link to a cryptic YouTube video. As yet, no books have been published; there’s also no information about staff. You can’t even tell what genres Resurrection House is interested in…
What Google won’t tell you is that Resurrection House has another staff member: Night Shade Books founder and publisher Jason Williams. (Though Williams’ involvement with Resurrection House isn’t publicly disclosed, Writer Beware has seen a message posted by Teppo to a mailing list for Night Shade Books authors.) If that name doesn’t ring a bell, here’s a bit of background…
Mark Teppo has stated that Jason Williams will be working with Resurrection House only as an employee, with the title of Acquisitions Editor, and won’t have a hand in running the company. By all accounts, Williams is a talented editor. Still, even as an employee, his association with Resurrection House is a data point that writers should have the opportunity to factor in to their decision to submit.
More from Jeff VanderMeer:
Recently Mark Teppo created Resurrection House, a new publishing company aimed at recruiting new, up-and-coming authors. What isn’t as clear from the website, although it is in a private post that Teppo put on the Night Shade message boards, is that Jason Williams, one of the founders and operators of Night Shade has been hired as an editor there…
So let’s talk about Night Shade a bit…Depending on which Night Shade author you talk to, NS was guilty of lesser or greater sins. Some didn’t get paid. Some didn’t get paid and suffered a lot of passive-aggressive behavior. Some didn’t get paid and had to threaten lawsuits and received crappy, unprofessional behavior. And yet others got paid, didn’t suffer any or hardly any unprofessional behavior…
Ann and I, for example, decided never again to deal with Night Shade after doing our pirate anthology with them—despite getting paid. Ann was treated at best rudely by Night Shade and at worst in a sexist way—that project became a living hell for her…
Many of my personal experiences working with Night Shade were fine. I had and have quite a bit of respect for a number of their former staff members. I was very excited to see them picking up exciting titles that other publishers would not such as Will McIntosh’s brilliant SOFT APOCALYPSE.
My only personal negative experiences with Night Shade came from Jason Williams. In reply to a request for payment, Williams wrote a very nasty letter to myself and the other writers in an anthology, implying that we were unreasonable and ungrateful to demand payment on schedule. For me, payment on schedule for something minor like a short story isn’t a big deal. For others involved, it could mean making rent, buying medicine, paying bills. This is our labor and we deserve to be paid on time and according to our contracts.
It was a very small incident, but the letter was so stunningly bizarre and unprofessional… that I was not surprised to hear that he was acting unprofessionally with other writers and in situations in which there was much more on the line.
I don’t know if other people will come out with their stories about his actions. There are lots of reasons to keep one’s head down and try not to think about bad situations from the past. People fear retaliation, and they fear being hounded for telling their stories.
What I can say is that after what I’ve heard about Jason Williams’ behavior, I would never work with him.
I strongly urge Resurrection House to reconsider their involvement with someone whose recent, pervasive pattern of behavior has been damaging to so many authors. However, since this is unlikely, I hope they will do the following:
*Put Jason Williams through training courses on harassment
*Put the rest of their staff through the same
*Make sure that Jason Williams is subject to clear and regular oversight
*Make sure there are clear lines of communication through which authors can report problems, and make sure that they are well-treated and respected should they chose to use them
I would also like to see Resurrection House be publicly accountable for failures in this arena. One way that harassers get away with the same patterns again and again is that each incident is resolved privately — or never even named, due to wariness or fear of retaliation — and no one ever understands that their experience doesn’t just stand alone, it’s part of a web of experiences.
On my twitter feed, I wondered, what was the proper equivalent to lady editor? So I tried out a few.
With apologies to the authors, agents, and editors herein described, who I hope will find the joke fun:
Gentleman writer Ken Liu made a name for himself as much with his dapper dress as with his articulate storytelling.
Laddie editor Michael rose to prominence thanks to the help of his wife, Lynne Thomas, whose brilliant editing won her a Hugo.
Dude novelist Lavie Tidhar wrote stories with strong, active male protagonists, who worked alongside their female counterparts.
Chappie editor Niall Harrison persevered at Strange Horizons as a trail-blazing male among a staff of gender-fluid fiction editors.
Fella writer Chris East attracted novelist Jenn Reese with his willowy, nerdish charm.
Manly writer Kip charmed his wife, graphic artist Jenn Manley-Lee, into marrying him and helping to launch his career.
Bloke author Keffy Kehrli never neglected his appearance at signings: rakish hats and bright ties always accompanied his outfits.
Boy writer John Scalzi wrote charming space adventures that supplemented serious work by writers like Bujold and Bear.
Sonny boy agent Joe Monti made an effort to search out sonny boy authors who could join his stable alongside greats like Leicht and Howard.
Jonnie editor Nick Mamatas offended many readers with his shrill, testerical rantings.
And one last, for Mur Laffterty: Cock writer Dick Pricklington sported such a prodigious bulge that one editor suggested he sign his books in a swimsuit by the pool!
Prettyboy C. C. Finlay relied on a gender ambiguous pseudonym to lure readers into unknowingly picking up a book by a man.
Gent writer Paul Cornell was a master of work-life balance, continuing to write even after the birth of his baby.
Dudebro publisher Jason Sizemore proved males can stomach working in horror, though he acquired psychological stories, not splattergore.
Guy editor Jeff was often forgotten when he worked with his wife Ann Vandermeer who was always presumed the primary (or sole) editor.
Boyo cartoonist Barry Deutsch, though talented, didn’t do it alone; his acknowledgments admit script advice from writer Rachel Swirsky.
Stud editor John Klima is reputed to have slapped competing stud editor Jonathan Strahan; congoers gawked at the resulting “cock fight.”
Thanks to my very excellent friend Nicole Thayer, I am gaining a new website made of wordpress instead of made by my HTML.
It’s not fully complete yet, but she has set up a blog for me, so I will have a fancy blog with a professional address that will also send duplicate entries to my livejournal where my friends are.
In order to make this post not a total bore, I will now add an amusing note:
*We took in our two fluffiest cats to the vet today and had the groomers give them lion cuts. They came home looking a bit like someone had glued the heads of our cats onto weird, gremlin bodies. I expected them to look more ridiculous and less pathetic.
I can’t tell if they miss their fur or not. I think they may miss looking like they are about twice as huge as they actually are.
Pictures will occur, I promise.
HOW THE WORLD BECAME QUIET: MYTHS OF THE PAST, PRESENT, AND FUTURE is forthcoming on September 30th from Subterranean Press. And it has a cover! By Shaun Tan!
From the very generous text written by Subterranean in their announcement:
Rachel Swirsky is one of the finest young sf/fantasy writers we've encountered in the past decade. Later this summer, we'll be releasing her first full-length short story collection, How the World Became Quiet. For just one stunning sample of her fiction, try "Dispersed by the Sun, Melting in the Wind".
About the Book:
After a powerful sorceress is murdered, sheâs summoned over the centuries to witness devastating changes to the land where she was born. A woman who lives by scavenging corpses in the Japanese suicide forest is haunted by her dead lover. A man searches for the memory that will overwrite his childhood abuse. Helios is left at the altar. The world is made quiet by a series of apocalypses.
From the riveting emotion and politics of âThe Lady Who Plucked Red Flowers beneath the Queenâs Windowâ (Nebula winner) to the melancholy family saga of âEros, Philia, Agapeâ (Hugo and Theodore Sturgeon finalist), Rachel Swirskyâs critically acclaimed stories have quickly made her one of the fieldâs rising stars. Her work is, by turns, clever and engaging, unflinching and quietly devastatingâoften in the space of the same story.
How the World Became Quiet: Myths of the Past, Present, and Future collects the body of Swirskyâs short fiction to date for the first time. While these stories envision pasts, presents, and futures that never existed, they offer revealing examinations of humanity that readers will find undeniably true.
Limited: 750 signed numbered hardcover copies: $40
Table of Contents:
The Lady Who Plucked Red Flowers Beneath the Queenâs Window
The Adventues of Captain Blackheart Wentworth: A Nautical Tale
Marrying the Sun
A Monkey Will Never Be Rid of Its Black Hands
The Sea of Trees
Fields of Gold
Eros, Philia, Agape
The Monsterâs Million Faces
Again and Again and Again
Diving After the Moon
Scenes from a Dystopia
The Taste of Promises
With Singleness of Heart
Dispersed by the Sun, Melting in the Wind
How the World Became Quiet: A Post-Human Creation Myth
You can preorder the limited edition here.
The book is also available from amazon and Barnes and Noble. Probably other places, too, if you've got a link I should add, tell me!
I do, actually, get online threats of actual violence. This isn't unusual for bloggers, especially ones who belong to oppressed groups. I tend to get mine because I'm a woman, a feminist and a Jew. If someone receives rape and/or death threats -- and people do, far too often, especially if they belong to marginalized groups -- I find that horrifying.
However, I also find it clearly distinct from criticism.
Criticism (especially in a social justice context) is often described as assault, a witch hunt, a lynch mob, or a crucifixion. (There are a couple other go-to metaphors, but those are the major ones.) Of these, "witch hunt" and "lynch mob" are the most upsetting. However, they are all attempts to silence criticism by comparing it to a violent, unacceptable act. It is unacceptable to assault someone, ever; therefore, it's implied, that the criticism is likewise by its very nature unacceptable.
The use of the terms witch hunts and lynch mobs (or mobs in general) also implies that the criticism is not being offered in good faith, and certainly not with thoughtfulness, deliberation or sincerity. Instead, it implies that the criticism is the result of a mass delusion. It implies that there is nothing to criticize at all--that the very nature of what is being criticized is superstition--since witches don't exist and lynched victims are innocent. It implies that the only goal of criticism is bloodletting, that it will only be satisfied by burning stakes, pressing stones, or hung corpses.
Now, I do not mean to imply that no one who offers criticism is ever an asshole. People are totally assholes. You can easily show me examples of someone criticizing someone else, even taking a position I broadly agree with, and acting like a flaming asshole. And I will look at that and say, "Wow, that person is acting like a flaming asshole." This happens--it is, in fact, inevitable. Groups of people contain assholes.
I'm down with criticizing assholes for being assholes. But the terms "witch hunt" etc assume that the grounds for criticism are vaporous. When applied to groups, it also implies that no one (or almost no one) in the group is offering good faith or meritorious arguments.
It is sometimes true that a person is, in fact, offering a critique that stems from delusional, bad faith bloodthirstiness. It is sometimes true that groups are doing the same. When a group of people bullies a trans person until they commit suicide, I am comfortable saying that this is the result of delusion (transphobia is based on delusional principles), bad faith (transphobia itself may be something an individual feels in good faith; bullying is not an activity pursued in good faith), and bloodthirstiness (as it ends in death). Bullying exists at an intersection where words can become assault. That intersection *does* exist.
But people are very free with the comparisons of criticism to violence. And I would counsel being, instead, very strict with them.
Be aware of (among other things):
*The stakes. Is physical safety actually on the line? With a bullied gay teenager, it may be. With an adult blogger being criticized by anti-racist bloggers, it's probably not.
*Whose history you are invoking. Are you defending a person who is (in this argument) privileged by comparing their situation to violence or death that was explicitly directed toward people who were (in the salient situations) oppressed? Are you comparing a person whose speech is being criticized for being racist to someone who was killed by a lynch mob?
*(As a complicating factor to the above, are you using the history of the oppressed group against them? Are you using the real, historical deaths of people of color to suggest that criticism from people of color is like murder?)
*Are you legitimately comfortable saying that the people you're accusing of participating in a witch hunt would like to see their victims subjected to physical violence? Or, instead, when you fill in the abstraction of "people criticizing this person I'd like to defend" with "Blogger X," does the metaphor start to make you uncomfortable? When you fill in the actual implications of the metaphor by defamiliarizing the language (instead of "this person is engaged in a witch hunt," something like "this person experiencing a mass delusion that makes them want to see people die"), does that make the comparison seem apt or appalling?
Just because speech is being criticized doesn't mean that the criticism is legitimate. People can offer good faith criticisms, even criticisms that are theoretically rooted in correct ideas such as anti-racism, that are still totally wrong. People can be unreasonable assholes, and groups can pursue unreasonable, assholish arguments. As noted, sometimes speech does actually rise to the level of actual assault when violence is involved, either directly (as in threats) or implicitly (as in bullying). But most of the time, even the people who are being unreasonable jerks aren't actually arguing in bad faith or lusting for blood. They are arguing stupid points and doing it stupidly. Rather than attempting to shut them down by calling their criticism assault (unacceptable in any circumstances) as if it's the fact of *criticism itself* that is the problem, the best response is usually to explain why their *particular* criticism sucks. Unless their criticism *really is* assault, in which case, please do call it out. Explain why. Be savvy and aware. But don't just use these terms as short-hand or rhetorical flourish when they're not really what you mean. They're silencing, inacccurate, and in some cases offensive.
Real people really died as a result of lynch mobs. It's particularly insensitive for white Americans to use that as a metaphor for someone being criticized. As a Jew who lost a lot of relatives in the Holocaust, I would be upset if the go-to metaphor was to imply that criticism was like pushing people onto trains that would take them to gas chambers. That's taking the deaths of my relatives experienced and making them something trivial.
If you find yourself wanting to argue that I'm taking metaphorical language too seriously, then I ask you to really stop and think about the things you care most about, the ones that pinch and hurt, and imagine them being used this way. Try to take it out of the abstract for yourself. Find the places where you are tender. Now really, and in good faith, imagine that everyone presses on those tender places all the time, that they see them as fodder for winning internet arguments, and not actual, painful things. If you've done that and you still feel that you want to argue abstractions about language, then all right. I won't agree with you, but I'll believe you've tried to take my position into account. But please, first go to the place that hurts, and then imagine that being used against you as a way to stop you from arguing the positions you are passionate about.
To begin the entry, I'm going to list, without reviews, the novellas that are on my ballot, followed by those I recommend. Below, I will post the reviews.
"After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall" by Nancy Kress (Tachyon)
"African Sunrise" by Nnedi Okorafor (Subterranean)
"Katabasis" by Robert Reed (Fantasy & Science Fiction)
"Murder Born" (excerpt) by Robert Reed (Asimovs)
"The Emperor's Soul" by Brandon Sanderson (Tachyon)
"All the Flavors" by Ken Liu (Giganotosaurus)
"A Seed in the Wind" by Cat Rambo (ebook)
"After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall" by Nancy Kress (Tachyon) - The earth is destroyed by an apocalype--the fall. This novella follows two timelines simultaneously: one after the fall and the other before. They intersect during the fall, as one might expect from the title. The story follows two perspectives. The first is a boy born after the fall to one of the few survivors, his body severely impaired from radiation damage. The aliens who saved the few survivors from the disaster (it's unclear whether or not they caused it) have provided a time travel portal for him and the other members of his generation to go back in time to before the fall for short periods of time so that they can bring back resources and babies that they will be able to raise to strengthen their population. The other main character, who is a professor who lives in the before, notices a mathematical pattern to kidnappings and store robberies, the footprint of the time travel. The two characters finally meet when the boy travels back in time to a moment during the apocalypse, to where the professor is waiting for him. I really, really liked this novella, especially the bits set after the apocalypse. Kress is always a fine writer, but she's pulled out some extremely good characterization here. Many of the characters are sharply characterized, but especially two in the after--one, the boy's mentor who he is in unrequited love with, and two, the boy himself, who is a vivid portrait of an adolescent in troubled circumstances, his emotions volatile, his desires unquenchable, his beliefs and needs and wants shaped by his post-apocalyptic childhood. The thing I disliked about this novella is that there's a strong hint at the end that the story is meant to be read as an "the earth will get you" magic environmentalism thing, and that really doesn't work for me, because it's just sort of random and it's such an obvious fantasy element in a story that's otherwise science fiction... meh. But "hard" SF writers sometimes pull that sort of weirdness, and I just kind of have a "ignoring that bit; it's fairly minor anyway" receptacle in my brain, and the story is absolutely worth it for its many sterling elements.
"African Sunrise" by Nnedi Okorafor (Subterranean) - This novella expands on Nnedi Okorafor's short story "The Book of Phoenix" that appeared in Clarkesworld in 2011. A genetically altered girl has been confined to a corporate building for all of her life, along with others who have been experimented on. After one of her friends dies, she decides to escape and discovers that she possesses phoenix-like powers of fire and regeneration. The life-giving energy that radiates from her body produces a fantastic growth of plantlife that crumbles the building where she was raised and reaches out to sprawl across the city center. The main character flies away, following her instincts, knowing that she has the ability to greatly improve the world if she can find her way. As always, it's nice to see smart and well-written Africa-centered fantasy/science fiction of the sort that Okorafor so ably writes. There's a sense of magic and hope in this story that doesn't feel sentimental, but instead seems to suggest a radical re-imagining of the world. The detail of the character's life and her interactions were more interesting to me than the fantasy plot itself; in particular, there was a lovely scene in an Ethiopian restaurant early on that's stuck with me.
"Katabasis" by Robert Reed (Fantasy & Science Fiction) - This is one of Robert Reed's Great Ship stories which I admit to being a total sucker for. They take place on an enormous ship that's on an interminable mission through space. Passage is expensive; its inhabitants are nearly immortal. Humans run the place, but it's full of life that is variously alien and artificially intelligent. Basically, this story has all the "ooooooo, awesome" of space opera without the boring bits; Reed successfully portrays an immersive setting that feels alien and unknown. In this story, there is a small planet-like habitat deep in the great ship, built by long-gone aliens to simulate their world. It has immensely high gravity, and it's become a challenge for humans (and others who are not adapted to the high gravity) to take on trying to hike the "planet" without enhancements, as a test of mettle. They take along a single high-gravity-adapted porter. The story is about one such porter and the contingent that she ends up traveling with. The story of their journey is interwoven with the story of how she came to the ship. Alien weirdness abounds--if you like that sort of thing, it'll probably scratch all the right itches, or at least it does mine.
"Murder Born" (excerpt) by Robert Reed (Asimovs) -- Yes, Reed again. This is an Idea story of his which are hit-or-miss for me. I like this one less than his great ship stories, but it still worked for me. A new technique for execution is invented and, to everyone's surprise including the inventor's, it does something totally bizarre (and totally not actually science fiction at all, but rather a thought experiment in the vein of It Just Works, Shut Up And Let's Go With It, which is fine with me, really)--when the murderer disappears into it, it brings back all the people he's killed. The conceit isn't totally logically consistent about what counts as killed and some other science things, but whatever, it's a Thought Experiment, Just Go With It. The thought experiment bit is interesting. There's also a kind of stitched on adventure plot that was readable but ordinary. It's now been a year since I read the story so my memory of it has faded significantly; it's marked with a quite high rating in my database, but mostly what I remember now is talking about its flaws with people, so that's what's stuck in my mind. I think what I liked about it was the way in which it examined a number of different situations within the thought experiment. I'm happy to engage with thought experiments on a purely intellectual level from time to time; it's a long tradition; you don't read Candide for the characters.
"The Emperor's Soul" by Brandon Sanderson (Tachyon) - In a world where it is illegal to do so, a woman wields the magic of forgery, able to produce soulstamps that will change the substance and history of an object, allowing it to become something other than what it is. An ordinary urn can be stamped with the essence of an ancient vase and become one, although the stamp will remain and, if it is removed, the urn will become ordinary again. After committing a series of forgeries of important artifacts, the main character is jailed, and offered her freedom and her life only if she will help the emperor's advisers to achieve a dangerous, illegal, and excruciatingly difficult task -- to endow the braindead emperor with a soulstamp that so closely approximates his own mind that his personality will be indistinguishable from the original. This is a fun and clever, straightforward fantasy, with all the pleasures of a rougish main character who is constantly trying to stay one step ahead of people who will kill her. The process of the magic is described in reasonable detail which I grooved on; it's a fun magic system. It's even better when Sanderson describes the process of simulating the emperor's soul, merging the described magic with ruminations on memory and personality. Several of the main characters take on good dimensionality, including the emperor, who is only marginally on the page.
"All the Flavors" by Ken Liu (Giganotosaurus)
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