content by

Brit Mandelo

Fiction and Excerpts [4]

Fiction and Excerpts [4]

Letters to Tiptree

|| Science fiction and fantasy writers, editors, critics and fans celebrate Alice Sheldon's 100th birthday in a series of letters, recognising her work and trying to finish conversations set aside nearly thirty years ago.

Rebuilding After War: An Inheritance of Ashes by Leah Bobet

Hallie Hoffmann is sixteen and trying to keep her family farm running with her pregnant sister Marthe—six months after her sister’s husband, Thom, went marched south to fight in the war against a dark god and his irregulars. The war is over, but Thom hasn’t come home and winter is coming. The sisters’ relationship is strained to the breaking point already when a veteran walking up the road hires on through the winter, bringing more with him than just the clothes on his back.

Twisted Things begin appearing on Roadstead Farm again—the creatures of the dark god, thought to be slain in the war by the hero John Balsam—and the politics of families, cities, and armies come crashing together on Hallie and Marthe’s land. At the same time, the sisters are dealing with their own wounds—jagged and unhealed fears left in the wake of their abusive, difficult father—and the strained relationship with the local township that resulted from his behavior in life towards his neighbors. Hallie must look into herself, as well as face down the danger ahead, to save her family and her home.

[A review — contains spoilers.]

Rust Belt American Magic Realism: Wonders of the Invisible World by Christopher Barzak

Wonders of the Invisible World, Christopher Barzak’s third novel following One for Sorrow and The Love We Share Without Knowing, is a young adult book set in rural Ohio dealing with one young man’s discovery of his family’s magic, his own sexuality, and the complex history of the land he lives on. Aidan Lockwood comes to one day, as if he’s been living in a waking sleep, when his childhood best friend arrives in town again and calls out his name in the high school hallway—reminding him of all of the things he’d lost and forgotten, things that had been hidden inside him.

Aidan, with Jarrod’s help, begins to uncover the invisible world surrounding him and a curse that has been haunting his family. A complex web of influence—stories, magic, love—has driven Aidan’s story around him for longer than he knew. Now, he must begin weaving that story if he wants to protect himself and his family.

[A review.]

Spotlight on James Tiptree, Jr. / Alice Sheldon

In honor of the 100th anniversary of James Tiptree, Jr./Alice Sheldon’s birth on August 24th, please enjoy this encore post from our Queering SFF column, originally published in 2012 during Pride Month.

The history of James Tiptree, Jr. is fairly well documented in our field. There are biographies, posthumous collections, an award named for her, as well as the long memory of letters, fanzines, and the people still living who knew Tiptree and, later, knew Alice Sheldon, the woman behind him. Tiptree/Sheldon won every major genre award, some more than once; she is now being inducted, as of 2012, into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame.

[However, the discussion of Tiptree/Sheldon as a queer writer is often glossed over—]

Where to Start with the Works of James Tiptree, Jr.

I’ve talked about James Tiptree Jr. (Alice Sheldon) quite a bit over the past several years. I first encountered their work when I was, I believe, around nineteen years old, in the form of a handful of short stories gleaned from the internet. Folks had recommended them, you see, because when you’re asking for science fiction about gender and sexuality, Tiptree is a requirement for getting acquainted with the kinds of things the field was doing during the New Wave and feminist movements in the late sixties and early seventies.

More importantly, the stories are still excellent. And still disturbingly on-point, with a frequent emphasis on the “disturbing” bit.

[So, where do you start if you want to start reading Tiptree?]

Letters to Tiptree

In celebration of the 100th Anniversary of Alice Sheldon’s birth, and in recognition of the enormous influence of both Tiptree and Sheldon on the field, Twelfth Planet Press is publishing a selection of thoughtful letters written by science fiction and fantasy’s writers, editors, critics and fans to celebrate her, to recognise her work, and maybe in some cases to finish conversations set aside nearly thirty years ago.

Letters to Tiptree, edited by Alisa Krasnostein and Alexandra Pierce, is available for pre-order from Twelfth Planet Press and publishes later this month. Below, read an excerpt from the collection—Brit Mandelo’s letter to Tiptree thanks the author for her “compelling stories, sharp critiques, and on a more intimate, personal level, a difficult and complex relationship to gender and the performance of self.”

[Read more]

Pulpy and Playful: Daughters of Frankenstein, edited by Steve Berman

With the subheading “Lesbian Mad Scientists!” and a delightful cover that hearkens back to the pulp tradition—two women with frizzy hair bringing an android to life with lightning arcing all over the place—Daughters of Frankenstein is aiming for a very specific tone: fun. Lethe Press, under editor Steve Berman, regularly produces queer sf anthologies that I’ve appreciated, and this one in particular seemed likely to offer an entertaining late-summer read.

(I did, in fact, read it on the porch in the sun. Highly recommended activity.)

[A review.]

Series: Queering SFF

Short Fiction Spotlight: Uncanny Magazine Issue #5

Welcome back to the Short Fiction Spotlight, a space for conversation about recent and not-so-recent short stories. Before a brief break, we’d discussed the special “Queers Destroy Science Fiction” issue at Lightspeed; this time around, I’d like to take a gander at the most recent installment of Uncanny Magazine (#5). This issue, for July/August, has six pieces of original fiction, one reprint, and a handful of essays, poems, and interviews.

[For our purposes, let’s discuss the original fiction]

Series: Short Fiction Spotlight

Mo’s Turn: The Annihilation Score by Charles Stross

The Annihilation Score is the sixth installment of Charles Stross’s “Laundry Files” series. And, for a change of pace that I found delightful, the narrator this time around isn’t Bob Howard: this story is Mo’s, and it picks up exactly where The Rhesus Chart left off.

The gist of the problem is that due to the confluence that is the beginning of Case Nightmare Green, regular humans have started cropping up with talents that they perceive to be superpowers. Mo, as a representative of the Laundry, has to find some way of managing this suddenly very public appearance of the paranormal. She’s also dealing with the increasingly unpleasant task of being the holder of the Eric Zahn original violin she calls Lecter—one cause for the separation that means Bob is more or less entirely out of the picture in this book.

[A review.]

Steeped in Myth: Bone Swans by C. S. E. Cooney

Bone Swans by C. S. E. Cooney is the most recent publication from Mythic Delirium Books—run by Mike and Anita Allen, of the similarly named Mythic Delirium magazine—and joins a small slate of other works under their purview, such as the well-received Clockwork Phoenix anthologies. This original collection contains five stories, one of which is published here for the first time (“The Bone Swans of Amandale,” from which the book takes its title). Plus, it has an introduction by none other than Gene Wolfe.

Though in the past I’d say I’ve been most familiar with Cooney’s poetry, we also published a story of hers at Strange Horizons while I was editor that I (obviously) quite liked. So, I was pleased to see a collection of other pieces—none of which I’d had the chance to read before, which is actually fairly rare for me when picking up a single-author short story volume. It’s also interesting to see a book of mostly longer stories; as I said, there are only five here to fill the whole thing, two of which were initially published at Giganotosaurus and one as a chapbook.

[A review.]

Short Fiction Spotlight: Queers Destroy Science Fiction at Lightspeed

Welcome back to the Short Fiction Spotlight, a space for conversation about recent and not-so-recent short stories. A few weeks back, we did a little spring sampler with some magazines I hadn’t look at before; it was good to peruse some fresh voices, too.

However, the special thing this month I’d like to look at is the next Queers Destroy issue at ol’ familiar Lightspeed—and this time the focus is on science fiction, so I was especially intrigued. These special issues are generally a lot of fun for the variety of work that they showcase that fits under the banner “queer,” the same way the previous instantiations showcased women writers in the field.


Series: Short Fiction Spotlight

A Supernatural Soap Opera: Dead Ice by Laurell K. Hamilton

Dead Ice, the twenty-fourth book in Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake series, opens with a throwback to one of the earliest novels in the series: someone is making zombies with souls still attached, like Dominga Salvador did in The Laughing Corpse, and forcing them to star in porn films.

It’s exceptionally awful, even for Anita; however, she’s also got other problems in her personal life and the power structure of the new American kingdom she and Jean-Claude are heading as king and queen (or co-presidents).


Tanith Lee — A Brief Retrospective

As many folks have reported by this time, Tanith Lee—a familiar name in science fiction and fantasy circles, prolific writer for both children and adults—is no longer with us. Charlie Jane Anders noted in her commemorative post at io9 that Lee wrote so much and in such different ways that she has multiple circles of fandom; she has been nominated for awards ranging from the World Fantasy to the World Horror Grandmaster—and also the Lambda for LGBT speculative fiction.

So, while Lee’s astounding oeuvre covered a multitude of themes, styles, and approaches, the reason I first heard of her work—true for many people, I’d suspect—was because of that common concern with gender and sexuality.


Series: Queering SFF

Short Fiction Spotlight: Spring Smorgasbord

Welcome back to the Short Fiction Spotlight, a space for conversation about recent and not-so-recent short stories. We’ve covered some magazine issues and some collections recently, but that’s left out a lot of new publications—so, for the end of May, I thought a spring smorgasbord would be advisable. Round up various stories from a handful of different places and check ’em out, the usual.


Series: Short Fiction Spotlight

Short Fiction Spotlight: Octavia Butler’s Bloodchild and Other Stories

Welcome back to the Short Fiction Spotlight, a space for conversation about recent and not-so-recent short stories. The past few columns in a row have talked about recent magazine issues, so I thought for this one we might do something different: look at an older collection, in this case Octavia Butler’s Bloodchild and Other Stories. The copy I have is the second edition (2005), which includes two stories that were not part of the original (1996) publication.

The initial five stories are “Bloodchild,” “The Evening and the Morning and the Night,” “Near of Kin,” “Speech Sounds,” and “Crossover.” Then there are two essays, followed by two further stories, “Amnesty” and “The Book of Martha.” As Butler’s preface notes, she considers herself a novelist rather than a short story writer. These pieces are the exceptions to the rule, and they’re very much worth looking at. She also provides afterwords for each, interesting enough in their own right.


Series: Short Fiction Spotlight

Lost and Found: Where by Kit Reed

Kraven Island, in the Outer Carolina Banks, is an old town where the families—and their histories together—run back to the Civil War and then some. David Ribault and his lover Merrill Poulnot are a pair of these old-family people, and their lives are running along a fine if occasionally rocky course, until the arrival of Rawson Steele. Steele is a Northerner with designs on the island, and possibly Merrill as well. But in the end, none of that matters—because one morning around five A.M., the entire population of Kraven disappears without a trace.

Combining elements of various tales—lost colonies, the old-family politics of the coastal Carolinas, a supernatural intervention on a small town, et cetera—Where offers an exploration of what it means to be lost (and found). Following David as he searches for answers and Merrill (as well as her little brother Ned) in the desert compound where the islanders disappeared to, the novel tackles both family drama and supernatural influence.

Spoilers ahead.

[A review.]

Global Powers: The Book of Phoenix by Nnedi Okorafor

Phoenix is an “accelerated woman,” a genetic experiment who has grown to the form and capabilities of a near-forty-year-old woman by the technical age of two years old. She’s kept in Tower Seven, one of several bastions of scientific and technological research outside the realm of government oversight (but not outside the realm of its funding); these Towers are prisons for the altered humans and other biological experiments who live inside them. Phoenix, however, is destined for far more than captivity—instead, she will change the face of the world.

The Book of Phoenix stands as a prequel to Okorafor’s stunning Who Fears Death (2010), occurring before and during the technological apocalypse that makes up the extremely distant—and by that point, mythologized—past of the earlier novel. Both novels center on the tale of a powerful woman who is determined to make right the wrongs she has found in the world on both a small and grand scale. The Book of Phoenix, however, is more distinctly in a clear and wonderfully productive relation to the afrofuturist movement in the arts—its setting feels far more contemporary and is therefore more molded by contemporary class, race, and global cultural politics.

[A review.]

Short Fiction Spotlight: Asimov’s Science Fiction #473

Welcome back to the Short Fiction Spotlight, a space for conversation about recent and not-so-recent short stories. It’s been some long while since I’ve taken a look at any of the genre’s long-running print magazines, so, this installment seems like a good opportunity to check out an issue that just arrived in my mailbox: Asimov’s June 2015. This also happens to be issue #473, pointing to the standing history of the publication; there’s a lot of heft behind the name, here.

The June issue contains four novelettes and two short stories, as well as a smattering of poetry and nonfiction. The novelettes are “The End of the War” by Django Wexler, “The Ladies’ Aquatic Gardening Society” by Henry Lien, “Ghosts of the Savannah” by M. Bennardo, and “Our Lady of the Open Road” by Sarah Pinsker. The short stories are “Mutability” by Ray Nayler and “The Muses of Shuyedan-18” by Indrapramit Das.


Series: Short Fiction Spotlight

Short Fiction Spotlight: Clarkesworld #103

Welcome back to the Short Fiction Spotlight, a space for conversation about recent and not-so-recent short stories. Last time around we revisited some Bradbury stories; this time I thought I’d check back in on a familiar haunt, Clarkesworld Magazine, and their most recent issue. With the recent change in format, here, we’ll be discussing all of the April issue’s fiction—both originals and reprints, six pieces in total.


Series: Short Fiction Spotlight

Short Fiction Spotlight: Some Classic Bradbury

Welcome back to the Short Fiction Spotlight, a space for conversation about recent and not-so-recent short stories. It’s been a while since we’ve tackled the “not-so-recent” portion, and as the spring starts to—well, spring—here in Louisville, I’ve felt a little nostalgic. Standing in front of the bookshelves, then, it seemed inevitable to pick up some Ray Bradbury; who else fits so well with that particular pleasant ache for the past?

The collection Bradbury Stories: 100 of His Most Celebrated Tales is a hefty book, and certainly we won’t be talking about one-hundred pieces of short fiction in this column. So, instead of choosing particular stories to read (or re-read), I thought I’d just flip through and see where that led me—one piece here, another there, and the end result is a satisfying range of reading. The four stories I ended up perusing were “The Drummer Boy of Shiloh” (1960), “Another Fine Mess” (1995), “The Cold Wind and the Warm” (1964), and “The Witch Door” (1995).


Series: Short Fiction Spotlight

Short Fiction Spotlight: Stories from Daily Science Fiction

Welcome back to the Short Fiction Spotlight, a space for conversation about recent and not-so-recent short stories. With our fresh new format, we’ll be discussing a larger handful of stories this week. Since it’s been a while since our last look at then, this time around I thought a good focus would be recent work at Daily Science Fiction—five days’ worth of pieces from various authors whose work I hadn’t seen before.

Those stories are: “Everything’s Unlikely” by James Van Pelt, “The Vortex” by Aniket Sanyal, “A Domestic Lepidopterist” by Natalia Theodoridou, “Best Served” by L.C. Hu, and “Tall Tales about Today My Great-great-granddaughter Will Tell” by Sean Williams. All five are relatively short, either flash fiction or hovering close to it, as is much of what DSF publishes—their daily schedule necessitates a lot of content, after all, most of it at brief lengths. These pieces ran from March 9th to the 13th.


Series: Short Fiction Spotlight