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.

Short Fiction Spotlight: Asimov’s February 2016

Welcome back to the Short Fiction Spotlight, a space for conversation about recent and not-so-recent short stories. In our last installment, I discussed the recent Queers Destroy Fantasy! special issue edited by Christopher Barzak and Liz Gorinsky—a decent mix of familiar and unfamiliar writers for me. This time around I’d like to look at the issue of Asimov’s that just arrived in my mailbox, February 2016, which fits a similar descriptive bill.

The February issue features short stories from Michael Libling, Bruce McAllister, Sarah Gallien, Sean McMullen, and Sandra McDonald, as well as two novelettes: one by Nick Wolven and one by An Owomoyela. This is Gallien’s first sf publication, though as her bio notes, she has been previously published in literary fiction circles; the others here aren’t new voices in the field, but also aren’t necessarily all folks I’ve read before.


Series: Short Fiction Spotlight

Stories of a Life: All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders

Patricia and Laurence are strange children. One discovers the uncanny gift of speaking to birds, her connection to magic and the natural world; the other is a scientific prodigy who builds a supercomputer in his bedroom closet and a two-second time machine he can wear on his wrist. There are greater forces moving around them, from the adults who should be taking—though often fail to—their best interests at heart to the polarities of chaos and order that each is drawn to in different ways.

Of course, they’re much stranger adults, coming into and out of each other’s lives, stories, and grand dreams. There’s something between them, though, and their history that has the potential to save our species and home as we know it. Patricia and Laurence are, as the flap copy of Charlie Jane Anders’ All the Birds in the Sky says, muddling through “postmillennial life and love in a world careening into chaos.” However, their big ideas and private hopes are more significant than either can imagine.

[A review.]

Short Fiction Spotlight: Queers Destroy Fantasy!

Welcome back to the Short Fiction Spotlight, a space for conversation about recent and not-so-recent short stories. For December, I talked about The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2015 edited by John Joseph Adams and Joe Hill—and this time, I’d like to look at another installment in the “Destroy…” series of special issue magazines, Queers Destroy Fantasy. Christopher Barzak edits the original short fiction, while Liz Gorinsky takes care of the reprint fiction; Matt Cheney is the editor for the nonfiction.


Series: Short Fiction Spotlight

Short Fiction Spotlight: The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2015 edited by John Joseph Adams and Joe Hill (Part 2)

Welcome back to the Short Fiction Spotlight, a space for conversation about recent and not-so-recent short stories. Last time around we looked at the first half of the intriguing new Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy collection, helmed by John Joseph Adams as series editor and Joe Hill as guest editor—and this week, I’d like to round that out with the last ten stories in the 2015 edition.

Three of these last ten pieces are from mainstream publications (two from The New Yorker and one from McSweeney’s), while the rest are from various anthologies and magazines published in-genre. The Kelly Link story also appeared in her recent collection, Get in Trouble; I had read it first there. None of them had I previously written about in this column, unlike a couple in the first half of the collection.


Series: Short Fiction Spotlight

Short Fiction Spotlight: The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2015 edited by John Joseph Adams and Joe Hill (Part 1)

Welcome back to the Short Fiction Spotlight, a space for conversation about recent and not-so-recent short stories. Last time around we discussed Nalo Hopkinson’s new collection, Falling in Love with Hominids. Now, I’d like to spend a couple of columns on a fresh new best-of annual: The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2015, first installment from series editor John Joseph Adams with guest editor Joe Hill. The Best-American series uses a particular blind reading model that I’ve always found intriguing—the series editor gathers a large group of stories and the guest editor reads them all blind to pick the top twenty—and here, it definitely produces interesting results in terms of the “year’s best” sf.

The thing I found pleasing in specific about this collection of stories published in 2014 is that, despite the blind-read aspect, it’s still—no surprise—rather diverse. There are writers of all stripes, both fresh faces and familiar; while the obvious caveat is that one will recognize some of these stories with names-off (the Gaiman, for instance), the end result is one of the most balanced and consistently intriguing best-ofs I’ve read in some time. I don’t love it all, but it all makes sense together.


Series: Short Fiction Spotlight

Short Fiction Spotlight: Falling in Love with Hominids by Nalo Hopkinson

Welcome back to the Short Fiction Spotlight, a space for conversation about recent and not-so-recent short stories. While we’ve had a bit of a hiatus, I’m glad to be back—and discussing a recent short story collection by a writer whose work I usually very much enjoy, Nalo Hopkinson. Falling in Love with Hominids contains one original story, “Flying Lessons,” and seventeen reprints spanning the past fifteen or so years. It’s a wide-ranging book, though as Hopkinson’s introduction argues, it is possible to trace the development of the writer’s appreciation for our human species throughout.

This, for me, was also a fascinating look back at reading I’ve done over the past several years. Five of the stories I’ve discussed here previously (“Left Foot, Right” from Monstrous Affections; “Old Habits” from Eclipse 4; and “Ours is the Prettiest” from Welcome to Bordertown; “Shift” and “Message in a Bottle” from Report From Planet Midnight). However, I’d previously read at least half in previous publication—more than usual for most collections.


Series: Short Fiction Spotlight

A Fond Farewell to Iskryne: An Apprentice to Elves by Elizabeth Bear and Sarah Monette

The final book in Sarah Monette and Elizabeth Bear’s Iskryne Saga, An Apprentice to Elves, wraps up a series that began with a splash in A Companion to Wolves (2007). This time the reader is primarily following Isolfr’s daughter Alfgyfa, apprenticed to the alfar, as well as other characters who were secondary in the previous two books. The first novel was a fresh, engaging, and often-grim take on companion animal fantasy while the second explored the aftermath of a war—but this third and final volume approaches issues of cultural conflict and the battle that has finally come to bear against Rhean conquest and colonization.

It’s been interesting to watch this series develop, for two reasons. One is the spectacular, absorbing, densely-researched world of the Iskryne; honestly, I’m a bit heartbroken to see it finished with. The other is that, over the past eight years, these writers have each—and have as a pair—developed a great deal in terms of their delicacy and skill of craft. The end result is a series where each installment truly stands out and stands its individual ground as a wildly different sort of text, without ever losing the coherence and engagement of the project as a whole.


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.]