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Brit Mandelo

Fiction and Excerpts [3]

Fiction and Excerpts [3]

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

Short Fiction Spotlight: A New-Format Smorgasbord

Welcome back to the Short Fiction Spotlight, a space for conversation about recent and not-so-recent short stories. While the format has been the same for the past forty-something columns from me in the series, we’re switching things up a bit based on reader feedback: from here on out I’ll be talking about more stories at less length, so we’ll be covering more than just a few things per month. This means more coverage of more folks, which is something people have been looking for, so—here we are for a fresh take on a familiar project.

Stories this installment come from various publications, though as this new format goes forward we’ll also often cover whole issues of one magazine (or chunks from a single anthology) as well. This time around, I looked at pieces from Lightspeed, Clarkesworld, and Weird Fiction Review.


Series: Short Fiction Spotlight

Dear Joanna Russ: A Letter for an Inimitable Writer

While researching for We Wuz Pushed: On Joanna Russ and Radical Truth-Telling, I developed a passionate engagement with Russ’s astounding, provocative body of work—and I had intended, at the time, to write her a letter upon completion of the project to thank her for her contributions to feminism, science fiction, and queer scholarship. Unfortunately, on April 29th 2011, Joanna Russ passed away; I had not written or sent that letter.

So, I go back to that initial desire now, to celebrate Russ’s birthday and the imprint her writings left on me, the SF genre, and the wider community of scholars and critics in which she participated.

[Read More]

Series: On This Day

Closing Up Shop: Cherry Bomb by Kathleen Tierney

Recently released from Roc, Cherry Bomb is the last installment in the Siobhan Quinn novels—Caitlin R. Kiernan’s parodic urban fantasy arc, written under the pseudonym Kathleen Tierney. Following on the heels of the satirical and engaging Blood Oranges (2013, review here) and its sequel Red Delicious (2014, review here), Cherry Bomb is a ghoul-infested and horror-inflected closer.

Quinn has been out of the paranormal loop for some time, lying low in New York, until she meets and gets involved with a young woman—Selwyn Throckmorton—who’s got a world of trouble coming down on her head. Another eldritch artifact and planes of being far beyond (or below) the basic mortal sprawl are unfortunately involved, and Quinn’s stuck once again in the middle.

[A review.]

Short Fiction Spotlight: Apex #68

Welcome back to the Short Fiction Spotlight, a space for conversation about recent and not-so-recent short stories. In this installment, I’d like to take a look at last month’s issue of Apex Magazine, issue #68. There are a couple of good stories here, and this magazine has been shifting through some editorial changes, so it’s also interesting to get a sense of the directions that it might be going in.

The two pieces in particular that stood out to me, here, were Ursula Vernon’s “Pocosin” and Samuel Marzioli’s “Multo.” Both are stories about the supernatural or spiritual that lurks on the edges of mundane life; both deal with particular cultural milieus and the sorts of other-worldly things that exist (or don’t) in each. It’s a good pairing, and the stories appear alongside other pieces by Andy Dudak, Allison M. Dickson, and E. Catherine Tobler.


Series: Short Fiction Spotlight

Sewing Machine Battles: Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear

Elizabeth Bear’s newest novel Karen Memory takes a different direction than her last several projects: it’s a steampunk romp set on the west coast during the late 19th century, narrated by the titular character, a young woman who works as a “seamstress” in a high end bordello.

One night, she helps (along with her housemates) to rescue two young women who have escaped the crib brothels down by the port—one the rescuer, one the rescue-ee. The incident brings the already-strained relationship between our antagonist, Peter Bantle, and the house’s Madame to a head; and, not long after, murdered women begin appearing around the city—also bringing to town the Federal Marshal Bass Reeves.

There are also dirigibles and steam-powered sewing machines like exoskeletons, of course, and the wider conflict over the future of the West lingers in the submerged layers of the narrative as well. There’s a mix of actual history and invented, real places and people and imaginary, that adds a certain depth to the fun—plus, there’s also a diverse cast, from our protagonist’s love interest Priya to the Marshal and his posseman.

[A review.]

Delicate and Sincere: The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black

In her newest stand-alone young adult novel, The Darkest Part of the Forest, Holly Black returns to familiar and exciting territory: faeries and dark magic at the crossing between human and nonhuman worlds. Most folks are familiar with Black’s series “A Modern Tale of Faerie” (Tithe, Valiant, and Ironside) which ran from 2002 to 2007; that series set up Black as a daring and clever writer of young adult stories that tend to feature queer kids and deal honestly with complex emotional and social issues.

The Darkest Part of the Forest follows also on the heels of Black’s last young adult novel, another stand-alone (The Coldest Girl in Coldtown)—and I like the trend that these two books have been setting for her work going forward. Both are solid, well-paced and play interesting games with the tropes of the genre of supernatural YA; both star girls who make fucked-up decisions and are trying to learn to care about themselves and others in the aftermath. The shared narrative of growth here is more complex than just “getting older” and instead deals more with “learning to cope and be whole.”

[That’s the sort of thing I’m interested in seeing…]