Few things can be as terrible as to get your heart’s desire.
This original short story was acquired and edited for Tor.com by senior editor Patrick Nielsen Hayden.
Welcome back to the Short Fiction Spotlight, a space for conversation about recent and not-so-recent short stories. Last time around we discussed a new Ted Chiang novelette, “The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling.” To continue that theme, this week I’d like to talk about two more recent novelettes—both, in this case, published in Lightspeed—that have caught my eye: “Paranormal Romance” by Christopher Barzak and “The Litigation Master and the Monkey King” by Ken Liu.
Generally, I’m fond of the novelette. It’s a length that seems to lend itself, as plenty of people have argued before me, to speculative fiction: long enough to explore, short enough not to sprawl. These are both on the short end of the novelette spectrum, of course, but I think they’re also both solid stories—though in somewhat different ways.
Welcome back to the Short Fiction Spotlight, a space for conversation about recent and not-so-recent short stories. While we’ve been discussing quite a lot of anthologies, recently, the periodicals have continued publishing great work—and this week, I can’t resist talking about a story that has been attracting plenty of well-deserved attention: “The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling,” by Ted Chiang, published in the Fall 2013 issue of Subterranean Magazine.
Chiang, winner of multiple Nebula Awards (as well as Hugo Awards, Locus Awards, and a fistful of other accolades), is not a remarkably prolific writer—so, it’s always a delight to see a new piece of work from him. The fact that this novelette is free to read online is doubly nice. And, triply-nice, it’s also very good.
First released in mid-October, Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction by Jeff VanderMeer is a fascinating mélange of straightforward exploration of craft topics (plotting, characters, revision, etc.), strange and lovely art, sidebar interviews with popular writers, exercises and experiments, fantastical diagrams, and more—including a digital compendium off of the page at WonderbookNow.com. It’s an ambitious project, with a lot going on between the covers (and beyond).
Of course, the concept of a multimodal writing text snagged my interest straight away, particularly considering that I also appreciated VanderMeer’s earlier writer’s guide Booklife quite a lot. I was not disappointed, having taken the time to peruse and play around with Wonderbook. The sense of this book as organic, sprawling, and multiply voiced makes it one of the most “fiction-like” fiction writing guides I’ve ever seen; it also productively prods at the varying levels of the imagination involved in the process of writing instead of relying solely on naked words.
Named for the unregistered taxis of Nigeria, Kabu Kabu is the first collection of short fiction from Nnedi Okorafor—author of the World Fantasy and Carl Brandon Kindred Award-winning novel Who Fears Death as well as several books for young adults. The collection includes seven previously unpublished stories—one, the titular “Kabu Kabu,” co-written with Alan Dean Foster—while the rest have been previously published in various venues from 2001 onward.
These stories are often set in or around Nigeria, or revolve around characters with origins in the region—whether that’s in the past or in the future. The sense of place in Okorafor’s work is strong, supported by vivid yet concise descriptions as well as the various voices and viewpoints of her narrators/protagonists. There is no danger, in Okorafor’s short fiction, of a bland tale; though she renders the particular details of daily life with the same precise attention she gives the fantastical happenings, she also imbues both with an energy and personal intimacy that keeps the reader engaged.
Another book that’s the result of a successful Kickstarter campaign—I seem to be talking about a lot of those recently, don’t I?—Mary Anne Mohanraj’s The Stars Change is an illustrated short SF novel set on a colonized planet where humans, genetically modified humans, and aliens interact in the universe’s own university. The unique thing about this book, however, is that its plot builds through a series of encounters with characters and their intimate, sexual lives; though that plot is one of interspecies galactic conflict, the preludes to war, and other “large scale” issues, it is resolved through a tapestry of the individual, personal interactions of people.
This patchwork story, shifting between a large cast of characters in the predominantly Indian human community as well as various aliens from across many worlds, is an interesting take on the cultural, personal, and social relevance of the erotic: how something so simple as sexuality webs together various people and communities. In this sense, the actual “plot” is more a framework for exploring the characters and their lives.
Welcome back to the Short Fiction Spotlight, a space for conversation about recent and not-so-recent short stories. Last week we dipped into the realm of online magazines and discussed Charles Stross’s creepy novella “Equoid.” This time around, I’d like to talk about another recent anthology of original stories: Clockwork Phoenix 4, edited by Mike Allen. Following in the footsteps of three previous anthologies—all well-received—the fourth Clockwork Phoenix came from a Kickstarter campaign after the original publishers encountered financial difficulties.
The funding went well, and the end result—the book I just read—was released in early July. The Clockwork Phoenix anthologies generally tend toward, as Allen says in his introduction, “the trends variously described as interstitial, new weird, [and] slipstream, as well as other types of strangeness.” Furthermore, as he says, “I wanted stories that were bold in the style of their telling and also emotionally satisfying; experimental yet coherent and engaging.” It’s not often than an editor comes so clean with their criteria, and I found that a pleasant introduction to the stories that followed—a sort of framework through which to appreciate them.
Neil Gaiman’s Coraline is a remarkable book. Naturally, given its appeal to children and adults as well as its handsomely creepy narrative, somebody was going to make a movie out of it—and that movie was Henry Selick’s Coraline (2009). I went to see that film in theaters, and though I initially loved it—it was gorgeous, certainly—after a little while something began to itch at me. Something didn’t seem right. There had been quite a lot of revision in the adaptation, but that’s par for the course in making a movie. The text has to be adapted to fit the screen, sure. But then the real problem occurred to me, and it wasn’t that Selick’s version had made changes. I don’t much care about that on principle.
It was that those revisions had turned the initial text into its opposite, retaining the general shape of the plot but gutting the thematic content.
Neil Gaiman’s novel Coraline is a coming of age story; it’s participating in the tradition of stories in which a youth overcomes a trial to develop their identity. The book is about independence, identity, and development. The significant thing is that it is really very much concerned with having a girl as the protagonist, a girl who is fully rounded and develops on her own as a stable, coherent individual subject.
Welcome back to the Short Fiction Spotlight, a space for conversation about recent and not-so-recent short stories. For the past couple of installments we’ve discussed recent anthologies—a favorite source of short fiction for me—but plenty of magazine issues have been released in the interim as well. So, for this column and the next, I’d like to do a little overview of some new short fiction that’s caught my eye across various periodicals. This week, there’s only one story to chat about—because it’s a long one: “Equoid” by Charles Stross.
While generally I leave the short fiction that appears here on Tor.com for the readers to enjoy on their own, the appearance of a Laundry Files novella proved too tempting to resist. In the past, I’ve written about the Laundry Files books under the umbrella of genre investigation here; I’ve also reviewed the most recent installment in the series, here. Needless to say, I’m a fan. The books do quite a lot of things I enjoy, and they’re also darkly entertaining. This story was perhaps more on the “dark” side than usual—I’d go so far as to say gruesome/deeply icky—but it also had its compulsively-readable quotient in play.
RASL, released by Cartoon Books in late September, is the complete one-volume collection of Jeff Smith’s most recent project, which initially ran in single issue comics from 2008 to 2012. Smith is renowned for the long-running series Bone, winner of several Eisner Awards, which ended in 2004—but this is a rather different sort of story. RASL is best described as a scifi noir, and it follows a parallel-universe hopping art thief/ex-military engineer (whose tag is the titular anagram, “RASL”) through his trials and tribulations.
RASL presents an obvious shift in tone and subject matter for Smith, whose books are generally kid-friendly. The protagonist, Rasl, has a violent streak, drinks far too much in order to deal with the side effects of universe-hopping in the Drift, and has several “on-screen” sexual relationships with different women; the plot is concerned with physics, the military-industrial complex, and a general theme of personal responsibility for complex problems. So, not the usual fare.
Welcome back to the Short Fiction Spotlight, a space for conversation about recent and not-so-recent short stories. Last time around, I discussed the newest installment of Steve Berman’s Wilde Stories collections. In a similar vein, this week I’d like to look at a recently released short fiction anthology: Glitter & Mayhem, edited by John Klima, Lynne Thomas, and Michael Damian Thomas. This anthology—funded by a Kickstarter campaign and published by Apex—has a very particular theme, as the tagline on the back makes clear: “Welcome to Glitter & Mayhem, the most glamorous party in the multiverse.”
The stories here primarily feature roller derby, disco, parties, and a stunning number of night clubs, rendered in vivid detail by writers like Christopher Barzak, Seanan McGuire, Tansy Rayner Roberts, Maria Dahvana Headley and Amal El-Mohtar. Glitter & Mayhem cultivates a high-energy tone of risk, reward, and delight—it’s not what you’d call a serious book, though it does have its moments of darkness and contemplation. It’s also, and this should come as no real surprise based on the list of contributors, a fairly queer anthology; many of the stories herein deal with gender and/or sexuality in various forms.
The sequel to last year’s Adaptation (reviewed here), Malinda Lo’s newest near-future science fiction novel for young adults—Inheritance—continues and completes the story of Reese Holloway, her friends, and the Imria. This duet of novels is firmly rooted in issues of politics, identity, and conspiracy; as I said last time around, it’s quite the X-Files homage, except with queer teenagers. Inheritance takes the reader deeper into the conspiracy behind the June Disaster, Reese and David’s adaptation, and the society of aliens that have made contact with humanity. Where Adaptation left off quite suddenly with a cliffhanger ending, Inheritance picks the threads right back up.
However, as a book Inheritance is less concerned with mystery-solving and more concerned with the developing and complicated relationships between Reese, David, and Amber—as well as their relationship to the world at large. Adaptation answered the question of what had happened to Reese and David; Inheritance works out the greater significance of that answer. But, it’s still got heaps of conspiracy, from ancient aliens theorizing to a legitimate series of government cover-ups.
Welcome back to the Short Fiction Spotlight, a space for conversation about recent and not-so-recent short stories. We’ve had a little delay on my end, but this week we’re back with a discussion of one of the collections I look forward to each year: Wilde Stories, edited by Steve Berman. The Wilde Stories series collects the year’s best gay speculative fiction, alongside sister volume, Heiresses of Russ, which collects lesbian sf.
I look forward to this book because it always seems to give an intriguing snapshot of the field in the preceding year: where gay speculative fiction was being published, by who—that sort of thing. Additionally, since Berman tends to seek out stories not just from the obvious sources, I frequently find myself encountering new voices through these books. This year’s collection, as Berman notes in his intro, seems to have a connection to bodies of water: plenty of lakes and oceans to be found. I’d also note that it seems to have a second theme: coming of age stories, stories about young men finding themselves and sometimes love.
Welcome back to the Short Fiction Spotlight, a space for conversation about recent and not-so-recent short stories. For the past few weeks, I’ve been talking about chapbooks and short collections. This time, I’d like to shift back to current magazines—in particular, Interfictions Online edited by Sofia Samatar, Christopher Barzak, and Meghan McCarron alongside executive editor Delia Sherman. The first issue, released May 2013, contained four pieces of fiction alongside several poems and pieces of nonfiction.
Welcome back to the Short Fiction Spotlight, a space for conversation about recent and not-so-recent short stories. Last time around we discussed a book in the PM Press Outspoken Authors Series, Report from Planet Midnight Plus… by Nalo Hopkinson, and this week, I’d like to consider another small collection: With Her Body by Nicola Griffith. This book was the second installment in Aqueduct Press’s Conversation Pieces series—a series now consisting of more than thirty volumes—and it contains three previously published short stories by Griffith, as well as a short essay by L. Timmel Duchamp.
The three stories that make up this short volume were all published initially in the early 90s: “Touching Fire,” “Song of Bullfrogs, Cry of Geese,” and “Yaguara.” L. Timmel Duchamp’s afterword, “A Word for Human is Woman,” addresses one of the threads she sees running through these three stories: the re-centering of woman as a term containing “full humanness,” and a reconsideration of the human/nature/culture relationship.
Welcome back to the Short Fiction Spotlight, a space for conversation about recent and not-so-recent short stories. The PM Press Outpoken Authors series is—as I’ve said before when discussing their Ursula K. Le Guin volume The Wild Girls Plus…—pretty neat. These chapbooks run around 100 pages, collecting short pieces of various sorts from their authors as well as a long interview with them done fresh for inclusion in the book. The ninth in the series, released last year though I’ve just gotten around to it, features Nalo Hopkinson. Hopkinson is a writer whose work I deeply enjoy; so, naturally, I was pleased to see her included in this handsome series of little books.
Report from Planet Midnight Plus… reprints two stories, “Message in a Bottle” and “Shift,” as well as a transcript of Hopkinson’s 2010 speech to the audience at the International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts, “Report from Planet Midnight.” The volume closes with the quintessential long interview and a detailed bibliography (one of my favorite parts of these volumes, actually!).
Welcome back to the Short Fiction Spotlight, a space for conversation about recent and not-so-recent short stories. Last month, we visited Asimov’s to see what was going on in the world of that venerable print publication. But, for this week, I’d like to talk about the newest Kyle Murchison Booth story by Sarah Monette: “To Die for Moonlight.” The novelette was recently published in Apex Magazine’s issue #50, alongside fiction by Rachel Swirsky (“Abomination Rises on Filthy Wings”) and Kelly Link (“The Constable of Abal”).
My history with the Kyle Murchison Booth stories has been fairly well recorded here—the second-ever Queering SFF post was a discussion of The Bone Key, Monette’s collection of Booth stories. (Side-note: hard to believe that was in 2010!) Suffice to say, I’m a fan of the style and the settings of these stories; they, and their protagonist, appeal to me. “To Die for Moonlight,” the newest installment, is an interesting addition to the mix.
The 2013 edition of Rich Horton’s The Year’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy, published by Prime Books, has recently been released—collecting, as it says on the tin, the best of last year’s short-form SFF. Featuring thirty-three stories by a variety of writers, from Ursula K. Le Guin to Xia Jia (translated by Ken Liu) and then some, this year’s edition has a particularly pleasing spread of contributors. Some of those are familiar; some are more new.
Of the various year’s best anthologies, the Horton series is a favorite of mine. I have reviewed past editions (such as 2011’s), and this year shares a similar tone and spread of stories with previous installments. Horton tends to include a diverse range of authors with pieces from various publications; also, because the series is more generally dedicated to speculative fiction as a whole, it tends to represent a more accurate range of the year’s greatest stories than those best-ofs that focus only on one genre or another.
The first collection of short fiction by Nathan Ballingrud, North American Lake Monsters: Stories, is being published this July by the ever-delightful Small Beer Press. Ballingrud’s work has previously appeared in various anthologies and magazines, including Ellen Datlow’s Teeth and The Naked City. This collection gathers together several of his published pieces—including Shirley Jackson Award winner, “The Monsters of Heaven”—as well as one story original to the volume, “The Good Husband.”
The publisher describes the collection’s thematic focus as “love stories … and also monster stories,” which matches my previous experiences of Ballingrud’s fiction: concerned with human relationships and their complexities, but also ominous and frequently dark in a way that I appreciate. Based on those past experiences, I’ve been looking forward to having a chance to read a collection of his work.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane, published by William Morrow, is renowned writer Neil Gaiman’s first adult novel since 2005—one many fans and critics have been eager to read for quite a while now. Generally speaking, it’s a short, poignant book that explores the dark spaces of myth, memory, and identity through the experiences of a young boy, recalled by his adult self upon a visit to the place where he grew up—the place where he brushed something larger, more grand and impossible, than himself.
As regular readers of Tor.com might recall, in early March I received an advanced copy of this book and I wrote a spoiler-free review that discussed my immediate reactions after reading it. Mostly, that consisted of exploring the novel in its larger context as well as on a thematic level. Things had to stay a step back and fairly impressionistic; it was three months early, after all. But, now, it’s not early—the book will be on shelves for readers to pounce, purchase, borrow, and wallow around with.
That means I get to return to The Ocean at the End of the Lane with carte blanche, and so here we are: a spoiler review of the novel.