This week, I want to bring to your attention two novellas from Book Smugglers Publishing, Lena Wilson’s Accelerants and Juliet Kemp’s A Glimmer of Silver. These books are mere morsels in length—114 pages for Accelerants, 136 pages for A Glimmer of Silver—but in their different ways, they’re both very good. As well as being delightfully queer, and enjoyably compact!
Lena Wilson’s Accelerants would feel like a metaphor for so-called “gay conversion therapy” were it not that its protagonist, Korean-American Lucy Mi’na, is a lesbian as well as being an “Omni,” a member of the population with special powers—a section of the population that is kept very rigorously in the closet. Lucy’s a pyrotechnic, able to control fire, and from the age of six, she’s believed she killed her mother. Her distant, controlling ex-military father blames her, and she blames herself.
The novella divides itself into two parts: Spring, before recounts Lucy’s final year in high school, and her growing realisation that Jessa, the girl she loves, may love her back—before a crushing betrayal on her father’s part leads to Winter, now, and Lucy’s internment in a brutal prison-camp like “treatment centre” where she’s tortured into aversion for her pyro talents. But neither Lucy nor the one friend she makes at the so-called treatment centre, fellow queer Fatima (a fabulous trans girl who really doesn’t feel like taking anyone’s shit), are prepared to put up with this indefinitely. They’re going to get out—and they may just burn the whole place down behind them.
Accelerants is unevenly paced, but its first-person voice is deeply appealing and Lucy’s ultimate reaction to discovering the kind of person her father really is—well, it’s highly relatable. Lucy’s queerness and her brownness intersect with her treatment because of her powers in ways that most stories about superpowered teens fail to acknowledge, and that makes Accelerants both refreshing and compelling. I recommend it—
—But I liked Juliet Kemp’s A Glimmer of Silver even better.
A Glimmer of Silver is set on a ocean world, a hundred years after the colonists realised they’d made first contact. The ocean is itself sentient, and once the human colonists figured out how to communicate—through individuals who can hear, in some fashion, Ocean—they instituted the Compact, by which humans keep their waste from entering Ocean and refrain from eating Ocean’s fish.
Jennery is nearly sixteen. Xe passed a test at twelve, and since then has been in training to be a “Comm,” one of those who communicate with Ocean. But Jennery wants to be a musician, not a Comm, and has spent four years hoping that Ocean would never speak to xem. A handful of days before xyr birthday, though, xyr hopes are dashed. Ocean tells xem that people are fishing. Probably people who were made homeless when Ocean destroyed the most recently created floating habitat…
Jennery doesn’t want to be sent with a mentor and a group of enforcers and engineers to enforce the Compact. Especially not when lots of people, including xyr best friend, have stopped believing that Ocean is sentient or that the Compact is anything but an excuse for the Comms to be in charge of everything. But it turns out that Ocean spoke to Jennery for a reason, and that maybe a young, open mind is best for actually hearing what Ocean is actually trying to say. Because two biospheres on one planet can’t stay separate forever.
A Glimmer of Silver is a gorgeously-written coming-of-age in an interesting setting, with a compelling main character. It’s very entertaining, and I enjoyed it a lot.
What are you guys reading lately?
Liz Bourke is a cranky queer person who reads books. She holds a Ph.D in Classics from Trinity College, Dublin. Her first book, Sleeping With Monsters, a collection of reviews and criticism, was published in 2017 by Aqueduct Press. It was a finalist for the 2018 Locus Awards and is nominated for a Hugo Award in Best Related Work. Find her at her blog, where she’s been known to talk about even more books thanks to her Patreon supporters. Or find her at her Twitter. She supports the work of the Irish Refugee Council, the Transgender Equality Network Ireland, and the Abortion Rights Campaign.