Tor.com content by

Kali Wallace

Fiction and Excerpts [1]
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Fiction and Excerpts [1]

Last Train to Jubilee Bay

, || After the sickness and quarantine almost destroyed the city, the traders arrived creeping out from the sea to live off the memories of those people left behind; getting them addicted to the serum these strange creatures manufacture in return. But now it's been more than five days since they have come for their daily visit. And Lucy is determined to find out why.

I Have Decided That Being Bad at Breath of the Wild Means I Am Good at Life*

* I am not actually good at life.

I was ready to fight Calamity Ganon. I had my Master Sword. I had the power of all four Divine Beasts and their ghostly masters on my side. I had a full inventory of restorative homecooked meals. This was the beginning of the end. It was now or never.

So I stopped, paused the game, and went on the internet to look up how to use my shield.

I’d made it through the entire game—probably some hundred hours of playtime—without ever using a shield after a few early skill-acquisition trials. Not on purpose, mind you. I occasionally thought it would be very nice to be able to block enemy blows in battle. I just couldn’t ever remember which button to push. I did a lot of desperate sword-smashing and running away instead.

I am so bad at The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. And you know what? It’s great.

[Read more]

How I Learned to Give in to Anime

Once upon a time, when I was a child, I had dinner at a friend’s house. I don’t remember the friend. All I remember is that their parents served up something they called goulash, but was in reality a distressing mixture of greasy noodles, watery sloppy joe mix and, perhaps, a can of stewed tomatoes. It was disgusting. I hated it. It wasn’t like I was a picky eater or a pint-sized gourmand! We ate very cheap and unfancy foods in my family. This particular meal was especially terrible.

Although I didn’t know it at the time—this is important—it bore no resemblance whatsoever to actual goulash. There was no paprika anywhere near that meal. Not even the wispiest ghost of old Hungary had ever haunted its presence.

But for many years, I heard the word goulash, remembered that meal, and knew, without a doubt, that all goulash was terrible. I was well into adulthood before I saw a recipe for proper goulash and thought, “Huh. Maybe those people were just appallingly shitty cooks.

The point is: I have a history of this sort of behavior, and it explains why I didn’t start watching anime until I was in my forties.

[Read more]

The Books We Read as Children Always Change Us — Let’s Embrace It

What a time it is to be a children’s book author in the United States.

A lot of people are talking about children’s books these days. Not, unfortunately, about how children’s literature is absolutely booming with creativity, diversity, boldness, and ideas—which it is—but instead because book banning is once again en vogue in the worst parts of society, for all the worst reasons. It’s neither difficult nor particularly interesting to discern what’s motivating proponents of book banning: the political power derived from stoking moral outrage, the chance to bully and threaten anybody they don’t like while pretending it’s about protecting children, and the fear that their children might read something that will make them think, “Wow, my parents are astonishingly bigoted and have very bad ideas about many things.”

[Read more]

The Best Niche Genre? Creepy Books About F*cked Up Films That F*ck People Up

I’ll be honest: it’s going to take me a long time to watch all of Archive 81.

As I have previously discussed, I am a tremendous scaredy-cat when it comes to filmed media. This is a problem, because I want to watch Archive 81, as it sits squarely in the center of one of my favorite subgenres of horror.

I’m not talking about cult stories—at least not this time. I’m talking about stories about evil, haunted, mysterious, or just plain fucked-up filmed media. Stories in which a film of some sort is an active component in the mystery, thrill, or horror, in which the fictional filmed media in question—whether it’s a dusty old reel of unknown origin or a scratchy home movie or a viral video—has an effect on the characters and the narrative that stretches into the realm of the terrifying, unsettling, or weird.

[Read more]

From Now on I’m Taking All of My Storytelling Lessons From This Wild Epic About Love, Loyalty, and Necromancy

It’s a bit strange, I think, how little writing advice is about feelings. There is abundant writing advice about everything else—from saving the cat to killing our darlings, to never/always using “said,” writing what we know, info-dumping and more—but not a whole lot specifically focused on the fundamental question that faces every writer when we sit down to write: How do we make people care?

Because it doesn’t happen automatically. It doesn’t appear naturally just because you get all the other elements right. We know that approach doesn’t work, because we’ve all read and watched things that seem complete and polished and skillful, but still leave us feeling absolutely nothing.

On the other hand, we’ve also all read and watched fiction that isn’t polished or perfect, but still manages to punch us right in the feelings. We all know stories that make it so very easy to list their abundant flaws or shortcomings, but still leave us with the impression that none of that matters, because wasn’t the experience brilliant anyway? I want to spend some time thinking about how to do that, because it comes from specific choices in the storytelling. Choices that are, I think, very much worth our attention.

[Read more]

Exploring the Darker Side of Found Family

I love a good found family story. I know I’m not alone; it’s a popular and beloved trope for a reason. At this time of year in particular, when there is so much pressure to do family stuff, regardless of how one might feel about family, stories about families of choice can be especially appealing.

It doesn’t have to be about yearning or loss or escapism either. (I actually like my family just fine, even when my sisters wrongly and outrageously insist that their cats are cuter than my cats.) No matter what our individual circumstances are, there is rich emotional drama to be mined from stories about people who find and care for and keep each other regardless of how the whims of the universe threw them together. Comfort and support, trust and understanding, familiarity and fondness—these are the things a family of choice is made of, and spending time with them in fiction can be delightful.

But—there’s always a but—if you are like me, and there lives inside you still the child who spent more time giving your Barbies safety-scissor buzz-cuts and shoebox funerals than you ever spent making them play house, sometimes you look at those warm, squishy, soft, soothing scenarios with a wild glint in your eye, and you think, “Sure, okay, but what if it goes horribly wrong?”

[Read more]

The Ones Who Can’t Walk Away: Another Perspective on Omelas

One of the things I love most about fiction is the way stories talk to each other. I don’t mean when one story is told in response to another, although I love that too, from the most intense scholarly research down to the silliest fanfic and memes. I’m talking about the internal conversation that happens inside our minds, when we experience one story in a way that makes us think about another, encourages us to reconsider our previous experiences, and reveals interpretations and possibilities we hadn’t thought of before.

Best of all is when that connection takes us by surprise. When two stories that don’t necessarily have any natural connection to each other show up in the shady dive bar of the mind, eye each other warily across the darkened room, and there’s a spark of recognition, a mutual eyebrow raise of, “Huh, I didn’t know you hung out here.”

[Read more]

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Watch Anime

Once upon a time, when I was a child, I had dinner at a friend’s house. I don’t remember the friend. All I remember is that their parents served up something they called goulash, but was in reality a distressing mixture of greasy noodles, watery sloppy joe mix and, perhaps, a can of stewed tomatoes. It was disgusting. I hated it. It wasn’t like I was a picky eater or a pint-sized gourmand! We ate very cheap and unfancy foods in my family. This particular meal was especially terrible.

Although I didn’t know it at the time—this is important—it bore no resemblance whatsoever to actual goulash. There was no paprika anywhere near that meal. Not even the wispiest ghost of old Hungary had ever haunted its presence.

But for many years, I heard the word goulash, remembered that meal, and knew, without a doubt, that all goulash was terrible. I was well into adulthood before I saw a recipe for proper goulash and thought, “Huh. Maybe those people were just appallingly shitty cooks.

The point is: I have a history of this sort of behavior, and it explains why I didn’t start watching anime until I was in my forties.

[Read more]

Why Do Meddling Teens Always Have to Save the World?

You’re an ordinary high school student exploring a strange magical palace with your friends. You find a garish throne room adorned with giant ass-shaped statues. And suddenly, to your surprise, you are doing battle with a massive green choad.

Literally. It’s a giant green dick. It’s named “Torn King of Desire.” You have to kill it using a combination of fire, lightning, whips, and knives. A talking cat with a slingshot helps you.

And it is very, very satisfying when you succeed. You’re ready to take on the world. This is victory.

No, it’s better than victory. This is justice.

…Okay. Let me back up a bit.

[There are a million stories about teenagers saving the world…]

Inside the Cult of Fear: Finding Humanity in Horror Fiction

I am, in many ways, a tremendous scaredy-cat.

I don’t make it through many horror movies without hiding behind my hands. They give me nightmares, and the jump scares get me every single time. To be honest, I don’t even need a movie to fall victim to a jump scare; loud noises and barking dogs and somebody sneezing when I don’t expect it will do the trick. You’ll never get me into a haunted corn maze because I am completely certain the corn will eat me. At a middle school sleepover, I flinched so dramatically when the hand came out of the TV in Poltergeist that I gave myself a charley horse. And you can ask my younger sister how much fun she has tormenting me with my fear of moths. (Yes, I know they are harmless and even rather cute. I just can’t stand the way they sit perfectly still for hours and hours and hours and you never know when they are going to flutter.) I’ve always been this way.

I also love horror fiction. Love it. Love to read it, love to write it, love to talk about it. Stories full of fucked-up shit are my jam. This doesn’t feel like a contradiction to me. I don’t think it’s a contradiction for many lovers of horror fiction. We like to poke and prod at all the things in the world that frighten us—rather like worrying at a sore tooth, except it’s never just one tooth. There are always more teeth. It’s teeth all the way down.

[Read more]

Anxiety, Empathy, and Making Sense of the Senseless Through Storytelling

The first kid we had to kill never wanted to be a soldier. He wanted to be a painter. That was about all we knew about him; he wasn’t on our team. His name was Ignatz, he had grass-green hair and Harry Potter glasses, he wanted to be a painter, and we had to kill him.

“Oh no,” I said. “That’s not fair. That’s not okay. I don’t like this at all.”

Let me clarify: I’m talking about a video game. For the past couple of months, as we’ve been isolated at home, my roommate and I have been playing the Nintendo Switch game Fire Emblem: Three Houses.

[Read more]

You Can’t Eat Something That Talks: People and Cultures in Martha Wells’ Books of the Raksura

Sometimes you think you’re talking about an invading army when you’re actually talking about a swarm of locusts. Not in the real world, mind you. Metaphorical rhetoric aside, we can (or should be able to) tell the difference between bipedal primates and six-legged arthropods. But in speculative fiction things get complicated. Sometimes the army looks like the swarm—a favorite trope of SF going way back in many classics of film and literature—but that’s fine, that’s cool, we can handle our Arachnids and Buggers and Xenomorphs just fine.

Where it gets a bit more complicated is when the swarm looks like people.

[Read more]

Comfort, Connection, and Community in Martha Wells’ Books of the Raksura

I’ve been thinking a lot about comfort reading lately. I know I’m not alone in this. We are, after all, in the middle of a socially isolating global pandemic with no end in sight, and we spend too much of each day worrying about everything from the health of our loved ones to the fragility of our institutions. The uncertainties of daily life have been compounding for a good long while. The value of a comfort read lies in its familiarity, in the way sinking into its pages removes some of that uncertainty from our increasingly frightening lives. It can feel like inviting old friends over for a party, even though we are all definitely avoiding parties at this particular moment…

[Read more]

Last Train to Jubilee Bay

After the sickness and quarantine almost destroyed the city, the traders arrived creeping out from the sea to live off the memories of those people left behind; getting them addicted to the serum these strange creatures manufacture in return. But now it’s been more than five days since they have come for their daily visit. And Lucy is determined to find out why.

Enjoy “Last Train to Jubilee Bay,” new original short story by Kali Wallace, acquired for Tor.com by consulting editor Ann VanderMeer.

[Read “Last Train to Jubilee Bay”]

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