We’re pleased to share S.L. Huang’s “As the Last I May Know,” winner of the 2020 Hugo Award for Best Short Story. Originally published on Tor.com in October 2019, “As the Last I May Know” is an alternate history looking at decisions and consequences, and what it takes to pull the trigger…
Fiction and Excerpts 
Fighting is character.
The barroom brawler. The Western gunslinger. The balletic dance-like fighting so often assigned to female action stars. The grim war hero, the foppish fencer…or the stylized martial artist.
Much has been written about the type of fight moves often assigned to women—so often high kicks and acrobatic tumbling instead of a good solid right hook and a bottle to the face. In fact, I’m very conscious when I’m writing my own female characters to err on the side of making them boxers and brawlers, because in media, a female fighter too often really means a gymnast, and it’s so very frustrating to see that every single time.
Equally frustrating—but less talked about—is that an Asian action star almost always means a martial artist. And not just any martial artist, but someone with amazing, stylized moves that elicit gasps with their expertise.
I’m always vaguely embarrassed to talk about what’s on my TBR list, because I’m so excited about everything on there that I feel quite guilty that I haven’t read it all yet. Honestly, my only excuse for not having already devoured the books that follow is… well, my TBR list is just so long! And has so many good books! And I want to read ALL of them!
This is doubly hard as an author, when I’ve started to know and be friends with so many incredible writers. Of course I want to read every one of their books, but it turns out time is not merely a social construct. So my TBR list keeps growing like some type of very welcome kudzu that I’d be all too happy to be smothered in, and all that’s left is to acknowledge my woeful failure as a reader who just can’t keep up.
Math-genius mercenary Cas Russell has stopped a shadow organization from brainwashing the world and discovered her past was deliberately erased and her superhuman abilities deliberately created.
And that’s just the start: when a demolitions expert targets Cas and her friends, and the hidden conspiracy behind Cas’s past starts to reappear, the past, present, and future collide in a race to save one of her dearest friends.
S.L. Huang’s Critical Point, the third novel in the Cas Russell series, publishes April 28th with Tor Books. Read the first two chapters below!
Winner of the 2020 Hugo Award for Best Short Story.
An alternate history short story looking at decisions and consequences, and what it takes to pull the trigger.
A sword instructor of mine once asked: why do we romanticize swords?
He went on to point out that swords are the only class of weapons designed, solely and with no other purpose, for killing humans. Axes are used to cut wood, guns are used to hunt, knives have all manner of purposes. Sure, we have versions of these weapons that are meant to be more martial—combat knives versus kitchen knives, for example—but there are no kitchen swords. Historically, there was no other practical use for a sword besides killing a human being.
So why do we romanticize them?
Although I read a lot of work by queer authors, very little of it has caused me any sort of revelations with regard to my own sexuality or gender. I’ve certainly read some rollicking good yarns by queer people—recent standouts include Yoon Ha Lee’s Ninefox Gambit, Charlie Jane Anders’ All the Birds in the Sky, and Maddox Hahn’s The Love Song of Numo and Hammerfist—and I love that the world as written by queer people tends to reflect my own multivariegated reality of people. And I’ve also read work by queer people that hit hard emotionally, especially in the short fiction realm—stories like K.M. Szpara’s “Small Changes Over Long Periods of Time”, Merc Rustad’s “How to Become a Robot in Twelve Easy Steps”, or Susan Jane Bigelow’s “Sarah’s Child”—but mostly because they tore back the rawness of a queer experience that is not my own and helped push my empathy and humanity. It’s hard to think of any books or stories that have been intensely affecting to my own sense of queer self.
Math-genius mercenary Cas Russell has decided to Fight Crime(tm). After all, with her extraordinary mathematical ability, she can neuter bombs or out-shoot an army. And the recent outbreak of violence in the world’s cities is Cas’s fault—she’s the one who crushed the organization of telepaths keeping the world’s worst offenders under control.
But Cas’s own power also has a history, one she can’t remember—or control. One that’s creeping into her mind and fracturing her sanity…just when she’s gotten herself on the hit list of every crime lord on the West Coast. And her best, only, sociopathic friend. Cas won’t be able to save the world. She might not even be able to save herself.
In the fading light of a dying star, a soldier for hire searches for a missing refugee ship and uncovers a universe-shattering secret…
Orphan, refugee, and soldier-for-hire Asala Sikou doesn’t think too much about the end of civilization. Her system’s star is dying, and the only person she can afford to look out for is herself. When a ship called The Vela vanishes during what was supposed to be a flashy rescue mission, a reluctant Asala is hired to team up with Niko, the child of a wealthy inner planet’s president, to find it and the outer system refugees on board. But this is no ordinary rescue mission; The Vela holds a secret that places the fate of the universe in the balance, and forces Asala to decide—in a dying world where good and evil are far from black and white, who deserves to survive?
We’re excited to share an excerpt from the first season of The Vela, a new Serial Box series co-written by Yoon Ha Lee, Becky Chambers, Rivers Solomon, and SL Huang after a concept created by Lydia Shamah. Episode 1—SL Huang’s “A Leisurely Extinction”—will be released on March 6th.
A few years ago, I read Kalpa Imperial and The Three Body Problem in quick succession, and I said to myself, I have GOT to make my SFF reading more global! And if there’s one thing I’ve learned from living overseas, it’s that the world is a bigger, deeper place with more richness in so many more ways than I ever could have imagined.
Like many readers, I try to seek out authors from all different perspectives and walks of life. It makes my reading experience that much broader and fuller and more enjoyable—and also, I think, helps me understand more of the world and thus become a more empathetic human. As geographic diversity in particular has become an important piece of that awareness, I’ve also become especially interested in reading more work in translation, and I want to give a shoutout to Rachel Cordasco’s website SF In Translation for the great reviews and recommendations. If you’re interested in spreading out your reading, that’s a good place to start. Here’s hoping we can increase the market for authors in all places, both Anglophone and non-Anglophone, and get more books to read from everywhere!
Now, to tempt you, here are five knockout reads from five different continents.
Series: Five Books About…
Most of the time, I hear the term “power fantasy” used as a criticism.
“That book is such a white boy power fantasy.”
“It’s just the author’s power fantasy.”
“This series is a gross nerd power fantasy with awful female characters.”
Let’s linger on that last one for a moment, and consider that we don’t usually consider a “nerd power fantasy” something that would star a woman as the main protagonist, the geek who gets her due. Instead, the criticism of something as a nerd power fantasy often grows out of the female characters being sidelined or seconded in favor of a less-competent dude (see: Ant-Man, Kick-Ass, The Matrix, and so many more).
When I’m building female characters, one of my aims is to make them anti-Smurfettes.
The “Smurfette Principle,” for those who haven’t heard of it, is the trope in which an ensemble cast has a bunch of dude characters who are all differentiated by salient qualities—the Smart Nerd One, the Rough Army Veteran, the Handsome Smooth-Talker, the Thief, and so on. Then the ensemble will include one woman, but her defining quality will be her femaleness. She is The Girl.
A huge part of the problem with Smurfettes is, of course, the paucity of female characters itself. But hand-in-hand with this, I think when a demographic is not well-represented, creators strive to make the character inoffensive. “We can’t do that with our female character, because what are we saying about women?!” Nothing, of course, if there are enough other women in the cast! If the Smart Nerd One and the Rough Army Veteran are women too, it relieves the pressure on The Girl to be a “strong female character” who is competent in all ways but never extreme enough to raise an eyebrow. The common wisdom nowadays is to counter this problem by pushing for more women, all types of women, which I fully agree with—but I want to go a step further.
Cas Russell is good at math. Scary good. The vector calculus blazing through her head lets her smash through armed men twice her size and dodge every bullet in a gunfight, and she’ll take any job for the right price.
As far as Cas knows, she’s the only person around with a superpower…until she discovers someone with a power even more dangerous than her own. Someone who can reach directly into people’s minds and twist their brains into Moebius strips. Someone intent on becoming the world’s puppet master.
Cas should run, like she usually does, but for once she’s involved. There’s only one problem…
She doesn’t know which of her thoughts are her own anymore.
S.L. Huang’s Zero Sum Game is available October 2nd from Tor Books. Read the first 3 chapters below!
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