All the news that’s fit to pixelate

A lot of work stuff going on here. Some of it is in the category of “secret projects, cannot discuss.” Some of it has just departed from that category! So! I will tell you now!

1) I have signed the final paperwork and can now say that I am very pleased to have my long-form work represented by Kurestin Armada of PS Literary. If you have a fabulous book deal you have been waiting to fling at me and were not sure where to fling that offer, the answer is: Kurestin Armada, PS Literary. More seriously, I am looking forward to working with Kurestin. It really feels like the right fit for both of us.

(Kids, don’t ever let anyone make you feel like this goes only one direction. You and your agent are choosing each other, not just them choosing you.)

2) I sold “Drifting Like Leaves, Falling Like Acorns” to Analog. This is a story in the same mosaic as several previous stories, and it is the weirdest thing I have ever sold to Analog. Trevor seems to agree, calling it an “odd duck”–yep–quack!–but when they say “odd duck” in an acceptance letter, you say “thank you!” See, we can all do our part in keeping science fiction weird.

3) Strange Horizons did a reader poll for 2015, and my story It Brought Us All Together came in fourth. I’m not sure why I included the link there, since apparently enough of you liked it to vote it fourth out of all the year’s stories! Thanks, readers! Mycogeneticist origin stories are more popular than I ever knew, which is great, because I’m writing another, completely different one. And then the two mycogeneticists can get together and fight crime…er, actually just fungal plagues…but I get ahead of myself.

I do that a lot.

I want a 4) and a 5) in honor of the late great Rise/wilfulcait (for those of you who are late to this party, she was the source of “five things make a post,” breast cancer stole my friend away years and years ago now, and I still think of her whenever I do a post like that), but I don’t think I have two more bits of thematic news. Ah well. She would understand.

Young ‘uns

A few weeks ago, when we were having a rash of notable deaths, one of my friends was asking, in her grief, whether it would just be like this from here on out. One of her icons, one of her heroes, after another. And Tim very quietly said to me, “Now would be a great time to start liking the work of artists younger than yourself. Every time is a great time.”

Well: yeah. And the immediate aftermath of a death is not the right time to say it more loudly than that, which is why I waited. But yeah. Because you’re not trying to replace anybody. No one will ever replace the artists of your childhood, the people who inspired you in your teens, those who touched your heart and lifted your mind in the first days you were an adult. Those people are irreplaceable.

But that doesn’t mean you go quietly into a downhill spiral of fewer and fewer artists to love. I think too many people do. The studies show it: most people stop liking new music in their late twenties or early thirties. They stop seeking it out–or maybe they never sought it out, and they stop being in situations where it finds them automatically. I think this is maybe less true on average for books and movies, but still somewhat true: the shape of things you seek out slows down.

And it gets easier to feel like the world is getting worse. Like things are getting sadder, diminishing. But they’re not. There’s more good stuff out there. The kids are not only all right, they can be there so that when the artist who was 30 when you were 15–30 and living hard, 30 and partying all night on the tour bus–turns out to be mortal, as statistically it turns out a great many of us are–there’s the artist who was 15 when you were 30.

And no, they don’t sound the same. They won’t feel like being 17 and having your life ahead of you. They’ll feel like being 37, or 57, or 87. And still choosing to have your life ahead of you.

That’s a pretty good thing to sound like too.

Olympians: Apollo, The Brilliant One, by George O’Connor

Review copy provided by First Second Books.

The muses hustle you through Apollonian mythology. Seriously, this is a whirlwind tour. Birth! Slaying Python! Daphne! Marsyas! Hyacinth! Asklepios and his centaurs! Fighting, screwing, the lyre, the sun, healing, wheeeee! So much Apollo. Seriously so much. In one very, very short book.

If you’ve been reading Jo Walton’s Thessaly trilogy, you will notice that this comic brushes past events covered in more depth in The Just City and The Philosopher Kings. Apollo! He’s a thing there! But even if you’re not interested in that series, this is reasonably pretty and a decent introduction or refresher. I would say “for young people,” and it is, but only if you don’t mind the young people not getting a completely prettied up version. Daphne is nearly raped here; Marsyas is flayed. The Greek gods: you don’t want to invite them to your parties. Or pointedly not-invite them to your parties! Lest they show up and turn you into a goat!

I feel like it’s such a fast run-through that it’s not the best of the series, but the series is worth having, and this is a reasonable installment of it.

Please consider using our link to buy Olympians: Apollo, The Brilliant One from Amazon.

Chains and Memory, by Marie Brennan

Review copy provided by the author, who is also a personal friend. Also I backed the Kickstarter for this book.

While very thoroughly a sequel to Lies and Prophecy, Chains and Memory avoids the trap of doing all the same things. Kim and Julian are not still at college. Their relationship has progressed. Their roommates and best friends, while still emotionally close, are physically distant, and other secondary characters have taken the stage. If you want “more just like that,” this is not more just like that.

If, however, you want a sequel that is trying to take the next step with worldbuilding consequences–that is thinking through implications and pushing them–that is saying “yes, and another” to relationships not only between the main characters but with the other people and in fact institutions in their lives–it is that.

So it really depends on what you want from a sequel.

The roles of the Seelie and Unseelie in the human world have also progressed, and their hand in how humans–varieties of telepaths and non-telepaths–interact with each other, reaching back through history, are thoroughly examined in this book. There are passages about which kinds of telepaths are like theater kids, and then there are passages about Congress. There are action scenes. There is not fencing, but there is fighting, torture, revenge, and true love. Of more than one sort.

There is not actually a mutton, lettuce, and tomato sandwich, though. I suppose one can’t have everything. At least not in a book of this length.

Please consider using our link to buy Chains and Memory from Amazon.

Books read, early January

Exclusive of manuscripts, which I don’t talk about publicly.

Octavia Cade, Chemical Letters. This was a joyful, beautiful, nerdy romp through poems and chemistry. The world needs more like this. Hurrah. Hurrah.

Thomas Goetz, The Remedy: Robert Koch, Arthur Conan Doyle, and the Quest to Cure Tuberculosis. Oh, this book. So first of all: it is gross. It does not stay with the parts of TB where someone dies looking pale and ethereal. It goes into TB and the rest of medicine in the time, in ways that are useful and disgusting. Now, me, I am the sort of person who read this while eating lunch, no problem. You judge for yourself whether you are, though, because Goetz…does not hesitate to go there. And not just with the gross, though. It is tragic: people not accepting procedures that will be lifesaving. People self-deluding that they have cures they do not. Koch, a great medical man in some ways, gradually painting himself into a corner wherein he believes himself to be unjustly persecuted just because he peddled a false TB cure and also opposed pasteurization of dairy products. (OH IS THAT ALL. POOR YOU HOW THEY PERSECUTE YOU THERE THERE.) The other thing this is, though, weirdly, is a piece of biographical criticism, of how Arthur Conan Doyle could become the man who could invent and write Sherlock Holmes in the first place. And John Watson. The influences upon him, the things that touched his life that pushed and pulled and added up to…yes, there he is: the creator of Holmes and Watson. And it’s not even a very long book, to pack in the medical background of the time, serious amounts of Franco-Prussian War politics, and the character of the two men and their families. So if you have the stomach for it, I do recommend this. But if you don’t, I don’t blame you for it.

Maria Dahvana Headley and Kat Howard, The End of the Sentence. A spooky ghost novella, but a kinder one than I feared to begin with, and worth the trouble. I’m glad that Magonia made me seek it out.

Tove Jansson, Sculptor’s Daughter: A Childhood Memoir. I should have guessed from reading the Moomin books that Jansson would have an unerring feel for what it is like to be a child, but you can’t tell in advance that someone is going to write a memoir in that frame of mind, in the frame of mind of what it was like at the time. Remembering that perspective. It was so lovely, because she was sensible in the way that children are sensible, and there were so many important details that adults leave out, things that one would want to know about 1910s-20s Finland.

Fiona MacCarthy, Anarchy and Beauty: William Morris and His Legacy, 1860-1960. Lots of pictures, less text. The jacket copy focuses on radical sexual politics, which is not much in evidence in the minimal text at all–I personally am a better source on that than this book is–and there’s a bit more on radical non-sexual politics, but only a bit. As for influence, yes, there’s some of that, but only darting into it here and there, considering how broad and deep Morris’s influence runs. I’m glad to have this book, but it’s weirdly frustrating. Not even so much shallow as spotty. And that particularly surprised me from MacCarthy, who gave us the giant exhaustive Burne-Jones biography that took up so much of my time in 2015–but this was a volume from curating an exhibit, so. Well, there’s other Morris stuff out there.

Patrick Ness, The Rest of Us Just Live Here. Fascinatingly, the fantasy plot is both completely crucial and entirely relegated to the edges of this book. What a neat needle to thread. This is a YA telling the story of the kids who aren’t in the middle of saving the world from the giant fantasy menace. They’re caught up in their own senior year relationships, and oh, does Ness remember what it’s like to be a high school senior. To be in love with your best friend, to be weirdly awkward with your other best friend for reasons you don’t fully understand, to be trying to figure out how to be good to your family and still have things the way your newly adult self needs them…with magic you can’t control or even quite see, that isn’t much to do with you, all around the edges…yes, Ness has a handle on the end of childhood very, very well.

Terry Pratchett, The Shepherd’s Crown. The last Terry Pratchett novel, and you can see where it’s not quite done, where in some spots it’s an outline–gesturing at Terry Pratchett Discovers Third Wave Feminism, sketching in Pterry’s Last Love Letter To the Old Codger He’ll Never Get To Be. And yet he gave us one more bit of Tiffany Aching, and the death of Granny Weatherwax–the loved ones of Granny Weatherwax mourning her–and you know, that was enough, I think. Not his chart-topper, his greatest masterwork. But enough. Trying for more even to the last, I hope we can all say as much.

Alter Reiss, Sunset Mantle. I must admit that I critiqued this novella in draft form. And now it’s published! Go team! This is fantasy with strong religious worldbuilding (by which I mean in-world religion, not our-world religion) and a military component, with a loving central relationship and practical work, all packed into a plotty action-filled novella. But I’ve admitted my bias.

Nisi Shawl and Bill Campbell, eds., Stories for Chip: A Tribute to Samuel R. Delany. In addition to having amazing cover art (seriously, who did that?), this covers a wide range of what Delany has meant to various people, in both fiction and nonfiction. Some people are just doing their own thing, which is influenced by him indirectly. Some are more directly trying to demonstrate his influence. For me the standout stories were Benjamin Rosenbaum’s “The First Gate of Logic” and Nalo Hopkinson and Nisi Shawl’s collaborative “Jamaica Ginger,” but I imagine that this is very much a “something for everyone” anthology, and what that something is will vary considerably.

Gordon Shepherd, Neurogastronomy: How the Brain Creates Flavor and Why It Matters. My subtitle: “Why Nonfiction Voice Matters.” This is a book whose author does not know who his audience is. Is it people who are interested in highly technical things? That would have been fine. Is it a lay audience with no technical skill? That would have been okay, too, because I could have skipped it; his voice when writing for the lay audience is really, really patronizing, and his metaphors completely unenlightening if you didn’t understand them from the technical passages. And then there are the chapters where he wanders off outside his own fields of expertise to speculate about things like Why Modern People Are Obese and goes completely off the rails, and if you want someone speculating about that on little to no expertise, why pick someone with a terrible prose voice? The parts that were Shepherd writing technically in his field were a-okay with me, but for that I think looking up his papers in journals on academia.edu or some such is a far better way to go. Also this is what happens when people who are obsessed with visual processing try to do other things; they can’t even see that something that is processed spatially in the brain may not be processed visually, come on, people, this is not hard. ALSO. Let me be the first to tell you that it is possible to write about taste/smell and memory without dwelling on Proust. Do it now. Do it today.

Salla Simukka, As Black As Ebony. The third in the “Snow White” trilogy of Finnish crime YA novels. It felt tacked on, obligatory; Our Heroine…does some stuff…figures out some stuff…has some stuff done to her and triumphs in the end. All very short chapters. If you liked the first two in the series, this one is still skippable, unless you are really really set on learning what happens to Lumikki.

Leslie Valiant, Probably Approximately Correct: Nature’s Algorithms for Learning and Prospering in a Complex World. This…is an excellent example of what happens when you know your own field (mathematics/computer science) really really well, are interested in someone else’s field (biology/evolution), and…do not perhaps take as much time as you ought to understand what they are saying. About evolution and its mechanisms and why. As a result Valiant is very clear when he’s talking about algorithms, and less insightful than he hopes when he’s talking about evolution.

art talks to each other about rocs and tea

Something delightful has happened.

This won’t make any sense unless you have read the story I posted as a Christmas present for you all–you still can read it, How to Wrap a Roc’s Egg, go ahead. But. My friend Mary has gone and written a poem to answer part of it. And she said I could post it for you to enjoy, so when you’ve finished the story, here is the poem.

Bosko the Bold’s Last Exploit

by Mary Alexandra Agner

I do miss tea, you know.
Iced especially, would be lovely
but the dreams of chill and clink
melt quickly under equator sun,
and canon fire lacks, as accompaniment.
I write with some regret, Anna—
not for the rocs themselves,
or breaking our agreement,
nor thirty years of high sea hijinks
helping myself to gold and spice,
yardarms and yeomen,
what books the babies let me read
between their dives of great destruction.
Nor all the stars that you will never see in Sweden.
I regret I took away your dream
even while you gave me one
I didn’t know held all my happiness.
I hope you got your tea, acres of plants
turning that northern light to tart
and complex on the taster’s tongue.
I hope this letter finds its way to you.
My notoriety is built on flame and claw
and once my last breath slips away
so will the rocs.
What fame I leave may be insufficient postage.

(Isn’t that lovely? I couldn’t be more pleased, both with the thing itself and with the meta-thing of it.)

Interview with Lawrence Schoen

Today I’ve got an interview with Lawrence Schoen, author of Barsk: The Elephants’ Graveyard (not to mention tons of short stories over the years). If you missed my review post, it’s over here.

Interview with Lawrence M. Schoen

Barsk: The Elephants’ Graveyard features dozens of anthropomorphic species. Was there any species you wanted to fit in but just couldn’t?

The original draft of the novel had the protagonist visiting several worlds of the Alliance, and along the way he met representatives from a number of additional races. Some of these were lost (not from the galaxy, just from the portion we see of it) when the action was scaled back to take place just on one planet and a space station.

It’s strongly implied that all of the races in the Alliance are mammalian, and while it’s impossible to “prove a negative,” I can tell you that the reason we haven’t seen any primates is because there aren’t any, which is a point I hope to come back to in a future book.

In my notes, I have references to Cats and Foxes and Sheep and at least a dozen more. Some will surely show up in future stories. I am sorry that I couldn’t work in a Tapir. That would have been fun. [Me: and popular in my house!]

Have you always been interested in elephants? If not, what sparked the central race of this book?

I’ve always liked elephants. They’re unlike any other land animal, so much so that the two species that we have get lumped together because while they differ from one another in some pretty significant ways, they’re still more similar than either is to anything else.

And the more you discover about them, the more fascinating they become. When I learned that they had infrasonics I squealed with delight! And did you know that some historians believe the Greek myth of the cyclops, that one-eyed giant, has its basis in encountering an elephant skull? What’s not to like?

The social structure of the female Fants didn’t get much time in Barsk: The Elephants’ Graveyard. Any plans to return to them?

That social structure is hinted at, both in the mainstream when Jorl visits his sister (and communal home made up of mothers, aunts, sisters, female cousins, and children of both sexes) and in terms of outliers when we glimpse how Tolta lives, but yes, we’ve seen little thus far. That’s an unfortunate function of running with a male protagonist in society where the men and women have rather limited access to the lives and lifestyles of the other side.

That said, there are proposals for two sequels sitting on my editor’s desk. If I get to write them, I have plans to show much more of Barsk culture from its women’s perspective. And too, we’ll see some more glimpses of other races and their societies, both overall and from the differing perspectives of the male and female characters inhabiting them.

There’s so much to write. I worry that I’ll have time and opportunity to tell it all.

The linguistics were buried pretty deep here, and I know that’s where your training is.  Is that where you started? or could you just not resist figuring out the linguistic aspects of this universe?

One of the things that pisses me off in a lot of science fiction where we’re encountering non-humans is the way that language is handled, or rather not handled. If we’re able to understand the aliens (or in the case of Barsk, the raised mammals that make up the many different races of the Alliance), then there damn well better be an explanation, and if you hold up a universal translator, attempt to shove a babel fish in my ear, or try to sell me some other bit of hand-wavium, I’m going to be very, very unhappy.

It’s not much of a spoiler to say that the Fant are raised mammals who are descended from elephants (both African and Asian) on Earth tens of thousands of years in the past. And yet, it’s pretty clear they’re speaking English. Not just English, but English with slang and colloquialisms. (I had to fight with my editor to keep the word “ginormous” in the book).

Any solution that I came up with not only had to make sense — not just in terms of the plot, but also linguistically — but it had to serve the story, and not simply my need as the author. Or more simply, it had to make sense in the context of everything else we learn as the book unfolds. I think I managed all of that pretty well, and I’m looking forward to the response from the more language savvy members of my readership.

And one other fun bit, that I did because I’m me and I could, as part of the world building I invented a writing system for the Fant. To my delight, my publisher even used some of it in the book.

While we’ve seen something of a renaissance in space opera in the last decade or so, it’s been awhile since I’ve read a book that dared to go *this* far into the future. What were some of the challenges of ultra-far-future SF compared to something closer to our own backyards?

Unlike a lot of SF writers, I don’t tend to worry too much about the “hard science” details. In part this is because my doctorate is in cognitive psychology, not physics or chemistry or biology, but it’s also because my protagonist doesn’t have training in those fields either. As such, he’s not going to be distracted by how a spacecraft gets him from place to place, no more than you or I need to know the workings of an internal combustion engine in order to drive a car to the grocery store.

That freed me up a lot. We see things that imply a level of technology that’s superior to our own — a galaxy-spanning Alliance, interstellar ships, space stations — but they’re all taken for granted, yesterday’s news. The story here isn’t about how different or similar their science and engineering is to our own, rather all the technology is there mainly as props and cues that this is a science fiction story. Hard SF fans will probably be disappointed that, except for one section where I have a scientist (Jorl’s dead friend, Arlo) actually explain some theory and application of science that’s beyond what we have today, all the other trappings work in the background like magic. You know, kind of like the way most of us go through life today.

The drug koph allows the Fant (and other races) to talk to the dead. Of our recent dead, who do you think would get most tired of being called up this way?

There are probably a handful of celebrities who would be hounded (no pun intended) in death much like they were in life. Marilyn Monroe immediately comes to mind. And then there are the mysteries that are a part of popular culture that have never been solved like where is Jimmy Hoffa buried, and who really kidnapped the Lindbergh baby? And then of course there’d be the ironic uses, like chatting with Erik Weisz.

Personally, I’d be embarrassed by most of these applications, and I’m hoping my raised mammals do a better job at it than I suspect we primates would. I can think of scientists and authors I’d like to chat with, and perhaps arrange for Speakers to serve as conduits to get Einstein’s thoughts on the current state of physics or a new novel from Octavia Butler or Jay Lake. There would probably be reams of commentary about the complications of intellectual property in such situations, but I’m not going to be the one to write them.

Lawrence M. Schoen holds a Ph.D. in cognitive psychology and psycholinguistics. He’s also one of the world’s foremost authorities on the Klingon language, and the publisher of a speculative fiction small press, Paper Golem. He’s been a finalist for the John W. Campbell Award, the Hugo Award, and the Nebula Award. Lawrence lives near Philadelphia. You can find him online at LawrenceMSchoen.com and @KlingonGuy.

 

Books read, late December

A bit late, as the new year has been a series of minor mishaps. Ah well, no one is on a very tight schedule to find out what the last few things I read in 2015 were, I don’t think.

Mike Allen, ed., Mythic Delirium Issue 2.2. Kindle. I find that whenever I get things to read on my Kindle that are also available online, I end up mostly reading them online and then flipping through to confirm that I didn’t miss anything. Up side: this confirmed that it was a very solid issue and I should make more of a point to read Mythic Delirium regularly if this is the sort of stuff they’re putting out. Good to know.

Jedediah Berry, The Manual of Detection. Like if Chesterton and early Lethem had a rain-soaked bike-riding baby. (Okay but I meant that as a compliment.)

Leah Bobet, An Inheritance of Ashes. A heartfelt and beautiful book about the aftermath of war and its effects on the homefront. Also about the ripple effects of abuse in a family, and about keeping the world turning–practically and emotionally–with the limited resources we have, and–stuff. There’s a lot here. Go read it.

Chaz Brenchley, Three Twins at Crater School, Chapters 4-7. Kindle. I read a lot of boarding school books as a kid, and so I was sufficiently excited about Chaz’s Patreon project to let my enthusiasm for it overwhelm my general sense of how serials work for me. These are short chapters. I need to let more story stack up before I read more, because I am impatient for more about the aliens. MOAR ALIENS NOW CHAZ KTHX.

A.C. Buchanan, ed., Capricious Issue 1. Kindle. For me the standout story of the first issue of this new magazine was A.J. Fitzwater’s “She Must.” The way the prose twisted around the fairy tale tropes entertained me. I’ll keep an eye out for more Fitzwater and more Capricious.

Octavia Butler, Parable of the Talents. Reread. This is not one of my favorite of Butler’s body of work. It’s still worth the time–I’m not courting controversy to say that everything of hers is–but the crucial step of how the insightful young teenage refugee becomes the cult leader is elided, dreadfully elided. Swooped through. Skimmed. The heartbreak of the mother-daughter relationship is entirely clear. So the emotional core, she doesn’t flinch from. But the science fiction plot is oddly unbalanced for me this time through. Especially with the end commentary, where Butler is talking about what she did and didn’t know how to do in this story. A partial success, I guess.

Angela Carter, The Bloody Chamber. I finally got this for Christmas after years of feeling like it should be in every library system I used and not finding it where it was supposed to be. I particularly connected with “The Erl-King” and “The Company of Wolves”–yes, give me the deep forests, I am predictable both as a person and as an ethnotype–but in general it was interesting particularly remembering how early it was in the fairy tale retelling sub-genre, how much it was shaping and informing the things it looked like to my eye.

Diane Duane, Lifeboats. Kindle. A Young Wizards novella that read mostly like fanfic by its own author. Kit and Nita are side players to the main thing going on, deliberately this time, and introduce aliens to crucial Earth culture while they struggle with how to celebrate Valentine’s Day. A reasonably entertaining thing to read on an airplane, but not horribly deep, ends abruptly, uses a really cliched joke/story as its central premise.

Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen, The Rabbit Back Literature Society. Finnish magic realism about books mutating and relationships mutating and garden…creatures…and general oddments. Really lovely, less repressed than a lot of fiction that gets translated from the Norden, more overtly speculative than some magic realism and yet still feels like it belongs in that category. Weird stuff. Recommended.

E.K. Johnston, A Thousand Nights. Very, very different from her Owen books. Not as funny. As one might expect from the title, it’s a riff on the Thousand and One Nights story: a desert civilization, a bride telling tales and figuring out how to survive. She is brave and strong, a weaver, a sister, and while this is not Owen and Siobhan, I don’t actually want the authors I like to get stuck doing one thing for their whole careers, so: yeah. Neat different thing.

Naomi Mitchison, Travel Light. A classic I am delighted to encounter. Bears! Dragons! Princesses who go off their own way to do their own dragonish things and stomp around alternately-named Byzantium and decline the opportunities to choose the slain! How could I not love this book from the moment the bears got involved?

William Morris, A Dream of John Ball and A King’s Lesson. Kindle. Two entirely separate things packaged together by Gutenberg. The former is a Robin Hood tale/early Socialist lecture from when you had to have some frame story excuse to be telling a fantasy at all, and it’s largely a discourse on What Was Wrong With England Then And Now. The latter is What Is Wrong With Monarchies. William Morris: fascinating about vegetable dyes, not always Captain Subtlety. I was reading this for research on him and not for pure pleasure; and a good thing too. Unless you also have a research interest in Uncle Will, skip it.

David M. Potter, The Impending Crisis: America Before the Civil War, 1848-1861. Entirely about faction politics between formally active white male politicians of some means. Had interesting spots, but if you’re interested in acknowledgment that, for example, Native Americans had agency in this period, or that immigrants were relevant in some way other than as a focus of Know-Nothing ire, this is not the book. It should by no means by the only book on the era anybody reads. For filling in gaps, okay. Nobody in this book likes anybody else in this book. I was relieved when the Fremonts showed up, because they at least appeared to like each other. Then the Fremonts left again abruptly. Drat.

Karina Sumner-Smith, Defiant. Second in its series, definitely wants the first to make sense. Backstory development while forward motion continues, focus on friendship while not losing politics and worldbuilding. Eager to see how the series resolves in the third book, and I’m behind enough on my to-read pile that it’s already available, so.

Lynne M. Thomas and Michael Damian Thomas, eds., Uncanny Magazine Issue 7. Kindle. Another of the “making sure I’ve caught up on what’s in this issue” issue.

Derek Walcott, Omeros. A Homeric epic by a contemporary Caribbean poet. I like the passages about the sea best–yes, who’s being ethnotypical again–but the characterization is fascinating, the places where it draws on the classics and the places where it’s making its own place, engaging in an erudite way with its own locale and making the classical texts feel their own context more strongly. Would like to talk about this with people who have stronger Mediterranean feelings than I have.

Other people’s short fiction I liked in 2015

I’m not opposed to awards per se–they’re a formalized pat on the back, a “good job, well done,” and when I disagree, well, I’m allowed to. I’m allowed to wander off and pat someone else’s back instead. But when I’ve been talking about short fiction in 2015, it’s not for that purpose. It’s for the purpose of–and follow me here, this is going to get complicated–talking about short fiction. Because I think talking about short fiction is inherently a good thing. Specifically, pointing out things that are nifty is inherently a good thing.

So narrowing down to 5 or 10 or some other number–8 is my favorite number, it’s the smallest cube, yay 8!–but why should I like 8 things and not 7 or 9 or more? Turns out it’s more. I’m putting them here now because short stories have a tendency to flit past if no one jumps up and down and points at them. Because even the people most invested in them forget titles. Because I like to talk about short stories. Some of you are really into the awards thing. That’s fine; you do you. What I did in 2015–what I will continue to do in 2016–is point at the short fiction I like, and hope that some of you like some of it too. I make no pretense of reading everything. That’s a trap. I just read some stuff. And then jump up and down and point when I like it.

I think that one of the least enlightening discussions possible about a story is: “Is this the best story of this calendar year?” I would rather do: what does this remind me of? What is this story doing that I would like to see more of? What is special, what is familiar, what made me laugh or cry or write to someone I love? Best is flat and unidirectional and boring. I want stories to be stories and send out roots and runners and blossoms in all sorts of directions in my heart and mind, not send the little meter up to ring the bell. So okay: stories you can get to online:

Soteriology and Stephen Greenwood by Julia August (Journal of Unlikely Academia).

Fire Rises, by Alec Austin (Beneath Ceaseless Skies).

Monkey King, Faerie Queen, by Zen Cho (Kaleidotrope).

Further North, by Kay Chronister (Clarkesworld).

Hold-Time Violations by John Chu (Tor.com).

Wild Things Go to Go Free, by Heather Clitheroe (BCS).

20/20, by Arie Coleman (Strange Horizons).

The Coup in Elfland, by Michael J. DeLuca (Mythic Delirium).

The Half Dark Promise, by Malon Edwards (Shimmer).

The Deepest Rift, by Ruthanna Emrys (Tor.com).

Sun’s East, Moon’s West, by Merrie Haskell (Lightspeed).

Solder and Seam by Maria Dahvana Headley (Lightspeed)

The Lamps Thereof are Fire and Flames, by Rosamund Hodge (Uncanny).

By Degrees and Dilatory Time, by S.L. Huang (Strange Horizons).

A Photograph of Bones, by Robin Husen (Daily SF).

Here Is My Thinking on a Situation That Affects Us All, by Rahul Kanakia (Lightspeed).

Midnight Hour, by Mary Robinette Kowal (Uncanny).

Cat Pictures Please, by Naomi Kritzer (Clarkesworld).

So Much Cooking, by Naomi Kritzer (Clarkesworld).

Meshed, by Rich Larson (Clarkesworld).

Court Bindings, by Karalynn Lee (BCS).

The Pauper Prince and the Eucalyptus Jinn, by Usman Malik (Tor.com).

City of Salt, by Arkady Martine (Strange Horizons).

Ginga, by Daniel Jose Older (Tor.com).

A Beautiful Memory, by Shannon Peavey (Apex).

The Snake-Oil Salesman and the Prophet’s Head, by Shannon Peavey (BCS).

Remembery Day, by Sarah Pinsker (Apex).

Glaciers Made You, by Gabby Reed (Strange Horizons).

Spider’s Ink, by Jason S. Ridler (BCS).

The Closest Thing to Animals by Sofia Samatar (Fireside).

Those by Sofia Samatar (Uncanny).

The Girl With Golden Hair, by Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam (BCS).

Crazy Rhythm, by Carrie Vaughn (Lightspeed).

The Ways of Walls and Words, by Sabrina Vourvoulias (Tor.com).

Bent the Wing, Dark the Cloud, by Fran Wilde (BCS).

Find Me, by Isabel Yap (Apex).

So that was more than five, and wow am I glad I’m not awards-focused. That was friends and acquaintances and total strangers, science fiction and fantasy and interstitialish things. That was just the stuff I can link to. And you know what? I’m pretty sure I missed stuff. Tell me what I missed. Tell me what you loved this year in short fiction. Because wow, guys. Look at the work going on in this field, just the stuff that I managed to get to and read and swoon over. Look at what we can do. For all that I’ve occasionally joked that it would be hard to pick a collection of the Year’s Best Sofia Samatar–for all the people I know in this field, some on this list–look at the people I’d never read before up there and the cool stuff they knocked me over with.

Let’s do more. More of us, more ideas, more awesome stories. We can. C’mon. Let’s.

2015 in review: publications and thoughts on writing

If for some weird reason you’re feeling extrospective–that’s like me feeling introspective but you’re feeling it about me, right?–my bibliography page is always there. Right now it’s just reverse chronological order. One of the things that is on my to-do list is to get it sortable by story series, story type, etc. so that if you want to read all the stories in one universe, all the fantasy stories, all the stories that play with memory as a trope, whatever, you can do that. But that’s pretty low on my to-do list compared to, like, writing new stories, revising the ones I’ve written, sending them out, crazy stuff like that. (It also tends to get put below “read on couch with dog” so far. One of these days, though. Really.)

So 2015. I don’t want to talk about it publicly on the health front–if you’re a good enough friend that this rings alarm bells, by all means email me, but it is very hard to be both succinct and polite about how 2015 was for me health-wise. Ah, I have the word: disappointing. There we are. But on the writing front: great stuff. I mainly wrote long things–five short stories compared to twenty-two in 2014–but I’m really happy with the long stuff I wrote. Next year should be an interesting mix. I went to the Starry Coast workshop in September, a first for me and a really great experience.  And here’s what I published:

“The Hanged Woman’s Portion,” Not Our Kind, Alliteration Ink Publishing, January 2015.

“Blue Ribbon,” Analog, March 2015.

“Empty Monuments,” co-written with Alec Austin. Insert Title Here [anthology], Fablecroft Publishing, April 2015.

“Out of the Rose Hills,” Beneath Ceaseless Skies, May 2015 (Issue #173).

“It Brought Us All Together,” Strange Horizons, 13 July 2015.

“Draft Letter on Research Potential Suggested by Recent Findings in Gnome Genomics,” Evil Girlfriend Media shorts, 13 July 2015.

“Ten Stamps Viewed Under Water,” F&SF, Sep/Oct 2015.

“The Many Media Hypothesis,” Nature Futures, 7 October 2015.

“Human Trials,” co-written with Alec Austin. Abyss and Apex, October 2015.

“Points of Origin,” Tor.com, 4 November 2015.

That’s seven science fiction stories, three fantasy. Two anthologies, eight magazines. A mix of longer and shorter, within the short story category. Obviously two with Alec and the rest solo. Some of it just romps along, some of it was intensely personal, and you can’t always tell which by the tone. And honestly I’m glad to do both. One of the ways I describe my job is that I make nerds laugh, and I am proud to do that. But I do other things, too, and I’m glad to do them. Even when they make me spend the day the story goes public climbing the walls about how particular people in my life are going to respond.

I started describing some of the stories I’m doing as finding an interesting cliff to jump off and hoping there’s water at the bottom. So far there’s been water. Some of you have been that water for me. Thanks for that. Of course, it encourages me to do more of the same in the year to come, but that’s all right, I think. At least it won’t be boring. It’s never that.