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"Harvestfruit," J. Y. Yang, july 2014, Crossed Genres
http://crossedgenres.com/magazine/019--harvestfruit/

In this chilling piece of flash fiction, Yang explores the responses of people traumatised by capture and forced integration into a society where they live only to satisfy the needs of others.



"So, You Must Talk to the Woman Who Is Wearing Headphones," Alexandra Petri, August 30, 2016, The Washington Post
https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/compost/wp/2016/08/30/so-you-must-talk-to-the-woman-who-is-wearing-headphones/?utm_term=.608e14c2aac8

A powerful and very pertinent piece 'inspired' by the public conversation about the inappropriate demands for attention men make on women who clearly do not want to be disturbed.


"The Lady Astronaut of Mars," Mary Robinette Kowal, electronic publication September 11, 2013, Tor.com
http://www.tor.com/2013/09/11/the-lady-astronaut-of-mars/

A moving novelette about an aging former astronaut called back in for a final mission that she is uniquely suited to perform, and the emotional costs of deciding between the desire to return to space and the responsibilities that arise from love.


"The Curse of Giants," Jose Pablo Iriarte, March 7, 2016, Daily Science Fiction
http://dailysciencefiction.com/hither-and-yon/magic-realism/jose-pablo-iriarte/the-curse-of-giants

Some stories give you all the clues you need to figure out what's happening, but nevertheless kick you in the gut at the final reveal. This is one of those stories. Some people might debate whether it's really science fiction, or magic realism, or something else, but it's powerful and it's both comment and critique on the world we live in, and the nature of courage.


"Between Dragons and Their Wrath," An Owomoyela and Rachel Swirsky, February 2016, Clarkesworld
http://clarkesworldmagazine.com/owomoyela_swirsky_02_16/

Domei and hir friend Hano live in a country that lies between two nations at war, a country ravaged and poisoned by dragons used as weapons of destruction. This story focuses on how the terrible aftermath of war and global exploitation affects innocent people trying to live their lives in the midst of destruction they neither caused nor understand. It is a story of despair, resignation, and faint, distorted hope, and it wracks the soul.

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Karen Tidbeck, Jagannath

I was completely enthralled by this collection of short stories by Karin Tidbeck, translated from Swedish by the author herself. These are, for the most part, stories that inhabit the space between fantasy, science fiction and horror often refered to as weird fiction. Short-listed for the Tiptree award, many of the stories are told from the viewpoint of women, and deal, in one way or another, with variations on the themes of inheritance, bloodlines, reproduction. Tidbeck's brilliantly written tales are unsettling, disturbing, and rarely give the reader a clearly defined and closed off ending. Instead, she invites the reader to carefully consider the situation she presents, and come to their own conclusions about what happened, or will happen next.


Octavia Butler, Unexpected Stories

Octavia Butler died eight years ago. That voice of true genius was stilled. But sometimes the universe gives us an unexpected note of grace - or in this case, two notes, two early, previously unpublished stories by Butler, found among her papers by her agent and literary executor.

In these stories - A Necessary Being and Childfinder - Butler speaks to us again, about power and difference and finding solutions - but not always satisfactory ones - to the ways such thing divide and harm us. It was both sad and marvelous to read new words from Octavia Butler.


Eleanor Arrnason, Big Mama Stories

Arnason's Big Mamas are the stuff of folk tales - marvellous creatures who span space and time by their whim and will, who have the kind of adventures that gods and folk-heroes have, meeting all kinds of incredible situations with confidence and wit - Big Mamas who enjoy the occasional company of Big Poppas, but don't need them. This wonderful collection of Big Mama stories, published by Aqueduct Press, is sheer delight to read. As Karin L. Kross notes in her review of this collection on Tor.com,
Arnason’s Big Mama mythos is a highly enjoyable and strongly feminist synthesis of science, history, and sheer imagination. Like the best fairy tales and folk tales, her stories sometimes go to dark and unsettling places, but they’re really about how to overcome the darkness—how to take a long view of the universe, where individual lives are at once very small but also very important and precious.



Eugie Foster, Mortal Clay, Stone Heart and Other Stories in Shades of Black and White

It's not often that you find a collection or anthology where every single story is a gem, but that's exactly what this was. Foster writes stories that are both technically sound and emotionally powerful. Her genre choices range from straight-up fantasy to something akin to magic realism, so I urge anyone who enjoys short fiction of that kind to check out her work.

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Keri Hulme's novel about damage and redemption, The Bone People, is at once the story of three broken people who must be stripped down to the bone before they can begin to heal, and also a vision of the need for a cultural renewal for New Zealand's peoples that brings white and Maori together.

Set in rural New Zealand, the novel centres on the relationships between three people. Kerewin, mostly white with some Maori heritage, is an artist who has lost her ability to create; she has broken all ties with her family and lives by the sea in a tower (a Rapunzel who ultimately must cut her hair and tear down the tower she has built of her own volition, for the princes who come are too much in need of freeing themselves to free her as well). Joe, mostly Maori with some white heritage, has been damaged by childhood traumas, by the loss of dreams, and by the death of his wife and biological son; gentle when sober, jovial when drunk, with a core of violence that is unleashed by frustration and his sense of failure. His adopted son, called Simon Peter (a fragile rock to build anything on) is the only known survivor from the foundering of a small vessel off the coast, near the small town where Joe lives and where Kerewin has built her tower; a precocious white child of perhaps seven or eight, he is unable to speak (though not for any medical reason), and difficult to deal with, as he often skips school, roams the country side, steals, has seemingly irrational fears that send him into hysteria, and reacts to the frustrations of being misunderstood and unable to communicate with outbursts of violence.

When Simon breaks into Kerewin's tower, and Joe must come to retrieve him, a bond is formed among the three of them, and their interrelationships will ultimately result in stripping all three down to the bone and forcing them on journeys both physical and spiritual through which they may find the paths to healing, redemption and renewal.

Hulme does not hold back when dealing with the ambivalent nature of relationships - however loving - between people struggling with isolation, fear, frustration and loss. Both Kerewin and Joe abuse alcohol, a coping mechanism that Simon attempts when possible. All three resort to violence - in both word (or sound, in Simon's case) and deed - when pushed too far. And yet, with a wisdom that today's more simplistic models of behaviour have forgotten, she knows that when people are badly broken, violence and pain can co-exist with love, that when people are not whole there will be much that is bitter in the midst of sweetness.

What can redeem such relationships is finding the way to heal and be whole, and Hulme gives us some ideas about how that can happen, for individuals and for a people - through finding one's roots, one's centre and one's self, through spiritual renewal and reinvigorating old traditions in newer and more inclusive ways, through ending isolation and embracing family and community.

As someone from a white settler culture living in a country where, like New Zealand, the aboriginal people have been marginalised and in many cases divided from their roots and traditions, the portrayal of the Maori peoples and their relationship to the white settler culture in this novel was of particular interest to me. Hulme, who is herself biracial and identifies with her Maori heritage while also embracing her European background, seems to me to be making a bold proposal for healing and community in settler nations - instead of assimilating aboriginal peoples into the primarily European culture of the settlers, assimilate the settlers into a vibrant and growing aboriginal culture that can incorporate both settlers and aboriginal peoples into one whole and healed community.

(For more thoughts on The Bone People, may I suggest checking out Jo Walton's review at Tor.com? http://www.tor.com/blogs/2009/03/maori-fantasy-keri-hulmes-the-bone-people)

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It's not often that you run into a work of fiction that makes you sit back on your heels and examine just how deeply you have bought into racist and colonialist narratives about an entire continent, but that's exactly what Okorafor's Lagoon did for me.

Lagoon is a narrative centred around first contact with a powerful, and very diferent, but at least potentially peaceful and beneficial alien species that has arrived on Earth. It is set, not in the standard European or North American metropolis, but in the Nigerian city of Lagos, which is built around a lagoon - where the alien vessel lands. The aliens, it turns out, are shapeshifters, with a twist - they have the science (so advanced as to be indistinguishable from magic) to change the shapes and substance of other beings and objects as well as their own. As the narrative unfolds, we follow the effects that the aliens - in particular their most visible ambassador, who adopts the form of an african woman and the name Ayodele - and their actions have on the city of Lagos and the people who give it life and vitality.

Three humans - Adaora, a marine scientist in a difficult marriage, Anthony Dey Craze, a Ghanian rap star, and Agu, a soldier in trouble after trying to prevent his comrades from committing a brutal rape - are drawn, even chosen, to be Ayodele's guides both in learning about human beings and in reaching the Nigerian President, sick and self-exiled to Saudi Arabia, defeated in spirit by his inability to deal with the problems facing his country.

And here is where my internalized colonialist narrative started screwing with my reading of the novel. A lot of bad shit goes down. Rabid religious leaders promote fear and loathing of the "witches" from space, multiple factions from criminal to government try to capture, co-opt or kill Ayodele, for money, for research, for trying to get alien support for their issues, for fear.... The list goes on. The responses are often fearful, even violent, and undeniably reveal many very real cultural, social, economic and political issues in Nigeria that need addressing. But because the universal human responses of fear, greed, self-interest, desire for power, are here filtered through an unfamiliar culture and at times a pidgin language, I found myself going to that "poor, undeveloped Africa" headspace that the colonialist narrative encourages.

And then I thought to myself - if this were set in New York or London, if the very same things happened only with white characters speaking standard English or recognisable British or American dialects (Bronx, Cockney), would I think any of these reactions improbable? And I had to say that I wouldn't. From the dying politician who failed to eradicate corruption in his government to the mysogynist priest who thinks aliens and strong-willed women are equally agents of Evil, to the street thugs who think having a captive alien who can create gold is their way to wealth and power - every single fearful or violent act that Okorafor has happen in Lagos could happen in London or New York or Toronto. That made me stop and think about a good many things, and I'd love this book for that alone.

But it's also a great story, about some people finding and reveling in their hidden strengths and differences, about new beginnings, about the irrepressibility of life, about the need to see all life on this planet as part of a web of creation. It's about kicking colonialist and imperialist remnants out of your brain and your life and - whether you happen to be an oppressed person or a colonised country - finding your own self and you own way of life. It's also about the act of creating narrative (which feeds into and is fed by many of the other themes). Okorafor uses elements of magic realism and African myth/religion to underscore this, especially in the segments when the voice of a trickster/narrator speaks directly to the readers. It speaks to many things, in many voices, on many levels.
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As Constant Reader has probably noticed, I don't read a lot of mainstream fiction, but I do read some. The remaining books in this category to be recorded in my reads for 2009 are:



Tracks, Louise Erdrich - I enjoyed this thoroughly. Erdrich tells a most engaging story and writes compellingly of the circumstances of First Nations people forced to live under the oversight of white settler law and authorities.


Feminist Fables, Suniti Namjoshi - A collection of short - often very short - narrative pieces that are a combination of keen observation informed by feminist vision, and adry and delightful sense of humour.


Bird in the House, Margaret Laurence - another collection of shorter, linked narratives, set in the fictional town of Manwaka which serves as the nexus from many of the characters in Laurence's fiction.


One Good Story, That One, Thomas King - collection of short stories that explore the relationships between First Nations and settler peoples and their perceptions of each other, told with King's trademark piercing humour and truth.
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Green Grass, Running Water, by Thomas King

Imagine magical realism with all the satire and bite and planned absurdity of Monty Python’s Flying Circus at its very best. Add in the best of aboriginal storytelling tradition, from some highly unusual and unlikely narrators, and a skillful examination – no, make that evisceration – of the images that white settler culture has created of, about and around aboriginal peoples in North America. And a wealth of literary, mythological, religious and historical allusions and references. Oh, and don’t forget to braid all of this together with a perfectly realistic novel about four people from the same reserve in western Canada who are each, in their own way, on the brink of major changes in their lives, and how their individual pasts, their First Nations heritage and the assumptions and actions of the white people and institutions around them have brought them to this point.

Or, as another reviewer put it:
Imagine four Indian storytellers in the best oral tradition, only with frequent interruptions (“Who, me?” says that Coyote). If I tell you that their names are the Lone Ranger, Ishmael, Robinson Crusoe, and Hawkeye, you will begin to get the joke. Their stories are mashups of Native American and Western culture: Changing Woman, meet Noah. They rewrite the classics, rewrite Hollywood Westerns, rewrite Creation itself in the attempt to get it right this time. And while the novel works as a story complete in itself, the literary references, punning names, and recurring motifs are an English major’s Easter egg hunt.

Short chapters, some of them no more than a barrage of dialogue, keep the plot moving quickly. The novel does jump about: between history, myth, Hollywood, Melville, the Bible, and an actual plot, King is keeping a lot of balls in the air. Enjoy the juggling act and the wickedly dry sense of humor. You’ve never read a book about cultural (and patriarchal) oppression that’s this funny. Williamsburg Regional Library review
Then you’ll have some idea of what you’ll find in King’s Green Grass, Running Water (the very title makes reference to the terms in many treaties and agreements made between settlers and aboriginal peoples – “as long as grass grows and water runs” – that were in fact broken as quickly as ink dries).

It’s a book with the rare gift of making people of privilege see their unexamined racism, laugh at themselves – and thank the author for the pleasure of the lesson.

I’ve raved about Thomas King’s writing before, and I have every intention of doing it again, because I heartily anticipate reading everything he’s written. He’s just that good.

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