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"The Great Detective," Delia Sherman;, February 17, 2016

Steampunk and spiritualism, in an alternate literary universe where noted mechanical inventor Sir Arthur Cwmlech and his apprentice Miss Tacy Gof turn to colleague Mycroft Holmes and his masterwork the Reasoning Machine to solve a mysterious theft. A young Doctor Watson, recently returned from Afghanistan, seeks a new life as an inventor. All that is missing from the tale is the Great Detective himself - and if he does not yet exist, then surely someone will have to invent him. A light and witty tale that should appeal to fans of Holmes and the steampunk genre alike.

"Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies," Brooke Bolander; Uncanny magazine, November 2016

This was a short piece, essentially flash fiction, a stunning gut-punch. Hard to read, hard to breathe afterward. Searing and powerful indictment of male entitlement and rape culture.

"Seasons of Glass and Iron," Amal El-Motar; first published in The Starlit World (2016), reprinted online at Uncanny Magazine

There are many fairy tales about women. Women who must do impossible things, or accept impossible circumstances, because of men. Men who say they love them, men who want to test them, men who want to woo and win them. Sometimes, though, these women walk out of those tales and live their own lives instead, creating new kinds of tales.

"Lullaby for a Lost World," Aliette de Bodard;, June 8, 2016

De Bodard has said that of this story that it is "a sort of answer to “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” (one of my absolute favourite short stories)." It is very much a story about the prices paid for security, stability, and the like - and who makes the decisions on what prices are acceptable, and who pays those prices. A worthy counterpart to the story that inspired it.

"Things with Beards," Sam J. Miller; Clarkesworld, June 2016

A meditation on monsters and how they walk undetected in the world, both the monsters and evil aliens of speculative fiction (the backstory of the protagonist evokes the classic sf/horror film The Thing), and the monsters that have always been a part of the human race, the callous, the cruel, the killers of those who are labeled less than human.

"You'll Surely Drown Here if You Stay," Alyssa Wong;
Uncanny Magazine, May 2016

A young boy with an uncanny heritage to communicate with, and control, the dead is forced to use his powers for the greed of others. A supernatural Western with a deep friendship that survives dead and retribution at its heart.

"An Ocean the Color of Bruises," Isabel Yap; Uncanny Magazine, July 2016

Five young people, former college friends, take a vacation together to a second-class resort with a tragic past. When that past awakens, the quality of their own lives is called into question.

"A Fist of Permutations in Lightning and Wildflower," Alyssa Wong;, March 2, 2016

A story about two sisters with unimaginable power, the depth of grief and guilt, and the futility of trying to change the past. Deep truths about grieving, accepting and moving on - and the tragedy of refusing to do so.

"Red in Tooth and Cog," Cat Rambo; originally published in Fantasy and Science Fiction, March/April 2016, republished online February 21, 2017

A young woman frequenting a park has her phone stolen by an unlikely culprit, leading her to discover a new ecosystem in development. An interesting perspective on the definitions of life.

“Blood Grains Speak Through Memories”, Jason Sanford; Beneath Ceaseless Skies, March 17, 2016

Sanford's novelette is set in what seems to be a far distant future, long after the ecological disasters of pollution and the exploitation of natural resources have resulted in massive social change and, one infers, biological engineering on a vast scale. The land is infused with "grains" - semi-sentient beings, possibly organic, possibly cybernetic, it's never made clear - that infect people thereafter known as anchors - who are responsible for protecting the land and its ecosystems. Anyone not part of an anchor's family is doomed to a nomadic existence, destroyed by the anchors and other beings created/controlled by the grains if they tarry to long in one place, or injure the land in any way. Frere-Jones is an anchor dissatisfied with the way the grains control the anchors and limit the lives of the nomadic day-fellows. Her husband, who shared her opinions, was killed by the grains, and if they could replace her, Frere-Jones suspects the grains would kill her too.

I was both intrigued and dissatisfied with this novelette. I enjoyed the themes of rebellion and of sacrifice, but I was frustrated at knowing so little about the grains, the biomorphing of the anchors, and how it all came to be that way. Perhaps a longer format might have allowed more worldbuilding.

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I am beginning to think of Aliette de Bodard as one of those authors whose every work is a "must have" for me - I have been delighted, transported and entranced by everything I've read from her so far, and have started searching for older works I've missed.

One such work is the 2013 Hugo-nominated novella On A Red Station, Drifting, which is Set in her Xuya universe, in a future space empire heavily influenced by Chinese and Vietnamese cultures and notable for its human/AI Minds that manage both starships and space stations.

On A Red Station, Drifting takes place during a period of internal strife when lords opposed to the Emperor are in open rebellion. Fleeing war on the planet she was sent to as magistrate, Lê Thi Linh seeks refuge on Prosper Station, managed by a branch of her family. But all is not well on Prosper. There are divisions within the family and troubling malfunctions in the Mind that runs the station. Nor has Linh been fully honest about her reasons for flight.

Beautifully written, with a close focus on both the interpersonal and the political relationships that drive the events of the story. It's the depth of the characters, and the honesty of their portrayals (there are no heroes, no villains, only people doing what they feel they should, or must) that kept me enveloped in the story.

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I seem to be on a bit of a short fiction binge. Trying to read some stories from 2015, recommended in various places, that interest me.

"The Missing Guest," Alice Sola Kim, December 22, 2015, Lenny

An unsettling story about friendship circles and outsiders, about being both participant and observer, with distinct undertones of the weird. I'm still not sure who the missing guest is, nor am I certain that I'm supposed to be.

"Three Cups of Grief, by Starlight," Aliette de Bodard, January 2015, Clarkesworld

A nuanced portrayal of the varied responses to grief, set in de Bodard's Xuya Empire universe. A scientist whose work is vital to the future of the Empire dies, and her children - one of whom is a Mindship - and the woman who must carry on her mentor's work follow different paths in grieving. Moving piece, well written, with strong characterisation.

"Variations on an Apple," Yoon Ha Lee, October 2015,

A scintillating sciencefictional symphony of imaginings drawn upon the myths of the apple of discord and the siege of Troy. Lee does things with words and images and multi-layered references to music and mathematics that I can't even begin to describe. An ever-shifting but never-changing meditation on desire, choice and conflict.

"Adult Children of Alien Beings," Dennis Danvers, August 2015,

A somewhat pedestrian novelette that literalises the feelings of difference and - if you'll pardon the pun - alienation that most of us experience. A middle-aged man uncovers evidence suggesting that his parents may not have been who, or what, they seemed to be, and embarks on a search for the truth - but ultimately realises there is a better way to resolve his crisis of self.

"Pockets," Amal el-Mohtar, February 2015, Uncanny Magazine

Nadia has a peculiar problem. She keeps finding things in her pockets. Things she's never seen before, things that make no sense and have no apparent relevance to her life. Things that could not possibly be in her pocket, that are larger than any pocket she owns. El-Mohtar treats this surreal premise with the greatest seriousness, and brings it to a profound conclusion that speaks both to the mystery of the connections between people and the power of the creative impulse.

"Cassandra," Ken Liu, March 2015, Clarkesworld

A meditation on the nature of causality, the meaning of free will, and the morality of interference wrapped up in a super-hero tale, in which the villain is a vigilante acting on pre-cognition in an attempt to save the innocent while the iconic defender of truth and justice focuses on protecting the proper unfolding of time, come what may.

"Eye," Wole Talabi, February, 2015, Liquid Imagination

Powerful piece of flash fiction about impossible, abhorrent choices. How far will a mother go, what will she sacrifice, to save the life of one of her children?

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If you have read anything about Aliette de Bodard's latest novel, the highly original and absolutely stunning fantasy The House of Shattered Wings, then you've surely encountered praise for its intricate worldbuilding, its complex and clearly defined characters, its suspenseful and engaging narrative, its subtle critique of power politics and brutal imperialism, and its numinous theological underpinnings.

And it's all true.

The novel is set in a post-apocalyptic Paris, following the Great War between, not countries, but Houses of Europe - fiefdoms run by and for the Fallen, angels cast out from Heaven for crimes they do not remember, magical beings much diminished but still trailing clouds of their former glory. Before their inhuman power games resulted in the near-ruin of a continent, the Fallen, based in Europe where the mythos we as readers recognise as Christianity was strongest, had spread out across the world, colonising other nations and driving other Heavens, other divine and magical beings, into hiding. Thus it was in Annam, where one of the beings caught in the nets of House imperialism is Philippe, an Immortal cast out from the Annamese Court of Heaven to live in mortal form as punishment for an unnamed transgression.

Freed from the House that enslaved him by its destruction in the Great War, Philippe has survived in the lowest rungs of Paris society, running with human gangs who scavenge in the ruins while the surviving Houses struggle to regain their former power and wealth while continuing to play games that could send any of them toppling into destruction.

When Philippe and a fellow gang member find a newly Fallen, weak and battered from her fall, they attempt to scavenge her, for the bodies of the Fallen carry magic. But before they can do more than collect two fingers, the head of one of the most powerful Houses remaining in Paris, Selene, arrives to save the new Fallen. When Philippe uses his own form of magic to shield his comrade from Selene's wrath, both he and the new Fallen are taken into House Silverspires - she as a dependent, to be known as Isabelle, and he as a prisoner to be studied and if possible used by the House.

Once in Silverspires, both Isabelle and Philippe - bound together by a force awakened drank when Philippe tasted her blood - become caught up in an old and dark curse that threatens to destroy the ancient House, once ruled by Morningstar, the first and foremost of the Fallen. Isabelle is loyal to the House that saved her and offered her protection, while Philippe wants nothing more than to see the House structure collapse completely and to free himself not only from Silverspires but from Paris itself, but the bond between them makes them at times allies as they seek to uncover what lies behind the deadly spell, crafted in vengeance and betrayal, that haunts the halls of Silverspires.

The House of Shattered Wings is one of the best novels I've read this year. De Bodard's website describes the novel as a standalone, but promises more novels set in the same universe. I am looking forward to reading them no matter where she focuses the next stories - but I hope we will see more of Philippe.


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