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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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And now, for a quick look at my recent anthology reading.

Sword and Sorceress III, Marion Zimmer Bradley (ed.)

I’d originally bought this because I wanted to collect all of Charles Saunders’ short stories about Dossouye, the Abomeyan woman warrior, most of which were first published in the early Sword and Sorceress anthologies edited by the late Marion Zimmer Bradley. But that’s hardly the only reason to read (or re-read) the anthology. It’s great fun to go back and revist the early stories of other favourite fantasy writers, like Jennifer Roberson, Diana Paxson, Elizabeth Moon and Mercedes Lackey.

The Sword and Sorceress anthologies played a significant role in the development of a new kind of woman-centred fantasy , and a new generation of writers, mostly women, who knew how to write it. Sometimes it’s a very good thing to travel back and look at where some of the great female characters of heroic fantasy, and the people who created them, had their beginnings.

Sword and Sorceress XXIII, Elisabeth Waters (ed.)

From the retrospective to the modern day – this is the second volume of the Sword and Sorceress anthologies to be edited by Elisabeth Waters and released by Norilana Books (by publisher Vera Nazarian). Featuring stories by well-established writers who have been part of the Sword and Sorceress phenomenon from the beginning, like Patricia B. Cirone, Mercedes Lackey and Deborah J. Ross, as well as relative newcomers such as Pauline Alama, Leah Cypress, and others.

Tesseracts Q, Jane Brierley & Elisabeth Vonarburg (eds.)

One of the biggest disadvantages to being monolingual– and worse, being a monolingual speaker of English – is that it’s hard to really read globally. Many works in English are translated into many other languages (can you spell cultural imperialism? I thought you could.), but only a small percentage of the interesting writing, in any genre, in languages other than English gets translated into English.

And so, much thanks to Jane Brierley and Elisabeth Vonarburg, who have selected some of the interesting work that Quebecois(e) writers have been producing, and publishing it in translation for the benighted monolingual English to read. There are some very interesting stories in this anthology, and in addition, it offers the chance for the reader to immerse herself in a different tradition – science fiction with a different set of working assumptions about treatment and style. Many of the stories here are more “literary” than much English-language science fiction, and ask different questions. And that makes the experience of reading works in translation doubly engaging.

Interfictions: An Anthology of Interstitial Writing, Delia Sherman & Theodora Goss (eds.)

What, you may be asking yourself, is interstitial writing? For the long answer, you can read this Wikipedia article or this essay by Delia Sherman, one of the founders of The Interstitial Arts Foundation and co-editor of this anthology.

For a short answer, it is writing that exists in between. In between what, you may ask. In between something that you think you have all neatly boxed up and categorised, and something else (or several somethings else) that you think is different from the first something. It’s work that colours outside the lines. And it’s interesting to explore – which is exactly what this anthology is all about. Many of the writers whose work appears in this anthology are known primarily as science fiction or fantasy writers, including Catherynne Valente, K. Tempest Bradford, Christopher Barzak, Holly Phillips, Vandana Singh, Rachel Pollock and Leslie What – and in fact, many of the stories are ones that would not seem particularly out of place in an anthology of fantasy, or science fiction, or horror, or the other genres that fall under the umbrella of speculative fiction. And yet – there is something extra about each of these that harkens to something else even as it seems to be, when looked at in a certain light, something you think you can clearly identify.

So what, you may ask. Read the anthology and find out, I may answer.

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The Fall of the Kings, Ellen Kushner and Delia Sherman

Kushner and Sherman have, in The Fall of the Kings, given us not only a great historical adventure fantasy and a wonderful love story, they have also given us a profound examination of the nature of a number of passions, from true scholarship to patriotic and religious fervour, and at the same time an exploration of the ages-old questions of how much wildness can a civilisation permit and still remain a workable social, economic and political system, how best to balance the rational and the irrational aspects of the human psyche within the functioning of a society, and what prices must be paid, regardless of which side the balance is weighted on.

Set in the same universe as Swordspoint, but a generation later, the pivotal characters are Theron Campion, the son of Alec, Duke Tramontaine, and Basil St. Cloud, an unorthodox professor of history who believes that primary sources are far more important to the scholar than any number of secondary texts. St. Cloud is researching the ancient kings from the North and their so-called wizards, now dismissed as charlatans. Campion is the descendant of the last of those Northern kings. The fruits of St. Cloud’s work provide vital clues to ancient mysteries, and Campion is the key. Together, they are caught up in mystery, magic, passion, politics and the destiny of their society and its leaders.

The ending of the novel favours one side of the balance, while, perhaps, leaving the back door open for those who will feel themselves compelled to imagine a future different than that suggested. In this sense, the book is, I think, somewhat of a Rorschach test for the reader, in that it may uncover, for those who have not fully considered the question, what kind of answers they automatically incline to when they consider how human society should be governed. For myself, I must acknowledge that my heart had one response to the book’s conclusion, and my head, another.


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