Autistic Book Party, Episode 42: Ninefox Gambit

Today’s Book: “Ninefox Gambit” by Yoon Ha Lee.

The Plot: Disgraced Captain Kel Cheris is offered a chance to redeem herself by defeating a heretic fortress with the help of the undead General Shuos Jedao. Jedao is a genius who has never lost a battle – but he is also famous for a battle in which he intentionally massacred everyone on both sides. Cheris can’t trust him – but perhaps she can’t trust anyone else here, either.

Autistic Character(s): The author.

Yoon Ha Lee is one of my faves, and I was THRILLED when I found an offhand mention, in his public Dreamwidth journal, that he has an adult diagnosis of autism. (He has other mental health diagnoses, too.) It was such an offhand and ambivalent mention that I contacted him to ask if it was okay with him if I put him on the Autistic Book List. This was very scary since he is a famous author I had never spoken to before. He said yes; information in his public journal is public information. So here we are.

“Ninefox Gambit” is Lee’s debut novel, and is a Hugo, Nebula, and Clarke Award nominee as well as the winner of the Locus Award for Best Novel.

There is no autism in this book. What we do have is an intricate and deeply imaginative dystopian military space opera that I am basically going to spend the rest of this post squeeing about.

The world of “Ninefox Gambit” is impressively weird. Both military strategy and the very structure of this world are based on math. The Hexarchate, an empire that most of the characters belong to, is dependent on what is called a calendrical system. Someone, at some point, calculated that, if society is run in a very specific way – not just the divisions of time and major holidays that the word “calendar” implies, but everything down to the people’s beliefs and social structures – then a new branch of physics opens up. If the Hexarchate keeps control and everything functions according to their calculations, then they are able to use “exotic” technology: weapons that produce powerful, surreal effects.  From a kaleidoscope bomb that instantly multiplies one side’s ships and personnel, to the infamous threshold winnower, which turns every door (and bodily orifice) into a source of deadly radiation.

This gives the Hexarchate a very material interest in hunting down “heretics” – those who observe the calendar differently. Too many heretics in an area can produce calendrical rot, in which exotic effects cease to function – or, worse, function differently.

As one might imagine for a society based on math, everything in the Hexarchate is highly formalized. One of the real joys of this book is the level of detail put into the Hexarchate’s cultural rituals and symbols. Multiple related sets of evocative symbols are used in different parts of the characters’ lives, from the banners and emblems announcing the presence of individual generals, to the system of signifiers which classify the personality of each soldier (Cheris is an Ashhawk Sheathed Wings, which means caution and stability), to the Tarot-like system of jeng-zai playing cards. An incredible level of geekery obviously went into the design of this world, and it’s wonderful.

But “Ninefox Gambit” succeeds as a novel because, amid all the wild detail, the book’s central drama is simple and human. Jedao, because of the way his current existence works, is uncomfortably close to Cheris at all times. Cheris is doing an incredibly stressful and difficult job. Although she is a mathematical genius herself, she can’t win this campaign without Jedao’s skill at strategy and trickery. But she has no idea where his true loyalties lie – or whether, and when, she herself is being tricked. At heart, this book is not only about a flashy calendrical system, but about trust, loyalty, sacrifice, and betrayal.

There are a few disability-related notes to make about “Ninefox Gambit,” both good and bad. Jedao is dyscalculic and suicidally depressed, both of which are depicted briskly and well. Being dyscalculic in a regime that runs on math is a significant disability. Jedao deals with it by relying on Cheris for his math, and asking her to display the results graphically, which she does – as she should – without comment or complaint.

On the other hand, this is also a book that throws around words like “crazy” and “sociopath” fairly liberally. I personally didn’t mind the use of “crazy”; I found it realistic for a bunch of characters in a repressive and dystopian society who have genuine concerns both about how their missions will affect their mental health, and about whether the people they’re working with are thinking in ways that are comprehensible and human. But readers who are more sensitive than I am to mental health slurs may take issue with it. As for “sociopath”, readers who object to the “sociopathic villain” trope will have a problem with Lee’s treatment of several minor characters. Thankfully, this isn’t at all the route that is taken with Jedao himself, whose motives turn out to be complex, interesting, and even a little sympathetic – though you’ll be guessing about them for nearly all of the book.

Overall, I just really like this book. It is a fave. It’s also proof that some of the most stunningly imaginative, major-award-nominated science fiction of our time is by autistic people. Haters to the left.

As a side note, I would never have realized that Yoon Ha Lee is on the spectrum if I hadn’t happened to look at his journal on that specific day. And now I’m wondering how many other famous authors are in that boat. Authors who are autistic, and who are happy to say so in public, but who also aren’t making a big deal out of it, so that if you weren’t already closely following that author, you’d never know.

My Autistic Book List is as comprehensive as I can make it, but I’m not omniscient. If a SFF author is autistic and they’re not on that list, it’s not because I’ve somehow judged them unworthy; it’s because I genuinely don’t know. Readers, if you see any other famous authors casually mentioning in public that they’re autistic, you’ll let me know, won’t you? I will be eager and delighted, more than delighted, to add them.

The Verdict: Recommended-2

Ethics Statement: The brief interaction that I describe at the beginning of this review is the only time I have ever interacted with Yoon Ha Lee. I read his book by picking up a copy that I already owned off of my bookshelf and re-reading it. All opinions expressed here are my own.

Many of my reviews are chosen by my Patreon backers. This one was not. Reviews chosen by my backers are still in the works. If these reviews are valuable to you, consider becoming a backer; for as little as $1, you can help choose the next autistic book.

For a list of past/future/possible Autistic Book Party books, click here.

MONSTERS IN MY MIND: story notes, part 21 and 22

21. Lament for a Faithless Prince

For I know
your inner dark, and you know mine.

This poem came out in Goblin Fruit on Valentine’s Day, 2013, which was timing that caused my aunt to positively DREAD that I had written something TREACLY and COMMERCIALLY ROMANTIC and she would have to pretend to LIKE it. Then she read it and realized that she liked it, after all.

“Lament for a Faithless Prince” is a poem from the point of view of a sentient portal-fantasy world, I guess. I mean, it sounds a lot weirder than it’s supposed to be, when you put it that way. More to the point, it is a bitter, longing call to a grown man who used to visit the world, but who has no time for it anymore.

Obviously, this is not a metaphor for anything at all. Nope.

22. Ekyprotic Theory

A short poem written at a very different time to the previous one, but which makes a companion of sorts for it, as they both deal with romantic loss and longing. This one was published in Lakeside Circus in 2015.

Also, it uses brane cosmology as its governing metaphor, which, if you ask me, is freakin’ badass.

MONSTERS IN MY MIND is available for purchase on AmazonKobo, Indigo,  Barnes and Noble, and in Autonomous Press’s Shopify store.

Autistic Book Party, Episode 41: Nantais

Cover of the book "Nantais" by Verity Reynolds. Contains a spaceship flying over a planet, and the word "Nantais" at the top.

Today’s Book: “Nantais”, by Verity Reynolds

The Plot: A ship’s crew are stranded after a computer virus infects their spaceship, and the more they try to find repairs for their ship and retrieve their missing comrades, the more complex the web of conspiracy around them seems to become.

Autistic Characters: Two crew members, named David and Hayek, and also, the author.

“Nantais” is a space opera in which all the usual fun space opera things come into play – cool aliens, interplanetary governments, space pirates, sentient ship’s computers, and so on. It contains some autistic humans, as well as some cool aliens that autistic readers will be able to relate to.

I don’t have much to say about the autistic humans, which is unusual for me. “Nantais” is being marketed in a way that makes a lot of noise about how the whole book is “very autistic” without ever mentioning the word “autism”, and how this is a radical authorial choice. I’m not sure I would describe either David or Hayek as “very autistic”. They both have autistic traits, but these traits are described in a very blink-and-you-miss-it way; in fact, I ended the book still unsure if Hayek was meant to be on the autism spectrum or not. Hayek is a fairly standard “go out of the spaceship and shoot guns” character, and the only autistic trait that I noticed from him is the use of a weighted vest.

There is nothing WRONG with having characters like this. Nor in refusing to other them or navel-gaze about their disability. In fact, a character like Hayek is nice to see since we don’t usually picture autistic people in that role. I’m just not convinced it’s an especially radical way of writing, with or without the word “autism”, especially since neither character seems to require the type of accommodations that necessitate societal change.

 

The aliens are good, though. “Nantais” is at its most interesting when Reynolds uses alien forms of communication to lightly upend common wisdom about communication in humans. Different species use different body language, including flapping and otherwise gesturing with the hands. Niralans appear to have no body language at all, and seem eerily emotionless to humans. But their nonverbal communication is actually some of the richest and most intense in the galaxy, for the few who have a sufficiently close physical connection to read it. Autistic readers and others whose emotions are misperceived by those around them will be delighted to spend time with the Niralan characters.

(As a side note, this might be another reason why I wasn’t super impressed with Hayek as an autistic character; he has an initial reaction to the main Niralan character’s lack of body language which more or less exactly mirrors the way NT ableists in real life respond to autistic people whose body language they can’t read. Not only did this make me subjectively annoyed with him, but it seemed like an odd and not-quite-realistic choice if he is meant to be autistic himself.)

Truth be told, I was a little underwhelmed with “Nantais” overall. The pacing is a little jumpy, and the way events progress doesn’t always feel coherent or satisfying. There is a cool subplot with a sentient ship’s computer that is trying to fight off its virus. The computer functions very differently from an Earth computer, in ways that are often interesting, but it irritated me that the term “computational linguistics” in this universe appears to mean something completely divorced from what it means in real life.

I think this is the most “meh” review I’ve ever written. There is nothing really wrong with the representation in “Nantais”; it didn’t click for me on a craft level, but there is nothing truly horrible about the book on that level, either. I did quite like the aliens, but the rest of it didn’t do a lot for me.

The Verdict: YMMV

Ethics Statement: Verity Reynolds and I have had quite a few business interactions; she beta read my still-unpublished novel and was a developmental/acquisitions editor for MONSTERS IN MY MIND. MONSTERS and NANTAIS were both published by the same press. I read her book because she emailed me a copy asking me for a blurb. I did, in fact, provide a blurb, which is an excerpt from this review. All opinions expressed either here or in the shortened blurb are my own.

This book was not chosen by my Patreon backers; I simply reviewed it because I decided that, having already read and blurbed it, a review would not be much extra labor. Reviews chosen by my backers are still in the works. If these reviews are valuable to you, consider becoming a backer; for as little as $1, you can help choose the next autistic book.

For a list of past/future/possible Autistic Book Party books, click here.

Autistic Book Party, episode 40 and a half: Short Story Smorgasbord

Bogi Takács, “Trans Love Is” (Nerve Endings anthology, 2016; reprinted as a free Patreon reward)

[Autistic author] A poem about the author’s relationships and family. It’s speculative, in my view, because magic and magical folklore are mentioned, but the bulk of the poem is about the quirks, difficulties, and minutiae of a household of non-neurotypical trans people. The picture that emerges is chaotic but enthusiastically loving, and a welcome antidote to stereotypes about what autistic people’s relationships must looks like. Also it comes with a shorter poem, “A Song of Expanses”. [Recommended-1]

*

Andi C. Buchanan, “Syren Song” (Kaleidotrope, summer 2017)

[Autistic author] A story about a teenage runaway siren in space. It’s very brief, but nuanced, and manages to subvert a couple of tropes in its short space. [Recommended-2]

*

Rose Lemberg, “Domovoi” (Uncanny, July 2017)

[Autistic author] A spooky poem which, ironically, is also a complaint against people’s need for spooky stories. When kindness and domesticity are not enough to satisfy the domovoi’s housemates, it turns to other means. [Recommended-2]

*

S.B. Divya, “An Unexpected Boon” (Apex, November 2017)

Kalyani, one of the viewpoint characters in this story, has a both OCD and autistic symptoms – a common combination in real life. I like the plot in which Kalyani meets a magical beetle who helps her interpret emotions, and then develops even stranger abilities. But I wish that more of the story was from Kalyani’s point of view, rather than that of her ableist brother. The narrative clearly shows that her brother is wrong about her, but it still robs us of the opportunity to follow Kalyani as she has some of the most pivotal magical experiences, and to find out how she feels about them and what they meant to her. [YMMV]

*

A. Merc Rustad, “The House at the End of the Lane is Dreaming” (Lightspeed, December 2017)

[Autistic author] A powerful story about video games and free will, and the kinds of agency we do and don’t allow to the people we tell stories about. There’s a really interesting disability thread in here, even though nobody technically identifies as disabled. The protagonist, Alex, is consistently given choices in which they’re punished for trying to help their sister, but their sister is injured when they don’t try to help. The game then pushes them to abandon their injured sister to die. What the game’s writers see as a compelling tragedy is actually an ableist narrative, in which they try to force the protagonist to accept the necessity of sacrificing people who can’t keep up. It’s satisfying that Alex finds another way to survive in the end, and that they get their revenge against their writers – even though, in typical Rustad fashion, that revenge is quite vicious as well. [Recommended-2]

Autistic Book Party, Episode 40: Mouse

Cover of the book "Mouse" by Richard Ford Burley

Today’s Book: “Mouse”, by Richard Ford Burley

The Plot: An autistic boy discovers he can talk to a ghost, is the reincarnation of Simon Magus (sort of), and needs to save the world.

Autistic Character(s): The title character.

This book is a fun urban fantasy with roots in medieval alchemy and ceremonial magic (not surprising, since Burley is a medievalist). It’s also a book with a pretty badass #ownvoices autistic protagonist from a somewhat under-represented part of the spectrum.

Mouse is a high school student who is “primarily non-verbal” – he can squeak out a word or two in an emergency, usually, if there’s no other option, but he prefers to communicate by writing notes. He is intensely sensitive and overwhelmed by the social information he sees in other people’s faces, which is why he never looks there. He’s taught in an integrated classroom with neurotypical classmates, but he isn’t especially talented at school; he mainly keeps his head down and tries to get through the day.

All these are great things to see in an autistic protagonist, and I liked seeing them. Unfortunately, the book kept making strange and inconsistent choices in how it portrayed them.

I feel really bad critiquing an #ownvoices author’s portrayal of autism, which makes this critique hard to write. It’s possible I’m missing something huge. But I’m just going to soldier on and show some examples of what I’m talking about.

In the beginning of the novel, Mouse is so painfully over-sensitive that he literally never looks at his classmates’ faces, recognizing them instead (in a cute touch) by their shoes. When he is pressed to look a classmate in the eye, the cascade of information there sends him straight into panic:

Ginnie crouches down in front of him. She lifts his bangs to look under and he can’t help it, he can’t close his eyes fast enough. He imagines it’s like being electrocuted; he sees it all in under a second, hears it like a building wall of static in his mind. He sees a dubious look on the surface of the most shining, blinding green eyes; he sees that she’s curious, interested; beyond that, she’s a little worried about breaking social taboos but a little excited by the prospect of it; he sees that she’s often a little bored and seeking a thrill but that she’s generally harmless to herself and others; that she’s the kind of person who smiles a lot but cries easily and that she desperately, desperately wishes life were simple enough to be solved with single, grand gestures rather than the day-in-day-out course corrections that constitute the waking world; and beneath it all he sees something more—an intricate reweaving of times and places, of ordinary days and extraordinary ones, the sadness of the mundane, and a crystalline, blinding hope she places in the new. And below even that he sees something bigger, darker, deeper—
Mouse recoils violently, nearly dropping what’s left of his lunch.

This is a bit of an exaggerated description, but it’s meant to be; it will later be revealed that Mouse is not just autistically sensitive but “a sensitive” in a magic sense. (As a side note, I know a lot of quite hyper-empathic autistic people. The part that I find unrealistic is not the amount of information, per se, but rather the fact that Mouse is able to process the information fast enough to consciously identify what all those different parts of it are before he recoils.)

Also, the description of Mouse’s shutdown immediately following this is just really good:

Even Mouse knows it was the wrong reaction. Everything’s gone quiet and they’re looking at him. The guitar has stopped. Mouse has his knees up to his nose and he can tell, even with his eyes closed tight, that they all have concerned looks. But he can’t move, can’t look. His stomach is a knot twisted to its snapping point, his heart is beating in his throat, he wants to throw up. Like a turtle curled up in its shell, he can’t risk extending his legs even to run away. He imagines for a moment the impossibility of ever moving again, of being frozen like this forever; but he doesn’t have to imagine, only remember the years of small rooms and soft voices, the gradual peeling open of a tulip flower cut too soon for the table.

As soon as the plot really gets going, though, Mouse seems to become less and less impaired for no discernible reason. We meet one magical character who is able to put up shields that make it more comfortable for Mouse to look at him; and we see Mouse practicing basic magical skills, like moving energy around to boil water. But we don’t see him practicing how to manage the onslaught of information that he sees when he looks at anything. Yet, the depictions of this onslaught of information, which were so effectively done at the beginning of the book, seem to just fade away as if the author forgot about them. First he’s no longer identifying anybody by their shoes. Then he is able, carefully, to look his love interest in the eye. Then all of a sudden we are reading scenes like this one:

The rest of the day passes in montage, and the following night, and the rest of the week. Sitting at his desk, exchanging glances with Bliss or Anna in the batcave, zoning out during dinner. He tosses and turns at night, wondering when the next attack will come.

Suddenly eye contact is a totally fine thing that we’re doing all the time, and I really do feel like I missed something.

We see some flash-forwards (this book has a couple of cool, timey-wimey twists) to an older Mouse in a dystopian world, who has somehow become calm and strong and commanding. He still doesn’t talk, but all the other impairments seem to have either gone away, or become un-noticed by the people around him. It’s hard to say, since nothing in those flash-forwards is actually from Mouse’s point of view.

We also have the problem that Mouse is a reincarnation of Simon Magus – or, not a reincarnation exactly, but a fragment of Magus’s consciousness that was passed forward in time. But the original Simon Magus wasn’t autistic, and has no problem talking. In emergencies, Mouse finds himself instinctively drawing on the original Simon Magus – which means he suddenly becomes a confident person who can conveniently talk and shout out verbal spell incantations at these emergency moments, including in the book’s climactic scene. This is a somewhat frustrating choice to me; I would much rather have seen Mouse figuring out ways to deal with magical emergencies without speaking.

Furthermore, since the original Simon Magus wasn’t autistic, Mouse is convinced that there must be a reason that he is autistic in his current life. Toward the end of the book, the reason is revealed:

Simon, that is, Simon Magus, he was a master strategist, he could see the way everything was going to go and planned ahead every time. But this time he couldn’t make the equations work—there wasn’t enough data. So he made Mouse to be the opposite of him—he can’t see, but he can feel. He can sense a pattern in the chaos and act right away. His intuition is exactly the opposite kind of knowledge to Simon’s.

Which, you know, sure – and I like the connection between autistic patterns thinking and magical intuition. Except I’m not sure how “he can act right away” jibes with his shutting down in the face of information earlier in the book. And the whole thing feels awfully close to two really problematic tropes – one being the person who seems to be disabled but it’s actually just magic, and the other being the autistic person whose character development consists of becoming less autistic as the story goes on.

This is all sort of nitpicky stuff; at the end of the day, we are still looking at an #ownvoices autistic hero who gets to be at the center of his own story, who has wonderful friends, family, and allies, and who saves the world. It’s well-written on a craft level, and it deals with its subject matter respectfully. If you’re not too bothered by the kinds of complaints I’m making here, and you’re up for a fun urban fantasy romp with medieval mages and mind-bending twists, then “Mouse” is for you. For me, it didn’t all quite work; but I’ll certainly be looking out for more from this author.

The Verdict: YMMV

Ethics Statement: I think I have vaguely interacted with Richard Ford Burley on Twitter once or twice, but that’s all. I read his book by reading an e-copy that the publisher emailed to me in hopes of a review. All opinions expressed here are my own.

This book was chosen by my Patreon backers. If these reviews are valuable to you, consider becoming a backer; for as little as $1, you can help choose the next autistic book.

For a list of past/future/possible Autistic Book Party books, click here.

Faves from 2017, part 3: Stories and poems!

Here’s the part of my faves list that IS all award-eligible (as far as I know; I may have messed something up somewhere).

Hugo and Nebula nominations aren’t open yet, and by the time they are, I’ll have read even more stuff from 2017 thanks to other people’s rec lists and whatever else happens across my desk. But if I was nominating for all the awards tonight, here’s what I’d choose:

Novelettes

Short Stories

Honorable mentions:

Long Poetry

Honorable mention:

Short Poetry

Honorable mentions:

Other Categories

I don’t feel like I watch enough movies to vote for a Best Dramatic Presentation, but I adored The Last Jedi, and I thought Wonder Woman and Thor: Ragnarok were pretty frickin’ awesome, too. I’ve heard really good things about quite a few of 2017’s other movies. It’s going to be a tough category this year.

I’ll be tempted to nominate Charles Payseur for Best Fan Writer. I do not know how that guy eats or sleeps with the number of thoughtful and enthusiastic short fiction reviews he puts out. Bogi Takács is another tireless and intelligent reviewer who’s eligible in this category.

Uncanny and Strange Horizons have both put out huge amounts of really solid work this year, and I hope to see them both on the Best Semiprozine ballot.

Faves from 2017, part 2: Novellas!

Like the previous faves post, this isn’t going to be limited to works published in 2017. Just ones that I read in 2017 and adored.

Andi C. Buchanan, “This Other World.” Full review here.

T. Kingfisher, “Summer in Orcus.” I love Ursula Vernon / T. Kingfisher’s short work, but hadn’t read a whole book of it before. This one was wonderful; she certainly didn’t seem to have trouble expanding her trademark wit, invention, and common-sense trope subversions to full length. When I realized just why this particular protagonist was the chosen one, I might have cried.

Rose Lemberg, “A Portrait of the Desert in Personages of Power.” Full review here.

Bogi Takács, “Iwunen Interstellar Investigations, Prologue Season: Glory as Birthright.” Full review here.

Isabel Yap, “Hurricane Heels.” I walked into this expecting a fluffy bit of Sailor Moon nostalgia, but to call it that would be to vastly underestimate what the author is up to. It’s written from a place of love for magical girl anime tropes, but it’s also a huge deconstruction of those tropes, as well as a celebration of fierce girls with fiercer friendships, and of surviving through trauma. Aiko is my favorite. I cried at this one, too.

MONSTERS IN MY MIND: story notes, part 20, 23, 30, 37, and 47

20. Taylan

She expected me to dance with her. Innocently, like we had when we were two little girls in the fourth grade.

“Taylan” is a micro-story – under 200 words – that I wrote as an experiment, for a microfiction magazine called Leodegraunce. The theme of the issue was “Elegance”. I managed to write a quasi-love triangle (one of the loves being, probably, platonic) in that length and make it work, and Leodegraunce bought it.

This led to a short burst of wanting to write ALL OF THE MICROFICTION, as you can see below.

23. Feasting Alone

The chewing, smacking sounds. The smell. Someone had taken pity on the man and given him a program to conjure up the virtual ghost of food. He squatted on the floor, guzzling obscenities: salt pork, chocolate, rigatoni, grapes.

“Feasting Alone” was written for the Leodegraunce theme, “Seven Deadly Sins”. I noticed that, out of the seven, people didn’t usually have much to say about Gluttony, and that when they did, it was usually facile fat-shaming. Or, occasionally, a critique of modern food corporations; but that wasn’t where I wanted to go with the story, either. I wanted to write about food, and an excess of food, and why characters might be disturbed by this, in a way that had nothing to do with anybody’s body shape or supposed health.

I ended up with a tale of a virtual world in which people couldn’t remember the appeal of food anymore, or why anyone had bothered to put up with the chewing sounds and other potentially overloading byproducts of eating in the past. (Yes, I have been overloaded by people’s chewing sounds before. And scrapey cutlery sounds, UGGGH. It is one of the things that is usually under control when I take my meds, but it is a thing.) Despite all this, learning to live with food again might be the only way to understand a lonely and overwhelmed stranger. (Comfort eating, for me, is very much also a thing.)

It wasn’t a very good story at 200 words, and Leodegraunce didn’t want it. On the advice of a beta reader, I expended it to about 700. It worked much better at a more typical flash length, and it sold to AE: The Canadian Science Fiction Review.

30. Ribbons

When they put Marnie in solitary she started to pick at her fingertips.

At some point, Leodegraunce announced that they were making an anthology, and that I could submit up to TEN microfics! I proceeded to go wild and write so many microfics that Krista D. Ball asked if I was on drugs.

Most of the microfics were not very good, but “Ribbons” stood out from the pack. “Ribbons” was, in its first incarnation, less than 100 words long (I later expanded it to exactly 100) and TERRIFYING.

It didn’t sell, either to Leodegraunce or other venues (and the anthology ended up folding before it was printed), but Krista still says it’s the scariest thing she’s ever read, and whenever I look at it now, I smile and think of her.

37. Space Pops

Once they notice real limitlessness, all they can do is grow to match it.

“Space Pops” was written, not for Leodegraunce, but for the AE Micro 2012 contest, which happily published it. It features deep space and people cheerfully exploding. I think it is tied with “Ribbons” for my favorite microfic, but the tone is very different.

47. The Wives of Miu Fum

We found a cave in the side of the mountain and built Miu Fum a death-house as large and well-furnished as any living man’s.

The only other one from the large batch of Leodegraunce-inspired microfiction that I still like. “The Wives of Miu Fum” is the tale of a funeral. I ran out of markets for it, so I published it on my Livejournal in 2013 as an experiment.

Pro tip: don’t ever publish work you care about on Livejournal (or Dreamwidth, or WordPress, or whatever). You will feverishly wonder for the rest of your days if it is Terrible, if No One Likes It, if you are a Terrible Presumptuous Author publishing Bullshit in your journal and expecting people to care about it, or if anyone even read it at all. Send things to editors and get paid, and you might still wonder those things, but at least you’ll have money and one person’s approval. Oh well. It was an experiment and I learned things.

I’m pretty sure I put this one in the collection out of sheer cussedness. Enjoy!

MONSTERS IN MY MIND is available for purchase on AmazonKobo, Indigo,  Barnes and Noble, and in Autonomous Press’s Shopify store.

Faves from 2017, part 1: Books!

I suck at reading books in the year they come out, so although a couple of books on this list are award-eligible, this isn’t an award recommendation post. This is just a list of the speculative book-length works I read in 2017 and absolutely loved.

Lois McMaster Bujold, “Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen.” Some of my queer friends had problems with this book, so YMMV, but I was just like: ANOTHER CORDELIA BOOK THANK YOU! Older protagonists having a proper, Bujold-style romance! CANON POLYAMORY ASTFGHJKKL and bisexual characters getting to be bisexual (even if only in flashbacks, sigh). The whole thing was (to me) a delight.

Gemma Files, “Experimental Film.” Full review here.

N.K. Jemisin, “The Killing Moon.” Gorgeous, sensuous, and menacing, like everything I’ve seen N.K. Jemisin do. Has a very cool magic system that I want to see more of. Deals with some potentially uncomfortable topics (two of the POV characters are basically assassins who are taught that what they do is “merciful”) in a nuanced and multifaceted way that stays true to the characters above all. Fortunately, there is another one in the series after this one!

Yoon Ha Lee, “Ninefox Gambit.” I… might be doing a full review of this one later. Watch this space.

Rose Lemberg, “Marginalia to Stone Bird.” Full review here.

A. Merc Rustad, “So You Want to Be a Robot and Other Stories.” Full review here.

Catherynne M. Valente, “Radiance.” I wasn’t sure at first if the old-timey silent film themes would win me over, but I love the glamour, I love the metafiction and found-footage structure, I love the retro planets, I love the callowhales and their timey-wimey secrets, I just love everything about this.

MONSTERS IN MY MIND: story notes, part 18 and 19

18. The Dragon-Ship

Half-alive, prow cruelly pointed, undulant through the slow currents of spacetime: these were the ships that slipped like sea-snakes into galaxies no chemical thruster could reach.

A science fiction prose poem, never before published. This one is what it says on the can.

19. The Screech Owl Also Shall Rest There

Your love is mine, even if you don’t know it yet. Your life is mine. And, darling, new darling, I take what is mine.

This story was my first collaboration with my friend Jacqueline Flay. We’ve since collaborated on two other stories – one that is set to come out in Persistent Visions next year, and another that is still out on submission.

The nice thing about working with Jacqueline is that she nudges me to take more risks, and to explore territory I wouldn’t necessarily have built a story around on my own. “Screech Owl” is a sexy, kinky, violent, angry story about a Neolithic vampire and her loyal pack of humans. The gradual development of cities poses problems for her and her way of life. How do you cope with a change so massive, when it happens so slowly that a mortal might not notice it happening?

I did some research for this one, but probably less than the topic deserves. The initial impulse to write a Neolithic story came from a chapter of Elizabeth Wayland Barber’s “Women’s Work: The First 20,000 Years,” which I read on a whim. The temple that features prominently in the story is inspired by this one.

“The Screech Owl Also Shall Rest There” was intended for a small-press anthology about vampires and tattoos, but Jacqueline and I had a contractual dispute with that publisher and the story was dropped. (In retrospect, I… still think it wasn’t a good contract, but I could have handled the situation much more tactfully than I did.) It eventually made its way into a different anthology by an equally small press, “The Death God’s Chosen”.

There are no owls in the story; the title is an obscure Bible reference that probably makes sense only to me.

Song Pairing: Jacqueline says the theme song for this one is In This Moment’s “Bloody Creature Poster Girl”. Who am I to disagree with Jacqueline?

MONSTERS IN MY MIND is available for purchase on AmazonKobo, Indigo,  Barnes and Noble, and in Autonomous Press’s Shopify store.