Cool Story, Bro: Things I Loved Reading In November and December

It’s been that time of year, where people are frantically posting lists of everything they wrote in 2018, and everybody who has work coming out in December cries because the lists start in November and 2018 isn’t over yet,┬ádammit.

For me, my best discoveries in November came from reading back over the year’s worth of some of my favorite publications, and some intriguing things I’d bookmarked early in the year, but hadn’t gone thoroughly over yet.

Here are four late-year recommendations from me – three of which are poems.

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Stefanie Elrick, “Prism” (Apex Magazine, Issue 111, August)

This story is absolutely mesmerizing. Hypnotic and hallucinogenic, tinged with the intensity of both magic and love. The narration manages to evoke some of the best aspects of cosmic horror without feeling anything like Lovecraft at all; it straddles that delicious line of coherence where it’s not clear for much of the story if the narrator is in touch with reality or not, but where their motivation is drawn in such sharp bright lines that you’re rooting for them either way. This author is new to me, and I’ll definitely be looking up more from her.

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Mary Soon Lee, “How to Betray Sagittarius A*” (Strange Horizons fund drive special)

I really like the alternative take on black holes here – instead of personifying the hole itself, Lee focuses instead on the intense radio signals emitted by Sagittarius A*, viewing them as a scream and a testimony to danger which the rest of the universe may or may not bother to believe. There is no sexual violence here, but it is certainly an appropriate astronomy poem for the #MeToo era.

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R. Mac Jones, “The Service Agreement Does Not Cover What Happens During Sleep” (Strange Horizons, November 5)

A poem about a couple who have their bodies modified to incorporate birdlike traits – not only physical traits like birds and feathers, but also flocking instincts. I don’t think that this kind of tight, instinctive synchronization is what I would want in my own close relationships, but I love the way it is described.

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Beth Cato, “smile” (Uncanny, Issue Twenty-Five)

A tiny little revenge fantasy about men who tell strange women they should smile more. Apparently I am juuuust mean enough, as a person, to enjoy things like this.