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, dammit.

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

Autistic Book Party, Episode 50 and a half: Short Story Smorgasbord

Corinne Duyvis, “Rule of Threes” (Crossed Genres, 2011)

[Autistic author] Duyvis’s most popular work revolves around the idea of apocalypses – who is and isn’t left behind in one, and how we can reimagine our survival strategies so as not to sacrifice each other. This story, published several years before any of Duyvis’s novels, deals with the same theme, but from the reverse perspective. It’s a horror story about a woman who is determined to make difficult sacrifices when desert creatures overrun her town, and who arguably goes too far. An interesting early effort which pulls tensely along to an ending that feels both awful and inevitable. [Recommended-2]


Lesley L. Smith, “The Number Two Rule” (Daily Science Fiction, October 2012)

[Autistic author] A time traveler stranded in the past is expected to kill herself to avoid accidentally changing the timeline, but she can’t quite bring herself to do it. It’s very interesting to me that the traveler in this story is asked if she has Asperger’s. She doesn’t, but her frantic efforts not to ever interact with anyone, however innocently, strike me as a lovely and sad metaphor for the social anxiety of some depressed autistic people. On the other hand, the relentless focus on suicide will make this a tough read and too close to home for many. [YMMV]


A.C. Buchanan, “MAKET, or, Alternative Endings for Ivan Ivanovich” (Unsung Stories, October 2016)

[Autistic author] As part of a test flight during the Soviet space program, a mannequin is launched into space. Buchanan imagines fanciful scenarios that might have happened to the mannequin after its voyage. There is no autism in this story, but it is a wonderful theme to explore from an implicitly autistic perspective. The story resonates partly because of the common autistic tendency towards animism and extending empathy in unusual directions. But its poignance comes from the equally common autistic tendency to be seen as inhuman, as not quite a person, by the NT world, and to long for the possibility of acceptance – or escape. [Recommended-2]


Bogi Tak√°cs, “A Superordinate Set of Principles” (Ride the Star Wind, October 2017)

[Autistic author] This is more or less an outright parody of Lovecraftian horror, set in the Eren universe. Autistic people don’t appear, at least not explicitly. What does appear is a surprisingly sympathetic race of betentacled, biotech-happy, hive-mind-y aliens, who think of math exclusively in terms of fractals and other organic shapes. They are horrified when they encounter a group of humans brandishing sinister TRIANGLES and RECTANGLES. Anybody who likes math, and who rolls their eyes whenever Lovecraft starts going on about the horrors of “non-Euclidean” shapes, will probably fall over giggling at this story. It is great. [Recommended-2]


Yoon Ha Lee, “Obscura” (Strange Horizons, January 2018)

[Autistic author] Eerie and uncharacteristically understated, this is an urban fantasy about a teenage girl and a mysterious stranger with a magical camera. Although the narrative seems simple, there’s a lot to unpack under the surface, about absences and disconnections, and about seeing things as they really are. [Recommended-2]


A. Merc Rustad, “The Sweetness of Honey and Rot” (Beneath Ceaseless Skies, June 2018)

[Autistic author] A super-creepy fantasy with evil sloths and even eviller sentient plants. Also bees. Merc pulls off their usual trick of coaxing a resolutely hopeful ending out of an intensely grim beginning, middle, and general premise. You will never want to eat soup again, though. [Recommended-2]


Sunyi Dean, “John Kills Jenny” (Sub-Q, August 2018)

[Autistic author] Sunyi Dean is a new discovery for me in this issue. She has several stories out, all from 2018, which were all emotionally charged, compactly effective delights. “John Kills Jenny” is a dark and thought-provoking interactive story about a convicted murderer playing a “rehabilitation game.” But what does it mean to be rehabilitated? Is there any choice in any game that can erase the effects of the past? This one will make you uncomfortable, but in a good way. [Recommended-2]


Rose Lemberg, “The Fear Tree” (Sycorax Journal, Issue One, November 2018)

[Autistic author] A poem about immigration, living in a world that is actively hostile, fear, and strength. I really like the way the narrator’s fear is honored in this story. Not simply an unwanted emotion, but a toweringly strong instinct for survival and protection in a world that doesn’t especially want for the narrator to have survived. [Recommended-2]


Ruthanna Emrys, “The Word of Flesh and Soul” (, November 2018)

A lovely, Lovecraftian tale about scholars of an ancient language that transforms those who speak it. Polymede is the first woman to be accepted as a scholar of this topic, and her lover Erishti secretly studies it too, despite being deemed ineligible. Erishti is autistic, and “madmen” – including autistic people – are not considered capable of perceiving the language clearly. Nevertheless, Polymede and Erishti have made a discovery that could overturn some old assumptions in their field. I love the way Erishti is written in this one: a non-neurotypical scholar whose differences are evident and whose intelligence and insight are strong, without falling into exaggeration or stereotype on either point. I especially love the matter-of-fact affection between her and Polymede.

My very, very favorite exchange is this one:

“Rallis wanted to be like his advisor, and for his students to want to be like him.”

Brain still fuzzy, I say, “You must be used to that, huh? People trying to get you to think like them.”

“People do that to each other all the time. I just know it’s impossible.”

This story also functions as a biting critique of many of the traditions of academia; readers who are interested in that angle might try reading it alongside Rose Lemberg’s “The Shape Of Us, Translucent To Your Eye.” [Recommended-1]

INCOMING! – Read the first three chapters of THE OUTSIDE for free!

Are you excited for THE OUTSIDE? Are you impatient to start reading? Then I have good news, because Angry Robot just released its INCOMING! sampler with free previews of all its upcoming 2019 novels, including mine!

INCOMING! contains the first three chapters of THE OUTSIDE, in which you’ll meet Yasira – my #ownvoices autistic protagonist – her adorable girlfriend Tiv, the space station where she is working, a priest conducting a service in honor of the AI gods, some harrowing space station malfunctions, and two rather sinister angels.

This is the first time anywhere that these chapters have been available to read. I am SO PUMPED to be able to share them with you now!

INCOMING! also contains free previews of Wesley Chu’s alien sci-fi THE FALL OF IO; Darius Hinks’ epic fantasy THE INGENIOUS; Dan Moren’s galactic spy thriller THE BAYERN AGENDA; Kameron Hurley’s military sci-fi THE LIGHT BRIGADE; and Anna Kashina’s epic fantasy SHADOWBLADE. Go get ’em!