lists · Short fiction

Pride Recommendations: Short Fiction

I recently said, in my post about unpopular opinions, that I think short fiction doesn’t get half the appreciation it deserves. So not why make a post about my favorite queer short fiction like the one I did for graphic novels?


Novellas

  • the Tensorate series by JY Yang is my favorite novella series. It follows the rise of a revolution and the conflict between magic and technology in an Asian-inspired world, and part of the reason it’s one of my favorites is exactly the worldbuilding. This world’s concept of gender is completely different from our own, this series has multiple characters that we would consider to be trans, and there’s so much casual queerness.
  • I very recently read an ARC of This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar & Max Gladstone, and… while I thought it got somewhat pretentious at times, its premise is “epistolary f/f enemies to lovers with time travel” and the story itself is even better than it sounds. I loved the way this ended so much that words wouldn’t do it justice. A love born during war is a love that endures so much, and… just read this, ok?
  • If you’re here, you’ve probably already heard of the Wayward Children series by Seanan McGuire, and you might also already know that I love it – and one of the things I love about it is the casual queerness (book one has an asexual protagonist, book two follows a girl who likes girls, and there’s a trans side character). Another reason this series means a lot to me is how it talks about being lost, about growing up feeling like you are in the wrong place, and it’s… bittersweet, overall.
  • One of my favorite f/f romances is Once Ghosted, Twice Shy by Alyssa Cole, a story about a second-chance romance between two black women set in New York. The atmosphere was everything I could have wanted and more. It’s tied to the Reluctant Royals series, which are m/f royalty romance novels with black women as protagonists,  but you don’t need to have read the novels to understand this.

Short Stories and Novelettes

All the ones that are free to read online are linked.

I

Paranormal. While finding queer vampires in traditionally published novels and novellas is difficult, finding them in short stories is surprisingly easy, probably because people are willing to take more risks – and publish stories in a “dead” trend (sigh) – with short stories.

  • 26849365Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers by Alyssa Wong: an f/f/f love triangle in which two out of the three characters are vampire-like creatures that eat bad thoughts, all three women are Asian, and the story is about toxic relationships and hunger and I loved it so much. (I’m glad that for once I agree with the Nebula awards about which story deserved to win.)
  • Small Changes Over Long Periods of Time by K.M. Szpara: horny trans vampires. Yes, I really do think it’s one of the best stories I’ve ever read, with the parallels it drew between transition and vampirism.
  • Sucks (To Be You) by Katharine Duckett: a succubus becomes obsessed with a woman instead of the other way around, because, as she discovers, being a succubus in the age of social media is complicated. Anyway: the voice in this story. It has so much energy.
II

Dark fantasy, because you can never read enough weird, bloodthirsty and otherwise disturbing short stories.

  • 26837046The Lily and the Horn by Catherynne M. Valente: queer women who are poisoners! Beautiful writing! The most mouth-watering descriptions of poisoned food you will ever read! And war, you should know, is a dinner party.
  • I Built this City For You by Cassandra Khaw: Hello. Is this your city? This story starts in the weirdest way possible, and only gets better; I love everything about it. Stories about cities and people’s relationships with them, stories about toxic relationships, even f/f ones, stories about this specific kind of speculative elements – I will never stop loving them, and the writing got under my skin.
  • Before She Was Bloody by Tessa Gratton in Three Sides of a Heart: f/f/m polyamory, body doubles, court intrigue, a worldbuilding more interesting and complex than half the fantasy novels I read, and an unforgettable atmosphere (the descriptions!!). One of my favorites.
  • Super-Luminous Spiral by Cameron Van Sant: if you’ve ever wondered how hallucinating about literary fiction and the concept of the “muse” but with a magical trans character involved would feel like, well… this story exists.
III

Quiet, bittersweet and/or sad stories, because quiet stories are underrated – and because, about the sad ones, I might not be able to read most sad queer novels, but I love sad queer short stories (and will always believe in the right of queer creators to write what they want). The stories not being long 300+ pages makes all the difference.

  • 35395539All the Time We’ve Left to Spend by Alyssa Wong: the fact that this one wasn’t nominated for either a Hugo or a Nebula is a sign that things are going wrong. Anyway, this is about a Japanese girl visiting a hotel where the memories of dead members of a pop band are preserved, and it’s… queer and haunting.
  • Waiting on a Bright Moon by JY Yang: this needs trigger warnings for being set in a homophobic world and for having a torture scene (not of a character who, as far as we know, is queer). It’s also one of my favorite short stories, about a forbidden f/f romance and magical songs in space. JY Yang’s descriptions are some of the best things I have ever read.
  • The Imitation Sea by Lora Gray: this is about grief and the aftermath of a suicide and it deals with homophobic religious abuse, so be careful. It’s also one of the most atmospheric and beautiful things I’ve ever read. I don’t know how I had not heard of this author before.
  • The Shadow Postulates by Yoon Ha Lee in Conservation of Shadows: this isn’t a sad story, just a quiet one, one that blends magic and mathematics, and the main character is a lesbian learning sword-dancing (sword lesbian!!). The worldbuilding in this one is everything to me (terrifying magical shadows tied to math? an university in which they study said math?) and I would read a whole book set there.
IV

F/F. So far, I have talked about queer stories I wouldn’t really classify as love stories, as some of these were about toxic relationships and death or didn’t have a relationship in them at all. But here are my favorite f/f stories with a happy ending!

  • 43064429If at First You Don’t Succeed, Try, Try Again by Zen Cho: an imugi trying to became a dragon keeps failing and meets a woman in the process! Funny, romantic, and very gay.
  • The End of Love by Nina LaCour in Summer Days and Summer Nights: on the surface, this is a cute, happy story about a girl finding love after she stopped believing in it (because her parents divorced). Not on the surface, this is the first thing with f/f content I had ever read and it will always mean a lot to me.
  • Death and the Maiden by Tara Sim in Color Outside the Lines: an f/f retelling of Hades and Persephone with an Indian main character! The atmosphere has a Star-Touched Queen feeling but gay and that was everything I didn’t know I wanted.
V

M/M stories that don’t fit into the previous categories, relatively happy:

  • ExtracurricularActivitiesExtracurricular Activities by Yoon Ha Lee: this is technically tied to Ninefox Gambit, but as it’s set 300+ years before the trilogy, and as I read it before the book, I don’t think it’s an issue. It’s a story about a bisexual secret agent going on a mission in a neighboring space democracy (all the while flirting with a man he really shouldn’t be flirting with!) and it’s really fun.
  • Court of Birth, Court of Strength by Aliette de Bodard: this is also tied to the series Dominion of the Fallen, but again, it can be read without knowing anything about it and it’s set long before it. It’s about gay fallen angels and political intrigue, and the romance is… really well-written for something this short.
  • Unbound by Naomi Salman in Twisted Romance: contemporary romance about a mechanic and a mysterious neighbor, who is rumored of working in a sex club. It involves bondage and it’s one of my favorite short romances.

Do you have any queer short fiction recommendations? Have you read any of these?

Adult · Book review · contemporary · historical fiction · Short fiction

Reviews: Two M/M Adult Books + Two Non-Binary Graphic Novels

After making a post with two short reviews of F/F YA books I had read recently, today I’m making one for two M/M adult ones (a novella with a trans main character and a historical fiction book with steampunk aspects) and two graphic novels with non-binary main characters.


Coffee Boy by Austin Chant

32146161Coffee Boy is a new adult romance novella following Kieran, a young trans intern who gets a crush on his supervisor Seth, who has himself a crush on their boss.

I don’t have a lot to say about this one, because it’s very short, but I can say that the romance was adorable (novellas are the best length for romance, it’s the truth), and that it’s so refreshing to read a contemporary romance with trans representation in which there is no outing anywhere in the book. There is some misgendering, because the main character doesn’t always pass, and there are some scenes about well-meaning but condescending and sometimes outright clueless “allies” that were… very awkward and very real, at the same time – but, overall, this is a happy story.

Anyway, if “younger person who can’t keep his mouth shut” and “older, distinguished grump who is actually secretly a mess” is your kind of thing, I really recommend it! And it’s for sure a short, cute romantic read perfect for Pride month.

My rating: ★★★★½


The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley

22929563What happens when you care about the characters a lot but the writing meanders so much that you almost end up DNFing a book? You end up skimming. Which is why I didn’t enjoy The Watchmaker of Filigree Street as much as I could have.

It was as if the author felt the need to describe every single thing. Which, sometimes, was interesting, as I love details – especially when it came to the steampunk aspects, and the atmosphere was perfect – but for the most part, wasn’t. There were whole scenes that could have easily been cut, or maybe I just missed their significance because at that point I was so bored that I was skipping paragraphs. That’s possible. It’s just… how can one put together such a compelling premise, featuring historical gay people, steampunk technology, clairvoyance and bombings and make a boring story out of it? I don’t know. This book managed, and its characters weren’t even that bland.

Or – Nathaniel could have won the “blandest man of the year” award, but Grace wasn’t bland at all, if unlikable, and Mori was… unlike every character I had ever read about before, in a good way. The romance was also very sweet, and there was a mechanical octopus, and the book said so many interesting things about chances vs. choices, but this book was still so boring that nothing could save it – not even that ending, the best possible ending, or the fact that I knew it was going to be slow beforehand.

One more thing: I feel iffy about some things in here – it’s not my place to talk about how the anti-Asian racism is portrayed, but know that, if you’re interested in reading this book, there’s a lot of it in here (and, just like the misogyny in this book – which is also what you would expect from English people of the time, but still, ehh – not all of it is explicitly challenged).

My rating: ★★★


The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang

34506912I wouldn’t have thought the day people in my country could walk into a bookstore and find a YA book with a non-binary main character on the shelves was going to be anytime soon, and I’m so glad to know that I was wrong.
I knew that book was probably going to be translated, seeing how the popular Italian YA books usually are. This one was, and I can’t even complain: it’s a graphic novel with a happy ending, one that doesn’t make a mess with the character’s pronouns, and overall a cute read.

It means a lot.

I’ve seen a few reviews say that we shouldn’t call this cute, or fluffy, because the main character gets outed. And I know. But this had such a light tone overall, and the main character is accepted by the people around him (the prince is genderfluid and both he/him and she/her pronouns are used during the story), including his family, so that by the end this story felt more like a reassurance to me – even if bad things could happen to you, you can still have a happy ending.

What I’m more annoyed by is the fact that books with this exact storyline (this one, Simon vs., and more recently Red, White and Royal Blue) or books that I really did found to be about queer pain (The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugoare the ones that get the most popularity and then are almost the only ones that could even get a chance of being translated, so that the message becomes more “bad things will happen to you”. But you know, we don’t really get to be picky about representation here.
[This is why, by the way, I’m so glad that Leah on the Offbeat exists: no outing or queer pain in that one, and it got translated.]

Anyway. This is a story about a dressmaker with big dreams and a prince who likes to wear dresses, with an f/non-binary romance, set in an alt-history version of Paris. The art is very cute, and while it isn’t exactly my thing – I think I just prefer more realistic stlyes? – I still had fun with this.

My rating: ★★★★


The Tea Dragon Festival by Katie O’Neill

42369064The Tea Dragon Festival is a companion prequel to the graphic novel The Tea Dragon Society, a cute fantasy graphic novel I liked but didn’t love. This installment convinced me a lot more. It features both old and new characters and just as many adorable dragons. The art is gorgeous, as always, but this time I liked both the characters and the setting more (there were fungi and beautiful woods! I loved that a lot.)

The story follows a non-binary main character who loves gathering food from the forest, and a confused dragon who woke up after eighty years of sleep. The story was cute, but what made it truly stand out was how it normalized queerness and sign language. Also, it’s so refreshing to read about a world in which people of many different ethnicities coexist and the world doesn’t always default to western customs – see which kinds of food was drawn and sometimes the eating utensils, for example.

Another thing I really appreciated was that this graphic novel said that just because something is easy for you, it doesn’t mean it has no value. More than anything, this is a story about community, and finding your own place in it, and I thought it was wonderful.

The only thing I didn’t love was the part at the end that attempted to explain dragon taxonomy, made a mess in which it mixed up species and subspecies, and capitalized specific epithets. I kind of wish it hadn’t been there at all, because I care about that sort of thing.

My rating: ★★★½


Have you read or want to read any of these?

Adult · Book review · Short fiction

Reviews: 2019 Novellas From Tor.com

Today, I’m reviewing three Tor.com novellas that came out this year, In an Absent Dream by Seanan McGuire, Silver in the Wood by Emily Tesh and Her Silhouette, Drawn in Water by Vylar Kaftan.


38244358In an Absent Dream is a cautionary tale about the dangers and consequences of indecision. You go into it knowing – or at least strongly suspecting – what’s going to happen, and that doesn’t make it any less heartbreaking or impactful, because its tragic nature doesn’t live in a twist or in a revelation, but in how easily avoidable on a superficial level and completely inevitable deep down its ending felt.

This is a story about being caught between two worlds, about the inherent unfairness of having to choose paired with how it would be unfair to the people around you not to – because you can’t live in two worlds at the same time.

I think every reader can relate to Lundy’s struggle on some level. I think most of us have dreamed, at some point or another, to be able to escape to a magical world. After all, it’s what this series is about. It’s easy, and this book acknowledges that, to think that choosing one world over another would be painless when one isn’t actually confronted with that choice.
Lundy, unlike most people, is given that choice – and in a modern culture that values individual choices as the pillar of freedom, it’s really interesting and chilling to see how having to choose tears her apart.
I feel like we often overlook the role and power of communities even when we talk about agency and how a character’s choices should be the ones to drive the story, so this book is, if anything, a necessary reminder.

This novella also made me think about fairness, about whether something like that can ever really exist. The world of the Goblin Market is fair, supposedly – but is it really? It certainly highlighted a lot of flaws in our own, but it’s still not a place I would ever want to be in. I think most humans need some unfairness to exist and not be stifled by rules, but unfairness is a bad thing (now I’m thinking about the intermediate disturbance hypothesis in ecology and maybe humanity needs something like that to thrive too? But still, where would be the balance in that).
I don’t know. I’m not sure the way this book would want me to be. But it made me think about many things in a really short time, and I appreciate that a lot.

On a different level, I loved this book for the way it made the Goblin Market come to life. I felt like I could taste the pies and climb the trees along with Moon and Lundy, and I could see the archivist’s shack. This is even more remarkable considering that I usually struggle with this aspect while listening to audiobooks, but not this time. Cynthia Hopkins’ narration was amazing, and I might even say that Seanan McGuire’s writing works better when narrated, as it relies heavily on telling instead of showing. It slows down the story when you’re reading, but it’s actually a strength when the story is being read to you, and that was really interesting to experience.

My rating: ★★★★


43459657Silver in the Wood reads like a forest fairytale. It could be seen like a loose m/m retelling of the Green Man myths, so it’s fitting that this is a story about rebirth and reawakening, not only of nature after spring but of people after toxic relationships.

It’s a quiet, slow story, and if at first I thought that the pacing was odd – things happen too quickly, but the book is still slow? – I realized that in a way it was a reflection of how the main character, who is part of the wood, experienced time himself.

This is also one of the best plant magic stories I’ve ever read. Not only it’s about a vaguely creepy wood, it actually talks about which trees there are in detail – elms, oaks, and even a mention of gorse (I love gorse) – and there are scenes in which roots and vines are weapons.

What didn’t work for me as much was the romance, as this is barely longer than 100 pages and the characters interact for only half of them; I thought it was cute, but I didn’t feel it.

At times it reminded me of Witchmark for the sweet romance between a human and a paranormal creature, at times it reminded me of Strange Grace for the isolated town in the wood and the terrible things that lurk in it, and I’d definitely recommend it to everyone who liked those books.

My rating: ★★★★


40939044Her Silhouette, Drawn in Water is a mind-bending and very gay futuristic sci-fi novella whose main character is a queer latinx woman.

At first, I thought this was going to be a cave horror story about an f/f/f love triangle, which I loved as a concept, but this book turned out to be something entirely different, which was… both the story’s main strength and weakness.

I love being surprised by things that are properly foreshadowed, but when the foreshadowing makes you feel like the main character could say “and it was all just a dream!” at any moment, it’s not really an enjoyable experience. (That’s not what happened, by the way.)
Because Her Silhouette, Drawn in Water is dreamlike in an ephemeral way: it’s not whimsical, it just feels like it could fall apart at any moment and become something else – because that’s what dreams do.

Also, this book reminded me why I dislike amnesia as a trope: I don’t know the main character when I start the book, and when she doesn’t know herself either, how am I really going to ever get to know her? (Especially in so little space.)

However, I liked this book’s message and the way it talked about trauma and inner strength. (I wish I could say more, because I thought that aspect was really well-written, but it would be full of spoilers.) Also, reading something that is really short but manages to surprise me twice anyway is always pleasant.

My rating: ★★★¼


What are your favorite Tor.com novellas? Have you read any of these?

Book review · Short fiction

Short Fiction Reviews, Again

It’s time for some more short fiction reviews!

This time I’m dividing the post into three sections: stories and poetry I’ve read on my own, stories I’ve read because of the Hugo nominations, and stories I’ve read inside an anthology.


Stories and Poetry I’ve Read On My Own

The Blanched Bones, the Tyrant Wind by Karen Osborne★★★½
A twist on the usual “girl is sacrificed to a dragon to save her village” trope. It’s very short, and while I didn’t like it quite as much as the other Karen Osborne short story I reviewed on this blog (The Dead, In Their Uncontrollable Power, which was gayer), it packs a punch. I don’t want to say more because the more would be spoilers, but I really recommend it to all of those who like fairytale-like stories that are written to uplift women and their bonds instead of using them as plot devices.

things you don’t say to city witches by Cassandra Khaw – ★★★★★
This is so short, and I love it a lot. It gives me I Built This City for You vibes, but that’s not the main reason – the main reason is that it’s fierce, that it’s a poem about loving a city so much that the people can’t ruin it for you, and do I relate to that feeling quite strongly. And very few people manage to set such an atmosphere in just eleven lines. I love it I love it I love it Cassandra Khaw did it again

A Silly Love Story by Nino Cipri – ★★★½
Cute! A love story between a neurodivergent main character and a bigender person, featuring a poltergeist. I had heard about Nino Cipri before but hadn’t read anything by them yet, and this made me want to read more. I’ll definitely try Finna when it comes out next year.

Date the Lizard! by RoAnna Sylver – ★★★★
Very short, very cute interactive fiction; I really appreciated that it’s about dating and it still gave one the option to say “I’m aromantic”.
Now I really want to know about the Chameleon Moon universe. (I will get to it, eventually. I think.)


Stories I’ve Read Because of the Hugos

Novelettes

If at First You Don’t Succeed, Try, Try Again by Zen Cho★★★★★
This was the cutest story ever. About an imugi who is trying to become a dragon and the woman who falls in love with it (also, the imugi’s human form is a woman, so… f/f!). About not seeing yourself as a failure, and about whether persistence is worth it. And there’s even a really short, very adorable sequel! I really hope this one wins the Hugo.
Also: if you end up liking this and you haven’t read Aliette de Bodard’s In the Vanishers’ Palace yet… try it!

The Thing About Ghost Stories by Naomi Kritzer – ★★★★½
A woman studying ghost stories and what they actually mean loses her mother to Alzheimers’. This is the first story by Naomi Kritzer I’ve felt strongly about, and I thought it was… wistful? And really good, even though I don’t always enjoy things that are this meta.

The Last Banquet of Temporal Confection by Tina Connolly – ★★★★★
Delicious food-based magic, poison tasting, deception, and revenge, all in only one bite. I don’t want to give too much away, but it’s the best kind of bittersweet, the one whose ending doesn’t feel weaker than the rest of the story. And food descriptions have always been my weakness, of course I loved the story about resistance through magical pastries – but I especially loved how this story talked about the links between food and memory, and that’s something I’d like to see in fiction more.

Short Stories

The Court Magician by Sarah Pinsker – no rating
On one hand, it did exactly what it meant to do, with its commentary on complicity that is… very relevant. On the other hand, I hated reading it. I won’t rate it.

The Rose MacGregor Drinking and Admiration Society by T. Kingfisher★★★½
Is this a fun, somewhat subversive story? Yes. Is it Hugo-nomination-material? I don’t know. It doesn’t do that much more than play with the “pines after faerie lover” trope by making the faerie pine after a human woman, and while I’m always here for stories about women having a fulfilling sex life, I don’t feel like this will stay with me. But it is a nice read.

The Secret Lives of the Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington by P. Djèlí Clark – ★★★★
A look at American slavery through magic and through the effect nine enslaved black people indirectly had on George Washington with their “donated” (…taken) teeth. It’s not my favorite thing Clark has written but it’s still really good – it talks about history as much as it talks about folklore, alternate universes and simply existing when you are not allowed freedom.

STET by Sarah Gailey – ★
I’m disgusted.
Listen, this is a clever story with a really original format I had never seen before – so many footnotes, and yet so short – and it talks about the inherent biases of AIs, in this case self-driving cars, which is a theme I love to see explored in fiction.
However, I loathe its (accidental? I’m not sure) message. Sometimes conservation efforts damage humans, and ecology needs to be sustainable from a human standpoint too, and balancing those things is complicated. And this story reduces all of this to something that feels like why do we care about animals so much? How much time do we spend looking at photos of endangered woodpeckers? But conservation is not about the animals that we think are cute. (By the way: read about the Bambi effect and why it can even be dangerous for the environment, get rid of that mentality, and do a favor to ecologists worldwide!)
Have you ever heard of ecological niches? About how every species has its own and you never know if causing an extinction will have barely any impact on the ecosystem or damage it for years (or even irrevocably, in some cases)? Because it’s almost never “just a woodpecker”, or “just a beetle” or “just seagrass” or things like that.
I can’t know what’s likely to happen with the extinction of that woodpecker since it seems to be a fictional species¹ (…and only ever mentioned as a common name, because binomial nomenclature is evil, right), but you don’t get to make something so complex, something that has an entire fucking branch of science behind, so two-dimensional. And you could say it gets that two-dimensional because the main character is angry – but that’s what it feels like the story it’s saying, that conservation is frivolous, its importance overrated.
And now, the “we care more about animals than we do about humans” thing has some truth to it, usually when it comes to pets (how many people would rather save a dog than a person, especially when it comes to marginalized demographics? Oh, I know) but this story acts as if we make too much a big deal about extinction. Extinction destroys ecosystems. We need ecosystems to survive.
Was dragging conservation ecology into this story without actually researching anything about why we need it (not because “we care about the poor fluffy birds” but because “we need functioning ecosystems to live”) necessary to make the story effective? No. I can think of so many other ways to set up a story about the biases of AI that wouldn’t end up doing that.

¹”It’s different just because of two stripes!”, says the story. As far as I know, it doesn’t exist (who knows, maybe it’s an obscure common name of some American woodpecker, with common names you never know), but: that’s not how any of this works! You might tell it apart from the others just because of the stripes, but if it were different just because of the stripes, it wouldn’t be a species.

Anyway, some TL;DRs for everyone:

  • You don’t get to worry about climate change and be annoyed at conservation efforts at the same time!
  • You don’t judge a species’ importance from how much humans care about it! I don’t care that you don’t care that much about eagles, by protecting a flagship species you protect their ecosystem, and I promise that you don’t want to lose that!
  • You don’t get to talk about these things without nuance and research and the story had none of the first and also probably none of the second

Stories I’ve Read Because of an Anthology

41953441I’ve also been reading the anthology The Best Science Fiction of the Year: Volume Four edited by Neil Clarke, and while I’m finding most of the stories really boring – me and the editor have radically different ideas about what makes a great science fiction story, and I also have very little patience for short fiction (I asked for something short that will still pack a punch, not a whole novel’s worth of worldbuilding in the space of two chapters so that I understand nothing, thank you!) – there are some stand-outs:

Domestic Violence by Madeline Ashby – ★★★★
This one is such a brilliant concept and also a relatively easy read for such a heavy topic – it’s about how smart home technology could be exploited by abusers, but it manages to be… all but depressing, actually. I loved the ending so much.

All the Time We’ve Left to Spend by Alyssa Wong – ★★★★★
I’ve mentioned this story on my blog before, but this is exactly the kind of thing that makes me think about how much we need queer sad books written by queer authors. It’s a gorgeous story about grief from the point of view of a Japanese girl who visits an hotel in which the memories of the dead members of a pop band are preserved, and one of them was her girlfriend. It’s haunting and sad and I feel strongly about this kind of thing not being in any way comparable to the bury your gays trope. Anyway, the fact that this wasn’t nominated for either a Hugo or a Nebula is a crime.

Entropy War by Yoon Ha Lee – ★★★★
This isn’t my favorite of Yoon Ha Lee’s but it’s still a stand-out, for the writing (which is, as usual, the best) and for the concept: this is about games and war the way many of his stories are, but what about a war against entropy? I loved the concept and it made me think about the theme of the inevitability of change and how, in a way, that’s also what the Machineries of Empire series as a whole is about, with the Kujen storyline.

Among the Water Buffaloes, A Tiger’s Steps by Aliette de Bodard – ★★★★
A happier f/f story about legacies and fairytales in a sci-fi post-apocalyptic scenario. I loved it, especially for what it said about the importance of imagining new endings for yourself. If you like the theme about “not being destined to follow your predecessors in their steps and especially mistakes”, this is a great story to read (sadly, you can find it only in anthologies).


Have you read any good short fiction lately?

Book review · Short fiction

Novellas and Short Stories I’ve Read Recently

Today, I’m going to review nine short stories and two novellas.


Short Story Time

In which I chose random short stories free online from the list I have put together in the last year and a half and review them.

Maybe I will make this a monthly feature? I don’t know. There’s so much good short fiction out there and I like to scream about it when I have the time to read it. One day, I’m also going to write down a list of my favorite ones, but I want to get through most of my list first.


Super-Luminous Spiral by Cameron Van Sant★★★★★
This one was so weird. It felt like a pages-long, weirdly sexual hallucination about literature in second person, and at first I understood nothing of what was going on, but when I was halfway through, I finally got it – and wow. This is a story about literature classes and the way genre fiction is considered lesser than literary, and it’s kind of… making fun of literary fiction’s obsession with cheating.
It follows a lit student who, after being left by a mysterious, very sparkly trans boy who made him realize he was bisexual (but he’s still kind of in denial) and who made his stories become perfect, can only write literary fiction about cheating. It’s funny and very weird and an experience. Also, this story takes the idea of the “muse” and makes the muse someone who uses the writer and not the other way around.
I loved it.

Ally by Nalo Hopkinson – ★★★½
A maybe-ghost story? I’m not sure I got this one, but it follows a trans woman and the conversation she has with someone who was once her friend after the funeral of her friend’s husband. It’s a very queer story and what it said about what it’s like to just… live when a part of the world hates you for existing was powerful. It’s about a haunting, in a way, and about whether and how much everything that is behind an action – from intent to means – matters when confronted with the results. As the title suggests, it’s also an interesting thought to apply to allyship.

Girls Who Do Not Drown by A.C. Buchanan – ★★★★★
This was wonderful. But keep in mind that, while it’s not a tragic story, it definitely needs TWs for attempted suicide and transmisogyny.
It’s the story of a trans girl who just realized she’s a girl, who is changing the future of the whole island. It’s a story about girlhood and not drowning, featuring Manx folklore (the very persistent glashtyn? I loved that part). It’s beautiful, very atmospheric, and I really recommend it.

Tell the Phoenix Fox, Tell the Tortoise Fruit by Cynthia So – ★★★★½
A beautiful story about a country that was once colonized (I think it’s inspired by Southeast Asia), following two girls who love each other against homophobia and other monsters. It talks about racism and about the way queer people in history are often erased. I loved how hopeful it is, I loved the fact that it featured both a phoenix fox (!!) and poetry – stories that have foxes in them are great and stories that acknowledge the importance of literature are too.

Dead Things by Becca De La Rosa – ★★★★½
An atmospheric story about bargains and what it means to love following two girls falling in love in the Kingdom of Death. The description and symbolism are gorgeous and I really liked many aspects of this story – I love to read about people finding happiness and beauty in unexpected places just like I love reading about f/f couples.

Now Watch My Rising by A. Merc Rustad – ★★★½
I was already familiar with this author because of their short story in the Cosmic Powers anthology (which I really liked) and a short story on Uncanny Magazine (which I didn’t care about). This was more in the middle – as usual, I loved the writing, but struggled a bit to follow it, even though the story was very… simple. I knew how it was going to develop from the first paragraph, but it’s exactly the direction I wanted it to take and it’s a message I always appreciate, so I’m not going to complain. And if you’re wondering whether you should try this: what do you think of fate?
[Anyway, I really feel like howling at the sky right now. Mood of the evening!]

50 Ways to Leave Your Fairy Lover by Aimee Picchi – ★★★★
…If you want to read something really short that will make you smile, that includes faeries and folklore, and that features an f/f relationship, you should really read this story. I don’t know, when I compare it with the stories I’ve read before I find that maybe it reads a bit more superficial, but you know what? There’s nothing superficial about stories that make you happy. Or about happy gays in general.

Salt Lines by Ian Muneshwar – ★★★★½
This is a story following a gay Guyanese immigrant who has left his homophobic family and one day meets a jumbie (a spirit from Caribbean folklore). It’s heartbreaking and definitely needs trigger warnings for homophobia and mentions of homophobic violence, but it’s also the kind of story I know will stay with me. The way it talks about what it’s like to be queer when your family doesn’t accept you, and the monster romance aspect in this story… it speaks to me. (There’s something to be said about being queer and liking monster romances and how these things can be tied – since people made you feel like you were the monster – but also not necessarily? I don’t feel like I’m good enough with words to talk about it but it’s something I feel.)

The Dead, In Their Uncontrollable Power by Karen Osborne – ★★★★
Space fantasy stories will always have a special place in my heart, even when I struggle to get into them at first. This story was no exception, especially considering it’s about  sin-eating girls finding strength in each other to fight against terrible dead men (f/f romance in space!). It’s a story about how we do not need to follow in our predecessors’ footsteps when those footsteps are part of an oppressive system. It’s beautifully written, and while it’s very… bloody, it’s at its heart a story about the healing of a society.


The Novellas

The Haunting of Tram Car 015 by P. Djèlí Clark

36546128The Haunting of Tram Car 015 is a wonderful, atmospheric novella set in an alternate Cairo, featuring haunted steampunk technology.

I already knew I liked P. Djèlí Clark’s writing because of The Black God’s Drums (…another alt-history, darker novella you should try if you haven’t already) and because of A Dead Djinn In Cairo, which is set in the same universe as this book and is also free online (and you should read it). Even though I loved both of these, I was still surprised by how much I liked The Haunting of Tram Car 015.

There are so many interesting concepts in so little space, all of them handled gracefully. In that, it reminded me of Witchmark, even though on a content level the only thing these two books have in common are the steampunk aspects.

I loved the worldbuilding. You can see how much thought and research went into it – this is set in an alt-history version of Cairo in which colonialism ended also because of the supernatural, in which airships and djinn-powered aerial tram cars are the most common means of transportation. I always love reading about worlds in which the technology is tied to the magic system (and, in this case, also to folklore and mythology), and this was no exception. This book also portrays Cairo as a diverse city, not only because humans live side-by-side with djinns, but because its population is all but homogeneous: there are Sufis, Copts, Armenians, Sudanese, people who grew up in the city and people who grew up in the countryside. P. Djèlí Clark’s Cairo feels so alive.

Even though the two main characters are men – two agents from the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments, and Supernatural Entities, one of which is a new recruit – this is a story in which women have a very important role. The Haunting of Tram Car‘s main plotline is about a mysterious being who is haunting a tram car and the attempted exorcisms, but that’s not the only thing going on – in the background, we see side and minor female characters collaborating to get women the right to vote in Egypt. And the way that plotline ends? So many feelings.

This novella approaches a lot of interesting themes – the way folklore is often steeped in misogyny; what gender could mean to non-human beings (featuring a genderfluid djinn!); the meaning of personhood and sentience; what “modernization” looks like when there’s magic around – and maybe it didn’t give that much space to them, but I never felt like any part of it was incomplete. I just want more books set in this world.

My rating: ★★★★¾

Unbroken by Brooklyn Ray

41541534Unbroken is a novella set in the Port Lewis Universe, in which Darkling and Undertow also take place. It follows Michael, a non-magical human who has recently moved to Port Lewis with his sister but without any knowledge of the town’s… history.

Also, his new house is haunted by a demon. A very good-looking demon who is also great at baking.

Yes, this is exactly what it sounds like, it’s a gay erotic monster romance and I’m totally here for this (and probably no one is surprised).

One of the things I liked the most about this that I didn’t remember from the other Port Lewis novellas – because as usual, the atmosphere is great and this author knows how to write romance but I knew that already – was the humor. There’s at least one scene that made me laugh out loud, which is… more than most full-length novels do even when they’re trying to be funny.

The main character of this novella had been in an abusive relationship in the past, and I liked the way this book dealt with that, and what it said about consent. Also, part of the main character’s arc is tied to understanding that he didn’t deserve what happened to him and I really appreciated that.

However, I didn’t love the way this ended, because it features one of my least favorite romance tropes. I understand why it makes sense for the story but anything fate-related still creeps me out on many levels.

My rating: ★★★½


Have you read any short stories or novellas lately?

Book review · contemporary · Short fiction

Review: Color Outside the Lines, edited by Sangu Mandanna

40960763Color Outside the Lines is an anthology about interracial relationships across time and genres. It’s about the ways these relationships are both different and the same as the ones that aren’t interracial; it doesn’t only talk about love, culture, and prejudice, but also about family, friendships, communication, expectations and legacies, from many different points of view.

I thought this was a solid anthology. As usual, I didn’t like every single story, but while the ending was a bit weak, I found some favorites in here.

Turn the Sky To Petals by Anna-Marie McLemore – 5 stars
This might be my favorite McLemore short story? I’ve loved Roja from All Out and Glamour from The Radical Element too, but not as much as this one, and I don’t think this even had magical realism elements – the atmosphere and themes made this perfect and just as magical as her stories that actually had magic in them.
It’s a story about a Romani boy who once played the cimbalom and a Latinx girl who liked to dance, brought together by their experiences with chronic pain. They meet while they’re helping their town to prepare for a rich man’s wedding, and said wedding includes the most beautifully described rain of flowers ever.

TK by Danielle Page – no rating, not in the review copy

What We Love by Lauren Gibaldi – 2.5 stars
This story is about a Jewish girl and an Indian boy, and it talks about what it’s like to not fit in and be othered, and how people who are from different backgrounds can experience this in different yet similar ways. It also talks about familial expectations and about legacies – the focus on what we leave behind was what I appreciated the most about this story (and: if you like Star Wars references, read this). However, I found this story disappointing, because the antagonist is the stereotypical Blonde Mean Girl Who Wears Revealing Dresses (she’s wearing a short, tight dress and grinding on a boy!). It’s not that racist bullies who are also attractive white girls don’t exist, but the problem is that she’s racist and a bully, not her clothes.

Giving Up the Ghost by Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas – 2 stars
This is the story that worked for me the least. It’s about a world in which everyone has a ghost who is one of their ancestors, and it follows a South Asian boy (I think?), whose ghost is probably the most successful pirate in history, Ching Shih. I loved the worldbuilding here and how it talked about communication and history, but sadly the fearsome Ching Shih read like a bratty ten-year-old and this ended up not being enjoyable at all.

Your Life Matters by L.L. McKinney – 4 stars
The first f/f story! It’s about a black superheroine, her white girlfriend/sidekick, the Black Lives Matter movement, and people changing for the better. It deals with some heavy themes – like police violence and dating someone from a racist family – and at its heart is an hopeful story, which I really appreciated. It made me want to try McKinney’s novels, even though Alice in Wonderland retellings have never been my kind of thing.

Starlight and Moondust by Lori M. Lee – 5 stars
This is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever read. It follows Hlee Khue, a Hmong girl, and it’s a story about stories (I always love those). It’s not just about Hlee, even though she’s the main character: it also talks about an old woman who is a healer, and a boy with a mysterious past. It talks about the way non-western stories and beliefs are held to different standard from western ones, seen as sillier/more absurd just because they’re not western.
It’s a magical story full of beautiful descriptions (the atmosphere! the food! the dragons!) and now I want to read more from Lori M. Lee, since I never had before.

Five Times Shiva Met Harry by Sangu Mandanna – 4 stars
A not-always-lighthearted but cute story about an Indian girl and a white boy who start dating almost by accident. It’s about how sheltered, privileged people can grow up without ever challenging racist and imperialist assumptions – but they can also change once that’s brought to their attention. I liked how this story casually mentioned that Shiva’s brother is dating a boy who is Zimbabwean-American.

The Agony of a Heart’s Wish by Samira Ahmed – 4 stars
This was heartbreaking. It’s a story about colonialism, following an Indian girl and an Irish boy as they meet on a train in colonial India, and bond over Yeats’ poems. They never meet again, but meeting each other changed their lives.

The Coward’s Guide to Falling in Love by Caroline Tung Richmond – 4.5 stars
Not a Romeo and Juliet retelling!
I loved the setup in this one, the themes, and the main character’s voice. It’s the kind of lighthearted contemporary I love – fun and never lacking in depth. It follows a Chinese-American girl who has a crush on a boy of Montenegrin descent. I remember that I also really liked another short story by this author a few years ago, The Red Raven Ball from A Tyranny of Petticoats, so I can’t wait to read her story in Hungry Hearts too.

Death and the Maiden by Tara Sim – 5 stars
An f/f Hades and Persephone retelling with an Indian main character! This story was beautifully written and it made me want to read more of Tara Sim’s books even though I didn’t love Timekeeper. This had the best aesthetics, atmosphere (the writing reminded me of Strange Grace, which is one of the most atmospheric books I’ve ever read), themes I loved – it’s about life, death, and growth. I want this to become a full-length novel so badly.

Faithfull by Karuna Riazi – 3.5 stars
A story about a girl and her complicated relationships with her self-absorbed mother, who is now marrying a Moroccan man. This is mostly about friendships, food (so many food descriptions!) and what makes a family. I didn’t feel strongly about it but I liked the message.

Gilman Street by Michelle Ruiz Keil – 3.5 stars
This is a story about self-discovery following a biracial, bisexual Mexican girl as she meets a biracial boy who is Filipino, kisses a Mexican girl, and discovers that some people are better left behind. This is historical fiction – set in 1980, I think – and now I want to see what the author will do with her debut novel this year, as I’ve heard it’s historical fiction too.

The Boy Is by Elsie Chapman – 3.5 stars
This is a story about dating as a Chinese-American girl. It talks about the conflicting expectations of family members, yellow fever, and… pros and cons. It was an interesting read, if really short. Elsie Chapman was also a new-to-me author, and I think I like her writing, so maybe I’ll try her novel Caster when it comes out.

Sandwiched in Between by Eric Smith – 3 stars
I don’t think Eric Smith’s writing is for me, and that’s the main reason I’m not rating this story high – I like what this said about family, adoption, communication and “colorblindness”, but I just can’t get into his books.

Yuna and the Wall by Lydia Kang – 3.5 stars
A fantasy story following the daughter of a poisoner and a boy who is hated for his scars. It’s about people finding each other when society doesn’t accept them; I liked its message and what I saw of this world. Like Kang’s Toxic, this story almost read like middle grade, but this time I didn’t have any problems with that because I expected it.

TK by Adam Silvera – no rating, not in this copy

My average rating is 3,80, which is pretty good for an anthology (and I think that if the Adam Silvera story had been there, the rating would have been even higher).

Book review · Short fiction

Short Fiction Reviews

I don’t often write about short fiction I like, or, I don’t talk about it as much as I’d want. The main reason I don’t do that, the main reason I don’t review every short story I read, is that I feel like no one really cares.

But I do. I am here to have fun and write the kind of content that makes me happy, which is short fiction reviews, even though I’m not even sure I’m that good at writing them. My goal for 2019 is to read what makes me happy and not what I feel like I should read, and I want to do the same with posts.

So here’s what I read lately! They’re all free online, so go check them out if they sound interesting to you.


Birch Daughter by Sara Norja (Fireside Fiction) – ★★★
A Finnish-inspired story about a girl and her adventures in a world in which the fair folk is always whispering and singing, you can make bargains with the matriarch of bears, and people can turn into trees. It’s sweet and dreamlike and it has a cute f/f romance – the main character falls in love with the bears’ beekeeper – but the characterization was… absent and I felt very little. However, I liked the writing, and I will always appreciate magical stories (it felt like a fairytale would feel) about f/f couples who get a happy ending.

Bargains by the Slant-Light by Cassandra Khaw (Apex Magazine) – ★★★★½
If you’re looking for dark, creepy, disturbing stories, Cassandra Khaw never disappoints. This one is really short, and it’s about a woman making bargains with a demon, graphic dissection, and what it means to love. Love as pain and love as monstrous, even more than the only actual “monster” that there is in this story. As I always have a weakness for stories that explore the dark sides of romantic love and as I find Khaw’s writing hypnotic, this story worked for me.

The New Heart by Natalia Theodoridou (Fireside Fiction) – ★★★
A woman who is a heart maker – she sculpts then sells new hearts – meets the woman she has been in love while in school, Sereena. And Sereena is asking for a new heart. I wasn’t familiar with this author before and this was an interesting story, but mostly because of the premise and concept (new hearts, and what they can do) and the beautiful writing. The story itself felt somewhat underdeveloped and I felt like it had the potential to be more than what it actually ended up being. Anyway, this story has the three things I like the most in short fiction – great concept you won’t find in novels, beautiful writing, and gay – so I’m not really disappointed.

40794181Do Not Look Back, My Lion by Alix E. Harrow (Beneath Ceaseless Skies) – ★★★★
This was really interesting. It’s set in the kind of queer-accepting matriarchal society I like to read about, it’s a fantasy story about loyalty, war and family, and it’s f/f. But I have to say that I struggled with picturing everything and everyone and the worldbuilding, while really intriguing, was maybe… too much for a story so short? As in, I see a lot of potential here and the length didn’t do it justice. But this did undo the “damage” one of this author’s previous stories (which I didn’t like) did – I’m really interested in checking out Harrow’s longer fiction now. Her debut The Ten Thousand Doors of January will be out this year.

The Cook by C.L. Clark (Uncanny Magazine) – ★★★½
Another new-to-me author! One could argue this very short story has no substance and barely any plot, but I don’t agree – I find stories that focus on the aspects of fantasy we rarely see in the actual fantasy books subversive and this was a very interesting way to look at a fantasy story. I say “we rarely see this” not only because it’s a story about two women of color falling in love, but also because it’s a story about a fantasy war… in which we don’t see the war. We don’t know anything about the war, and it’s intentional. The focus is on something else, and as fantasy tends to be very focused on the violence, I really liked this choice. It reminded me of the way Aliette de Bodard writes sci-fi – there’s a war, or there’s been a war, but the characters, their relationships, the more “domestic” aspects are what we’re focusing on. Another thing I appreciated here were the food descriptions – it’s set in an inn – and I think I would have loved this if it hadn’t been so short. It ended up feeling rushed to me.

The Imitation Sea by Lora Gray (Shimmer) – ★★★★½
This one needs trigger warnings for suicide, death of a gay character and mentions of substance abuse.
I’m not sure where to start with this one. Maybe with the fact that it’s one of the most beautifully written things I’ve read in a while? So many details (the sights, the sounds, the smells!), so much emotion, and perfect symbolism. How have I not heard of this writer before?
This is a surprisingly subtle story about familial abuse, told in second person. You are the boy who has been in love with another boy for years – a boy whose parents are forcing an “angel” on. The “angel” is the sci-fi twist of the story: it’s a mechanical object that is always monitoring the person. Protecting them, yes, but from what? From everything that the boy’s family considers bad, of course. As this is a queer story, you probably know what I’m talking about, and that this is a metaphor for families forcing their “religion” (read: bigotry) on children. It’s also a story about trying to fix what’s left behind in wake of a tragedy, when you know that what you’ll get will be only a pale imitation of what once was. Haunting, and if I’m always hesitant to recommend sad queer stories, I have to say that I can’t not recommend this either, if you feel like you can read this.

The Oracle and the Sea by Megan Arkenberg (Beneath Ceaseless Skies) – ★★★★
This was a… difficult one to go through. Mostly because – like the one before – it’s a very sad story, this time about a country living under a dictatorship. It’s so atmospheric you can feel the sea, the salt, the bitterness. You can feel the weight of hopelessness it has, how it talks about being an artist, about being pretty much powerless. And it’s beautiful in its own way, if you can call “beautiful” something that shouldn’t be this relevant. Also: the main character is bisexual.

Everything Under Heaven by Anya Ow (Uncanny Magazine) – ★★★½
It took me a while to get this one – when I got to the end, my reaction was “…and?” – and I’m still not completely sure I got it, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. On the surface, it’s a story about two women, one who wants to hunt dragons and one who wants to cook them, as they travel together and maybe fall in love. However, I think it’s more of a story about culture and the different ways people can express love. I really liked the food descriptions in here, and I always appreciate stories that talk about the ties between food and culture (which is the main reason I’m really anticipating this year’s YA Hungry Hearts anthology).


A Note On Short Fiction Reviews

  1. One could read this post and think, “Acqua, it’s great that all short stories you read this month were three stars and up!”, but that’s not really true. I choose not to review the short stories I don’t like: no one needs me to repeat many times “I didn’t get this” in a post – because yes, most short stories I end up not liking are short stories I didn’t get; it’s uncommon for me to end up thinking I know where you were going with this and I think you messed it up.
  2. One could read this post and think, “Acqua, it’s great that all short stories you read this week but one were queer! Queer short stories must be really common” and then they wouldn’t be that wrong. Yes, I look for them, but short fiction is far more diverse than any genre of novels. On one hand, I love this, on the other, is just another sign that publishing can do better but is still behind – and I know that, sadly, there are some concepts publishers still see as a “risk”, because “novels about  that wouldn’t sell”.

Have you read any good short fiction lately?

Book review · contemporary · Short fiction

Review: Black Enough – Stories of Being Young & Black in America, edited by Ibi Zoboi

Black Enough is an anthology of short stories written by Black authors about young Black characters living in the Unites States. It follows characters from many different backgrounds – there are stories about rich Black people, Black immigrants, biracial Black people, queer Black people – with very different living experiences, because as Ibi Zoboi says right from the introduction, there isn’t just one way to be Black.

First, I want to say that this review is from a perspective who is neither Black nor American. Some things may be lost on me, or I may be missing the context, and English isn’t even my first language. I often did not understand the American pop culture references here, but as this is a book specifically about American experiences, it won’t affect my rating significantly.

Half a Moon by Renée Watson – ★★★★
A heartwarming story about family and healing from the point of view of a seventeen-year-old girl working as a teen counselor at Oak Creek Campgrounds. Trigger warning for fat shaming, challenged by the narrative.

Black Enough by Varian Johnson – ★★★★
A Black boy feels out of place around his friends and the girl he likes because he doesn’t feel like he’s “Black enough” since he doesn’t fit certain stereotypes. It’s a story about community and what it means to be Black that touches also on themes like feminism and police brutality. Really liked it.

Warning: Color May Fade by Leah Henderson – ★★★
A story about appropriation set at a boarding school; specifically, it involves a white girl trying to profit from a black girl’s artwork by claiming it as her own. It was a bit confusing at the beginning, but I ended up liking it.

Black. Nerd. Problems. by Lamar Giles – ★★
This was really confusing. Not only because I was probably supposed to at least vaguely know what the characters were talking about – there were so many names of brands, it kind of relied on the pop culture references – but also because I didn’t really get the plot.

Out of the Silence by Kekla Magoon – ★★★★
This was really well-written and also a difficult read. It’s about a girl who discovers that the girl who made her question her sexuality has died. I liked that we don’t actually know whether the dead girl was queer, because I didn’t need a bury your gays, but it was heartbreaking to read anyway. Really short, beautiful writing, gave me a lot of feelings.

The Ingredients by Jason Reynolds – ★★★
A summer-y short story following Black boys just… being happy and being friends and talking about food. Fun, if plotless and too short to get invested in the (many) characters.

Oreo by Brandy Colbert – ★★★
A story about a girl meeting the cousins she hasn’t seen in years – and she doesn’t know how she feels about them because the last time she saw them, one of them called her an Oreo. It’s a story about family that also talks about gatekeeping and internalized hate for one’s culture.

Samson and the Delilahs by Tochi Onyebuchi – ★★★
The son of a couple of Nigerian immigrants practices for his debates, discovers metal music, meets a girl and tries to reconnect with his family’s past. While this story was contemporary, it reminded me that I really want to read Beasts Made of Night.

Stop Playing by Liara Tamani – ★★★★
I really liked this one! Which surprised me because I didn’t love the beginning, but the character development and the girl friendships were so great. Anyway, this is set at a church beach retreat and it involves untrustworthy boys asking for inappropriate selfies.

Wild Horses, Wild Hearts by Jay Coles – ★★★½
The m/m romance in this one was adorable, but I didn’t love the writing and the ending wasn’t as strong as I hoped it would be. It involves horse racing and a Black boy getting together with his neighbors’ son, whose parents are racist and homophobic.

Whoa! by Rita Williams-Garcia – ★★★★½
This was… surprising. It’s the only story with a maybe magical element, and it follows a gay Black model as he unexpectedly manages to talk with one of his ancestors, a slave living before the Civil War. It felt so sad and hopeful at the same time, and I loved the writing.

Gravity by Tracey Baptiste – ★★★★
This was one of the most original stories in the collection, as it takes place in the span of a few seconds. It talks about sexual assault, victim blaming and immigration (the main character is Trinidadian).

The Trouble With Drowning by Dhonielle Clayton – ★★★★½
A story about light-skinned Black sisters and mental health awareness – or, rather, the lack of it. It was a beautiful story I can’t talk about in-depth without spoilers, but trigger warnings for suicide.

Kissing Sarah Smart by Justina Ireland – ★★★★★
I am predictable. Yes, this was my favorite story, and it involved an f/f romance between a biracial Black girl and a white fat girl. It was cute and funny and it also dealt with microaggressions, mental health and homophobia.
So, I really need to read Dread Nation.

Hackathon Summers by Coe Booth – ★★
This one didn’t work for me. It’s about Garry, who is falling in love with a muslim girl, Inaaya, at a hackathon. I couldn’t connect with them in so little space with so many time jumps, I guess.

Into the Starlight by Nic Stone – ★★★
A story about a girl learning to confront her internalized prejudices and the idea of being “not like [those] other Black people” while falling in love with a boy who also really likes Percy Jackson.

The (R)evolution of Nigeria Jones by Ibi Zoboi – ★★★
This one follows a girl who was raised in an almost cult-like environment by activists. It had some really powerful parts – about activism failing people because nuance is often forgotten, about the way some people are more interested in advocating for the rights of animals before people (that part about asking for the liberation of “tree people and animal people” while their movement treats women as if their main role is to make babies and acts like gay people don’t exist was… something) – but I didn’t feel strongly about most of this.

Overall, I liked this anthology and its messages, even though – as it always happens – not every story worked for me as much as I hoped. I definitely want to read more from some of these authors now.

Average rating: ★★★½

lists · Short fiction

Favorites of 2018: 10 Favorite Novellas, Comics, Poetry, Anthologies & More

It’s time for the end-of-the-year lists of favorites!

This is the post in which I list my favorites that aren’t novels or that it would be unfair to compare to traditional novels (because they’re too short, because they’re written in a format I’m not used to). Unlike my list of favorite novels, they are in no particular order.


Monstress Vol. 2 by Marjorie M. Liu & Sana Takeda

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This comic finally got translated in my country, and I’m so glad it did, since it’s a story about an angry monster girl in a steampunk Asian matriarchy which is also kind of gay (and then explicitly gay later on) and we usually don’t get this. The art is gorgeous enough that I don’t mind the significant amount of graphic gore, and it’s probably the main reason I love this series so much (the art, not the gore. Sometimes I had to look away). Also the plot is very intricate and the narration doesn’t talk down to the reader, which I really appreciate – if you want something that is like a darker Daughter of Smoke and Bone which is as beautiful as Laini Taylor’s writing because of Sana Takeda’s art, read this!

Twisted Romance Vol. 1, edited by Alex de Campi

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I picked up this anthology of short comics and prose short fiction on a whim, and it’s probably one of the best choices I made in 2018. It has all my favorite aspects of the romance genre – it’s queer, it’s diverse, it explores “unconventional” love stories – without what usually doesn’t work for me in romance novels, which is the length (…I get why people love slow-burn stories, but my attention span can’t do it). There’s polyamory, there are monster romances, there are discussions of abusive relationships and consent. It’s so good and I didn’t even mind that I ended up liking the prose short stories more than the comic parts (which were also really good).

Conservation of Shadows by Yoon Ha Lee

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Conservation of Shadows is my favorite short story collection. I already knew I was going to like this because I had loved everything I had read by Yoon Ha Lee before, but some of these short stories managed to surprise me anyway. Not only is the first story, Ghostweight, probably one of my favorite short stories and one of the most gorgeous things I’ve ever read, but there was so much variety here. From stories about colonization to tactical linguistics, from quantum chess in space to a story built around an ancestry-erasing gun? So many interesting concepts. I still remember every story vividly, and it’s been months.

Three Sides of a Heart, edited by Natalie C. Parker

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Three Sides of a Heart is the anthology that made me realize I actually really like love triangles. Not every story in it worked for me, but so many of them did, and they made me understand how little YA books have actually explored the potential of this trope while overusing it. Queer love triangles! Love triangles that end in polyamory! This book is full of them, and now I want all of these things in novels too. However, I would be completely fine if I never saw the “straight girl is torn between straight bad boy and straight best friend” version again.

The Tea Master and the Detective by Aliette de Bodard

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The Tea Master and the Detective is a sci-fi retelling of Sherlock Holmes in which Holmes is a Vietnamese woman, Long Chau, and Watson is a sentient spaceship, The Shadow’s Child. You don’t need to know anything about Sherlock Holmes (I don’t, not really) or to have read the other companion novellas in the Xuya series (I read them after this one) to understand this. I loved everything about this world, from the idea of deep space to the way sentient spaceships, the “minds”, were portrayed, but what I liked the most were The Shadow’s Child and Long Chau’s interactions. I love non-romantic human/AI relationships and this was no exception. Also, to see “cold”, competent women who are not in a romantic relationship nor seeking one means a lot to me.

Artificial Condition by Martha Wells

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I just said I like non-romantic human/AI interactions, but this made me discover I also like the AI/AI ones. I think Artificial Condition by Martha Wells is the only book I’ve read which had a relevant one, and I think Murderbot and ART’s interactions (…”ART” is the way Murderbot calls the spaceship, and it actually means “asshole research transport”, if you’re wondering how their “friendship” is like) were the main reason I ended up liking this second novella more than the other two in the series. Anyway, if you ever want to read about a bot with anxiety who is just trying its best to get the irrational humans out of danger, read this series!

The Black God’s Drums by P. Djèlí Clark

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The Black God’s Drums is an alt-history steampunk novella set in New Orleans in a version of American history in which the Civil War ended with a truce, and it follows a young black girl who has been touched by Oya, the orisha of storms. What I loved the most was the atmosphere and setting, the way the fictional technology met the magic, but I also really liked reading Creeper/Jaqueline’s PoV and her interactions with the Trinidadian airship captain.

Darkling by Brooklyn Ray

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Novellas are the best format for romance! Anyway, this is a series about a group of queer witches, and this first book follows Ryder, who is trans, in love with his friend Liam, and hiding that he’s a necromancer. I loved reading about this couple – the friends-to-lovers trope usually doesn’t work for me as much as I want it to but here it was perfect – and about all the side characters (Ryder’s sister was my favorite). I also really liked the rainy, dark atmosphere of Port Lewis.

In the Vanishers’ Palace by Aliette de Bodard

Technically, this one is a novel. It’s just that it didn’t feel fair to me to compare it with books that had 300+ pages since it doesn’t even reach 150. It would have had so much competition on the favorite novels list (which I’m going to post on January 1) and I didn’t want this book to not end up on a list of favorites (when it is one) just because I spent less time with the characters.

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…post-colonial f/f Beauty and the Beast retelling featuring a Vietnamese cast, in which the Beast is a shapeshifting dragon? Of course I had to read it and it was just as good as I hoped it would be. Yên and Vu Côn are one of my favorite couples of the year and I loved the setting just as much – there are few settings I love as much as creepy and dangerous but very pretty palaces. Also, the themes. This is a Beauty and the Beast retelling in which the main character’s agency is important and so is consent (which I wish were more common in this kind of stories), and it’s a story about living in a broken world but trying to make the best of it.

The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo

This is also a novel! A poetry novel. Again, it’s a favorite that I didn’t want to not end up on a “favorite” list just because it was written in a format I’m not used to.

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The Poet X is a beautiful story about self-discovery, first love and what it’s like to grow up in a religious environment (specifically Catholic) when you’re not a believer – or at least disagree with a significant number of things that the people around you believe (about what it should be the role of women, about sexuality, about self-expression). It follows Xiomara, a Dominican-American teen girl, and it talks about harassment, growing up with strict parents, and finding your voice through writing. As I grew up in a Catholic environment too and hated almost every moment of it, I could see myself in many of the things Xiomara thought and felt, and some of the poems here made me tear up.


What were your favorite books of 2018 that weren’t novels/weren’t written in a way you were used to?

Book review · historical fiction · Short fiction

Not-So-Short Reviews of Short Fiction

Today, I’m reviewing some short stories and novellas I read recently.


A Dead Djinn in Cairo by P. Djèlí Clark

29635542Egyptian steampunk paranormal murder mystery? Yes.

A Dead Djinn in Cairo is one of the best Tor.com shorts I’ve read in a while. The first thing I thought after finishing this story was how I wanted more from this world, and then I remembered that the novella The Haunting of Tram Car 015 will be set there too. I was already anticipating it because I loved The Black God’s Drums, but now? I can’t wait.

Anyway, this is a story about an Egyptian investigator, Fatma, trying to understand if a suspicious Djinn “suicide” was actually what it looked like. It’s an atmospheric, beautiful story set in a world with a rich mythology and an even more interesting steampunk-like technology. One thing I loved about P. Djèlí Clark’s The Black God’s Drums was seeing the magic and the steampunk aspects coexist, and I think I liked the setup even more here? So much magic and mystery.

My rating:  ★★★★½


All the Time We’ve Left To Spend by Alyssa Wong

All the Time We’ve Left To Spend is a short story by one of my favorite short fiction authors, Alyssa Wong, which was initially published in Robots & Fairies, an anthology I had no interest in if not for this story – which has been reprinted on Fireside Magazine (and it’s free there!).

Like all Alyssa Wong’s stories I’ve read so far, All the Time We’ve Left To Spend is queer and haunting, and just as I expected, I loved everything about it. It’s about Ruriko, a Japanese girl who is visiting a hotel where the memories of the dead members of a pop band are preserved. The sci-fi technology was really interesting to read about, but that wasn’t the only reason I loved it.

I often say that I don’t like sad queer stories, and this is very much a sad story following a queer mc. It’s about a love between two women that can’t be,  about yearning and memories, but it worked for me. It’s beautifully written and unique and not just queer pain for the sake of it – the subtle difference between queer pain and queer characters being sad just like everyone else can be.

My rating:  ★★★★★


Alice Payne Arrives by Kate Heartfield

39332603Great concept, messy execution.

A novella about a biracial time-traveling highwaywoman who robs sexual predators with the help of her scientist girlfriend sounded like the best thing ever. In reality, this was so confusing that I didn’t enjoy reading it at all.

As usual for SFF novellas, the pacing isn’t great, and this story managed to feel both watered down – because the characters didn’t have any depth – and too complicated to be crammed in such a short book. This book is about a war between time travelers, and it attempted to explain what was happening, but I didn’t understand any of it.
I have to say that I’m not at my best mentally, and maybe that’s the reason everything about this book felt foggy. I feel foggy. But anyway.

I thought most of this book would be about Alice Payne, our sapphic half-Caribbean highwaywoman with a scientist girlfriend. It’s not. It’s not, and the girlfriend character is so flat that the “romance” didn’t make me feel anything. Far more space is given to Prudence, an African-Canadian time traveler from 2070, and the time travel war she’s involved with. It would have been less of a problem if I had understood anything about that time travel war.

This novella attempted to say some things about time travel and the difficult choices involved, but not enough time was spent on them. What about the fact that by avoiding a war not only you might create other wars, but you’re also erasing from history a lot of people who currently exist or that have existed? (Hi! I’m 100% sure I wouldn’t have existed had WW2 not happened)
I don’t know, something that attempts to talk about the ethics of time travel without talking about that will feel superficial to me. The main characters wonders whether she will still exist, and that’s all we get.

However, this book did get some things right. Not only the concept is awesome, so is the first chapter, and it’s also obviously well-researched. It’s also short enough that it never gets boring.

My rating: ★★½


A Human Stain by Kelly Robson

33181280I think I just don’t like Kelly Robson’s short fiction. I tried her novella Water of Versailles earlier this year and thought it was mediocre, and then this. I can’t even understand why it was nominated for a Nebula, much less won (when Small Changes Over Long Periods of Time, a story with… actual depth and queer characters who are not just There To Suffer, was right there!).

Anyway, all this managed to do was to put together a pointless, vaguely creepy but too vague to be actually interesting and cheaply tragic historical horror story that was disgusting without any depth to it.

I really don’t get this.

My rating: ★


Have you read any good short fiction lately?