Book review · Fantasy · Nonfiction

Mini Reviews: Recently-Read Queer Books

Today, I’m posting the reviews of three queer books I’ve read between the end of May and now, mostly very short or in genres I’m not familiar with; these reviews are shorter than my usual, which may be a good thing.


All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson is a memoir aimed at a young adult audience that talks about growing up as Black and queer in America. It’s a powerful book and accessible for those who need it most, including teens who aren’t used to reading nonfiction, while dealing with difficult topics. It’s the kind of book that makes me glad I finally decided to start reading nonfiction in my free time this year.

It’s a necessary reminder that we can’t sort people into boxes and we should push back against the societal tendency to do so; a reminder that we can’t talk about different kinds of marginalization without considering the way they influence each other.

What more can I say? I flew through this while highlighting every chapter in multiple places. I know I was wary of nonfiction as a teen, but there are certain things that fiction doesn’t get, at least not right now, like how coming out can be like outside of the two extremes fictional coming out stories keep pushing at queer people, and so many other things.
Highly recommended to pretty much everyone.

[I’m not really comfortable with rating memoirs but I did give it 5 stars on goodreads.]


Queer portal fantasy, but make it Ikea AU!

As many others, I was first drawn to Finna because of its premise; after all, why not use the liminal space potential of retail stores to literally blur the boundaries between worlds? In that, Finna did deliver, and not without driving home certain points (love how the horror aspect comes from a world in which employees are all basically clones that exist to support the corporation aka “the Mother” because the workplace is your family!, and “shoppers” pay in blood.) After all, there are stories suited to subtlety, and this one never was.

Still, I don’t think this will stay with me for long. While I really liked the beginning, I just didn’t find the time the two main characters spent in the parallel worlds to be that interesting to read. For obvious reasons, every world is very underdeveloped, and we never get a setting that feels… real in any way after we leave the real world? I don’t mean “realistic”, I don’t particularly care about realism in a weird portal fantasy, I mean that everything felt very cheesy.

As far as the main characters go, I really liked reading about them, and wish I could have seen more of their relationship before the break-up instead of being told about it. I liked the way Finna talked about how mental illnesses can impact relationships, and I liked seeing the now-exes go on an adventure together and grow closer again, but it wasn’t enough for me to truly get attached to them.

Something I’m more likely to remember about Finna is the answer it gives to the miserable and wearing conditions (especially for who is visibly marginalized like the LI, Jules, who is Black and non-binary) retail workers are in. It’s a hopeful story in the end.

My rating: ★★★¼


Murder husbands and Dragon Kingdom politics!
Of Dragon, Feasts and Murder is a novella set in the Dominion of the Fallen universe that can be read as a standalone, but I especially recommend it to fans of the series who want to have a more detailed understanding of the Dragon Kingdom. It was my favorite setting in the series, and as all places in this universe, it’s far from free of its own brand of rot (literally and not).

One of the things I appreciated the most about this novella was how it refused to fall into a simplistic portrayal of any side. There are people who are firmly in the wrong, but the core reason beneath the murderous political machinations is the fact that necessary change isn’t happening.

At the same time, I’m surprised by how long it took me to read this? Maybe because most of this is made up of talking, and while I did really like said talking – I live for Thuan and Asmodeus’ thorny relationship dynamic – I didn’t feel much tension or urgency, which is unusual for a murder mystery.

Anyway this would have been worth reading even only for how it referred to Asmodeus as “sweet, murderous delight”. (No seriously the Empress Dowager’s scenes!!)

My rating: ★★★½


Have you read or want to read any of these?

Book review · Short fiction

Short Fiction Time #5: On Rating Short Fiction (and more!)

Welcome to the fifth post in my Short Fiction Time series! This series will include both reviews of short fiction and space dedicated to thoughts and discussions surrounding it/prompted by it.

This time, I will:

  • review six short stories (nothing like last month’s fourteen, I know; that’s just how my relationship with short fiction is, it comes and goes)
  • write a DNF review of an anthology
  • explain why I don’t give a rating in the aforementioned reviews.

What I Read

Short Fiction
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The Time Invariance of Snow by E. Lily Yu (Tor.com): A Snow Queen retelling with physics! Abstract and unusually formatted (with footnotes); not an easy one to follow, but really interesting nonetheless. It talks about the nature of evil, how we tend to rationalize and dismiss it, because that’s how it always has been. I’m not sure I fully got the scenes of the Robber Queen and the Lap Women: maybe an acknowledgment of the importance of friendship and elders in this situation, coupled with the distance that it has inevitably already formed? Apart from that, gorgeous writing; this is the kind of science fairytale I could see myself returning to.

A Stick of Clay, in the Hands of God, is Infinite Potential by JY Neon Yang (Clarkesworld): trans mecha phoenix pilot story in space! I think this one definitely could have been shorter (there are parts that kind of drag, which shouldn’t happen in a novelette! Of course it happened on Clarkesworld) and I’m generally not going to mesh well with stories that heavily involve religion without actually talking about the religion (in this case, basically AU Catholicism in space), but I recognize that there wouldn’t have been the space for that here. Still, I… really, really liked this? Especially the ending. There’s a lot to say about how the idea pushed on queer people (sometimes even by other queer people) that figuring oneself out is quick and easy is one of the ways society compels us to accept the roles we’ve been forced into – but sometimes you don’t know who you are because you’ve never been given the chance to be anything else. Powerful and so, so non-binary.

Beyond the Dragon’s Gate by Yoon Ha Lee (Tor.com): What I love most about queer SFF are the new perspectives it brings; this talks about AIs’ relationship with their hardware in a trans perspective – while also having human trans characters. By the way, no wonder the non-binary marshal is fascinating despite the little space they have to shine, it’s a Lee story with typical Lee elements (including Unfriendly Architecture, which I love). I liked how AIs crossing the Turing Threshold was likened to a carp turning into a dragon, it reminded me of one of my favorite novelettes (Zen Cho’s imugi story, which I think is inspired by tales with similar elements).

Taraxacum by Cristina Stubbe (Anathema): I read this one for sapphicathon! I’m in the middle of preparing myself for the phytognostic part of the botany exam, which involves dealing with a lot of weeds; this is about magical weeds, so it felt right. Specifically, it’s about dandelions growing on the windowsill in slightly magical ways. It’s a latinx sapphic story about grief, a relationship that ended unexpectedly, written like many diary entries. It’s quiet and full of botanical magic, just what I need to not mind that a short story is excessively straightforward. I really liked it.

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The Insects of Love by Genevieve Valentine (Tor.com): dreamlike story about an entomologist looking for her dead sister… maybe. You can draw completely different conclusions depending on how you look at it. It’s barely grounded and one could question everything about it, as you have no way of knowing what’s actually real inside the universe of the story. I appreciate the attempt at sci-fi entomology (one really can’t have too many bugs in a book, I say), but I would have liked this a lot more if the author had asked someone with basic knowledge of taxonomy to proofread it, as it’s full of obvious and jarring mistakes.

Have Your #Hugot Harvested at This Diwata-Owned Café by Vida Cruz (Strange Horizons): written like a tourist guide, inspired by stories from and current political situation of the Philippines, this is about a Café staffed by supernatural creatures, and one of the main ingredients is human heartbreak. It’s explicitly and deliberately political, which makes me think I would have gotten more out of this had I been more familiar with the context. Still, it was an interesting read, especially Maria Makiling’s outlook on non-humans and her goals (and everyone’s ideas about her goals). I also really liked that it’s a multilingual short story, as I don’t see them often – most of the parts not in English (I think they’re in Tagalog and Cebuano?) are already translated for English-only speakers, but not all of them – and, of course, the food descriptions.

Anthology
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This month’s anthology was The Mythic Dream edited by Dominik Parisien and Navah Wolfe, but sadly, it ended up being mostly “this month’s attempt at an anthology”, because I rather quickly realized that I was hating it. After having disliked most of Hungry Hearts (which I forced myself to finish) last month, I decided to just DNF this one. It’s not that all the stories in it were bad – they weren’t, actually! I liked the one at the beginning by Seanan McGuire, and the one by JY Neon Yang – but the majority of them were mediocre, forgettable, and didn’t say anything interesting nor came together in a way that made reading the weak ones worth it. Even the two stories I mentioned wouldn’t have been anything special outside the anthology, not when I’ve been reading so much great short fiction at the same time for free online.

I just think short fiction retellings aren’t that great of an idea. What sets a retelling apart is in the execution, and even with deconstructions and stories that play with format (like JY Neon Yang’s) there’s only so much that can be done in a short story. The result is… not that interesting 90% of the time? Outside of this anthology, even Variations on an Apple, a lovely & very peculiar retelling of the Iliad by my favorite author, is one of my least favorite of Yoon Ha Lee’s; and The Invariance of Snow by E. Lily Yu was good but it’s not a favorite. I just don’t think short fictional retellings are for me.


Why I Don’t Rate Short Fiction (Mostly)

If you’ve been following this series of short fiction reviews this year, you might have noticed that on this blog I don’t rate any of the short stories I read, and this is a recent development – in the past, when I wrote reviews of short stories, I always rated them. What changed?

Mostly, I’m finding that it isn’t useful to me, at least here. For the short stories I do mark on goodreads as “read”, I use ratings because I notice that having a rating calls attention to a review the way a text-only one doesn’t; short fiction is already something that gets little to no attention. However, this isn’t a problem on this blog, and mostly: I want people to read why I liked or didn’t like a short story and see if it would be for them instead of just basing themselves on the rating.

As I already find difficult to sum up what I felt about something so short with a rating, I don’t want people to ignore something just because I gave it three stars! Especially when in this format, “like” or “dislike” has so much to do with personal connection to themes and writing, more than it does with actual craft, at least most of the time. More than in novels for sure.

To be honest, I also find the one-to-five star rating useless when it comes to short fiction, because as far as I’m concerned all of short fiction is divided in “favorite” (will forever remember, left me something, maybe even changed my life – yes that has happened but it’s a discussion for another day, don’t dismiss short fiction) and “not a favorite, will forget about it”, with some exceptions being stories that I hated – but that happens rarely. I can try to translate that to star ratings, and I do, but it’s not accurate. There’s so much difference between a five (favorite) and a four (not a favorite), while there isn’t so much between a four and a three or a three and a two.

So I don’t rate it. I try to explain what I thought of it in words; I hope it works.


Have you read any of these? How do you rate short fiction?

Book review · Discussion · Short fiction

Short Fiction Time #4: Growing Out of YA? (And More)

Welcome to the fourth post in my Short Fiction Time series! This series will include both reviews of short fiction and space dedicated to thoughts and discussions surrounding it/prompted by it.

This time, I will:

  • review all the short fiction I read in April, 14 stories (…yes I ended up reading a lot of short stories) which include 5 Hugo Award finalists.
  • review a YA anthology
  • talk about my current relationship with YA books and what said YA anthology made me understand about it

Recent Reads

Short Fiction

I read a lot of short fiction this month (short stories are so underrated and yet are doing so much and I love this format a lot) so I decided to implement emoji tags for clarity:

  • the 2020 Hugo finalists I review in this post are marked with a 🚀
  • while I recommend most of these, my new favorites are marked with 🌠

51175276._sy475_St. Valentine, St. Abigail, St. Brigid by C.L. Polk (Tor.com): a bittersweet sapphic story involving magical beekepers that has an atmosphere of inevitability to it, the cost of it all looming in the distance until the end. It only makes sense that tarot reading is featured in it – so much of this story in some way involves fate – and that its title names three saints closely associated with bees. Bees as a legacy that keeps drawing you in. There’s something mysterious about it, too, because the story doesn’t tell you anything more than what you need to understand it; it doesn’t have one word out of place. I really liked it.

Escaping Dr. Markoff by Gabriela Santiago (The Dark): sometimes if you explore the motivations of the unimportant side character you get something far more interesting that the original story! This is about the horror movie Female Assistant who is in love with the Mad Scientist, and it plays with these stock characters by following someone whose only characteristic is usually the obsession for and the total devotion to the male Mad Scientist. And maybe, if you give a character the space to be something more, the story might break in very interesting ways (involving erotic and queer twists, because why not). Fun and meta and really smart – I’d probably get even more out of this if I knew anything about horror movies, but we know that’s not possible – and wow, was that An Ending.
I found it because of Hadeer’s wrap-up, so thank you!

29387827._sy475_The Terracotta Bride by Zen Cho (not for free online): not my favorite from Zen Cho, also because I was told it was an f/f romance, and while it has sapphic characters, I wouldn’t describe it as such – not like I would with If at First You Don’t Succeed, Try, Try Again. Still, it was a lovely read. It’s set in hell, where the main character – a Malayan girl named Siew Tsin – has been forced to marry a man; now the man has taken yet another wife, a terracotta wife. It’s a light, smart story about personhood and waking up from a paralyzed state of mind, with really interesting details in the worldbuilding and a lot of heart; I wish I could have had more of a sense of who the characters were.

A Catalog of Storms by Fran Wilde (Uncanny) 🚀: about a world in which the line between emotion and the weather is very thin, and maybe natural disasters are something more than a natural disaster, and sometimes the people are part of the weather and the weather is people. The lines in here are air-thin and it’s a story about family, about leaving or staying – and sometimes those things are their own kind of storm too. Don’t expect it to make too much sense, it’s one of those ambiguous/symbolic stories I talked about in my last short fiction time. I really liked the writing and the weirdness of it all, but it didn’t stay with me emotionally.

48594209._sy475_As the Last I May Know by S.L. Huang (Tor.com) 🚀: in this world, to use a weapon of mass destruction, the president has to kill a child himself.
This story follows the child, Nyma, and it’s about costs, the necessity of making something unimaginably difficult vs the overwhelming pressure that wars can put on a country, and as a story it doesn’t give you a clear answer about which path is worse. It has some beautiful poetry in it as well. The worldbuilding is very vague (and let’s just say that calling something “the Order” won’t help me take it seriously), but for the most part that wasn’t a problem. Powerful, hearbreaking, and thought-provoking.

The Blur in the Corner of Your Eye by Sarah Pinsker (Uncanny) 🚀: so far I haven’t found any of Sarah Pinsker’s short fiction to be particularly memorable, even though all of them are solid stories, and this one was no exception – a horror novelette about a mystery author who decides to write her new novel in an isolated cabin. The horror comes from a very unexpected place given the set-up (the premise sounds cliché? It’s not), which was clever, but I didn’t find this creepy at all – it was kind of boring, but horror is very hit-or-miss for me. Mostly a story about the importance of a good assistant.

51dwoeoslsl._sx284_bo1204203200_The Archronology of Love by Caroline M. Yoachim (Lightspeed) 🌠🚀: new favorite. I love reading about space archaeology – the whole “the past of the future” set-up really appeals to me – and this was also a very emotional story on a human level. About grief and the subjectivity of memory, what is lost in the act of remembering, the love and understanding that are gained, the pain that slowly loses its edge but never quite stops hurting; about how destruction is so often tied with discovery. Everything related to the Chronicle technology was so interesting, and so was the answer to the mystery (mysterious mass death!). Also, women in science and side relevant gay couple.

Away With the Wolves by Sarah Gailey (Uncanny) 🚀: I thought I would never read anything by Sarah Gailey again after how angry one of their short stories made me last year (STET, which tried to tackle a heavy, ecology-related topic with so much ignorance it was appalling) but since they got nominated for the Hugo again, here I am. And… I finally liked something written by this author! It was my fifth try. Anyway, this is a story from the Uncanny special issue about disabled people in fantasy, and it’s pretty much about accessibility for a werewolf who has chronic pain in her human form, which is a great concept. It had one (…and then two) really heartwarming female friendships, a happy ending, and the atmosphere was really good as well. Really straightforward, and sometimes that’s exactly what a story needs to be.

52667367._sx318_sy475_Water: A History by KJ Kabza (Tor.com): we don’t get many stories about elderly queer characters, much less in space! This is about an old sapphic woman on an arid planet in which water is the most important thing and going outside the colony is dangerous. About the importance of intergenerational friendships and the risks that make life worth living. It hits in a very specific way when read while on lockdown after a particularly arid spring (that’s why you should research stories before reading them, Acqua), but I didn’t find anything about it particularly remarkable aside from that and I don’t think it will stay with me.

Always the Harvest by Yoon Ha Lee (in the Upgraded anthology, reprinted on Lightspeed) 🌠: Hello! I’m in love. Who knew biopunk horror could be heartwarming? Anyway, this is a weird, sweet romance between two outcasts, and it’s set in a creepy space city that rearranges itself cyclically, has a strong preference for well-intentioned body horror, and is the perfect setting for a story that involves replacing body parts. Gorgeous writing featuring artistic murder, the usual asides of weird for the sake of alliteration that I love so much about Lee’s descriptions (“a pipe, rattling as of librarian lizards realphabetizing their movements”) and the occasional very specific and cursed™ detail (of course tentacles are “ever-popular” as a replacement). Another new favorite; I will never not love stories about cities.

53284124._sy475_Of Roses and Kings by Melissa Marr (Tor.com): queer, fucked up twist on Alice in Wonderland with lots of murder and various other questionable things, because what’s morality in such a place? It really doesn’t hold back and I couldn’t have asked for a better ending, but I have to say that, as with all books that try to make Alice in Wonderland darker, a lot of whimsy is lost in the process, and I miss it. Still here for the unapologetically toxic stories about loyalty, especially since I don’t often get a sapphic version!
(Very predictably of me, I always love when we do. Please give me novels like that!)

Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies by Brooke Bolander (Uncanny): an older story and a Hugo nominee back in 2017, because who said that newest stories should get all the spotlight. Anyway, this is as much about a supernatural (phoenix-like) creature’s revenge as it is about the way stories are always centered and making excuses for rich white men. My overall opinion is that it’s really well-written (as usual for Brooke Bolander) but that there’s such a thing as too straightforward and unsubtle in a short story, and Our Talon Can Crush Galaxies really sits on that limit.

51097037._sy475_If You Take My Meaning by Charlie Jane Anders (Tor.com) – you probably already know about my new favorite book The City in the Middle of the Night (if not: here’s the review!), and this is set in the same universe. This novelette isn’t going to make any sense without having read the novel, but since I recently did, this was the epilogue I wanted the book to have even though I knew it wouldn’t fit, and it was perfect. The integration with the Gelet is in progress! People mess up and try to reach for the way to right certain wrongs, which also includes more mistakes! More direct digs at Xiosphanti culture and more subtly at America’s worst points! (That line about Xiosphanti believing in repression way more than was healthy or realistic… yes.) So many things are said about culture, understanding, and the importance of community vs the corruption and relative irrelevance of the people in power. And finally we also get some insight into Alyssa’s thoughts, as one of my main disappointments had been that by the end of the book I still felt like I didn’t understand her at all.
Meanwhile I’m wondering whether what this novelette said about love a certain trio is meant to be interpreted as polyamory, a really strong friendship, or neither – because who needs to categorize things in structures that are so singularly unhelpful once one has gone through integration? Anyway, I love that for them and love that they have their priorities in order. (What’s this kind of arrangement for, if not to sleep in a pile like cats? I approve.)

36426163Why They Watch Us Burn by Elizabeth May (Toil & Trouble) – women accused of witchery find power in each other while in their prison; I listened to it on scribd. It wasn’t bad, but I wanted it to be something different from what it was once it turned out to involve religious abuse, because that aspect was used as a prop for the message (an effective-if-unnuanced exploration of how the not-like-other-girls line of thinking is misogynistic and contributes to victim blaming) instead of being explored like something in its own right. I don’t want to read a portrayal of forced penance if you’re not going to do anything with it – I’ve already had enough of that.

 Anthologies

This month’s anthology was Hungry Hearts: 13 Tales of Food and Love, edited by Elsie Chapman and Caroline Tung Richmond. I read it for free thanks to the scribd free trial: I chose it out of all the anthologies on my TBR because it was the most expensive (12€ for an ebook? No thank you) and as it turns out, that was a good choice – for all the wrong reasons, the main one known as “at least I didn’t pay for this”.
But let me explain why.

35858798Let’s say you’re an editor with some very interesting anthology ideas, and you’re fascinated by these concepts:

🍜 an anthology of interconnected stories that all take place in the same neighborhood at the same time, in which each story is full of tiny references to the others and forms a seamless web that enhances each story’s meaning;
🍜 an anthology that spans across genres, from contemporary romance and horror to gang rivalries and ghost stories and superhero tales, in which stories have little to do with each other in tone and themes and only have a tiny thread (here, food) to tie them together

Then, please, don’t be like Hungry Hearts. Only choose one of the two. If this had stopped at the first of the two points, if it had been an anthology of interconnected contemporary stories all involving food in some way, it could have been so good. I can only describe the result of trying to do cross-genre connected stories as a complete mess.

It doesn’t help that the individual quality of the stories themselves was questionable. While it’s true that I’m realizing that this kind of YA doesn’t work for me as much as it used to, most of these stories were incredibly bland and couldn’t even be saved by the food descriptions.

The only story I loved was The Grand Ishq Adventure by Sandhya Menon, a contemporary story about a girl who decides to go to restaurants alone to face her anxiety, which was wonderful in every aspect, from a beginning that draws you in (the voice in this story was amazing) to a delicious continuation and an ending with a sweet twist. There were other stories that worked, like the bittersweet Rain by Sangu Mandanna, the fiery revenge story Sugar and Spite by Rin Chupeco, and Panadería ~ Pastelería by Anna-Marie McLemore, which was like the dessert at the end of a meal. All of these were contemporaries or contemporaries with a slight magical twist, so that I could believe they coexisted in the same universe, and were well-written. All the other stories were either a boring blur or completely outside of the tone of the rest of the anthology.

I think the editors were going for something that felt not only like a story made by many interconnected parts but also a meal with many courses, and so were trying to get as much variety inside of it as it was possible, but the result was dissonant and messy.
There’s still a lot to love about this, from the diversity to the food descriptions (you really can’t go wrong with those) and especially the celebration of foods that mainstream white, western American society would consider “too weird”, but apart from these things, most of this was forgettable.

My rating: ★★


About Me and the YA Age Range

While reading Hungry Hearts, I started wondering if my lack of interest in it was also tied to me being tired of stories about high schoolers, which I started noticing while trying out series on Netflix. I don’t think I would have liked Hungry Hearts at any point of my life, but even in the stories I liked – with the exclusion of Sandhya Menon’s – I struggled to feel interested in anything they talked about. This is usually not a problem I have with short fiction.

But I do still like YA books, so this doesn’t make sense! I thought.
Then I looked at my reading so far this year, and:

of all the 45 books I’ve read so far this year, only 5 were YA.

I didn’t expect this at all. And yes, that’s counting Hungry Hearts. It’s not like I’m not liking them, not necessarily (there was a 5 star book!), but interestingly most of them were audiobooks, because YA books are easier to follow and less intimidating for me when I started to really try out the format this year. Would I have read any YA had I not wanted to try audiobooks?

I was surprised to find this out, because this was in no way a conscious choice; my TBR is still 50% YA and 50% adult, I’m just avoiding the YA books without even realizing I was doing so.

In a way,  I thought this wouldn’t happen to me. I spent half of my teen years being a mostly-YA reader and following reviewers way older than me – way older than 20 – who read mostly YA; in a way, I grew up knowing that while it prioritizes (or at least, it should prioritize) teens, YA is in fact for everyone, and that sometimes a book’s age range depends more on the publisher’s ideas about effective marketing than on anything about its content. A lot of YA SFF is following characters who are so clearly aged down for marketing reasons that it gets kind of ridiculous.

Still, here I am, 20, tired of YA and yet not even noticing that until I tried some TV shows. But I did DNF several YA books this year, too – I just didn’t think much of it. I’m realizing that the main reason I keep coming back to YA even though it appeals to me less and less is that I don’t quite know where to find what I want in adult fiction, especially the non-SFF part of it, which I should try to explore more.

Also, it’s relevant to mention that in my experience YA-focused content gets a lot of attention on blog posts compared to adult SFF.

So, what does this mean?

  • my main response, since I am who I am, is that my TBR could definitely handle a cut! It makes no sense for it to be half YA when YA books aren’t even a quarter of what I read.
  • I will definitely still be reading YA, at the rate that feels natural to me – I’m not the kind of person who thinks excluding an entire age range from their reading on principle is a good idea. It’s just that the rate at which I reach for YA is currently really low.
  • I probably should face the truth and start considering myself an adult SFF reviewer instead of someone who reviews that and YA in equal amounts, as if I were stuck in 2018. (Thinking back, a lot of my YA reading in 2019 was due to ARCs. Not requesting/barely requesting ARCs anymore is doing a lot for making me understand what I actually want to read and I strongly recommend it.)

Have you read any of these? Has your relationship with an age range category changed over time?

Adult · Book review · Discussion · Short fiction

Short Fiction Time #3: Ambiguous Endings in Fiction (and more)

Welcome to the third post in my Short Fiction Time series! This series will include both reviews of short fiction and discussions surrounding it. In 2019, I wasn’t reading as many short stories and anthologies as I’d like, and this is my attempt to fix that.

This time, I will:

  • review four short stories, including a Nebula finalist and recently published stories by well-known SFF authors like Alix E. Harrow and Yoon Ha Lee;
  • one short story collection from a well-known horror author;
  • talk about ambiguous endings with a focus on short fiction vs novels.

Recent Reads

Short Fiction
  • 46301916For He Can Creep by Siobhan Carroll (Tor.com): this is from a completely new-to-me author; I decided to read it because it’s a Nebula Award finalist. And… it was amazing? It’s about cats fighting the Devil to protect a poet, full of delightful cat logic and very interesting cats (I’m sorry but I want an entire book about Nighthunter Moppet now). It doesn’t take itself seriously at all but it talks about the nature of temptation in a way that doesn’t feel too one-dimensional and yet makes sense even for a cat. I think I would have liked this even more had I been already familiar with Christopher Smart (as usual, everything kind of assumes you already know English classics), but that was interesting to learn anyway.
  • The Sycamore and the Sybil by Alix E. Harrow (Uncanny): this was wonderful, and yet I don’t fully love it. It’s as much of a modern witchy twist on Apollo and Daphne as it is a commentary on how society shapes women to turn our anger inwards, our problems against ourselves, so that we’re pretty much trapped by our own minds. And it’s beautifully written, but there’s something about Harrow’s complete lack of subtlety coupled with the predictable trajectory of the story that makes most of her short stories (and her book) not work for me. It’s just so obvious and there’s not much to take away from the journey. Still, I didn’t think this was bad, and I loved how the author mentioned which kinds of plants she was talking about (that’s the way to go if you’re writing about witches!), even though I spent the first third of the story wondering which kind of tree she actually meant with “sycamore”, since that can mean several wildly different species and I have very weird priorities. (I’m still not sure, by the way.)
  • The Whale Fall at the End of the Universe by Cameron Van Sant (Clarkesworld): this is from the author of one of my favorite short stories, the very trippy Super-Luminous Spiral, so I was immediately intrigued. This is set… around a space whale carcass? And I think the main characters are something like space mermaids (they/them pronouns are used for both). This is kind of sad but it’s also a story about love at the end of the world, so not completely sad? Weird, but this time not a kind of weird that resonated much with me. I don’t really know if I got it.
  • The Mermaid Astronaut by Yoon Ha Lee (Beneath Ceaseless Skies): apparently, this is Space Mermaid week! This is a story about a mermaid who wants to become an astronaut, and it’s about sisterhood, relativity, and the way learning science can shift one’s worldview. Also, now I want a scrimshaw depicting a sacrifice to eldritch gods. Apart from the descriptions, though, this is… not my kind of thing. It’s very sweet, and it reminded me of the flash fiction of The Fox’s Tower and Other Tales in its gentle, unhurried nature (…which one wouldn’t expect if only familiar with Lee’s longer works). However, this is not a flash piece and wouldn’t work as one, and it has no sense of urgency behind it. I would recommend it to fans of The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, because they’re somewhat similar in nature (alien space crew!) and because I felt pretty much the same way about them: lovely message, boring story.
Collections

The collection of short stories I read this month was Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado. I loved both her memoir In the Dream House (review) and her short story The Lost Performance of the High Priestess of the Temple of Horror (review) in February, so it seemed like a good idea to read this as well.

33375622Some of this was brilliant and daring, some of this really wasn’t, and most of it bored me.

There’s a running thread of unease and alienation in this collection, of things never being quite right, of details that might seem innocent becoming more and more uncomfortable as you look at them. It’s a collection about bodies, especially women’s bodies, representing the impact of the psychological violence against them as a physical manifestation. It forces the reader to look at it, to acknowledge it exists; just because a lot of it is subtler than a punch, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter.

The stories are ambiguous and twisted, and there’s enough material and subtext to write pages-long reviews of most of them. But here’s where the issue comes in: I didn’t want to. I didn’t feel drawn to dissect or discuss them, or spend any more time on them. I just wanted this book to be over.

This had to do both with personal taste (this is not my kind of body horror, apparently) and because some parts were frankly overdone.
Let’s take the longest story in this collection, Especially Heinous. My biggest takeaway from it is that litfic-adjacent authors can get away with almost everything and have it praised as an incisive masterpiece, and “everything” includes bad fanfiction. Not only I didn’t care because I didn’t know the show this was rewriting (as it happens with fanfiction), it had nothing new to say – it read like a cheap fever dream with nods at twice-reheated commentary.

There were two stories that I really liked, Real Women Have Bodies, an eerie story about the damaging effects of beauty standards with an f/f relationship at the center, and Eight Bites, about the ways fatphobia and misogyny are tied, and how their impact is seen across generations. Mothers was also a really interesting piece about the double-edged nature of fantasy, but I find myself already forgetting most of what I thought about it apart from my feelings about the writing (those descriptions were… something else. I really have no complaints about the writing).

This is probably the first time the whole was less than the sum of its parts for me: individually, I only actually disliked two stories; together, I found myself thinking that again? a lot. I can’t even say it was repetitive, because it isn’t that, exactly; these stories explore an array of different experiences. It was emotionally monotonous to the extreme, however.

My rating: ★★½


On Ambiguous Endings in (Short) Fiction

As I don’t doubt many others are, I tend to be annoyed by ambiguous endings in novels. Of course, there are a lot of situations in which they can make sense, and giving the readers space to find answers themselves can sometimes be a good thing, but there’s always that undercurrent of… betrayal, in a way: the book took a certain amount of time to set up a question, and the reader dedicated a certain amount of time to reading it, but then the book didn’t give an answer. Of course it can be frustrating, especially when there isn’t going to be a sequel.

Something I realized while reading Her Body and Other Parties is that I don’t feel that way at all when it comes to short fiction. The shorter a story is, the more I appreciate what isn’t said, what is purposefully left out. While I didn’t feel compelled to dissect the stories in that collection – for reasons different from their ambiguity – I did see a lot of parts that would have been perfect for that, and if I had been reading this with others, maybe I would have. I remember having a lot of fun with the more ambiguous parts of Salt Slow just a few months ago. I want to be confused and have something to untangle.

Everyone takes away something different from a novel, it’s the fun part of reviewing; with short fiction, this is true to the extreme. People can read Machado’s short stories and come to a completely different conclusion about what they actually mean, and I’m not even really interested in knowing if there is a real answer, the truth of what the author was trying to say – more in various interpretations and how the reader got there. So, Her Body and Other Parties wasn’t necessarily the most interesting collection to read, but it was a really interesting collection to read reviews of.

I think my feelings on this topic have a lot to do with time, how much time the story required me to spend on it just to finish reading it. If it took me an hour, I’m fine with doing all the work myself, but if it took me three days (so, average book-length), I’m going to feel differently about it.


How do you feel about ambiguous endings? Have you read any of these stories?

Miscellaneous

Acqua di More and TV Shows #1

My country has been on lockdown since two weeks after my exam days ended, so I’ve barely been outside at all this year, which means I’ve had a lot of time for things that aren’t books, including – for the first time in my life – TV shows.

Before I had this giftcard-bought, soon-to-be-expired Netflix account, I had only watched one show, Chén Qíng Lìng aka The Untamed, which I really liked. I had very little knowledge of what I would like in a show, so in the beginning there were a few misses.


The DNFs

  • Trinkets (2019): 90% of my motivation for creating a Netflix account was “I want to see queer girls on a screen”, so I pretty much tried a queer show randomly, wondering why I had never heard about it. Well, now I think the reason might be that it’s bad. It’s unbearably awkward, one of the main teen girls is played by someone who is very clearly almost 30, and there was this weird ~frenemy~ dynamic that could have had so much potential, but the show was shallow enough that it just felt stupid. I spent most of the episodes wanting to shake all the characters, then I just decided to quit.
  • Sex Education (2019-2020): I thought, maybe I should try something hyped if the underhyped shows are like that. So I tried the most hyped thing on twitter at the time, and… I really don’t get what people like about this. At all. It made me decide that I’m definitely not watching anything about high schoolers ever again, so at least I got something out of it.

The Ghost Bride (2020)

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Then I finally stumbled on something I could stand! I tried an episode back in February, liked it, and then didn’t continue because I’m bad at series; I thank 24hr.YaBookBlog’s review for convincing me to continue.

The Ghost Bride is a tale about ghosts, family ties and the importance of pursuing your dreams, set in Malacca at the end of the 19th century. It has a gorgeous atmosphere and costumes, which were what drew me to it to begin with, and then it ended up involving… a love square featuring ghosts and supernatural creatures? It was such a fun time, with the best possible ending, and I always live for things in which the villain has a weird obsession for the main character! (This time, not in any way reciprocated, so it’s not a villain romance.)

I don’t remember* any canon queer content, but as far as I could tell there was nothing in canon to contradict my firm belief that Lim Yan Hong was most definitely a lesbian.

*I say this because my screen anxiety requires skimming and I can miss subtle things that way

I’m giving it 4 stars, since it made me want to read the book.

Tales of the City (2019 miniseries)

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I had heard nothing about this either, so I was a little apprehensive at first, but it ended up being something that a) I could stand, b) was very very queer, and c) was not about high schoolers, thankfully, for once. [why are almost all contemporary queer shows about high schoolers?]

It’s a really interesting, lively, fun portrayal of the San Francisco queer scene, following mostly interpersonal drama (relationship and friendship as much as family) and only sometimes something darker, with an overall light tone but also some difficult discussions – it talks about intergenerational conflict in the queer community, gentrification, the meaning of family, adults discovering new things about their sexuality…
Overall, it was such a beautiful portrayal of found family.

I have to admit that I skimmed most scenes following the token straight people straight main characters, who as far as I understood were people from previous series in the same setting (which I haven’t watched and one doesn’t need to watch to understand this); I also didn’t love the final twist (oh, of course the only character who is very heavily coded as neurodivergent is evil), so I’m giving 3.5 stars, but it was still a very fun time for a day in which I didn’t want to get out of bed.


If there’s a netflix show (especially if queer!) that you really recommend, please tell me! I’m always looking for recommendations.

lists · Weekly

Favorite Books of 2019

It’s time for my favorite post of the year!

Favorite books of 2019” is also the Top Ten Tuesday topic for this week (hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl), and since in 2019 I’ve read aroung 100 books instead of 150 as I did in 2018 and 2017, I’m actually going to stop myself at ten, with five honorable mentions at the end. My list of favorites that aren’t novels (so, from novellas and graphic novels to TV shows and poetry) will be in a different post, hopefully coming soon.

I chose the order in a way that wouldn’t only count how much I liked the story – as I liked all of these, and putting them in order basing myself only on that was going to be difficult – but also how much they affected me after I read them.

My favorite book is at the end of the list.


The Weight of the Stars by K. Ancrum

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The best books about space are always the ones that manage to make you feel small while reminding you that life is beautiful, and how we can thrive on this spinning rock of a planet. And there’s something about the way K. Ancrum writes that is perfect for that: the short chapters and the mixed media format combined make you fly through the story quickly, but the feeling of wonder and hope stays with you.
This is also a story about queer found family and star-spanning sapphic love, and what more could one want?

The Lost Coast by Amy Rose Capetta

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The Lost Coast is a love letter to the communities queer people form and the power of queer love, wrapped in a wonderfully atmospheric contemporary-fantasy package. This is one of those books that is queer to its essence while not being about tragedy, because there’s more that is unique about our experiences than pain and trauma; it’s a story about finding and recognizing your own power in the context of a group, and the importance of having people to ground you as well. I hope I’ll get to spend more time with Danny, Rush and the other witches in the Californian redwoods.

Dragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee

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Among all the impactful, stare-at-the-sky-in-wonder, weird, and challenging reads, sometimes I forget that reading can be, you know, fun. Fun doesn’t mean mindless or forgettable: sometimes you want to remind yourself what it was like to be a tween who wants to go on an adventure, and sometimes you want to get emotional about fox ghosts, in a book that has the same feel as the ones from your childhood – but that, unlike them, has the existence of queer/trans/polyamorous people built in its very worldbuilding and is based in a non-western culture, being Korean-inspired sci-fi. If I could give one book to tween Acqua, it would be this one; that doesn’t mean it was any less valuable as an adult.

The Fever King by Victoria Lee

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At this point, I know I will always fall in love with the kind of stories whose point is to ask, does the end really justify these means, all over again. I’m predictable, and so is this book, but sometimes it doesn’t matter because the execution is that good. The Fever King is a story about trauma, intergenerational and not, and what it means to live as a survivor; it also has one of the most interesting sci-fantasy magic systems I’ve ever read, directly based on learning. I can’t wait to see where this story will bring me with The Electric Heir next year, and whether Noam and Dara will get to be something resembling happy and in love.
Also, if you like reading about villains, please, read this book. I hadn’t had such an intense book hangover since 2017.

The Wise and the Wicked by Rebecca Podos

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I don’t know if I get what it means to be in love with a person, but I know this book does.
The Wise and the Wicked is a story about looking at the future while dealing with intergenerational trauma, following a magical Russian-American family, and it has what’s my favorite m/f romance of the year. It felt so real, and sweet, and sometimes it’s nice to be reminded of how a romance can be all of these things while being what makes a book shine. (I’m usually more here for tense, possibly evil stuff.)
Everything about this felt so vibrant and alive, just as bright and unforgettable as its cover. Because of its kind of magical weirdness, its attention to detail, and the major queer characters and trans love interest, I’d recommend this book to everyone who likes Anna-Marie McLemore’s novels.

With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo

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Sometimes a book can change your life.
I’m not a different person than I was when I read With the Fire on High, a story about an Afro-Puerto Rican teen mother who wants to become a chef, but it did set my life on a different path than the one it would have taken otherwise. It’s as much about finding the strenght to make difficult decisions about your own future as it is about the link between food and culture, and I really needed to think about both things. There are many ways books have affected me – this is not the only novel I’ve read that has made see my life in a different way – but “literally pick up a hobby” was not one of them. I’m not almost-magical like Emoni, but I can do more by myself than hard-boil an egg now, and that’s progress.

Pet by Akwaeke Emezi

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Let’s start this by saying that the main character is named Jam and her parents are Bitter and Aloe, “bitter Aloe jam”, and any book that includes a blatant Aloe ferox reference has to end up on a list of favorites. (That is, after all, my favorite plant.)
Not only Pet is a near-future utopian story and the closest I’ve ever seen to a middle grade-YA crossover, it’s one following a black trans girl with selective mutism in which not one of these three things is ever seen as a problem by anyone or the narrative, and it’s also one of the stories with the most relevant commentary on complacency and the nature of evil I’ve ever read. It’s probably the only book I’d really recommend to everyone.

Middlegame by Seanan McGuire

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By now, I think it’s obvious that if you’re writing adult SFF, the one way to my heart is to build something that feels like a puzzle to read, one that requires effort while feeling effortless, one that won’t let me stop thinking about its content for a moment while I’m not reading it.
This is about science and philosophy, about superpowers and alchemy, about power and balance, it’s a mindfuck and a masterpiece, and over all of that, it’s about an ascent to godhood.

Ancestral Night by Elizabeth Bear

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I have condensed many times this book down to “space archeology, with pirates”, and it is that, and it also has F/F hero/villain sexual tension, and horrible cults, and wonderful, vaguely terrifying alien artifacts.
It is all of these things, but what stood out to me the most about it was the scale on which it operated. From it being something as small as the story of someone learning to cope with her traumatic past and finding a sense of self, to it being a story about systems of government and sentience’s neverending search for fairness, and to it being about something as incomprehensible to the human mind as what’s written in the scaffolding of the universe – there were so many levels to this, and as I said before, the best books about space are the ones that get how impossibly enormous this everything is, while reminding you that the personal still matters.

A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine

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“Court intrigue set in the heart of a space empire, featuring a main F/F romance and an unforgettable cast in which you’ll see other powerful, active, competent women apart from the main character and her love interest” was already a perfect premise, but I was still not ready for this. A Memory Called Empire is about navigating two different cultures when the one you weren’t born into is devouring the one you were, and about living as a bilingual person; I usually don’t get to see what I deal with in my daily life reflected in a novel, much less in SFF involving queer characters. There’s even a subplot involving a sci-fi-induced haunting, and the court intrigue is the best court intrigue I’ve read in years if not ever, and with all of these things, there was no way this wouldn’t end up being my favorite book of the year.


Honorable Mentions

I haven’t read enough books to have 15 favorites exactly like last year, but I have five more books that were really important to me, so here they are!

Love from A to Z by S. K. Ali, that didn’t end up on the “favorites” list just because I don’t particularly like the number eleven, for showing me how beautiful the YA contemporary romance genre is in the hands of a skilled author and making me believe in it again.

The Beautiful by Renée Ahdieh, for reminding me that popular disdain towards a trope doesn’t necessarily mean the book has nothing to say, and for its unapologetic portrayal of a heroine navigating Catholic self-loathing. Bring love triangles back, thank you.

Never-Contented Things by Sarah Porter, as I’ve never been told by so many people that they’ve read a book because of me as with this one, is important to me both for the way it talks about messed up people’s twisty path to hope and healing, and for reminding me that sometimes good reviews do matter.

The Grief Keeper by Alexandra Villasante, for showing me that stories about bilingual ESL main characters can get published (the main character is a Salvadorian lesbian), for being the most heartrending YA book of the year, and for having the softest romance born from horrible circumstances.

The Light Brigade by Kameron Hurley, for being the book I’ve thought about the most this year, probably, and for being a masterpiece I deeply appreciated despite it including so many things I theoretically hate. It’s not my favorite book by Kameron Hurley, but it is her best one.


What were your favorite books of 2019?

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 · 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?

lists · Weekly

Favorite Books of 2018

It’s time for my favorite post of the year, about my favorite books of the year!

Favorite books of 2018” is also the Top Ten Tuesday topic for this week (hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl), but since I read 160 books this year, I won’t stop myself to 10. Even with a list of 15 books, I’m not talking about some novels I read and loved that deserve at least a mention, like the wonderful sci-fantasy Mahabharata retelling A Spark of White Fire by Sangu Mandanna, the fast-paced urban fantasy story about the dark side of teenage love Bruja Born by Zoraida Córdova, or the heartbreaking queer spy thriller Amberlough by Lara Elena Donnelly.
I already wrote my list of favorites that aren’t novels, here.

Anyway, this is my favorite post to write because it’s about what I did right, what I found that I loved, about what not only didn’t disappoint, but surprised me.

My favorite book of the year is at the end of the list.


The Boneless Mercies by April Genevieve Tucholke

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I hadn’t realized how powerful it would be to read about a group of girls who decide to go on a quest to slay a monster because they want to, not because they have to, until I read The Boneless Mercies. Reading about active protagonists is so refreshing. Of course I loved the friendships, the chilling atmosphere and the reversal of typical gender roles (the girls are warriors, witches and monsters, the boy is a healer) but what made The Boneless Mercies a favorite for me is that it is a story about carving your place in a world that doesn’t want you, about deciding to not be small and quiet anymore, about being a woman and seeking glory. And it’s epic, as it should be.

Temper by Nicky Drayden

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I haven’t read anything similar to Nicky Drayden’s Temper and I don’t think I will ever find it. This is a very unusual genre-defying story set in a place inspired by South Africa in which everyone has a twin, and vices and virtues are split between them. This is a story about siblings, messy families, a very unique fictional school, and demonic possessions, with so many plot twists I could have never seen coming that made sense nonetheless – as much as everything in here made sense, but this is the way my favorite kind of fun, lovable weird stories are.

Into the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant

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Into the Drowning Deep is a sci-fi horror novel about scientists going on an expedition to find mermaids in the Mariana Trench. It’s a story about environmentalism, about the relationship humans have with the ocean, and it had the marine horror content I had been looking for. To see a story that not only gets that the sea is beautiful and the sea is scary, but follows these themes also from the point of view of a diverse cast which includes a queer marine biologist meant a lot to me. The f/f relationship in here – Tory, the bisexual biologist, and Olivia, an autistic lesbian who is a camera operator – was one of my favorite romances of the year. I also really liked the people-eating mermaids, but that was not a surprise.

Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik

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Spinning Silver is a subversive retelling of Rumpelstiltskin set in a Lithuanian-inspired magical country in which the winter seems to never end, there are cruel creatures living in the snowy forests – the Staryk – and the reluctant Tsar may or may not be possessed. It’s a story about women supporting each other, about marriage, about being a daughter, following many point of views – including the daughter of a Jewish moneylender, an abuse survivor working to repay her debts and for freedom, and a not-so-beautiful but very clever daughter of a duke. It follows so many storylines, slowly, but does so in a way that feels effortless, and it’s one of the most beautiful fantasy books I’ve read this year.

Blanca & Roja by Anna-Marie McLemore

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Blanca & Roja is a retelling of Snow White and Rose Red meets Swan Lake featuring latinx, trans and disabled people as main characters. It’s a story about defying binaries, not letting yourself be defined by stereotypes, and giving yourself the space to be different from what you thought you had to be. As usual for McLemore’s books, the writing is gorgeous and the romances are perfect – this book has two of them! Also, I love how her books always feel so real and close just as much as they feel like timeless fairytales.

The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan

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The Astonishing Color of After follows Leigh, a Taiwanese-American teenager who goes to Taiwan to reconnect with her mother’s side of the family after her mother dies by suicide. It’s a beautiful story about the importance of mental health awareness, about grief and moving on. There was something magical about it, and I don’t mean that just because it’s a contemporary story with speculative aspects, but something about the writing, about seeing different generations interact through the language barrier, about Leigh’s feelings for her family and her art, stayed with me. Also, while YA books have wonderful representation of mentally ill teens, their portrayal of mentally ill adults is often one-dimensional, especially if they’re parents. The Astonishing Color of After, however, is a book that gets it. It gets that someone may love their partner and their children and still be suicidal, because while having people who love and support you can help, it’s not in any way a cure.

Strange Grace by Tessa Gratton

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Even though YA books were full of love triangles until 2015, there are very few stories following polyamorous relationships in this age range, and Strange Grace is one of these (m/nb/f). It’s a story about a magical town in which nothing bad ever happens, but this bargain has an ugly side, as it requires human sacrifice. I loved its atmosphere, I loved its magic, I loved the detailed, macabre descriptions of the creepy forest, I loved the way the three main characters interacted and their relationship. It’s also a story about dismantling gender essentialism, which was interesting to read, and I know I won’t forget this book.

Witchmark by C.L. Polk

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Witchmark is a sweet m/m paranormal romance, a fun murder mystery, a historical fantasy novel about PTSD and the aftermath of war inspired by Edwardian England, and a gaslamp story that explores class privilege – all in one book. One book that is just a bit longer than 300 pages, and yet it’s such a multilayered story in which not one of the aspects I listed is neglected, the characters are well-developed, and the romance is amazing. I can’t wait for the sequel, which is also going to be f/f.

Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan

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If someone had told me two years ago that a YA fantasy book that not only had a main f/f relationship, but also had a Malaysian-inspired world and talked about sexual assault, would have been a NYT bestseller, I wouldn’t have believed them. I’m so glad this book exists, and I think I needed it when I was in high school – it says some things about recognizing attraction and navigating women’s spaces when you’re queer that would have helped me a lot – even though it’s a really heavy read (there is pet death, rape and outing in this book). This is a beautiful, necessary book that gets that being a victim doesn’t make you helpless, just like it doesn’t make you a good person, as victims themselves sometimes turn against other victims. It’s one of the few novels I’ve read in which the portrayal of “girl-on-girl hate” was not only everything but a lazy device to have tension, but actually made the book better.

Final Draft by Riley Redgate

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In a world in which the “tormented artist” stereotype is often romanticized, I think YA books like Final Draft, books that explicitly tell you that the pursuit of art isn’t worth your sanity, are really important. This is a story about perfectionism and dealing with academic pressure when you’re mentally ill, and some parts of it were very close to things that I experienced myself – like anxiety ruining what was once just a fun hobby for you. But it’s also a hopeful story, with one of my favorite romances ever – I loved Laila (who is biracial Ecuadorian and pansexual) and Hannah (Korean lesbian) so much.

Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente

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I read this book in a hospital, right after a surgery, during one of the most stressful times of my life – and it made me really happy even then. I should probably reread it because I was definitely not at my best, but this book helped me go through those days. It’s a story about… Eurovision in space, involving aliens, in which if humans lose, they’re all going to die. It’s over-the-top and weird in the best way, it’s very queer, it’s political and unapologetic and against fascism without ever feeling preachy, it features a flamingo/anglerfish hybrid-looking alien and a hyperactive time-traveling red panda. It’s beautifully written, as Valente’s books always are – it may even be my favorite of all of them (I have to reread it to be sure).

The House of Binding Thorns by Aliette de Bodard

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The House of Binding Thorns is one of the best sequels I’ve ever read, in a series that is now one of my all-time favorites. It’s a Gothic fantasy story set in a post-apocalyptic historical version of Paris in which there are fallen angels and Vietnamese dragons, and it’s also very queer. There’s an m/m arranged marriage in this book, and a main f/f couple in which one of the character is trans! It also features some things I love but don’t find as often as I want in fantasy, like quality villain content and very creepy descriptions of trees. It’s a dark series in the way post-apocalyptic stories usually are, but it’s about characters surviving and finding ways to support each other in a ruined world, so it doesn’t have the hopelessness that often keeps me away from this genre. Also, the lost, vaguely creepy atmosphere is perfect.

Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie

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Do I always love the books about people taking down the evil space empires? It seems so.
Ancillary Justice is the first book in an imaginative sci-fi series that deserved all the awards it got. I mean, it’s basically about a character who claims to be a person from outside the evil space empire but she’s actually a spaceship in a trench coat, a lost human captain who should have died a thousand years ago, and a disaster villain engaged in a surprisingly complex scheme of self-backstabbing. It’s great.

I like it enough that I’m currently making my dad read it, and he usually doesn’t read genre fiction. I hope he likes it too?

The Dark Beneath the Ice by Amelinda Bérubé

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I don’t know if I can explain what The Dark Beneath the Ice means to me. Have you ever read a book and thought this gets me or I have done that, I am doing that, I have thought that? That’s me with this YA horror novel. And no, I’ve never been haunted, but as I see it, this isn’t really a haunting – for me, it’s more… anxiety horror, avoidance horror, because it talks about the ways using avoidance as a coping mechanism for anxiety hurts you, but it describes it with a paranormal twist. As I’m often skeptical of the way paranormal and horror stories portray mental illness (I really don’t like the she’s not ill, she’s magic! trope), I was really surprised by how clever this set up was and how much I loved it. The f/f romance in this was also wonderful, and it’s always great to read YA books that talk explicitly about characters taking medication for their illnesses.

Revenant Gun by Yoon Ha Lee

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Revenant Gun is the third book in the sci-fi trilogy Machineries of Empire, also known on this blog as “the mass murder magic math books” or, also, “my favorite books”.
This series has so many things that I like in SFF – villains who are the worst and own it, “heroes” who aren’t good people either (all the characters are kind of horrible. I love all of them), an all-queer cast, almost no romance, magical science, and characters making bad decisions because sometimes there aren’t good options. Also, the message about surviving an ugly world through hobbies? There’s one conversation in which Mikodez (he’s probably my favorite character) and Brezan talk about that, and I think I found it at the right time.
My favorite kind of stories are the ones that manage to be really dark and never a chore to read at the same time – and Revenant Gun was this for me. I love reading about all versions of Jedao, but teen Jedao’s PoV is, in a way, exactly the kind of thing I like the most about this series: it’s a combination of really sad and hilarious, and it works.


What were your favorite books of 2018?