First, I wanted to mention K. Tempest Bradford’s challenge, issued on xojane.com, to stop reading white cisgender straight male authors. This isn’t the first such challenge I’ve seen, but it’s the first time I’ve gotten to witness people lose their collective shit over it. Possibly because, rather than framing the challenge to do something (i.e., read only women authors or people of color for a year) with a timeline, Bradford’s challenge, at least in its headline, was framed around giving something up. But I’m pretty sure that most of the hubbub was because most people saw the headline, saw the fabulous picture of Bradford holding a copy of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, and promptly lost their shit because REVERSE RACISM!
There are problems with the challenge, most of which Nick Mamatas mentions here: unless an author explicitly mentions it, you might not know that they’re queer, trans, or a person of color. Plenty of women have written under pseudonyms or with their initials, in order to work around readers’ biases. It takes a certain amount of planning and research–which isn’t really a problem, in my mind.
Bradford has a couple of great responses here and here, to accusations of reverse-racism and reading only in a comfort zone. What I’ve personally taken away from it is a challenge as a reviewer: to focus primarily on books by authors that have been marginalized, because generally? They need all the exposure they can get. Am I going to exclude cis-het male authors? Not necessarily. Hell, I picked up the full Area X Trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer last night, because I enjoyed the hell out of the first two books and am looking forward to reading the third. I also bought books by Dorothy Allison, Emily Carroll (see below!), Samuel Delaney, and Italo Calvino. I am going to continue to focus on authors that are writing from the margins, for all the reasons that Bradford lays out: fighting against biases in publishing, widening the playing field for marginalized writers, and pushing my comfort zones as a reader.
TL:DR: Challenge accepted, since it was something I was mostly trying to do anyway, particularly when it came to reviews.
Cool? Cool. Onto this month’s stories.
First! Stories by friends that I’m totally biased about. They’re lovely.
The Language of Knives by Haralambi Markov is a story about love and grief, and how it shapes our rituals of death. Harry’s writing is full of very beautiful, very creepy imagery that’s lovingly rendered.
Acrobatic Duality by Tamara Vardomskaya showcases Tamara’s skill with presenting a mind-blowing idea–having one person share two bodies–and all the questions that arise from it. The characters in this, and the description of world-championship acrobatics, are wonderfully described.
Dropped Stitches by Levi Sable, at The Journal of Unlikely Cryptography. More fascinating world-building: a future world in which children are designed according to their programming, but in this case, the programming is coded through knitting patterns. Aside from the amazing world-building, Levi has created an amazingly tense relationship between his two main characters.
Signal To Noise by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. I’ll be reviewing this for Strange Horizons.
And You Shall Know Her By the Trail of Dead by Brooke Bolander at Lightspeed. It seems like there’s been a lot of recommendations for this already, but I’m just going to add mine: IT’S SO GODDAM GOOD. Has one of those endings that made me want to scream in savage triumph. This story is like Warr
The Ticket Taker of Cenote Zací, by Benjamin Parzybok, at Strange Horizons. Gorgeously written, full of creeping dread and dream-like prose.
How To Become a Robot in 12 Easy Steps by A. Merc Rustad in Sciegentasy. Features a non-neurotypical, asexual protagonist. Deals with identity, depression, suicidal ideation, transhumanism, and love. Made me and my mother both cry.
21 Steps to Enlightenment by LaShawn M. Wanak in Strange Horizons. Magical realism set in Chicago, in which various staircases appear to those in need of an epiphany. Not all epiphanies are created equally, though, and not everyone needs external revelation.
The Heat of Us: Notes Towards an Oral History by Sam J. Miller in Uncanny Magazine. I feel like I need to write an entire essay on this story, and how fiction can both reflect and deepen our understanding of history, and the use of metaphor as a weapon for the marginalized. The Heat of Us is a retelling of the Stonewall Riots, from a variety of viewpoints. The only speculative element is that, rather than just rioting, the patrons at Stonewall develop collective and temporary pyrokinesis, and burn ten police officers to ash.
The Unicorn of Renée d’Orléans-Longueville by Janna Layton in Goblinfruit. Made me cry and gave me the shivers and just generally wrecked me.
Was: Blue Line to Memorial Park by Bogi Tacáks in Strange Horizons. I loved the ingenuity of form in this poem, and SH’s formatting is excellent. I actually said “WHOA” out loud.
Boxers and Saints by Gene Luen Yang. This is an ambitious but still accessible piece of historical fiction about China’s Boxer Rebellion. It’s a boxed set of two separate stories, one focusing on the rebels, and the other on a single girl, a Christian convert. It’s fantastic.
Through the Woods by Emily Carroll. I love Carroll’s art, especially her online comics, which make great use of formatting and framing. Her comics, especially in this collection, have a visceral horror and tension to them, making great use of color and lines to portray really dreadful things.