What I’ve Been Reading: October 2015

In an effort to keep track of my reading, I’ve started taking notes about the stories I’ve been enjoying. All of them are linked, where applicable. If there’s something I’ve missed, or that I should read, leave a comment or send me a note at nanoonino [at] gmail [dot] com. And if you’d like to support my writing–whether it’s reviews, tiny essays, or fiction–please check out my Patreon page.

Novels

The Diviners and Lair of Dreams by Libba Bray.
I really can’t talk highly enough about these books. Bray might be one of my favorite YA authors, and I’ve been waiting for a sequel to The Diviners for years, and Lair of Dreams did not disappoint. This series takes place in New York in the ’20s, and has  everything I could want. Supernatural evil! Monsters! Diverse characters that actually reflects New York’s demographics! Complicated and layered relationships!

Collections

Queers Destroy Horror, edited by Wendy Wagner.
There’s a lot of amazing stuff in here: stories by Caitlin R. Kiernan, Sunny Moraine, Alyssa Wong, Poppy Z. Brite (who wrote the first queer horror I ever encountered) and Chuck Palahniuk; poetry by Brit Mandelo, Amal El-Mohtar, and Rose Lemberg; plus a collection of essays, art, and interviews. You can read a selection of it online or buy the ebook.

Octavia’s Brood: Science Fiction from Social Justice Movements, edited by Walidah Imarisha and adrienne maree brown.
My review of Octavia’s Brood: Science Fiction from Social Justice Movements is now live at Strange Horizons. You can read it here.

Essays

The Tragic, Forgotten History of the Haitian Zombie by Mike Mariani, in The Atlantic.
The historical and cultural origins of appropriated monsters often get lost in popular representations. Zombies, in particular, have become divorced from their origins as allegories for slavery, and have become instead blank canvases onto which we project our (white, American/European) fears.

Impostors by Katharine Quarmby, in Aeon Magazine.
I proceed extremely cautiously while reading essays about identity, particularly as it regards race and gender. Quarmby navigated the potential thorns and pitfalls pretty well, I thought, probably because this essay functioned more as a survey of layered or transitional identities, using the author’s experience as a transnational and transracial adoptee as a starting point, rather than a critical essay.

Short Stories

Orange Dogs by Marian Womack in Weird Fiction Review.
Marian’s a classmate from the Clarion Writing Workshop, and apparently this was one of the stories from her application. Marian writes so well about environment, and here she evokes a shabby Oxford that’s been worn down and transformed by climate change: hot, humid, and home to strange new species. The eponymous Orange Dogs are giant, carnivorous butterflies, and they mean something more to the protagonist, who struggles to provide for his family while also grieving for a stillborn child.

You can also read Marian’s story Frozen Planet in Apex Magazine. Marian describes it as a “Lovecraftian SF tale.” I’d describe it as a gothic ghost story on a different planet, with shades of Jack London and Henry James.

Minotaur: An Analysis of the Species by Sean Robinson, in Unlikely Story’s Journal of Unlikely Academia issue.
This story re-imagines the classic monster, its labyrinths, its prey, and its slayers, taking the format of a scholarly article. I really love stories that play with form and ostensible function, and this tale manages to create a soft narrative in building its world.

The Game of Smash and Recovery by Kelly Link in Strange Horizons.
There is a lot we never know in “The Game of Smash and Recovery.” There are vampires and Handmaids and secrets between Anat and her brother Oscar. The revelations we’re privy to don’t give us all the answers we seek, and the story perhaps mirrors the game Anat and Oscar engage in. What is recovered and what is destroyed by the end of this story? (I have a lot of feelings about Kelly Link’s fiction. Each of her stories seem to exist as separate and wholly different from each other. She never takes shortcuts; never leads the reader by the nose.)

The Invention of Separate People by Kevin Brockmeier in Lightspeed.
I still remember reading The Symposium in college, and this story seemed like it would have had a place in that volume, next to Aristophanes’s dialogue on the invention of love. This is an extremely odd love story, where metaphors about love are made literal, dissected, and discussed.

Solder and Seam by Maria Dahvana Headley in Lightspeed.
Headley has become one of my favorite short story writers in the last few months. “solder and Seam”, like most of her stories, is richly drawn, with a wealth of detail that invigorates her fiction. I loved the image of a rusty, patched-together whale traveling over the fields of yellow grain.

Horror Story by Carmen Maria Machado in Granta.
A lot of horror stories are analogies for more subtle fears: the disintegration of a marriage and domestic life, in this case. Machado, like Link, tends to subtly twist tropes on their head, such as in this passage, where she plays with familiar origins for haunted houses:

It turned out there had been a graveyard for criminals on the property where our home now stood. Also, a woman had been strangled by her lover in our bedroom just after the house was built. Also, a man had hanged himself in the attic during the Great Depression. Also, a teenage girl had been kidnapped and held in the basement for a year in the seventies before the kidnapper, who had never bothered offering a ransom, sent pieces of her body to her family in sets of Russian nesting dolls and then burned what remained of her on the front lawn. We tracked down the tenants who’d lived there immediately before us. Their eight-year-old son claimed the seam between the world of the living and the dead ran through the foyer.

I’ve previously written about Machado’s work here. Machado, as it turns out, is also an essayist with work in the New Yorker, and a really excellent guide to applying to MFA programs that has been an open tab on my laptop for the past two months.

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