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#stackingthestories round up

Forestofglory, who I follow on Twitter and generally enjoy a lot, created a short fiction reading challenge for July. I’ve been meaning to get back into SFF short fiction for ages now, and jumped on the challenge as a way of making that leap. I’m very glad I did! I didn’t reach my maybe-lofty goal of 31 short fiction pieces read in July, but it was still very worthwhile and I have a renewed commitment to making sure I read short fiction in the future. Since Twitter is an ephemeral medium, I wanted to collect the short reviews I posted there. The titles with an asterisk before them were personal favorites.

“it me, ur smol” by A. Merc Rustad: I am a bit so-so on this one. It’s a cute idea, and the internet speak read as accurate. As a piece of flash fiction it’s fine, but the gesture towards activism felt hollow in such a short story.

“Three Cups of Grief, by Starlight” by Aliette de Bodard: Packs a lot into a setup that initially looks simple (it isn’t). I liked the way the narratives were woven together, but never quite connected with the emotion the way I wanted to. (This is true beyond this piece: stories about grief are tough because how can the reader care about the loss of someone who we only meet in absence?)

* “The Dragon that Flew Out of the Sun” by Aliette de Bodard: Stories, memory, and the complexity of truth. Loved this one. (Also curious to reread “Three Cups of Grief” having now read a story that centered me more in the universe)

“A Witch’s Guide to Escape” by Alix E. Harrow: I like it; it makes me uneasy. Liking – Harrow clearly knows libraries well enough to give it a real flavor. I loved the details of the displays in particular. Uneasy – my instant twitchiness about fictional librarians; I don’t quite believe that stories save us anymore; the kid in the story never felt like a real person in his own right. (Maybe I should say stories in & of themselves? I don’t know. At other points in my life, I would have vehemently disagreed with my current feeling) Added all together, this is a good example of a story that I like individually but which fits into a pattern I find troubling.

“Give the Family My Love” by A.T. Greenblatt: Feels very of-this-moment in a number of ways; it’s…fine, but overall a little on the nose for my personal taste.

* “She Commands Me & I Obey” (parts 1 &2) by Ann Leckie: Look, I can’t be objective here, because I love Leckie’s writing and I love Breq and it’s so interesting to see Breq from an outsider’s pov–what seems familiar & what doesn’t. This story is pretty gruesome in a lot of ways, but it also feels real? And I appreciate that we see no system is without flaws/imbalances/etc. It’s also neat to get a sense of Breq’s weird charisma in another setting. (My notes for this one just say, “BREQ”)

* “The Tale of the Three Beautiful Raptor Sisters, and the Prince Who Was Made of Meat” by Brooke Bolander: I love everything about this, from the fairy tale structure to the descriptions.

“Owl vs the Neighborhood Watch” by Darcie Little Badger: I’m struggling with how to evaluate this story because I bounced off of it pretty hard. But I don’t know if I have the cultural tools to evaluate it. I don’t have any big critical arguments against it, it just wasn’t for me at this moment and I’m not sure why.

“Anyway: Angie” by DJ Older: Very horrifying, tense, and atmospheric. I love the way Older uses language to evoke mood and Reza’s emotions in this one. CW: violence & mentions of sexual assault

* “Abandonware” by Genevieve Valentine:  I would say I’m a genuine Genevieve Valentine fangirl, but I hadn’t read this story before. I’m still not quite sure of my reaction but I’ve been thinking about it ever since I read it yesterday. There are some REALLY CREEPY elements/moments.

“Werewolf Loves Mermaid” by Heather Lindsley: This is light and funny and sweet, and sometimes that’s what you need.

“The Boy and the Bell” by Heidi Heilig: Ahhhh, another creepy one. It’s short but atmospheric, and quite effective.

* “Tomorrow Is Waiting” by Holli Mintzer: Awww, I really liked this one! I like stories about AI, generally speaking, and this was a sweet/interesting take. Does it ever explain anything? nope! am I okay with that? Yep!

* “The Light Brigade” by Kameron Hurley: Confession: this is the first Hurley story I’ve ever actually read and wow! It’s brutal, but also beautiful and more hopeful than I expected?

“The Counsellor Crow” by Karen Lord: I like the way the world unfolds in this story, in a way that is kind of breathtaking, but the ending felt abrupt to me!

“There are Two Pools You May Drink From” by Kerry-Lee Powell: I didn’t particularly like this one, which may be a personal reaction to the way abuse is treated here. Also a repeated use of “Oriental” as a descriptive term? I don’t know, there was just nothing that felt engaging to me or convinced me the characters were real.

“A Dozen Frogs, A Bakery, and a Thing that Didn’t Happen” by Laura Pearlman: AHHHHH this is pretty fun. To be clear, I don’t endorse the solution here. But I don’t *not* endorse either.

“Blue Morphos in the Garden” by Lis Mitchell: Eerie and thoughtful; I loved the sense of claustrophobic in-turning of the family. (I mean, loved from a technical pov. It creeped me out a lot as a reader.)

* “Solder and Seam” by Maria Dahvana Headley:  A story that rewards rereading; I wasn’t sure what was happening at first and liked it a lot more once I figured it out. I also appreciate the Patrick O’Brian reference.

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bookish posts reviews

Tender by Sofia Samatar

I knew right away that I had to read this anthology. Sofia Samatar’s work is always amazing: unexpected, brilliant, beautiful. It’s been almost two years since I first read The Winged Histories, which turned out to be an important book for me. In Tender (Small Beer Press, 2017), Samatar has collected twenty pieces of short fiction, most of them published elsewhere previously. They are grouped into two sections: tender bodies and tender landscapes. It’s up to the reader to determine the way these two ideas interact with each other across the divide of the grouping, and the way they take on different shades of emotion and inflection in each story.

Short fiction collections can sometimes be frustrating, particularly when the pieces are uneven in quality. In addition, some collections lack coherence and end up feeling like the pieces have nothing to say to each other. Or the pieces begin to feel too much the same, as if the writer only has one real idea.

For me, Tender struck a nice balance between these two problems. There are similarities of theme–connection and loss, personal resistance to injustice, belonging–and even of tone. Many of the stories strike a melancholy and even elegiac note. However, Samatar’s seemingly endless inventiveness when it comes to setting and the crystal clarity with which she draws her characters keeps these similarities from dominating. What emerges is instead a set of stories that are in conversation with each other across the boundaries of genre and setting.

Because of this, and because it’s a strong collection, it’s difficult to pick favorites. “Selkie Stories are For Losers” as the opener is fascinating; I had read it before and while it’s not my gut-level favorite, it establishes the kind of narrative gaps that Samatar loves to play with. The tension between hope that the future will be brighter and the knowledge that it may not be. Within the first section, I also loved “The Ogres of East Africa,” which starts engaging with racism and colonialism, and ways of holding your self true in the midst of their pressures. This thread weaves through a number of the stories in the collection, approached in different ways but always with thoughtfulness and hope.

If I had to pick one favorite story out of this collection, it would probably be “Honey Bear,” which acts as a class in playing with the expectations of genre readers. I don’t want to spoil the surprise, but I was delighted at how deftly Samatar took my sense of where the story was headed and turned it on its head.

In the second part, tender landscapes, “An Account of the Land of Witches” was especially delightful to me. I loved the way dreams are played with, and it’s an epistolary short story! I love those. “Request for an Extension on the Clarity” also shows how well Samatar can evoke setting and character, even in a very brief form. I’m still not sure what I thought of “Fallow,” the long story that makes up the bulk of the second section. The images and writing are vivid and lovely, but it felt a little bit pat. However, I loved “The Red Thread,” the last story of the collection. With its post-apocalyptic feel and haunting ending, it felt like the perfect conclusion for this set of stories.

All in all, no surprises here, I loved Tender and certainly want to revisit this collection of stories again. Given the depth and richness of Samatar’s writing, I’m sure rereading them will be like revisiting a familiar landscape and finding something in it that had never been seen before.

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bookish posts reviews

Recent short fiction reads

When I was in college, I was a pretty big reader of SFF short fiction. That’s where I first encountered authors like Theodora Goss and Catherynne Valente. But at some point, I kind of lost track of the short fiction world. Recently, I’ve been wanting to dive back in, and have found a few stories I’ve really enjoyed. Lady Business’s Short Business project has been very helpful in finding several of these.

To Whatever” by Shaenon Garrity: An epistolary short story, told in the letters of Ethan to whatever lives in the walls of his apartment building. This one was especially fun because I like epistolary stories quite a bit to begin with, because the evolution of the relationship in the story is nicely drawn, and because I thought I knew where the arc of the story was going, and I was wrong! It totally surprised me. Also Willem’s letters were spot-on. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this one.

Pockets” by Amal El-Mohtar: This story builds to a slow crescendo. It starts with the odd but not entirely bizarre recurrence of things appearing in Nadia’s pockets. A lipstick that isn’t hers; a coin; a gun. Nadia’s reaction to this is well done, and the story weaves in questions about friendship, trust, and ultimately the bent of the universe. Its ambiguity is tempered with hope, and I found the ending so beautiful that I cried a little bit.

Clasp Hands” by Stephanie Burgis: I’ve loved Stephanie Burgis’s Kat Stephenson books, and the novella “Courting Magic” that she wrote as part of that. So I thought I would read some of her short fiction as well. I haven’t worked my way through all of her short stories, but so far “Clasp Hands” is my favorite. Genuinely eerie and sad, but also full of the warmth and humor and care of family. Also magic.

The Merger” by Sunil Patel: This story is brand new; a weird mix of totally strange alien entities and a corporate takeover. The full title, “The Merger: A Romantic Comedy of Intergalactic Business Negotiations, Indecipherable Emotions, and Pizza” sums it up pretty well. I really enjoyed the relationship between Paresh and Sita, and their dilemma in trying to figure out how to deal with the BlarbSnarb.

So there you have a few short stories I’ve liked! If you have recommendations, please to send them my way.

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bookish posts reviews

Recent Reading: Short stories, romance, and middle grade

sun kissedSun-kissed by Laura Florand: A new short novel from Florand. This one is a bit different in that it 1) takes place in America and 2) focuses on the older generation, Mack Corey and Anne Winters. I really enjoyed the way Florand explores the different characters, who are more mature and self-confident than their children and their children’s peers in some ways, and yet still very vulnerable in others. I did miss the French setting a bit, but the sea-side is a lovely alternative. I loved the way Mack sees his daughters and sons-in-law; it was great to see some of the other characters from the Chocolat series through his eyes. All in all, this was a lovely endcap to Florand’s earlier stories (though if there are more in the future, I won’t be sad!)

conservation of shadowsConservation of Shadows by Yoon Ha Lee: A collection of sff short stories. Lee is Korean-American, and based several of the stories on incidents from Korean history. I found that the sensibility underlying the stories to be clear and beautiful; I can’t speak to how and what has been informed by his heritage, but there’s certainly an awareness of non-western based cultures that is refreshing. I loved the worlds Lee creates, and his characters–often caught between two duties or two loyalties. This is one of the most cohesive anthologies I can remember reading, which I greatly appreciated–while I love short stories, I often feel that collections lack coherence. If I have a complaint, it’s that occasionally the endings felt less forceful than I wanted them to be; not rushed, exactly, but compressed in a way that didn’t quite give me the follow-through I wanted. I don’t know if the fault is in the stories, or in me, but this happened often enough for me to notice it.

clair de luneClair-de-Lune by Cassandra Golds: A middle-grade book, which falls somewhere between fantasy and magical realism (the tone reminds me a bit of The Tale of Despereaux). I liked the characters and writing a lot, but felt some vague unease about the tidiness of the ending and an occasional hammering-home of points. In general, I think this is one I would have absolutely loved a few years ago; it’s probably a good one for the quieter, dreamy young girls.