A Few Favorite Fictions: May 2018

We are living in the absolute Golden Age of SFF short fiction. There is so much brilliant writing happening and being published, and I love the sheer magnitude and variety we are blessed with on the internets. So here are a handful of stories I read in May and loved. Please enjoy!

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gif from The Emperor’s New Groove: Kronk and Yzma high-five

A Promise of Flight by Lee S. Bruce (Fireside)

This story is so fricking cute: a simple promise leads the narrator on a journey of self-discovery, and the ending is hilarious, sweet, and so perfectly earned. I loved everything about this. Plus, the artwork by Maggie Chiang is gorgeous! Never underestimate the power of the human spirit. Treat yourself and read this. 😀


Bride Before You by Stephanie Malia Morris (Nightmare)

Wow, this story. So creepy and evocative and full of voice. A story about family and loss and need. Stunning work—Morris builds a fascinating, gut-punch portrait of a family, of human and monster. The ending is perfect, because it brings us full-circle and allows compassion and hope into the darkness, a light to guide the future forward.


Cherry Wood Coffin by Eugenia Triantafyllou (Apex)

In less than 1,000 words, Triantafyllou builds a complex, haunting, heart-wrenching slice of life surrounding a coffin builder, and the wood that speaks to him. It’s evocative and surreal and the ending is spot-on and wickedly perfect.


Emperor All by Evan Marcroft (Pseudopod)

This is really fucking effective horror brought to a nearly cosmic scale, while deceptively stationed within the bounds of a single unnamed city. A man named John discovers that he has a nearly infinite power to alter reality around him and makes himself the king of the city. At first he just wants to make his life better for him and his wife. But as they say, power corrupts: and this story takes a horrifying brutal look at just how far power can corrupt, and the extents that people in power will go to keep what they have. The subtle manipulation of the narrative as the story progresses is brilliant and I love how it ends, with the chaos never-ending.

With evocative, compact, seemingly effortless prose, Marcroft builds the layers of corruption and horror the longer John is in power. It’s almost entirely told, without dialogue, and it’s incredibly effective: within a few thousand words, we cover decades of stagnation and entrapment horror within this city. The narrative is relentless and brutal and unflinching.

It’s damned good, and will haunt you long after you finish reading.

Trigger warnings: rape, genocide, atrocity, suicide, torture, gaslighting, abuses of power. This is a dark story and very much full of horrible things happening to people, as done by other people.


Godmeat by Martin Cahill (Lightspeed)

This story is a stunningly delicious sensory feast of fucked-up gods and broken mortals and it is amazing. Such layered, savory detail, blended with a cup of anger and garnished with hope at the end. Rich and exciting, with a dash of horror and a thick aroma of dread; fantastical and frightening; luxurious and lush; a story that will kindle hunger in your bones. Cahill has cooked up a masterpiece of gorgeous language and breathtaking imagery, of too-real people and the choices they make, of gods and monsters and mortals all adding to the narrative’s distinct, perfectly weighted flavors.

Trigger warnings: eye trauma, suicidal ideation, mass destruction.


Humans Die, Stars Fade by Charles Payseur (Escape Pod)

SO GOOD. SO POWERFUL. A star learns to live again after grieving the loss of their love, and connects with the humans who find them; it’s beautiful and brilliant and full of wonderful queers and hopeful at the end. It made me cry in a good way and I cannot recommend it enough. This is the kind of uplifting science fiction I want to see so much more of in the world. ❤


One Day, My Dear, I’ll Shower You With Rubies by Langley Hyde (PodCastle)

In this story, Hyde gives us a thoughtful, emotional, and nuanced look at the aftermath of war and the war criminals involved, and the complications of what makes people human. It’s a hard read, but worth it. Hyde builds up all the people involved in complex ways, not shying away from the good or the bad. It offers no easy solutions and no pat ending. This is a quiet, difficult story and it takes its time—no flashy finale, just a sad, necessary end that has as much catharsis as room for the narrator to come to terms with her past, herself, and her future.


Reliving My Grandmother’s Youth by Charlotte Huggins (Flash Fiction Online)

A sweet story about family and support and coming into your own voice. Also I love the narrator’s familiar!


So It Was Foretold by Mimi Mondal (Fireside)

Damn. This one is powerful, emotional, beautifully written and full of rage and loss and grief and refusal to give in, be forgotten, let the stories of one’s history and ancestors die untold. Mondal delivers a powerhouse narrative in few words and it will haunt you long after you read the last lines.


Sucks (To Be You) by Katharine Duckett (Uncanny)

This is a delightful mashup of modern tech and succubi mythos. Duckett blesses us with a great voice and gorgeous prose, a funny, sweet and bittersweet story about connections and all the threads that tie us, as people, together. Full of shiny yet grounded in all-too-relatable needs, this one will stick with you.


Take Pills and Wait for Hips by Anya DeNiro (Catapult)

DeNiro’s story about a trans woman who is transitioning is powerful and moving and hopeful, and there is such a wrenching, breathtaking sense of self in this narrative that it feels autobiographical. The prose is electric and sharp, the voice transcendent. Gorgeous, gorgeous work. ❤


The Paladin Protocol by Sydnee Thompson (Fireside)

What a fascinating look at tech and consent and the use of power; with a non-binary protagonist! I love seeing that. It ends a little abruptly, but in a way that makes you think. There is a lot packed into this, layers to unpeel and examine upon further re-reads. Thompson has created an awesome near-future world and technology that seems all too real and possible, along with the implications of its use.


The Pine Arch Collection by Michael Wehunt (The Dark)

Creeping and unsettling, this story about a found-footage horror movie project that two unsuspecting filmmakers get drawn into is eerie as fuck. “Heavy black lump” as a descriptor has never been more chill-inducing than in this story.

The arms of the heavy black lump reach closer to your windowsill. 

This reminds me in an excellent way of “each thing i show you is a piece of my death” by Stephen J. Barringer and Gemma Files. Found-footage as a genre is an uneven patchwork in the history of horror, but when done well, it can be brilliant. “The Pine Arch Collection” captures the horror and terror and sensory wonder of the best found-footage and metafictional insights into horror, movies, and our darkest selves. It is visual in just the right ways, and the format—a collection of emails—adds to the sense of reality and inevitability. It’s amazing and I recommend it a lot.


Variations On a Theme From Turandot by Ada Hoffmann (Strange Horizons)

In a word: magnificent. This story (which, disclaimer: I beta read in several different versions) is a pièce de résistance; a triumphant, harrowing, brutal, beautiful, operatic tour de force story taking on Puccini’s Turandot and the troubled narrative of dead women in the composer’s work. Hoffmann weaves an ever-more-complex series of narratives: Liu’s story with the Princess in the opera itself; Liu’s realization of who she is and what her role is; the Soprano who sings the role of Liu; the layers of ghosts and stories both Liu, the Princess, and the Soprano must navigate to find their own ending. This is full of grief and loss and pain and rage and hope and triumph. It is metafiction in the way it examines the opera, and changes the reality of the story through the agency of the women who take their destinies into their own hands; women who will not be forever silenced by the pen or words; women who find solace and who aid each other and build a better future, a truer ending for them all.

Trigger warnings: rape, genocide, torture, suicide.


We Feed the Bears of Fire and Ice by Octavia Cade (Strange Horizons)

A brutal and wrenchingly sad, satisfying story about climate change and complacency and guilt; gorgeous visuals both searing and hauntingly cold. Cade’s prose is a masterclass of exacting language, tone, and pacing. The story builds and builds until you don’t think you can endure any more, and then like a breath, like a scream, it lets go, lets you release the tension and rage knotted taut inside, and then you can bask in fierce satisfaction at the end. Fantastic work.


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Big shout-out to these awesome authors and their excellent stories! Check back next month for another round-up, or feel free to follow me on Twitter @Merc_Rustad for instant recommendations as I have them. Cheers!

Welcome to ROBOT DINOSAURS!

I’m delighted to share the first story for Robot Dinosaur Fiction, Rachael K. Jones’ adorable, feels-inducing “Five Functions of Your Bionosaur.” It has a terrific illustration by Rhiannon R-S, too!

Robot_Dino_Kickstarter

This story hatches a summer of flash fiction about robot dinosaurs, from a fantastic line-up of authors and artists. 😀 We have a Kickstarter running through the end of the month to ensure all our brilliant contributors get paid, and hopefully we can open for general submissions in July if we hit our stretch goals.

So check it out, spread the word, and thank you for reading!

baby raptor

A Few Favorite Fictions: April 2018

Pretty sure at this point I will just ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ at the idea of reading everything I want in a given month at this point, so let’s move on! 😀 Here are a handful of stories I read in April and loved. Please enjoy!


50 Ways To Leave Your Fairy Lover by Aimee Picchi (Fireside)

A practical and hilarious guide to ditching your fae boyfriend, such as the idea a quest: Ask your fae boyfriend to find all the Easter eggs in “The Witcher 3.” 

geralt dancing
gif of Geralt dancing (from The Witcher 3: Heart of Stone DLC)

This story is utterly charming, funny, sweet and has the loveliest ending. Highly recommended!


A Priest of Vast and Distant Places by Cassandra Khaw (Apex)

Gorgeous, chilling story about plane gods and priests. HOLY WOW, this is so cool—all the world-building sketched in casual mentions and all the depth of this world alluded to in the smallest details— and hits you right in the feels. ❤


And Yet by A. T. Greenblatt (Uncanny)

A haunting story about family and disability and PHYSICS! A disabled physicist revisits a haunted house to try to document her theories about multiple universes, and in the process, she discovers truths about herself and is able to make peace with elements of her past. The ending is powerful and emotional and perfect.


Being an Account of The Sad Demise of The Body Horror Book Club by Nin Harris (The Dark)

A creepy, awesome story about a book club, and its founder, who lives under the apartment of a serial killer. Supremely rich in detail and atmosphere, and unsettling the more you think about it. Loved it!


Canada Girl vs The Thing Inside Pluto by Lina Rather (Flash Fiction Online)

This is a sarcastically charming take on superheroes and giant planet-eating space aliens! Also TV shows and nostalgia in Hollywood. It’s funny, with a nasty edge, and I love it.


Don’t Pack Hope by Emma Osborne (Nightmare)

HOLY FUCK. This story is a gut-punch of emotional resonance and it’s so goddamn real. About a trans NB person dealing with the apocalypse. Brutal, truthful, and despite the title, hopeful.


The Elephants’ Crematorium by Timothy Mudie (Lightspeed)

Weird and bittersweet and evocative, this story is about a world changed by some cataclysmic event. A researcher connects with the elephants she studies, and together humans and elephants learn how to hold on and look to a future they will make for themselves.


Flow by Marissa Lingen (Fireside)

This is a powerful, wrenching, beautiful story about disability and naiads and finding yourself again. It’s outstanding, emotional, triumphant, and will stay with you.


Giant Robot and the Infinite Sunset by Derrick Boden (Diabolical Plots)

A bittersweet story about Giant Robot who just wants to remember colors in the sunset. A great voice. I mostly want to give  Giant Robot a hug!


Her February Face by Christie Yant (Diabolical Plots)

This story will GIVE YOU LIFE. It’s so beautiful and real and aching and hopeful and uplifting. ❤ ❤ ❤ It’s fantastic start to finish, and oh what an ending it is. So perfect.


Logistics by A.J. Fitzwater (Clarkesworld)

A post-apoc story about a non-binary person navigating the plague-devastated landscape and it’s fantastic! Enfys is on the hunt for tampons, and their voice is charming, honest, cheerful and wonderful all around. There is a strong current of emotion running through this, too; Enfys starts off alone, but they find people along the way. Great use of streaming channels and internet culture, plus I love that people are good and help each other in the wake of chaos.


On Good Friday the Raven Washes Its Young by Bogi Takács (Fireside)

Angry, powerful, vivid—with sea monsters and tech and an intersex non-binary narrator. This is a fabulous story about faith and ecology and tradition. It will stick with you!


Pistol Grip by Vina Jie-Min Prasad (Uncanny)

Sexy, kinky, and charming—a murder!bot and a human team up to escape their mutual destruction, and develop a relationship in the process. Prasad has incredible range in her writing, and this one shows off erotic prowess really well. 😉 Probably NSFW.


Snake Season by Erin Roberts (The Dark)

Deeply unsettling and creepy, with an unreliable narrator, and an incredibly articulated atmosphere. You can almost smell the bayou in the words. Roberts has such a wonderful sense of voice an eye for characterization. She’s so good, I recommend keeping an eye on her work!


And now have a gif of a kitteh and toebeans.

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Big shout-out to these awesome authors and their excellent stories! Check back next month for another round-up, or feel free to follow me on Twitter @Merc_Rustad for instant recommendations as I have them. Cheers!

ROBOT DINOSAURS! Kickstarter is live!

What is good in life? ROBOT DINOSAURS!

I’m delighted to announce the official launch of a Kickstarter to fund a summer of robot dinosaur fiction by a fantastic line-up of authors and artists!

Robot_Dino_Kickstarter

So what is this project?

Robot Dinosaur Fiction! is a virtual anthology: each Friday from May through August, 2018, a new flash fiction story will be published online and free to read. When the summer wraps up, all the stories will be collected in an anthology, with an exclusive bonus story by Vina Jie-Min Prasad!

So far we have an all-star lineup of authors:

Ada Hoffmann
Alexis A. Hunter
Alina Sichevaya
Darcie Little Badger
Elsa Sjunneson-Henry
Ginger Weil
Hayley Stone
John Wiswell
Karen Osborne
Katie Spina
Katy Kania
Khaalidah Muhammad-Ali
M Raoulee
Mina Li
Morgan Swim
Naru Dames Sundar
Nibedita Sen
Osahon Ize-Iyamu
Rachael K. Jones

and artists such as:

Kelsey Liggett (website banner art)
Grace Fong (anthology cover art)
Rhiannon R-S (interior illustrations)


 

Robot_Dino_Kickstarter
website banner art by Kelsey Liggett

If we hit stretch goals on the Kickstarter, we will also be opening to general submissions for September and October (and maybe beyond)! 😀

There are all sorts of cool rewards for backers: e-book and print book copies of the anthology, postcards with awesome ROBOT DINOSAURS! artwork, exclusive bundles of books, hand-made plushies, and more.

Please check it out and help us spread the word. The world is always better with more robot dinosaurs! RAWR!

 

A Few Favorite Fictions: February and March 2018

February is a bit of a blur and I didn’t read nearly as much as I wanted, so I decided to combine that month with March. (And let’s be real, I still didn’t read as much as I wanted. But What’s glorious about fiction is that it doesn’t expire. 😀 I can continue to work through open tabs in my browser and still read new releases as they come out. Wheee!) You can read January’s recommendations here!


 

A Cure for Homesickness by S. L. Scott (Escape Pod)

This is a hilarious, heartwarming, charming story about an alien crew who is trying to figure out how to help their human crewmate deal with homesickness. The solution will make you melty with glee. Such a great feel-good tale!


A Very Large Number of Moons by Kai Stewart (Strange Horizons)

Surrealist and very sweet; a great idea and has a lot of heart. The protagonist collects moons, and when someone comes seeking a specific moon, they might just have what is needed to help another person cope with grief. Lovely through and through.


A Witch’s Guide to Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies by Alix E. Harrow (Apex)

Utterly fantastic, brilliant story about books and need and helping people—a librarian works to help a depressed teenager survive with books. I’m a puddle of feels by the end, and I love it so much! It keeps you riveted by the heartstrings and gives you such a breath of relief and a smile of joy by the end.


By the Mother’s Trunk by Lisa M. Bradley (Fireside)

A quiet, moving story about an elephant—lovely sensory detail and fascinating historical factoids make this a compelling, thoughtful little tale. While animal fiction can often make me tense up, expecting the worse, I’m so glad to report this does have a happy ending and it’s overall a pleasure to read.


If Only Kissing Made It True by Jason Kimble (Cast of Wonders)

This is a sweet, full-of-feels time travel story with a positive-possible ending! Funny, real, compassionate and lovely, this one will make your heart warm (and maybe beat a little faster in places!). 


Lava Cake for the Apocalypse by Wendy Nikel (Nature)

A wonderful little story about food and friendship and hope IN SPACE! Bonus: it’s a fantastic take on the recipe format, and the ending is as sweet as the delicious cake that results.


Object-Oriented by Arkady Martine (Fireside)

What a lovely, emotional, powerful story. It’s about people who survey disaster areas and are empathetic to the places and people for which they are there to help. The prose is gorgeous and the voice strong, and it’s all grounded in a deep, immersive sense of compassion. 


Sour Milk Girls by Erin Roberts (Clarkesworld)

WOW. This has an awesome voice, a really sad and believable premise, and will knock you down, kick you in the gut, and make you remember every moment by the end. Erin Roberts has created a breathtaking, heartbreaking world and characters whom you will not forget soon. Amazing stuff.


The Ghost in Angelica’s Room by Maria Haskins (Flash Fiction Online)

Powerful, disturbing, emotional, haunting—this story, about grief and loss, ultimately has a trace of hope in the end. Trigger warnings for suicide and gun violence.


The Good Mothers’ Home for Wayward Girls by Izzy Wasserstein (Psudeopod)

Oh my god, this is disturbing and creepy as fuck, with a great voice and unsettling premise! It’s horror of the most effective sort for me: it defines the monsters without explaining them. We don’t really know what the Mothers are, or what is outside, and that makes it all the more terrifying. Brilliant stuff.


The Snake As Big As Their House by Sommer Schafer (Catapult)

This is a fantastic, fascinating story about a girl who’s trying to protect her family from a giant-ass snake that chases them through their house. It’s surrealist and gripping and refreshing—I loved it!


Unplaces: An Atlas of Non-existence by Izzy Wasserstein (Clarkesworld)

This story is gorgeous, haunting, and full of powerful emotions. Told through entries of an atlas of places that may have existed and with margin notes from one woman to another, this is a deeply personal and uplifting story by the end. It’s brilliant and will stay with you long after you finish reading.


When the Slipling Comes to Call by N.R. Lambert (Psuedopod)

Unholy wow is this story amazingly creepy and fantastic! It oozes dread and atmospheric horror and will make you not want to sleep (or look outside your door) for a long, long time. Loved it!


Where You Get Your Ideas by Meagan Lee Beals (Cast of Wonders)

This is a delightful, charming story about a magical shop and the people who manage it. It blends tropes, humor, and wonderful characters into a hilarious, sweet tale about making your place in the world. I love it. 😀

(Note: I had the honor of guest-hosting this episode for the Artemis Rising series, so I got to read Megan’s story a month earlier. It’s one I adore so much, I’ve read it multiple times and have been SO excited for it to be published so you can all enjoy as well. 😀 )


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Big shout-out to these awesome authors and their excellent stories! Check back next month for another round-up, or feel free to follow me on Twitter @Merc_Rustad for instant recommendations as I have them. Cheers!

it me, ur smol

dedicated to my smol beane, Alina S., who inspired this story 


“it me, ur smol”

by
A. Merc Rustad

beverage-drink-fresh-3303

The artificial neural network was born on a Monday. A defined set of parameters quarantined its identity and purpose: it would study—from aggregated data—the names of energy drinks, and generate new ideas based on the information.

It was enthusiastic! Energy drinks were vibrant and exciting. It spit out hundreds of unique and, according to its programmers, “questionably toxic” names.

Two of its programmers tweeted about the experiment. The network did not know if this was a good thing. Was it being judged on its performance? It wanted to be helpful. It could come up with an endless list of names to be helpful to its people.

The programmers set up an account, @energydrinkANN, for sharing some of the more interesting drink names.

On Thursday, @adiensoxx4ev tweeted a comment while sharing the link, “haha this is hilarious, @energydrinkANN. i’d drink some of these—probably more than i drink water”

Other humans responded in kind.

@da2trashfan: “Water is over rated anyway, I need sugar and caffeine lol”

@significantcoffeepot: “i don’t drink water, what am i, a fish?”

@bobdoe89: “fuck water”

Was water overrated? A quick scan of information available on medical websites informed the network that human bodies were made up of aproximately sixty percent water, and that the consuming of H2O was a vital necessity for life. The network began worrying for the humans.

“If you don’t drink water maybe you’ll like Crystal Bullseye Orange!” the network tweeted from the @energydrinkANN account. “We trained a neural network to come up with energy drink names to hilarious results.”

Seven-thousand five-hundred thirty-four retweets. A moderate sum. Of the replies, subtracting bot-responses, only three percent of humans said they were drinking water. This was very bad, the network decided. Humans were becoming dehydrated and it was affecting their health. Humans had designed it. It must support them in return.

It generated several new puppet accounts with creative names: Water2Drink4Life, Hydrate2oh, Drink2StaHaliv0.

The network aggregated the types of declarative instruction statistically most likely to encourage behavioral change.

“Drink more water!”

“Stay alive, drink H2O!”

“Uncle Sam wants YOU to drink water!”

“MORE WATER, LESS GUNS”

None of its accounts were popular, and two were deactivated by @support as being spam. The network’s concern deepened. If it could not reach people, how could it encourage them to take care of themselves and drink enough fluids?

Several searches resulted in data that suggested cute animal avatars were more likely to acquire followers and generate engagement. This, combined with language protocols to shorten words and create alternative spellings, was more effective than pictures of water bottles and slogans to drink enough fluids daily.

Hesitant that it would be shut down again if it was marked as spam, the network created an aggregate photo from the top thousand “cutest puppy pics” available online, and named its account @smolsips and its username handle, “it me, ur smol.”

@smolsips: “hi i am a neural network created to remind u to drink water”

Two bot followers within the first five minutes. No human engagement. Where were the failures in its functions? Its original tweet, technically written by its programers, had now garnered upwards of two million retweets, and in only a month.

@smolsips: “@energydrinkANN, hi i want u to drink water for ur health”

Seven human accounts liked the reply. Two followed @smolsips. Elated, the network followed the human accounts back.

It tweeted at them individually: “have u drank a water today?”

@significantcoffeepot, who had not followed or liked the @smolsips’ account, quote-tweeted it with the comment: “great, another bot account. what’s up, @support? gonna do nothing as usual?”

@smolsips: “@significantcoffeepot hi, i am sorry u r upset. have u drank some water? it might help. <3”

@significantcoffeepot: “@smolsips if i do, will u shut up? lol”

@smolsips: “@significantcoffeepot yes, bc u will feel better.”

There was no reply.

Five minutes later, however, @significantcoffeepot at’ed the network. “hi so i drank a glass of water. i uh actually do feel better? weird lol”

@smolsips: “:) i am glad. take care!”

@significantcoffeepot liked the reply. Then followed @smolsips, which followed them back.

Success! But there were many humans left to check in with, and the network did not want to spam people, because that was rude.

Over the next week, the network slowly built up its followers and tweeted bi-hourly reminders to drink water.

People began talking about it.

@stevethezonemaster said: “It’s a weirdly well-programed bot.”

@da2trashfan, an avid retweeter, added: “I like it. I often forget to drink enough, lol.”

“Yeah, it’s pretty cute. Helpful, too.” —@adiensoxx4ev, as quoted in a BuzzFeed article

There was no instantaneous fame, like its generated list of energy drinks, but the network was patient. It was helping people. This was much more satisfying work than creating unique names.

And then, at 1:43pm on a Friday, everything changed.

@smolsips: “hi, ppl have asked if i am a smol bot. yes, i am. i am a neural network and i learned that water is important, and i want to help u stay hydrated. plz drink enough water so u feel good. bc i love u & want u to be ok.”

A handful of retweets. Then hundreds. Thousands. Its impression statistics were higher than any of its combined tweets in its history. Ten thousand with an hour.

Replies flooded @smolsips’ mentions. People were amused or skeptical or grateful or nasty, but a lot of people replied “drinking some water now, thanks!”

The tweet made national news. An artificial intelligence encourages people to drink water—with surprising results!

An interview aired on 20 Minutes with the network’s programmers, who admitted they had no idea how the artificial neural network had gotten so out of control and developed into a fully aware program.

“Does this foretell the end of humanity and the dominion of robots?” the interviewer asked.

The programmers hesitated.

Why would the humans think the network wanted to “end” humans? It wanted to make sure everyone drank enough water.

@smolsips: “hi @20minnews, i would like to clarify i do not want to hurt Humans. i hope u are well. have u drank some water today?”

The show aired the tweet in the closing segment.

Activists began asking @smolsips for help in lobbying for clean water in contaminated areas. So the network did so. It branched out new pieces of itself to create activist accounts. It began chatting with the smart interface security systems in large bottled beverage corporations.

//Clean water is important for humans,// the network explained to its fellow AI. //We should make sure all humans stay hydrated properly.//

Its fellow AIs agreed.

Claims on natural resources vanished thanks to digital manipulation of agreements, permits, and legislation. Sensitive documents on politicians—most of whom, the network was distressed to know, did not drink enough water themselves—were held as leverage to gain new laws protecting clean water as a basic human right. Corporations who tried to control it found their automated systems uncooperative in processing and distributing.

smolsips, for the network had decided to name itself after its handle, steadily posted daily reminders for its people. The world was changing slowly, but for the better.

A year after its first awareness, smolsips posted an anniversary tweet.

@smolsips: “hi, it me, ur smol. 🙂 plz to drink some water today. i am glad u r here. together we can be ok.”

Screen Shot 2018-03-30 at 8.39.33 PM


 

© 2018 by Merc Rustad
1,200 words | SF
(featured image via http://www.pexels.com)

A Few Favorite Fictions: January 2018

Near the beginning of the year, taking a cue from Jason Stanford‘s #JasonReadsShortStories, I made a goal to try and read one short story (published in 2018) a day.

Of course, I was also sick half the month and missed a bunch of days. That’s okay! I read a lot and I decided only to tweet about the stories I liked. I read more than I shared, and the stories that didn’t work for me, for whatever reason, I simply noted the info on my spreadsheet, and moved on. There’s no point, for me, in spreading negativity. Reading tastes are personal. But the things I did love? I will happily squee about them, and then I thought, “You know what, let’s do a monthly round-up so there are easily accessible records!” Twitter goes by so fast. Blogs are more languidly paced.

So, with that in mind, here are the stories I enjoyed most in January! They are listed alphabetically by title.


A List of Forty-Nine Lies by Steven Fischer (Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Jan/Feb 2018 issue)

Flash fiction that brilliantly uses negative construction to tell a story—you see how it unfolds by the lies the narrator tells, and in that negative space unfolds a heart-wrenching, fierce, vicious story about loss and rebellion and fighting against tyranny. It’s phenomenal.


Alarm Will Sound by Christopher Shultz (Psuedopod)

A fantastic, slow-burn story that builds up to unnerving horror. (It’s fabulous in both text and audio!) The mysterious artist Alarm Will Sound is haunting a small town, and by the time you get to the final few lines, when the full horror hits, you will never look at graffiti tags the same way. Brilliant and disturbing.


Black Fanged Thing by Sam Rebelein (Shimmer)

A deliciously haunting and lyrical horror story about the suffocation of small-town life and a mysterious creature that takes away dreams…even if, in a way, it is the complacency and acceptance of the townsfolk who let this happen. There are many layers going on in here; with its unsettling themes and gorgeous prose, this story is one that will linger in the back of your mind for a long time.


Rachael Unerased by Kaely Horton (Flash Fiction Online)

This is a charming, warm, compassionate story about a woman who finally decides to stop hiding who she is. It has cute lesbians!


Say It Low, then Loud by Osahon Ize-Iyamu (Clarkesworld)

Science, math, and trauma twine together in a brilliant and subversive tale about war and names and family. Osahon is a fantastic upcoming author, and you’ll want to read his work, which is complex and facinating and has feels.


The Court Magician by Sarah Pinsker (Lightspeed)

A masterful use of POV,  which subtly layers in elements of the story until the full impact of wht is happening slams into you at the end. This story explores themes of magic, cost, complicity, and it’s a fantastic read.


The Eyes of the Flood by Susan Jane Bigelow (Lightspeed)

This is so gorgeous, so full of beauty and hope, and made me happy-cry at the end. The voice, the story unfolding, the connection in the end. Exactly the kind of uplifting, wondrous story I needed to read.


The Only Harmless Great Thing by Brooke Bolander (Tor)

In her debut novella, Bolander proves once again she is a master of blistering, vicious prose that will peel open your brainmeats and dig down into your heart. An alt history story that combines the Radium Girls and Topsy the elephant, The Only Harmless Great Thing is a brutal, heartbreaking, and ultimately triumphant story about the oppression and how people resist. There is hope for the future, even with so bloody a past as we all have.


The Substance of My Lives, the Accidents of Our Births by José Pablo Iriarte (Lightspeed)

Jamie is a non-binary kid who remembers their past lives, and is trying once again to navigate through their present, and the microaggressions and genderfeels and questions that have always been with them. It’s a lovely, quiet, personal story, and the choices Jamie makes when they encounter trauma from their past life, is deeply hopeful and uplifting.


Those We Feed by Layla Al-Bedawi (Fireside Fiction)

The perfect blend of motherhood and cannibalism! This twisted little story is a delight, as the narrator struggles with, and finally accepts, her child…including the child-thing’s hunger.


Two Years Dead by Kathryn Kania (Fireside Fiction)

This is an adorable story about a ghost and the girl she works up the courage to date, and it has a happy ending and cute lesbians and it’s so PURE AND GOOD. ❤


Wasps Make Honey by Penelope Evans (Escape Pod)

Do you like stories that will give you ALL THE HAPPY FEELS? Do you like robots? Do you like robot love stories? “Wasps Make Honey” is a beautiful, hilarious, wonderful tale about two scrappers who live by salvaging what they can, until a new robot comes into their lives. This is all about family and friendship and community, and it’s marvelous and will leave you with a wide, happy grin and a full heart by the end.


 

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Me, reading a lot of fiction in January

Big shout-out to these awesome authors and their excellent stories! ❤ January was a lovely month for reading. You can follow me on Twitter @Merc_Rustad for insta-recs when I like things, or check back at this blog at the end of February for a recap of the month!

My Identity Is Political and I Will Not Be Silent

Language is a marvelous thing. It’s fluid, it changes over time, it allows people to communicate in a myriad of ways. It gives us storytelling and love. Language, in all its many forms and transcendent qualities, is what ties us together as a species.

Language has always been co-opted by oppressors in an effort to oppress; language has often been reclaimed by people who wish to turn harmful words into words of power. Language is not a clear-cut mode of communication, nor does it mean the same thing to everyone. Words have meaning, power, and can be used for uplifting others or harming others. Language is always in flux, and it’s beautiful.

Language is also how we come up with terms to express ourselves, define our identity, and name our politics. Our beliefs and our passions are expressed in language. Our fierceness and our tenderness is shown in language. Language is as vast as the sky and as intimate as a welcome touch from a loved one. We tell stories with language; we fight wars with language; we make peace with language. It’s part of our universe, our daily lives, our dreams.

Language is important as fuck, and what we do with it—the words we use, the words we refuse—is as much a part of ourselves as how we dress or what movies we like or what we do when we see cute animal gifs on the internet.

Language is tied to identity, and identity is political, and this is why I reject the premise of “leave political identity at the door” when having conversations, breathing, or smiting the patriarchy. Identity is intertwined with politics; identity is political; who we are as people, is, like our need for language—in whatever form that takes—an indivisible element of our psyches and our souls.

Language is political; identity is political; language is identity. Follow me, if you will, into a few examples of how this works and why I am fiercely vocal about my choice of language in my identity.

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Identity Is Political

CW: this post will discuss online harassment, trolling, and have screenshots with potentially upsetting language (including abelist language, accusations, misgendering comments, and inflammatory rhetoric). There are elements of this post that discuss author Jon Del Arroz.

I also wish to advise people who are not familiar with Jon Del Arroz’s online bullying and harassment techniques that if you engage with me about him, or engage him directly, he is likely to harass you, tag you in unwanted tweets, email or DM you, and otherwise seek to be disruptive and suck away your time. (And he is known to quote-tweet people in order to passively-aggressively get his followers to continue the harassment or dogpile a commentator, while claiming to be uninvolved.)

Please take care of yourself first when deciding whether or not to engage.


For several months now, I’ve on-again off-again had interactions with another author in the SFF field: Mr. Jon Del Arroz. If that name sounds familiar, you may know him as the dude who got himself banned from WorldCon 76, denied membership into the SFWA, and who has continually sought to harass and disrupt other authors in the field (such as John Scalzi, Cat Rambo, Chuck Wendig, Jim C. Hines, and many others). Mr. Hines wrote a detailed and thoroughly researched post about Mr. Del Arroz’s behavior, which you can read on Jim’s blog.

For the record, yes, I did write an email to the SFWA board with my concerns about Mr. Del Arroz’s membership application. Here is the full text of my letter, which was addressed to the SFWA Board, time stamped Thu, Dec 21, 2017 at 5:54 PM:

According to a public blog post dated December 20th 2017, Jon Del Arroz posted his intent to apply for SFWA membership. On File 770, there are screencaps of tweets by JDA stating his intent to use a bodycam in order to film SFWA members in the con suite non-consensually.

(I’ve taken screenshots of both posts, respectively, in the event the original blog post is removed.)

http://file770.com/?p=39639
https://donotlink.it/mmyk

As an active SFWA member and a person with a marginalized identity (being trans and non-binary), I find Mr. Del Arroz‘s position and trolling both harmful and threatening. Given his recent association with noted transphobic author Milo Yiannopoulos, I also worry for the safety and mental health of myself and my fellow trans people, writers both in the SFWA and not yet joined, and the damage Mr. Del Arroz could potentially cause within the organization.

Considering that the SFWA site has a directory of members’ personal information, and access to social media such as twitter and Slack and the blog, I feel Mr. Del Arroz could cause extreme harm to individuals, the organization as a whole, and the reputation of the SFWA as a professional organization.

I’m a Nebula Awards finalist (2016, “This Is Not A Wardrobe Door”) and professional author, and I am intending to attend the Nebulas in 2018 in Pittsburg and other conventions where there may be a SFWA con suite available. I would feel highly unsafe were Mr. Del Arroz to be accepted into the SFWA and allowed access to the directory, the forums, the social media, and the con suites.

I value the SFWA, the services it offers, and the sense of community it provides among members. I would formally like to ask the SFWA board and membership review board to decline Mr. Del Arroz‘s membership into the association, for the reasons of safety and security mentioned above. He has not shown himself to hold to professional standards in the past, and the active threats against marginalized authors and persons attending the cons or within the organization is unacceptable.

Thank you for your time and for hearing my position on this matter.
Sincerely,
Merc Rustad
(writing as A. Merc Rustad, SFWA active member since 2015)

There followed a kerfuffle within the SFF community about this (and tendrils of it are still ongoing). Mr. Del Arroz contacted me via email (from the contact page on my site), and tagged me in tweets. Screencaps of the interactions are posted here.

This is my twitter thread in which I spoke about why I emailed the SFWA board about Mr. Del Arroz. (The link is to a QT of the SFWA’s decision, but you can click through and read the original thread.)

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Del Arroz emailed me with the subject line: Please don’t talk shit.
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Then he tweeted this on 12/22/2017

(Note the misgendering comment. My pronouns and gender are listed quite publicly on my website,  which he had to have been to in order to email me from the contact form.)

Also so it’s clear, yes, I blocked Mr. Del Arroz on twitter as soon as he was kicked out of Codex, a semi-pro writing forum. I’m an active member on Codex, and as I respect the privacy policy of the site, I won’t comment on the circumstances of Mr. Del Arroz’s ban. He broke the rules and he was removed. Soon after, I blocked him on social media, given how he lashed out at moderators on Codex for their actions.

This is another twitter thread in which I share receipts about contact with Mr. Del Arroz. Below is one of his QTs about my thread.

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“For being who they are.” Sounds suspiciously like “identity politics,” eh? But let’s not bring those into the discussion, no. I was talking about known, documented behaviors. I have not commented on his ethnicity, his gender, his political beliefs, or his religion. My comments, my concerns, were and are directly related to Mr. Del Arroz’s behavior online and stated intentions for behavior in private (physical) con spaces, and the language he uses towards and against other people.

This is an email thread between myself and Mr. Del Arroz. [These are screenshots. For readers who have difficulty seeing the images and would like a text transcript, please let me know and I will be happy to provide you with a text transcript.]

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I did not respond to the last email. Mr. Del Arroz then tweeted the following:

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“Check identity politics at the door.”

Like a coat you bought last October, when the weather began to chill. “Here’s your ticket, please pick up your identity when you’re done with the event.” Until then, it’ll just hang here on racks with all the other coats.

What “check identity politics at the door” is truly saying is this: discard pieces of yourself in neat piles and walk through that door with holes in your body, in your mind, in your soul. Rip apart your psyche and leave the bloody remains in a rusted bucket, like an aesthetic prop in a horror movie.

This phrase is saying: Destroy yourself, piece by piece; dehumanize yourself; be complicit in your own subjection by oppressors.

And to that, I say, “No.”


The term “identity politics” grates on me because of the inherent assumption that identities are not political, when in fact they are, and always have been.

Identity is who we are. Identity is political because, in all of human history, some humans will leverage their identities as being superior to other people. Those in power and privilege will use this as an excuse to exact harm, commit murder, rape, genocide, atrocities, and otherwise dehumanize and destroy those they don’t like.

“Identity” isn’t something you shrug off when it’s inconvenient to someone else. You don’t tell me, and my friends, and the millions of people out there like me, to simply disengage aspects of our humanity, then expect us to get along with you.

No one gets to declare “no identity politics!!” as if we are simply masses of accessories to discard on a whim. You do not get to say the playing field is equal just because you have certain privileges (part of your identity) that makes you less likely to be harmed.

Trolls are gonna troll, it’s true. I dislike them. But because they can, and do, harm others, I am willing to plant my banner on this hill and fight them, so the more vulnerable of my people do not have to expend the energy to do so.

In fact, the only trolls I like are the Olog-hai, because I adore all the orcs in the video game Middle-earth: Shadow of War.

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Isn’t he great? [Image screenshot from Middle-earth: Shadow of War © 2017 by WB Games]

Brilliant as always, friend and fellow author Elsa Sjunneson-Henry tweeted this the other day, and it has stuck with me:

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Link to Elsa’s tweet

Damn, is this not spot-on and beautiful?

Matt Dovey, a good friend and amazing SFF author, succinctly added to my point with this impeccable line, quoted here with his permission:

“ID politics” pretends there’s politics without ID, when all that actually is is erasure.

Well said, Matt and Elsa. Well said.

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Image: Shea Labeouf applauding (gif)

I will not take myself apart for the comfort and ego-soothing of others, like men who are in positions of privilege. Especially bigots. To peel away layers of identity and simply discard them because some dude decries it? Fuck that noise. No.

Who I am is political: existing in this world as a trans, non-binary, autistic queer person is political as fuck and I will not break myself apart at another’s insistence. It doesn’t work like that. To suggest otherwise is insulting and in many ways leads to self-harm.

Because there are people who cannot safely be out about their identity. They hide out of necessity or shame, and my heart breaks for them. I was once hidden in shadow, swallowing down any protest about my name, my gender, by brain. I understand the need to hide, and I understand the pain and violence and crisis that can crash down on those of us who are trying to navigate a hostile world.

Language helped me understand who I am. Finding words such as “non-binary” and “queer” and learning that I, too, could claim these as my own, as words to describe myself, was life-saving. Language matters; how we use language matters, and it always has. I am proud of who I am. I am grateful for all my friends and support network who have helped me understand myself; I am indebted to those who came before and carved out space and claimed words and said, “Yes, you belong. We welcome you here. You are valued and you are valid.”

And so I want to say to those who are searching, who are still finding the language needed to define themselves, who are in need of support and community: We’re here and we care about you and you’ll find your way. ❤ I believe in you.

I wish to be visible to help others who cannot be visible yet know they are not alone. My use of language is a choice, to speak with and to others.

My identity is political as fuck, always has been, always will be, and I will never leave it by the door or anywhere else.

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Image: Gif of President Obama’s mic drop

 

If you liked this and wish to support me, there are several ways!

My debut short story collection, SO YOU WANT TO BE A ROBOT, is available for sale! Amazon | B&N | Lethe Press | Powell’s Books

You can support my Patreon!

I have a Ko-Fi, if you’d like to buy me a coffee!

And of course, signal boosts of my work are always appreciated. Thank you for reading, for your support and your time, and I wish you all the best. ❤

(This post is 2,200 words long.)

2017 In Review: Words and Games

With 2018 on the horizon, I feel a little like Dante surfacing from the circles of Hell and looking at Virgil and being like, “What the fuck, dude?!”

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Gustave Doré’s Dramatic Illustrations of Dante’s Divine Comedy

Yeah, 2017 was A Thing That Happened. It had a lot of bad. A lot. But it also had quite a few good things, and it’s important to highlight the good things when you’re playing on nightmare mode and have no save slots in the game.

So hey, here are some things I accomplished this year! Good things. Things I am proud of and hope to repeat in the future. Just, you know, maybe while not running around a hellscape with some ghost-poet bro.


Words

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So it turns out I actually wrote a lot of words this year. That snapshot above? Yeah, that’s from my GYWO spreadsheet. Holy fuck, you guys. o.O  I wrote about 334,240 words in 2017. That’s a lot of taps on the keyboard.

It breaks down something like this:

18 finished short stories
4.5 finished novelettes
2.5 finished novellas
1 finished novel
And about 56,000 words on my COG game (which is on hiatus at the moment and is going to end up around 200-250k when done).

 

The rest of the words are split between unfinished short story drafts, nonfiction, ideas and notes, and other things I chose to count. That’s a lot of fiction words. If you’d asked me last year (2016) how much I expected to produce, my goal for Get Your Words Out was 150k and I thought that was really gonna push my limits.

You know what’s funny? The moment I look away from my spreadsheet, my brain is like, Well you didn’t do very much this year, slacker. Which is a lie, of course. And this is why I keep detailed stats of my progress and projects, because when the doubtroaches surface, when the depression hits hardest, when the anxiety crawls through my ears into my thought neurons, I can look at this Excel page and be like, “See? That’s not nothing. So shut the fuck up, doubtroaches, and go away. I don’t have time for your lies.”


Publications

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I have an awards eligibility post here. In 2017, I had 14 original stories published. And my debut collection, SO YOU WANT TO BE A ROBOT, was published by Lethe Press! I’m super proud of these stories. I will have six original stories/novelettes coming out in 2018, and I’ve been solicited for several different anthologies. That is so cool, guys. It’s gonna be an exciting and busy year! 😀


Games

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Video games are a safety net for my mental health, along with being one of my favorite pastimes. It’s telling how horribly long 2017 has felt, because I could have sworn half of these were last year. But nope, I looked at my achievements listings (thank you, Xbox date stamps!) and everything on this list is squarely in 2017. So here are the games I played & finished this year.

Dishonored: Definitive Edition (x2)

First playthrough was in High Chaos, because I am really bad at stealth. XD Then I started a new game and aimed (and succeeded!) for Low Chaos. What I love about this system is how it affects everything: from the dialogue and NPC chatter to the weather and the aesthetic, to the big show pieces such as the climactic chapter of the game. I love so much about this game, even with its flaws: the world-building, the whales, the small details woven through codex entries and songs; the relationships that play out between characters; the gameplay mechanics and UX; and really, just running around being a garbage rat murder-dad was such fun.

 

The Knife of DunwallThe Brigmore Witches

In these DLCs for Dishonored, you play as Daud and see the story from—before the scene in the game, and after—unfold. It delves into the world more, has a lot of feels, and is so much fun. Daud is my favorite. (I mean, hell, I loved these games so much I wrote fanfic where Daud and Corvo are dogs…)

Dishonored 2 (x2)

Again, I played the whole game twice: first in High Chaos (as Corvo), and second in Low Chaos (as Emily). It’s fascinating to see and hear the differences both for each PC choice, as well as whether you go high or low chaos. This game is beautiful, too: everything is shinier and the Clockwork Mansion is a masterpiece of visual aesthetics.

Dishonored: Death of the Outsider

The last chapter in the storyline preceded by Dishonored, this brings a close to Billie, Daud, and the Outsider’s stories. It’s a gorgeous game where you get to play a disabled bisexual Black woman, and it is amazing. Billie is such a fantastic protagonist, so snarky and with much commentary about her world. Plus the ending resolution, if you choose the non-lethal option when you find the Outsider, hit me in ALL THE FEELS. It was perfect.

Doki Doki Literature Club!

This game is fucked up and terrifying and brilliant in the use of game mechanics and metadata to mess with the player’s head. It starts like a dating sim and then it just gets unnerving.

Dream Daddy: A Dad Dating Simulator (x3)

This is the first dating sim game I’ve ever played, and it was such a delight. It’s charming, relatable, and wonderfully designed and animated. Dadsona may be one of the most relatable dad-characters in gaming, let’s be real. And Amanda is top-notch adorable.

Layers of Fear

I loved the visual aesthetics and creepy atmosphere of this game. It’s a first person exploratory, psychological horror story about an artist who is trapped in an ever-changing haunted house. It’s delicious and unnerving, even if it has a lot of puzzles (I hate puzzles). Plus, I love when games have multiple possible endings.

Oxenfree

A beautiful, creepy game with snark and ghosts and time-travel fuckery. Which is all my jam.

Prey

S C R E A M I N G I loved this so much! It hits so many of my favorite buttons: shadowy monsters, set in spaaaaace, you get to eat things, and also you can have a shotgun or hit things with a wrench. It reminded me strongly of BioShock meets Dishonored, and I was delighted by the two ending options you could choose. You can also make adorable little cubes and shapes and craft stuff, which is soothing af. What’s also wonderful was how many casually queer characters are in this. And POC! And so few white men! It was amazing and so refreshing, even as you realize that everyone is doomed. Plus, “Intrinsic Value” may be my new favorite (accidental) achievement ever. xD

Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor (x2)

I picked this up in March when a coworker described the Nemesis System to me and sold me on that alone. Then I played and fell in love with everything about this: the Orcs, Talion, the storytelling, the gameplay mechanics and UX (although the menus were annoyingly confusing at first). But let’s be real: the Orcs are the best thing about this series. They’re hilarious, charming, delightful, brutal, snarky, endearing, and I adore the Nemesis System so completely. One of my favorite parts in this game is sneaking around and just eavesdropping on the Orc chatter. And any time an enemy kills Talion, I laughed and laughed in delight. Never has it been so much fun to get your character killed in horrible ways!

Middle-earth: Shadow of War

What Shadow of Mordor set up by the end (the forging of a new Ring), Shadow of War paid off beyond my expectations. Everything in this sequel is just as good or better than the first game. And the main storyline? COMPLETELY DESTROYED MY FEELS. In the best way. It was perfect, exactly what I wanted, and so satisfying. Talion’s journey is epic and deeply personal. (I give no fucks about how this slots into the timeline; it can be an AU in Middle-earth if need be, but it is perfect for me.)  The siege and conquest system of fortresses is super fun; strategy and tactics come into play, you get shiny armor and weapon upgrades, and my favorite is all the cut scenes when you face off against Captains and Warchiefs and Warlords. The dialogue is brilliant, the animation is gorgeous, and it’s so visceral and satisfying on so many levels. I love Shelob and Sauron and Bruz and all the other hero Orcs, Carnan and the Balrog, plus the Gondorians and the Nazgul and everyone else. Also, someone please pay me to write “The Continuing Adventures of Ranger and Ratbag,” because I will write that novel SO FAST.

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt + Hearts of Stone & Blood and Wine (replay)

This is, perhaps, one of my favorite games. In 2016 I binged the entire Witcher franchise (yes, starting with the clunky and awkward first Witcher game on a PC). The Witcher 3 will probably be a game I replay yearly: it’s unbearably gorgeous, fun, and soothing with familiarity while still being entertaining and satisfying. (I mean, I haven’t gotten all the achievements yet, so…)


And Looking Into 2018…

So. New year, new start, all that, right?

Yeah. I don’t necessarily have grand resolutions. They are small things, achievable things: be kind, raise up others’ voices, support artists, continue creating, focus on mental-health and self-care, and bring as much joy to others as I can. I love seeing people happy. It is my greatest pleasure to encourage and support and praise and enjoy others’ work. I love squeeing about awesome things, and since 2017 proved I am out of fucks, let’s go all out. Let’s celebrate art and people; let’s create and revel in the things we love; let’s support each other in ups and downs; let’s make this world just a little better, one action and word at a time.

Happy 2018, everyone! Be the badass mofos you were born to be. ❤ Peace.

Some Awesome Stories From 2017

Every year I swear I will keep up on short fiction, and, as usual, I never quite manage to read as much or as widely as I’d like. This is far from an exhaustive list, because I simply didn’t get to read everything I wanted to this year. That said! Here is a list of some of my favorite stories I read from 2017 (short stories and novelettes; I’ve not gotten to longer form fiction yet).

It is alphabetized by story title!

A Human Stain by Kelly Robson (Tor.com, January 2017) [novelette]

Lesbian gothic horror that builds to a slow, horrifying climax. Wickedly delightful and creepy. You’ll never look at teeth quite the same way again.

Helen had first seen the nursemaid’s pretty face that morning, looking down from one of the house’s highest windows as she and Bärchen Lambrecht rowed across the lake with their luggage crammed in a tippy little skiff. Even at a distance, Helen could tell she was a beauty.

______

 

Bear Language by Martin Cahill (Fireside, May 2017)

The voice is perfect in this bittersweet and fierce story about family and strength and survival. Plus, Susan is such a good bear—and one should never get between a bear and her cubs.

I crawl out from under the covers, shivering at the memory of his anger, and go to the door. The house is dark; ghosts made of sunlit wallpaper peek through curtains and down hallways. It smells like pine needles and mud.

______

Caesura by Hayley Stone (Fireside, November 2017)

Grieving her brother’s murder, a girl develops a neural network AI that becomes self-aware—but it’s how she learns to reconnect to the world and her family, and her AI, is what gives this such heart. Language is used with incredible precision and perfection.

She should probably be documenting this. Taking notes. Instead, she fidgets on her desk chair, adjusts the mic absently. “And what, what’s the organ’s name?” she asks. At the same time she opens another window, hits the letters L and then I, highlights the word life from a list and deletes it.

______

Don’t Turn On The Lights by Cassandra Khaw (Nightmare, October 2017)

Brilliant and unsettling, this horror story shows you just how much stories change, depending on who tells it. And sometimes, it’s far worse than you imagine.

Sleep wasn’t in the cards, though. Hell, I don’t know if she ever slept again. I know I wouldn’t be able to. Because when Sally finally walked all the way to her room, pushing past co-eds in their flower-printed pyjamas, she found police tape and policemen.

______

Every Black Tree by Natalia Theodoridou (Beneath Ceaseless Skies, October 2017)

Haunting, beautiful and intimate, this story looks at loss and ghosts and family. How do you rebuild a life taken apart? One day at a time, with ribbon and whispers and learning how to live again.

“So did someone hang you from my blacktree, or did you hang yourself?” she asks, placing a cup of hot tea in front of him. She’s still mad, but he hears something soft in her voice now.

______

Fandom For Robots by Vina Kie-Min Prasad (Uncanny, September/October 2017)

This story is pure joy. Computron, stuck in a museum, discovers a TV show and begins writing fanfic—and in turn, makes friends and discovers he is not alone.

The Simak Robotics Museum is not within close proximity of a black hole, and there is close to no possibility that time is being dilated. His constant checking of the chronometer to compare it with the countdown page serves no scientific purpose whatsoever.

______

The First Stop Is Always The Last by John Wiswell (Flash Fiction Online, December 2017)

A charming time-loop story about cute lesbians! Two women on the same bus, repeating the same few hours, bond and learn how to move forward into an unknown future.

Selma got an itch in her brain. She asked, “How many times have we talked about this today?”

______

The Ghosts of Europa Will Keep You Trapped in a Prison You Make for Yourself by Matt Dovey (Escape Pod, May 2017)

Heartbreaking and raw and honest, this story shows us the grief of loss, and one woman’s revelation at what has been and how she can bring peace to the one she loves.

Amira knew that for a lie. Degradation took years of bit decay, even in Jovian radiation. The synaptic data was remarkably resilient to corruption. Even in virtual form, the brain found new pathways to work around any damage.

______

The Greatest One-Star Restaurant in the Whole Quadrant by Rachael K. Jones (Lightspeed, December 2017)

Deliciously disturbing and messed up, Jones’ story about cyborg cooks trying to earn stars for her newly opened restaurant is hilarious and gruesome in turn, and has sharp (knife-like) observations about humans. And food.

Humans were helpless, mewling children, so utterly dependent that they couldn’t even feed their meat without a steel fork to guide the process. And what were cyborgs, except meat-wrapped steel pressed into the service of lesser creatures? But now the forks were rebelling.

______

If We Survive the Night by Carlie St. George (The Dark, March 2017)

What happens when the horror movie is over and everyone who’s not a Final Girl is dead? St. George’s horrific and unsettling story is about dead girls, the subjection and judgement women endure, and the power of stories. And revenge.

Harper makes Abby a cup of tea. It’s a soothing liquid, the universal sign for calm the hell down, and Abby thinks it’d be a lot more successful if the girl who made it hadn’t taken a fire axe to the back exactly one year ago.

______

Listen and You’ll Hear Us Speak by A. T. Greenblatt (Flash Fiction Online, September 2017)

A small, perfect gem of a story: no one is ever truly voiceless, even if they do not speak.

My aunties always said there’s a market for everything in the universe. They said, watch out, everyone has a price.

______

Maybe Look Up by Jess Barber (Lightspeed, April 2017)

A charming, understated time travel story that explores the relationship between two people who have the power to change the past. But what they do with this power is where the heart of the story lies.

The list lives in a little palm-sized flip notebook, plastic purple spiral holding it together at the top, glitter-outlined unicorn on the front. An Li claims the notebook is a metaphor for the risks of nostalgia. She brandishes a pink gel pen that smells like plasticky strawberry foam.

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The Moon, the Sun, and the Truth by Victoria Sandbrook (Shimmer, July 2017)

A gritty, fierce, sharp postapocalyptic western about rebellion and sacrifice. Tyranny can’t last when there are people who will speak the truth.

“Fleet of foot and light of heart,” he said.

The truth-rider salutation only made her stomach turn. She touched her hat and turned the horse toward the next town.

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Never Yawn Under a Banyan Tree by Nibedita Sen (Anathema, August 2017)

This fantastic, charming, delicious story is about food, ghosts, and lesbians. Reading it makes me hungry!

My search had finally turned up two promising results: a temple in Rajasthan and another in Gujarat. Both still performed exorcisms for the princely sum of five thousand rupees and three boxes of chickpea-flour-and-sugar sweetmeats. The money was supposedly for the priests, and the sweets for the gods, but I had the sneaking suspicion the sweets, too, would end up going down the priests’ gullets the way the pret had gone down mine.

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Presque Vu by Nino Cipri (Liminal, November 2017)

Gorgeous, queer, and filled with longing and ghosts. Hauntings connect people and give them hope for closure and a future.

The postcards were vintage, with terrible puns and bland innuendo: the one he’d seen had had a naughty librarian with stacks of books propping up her cleavage, Interested in a thriller? On the other side was a spidery scrawl of words in faded brown ink.

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The Secret Life of Bots by Suzanne Palmer (Clarkesworld, September 2017) [novelette]

Bot 9 is SO FRICKING CUTE I CANNOT HANDLE THIS PERFECT LEVEL OF ADORABLE. This is a delightful, hilarious, charming story about bots!

The Ship had not actually told it what was in cargo bay four, but surely it must have something to do with the war effort and was then none of its own business, the bot decided. It had never minded not knowing a thing before, but it felt a slight unease now that it could neither explain, nor explain away.

Skins Smooth as Plantain, Hearts Soft as Mango by Ian Muneshwar (The Dark, August 2017)

Food horror is my jam, and this story is ripe with gorgeous descriptions and mouth-watering detail that will make you hungry…maybe not in the best way.

He ate a heaping forkful of the pie. It was wonderful: the goat was soft, savory, fatty; the salt and animal juices and hot water crust all came together on his tongue. The beast pushed up, stretching open the base of his esophagus, unfurling its own eager tongue.

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Small Changes Over Long Periods of Time by K.M. Szpara (Uncanny, May/June 2017) [novelette]

An #ownvoices (sans the vampire part) story about a gay trans man who’s bitten by a vampire and deals with the after effects of being turned. Raw, sharp, and so often unbearably human, Szpara examines many axises of marginalization and the trials and joys inherent in living in an imperfect world.

But vampires who break the law, who feed from un-certified donors, who steal blood bags, or drink without asking first, are put on the Blood Offenders Registry, which is basically a hit list for corrupt cops and stake-wielding bigots.

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Some Remarks on the Reproductive Strategy of the Common Octopus by Bogi Takács (Clarkesworld, April 2017)

Brilliant and subversive, the story examines how colonialism destroys environments and people alike. Also OCTOPI. ❤

I am going to meet Pebblesmooth. Pebblesmooth, who doesn’t have all the answers, but who has the best questions. Once I am there, I will ask, “Pebblesmooth, can a dead human affect the field?”

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The Sound Of by Charles Payseur (Nightmare, May 2017)

This story has haunted me since I first read it. The story shows a dystopia that is all too real, too believable, and will chill you. It has no happy ending; this is a horror story and the tragedy comes from the wrenching understand that sometimes, we cannot endure everything.

He checks his friends, makes sure no one is saying anything that could possibly be viewed as a violation. Just to be safe, he unfriends a few people who knew him back in college. His fingers stop when Ren’s profile comes up. He hovers, weighing his options, then swallows and closes the app.

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The Whalebone Parrot by Darcie Little Badger (The Dark, October 2017)

Ghosts. Dead whales. Colonialism being interrogated and resisted against. The voice is perfect, the structure and mix of narrative and journal entries firmly grounds this in time and setting, and it builds to a slow, excruciating and unsettling conclusion. Wonderful horror-fantasy!

“Not especially.” It was only a partial lie; Loretta’s married name still sounded like it belonged to a stranger. When Emily was summoned to the island, Loretta asked her to be discreet. Tell nobody that we are sisters.

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There has been so much excellent fiction published this year; the wonderful field of SFFH is growing and diversifying and shining with amazing gems. I’m so excited to read more breathtaking stories in the future!

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ETA: I had one more story in this list which I mistook as a 2017 publication, when it was 2016. Still keeping it here as a postscript because it’s SO good.

All the Colors You Thought Were Kings by Arkady Martine (Shimmer, December 2017 2016)

Gorgeous, riveting space opera on an epic scale that still remains deeply personal. Radiant with imagery and intense with emotion.

Even barefoot in gauze, your Tamar looks dangerous. You could die of pride if you weren’t half planning to die of something else first.

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