A Few Favorite Fictions: October 2018

October is my favorite month (spooky movies! candy! pumpkins! ghosts!), even if it is the busiest at work! But I did read thirteen fabulous stories that are a mix of creepy and cunning and charming, scary and sad, haunting and hopeful. Enjoy the fiction and Happy Halloween!

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A Taxonomy of Hurts by Kate Dollarhyde (Fireside)

A luminous, lyrical, story about hurts and how we classify ourselves; Dollarhyde beautifully blends imagery and emotion together in this story about a person finding someone like herself, finding herself, finding hope.

Never Drown Alone by John Wiswell (self-published)

Do you ever wonder what would happen if Jason Voorhees went to summer camp with Sadako and the two fell in love as only horror icons can? WHAT? This story is a hilarious, heartwarming, absolutely fricking fabulous mash-up of horror tropes, iconic characters, and a thoroughly satisfying, undying friendship between two people who connect and communicate even if they never speak. Wiswell weaves jokes and emotion and plenty of sly horror into this story; it’s weird and lovely and so gosh darn satisfying, beginning to end. Do yourself a favor: if you like horror, read this. Then share it with a friend…I promise it works better than if you showed them a VHS tape.

One and Two by Emma Osborne (Kaleidotrope)

Two gods sit down to have dinner together, and what follows is a bittersweet, beautiful ache of a story that unfolds how the earth has changed, the cost the world has endured with inconsiderate human consumption, and the possibility of hope for the future. Gorgeously written and brimming with emotion, Emma Osborne has created a stunning work that will linger with you long after the final page.

One Thousand Cranes by Zora Mai Quỳnh (Terraform Magazine)

Sharp, haunting, and terrifying for the near-future predictions of climate change, this story is masterfully told in reverse chronology—a stunt I love, and here it is performed with perfection. It’s not an easy read, but it is a necessary one.

Screw Your Courage to the Sticky Place by Jenn Reese (DSF)

When the four horsepeople of the apocalypse show up at Ana’s door, it’s a relief—and a surprising opportunity, too! Charming, funny, sweet, with a lovely bit of queer flirting, Reese brings laughs as well as ‘aww!’s of delight in very few words.

STET by Sarah Gailey (Fireside)

Brilliant and taking full advantage of a digital format to tell a powerful story in an interactive way (although you can also simply read it top to bottom with the same effect), Gailey will yank your heartstrings ragged with this story about autonomous vehicles, ethical AI, and editorial privilege. An amazing, feels-punchy read that will haunt you long after you finish.

Subtle Ways Each Time by Y.M. Pang (Escape Pod)

Time travel and introspection! A man tries to change the past to make a relationship work, and fails each time…until he finally realizes what it is he’s doing wrong. This is a fantastic take on the ripple effect of choices made through time travel, and ends in such an unexpectedly positive way, I loved it!

Ten Deals With the Indigo Snake by Mel Kassel (Lightspeed)

A fantastic story with a rich, modernized mythology of bargains and the cost of doing business. There are so many good snakes!!! I love the relationship between the narrator and her indigo snake; the format of the story works perfectly to build on each deal and showcase the world and the character’s growth over the course of her life. It’s a fantastic story well worth your time! (And it doesn’t even ask for anything in return for reading.)

The Bodice, The Hem, The Woman, Death by Karen Osborne (Beneath Ceaseless Skies)

In this breathtaking story, Karen Osborne crafts stunning, gorgeous prose while interweaving heartbreak and horror and hope into a backdrop of war and exploitation. Politics and fashion, weird engines and ghosts, tragedy and possibility are all sewn together in Osborne’s masterful control of pacing and emotive response. This is awesome on so many levels, showing off in a short but powerful way what resistance can look like.

The Fainting Game by Nino Cipri (Pseudopod)

This starts out deceptively innocent: a bunch of young girls learn to play a game that suggests autoerotic asphyxiation. But when Maya tries it, something goes badly wrong…and the horror builds from there. Cipri evokes the petty, casual cruelty of intimate family that adds to the sense of loneliness and otherness, and heightens the horror both supernatural and familial. It’s disturbing, riveting, and will keep a piece of your attention forever with itself in the static place.

The Longest Trial by Elizabeth Crane (Catapult)

Timely, satirical and yet brutally real and on point, the story of a 20-year-long trial showcases how many women are harmed by the societal acceptance of powerful men getting away with abuse…but not forever. It’s grueling at times, but the story never shies away from shining a floodlight in the face of systematic misogyny, and at the end of the tunnel, that answering light is this: in the future, we can do better, as a world, and we will.

This Will Not Happen To You by Marissa Lingen (Uncanny)

Biting, intimate, and unflinching, this story about disability and how we look at it with the lens of eradicating future problems. Lingen builds a dual-layered narrative, past and future, and at the end, it expertly skates around a pat cure narrative and dismantles the idea that we can ever truly master evolution, mutation, and nature.

Words I’ve Redefined Since Your Dinosaurs Invaded My Lunar Lair by Stewart C. Baker (Flash Fiction Online)

This is a hilarious and diabolically heartwarming story about supervillains, the cost of power, and dinosaurs! Baker packs a remarkable amount of story into a mere thousand words, along with a philosophical outlook on societal structures and the nature of good and evil. And it’s funny as h*ck. Ten out of ten death rays!

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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!

A Few Favorite Fictions: June 2018

June is my birthday month, and I am so delighted by the amazing stories I read these last few weeks. ❤

A note about my selections: on my blog I usually choose to review fiction that is available online and not behind a paywall. I subscribe to ebook/print markets and I’ve bought a few individual issues so I can read things I’m interested in. But when I want to link to things, I would rather have them accessible for as many readers as possible.  ^_^

In addition to this, I do not read everything in every publication every month. I bounce around a lot; some months I may read more from one publication than others. There is no method: I have several dozen tabs and always add more, so who knows what I will end up reading each month.

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Anyway, I hope you enjoy this month’s recommendations!


A Pilgrim’s Guide to the Lighthouse of Quvenle the Seer by Lina Rather (Lightspeed)

Rather has created a quietly powerful story here, one with a strong emotional core, and the premise is a nice take on oracles. This is a story about grief and hope; about new beginnings without silencing the griefs of the past, which are in many ways always present. It hits hard in a short amount of words, but leaves you with a breath of hope in the end.


Artful Intelligence by G. H. Finn (Diabolical Plot)

If you like puns, you will likely enjoy this a lot. 😉 This is a highly amusing tale about a steampunk engineer who creates an AI! It’s full of fun word play, great over the top concepts, and enjoyable characters. I laughed aloud often while reading, and the ending made me grin. What a great romp!


Destiny by Melissa Mead (Daily Science Fiction)

Mead has written a charming, meta-based story about an author who wanders into the story, and the kindness of characters who can make good changes. I really liked how sweet this was: working within the rules of the story-world, the protagonists can act and they choose to do so with compassion. ❤


Fascism and Facsimiles by John Wiswell (Fireside)

H*cking hilarious, hopeful, and heroic! Wiswell has a wonderfully keen wit and on-point commentary about social and political climate of our current times. This story pokes deliberate fun and criticism over the Marvel fiasco of making Captain America a Nazi (Hydra). When the protagonists in “Fascism and Facsimiles” realize that in their world, the so-called national hero is not the person he’s been portrayed as for forty years. Henchmen getting agency and upholding their beliefs is, for me, more powerful than a traditional hero/villain smackdown. This is great and I highly recommend it!

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Faint Voices, Increasingly Desperate by Anya Johanna DeNiro (Shimmer)

With stunning prose, a fantastic and gorgeous mythology woven into shiny shapes, DeNiro has created an ethereal tale about gods and monsters. It’s also a story about two women who find a connection neither of them expected, and how it changes their lives. It’s bittersweet but ultimately triumphant in the end, and so brutally arresting on an emotional level it left me breathless for days after reading. Highly recommended!

TW: transphobia and misgendering & threats against trans women.


Fault Lines by A.J. Fitzwater (3Lobe Burning Eye)

With haunting imagery and metaphor, exquisite writing, and a vicious edge so biting and aching that it builds tension so intense you are almost holding your breath, waiting for a release, this one is short and visceral and will stay with you long after the last words are glowing on the screen.
TW: self-harm.


Gone to Earth by Octavia Cade (Shimmer)

Poetically horrifying and full of powerful emotion and fantastic atmosphere and prose; it’s creepy and sad and gorgeous! Cade has created an astounding sense of claustrophobia and earth-sickness (missing being on Earth, while living on Mars), and it’s so vivid I had to take repeated breaks to catch my breath. This story has such weight, such horrible beauty, that it will linger with you for time to come.


Heron of Earth by Varja Chandrasekera (Clarkesworld)

 

This story is built around a really cool far-future setting; it has a great voice and  concept, and a riveting narrative that fully utilizes its conceit of a narrator whose name constantly changes. Chandrasekera’s skill ensures that it’s clear who the protagonist is all the time. Plus, there are so many BIRBS. 😀

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In the Belly of the Wolf by Gwendolyne Kiste (Kaleidotrope)

This one is gorgeous, haunting, dark and so satisfying. Very bitey and hungry, with a delicious finale. It’s a take on the Red Riding Hood tale that is fresh (and awesomely genderswaped from the more traditional mode), and is full of wolves. I enjoyed this story so much that I bought a copy of Kiste’s short story collection, And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe.


In the Bottom of the Tower Where All Beasts Roam by Michelle Muenzler (Daily Science Fiction)

What a creepy and gorgeous and weird little story—full of bones and blood and teeth. It’s a fairy tale in the mode of the gruesome originals, and I love it!


In the End, It Always Turns Out the Same by A. C. Wise (The Dark)

This is heartbreaking, dark, and viscerally real: about the pressures and abuses put upon kids and how narratives are made and enforced, even when they are wrong. a vicious riff on teen detective tropes (Scooby Do, etc) that works brilliantly and will haunt you long after you finish reading.


Jiak liu lian by Yap Xiong (Arsenika)

This is a sensual, awesome story about vampires and durians—it made me hungry, even though I could almost taste the delicious fruit! Sumptuous and sublime. Definitely recommended!


Leviathan Sings to Me in the Deep by Nibedita Sen (Nightmare)

This is a luxuriously dark, creepy, horrifying story about whaling, whales, monsters and the terror of the void. It builds slowly, inevitably, layers of nuance and disturbing implications that resolve into a deep and unsettling realization. It will linger in your bones, the memory of whale song that you hear beneath the waves.

(Check out Sen’s awesome author interview as well—she points out the inspiration for this story is rooted in Dishonored games.)

Please enjoy one of my all-time favorite videos about whales.


More Tomorrow by Premee Mohamad (Autmota Review)

A brilliant, voicey, endearing, fun, bittersweet story about time travel and survival and the endurance of human ingenuity and spirit. I LOVE IT SO MUCH. It’s funny as hell, too: I nearly spit out my coffee so many times while reading this. And then SUDDENLY MY HEART IS MELTING AGAIN. A fabulous epistolary format, a great take on how time travel affects past and future, and it highlights the versatility and strength of humans. Also trilobites.


Mothers, Watch Over Me by Maria Haskins (Mythic Delirium)

Do you like feels? Far-future science fantasy? Then this story is for you: a gorgeous anthropomorphic fantasy, with the familiar yet alien tone reminiscent of Watership Down. It’s about family and legacy, it has awesome robots, magic, and ALL THE GOOD DOGS.

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Tank! by John Wiswell (Diabolical Plots)

If anyone can pull off a story about a literal non-binary tank going to a convention, it’s John Wiswell. The result? SO CUTE. MUCH LOVE. ADORBS. Tank wants to be your friend! They’re such a good tank.


The Cook by C. L. Clark (Uncanny)

Aww, this is lovely, a sweet story with gorgeous writing, one that will cleanse your palate, fill your heart, and leave you feeling energized. Read and enjoy!


The Day After the Red Warlock of Skull Top Mountain Turned Everyone in Beane County into Pigs by Susan Jane Bigelow (Fireside)

A long title that works beautifully to set up the premise. It’s one of those stories that examines the aftermath of a climatic event and how it has impacted the lives of the people who lived through it. This one has an edge, and in ways the end feels abrupt, but it haunts you long after you finish.


The Guitar Hero by Maria Haskins (Kaleidotrope)

Wow, this is GREAT. 😀 It’s visceral and rocking and such fun, with heart and a nasty streak. Haskins’ writing evokes all the senses in a perfect blend, transporting you into the story. You can almost hear the music, smell the air, feel the thump of bass under your feet. I also love the Ghostbusters-esque vibe of using SCIENCE!!1! to perform exorcisms. The story itself is like a great guitar riff: showy, entrancing, and makes you want to mimic the music in the air yourself. Definitely a win all around!

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The Scarecrow’s Daughter by Hamilton Perez (Aresnika)

What I loved about this gorgeous, weird little story is Perez’s marvelous use of negative space. So much is said in what is not said. We get hints about what happened, and what will happen, with the absences within the narrative. It’s so incredibly well done! Haunting imagery and a mythic feel, this one is definitely I recommend.


The Steady State by Shannon Fay (Daily Science Fiction)

Usually you might not expect “cute and charming” to be applied to a dystopia story, but this one fits the bill: it has a dark undertone but the atmosphere is upbeat and it has happy lesbians! With a happy ending! If you need a little pick-me-up, this one should help brighten your day.


The Stories Of Your Name by J. M. Melican (Arsenika)

This tiny story is beautiful and a brilliant use of meta and second person: a story of stories told from one person to another. What a lovely ending; it gave me such feels in such a short period of time! ❤


Things We Will Never Say by Vanessa Fogg (Daily Science Fiction)

Awww. A poignant, moving story about family and silences and possible futures, some that are hopeful and true.

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What Monsters Prowl Above the Waves by Jo Miles (Diabolical Plots)

This is an adorable story about an octopus who meets and befriends a lonely cat—there is a perfect blend of an alien mindset that is at the same time very relatable, and the point of view of the octopus is charming and engaging. I hope the new buddies have great adventures together!

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Bonus: Essay!

BETWEEN THE COATS: A SENSITIVITY READ CHANGED MY LIFE – AN ESSAY by Sarah Gailey (The Book Smugglers)

This is a powerful, beautiful, important personal essay that everyone should read. Gailey’s words resonated with me, and their story is so vital. Please do read.


 

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!

 

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.” 

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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!

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!

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.]

Screenshot 2018-01-22 11.42.05


Screenshot 2018-01-22 12.46.54

Screenshot 2018-01-24 14.23.58

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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

 

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(This post is 2,200 words long.)

On Voice

I’m tempted to subtitle this: Everything I learned about voice, I learned from Scott McNeil. It’s not entirely the case, but it’s close.

So anyway.

As a young!Merc I was aware of voice acting. I listened to a lot of audiobooks, and my favorites were the full-cast dramatizations*. I knew people could do different character-voices. (We listened to a lot of Recorded Books from the library. Those narrators are amazing.) But it never really clicked that the auditory vocal skills I admired so much had a written counterpart (or that, you know, the dramatizations were read from text). Until I watched Beast Wars: Transformers.

Me: I want to do that thing that I’m seeing—creating distinct voices and characters, but with words!
Brain: PROCESSING.

It grew from there.

—–

Author Voice

When I hear people talk about voice in fiction, I tend to interpret it as “your author voice, yo.” That you-know-it-when-you-see-it thing. Your One Voice to Rule Them All (and usually you have to crawl around in a goblin cave to find it, and possibly play riddle games with creatures that want to eat you).

Authorial voice has a lot of influence in one’s work. How you express your ideas, your philosophy, how you string words together, the number of explosions you add, the tics and quirks you develop, the unique style and personality you extract from the blob-like blandness of the masses, your pet themes and tropes and squids, the imprint your brain makes on the page, etc. It’s a good thing to have. I approve of strong authorial voices.

(For example, Ursula Vernon has one of the funniest and awesome authorial voices, easily seen on her blog.)

There can also be a wide variety of masks stories wear. You can have multiple voices, little subroutines in the main program, that fit individual stories. They can have your authorial voice’s shadow, but be complete and distinct on their own.

It’s like flexing your (auditory) voice to become legion.

Character and Story Voice

Character voice is a filter through which the narrative is strained like loose leaf tea. The taste of the final brew depends on what kind of tea you use, how long you let it seep, what you add to it, and so on.

(The author makes the tea, but the author isn’t actually the tea. Er. I think we’ll drop the tea analogy before it gets too awkward.)

First, second, or third person, I like POV characters to have their own voice. Everything influences this: How they look at the word, what experiences color their behavior and choices, vocabulary, habitual traits, the telling details they notice, how they respond to being ambushed by starving velociraptors.

Story voice is similar—I’m not sure how to articulate the difference, exactly. In my head, story voice is the lighting and music score and camera angles and structure and tense and motifs that show up; it compliments and intertwines with the character voice, and sometimes it’s the sliding scale of closeness in point of view.

Finding the character voice, the story voice, is a huge step for me when tackling a story. I need to pin down the tone as much as the plot, the structure as well as the thematic elements, whether I will destroy the sun yet again, etc. I go into it thinking about voice. What do I want this one to sound like?

—–

Drive-by examples:

CHIME by Franny Billingsley has an absolutely gorgeous, fascinating voice that shines on the page. It is uniquely Briony’s. (And that’s what I like—a voice that couldn’t be anyone else’s.)

Gemma Files’ dark, crazygood novel, A Book of Tongues, is another example of strong voice (and addictive prose).

(I now feel the need to keep yet another list of stories with excellent voice. That will take some compiling–an excuse for ALL the spreadsheets!)

How about you? What are your thoughts on voice?

—–

*Oh, when I found Martin the Warrior by Brian Jacques on audio, I was convinced for a week that I was dreaming. FULL CAST AND THE AUTHOR NARRATING? HOW COULD THIS BE? I had only imagined such awesomeness, such fangirl-fulfilling joy. But it was real, and I was the happiest Merc EVER. I did not let those cassette tapes out of my sight for a month.

——

This is posted for the a week of writing-related thoughts hosted by Chrystalla Thoma. Check out the rest!