Alphabet of Embers review

An Alphabet of Embers launches this week, at the Nebula Awards! And here’s a lovely review of it, in which the reviewer Christina lists my story “The City Beneath the Sea” among those they particularly appreciated:

“Embers maintains a consistent and cohesive feel throughout: it stories are literary and poetic, with a fluidity of style and theme that borders on slipstream and the surreal”

Also, what a wonderful site: befitting its name, Books and Tea reviews both books and tea. Now that is totally my kind of thing!

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Sunday recs: Stories + novels

Sunday recs! Featuring three delightful short stories, and two excellent novels.

Tomorrow When We See the Sun by A. Merc Rustad (in Lightspeed) – a weird and cool space opera. A dark atmosphere but so beautiful. Merc’s worldbuilding is great, and I especially love how they use language. Poetic writing in prose <3

And the Balance in Blood by Elizabeth Bear (in Uncanny Magazine) – such a delightful novelette!! In contrast to Merc’s story, this one is hopeful and has lots of funny bits. This story reminds me that I should get round to reading Bear’s novels.

Wing by Amal El-Mohtar (in Strange Horizons) – a lovely short piece from 2012, lyrical and strange. Mystical books, yay.

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Then for the novels: I’ve got longer reviews/squee for these on Goodreads, but I just really want to recommend two novels from this autumn that I read recently:

Black Wolves, Kate Elliott’s newest novel – set in the same world as her Crossroads trilogy, but you needn’t have read the trilogy to enjoy this one. (I greatly enjoyed the references to the trilogy, though!) In fact, I didn’t even like the Crossroads trilogy as much as Elliott’s other stuff, but omgggg I adored Black Wolves. So, so good. A must-read if you’re into epic fantasy. It does some pretty bold things with structure, but I think it works very well. And there were so many great characters. Lots of women being awesome, and a very interesting portrayal of a fantasy society in the process of great societal changes. So great. I wish I could re-read this book again with new eyes, but I’m sure I’ll enjoy rereading it in any case.

Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho – which I just read over Christmas. A riot of a book, vastly different from Black Wolves, but that was probably a good thing since I’d just finished BW before starting SttC. Zen Cho’s got a really good Regency thing going on: I’m so happy there’s more stuff in the general vein of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell! This was a light read on the surface, but Cho also deals really well with issues of e.g. racism and colonialism.

I’m really looking forward to the next parts of the trilogies for both BW and SttC!

Sunday recs: Bone Swans

I just finished Bone Swans, a collection of stories by C.S.E. Cooney – very highly recommended!

A great collection of stories, poetry singing along with the narrative (and often included, too, to dazzling effect). C.S.E. Cooney’s writing just has this amazing energy and panache to it. I love it. How they’re written – the juicy, glorious language – is such an important part of her stories. This collection is really diverse, with a range of narrators and styles.

My favourites were “Martyr’s Gem” and “How the Milkmaid Struck a Bargain with the Crooked One”, stories I’d enjoyed already previously. I just adore pretty much every character in “Martyr’s Gem” – especially lovely Shursta! The oral culture is done so well, too. The storytelling bit always gives me the shivers.

“How the Milkmaid Struck a Bargain with the Crooked One” is an awesome fairytale reworking. The narrator is such a joy, and I love how this version plays out. It’s set in the same world as some of Cooney’s other stories, too, such as “The Last Sophia” (in Strange Horizons) and her two Dark Breakers novellas – all of them highly recommended too! It’s so cool to see a writer doing several stories in the same world.

I was also really impressed by “Life on the Sun” and “The Bone Swans of Amandale” (so creepy in a great fairytale way!). The final tale, “The Big Bah-Ha”, appealed to me the least, but I think that’s mostly because I’m creeped out by clowns and so couldn’t enjoy the story as much due to subject matter. However, that was basically my only quibble with this collection.

You should also check out all of Claire Cooney’s poetry because it’s awesome.

Sunday recs: art magic

Have been way too exhausted to blog lately. Should learn better time management, or possibly just somehow learn how to be less busy…

Anyway, small rec for today because I don’t want to get too badly out of the habit:

Do Not Touch by Prudence Shen (with some charming art by Noreen Rana and Faith Erin Hicks) (at Tor.com) – Awww this is an utterly charming story. I absolutely love the central concept in this, and fiction where visual arts are a major thing. This story made me giggle quite a few times, and I liked the characters. Not a recent story (this is from 2013) but utterly worth checking out!

On a somewhat related note, I read the novel The Golden Key this summer, and it was awesome. Written by Melanie Rawn, Jennifer Roberson and Kate Elliott. An intriguing novel with painting-magic and obsession with fame as a central aspect. I loved all the descriptions of art and the art process, and how the writers showed a society changing as time passes. A wonderful and involving read, highly recommended.

Sunday recs: The Goblin Emperor

A novel for today’s Sunday recs:

I just read Katherine Addison’s novel The Goblin Emperor and was, quite frankly, blown away. I haven’t loved a novel this much in ages! It was the perfect escape amidst a very busy couple of weeks. I may or may not have uttered a “noooooo” when I realised the story was done and the rest was appendix-type stuff.

Things that I especially loved:

  • The main character, Maia. Ohhhh Maia! I love characters who strive to be good, and Maia really does. He is also just so endearing in his awkwardness. <3
  • The use of language! In addition to writing really compelling prose, Addison appealed to Linguist Me by having the elves’ language (represented as English) include a distinction between formal and informal 1st and 2nd person pronouns. Such a lovely detail, and so revealing of their politeness culture. I especially enjoyed that at first the reader has to start figuring it out themself. Also: the “early modern English” features (thou/thee, etc.) were all grammatically correct! This is especially awesome because so many people do weird shit with pseudo-Shakespearean language. In Addison’s hands it felt natural instead of stilted.
  • It was so optimistic! And not in a saccharine way – just, people were decent, and the ending made me so happy.

My only sorrow is that this is a standalone. I really hope Addison writes something else set in this world… I would’ve wanted to learn more especially about Maia’s betrothed.

It’s interesting that the novel seems to be classified as steampunk. I suppose it shouldn’t be so surprising to me – after all, TGE includes developing steam/clockwork-powered machinery and revolution – but this book is just so different from any steampunk I’ve ever read. While reading I was just like “well this is a great high fantasy -esque novel with a post-medieval society, yay”.

I do urge you to try out The Goblin Emperor though, especially if you’re in the mood for optimistic fantasy! I read this as an ebook as part of my Hugo voting packet, but I ordered the paperback halfway through the book because I want to treasure this thing as a physical object as well.

Sunday recs: The Dishonesty of Dreams

Today’s reading recommendation is a poetry collection: The Dishonesty of Dreams by Adrienne J. Odasso.

I’ve been reading Adrienne’s poetry for a long time; I really admire her work so I’d love for other people to find her stuff, too. Here’s my review of The Dishonesty of Dreams (copied from Amazon.com):

The Dishonesty of Dreams is a haunting collection filled with lingering sadness and a strange, aching beauty. The cover works really well with the dreamlike, blue feeling of the poems. The poems flow well from one to another, and this collection was really enjoyable to read in a few longer sessions. Some especially amazing poems (that I keep returning to) include “The Still Point of the Turning World”, “Carnal Knowledge”, “Five Times I Lived by Water”, and “Cry Wolf”. Many of the poems in The Dishonesty of Dreams live in the liminal spaces between real life and the imagined – a wonderful place for poetry to exist.

Some of the poems in the collection are also available to read online. Here are some of my favourites, all very different but with Adrienne’s words shining bright:

Sunday recs: Everything Martha Wells has ever written

I was introduced to Martha Wells’ books earlier this year through this squee post by Kate Elliott (whose work I love, as I’ve mentioned before on this blog).

I’m so glad I discovered Martha Wells! I’ve been reading everything of hers that I’ve been able to get my hands on. Wells is an amazing worldbuilder – such unique, well-thought-out worlds – but more than that, she’s a great storyteller. I’ve nommed all her books really quickly, because the plots progress with such addictive pacing that I don’t want to put them down.

I’ve especially loved the Fall of Ile-Rien Trilogy (among the best books I’ve read this year, by far! such amazing characters and world and asdgjhsdgl squee), and the Books of the Raksura. I’m currently reading the third book of the Raksura, The Siren Depths (after swiftly devouring the second book The Serpent Sea), and had to consciously stop myself from gulping it down all in one sitting. (I had things to do today, after all.) I just love Wells’ characters, her settings, just, all of it. I can only hope to be as good a writer as her some day.

In conclusion: wow, much awesome, such addictive. Do yourself a favour and read Martha Wells. I’m going to go and read some more of The Siren Depths in bed now. Will try not to stay up too late…

Long Hidden – a brief review

I recently finished reading the anthology I got this May – Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History. Here’s how the editors (Rose Fox and Daniel José Older) describe it:

There is a long and honorable legacy of literary resistance to erasure. This anthology partakes of that legacy. It will feature stories from the margins of speculative history, each taking place between 1400 and the early 1900s and putting a speculative twist—an element of science fiction, fantasy, horror, or the unclassifiably strange—on real past events. — See more at: http://longhidden.com/#sthash.oZotn2JT.dpuf

First of all: this is an excellent anthology. Get it, read it, be happy that it exists! Reading the stories in Long Hidden, I found myself wishing that every anthology and magazine would feature such a diversity of characters and settings. So refreshing, so inspiring to read stories where straight white guy is not the default main character. Also, I really like the concept of historically-based speculative fiction. (Should write more of that stuff myself, in fact.)

The time periods in the stories skew towards the 19th and (early) 20th centuries, and the settings towards the USA. This is understandable, because a) it’s easier for non-historians to write about time periods closer to our own, and b) more people wanting to write about the US submitted stories I guess? Anyway, the diversity of character even within the 19th–20th-century and the US-based stories is awesome. I would’ve loved to see more pre-19th-century stuff, but that’s just my love for pre-industrial periods showing. :)

Some favourites from the anthology include (in the order they appear in the book):

  • ‘The Oud’ by Thoraiya Dyer (1633, The Shouf, Ottoman Empire) – lyrical, strange, music and demons.
  • ‘Across the Seam’ by Sunny Moraine (1897, Lattimer, Pennsylvania) – Baba Yaga and gender.
  • ‘Each Part Without Mercy’ by Meg Jayanth (1746, Madras, India) – dream-magic and an especially cool setting.
  • ‘The Colts’ by Benjamin Parzybok (1514, Hungary) – zombie soldiers!
  • ‘A Deeper Echo’ by David Jón Fuller (1919, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada) – shapeshifting and family dynamics.
  • ‘Find Me Unafraid’ by Shanaé Brown (1905, Charlotte, North Carolina) – empowering magic.
  • ‘Medu’ by Lisa Bolekaja (1877, Ellsworth, Kansas) – some pretty damn awesome hair.
  • ‘The Dance of the White Demons’ by Sabrina Vourvoulias (1524, Guatemala) – fighting colonisers with earth magic.

All the other stories are great too: this is an excellent collection and a highly enjoyable read. I hope that Rose Fox and Daniel José Older will consider editing more anthologies in this vein, because I’d love to see more like this!

Sunday recs: Romance, domesticity and demons

Long time no recs! So, here’s some stories I’ve read in the past few months but have not recced.

(On the Nanowrimo front, there is not much to report. I’ve been too lazy and tired to work on my novel edits, I’ll admit – but today I managed to get a bit done. Will try to pick up pace again.)

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The Bride in Furs, by Layla Lawlor, is from the issue of Plunge Magazine that also featured my poem ‘The Understanding’. This story is lovely, a refreshing fairytale-esque romantic fantasy.

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My next two recs are both stories by Rose Lemberg (both published in Strange Horizons, incidentally).

Teffeu is just wonderful. This is an awesome reminder of what diverse things speculative fiction can be. Teffeu is bibliophilic, lushly descriptive, quiet and introspective. Beautifully written: Rose Lemberg knows how to use her words.

Kifli is rooted in the everyday, with a touch of Jewish mythology and overseas longing. I love stories that feature food as an important element, too, even though they usually make me hungry.

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Stories that feature food made me remember a wonderful book I read this summer: Jo Walton’s Lifelode. I had to time my reading with my mealtimes because there was so much delicious food in that book. What a delightful book otherwise too! It’s been called “domestic fantasy” and I want more of that stuff, yes please. To my great delight, Lifelode also features unconventional relationship structures and conceptions of love. I wish more speculative fiction would ponder such things and not just default to Western society’s predominant models.

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To finish off, here’s another wonderfully inventive story: Brimstone and Marmalade by Aaron Corwin, from Tor.com. The main character Mathilde receives a demon for her birthday – and yes, this is a normal occurrence. Loved the subtly wonky world here, and the demon was just adorable (“NUM. NUM. NUM.” Read the story and comprehend the adorableness!).

Delicious fruit

Goblin Fruit never fails to delight me. There are wonderful gems of poetry in each issue, and the Summer 2012 issue is no exception. I just finished making my way through the issue, and wanted to briefly blog about it – there are some really delicious poems there.

The only poets I recognised were Sonya Taaffe (who I should read more of!) and Adrienne J. Odasso (whose work I really enjoy). But the other poets in the Summer issue really impressed me, too. The issue read as a really luscious whole, perfect for summer’s heat (not that we’ve had too much of that here in Helsinki…).

I especially loved the earthy magic of Ruby Sara’s Jacks and Toms. Such word-weaving! Other favourites include Dover Crossing by Edgar Mason (reminds me of the bittersweet time we crossed the Channel when my family moved to Finland in ’96); Tit Tot by Catt Kingsgrave (it’s like a riotous Early Modern garden, wonderful words); Hurricane Ophelia by Melissa Frederick (formal poetry can have such drive and intensity when you do it well); What They Called Me by Adrienne J. Odasso (her words make such sad, beautiful images); and Trumpet Vine Love Song by Francesca Forrest (such a sensual, buzzing summer’s day of a poem).

Sometimes I wonder why I write poetry. Then I read poems like these, and remember again.