Monday, March 31, 2014

Fic Rec: Turnover by Jo Walton

Jo Walton has a short story in the new issue of Lightspeed Magazine, Turnover. Set on a spaceship almost halfway to the New World, a group of friends meets at a lunch club in the cosmopolitan metropolis of Speranza and discusses when--and if--they will ever reach their destination, and more importantly, if they even want to arrive.

Nearly a million people live aboard the ship, in a carefully controlled environment that keeps the population steady but diverse: scientists, chefs, poets, engineers and dancers, such as Fedra, who cannot fathom a world in which there is no Ballette, a form of zero-gravity ballet performed to music on the high spans above the glittering city. When they reach the New World, it's assumed they--or rather, their descendants, for the ship's journey will take 250 years--will become farmers, and have to carve a new home out of the planet. With the upcoming Turnover in sight, Fedra realizes she doesn't want the ship to land, that she wishes to live on Speranza forever, and her children, too. In their group, some feel the same, and some are excited by the prospect of their genes living on in their grandchildren, and starting a new life.

Walton does a fantastic job of setting the scene and describing the city, and I must admit that I had thoughts of wanting to stay on Speranza, too. Be a ballet dancer, or walk behind a plow on dusty earth? But it's not that clear, and in a short story, Walton manages to raise a number of issues. If those issues aren't precisely resolved (we do not see another 125 years into the future of Speranza), they're not meant to be.

Were our ancestors who got onto Speranza going to the New World? Were their parents who died on Earth? Were theirs who never even heard of the Starship Project? How about my ancestors dragged across the Atlantic from Africa in the hold of a slaver, were they on their way to the stars?

Beautiful imagery in a very philosophical story. Well worth your time.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

FF's Monthly Contest: Grimdark

Fantasy Faction's monthly contests are fun and casual, and the results intriguingly varied. For this month's theme, they chose "grimdark."

I've heard grimdark bandied about in the twittersphere, but never gave the term much thought. It sounds relentlessly oppressive, doesn't it? So I read the discussion thread on FF and did a bit of research, and gave it a go. It was tough not to insert a bit of humor, and honestly, I'm still not sure I've got a good grasp on grimdark. Humorless, dark atmosphere? Mounting casualties? Visceral images of the bloody and beheaded kind? Sad endings?

Maybe. I'll have to do more research. I was careful not to read too much of it in one day, as I didn't want it to influence my own story.

My stab at grimdark is Chirp. A witch's son, a pox-ridden queen, and the language of birds... and arrows.

I suggest if you read the entries that you especially pay attention to ACSmyth's A Deadly Game. Initially thrown off by the somewhat cliche title, man, I got drawn in and was appropriately shocked. Great tale, well told.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Days of Madness: The Embalmer

The Days of Madness are upon us. Don't shut your eyes, or you'll miss the best part--the unburdening. It happens so quickly, like the flash of an especially sharp knife!

The Embalmer is my entry into Chris Allinotte's Days of Madness. Gustav is an embalmer, and goodness knows, those poor people don't make enough money. If he takes just a bit here and there, isn't it his due? After all, a man needs a pint at the end of a hard day's work. What a pity that the newest corpse in his care just doesn't seem to want to give up its share. But don't worry, Gustav is determined and talented...

The Days are a full ten this year, darlings. I recommend you start at the beginning, with Angel Zapata's gritty, poignant, The Arrow Arrives Ahead of the Hunter (love love love). And check out the illustrations--Niall Parkinson did one to accompany each story, and I am THRILLED by what he did for The Embalmer. Niall's work is graphic and fluid and a real discovery for me. So, so happy.

Each day's story has been a unique interpretation of the Days' theme this year, "Hidden Horrors." And what a fabulous line-up. Ten great stories--last one's tomorrow, so get caught up!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Review: Kathe Koja's The Cipher

Read Kathe Koja's The Cipher yesterday, which won the Bram Stoker in '91, among other awards, and was nominated for the Philip K. Dick. I mention the awards first because it will give you a clue as to the nature of the novel: intense, horrifying speculative fiction. Young Nicholas and his sometimes-girlfriend, Nakota, discover a black hole in the janitorial closet of his apartment building one night. Not too large, square-shaped, and black beyond black. Nakota is instantly fascinated, and while her fascination turns to obsession and becomes--extremely quickly--darker by degree, Nicholas is more or less along for the ride.

Until he accidentally touches it.

You're pulled into the story right away, dropped right into awful happenings, and Koja lets you know you're in for a roller coaster of terror. And then she makes good on it. Because of course, someone has to put things in it, someone must touch it, and the mystery and tension and horror can only grow, spiraling into sick, twisted desperation.

Ultimately, it's not about a black hole--it's about loneliness, about marginalization, about outsider culture, and about the darkness inside all of us. But except for the last couple of pages, you're never hit over the head with it. The Cipher could easily sit beside Conrad's Heart of Darkness.

If I've got a quibble, it's that I don't care for Koja's writing style. I previously read Under the Poppy, an alt-historical fiction that has some of these same themes, and I honestly hated it. But let me state that Koja has many fans, who adore her style, and find it "lush," "evocative," etc.

And be aware, it's a mindfuck. Big time. Made me have weird, weird dreams last night.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Bloodbond: Werewolves & Other Shapeshifters

Alban Lake Publishing accepted a short story from me, to be published in November of this year, for Bloodbond, a biannual magazine of werewolves, vampires and shapeshifters. I don't usually mention acceptances until the work is published, but I thought I'd mention Alban Lake because they not only are accepting work for Bloodbond, but for a number of other projects. In addition, they just had their awesome Scifaikuest 2014. I adore haiku, and the day I discovered it paired with SF was an amazing one.

For a while I was interested in werewolves. I wrote two stories. One is yet waiting. It's 8,000 words, but feels like the prologue to a longer story. It's about a scientist in a werewolf research facility, a sort of zoo/laboratory, where they are breeding the 'wolves. They've never had good luck with them--the pups die within months. But one pup is struggling to live, and the scientist is finding that he'd do just about anything to help him.

It has the feel of a prologue because I think the story is not the scientist's, but the pup's. How will he grow up? What will he think of the humans who imprisoned his pack, or the human who helped him? What will he do?

Have bloodthirsty thoughts today, dear ones.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Interlude now at 101 Fiction

Winter and Spring are not adversaries, not at all:


Part of 101 Fiction's spring issue, meant to be read top to bottom, of which Interlude is the top. Absolutely lovely. Those who know me best, know that I prefer on top (so does Spring, fyi). Editor John Xero is simply the most clever.

While I loved the Winter issue, this is my favorite thus far. Thirteen incredible reads. Kymm Coveney's  Rapture is absolutely gorgeous. Gorgeous. But beauty abounds, so get thee to reading!