Saturday, October 31, 2015

Cool things I read in October

Happy Halloween, everybody! While I prepare for World Fantasy, I wanted to share some of the great things I've been reading. I'm only linking short fiction and articles that are freely readable online, no paywalls, and no novels.

If you want to hear about novels I've loved recently, well, just ask me about Beloved.

"Dear Monsanto CEO, This is the Sentient Strain of Corn You Developed and We Need to Talk" by Tyler Young at Daily Science Fiction
-A case of writer envy. The title alone tells you the brilliant premise, twisted by particular satire at Monsanto, a pernicious American company whose genetically modified crops are subject to constant debate. But here the corn tells us it appreciates all we've done for it. It's learned from us like a child. Why, it's even learned about mutually assured destruction...

"Glaciers Made You" by Gabby Reed at Strange Horizons
-Bonnie keeps finding messages on her skin, and they keep peeling off, relating to some mystery in a distant mountain. The language is exquisite in this one, lines carefully chosen as well as often chopped up. Scenes end prematurely and in anxiety; passages of poetry Bonnie finds peeling off her skin suggest a far greater whole than she understands. It doesn't feel like a cheap tale of weirdness that turns out to be madness. Rather it's about a girl's growing obsession with mountains her skin has told her about, and wanting to be soothed over what seems so baffling in his world. It's a sort of Literary Fantasy any aspiring writer should read, to remind themselves this too is possible.

"The Apartment Dweller's Bestiary" by Kij Johnson at Clarkesworld
-One of those shorts that gets accused of "not being a story," which reminds me that fiction doesn't need to be a story. Rather this short is a list of the bizarre creatures found around an apartment, their natures reflecting the flaws in a couple that are falling apart. There's an obvious and heart-aching story hinted at throughout the entries, getting a troublingly deep strike at what makes us tick, but the point isn't the alluded tale. It's a unique Kij Johnson experience, which is why I keep re-reading it.

"Ro-Sham-Bot" by Effie Seiberg at Fantastic Stories of Imagination
-Originally appearing in Women Destroy Science Fiction, this gives me all of Ex Machina I want in a twentieth of the time to consume. It's a story of robot manufacturing with literal heart. What do the characters want to do with that heart? Click through and find out.

"8 Steps to Winning Your Partner Back (From the Server) " by A.T. Greenblatt at Daily Science Fiction
-Another very short one that makes me want to shoo you over there rather than tell you anything about it. It's one of few recent Online Games-ish stories to get me, in part because its told in eight very tiny installments with precisely chosen language, so each plot cog whirs pleasantly. You don't get more romantic than, "Only the most difficult and exclusive two-player mission will do."


"For the First Time Ever, a Prosecutor Will Go to Jail for Wrongfully Convicting an Innocent Man" by Mark Godsey at Huffington Post
-Former prosector Ken Anderson will only serve ten days in jail. It's the precedent that's astounding, for the U.S.'s adversarial legal system has long rewarded prosecutors that bent rules, misled juries, and recruited juries that would be inclined to convict. It's a dangerous precedent, and people with Devil's Advocate mentalities like mine will wonder if this will get prosecutors to soft-sell the wrong cases, particularly cases against wealthy and politically powerful opponents who are privileged to push for this kind of verdict backlash. I'm still convinced we need reforms like these, and harsher penalties for prosecutors operating in bad faith to damage the lives of innocent plaintiffs.

"Masculinity is an Anxiety Disorder: Breaking Down the Nerd Box" by David J. Schwartz at Uncanny Magazine
-Schwartz digs around in the mixed messages of masculinity, how we're not supposed to have feelings while insisting we're compassionate, that we keep our tempers but measure out violence.

"16th Century Mexican Church Re-Emerges From Underwater" at Telegraph
-I grew up beside a reservoir that sat atop an old town, part of planned flooding as people moved to better locations. I've always been fascinated by structures that persist underwater like this, and seeing the church re-emerge under a drought should inspire any writer.

"Man Booker winner's debut novel rejected nearly 80 times" at The Guardian, but also all over your Facebook wall
-When James won the Man Booker, that his debut novel had been rejected so many times became a bigger story than his award. It's another of those stories that gives struggling writers hope, but also affirms many of the things we love today could easily not have been.

"The Trouble of Portraying Blackness in Video Games" by Evan Narcisse at Kotaku

-In reflection on an art form, it's already a trenchant approach. American narrative videogames are still struggling to give more than token roles to characters of color, particularly in the AAA space. But Narcisse doesn't bash the form, and points out examples of robust writing, like Lee in Telltale's The Walking Dead (which is an incredible game for lots of reasons). It's additionally good reading for writers who are still struggling to get over the "Other" fence - who want equity in their fiction, but still aren't sure where to start. Narcisse is damned smart about characterization.

"A Simple Exercise To Improve Your Prose Style" by Michael Swanwick at Flogging Babel
-It can be tricky to assess how rich your own descriptions are, as your reading of them pings off your imagination and expectations, as opposed to what a new reader is coming to them with. Swanwick suggests highlighting specific bits of language to visualize how much detail you're actually giving the readers. It's one of the most clever approaches I've seen to breaking out of author-brain to help the audience.

Please share any recommended links of your own in the comments.


  1. The prosecutor going to jail, even if only for ten days, is certainly a game-changer. Now if only there was a similar sentence for prosecutors who set guilty men free...
    Will have to check out that one about the underwater church.

  2. You have flagged lots of things I need to explore. Thank you.
    And I would love to see more prosecutors going jailwards...
    Toni Morrison is an incredible writer isn't she?

  3. These stories sound fascinating. Will have to check them out. I'm intrigued by the one where the words appear on her skin. Also, I've long been entranced by underwater structures. My grandfather was moved from a town they flooded to make a reservoir. It creeps me out for some unknown reason, but also intrigues me. I could never swim over an abandoned town, and there's no rational reason for that.


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