Thursday, December 26, 2019

My Favorite Books of the Year, 2019 Edition

One of the best things to do with a December is reminisce about the better parts of a year. Books remain a constant source of inspiration and provocation in my life. So let's gather around and talk about the books that brightened some dark parts of the year, and other books that made us fiercer in the face of darkness.

I think this is the first time my Books of the Year list is mostly comprised of books that came out the year I wrote about. I credit this on my being deeper in the SFF publishing field now and living under the faucet of cool books. It is a faucet I cannot turn off. It is a faucet I do not want to turn off.

Riverland by Fran Wilde

My favorite thing about C.S. Lewis's Narnia books is they open with the kids escaping a danger zone of WW2 England to live at an elder's house and find an escape in his wardrobe, and they are literal books written to give children an imaginary escape from similar terrors.

Fran Wilde's Riverland is a novel entirely about this as text, theme, and plot.

A pair of siblings whose parents are in an abusive relationship try to comfort each other, in part through telling stories. They discover a portal under their beds to Riverlandm, a fantastic land that seems connected to the problems besetting their neighborhood. It's obvious that adventures in Riverland are a way of not thinking about the terror of what they hear every night between their parents, but engaging with those things and their secret family history also gives them the growth necessary to confront what's happening. It's all wrapped in how siblings try to shield each other from trauma

Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

I haven't had this much fun reading dialogue since Scott Lynch's Lies of Locke Lamora. Muir has a range of weirdo necromancers in space, which would be enough novelty to carry lesser novels. This one is packed with such weirdos possessed of wit, braggadocio, and unapologetic queerness. Even when the plot is at its most dire, characters refuse to yield their egos and one-liners, and those one-liners are peerless. I would've happily read a book twice as long that never did as much with plot and revelation. An awkward party chapter in this novel is simply more fun than the climax of a normal novel thanks to the cast and how terrible they are at picking friends and keeping secrets.

Frankenstein in Baghdad by Ahmed Sadaawi

Not Victor Frankenstein, mind you. Instead this is a golem created from the limbs of victims of suicide bombers (and possibly the bombers themselves) in modern day Iraq. They can't be buried by Islamic law, but the law enforcement agents don't have the heart to destroy them. What results is a monster that has no idea what his place is in this war-torn country. A cult believes he might be a new prophet or savior from the terrors of the post-American invasion power structure. Others believe he's a killer who must be stopped.

Thanks to judicious use of the monster's point of view, he's humanized more than Mary Shelley's Creature, such that the biggest arc is what he develops into as a confused, hurt person. Everything he does illuminates boundaries and angles of Iraqi society. I still think about the ending, and what a certain cat thinks about how the monster smells.

Five Unicorn Flush by T.J. Berry

The silly, warm-hearted Space Opera that my heart yearns for. It's a direct sequel to Berry's Space Unicorn Blues, following the misadventures, mistakes, and big decisions of that book. It is a further exploration of a universe where leprechauns and trolls are real - they're just aliens. Humans have taken to space and are making a mess of the universe, causing people like our beloved unicorn to run for their lives.

It has several damnably funny parts, but my favorite part is the friendship between a certain disabled character and a fantasy creature. Most novels would bend that into standard romance. That instead these two respect each other platonically is refreshing. My ace/aro heart needed what Berry did with them.

A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine

Don't you want to bask in that cover? Go ahead. Bask. No one's looking.

It's a cover almost as glorious as Martine's novel. She blends the Homeric, the fun absurdities of Space Opera, and keen attention to the power imbalances of politics. From the opening I loved the purpose of making sure hegemonies, even ones in a character's own favor, weren't allowed to strengthen. Like the best parts of the Baru Cormorant books, A Memory Called Empire considers how politics are more complex than two sided, and how that means many sides not just lose out, but have their ethoses changed.

Also I dare you to find a cooler Plot Farm ™ than a holographic "assistant" that is the digitized memory of your dead predecessor, and he has tips, but he also isn't fully forward about what he was up to and doesn't know how he died.

The Imaginary Corpse by Tyler Hayes

This novel isn't for everybody. It's just for people with souls.

Tippy is a plushie triceratops Noir detective. He works the beat in a town where imaginary friends go when their children outgrew or lose them. It could easily be a purely silly novel, since it has so much charm at every angle. But from the opening with a sentient nightmare that is crying because it's homesick for the child it belonged to, you grasp that there is always humanity cast as a shadow against the weirdness. Tippy being separated from his child reflects a powerful childhood trauma (one which I won't spoil). Tippy and the nightmare run afoul of an imaginary killer that would make Jason and Freddy blush, someone strong enough to make fantasies of supermen and mad scientists crumble. Its origin is the perfect case of a triceratops gumshoe - who might be its next victim. I want to roll around in the ridiculous, wonderful world of this novel.

House of X/Powers of X by Jonathan Hickman, Pepe Larraz, R.B. Silva, and Marte Gracia

The most interesting X-Men story in years almost isn't an X-Men story. It's more a long establishment of a new and overdue status quo. The stale Xavier/Magneto feud is brought to an end by a time traveler's revelation that neither of their plans work. Xavier's human/mutant coexistence leads to annihilation, but so does Magneto's war for mutant supremacy.

You know that Hickman has thought the characters through when Xavier learns of this and his first response is to tell Magneto. He still believes in cooperation, and together with other key thinkers and leaders from throughout X-Men history, they have to create a new plan. What else is there otherside of pure harmony and pure war? The answer ties together decades of stories, including the Hellfire Club, the rise of Apocalypse, the threat of the Sentinels, and the team-eating island of Krakoa. It creates a very different world that will tell very different X-Men stories going forward. It's not just about time for this change; it's agreat change.

I Am Behind You by John Ajvide Lindqvist

It took a few years but we finally got Lindqvist's purgatorial novel in English. It begins simply: four families at a campsite awake to find the rest of the world has vanished. There are no other cars. No cell signal. The sky is blue, but even the sun seems to have disappeared.

Now that premise could've been a bog standard novel of tropy characters devolving into Lord of the Flies. Why the book stands out is every POV character - including one family's dog - has a fully fleshed out personality and deep history that leads to why they ask the questions they do. Only these characters would explore the world as they do, interpret the following supernatural events as they do, and bang into each other in their specific conflicts. It feels like watching real psychologies clash. By far my favorites were the pair of adult men farmers whose wives had left them, and who gradually realized they were gay and in love, but are still figuring out their comfort levels with each other.

That's all for my list right now. I'm halfway through Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz's An Indigenous People's History of the United States, which is giving my sense of history a deserved punch in the liver. It will likely be my list next year.

What have you loved reading this year?

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

My Top Ten Videogames of the Year for 2019 (and Honorable Mentions)

It's been a couple years since I did meaty Game of the Year post. I missed writing about games - particularly about the different was they can excel. So last night, between editing sessions on unannounced projects, I wrote this list for you all. It's a ridiculous list, as anything ranked always is. It's twisty and full of ties, because some games simply aren't comparable and have to learn to be neighbors.

I've included some thoughts on each entry. Please let me know which ones catch your interest!

And if you just want the ranked list, I put it at the very bottom of the post. Skip if you want to spoil yourself. I won't tell.

Monday, November 25, 2019

"The Lie Misses You" is live at Cast of Wonders!

I've got a Thanksgiving gift for everybody: my short story "The Lie Misses You" is up for free today at Cast of Wonders!

This is a story from the point of view of a lie. The lie wants to help her family; she doesn't remember why her family began telling her, or why they ignore her now. She lingers over the things they can't confront. I circled around this story idea for years before finally grabbing onto it and putting it to paper. It was a protagonist I couldn't leave alone.

You can have the story however you like. Cast of Wonders had posted the full text as well as producing a podcast of the story narrated by Athena Haq.

Want to read?

Want to listen?

They've got you covered. Simply click here.

This is my third story at the Escape Artists network. Previously they ran "Wet" at Podcastle and "Under the Rubble" at Pseudopod. I'm so happy for another of my stories to find its home with them.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

The R.A.Q. 2019!

It's my birthday! And I'm celebrating by answering your questions.

But not just any old questions. These are the questions you never asked. They're Frequently Asked Questions. They're Rarely Asked Questions.

Let's see how this goes. Thanks for asking!

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Gathering Rarely Asked Questions for my Birthday

It's my birthday in a month, and to celebrate I'm asking everyone to ask me something special. Ask me a Rarely Asked Question.

What are the Rarely Asked Questions? Up until August 31st, I'm asking you to comment on this blog post with something you've never asked anyone else. These are the Rarely Asked Questions, or RAQs.

Examples of RAQs include:

-What's your favorite shape of tree?
-What garbage black-and-white era movie would you remake?

-Can mice fly when we're not watching?

You can ask as many questions as you like, as long as each is unique. What you don't normally ask anyone else is entirely up to you. I'll compile every question and answer at least one per person on September 4th - my birthday.  That's how I like to celebrate.

So! What would you like to ask me?

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Bathroom Monologue: Every Argument About Racism in the Last Week, Abridged

Me: That shit he said was racist.
Rando: No it wasn't.

Me: Three of the four of them were born in the U.S. This is their country. This is their government.

Rando: It's about them being unamerican.

Me: They're criticizing the government, which the First Amendment allows them to.

Rando: They're just doing it for attention.

Me: They're doing it as part of trying to correct the vile policies of a government they were elected to serve in. This is their job. And that shit he said would still racist no matter the job of the person he said it about.

Rando: They're socialists and they hate America.

Monday, July 8, 2019

Readercon Schedule

Reading: John Wiswell
Time: Thursday, 8:30 PM
Room: Sylvanus Thayer
Author John Wiswell reads a brand new story! This work hasn't yet been published and probably won't be available anywhere this year except at this reading.

Panel: Narratives of Men Coming to Terms with Trauma
Time: Friday, 2:00 PM
Room: Salon A
In the 2018 essay "Getting Men off Ledges," Brandon O'Brien wrote, "We need to show men with trauma... working through it." He provided examples of men whose abusive behavior is excused by their traumatic histories, saying, "We need to teach and remind men... that recovery means responsibility." How can writers take on this burden of teaching and reminding? What do story arcs around traumatized men—including those who harm others—need to contain to be believable, non-exculpatory, and emotionally accessible for survivors?

Panel: Heist Stories as Meta-Genre
Time: Saturday, 12:00 Noon
Room: Salon 4
On a panel at Readercon 29 about collaboration and community, John Wiswell observed that heist novels have "a synthesis of premise and plot," while Scott Lynch added that heist stories reinforce that people need one another. This panel will dig more into heist stories, which (like humor and horror) can be layered on top of any genre or setting. What makes them satisfying? How can they make use of speculative elements while retaining their core of human ingenuity and interdependence?

Party: Meet the Pros(e)
Time: Saturday, 10:30 PM
Room: Salon 3
Each writer at this party has selected a short, pithy quotation from their own work and is armed with a sheet of 30 printed labels, the quote replicated on each. As attendees mingle, the request "May I have a sticker?" provides a convenient icebreaker for tongue-tied fans approaching the pros whose work they love. Rearrange stickers to make a poem or statement, wear them as decoration, or simply enjoy the opportunity to meet and chat with your favorite writers.

Panel: What Does Authenticity Look Like?
Time: Sunday, 1:00 PM
Room: Salon 3
As the #ownvoices movement gathers steam, marginalized authors encounter demands for authenticity in their work from agents, editors, and readers who often have no idea what authenticity looks like. These authors often already pressure themselves, asking, "Am I #ownvoices enough?" But how else can they signal that their writing is for or about an underrepresented demographic? This panel of marginalized authors, led by Lisa M. Bradley, will discuss the concept of authenticity, the #ownvoices label, and how authors present and think about their work.

Monday, June 10, 2019

4th Street Fantasy - Schedule

One of my favorite conventions is this coming weekend! 4th Street Fantasy takes place in St. Louis Park, Minnesota, where everyone knows how to drive and everyone comes for deep dives into literature. There is only one track, so everyone gets to hear every word. Panels often build on discussions that came up earlier, and the final panel of the weekend is a result of the most interesting discussions elsewhere.

If you're in Minnesota, please drop in!

I have the privilege of being on two panels this weekend. You can find me talking on these.

2:00 PM – Monster Mash and Smash
Claire Eddy, Catherine Lundoff, Vivian Shaw, John Wiswell (M), Fred Yost
Writers and readers are endlessly fascinated with monsters. Other-izing faceless hordes has clear racist underpinnings, and we have a multitude of examples of gritty, difficult monster stories that challenge how well we think of ourselves—and we also have countless stories of monsters we would die for, monsters who make us die laughing, and monsters who challenge us to think better of ourselves. What is it about monsters that makes us so hungry and excited for their stories? What makes them fun? Why are we driven not just to tell stories that contain monsters but that are about monsters? Why do we love to come up with and endlessly learn about (proven clearly by Pok√©mon evolutions and D&D Monster Manuals) bizarre creatures that don’t exist? Why do we cheer for Godzilla, adopt the Babadook as an icon, and crave the perspective of Grendel’s mother? This panel will discuss how we use stories to own our own monstrosity and claim outsiders, and how writers make it so the incorporation of monsters into their stories can be validating, awesome, and full of wonder and delight.

11:30 AM – A Consideration of Death in Fantasy
Elizabeth Bear, Robyn Bennis, K.A. Doore, Monica Valentinelli, Django Wexler (M), John Wiswell
What exactly has good old death given to fantasy literature over the years? Let’s look not so much at the meta question of reader reaction to “death” and endings, but on how writers use death within a text, and the power of what it can do, from fictional death coinciding with the ending or transformation of an entire narrative (e.g., Morpheus’ death leading to the actual end of the 75-issue original run of SANDMAN) or to, conversely, how it functions simply as another marker in the long walk up the mountain of story. In particular, this panel will consider death’s role in fantasy: rituals and ceremonies surrounding death, building consequences and lasting effects for surviving characters and grappling with mortality when magic is real, the disparities in approach between death as plot device and death as symbolic and magical concept threaded through fantasy narratives, and cultural concepts of revenge fantasy.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Bathroom Monologue: He Totally Watched X

me: I love this thing!

anon: I hated that thing, it never stopped doing X.

me: Did you watch to when it stopped doing X and subverted X?

anon: I watched the whole thing.

me: Weren’t Y and Z awesome?

anon: I hate that all it does is X.

me: :\

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Godzilla: King of the Monsters Review - Finally, a good American Godzilla

As part of the promotion for King of the Monsters, composer Bear McCreary did a cover of Blue Oyster Cult’s “Godzilla.” I heard it a few days ago and immediately wrote it off as a wretched, overproduced attempt to dodge paying royalties.

By the time King of the Monsters ended and that song played over the end credits, I stomped my feet to the beat and danced in my chair.

So that’s how I felt about the movie.

Hereafter I’ll be calling the movie Godzilla 2, because NUMBER YOUR MOVIES, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD. But Godzilla 2 is by far the most fun any American Godzilla movie has been. It is largely a faithful adaptation of the classic Godzilla movie format: a mysterious monster conflict emerges, humans scurry about trying to explain it and avoid being squished, and Godzilla faces increasingly dire battles to save our hides. He is a tornado that's fight on our side.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Sekiro essay live at Able Gamers!

I'm happy to publish a new essay this month at Able Gamers! This one focuses on the rarity of disabled characters supporting each other in Fantasy fiction, with a focus on From Software's recent title Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice.

Sekiro presents a disabled hero whose life is saved and supported by another disabled character who's given up the life of violence. With very little explicit dialogue, From Software creates a beautiful dynamic between the two of them that I've never seen presented in art before.

Spoiler warning: in order to discuss the relationship, I go into multiple endings of Sekiro.

You can read my entire essay for free right here.

Monday, May 6, 2019

A Guide to Asexual Reproduction

1. Announce that you're ace.

2. Somebody says, "That's a thing?"

3. Say, "Yup! There are lots of people like me."

4. Time passes.

5. They realize they're ace.

6. Repeat.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Essay on Bloodborne is live at AbleGamers

AbleGamers is a wonderful charity with a mission to make videogames accessible to everyone. They work both through technological advancement and advocacy. I've been an admirer of them for quite a while, and this week I'm proud to have published an essay with them.

The essay, Bloodborne: At Home in an Ugly World, is about the peculiarly robust disability rep in FromSoftware's Bloodborne. The game is deliberate gruesome and grotesque, and so you'd expect it to have a few particularly ugly disabled villains. Instead it has a fleshed out world where disabled people appear in every corner. That means many of them are your enemies, but they are every bit as normalized as abled enemies. I'd never experienced this feeling before. I felt like I belonged in the fictional world because it said I could be as monstrous as anyone else, rather than that I was specifically monstrous.

I want to thank editor Brian Conklin, who worked with me on the essay. He's one of the friendliest editors I've ever met.

You can read the full essay for free on the AbleGamers site at this link.

Friday, March 1, 2019

"The Tentacle and You" is up at Nature Futures!

I'm happy to unveil my first published story of 2019: "The Tentacle and You!"

This is the story of the hottest new consumer gadget: tentacle appendages! If you enjoy my weirdo comedies, then this is exactly for you.

It's also my first time ever being published at Nature Futures, the select program to put Science Fiction into the back of every issue of Nature.

Nature's editor was also kind enough to invite me to their blog. I wrote about the inspirations behind the story for them here. They were fantastic to work with.

Tentacle and You" is free to read right here at this link.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Bathroom Monologues Movie Awards for 2018

It's almost March 2019, so of course we're all talking about the best movies of 2018. Naturally I'll disagree with some of the Oscar winners. More naturally, I don't understand what some of the categories mean. But nothing shall dissuade me from telling a democratic body of people who devote swaths of their lives to film that their mass conclusions were wrong. So here we go!

The Robbed Award
Going to the movie that got no play last year
and is just as good as whatever won Best Picture

Thursday, January 10, 2019

My Schedule for ConFusion in Detroit, January 18-20th!

ConFusion is an annual SciFi convention held at the Dearborn Doubletree Hotel in Detroit, Michigan. This year's falls on January 18-20th and will cover all sorts of beloved nerd media. This will be my first time attending, after years of hearing for so long about how great the programming and atmosphere is. I haven't been to Detroit in over a decade and can't wait to see all my friends there! If you're in the area, I'd love for you to join us.

As always I'll try to be as available in public as I can. It looks like the Doubletree has a nice bar and common area. I'll also be doing a few panels on topics dear to my heart, and doing a joint reading with a couple other authors. Here's my schedule.

 Friday, 6:00 PM, Ontario Room
Some people love puns. Other people are wrong and hate fun. Our panel of experts discusses one of the greatest tools in the comedic toolbox.
Richard Shealy (M), John Wiswell, Clif Flynt, Jon Skovron, Nibedita Sen

How To Design A Monster
 Friday, 8:00 PM, Ontario Room
Authors have a vast and deep mythology to draw from when writing vampires, werewolves, and other mythological creatures. How do we choose which parts of their myths to incorporate into our own worlds? How do we incorporate new traits while still making them recognizable, and how do we avoid making our monsters derivative and stale? We'll talk about how to work out their appearance, limitations, social structures, and how they fit into the larger society of a fantasy world.    
Jennifer Blackstream (M), John Wiswell, A. Merc Rustad, Tracy Townsend, Petra Kuppers

Reading: John Wiswell, Michael J. DeLuca, Clif Flynt
 Saturday, 1:00 PM, Rotunda Room
Three authors share an hour and narrate some of their stories! I'll be bringing a brand new, unpublished tale about the upside of tentacles.

Mostly Dead: The Problem of Death and Not-Quite-Death in SFF
 Saturday, 5:00 PM, Southfield Room
The frequency of resurrections or "they died, but they didn't" moments in SFF is (if one wishes to be kind) statistically unlikely. In this panel, we'll discuss various stories where death, death and resurrection, or false deaths play a key role in the narrative. How does the bloody ruthlessness of a series like Martin's Song of Ice and Fire change which characters "get" to die, and who stays dead? What are our favorite "return to life" moments? Which ones don't really work and why? And what must a writer do to make these moments serve the story and their audience?
John Wiswell (M), Angus Watson, Tracy Townsend, Dan Wells

Hope to see you there!
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