Reading Round-Up: July 2019

Continuing the monthly summaries of what I’ve been reading and writing. (This one’s a bit overdue!)

 

BOOKS

To keep my numbers consistent with what I have listed on Goodreads, I count completed magazine issues and stand-alone short stories in e-book format as “books.” I read or listened to 7 books in July: 2 in print, 5 in e-book format, and 0 in audio. They were:

1.       Lightspeed Magazine #110 (July 2019 issue), edited by John Joseph Adams. The usual fine assortment of sf and fantasy short stories. This month’s favorites for me were Andrew Penn Romine’s “Miles and Miles and Miles,” Indrapramit Das’s “The Moon Is Not a Battlefield,” J. Anderson Coats’ “Mother Carey’s Table,” and Senaa Ahmad’s “Ahura Yazda, The Great Extraordinary.”

2.       Ormeshadow by Priya Sharma. You would think that as an English major in college, I’d have read something, anything, by Willa Cather. But if I did, I don’t recall it at all (please forgive me, Professor Malcolm Marsden!). So I’m counting this as my first Cather work. I’d like to read more by her eventually. I found this one an interesting character study. Full Review HERE.

3.       Sealed by Naomi Booth. An interesting combination of near-future environmental horror, graphic body horror, and a potentially unreliable narrator. Not for the easily squeamish, for sure. Full review appeared at Strange Horizons on August 30th.  http://strangehorizons.com/non-fiction/reviews/sealed-by-naomi-booth/

4.       Treasure Trail, by Morgan Brice. This is the first M/M urban fantasy/paranormal romance by Gail Z. Martin’s pen name that I have read, and it won’t be the last. This, the first in a new series, takes place in very haunted Cape May, NJ and introduces us to an antique shop owner with “the touch” (the ability to sense an object’s supernatural history) and a former cop turned rental property manager who sees ghosts. There’s also present- and past-day Mafia connections, because NJ.

5.       A Secret Guide to Fighting Elder Gods edited by Jennifer Brozek. A really fun anthology of Lovecraftian Young Adult stories. The stories hit all the requisite Lovecraft themes and monsters, but with settings mostly in the present day focusing on teens – and often, on teens seeing what the adults can’t or won’t see.

6.       The Trans Space Octopus Congregation by Bogi Takács. Bogi’s newest short story collection, due out from Lethe Press in October, has a wonderful mix of science fiction and fantasy, including a few stories set in a shared future setting. Eir stories touch on many present day issues, including the immigrant, transgender, and “alternate sexuality” experiences. A great read.

7.       The Triumph of the Spider-Monkey by Joyce Carol Oates. Not going to lie, this was a very difficult read for me. Long out of print and brought back by Hard Case Crime, this is a very disturbing look inside the head of a serial killer.

 

 

STORIES

I have a goal of reading 365 short stories (1 per day, essentially, although it doesn’t always work out that way) each year. Here’s what I read this month and where you can find them if you’re interested in reading them too. If no source is noted, the story is from the same magazine or book as the story(ies) that precede(s) it:

1.       “The Null Space Conundrum” by Violet Allen, from Lightspeed Magazine #110 (July 2019 issue), edited by John Joseph Adams.

2.       “The Mysteries” by Karen Lord

3.       “Miles and Miles and Miles” by Andrew Penn Romine

4.       “The Moon Is Not A Battlefield” by Indrapramit Das

5.       “Mother Carey’s Table” by J. Anderson Coats

6.       “Sand Castles” by Adam-Troy Castro

7.       “Song Beneath the City” by Micah Dean Hicks

8.       “Ahura Yazda, The Great Extraordinary” by Senaa Ahmad

9.       “Face Your Furs” by Seanan McGuire, on the author’s Patreon page.

10.   “The Good Girl” by Lucy Snyder, on the author’s Patreon page.

11.   “Freak Corner” by John Rolfe Gardiner, from One Story #254, edited by Patrick Ryan

12.   “The Story of O-Tei” by Lafcadio Hearn, from Oriental Ghost Stories, edited by David Stuart Davies

13.   “Green Glass: A Love Story” by E. Lily Yu, from If This Goes On: The Science Fiction Future of Today’s Politics, edited by Cat Rambo

14.   “The Last Adventure of Jack Laff: The Dayveil Gambit” by Steven Barnes

15.   “King Harvest (Will Surely Come)” by Nisi Shawl

16.   “Away Game” by Seanan McGuire, from A Secret Guide To Fighting Elder Gods, edited by Jennifer Brozek

17.   “The Icarus Club” by Weston Ochse

18.   “Stormy Monday” by Chesya Burke

19.   “Pickman’s Daughter” by J.C. Koch

20.   “Us and Ours” by Premee Mohamed

21.   “The Art of Dreaming” by Josh Vogt

22.   “Visions of the Dream Witch” by Lucy A. Snyder

23.   “The Tall Ones” by Stephen Ross

24.   “Just Imagine” by Tim Waggoner

25.   “Holding Back” by Lisa Morton

26.   “The Mouth of the Merrimack” by Douglas Wynne

27.   “The Geometry of Dreams” by Wendy N. Wagner

28.   “Being Emily-Claire” by Jonathan Maberry

29.   “This Shall Serve As A Demarcation” by Bogi Takács, from The Trans Space Octopus Congregation, edited by Steve Berman

30.   “Some Remarks on the Reproductive Strategies of the Common Octopus” by Bogi Takács

31.   “A Superordinate Set of Principles” by Bogi Takács

32.   “Forestspirit, Forestspirit” by Bogi Takács

33.   “Given Sufficient Desperation” by Bogi Takács

34.   “Changing Body Templates” by Bogi Takács

35.   “For Your Optimal Hookboarding Experience” by Bogi Takács

36.   “Increasing Police Visibility” by Bogi Takács

37.   “Good People in a Small Space” by Bogi Takács

38.   “Records of a More Personal Nature” by Bogi Takács

39.   “This Secular Technology” by Bogi Takács

40.   “Three Partitions” by Bogi Takács

41.   “Unifications” by Bogi Takács

42.   “The Size of A Barleycorn, Encased in Lead” by Bogi Takács

43.   “To Rebalance the Body” by Bogi Takács

44.   “Shovelware” by Bogi Takács

45.   “The Oracle of DARPA” by Bogi Takács

46.   “Toward the Luminous Towers” by Bogi Takács

47.   “Wind-lashed Vehicles of Bone” by Bogi Takács

48.   “The Need for Overwhelming Sensation” by Bogi Takács

49.   “Spirit Forms of the Sea” by Bogi Takács

50.   “All Talk of Common Sense” by Bogi Takács

51.   “Standing on the Floodbanks” by Bogi Takács

So that’s 51 short stories in July, keeping me way ahead for the year so far. (July 30th was the 212th day of 2019.)

 

Summary of Reading Challenges:

“To Be Read” Challenge: This month: 0 read; YTD: 3 of 14 read.

365 Short Stories Challenge: This month:  51 read; YTD: 291 of 365 read.

Graphic Novels Challenge:  This month: 0 read; YTD: 17 of 52 read.

Goodreads Challenge: This month: 7 read; YTD: 78 of 125 read.

Non-Fiction Challenge: This month: 0; YTD: 5 of 24 read.

Read the Book / Watch the Movie Challenge: This month: 0; YTD: 0 of 10 read/watched.

Complete the Series Challenge: This month: 0 books read; YTD: 0 of 16 read.

                                                                Series fully completed: 0 of 3 planned

Monthly Special Challenge: I may not do something like this every month. Having checked several different websites, it seems like July is not a month that lends itself to any specific reading goal (it’s the National Month of several foods, though: National Baked Bean Month, Culinary Arts Month, Grilling Month, Horseradish Month, Hot Dog Month, Ice Cream Month, Blueberries Month, and Picnic Month!) So my mini-challenge to myself was to make July Series Month, to help me catch up on one of my year-long challenges (The “Complete the Series” Challenge).

Friends, I completely bombed this self-challenge. I brought two series on a three-week business trip (Seanan McGuire’s Velveteen series, and one of the two remaining books I need to read in Chinua Achebe’s Africa Trilogy) and read precisely none of them. (In fact, I discovered on the trip that I’d brought the wrong Achebe with me, so stopped reading….)

August’s monthly special challenge is/was in honor of PulpFest and FarmerCon, the annual overlapping conventions that celebrate the fiction of the Pulp magazine era and the work of author Philip Jose Farmer. Tune into my next post to see how I did with that!

Sunday Shorts: Three From IF THIS GOES ON

Sunday Shorts is a series where I blog about short fiction – from flash to novellas. For the time being, I’m sticking to prose, although it’s been suggested I could expand this feature to include single episodes of anthology television series like The Twilight Zone or individual stories/issues of anthology comics (like the 1970s DC horror or war anthology titles). So anything is possible. But for now, the focus is on short stories.

 

Today I’d like to talk about three very different stories from the Parvus Press anthology If This Goes On: The Science Fiction Future of Today’s Politics, edited by Cat Rambo. I intend to read this whole anthology eventually, but figured I’d take a random sampling just to get me started.

“Green Glass: A Love Story” by E. Lily Yu. This one starts out as a classic SF love story: a man literally sends a probe to the moon to get a birthday/engagement present for his fiancée. But Yu does remarkable things with the story progression from there, revealing both the past and present (and a glimpse at the future) of the theoretically-happy couple. Yu gives us a future where the world has been largely despoiled and the working class are increasingly sicker because of it while the rich just get richer and healthier; everything this couple does to prepare for their wedding is expensive and wasteful just to make an impression. But there’s also the undercurrent that some things may never change: in an age of pre-nups that even designate how many children a couple will have, the woman still gets taken advantage of, gaslit and blindsided. I started out thinking the main characters were a bit unlikeable, grew to despise them for their excesses, and then actually felt a little sorry for the main female character by the story’s end. I think Yu manages to show us that while short fiction usually focuses on one aspect of a dystopian (or utopian, or whatever) society, the reality is that no facet of a society exists on its own and ignoring the bigger picture for the details that benefit you the most will almost always backfire.

“The Last Adventure of Jack Laff: The Dayveil Gambit” transcribed by Steven Barnes. It’s no secret that I love noir in all its forms – hard crime to SF. So it was probably a guarantee I’d love this story by one of the pioneers of Afrofuturism. The voice of the narrator/title character is gruff, macho, take-no-prisoners, and yet Barnes also imbues him with more honor and a bit less misogyny than the classic 40s-50s originals of this type. Still, a trope of noir is that the hero gets suckered, at least for a little while, by a beautiful client while ignoring his faithful and loving secretary … and Barnes leans into the trope with skill and subtlety, subverting it by staying true to it almost all the way through the story. All the classic types are here: the femme fatale, the hard-pressed secretary, the questionable businessman, and the links to an earlier case that turn out to be more important than the narrator at first realizes. Culturally, Barnes shows us a future where movements like #MeToo result in every business and personal interaction being filmed by bodycams and the footage securely stored in case of future litigation. The story takes several twists that I don’t want to spoil here.

 

“The Harvest King (Will Surely Come) by Nisi Shawl. One of the many things that impresses me about Nisi Shawl is her world-building when it comes to alternate (her novel Everfair) or future histories, and the voices she uses to reveal that world-building to the reader. Here, we get the religio-fascist future of a portion of the former United States called “Heartland” shown to us through two very different, equally sycophantic voices. The first voice is that of an American “king,” who has inherited his place from his the previous ruler (who ruled for twenty-one years), and who is now making plans to pass that throne on to the husband of his daughter (whose name happens to be Tiffany) … because in this future even the hereditary throne can’t possibly go to a woman. I’m not sure just how far in the future this part of the story is set. At first, I thought it was very near-future (a daughter/granddaughter named Tiffany), but the other voice Shawl uses – the pages of a Bible section called “Letters to the Oligarchs” makes me think that our present is a dim memory to the “king” who is about to leave his throne. The characters, all unlikeable, refer to slaves and “mud people,” and to ritual sacrifice of living “effigies” to appease the earth and guarantee a good harvest. Shawl wonderfully co-mingles pagan rituals (writ large via monster trucks and harvesters) with the racial purity ethics of a subset of our current population to posit a future where America has turned from democracy to theocracy.

Sunday Shorts: Snyder, Gardiner and Hearn

Sunday Shorts is a series where I blog about short fiction – from flash to novellas. For the time being, I’m sticking to prose, although it’s been suggested I could expand this feature to include single episodes of anthology television series like The Twilight Zone or individual stories/issues of anthology comics (like the 1970s DC horror or war anthology titles). So anything is possible. But for now, the focus is on short stories.

 

Every now and then, these posts end up being a mish-mash of recent reads that have no obvious connection. This is one of those posts.

“The Good Girl” by Lucy V. Snyder (from her collection Soft Apocalypses but also June’s selection on the author’s Patreon). This is not the first time I’ve read “The Good Girl,” and it probably won’t be the last. But I have to say that between readings, I’d sort of forgotten just how wonderfully sly Snyder is at easing the supernatural aspect into a story whose premise is already horrific: a young woman having to return home to the father who abused her and the mother who let it happen, for one last chance at a goodbye to a sister she’d abandoned to her fate. There are so many directions the story could go on that description alone, and Snyder keeps you guessing as to exactly which direction she’s leading you in. The narrator struggles with her own guilt and her own justifications on the drive to the family homestead; the characterization is deep and nuanced, the narrator unsure of whether she qualifies as the “good girl” of the title either now or in the past. There’s also a delightful secondary character who provides a little light humor in an otherwise dark story, because we all need a good chuckle before the final scare.

“Freak Corner” by John Rolfe Gardiner (from One Story #254, June 20 2019). Abuse, or at least neglect, of a different kind confronts the narrator of this story. It is 1953, and while the narrator’s small town neighborhood is in an uproar about how Alfie Kipps is now Margaret Kipps, the narrator has a more immediate concern: his deaf sister’s education. The story shines a light on just how recently American Sign Language was considered a fake language, a cheat for deaf people to avoid learning to speak properly, at the same time that transgender issues were just starting to come to the public conscious thanks to Christine Jorgensen. It also shines a light on how far we have, and haven’t come: ASL is a recognized language after a long-fought battle; transgender people are still ridiculed, shamed, and threatened just for existing. Gardiner’s story is less about trans-acceptance than it is about ASL-acceptance, but the narrator’s sister, Gayle, is bolstered by the support of this other social outcast even while her brother falters between supporting her and toeing the parentally-set line of “speak, don’t sign.” There’s also an undercurrent of “false nostalgia,” the narrator saying, without saying, that “the good old days” weren’t so good for a lot of people.

 

The Story of O-Tei by Lafcadio Hearn (from Oriental Ghost Stories, Wordsworth Tales of Mystery & The Supernatural edition). I’ve been trying (with varying success) to read at least one short story by an author on their birthday, mixing authors I’ve long loved with those I’ve never read. This is the first Lafcadio Hearn story I think I’ve ever read, despite owning both the Wordsworth Edition paperback collection sampling stories from Hearn’s several books as well as the hardcover compendium the Library of America recently issued. I maybe should have chosen a longer story to sample, but even this short simple tale I think captures Hearn’s tone. In “The Story of O-Tei,” the titular woman is betrothed to a man she really wants to marry but she falls ill before the wedding can be performed. She promises him that if he waits, she’ll return to him. He asks for a sign, and she says it’s not in her power to give, but he’ll know her. In the hands of a more modern author, the misfortunes that befall the man when he marries another woman under family pressure would probably be the focal point of the story; Hearn glosses over them except to show that they are not really road-blocks to the fated reunion. Is that reunion happy or horrific? I won’t spoil that for the potential reader. But I loved the way Hearn tells the story: not full of the heavy detail of his Victorian peers, but full of heart and acceptance that the supernatural is part of life.

Sunday Shorts: Three from Analog

Sunday Shorts is a series where I blog about short fiction – from flash to novellas. For the time being, I’m sticking to prose, although it’s been suggested I could expand this feature to include single episodes of anthology television series like The Twilight Zone or individual stories/issues of anthology comics (like the 1970s DC horror or war anthology titles). So anything is possible. But for now, the focus is on short stories.

 

This week, let’s take a look at three very different stories, by three very talented writers, from the May/June 2019 issue of Analog Science Fiction and Fact:

 

1.       “On Stony Ground,” by Cynthia Ward. Although the tone and narrator’s voice are completely different, Ward’s newest bit of alternate history somehow put me in mind of one of my favorite alternate history mosaic novels, Robert Silverberg’s Roma Eterna. In Ward’s tale, the civil engineer responsible for completing a major rail line has her day of glory overshadowed by a Nazoraian prophetai’s arrival. We as readers only hear a little of what the teacher speaks, but it’s enough to know who he is, what he has to say, and how his lessons are powerful to rich and poor alike, no matter the timeline in which they are taught. I found the story enhanced by the author’s use of as much Latin as possible, even for names and titles that we’re more accustomed to hearing in Romanticized or Anglo form; it would be easier to use the more familiar forms but that would take away from the sense that this is a world similar to but removed from our own. The narrator, Berenike, is a strong Aithiopian princess-turned-engineer with very clear opinions about how the world should be that the author plays against a real-world political-religious situation of the time. The author subtly shows that her alternate Roman empire is quite diverse not only in terms of who can rise to power but what’s socially acceptable (Berenike comments that her cousin Iakobos is chatting up one of her “better looking officers,” clearly a male … so it would see homosexuality is not taboo in this world, for instance.) I’m not sure if Ward has told other stories in this alternate history – but I’d enjoy seeing them.

2.       “Repairs at the Beijing West Space Elevator,” by Alex Shvartsman. This is a nice piece of science fiction that focuses on infrastructure, customer service, the blame-game and crowd control. Phrased like that, it doesn’t sound like compelling stuff, but Shvartsman pulls it all together through the eyes of an exploration fleet engineer tasked with finding the cause of a power-fluctuation problem at the busiest space elevator on Earth – during one of the busiest holidays of the year. The tale is briskly told, the problem and solution uncovered fairly quickly with no distracting complicating drama. This gives the author space to concentrate on the “fish out of water” aspect of the main character, who is so accustomed to fleet life that the teeming masses of humanity on the space elevator terminal gives him anxiety and a bit of claustrophobia. Combining a character who has a common (but not often written about in sf) anxiety with a set of behind-the-scenes problems that are not usually the focus of sf novels is a great way to get the reader to care about both, especially in a story that is not any longer than it needs to be.

3.       “Painting the Massive Planet, by Marissa Lingen. Lingen’s nameless narrator looks at various artistic movements’ attempts to truly capture the majesty and life of the planet Jupiter and how they all somehow fall short. Or do they? Is art meant to exist in a vacuum or interact with its surroundings?  At first blush, the story seems to be about the effect of science on the arts (and possibly by implication vice-versa), but I think it’s more about the effect of art, and artists, on each other: how we build off of each other, are inspired by each other, and how each of our chosen genres/styles/takes on a topic helps build a more complete picture of the whole. (Note: I am always impressed by anyone who can not only write flash- or drabble-length fiction, but even more so when they can pack so much to think about in such a small space and still tell a compelling character and plot driven story. Kudos, Marissa!)

Sunday Shorts: Three Holmes Tales

Sunday Shorts is a series where I blog about short fiction – from flash to novellas. For the time being, I’m sticking to prose, although it’s been suggested I could expand this feature to include single episodes of anthology television series like The Twilight Zone or individual stories/issues of anthology comics (like the 1970s DC horror or war anthology titles). So anything is possible. But for now, the focus is on short stories.

 

Since my most recent book review was about the first adventures of a Holmes pastiche/stand-in named Solar Pons, and since I’ve been trying to make my way through accumulated magazine back-issues to clear them out of my apartment, I thought I’d make three Holmes tales by authors other than Sir Arthur Conan Doyle the subject of today’s Sunday Shorts.

Even before most of the Holmes canon entered Public Domain, authors have published further adventures of the Great Detective and his friends. Some had authorization from the Conan Doyle Estate and some didn’t. For many years now, the revived Strand Magazine has published Holmes tales by other authors. As with novels and short story collections written about Holmes, the stories in the Strand come with various levels of quality, creativity, and respect for the canon. These are three I particularly liked; two of them are even connected to stories written by Conan Doyle himself, and all three are narrated by someone other than Doctor Watson (two by Holmes himself, a rarity in the original canon).

 

1.       NOTES UPON THE DIADEM CLUB AFFAIR by Lyndsay Faye, from the October 2015 issue of The Strand.  I don’t think I’ve failed to enjoy a Holmes tale penned by Lyndsay Faye (I also keep meaning to read her non-Holmes novels but just haven’t gotten there yet). This one was no exception. It’s a bit light on showing Holmes’ actual deductive abilities, being a more playful tale. Holmes narrates his own meeting with a society fop named Lord Chesley Templeton, who invites him to be a special guest at a meeting of a very special private club. Holmes declines, not wanting to be anyone’s pet monkey, until a letter from Brother Mycroft changes his mind. Holmes and Watson learn more about Templeton, stop a crime, and Watson encounters a Baroness with an interest in writing. Holmes’ disdain for Templeton’s easily-seen-through disguise at the first meeting is set against his own dramatic way of getting Watson to accompany him, just one of several character-driven moments that made me smile. (Fellow fans of Philip Jose Farmer’s Wold Newton Family may find humorous Watson’s implication that the Baroness who cameos ends up basing her most famous character on someone from this tale; I wrote it off as Watson purposefully misguiding readers.)

2.       AN ACTUAL TREASURE by David Marcum, from the October 2017 issue of The Strand. Marcum’s tale is also narrated by Holmes via his own journal entries, and also ties back to a very important case in the Holmes canon, the one in which Holmes and Watson first met Mary Morstan (later the First Mrs. Watson). Marcum brings Inspectors Jones and LeStrade into the story as well as the Baker Street Irregulars (and one in particular named Levi), and while the story is again sort of light on Holmes’ deductive abilities, it provides a very satisfactory follow-up to what happened to the jewels that went missing at the end of that earlier case. Marcum also showcases aspects of Holmes’ personality other chroniclers sometimes overlook or ignore: his patience and paternal feeling towards children, his respect for Mrs. Hudson, the fact that although Holmes always claims not to theorize before all the facts are in he actually does it quite often in the original canon (near the end of this tale, Holmes comments “I had formed seven theories about what might have occurred, and while this wasn’t the most probable of them, it was my favorite.”). There’s even a winking mention of Praed Street, although this is many years before Solar Pons and Doctor Parker will take up residence on that thoroughfare.

3.       LADY HILDA REVEALED by Bonnie MacBird, from the October 2018 issue of the Strand. This is a different king of Holmes pastiche, told in the form of a letter from a society lady to Doctor Watson. Also her husband has long since passed away, “Lady Hilda Trelawny Hope” maintains the fictitious identity Watson gave her when he published Holmes’ “Adventure of the Second Stain,” but strives to correct the good doctor on a number of points regarding how she was portrayed. This could easily have been a poke at officious society types, but instead MacBird gives us an intimate portrait of a woman who could, under other circumstances, have been just as strong a foil for Holmes as Irene Adler, Mary Morstan, or Violet Hunter. It’s a wonderful character piece that expands on the original story without ever making Holmes or Watson look bad.

Reading Round-Up: April 2019

Continuing the monthly summaries of what I’ve been reading.

 

BOOKS

To keep my numbers consistent with what I have listed on Goodreads, I count completed magazine issues and stand-alone short stories in e-book format as “books.” I read or listened to 7 books in April: 2 in print, 2 in e-book format, and 3 in audio. They were:

1.      Lightspeed Magazine #107 (April 2019 issue), edited by John Joseph Adams. The usual fine assortment of sf and fantasy short stories and novellas. This month’s favorites for me were Caroline M. Yoachim’s “The Archronology of Love,” Mathew Corradi’s “Gundark Island or, Tars Tarkas Needs Your Help,” Shweta Adhyam’s “A Conch-Shell’s Notes,” Carrie Vaughn’s “The Lady of Shallot,” and Ashok K. Banker’s “The Seeds of War.”

2.       Drama Queen (Nicky & Noah Mystery #1), by Joe Cosentino.  The first in a mystery series starring a pair of gay college professors as amateur sleuths has the body count of a crime novel but the tone of a cattier version of cozy mysteries. It’s a light, fun read, and I’m planning to read or listen to the rest of the series at some point.

3.       Sakina’s Restaurant, by Aasif Mandvi. The story of a half-dozen different Indian characters who own or work at the titular restaurant, performed as a one-man show by the author. Not every character portrait works, and the sound design sometimes allows the background to overwhelm the actual dialogue. I think I’d have enjoyed it better if I saw it performed onstage.

4.       A Bloody Business, by Dylan Struzan, with chapter art by Drew Struzan.  Dylan Struzan conducted 50 hours of recorded interviews with crime family member Jimmy Alo, with the understanding that she wouldn’t publish her work until after he was dead. This is an epic piece of creative non-fiction, weaving in Lucky Luciano, Meyer Lansky, Bugsy Siegal, Al Capone and more. Fascinating. FULL REVIEW HERE.

5.       The Poor Clare by Elizabeth Gaskell. A gothic horror novella that’s light on the actual horror but strong on the suspense. It was just the right length for the story being told (man learns of the tragic history of a woman, her daughter, and her granddaughter).

6.       Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne, narrated by Jim Dale.  I’m positive I read this in elementary school, but I had absolutely no memory of the events of the story. I kept waiting for a hot air balloon ride that never happened (thanks, movie versions!) and didn’t remember the subplot with Inspector Fix at all. It’s a fun travelogue with quite a few adventure scenes, but of course is also replete with the stererotypes and racism of the era. Jim Dale’s warm, friendly narration makes it almost too easy to ignore the less palatable parts.

7.       F is For Fairy edited by Rhonda Parrish. The sixth in Parrish’s “alphabet anthology” series has 26 stories centered around all kinds of fairies, with tones ranging from comedic to dark, at lengths from flash to almost-novella. Not every story was a total winner to me, but I liked the majority of them. FULL REVIEW HERE.

So only 7 books in April. Not my most prolific reading month of late.

 

 

 

STORIES

I have a goal of reading 365 short stories (1 per day, essentially, although it doesn’t always work out that way) each year. Here’s what I did read and where you can find them if you’re interested in reading them too (with some short notes for stories that really stood out to me). If no source is noted, the story is from the same magazine or book as the story(ies) that precede(s) it:

1.       “The Archronology of Love” by Caroline M. Yoachim, from Lightspeed Magazine #107 (April 2019 issue), edited by John Joseph Adams.

2.       “To Market, To Market: The Branding of Billy Bailey” by Cory Doctorow

3.       “Gundark Island or, Tars Tarkas Needs Your Help” by Matthew Corradi

4.       “The She-Wolf’s Hidden Grin” by Michael Swanwick

5.       “Blur” by Carmen Maria Machado

6.       “The Seeds of War” by Ashok K. Banker

7.       “The Lady of Shallot” by Carrie Vaughn

8.       “A Conch-Shell’s Notes” by Shweta Adhyam

9.       “The Speed of Belief” by Robert Reed

10.   “Of Strange Oaths” by Seanan McGuire, on the author’s Patreon page.

11.   “Exhibit K” by Nadia Afifi, from Abyss & Apex 2nd Quarter 2019 issue, edited by Wendy S. Dalmater

12.   “The Birds That Flew in Wartime” by Tamoah Sengupta

13.   “A Missed Diversion” by R.S. Alexander

14.    “Ars Poetica” by David F. Shultz

15.   “Sibling Squabbles” by Gregg Chamberlain

16.   “The Gifted Sommellier” by Grayson Bray Morris

17.   “A is for Apple, Who is Love” by L.S. Johnson, from F is for Fairy (Alphabet Anthologies #6), edited by Rhonda Parrish

18.   “B is for Burned” by C.S. MacCath

19.   “C is for Contract” by Jonathan C. Parrish

20.   “D is for Diplomacy” by Jeanne Kramer-Smyth

21.   “E is for Elfshot” by Pete Aldin

22.   “F is for Family” by Steve Bornstein

23.   “G is for Gentry” by Stephanie A. Cain

24.   “H is for Heartkeeper” by Suzanne J. Willis

25.   “I is for Imputation” by Joseph Halden

26.   “J is for Jabberwocky” by Alexandria Seidel

27.   “K is for Kin” by Cory Cone

28.   “L is for Leaving” by Lynn Hardaker

29.   “M is for Maturity” by Rachel M. Thompson

30.   “N is for Neverland” by Brittany Warman

31.   “O is for Oasis” by Lilah Ward

32.   “P is for Promised One” by Michael B. Tager

33.   “Q is for Quiet” by Danielle Davis

34.   “R is for Rusalka” by Megan Englehardt

35.   “S is for Savior” by Samantha Kymmell-Harvey

36.   “T is for Titania” by Sara Cleto

37.   “U is for Unseelie Court” by Andrew Bourelle

38.   “V is for Verisimilitude” by BD Wilson

39.   “W is for Wear Wigs” by Laura VanArendonk Baugh

40.   “X is for Xanadu” by Michael M. Jones

41.   “Y is for Your Song” by Michael Fosburg

42.   “Z is for Zamboni” by Beth Cato

So that’s 42 short stories in April, putting me now slightly ahead for the year so far. (April 30th was the 120th day of 2019.)

 

Summary of Reading Challenges:

“To Be Read” Challenge: This month: 0 read; YTD: 2 of 14 read.

365 Short Stories Challenge: This month:  42 read; YTD: 130 of 365 read.

Graphic Novels Challenge:  This month: 0 read; YTD: 14 of 52 read.

Goodreads Challenge: This month: 7 read; YTD: 50 of 125 read.

Non-Fiction Challenge: This month: 1; YTD: 4 of 24 read.

Read the Book / Watch the Movie Challenge: This month: 0; YTD: 0 of 10 read/watched.

Complete the Series Challenge: This month: 0 books read; YTD: 0 of 16 read.

                                                                Series fully completed: 0 of 3 planned

Monthly Special Challenge: I may not do something like this every month, but I set an April goal to try to read primarily books from small press publishers, and I didn’t do good job of it at all (partially due to the smaller number of books read and to commitments to be kept). a pretty decent job of it. Of the 7 books I read, only 3 qualify as from small presses (Drama Queen from Lethe Press; The Poor Clare reissued by Melville House; F is for Fairy from Poise and Pen Publishing). Of the 42 stories, the majority came from small presses (Poise and Pen Publishing: 26; author Patreon: 1; Abyss & Apex magazine: 6; if Lightspeed Magazine counts as a small press among spec-fic magazine publishers, then all of April’s short stories came from small presses of some kind.)

May’s challenge: May is short story month, so the goal is to read mostly anthologies, collections, and novellas. May is also Asian/Pacific Islander Heritage Month and Jewish-American Heritage Month. I’m going to try to read some non-fiction in those areas this month as well.

SERIES SATURDAY: Beth Cato's Blood of Earth Trilogy

This is the first of a new series of posts about … well, series. I do so love stories that continue across volumes, in whatever form: linked short stories, novels, novellas, television, movies. I’ve already got a list of series I’ve recently read, re-read, watched, or re-watched that I plan to blog about. I might even, down the line, open myself up to letting other people suggest titles I should read/watch and then comment on.

For this inaugural edition, I’m going to ramble on a bit about a recently-concluded trilogy which I absolutely loved:  Beth Cato’s Blood of Earth Trilogy.

 

BloodofEarth-triptych.jpg

The Blood of Earth trilogy is a magic-infused alternate history with steampunk trappings. The setting is various cities in the western United States, plus a short jaunt to Hawaii at a pivotal moment. It is 1906, just before the great San Francisco Earthquake. The United States and Japan have formed a powerful alliance called the Unified Pacific. China has been subjugated by Japan while Chinese in America are ghettoized, stereotyped, and removed from all chances at equal opportunities. Tensions along the western seaboard are mounting as Chinese residents are treated with less and less humanity – at the same time that the Unified Pacific also seems to be having political disagreements with the British (who have their own insurrection going on) and Russians (who are moving to control the Alaskan oil market).

Kermanite, a mined ore that can hold earth-generated magical energy for later use, is the “power behind the throne.” It’s used to power items small and great, allowing this alternate Earth to have flying ships and weapons which are steam-punk in design and execution if not operation. Some people are more capable of wielding this earth-magic than others; Wardens are stationed around the world to monitor, absorb, and control the energy released by seismic activity. The Wardens are all men – because the idea that a woman could wield such power is just unthinkable in this society. And the idea of a woman of mixed heritage holding such power is not only unthinkable, it’s unfathomable.

Enter Ingrid Carmichael: a powerful magic-user hiding in plain sight as a secretary to a powerful San Francisco-based Warden because women shouldn’t be able to do even an eighth of what she can do. Trained by Warden Sakaguchi from childhood and past the untimely death of her mother, Ingrid is strong-willed. But also knows how to blend in – half Black, half Pacific Islander, and a woman, she kind of has to be able to navigate the anti-Asian, and specifically anti-Chinese, sentiments around her.

Ingrid’s best friend is Lee – a Chinese teen servant/surrogate son to Mr. Sakaguchi who has secrets of his own that come into play as the series progresses. Mr. Sakaguchi is a surrogate father to Ingrid as well, given the disappearance of her own father when she was a small child.

Early in the first book, Ingrid meets the handsome, smart, secretive Cy, who is on the run as a Deserter, trying to leave warmongering family history behind. Cy is accompanied by his best friend from the military academy, Fenris – an incredible mechanic/engineer/pilot who is full of heart but acts gruff and uncaring. Fenris, as it turns out, is transgender. Cato works this fact in smoothly, as just another character fact no more or less important than Ingrid’s heritage or Cy’s family history.

Outside of Mr. Sakaguchi, the rest of the Wardens we meet are questionable at best, enemies at worst. When we meet Warden Blum – a powerful Japanese politician – and Warden Roosevelt – yes, Teddy Roosevelt – we’re not sure if they will be friends or foes to Ingrid. Roosevelt is the one “real” historical supporting character in the series. His presence grounds the story in our own history. Cato’s portrayal isn’t always flattering, but I think she captures the real Roosevelt very well – for every national park he created, he said or did something to marginalize people of color, and Cato captures that dichotomy so very well.

But while the presence of Roosevelt and cities like San Francisco, Seattle, Portland and such make the world familiar, it’s the magic and the way it works (for peace and for war) that is the most impressive part of the world-building. Magical creatures exist, ranging from the almost-unknowable (giant snakes that live in seismic fault lines and whose movements generate the earth-magic at the core of the story), to the mighty (Chinese guardian spirits called Quilin, the goddess Pele) to the human-ish (kitsune, selkies) to the tiny (colonies of sylphs). Cato’s explanations for how magical energy is generated, the sickening effects it can have on those not talented enough to hold and control it, the way the Kermanite stores it and releases it – all feel so complete, so true, that every time the ground shakes I wonder if someone nearby is absorbing the energy to protect the rest of us. And the uses to which the magic is put feel very true to our own world. Some people just want to use it to heal (Reiki and acupuncture specialists), help (Ingrid) or build (Cy and Fenris, peripherally), while others want to use it to control (various wardens/politicians) or destroy (the Japanese government and certain insurrectionists). And while our main characters clearly choose sides/roles early on, there are many characters who start out believing one choice is correct and come to see the opposite (telling you who would spoil too much of the second and third books).

The character-building is as impressive as the world-building. Almost every main and supporting character has an arc to be explored. Some of those arcs build slower than others, and there’s at least one character I wish had had more of a storyline, but they all get to have their own moments and lives even while serving the main plot. Even tertiary characters have personality and a living energy often missing from characters who come on stage only to serve a brief purpose / propel the action forward. Ingrid is a wonderfully strong-willed lead character, but that’s not her only trait. She’s insecure about her abilities and what effect they will have if she can’t control them; she’s sometimes head-strong to a fault; she swings from too-trusting to too-suspicious (sometimes at inconvenient times); she pushes herself beyond her limits to save others; she is funny, smart, and romantic. In other words, real and well-rounded. And Cy is almost totally the same – the old saying “opposites attract” is put to the lie here – without subverting Ingrid’s lead role in her own story. And make no mistake: though surrounded by interesting subplots for her group of supporting characters, this trilogy is Ingrid’s story – Ingrid’s fight to hone her abilities, uncover her family’s past, defeat the enemies and save the day. Beth Cato is a fantastic author, and I’m sure she could tell interesting stories in this world without Ingrid if she really wanted to – but she couldn’t tell this story without Ingrid involved every step of the way, up to the very satisfactory end of book three, in which all plots and important subplots are wrapped up.

So: read the Blood of Earth trilogy if you like magic-infused alternate history, strong female leads, diverse supporting casts, steampunk-ish technology, and legends come to life. I’d be surprised if you were disappointed at all.

READING ROUND-UP: March 2019

Continuing the monthly summaries of what I’ve been reading and writing.

 

BOOKS

To keep my numbers consistent with what I have listed on Goodreads, I count completed magazine issues and stand-alone short stories in e-book format as “books.” I read or listened to 14 books in March: 13 in print, 1 in e-book format, and 0 in audio. They were:

1.       Lightspeed Magazine #106 (March 2019 issue), edited by John Joseph Adams. The usual fine assortment of sf and fantasy short stories and novellas. This month’s favorites for me were Maria Romasco Moore’s “Self Storage Starts with the Heart,” Ashok K. Banker’s “A Hundred Thousand Arrows,” Kat Howard’s “Those Are Pearls,” and Vandana Singh’s “Of Love and Other Monsters.”

2.       The Backstagers Vol 1: Rebels Without Applause, by James Tynion IV, Rian Sygh, others.  Sort of a “male Lumberjanes in a high school drama department instead of a summer camp” in set-up and tone. Wonderfully diverse cast (gay, straight, trans, white, black), very very cartoony art. The characters are wonderful, but the world-building feels a bit loose and the plot progression a bit slow; I personally would have liked a bit more sense of the underpinnings but your mileage may vary.

3.       The Backstagers Vol 2, by James Tynion IV, Rian Siygh, others. This one swings a bit in the other direction, with tons of details about the world-building and a much faster moving plot, including a resolution I thought would be much further along in an on-going monthly series (and I have no idea if the book is still being published, so maybe the quick resolution was because of impending cancellation?).  I really do like all of these characters, though, and their interactions make the cover price worth it.

4.       Firebrandt’s Legacy (Space Pirates Legacy #1), by David Lee Summers.  It is not easy to take a bunch of short stories published separately and out of order and whip them into a cohesive novel, especially if you’re trying not to lose the episodic feel of the stories themselves. Summers pulls it off excellently. There’s great future world-building, very likeable characters and several consistent believable threats to the main characters’ lives and livelihoods.

5.       Sal & Gabi Break The Universe by Carlos Hernandez. I posted a full review of this earlier. Short version: near future SF with middle-grade protagonists without the usual dystopian trappings and with a very healthy sense of humor. I loved it.

6.       That Ain’t Witchcraft (InCryptid #8) by Seanan McGuire.  The third InCryptid novel featuring youngest Price sister Antimony, her boyfriend Sam, and their friends brings several plot threads to a wild conclusion. In the process we learn more about the legend of the Crossroads and Crossroads Ghosts. Fast-moving and tons of comic-book trivia snark.  There’s also a back-up novella featuring oldest Price child Alexander, his girlfriend Shelby, and their Gorgon friends investigating a mass kidnapping. The novella has hints of what the next novel will likely be about, so perhaps don’t read it until after you’ve finished the main novel.

7.       Hexhunter (Hexworld #4) by Jordan L. Hawk. Hawk continues to develop this alternate history, magic-is-real-and-the-cops-use-it, world full of romance and sex. Each book follows the development of a new witch-familiar pairing, and this volume brings together two long-term supporting characters who must work through much personal baggage while investigating the murder of a nun by a snake familiar. This one also advances the series over-arc about corruption and the distrust between “normal” humans and those who wield magic.

8.       We Have Always Lived in the Castle, by Shirley Jackson. The first book I’ve managed to read this year for the 2019 To Be Read Challenge is one I should have read a long time ago given my love for Jackson’s short story “The Lottery” and novel The Haunting of Hill House.  A full review appeared on this site a week ago.

9.       Oroonoko, by Aphra Behn.  I’m still not completely sure what to make of this novella from 1688. It’s a compelling story by an early female author not writing under a male name, and it’s very clearly anti-slavery. At the same time, it trades on the “noble savage” trope quite heavily.

10.   I Am Malala, by Malala Yousafzai with Christina Lamb.  The second book this year from the 2019 To Be Read Challenge list, I posted a full review earlier this week. I wish there were an audiobook version of this narrated by the author herself; I think I’d have connected more with her voice if I could hear her voice. Still, I learned a lot about Pakistan history as well as Malala’s personal story.

11.   Captain Marvel, Volume 2: Stay Fly, by Kelly Sue DeConnick, Marcio Takara, David Lopez and others.  This one’s been sitting on the graphic novel pile for a while, and I’m glad I read it a few days before seeing the Captain Marvel movie. It’s a fun read, although not quite as fun or engrossing as the first volume in this iteration of Carol Danvers’ adventures.

12.   Liars, Mistruths, and Perception, by Kate Fox.  I am not, as I’ve said often, a big poetry reader. Still, Kate’s short ruminations on real life speak to me. Definitely recommended.

13.   Ms. Marvel, Vol 1: No Normal by G. Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona and others.  I’ve heard good things about Wilson’s Ms. Marvel since the first issue collected in this volume came out back in 2014, but as with DeConnick’s Captain Marvel run, I am only now getting around to reading the series. I really enjoyed the way Wilson set up the origin so that I didn’t have to understand, or run out and buy, a big Marvel event that I missed because I haven’t bought monthly comics issues since approximately 2010. Probably my favorite graphic novel read of the month.

14.   Forget the Sleepless Shores: Stories, By Sonya Taaffe.  A great collection of densely written, horror-tinged short stories. Can’t say more here because I’ll be writing a review for Strange Horizons later this month.

So fourteen books in March, which Goodreads tells me is twelve ahead of goal for the year.

 

STORIES

I have a goal of reading 365 short stories (1 per day, essentially, although it doesn’t always work out that way) each year. Here’s what I did read and where you can find them if you’re interested in reading them too (with some short notes for stories that really stood out to me). If no source is noted, the story is from the same magazine or book as the story(ies) that precede(s) it:

1.       “The Synapse Will Free Us From Ourselves” by Violet Allen, from Lightspeed Magazine #106 (March 2019 issue), edited by John Joseph Adams.

2.       “On The Shores of Ligeia” by Carolyn Ives Gilman

3.       “A Temporary Embarrassment in Space-Time” by Charlie Jane Anders

4.       “My Children’s Home” by Woody Dismukes

5.       “Self Storage Begins With The Heart” by Maria Romasco Moore

6.       “Ambitious Boys Like You” by Richard Kadrey

7.       “A Hundred Thousand Arrows” by Ashok K. Banker

8.       “Those Are Pearls” by Kat Howard

9.       “Of Love and Other Monsters” by Vandana Singh

10.   “Emergency Landing” by Seanan McGuire, on the author’s Patreon page.

11.   “Bridge of Sighs” by Kaaron Warren, from Nightmare Magazine #78 (March 2019 issue), edited by John Joseph Adams

12.   “Carry On” by Seanan McGuire

13.   “The Measure of a Monster” by Seanan McGuire, novella published as a free extra story in the paperback of her InCryptid novel That Ain’t Witchcraft.

14.    “Tiends” by Sonya Taaffe, from her collection Forget the Sleepless Shores: Stories (Lethe Press)

15.   “Chez Vous Soon” by Sonya Taaffe

16.   “Little Fix of Friction” by Sonya Taaffe

17.   “On the Blindside” by Sonya Taaffe

18.   “Notes toward the Classification of the Lesser Moly” by Sonya Taaffe

19.   “Another Coming” by Sonya Taaffe

20.   “Last Drink Bird Head” by Sonya Taaffe

21.   “The Boatman’s Cure” by Sonya Taaffe

22.   “The Dybbuk in Love” by Sonya Taaffe

23.   “Like Milkweed” by Sonya Taaffe

24.   “Imperator Noster” by Sonya Taaffe

25.   “The Salt House” by Sonya Taaffe

26.   “And Black Unfathomable Lakes” by Sonya Taaffe

27.   “The Face of the Waters” by Sonya Taaffe

28.   “The Creeping Influences” by Sonya Taaffe

29.   “Drink Down” by Sonya Taaffe

30.   “Exorcisms” by Sonya Taaffe

31.   “When Can a Broken Glass Mend?” by Sonya Taaffe

32.   “On Two Streets, with Three Languages” by Sonya Taaffe

33.   “The Trinitite Golem” by Sonya Taaffe

34.   “All Our Sal-Bottled Hearts” by Sonya Taaffe

35.   “The Depth Oracle” by Sonya Taaffe

36.   “Latvian Angel” by Matthew Lansbaugh, from One Story #250 (February 14, 2019), edited by Will Allison

So that’s 36 short stories in March, leaving me still slightly behind for the year so far. (March 31th was the 90th day of 2019.)

 

Summary of Reading Challenges:

“To Be Read” Challenge: This month: 2 read; YTD: 2 of 14 read.

365 Short Stories Challenge: This month:  36 read; YTD: 88 of 365 read.

Graphic Novels Challenge:  This month: 4 read; YTD: 14 of 52 read.

Goodreads Challenge: This month: 14 read; YTD: 43 of 125 read.

Non-Fiction Challenge: This month: 1; YTD: 3 of 24 read.

Read the Book / Watch the Movie Challenge: This month: 0; YTD: 0 of 10 read/watched.

Complete the Series Challenge: This month: 0 books read; YTD: 0 of 16 read.

                                                                Series fully completed: 0 of 3 planned

Monthly Special Challenge: I may not do something like this every month, but since March was Women’s History Month, I decided to try to read primarily women authors, and I did a pretty decent job of it. Of the 14 books I read, 8 were written by women. Of the 35 stories, 9 women authors wrote the majority (32 total; Sonya Taaffe accounts for 22 of them, Seanan McGuire for 3).

April’s challenge: read titles primarily from small press publishers.

Catastrophic Attraction Complex: Book Edition

“Catastrophic Attraction Complex.”

I’m not sure where I first heard this phrase. I’ve done Google searches that only bring up the times I’ve used the phrase in my own blog posts and guest blogs, so I might even have made it up myself. Who knows. What I do know is: it’s the phrase I use to describe those attractions that are so intense, immediate and pervasive that common sense and logic fly out the window. We all have them, but they’re different for everyone. Usually when I refer to my Catastrophic Attraction Complex, I’m about to talk about my attraction to men (and occasionally, yes, women) with red hair, from the strawberriest of strawberry blonds to the most merlot of wine-dark gingers. In fact, a look back at a 2012 guest blog about My Literary Crushes on Roofbeam Reader’s site shows a preponderance of redheads. But that’s a whole different post from today’s topic, which is….

My Catastrophic Attraction Complex to Matching Book Cover Designs.

I’m sure at least some of my fellow bibliophiles will be able to empathize with me here.

Now, I’m not talking about books by the same author in the same series that have consistent cover design elements (like every volume of the Dresden Files having Harry, with hat and staff, in a dramatic pose above or below the book’s two-word title, or Ellis Peters’ Brother Cadfael books all having a nicely-painted medieval dead body in a box under the book’s title). It’s a given that readers of such series want all the titles in said series to match, and get very upset when, say, the publisher decides to start issuing the series in hardcover after years of issuing it only in paperback.

I’m also not talking about an author’s non-series books all being reissued with common cover design elements (as seems to happen every few years with the works of Stephen King). If I own most of the author’s non-series works in earlier editions, I’m usually not interested in buying newer editions just to get the covers to match. (Now, if I don’t already own most of those works, sure – a few years ago Lawrence Block brought some of his long-out-of-print crime fiction out as LB’s Crime Classics, with a very simple matching cover design, and I ate that up. Likewise if the re-issues have new material added, as when Titan Books re-issued a bunch of Philip Jose Farmer books with matching cover designs and new forewords and afterwords by Farmer scholars.)

What I’m talking about primarily is publishers bringing out themed sets of books by different authors all with the same front, spine, and back cover design. (I recently asked the hive-mind on Twitter if there’s an industry-specific term for this other than “trade dress,” and so far the response seems to be “no,” but I look forward to hearing if there is one.)

I fall, and fall hard, almost every time.

The most obvious examples in my personal library right now are the ever-enlarging collection of slipcased hardcovers from The Library of America, which I started purchasing intermittently several decades ago and which I may never successfully complete as a collection, and several bookshelves worth of the complete-to-date run of titles from Hard Case Crime with their matching spine logos and painted retro-crime-pulp covers (there is still hope, however dwindling, that I will someday read every HCC title; at least I’m keeping up with current releases).

And this doesn’t include the shelf of Lawrence Block HCC titles!

And this doesn’t include the shelf of Lawrence Block HCC titles!

My friend Dave (who enables and encourages my weird “must have them all” book-buying habits) can tell you all about my frantic NYC bookstore searches to find all the volumes in HiLo Books’ “Radium Age of Science Fiction” after discovering all but TWO of the series in a book store in Chelsea Market. Yes, reader, you know me well – I bought them all, then spent months tracking down the remaining two. (My obsession with buying books in actual book stores as opposed to ordering online is the topic of a whole different post.) Something similar happened upon discovery of Knopf Doubleday’s “Vintage Movie Classics” series, although I didn’t find the majority of those in one store to start with.

Vantage Classics covers.jpg

When I first started traveling the country for my full-time job twelve years ago, I also started haunting used-book stores. Mostly to fill in or rebuild paperback series I’d lost over the year (Perry Rhodan, Doc Savage, Tarzan, and the like). But then I started seeing these Wordsworth Editions anthologies of supernatural stories, all with sleek black/grey trade dress covers.  Now I have a bookshelf of them, although I’m pretty sure I’ve a long way to go to have all of them.

Wadsworth Editions covers.jpg

About a year ago, I found Melville House’s reissue of George Eliot’s “The Lifted Veil” in a bookstore in Newark Airport, and found it was part of their “The Art of the Novella” line, all with matching cover designs. Yep, I’m a subscriber now.

Art of the Novella covers.jpg

I try to resist. I really do. I asked myself recently, “Do I really need to buy the complete Otto Penzler “American Mystery Classics” re-issue series when I have so many of the titles in dog-eared paperbacks I found in used-book stores over the years?”  The answer seems to be “Yes,” because I have a bookshelf with the full run Penzler has issued to date. (And it looks like a third series will be issued in Fall, 2019!)

Okay, the cover design changes from Set 1 to Set 2. Sue me.

Okay, the cover design changes from Set 1 to Set 2. Sue me.

There are, I think, far worse Catastrophic Attraction Complexes to have. And of my two, it’s probably better that this is the one I act uncontrollably and impulsively on (I may be catastrophically attracted to redheads, but that usually manifests as an inability to complete simple sentences around them; no rash impulses getting out of hand there!). Of course, the friends who have helped me move house in the past few years may not agree with this assessment!

SUNDAY SHORTS: Seanan McGuire Destroys Air Travel

The “Sunday Shorts” feature is dedicated to reviewing short stories and novellas, two forms I absolutely love.

My full-time job requires me to travel fairly frequently (anywhere from one to three weeks, depending on the month) and much of that travel is by air across the continental United States. I’m pretty comfortable with the process at this point (airport security and airplane seating being what they are), although I find that I’m likely to get motion sick if I try to read or watch anything during takeoff, landing or even slight turbulence. I’ve been in one (admittedly minor) emergency landing and experienced plenty of rough air and less-than-pleasant customer service on the ground. But I’m not afraid of any aspect of flying.

Even so, two recent short stories by Seanan McGuire, both posted on her Patreon, made me squirm uncomfortably. “Carry On” was first published last year (and is reprinted in this month’s Nightmare magazine) while “Emergency Landing” is this month’s Patreon story. Each turns a different aspect of air travel in an opportunity for emotional/psychological horror.

In our present day, airlines are charging more and more for “incidentals” (in-flight snacks and entertainment, extra leg-room, checked and carry-on luggage). “Carry On” is a brutal look at a possible future where the price of fuel justifies airlines charging passengers not just for the combined weight of their carry-on luggage, but also for the weight of the passenger and their clothing. Step on a scale with your bags, and be judged before entering security. Mary, the focal-point character, has saved for ages to be able to fly cross-country to see her sister and meet her new niece; but getting past the weigh-in without having to pay, in money and embarrassment, is not easy. McGuire really captures the indignities heaped, even now, upon travelers who are overweight. The tension of the wait, the bad weigh-in, the events that follow, the recognizable emotions Mary feels at the end, are all so real. Mary feels isolated even in a large terminal with hundreds of other people experience the same trauma she is. This is the second time I’ve read the story, and it once again made me cry for the main character.

“Emergency Landing” takes place almost entirely on a plane already in the air. The narrator describes her dash to make her connecting flight out of Atlanta, her initial impressions of her seat-mates, and then the plane takes off – just before the narrator sees missiles streak towards the airport they’ve just departed. The rest of the story is a tense game of “how much do we tell the passengers about what’s happening on the ground” and “what do we do about landing since our fuel can’t last forever.” The emotional stakes are just as high as in “Carry On,” but from a different direction. While Mary feels invisible among her fellow travelers, Caitlin feels too seen because of what they think she knows. The story moves fast as Caitlin’s fellow passengers move from anguish to fear to false bravado and Caitlin must decide whether sharing her knowledge will make things better or worse. It’s not often I describe stories or books as leaving me breathless, but this one did.  I also think that had this appeared in an anthology (it would have been perfect for Stephen King and Bev Vincent’s recent Flight or Fright), it would appear under Seanan’s Mira Grant name, given that the main character is an epidemiologist.