Tag Archives: 2018 Books

The SF Bluestocking 2018 Fall Reading List

Well, this is belated, obviously. It turns out that pouring about four and a half weeks’ worth of day job work hours into the first three weeks of October is not very conducive to accomplishing anything even remotely blogging related. And continuing to work 50+ hours/week has not been helping with my non-day-job-related productivity. Getting this together also hasn’t been helped by the fact that–real talk–there’s just not that much going on in this final quarter of 2018, books-wise. In the couple of years I’ve been doing these reading lists, this is by far the shortest one, and this fall marks the first time in quite a while that I’ve found myself quite so much without a strict plan for what I’ll be reading in the coming months.

That’s not to say that the end of 2018 is completely without books that I’m excited about, but I’m also expecting to spend a good amount of time catching up on things that I’ve missed earlier in the year (and perhaps even on some 2017 titles that I never got around to). Here’s what’s on my list for the rest of this year.

Tor.com Publishing

It’s a light couple of months from Tor.com, but I’ve already read the newest Murderbot and can’t wait to read Finding Baba Yaga and Kate Heartfield’s Alice Payne Arrives.

  • Exit Strategy by Martha Wells – 10/2
    Martha Wells definitely nails the landing on this series, and I cannot wait to read Murderbot novels in the future.
  • Finding Baba Yaga by Jane Yolen – 10/30
    A novel in verse by a legend. What’s not to be excited about?
  • Static Ruin by Corey J. White – 11/6
    I never did get around to reading the second book in this trilogy, though I liked the first. Novellas have, in general, been exactly what I want to read lately, so I’m hoping to fit it in before the end of the year.
  • Alice Payne Arrives by Kate Heartfield – 11/6
    I haven’t read a good time travel story in a long time, and I’ve got high hopes for this one.
  • Bedfellow by Jeremy C. Shipp – 11/13
    I’m not very keen on horror, so I’ll probably skip this one, but surely it will be a great read for somebody.

Comics and Graphic Novels

  • Saga, Vol. 9 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples – 10/2
    I read this the day my pre-order arrived, and I still haven’t recovered. What a fucking time for a year-long hiatus.

Novels

  • Zero Sum Game by S.L. Huang – 10/2
  • There Before the Chaos by K.B. Wagers – 10/9
  • The Phoenix Empress by K. Arsenault Rivera – 10/9
    One of the books I skipped in 2017 was The Tiger’s Daughter, but the release of its sequel and a couple of promising reviews prompted me to finally get a copy of it, which is currently on my shelf waiting to be opened sometime soon.
  • The Consuming Fire by John Scalzi – 10/16
  • The Monster Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson – 10/30
    The Traitor Baru Cormorant was a book that is so well-plotted and compulsively readable that I couldn’t put it down, but it’s also the worst sort of exploitative queer tragedy played for shock value that I’ve ever read.
  • Empire of Sand by Tasha Suri – 11/13
  • Creatures of Want and Ruin by Molly Tanzer – 11/13
  • City of Broken Magic by Mirah Bolender – 11/20
  • A Bad Deal for the Whole Galaxy by Alex White – 12/11

Realistically.

Because one must be realistic about these things.

I haven’t worked less than 50 hours in a week at my physically demanding day job in a couple of months, and I am wiped out. Between election stress and day job stress and sheer physical exhaustion, I haven’t had that much time for reading, and most of what I’ve been reading lately is novella-length. There are a few things on this list that I will definitely be making time for, but the most likely scenario between now and the end of 2018 (which is, natch, approximately a thousand years from now) is that I will be spending a lot of time reading backlist titles and catching up on things that I missed earlier this year (I’m coming for you, The Moons of Barsk).

Most of all, I’m hoping to just spend the rest of this year chilling the heck out and recharging so I can get back into some proper blogging in the new year.

Book Review: Bloody Rose by Nicholas Eames

Nicholas Eames’ freshman novel, Kings of the Wyld, was one of my favorite reads of 2017, a well-written, cleverly observed and often hilariously funny adventure fantasy pastiche that adhered to genre forms while gently poking fun at well-worn tropes and presenting a refreshingly positive and downright heartwarming portrait of non-toxic masculinity in action. So I was pretty hyped to see what Eames would make of this sequel, which showcases a mixed-gender cast from the point of view of a queer teenage girl. Unfortunately, Bloody Rose doesn’t quite rise to the level of excellence of its predecessor, although it’s also by no means a complete failure at the perhaps-too-many things it sets out to accomplish.

Let’s talk about that queer girl narrator first. Tam Hashford is a potentially great character with a pretty solid, if entirely expected, backstory—parents in a band, dead mom, sad childhood—that nevertheless manages to impart her with a reasonable amount of depth and complexity to carry her through her hero’s journey over the course of the novel. There’s a lot to like about Tam, but Eames leans heavily on the dead mom thing for character motivation and to craft moments of emotional resonance while never actually creating the mother as an actual character. Sure, a dead mom is sad, but Tam’s particular story of having a dead mom lacks many specific details that would have made Tam’s pain at losing her mother feel more real. Even more disappointingly, Tam’s relationships with her father and uncle are full of those sorts of specific details, right there on the page where they belong, which makes those relationships compelling and well-drawn but also serves to highlight the lack of care taken with the story of Tam’s mother. As a further consequence of this lopsided attention to detail, Tam’s relationships with her father and uncle really feel meaningful in a way that her relationship with her dead mother never quite manages to. Instead, Tam’s relationship with her mother is best represented by Tam’s relationship to her mother’s musical instrument, and let’s just say—without spoilers—that the symbolism of this instrument in the narrative is confused.

All that said, choosing Tam as the book’s primary point of view is nevertheless a smart move on the author’s part. Writing from the perspective of a relative outsider to—albeit one with some inside knowledge of—the mercenary band life, gives the book a nice balance of distance and intimacy with its subject matter. Tam has plenty of room to grow over the course of the band’s meandering adventures, and Eames pretty much nails every step of her coming of age story. I loved reading her transformation from conflicted, self-conscious girl to confident, self-assured woman. There’s just not much more satisfying to read than a well-executed bildungsroman, and in that respect, Bloody Rose is a true success.

Where Eames also shines as a writer is in the overall crafting of the serial adventures that make up the majority of the book. The chapters are largely episodic, following Tam, Bloody Rose and the rest of Fable as they make their way towards a contract of epic scale, only to find out that the job isn’t what they thought it was. There’s something pleasantly cozy about the intimacy that forms between the characters as their friendships deepen over the course of their travels. However, though there’s a lot to like about the character dynamics in Bloody Rose, they never do quite manage to match the lived-in feel of the relationships between characters in Kings of the Wyld. This is most obviously apparent when it comes to the book’s romances. The longstanding romance between Rose and Freecloud feels lopsided and a bit too told-and-not-shown (and with tragedy telegraphed through nearly every one of their interactions), and the romance that Tam ultimately finds for herself feels abruptly settled, wholly unearned, and far short of fully logical, even within the framework of Eames’s fantasy setting.

On the bright side, that fantasy setting itself feels more alive and fuller of excitement and interest than ever before. There are numerous new characters to join familiar friends and foes from the first book, and Fable’s travels expand impressively upon the world without ever becoming a self-indulgent worldbuilding exercise as epic fantasies can be prone to do. Perhaps more impressively, Eames sets out to really look at and interrogate the world he crafted for Kings of the Wyld and does so in a compelling way that naturally drives story and character growth throughout this novel. As Tam (and the reader) is more immersed in mercenary culture, there are ongoing revelations and developments that reshape her (and our) understanding of her world and the place of herself and her friends in it.

Still, I’m not certain that it’s enough to simply question the underpinnings of one’s own worldbuilding without resolving many of the central questions raised. Bloody Rose is at times deeply concerned with the role and function of mercenary bands in its world and highlights some of the injustices perpetrated by a system that treats bands as celebrities and commoditizes their work, but the ending of the book largely amounts to a return to the status quo. Some characters may have changed or evolved throughout the story, but there’s a good deal of ambiguity about whether the world itself has been fundamentally changed by even the most momentous events of the novel. One can only hope that exploration of some of the deeper themes that were given short shrift in Bloody Rose will provide good fodder for a third book—which I will certainly be looking forward to.

The SF Bluestocking 2018 Summer Reading List

I am still alive! And still reading, though having a physically challenging day job where I’m often in overtime (hopefully soon to change now that I have just received a promotion) has certainly impacted the amount of time I have for books (and has severely impacted my writing). Still, I’m here. And there is so, so much to look forward to over the rest of the summer.

I’m no longer pretending, even to myself, that I’ll get around to reading everything on this list, but this is what I’ve got my eye on in July, August and September of 2018.

Tor.com Publishing

One look at my list of books I’ve actually read this year will tell you that I have given up trying to read every single novella Tor.com publishes. There’s just too many, and while I have always appreciated that reading them all took me outside my comfort zone and got me to read genres and styles that I don’t normally seek out, less time to actually spend reading in general means that I’m getting a little more selective about where I take risks. After absolutely despising Myke Cole’s The Armored Saint (apparently 2018 is not a year in which I want to read stories where the bodies of women and girls are destroyed in service of taking hackneyed jabs at organized religion), I have to admit the shine wore off of Tor.com for me a little bit. That feeling, combined with an uninspiring publication schedule full of too many sequels to things that I liked-but-didn’t-love has meant a lot less Tor.com novella-reading for me this year.

That said, there’s a lot to look forward to from Tor.com Publishing over the remainder of this summer.

  • Deep Roots by Ruthanna Emrys – 7/10
    I know someone must just be eating up all the Lovecraftian reimaginings Tor.com has published in the last couple of years, but I am not that someone.
  • The Expert System’s Brother by Adrian Tchaikovsky – 7/17
    I rather loved Tchaikovsky’s D&D-esque adventure novel, Spiderlight, but this book sounds basically nothing like that at all. I’m not sure I’m down for it, to be honest, but we’ll see how the early reviews of it shape up.
  • The Binti Trilogy hardcovers – 7/24
    I don’t usually buy hardcovers, especially after I’ve already bought and read ebooks, but have you seen how fantastically beautiful these redesigns are?
  • The Descent of Monsters by JY Yang – 7/31
    Hurray for more Tensorate!
  • Rogue Protocol by Martha Wells – 8/7
    Hurray for more Murderbot!
  • The Million by Karl Schroeder – 8/14
  • The Black God’s Drums by P. Djeli Clark – 8/21
    Having been informed by P. Djeli Clark’s essays and moved by his short fiction, I’m thrilled to see what he does with this longer format.
  • Warcry by Brian McClellan – 8/28
  • State Tectonics by Malka Older – 9/11
    I’m so excited for this book, but I’m also so sad that it’s the last in its series. I fully expect it to be one of my favorite reads of 2018.
  • The Queen of Crows by Myke Cole – 9/18
    Nope.

Novels

  • Space Unicorn Blues by T.J. Berry – 7/3
  • The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal – 7/3
    It’s a Lady Astronaut novel.
  • Heroine’s Journey by Sarah Kuhn – 7/3
    Book 3! It’s about Bea Tanaka!
  • Lost Gods by Micah Yongo – 7/3
  • European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman by Theodora Goss – 7/10
    A sequel to last year’s The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter.
  • Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik – 7/10
    I haven’t gotten my hands on an ARC of this, but it sounds like an expansion of Novik’s story of the same title in The Starlit Wood. I loved that story, and I have high hopes for this novel.
  • Suicide Club: A Novel About Living by Rachel Heng – 7/10
  • Competence by Gail Carriger – 7/17
    In all likelihood, I’ll hold off on reading this one til its companion comes out in another year or so, but I’m still looking forward to it. In the meantime, I will continue eating up Gail Carriger’s delicious novella-length works as fast as she can churn them out.
  • Apocalypse Nix by Kameron Hurley – 7/17
  • The Mere Wife by Maria Dahvahna Headley – 7/17
    I’m surprisingly hyped for this Beowulf in the suburbs novel.
  • Record of a Spaceborn Few by Becky Chambers – 7/24
    Probably my most-anticipated book of 2018.
  • Kill the Farmboy by Delilah S. Dawson and Kevin Hearne – 7/24
    This seems like it might be cute.
  • A Duke by Default by Alyssa Cole – 7/31
    I don’t read much romance these days, but I loved the first book in Alyssa Cole’s Reluctant Royals series and preordered this one as soon as I finished the first.
  • Temper by Nicky Drayden – 8/7
    I really liked Nicky Drayden’s debut novel, The Prey of Gods, so I’m interested to see what she does next.
  • The Moons of Barsk by Lawrence M. Schoen – 8/14
    2015’s Barsk: The Elephants’ Graveyard was a tragically underappreciated gem that was done a great disservice with its 12/28 release date, and it’s been a long wait for this sequel. I’d love to see
  • The Fated Sky by Mary Robinette Kowal – 8/21
    It’s another Lady Astronaut novel.
  • Bloody Rose by Nicholas Eames – 8/28
    Kings of the Wyld
    was a surprising entry on my Best of 2017 list, and I cannot wait to read this sequel/companion to it.
  • The Sisters of the Winter Wood by Rena Rossner – 9/25

Collections and Anthologies

  • Worlds Seen in Passing edited by Irene Gallo – 9/4
    A collection of short fiction from the first ten years of Tor.com. I don’t know if it’s the sort of thing that I’ll read cover to cover, but it should be a great addition to my collection of anthologies that I slowly work through over the course of some years.
  • A Cathedral of Myth and Bone by Kat Howard – 9/25
    I believe this is mostly previously-published work, but there’s quite a lot of it that I haven’t read and I’m very excited to read the Arthurian novella that’s included in the collection.

37491890Comics and Graphic Novels

  • Monstress, Volume 3: Haven by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda
    I don’t read many comics, but I’ll never miss a trade paperback of this one. If you are a collector of trade paperbacks, you may also want to check out Barnes & Noble’s exclusive edition of this title, which comes with an alternate cover and a double-sided poster.

Magazines

  • FIYAH Literary Magazine, Issue 7, “Music”
    FIYAH continues to be one of the most exciting and important SFF markets in publication.
  • Fireside Quarterly
    I’ve already received my copy of this, and it is a stunningly beautiful little book. It’s printed on gorgeous satiny paper, sports top-notch interior design, and has gorgeous artwork–including multiple fold-out pages. It’s a truly impressive piece of work. You can get your own by supporting FIreside at the $10/month level on Drip or on Patreon.
  • Apex Magazine #110, #111, #112I
    I’m still getting the paperback issues of Apex as well, which are getting slightly nicer each issue as they work out some design kinks and get things a little better put together each time.
  • Clarkesworld #142, #143, #144
  • Uncanny #23, #24
    Issue 23 is DINOSAUR-themed.

 

The SF Bluestocking 2018 Spring Reading List

I’ve still got a couple of titles from my Winter Reading List that I’m hoping to squeeze in before moving on entirely to the next season of books, but there is so much that I’m excited about this spring, you guys. With the new day job, I have somewhat more disposable income, which means I’ve been buying more books, and I’m now subscribed to more magazines than I can reasonably read (not that I don’t read them, obv, but there are an unreasonable number of them).

On that note, reading more short fiction continues to be a focus of mine this year. I’m especially on the lookout for novelette length work, which I always feel is in short supply. I’m actually starting to cut back on the number of novellas I read; as much as I love Tor.com’s offerings, they release them at such a pace that I simply cannot keep up with all of them any longer, what with the day job and a couple of recent major disappointments in novella-reading, so I expect that I will be prioritizing the most promising ones from now on rather than basically reading them all. Still, a lot of them are very promising, so we’ll see.

I’m somewhat on the lookout for new and interesting YA novels. After having gone off YA for a couple of years, I’ve now gotten to a point where I feel like I’m actually missing out on things. I’m thinking of reading the Not-A-Hugo YA award finalist list over the next few months if I have time, but I’m also open to suggestions. What’s good in YA SFF these days? What are you most excited about that’s coming out this spring? Let me know in the comments if you have any must-read recs for me.

In the meantime, here’s what I’ve got on my actual TBR for April, May and June.

Tor.com Novellas

The only real must-reads on this list for me are Taste of Wrath, which will finish off Matt Wallace’s delightful Sin du Jour series, Artificial Condition, which brings back Murderboy, and C.L. Polk’s debut novel, Witchmark. I liked Margaret Killjoy’s first novella well enough, so I may try to make time for the new one, but I can’t get excited about Caitlin R. Kiernan’s Lovecraftian horror and I’m pretty sure it’s time to give up on Melissa F. Olson’s vaguely noir-ish vampires. The Shipp and McDonald titles don’t sound bad, but my absolute loathing for The Armored Saint has kind of put me off of giving any more chances to books by white dudes for a while.

  • The Barrow Will Send What it May by Margaret Killjoy – 4/3
  • Taste of Wrath by Matt Wallace – 4/10
  • The Atrocities by Jeremy C. Shipp – 4/17
  • Time Was by Ian McDonald – 4/24
  • Black Helicopters by Caitlin R. Kiernan – 5/1
  • Artificial Condition by Martha Wells – 5/8
  • Outbreak by Melissa F. Olson – 6/5
  • Witchmark by C.L. Polk – 6/19

Magazines

I have so/too many magazines to read. I am already loving getting the print edition of Apex, which I highly recommend; every issue is a little more polished than the one before, and they look nice on a shelf together. FIYAH is always excellent, and they are doing some of the most important work in the industry right now: In their first year alone, FIYAH debuted work by over twenty black writers of speculative fiction. I’ve been subscribing to Uncanny for two years now, and it continues to be one of the most consistently excellent publications available, especially when it comes to their non-fiction selections. Finally, now that I have a little more disposable income, I’ve started subscribing to both Clarkesworld and Fireside via Patreon. I’m still deciding if I want to keep reading both of those–there are only so many hours in a day, after all–but I figure I will give it a good six months or so to see if I can make all this into a manageable amount of reading. I’d like to be reading a good selection of short fiction and supporting a variety of publications, but I also don’t want to be stressing myself out by over-buying content that I don’t have time or energy to properly enjoy.

  • Apex Magazine Issues #107, #108, #109
  • FIYAH Literary Magazine #6, Big Mama Nature
  • Uncanny Magazine #22
  • Clarkesworld #139, #140, #141
  • Fireside #54, #55, #56

Anthologies/Collections

  • The Merry Spinster by Mallory Ortberg – 3/13
    This is actually my current read and a holdover from the Winter Reading List, and it’s delightful.
  • Not So Stories edited by David Thomas Moore – 4/10
    There is no universe where I’m not going to read a collection of anti-colonialist stories in reaction to Rudyard Kipling’s work, and I have this on pre-order.
  • A Thousand Beginnings and Endings edited by Ellen Oh and Elsie Chapman – 6/26
    Reimagined folklore and mythology from East and South Asia with a fantastic table of contents.

Novels

  • Dread Nation by Justina Ireland – 4/3
    This was a title I pre-ordered, and I’ve already sped through it in just a couple of days, blowing past bedtime a couple of times to finish it. Dread Nation is excellent, and you need to be reading it right now.
  • Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente – 4/10
    Cat Valente is pretty much my favorite author, and Eurovision in space is an A+ concept for a sci-fi novel.
  • Fire Dance by Ilana C. Myer – 4/10
    I still have never gotten around to reading Last Song Before Night, but I’m thinking of reading this one, which is apparently another standalone in the same universe.
  • Blackfish City by Sam J. Miller – 4/17
  • Before Mars by Emma Newman – 4/17
    I enjoyed Planetfall but skipped 2016’s After Atlas, so I wasn’t sure about this book, but the closer it gets to its release date, the more in the mood for it I find myself.
  • A Ruin of Shadows by L.D. Lewis – 4/24
    L.D. Lewis’s novelette, “Chesirah,” was on my Hugo nomination ballot this year, so I am very excited to read this short novella set in the same world. It’s currently available for pre-order from the publisher, Dancing Star Press.
  • The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang – 5/1
    I have a feeling that The Poppy War is going to lean a little more grimdark than I’ve been interested in reading lately, but I can’t bring myself to take it off my TBR just yet.
  • Song of Blood and Stone by L. Penelope – 5/1
    I was lucky enough to get an ARC of this, and I loved it.
  • Medusa Uploaded by Emily Davenport – 5/1
  • By Fire Above by Robyn Bennis – 5/15
    I adored Robyn Bennis’s debut, The Guns Above, so I’m very much looking forward to this sequel.
  • Armistice by Lara Elena Donnelly – 5/15
    The sequel to last year’s remarkable Amberlough.
  • Anger is a Gift by Mark Oshiro – 5/22
  • 84K by Claire North – 5/22
    I’m not sure I’m up to reading a dystopian novel this year, but if I am it’ll be this one.
  • Free Chocolate by Amber Royer – 6/5
    This is the first of a couple of very fun-sounding releases coming from Angry Robot this year (the other is Space Unicorn Blues), and I’m very much looking forward to it.
  • Revenant Gun by Yoon Ha Lee – 6/12
    So excited for the finale of this trilogy but also sad that it’s soon to be over.
  • Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse – 6/26
    Rebecca Roanhorse’s short story, “Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience,” was among last year’s best (and earned her Hugo and Nebula nominations), so her first novel is rightly among my most-anticipated reads of 2018.

Guest Post: “How Dare We Escape” by R.J. Theodore, Author of FLOTSAM

Lately I have read heated discussions about whether Science Fiction should be political. The comment that it should not – I’m not certain of its origin – drew backlash on an epic scale.

I can understand where the complaint came from. Understanding is not agreement, mind you. Born from the almost pervasive presence of the deep humanities and call for progress which speculative fiction writers weave into our storytelling, the plaintiff recommended authors stick to pure entertainment. You can practically hear writers’ eyes rolling, right?

Political and humanitarian commentary is powerful when well-handled and I have the utmost respect for penmasters, John Scalzi and others, who can write about a near-future Earth condemning – on a shifting gradient of subtlety – the wrongs undermining our present one. I have the utmost respect, a slathering of awe, and a heaping of envy for writers who take a stand and a scalpel to these issues.

I have always felt unworthy of that task, clumsy and half-informed about issues. I have my personal stories, yes, but my personal stories are not the strong bones upon which I can stretch the muscle fibers of speculative fiction. I am far more comfortable to write my secondary world steampunk escapist tales, aware my work is less tectonic than Clarion-bred spec fic masterpieces with their biting wit and wry optimism. Aware that I run from my problems instead of wrestling them to the ground until they submit.

But hold. Avast. Just, stop it.

No, not you.

I’m talking to myself to cease this negative talk.

If this is survival, and you better believe it is, I have two options: fight or flight.

It’s programmed into me, right there along my vagus nerve, controlling the twitches in my muscles and the tattoo of my heart. I’m going to do one of two things. And I’m probably only going to do one of them with aplomb. It sounds, even to me, more noble to be the one that fights. Sounds like it accomplishes more. Society respects those who stand and fight.

Yes, the traditional hero stands their ground, and that’s important. But that others run away is important, too.

Part of the population must run to guarantee survival into the next generation. Some stand and fight to try and make the world – this world, right here, and now – better for those to come. But the rest have to retreat to safety so they can build that future world. We have to nurture the fragile beings coming forth into the sunlight. We have to hold up an ideal of a future and say, “This is what we’re working toward.”

How dare I write escapist fiction? How dare I envision a distant-future world as though disposing callously of this one with so much work yet to be done? Society would call me a dreamer and a coward.

There was a time I tried not to be a coward and didn’t run. Without getting into it, let’s say I should have, and that I learned the lesson painfully. Looking back, I wish I had acted in the most urgent, self-preservative manner and gotten the.fuck.out. The years following the resulting trauma were a blur, but I know there were books. My life was a series of dark moments of reality sprinkled with the many-hued optimism of other planets. Of portal fantasy that promised me a way out. Of improbable rockets that carried me to other places. Stories that imagined me as other people who knew when to run and when finally, to fight (because eventually we must). That escapist fiction saved me. Saved me from myself. Saved me from the alternatives I imagined for myself. The promise of somewhere else to be saved everything about me. I didn’t discover this style of science fiction after the trauma; it was already a familiar friend. But without it, I don’t think I’d be here today.

And now I write it. I create the distant worlds into which other fragile beings can escape.

Meanwhile, I hold my work up for comparison with those writing pieces that put up their dukes and sink their weight into the knees. I know how to fight. I’ve taken my punches. I’ve been bruised and betrayed and knocked down, and I’ve gotten back up. I put in my time. I took my hits, earned the permanent badges of proof across my skin, and I can do it again if I need to. But it’s not in my nature. If I accept myself, I’ve got to accept that. I have my natural talents, my quiet methods. The signals running up and down my spine give me the burst of momentum I need to leave the atmosphere and break orbit. Though I envy the others who comment on current events and political climates in a way that feels to me as though they are shifting the conversation in powerful ways, my own work has power, too.

Deer freeze in headlights. Young girls freeze when assaulted. With pen in hand, I am neither of those. I have broad, graceful wings for flight, the fuel and boost to escape orbit, shields to withstand barrage, and a ship big enough to take all of you with me if you want to come.

Regardless of which survival instinct a writer is influenced by, we pen stories for hope. We know there is work to be done, and the future we dream of may only be founded by us, and come about too late to be experienced by us. We provide stories that offer catharsis or salve to those who need to experience something other than life as it’s given to them now.

There are those writers who will stand and fight. Who will hold the line, and push back. Who will shine a light into the dark corners of society and reveal our villains for who they are. And there are others who construct the warp-drives that get the survivors to safety and the well-guarded towers within which to wait for the day when it will be safe to emerge.

There are writers who will fight for me, I know. Who keep the necessary battles engaged, here and now. And for them, I run. Guide others to safety, nurture their hope, and wait for that brighter future all writers build together.

R J THEODORE is hellbent on keeping herself busy. Seriously folks, if she has two spare minutes to rub together at the end of the day, she invents a new project with which to occupy them. She lives in New England with her family, enjoys design, illustration, podcasting, binging on many forms of visual and written media, napping with her cats, and cooking. She is passionate about art and coffee.

FLOTSAM, Theodore’s debut novel, releases on March 27, 2018 in print, digital, and audio from Parvus Press.

A fantastical steampunk first contact novel that ties together high magic, high technology, and bold characters to create a story you won’t soon forget.

Captain Talis just wants to keep her airship crew from starving, and maybe scrape up enough cash for some badly needed repairs. When an anonymous client offers a small fortune to root through a pile of atmospheric wreckage, it seems like an easy payday. The job yields an ancient ring, a forbidden secret, and a host of deadly enemies.

Now on the run from cultists with powerful allies, Talis needs to unload the ring as quickly as possible. Her desperate search for a buyer and the fallout from her discovery leads to a planetary battle between a secret society, alien forces, and even the gods themselves.

Talis and her crew have just one desperate chance to make things right before their potential big score destroys them all.

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Book Review: Robots vs. Fairies edited by Dominik Parisien and Navah Wolfe

Robots vs. Fairies is my first reading disappointment of 2018. I loved Dominik Parisien and Navah Wolfe’s first anthology, 2016’s The Starlit Wood, so I was very hyped for this one when it was announced. Unfortunately, Robots vs. Fairies is a bit of a sophomore slump for the editing pair, with a theme that feels more questionable the farther one reads into the collection, stories that largely feel a little too written to spec, and not enough that’s new and interesting to recommend it on those scores. It might work as sort of comfort reading for those who find its table of contents—filled with some of the hottest short fiction writers currently working in SFF—appealing, but if you’re looking for exciting, fresh, innovative work, there’s not much of that here.

To be fair, anthologies in general tend to be a mixed bag, and one’s enjoyment of any collection is heavily dependent on the degree to which the reader’s taste’s overlap with the editors.’ However, the concept for Robots vs. Fairies is both too specific to generate a lot of variation in styles and themes between stories in the collection and broad enough (or, rather, bifurcated) to inhibit a true sense of cohesiveness. If it wasn’t for the book’s introduction and the explanations following each story of which “team” (fairies or robots) the authors chose and why, it would be easy to mistake this for a somewhat random collection of mostly-middling stories about robots and fairies. The choice to bookend the collection with stories (by Seanan McGuire and Catherynne M. Valente) that feature both is smart, but it’s not quite enough to tie the whole thing together.

It seems that every story included here was solicited for this anthology, and this has allowed the editors to collect a veritable dream team of most of my favorite writers of short fiction. However, it’s also produced an anthology where many of the stories feel more like begrudgingly-finished assignments for a high school creative writing course than the sort of vibrant and challenging work that many of these authors have built their careers upon. It’s all just on the uninspired side. There’s not much here that’s ambitious or surprising, plots and prose are just workmanlike, and there’s nothing in these pages that surprised or excited me overly much. Perhaps it’s a shift in the reasons and ways I read short fiction these days—I’m often reading short fiction on the search for new authors and ideas—but I don’t think I’m the only one who will be disappointed by the overall lack of novelty here.

Still, none of this is to say that Robots vs. Fairies is entirely devoid of good, or at least enjoyable stories. The opening tale by Seanan McGuire, “Build Me a Wonderland,” is an interesting take on how fair folk might survive and carve out a place for themselves in a changing world. Tim Pratt’s “Murmured Under the Moon” features a heroic librarian and a sentient book, which are both things that are relevant to my interests. “Just Another Love Song” by Kat Howard has a banshee, a brownie and women helping women. In “Work Shadow/Shadow Work,” Madeline Ashby uses fairies and robots in a way that’s more heartwarming than particularly compelling, but is still a pleasant read. It’s a silly story, and admittedly a little trite, but John Scalzi’s “Three Robots Experience Objects Left Behind from the Era of Humans for the First Time” was the first story in the collection that truly delighted me; I laughed aloud at it more than once. Alyssa Wong’s bittersweet “All the Time We’ve Left to Spend” is the singular really superb story in the collection, but no one writes fairies like Catherynne M. Valente, whose “A Fall Counts Anywhere” may be a bit of a lowpoint for her but would still register as a standout piece of work from almost any other author.

It’s not that Robots vs. Fairies is a terrible anthology. It’s alright, and I’m sure if I did the math and compared it to most other anthologies I read, it’s within a standard deviation of the norm for anthology quality. Perhaps it was unreasonable to expect Wolfe and Parisien to knock one out of the park twice in a row, but I still can’t help but feel a little disappointed that they didn’t after I got so excited about the possibility. If you want some easy-ish comfort reading for a cold winter’s night and find that that this volume has all your favorite authors in it, be sure to check it out. If you’re looking for something new and exciting, perhaps think about looking for something from a smaller press or look to see what’s currently crowdfunding, as that’s where you’ll find innovation.

Book Review: Beneath the Sugar Sky by Seanan McGuire

So, I’ve finally figured out what it is about Seanan McGuire’s Wayward Children that prevents me from really loving these books the way so many other people do. I just, on a fundamental level, don’t find the fantasy of this series to be an appealing one. I’m slightly distrustful of anything, in general, that smacks of radical individualism, so I’m just not especially taken with the idea that some people are just too special and different for the world they’re born into and must travel to an entirely different world to achieve self-actualization and fulfillment, with the finding and keeping of that world as their personal happy ending. It’s fine. I get it. I think I would have loved this stuff when I was a teenager. In my mid-thirties, however, I struggle with some of the broader implications of it, which impacts my overall enjoyment of the story. I don’t begrudge anyone else the escapist fantasy of a better world of their very own, but my own fantasies at this point in my life are less escapist and more about making this world a better, kinder and more just place for everyone.

All that said, Beneath the Sugar Sky is by far my favorite installment of the Wayward Children to date. Though the series may not, generally, be my cup of tea, there’s a lot to like about this volume, which both delves a bit deeper into the overall mythology of the series and gives the universe of the Wayward Children a welcome infusion of lightness after two installments that were decidedly darker in tone. Without losing any of the series characteristic gravitas and utilizing a refreshingly straightforward fantasy quest narrative, McGuire uses Beneath the Sugar Sky to explore a Nonsense world, Confection, that’s been built, layer after layer after layer, out of baked goods. It’s an altogether more purposeful-feeling story than either of the previous two books in the series, and that includes a stronger and more satisfying ending than its predecessors as well.

The book starts off by introducing a new point of view character, Cora, who has just recently arrived at Eleanor West’s school after a stint as a mermaid. She’s a likeable and engaging character, but she’s sadly not given much to do once Rini arrives and the quest kicks in to gear. If there’s any major craft problem with this novella it’s simply that there are too many point of view characters and none of them ever quite feel like main characters. At the same time, though, this ensemble quality is one of the things I enjoyed most about Beneath the Sugar Sky, as it works to offset the strong messaging about the importance of individuals and the value of individual identities and personal journeys to self-actualization. I would have liked more of Cora, mostly because I really, really like Cora, but I wouldn’t want to sacrifice a minute of time the book spends with Kade or Rini or Nadya, either.

The quest narrative and Nonsense setting makes this the most purely fantastical of the Wayward Children books yet, and it leaves behind almost entirely the mystery of Every Heart a Doorway and the Gothic-toned family drama of Down Among the Sticks and Bones. While Every Heart primarily dealt with the fallout after children are expelled from their worlds and Sticks and Bones delved into one of the doorway worlds, Beneath the Sugar Sky offers a full-on epic journey as Rini and her new friends search for the pieces of her mother, Sumi, and try to find a way to put her back together again before Rini is erased from existence. Straightforward as this quest may be, there’s still plenty of room for creative flourishes, twists and turns, and a couple of genuine surprises that let us know that McGuire isn’t sticking strictly to any storytelling formula. The worldbuilding is as at least as inventive as in the previous two books of the series, and there’s a delightfully joyous tone in McGuire’s descriptions of Confection that makes the chapters set there (and that’s most of them) great fun to read.

So, Beneath the Sugar Sky is fine. I’m still not sold on the whole premise of this series as a desirable fantasy, but I think that’s just me being curmudgeonly. Certainly, after this book, it’s started to grow on me a bit more. I like that this book is a standalone, albeit to a lesser degree than either of the first two as it deals with events from the first book in particular. Still, I’ll be recommending it to some of my similarly curmudgeonly acquaintances who weren’t enchanted by Every Heart, and I’m somewhat more excited to see what Seanan McGuire does next in this universe, especially if it involves more of Cora.