Capricious Issue 9 may have flown under your radar, but it shouldn’t have. Capricious is a speculative fiction magazine based out of New Zealand and edited by A.C. Buchanan, and Issue 9 is a special issue devoted to gender diverse pronouns, including singular they, common neopronouns (such as e/eir/em), and new pronoun sets created by the authors. I like that Buchanan chose the term “gender diverse” rather than “gender neutral,” since some of the stories in this issue feature more than two genders (which is awesome). The issue features a diverse array of genre tropes, and it spotlights two things I desperately want to see more of in SFF: inclusion of nonbinary gender identities, and experimentation and play with pronouns and gender systems. Here are my favorite stories:
Welcome to our newest review column! Skiffy & Fanty Speculative Fiction Short Fiction Review by our newest team member, Cameron Coulter!
It makes me really happy to write this: my favorite recent short stories are all either written by nonbinary authors and/or featuring nonbinary characters. I’m someone who has never been comfortable with masculinity, and I often wish we were more creative with gender in SF/F than we are. SF/F is a genre in which we literally make up new worlds, so there is plenty of opportunity to imagine people with alternate and/or no genders. Sure, there’s a few SF/F novels that are well known for the way they experiment with gender and pronouns, but I want more. Fortunately, I find that short fiction is somewhat ahead of the curve when it comes to diversity and inclusion. By my count, in the last two months, there have been at least six original short stories published in professional genre magazines that are either written by trans or nonbinary authors and/or featuring trans or nonbinary characters. Now, let the nonbinary party commence! [Read more…]
Many of the reviewers associated with the Skiffy and Fanty team have a contribution specialty. I’ve always avoided this because I don’t like the limitations; I read/review outside of these genres even. But if I were to have a niche, it would probably be short fiction. I adore the variety it affords and the low commitment to discover new authors. It’s easier to convince myself to step away from work for a moment to read a short story, compared to equal time reading a portion of longer works that may not have obvious stopping points. Most importantly, some of the most exciting writing I’ve seen comes from the short form.
Two fabulous collections of short horror appeared last year from Apex Book Company. If you didn’t happen to catch note of them yet, then they are particularly worth considering now as we begin the ninth annual celebration of Women in Horror Month. Both Beautiful Sorrows by Mercedes M. Yardley and Everything That’s Underneath by Kristi DeMeester smolder with a joyful embrace, and defiance, of nightmares. As the titles in combination allude to, these two collections demonstrate that beneath fears lies terror and hope, beauty and monstrosity, sorrow and pleasure. A bit of everything festers underneath horror, full of contradictions in equal measure. [Read more…]
In all honesty, this should really be called a booklet review, or, to be fancier, a chapbook review, because this is a slight little thing that a person could easily read all the way through while waiting in line at the DMV, still having time to start on another short story collection or anthology before her number was called. Which is to say that A Passport to a Nation of Talking Slugs could actually fit into a passport, as its amusingly apt cover might suggest.
But though it be little, it is fierce, is this collection of Kafka-meets-Ionesco-as-Introduced-by-Borges bits. With just four wee stories, Kozma manages to sneak a few emotional wallops among what seems like whimsy, and, to readers like me who have been trained on Gene Wolfe for so long, he’s managed to suggest a degree of intertwined meaning that he might not have intended but feels like it’s there. [Read more…]
April stories include historical fantasies, fairy tales, near futures, and one space fantasy tale.
“Wild Things Got To Go Free” (Beneath Ceaseless Skies #170) by Heather Clitheroe works because of, and is refreshing due to, its spare worldbuilding. Soldiers are rounding up and hunting down certain civilians, who are turning into, or have the potential to turn into, other creatures — which includes the young protagonist and her mother. The two young women in “The Ways of Walls and Words” (Tor.com) by Sabrina Vourvoulias are similarly threatened by the yoke of the real world Spanish empire; though they, and their ways of life, couldn’t be more different. It’s a story about friendship, Nahuatl magic, and the power behind language. [Read more…]
March has been a month of unusual settings, stories of alienation and loss, and meditations on the nature of time.
Tade Thompson’s “The Monkey House” (Omenana #2), dystopian horror, is a story about what it means to be trapped inside a system, and the horrors one must overlook to be a part of that system; what happens when the ability to ignore horrors both natural and fantastical is seized from you and you alone? The protagonist is an unreliable narrator — or is he far more reliable as a narrator than the characters that surround him? — and holds a banal job as a paper-pusher with an insidiously creepy company whose purpose is obscured. This dystopia is set not in the future but in the eighties and follows the Orwellian tradition while being rather Kafkaesque, but adds enough facets, from dark fantasy elements to the chronic illness of the protagonist, to create something entirely new. [Read more…]
February’s shorts include emotionally resonant stories about family and friendship and trippy genre-benders.
“The Language of Knives” by Haralambi Markov (Tor.com) is a secondary world fantasy in which the main character has given up the life of a warrior and chosen to prepare the dead; when he must perform this task for his husband, he mourns not only his lover but also substantially lesser status in the eyes of his daughter. Parents having favorites amongst their children is very much part of our cultural milieu, but not so frequently presented is the reverse, and this is a rendering of complex emotions that feels very true. Gwendolyn Clare’s “Indelible” (Clarkesworld #101) is another such resonant tale of grief, following the loss of one’s sister in a science fictional far future in which aliens are characterized by their physical malleability. [Read more…]
The Awakened Kingdom, a 2014 fantasy novella by N.K. Jemisin released both as part of The Inheritance Trilogy omnibus and as a standalone e-book, is told from the point of view of a baby god. And as adorable as the central premise is, the execution is enough to sorely tempt me to quote large swaths of the text in lieu of a real review.
The novella opens thus:
I am born! Hello!
Many things happen!
Hello again! How are you? I am fine. I have learned more about the Proper Ways from Papa Tempa. Papa said that what I did before is not the Proper Way to tell a story, so I will do it over. I do not like the way he says I should tell it, though. That is BORING…
What follows is the coming-of-age story of Shill, a god newly born following the death of another god, in which she tries to find her purpose and her nature. Shill isn’t born knowing how to god, so to speak; her first attempt to interact with mortals results in, um, an accident: [Read more…]
Genevieve Valentine’s Dream Houses, a suspenseful but thoughtful 2014 novella from WSFA Press & Wyrm Press, opens with protagonist Amadis awakening early from hibernation on the junky spaceship she’s a low-ranking crew member for — and the rest of the crew are dead in their hibernation pods. This makes her the de facto captain with no one for company except the ship’s creepy A.I. on a six year trip with no real communication options and not enough food.
The narrative dips back and forth in time over the course of Amadis’ journey, and the reader gets to know and mourn the small crew as well as Amadis’ fraught relationship with her brother. The particular run is a simple cargo transport to a far-off, barely habitable planetary outpost and thus attracts crew that are a little dodgy, or just can’t stop running — except for the captain Lai, who’s something of an enigma. Amadis and her brother love each other in a way that’s tainted with the traumatic horrors of their past and the resultant divergent goals of their present. [Read more…]
Short and Sublime is a new column spotlighting great short fiction.
January stories include optimistic sci-fi tales, feminist subversions of problematic tropes in fantasy, and creatures from mythologies both real and imagined.
Don’t get close, or you will smell.
Here she comes, go run and tell.
Her mama casts them voodoo spells.
Take your Haitian tail to Hell!