Sunday Short: Amal El-Mohtar's The Truth About Owls

Monday, September 14, 2015 0

This week's Sunday Short (coming a day late -- sorry!) is The Truth About Owls by Amal El-Mohtar, available via Strange Horizons.

This coming-of-age story follows Anisa, a teenage girl who lived in Lebanon in a time of war and now lives in Glasgow near an owl center. It is light in terms of fantasy or sci-fi, but focuses more on Welsh folk stories and the emotional experiences of an immigrant girl. She witnesses an owl killing the family's rooster in her youth and feels the first stirrings of power / her impact on the world around her.

The story didn't pull me in as much as other short stories recently have -- I don't have too much familiarity with Welsh folktales and the story of Mabinogion / Blodeuwedd wasn't really fleshed out enough for me to appreciate it's implications in this story. There were some beautiful moments, and I did appreciate the background (another coming of age story affected by war, similar to Bodard's Breath of War featured last week).

 Favorite quote:
"You're well into this, you are."

"It's just—" Anisa bites her lip, looking at Blodeuwedd, raising her slightly to shift the weight on her forearm, watching her spread her magnificent wings, then settle, "—sometimes—I feel like I'm just a collection of bits of things that someone brought together at random and called girl, and then Anisa, and then—" she shrugs. "Whatever."

Izzy is quiet for a moment. Then she says, thoughtfully, "You know, there's another word for that."

"For what?"

"What you just described—an aggregation of disparate things. An anthology. That's what The Mabinogion is, after all."

Anisa is unconvinced. "Blodeuwedd's just one part of someone else's story, she's not an anthology herself."

Izzy smiles, gently, in a way that always makes Anisa feel she's thinking of someone or something else, but allowing Anisa a window's worth of view into her world. "You can look at it that way. But there's another word for anthology, one we don't really use any more: florilegium. Do you know what it means?"

Anisa shakes her head, and blinks, startled, as Blodeuwedd does a side-wise walk up her arm to lean, gently, against her shoulder. Izzy smiles, a little more brightly, more for her, and says: "A gathering of flowers."

 Next week's story will be When it Ends, He Catches Her by Eugie Foster available via Daily Science Fiction.

Sunday Short: Aliette de Bodard's The Breath of War

Sunday, September 6, 2015 0

This week's Sunday Short is Aliette de Bodard's The Breath of War, published in Beneath Ceaseless Skies.

Cover art for BCS's Issue #142 - Sojourn by Ferdinand Dumago Ladera.

The Breath of War is set in a world where women carve breath-siblings (or stonemen) out of stone at their accession to adulthood that are needed to breathe the very first breathe of life into a baby at birth. The protagonist we follow is Rechan, who is very pregnant and on a journey into mountains to find her breath-siblings. It is rare for a woman to live apart from her carved stoneman/stonewoman, mainly because any child born without the breath-sibling present would be stillborn.

In her youth, Rechan went into the mountains and carved a mysterious breath-sibling named Sang, that didn't return with her to civilization post-carving. The reader is given small details throughout the story of Rechan at her time of carving into adulthood -- a teenage girl denied life abroad because of local war, who uses that frustration to create something altogether an antithesis of what you'd thing a breath-sibling (and bringer of life to a small, helpless newborn) would be. Years later, Rechan wants to become a mother and avoids seeking out her stoneman until the last possible moment, because confronting Sang means confronting the decisions she made and the emotions she felt in her youth

I found Bodard's worldbuilding fascinating, if a little foreign / difficult to get into at first, and I think she weaves a tale both interesting and worthy of telling. An adult is protected by the weapon she creates in her angry youth; a reminder that our lives are something more (or that they should at least be) than what we might experience or feel in our youth. And that war / violence has far reaching consequences that can be easy to dismiss in stories we read for entertainment. Maybe I am the target audience for a story like this (being in my *cough* 30s and also not exactly where I thought I'd be or want in my teenage years), but I found it unique and most timely after some of the images this week of Syria refugees.

Favorite quote:

Sang was silent, for a while. I will come back, he said.

He wouldn’t. Rechan knew this with absolute certainty—Sang was the desire to escape, the burning need for flight that she’d felt during her adolescence. Once he found space, he would be in the home he’d always been meant for; and who could blame him for not looking back? “Of course,” she lied—smoothly, easily. “You can always come back.”
 Interested in hearing another opinion on this story and the others I will cover in the Sunday Shorts this month? Check out  Alicia at The Cyborg Knight who is doing a read along with me!

Next week's story will be The Truth About Owls by Amal El-Mohtar, which is available via Strange Horizons.

announcing short story september!

Monday, August 31, 2015 2

I have made no secret in the past of my love for the short story format with my regular Sunday Shorts feature, where I highlight one sci-fi / fantasy / horror short story available online. I have also guest posted about my love for the short story at Oh the Books. But now I am going a step further and declaring September the month of the short story* -- Short Story September! 

What does that mean for the blog? My plan for the month is to continue with my weekly Sunday Short feature, with the following schedule for the month and where each story can be found:

September 6: The Breath of War by Aliette de Bodard available via Beneath Ceaseless Skies.

September 13: The Truth About Owls by Amal El-Mohtar available via Strange Horizons.
September 20: When it Ends, He Catches Her by Eugie Foster available via Daily Science Fiction

September 27: A Kiss With Teeth by Max Gladstone available via Tor.

An astute reader might notice that these stories (along with Ursula Vernon's Jackalope Wives, featured this past weekend on the blog) can be found on the short list that io9 put together on what the Hugo ballot for the short story category could have looked like this year without Puppygate. These are the stories that other WorldCon members thought were the best of 2014, and I think they are going to be fun to explore here!

Additionally, I will have weekly posts devoted to some of my favorite venues for short stories online, plus a review of a recent short story anthology or two. And for the first time, I am also hoping to feature other bloggers that read / review short stories, plus maybe link up with a few bloggers who want to read some short fiction for the first time.

Which brings me to the big invitation -- are you interested in adventuring into the world of the short story with me?  If so, sign up via the linky below, and I will make sure to follow along with your short story adventure and include it in a weekly highlights post this month! You can read / review your favorite short stories, do a read along of the stories I will feature each Sunday, or do something else promoting short stories -- it is really your choice!

If you have any questions or comments, feel free to contact me at or comment below!

*While doing my research putting together this post, I did find out that May has previously been declaring as short story month (to follow April's National Poetry Month), but I am pretty certain that short stories are cool enough to have an extra more alliterative month devoted to them... right? :)

Sunday Short: Ursula Vernon's Jackalope Wives

Sunday, August 30, 2015 0
This week's Sunday Short was the 2014 Nebula award winning short story, Jackalope Wives by Ursula Vernon, published in Apex. It was also listed in io9's list of what the Hugo ballot this year could have been.
by Lauren Marx

This story begins with a young man in a town who has a touch of magic and a heap of brooding about him. On moonlit nights, this town can hear the wild music of the jackalope wives, who slip out of their jackalope skins and dance. The young man decides that one jackalope wife in particular that he would catch:

She danced farther out from the others and her horns were short and sharp as sickles. She was the last one to put on her rabbit skin when the sun came up.... She danced a little apart from her fellows, as he walked a little apart from his.

The story then takes off as he catches her and throws her skin in the fire. The jackalope wife screams, he realizes the wrongness of what he is doing, and he rescues the skin half-burned from the fire. She tries to put it on, but it doesn't transform her back into a jackalope. The young man goes to his grandma for aid.

I thought it was a beautiful story -- an interesting mash-up of the selkie fairytales and 'modern folktale' of the jackalope. The character of Grandma Harken made it shine, and the ending was delightful. This flavor of magical realism in fantasy/folktale is wonderful, especially in the short story format. This story is definitely worth a read in my book -- 5/5 stars!

Favorite line:  
Perhaps he thought she might understand him. Perhaps he found her as interesting as the girls found him.

Perhaps we shouldn't always get what we want.

Alicia at the blog Cyborg Knight will be reading along and sharing thoughts on the upcoming short stories I am featuring in September.  Look out for a post this week for more information about the upcoming short stories, in case anyone else is interested in reading along.

Next week's short will be the 2014 Nebula nominee The Breath of War by Aliette de Bodar, published in Beneath Ceaseless Skies. 

thoughts on introducing kids to fandom

Tuesday, August 25, 2015 5
Another blog post? Only a day after the last, which was only a day after the last? I guess everything that happened this past weekend at WorldCon has gotten to me. And I have THOUGHTS.

There is a facebook post making the rounds post Hugo awards. Michael Rothman took his two sons the watch the Hugo awards after they'd all read and voted on them, not explaining the conflict that surrounded them this year beforehand, and they all left feeling left out when puppygeddon happened. The original post can be found here, but Brad Torgensen (one of the Sad Puppies leaders) also posted about it here.

I think if I had a chance to talk with Rothman’s kids, I would first sit us all down and watch Wil Wheaton’s speech to a newborn captured on YouTube as “Why it’s awesome being a nerd,” which you can watch below or find here

Find the things that you love and 

love them the most that you can.

That video always hits me in the feels.

Then, after we watched the video, I’d tell them that there will be times in fandom and in life that others don’t love the same exact thing that they love and that is OK. We all have had our own experiences, I am sure, of being told how weird it is to love the geeky things we do. Growing up geek was an incredibly lonely experience at times for me (as I imagine it was for many many others). We can’t control what other people do, and we can’t let adult conflicts (such as the Hugo awards) dictate how we love the things we love. I think that is a very important lesson for all of us to learn at some point. 

In this Hugo awards conflict, it is disingenuous to continually just say that the other side needs to make it better, be better, for the next generation. We ALL need to be better. I have sort of entered late into trying to understand everything going on, but I see issues in how things have been handled on ALL sides. 

My daughter (who is only 2, so a little ways off from fandom... although you could probably call her a Curious George / Sophie the First fangirl) will probably not like the same things as Rothman’s kids. She probably will not geek out about the same things as me, either. 

I can hope my mommy hope that she never ever experiences rejection and disappointment for her geeky loves, but it is going to happen at some point and there is nothing I can do about it unless I want to raise a bubble-child. Instead, I hope I can raise her in a way that she knows she can geek out about almost anything and find someone else who loves it too… and also probably find others that DON’T love it too.

Fandom/civilization/life isn’t composed of this homogeneous crowd that will celebrate the same things that I love, and that diversity of opinions and viewpoints isn’t a bad thing.

If it were me, I wouldn’t have brought my kids to the Hugo awards as an introduction to fandom. I’d find out what exactly they most want to see / do at WorldCon outside of the awards ceremony (that was only ever going to be some level of controversy) and make sure we did that instead — be it meet an author, attend a talk on something awesome and weird, go to ballroom/regency dancing lessons, check out the cool art on display and maybe bid on something original and unique, find a geeky pride shirt, learn to shoot a bow and arrow from the local LARP group, etc. I didn’t attend WorldCon this year, but those are the type of events that I’ve seen and participated in at my local cons and loved. And that is where I think cons shine as a way to introduce kids to fandom.

read more short fiction!

Monday, August 24, 2015 0
So, some may have noticed that I haven't said anything in regards to the Hugo Awards / nominees this year. Last year, I kicked off my Sunday Shorts feature reading the nominations for short stories - the slate got me interested and excited in the short speculative fiction field in general, and inspired me to start advocating that people read more short fiction!!!

The Hugo Awards were held this past weekend at WorldCon. The whole process this year was sad, but I am not going to get into it (George RR Martin has been a very well spoken voice through the whole process - most is captured with his blog tag puppygate). After the awards were given out (No Award winning in many a category), the full slate of nominations from the first round were released - giving readers an idea of what the nominees could have looked like if a group hadn't decided to nominate a slate for *reasons* and not because they read, loved, and thought them the absolute best the genre could produce last year.

io9 has posted on what the nominees would have looked like and it was oh-so-good . Frankly, it has me sad again and maybe a little bit mad. This list of nominees included stuff I read / recommended last year and a ton of new picks that I would have loved to explore prior to voting. What could have been....

I am hoping I can channel my mad to regularly read / review the shorter selections and post about them on the blog with more regularity. So, look forward to more regular and recent Sunday Shorts (some borrowed from the could-have-been-2015-hugo-nominees list!) to come in the next few months!

This Sunday, I'll be reviewing the Nebula award winning short story, Jackalope Wives by Ursula Vernon published in Apex. 

For anyone interested and wanting to add to their reading list, places I have found to seek out recommendations for short sci-fi/fantasy stories:
Clavis Aurea (Charlotte Ashley's short fiction review in Apex)
Rich and Strange (Amal El-Mohtar's regular feature on short stories)
io9's newstand feature

Sunday Short: Seanan McGuire's The Myth of Rain

Sunday, August 23, 2015 0

Sunday Shorts are back this week with a story published originally in Lightspeed and soon to be released as part of an anthology Loosed Upon The World.

I have been thinking about the future a lot recently. I think it is partly hormones (I'm pregnant with #2, due in January), and partly just a normal part of adulthood. What will my generation's impact be?

So, when I read Seanan McGuire's short story The Myth of Rain this week... it caught me in the gut. Is McGuire's future what my daughters have to look forward to? I have friends who work on climate change issues. I live in southern California, in the midst of the deep drought. I am from the Pacific Northwest and hope my family can make it's way there in the not too distant future. Because I know where I live / how things are going isn't entirely sustainable and may already be too late.

In McGuire's short, we follow a biologist who is helping to capture owls to save before a new development takes over their protected habitat. She is trying to capture one more female spotted owl for an ark. Her musings on the topic of climate change (from a historical perspective versus our in-the-moment perspective) are a bit heart wrenching. I love science fiction for its speculative nature, but sometimes I don't always love what it gets me speculating on.

But overall, this story is crafted in a way I've truly come to appreciate of Seanan McGuire (aka Mira Grant). She tackles interesting science in her fiction (short and long forms) while targeting interesting moral topics. This short story isn't fun nor optimistic, but maybe we need more stories like it to truly do something. I'm definitely planning on picking up the anthology this story will be apart of when it comes available. And maybe lose more than a few nights sleep after reading it.

Naomi Novik's Uprooted

Tuesday, August 18, 2015 0
Disclaimer: I received this book as an eARC from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

It is probably no surprise to anyone who has seen my reading list that I am a sucker for epics. I can't say no to stories that span hundreds (and sometimes thousands) of pages, where an author can take his/her time to introduce us to the characters and their relationships, construct complex mysteries and politics, and develop interesting and intricate magic / fantasy systems. I can't help but see big books (and the worldbuilding they promise) and sometimes get a little giddy -- hello new world, I want to devour and delight in you

But there is something delightful to me about finding a standalone novel that satisfies my epic fantasy hunger. And Novik's latest novel Uprooted does that so well!

Uprooted follows the story of Agnieszka, who has lived her entire life in the shadow of The Wood, a malevolent and corrupted forest miles from her valley home. We meet her just before she is chosen by the Dragon, a wizard who serves as the noble lord for her valley (and protects it as best he is able alone). The Dragon takes a girl from the valley aged 17 every 10 years, and the girls always return changed.

Within Agnieszka's story, Novik develops a complex world of sorcery and magic, with interesting characters and complex mysteries... all in under 500 pages. I couldn't put the book down once I started it; even when pesky things like child rearing and work made me do other activities, I was thinking about this story.

I loved Agnieszka's relationship with Kasia, her childhood friend. I loved the fact that there was a love interest in the story for Agnieszka, but that it wasn't the central facet of her story/development. I just plain loved Agnieszka; she was a bit stubborn but also often right about things despite everyone else's doubts. The pacing of the story was fantastic, and the plot moved unexpectedly enough that I wasn't certain where it was going to end up. 

As much as epic-loving me would love to revisit the world Novik has built here (maybe following a few other characters' tales), the ending was satisfying to me. I am definitely going to recommend this to friends/family/anyone who ever makes the mistake of asking me for an interesting story to read in the coming months! Five out of five stars. 

Erika Johansen's The Queen of the Tearling

Tuesday, August 4, 2015 0
I read this book in preparation for the first meeting of a new local sci-fi/fantasy bookclub Cyborg Knights.This Thursday will be the first meet-up (details here), and I am definitely interested to hear what other bookworms thought of this month's pick.

The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

There are many things to love about this book -- the main character Kelsea is introspective and earnestly trying to do her best when there are no good choices, the dystopian medieval/future setting is interesting, the Queen's guard is full of well developed characters. I couldn't put the book down when I started it in the evenings; the pacing (which started at a slow burn that caught along faster as you progressed) worked for me. I am a sucker for stories where magic is an unknown quality that you discover with the characters. I thought the story was brought to a good conclusion, for the first in the series. And I definitely plan to read onward in the land of Tearling.

I just... didn't need the constant reminders that Kelsea was ugly. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and physical beauty is just one aspect of a person. The author discussed her motivation for creating an ugly heroine in this blog post last year, and I can attest for plenty of beautiful / perfect female characters in fantasy/sci-fi and applaud her for trying something different. But by focusing on it so steadily, she hasn't created a character that is ugly; she has created a character that is insecure. As the mom of a daughter (with another one on the way), I think we need examples of heroes/heroines doing awesome regardless of physical appearance. I wanted Kelsea to acknowledge that physical beauty may never be hers... and then recognize that she can be awesome and heroic and even feminine without a perfect body or perfect hair or perfect features. She is tantalizingly close to that realization at times, but then it slips away.

To me, there wasn't much in the way of mystery or romance as the book blurbs touted, either. Kelsea develops a crush and then spends most of her time thinking about the crush in terms of how ugly/unappealing she must be to him. One of the central mysteries is simply Kelsea figuring out what her childhood caregivers were unable / unwilling to tell her about her mom. It was an awkward mystery to me; I cannot see how a good citizen of Tearling would not want to educate the future ruler of the kingdom on recent history for some sense of loyalty. It seemed contrived.

Overall, it was a fast read with a few flaws, but one I'd recommend to fans of the fantasy genre in the mood for coming-of-age. I give it a solid 3.5/5 stars.

Favorite Line: “Even a book can be dangerous in the wrong hands, and when that happens, you blame the hands, but you also read the book.”

If you are in the mood for a fantastic fantasy coming-of-age new-royalty-in-a-hostile-environment story -- I have to recommend wholeheartedly is the Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison. It has been nominated for a Hugo this year for best novel and is definitely there by merit. It features the story Maia, a half-goblin heir (and thus, physically not considered attractive to most in his kingdom) to the throne who was previously exiled. Everyone (including Maia) is surprised when all other heirs perish along with his father and he is made emperor. There is plenty of court intrigue -- who can Maia trust, as he was never fully educated / prepared for the role he has been thrust into. Maia tries to be a kind ruler in much the same way as Kelsea tries. Neither succeeds to wholly save or win over all, but I think it makes all the better a story that way.

I'm baaaaack!

Saturday, August 1, 2015 0
So. Hi? Remember me? Yea. It has been awhile. I am sorry about my absence; life sort of took me through a few loops (and twists and squiggly lines) the last six months.

But I think I am ready to get back at it. Missing my own first year blog anniversary at the end of June was a bit of the depressing kick in the pants I needed to start writing again. I am not promising I will be as awesome as I was or have as many posts overall, but I am hoping for at least 2 novel length (plus a few Sunday Shorts) reviews a month. (And someday I will have the courage to write my review on the final book in the Dark Tower series / finish my Weird Western Battle of the Books. I will!)

See, it isn't as if I haven't been reading some spectacularly awesome speculative fiction. Case in point, a screenshot of what I've read this year thus far:

Now, you may spot a few definitively NOT sci-fi/fantasy/horror picks in there (although, a book on parenting toddlers may or may not be defined as horror, parents-amIright?), but I'm still reading and loving myself some speculative fiction. My average star review rating on goodreads this year has been over 4/5 stars. I dare say I have hit a groove in terms of my growing to-read list. And I am getting the recommending itch again -- in the past month I may have bombarded a hapless person or three with why Mira Grant is so much awesome (parasites and brains!) or explained why Harry Dresden is so fun to read (I don't believe in fairies!). And that urge -- to spread the love on why reading sci-fi, fantasy, and horror can be soooo good -- is exactly why I wanted to start this blog in the first place. So it is time. Let the reviews ala Exploring Worlds begin again!

See you soon!

Sunday Short: David D. Levine's Damage

Sunday, February 1, 2015 0
This week's short is David D. Levine's short story Damage, published in January via

Illustration by Victor Mosquera, published in Tor.

In this story, we are told the story of the final battles of the Free Belt base Vanguard versus the Earth Alliance, from the perspective of Scraps -- the AI of a Free Belt fighter ship. Scraps is made of parts of other ships that have died, and has been programmed a unique AI to handle the specifications.

Honesty time: I am actually not much of a space military opera fan. Ships shooting ships in groups of people fighting just as they did here on Earth -- it isn't as interesting an area of sci-fi to me as some other areas right now. It has to have something special -- questions of identity / survival (ala BSG) or political intregue (ala Ancillary Justice) -- to get me interested.

But I did enjoy this short story, mainly for the narrator. Scraps struggles with her programming that enables a conscious. As told in the story, the programmer's reasoning is that a fear of death begets a better fighting machine (as it doesn't want to die), but it also creates the knowledge of the impact of death on the enemy. And this definitely has implications on how far an AI will go to follow orders that will destroy many lives.

Scraps is also programmed with an unconditional love for her pilot, which reminded me a little of Ann Leckie's Ancillary Justice/Sword series (with a little less subtlety -- which can be forgiven given the short story vs novel setting). By the end of the story, I was rooting for Scraps, and I did want to see what happened.

If you are a fan of Leckie's series or like near space / military stories, you might enjoy this short. It has made me realize that I do probably need to give space opera another try. Readers -- have you any recommendations for a special space opera I should try?

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