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Category: Recommendations

A smattering of strange wonders

Awesome SFF online magazine Strange Horizons is doing its annual fund drive — SH is a non-profit and is entirely volunteer-run, so it depends on fundraising to keep going. This is a post to say two things:

  1. Please go donate if you can! There are lots of awesome prizes, including Strange Horizons: The First Fifteen Years, its 15th anniversary ebook! (Which all donors at the $10+ level and above get, as well as all Patreon patrons) My poem Seeds, my first publication, is included in the ebook! (EEEEEEEEEEEEEE ♥)

  2. SH absolutely deserves support; it’s a venue that publishes stunning stories and poems, as well as really good thoughtful non-fiction pieces; it’s one of the most welcoming venues to first-time writers and newcomers to the field; its archives are this brilliant wealth of diverse perspective and experimentation with form; and– look, I went through the archives, just did a quick ten-minute browse, and already saw so many amazing pieces. The consistency of quality and interestingness is one of SH’s great strengths.

Some of the things I found in just those ten minutes, just as a sampler (not going to do descriptions because I’m really low on energy right now, but they are all wonderful pieces):

  1. The Wives of Azhar by Roshani Chokshi
  2. Hundred-Eye by Yukimi Ogawa
  3. Glaciers Made You by Gabby Reed
  4. City of Salt by Arkady Martine
  5. The Truth About Owls by Amal el-Mohtar
  6. Nkásht íí by Darcie Little Badger
  7. Santos de Sampaguitas by Alyssa Wong
  8. The Great Detective by Sarah Brooks
  9. Never the Same by Polenth Blake
  10. Resurrection Points by Usman T. Malik
  11. Witch, Beast, Saint: an Erotic Fairy Tale by C.S.E. Cooney

…I could go on! (In fact, as I was writing this up, I saw several more stories further down on the screen that I wanted to rec, but you know, I only planned to list five at first and now I’m up to eleven…) But see, see? In sum, SH is a really awesome place and let’s help it get to its goal please if we can — and also those stories are awesome, go check them out!

Story recommendations, muddled with cucumber

I am drinking a gin and tonic modified by the happy addition of cucumber, and I totally had this long spiel prepared about reccing philosophy and how I choose stories to recommend and the themes by which I order them (quick: The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu, Court of Fives by Kate Elliott, The Grass King’s Concubine by Kari Sperring: what’s the common thread?) and all sorts of angsting about how it’s just weird to pretend to be a quote-unquote writer and in the same blog gush shamelessly, like the most enthusiastic of waterspouts, about the brilliance of one’s friends, but– look! Let’s just dispense with that and get to the recs! They’ve been sitting in my drafts for half a year!

Eyes of Carven Emerald by Shweta Narayan, Clockwork Phoenix 3. I’ve linked to this before, but will link to it again — and over and over, until everyone reads it — because I think this story is a marvel, a brilliant tapestry of wonders, and it not only needs to be read — people need to read it. This is the story I wish I could write, that I wish I were brimful enough, with truth and wisdom and the horror of history and the riches of a thousand artisans’ halls, to even imagine. The steampunk is the least of it (I really think this could be the core of a masterclass on writing steampunk; the technologies are always necessary and never obtrusive, they are part of the world but do not delineate it) — what makes it so compelling is the question-tangled mesh of power, histories, warring desires, the looming shadow of empire, edged in sun and blood. And resistance, gloriously done in this piece. I have read this story many times and still keep returning to it; as with the rest of Narayan’s work, layers upon layers of meaning reveal themselves to the reader, color-bursting, glittering with a thousand different lights, ruthlessly sharp.

Hath No Fury by Kat Howard, Subterranean Press Magazine Spring 2014. The beginning of the Iliad stirs my blood with sea-bright fervor: anger be now thy song, immortal one. This story possesses the strains of that bloodshot steelsung urgency, but clad in the grit of more modern times. No less intense for that, though: the narrator says, I am not a good girl, and through a tight smile, through gritted teeth, through bloody lips, you the reader say: yes, yes, yes. What a satisfying read — something that sates a hunger kindled by the countless injustices a woman faces day by day, a hunger so often lulled to sleep or bribed to stupor — and utterly, bloodily gorgeous in its rage, in its sense of justice, in its steady awareness of the weight of womanhood; in the voice of the narrator, so clear one almost hears her speaking, breath close and hot against one’s ear. I thought the way the plot moved was pretty much perfect. Sing to me, o Muse, and through me tell our story.

Fifty Years in the Virtuous City by lionpyh, Archive of Our Own. So I’m not going to get into defenses of fanfiction here; I’m just going to present this story and dare anyone who reads it to tell me that it is not a masterful piece of writing. Because it’s so skillfully wrought, its images bright and vivid against the mind’s eye, and sometimes one finds oneself holding one’s breath, seeing these women speak to each other, the worlds each exchange contains. This is fanfiction for Sultana’s Dream by Roquia Sakhawat Hussain, which I really need to read because if it can inspire such things– why, it must be an amazing piece of fiction itself! And– yes, what I love about this story: the beautifully drawn characters, the attention to sensory detail, the nuances of the relationship between these women — so tender, so uncompromising and yet– oh, my heart; and oh, the depiction of study and research, how one can fall in love with it, headlong–! I enjoyed this story so, so much; lionpyh is one of my favorite fanfic writers, and I relish each chance to read a story by them.

Poems like morsels of fruit

Full-flavored, intense, layered with a hundred different shades of sweet sour salt bitter, a thousand spices. This rec post comes on the heels of a long period of illness, exhaustion, and general unwellness, and the vibrant, blade-edged beauty of it just shattered through all that gray. I luxuriated in the feel of all this poetry — sometimes without being able to grasp concretely the shard of story the poet wrote on, but– experience is enough. That taste. Such richness of fruit.

Poetry

  1. Proserpina, Going Deeper by Jack Hollis Marr. So much Persephone-themed (Persephonic?) writing is caves, forests; this one is of the sea, salty, full of light, shape-shifting, utterly gorgeous. It drowns, goes deeper. It had me from the first line: “In shallow waters stolen coral fish eggs burst”… Yes, salt. Sweet.
  2. The devil riding your back by Gabby Reed. Raw and rich with a rhythm that cannot be denied. This piece’s imagery comes up before my eyes as I read, as if in a movie of earthquakes and city streets and shadow. And that finale! Struck me to the core.
  3. Dark Light by John Serreno (John Reinhart? -not sure, as the names in byline and bio are different! anyway). My poem Ahas, tala appeared in the same issue as this piece, and when I first saw the latter I went, damn, that’s how to write interstitial poetry. Again and again I return to the structure, the way it tells the story, the way it is the story, and find ever more beauty in it and each vivid image of a scene.
  4. The Monkey Climbs the Tree, as the Turtle Watches by Isabel Yap. I have this wishful kind of dream that I’ll be able to rec all my fellow issue…ees in Stone Telling 11: Reverberations (they are all amazing and yes yes yes I recommend them all) and this, this is what I want to start with. This story from my childhood, one of the first stories I was told, wrapped in graceful language that encloses the entirety of a story in beautiful economy of form. This poem read, to me, clear as glass and sharp as a knife-edge. So sharp, in fact, that you only realize you’ve been cut after the poem ends. (Still, if this were a fruit, it would be bananas, because. Pagong and matsing, okay!)
  5. Salamander Song by Rose Lemberg and Emily Jiang. I was rooting so hard for Strange Horizons to reach their fund drive goals, motivated in part because I so badly wanted to see this piece! And hear it, as it turned out. Woven in fire, a story, a life, a salamander a song a sun– Just magnificent. These words and the beautifully sung music intertwining with them, make me think of golden glory, and for a moment I see a world radiant with light. If this were a fruit this would be mango, golden heart. How are people so good, how? I don’t know. But give this a read, and a listen.
  6.  
    (I don’t know why my recs are getting longer! Maybe because I am drinking tea and feeling better, from earlier. The length of my squee is not proportional to its intensity or sincerity, okay, just proportional to my wellness at the moment. Anyway, let us have more!)

  7. Chant for Summer Darkness in Northwest Climes by Neile Graham. This is the kind of poem I adore reading: each line a painting, a work of art created with exquisite, seemingly effortless skill. I don’t think that’s where I go, myself, but every time I see such mastery I feel honored. Breathtakingly gorgeous and alive, sunset to morning. Plums, berries, beautifully ripe stone fruit. I have read it– I don’t know how many times, trying to learn from it as much as I can.
  8. You Are Here by Bogi Takács. My jaw quite literally dropped when I first read this — and hung open for a good five seconds, I’m sure. This piece pushed past the limits of what I thought poetry was, showed me what poetry can be. What poetry is! This fluid, joyous interplay between words and word-reader, between sight and understanding, and always: memory, place, mirrors, breath, moments elusive and indelible — such an experience. Augh! This is freaking brilliant, read read read!

In closing– so much awesome stuff, what the actual eff. And there is still so much more I want to mention. But yes– Read! Immerse yourself! Enjoy!

Reading on worlds, bodies, desire

Hello, fellow reader! I have been away so long that I haven’t gotten to post about two more poems of mine that have gone live, for which– let’s pretend I have proper excuses for that and move on, shall we? Here, I shall bribe you with tea! Good, good.

One poem is The Exile, i., up at Stone Telling 11: Reverberations.. This was my first sale/acceptance, something I’ve written about at length before. What I haven’t said is that this poem very narrowly escaped being trashed — or at the very least, never being submitted, ever. Initially all I was going to send to Stone Telling was Seeds, but then I decided– why not add in its younger sibling as well, for all that the latter was raw and more like a song than a poem. I was very surprised when it turned out to be the poem Stone Telling chose!

The other poem is Ahas, tala, up at Interfictions. The bones of this poem are very old and I was starting to despair over ever finding a way to finish it. But there we go! It is a mirror-poem, a snake-poem, and I’m quite fond of it.

I should write up more poem notes later. In the meantime, look! Recs!

Fiction

  1. Inventory by Carmen Maria Machado. How, how can something be so brutal and yet so beautiful at the same time? How can I adore this story so much even as it rips my heart out? I don’t know. But there it is. I didn’t think a zombie apocalypse story could be like this, but oh, this is genius.
  2. Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife by A.C. Wise. I’ve been loving the stories I read in Shimmer — all so utterly outside expectation, and unapologetically, gloriously so. This is a gorgeous, sexy story, and there are tentacles and the sea and an abundance of words so richly and sensuously used I couldn’t read it without blushing. Good good goooood.
  3. In Winter by Sonya Taaffe. Short, but wow– each line is a fragment of poetry, a shard of brightly glinting glass. And like the best poems, this story contains worlds layered with so much history, so much pain, snow and war and the glint of guns, and it draws one into it with certain skill. I could still feel the cold, see guns and sunlight and forests, after reading this story.
  4. This Shall Serve As a Demarcation by Bogi Takács. I am having to restrain myself from keysmash because I have so many Feelings about this story; I mean, how even– kink and science fiction and magic and the living planet and serving and oh, oh, oh. The relationship between Enhyoron and Î-surun touched something very deep within me; I did not know I needed to read a sci-fi story with D/s protagonists who are happy, who thrive, but I so did.
  5. Wine by Yoon Ha Lee. I have admired Yoon Ha Lee since I first read a story by them; I find their writing’s beauty unmatched, so graceful and supple and bladed. Each story feels like a weapon, deftly cutting my heart open– this is no exception, and I think one of my favorites among their stories. War and terrible choices, a plot that feels like a labyrinth of teeth, a world of horrific beauty. Breathtaking. I have reread this, oh, at least five times I’m sure, and it remains a stunning, complex read.

I had a list of poems to rec as well, but as today I’m a little unwell I will reserve that for the next post– oh, and they’re such beautiful poems! In the meantime, I hope you enjoy reading the stories!

Post-drought reading

I’ve been reading a lot of short fiction and poetry lately. Since my depression hit me very hard upon migration, my reading dropped off dramatically; I used to be the sort of person who could (and often did!) finish several novels a day, but then I stopped reading almost completely, making exceptions only for fanfic written by friends. As life stabilized, though, I slowly began to get back into it. And since I’ve started dipping my toes into the (terrifying! wildly churning!) waters of the SFF field, I have been reading so much. So much. It’s like rain after a long drought. I read during my morning commute, my lunch break, my afternoon commute. While I’m cooking, stealing five-minute snatches as I wait for things to brown and caramelize. With tea, with wine, with water. After waking, before bed.

I have a little list of recs — stories and poems available to read for free online — here for you. They’re not serious reviews per se (I’m limiting myself to 2-3 sentences each) but things I’ve liked and want to share. I read widely, based on whim, so there are some old pieces here, some new ones. If you are so inclined, do give them a little read, and enjoy!

Fiction

  1. Anna Saves Them All by Seth Dickinson. Beautiful, painful, brilliant; clear and sharp, a glass blade. My chest hurt after reading this — a kind of story I will never be able to write but that I needed so badly to read, a story that left me breathless with its unflinching truth. Augh.
  2. A City on Its Tentacles by Rose Lemberg. What a gorgeous terrible city, framing Luba — a mother drawn with both delicacy and intensity — and the necessity of choice, the silent persistence of love through it all, and again: necessity, endurance. I read it as though in a dream, and loved every moment of it.
  3. Santos de Sampaguitas by Alyssa Wong: part 1, part 2. Reading this was like coming home, and although from the very start I could see how events could possibly unfold (in the patterns of folktales and love stories and tales of family in inangbayan) that did nothing to blunt their impact. I adored Tin, the unquestioned presence of the supernatural in history and life, and the familiar sights and smells, fruit and fire and dust and sun.

Poetry

  1. Nagapadam by Shweta Narayan. I talked a little about Stone Telling in my first post; Shweta Narayan’s poetry, the way she used language and forked tongue like blades, brushes, threaded needles, was vital to my choice to submit, to trust the zine with words and stories of Pilipinas and know they would not be sanitized or watered down by unwieldy explanation. This poem still takes my breath away. It pierces, burns, bleeds.
  2. A User Guide to the Application of Gem-Flowers by Bogi Takács. I love poetry that opens up new worlds to the reader, and this one does that perfectly in so few words. I had these vivid strange images in my head while reading it, as if I were given the barest taste of stories upon stories full of magic and possibility, and when it ends I couldn’t help but think, but oh, I want more. Bogi has such a gift for telling stories in poems and I always enjoy reading eir poems.
  3. Mawson by Bella Li. So sometimes I will read a poem that crushes me, it is so undeniably beautiful, and brilliant and perfect as cut diamond, and so very heavy in all its layers and meanings — stories and lifetimes within so few words; and it is so well-done it’s out of my reach. This is one of those. I had the poem open in a tab for weeks and weeks, and each time I read it I would find more and more and more, would see it was ever more out of my capacity, and so reading it was always glorious joy with the faintest tinge of pain, breaking bones.

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