A couple of reviews of mine have gone up on NPR Books recently! Here are snippets from them.

First, Jo Walton’s The Philosopher Kings, the second book in her Thessaly sequence, following The Just City.

Jo Walton’s The Just City, which came out in January and which I utterly adored, ends on a wicked cliff-hanger… With what bright eagerness did I look forward, therefore, to The Philosopher Kings, hungry to pick up from where I left off, to know how Simmea, Apollo, and Maia address these problems …

… only to hear Walton cackling, Trollope-like, at my devastation in finding that The Philosopher Kings is set THIRTY YEARS LATER.

Second, Daniel José Older’s Shadowshaper, a gorgeous YA novel featuring characters I wanted to befriend.

What struck me throughout this book was the beautiful, nuanced, supportive and loving nature of Sierra’s community. Made up of her friends, her family, her extended family’s friends, her neighbors, there’s tremendous joy in their every interaction: The banter, the support, the kindness threaded through merciless teasing. There’s conflict too, of course, but that bedrock of love and affection is always there — and it’s utterly nourishing to see such a gorgeous, diverse mix of characters from different backgrounds frankly discussing their histories and futures. Sierra’s own movement through her family secrets is very effective, and the decisions she makes — of what to embrace in herself, from her nappy hair to her magical abilities — are powerfully moving.

Presently I’m reading Edward Carey’s Foulsham, the sequel to his incredible Heap House, which was one of my top three books from last year. Foulsham thus far is fully as good and I find myself resenting time I have to spend away from it. It’s coming out in a few days, and so will my review.

Likewise featured in photo: things I won’t review for NPR but that I have thoughts about for later. Briefly, The Wicked + the Divine vol. 2 is AMAZING, significantly better than the first, which was certainly no slouch; We Stand On Guard #1 I am still sorting complicated feelings about, but will keep reading. CBC reviewed it, though!

So that’s me for now — what are you all reading?


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CONvergence 2016: Guest(s) of Hono(u)r!

Well, Michael Lee declares it to be in print and therefore a thing that can be told: I’ll be one of the Guests of Honour at CONvergence in Minneapolis next year, along with Christopher Jones, Mark Oshiro, and Joseph Scrimshaw!

Convergence GoH

This will be my first GoH gig and I still can’t entirely believe it’s happening? The day I received the invitation, almost a month ago, had been going so poorly that the only thing I could think to answer besides “yes” was “…but are you sure?”

They’re sure, and so am I, and I’m so freakin’ excited I can’t even. ALL IS ODD.

Genuinely, the CONvergence 2016 tagline feels remarkably apt. How exactly DID I get here? Author, Poet, Critic. I am all of these things.

These last two weeks continue to give me day-to-day whiplash.


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Down and Safe: Episode 4 – Space Cabbages

New Down and Not Safe for Work Safe today! Liz Myles, Scott Lynch, Michael Thomas and I discuss Episode 5 of Blake’s 7, “The Web.”

In the fourth episode of Down and Safe, Michael, Liz, Scott, and Amal discuss The Web, the fifth episode of Blake’s 7, where they’re unable to agree on whether the Decima most resemble space cabbages, mucus Ewoks, or baby Zygons, and Scott naively promises it will all be better next time.

So. Much. Fun. I hope you enjoy it!


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NPR: Max Gladstone’s CRAFT Sequence

NPR Books recently launched a new feature called TIME MACHINE, to encourage more thorough coverage of series, since mostly there are a lot of reviews of first and last books, but not a great deal of critical attention given to a series as a whole, or to its middle books. I opted to cover Max Gladstone’s Craft Sequence, and my review went up this past weekend.

750 words contain only a fraction of what I could say about this series. I didn’t touch on the beautiful economy of its prose, the ways in which the world-building is devastatingly clever, the conflation of soulstuff and capital and the implications of that — but hopefully it’s enough to be getting on with, to convince you to pick up the books and talk to me about them, because they’re just SO GOOD and Elayne Kevarian is my everything and I can’t wait to see more of her in Last First Snow.

I also didn’t get to mention that Gladstone’s written a text-based game called Choice of the Deathless. It’s a great introduction to the concepts and locales of the series, and I’ve played it through an embarrassing number of times. It’s whiled away many a long commute. There’s also … A scene. About grammar. That is the best scene about grammar in the history of everything.

Let me know when you get there.


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Readercon 2015 Schedule

I’m going to Readercon this year! By which I mean — in TEN DAYS AHHH! Below is my schedule. I’m very excited about all of these panels.

I’m also scheduled for a reading and kaffeeklatsch! Both of these are Readercon firsts for me; I’ve read at Readercon before, but only in the context of a Banjo Apocalypse Crinoline Troubadour show, or a poetry event, or the Miscellany. A solo reading of the sort where people come only to see you is new and prompts all sorts of “gah will anyone show” feels, etc, but nevertheless I signed up. If you’re burning to hear me read a particular thing, now would be a great time to let me know.

I’ve also only run one kaffeeklatsch, at LonCon3 last year, and loved it. Signing up to this is a great way to make absolutely certain we get to hang out, if that is your wish — cons are such high-octane events, I’m almost always in hummingbird-mode, and plans always teeter on a house-of-cards-like brink. I love meeting new people at cons, or people with whom I’ve been acquainted from afar for a while, and I’m looking forward to the irrevocably scheduled space in which I get to do just that.

Friday July 11

11:00 AM    G    Drift-Compatible Fictional Characters. Amal El-Mohtar, Victoria Janssen, Nicole Kornher-Stace (leader), A. J. Odasso, Navah Wolfe.

The film Pacific Rim created the idea of two people who are “drift-compatible,” able to live inside each other’s minds and memories without sustaining massive psychic damage. Let’s use this as a metaphor to explore our favorite speculative fiction duos—whether they’re friends, traveling companions, siblings, or spouses—and talk about what makes those deeply intimate pairings work.

2:00 PM    E    Autographs. Amal El-Mohtar, Gary K. Wolfe.

5:00 PM    G    I Put Books in Your Books So You Can Read While You Read. John Clute, Amal El-Mohtar, Francesca Forrest, Greer Gilman, Kenneth Schneyer (leader).

Nested stories consist of at least one outer story and at least one inner story. Usually the characters in the outer story are cast as the audience of the inner story, as in Hamlet or the Orphan’s Tales books. But inner stories have another audience: the reader. How do we read inner stories? When our attention is brought to its story-ness, are we more conscious of being the audience than when we immerse ourselves in outer stories? Do we see ourselves as separate from the audience characters—thinking of them as the “real” audience even though they’re fictional—or do we connect with them through the mutual experience of observation? And when do inner stories take on lives of their own, separate from their frames?

7:00 PM    G    Modern Gods. Amal El-Mohtar (leader), Natalie Luhrs, Romie Stott, Ian Randal Strock.

Corporations, multinationals, and governments (or seats of office) can be like modern gods: they exist solely because people believe in them and build up rituals to affirm and perpetuate that belief. Non-governmental entities often have political power, and they can theoretically live forever if they can find ways to remain relevant. They fight with other “gods” and may be broken into multiple demi-gods, a place from which they rise again or simply fade away. How do portrayals of gods reflect our interactions with the godlike legal and corporate entities of the modern world? When works such as Ken Liu’s The Grace of Kings, Max Gladstone’s Craft sequence, and Daniel Abraham’s Dagger and the Coin series explicitly address corporations, systems of government, and economic systems in fantastical settings, how do those stories resemble or diverge from folklore and fantasy about more literal gods?

8:00 PM    F    Revealing the Past, Inspiring the Future. Amal El-Mohtar (leader), Max Gladstone, Alena McNamara, Sarah Pinsker, Julia Rios.

When writing Hild, Nicola Griffith was aiming for historical accuracy where possible, including in her depictions of women, queer characters, people of color, and slavery in seventh-century Britain. She writes, “Readers who commit to Hild might see the early middle ages differently now: they see what might have been possible, instead of the old master story about the place of women and the non-existence of POC and QUILTBAG people 1400 years ago. And if it was possible then, what might be possible today and in the future?” What other books and stories expand our notion of the possible by revealing the truth of history? How can creators of future settings learn from the suppressed or hidden past?

Saturday July 12

11:00 AM    G    When Should We Argue with Reviews? Michael Dirda, Amal El-Mohtar (leader), Adam Golaski, Resa Nelson, Vinnie Tesla. When is it appropriate to argue with reviews of your own work? The usual rule is “never”—but that “never” is a one-size-fits-all solution to an increasingly complex issue, especially when the categories of reviewer, reader, and writer are increasingly blurred. Is “appropriate” the same as “advisable”? What are the limits and ethics of responding to or arguing with reviews?

Sunday July 13

10:00 AM    EM    Reading: Amal El-Mohtar. Amal El-Mohtar. Amal El-Mohtar reads from her recent short fiction.

11:00 AM    CL    Kaffeeklatsch. Amal El-Mohtar, David G. Hartwell.


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“The Truth About Owls” Wins the Locus Award

Photo by--and hand of--Keffy Kehrli.

Photo by–and hand of–Keffy Kehrli.

It’s been a rollercoaster of a week.

I’m writing this beneath a rainbow banner WordPress has put up to celebrate SCOTUS’ decision to grant equal marriage rights in the US. This week “Madeleine” appeared online in Queers Destroy Science Fiction. People have been telling me, all week, how much it moved them, that it made them cry, that they loved it, and it’s been sustaining me hugely during what has been, on several personal fronts, a really rough time.

But then–these last few days. K Tempest Bradford reviews “Madeleine” in her weekly io9 short fiction column and titles it–let’s say, unexpectedly. Some things on personal fronts resolve themselves into utterly unlooked for happiness. My NPR review of Max Gladstone’s wonderful Craft Sequence goes live. And then–I get wind that the Locus Awards are happening and I literally flee the house.

pretty grasses

Still don’t know what they’re called!

I had made the mistake of drinking coffee. I have three reviews to write up this weekend–no wait, four–oh gods–anyway, a lot of work, and it was late afternoon and I needed a boost, so I drank some coffee and I sat down to the computer and I peeked at Twitter and saw that the Locus Awards were going to be live-tweeted and I was suddenly thrumming with nervous energy because I’d managed to forget about them until that moment and I didn’t want to hope because IT IS AN HONOUR JUST TO BE NOMINATED and I thought, a run, yes, a run is what I need, I will go for a run, so I downloaded the next episode of ZOMBIES, RUN! and changed and went, and lo I did run a mile in an unprecedented-for-me 10-minutes-19-seconds, and somewhere in the middle of the second mile I decided I absolutely needed to pause to take a photo of these really beautiful grasses in order to ask the internet what they are —

— and in so doing  I lit up my phone’s lock-screen, which was exploding with congratulatory tweets, and a single text message from my fiancé telling me that I won, that “The Truth About Owls” won.

Florence + the Machine’s “Delilah” started playing.

I did something between this


and this


Which was interesting because these appear to be opposite reactions but I assure you I somehow synthesised them into glorious, sweaty, mid-run synergy accompanied by a lot of shrieking out to the surrounding corn fields and unflappable cows. Then I ran home and embraced every member of my immediate family because as it happens for the first time in weeks we were all together under the same roof.

Congratulations to all the other honourees. I can’t even begin to say how thrilled I was to be on that ballot at all, in the company of Sofia Samatar, Aliette de Bodard and Elizabeth Bear. These women are my heroes. Their work is what I aspire towards. I’m humbled and awed and too grateful for words.

Keffy Kehrli (newly of Glittershipcheck it out!) had kindly agreed to accept the award on my behalf in case “The Truth About Owls” should win. I prepared a speech for him to read — written in a state of extreme dubiousness and speculation while trying very hard not to be invested in the outcome I had to imagine in order to write it — and it’s posted below.

I’m sitting at home, slowly processing a summer’s evening, trying to imagine the situation where these words will be read out. If they’re being read out, then I won something — the first award I’ve ever received for fiction, for a story that was very hard to write and is very dear to me.

I have many people to thank: CSE Cooney, for sitting with me and listening to me blether about structures and Blodeuwedd and Florilegia; Tessa Kum, dear friend and fellow-traveller, for introducing me to the Scottish Owl Centre, that magical place between Glasgow and Edinburgh that I’ve visited often enough to start disconcerting the staff; Alisa Krasnostein and Julia Rios for editing and publishing the beautiful Kaleidoscope anthology and asking me to be part of it — but let me linger here on Julia Rios especially, for her relentless encouragement and insistence that I could write this story while I kept saying I couldn’t.

I want also to thank my parents, Leila Ghobril and Oussama El-Mohtar, for loving and raising me with all of their languages; my fiancé, Stu West, for his constant support via the medium of truly terrible puns; Strange Horizons, for reprinting the story and bringing it to a wider audience; and all the good people at Locus, as well as its readers and voters. Awards are splendid things, but they’re really the cherry on the iced cake of knowing people read my story and loved it.

The Truth About Owls is that they’re awesome, and so are all of you. Thank you.

Part of me thinks, in retrospect, I should’ve talked more about the story, but I had no idea how long it was okay to make Keffy talk on my behalf, and also I figured I’d said everything I had to say either in the story or in this introduction to it. So I’m happy to let it continue to speak for itself.

And now I need to topple into bed and figure out how in the world I’m going to get back to normal work in the wake of this.

All the thanks my overflowing heart can muster go out to everyone who offered me congratulations and kind words today. You’re wonderful, and your kindness melts me into puddles. For reading, for discussing, for recommending this story, for telling me it moved you — thank you. I just can’t say it enough.


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“Madeleine” up at Lightspeed

Art (c) 2015 by Orion Zangara

Today my story “Madeleine” was released online from the Queers Destroy Science Fiction issue of Lightspeed magazine. It’s accompanied by a gorgeous illustration by Orion Zangara (whose work has also graced a past issue of Goblin Fruit!), and a wonderful reading by Paul Boehmer —






Anyway. Yes. So. Right! I also talk about the story’s genesis in this Author Spotlight, in conversation with Wendy Wagner, where I for some reason talk about Tupperware. (There is no Tupperware in the story.)

(There is chicken soup.)

(And Proust.)

I hope you enjoy “Madeleine,” and if you like what Lightspeed‘s been doing with the Destroy series you can find them all collected here. You can also subscribe, or buy the ebook or trade paperback of Queers Destroy Science Fiction to get all the exclusive content and support their good work!


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Down and Safe: Episode 3 – Pink Leather Fire Hydrants

Last week, the third episode of Down and Safe, the podcast where Scott Lynch, Liz Myles, Michael Thomas and I watch episodes of Blake’s 7 and talk about them, went up!  We watched TIME SQUAD, which is so great and wacky and made me very happy for reasons. An accurate description of our discussion:

In the third episode of Down and Safe, Michael, Liz, Scott, and Amal discuss Time Squad, the fourth episode of Blake’s 7, covering Space Romans, Cally’s introduction, and Amal’s problems with predictive text.

My problems, they are legion.

Enjoy! And know that we love receiving comments! Next episode, landing July 2, we’ll be covering THE WEB.

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QDSF Lightspeed Column: Queer Communities

My review column in the Queers Destroy Science Fiction (#QDSF) issue of Lightspeed is now available online, with a focus on friendship, chosen family and queer communities in Nicole Kornher-Stace’s Archivist Wasp, Elizabeth Bear’s Karen Memory, and Hal Duncan’s Scruffians! collection of short stories. Enjoy!


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Down and Safe: Episode 2 – Worshipping Brian Blessed

The second episode of Down and Safe, the Blake’s 7 podcast consisting of Liz Myles, Michael Thomas, Scott Lynch, and myself, has landed! In it we look at S1E3, “Cygnus Alpha.”

In the second episode of Down and Safe, Michael, Liz, Scott, and Amal share how to make cathedrals and candles, what super rusty space guns have in common with The Vagina Monologues, and discuss the third episode of Blake’s 7: Cygnus Alpha.

Watching this wacky, profound, sinister, hilarious show and talking about it with these splendid people is quickly becoming the highlight of my weeks. I hope you’ll give it a listen! We’re having so much fun!

Quick reminder that this podcast is NSFW. I totally want to acquire a t-shirt with the iTunes E for Explicit on it.


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