PodCasts: Rocket Talk and Down and Safe

I’m learning to accept that as much as I’m a regular blogger in my head, the reality is that I’ll keep that head down for months at a time working on various things only to have them all come to fruition in the same week, occasioning a sudden burst of activity here as I try to tell you about everything.

So! Here goes.

Along with Scott Lynch, L M Myles, and Michael Damian Thomas, I’m part of a shiny new podcast called Down and Safe, in which we watch and reflect on iconic 70s British SF show Blake’s 7. I’ve never watched it before — the only one of us coming to it fresh — and I am having A BLAST. You can dust off your VHS tapes or reacquaint yourself with your box set or watch it along with me for the first time — the show’s almost entirely on Youtube, I believe. We have a teaser episode here and our first proper full episode here — in the latter we cover the first two episodes of the show, “The Way Back” and “Space Fall.” Not 5 minutes in we’re already fending off sinister ice cream vans and having a grand old time. Down and Safe will air bi-weekly, and you can follow us on Twitter or Facebook to keep up with new episodes, or subscribe to us on iTunes.

I’ve been reading and reviewing things! Lots of things! One of those things is Naomi Novik’s Uprooted, and since Justin Landon was looking for someone to squee with, I’m over at Rocket Talk gushing with him over what an incredible book it is. Most often my attempts at articulation and eloquence deteriorate into frustrated sighs and desk-pounding, which is terrible podcast etiquette, but if it enables people to know just how great a book is Uprooted I’ll put it in the win column all the same. My NPR review will go up this weekend.

In addition to the above I’ve been taking two grad courses in half the time usually allotted to them, writing and recording music, dressing up as an Edwardian crow in Westerly, RI, running my first 5K, planning a wedding, reading, reviewing, reviewing, reading, tutoring, occasionally sleeping, and trying to keep my elderly cat in good health, so please forgive me if I owe you correspondence or contact — September’s a bit of an event horizon for me right now and I am not entirely sure what of me will emerge into it when all’s said and done.


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Angels of the Meanwhile

Elizabeth McClellan, stunningly talented poet and good friend, has had a run of really dreadful medical-insurance wrangling, detailed here.

As a consequence, Alexandra Erin took it upon herself to help by asking writers to contribute to an e-book collection, Angels of the Meanwhile, to raise money in support of Elizabeth. It’s pay-what-you-can to pre-order the e-book, and the Table of Contents looks utterly wonderful:

Bits of Prose (Flash Fiction, Prose Poems)

  • This Is The Place Where Lost Things Go – Kythrynne Aisling
  • The Merry Knives of Interspecies Communication – Bogi Takács
  • The Choices of Foxes – Sonya Taaffe
  • Foam – Dusti Morton
  • The Sweat of their Brows – Alexandra Erin
  • The Dirty Fairy – Deborah Walker


  • Beastwoman’s Snarled Rune – Rose Lemberg
  • Pain Shared Is Catching (For April Grant) – Erik Amundsen
  • Gorgon Girls – Saira Ali
  • This Is What It’s All About – Lupa
  • Blodeuwedd – Amal El-Mohtar
  • Burning Wings (For C.S.E. Cooney) – Jennifer Crow
  • The Changeling Always Wins – Nicole Kornher-Stace
  • The First Wife – Lev Mirov
  • Nuestra Señora de las Maravillas Lost at Sea, 1527 – Lisa Bradley
  • The Secret of Being a Cowboy – Catherynne M. Valente
  • Children of the Faun and Fae – Merideth Allyn
  • Ivan Icarus – by C.S.E. Cooney
  • We Named Our Grief Irene – Virginia M. Mohlere
  • Fucking Doughnuts – Legoule
  • Allison Gross Speaks of the Worm – Gwynne Garfinkle
  • Sand Bags – Dominik Parisien
  • Hot Wet Mess – S.J. Tucker
  • These Are Days – Roni Neal
  • lis pendens – Mike Allen
  • Thread Between Stone – Bryan Thao Worra

Prose Stories

  • Inside, Looking Out – Alexandra Erin
  • Changed – Nicolette Barischoff
  • Fire Flight – A.M. Burns
  • The Legacy Box – Satyros Phil Brucato
  • Illusions of Safety – Angelia Sparrow

Time constraints meant I couldn’t contribute more than a tiny poem I’d been clutching to my hard drive’s heart for years, but it’s one of which I’m very fond, and the first thing I ever wrote about Blodeuwedd in response to reading The Mabinogion.

To the above, Alexandra adds:

    While we’ve got a quite bit lined up, including some fairly big guns, I have been told there’s more to come from people who are still working on their pieces, particularly from the local poetry community that surrounds Elizabeth. There are a lot of people who want to help. I’m not trying to be coy or drum up more interest by not naming names… I don’t want people making up their minds based on something I don’t actually have on hand yet. I just want to make sure everyone knows that you might wind up with even more than you bargained for.

So there you have it — and I really hope that what Elizabeth ends up with in turn is peace of mind, ease from pain, and a speedy recovery.

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Two Reviews and a Reading: The Grace of Kings, The Hobbit Films, and The Eaters

It’s wonderful in a whirlwindy sort of way when things you’ve been working on for a couple of months all come to fruition on the same day. To that end!

I wrote an essay on Peter Jackson’s Hobbit films for issue 3 of Uncanny Magazine, which is now available online for free in its entirety. You are cordially invited to vent your spleen about the films with me, and/or nod sagely at your decision not to see them.

But today is also the release day for Episode 3B of Uncanny’s podcast, in which I read M Sereno‘s utterly gorgeous poem “The Eaters.” It was the most delicious (ha!) challenge to read, because it’s a bilingual poem and to my sorrow I don’t speak Tagalog, but Sereno was kind enough to provide an audio pronunciation guide, and learning the sound and shape and cadence of the words as best I could was incredible. I found that until I was correctly reading the Tagalog words into the rhythm of the poem, I’d only been hearing half of it.

I genuinely hope I did it something like justice, because I love that poem completely, and the experience of inhabiting and being threaded through with unfamiliar words (that nevertheless felt familiar in where they struck my throat, those deep qafs and glottal stops so like Arabic to me) was a gift.

The episode also contains CSE Cooney’s reading of Sarah Pinsker’s “When the Circus Lights Down,” which I’m very much looking forward to, and an interview with Pinsker conducted by the fabulously Dangerous Deb Stanish.

Finally, my review of Ken Liu’s breath-taking The Grace of Kings is live at NPR Books today.

Liu’s world is beautiful, nuanced, fierce, original, and diverse; it’s refreshing to read door-stopper fantasy where the geographies and cultures aren’t Europe-with-more-apostrophes. But neither does this feel like alt-China: it reads much more like a world invented than transposed, and the warring states of Dara draw on a multitude of influences and references without being reductive fantasy-world allegories of any of them.

I highly recommend following the review up with Liu’s Big Idea post about the book’s composition over on John Scalzi’s blog. I was fascinated to see where my reading had dovetailed with Liu’s intention and where I’d missed certain contexts or experienced the book differently.

And that’s it for today! What are you all reading, writing, up to?

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Hugo Puppies and the News

I live in a very rural place, and have for about half my life. Living where I do has always meant a long commute into town for school and work accompanied by the very early morning news.

The news is never good and never kind. I was sixteen and in my first year of university when I started paying attention to the news in earnest, exactly one week before September 11, and every morning I’d climb into the car by 6:00 am, exhausted and bleary, and grit my teeth against the litany of horrors. Wars; death tolls; loss of civil liberties; hate and fear-mongering. Not listening to the news never occurred to me as an option; in that respect it was like the weather. Not listening wasn’t going to change the reality of it, so better to be prepared.

But after the awfulness came the Arts Report.

It always thrilled me, awed me, soothed me, to hear that contrast: to hear that, in spite of body counts, in spite of unjust laws, in spite of all, people were finding ways to make art. They were playing music; they were telling stories; they were giving the very best of themselves in what always struck me, if only by juxtaposition, as acts of resistance to the grim reality of the world we inhabit. And they made that reality less grim.

I’ve always suspected that those who sneer at fantasy as “escapist” are those who’ve never had anything to escape. I’ve never entirely understood how, if your reality is defined by oppression, injustice and confinement, “escape” can be characterized as irresponsible, childish, instead of success against those who’d grind you down.

So when confronted by the worst in the world, I turn to art as its best. When I feel helpless and pushed down and afraid, I turn to art for my tools, for my voice, for my courage.

The Hugo ballot was announced today.

My heart goes out to those to whom the Hugo awards mean a great deal, who have worked hard making it into something with brand recognition and significance outside of genre, and who are seeing something they love twisted and perverted in bad faith to celebrate, not art, but a triumph against diversity in art.

But the reality is, for me, that I am used to bigots dominating the conversation and being galled by my existence. I am used to people vilifying my name, my language, my ethnicity, my gender, my sexual orientation. I am used to resistance as default, as the condition by which I exist. So this year’s Hugo ballot — on which are heavily represented men far better known for advocating white supremacy, violence against women, and hatred of queer people than they are for their fiction, to the point where it appears they were chosen for their advocacy over their fiction — feels like business as usual where I’m concerned.

So I will add this year’s Hugo ballot to the noise of the news. The news is never good and never kind. I will grit my teeth through it. I will roll my eyes at John C. Wright’s six-fold presence; I will laugh at Vox Day seeking to be honoured as the best of both Long Form and Short Form Editors; I will extend my sympathy to those who feel their Hugo nomination is tainted by the tactics used to place them there.

But when all’s said and done, I’ll turn back to art — the making of it, the reading of it, the championing of it — as the thing they can’t poison or take away. I’ll keep advocating for women, for people of colour, for queer people. I’ll keep reading gorgeous stories in amazing magazines and anthologies, and brilliant, ground-breaking books, and talking about them, and sharing them, and loving them.

That, ultimately, is what matters to me.

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Rich and Strange: “The New Mother” by Eugene Fischer

This week on Rich and Strange, I take a look at “The New Mother,” a novella by Eugene Fischer headlining the current issue of Asimov’s.

Tess Mendoza is a freelance journalist writing a high-profile piece on the social implications of Gamete Diploidy Syndrome, or GDS—a sexually transmitted medical condition that renders men sterile and causes fertile women, in the absence of hormonal birth control, to risk becoming pregnant with what are functionally clones of themselves every time they ovulate….It’s a fantastic concept, and the whole novella is structured around exploring its every possible facet: Tess interviews scientists, politicians, lobbyists, religious fanatics, while her representation of the furor over the future of “motherhood” is complicated by her own position as a pregnant woman in a same-sex relationship, and the possibility that she herself has been infected.

I literally cannot think of a single way to improve this story. I mention its thoroughness in the review; there’s just such a slow, methodical circling of the issues, ramping the tension up the while. I love Tess. I love Judy. I love her mother.

I’d love to know what you think about it.


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Lightspeed Column: Aqueduct Press’ Congress of Ghosts

Today is the day my first Lightspeed Magazine column goes up online! You can read it here. It features a triple bill of Aqueduct Press titles centred around echoes, ghosts, and hauntings: Lisa M. Bradley’s The Haunted GirlJenn Brissett’s Elysium, and Sonya Taaffe’s Ghost Signs.

These books, in addition to being the most current Conversation Pieces, make a superb triple bill: here are poems and stories concerned with (among others) ways of being dead, ways of being alive, encounters with ghosts both literal and metaphorical, memories, echoes, speech and silence, freedom and constraint. It’s wonderful to read these books in sequence — and, in the spirit (badum-tsh!) of the series title, exciting to place them in conversation with each other to see where they intersect and overlap.

I’m delighted to have had this opportunity to contribute to the conversation, and hope you’ll join in.


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Review: PERSONA by Genevieve Valentine

My review of Genevieve Valentine’s Persona went up this weekend, and here is a bit of it:

Suyana Sapaki is the Face for the recently-formed United Amazonian Rainforest Confederation — a C-lister for all intents and purposes, new to the scene, unloved by the camera, and unfortunately given to plain-speaking and refusal to play the smiling, conciliatory part handed to her. Suyana is angry, and a little too often, the anger shows. At best, she’s a liability; at worst, where her handler is concerned, she’s a non-story.

Until someone tries to kill her.

Pretty sure I read this book in a sitting. It couldn’t be more different from The Girls at the Kingfisher Club (which, OK, I also read in a sitting), but the narrative core of resisting constraint by making an art of stillness, by wearing stylised masks, by exerting more control over oneself than the constraints themselves possibly could, is definitely cut from the same cloth.

Since writing the review — in which I uncharacteristically hope for a sequel — I’ve had confirmation that the next book in Valentine’s celebrity-as-statecraft world is already written. This makes me so happy. I was entirely satisfied by Persona ending where it did, but there were so many hooks for a sequel, and they certainly sank into me.


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Review: SHADOW SCALE by Rachel Hartman

My review of Rachel Hartman’s Shadow Scale, the sequel to Seraphina, is now up at NPR Books.

Shadow Scale picks up where Seraphina left off, with the Queendom of Goredd coming to terms with the existence of half-dragons, a civil war among the dragons themselves after an act of betrayal, and the risk of that war spilling across their borders. 40 years of peace have left Goredd’s dragon-fighting abilities depleted — but Seraphina and her fellow half-dragons may hold the key to protecting it with their unique abilities.

I adored Seraphina and couldn’t put it down. I had a more complicated reaction to Shadow Scale, as befits a more complicated book, but all those complications were of the order of needing to shout as things happened or flail about on Twitter about them.

This is very much the sort of novel I almost regret having read in advance of it coming out because I’ll have to wait that much longer to get to TALK about it with people, so please, do me the huge favour of reading these incredibly rich and wonderful books and then come back and we can all squee about them together.


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Rich and Strange: “And You Shall Know Her by the Trail of Dead” by Brooke Bolander

copyright 2015 Galen Dara

This week’s Rich and Strange looks at a blazing, fast-paced, relentless sort of story by Brooke Bolander: “And You Shall Know Her by the Trail of Dead,” published this month in Lightspeed magazine.

In the far-future there are fully synthetic humans grown for grunt-work and war: “The children of wires and circuits aren’t worth a tinker’s fuck compared to the children of real flesh and bone, so far as the world’s concerned,” observes Rhye, our foul-mouthed, gun-slinging protagonist. Seriously injured after a prize fight, she’s taken in by Rack, who helps her up and offers her a place to stay.

Rack and Rhye make a great team: he’s cool, quiet, a brilliant security specialist, while she’s fierce, blazing, loud, angry. Mostly Rack looks after Rhye, cleaning her wounds and not judging her life choices—but when a mob deal goes sour, it’s up to Rhye to save both their lives by diving through circuitry and bodiless space to find Rack and the third party he was hired to extract.

Full review, as usual, at Tor.com. I found this pretty amazing, and can’t wait to read more of Bolander’s work.

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Rich and Strange: “Tiger Baby” by JY Yang

copyright 2015 by Likhain

This week’s story, from the ever-superb Lackington’s, glances against the Lunar New Year, so I’m very glad my review of it appears today! Please also note the absolutely gorgeous artwork accompanying it, by Likhain.

The story is mostly slice-of-life, the stylized prose calculated to make you feel the weight of Felicity’s unwanted, unlived every-day: she goes to work, where everything is always the same; she endures her family, with whom she has nothing in common; she talks to her Otherkin friend on the internet, who thinks she understands Felicity but ultimately doesn’t. But what struck me most about this story was the way I was reading it, potentially against its grain, as a story of colonization and betrayal by one’s literatures, to be failed by stories.

I cut myself off mid-flow as I was writing this, because I was becoming shy about how much the review was turning into an essay about me and my experiences. Suffice it to say the story’s wonderfully effective, accomplishing something enormous in a very small space, and that I want you all to read it, be smacked in the face by its ending, and then talk to me about it on Tor.com!

Note: after googling dates and double-checking with the author, I realised this story takes place in 2020. My first reaction to this was “huh, that’s odd, I mean it’s not really that futuristic,” and then I realised that 2020 is five years from now.

Now I’m going to go have a lie-down.


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