A Miscellany: NPR, Lightspeed, and PodCastle’s DRINK ME

I genuinely thought September would be something of a respite from the busy-ness of the summer, in which I’d be able to catch up on everything a few things before the end of the month and go into October with something resembling a clean slate.

That hollow, ringing sound you hear is my self-deprecating laughter.

So! Here are a few things I’ve neglected to announce anywhere but Twitter:

I reviewed The Witch With No Name, the last book in Kim Harrison’s Hollows series, for NPR Books here. I liked it much better than the penultimate book, was impressed by the wrapping up of several long-standing plots, saddened by the continued side-lining of Ivy, and perplexed by the withheld epilogue. I’m looking forward to starting a new urban fantasy series, though, and am happy to hear recommendations! Crucial to my enjoyment: strong friendships between women, and women as protagonists. Also ideally the friendships having some kind of narrative primacy over the heterosexual romances. (If you find me a multi-volume urban fantasy with queer romances between women I will just stare at you in sappy gratitude for an uncomfortably long time.)

I also reviewed Your Face in Mine by Jess Row, which so far has the distinction of being the only book I’ve read for NPR that I’ve actively despised. The review is here. For a slightly kinder review (with which I agree), you can read Alex Brown’s take on Tor.com.

And for some palate-cleansing — I highly, highly recommend Saeed Jones’ Prelude to Bruise, which I reviewed here. I was delighted to be asked to read it for All Things Considered, as well (you can listen at the same link), and learned to my astonishment that unlike reading fiction for podcasts, speaking at your speed-of-light conversational pace is actually encouraged for radio. Really all I wanted to do was read Jones’ poetry on air, but they wanted only the smallest of snippets, so allow me to reiterate again that you should all acquire this collection and read it over and over.

Speaking of podcasts — I contributed a piece of never-seen-anywhere-else-and-written-only-because-Dave-Thompson-batted-his-virtual-lashes-at-me flash fiction to PodCastle’s special DRINK ME flash fiction extravaganza, keeping company with stories by Tim Pratt, M. C. Wagner, Ken Schneyer, and E. Lily Yu. My story’s called “The Rag Man Mulls Down the Day,” and is read by the ever-amazing Marguerite Croft, who makes it, as far as I’m concerned, a million times better, to the point where I actually don’t want it to ever appear anywhere in print. I wrote it to be read aloud, and she’s reading it better than I could’ve done, so it’s basically achieved its perfect form. The only way I could imagine it improved would be if someone made a small comic out of it.

You can listen to DRINK ME here, and comment on it in PodCastle’s forums here.

And finally, I’m delighted to announce that starting in March of 2015 I’ll be writing a quarterly review column for Lightspeed, alternating with Andrew Liptak and Sunil Patel. I’m on the staff page now and everything! I’m really excited about this, and looking forward to working further with these excellent people.


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Attack of the Space Unicorn Limericks

So Uncanny Magazine is for real a thing! It hit every last one of its stretch goals! I couldn’t be prouder of Lynne and Michael Thomas, or more excited to be part of their project.

unicorn_finalHowever! Last night, while excitedly watching the numbers, I started a betting pool with Michael in Gchat over how many backers there’d be. With 17 hours to go he was sure they wouldn’t get beyond 975; I was adamant that there would be at least 1000. So I decided that if there were 1001 backers — 1000 besides myself — I would do something ridiculous.

Like, I d’know, read out some hastily penned limericks in honour of Uncanny Magazine’s Space Unicorn mascot while wearing a silly hat. On video.

I’ve never done any video blogging prior to this, so forgive the rough effort; it was done in one take and I don’t know my angles. But here it is nevertheless, born of sheer enthusiasm for sillyness and Space Unicorns and delight at a project’s success.


Space Unicorn Limericks from Amal El-Mohtar on Vimeo.


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Nine Worlds Schedule

And here is my Nine Worlds schedule — which begins TOMORROW, eep!


Suffering Sappho! Queer representation in superhero comics
Connaught B, 1:30pm – 2:45pm (LGBTQAI Fandom)

The Doctor’s Privilege
Royal C&D, 3:15pm – 4:30pm (Doctor Who)


If A Woman Was Cast As The Doctor…
Royal C&D, 1:30pm – 2:45pm

Wouldn’t It Be Cool If…
Connaught B, 3:15pm – 4:30pm (LGBTQAI Fandom)

Bifröst! Queer Cabaret
Comm East, 8pm – 10pm (LGBTQAI Fandom)

Hope to see you there! Do let me know if you’re planning on being there and whether you wish to meet up — this is my first Nine Worlds and I’m looking forward to meeting new people and people I mightn’t get to see otherwise.


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LonCon3 Schedule

My LonCon3 schedule, let me show you it! It’s pretty packed. I’ll note up front that in addition to panels I have an autographing session and a Kaffeeklatsch, so those are places where I am guaranteed to be in a way that you can at least tokenly converse with me if all other plans fall through!

I’ll also be at Nine Worlds, but there are couple of things still being ironed out in that schedule, hopefully to be posted tomorrow.

Better Worldbuilding Through Poetry
Thursday 16:30 – 18:00, Capital Suite 13 (ExCeL)

When you ask someone to think of poetry in SF and fantasy novels, they are liable to think first of the epic or pseudo-epic verse of Tolkien and his inheritors — language used to elevate and mythologise the world and the events they create. But poetry can be put to many and varied uses within larger works, as evidenced by such recent books as Anne Carson’s “Red Doc>” (a verse novel), Sofia Samatar’s “A Stranger in Olondria” (which includes poetry as imagined literary history), or Kim Stanley Robinson’s “2312” (prose-poems evoking AI consciousness). How do these and other SF and fantasy works use poetry to help create moods, worlds, or characters? What forms and what kinds of language are most common, and why? And to what extent is poetry contextual — are there examples of writing that we accept as the next page of a novel, but would treat as a poem if published separately?

Catherynne M. Valente (M), Jenny Blackford, Amal El-Mohtar, Greer Gilman, Neil Williamson

Autographing 2 – Amal El-Mohtar
Friday 11:00 – 12:00, Autographing Space (ExCeL)

Content and Form: Writing SF/F in non-Western Modes
Friday 13:30 – 15:00, Capital Suite 8 (ExCeL)

Sofia Samatar recently suggested that SF genre writers and readers have “a tendency to focus on content rather than form”, even or especially when engaging with marginalised perspectives. Does our genre inevitably tend towards the form and structure of western, English-language stories, regardless of what cultural tradition(s) are reflected in the content? How can a non-western or non-Anglophone writer engage with science fiction and fantasy while also operating outside of the conventions of western-style storytelling? Is it possible for western writers to engage with non-western traditions in an authentic way and produce a story that a wider audience will recognize as science fiction or fantasy? What are some of the different forms offered by non-western cultures that need to be told?

Amal El-Mohtar (M), Aliette de Bodard, Rochita Loenen-Ruiz, JY Yang, Nick Wood

Saturday Morning Cartoons: The Next Generation
Friday 16:30 – 18:00, Capital Suite 2 (ExCeL)

Alongside the much-discussed golden age of animated cinema, we’re living in a golden age of animated TV. Shows such as Gravity Falls, Venture Brothers, My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, Adventure Time, and Avatar: The Last Airbender can be as clever, funny, politically challenging and emotionally sophisticated as any live-action show. This panel will discuss when and why the best of these shows work so well — as well as the constraints they still face, and whether some of them fall short of their ideals.

Amal El-Mohtar, Abigail Nussbaum (M), Abigail Sutherland, Andrew Ferguson

Saturday 11:00 – 12:00, London Suite 5 (ExCeL)

Kaffeeklatsches and Literary Beers are small group discussions with authors, artists, editors, and other interesting personalities. Kaffeeklatsches are located in the London Suite, and Literary Beers in the bar area of the Fan Village.

Sessions are limited to nine attendees, and advance signup is required. Overbooking is not allowed. Sign-up sheets will be available at the Information Desk the day before each session. Morning slots (those starting 10AM-1PM) will be available from 9:30AM on the morning before, and afternoon slots (from 2PM onwards) will be available at 2PM the afternoon before. Each person in line may sign up for only one kaffeeklatsch per session, and only one person per kaffeeklatsch (although you may sign up for someone other than yourself). You must provide the attendee’s badge name and number to sign up. Three reserve places will be available in case an attendee cancels a booking or does not show up.

Unfortunately we can provide drinks only for session hosts, so please feel free to bring your own drink with you.

Race and British SF
Saturday 13:30 – 15:00, Capital Suite 5 (ExCeL)

Four years ago, Tricia Sullivan threw a spotlight on the gender balance of SF authors published in the UK, leading to a continuing conversation that is — perhaps — finally having an effect. However, although other aspects of representation have been mentioned in the course of this conversation, they have rarely been the focus, and in particular it can be argued that UK fandom and publishing have not talked enough about race. To use the same barometer as Sullivan, only one writer of colour has ever won the Arthur C. Clarke Award, and so far this century only three have been shortlisted. Yet the success of diversity-led events such as Nine Worlds suggests the audience is there. So what else should publishers and fannish institutions in the UK be doing to support writers of colour? Whose work should Loncon attendees rush to buy in the dealer’s room? And whose novels and stories are we eagerly anticipating?

Amal El-Mohtar (M), Tajinder Hayer, Stephanie Saulter, Russell Smith, Dev Agarwal

Full-Spectrum Fantasy
Saturday 18:00 – 19:00, Capital Suite 8+11 (ExCeL)

Fantasy stories often rely on Kings and Queens, a merchant or two, and occasionally a guttersnipe on his way to the top. What does a fantasy world look like when it’s shown from the point of view of people who aren’t usually the focus: people of colour, women, anyone who isn’t royalty (not even unwittingly)? Likewise, how often do we see engineers, union reps and factory workers in sf? Depicting multiple axes of human experience – a truly representative spectrum of gender, sexuality, race, class, and (dis)ability – honestly and with empathy can still be something of a radical progressive act in the world today. Which are the stories and series that attempt this, and how far do they succeed?

Mary Robinette Kowal (M), Amal El-Mohtar, Max Gladstone, Keffy R. M. Kehrli, Jennifer Stevenson

Sindbad Sci-Fi presents The World at Worldcon: Arabic SF/F
Sunday 15:00 – 16:30, Capital Suite 8+11 (ExCeL)

Fantastical storytelling in Arabic doesn’t begin and end with The Thousand and One Nights; in fact, there is a long history of speculative fiction in Arabic, stretching all the way back to medieval intellectuals like al-Farabi and Ibn al-Nafis. This panel will explore the past, present and future of Arab and Arabic science fiction narratives, including authors writing in Arabic – such as Ahmed Khaled Towfik and Noura al-Noman – and the work of members of the Arab diaspora, such as Amal El-Mohtar and Saladin Ahmed.

Yasmin Khan (M), Ibrahim Abbas, Noura al-Noman, Yasser Bahjatt, Amal El-Mohtar


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Upcoming Appearances: Nine Worlds, LonCon3, Waterstone’s Glasgow Argyle St

I have existed in a near-constant state of travel since June 25, and it’s far from over! But here’s where I’ll be over the next two weeks:

August 8-10: Nine Worlds Geekfest 2014

I’m on the Doctor Who and LGBTQAI tracks, with confirmation of programme items pending.

August 14-18: LonCon3

I am on SO MUCH PROGRAMMING I may as well make a separate post for it! It all looks amazing, though.

August 21: An Evening with Ann & Jeff VanderMeer
Waterstone’s Glasgow Argyle St
Tickets: Free, but call 0141 248 4814 to reserve.
Event Description:

We are pleased to announce an evening with the talented Ann and Jeff VanderMeer who will be in conversation with Glasgow’s masters of the fantastic: Amal El-Mohtar, Hal Duncan and Neil Williamson. Join us in a celebration of the weird and wonderful world of science fiction and fantasy with some of the genre’s most talented authors.

And there you have it! I love meeting new people, so please do feel free to walk up and introduce yourselves.


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Two Kickstarters: Alphabet of Embers & UNCANNY

I’m involved in the following two projects being funded through Kickstarter, and very excited about them both.

Launched by Rose Lemberg, a brilliant editor and writer whom I love and admire, An Alphabet of Embers is “an anthology of unclassifiables –- lyrical, surreal, magical, experimental pieces that straddle the border between poetry and prose.” Sofia Samatar has an impassioned post about it here.

With seven days to go the project is already funded and has reached two of its three stretch goals: black and white interior illustrations, and commissioning a song by the Banjo Apocalypse Crinoline Troubadours (of whom I am a third). Caitlyn Paxson, CSE Cooney and I began discussing the commission several weeks ago, when it was not yet a sure thing; I’m very glad it now is, because I think it’s going to be very special, something we’ve not yet done before, and something to level us up in our odd mélange of craft.

It’s also bursting with nifty incentives: Bogi Takács is sending out postcards with Ember Letters on them to people who back at $25 or more, Rose is periodically drawing whimsical creatures (OMG Sturgeon of Doubt!), and Kythryne Aisling of Wyrding Studios is offering Kickstarter-exclusive Firebird pendants as well as making jewellery themed around Ballads from a Distant Star, the not-so-secret Banjo Apocalypse Crinoline Troubadour project from which much of our show material comes.

If the project reaches $8K, the amazing Saira Ali of Kitabiyat Press will, on her 19th century letterpress, produce broadsides of a single story from AoE for all backers who pledged at the $45 level or higher. BUT WAIT THERE’S MORE! The famously mermaid-poem-averse Rose Lemberg will, with co-editor Shweta Narayan, edit a joke-issue of Stone Telling composed entirely of rhymed mermaid poetry.

Naturally, I intend to submit something.


Launched by Lynne and Michael Damien Thomas, Uncanny will be “A Professional Magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature,” where each bi-monthly issue “will contain new and classic speculative fiction, fiction podcasts, poetry, essays, art, and interviews.” I’m committed to contributing fiction to its first year — as are such brilliant people as Sofia Samatar, Charlie Jane Anders, Liz Argall, Rachel Swirsky, Maria Dahvana Headley, Mary Robinette Kowal, Scott Lynch, Catherynne M. Valente, Paul Cornell, Ken Liu, Kat Howard, Hao Jingfang, E. Lily Yu, and some beardy unknown called Neil Gaiman.

Besides how diverse the first year looks to be, I’m delighted to see how many women are involved in the magazine’s structure and management, and am genuinely looking forward to writing for them. I can also vouch with absolute certainty for Lynne and Michael’s vision, skill, and kindness as editors, having been edited by them for Glitter & Mayhem and Queers Dig Time Lords.

So! Two Kickstarters, both alike in awesomeness, worthy of your attention and lucre. Go to!


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Three Reviews of Four Books Up at NPR

I’ve been travelling for the last month and change, but am momentarily stationary enough to mention that the following reviews have gone live at NPR Books:

Landline, by Rainbow Rowell.

 All of Rowell’s books thus far have paid some homage to geeky interests — superhero comics in Eleanor & Park, Harry Potter (ish) fanfic communities in Fangirl, Dungeons & Dragons inAttachments — but this is the first to feature an outright science fiction element in the time-blurring phone. It’s a deliciously clever device: Using the increasingly obsolete landline as an anchor, foothold or portal into the past is a great idea, especially when the past in question isn’t yet distant enough to be alien. As a metaphor for returning to a root-deep connection in the face of signal noise and distortion, it’s excellent — but ultimately, it works better as meta commentary than effective storytelling tool.

A double-review of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Seconds and Gene Luen Yang & Sonny Liew’s The Shadow Hero.

Two remarkable graphic novels being released this week are themed around shadow-selves, legacies and second chances: 
Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Seconds is about a woman given the opportunity to magically undo past mistakes, while Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew’s The Shadow Hero revises a mysterious golden-age superhero called the Green Turtle by fleshing out his Asian-American origins.

Through the Woods, by Emily Carroll.

In these five graphic tales (meaning comics, not stories told in Grand Guignol fashion — although that linguistic line is definitely blurred here), Carroll’s sinuous prose and emphatic art blend seamlessly into a path through the stories she tells. If there is a key to this collection, it is the phrase, “It came from the woods. (Most strange things do),” which recurs in “His Face All Red,” the story of a man who murders his brother only to see him emerge from the woods whole, happy and unscathed. These are tales of strange things that come from or go into the woods — and what they did to people, or had done to them, along the way.

I’m so delighted I get to review comics for NPR now! Particular kudos are due to Stu West for making me pay attention to lettering (even if I’ll never share his particular antipathy towards that of Order of the Stick).


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Weird Fiction Storybundle — One Day Left!

Art by Jeremy Zerfoss

Jeff VanderMeer has graciously included The Honey Month in his Weird Fiction Storybundle, a collection of works from Cheeky Frawg Books. This delights me, as it places me in the company of Michael Cisco, Karin Tidbeck, Desirina Boskovich, and Leena Krohn, not to mention Jeff himself — his latest collection of stories is available too. You can read more from Jeff about the bundle here.

It’s an excellent bargain, only good for one more day: for a minimum of $3 you get five DRM-free e-books (including mine!), and for a minimum of $12 you get eight (including Karin Tidbeck’s Jagannath which is seriously freakin’ amazing and which I would pay $12 for alone! Heck I already have!)

But from where I stand as an author, it’s even more wonderful, because my royalties are 65% of The Honey Month‘s share of the bundle. So if you’ve ever wanted to support me and my work in a way that buys me groceries and takes me to the occasional con, this is a great way to do it — while also supporting a generous, adventuresome publisher and getting a really splendid collection of other people’s books. You can also adjust what percentage of your money goes to authors and what percentage goes to Storybundle.

This bundle vanishes, never again to be repeated, on Wednesday, July 24! So help yourself to it while it lasts. Alternately if you’d like the print edition of The Honey Month (which includes Oliver Hunter’s illustrations), you can still get it from Papaveria Press, Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk, as well as The Book Depository.


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My Readercon Schedule

My Readercon schedule, let me show you it! I can’t freakin’ believe I booked an autograph session. I’ll look forward to nattering at Gemma if no one turns up!

Thursday July 10


9:00 PM ENL Readercon Classic Fiction Bookclub: Memoirs of a Space Woman. Amal El-Mohtar, Lila Garrott (leader), Sonya Taaffe. Naomi Mitchison’s 1962 exploration of a life lived nearly entirely in space has deep humanist themes. Mary’s specialty in alien communication leads to a life and profession of embracing the Other, literally realized in her accidental pregnancy via a Martian. We’ll discuss criticisms of the book’s heteronormativity and biological determinism as well as the themes of Mary’s immersion in alien cultures.

Friday July 11

4:00 PM IN The Banjo Apocalypse Crinoline Troubadours. C.S.E. Cooney, Amal El-Mohtar, Nicole Kornher-Stace, Caitlyn Paxson. The Banjo Apocalypse Crinoline Troubadours are friends, writers, performers, and musicians who’ve banded together to share their work with the world. Scattered across the globe, they do not so much travel together as spontaneously occur. Whenever two or more are gathered, you can be sure of a well-dressed apocalypse. BACT performances include music, poetry, storytelling, and theatrical readings: all original work and accompanied by the harp and banjo. Hear tell of witches, ghost-hunters, and ballads from a distant star! Marvel at sea kings, ancient cities, and much, much more!

8:00 PM IN Speculative Poetry Open Mic. Saira Ali (leader), Amal El-Mohtar. Speculative poetry covers a broad range of forms and topics. Creators and fans of speculative poetry are invited to come to this open mic and perform their favorite works. Sign up at the info desk.

Saturday July 12

10:00 AM E Autographs. Amal El-Mohtar, Gemma Files.

3:00 PM G The Booty Don’t Lie: A Cheeky Discussion of Butts in Literature. Amal El-Mohtar (leader), Mikki Kendall, Julia Starkey, Vinnie Tesla, Emily Wagner. This panel is about butts. Fundamentally divisive, throughout history the humble buttocks has often found itself at the intersection of concerns about gender, sexuality, race, and truly terrible puns. This gameshow-style discussion of butts in literature and popular culture promises to be deep, probing, and entertaining in equal measure; join us in reasoning a posteriori.

Sunday July 13

10:00 AM IN From Page to Stage: Adapting Your Work for an Audience. C.S.E. Cooney, Amal El-Mohtar, Caitlyn Paxson. Caitlyn Paxson, C.S.E. Cooney, and Amal El-Mohtar will discuss how to take your work from the page to the stage. Each will perform short examples of the art, talking about eye contact, decibel level, and body language. They’ll also provide vocal warm-ups and exercises, and tips on articulation, memorization, and breath control. Participants are encouraged to bring 1-3 paragraphs of their own writing to share aloud.

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NPR’s #BookYourTrip Summer Reading List

NPR Books has done something a little different with this year’s summer reading list; they’ve decided to organise their book recommendations by different modes of transportation.

I contributed 8 mini-reviews in their Car, Time, Hot Air Balloon, Rocket Ship, and Miscellaneous sections, as follow:

Reservation Blues by Sherman Alexie (Car)

The Salt Roads by Nalo Hopkinson (Miscellaneous)

Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples (Rocket Ship)

Adaptation by Malinda Lo (Rocket Ship)

Highfell Grimoires by Langley Hyde (Hot Air Balloon)

To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis (Time)

Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones (Miscellaneous)

Prospero’s Children by Jan Siegel (Miscellaneous)

These are all books I’ve genuinely loved and highly recommend. I had a brilliant time revisiting them for these write-ups, and hope you’ll find some to your taste! If you want to play along with NPR on Twitter and make your own recommendations, the relevant hashtag is #BookYourTrip.


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