Stories worth reading

How many times do I have to say that you must read Borne: A Novel by Jeff VanderMeer?

READ THIS NOVEL!

A few months ago I read an advance copy of Jeff VanderMeer’s new novel Borne and couldn’t put it down.

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Now, after waiting patiently for Borne to be released to the greater world, I have three simple words:

READ THIS NOVEL!

Borne is one of the best novels I've read in years, even better, in my opinion, than VanderMeer's award-winning Southern Reach trilogy. Which is truly something because I loved the Southern Reach trilogy.

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While VanderMeer is usually known for his New Weird fantasy stories, with Borne he reaches into science fiction. The novel delivers a weirdly futuristic wasteland filled with discarded scientific experiments and a scavenger who nurtures one of these experiments (which she names Borne) while facing off with a skyscraper-tall flying bear named Mord.

Yes, the novel features a giant flying bear. And believe me, the bear works.

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Despite the flying bear, I’m still calling Borne science fiction. The novel reads as if Jeff VanderMeer has created something totally new in the science fiction universe. Call it New Weird SF. As a bonus, Borne is likely to appeal to many readers who otherwise might never consider reading a science fiction novel. Or a fantasy novel.

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Borne is a totally unique and exciting read which is beautifully written and reveals more and more with each re-read. I also look forward to the discussions people have around this book. What is the nature of the creature named Borne? Is the giant bear a stand-in for Trump blundering across the world? Or are we all Borne and Mord on some level?

So many ways to think about Borne. So many ways to enjoy this epic literary adventure. So many ways to say ...

READ THIS NOVEL!

Two new writers worth reading: A.T. Greenblatt and Harmony Neal

I'm still a week away from releasing my picks for the year's best SF/F stories and novels (although you can see my work-in-progress list here). Until then I wanted to highlight two new authors whose short fiction caught my eye in 2016.

A. T. Greenblatt is an engineer and writer who has published a handful of short stories since 2010 but really stepped up her fiction in the last two years with publications in places like Strange Horizons and Beneath Ceaseless Skies. I loved her 2016 story "A Non-Hero’s Guide to The Road of Monsters" in Mothership Zeta. The story is a fun take on familiar fantasy hero quests, making lighthearted yet quite serious points about the types of people we classify as heroes and monsters.

I also really enjoyed Greenblatt's "They Said the Desert" in Beneath Ceaseless Skies. This more disturbing story follows a trader crossing a desert which killed someone she loved. Greenblatt creates an epic world here which I found fascinating.

Harmony Neal has taken a similar publishing path as Greenblatt, with her stories appearing in small magazines in recent years before stepping up with her newest fiction. Her short story "Dare" in Black Static 53 focuses on a group of high school girls daring each other to do truly horrible things to each other. This is one of the year's most disturbing horror stories I've read this year.

I also really enjoyed Neal's weird SF story "Alts" in Interzone 267. This story focuses on a group of altered humans forced to attend a hellish self-help group. As with "Dare" this story is very focused on the characters and their lives, making the reader relate to the story's people and events as if you experienced them yourself.

I suggest people both read these stories and keep an eye out for upcoming fiction from A.T. Greenblatt and Harmony Neal. I'm definitely looking forward to reading more of their work.

Review of "The Super Ultra Duchess of Fedora Forest" by Charlie Jane Anders

Name a favorite fairy tale. Odds are you'll pick a Disneyfied tale, perhaps one of those princess stories all cleaned up and ready to lie to generations of kids. Or maybe you'll pick a tale recorded by the Grimms. Perhaps a nice helping of Hansel and Grethel with some Little Red Riding Hood on the side.

Name your favorite fairy tale and odds are you won't pick "The Mouse, the Bird, and the Sausage." Yet this is exactly what Charlie Jane Anders does in her fun and oh-so-relevant "The Super Ultra Duchess of Fedora Forest," one of the many new fairy tales in The Starlit Wood, edited by Dominik Parisien and Navah Wolfe.

Anders' story is set in a future fantasy world were instead of an internet of things humanity creates a consciousness of things, giving every object and animal in our world a sense of self along with intelligence before we vanish from existence. The result is a world where mice, birds, and yes, sausages, strive to understand their roles and purposes in life.

"The Super Ultra Duchess of Fedora Forest" is a fun, humorous read with a deadly seriousness beneath the laughs, with this fairy tale of three friends finding their way in the world interspaced with explorations of identity and self governance. I suspect even people who are not fans of fairy tales will love Anders' story.

I highly recommend "The Super Ultra Duchess of Fedora Forest" and have added it to my continually updated Nebula Award recommended reading list. I also looking forward to reading more stories in this fascinating anthology.

Stay Crazy by Erica L. Satifka

What do you get if Philip K. Dick worked a crap job at Walmart while simultaneously being treated for mental illness and talking to interdimensional beings? You'd get the year's best debut SF novel, Stay Crazy by Erica L. Satifka.

Stay Crazy is the story of Emmeline, a young woman with paranoid schizophrenia who works a dead-end job at Savertown USA, the cost-cutting big box store which sucks the soul out of everything it touches. Emmeline sees her job as a step toward getting her life back together after a recent mental breakdown. But when a strange being from another dimension begins talking to Emmeline through the RFID chips in the store's merchandise — warning of a pending global apocalypse — she must find a way to both save the world while not suffering another breakdown.

Stay Crazy mixes a fast-paced science fiction plot with deft social criticism, characters you'll love, and laugh-out-loud humor. The novel is also an excellent exploration of neurodiversity and how there are multiple ways to see both your own life and the world around us.

I highly recommend people read this novel, which is the best debut novel I've read this year. Erica Satifka is a highly talented writer which a rich imagination and I look forward to reading her next novel.

Worldcon in a series of scattered thoughts

  • Jason Sizemore is right — the best moment of MidAmericon II was Rachel Swirsky reading her Nebula Award winning short story "If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love." The story is powerful to read. But to hear those beautiful and moving words in Rachel's voice ... Wow. What more can I say?
     
  • At the reading I read "Death Flowers of Never-Forgotten Love," which was inspired by Rachel's story. And the fiction read by Adam-Troy Castro and Kate Kate Elliott was also super awesome and disturbing.
     
  • I have nothing more to say on the Dave Truesdale short fiction fiasco. However, if you want a detailed eye-witness summary of what happened, Dave Creek has written the best account I've read. You'll have to log into Facebook to read it.
     
  • Read Alyssa Wong's thread on what happened to her at Worldcon. This is unacceptable and should never happen to anyone. Take a stand for the good and work to prevent pain like this from reoccurring.
     
  • Lots of great summaries of Worldcon and the Hugo Awards out there. My favorites include ones from Monica Valentinelli, Abigail Nussbaum, and Rich Horton.
     
  • Maurice Broaddus. By this time next year you're going to be like damn man, Maurice Broaddus is everywhere. And he deserves to be because he's one of the best people I know in the genre. You go Maurice!
     
  • I met too many great people to name them all, so I'm not even going to try (but they know who they are). That's what makes Worldcon and the entire SF/F community so great — the people. Never forget that without the people in our genre our genre would be nothing. Always remember to treat people well and with respect even if you disagree with them. But the flip side to that is to also not tolerate wrong behavior merely because someone is well-known in the genre or a friend of yours. Call out the wrongness but keep to the happiness.
     
  • Final thought. This was my first Worldcon and I want to thank everyone who made me feel welcome and came to my panels and took the time to say hello. Again, it's the people who matter.