Thursday, January 28, 2016

2015 Short Fiction Round-Up: Novellas

You may have seen my previous post about 2015 novelettes. Now, time for the novellas! Only three this time, because there just aren't that many novellas published in a year. But these ones were, and they're well worth checking out. No links, because I got these through the SFWA forum or private channels. If you're interested in reading them, you'll just have to find out how to get them yourself!

"A Day in Deep Freeze" by Lisa Shapter (Aqueduct Press): In 1963 New England, apparently devoted husband and corporate accountant Emran Green struggles to maintain sanity in the wake of an experience that transformed his life. As a teenager, Emran went "Under," joining over a hundred other men and boys in a factory dedicated to producing an experimental drug. The drug changed them, allowing them to form weak erotic and telepathic bonds with one another in general, and an extremely strong bond with one other man in particular. Over the course of a typical day in Emran's life, the truth of his life Under and what became of his pair-bonded Beloved is slowly revealed. This is perhaps the strangest story that will show up on any of these lists. (Strange is good.) Shapter brings Emran to the brink of madness, but never quite over the edge, which is all the more horrible. One can imagine a never-ending series of days trapped in a loveless marriage (the question of whether or not Emran should "bond" his wife is touched upon), haunted by literal ghosts, aching for the deep connection of the bond yet yearning for what 1960s America calls a "normal" existence. A very effective slow-burn dark SF story.

"Gypsy" by Carter Scholz (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction): On a future crapsack Earth that's all too believable, visionary Roger Fry makes plans to escape the planet on a barely habitable sleeper ship, to seed a planet near Alpha Centauri that may not even exist. It's the longest of shots, but the crew is desperate, their backstories related as each of them wakes up to tend to the maintenance that such an undertaking requires (a fatal fungus that attacks the hibernating bodies is just one of their problems). This is a rare "dark hard SF" story, which shows the crew as both heroic and doomed, and doesn't sacrifice the human element on the altar of scientific meticulousness -- we get both! There's a bit of Chaucer (or if you need a skiffy example, Hyperion) in this sequential storytelling, and like most of my recommendations, it's political as all hell. It all leads up to a brilliant twist ending, which I interpreted as a hallucination, but can also be taken straight. Perhaps the best thing I've read in F&SF this year, and it's been a good year for that magazine.

"Sleeping Dogs" by Adam-Troy Castro (Analog): I'm a huge fan of Castro's AISource Infection stories and novels, both the ones with and without Andrea Cort. This one follows a retired assassin by the name of Draiken who has spent years in retirement on a paradisaical ocean world, learning to live a quieter kind of life. When an old nemesis comes looking for him, Draiken reacts the way he's been trained to react, seeing enemies at every turn. But what if nobody is actually looking for him? Though this novella lacks the bizarre alien races that populate most of his other in-universe stories, it's still a tight little thriller of a tale, with an ending that shows old patterns never really die, they just sleep. Excellent world-building, also, and I'm not usually a person who cares much about world-building.

Next week (or probably a little more), short stories! (And that will be it, since novel-reading isn't so much my bag. I think I've read one novel this year that was released in 2015 and it wasn't quite SF.)

Monday, January 18, 2016

2015 Short Fiction Round-Up: Novelettes

I've always avoided doing best-of-year posts in the past, because a) nobody reads this blog and b) no matter how much I read, it never feels like enough. But then I realized that everybody feels the second thing, and views to this blog have grown steadily, so yes, let's have some best-of-year posts up in here.

First up is the novelette category. This is a length of story that I really like, because it allows for a more involved narrative but without the scene-stretching that defines many novellas. Also, there are fewer of them published every year, so it's a lot easier to make a decision! Submitted for your approval, six "little novels" that I really dug:

"Asymptotic" by Andy Dudak (Clarkesworld): Weird is stacked upon weird in this strangely riveting story of a far-future universe where a nebulous Collection Bureau is the only thing protecting the laws of physics. Nuhane is a cop of sorts, punishing those who exceed the speed of light. But traveling beyond c is its own sort of high, one that Nuhane becomes quickly addicted to... and every time he apprehends a violator, he adds to his own time debt, which can be repaid only by locking down the perp for an unthinkable span of time. There's a novel's worth of ideas packed into this short novelette, but because it's so short, it's actually good! Dudak spins an electrifying tale that seems to say something about addiction, but is mostly just a bunch of cool stuff that happens.

"Blow the Moon Out" by E. Catherine Tobler (Giganotosaurus): The only fantasy story on my list follows four girls living in the shadow of the Cold War. A magical traveling circus (referenced in several of Tobler's other stories) has just come to town, and Lucy and her friends make their way there. But a dog who may or may not be possessed by the spirit of a just-launched Laika the Space Dog attacks one of their crew, things get very weird very fast. A night of freedom at the circus, perhaps even their last night of freedom before the constraints of boys and societal expectations, awaits the girls as they stand on the cusp of adulthood, and the bitten girl's only salvation lies in a magic marmalade with transformative powers. This skillfully-told coming-of-age story is a slow burn that really pays off in the end, as the image of Laika comes full circle.

"The Servant" by Emily Devenport (Clarkesworld): I'm a sucker for generation ship stories. In this long novelette, the Olympia guts the resources from its sister ship Titania, then destroys the ship and everyone on it. But main character Oichi and a few other "worms" have already emigrated to the Olympia, and what follows is a murder-soaked political struggle between dueling clans of Executives. Servants like Oichi are cyborgs, whose senses and voices can be modified by the Executives. Oichi's secret -- that she is not entirely subservient to the whims of her oppressors -- allows her to act as a spy and murderer for the worms' cause. Through the use of a device invented by her dead parents, she seeks to free the residents of the generation ship from their rigid caste structure, and embrace the future as equals. This is a sweeping story of intrigue, betrayal, and revolution, and though perhaps there's a bit less moral grayness than I'm used to, it's well made up for by the scope of the story and Devenport's crisp prose.

"The Stars, Their Faces Uplifted in Song" by Maggie Clark (Giganotosaurus): SF mystery featuring an AI detective who tries to figure out who murdered all but one monk on a planet with a rigid class system. When the monks stop singing, the universe dies, or so the planet believes. But things aren't quite what they seem (well, obviously, otherwise there's no story) and the monks' murder turns out to be part of a much longer game. Like most of the fiction I admire, this is a political story, with profound insights as to the social function of religion and the making of martyrs. I'm not sure if this story is set in a larger world or not, but with its richly textured setting it feels like it could be, and I love the term "Natural Intelligence" (NI) as a contrast to the AI. And how nice it is to see a story starring an AI that isn't about the AI trying to become human!

"Twelve and Tag" by Gregory Norman Bossert (Asimov's Science Fiction): On a Europa mining station, a group of workers play an icebreaker game to pass the time. The new kids on the crew each tell two stories: one true, one false, with the old-timers deciding which is which, in order to establish trust. Bossert's story takes us into a world of neural backups, drugs that give you a flash of someone else's personality, abusive families, and manipulative lovers: a dark future. This is a story about telling stories, which has been done before, but the slick, jargon-filled writing style keeps it fresh up to the ending, where the veteran crew reveals the true purpose of the game. (Note: link goes to an audio version of this story at StarShipSofa. As far as I know there's no online link to this story, which appeared in a print magazine.)

"We Never Sleep" by Nick Mamatas (The Mammoth Book of Dieselpunk): What is Industrivism? An unnamed female pulp writer seeks to find out the identity of the old man who's paying her to write copy for his new political philosophy, and enlists the help of the Pinkerton agent who anonymously submits her manuscripts for her to find out the truth. The "reveal" is telegraphed early -- "nobody wants to be a factory" -- but the pleasure is in the telling, as straight narrative is interspersed with snippets of the pulp writer's political tracts, which paint a rosy picture of a world where man never has to die, as long as he buys in. Fans of Mamatas' work might notice a parallel here with his previous machine-man steampunk story "Arbeitskraft," and both stories turn the blankpunk fad on its head, delving into the politics of this era instead of just adding gears and shit to things.

Next week: novellas!

Thursday, January 7, 2016

January Hot Takes

1. My flash fiction story "Human Resources" is now live at Fireside magazine! Here's a clip:
I used to be vain. I didn’t want my body carved up, so when things got rough I auctioned off a small piece of my brain for a luxury condo and free food for a year. You’ll never miss it, the broker said, and most of the time he’s right. I can’t focus too well anymore, and my memory is shot, but it’s actually kind of nice sometimes. Like living in a dream. 
Celia only got a car. The economy really is weak right now.

Economics and mutilation, a winning combination. The rest of the issue contains stories by A.K. Snyder, A. Merc Rustad, and Aidan Doyle, with gorgeous art from Galen Dara. And if you like what Fireside is doing, consider contributing to their Patreon!

2. You may have a word count tracker for your writing, but do you have the best word count tracker, the one that has colors to keep you motivated but which doesn't have all that crap you don't need? The word count tracker that's basically perfect in every way? Well, now you do. All credit to Christie Yant, creator of the best word count tracker.

3. I read a lot of single-author short fiction collections. Partially for learning, mostly for enjoyment. In 2013 I picked up an e-copy of Jennifer Pelland's Unwelcome Bodies based on a vague memory of reading and enjoying one of her stories in a defunct magazine called Helix. The notable thing about this collection is that every story was basically perfect. The collection closer "Brushstrokes" (a novella) was especially moving, a dark SF love story with extremely unique worldbuilding. Reading Unwelcome Bodies taught me a LOT about writing, and I can guarantee that if you like my stories you'll like this collection. All of this is a long-winded way of saying that it's only a dollar this month for Kindle so pick this sucker up now.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Novel sale: STAY CRAZY to Apex Publications

It's on the publisher's blog, so it's official: I'm going to have a novel published. Here's the blurb:

Nineteen-year-old stock girl Emmeline Kalberg isn't surprised when voices start speaking to her through the RFID chips embedded in frozen food containers. Ever since she left college after being diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, voices have been a mainstay of her life, something to be ignored. But when Em's fellow employees at Savertown USA start dying around her, victims of a mysterious suicide plague, she decides to listen in. What she hears has the potential to tear apart the fabric of her small western Pennsylvania town -- and maybe the entire world.

The story of Stay Crazy began in 2006, when I wrote a novel called Entity that melded my experiences working for Walmart in that strange-ass year after I graduated college with my love of stories that question the nature of reality. Then a year later I quit writing for reasons that made a lot of sense at the time, and the novel was basically trunked along with the rest of my writing. But the story never left me, I always wished I had done something with the novel, and that wish especially grew stronger when I un-quit and my writing reached a whole new level. Some time last year, I pulled out the novel and well... I'm a much better writer than I used to be. So I rewrote it, line by painstaking line. I gave the story the writing it deserved.

And now... it's going to be published. My weirdo reality-bending category-bending novel with a mentally ill, working-class protagonist living in a shitty small town is going to be available for anyone to read, anytime, anywhere. I'm especially stoked to be published by Apex, since they've released a whole lot of books I've just loved.

Publication date is set for August 2016, so mark your calendars! In related news, I will be at WorldCon next year, so... book release party? Book release party, yes.


Friday, December 4, 2015

I Bet Owning a Gun Is Awesome

Like everyone else, I'm somewhat shocked but mostly desensitized about the mass shootings in... you know what, I don't even have to name a city here, because there's just gonna be another one tomorrow. And the day after that. And the day after that. I don't understand why people can't see that all of these shootings are connected to the fact that guns in the United States are plentiful and unregulated and that we have a culture that worships guns. I can't see why the right to own a gun should be more important than the right not to be shot by a gun.

However, I think there might be an aspect to this that I've been overlooking. Because, like a lot of people who criticize gun culture, I've never owned a gun.

I mean, what if owning a gun is literally the absolute best thing ever? What if the mere fact of owning an automatic weapon is like the greatest high that a human being can ever hope to experience, like snorting a bunch of coke and high-fiving the Pope while riding a golden unicorn? And what if the sensual pleasure of gun ownership intensifies every time you leave the ammunition in, or store it out of its safe, or let your children play in the same room as the gun?

Pictured: a first-time gun owner.

Because that would explain it, right? If you take a group of rational humans and tell them that gun control will save hundreds of lives, if you tell them about Australia and some other stuff about Australia and also show them charts aplenty, then nearly everyone will be like "yeah, maybe we should get rid of some of these guns, because come on look at this shit." But maybe instead it's like telling a group of junkies about the dangers of heroin. Sure, they can rationally understand that heroin will kill them. Contrary to popular stereotypes, most addicts are not in denial about their preferred substances. They just can't stop.

And what if there's withdrawal symptoms? Maybe taking a gun owner's gun away is like going cold turkey on OxyContin. You get the shakes, you start hallucinating tiny European monarchs in your house taxing you without representation, shit like that. Man, I wouldn't want that to happen to me! Why do I gotta go through gun detox when I'd never shoot anyone? C'mon bud, just gimme one little Kalashnikov to get me through the end of the week. Maybe it's almost cruel to make gun owners give up their guns, although not as cruel as sitting around with our thumbs up our asses while hundreds of people die or anything.

In closing, based on no evidence whatsoever I believe that owning a gun must create a high so incredibly great that it makes you override your natural empathy and rationality to get a taste of that sweet, sweet steel. Therefore, I propose a new slogan for the gun control movement: