Birthday Business, Shout-Outs, and Other Matters

Today is my 33rd birthday, and I’m celebrating by taking a mini-cation from work to write and see close friends – two of my favorite activities.  I was thinking of having a big party for myself but that sounded an awful lot like the event-organizing I’ve been doing for work lately, so I decided to postpone the party to a less busy time.  I’m thinking I may have a party some time in the summer to celebrate hitting a third of a century.

There are many other illustrious figures born on March 18, including at least two others born in 1977, the year that Star Wars was released and Harvey Milk was elected.  A very special happy birthday to Peter Ball, my birthday-brother from Australia, a fellow writer who defies categorization, writing in every genre from magic realism to pulp noir, and possibly inventing some new sub-genres along the way.  For a free online taste, I recommend this short story at Strange Horizons about merfolk, Copenhagen, love, and loss.

And happy birthday to all the other fabulous March 18ers, including Jordan, a new friend who was born only a half-hour apart from me, and Fernando, an old friend who was born a bit further apart from me than that. 🙂 

In other news, SF Signal recently asked this year’s Nebula award nominees for recommendations of other worthy stories.  I was honored and flattered to see that “Tio Gilberto and the Twenty-Seven Ghosts” was mentioned by several of the nominees.  Many thanks to Chris Barzak, Richard Bowes, Will McIntosh, and Rachel Swirsky for the shout-outs.  It’s especially nice to get kudos from those four writers, all of whom much deserved their nominations and routinely write some of the best stuff out there these days.

All right, time to get some real writing done…

Recommended Books from 2009

Finishing up my series of posts on recommended speculative fiction from 2009, these are the books published in 2009 that stood out for me.  Technically, these span across several categories for both the Nebula and Hugo awards, but I’m covering them all in one foul swoop – so this list includes novels, young adult books, anthologies, and novellas. 

  • The Love We Share without Knowing, by Christopher Barzak: Mosaic novel set in Japan, centered around a group of friends who form a “suicide club,” an action whose ripple effects we see among friends, family members, and lovers, all brilliantly drawn in Barzak’s prose.  These are powerful and haunting tales of loneliness and alienation, with some lovely moments of real connection amidst the loss.  The shelving gods have proclaimed Barzak to be “literature,” but the book has several ghosts and enchantments and other touches of magic realism. (Technically, I think this one was published in late 2008, but it’s still eligible for the Nebula under this year’s rules.)
  • Finch by Jeff VanderMeer:  Detective Finch must solve an unsolvable murder amidst the backdrop of Ambergris, a steampunk city of human beings occupied by the gray caps, their inhuman fungal overlords.  VanderMeer delivers every reader cookie you could possibly desire: brilliant world-building, brilliant noir mystery, brilliant prose, and brilliant characterization.   One of the most original books I’ve read in recent memory.  
  • Liar by Justine Larbalestier: Moving to Young Adult territory, this is one of the most sophisticated YA novels I’ve read in a while.  From the first sentence, Micah (our beloved hero) tells us that she’s a liar, beginning the ultimate unreliable-narrator tale. Larbalestier masterfully interweaves a tragic romance, the mystery of her sort-of boyfriend’s murder, some fantastic elements that may or may not be real, and the omnipresent uncertainty of everything Micah is telling us.  Hard to say more without getting spoiler-y, so just go out and read this book.   
  • Horn by Peter M. Ball: I only read a handful of novellas this year, but this is the one that stands out.  I’ve already gushed about it elsewhere, so I’ll try not to go on too much here.  Unicorn noir mystery, featuring a bad-ass lesbian PI who will come back from the dead if that’s what it takes to crack the case. 
  • Interfictions 2, edited by Christopher Barzak and Delia ShermanExcellent anthology of “interstitial” stories – stories that blur the boundaries between genres.  These stories wonderfully defy expectations, and many of them were among the best stories to come out in 2009.  This series is fast-becoming the heir apparent to Polyphony as the hot place to find stories of the interstitial/New Weird/slipstream/gonzo variety.

Other great books from 2009 included Nicholas Kaufmann’s extremely entertaining pulp fiction adventure, Hunt at World’s End; Joe Abercrombie’s sometimes disturbing dark fantasy revenge novel, Best Served Cold; Walter Jon Williams’ near-future thriller of gamers plunged into real-life mystery and intrigue, This is Not a Game; and Booklife, Jeff VanderMeer’s highly useful guide to writing in the 21st century by conquering the internet instead of allowing the internet to conquer you   Top of my remaining to-read list from 2009 include Cherie Priest’s Boneshaker, Sarah Langan’s Audrey’s Door, Catherynne M. Valente’s Palimpsest, and Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl, all of which I’ve heard are excellent.

Short Story Recommendations from 2009

It’s that time of year whenst folks are reflecting back on 2009 and thinking about nominations for awards and the like.  Thus year, for the first time I’m actually participating in Nebula and Hugo award nominations, a task I am leaping into with both gleeful abandon and a deep weight of responsibility.  These are some of my favorite SF short stories from last year:

  • Superhero Girl,” by Jessica Lee, Fantasy Magazine.  An original twist on the superhero story, masterfully woven with ambiguity.  This is Lee’s first published story, and it’s an impressive debut.  Audio version also available at Podcastle
  • Clockwork, Patchwork, and Ravens,” by Peter M. Ball, Apex Magazine.  Wonderful steampunk tale with a memorable clockwork narrator. Not surprisingly, Peter recently picked up an Aurealis award for this one, one of several strong pieces from him this year. (BTW, for those keeping track, this one clocks in at just under 7,500 words, just missing the novelette category.)
  • Interviews After the Revolution,” by Brian Francis Slattery, Interfictions 2. An elite international circuit party in the midst of revolution and music in Latin America, told in the form of a documentary.  Everything Brian Francis Slattery writes seems to be brilliant.
  • Marsh Gods,” by Ann Leckie, Strange Horizons. Domestic strife, warring gods, and ancient covenants.  Brilliant world-building.  Audio version also available at Podcastle.
  • Reservations,” by Christopher Green, Expanded Horizons.  Lovely magic realism story.  Chris had a bunch of great pieces this year but this is the one that most sticks with me.  
  • The Film-makers of Mars,” by Geoff Ryman, Tor.com.  This brilliant story only served to fan the flames of my secret crush on Geoff Ryman.  Did I say that out loud?

For short-shorts, I highly recommend The Daily Cabal, which has a steady output of quality short-shorts from Dan Braum, Jason Fischer, Angela Slatter, Jeremiah Tolbert, and others.  One of my favorites this year was Fischer’s “Inventory,” a story in the form of a classic 80s adventure game.  GO READ.

Interesting that my list has a fair bit of overlap with Rachel Swirsky’s recent recs, which more than anything probably reflects that we have similar tastes. 

Many great stories came out this year, and these are just a few of the ones that have really stuck with me. – not at all exhaustive, especially considering there’s tons of great stuff out there I haven’t even read! 

Coming soon: novelette, novella, and book recommendations, plus my controversial recommendations for the year’s best SF on-screen.

Unicorn Noir: Burgeoning New Sub-Genre?

hornYesterday I got my copy of Peter M. Ball’s novella Horn direct from Australia, and of course it was immediately bumped to the top of the reading list.  The book daringly seeks to establish a new sub-genre with a hard-boiled noir story rooted in a world of unicorns and faeries.  One of those ideas that would be disastrous in the hands of a weaker writer, but in Peter Ball’s hands it’s like sitting in a hot sun drying up your clothes after they’ve been soaked by a downpour of rain.  (That was me, trying to do a noir simile.  Clearly I don’t have Peter’s talent for it.)

Miriam Aster is an ex-cop and an ex-lover of the ex-Queen of Faery. Now she’s a PI, taking on cases with a bit too much magic and complexity for the guys at the precinct.  When a dead girl shows up in a dumpster and a unicorn’s on the loose, only Aster realizes just how bad things can get.  She has to crack the case before the unicorn in heat finds its next victim, if she can wind her way through the tricky magicks of the fae, the bureaucracy of the precinct, and the complexities of her relationship with a woman she swears she’s not in love with anymore.

OK, clearly I loved this novella.  The noir voice keeps you reading and has just the right amount of irony and humor.  And any time things start to slow down, Ball adds another layer of complexity to keep things interesting.  Here’s one of my favorite passages:

I was looking for Heath Morrow, a morgue institution. … He preferred working the late shift and had a fetish for the odd cases, which meant he called me in every chance he got.  I should have hated Heath, but we got on okay.  For all his ambient creepiness, he never assumed I was crazy and he’d become more bearable since I’d come back to life on his autopsy table.  His tendency to talk to my chest vanished after he’d cut me open.  Apparently it’s hard to objectify someone once you’ve had a scalpel poking around their innards.

I had the privilege of seeing this one in its larval phase, so it’s a pleasure seeing it out in the world, a full-grown gorgeous butterfly (or moth – would moth be more appropriate for noir?).  Twelfth Planet Press also did a great job with the packaging, with a knockout cover and a nice design overall.  The quality of the book made me want to go out and check out more of their stuff.