2022: Award Eligible Work and Recommended Short Fiction

Christ, it’s that time again already. 2022 has been a wild year for me. I had my first short story collection come out! I got nominated for my first Shirley Jackson Award! I can’t honestly say I expect to receive any nominations in 2023, particularly since so much of my recent work isn’t freely available online, but what the hell, right? I’m excited about the work I’ve done this year, so I’m gonna talk about it for a bit—feel free to scroll on down, should you get bored—before jumping into a list of the awesome short fiction that I’ve been reading. (Don’t scroll past that, though! There are some excellent stories here that you should check out if you haven’t already.)

In regards to my own 2022 published work:

YOU FED US TO THE ROSES

My debut short story collection out now from Robot Dinosaur Press! Starting with “Some Kind of Blood-Soaked Future,” which appeared in The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy and Horror, and ending with “Forward, Victoria,” a recent finalist for the Shirley Jackson Awards, this collection contains ten contemporary dark fantasy and horror stories. Some pretty amazing writers have said such lovely things about it, too, writers like Damien Angelica Walters, Kristi DeMeester, Premee Mohamed, and more. And Publishers Weekly called it a “grim and enthralling collection” that would appeal to fans of Carmen Maria Machado and Angela Carter. So, you know. I’m kinda proud, all in all.

15 Eulogies Scribbled Inside a Hello Kitty Notebook” – You Fed Us to the Roses – October 2022 (about 5800 words)

If people only read one story of mine this year, this would be the story that I’d choose.

You Fed Us To The Roses is mostly made up of reprints, but I wrote “15 Eulogies Scribbled Inside a Hello Kitty Notebook” specifically for this collection. (It will also appear in PseudoPod at the end of December as part of their ongoing 2022 Anthologies and Collections spotlight, which I’m very excited about.) This story is pretty obviously inspired by my love of TV shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Teen Wolf, and is very much about death anxiety, though I like to think there’s a certain amount of hope in there, too. You might like this one if you enjoy poetry, unconventional eulogies, angst, humor, and stories about the emotional costs of repeatedly saving the world/losing the people you love, all while you’re supposed to be studying for physics.

An Atlas of Names and Footprints and Thoughts Unsaid” – IZ Digital – September 2022 (about 5900 words)

Ah, my queer fantasy/western romance between an ace monster hunter and her fashionable lady detective partner. This story is a bit of a personal one, and I must admit that I’m rather fond of it, especially since the road to getting it published was long and fraught with form rejection. I wish it was available to read for free, but if you are interested in checking it out, a one month subscription to IZ Digital will allow you access to it and any other IZ Digital story. You might like this one if you enjoy F/F romances, friends to (non-sexual) lovers, mutual pining, weird westerns, cultural anthropology, detectives, blood storms, and happy endings.

ETA: Gareth Jelley from IZ Digital has graciously allowed me to post the password (CjrF!re945dfKjQwG) so that you can read “An Atlas of Names and Footprints and Thoughts Unsaid” for free right now!

You Can Have the Ground, My Love” – Classic Monsters Unleashed – July 2022 (about 2300 words)

2020 was a shit year for obvious reasons, but it also happened to be my personal Year of Monsters, where I watched a bunch of classic Universal horror movies and reviewed them here on MGB. Bride of Frankenstein gave me a Lot of Feels—justice for the Bride! Murdered because she just wasn’t that into a strange man abruptly fondling her hand like a weirdo!—so when the call for this anthology went out, I knew I had to try for it, especially with such a fantastic lineup of authors, like, damn. You might enjoy this one if you like stories about resurrection, defiance, murder, living dead girls, aromantic heroines, and women who take charge of their own narratives.

Tiny Little Wounds” – Nightmare – October 2022 (about 780 words)

My creepy little flash fiction about ghosts, exorcisms, and skin-picking. This is a bit of a personal story for me, too, if I’m being honest, and it was super exciting to be a part of Nightmare’s tenth anniversary issue. You might enjoy this one if you like stories about compulsion, trauma, and the wounds that linger even after surviving the monster.

Stringy” – Apex – September/October 2022 (about 250 words)

Finally, my tiniest and most murdery of stories! “Stringy” was inspired by my love for haunted houses and won Apex’s Holidays Horrors contest, which was a delightful surprise. You might enjoy this one if you like pumpkins, blindfolds, grim discoveries, and spooky tales that take less than a minute to read.

In regards to eligibility . . .

YOU FED US TO THE ROSES is eligible for Best Collection for The Shirley Jackson Awards and The Bram Stoker Awards.  Every story listed is eligible for Best Short Story in the Nebulas, Hugos, Shirley Jackson Awards, Bram Stoker Awards, World Fantasy, etc—except “An Atlas of Names and Footprints and Thoughts Unsaid,” which—as a fantasy/western/romance—isn’t a particularly good fit for either Shirley Jackson or Bram Stoker.

With that out of the way, let’s continue. In no particular order, here are . . .

MY FAVORITE SHORT STORIES AND NOVELETTES OF 2022

1. “You, Me, Her, You, Her, I” – Isabel J. Kim – Strange Horizons

I’ve always found myself drawn to stories about identity, particular when it comes to artificial intelligence. There’s a lot to love about this one—the beginning, the ending, the quietly gorgeous prose throughout—but one thing I especially enjoy is that this isn’t a story about wanting to become human. Our MC might be imitating their host, but they never try to become her; rather, this a story about self-discovery, about creating memories, creating art—and then taking ownership of those creations.

You are not here to be faithful. You are here to be adequate.

2. “Lay My Stomach On Your Scales” – Wen-yi Lee – Strange Horizons

Okay, this story is fantastic. It’s about adolescence and body dysmorphia and slowly growing to see the worth in your own flesh; it’s also about penanggalan and stealing body parts and the friendship that forms between two monster girls. One scene in particular gave me some serious junior high flashbacks. Sometimes, it’s easier—sometimes it’s safer—to be a monster than a teenage girl.

I become forty eight kilograms lighter when I detach my head from my body.

3. “Douen” – Suzan Palumbo – The Dark

A dark and lovely story, though that’s hardly a surprise. I’ve yet to come across anything by Suzan Palumbo that I haven’t thoroughly enjoyed. “Douen” is a story about a lonely, dead child who desperately misses her mother, a child who gradually becomes more and more monstrous as she watches the world move on without her. The ending, in particular, is especially wonderful. It didn’t quite go where I expected, and I loved where it went instead.

I was standing behind one of de concrete headstone watching Mama and all meh aunties and uncles bawl. I cry too, because I didn’t remember how I get there and I didn’t want to be dead.

4. “The Many Murders of the Self” – H. Pueyo – The Dark

This is a phenomenal story. It’s also easily the darkest story on the list, so please pay attention to the content warnings because this one hits hard like a brick to the chest. The writing is gorgeous and pulls no punches. There is approximately zero room for hope, but it is also psychological horror at its finest and deserves to get all the acclaim and award nominations.

The first one to die is the little girl.

5. “If You Find Yourself Speaking to God, Address God with the Informal You” – John Chu – Uncanny

Oh, this is excellent. I mean, just the title alone is excellent, but also a gay superhero romance! Or rather a gay superhero/gay bodybuilder-and-musical-theater-actor romance. It’s a very fun novelette and a very funny novelette (I will confess that I had to Google “Tom of Finland” to get the reference), but it also seamlessly discusses protests and police brutality and violence against Asian Americans. I haven’t been as into superhero movies as I used to be, but this is definitely one I’d watch in a hot second.

He grins when my gaze meets his. I may have inadvertently attracted the attention of a god.

6. “Requiem for a Dollface” – Margaret Dunlap – Uncanny

Listen, I apologize for making the comp that probably everyone makes while talking about this story, but “Requiem for a Dollface” is like Toy Story noir, which means that it’s fucking amazing. It’s a very quick read, only about 1500 words, and goes from “darkly hilarious” to “sweetly melancholic” to “oh, shit, CREEPY” in the blink of an eye. Friends. Darlings. I think I’m in love.

Not every child loved their toys gently. That was life.
This was murder.

7. “Dissent: A Five-Course Meal (With Suggested Pairings) – Aimee Ogden – Lightspeed

What a powerhouse of a story, particularly considering it’s not even 800 words. This flash fiction gives us glimpses of a queer woman’s life as she goes through protests, prison, health care insecurity, and more. The five-course meal structure works really well here, and the story ends on a lovely moment of bittersweet hope.

It’s too late in the meal for slogans.

8. “Choke” – Suyi Davies Okungbowa– Tor.com

There’s a lot of easy, relatable humor in this story (free food is a special kind of delightful, and watching Leverage reruns on Friday nights-in is absolutely the way to go), but “Choke” is also excellent at slowly ratcheting up the unease and tension as a dinner party for international college students soon grows from awkward and uncomfortable to creepy and surreal. Spectacular stuff.

No three words will make you congeal faster than Let us pray.

9. “The Pennyfeathers Ride Again” – L Chan – The Dark

Once again, I am helpless for an L Chan ghost story. This is also a siblings story, a story about creepy dolls, a story about bespoke exorcists—I mean, need I go on? I feel like I’m listing a few of my favorite things here, Julie Andrews style. The only criticism I have  is that I want more stories immediately. A Pennyfeathers novel would make for an excellent Christmas present, that’s all I’m saying.

William Pennyfeather was years dead, opened up from thigh to chin by something in the haunted underground of Holborn Station. Until an hour ago, this had been the most traumatic experience of his existence.

10. “Bonesoup” – Eugenia Triantafyllou – Strange Horizons

Finally, we have this lovely and utterly morbid delight. “Bonesoup” is a dark, modern fairy tale with a grandmother who shows her love with food, a granddaughter who’s yearned to eat what all the other children eat, and the terrible things people are willing to do to nurture and protect their family. Tender, dark, and beautiful.

In Greece, we have a saying: You must eat the body part you want to grow stronger. Or maybe that’s just something my grandmother used to say.

As always, I read far too many fantastic stories this year—not to mention how many more out there I missed—so here are a bunch of fantastic Honorable Mentions.

So You Married Your Arch Nemesis . . . Again” – Merc Fenn Wolfmoor – Lightspeed
The Clockmaker’s Daughter” – Tobi Ogundiran – Lightspeed
The Weight of It All” – Jennifer Hudak – Fantasy Magazine
Apolépisi: A De-Scaling” – Suzan Palumbo – Lightspeed
Plausible Realities, Improbable Dreams” – Isabel J. Kim – Lightspeed
Of all the New Yorks in all the Worlds” – Indrapramit Das – Tor.com
The Travel Guide to the Dimension of Lost Things” – Effie Seiberg – PodCastle
The Application of Strawberry Lip Gloss in a Low-Gravity Environment” – R J Theodore – Lightspeed

That’s it for this year! Though I do apologize to all the December writers—I’ve had a December story, myself, and am familiar with how much that can suck. If I come across anything else that I particularly enjoy, I’ll do my best to tweet/post about it. (Presuming all my various social media accounts survive, which is a big assumption these days.) Meanwhile, Happy Thursday and feel free to rec any short stories that you enjoyed in the comments!

World’s Worst Trekkie: The Omega Glory, The Ultimate Computer, Bread and Circuses, and Assignment: Earth

I know I usually tackle this show three episodes at a time, but with only four episodes left in Season 2, I thought it’d be best to lump them all together.

This is important because it means I have to adjust my very scientific ice cream based rating system. I will now be introducing a fourth flavor: mint chocolate chip. And while I know that many of you will be incorrectly thinking yum, mint chocolate chip is, in fact, the worst flavor–yes, even worse than strawberry–because mint is the devil’s food. There is no lower grade on this blog than mint chocolate chip.

“The Omega Glory”

Wow. Wow. I guess I know what’s winning the mint. “The Omega Glory” may very well be the worst Star Trek episode I’ve ever seen, which is saying something. I mean, it’s worse than the Nazi episode. The Nazi episode. It’s almost impressive, how awful this is. The fact that touch telepath Spock mind controls a woman from across the room simply by Intense Staring is the very least of this episode’s problems.

It doesn’t start so bad. The Enterprise discovers that nearly the entire crew of the U.S.S. Exeter were infected with some weird disease which essentially dehydrated them so badly that their bodies collapsed into crystals. Like, yikes. Kirk, Spock, Bones, and Red Shirt, also now infected, beam down to this planet where they’ll be safe so long as they don’t leave. Captain Tracy, sole survivor of the Exeter, pretends to be a good guy for a whole three minutes before vaporizing Red Shirt and holding our heroes hostage. Turns out, the people on Omega IV all live for centuries or longer, and Tracy wants to figure out this Fountain of Youth shit so he can leave the planet and live forever.

Tracy is a weirdly cartoonish bad guy, especially considering how he’s introduced as this legendary Starfleet captain. (It’s almost funny, just how few fucks this dude gives about his entire dead crew.) Of course, Immortality Seeker is a classic villain trope, but it feels bizarrely random here, like they picked it because it was classic, not because it actually makes sense for this character or this story. Still, the aliens are the real problem here: the Yangs (portrayed by white actors) and the Kohms (portrayed by Asian actors). The Kohms are peaceful and “civilized,” while the Yangs are the unreasonable “savages,” something that’s clearly presented as a surprise, like, isn’t it shocking how the brown people are the civilized ones? It’s definitely no accident that Sulu remains onboard for the majority of this racist ass episode.

It turns out that, somehow*, this planet mirrors Earth’s history to a ludicrous degree. Like, the Big Twist is that the Yangs are actually this planet’s equivalent of Yankees, complete with their own version of the U.S. Constitution, the Pledge of the Allegiance, and–I shit you not–a whole ass American flag. Meanwhile, the Kohms are communists, I guess, and unlike Earth (where a war was avoided), the Kohms defeated the Yangs way back when, pushing them out of civilization and taking over their lands. Which is why the Yangs dress, act, and speak the way they do–because they’re also supposed to represent the Native Americans in this world. It’s, whew. It’s real bad.

Honestly, there’s so much gross bullshit here that it’s hard to even know where to begin. Like, how this episode fully embraces several racist Native American stereotypes, or how Cloud William (the Yangs’ leader) speaks in what I guess is meant to be some kinda generic Native American accent? How the Kohms were secretly bad guys all along, kicking the freedom-loving Yangs out of their land, and how the poor white people were just trying to fight for their own home. How incredibly, ludicrously stupid these language parallels are, and how Spock refers to the Kohms as “Asiatics.” Like, dear God. I can’t even get into Kirk’s hypocritical treatment of the Prime Directive here, which is also garbage. I just . . . wow, there really is nothing good to say about this episode. It is appalling. My eyes are weeping blood.

*There are apparently explanations in some tie-in novels, but in the episode itself? Nope.

Chief Asshat: Gene Roddenberry, who actually wrote this shit

MVP: Scotty and Chekov, for having the good sense to not be in this episode

Grade: Mint Chocolate Chip

Line of the Episode:

(about the Vulcan neck pinch)
“Pity you can’t teach me that.”
“I have tried, Captain.”

“The Ultimate Computer”

We’ve already had a ton of supercomputers on TOS, so I may have facepalmed when I saw the name of this episode. Surprisingly, though, I enjoyed “The Ultimate Computer.” The Enterprise is ordered to install the M-5, a system so sophisticated that it only requires a skeleton crew, which very well may put Kirk out of a job. (And you know. Most everyone else on the Enterprise, but nobody really addresses them.) All the job anxiety stuff still feels pretty relevant now, TBH, and I love how the M-5 totally calls Kirk out for assigning himself and Bones to away missions when their presence is definitely not required. Not that this pattern will be changing anytime soon, alas.

For a while, things go great. Then the M-5, having difficulty distinguishing between a real threat and a false alarm, obliterates an empty freighter. That’s enough for Kirk to call the whole thing off; unfortunately, as he insists on saying this out loud, it’s no real surprise when the M-5 easily locks them out of control before killing a dude who gets in the way and then starts attacking Federation vessels for good measure. Bunches of people die. The M-5 is desperately trying to protect itself because its whole purpose is to keep people from dying in space; when Kirk points out the obvious logical inconsistency, the M-5 self-destructs–a logic bomb that works better than others, I think, because it’s actually written as the M-5’s decision, rather than an inability to compute some paradox it would totally be able to compute. Then Kirk saves the day by relying on human intuition, and everything ends happily . . . except for Dr. Richard Daystrum, that is, who created the M-5 and has a full breakdown.

Some things I enjoy: the M-5 was created with human engrams and is, for all intents and purposes, an AI, which is kind of neat. And Daystrum (who will be referenced in multiple other Trek shows), is played by William Marshall, AKA, Blacula. Marshall was a very, very tall man and had a rather nice voice, so I just like listening to him talk–usually to insult Kirk. He has a few moments here I enjoy: his whole “men no longer need die in space” monologue and when he’s trying to reason with the M-5. Also, I think we see a space station for possibly the first time? Oh, and when Kirk is feeling low, Spock tells him, “A starship also runs on loyalty to one man, and nothing can replace it or him.” Which is obviously Vulcan for, “Dude, I love you, and I’ll follow you anywhere.”

My only real problem here is that I’m not wild about how Daystrum’s motivation goes from “saving people” to “no one thought I was relevant and cool anymore, so I made this (ultimately terrible) thing.” It’s not that the latter motivation can’t work (or that Daystrum couldn’t feel both simultaneously), but the bitter childhood prodigy angle felt a bit forced to me, a bit too late in the game for my liking. I’m much more interested in Daystrum as this tragic figure who simply tried his best to help people and failed. Still, overall, this is a pretty solid episode.

Chief Asshat: Oh, Commodore Wesley, no doubt. He needles Kirk by calling him “Captain Dunsel,” essentially saying Kirk serves no useful purpose anymore, and then immediately assumes Kirk is responsible for the attack when it makes way more sense for it to be an M-5 malfunction.

MVP: William Marshall. Could listen to that man all day.

Grade: Chocolate

Line of the Episode:

“Please, Spock, do me a favor and don’t say it’s fascinating.”
“No, but it is . . . interesting.”

“Bread and Circuses”

“Bread and Circuses” makes a lot of Top 10 Worst TOS Episodes lists, and I get why: it’s pretty dumb, and it’s dumb in a lot of the same ways that “The Omega Glory” is. This is yet another world that’s basically just alternate Earth, only here we have 1960’s tech in a world where Rome never fell . . . which means we get gladiator fights on reality TV. Honestly, that part was great; I laughed out loud when they pulled back to reveal the Hollywood set. Unfortunately, it also means that we have to learn about Hodgkin’s Bullshit Law of Parallel Planet Development to explain budget problems, ethnocentrism, a criminal lack of imagination how these people could possibly speak English, amongst other nonsense. I guess that’s better than not explaining it at all?

Despite this, “Bread and Circuses” is considerably less offensive than “The Omega Glory” and far more fun to watch. For one, Kirk isn’t the guy engaging in (seemingly unending) fisticuffs! Bones and Spock get that honor this time, facing off against a pair of gladiators, and it’s delightful. Spock gets a new undercover beanie, too; this one is tan and, per usual, he loses it almost immediately. Let’s see . . . I immediately and correctly predicted Evil Roman Dude would stab Last Minute Redemptive Bad Guy in the back, so yay, me. And there’s a really interesting scene between Bones and Spock, where Bones tries to thank Spock for saving his life and ends up accusing him of being afraid to live. I don’t know if the whole scene works for me, exactly–I don’t think it has quite enough space to breathe–but it is, well, fascinating.

Of course, it’s not all fun fight scenes and antagonistic heart-to-hearts. I can forgive the bad guy, I guess, who doesn’t exactly have a firm grasp on the concept of “incentives.” (“Beam your whole crew down so that most of them can die, or else I’ll . . . kill only these two officers?”) The Prime Directive stuff here, too, is pretty ridiculous, and I’m not sure why we’re only clearly defining it now, anyway, at the very end of the second season.

But the worst bits are definitely these: A) it’s heavily implied that Kirk sleeps with the pretty sex slave who, while apparently “willing,” definitely cannot give actual consent, and B) our heroes save the day by . . . running away, leaving behind the last few survivors they actually came to rescue. They don’t defeat the bad guy or end slavery or any of that good jazz, but it’s okay, see, because it turns out that the rising rebellion of Sun worshippers are actually Son worshippers, which means we don’t have to feel bad for abandoning the planet because Christianity is coming to save everyone.

Chief Asshat: Kirk, no question

MVP: Scotty, who basically saves the day by interpreting Kirk’s orders as guidelines

Grade: Strawberry

Line of the Episode: Ooh, difficult. There’s Bones taking the time to yell at Spock, even as he’s poorly defending himself in the gladiator fight. There’s also Spock dryly agreeing with Kirk that the people shooting at them do, indeed, seem to mean it. But I think I have to go with Bones’s somewhat relatable anti-Prime Directive wish:

“Once, just once, I’d like to be able to land someplace and say, ‘Behold! I am the archangel Gabriel!”

“Assignment: Earth”

“Assignment: Earth” is the season finale of S2 and kind of an odd episode all around. For one thing, our heroes have intentionally time-traveled back to Earth 1968 for, I guess, historical research? Which is just not how time travel usually works in Trek. (It also remains unclear how they were gonna conduct said research, as Kirk and Spock make it seem like the initial plan was not to leave the ship, which seems . . . counterintuitive?) More importantly, however, our heroes are largely absent for half the episode and mostly just manage to fuck things up when they are around. (Spock insists they actually helped history play out as it was supposed to, but he’s just trying to save face. Kirk absolutely almost gets everyone killed.) Instead, the action mostly focuses on this mysterious dude, Gary Seven, and his pet cat, Isis, who have come to stop a missile launch that will doom everyone. The setup is so strange that the whole episode almost feels like a backdoor pilot, except did they even have backdoor pilots in the late 1960’s?

Apparently, yes. They did because that’s exactly what “Assignment: Earth” is, a backdoor pilot for a show that nobody picked up. It’s unfortunate, too, because although the pacing of this one is a bit off, I actually really enjoyed Gary Seven and Isis. Seven is sort of an understated character, but he has a dry sense of humor that appeals to me, and I had fun watching him deal with his delightfully snotty computer, the Beta 5, and communicate with his cat. (Isis has a human form too, of course, but we only briefly see it at the end of the episode.) All of Isis’s cat attacks are hilarious. Also in one scene, Seven clambers up to the missile to sabotage it, while Isis helpfully hangs out on his back. It’s fantastic. I’d have watched the holy hell out of this show.

Teri Garr is fun in this, too. She’s playing Roberta, the secretary who accidentally gets wrapped up in all these secret agent/time travel shenanigans, and she feels like the rare female character in TOS who, by God, actually gets to be funny. The new characters all click here; it’s mostly that the action, itself, isn’t terribly interesting, particularly in the second half. Plus, yeah, the characters you actually showed up for are kinda twiddling their thumbs a lot. Still, I had a decent time watching this episode.

Chief Asshat: I mean. Kirk doubting Seven totally makes sense, but it also nearly starts World War III, so . . .

MVP: The Gary Seven, Isis, and Beta 5 trio.

Grade: Vanilla

Line of the Episode: “That’s why some of my generation are kind of crazy and rebels, you know? We wonder if we’re gonna be alive when we’re thirty.”

Best of 2019: BOOKS

Normally, I enjoy celebrating the books I’ve read with some silly and–inevitably–lengthy superlative lists, including awards like Favorite Villain, Best Booyah Moment, and Super Ability I’d Most Like To Steal. This year, however, that just sounds kind of daunting? And not terribly fun, which is obviously antithetical to the whole point. So instead, I present you with my only sorta-lengthy Best Of list, i.e., a list of my favorite books in various genres and sub-genres. (From any year. I read all of these in 2019, but one of them was written in 1937, so, yeah. I wouldn’t exactly characterize these recommendations as super current. If you’d like the full list of everything I read, go ahead and click on the link.)

No spoilers were produced in the making of this post.

FAVORITE FAIRY TALE STORY

The Seventh Bride – T. Kingfisher

Bluebeard is one of my favorite fairy tales, specifically Mr. Fox–like, I’m the weirdo who actually adds Post-Its with be bold, be bold . . . but not too bold to bedroom doors and the like. So, when I realized that Ursula Vernon (a.k.a. T. Kingfisher), one of my very favorite writers, had published her own Mr. Fox retelling*, well, obviously, I was ecstatic. Like nearly every T. Kingfisher book I’ve ever read, The Seventh Bride features a compelling heroine, a cool animal sidekick, and a lot of humor, weirdness, and heart. Also, some truly creepy shit. Also, a fantastic supporting cast: Maria is my absolute favorite. I really enjoyed the hell out of this–it also wins for FAVORITE NOT-SO-CONTEMPORARY FANTASY–and I’m looking forward to reading T. Kingfisher’s other fairy tale retellings, namely Byrony and Roses and The Raven and the Reindeer.

*In nearly every review I’ve seen, this book is described as a Bluebeard retelling, but personally, it strikes me more as a Mr. Fox/Rumpelstiltskin mashup. I know it doesn’t have some of the bigger earmarks of the latter–no naming game, no “I’m gonna steal your baby” stuff–but Rhea is literally a miller’s daughter, and her parents play an arguably significant role in why she’s in this mess in the first place. Plus, “do this impossible thing, or I’ll do something horrible to you” is a plot structure from Rumpelstiltskin, not Bluebeard/Mr. Fox. Also, let’s be real here: the King in Rumpelstiltskin is totally a villain. Like, make me gold or I’ll kill you; make me more gold and I’ll marry you?” Fuck this guy.

Honorable Mentions for Favorite Not-So-Contemporary Fantasy: The Black God’s Drums; Clockwork Boys; The Killing Moon; The House of Shattered Wings

FAVORITE CONTEMPORARY FANTASY

Undead Girl Gang – Lily Anderson

Oh, this was a delightful book. I loved so much about it: the voice, the dialogue, all the humor and Feels. Undead Girl Gang is laugh out loud funny, but it also handles grief in a very real way, and I enjoyed that. The characters are all great; Mila, in particular, is a wonderful protagonist, and I related so hard to how she finds hope and laughter and a certain measure of control in Wicca. (Oh, you don’t even know the middle school flashbacks I was having while reading this one.) The fat positivity in this book was also really refreshing, especially in a year where I managed to stumble across even more fat shaming than normal.

This was easily my FAVORITE YA BOOK I read all year, something I’d happily give my teenage kids if I, you know, had any. As is, I’m just gonna have to keep enjoying Lily Anderson’s writing for myself.

Honorable Mentions for Favorite Contemporary Fantasy: A Key, An Egg, An Unfortunate Remark; Magic for Liars

FAVORITE HORROR

The Cabin at the End of the World – Paul Tremblay

What’s interesting about this, to me, is that I don’t generally consider myself a big fan of psychological horror, but I absolutely love this novel. It’s occurring to me, finally, that it’s not the entire sub-genre I dislike, just stories where the narrative tension is largely drawn from the majority of characters (plus the reader) questioning the MC’s sanity. That’s just not really my thing; thankfully, it’s also not quite what’s happening here.

And this book, man. It’s a wildly clever and entertaining page-turner (which is why it also wins for FASTEST READ) with a solid conclusion and some absolutely brutal moments. This is my first Paul Tremblay book, and I can absolutely guarantee it will not be my last.

Honorable Mention for Favorite Horror: The Sundial; The Migration; The Twisted Ones

Honorable Mentions for Fastest Read: Undead Girl Gang; Magic for Liars; A Man Lay Dead; The Twisted Ones; From Here to Eternity: Traveling The World To Find The Good Death; The Seventh Bride

FAVORITE SCIENCE FICTION

TIE!

The Calculating Stars – Mary Robinette Kowall
Artificial Condition – Martha Wells

I enjoyed the hell out of The Calculating Stars: it’s an equally fun and fascinating alternate history, and I really like our MC, Elma. I especially appreciated how this novel explored her anxiety, like, that was just phenomenal. I also enjoy Elma’s friendships with other women in the novel, particularly Nicole and Helen. Elma and Nate, too, were a joy to read: it was lovely to find such a healthy, supportive romantic relationship in this story. I’m very eager to continue with the Lady Astronaut series in 2020.

But no way could I choose between The Calculating Stars and Artificial Condition, which was an amazing follow-up to All Systems Red. (In fact, I actually liked it even more than All Systems Red, which is incredibly impressive.) It is the rare novella that feels like it’s exactly the right length–one of many reasons it’s also winning FAVORITE NOVELLA–and I just absolutely adore MurderBot’s somewhat antagonistic friendship with ART. People. I was invested. This series is so damn good.

Honorable Mentions for Favorite SF: Alice Payne Arrives; Rogue Protocol; Record of a Spaceborn Few; To Be Taught, If Fortunate; An Unkindness of Ghosts

Honorable Mentions for Favorite Novella: The Black God’s Drums; In an Absent Dream; Alice Payne Arrives; Rogue Protocol; To Be Taught, If Fortunate

FAVORITE GRAPHIC NOVEL

Die, Vol. 1: Fantasy Heartbreaker – Kieron Gillen + Stephanie Hans

I mean, just the whole concept of this: teenagers being sucked into a fantasy RPG, experiencing massive amounts of emotional (and in some cases, physical) trauma, and then having to return to the game years later as adults? It’s like It meets D&D. Or, as Kieron Gillen apparently describes it: “goth Jumanji.” People. You don’t know how long I’ve been waiting to read goth Jumanji.

This one is such a creative and exciting comic, full of fun plot turns and great characters and just awesome magical abilities. Highly recommended.

Honorable Mentions: Young Avengers: Style > Substance, Vol. 1 – Kieron Gillen + Jamie McKelvie; Teen Titans: Raven – Kami Garcia & Gabriel Picolo

FAVORITE NON-FICTION

From Here to Eternity: Traveling The World to Find The Good Death – Caitlin Doughty

This is both an incredibly informative and fascinating look at how different cultures around the world handle death and death rituals, and while it is occasionally hard to read because of, well, death anxiety, it’s also just vastly neat. There were so many things I didn’t know. Learning more about Indonesian death customs or the ñatitas in Bolivia or the fertilization experiments in North Carolina . . . it’s all just so immensely interesting. I might actually have been most surprised by the open pyre ceremonies in Colorado; I honestly didn’t think that was a thing you could do in America.

I also didn’t know that family had the option of viewing cremations (the more standard kind), though I confess reluctance at the possibility of viewing any myself. Doughty brings up excellent points in its favor, especially as she discusses the idea of giving grieving family members meaningful tasks–but when I imagine going back and witnessing my own father’s cremation, my whole brain just balks in horror. I don’t know. It’s an obviously difficult subject. Regardless, this was a pretty great book, and I’d recommend it to anyone interested in cultural anthropology, or books that frankly discuss death without looking down on readers for their own death anxiety. That’s big for me.

Honorable Mentions: The Lady From the Black Lagoon: Hollywood Monsters and the Lost Legacy of Milicent Patrick – Mallory O’Meara

FAVORITE NOVEL

Busman’s Honeymoon – Dorothy Sayers

I’ve been slowly making my way through the Lord Peter Wimsey novels for years, but to my very great surprise, it’s this final book in the series that’s been my absolute favorite–and not just of the series but also of the whole year. (Also, it wins for FAVORITE MYSTERY, in case that wasn’t already glaringly obvious.) Busman’s Honeymoon is regularly characterized as either a “detective story with love interruptions” or a “love story with detective interruptions,” and to my very great joy, I found the balance of murder mystery and established romance utterly delightful. (Many mysteries from this time period include a hasty and thoroughly underwhelming romance, but Busman’s Honeymoon has been building the Peter/Harriet ship for several books and literal years, and I am so thoroughly obsessed with them.)

The mix of witty banter, murder, and newlywed shenanigans are really the best, and I was both extremely surprised to see the novel actually come back to Peter’s PTSD in a surprisingly emotional way. So many Feels with this one. An instant comfort read.

Honorable Mentions for Favorite Mystery: The Nine Tailors; Magic for Liars; The Song Is You; A Rising Man; Gaudy Night

Finally, here is the rest of my Top Ten of 2019, not in any particular order. (With links for the books that I didn’t already link above.)

2. The Cabin at the End of the World – Paul Tremblay
3. An Unkindness of Ghosts – Rivers Solomon
4. The Seventh Bride – T.K. Kingfisher
5. Record of a Spaceborn Few – Becky Chambers
6. Artificial Condition – Martha Wells
7. The Calculating Stars – Mary Robinette Kowall
8. To Be Taught, If Fortunate – Becky Chambers
9. The Twisted Ones – T.K. Kingfisher
10. Undead Girl Gang – Lily Anderson

Happy New Year, everyone! I’d love to hear your favorite books of 2019 in the comments!

Season Premiere Round-Up: September 30th-October 16th

So, I mentioned I was behind, right? (Man, I haven’t even watched Elementary yet. I’m sorry, Lucy Liu and JLM–I forgot you moved to Sundays and have now missed multiple episodes.) Well, here’s what I’ve got for you now: the entire CW superhero lineup and one show that has nothing to do with superheroes at all.

DISCLAIMER: Spoilers for each season premiere I discuss, and anything up to that point in the show.

Westworld

westworld

So, this was a really intriguing start. The ideas are interesting, the scenery is gorgeous, and the music is on point. (Seriously, I’m all about that “Paint it Black” cover.) I figured I’d like this show going in, considering it’s Jonathan Nolan continuing to tackle AI, robotics, and morality (plus, cowboys!), but this might have been even better than I expected.  There are so many small heartbreaking moments. I loved the early reveal of the James Marsden twist. (I’m waiting to see if there will be another bigger twist, like, one of the scientists is actually a robot or something.) The mystery of Ed Harris is intriguing. I’m interested in Thandie Newton’s character. And just everything in general is so well framed (the fly, for example).

My only real critique at this point is that, thus far, there are way more naked women than men in this show. I mean, this is HBO, so I obviously expected that, but come on, guys, that robot shop is like tits, tits everywhere. You get the occasional dude butt, sure, but not all that many, and absolutely zero penises that I recall. It would be neat if this network could work a little on that whole ‘gender equality when it comes to gratuitous nudity’ thing. (I’m not exactly holding my breath here.)

TENTATIVE GRADE: A

Legends of Tomorrow

legends

Holy shit. That was actually fun.

I waffled for a long time if I was even going to bother checking out Legends of Tomorrow’s second season premiere, and if I didn’t watch literally every other show in the CW superhero multiverse, I wouldn’t have, not after how badly the first season failed. But I decided to give the premiere a chance, and if I liked it enough, I’d try to stick with it; if not, I was dumping that shit and just figuring out the other shows without it. I was pretty sure the latter was going to win out.

But guys, that premiere was so much better than last season. For starters, Hawkman, Hawkgirl, and Vandal Savage are OUT, and that is already, like, a 25% boost in quality. Opening with New Guy Nate Heywood, Oliver Queen, and the mystery of what happened to the Legends was a surprising amount of fun: Oliver is always so much more enjoyable on everybody else’s shows than his own, and getting the team back together was pretty amusing. (Although I think Ray got the short end of the stick there, considering he had to deal with DINOSAURS. Is it possible that Rip doesn’t actually like Ray all that much? Legends actually capitalized on some of the more fun aspects of time travel, which it failed to do in the past, and I’m extremely excited about a villainous team-up between Reverse Flash and Damien Darhk, some of the best bad guys from The Flash and Arrow, respectively.

I would really like to see another woman on this team besides Sara (much as I love Sara, who’s pretty great) and I’m surprisingly disappointed about the disappearance of Rip Hunter (though that has way more to do with the actor, as the character himself has never been terribly interesting). Still, this was a pretty solid start to the show, and I’m definitely going to check out more. Though in some future episode, maybe they could crossover to The Flash and smack Barry around for all his history-breaking time travel shit, too? (Though, I mean, perspective. I suppose he didn’t nuke New York or anything. Still, we can all agree, right, that Barry has the WORST plans?)

TENTATIVE GRADE: A-

The Flash

flash

I like The Flash, but I’ve got to be honest: after the second season finale, I wasn’t exactly eager to pick up this show again, either. I mean, I was gonna; unlike Legends, I never seriously considered dropping it . . . but it was also very hard to make myself sit down and watch it when I haven’t even had the time to finish Luke Cage yet.

But the premiere was okay. Better than I was expecting, anyway; I was happy that the show jumped forward and Barry wasn’t totally bumbling around in this new timeline he’d created. And I’m definitely happy we aren’t in this timeline all season, like, I’m way more interested in a mostly-same timeline with a few minor but important changes. (I’ve since watched the second episode as well, so I know what some of those changes are now, but after viewing the pilot all I really cared about was: a) Cisco better still have powers, and b) Harry better be back, and he and Cisco must maintain their awesome dynamic of awesomeness.)

I don’t have a whole lot to say about this premiere, since most of what happened doesn’t exactly exist anymore, but here’s what I did jot down while watching:

A) Joe isn’t at work, and Iris doesn’t like him? Oh, I bet Joe has turned into an alcoholic. (She shoots, she scores.)

B) Best line deliveries:

Barry: “Might as well be.”

Joe: “I have a hangover. And a gun.”

Barry: “Kay, so, I can tell from the ‘I don’t believe you’ look on your faces that you don’t believe me.”

Cisco: “My money needs me.”

Cisco: “You just kidnapped this woman.”

C. When Iris asks herself why she accepted a date from Barry, Mek says, “Forced chemistry.” Mek is correct.

D. Seriously, I would PAY MONEY for this show to quit it with the Inspirational Speeches. Not all inspirational speeches, of course, just the ones where Barry can’t figure out how to beat a bad guy or defeat a problem or anything in the last fifteen minutes of the show, but thankfully there’s someone there to tell him that he CAN, that they believe in him, and all of a sudden Barry has a Proper Hero’s Motivation. I’m. So. DONE. I know it’s thematic and all, but at a certain point, it’s also just bad writing. And in case you were wondering, we have long since past that point.

TENTATIVE GRADE: B

Supergirl

supergirl

For the most part, this was pretty fun. It’s so hilarious to watch Derek Hale as Superman. He’s not doing a bad job by any means, it’s just like . . . sourwolf, why are you smiling so much? It’s weird!

What I liked: Katie McGrath. The new DEO. Oh, neat, they’re bringing in Metallo! And Brenda Strong is working at Cadmus? Excellent.

What I didn’t like: the whole thing about Cat Grant having an infatuation with Clark Kent . .  . I really had problems with how that was handled. Like, Clark’s whole “sway” thing came across super creepy to me when I realized that what he meant by “I have sway” was “dude, this lady, like, totally digs me, and let me bask in my power over her, cause I can use that shit to get whatever I want.” Especially when Jimmy brings up the whole drunk text thing, like, that just made me hella uneasy. For the most part Clark’s portrayed here is all wholesome and charming–you know, the way Superman really ought to be portrayed–but in this scene he came off as arrogant and kind of skeevy, and I really wasn’t okay with that.

What I haven’t made up mind on: the breakup of Kara and Jimmy. On one hand, I didn’t think they had the slightest bit of chemistry and am totally okay not watching them be yet another boring TV couple. OTOH, they kind of spent all last season building up to this, and even though I didn’t ship Kara/Jimmy, like, at all, I feel a little weird about just summarily tossing a big storyline like that out the window.

What I feel about kryptonite: uh, sorry, Superman, but yeah, the DEO keeps that shit. Supergirl’s already gone evil once. It wasn’t her fault, but that wouldn’t have mattered if she slaughtered a bunch of people, right? After all, you can use kryptonite in a non-lethal manner, and seriously, you don’t just toss out your one and only weapon against superpowers. Unless we’re also telling the DEO to get rid of all their guns because the top brass might order them to shoot a bunch of innocent people.

TENTATIVE GRADE: B

Arrow

arrow

Sigh.

Okay, so this wasn’t terrible. There are still good moments here. I genuinely enjoy the back and forth between Oliver and Felicity (and Curtis, too, who is always excellent), and the flashbacks are at least more interesting, so far, than they were last year. Also, Chad Coleman doesn’t seem like a bad villain so far. (We’ll see about Mr. Mystery Archer.) And have they upped their game in fight scenes? The fight scenes seemed pretty awesome.

At the same time, though, I feel like we’re continuing a backslide that we’ve already backslid before, and I just don’t care. Green Arrow is killing people again! Yawn. Been there, done that, got the bloody T-shirt. Why is it so hard to have a stance somewhere between ALL KILLING IS WRONG ALL THE TIME NO MATTER THE CONSEQUENCE  and I MUST KILL EVERYONE EVER TO BE THE HERO THIS CITY NEEDS. Call me morally gray if you want; I’m pretty sure there’s a middle ground in there. Felicity has a new love interest that isn’t Oliver. Yawn. Diggle’s away in the army. Yawn. Quentin is drinking again and he’s broken up with Donna Smoak. Yawn, and WHAT DID I JUST SAY ABOUT SUMMARILY DISMISSING WHOLE STORYLINES, BERLANTI? Thea has found Inner Peace, or something, so she’s reluctant to put on a suit and save her brother’s life. Less Yawn than WTF: look, Oliver has his faults, totally, but if he had seen Thea getting kidnapped while he was in Retired Domesticity Mode, I don’t believe for a second that he would have hesitated on rescuing her just because he didn’t do that kind of thing anymore.

Also, the statue is a nice idea–and I do like that the show hasn’t forgotten about Laurel, and what she meant to our heroes–but the statue itself is . . . pretty bad, right? I mean, I couldn’t take it seriously at all. I hope that’s not the statue they make when I die heroically as a superhero.

Right now, I’m keeping up with the show, but unless it improves, I’m not sure how many more seasons I’ve got in me . . . because right now I’m watching this for the same reasons I gave Legends of Tomorrow a try–and Legends didn’t waste their second chance (at least, not yet). I’m not feeling particularly strong about Arrow pulling off a similar comeback.

TENTATIVE GRADE: C+