The v cool thing about this Blog Challenge Project, started by your friendly Dr Shaun Duke of Skiffy and Fanty among other famery, is it’s aimed for folks who love and live stories. You can find the project participants on my blogroll page, along with some other links you might find helpful or interesting. We have a list of prompts but I’m not a rule follower so expect me to diverge some, unless I can’t think up an idea because Pandemic Brain amirite?
Why the project for me in particular? Other people are saying smarter things about their reasons but for me it’s pretty simple. First, I want to write here more and having a bit of pressure to do so is a good thing for my motivation. I miss blogging. I miss following my meandering thoughts through prose, not pithy Twitter bites. I am rarely, if ever, pithy.
But mostly, I’m a writer and before that an avid reader. (Not too long before; I started writing stories when I was nine.) (Also it sounds like I’m not still a reader and I very much am.) It’s safe to say I live stories and always have. But, and it’s a big one, I don’t spend a ton of time writing about stories. I write the very rare blurb, and the even rarer review. I mention books I’m reading. I used to more often mention stories when I edited Electric Spec.
I’m usually thinking more about the actual writing but it’s never too soon to switch things up.
I’m focusing on the story slate because I’ve got some experience with short stories, writing them and reading and editing them, and also I think they get super short shrift in the literary world. Which is total bullshit.* Short stories are marvelous creatures that don’t crowd your mind but leave plenty of room for your own hot-takes. Plus my reading in the past week came to a screeching halt because pandemic nightmares apparently fancied taking over.** So this weekend I started reading these stories and I’m glad I did.
The slate is all free to read online.
- “And Now His Lordship Is Laughing”, by Shiv Ramdas (Strange Horizons, 9 September 2019)
- “As the Last I May Know”, by S.L. Huang (Tor.com, 23 October 2019)
- “Blood Is Another Word for Hunger”, by Rivers Solomon (Tor.com, 24 July 2019)
- “A Catalog of Storms”, by Fran Wilde (Uncanny Magazine, January/February 2019)
- “Do Not Look Back, My Lion”, by Alix E. Harrow (Beneath Ceaseless Skies, January 2019)
- “Ten Excerpts from an Annotated Bibliography on the Cannibal Women of Ratnabar Island”, by Nibedita Sen (Nightmare Magazine, May 2019)
The first thing I noticed is that all the stories have women or girls as main characters. That is a bit, er, disconcerting for me on a personal level. Yes, I’m a woman but for some reason I tend to write in the heads of men — I blame having older brothers, an adoring hubcap, two sons, and an absent father. Without analyzing it too closely, I’ve accepted this about myself and my writing life. This isn’t to say I read all male characters and certainly not all male writers. I read way more widely than I write.
On the one hand it’s about fucking time for awards and SFF in general, not to mention fiction other than romance focus on characters other than the cis straight white guy. How many female-character-laden nominations will it take to make such a thing entirely un-comment-worthy? On the other hand… Well, there isn’t another hand. If you expected some prominent male characters and didn’t get them and that makes you twitchy there are decades of Hugo stories to read in the Way-Back Machine.
This post isn’t meant to be any kind of formal review of the stories. I liked them all. I’ll mention what I liked about each one, my favorite and why, and leave it at that.
“And Now His Lordship is Laughing” I liked for the simple reason that I got a great payoff. It’s all set up for you, almost obviously so, but that made me tense enough to wonder if I wouldn’t get it. Plus, I really liked that it’s the historical, cultural payoff I never knew I wanted.
“As the Last I May Know” is my favorite of the lot, though without sharing spoilers there is one bit I don’t prefer. However, I lean toward plainspoken stories with stakes that makes you feel like you’re peering through a window onto a whole world. This delivers big-time. And the story just feels so particularly apt right now in this moment of pandemic. ***
“Blood is Another Word for Hunger” has this unapologetic violence and acceptance between the characters that I admire. It reminded me of how Eyeore might be depressed all the time but he is still always wanted and welcome and no one is asking him to be another thing.
“A Catalog of Storms” starts with an air of detachment, deftly portrayed by some world building that leaves you pretty curious, and it morphs somehow into emotion and feeling and love. I loved the world building and the magic and especially the antagonish. No, not a typo. I had to make up a new word for what’s done here.
“Do Not Look Back, My Lion” has not just gender flipping but fun role flipping that I really enjoyed. Plus it’s a story about warriors and the ones they leave behind, which I always like.
“Ten Excerpts from an Annotated Bibliography on the Cannibal Women of Ratnabar Island” is cleverly done from the structure to the theme. There’s something about the rich voices in the excerpts that betrays so much bias it urges another look. It’s one of those stories where you see something new with each reading.
*full confession I just wrote IMO and then hated myself a little bit for it so I deleted it
**I’m a Darkness Reader — before the sleeping, the betweentimes of sleeping, the early awakening before dawn
*** all this is super biased but what is reading if not the very act of bias