16 of My Favorite Reads from 2018

It was a great reading year for me. The vast majority of the 63 books I read in 2018 were excellent, beautifully written, and/or just plain fun — and this could potentially be a much longer list, if I were to include every book that I enjoyed reading last year.

Fiction

freshwater by akwaeke emezi

Freshwater by Akwaeke Emzi

Connected to gods and spirit, Ada navigates her life with a sense of fractured self. Emzi’s debut novel is stunning from top to bottom. Ada’s story is heart wrenching. The writing is lush, vivid, and lyrical. It’s the kind of writing to sink into and get lost in. This book haunts me in the best of ways. (Full review.)

All Systems Red - Martha Wells

The Murderbot Series by Martha Wells

Technically, this is a cheat, since this series constitutes four books — All Systems Red, Artificial Condition, Rogue Protocol, and Exit Strategy — but I’m counting them as one, since they are all just too good. All Murderbot (as it has dubbed itself) wants is to be left alone and watch hours of vids in peace. But as a security robot assigned to protect a team of scientists surveying a new planet, it has to spend a significant amount of its time preventing humans from doing stupid things that could get them killed and then saving those humans when they do those stupid things anyway. This becomes even more difficult when it becomes clear his clients are under threat of being murdered by outside sources. I loved Murderbot and all its depressed sass from page one, and each of the novellas in which it appears is full of thrilling action and humor.

Provenance by Ann Leckie

Provenance by Ann Leckie

Driven by the need to impress her politically motivated mother, Ingray embarked on a dangerous and desperate scheme with unexpected consequences. Leckie is a master of world building, and the planet Hwe on which Ingray resides is a fascinating world of political intrigue. The intercultural confusion that occurs when alien ambassadors and rogue ship captains get mixed up in her scheming makes for an entertaining twists and turns and Ingray stumbles through dramatic conflicts she accidentally sets in motion. Another great book from one of my favorite authors. (Full review.)

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

In order to escape her past, Rosemary joins up with a motley crew of space farers who are tasked with opening the wormholes that enable long distance space travel. The relationships between these lovable goofballs (comprised of a mix of backgrounds and species) is at the center of this novel. Presented in episodic chapters, the novel feels a bit more like a sitcom than an epic space opera — and if you like humor, found families, and stories about compassion, then that’s totally in its favor. (Full review.)

Binti: The Night Masquerade by Nnedi Okorafor

Believing it can bring her a balm to her trauma and anger from the violence she witnessed on her way to Oomza University, Binti has returned home only to unveil strange new family secrets. While deep in the desert contemplating this new knowledge, she learns that the presence of her friend Okwu (the first of the Meduse species to journey to Earth in peace) has stirred up violent repercussions from the Khoush, putting her family in danger. Can she rush home in time to protect them? The Binti Trilogy is an imaginative and thrilling space opera, with beautiful layers of culture and character woven throughout. The Night Masquerade makes for a wonderful and satisfying conclusion that left me in tears.

Sawkill Girls by Claire Legrand

Sawkill Girls by Claire Legrand

The island of Sawkill Rock is a idyllic place, where the the ocean crashes against rocky shores, prize horses graze in green pastures, and where the people are lithe and prosperous and unconcerned. Yet the Rock carries a dark secret — girls have been disappearing there for decades and urban legends abound about a monster in the woods. No on has braved out the truth about the missing girls, not until three girls come together to peer into the secrets hidden on the island. I love the way this book puts female relationships at its center, providing the power to root out evil only when three girls come together to fight it. (Full review.)

the changeling by victor lavalle

The Changeling by Victor LaValle

Apollo Kagwa is a book man, tracking down rare first editions to make his living. When he falls in love with Emma and they have a son together, he is determined to be a better father than the man who abandoned him when he was young. But Emma begins acting in strange and unsettling ways, building to a terrible act before vanishing — sending Apollo’s world spinning out of control. The Changeling by Victor LaValle is a powerful novel, presenting a variety of horror, both mundane and supernatural, a mix of folklore and familial love and violence.

The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion by Margaret Killjoy

The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion by Margaret Killjoy

Looking for answers following her friend’s death,Danielle Cain (a “queer punk rock traveller”) finds herself in Freedom, Iowa — a squatter town professing to be a utopia. However, something’s wrong about the place, and it’s not just the heartless animal life wandering around as though they aren’t really dead. I freaking love The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion — which I grabbed off the shelf because of its amazing title and strange eerie cover. The story is beautiful, unsettling and surprising with a multitude of interesting, believable characters. When I finished reading, I just sort of clutched it to my chest, wanting so much more of these people and this world.

An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon

An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon

Aster is an adept healer living in the slums of the generation starship, HSS Matilda. The class inequalities between the upper and lower classes are dramatic, with those in the lower decks struggling to survive under the dominance of the police force. Aster is a fascinating character — brilliant, obsessive, curious, and solitary — who pushes back against the strict oppression in what small ways she can, uncovering truths about her mother and the ship in the process. (Full review.)

Stories of Your Life and Other by Ted Chiang

Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang

Stories of Your Life and Others presents a collection of short stories with characters who are driven by the pursuit of knowledge. The science at the core of these tales is not the flash bang of laser guns or space ships or explosions, but in the contemplation and study of our world through linguistics, mathematics, architecture, and beauty. As I read Chiang’s stories, I was continually impressed by his skill as a writer. (Full review.)

Poetry

If They Come for Us by Fatimah Asghar

If They Come for Us by Fatimah Asghar 

If They Come for Us is a stunning collection of poetry that ” captures the experiences of being a young Pakistani Muslim woman in America by braiding together personal and marginalized people’s histories.” These poems are lyrical and powerful and moving. I love the creativity offered, from the way Asghar addresses the political through the personal to the ways she plays with language and uses humor to emphasize the messages within many of these pieces. (Full review.)

R E D by Chase Berggrun

R E D by Chase Berggrun

In R E D, Berggrun presents a series of erasures of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. The poems transform the text from a storyline in which women have little to no agency to a stunning exploration of abuse, violence, power dynamics, and femininity.

I am not your final girl by clair c holland

I Am Not Your Final Girl by Claire C. Holland

I Am Not Your Final Girl is a collection of horror-themed poetry draws on the female characters of horror cinema — the survivors, victims, villains, and monsters — who prowl through dark worlds, facing oppression, persecution, violence, and death. The women in this collection channel their pain and rage into a galvanizing force. They fight. They claim power over their own bodies. They take their power back. They do not relent. (Full review.)

Bonus: A couple of amazing chapbooks I read this year include Basement Gemini by Chelsea Margaret Bodnar (interview) and No God In This Room by Athena Dixon (interview) — both of which I highly recommend.

Comics & Graphic Novels

My Favorite Thing is Monsters by Emil Ferris

My Favorite Thing is Monsters, written and illustrated by Emil Ferris

Set in 1960s Chicago, My Favorite Thing is Monsters is told by Karen Reyes a young girl with a passion for pulp horror stories. In her spiral bound journals, she draws out her life in a mix of sketches, journal entries, and comic panels — presenting the interconnected stories of her mother, brother, and the people who live in her community. The use of color and crosshatching makes for some of the most beautiful artwork I’ve seen in any graphic novel, and the story itself is wonderfully complex and layered. (Full review.)

Uzumaki: Spiral Into Horror, written and illustrated by Junji Ito

Uzumaki: Spiral Into Horror, written and illustrated by Junji Ito

I’ve read a multitude of works by Ito in the past year, going into my own spiral of exploring his graphic works of horror. If I had to choose just one of this books to recommend, however, I’ll go with the classic Uzumaki, in which a town is threatened by the looming presence of a simple geometric shape. The image of a spiral fills the town, infusing and consuming the people. The black and white artwork manages to be both beautiful and horrifying at the same time.

Nonfiction

Wonderbook by Jeff VanderMeer

Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction by Jeff VanderMeer 

Aimed at writers of speculative fiction (but valuable just about any writer), Wonderbook covers the full range of the writing process, from structural story elements to world building to revision, providing a theory and practice of writing. What sets this above the average writing advice book is the multitude of prompts, writing exercises, and essays from a variety of authors. (Full review.)

What were some of your favorite reads from 2018?


Newsletter | Twitter | Instagram

Reading the 2018 Hugos: Best Novella Noms

Even though there’s more days in the month, this will be my last Hugos post. Tomorrow I’ll be winging my way to Egypt with my sister and I’m not sure how Internet access will be, so I need to get my votes in before I leave.

So, here’s my thoughts on the nominated novellas.

All Systems Red-Martha WellsAll Systems Red, by Martha Wells (Tor.com Publishing) — Martha Wells’ novella All Systems Red presents the diaries of a company-supplied security android designed to provide protection for survey teams exploring planets for possible resources. Murderbot (as it calls itself) just wants to be left alone to watch hours of vids in peace. But when another survey team mysteriously goes silent, it has to work with it’s team of clients to discover the truth before they’re all killed.

I loved this book. Murderbot is cynical about humans and the world in general, an attitude that is totally understandable given its circumstances and understanding of the universe. But the team of scientists he’s assigned to give him a broader perspective on humanity, showing him people who are able to work together with compassion and intelligence — such considerations they show not just to each other but to Murderbot itself, as they continue to work with and rely on it. It’s so wonderful to read a story that centers people who are good to each other. Plus, the action is intense, making this a short and rapid read. There are already several sequels to this out in the world and I can’t wait to read them all.

Uncanny Magazine-MarApr17
Cover of Uncanny Magazine, Issue 15, March-April 2017.

“And Then There Were (N-One),” by Sarah Pinsker (Uncanny, March/April 2017) — Insurance investigator, Sarah Pinsker, gets an invitation that she at first believes to be a joke — until she stands in a hotel lobby facing a multitude of versions of herself from a multitude of parallel worlds, each representing the infinity (or a small portion of that infinity) of diverging choices she could have made in her life. One of the Sarahs has found a way to open the door and invited the rest of the Sarahs to come to a convention, a meeting of similar (sometimes almost exact variations), which is in some ways unsettling in itself. Then one of the Sarahs shows up dead. Insurance investigator Sarah is set to the task of looking into the murder after a storm rolls in cutting the local police off from reaching the island.

Who would we be if we made different choices in our lives? It’s a question pretty much everyone has asked themselves. I couldn’t imagine a more poignant examination of that question than this story. In some ways, all the ways the variations of Sara are similar is as fascinating as the ways in which they are different. All together, it’s so strange and meta and moving and  fascinating — with an ending to sit and think over long after you’re done reading.

Binti Home by Nnedi OkoraforBinti: Home, by Nnedi Okorafor (Tor.com Publishing) — The Binti trilogy is fantastic from top to bottom. The second book in the series, Home takes place one year after the events in the first book. Binti is a student at Oomza University as she hoped. Although she’s considered a hero for brokering peace between two species, Binti is fundamentally changed and still dealing with the trauma — a mix of panic attacks and deep rooted anger.

Believing it can bring her healing, she decides to return home to the family she slipped away from in the middle of night. Coming with her is her friend Okwu — the first of the Meduse species to come to Earth in peace — which of course creates it’s own multitude of problems.

This is a quick paced space opera with imaginative world building and fantastic characters. It’s amazing to me how Okorafor can pack so many layers of culture and characters into such slim books.

The Black Tides of Heaven by JY LangThe Black Tides of Heaven, by JY Yang (Tor.com Publishing) — Unfortunately, I did not get around to finishing this one, so I can’t express my full thoughts on it, but here’s the book description:

“Mokoya and Akeha, the twin children of the Protector, were sold to the Grand Monastery as children. While Mokoya developed her strange prophetic gift, Akeha was always the one who could see the strings that moved adults to action. While his sister received visions of what would be, Akeha realized what could be. What’s more, he saw the sickness at the heart of his mother’s Protectorate.

A rebellion is growing. The Machinists discover new levers to move the world every day, while the Tensors fight to put them down and preserve the power of the state. Unwilling to continue to play a pawn in his mother’s twisted schemes, Akeha leaves the Tensorate behind and falls in with the rebels. But every step Akeha takes towards the Machinists is a step away from his sister Mokoya. Can Akeha find peace without shattering the bond he shares with his twin sister?”

Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuireDown Among the Sticks and Bones, by Seanan McGuire (Tor.com Publishing) — Jacqueline and Jillian are twins born to parents who never really understood or wanted children, parents who believe children are objects to be shaped to their desires rather than actual, you know, people. But the world in which they live is full of doors and some of those doors lead to other worlds and Jacqueline and Jillian find their way to a place of darkness and death, where they suddenly have the ability to choose.

Down Among the Sticks and Bones is a standalone story in the Wayward Children series, and as such, you can read the books in the series in any order. Although if you really want to know what happens to Jack and Jill, then I recommend reading Every Heart a Doorway, which chronologically comes after this one (even though its the first in the series). I hope there are many, many more books in this series, because I’m loving it.

River of Teeth-Sarah GaileyRiver of Teeth, by Sarah Gailey (Tor.com Publishing) — Once upon a time, the U.S. government considered importing African hippos and raising them in the Louisiana bayou in order to address a need to increase the national meat supply — not joking, this was really a thing. Sarah Gailey’s novella presents a reimagined history in which this damn foolish/brilliant idea actually took place.

A group of charmingly of devious scoundrels set out on a caper — I mean, “operation” — to clear a section of Mississippi river of feral hippos. Winslow Houndstooth is a former hippo rancher with swift knife skills and a grudge. Regina Archambault (“Archie”) is a brilliant conartist, with a protective affection for Houndstooth. Hero Shackleby is a demolitions expert who has become profoundly bored by their peaceful retirement. Adelia Reyes is a heavily pregnant badass . . . and well, I’m going to let you figure out the rest.

The audio book narration by Peter Berkrot is fantastic, bringing all the characters to vivid life. I was as delighted by the idea of riding domesticated hippos as I was horrified by the idea of stumbling upon a group of ferals. Although, I had a bit of a hard time getting into the story at first, the caper — ahem, “operation” — was fun with some solid twists and the ending was deeply satisfying.


My personal and entirely subjective ranking:

  1. Binti: Home by Nnedi Okorafor
  2. All Systems Red by Martha Wells
  3. “And Then There Were (N-One)” by Sarah Pinsker (Uncanny, March/April 2017)
  4. Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire
  5. River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey (Tor.com Publishing)

Since I did not finish reading The Black Tides of Heaven, it is not ranked.

All my Hugo related posts are under the 2018 Hugos tag and you can check out the complete list of nominated creators and works here.

Culture Consumption: March and April 2017

My, my. I have gotten rather behind, haven’t I.

Books

“A time being is someone who lives in time, and that means you, and me, and every one of us who is, or was, or ever will be.”

I delighted in A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki, the audio book of which is read by the author herself, who does a wonderful reading. The novel is told from two points of view — Ruth, a writer on a remote island who finds a mysterious packet in a Hello Kitty lunchbox, containing a journal and letters and other items, and Nao, living in Tokyo, whose story is told through the journal itself.

There are so many layers to my love of this novel. The characters and their stories captivated me. Nao, who has faced such levels of bullying at school and sorrow at home, relates her decision to end her life in a straightforward manner. To her it is the only logical solution to what she’s been through (and she’s been through a lot). In her journal, she presents her life with a sense of self-depreciating humor. After all she’s been through, and despite her resolution, there is an underlying strength to her. It’s an interesting balance between depression, sorrow, and enjoyment of small moments.

Ruth is also fascinating to me. Her life is marked by less overt drama, and her story relates more of the small moments, the routines of her life that both provide her with contentment and feel like traps. As she explore’s Nao’s story through the journal and tries to seek a way to help this girl who lives across the sea, she finds certain threads of her own life loosening, creating their own minor havocs.

This novel is also so meta. One could start with the writer character, Ruth, who shares her name with the author of the book, which suggests the potential of the autobiographical slipping in even if none of it actually is such. Even the title A Tale for the Time Being has double meaning — as in both, a tale for a person who lives in time, and also a tale for right now. I don’t want to get too much into the ways this is a meta narrative, since a lot of it comes at the end, but I will say that it had me thinking about the creation of art and degree to which the reader participates in the creation.

I think this is one of those books I’m going to have to reread many times.

Continue reading “Culture Consumption: March and April 2017”

Just Keep Swimming

For the past, oh, year or so, I’ve been telling myself, If I can just get past this project or trip or ordeal or whatever, then things will mellow out and I won’t feel so overwhelmed any more. But when the project or trip or ordeal or whatever is completed, another just sprouts up in its place — creating an ongoing saga of overwhelming days that seem to be never ending.

Some days, it seems that all I can do is take advice from Dory:

finding-dory-movie

And just keep swimming, swimming until I get through it all. Keep writing, keep working, keep on keeping on until the next project or trip or ordeal or whatever is done and I can move onto the next.

What I’m Reading

I don’t know what is will me these days, but all of my reading is incredibly slow. Too much going on to focus on books the way I used to, I suppose.

I’m currently reading The Liminal People by Ayize Jama-Everett. This is FogCon homework, since Jama-Everett will be one of the Honored Guests at the event. The story involves people powerful enough to be considered beyond human and the reaching for more power that comes from this. It’s very interesting so far, with a thrilling storyline. I’m not sure where it’s going to go and that makes it fun.

I’m also reading Binti by Nnedi Okorafor, because Okorafor is amazing. And it won both the Hugo and Nebula for Best Novella. It’s really wonderful so far and I’m sure I’ll polish it off tonight.

I’ve paused my progress on Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman, due to my desire to get some books read in time for FogCon. Also, despite being a fantastic story has turned into a really slow read for me. It’s unfortunate in the sense that this slow reading with gaps of days in between isn’t really allowing me to immerse myself in the story the way I would like.

What I’m Writing

I have a lot of non-writing projects that are on my desk at the moment, including getting submissions out there, editing work, preparing and posting interviews, etc. — all of which is taking time away from the actual writing and editing of existing work. My 15 minute rule/plan goal is not really working out, so I may have to adjust at the end of March.

A number of good things continue to develop, though, particularly in the collaborative arena. Laura Madeline Wiseman and I continue to meet weekly to write and edit new poems and we’ve produced enough work that we’re starting the process of putting together a collection.

I also met with some people over the weekend to discuss the creation of a web series, which I’ll officially announce later if it becomes finalized. But for the moment, we’ve hashed out the first act of the proposed series and I’m going to start writing scripts for that in the coming weeks. I’m excited to see where this goes.

More rejections coming in, more submissions going out. I tell myself this is all a part of the process, because it is — because even the most famous of writers faced rejection, because rejection is not a sign of your value as a writer. I tell myself this, and most of the time I believe it.

Goals for the Week:

  • Get more poems edited
  • Hot potato my submissions to at least two more journals/publishers

The Running Life

Inspired by Sierra De Mulder , I’ve set myself a personal challenge for March. The goal is to run a minimum of 1 mile daily, only about 12-14 minutes for me depending on my pace. After completing six days in a row of running (with some days in which I ran far more than one mile), I’m feeling rather good. Because I’m mixing in some longer runs, the short runs don’t seem that difficult. The hardest thing so far is being in the right headspace to make sure I get out there no matter what.

Longest Run Walk of the Week: 3.63 miles
Total Miles for the Week: 10.51 miles
Total Miles for 2017: 47.2 miles

Linky Goodness

Malanda Jean-Claude examines The Chaos That Makes Poetry: “What does it mean to be a word smith? A writer. I struggle with answers for things I never had dreams to become. A cannon, an act of rebellion. A synagogue, a revolution tucked in the Quran inside of a prayer. Hip-hop laced with the holy ghost, a contradiction in my own walk.”

“Art isn’t easy. It’s not just that we need a revolution in style but also a revolution in audience, distribution, circulation, performance, perception and, indeed, motivation. These revolutions are never a question of being marked as ahead of the times—that is the problem with the label avant-garde, with its flamboyant promise of “being out front.” Rather, the issue is staying in and with the times and not letting the times drown you,” write Charles Bernstein and Tracie Morris in Poetry Needs a Revolution That Goes Beyond Style.

The recent poet spotlight features Jessie Carty discussing her new chapbook Shopping After the Apocalypse.