Books by the Lake

Books by the Lake

I read a lot and share books a lot...

Pupless Hugo ballots 2016

Stephanie Zvan estimated what de-puppied ballots would look like; since I used a different method and got very different results, I thought I’d post mine here. Zvan simply subtracted 330 “hardcore slate votes” in every category. But I attempted to adjust for the fact that slate voters got fewer and fewer as they went down the ballot, by estimating a separate number to subtract in every category based on items that hardly any non-slate voters would have chosen (e.g. 440 in Best Novella; Nick Cole’s Fear of the Unknown and Self-Loathing in Hollywood got 438 nominations). Yes, this is very inexact guesswork -- the list below is no one’s opinion but mine. I found the results of the EPH analysis of the 2016 data very useful, since it magnified small differences in the raw number of nominations. I considered such small differences to be statistical fluctuations that might have changed if anything whatsoever about the year had been different; therefore, in cases where items had very similar numbers of nominations, I used the relative rankings established by EPH. The fifth place in Best Short Story was tied between “Madeleine” and “Pocosin” with 177 nominations apiece; but “Madeleine” had 119.5 EPH points compared to “Pocosin”’s 111.833.



Ancillary Mercy (Ann Leckie)

The Fifth Season (N. K. Jemisin)

Uprooted (Naomi Novik)

Seveneves (Neal Stephenson)

Aurora (Kim Stanley Robinson)

Karen Memory (Elizabeth Bear)

The Traitor Baru Cormorant (Seth Dickinson)

The Just City (Jo Walton)

The Grace of Kings (Ken Liu)

Sorcerer to the Crown (Zen Cho)



Binti (Nnedi Okorafor)

Penric’s Demon (Lois McMaster Bujold)

“The Pauper Prince and the Eucalyptus Djinn” (Usman T. Malik)

Slow Bullets (Alastair Reynolds)

“Waters of Versailles” (Kelly Robson)

“The Citadel of Weeping Pearls” (Aliette de Bodard)

Witches of Lychford (Paul Cornell)

The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps (Kai Ashante Wilson)

“The New Mother” (Eugene Fischer)

Perfect State (Brandon Sanderson)



“Our Lady of the Open Road” (Sarah Pinsker)

“And You Shall Know Her by the Trail of Dead” (Brooke Bolander)

“So Much Cooking” (Naomi Kritzer)

“Another Word for World” (Ann Leckie)

“The Long Goodnight of Violet Wild” (Catherynne M. Valente)

“Grandmother-nai-Leylit’s Cloth of Winds” (Rose Lemberg)

“Botanica Veneris: Thirteen Papercuts by Ida Countess Rathangan” (Ian McDonald)

“Folding Beijing” (Hao Jingfang, trans. Ken Liu)

“The Deepwater Bride” (Tamsyn Muir)

“Entanglements” (David Gerrold)



“Cat Pictures Please” (Naomi Kritzer)

“Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers” (Alyssa Wong)

“Wooden Feathers” (Ursula Vernon)

“Today I Am Paul” (Martin L. Shoemaker)

“Madeleine” (Amal El-Mohtar)

“Pocosin” (Ursula Vernon)

“Three Cups of Grief, by Starlight” (Aliette de Bodard)

“Tuesdays with Molakesh the Destroyer” (Megan Grey)

“Damage” (David Levine)

“Pockets” (Amal El-Mohtar)



Letters to Tiptree (edited by Alisa Krasnostein and Alexandra Pierce)

You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) (Felicia Day)

Invisible 2 (edited by Jim Hines)

John Scalzi Is Not a Very Popular Author and I Myself Am Quite Popular (Alexandra Erin)

Lois McMaster Bujold (Edward James)

The Wheel of Time Companion (Harriet McDougal, Robert Jordan, Alan Romanczuk, and Maria Simons)

“Sad Puppies Bite Back” (Declan Finn)

Geek Knits (Toni Carr)

A History of Epic Fantasy (Adam Whitehead)



Nimona (Noelle Stevenson)

Bitch Planet, Vol. 1: Extraordinary Machine (Kelly Sue DeConnick, Valentine De Landro, Taki Soma, and Robert Wilson)

Saga, Volume 5 (Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples)

Ms. Marvel, Vol. 2: Generation Why (G. Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona, and Jacob Wyatt)

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Vol. 1: Squirrel Power (Ryan North and Erica Henderson)

The Sandman: Overture (Neil Gaiman and J. H. Williams III)

The Sculptor (Scott McCloud)

The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage (Sydney Padua)

Rat Queens, Vol. 2: The Far Reaching Tentacles of N’rygoth (Kurtis J. Wiebe)

The Wicked + The Divine, Vol. 2: Fandemonium (Kieron Gillen, Jamie  McKelvie, and Matt  Wilson)



The Martian

Mad Max: Fury Road

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Ex Machina

Inside Out
Jessica Jones, Season 1
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
Avengers: Age of Ultron



Doctor Who: “Heaven Sent”

Jessica Jones: “AKA Smile”

Game of Thrones: “Hardhome”

The Expanse: “CQB” 

Person of Interest: “If-Then-Else”

Daredevil: “Cut Man”

The Expanse: “Dulcinea”

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: “4,722 Hours”

Doctor Who: “The Husbands of River Song”

Orphan Black: “Certain Agony of the Battlefield”


BEST EDITOR (SHORT FORM) [Note: I added together the nominations for "Lynne M. Thomas" and "Lynne M. Thomas & Michael Damian Thomas"]

John Joseph Adams

Neil Clarke

Ellen Datlow

Sheila Williams

Lynne M. Thomas

C. C. Finlay

Jonathan Strahan

Gardner Dozois

Ann Vandermeer

Jerry Pournelle


BEST EDITOR (LONG FORM) [Note: I left the late David Hartwell off the list because he once said he would not accept any more nominations]

Toni Weisskopf

Sheila Gilbert

Liz Gorinsky

Anne Lesley Groell

Devi Pillai

Marco Palmieri

Joe Monti

Miriam Weinberg

Jane Johnson

Patrick Nielsen Hayden



Julie Dillon  
John Picacio
Galen Dara
Cynthia Sheppard
Richard Anderson
Larry Elmore
Rowena Morrill
Chris McGrath
John Harris  
Kathleen Jennings 



Uncanny Magazine (Lynne M. Thomas & Michael Damian Thomas, Michi Trota, and Erika Ensign & Steven Schapansky)

Strange Horizons (Catherine Krahe et al.)

Beneath Ceaseless Skies (Scott H. Andrews)

The Book Smugglers (Thea James & Ana Grilo)

Interzone (Andy Cox)

Escape Pod (Mur Lafferty, Al Stuart et al.)

Fireside Magazine (Brian White)

Giganotosaurus (Rashida J. Smith)

[Multiple candidates nearly tied for the last places]



File 770 (Mike Glyer)  

Lady Business (Clare, Ira, Jodie, KJ, Renay, and Susan)

Journey Planet (James Bacon and Christopher J. Garcia)

A Dribble of Ink (Aidan Moher)

Rocket Stack Rank (Greg Hullender & Eric Wong)

SF Signal (John DeNardo)

Mad Genius Club (Dave Freer)

nerds of a feather, flock together (The G)

Banana Wings (Claire Briarly & Mark Plummer)

Mark Watches (Mark Oshiro)



Tea and Jeopardy (Emma Newman & Peter Newman)

Galactic Suburbia (Alex Pierce, Tansy Rayner Roberts, & Alisa Krasnostein)

Verity! (Deborah Stanish et al.)

The Skiffy and Fanty Show (Jennifer Zink )

Ditch Diggers (Matt Wallace & Mur Lafferty)

Sword and Laser (Veronica Belmont & Tom Merrill )

Fangirl Happy Hour (Renay Williams & Ana Grilo)

Jay and Miles X-Plain the X-Men (Jay Edidin & Miles Stokes)

The Coode Street Podcast (Jonathan Strahan)

StarShipSofa (Tony C. Smith)



Mike Glyer

Alexandra Erin

Natalie Luhrs

Mark Oshiro

Abigail Nussbaum

Eric Flint

George R. R. Martin

Foz Meadows

Liz Bourke

Jeffro Johnson



Steve Stiles
Megan Lara
Matthew Callahan
Richard Man
Brad W. Foster
Piper Thibodeau
Ninni Aalto



Andy Weir
Alyssa Wong
Becky Chambers
Kelly Robson
Sunil Patel
Natasha Pulley
S. L. Huang
Isabel Yap
Scott Hawkins
Rachael K. Jones


Addendum: I think that articles related to the Puppy affair belong in Fan Writer rather than in Related Work, and in the unlikely event that the administrators had decided to shift them into that category, here's how things might look (uncertain, since there are surely many people who nominated the author in both categories, but they'd only be counted once, and also if a nominator already had 5 fan writers nothing else could be shifted in):



Letters to Tiptree (edited by Alisa Krasnostein and Alexandra Pierce)

You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) (Felicia Day)

Invisible 2 (edited by Jim Hines)

Lois McMaster Bujold (Edward James)

The Wheel of Time Companion (Harriet McDougal, Robert Jordan, Alan Romanczuk, and Maria Simons)

Geek Knits (Toni Carr)

A History of Epic Fantasy (Adam Whitehead)



Alexandra Erin

Mike Glyer

Natalie Luhrs

Mark Oshiro

Abigail Nussbaum

Eric Flint

George R. R. Martin

Foz Meadows

Liz Bourke

Declan Finn

4.5 Stars
Far from Home
Far from Home - Lorelie Brown

Rachel Fizel is as surpised as anyone when, hearing Pari Sadashiv talk about the difficulty of staying in the US short of marrying someone, she blurts out “I’d marry you.” What prompts such a proposal to someone she barely knows? Just doing a favor (with financial benefits to herself), or an instinct that’s truer than she realizes? If the two women go through with this plan, they’ll have a lot of distrust and uncertainty to overcome before they figure out what they really mean to each other.

Rachel, an MFA in film now working for a low-status studio, narrates the book in the first person. This is her first potential relationship with a woman (Pari on the other hand calls herself a “gold star lesbian”—American slang for one who’s never slept with a man). And as we soon learn, Rachel is a recovering anorexic who’s not holding herself together as well as she likes to pretend. Her illness colors all her thoughts, in a mess of doubts, self-hatreds, and distorted ideas. It isn’t simple to figure out, and it isn’t simple to fix; she’s not entirely well at the end of the book, either. Her habit of trying to hide herself is a great obstacle to opening up to Pari. But Pari is great about accepting this aspect of her, especially in a heartwarming scene at the end.

It took me a while to warm up to Rachel’s narration. Frankly, it isn’t always pleasant to be in the head of someone who’s so consistently down on herself. And although Rachel is excellent at conveying how gorgeous, elegantly poised, kind, and breathtakingly sexy Pari is (not that she’s perfect—she’s sometimes immersed in work when at home, and her poise can harden into coolness), it’s harder to understand what Pari would see in Rachel. That’s precisely because we’re seeing Rachel through her own eyes; if she doesn’t find anything lovable about herself, how should we? Eventually, though, her genuine love of filmmaking shines through her self-deprecation, and we see her being competent at work and empathetic with other people; we learn along with Pari to treasure her rare moments of unselfconscious happiness. And there are the times that being with Pari lights her up, the times they laugh together or dance in perfect synchrony. There’s nothing tepid about this romance; the UST is thick in the air, and the emotional connection (when it happens) is deep. Here’s a quote from early on in the book, illustrating the maybe-it’s-not-real-but-I-wish-it-was uncertainty, as the two of them tell Pari’s parents over Skype that they’re in love (yes, they decided to lie to her parents):

Pari laces our hands together. It’s only when she lifts them above the level of the camera, to display in the picture, that I realize it’s just for show. I swallow. She brings our combined hands to her mouth and kisses my knuckles. The kiss is as light as fairy wings, and as reverent as taking mass. The way she looks up at me makes my stomach swoop.
“She’s the most positive person I’ve ever met, Papa.” She looks back at the screen. “Not blindly positive though. She’s hopeful even through the darkness she carries with her. You’re going to admire her, Amma. Just give her a chance.”

Later in that scene:

Pari turns to me with her eyes going huge. “You don’t know what you’re getting into,” she whispers.
“It’ll be fine.” I bump my shoulder against hers. “I can have a white dress this way. I’ve never had a reason to wear a fancy dress.”
“Not ever?”
“I skipped prom. I’ve worn nice dresses, but never a ball gown.”
We’re in our own little world again somehow. I know on one level that Pari’s parents are avidly watching us, but I’m not paying attention to them. Pari’s hand is hot in mine, and she’s rubbing my knuckles with her thumb. I don’t think she realizes, but I do. I realize with every inch of my hand. I’d pull away from the way it’s making me feel, but Sadashiv and Niharika would wonder at our cracks.
That’s what I tell myself, at least.

If we are to fairly consider this book, we do have to think about the issue of biphobia. I felt a twinge of reflexive annoyance when Pari reveals that she is hesitant to get involved with Rachel because she thinks Rachel is straight. Bisexual erasure is all over this book; when Rachel makes her initial offer of marriage, everyone listening laughs and assures Pari that of course it can’t be taken seriously, because Rachel’s not gay, wasn’t she just dating that guy who ran a club? And Pari says that her mother, of all people, advised her not to “mess around with straight girls” (in Pari’s words). Pari had an experience which is kind of a cliche in lesbian stories: her last relationship was with a woman she’d befriended who had just broken up with her husband, and who apparently used her for a combination of convenient bedwarmer, interesting novelty, and middle-finger message to her husband—and then went back to the husband. But anyhow, after that, it’s clear why Pari would be warily looking for signs that when Rachel takes her to bed, it’s likewise a case of just-because-she’s-there. And the fact that she puts this fear into biphobic terms is, well, so common in the real world that it’s completely believable. Is this point of view endorsed by it being established, later on, that Rachel never really was into any of the guys she slept with? Probably, but Rachel’s experiences are described with so much individual detail that it doesn’t seem that way; everything she did and felt previously makes sense according to her own, often-messed-up thinking.

Speaking of cliches, we have the enormous-ethnic-family going on too—Pari’s mother alarms Rachel by proposing a minimum of 300 guests at the wedding, from the extended family; this contrasts with Rachel’s small and scattered WASP family, consisting only of a childless uncle and her own chilly, distant mother, living symbolically in Alaska. But when Niharika arrives, and later other members of the family make brief appearances, they are given individuality. There are mentions of Tamil Hindu wedding customs that baffle Rachel, but we don’t learn much about them because Rachel is too unsure of herself to ask for explanations. By the time the wedding actually happens, though, Rachel and Pari are sure it’s exactly what they want, and Rachel will be carried through her bewilderment by happiness.

I can’t emphasize enough how well written this book is, especially the dialogue. As a bonus, we get a good picture of the setting (southern Orange County near Laguna Beach—Rachel is a native California girl). I rate it A-, taking half a point off for the above-mentioned cliches, but only half, because the nuanced writing goes far beyond conventional.

4 and 5 star stories 2016

In preparation for the Hugo nominations, I have been reading short fiction. Here follows a list (continually updated) of stories that struck me as above average; bold indicates award-worthy.



“And We, Spectators Always, Everywhere” - Kirsten Kaschock; Dead Letters [Titan Books, April]

“The English Translation of the Story of the Hero Who Named Many Places” - Will Kaufman; 20 Tall Tales [Fiction Attic Press, October] (link)

“How High Your Gods Can Count” - Tegan Moore; Strange Horizons, May 2 (link)

“Lullaby for a Lost World” - Aliette de Bodard;, June 8 (link)

“Meltwater” - Benjamin C. Kinney; Strange Horizons, March 14 (link)

“The Men from Narrow Houses” - A. C. Wise; Liminal Stories, Spring/Summer (link)

“The Mountains His Crown” - Sarah Pinsker; Beneath Ceaseless Skies, March 17 (link)

“The Name of the Forest” - Margaret Killjoy; Strange Horizons, March 21 (link)

“No Better Armor, No Heavier Burden” - Wunji Lau; Women in Practical Armor [Evil Girlfriend Media, August]

“Postcards from Natalie” - Carrie Laben; The Dark, July (link)

“Sea of Dreams” - Alter S. Reiss; Beneath Ceaseless Skies, March 31 (link)

“Sweet Marrow” - Vajra Chandrasekera; Strange Horizons, July 4 (link)

“Three Points Masculine” - An Owomoyela; Lightspeed, May (link)

“You’ll Surely Drown Here If You Stay” - Alyssa Wong; Uncanny, May/June (link)



“The Art of Space Travel” - Nina Allan;, July 27 (link)

“Astray” - Nina Allan; Dead Letters [Titan Books, April]

“Breaking Water” - Indrapramit Das;, February 10 (link)

“Is Your Blood as Red as This?” - Helen Oyeyemi; What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours [Riverhead Books, March]

“Love Is Never Still” - Rachel Swirsky; Uncanny, March/April (link)

“Foxfire, Foxfire” - Yoon Ha Lee; Beneath Ceaseless Skies, March 3 (link)

“Polyglossia” - Tamara Vardomskaya; GigaNotoSaurus, March (link)



Every Heart a Doorway - Seanan McGuire [, April]

This Census-Taker - China Miéville [Subterranean Press, January]

3.5 Stars
Dead Letters: An Anthology of the Undelivered, the Missing, the Returned...
Dead Letters: An Anthology of the Undelivered, the Missing, the Returned... - Joanne Harris, Ramsey Campbell, Pat Cadigan, China Miéville, Nicholas Royle, Conrad Williams, Lisa Tuttle, Adam Nevill, Muriel Gray, Steven Hall, Andrew  Lane, Nina Allan, Alison Moore, Angela Slatter, Kirsten Kaschock, Claire Dean, Michael Marshall Smith, Maria Dahvana H

The editor sent all his invited authors a writing prompt consisting of an envelope, looking as if gone astray, containing some odd document or object. I have to say, on the whole, I preferred the stories that used this item less literally. The opening story, "The Green Letter", used the arrival of a malevolent letter in a matter that was just too on-the-nose; this was one of the few where the letter itself, or its contents, had supernatural effects, others being "Over to You" and "Ledge Bants". More often, though, the stories concerned a mysterious letter's ability to spark an investigation, either into someone else's fate or the recipient's own memories. Sometimes the letter was only apparently misdirected, in which case it was almost inevitably a trap. There were a couple of stories that hinged on the fact of a sent letter's failure to arrive at its intended destination. "L0ND0N" doesn't have just one central piece of mail, and "And We, Spectators" has a corrupted verbal message.


Some of the stories stood out. "And We, Spectators Always, Everywhere" by Kirsten Kaschock is a creepy religious horror story, narrated by a guardian angel sent by a God whose ways are very much incomprehensible; the path that the watched child is shepherded down is a dark one. "Astray" by Nina Allen is a psychological story, a portrait of a narrator who reluctantly doles out information about herself. She is traumatized by events involving her father and an accident of her own, and becomes fascinated by a girl who disappeared decades before; it's all so oblique that it would be hard to say how it all adds up, but it does create a coherent, suffocating psychological atmosphere. "Gone Away" is narrated by a viciously snobby representative of an old family; in this story she learns something about the way her family tradition tries to manage the consequences of its dirty sources of wealth, and makes a decision about what it really means to her to be part of this family: to be implicated. "L0ND0N" by Nicholas Royle is a playful exercise in mise en abîme drawing on a lot of the author's actual work as an editor, full of doublings and identity confusions. The main character of "Cancer Dancer" by Pat Cadigan is, just like the author, diagnosed with terminal cancer; although obscure in construction, the story gets across the feeling of living with that news, and is very funny. "The Wrong Game" by Ramsey Campbell is even more metafictional; he starts by talking about the package that he was supposedly sent for this anthology, and creates an atmosphere of doubt around it, as to who is really in charge of his life; and tries, rather effectively, to pass that doubt on to the reader.



  • "Astray" by Nina Allan
  • "And We, Spectators Always, Everywhere" by Kirsten Kaschock



  • "Cancer Dancer" by Pat Cadigan
  • "The Wrong Game" by Ramsey Campbell
  • "Gone Away" by Muriel Gray
  • "L0ND0N" by Nicholas Royle



  • "The Green Letter" by Steven Hall
  • "Over to You" by Michael Marshall Smith
  • "In Memoriam" by Joanne Harris
  • "Wonders to Come" by Christopher Fowler
  • "Is-and" by Claire Dean
  • "The Hungry Hotel" by Lisa Tuttle
  • "Change Management" by Angela Slatter



  • "Ausland" by Alison Moore
  • "Buyer's Remorse" by Andrew Lane
  • "The Days of Our Lives" by Adam LG Nevill
  • "Ledge Bants" by Maria Dahvana Headley and China Miéville


4.5 Stars
Every Heart a Doorway
Every Heart a Doorway - Seanan McGuire

Every Heart a Doorway is simply beautiful.


The premise is a boarding school for teenagers who have gone to other worlds, fantasy worlds, and then returned, and are left longing to go back to the place they now feel is home. They need a school (run by someone who had the same experience) because people in the mundane world don’t believe them and can only try to force them to fit the surroundings where they don’t belong. Naturally the overriding mood of the story is wistfulness, and it’s perfectly captured.


The main characters are tremendously appealing (yes, even the amoral mad scientist); they are a group of clever misfits who support each other fiercely, although recognizing that they can’t provide a true home for each other — Nancy reflects that “this was the place where she came closest to belonging in the world.” The idea proposed about the otherworlds is that they are attracted by “sympathy” to people who are already out of place in their lives (to be sure it doesn’t always work out perfectly — not all world-travelers found themselves in a place where they would happily stay forever). That’s the reason that the vast majority of the students are girls, since they’re much more likely than boys to be disregarded and expected to squeeze themselves into a corner of the world rather than having the world shape itself to their wishes.


The main character is Nancy, who traveled to the Halls of the Dead, a place of ghosts that resembled the painter John William Waterhouse’s shadowy groves. (So many of the fantasy worlds described seem (at least in aesthetics) like ones we’ve heard of previously, that I wonder if the author means to imply that this world’s artists are depicting actual otherworlds.) Not only is Nancy asexual, making her need to conceal from her fellow high-schoolers that she doesn’t, like them, find mating games to be the most important thing in the world, but there is just a fundamental mismatch in the, you might say, energy of how she exists compared to everyone else, and the stillness of ghosts is perfect for her.


There’s also Sumi, a charmingly, chaotically energetic girl who escaped a very rigid and prim family to a nonsense world. And there’s Jack, a twin who says “Our parents were… the sort who always wanted to put things in boxes…. Ever watch a pair of perfectionists try to decide which of their identical children is the ‘smart one’ versus the ‘pretty one’? It would have been funny, if our lives hadn’t been the prize they were trying to win.” Jack went with her sister to a world of horror where she became apprenticed to a mad scientist, where the question was not what ought to be but only what could be, namely anything. And a number of other equally vivid characters.


It’s a short novella, and it’s just the perfect length. I don’t think anything needed to be added to flesh out its themes and characters; it says what it had to say and ends on the right note.

4 Stars
Kingfisher - Patricia A. McKillip

Could the Grail story have meaning in a context other than Medieval Christianity? This is a serious attempt at finding such meaning.


In the rest of this review, there will be spoilers.


Kingfisher shares some themes with McKillip's other recent novel Solstice Wood. But whereas that was set in our own world, this has a peculiar setting furnished with automobiles and asphalt but ruled by royalty and feudal nobility. The setting is the novel's greatest weakness: there is simply no way it can make sense. All superficial aspects of modern life are there, from tourism to credit cards, but there is no apparent industrial basis for high technology (no mention of industry at all), no noticeable economic foundation for the kingdom, and no explanation how its modern economy can coexist with a feudal network of small principalities whose rulers chafe to be independent of the king. The king is served by knights but it is unclear what governmental or social function they have; they don't seem like a very useful army, with their skills (however formidable) all shaped toward single combat, and there is no mention of any other army in spite of rumors of military threats. We expect the workings of a fairy-tale kingdom to be vague, but in this novel, things are so concretely described that they demand explanation. Therefore, the failure of the attempt to combine feudal structures and modern trappings means that I'm not convinced that royal courts can fit into a modern mythology such as the one this book tries to construct.


Much more successful is the web of meanings McKillip weaves around the Grail itself. It is many things to many people, in a world of many gods. The kingdom of Wyvernhold has its capital city in Severluna, at the confluence of rivers named for Severen, the god of metals, treasure, and weapons, and Calluna, the goddess associated with the moon and births. We find ourselves in the territory of conflict between matriarchal and patriarchal religion that is familiar from many modern Arthurian stories. The theme is developed with so much nuance and detail here, though, that it doesn't feel entirely hackneyed or obvious. The acolytes of the two gods each have their own, sharply different version of a myth involving the Grail: the devotees of Severen say it's a golden treasure that's his by right, with Calluna trying to steal it, whereas Calluna's myth (which the author will give the right to) has her healing Severen.


Furthermore, it turns out that this is a divided realm, the fairyland of Ravenhold, ruled by queens, having been suppressed by the conquering kings of Wyvernhold, but the two still parallel each other in a shadowy way. Both lands are damaged, with Ravenhold having fallen into ruin and Wyvernhold into a state of disenchantment signalled by the extinction of fabulous beasts such as wyverns; several people speak of feeling a sort of spiritual exhaustion (and the Guinevere/Lancelot story seems to be playing its traditional role of being a sign of spiritual trouble). The royal families of both realms are seeking to recover the Grail which they both believe would give new power to their reign. There is a story naming as the origin of evil Ravenhold having allowed itself, for the first and last time, to be ruled by a king; this king, after having brought ruin to Ravenhold, at which time the Grail was lost, continues to spread corruption in Wyvernhold. This origin story is tied in a complex way to the link between Calluna and Severen.


The Grail itself, the overflowing source of life and nourishment, plays a role outside these conflicts; it seems more at home in the "castle of the Fisher King" (currently serving as a fish fry restaurant) than in the hands of any power. Yet more meanings are attributed to it by the knights who seek it with a variety of personal attitudes and motivations, and of course, the possibility of the success of their quest is in their heart. The major elements of the Perceval story are repeated in this novel, but some of them are repurposed. Pierce Oliver, hidden from the world by his mother, but tempted toward the court and knighthood, is Perceval (with elements of Galahad in that his father is Lancelot) and a naive "fool" character; he is the "kitchen knight" whose skills are cooking not fighting. He has the usual complement of women that accompany a knight in such stories, but playing unusual variations on their roles: his sorceress mother (who saves him from a dangerous encounter on the road rather than him saving himself); a sister-figure, who assists him in his fight (but who has her own story that ultimately has little to do with him); and a damsel in distress (who takes his kitchen knife away from him and does in her captor with her own hands). His ultimate role is to bring people together, so that they can deal with the evil in the land, rather than to do anything active. And he accepts that at the end, saying that he's a cook rather than a knight, and the restorative, fellowship-promoting power of food is what he appreciates.


The ritual procession that Pierce/Perceval witnesses at the Fisher King's castle is as in the original legend. What we learn of the past suggests that these people are the true heirs of Calluna and old Ravenhold. The one element of the story that doesn't fit very neatly into this telling is Perceval having failed to ask a crucial question; that is brought up early on but not carried through to the end. However, the novel ends with the Fisher King being not yet healed. That's because the true damage is the estrangement between Ravenhold and Wyvernhold. There are signs of reconciliation, and people on both sides talking about the necessity of it, but it hasn't happened yet, and will presumably be an extended process. That's where the similarity to Solstice Wood lies: that novel considered the traditional view of fairyland as separate and hostile and suggested that in modern times that view might break down, that due to cultural shifts people might have reasons for not fearing and rejecting it any more.


Kingfisher is a complicated, many-charactered, somewhat problematic but ultimately quite appealing work whose themes of the reconciliation of different myths and different worlds of the imagination is indeed timely.

Hugo nominations, 2016


Cuckoo Song - Frances Hardinge; Amulet Books, May

Lagoon - Nnedi Okorafor; Saga Press, July

The Mystic Marriage - Heather Rose Jones; Bella Books, April

Shadow Scale - Rachel Hartman; Random House, March

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street - Natasha Pulley; Bloomsbury Publishing, July



“The Bone Swans of Amandale” - C.S.E. Cooney; Bone Swans [Mythic Delirium Books, July]

“Gypsy” - Carter Scholz; The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, November/December

“On the Night of the Robo-Bulls and Zombie Dancers” - Nick Wolven; Asimov’s, February

“Quarter Days” - Iona Sharma; GigaNotoSaurus, December

Witches of Lychford - Paul Cornell [, August]



“The Body Pirate” - Van Aaron Hughes; The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, July/August

“Botanica Veneris: Thirteen Papercuts by Ida Countess Rathangan” - Ian McDonald; Old Venus [Bantam Books, March 2015]

“Little Men with Knives” - L. S. Johnson; Crossed Genres Magazine, July

“Our Lady of the Open Road” - Sarah Pinsker; Asimov’s, June

“Saltwater Railroad” - Andrea Hairston; Lightspeed, July



“The Cellar Dweller” - Maria Dahvana Headley; Nightmare, June

“The Game of Smash and Recovery” - Kelly Link; Strange Horizons, October 17

“Little Fox” - Amy Griswold; Fantastic Stories of the Imagination, June

“Rat Catcher's Yellows” - Charlie Jane Anders; Press Start to Play [Penguin Random House, August]

“Who Will Greet You at Home” - Leslie Nneka Arimah; The New Yorker, October 26



The Anatomy of Curiosity - Maggie Stiefvater, Tessa Gratton, and Brenna Yovanoff; Carolrhoda Lab, October

Dangerous Games: What the Moral Panic over Role-Playing Games Says about Play, Religion, and Imagined Worlds - Joseph P. Laycock; University of California Press, February

A History of Epic Fantasy - Adam Whitehead; The Wertzone, August 23-December 24

Letters to Tiptree - Alexandra Pierce and Alisa Krasnostein; Twelfth Planet Press, August

Lois McMaster Bujold - Edward James; University of Illinois Press, July 



“The Groom” - Emily Carroll; author’s website, July 10

The Oven - Sophie Goldstein; AdHouse Books, June

The Sculptor - Scott McCloud; First Second Books, February

The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage - Sydney Padua; Pantheon Books, April







Carl Engle-Laird (, short stories and novellas)

C.C. Finlay (Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction)

David Longhorn (Supernatural Tales magazine)

Chinelo Onwualu (Omenana magazine)

Wendy N. Wagner (Lightspeed & Nightmare magazines, especially Queers Destroy Horror! issue)





Jian Guo (example: cover of The Mists of Avalon: Mistress of Magic)

Chris McGrath (example: cover of Disciple of the Wind)

Goñi Montes (example: illustration for “Kingmaker”)

Victo Ngai (example: cover of Barsk: The Elephants’ Graveyard)

Morgana Wallace (example: “Necromancer”)






Strange Horizons




Black Gate


File 770

Lady Business





Heather Rose Jones (blog)

James Davis Nicoll (reviews)

Abigail Nussbaum (blog)

Robin Reid (comments on File 770)

Rhiannon Thomas (blog)



Lauren Dawson a.k.a. Iguanamouth (example)

Deborah Hauber a.k.a. Boa (example)

Likhain (example)

Jason Porath (example)

Autun Purser (example)



Charlotte Ashley (examples: “La Héron”, “Eleusinian Mysteries”)

Chikodili Emelumadu (examples: “Story, Story”, “Soup”)

L. S. Johnson (examples: “Little Men with Knives”, “The Tale of King Edgar”)

Iona Sharma (examples: “Quarter Days”, “Nine Thousand Hours”)

JY Yang (examples: “A House of Anxious Spiders”, “Song of the Krakenmaid”)


File 770 discussions on “Planetfall”

Emma on November 10, 2015 at 5:51 pm said:

My recent reads:


Planetfall by Emma Newman: Ooh, I loved this. Basically, it’s about a group (part scientific expedition, part . . . well, cult) who are guided by a woman (ex-roommate and BFF of the narrator) to a distant planet, with tragedy ensuing; the book starts 20-ish years after arrival, as the past comes back to haunt the narrator. (A very inadequate plot summary, but spoilers are hard to avoid here.) I read this book in a single sitting. I was kind of surprised at how . . . intimate? the story turned out to be. It takes place on an alien planet, in the shadow of a bizarre alien city, but it’s very much a story about the effects of trauma and grief on the individual and the community. Well-written, engaging, and highly recommended.



TheYoungPretender on November 16, 2015 at 10:03 am said:

If we’re talking about characterization in fiction, I think there’s a great deal to be said for Planetfall, by Emma Newman. The prose is excellent, the characterization will make you tear up at some points if you can sympathize, and building suspense and slow reveal of shape of the world is very well done. It’s definitely on my list for when I start to think of what I will or will not nominate this coming year.


If this opinion is shared, and the book is some definition of “hot” in terms of critical buzz and sales, I get the distinct feeling we’re looking at our dinosaur, our ancillary for the year. This is a good book. But there’s a distinct lack of male authority saving the day or violence being the answer, and a lot of it happens in the inner life of the narrator. If this makes people’s long and then short lists, I expect it to be contrasted negatively with whatever puppy-chow those who are good buddies with Hoyt or Paulk churn out this year.


If it does, f***’em. Planetfall is a solid book.


robinreid on November 16, 2015 at 11:09 am said:

@The Young Pretender: ooh, bought Planetfall on your rec! Sounds fascinating.


Steve Wright on November 16, 2015 at 11:33 am said:

Darn it, Young Pretender, I have been looking at Planetfall and thinking “no, spent too much on books lately as it stands, better hold off on this one”… and then you go and say good things about it. Bother.


lurkertype on November 16, 2015 at 4:21 pm said:

Intrigued by TYP’s Planetfall review.



Paul Weimer (@princejvstin) on November 17, 2015 at 2:59 am said:

What I am currently reading is Emma Newman’s Planetfall. I thought this was going to be a colonization story. I was not expecting this to be a first person intimate look at a colonist with mental illness. Given my emotional whiplash from vacation and returning to troubles at work, this is rather disconcerting. But very well written.


robinreid on November 17, 2015 at 7:03 am said:

The person whose name I no longer remember who recommended Planetfall: please reimburse me three hours of sleep I missed last night because I could….. not…… put……. the…… book…… (kindle)……… DOWN!


I had to keep reading.


It was…


Brilliant deconstruction of space colony tropes throughout.


snowcrash on November 17, 2015 at 7:53 am said:

::Heartily curses all of you::

::adds Planetfall to Mount F770::



Kendall on November 22, 2015 at 10:36 pm said:

I finished Planetfall and it was great! I should go out of town more often (more reading time). Although I hate present tense, it worked very well here (I didn’t even notice at first, blush), especially with the shifting back and forth into memory-in-past-tense, although I expected that to be set off (italics or whatever), but I got used to it and it was an effective technique in this case – wouldn’t work in other books.

I’m not sure how I feel about the ending.

(show spoiler)

Still, really, really great book! Cool SF, engrossing character . . . tough to put down. I’m tempted by the audiobook already; she reads it, and IMHO does a good job. I first found Planetfall via a recording of her reading.



JJ on December 9, 2015 at 2:07 am said:

Okay, to those of you who raved about Planetfall, I am joining your ranks. This is a book I will be thinking about for days. Just wow.


Kendall on December 9, 2015 at 11:53 pm said:

@JJ: Welcome to Planetfall fandom. Here’s your complimentary 3D-printed badge; it’s a little broken, but I’m sure you can fix it.


JJ on December 10, 2015 at 12:22 am said:

Thanks! I put it on the pile with the other things I’m going fix when I have a spare moment.



Kendall on December 29, 2015 at 11:15 pm said:

JDC: Thanks for the link to Jemisin’s column! I was taken aback by her description of Renata in Planetfall as “completely unlikable”; maybe I was too wrapped up in her narrative, but I didn’t read her like that.


JJ on December 30, 2015 at 12:12 am said:

Neither did I. Planetfall is on my Hugo shortlist right now. I thought the description from the main character’s point-of-view did a fantastic job of showing how

mental illness and/or PTSD can look from the inside, and how it distorts the perceptions of the person suffering from it.

(show spoiler)


I know that one of the other commenters here thought she was awful because

she was “running away from the mess that she made”, but honestly, I thought she was put straight between a rock and a hard place by the two people who actually created the mess — the person who committed suicide, and the person who insisted on covering it up.

At that point, it wouldn’t have mattered what she did, it would have caused serious damage to the colony, either sooner or later. And then she had a mental breakdown / PTSD from trying to deal with it on her own for more than twenty years.

(show spoiler)


I found the main character very sympathetic, and thought that she deserved her resolution. I’m really surprised that Jemisin found her “completely unlikeable” — I mean, I would have expected

compassion for someone who was so clearly suffering from mental illness, rather than just being a nasty or duplicitous person.

(show spoiler)


rob_matic on December 30, 2015 at 1:13 am said:

I see where she’s coming from, and I’m inclined to agree. I don’t think it’s a negative comment in context. You can have sympathy for a character, and be an interested observer of their narrative, without necessarily liking them or being fond of them.


If the character was unlikable and uninteresting, that would be a problem.


Kendall on December 30, 2015 at 1:28 am said:  

@JJ: Agreed 100%, and it’s on my short list, too. You know, if anything, Mac seems to fit “completely unlikeable” a lot better! I mean,

he covered it up, tried to murder fellow colonists (including two just to make it seem accidental!), etc. He was really kind of evil, looking back; he did atrocious things and tried to excuse them with IMHO flimsy reasons.

(show spoiler)

And he comes off a bit smarmy, to boot.  


I may be rereading Planetfall via audiobook sooner than expected. Usually I try to let time pass, but this book was SO GOOD (I’m yelling, for the record). I’m having similar trouble putting off rereading (listening) The Girl with All the Gifts.


Kendall on December 30, 2015 at 1:43 am said:

@rob_matic: Hmm, maybe for me sympathy does require liking a character at least a bit. I don’t know. Anyway, I don’t feel Jemisin’s comment is negative, exactly; I was just surprised because I didn’t see Renata that way.  


Unlikable and uninteresting: traits leading to the eight deadly words. Uninteresting was definitely not (IMHO) one of Renata’s problems!



bookworm1398 on January 5, 2016 at 3:13 pm said:

Just finished Planetfall. I’m not quite sure how I would rate this book yet.


I found the first two-thirds quite fascinating. The premise, the mystery, the description of technologies used, and most especially the main character. The gradual unfolding of her character was great. But, after

the body was found, the story became unconvincing. If Micheal was someone who would kill so many people, including bystanders, over such a small conflict, why wasn’t he dictator of the colony today? Seed two or three should have included the instructions, I’m naming my Michael my successor and giving him the ability to talk to God, just do what he says from now on. Why did Sung care about establishing Ren’s level of guilt when he didn’t mind killing the other 1000 innocent colonists? And Ren’s reaction to seeing the body just didn’t seem intense enough.

(show spoiler)


redheadedfemme on January 5, 2016 at 5:33 pm said:



Planetfall. Gah. The ending to that book drove me nuts.

I mean I don’t care if Ren was mentally ill, to run off and leave the rest of the colonists with the mess she created, and not even make an attempt to help or rescue them, and just go off and ascend into mystical God-city bullshit….arggggh.

(show spoiler)


JJ on January 5, 2016 at 6:25 pm said:

I still say

she was not the one who created the mess. She was the one put between a rock and a hard place by the two people who did create the mess — the suicide, and the guy who insisted that if the suicide was not covered up, the colony would fall apart (which, incidentally, I think was true). She ended up with severe PTSD and mental illness from trying to deal with the mess the other two had created.

(show spoiler)


redheadedfemme on January 5, 2016 at 6:41 pm said:


I’m not sure I agree with that, but that’s certainly a legitimate interpretation.

(Although I seem to remember Ren saying that they could return to Earth, even twenty years after the fact, although it would take every resource the colony had. It seems to me they certainly could have returned after Suh’s suicide, if they had just owned up to what happened.)

(show spoiler)


JJ on January 5, 2016 at 7:21 pm said:

But it was noted that all of their friends and relatives would have been dead by then, and as I recall, it was not a certainty that they would make it back intact.

(show spoiler)


Kendall on January 5, 2016 at 11:19 pm said:

@bookworm1398, @redheadedfemme, & @JJ: I agree with JJ regarding Planetfall and Ren. Some more on how I took it below – obviously YMMV (and does).


Ren ran off because she couldn’t handle things; I mean seriously, she seemed barely able to function, much of the time. I think this also helps explain to her reaction to the body – which, we should remember, she knew about and had just suppressed. It’s not like she became suddenly sane and fully-functioning at the end. I couldn’t picture her trying to save the colony (which was past saving pretty quickly!). I don’t believe the colonists who were left-but-not-killed were doomed as implied, though, despite their overdependence on specific technology. It is odd they didn’t have more people highly involved with such critical stuff, though – Ren seemed like she was practically it, which is a bit unbelievable.

As far as Sung, we’re talking about his mother; he wanted to know just who did what so he could maximize his revenge; I mean this was basically half the point of the infiltration, from where he sat, methinks. Also, he seemed like a sociopath once it all came to light; that stuff went way beyond hate and revenge, IMHO, although hate and revenge (others’ and his own) created him, so it all worked for me.

(show spoiler)


The more I think about it, the more I love this book. I may have to listen to the audiobook sooner rather than later, as a re-read.



Review by redheadedfemme [December 12, 2015]



Kathodus on January 27, 2016 at 12:30 pm said:

Reading-wise – just finished Planetfall. Read it almost entirely in one sitting. It’s another one up there on the shortlist. Googling for filer discussion on it, my recollection that a lot of folk here agree with that is correct.


Kendall on January 28, 2016 at 12:26 am said:

@Kathodus: Count me as someone who loved Planetfall; let me say that it’ll take a lot to knock it off my short list.



Kyra on February 12, 2016 at 12:58 pm said:


Today’s read — Planetfall, by Emma Newman


As a note, I didn’t realize that Emma Newman of “Planetfall, by Emma Newman” was the same Emma Newman as “Tea and Jeopardy, hosted by Emma Newman”, until I read it. Neat.


I’m going to start with a compliment that may not be a common one — I was very impressed by the structure of this book. The pace at which information is revealed, the interplay between past and present, are beautifully handled. Also, the narrative voice was engrossing. That being said, I’m … not entirely satisfied by the ending. I thought what should have been key moments weren’t given enough preparation by the rest of the text to really have the impact they should have.


I still think it’s well worth reading, but the end left me feeling it was a good book rather than a great one.


lurkertype on February 12, 2016 at 1:54 pm said:

Enough people whose opinion I respect have said that Planetfall doesn’t stick the ending that I’ve not bothered to read it. I have more than enough stuff that’s good all the way through to read.


Dawn Incognito on February 12, 2016 at 6:51 pm said:

I am currently about 25% into Planetfall and really enjoying it. I’m a little saddened by the opinions that it doesn’t stick the landing. But I’m still curious about what the reveal will be. I may return and keyboard smash in a few days :-)



NickPheas on February 15, 2016 at 8:26 am said:

Finished Planetfall.



It went a bit 2001 right at the end didn’t it? I’d have liked a bit more about how Sung-Soo’s people survived, without really needing for Ren to hide herself away forever, though it is plainly in her character to do so.

(show spoiler)



Dawn Incognito on February 20, 2016 at 2:36 pm said:

Not sure where to put this, but thought I’d give a follow-up on Planetfall by Emma Newman.


…oh man.


This book will probably live on in my mind as The One With

The Hoarder. I feel awful for being so delighted by this plot development, but…I love Hoarders on A&E. There’s a new season airing right now.


As for the trauma that caused the hoarding? Meh. I had hoped there would be a little more to Suh-Mi’s death. And what an odd charade for Ren and Fitz to keep up for over twenty years. I didn’t expect the savage children of the lost colonists to arrive, but in retrospect I see the clues through our extremely unreliable narrator’s eyes. And Ren’s life needed to be totally destroyed, to drive her to surrender to God’s City. Not quite sure what to make of the ending. I was reminded of that Star Trek TNG where it’s revealed that all of the Alpha quadrant races had been seeded on their home planets. I would have liked more of an answer as to why.

(show spoiler)


JJ on February 20, 2016 at 5:38 pm said:


Dawn Incognito said: As for the trauma that caused the hoarding? Meh. I had hoped there would be a little more to Suh-Mi’s death. And what an odd charade for Ren and Fitz to keep up for over twenty years.


Ren was in love with Suh-Mi, and had been for many, many years, even though they were no longer technically in a relationship. I can certainly understand why seeing the person you love deliberately kill themselves, and then being forced to cover up that death instead of being allowed to grieve publicly with other people who are also grieving would cause that sort of trauma.

I didn’t think that the cover-up was an odd charade at all; everyone who made the trip did so on the force of Suh-Mi’s charismatic personality and their belief in some sort of higher lifeform directing things. Her death and the futility of it all – them not being able to go back and pick up their lives where they left off – would certainly have been psychologically devastating to the colonists. They were already struggling to survive as a colony. That revelation might very well have been a killing blow.

(show spoiler)


I thought the ending was rather rushed as well, and would have liked it to have been developed more.


Dawn Incognito on February 20, 2016 at 6:24 pm said:


JJ said: Ren was in love with Suh-Mi, and had been for many, many years, even though they were no longer technically in a relationship. I can certainly understand why seeing the person you love deliberately kill themselves, and then being forced to cover up that death instead of being allowed to grieve publicly with other people who are also grieving would cause that sort of trauma.


Oh, I didn’t mean that I thought her trauma was insufficiently traumatic; I guess I was hoping for something different in the plot. My expectation was that Suh-Mi had been killed or changed or something. Her suicide was so sudden, which makes sense considering she believed God had been calling her and was dead. It was an impulsive act that had shattering consequences, but didn’t really reveal more of the mystery that I was really interested in, which was the nature of God’s City.


I didn’t think that the cover-up was an odd charade at all; everyone who made the trip did so on the force of Suh-Mi’s charismatic personality and their belief in some sort of higher lifeform directing things. Her death and the futility of it all – them not being able to go back and pick up their lives where they left off – would certainly have been psychologically devastating to the colonists. They were already struggling to survive as a colony. That revelation might very well have been a killing blow.


I thought they hadn’t established the colony yet. Mack made a unilateral decision to keep Suh-Mi’s death a secret until they could establish themselves, and killed a bunch of people to keep it. He could say it was for the greater good (and I’m sure he did to Ren, often and at length), but the fact remains that he made up everyone’s minds for them. Maybe he actually believed that he was saving the colonists; that, depressed, they would wither and die. Maybe he thought that the colony might pull together, but decide they didn’t want him as leader so he set up this brainwashing sideshow to keep them docile. An interesting character seen through such a passive narrator. I may flip through the book a little tonight to see if I catch anything in retrospect.

(show spoiler)


JJ on February 20, 2016 at 6:57 pm said:

Oh, I’m not defending what Mack did, just saying that I could see why he would do it, and why Ren would be so in shock that she would go along with it at first – and then later feel helpless to change it.

(show spoiler)



Vasha’s thoughts on Planetfall [March 17, 2016]


Thoughts on “Planetfall” by Emma Newman

NOTE: This essay discusses the entire novel with no regard for spoilers.
Readers, can we agree that the idea of teleological evolution doesn’t hold water scientifically? That’s fine. In the world of Planetfall, though, when the narrator speculates, “Could it be that our existence was somehow engineered and the same process carried out across multiple solar systems in the galaxy? Could it be that God scattered our building blocks, then called us back when we were ready?” she is nothing but right.
This is one hell of a frustrating novel. On the one hand, it’s nicely written and the main character, Renata (Ren) Ghali, is appealing (in my opinion, that is; many other readers have been put off by her); her anguished search for a way through her personal and social troubles keeps up steady suspense. On the other hand, the entire plot rests on multiple instances of immense stupidity by many people, and ultimately goes nowhere at all; if there’s a God pulling the strings of this plot, they’re just as stupid as the characters.
Ren’s beloved, Lee Suh-Mi, came across an unknown plant that compelled her to eat its seed, whereupon she was granted a vision of the location of another planet and how to get there. She planned an expedition (leaving a planet Earth ravaged by misgovernment and environmental collapse) and gathered over one thousand people to go along, people from all backgrounds and religions who paid their passage with either money or expertise. Her head of personnel, so to speak, was the “Ringmaster” Mack, a man with a genius for advertising; he chose most of the expedition members.
This group includes biochemists and geneticists. And yet, we don’t hear of any of them expressing surprise when the new planet proves to be populated with organisms that use the same DNA coding as on Earth (an impossibility if life originated separately there), and many of which strongly resemble earth life, down to “grasses” and “mammals”.
Shortly after arrival (Planetfall), the disaster strikes which, unrevealed at the start of the novel, will be gradually made clear: Suh-Mi leads an exploration group, including Ren, Mack, and Suh-Mi’s son Hak-Kun, through the innards of an immense organism they dub “God’s City”, since her visions tell her God will be found at the top of it. Here, as throughout the story, she is being treated as a charismatic leader rather than an organizer: she has taken along those members of the expedition who are closest to her rather than ones with relevant expertise. They wear protective gear since the inside of God’s City is full of biologically active exudates and microorganisms. They find signs of technology on their journey, and writings in no earthly language. At the top, Suh-Mi passes into a hidden room, then runs out of it saying that they’re too late and God is already dead, tears off her mask, and dies choking on the environmental toxins.
What to do? Mack, singlehandedly, makes the decision that Suh-Mi’s death (and what she said) must be concealed from the rest of the expedition, coercing Ren into backing him up and attempting to kill the others who know about it by marooning them far from the encampment. This is the point at which the plot becomes even more unbelievable than it has been so far. Mack manages to convince all thousand expedition members that Suh-Mi has remained in God’s City communing with the Creator, and plants a “message” from her each year... for twenty-two years. During all this time, the colonists sit around in their encampment at the foot of God’s City, building houses, enriching their comfortable lives (enabled by molecular printers), and thinking of their missing leader with round-eyed awe. They exhibit remarkably little curiosity: not doing much to investigate the peculiarities of their setting, not exploring the rest of the planet, and never, ever questioning Mack’s story. I can only explain this by supposing that when Mack chose expedition members, he specifically chose people who were gullible, incurious, and lacking all skepticism. (This is supported by noting that one of his few critics, whom he had to eliminate, was Hak-Kun who was not one of his choices.) This may be a good make-up for the members of a religious cult, but it is not at all suitable for a planetary colony, as the events of the novel will show. If he chose people who would go along on the expedition out of awed reverence and not out of curiosity or hope of gain (seriously, how many people wouldn’t be wild to see a new planet?) that explains why he felt he had to conceal from them the collapse of the rationale. I see no reason why he would make that choice except intending to keep them under his personal thrall. And I find it hard to believe that he succeeded with all thousand of them, no matter what a brilliant manipulator he is stated to be.
Twenty-two years later, a young man, Sung-Soo, turns up claiming to be Hak-Kun’s son and the sole survivor of the marooned expedition members. He is immediately accepted into the encampment although, to me, he seemed fishier than last week’s cod, telling inconsistent stories about his life, poking into every corner of the encampment, and acting much more naive at some moments than others. Sure enough, to everyone’s surprise he turns out to be scouting for a group of other descendants of the marooned who will attack and make off with technology and prisoners to run it. Even Mack doesn’t see through him, perhaps because he is preoccupied with shoring up the shakiness of his own deception.
This outcome demonstrates the extreme fragility of the community the expedition created. First, Mack’s deception diverted them into a pattern of doing nothing except waiting for Suh-Mi. They have shared values of tolerance, responsibility, and nonaggression; yet the way they turn on Ren at the end of the story shows that they don’t always adhere to these values. They were chosen for lack of aggressive tendencies; but the next generation, struggling to survive in the wilderness, reverted to more warlike ways. They became too reliant on one person, Ren, for maintaining the molecular printers. It really didn’t take the attack to bring down the colony; they were failing quite well on their own.
During these events, Ren is going through a personal hell: the anxiety and OCD she has suffered from all her life are greatly worsened by the events, starting with her daughter’s death decades ago, that load her with grief and guilt. Keeping up her part in concealing Suh-Mi’s death is nearly too much for her. She is also desperate to not let anyone know how badly she is doing mentally; she thinks of it as not wanting them to pry into her life and judge her. Her fear that people would react badly proves to not be entirely unfounded, although perhaps the sudden revelation after concealment didn’t help with that; but it also clearly arises from distorted thinking. This, for me, was the most compelling aspect of the book: learning more about Ren’s life and personality, and following her struggles as she tries to keep up a functional facade. She is also intelligent and creative, and it is interesting to watch her do her engineering work. Her story is essentially parallel to the other events, although there may be thematic significance to the similarity between the museumlike areas of God’s City and Ren’s attachment to objects that evoke memories and emotions. Her narration conceals the events of Planetfall from the reader because she is very reluctant to think about them.
But ultimately, the novel is a huge trick, a joke. Nothing that Ren learns during her final passage through God’s City contradicts her supposition that human evolution was intended and the expedition was led to this location. She sees an image of the story of how this happened, the last survivor of a humanlike species “throwing something depicted as tiny dots upward... The sender created the city and then people came from lots of different places to enter it, all much smaller than the sender. A segment shows the tiny people inside stylized tunnels and pods, each one showing the person getting bigger until there’s one of the topmost pod with a symbol that has to be the sun above it. The sender is above the city now and the little people who have grown during their passage through the city are reaching up.” We can believe this, because if Ren’s interpretations are sometimes unreliable, her perceptions are not, and also it explains (sort of) the shared biology of the two planets. But... what are we to make of the purpose and value of the long, long elaborate series of contrivances that led Ren here, as the first but perhaps not last of her species to reach this point?
What we see of Earth shows humanity mired in inequality, exploitation, and conflict, neither very spiritual nor very moral. Technology has advanced (in spite of medical tech such as artificial eyes, there apparently still is no easy solution for mental illness), but nothing else. They now have the ability to get to “God’s” planet, but does ability equal worth? The sheeplike expedition members are not glorious representatives of their kind either. All of their failings and problems keep them from entering the City. Ren (no paragon) ultimately stumbles into God’s City without protective gear, unplanned, out of sheer desperation... the lack of gear turns out to be necessary for her transformation and preparation. Gosh, if only all those years ago, the message that told Suh-Mi exactly where to go had somehow managed to tell her not to wear an environment suit! Somehow the genius mind that foresaw human evolution, and placed a message in a plant specifically engineered for them, didn’t foresee that! Apparently, all that a human(oid) needs in order to join “God” is to somehow arrive at God’s City; they are then passively transformed by its bioengineering. I cannot see much connection to spiritual worth in that, for all that the iconography of upwards travel, growing larger, and rising to the sun is very spiritual. I am left very much wondering why “God” had to go through so many steps to get to that point, sending DNA away to other planets and waiting billions of years for something to become technologically capable (whatever its other qualities) of returning. And then chose a quite inefficient means of getting them into the City.
I wonder if Newman is actually mocking the idea of humans being cosmically intended in this novel. She develops the scenario and leaves it looking thoroughly ridiculous. It would be no wonder then that the believers come off seeming like fools even though they are basically right. Even if this is her sneaky intention, I still think the story is pretty much a failure because its plot depends at so many points on the improbably idiotic behavior of human characters.

Table of Contents for “Up-and-Coming: Stories by the 2016 Campbell-Eligible Authors”

Charlotte Ashley

La Héron (Short story) Originally published in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, March/April 2015

Sigrid Under the Mountain (Short story) Originally published in The Sockdolager, Summer 2015

John Ayliff

Belt Three (Novel excerpt) First published by Harper Voyager, 2015

Lucas Bale

To Sing of Chaos and Eternal Night (Novelette) Originally published in No Way Home, edited by Lucas Bale and Alex Roddie, Dark Matter Publishing, 2015

Nicolette Barischoff

Pirate Songs (Novelette) Originally published in Accessing the Future, edited by Kathryn Allan and Djibril al-Ayad, The Future Fire, 2015

Follow Me Down (Novelette) Originally published by Unlikely Story in their issue The Journal of Unlikely Academia, October 2015

In the Woods Behind My House (Short story) Originally published in audio format by PodCastle, January 6, 2016

Sofie Bird

A is for Alacrity, Astronauts and Grief (Short story) Previously published in the anthology Temporally Out of Order, released by the small press Zombies Need Brains LLC, 2015

Derrick Boden

Clay Soldiers (Short story) Originally published by Daily Science Fiction in November 2015

The Last Mardi Gras (Short story) Originally published by Flash Fiction Online in August 2015

Stefan Bolz

The Traveler (Short story) Originally published in The Time Travel Chronicles, created by Samuel Peralta, edited by Crystal Watanabe, Windrift Books, 2015

David Bruns

The Water Finder’s Shadow (Novelette) Originally published in Tails of the Apocalypse, edited by Chris Pourteau, Hip Phoenix Publishing, 2015

I, Caroline (Short story) Self-published, March 2015

Martin Cahill

It Was Never the Fire (Short story) Originally published by Nightmare Magazine, April 2014

Vanilla (Short story) Originally published by Fireside Fiction, May 2014

Aaron Canton

Dining Out (Short story) Originally published in Phobos Magazine, Issue 3: Troublemake, 2015

A Most Unusual Patriot (Short story) Originally published in Michael DeAngelo’s Tales of Tellest: Volume 1, 2015

D. K. Cassidy

Room 42 (Short story) Originally published in The Immortality Chronicles, created by Samuel Peralta, edited by Carol Davis, Windrift Books, 2015

Zach Chapman

Between Screens (Short story) Originally published in Writers of the Future Volume 31, Galaxy Press, 2015

Curtis C. Chen

Zugzwang (Short story) Originally published by Daily Science Fiction in September 2014

Making Waves (Short story) Originally published in SNAFU: An Anthology of Military Horror, Cohesion Press, 2014

Laddie Come Home (Short story) Originally published by Dreaming Robot Press in the 2016 Young Explorer’s Adventure Guide

Z Z Claybourne

Agents of Change (Short story) Originally published by Samuel Peralta for the alternate history issue of The Future Chronicles, Alt.History 101, Windrift Books, 2015

Liz Colter

The Ties That Bind, the Chains That Break (Short story) First published in Galaxy’s Edge Magazine, March, 2015

Echoes (Short story) First published in Urban Fantasy Magazine, August, 2015, edited by Katrina Forest

The Clouds in Her Eyes (Short story) First published in Writers and Illustrators of the Future Volume 30, edited by Dave Wolverton, Galaxy Press, 2014

Nik Constantine

Last Transaction (Short story) originally appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Mar/Apr 2015

Daniel J. Davis

The God Whisperer (Short story) Originally published in Writers of the Future Volume 31, Galaxy Press, 2015

S. B. Divya

Strange Attractors (Short story) originally published by Daily Science Fiction in June, 2014

The Egg (Short story) Originally published by Nature, March 12, 2015

Ships in the Night (Short story) Originally published by Daily Science Fiction in May, 2015

Margaret Dunlap

Jane (Short story) Originally published by Shimmer in May, 2014

Broken Glass (Short story) Originally published by Wisdom Crieth Without in March 2015

Bookburners, Episode 5: The Market Arcanum (Novelette) Originally published by Serial Box Publishing as part of Bookburners, Season One, 2015

S. K. Dunstall

Linesman (Novel excerpt) Originally published by Ace Books, editor Anne Sowards, 2015

Jonathan Edelstein

First Do No Harm (Novelette) Originally published in Strange Horizons, November 16, 2015

Harlow C. Fallon

A Long Horizon (Short story) Originally published in The Immortality Chronicles, created by Samuel Peralta, edited by Carol Davis, Windrift Books, 2015

Rafaela F. Ferraz

The Lady of the House of Mirrors (Novelette) Originally published in Daughters of Frankenstein: Lesbian Mad Scientists, Lethe Press, 2015

Sam Fleming

She Gave Her Heart, He Took Her Marrow (Short story) Originally published in Apex Magazine, December 2015

Annalee Flower Horne

Seven Things Cadet Blanchard Learned from the Trade Summit Incident (Short story) Originally published in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, July/August 2014

Ron S. Friedman

Game Not Over (Short story) Originally published by Galaxy’s Edge Magazine, January 2015

LUCA (Short story) Originally published in Enigma Front, Analemma Books, August 2015

David Jón Fuller

The Harsh Light of Morning (Short story) Originally published in Tesseracts Eighteen: Wrestling with Gods, edited by Liana Kerzner and Jerome Stueart, EDGE Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing, 2014

Caged (Short story) Originally published in Guns and Romances, edited by Nerine Dorman and Carrie Clevenger, Crossroad Press, 2015

In Open Air (Short story) Originally published in Accessing the Future, edited by Kathryn Allan and Djibril al-Ayad, The Future Fire, 2015

Sarah Gailey

Bargain (Short story) Originally published by Mothership Zeta, October 2015

Haunted (Short story) Originally published in Fireside Magazine in March 2016

Patricia Gilliam

The Backup (Short story) Originally published in The Immortality Chronicles, created by Samuel Peralta, edited by Carol Davis, Windrift Books, 2015

Jaymee Goh

Liminal Grid (Short story) Originally published in Strange Horizons, November 9, 2015

Elad Haber

Number One Hit (Short story) Originally published in Interfictions Online, November 2015

Auston Habershaw

Adaptation and Predation (Short story) Originally published by Escape Pod on December 11, 2015

A Revolutionary’s Guide to Practical Conjuration (Novelette) Originally published in Writers of the Future Volume 31, Galaxy Press, 2015

Philip Brian Hall

Spatchcock (Novella) Originally published by AE – The Canadian Science Fiction Review, Spring 2014

The Waiting Room (Short story) Originally published by Flame Tree Publishing in Chilling Ghost Short Stories, September 2015

The Man on the Church Street Omnibus (Short story) Originally published in The Sockdolager, Spring 2015

John Gregory Hancock

The Antares Cigar Shoppe (Short story) Originally published in The Immortality Chronicles, created by Samuel Peralta, edited by Carol Davis, Windrift Books, 2015

Nin Harris

Sang Rimau and the Medicine Woman (Short story) Originally published in Lackington’s Magazine, Summer 2015

Your Right Arm (Short story) Originally published in Clarkesworld, November 2015

C. A. Hawksmoor

Y Brenin (Novelette) Originally published in Beneath Ceaseless Skies, February 19, 2015

Murder on the Laplacian Express (Short story) Originally published in Interzone, September/October 2015

Sean Patrick Hazlett

Boomer Hunter (Short story) Originally published in Grimdark #5, October 2015 

Entropic Order (Short story) Originally published in Outposts of Beyond, January 2015

Chandler’s Hollow (Short story) Originally published in Perihelion Science Fiction, March 2015

Holly Heisey

The Monastery of the Parallels (Short story) Originally published in Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show, July 2015

An Understanding (Short story) Originally published by Escape Pod in June 2014

Contents of Care Package to Etsath-tachri, Formerly Ryan Andrew Curran (Human English Translated to Sedrayin) (Short story) Originally published by EGM Shorts in November 2015

Michael Patrick Hicks

Revolver (Short story) Originally published in No Way Home, curated by Lucas Bale, edited by Alex Roddie, Dark Matter Publishing, 2015

Preservation (Short story) Originally published in The Cyborg Chronicles, created by Samuel Peralta, edited by Crystal Watanabe, Windrift Books, 2015

S. L. Huang

Hunting Monsters (Short story) First published by The Book Smugglers, October 2014, edited by Ana Grilo and Thea James

By Degrees and Dilatory Time (Short story) First published by Strange Horizons, May 18, 2015, edited by Julia Rios

Zero Sum Game (Novel excerpt) Self-published, 2014

Kurt Hunt

Paolo, Friend Paolo (Short story) First published in Ecotones: Ecological Stories from the Border Between Fantasy and Science Fiction, edited by Andrew Leon Hudson, 2015

QSFT7mk2.7853 Has a Name (Short story) First published in Perihelion Science Fiction, December 2015

Tigerskin (Short story) First published in Strange Horizons, December 7, 2015

L. S. Johnson

Vacui Magia (Short story) Originally published in Strange Horizons, 5 January 2015

Little Men with Knives (Novelette) Originally published in Crossed Genres Magazine #31, July 2015

Cameron Johnston

The Economist and the Dragon (Short story) Originally published in Buzzy Mag, June 2014

Head Games (Short story) Originally published in Swords and Sorcery Magazine, February 2016

The Shadow Under Scotland (Short story) Originally published in The Lovecraft eZine, June 2014

Rachael K. Jones

Makeisha in Time (Short story) Originally published in the August 2014 issue of Crossed Genres Magazine, edited by Bart Lieb, Kay T. Holt, and Kelly Jennings

Who Binds and Looses the World with Her Hands (Short story) Originally published by PodCastle in February 2015’s Artemis Rising feature, edited by Dave Thompson and Anna Schwind

Charlotte Incorporated (Short story) Originally published by Lightspeed Magazine in February 2014, edited by John Joseph Adams

Jason Kimble

Broken (Short story) Originally published by Escape Pod, Episode 509, November 3, 2015

Hide Behind (Short story) Originally published by The Sockdolager, Issue 3, Fall 2015

Paul B. Kohler

Rememorations (Short story) Originally published in The Immortality Chronicles, created by Samuel Peralta, edited by Carol Davis, Windrift Books, 2015

The Soul Collector (Short story) Self-published, 2015

Jeanne Kramer-Smyth

Unsealed (Short story) Originally published by Dreaming Robot Press in the 2015 Young Explorer’s Adventure Guide

View from Above (Short story) Originally published by Dreaming Robot Press in the 2016 Young Explorer’s Adventure Guide

Jamie Gilman Kress

And Now, Fill Her In (Short story) Originally published by Daily Science Fiction, January 16, 2015

Jason LaPier

Unexpected Rain (Novel excerpt) Originally published by Harper Voyager, 2015

Fonda Lee

Zeroboxer (Novel excerpt) Originally published by Flux, 2015

Universal Print (Short story) Originally published in Crossed Genres Magazine, February 2015

S. Lynn

Ffydd (Faith) (Short story) Originally published in Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction From the Margins of History, edited by Rose Fox and Daniel José Older, Crossed Genres Publications, 2014

Jack Hollis Marr

into the waters I rode down (Short story) Originally published in Accessing the Future, edited by Kathryn Allan and Djibril al-Ayad, The Future Fire, 2015

Arkady Martine

City of Salt (Short story) Originally published by Strange Horizons, 16 March 2015.

When the Fall Is All That’s Left (Short story) Originally published by Apex Magazine, October 2015

Adjuva (Short story) Originally published in Lakeside Circus, year 2 issue 1, March 2015

Kim May

Blood Moon Carnival (Short story) Originally published in Fiction River, Volume 13: Alchemy and Steam, edited by Kerrie Hughes, WMG Publishing, 2015

The Void Around the Sword’s Edge (Short story) Originally published in Fiction River, Volume 11: Pulse Pounders, edited by Kevin J. Anderson, WMG Publishing, 2015

Alison McBain

Grandmother Winter (Short story) Second place in Contest #22 by On the Premises Magazine, March 2014

The Lost Children (Short story) Originally published by Third Flatiron Anthologies in Abbreviated Epics, 2014

The Heart of Yuki-onna (Short story) Originally published by World Weaver Press in Frozen Fairy Tales, 2015

Rati Mehrotra

Charaid Dreams (Short story) Originally published by Apex Magazine, Issue 70, in March 2015

Ghosts of Englehart (Short story) Originally published by AE – The Canadian Science Fiction Review, Issue no. 17, Winter 2014

Lia Swope Mitchell

Slow (Short story) Originally published in Apex Magazine 71, April 2015

Allison Mulder

Decay (Short story) Originally published in Crossed Genres Magazine, November 2015

Ian Muneshwar

Ossuary (Short story) Originally published in Clarkesworld, May 2015

Brian Niemeier

Strange Matter (Novelette) Originally published in Sci Phi Journal #3, January 2015

Nethereal (Novel excerpt) self-published, 2015

Wendy Nikel

Rain Like Diamonds (Short story) Originally published by Daily Science Fiction, September 4, 2015

The Tea-Space Continuum (Short story) Originally published by AE – The Canadian Science Fiction Review, Summer 2015

The Book of Futures (Short story) Originally published in Ghost in the Cogs: Steam-Powered Ghost Stories, edited by Scott Gable & C. Dombrowski, Broken Eye Books, 2015

George Nikolopoulos

A Rise to the Surface (Short story) Originally published by SF Comet, November 2015

Razor Bill vs. Pistol Anne (Short story) Originally published in Bards and Sages Quarterly, January 2016

Megan E. O’Keefe

Of Blood and Brine (Short story) Originally published in Shimmer, January 2015

Steal the Sky (Novel excerpt) Originally published by Angry Robot Books, 2016

Malka Older

Tear Tracks (Short story) Originally published by, October 21, 2015

Emma Osborne

The Box Wife (Short story) Originally published in Shock Totem: Curious Tales of the Macabre and Twisted, Issue #9, October 2014

Zip (Short story) Originally published in Bastion Science Fiction Magazine, August 2014

Clean Hands, Dirty Hands (Short story) Originally published in Aurealis #71, June 2014

Chris Ovenden

Upgrade (Short story) Originally published by Penny Shorts, Jan 2015

Peace for Our Times (Short story) Originally published by Every Day Fiction, June 2015

Behind Grey Eyes (Short story) Originally published by Daily Science Fiction, Sept 2015

Steve Pantazis

Switch (Novelette) Originally published in Writers of the Future Volume 31, Galaxy Press, 2015

Carrie Patel

Here Be Monsters (Short story) Originally published by Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Issue #147, May 15, 2014

The Color of Regret (Short story) Originally published by PodCastle, Episode 401: Artemis Rising, February 2015

The Buried Life (Novel excerpt) Originally published by Angry Robot Books, 2015

Sunil Patel

The Merger: A Romantic Comedy of Intergalactic Business Negotiations, Indecipherable Emotions, and Pizza (Short story) Originally published by The Book Smugglers, June 2015

The Robot Who Couldn’t Lie (Short story) Originally published by Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show in May 2015

The Attic of Memories (Short story) Originally published by Fantastic Stories of the Imagination in September 2015

Laura Pearlman

I am Graalnak of the Vroon Empire, Destroyer of Galaxies, Supreme Overlord of the Planet Earth. Ask Me Anything. (Short story) This story originally appeared in Flash Fiction Online, April 2015

A Dozen Frogs, a Bakery, and a Thing That Didn’t Happen (Short story) This story originally appeared in Daily Science Fiction, October 2015

In the End, You Get Clarity (Short story) This story originally appeared in Unidentified Funny Objects 4, October 2015

Samuel Peralta

Hereafter (Short story) Originally published in Synchronic, edited by David Gatewood, 2014

Humanity (Short story) Originally published in The Robot Chronicles, edited by David Gatewood, 2014

Andrea Phillips

In Loco Parentis (Short story) Originally published in Escape Pod, Episode 476, 16 January 2015

Revision (Novel excerpt) Originally published by Fireside Fiction, 2015

Mark Robert Philps

Dragonfire Is Brighter Than the Ten Thousand Stars (Novella) Originally published in The Mammoth Book of Dieselpunk, edited by Sean Wallace, Running Press, 2015

Monica Enderle Pierce

Judgment (Novelette) Originally published in The Dragon Chronicles, created by Samuel Peralta, edited by Ellen Campbell, Windrift Books, 2015

Ivan Popov

The Keresztury TVirs (Short story) Translated by Vladimir Poleganov, Kalin Nenov, and Ivan Popov; originally published in the May 2015 issue of Sci Phi Journal

Bill Powell

The Punctuality Machine, or, A Steampunk Libretto (Short story) Originally published by Beneath Ceaseless Skies on May 14, 2015, both as a short story and also as a special large-cast podcast in celebration of the 150th episode of the BCS Audio Fiction Podcast

Stephen S. Power

Stripped to Zero (Short story) First published in Nature, August 6, 2015

Wire Paladin (Short story) First published in AE – The Canadian Science Fiction Review, Summer 2015

Automatic Sky (Short story) First published in AE – The Canadian Science Fiction Review, Summer 2014

Rhiannon Rasmussen

The Hymn of Ordeal, No. 23 (Short story) Originally published by Lightspeed, June 2014

Charge! Love Heart! (Short story) Originally published by The Sockdolager, Spring 2015

How to Survive the Apocalypse (Short story) Originally published by ZEAL, September 2015

Chris Reher

The Kasant Objective (Short story) Originally published in The Galaxy Chronicles, created by Samuel Peralta, edited by Jeff Seymour, Windrift Books, 2015

Ethan Reid

The Undying: Shades (Novel excerpt) Originally published by Simon & Schuster, 2015

Kelly Robson

Waters of Versailles (Novella excerpt) First published by,10 June 2015

The Three Resurrections of Jessica Churchill (Short story) First published by Clarkesworld, February 2015

Two-Year Man (Short story) First published by Asimov’s Science Fiction, August 2015

Andy Rogers

The Doom of Sallee (Short story) Originally published in Grantville Gazette, November 2015

Brothers in Arms (Novella) Originally serialized in Star Citizen’s Jump Point from January through April 2015

Lauren M. Roy

The Eleventh Hour (Short story) Originally published in Fireside Magazine, July 2015

Steve Ruskin

Grand Tour (Short story) Previously published in the anthology Temporally Out of Order, released by the small press Zombies Need Brains LLC, 2015

K. B. Rylander

We Fly (Short story) First published on, March 16, 2015

Hope Erica Schultz

Mr. Reilly’s Tattoo (Short story) Originally published in Fireside Fiction, Issue 18, December 2014

The Princess in the Basement (Short story) Originally published in Diabolical Plots #4, June 2015

Effie Seiberg

Re: Little Miss Apocalypse Playset (Short story) Originally published in Fireside Magazine, Issue 30, February 2016

Rocket Surgery (Short story) Originally published in Analog Science Fiction and Fact, January/February 2016

Thundergod in Therapy (Short story) Originally published in Galaxy’s Edge, January 2016

Tahmeed Shafiq

The Djinn Who Sought to Kill the Sun (Novelette) Originally published in Lightspeed Magazine, August 2014

Iona Sharma

Archana and Chandni (Short story) Originally published in Betwixt, July 2015

Alnwick (Short story) Originally published in Middle Planet, Summer 2015

Anthea Sharp

Ice in D Minor (Short story) Originally published in the Timberland Reads Together anthology, Timberland Regional Library, September 2015

The Sun Never Sets (Short story) Originally published in Alt.History 101, edited by Samuel Peralta and Nolie Wilson, Windrift Books, 2015

Fae Horse (Short story) Originally published in Tales of Feyland & Faerie by Anthea Sharp, November 2015

Elsa Sjunneson-Henry

Edge of the Unknown (Short story) Originally published in Ghost in the Cogs: Steam-Powered Ghost Stories, edited by Scott Gable & C. Dombrowski, Broken Eye Books, 2015

Daniel Arthur Smith

The Diatomic Quantum Flop (Short story) Originally published in The Time Travel Chronicles, created by Samuel Peralta, edited by Crystal Watanabe, Windrift Books, 2015

Tower (Short story) Self-published, October 2015

Hugh Howey Lives (Novella excerpt) Self-published, April 2015

Lesley Smith

The Soulless: A History of Zombieism in Chiitai and Mihari Culture (Short story) Originally published in The Z Chronicles, created by Samuel Peralta, edited by Ellen Campbell, Windrift Books, 2015

William Squirrell

Götterdämmerung (Short story) Originally published by AE – The Canadian Science Fiction Review, Spring 2015

Fighting in the Streets of the City of Time (Short story) Originally published by Bewildering Stories, Issue 605, January 26, 2015

I Am Problem Solving Astronaut: How to Write Hard SF (Short story) Originally published by Blue Monday Review, May 2015

Dan Stout

Outpatient (Short story) First published in Nature, July 16, 2015

The Curious Case of Alpha-7 DE11 (Short story) First published by Mad Scientist Journal, Winter 2015

Naru Dames Sundar

A Revolution in Four Courses (Short story) Originally published by Daily Science Fiction, June 2, 2015

Infinite Skeins (Short story) Originally published by Crossed Genres Magazine, August 2015

Broken-Winged Love (Short story) Originally published by Strange Horizons, October 5, 2015

Will Swardstrom

Uncle Allen (Novelette) Originally published in The Alien Chronicles, created by Samuel Peralta, edited by David Gatewood, Windrift Books, 2015

The Control (Novelette) Originally published in The Immortality Chronicles, created by Samuel Peralta, edited by Carol Davis, Windrift Books, 2015

Jeremy Szal

Daega’s Test (Short story) Originally published in Nature Physics, April 30, 2015

Last Age of Kings (Short story) Originally published in Fantasy Scroll Magazine, December 2015

Skingame (Short story) Originally published in Perihelion Science Fiction, May 2015

Lauren C. Teffeau

Forge and Fledge (Short story) Originally published in Crossed Genres Magazine, April 2014

Jump Cut (Short story) Originally published in Unlikely Story #11: The Journal of Unlikely Cryptography, February 2015

Natalia Theodoridou

The Eleven Holy Numbers of the Mechanical Soul (Short story) Originally published in Clarkesworld, February 2014

On Post-Mortem Birds (Short story) Originally published in Interfictions: A Journal of Interstitial Arts, June 2015

Android Whores Can’t Cry (Short story) Originally published in Clarkesworld, July 2015

Joseph Tomaras

Bonfires in Anacostia (Short story) Originally published in Clarkesworld, Issue 95, August 2014

Thirty-Eight Observations on the Nature of the Self (Short story) Originally published in Phantasm Japan, edited by Nick Mamatas and Masumi Washington, Haikasoru, 2014

The Joy of Sects (Short story) Originally published in Unlikely Story #11: The Journal of Unlikely Cryptography, February 2015

Vincent Trigili

The Storymaster (Short story) Originally published in The Dragon Chronicles, created by Samuel Peralta, edited by Ellen Campbell, Windrift Books, 2015

P. K. Tyler

Moon Dust (Novelette) Originally published by Evolved Publishing, edited by Philip A. Lee, March 2015

Avendui 5ive (Short story) Originally published in The Cyborg Chronicles, created by Samuel Peralta, edited by Crystal Watanabe, Windrift Books, 2015

Tamara Vardomskaya

The Metamorphoses of Narcissus (Short story) Originally published in Beneath Ceaseless Skies, January 8, 2015

Acrobatic Duality (Short story) Originally published by, February 11, 2015

Leo Vladimirsky

Collar (Short story) Originally appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, March/April 2014

Dandelion (Short story) Originally published by Boing Boing, September 21, 2015

Nancy S. M. Waldman

ReMemories (Short story) Originally published in Fantasy Scroll Magazine, August 2015

And Always, Murder (Short story) Originally published in AE – The Canadian Science Fiction Review, Fall 2015

Sound of Chartreuse (Short story) Originally published in Perihelion Science Fiction, November 2015

Thomas M. Waldroon

Sinseerly a Friend & Yr. Obed’t (Novelette) Originally published in Beneath Ceaseless Skies, April 16, 2015

Jo Lindsay Walton

It’s OK to Say If You Went Back in Time and Killed Baby Hitler (Short story) Self-published, December 2015

Kim Wells

The Book of Safkhet: Chronicler of the Journey, Mistress of the House of Books (Short story) Originally published in The Dragon Chronicles, created by Samuel Peralta, edited by Ellen Campbell, Windrift Books, 2015

Alison Wilgus

King Tide (Short story) Originally published in Terraform, December 1, 2014

Noise Pollution (Short story) Originally published in Strange Horizons, 6 April 2015

Nicolas Wilson

Trials (Novelette) Originally published in Alt.History 102, edited by Samuel Peralta and Nolie Wilson, Windrift Books, 2016

Multiply (Novelette) Originally published in The Galaxy Chronicles, created by Samuel Peralta, edited by Jeff Seymour, Windrift Books, 2015

Alyssa Wong

Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers (Short story) Originally published in Nightmare Magazine, October 2015

The Fisher Queen (Short story) Originally appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, May/June 2014

Santos de Sampaguitas (Short story) Originally published in Strange Horizons, October 6 & 13, 2014

Eleanor R. Wood

Fibonacci (Short story) Originally published in Flash Fiction Online, December 2015

Pawprints in the Aeolian Dust (Short story) Originally published in Sci Phi Journal, September/October 2015

Daddy’s Girl (Short story) Originally published in Crossed Genres Magazine, October 2014

Frank Wu

Season of the Ants in a Timeless Land (Novelette) Originally published by Analog Science Fiction and Fact, November 2015

Jeff Xilon

H (Short story) Originally published in Daily Science Fiction, April 20, 2015

All of Our Days (Short story) Originally published in Fireside Magazine, June 2015

JY Yang

A House of Anxious Spiders (Short story) Originally published in The Dark, August 2015

Temporary Saints (Short story) Originally published in Fireside Magazine, October 2015

Song of the Krakenmaid (Short story) Originally published in Lackington’s Magazine, November 2015

Isabel Yap

Milagroso (Short story) Originally published by, August 12, 2015

The Oiran’s Song (Novelette) Originally published by Uncanny Magazine, September/October 2015

Good Girls (Short story) Originally published by Shimmer, September 2015

Jo Zebedee

Inish Carraig (Novel excerpt) Self-published, August 2015

Jon F. Zeigler

Galen and the Golden-Coat Hare (Short story) Originally appeared in Tales of Zo, published by Uncanny Books, 2014

Anna Zumbro

The Pixie Game (Short story) Originally published by Daily Science Fiction, June 30, 2015

The Cur of County Road Six (Short story) Originally published by Grievous Angel, July 19, 2015

!!! spoiler alert !!!
“Gypsy” by Carter Scholz
She remembered talking to Roger about Fermi's paradox. If the universe harbors life, intelligence, why haven't we seen evidence of it? Why are we alone?
Roger favored what he called the Mean Time Between Failures argument. Technological civilizations simply fail, just as the components that make up their technology fail, sooner or later, for reasons as individually insignificant as they are inexorable, and final. Complex systems, after a point, tend away from robustness.


Sixteen scientists and engineers embark on a tiny spaceship to Alpha Centauri: a desperate undertaking that pushes the very limits of what their ingenuity, technology, and resources can do. Behind them, humankind is in its death throes. This concise story alternates between the preparations for the voyage, the voyage itself as piece after piece of their preparations unravels, and what led them to do this in the first place. The situations on Earth and on board the spacecraft parallel each other on their path to failure.


This a grim, extraordinarily well-written exploration of the limits of possibility and the fragility of innovative systems, as seen through the lives of a few vivid characters. The spacecraft can't finish its mission because it's based on untested technology, with barely enough resources; possible points of failure multiply and there are no fallbacks or redundancies. Human civilization likewise, at the tipping point Scholz indicates (the 20th century, or maybe 19th, or...?) has entered a phase of explosive technological growth and socioeconomic innovation, outrunning the ability to test and refine changes, constantly pushing the limit of what resources are available to it. The real problem shown here, though, is the 21st-century interconnectedness of the whole world; globalization linked all economies and allowed an infintely greedy oligarchy to seize control of all resources and power (Scholz goes so far as to propose that agrotech companies managed to replace every single food plant in the world with patented, sterile ones). Connection is a two-edged sword: it brought together minds from all over to develop great ideas, like the team for the Alpha Centauri voyage; but also it allowed unprecedented control by self-interested powers, and in the end the latter outweighed the former. And with the entire world one society, with all resources concentrated, there was no longer any redundancy, any sources of alternatives. Finally, humankind had outstripped its ability to rebound from failure.


This is a dire warning: science fiction in the mode of "if this goes on..." Perhaps it has already gone too far, in which case the story is also an elegy for the good life which is already past. A thought-provoking story, indeed. I've often argued that returning to some past state of humanity is no longer possible; that the only hope lies in further innovation to try to find a new stable state. Scholz would agree with that (it is the view of many of the idealistic scientists in the story) but is arguing that the very nature of innovation (at least as humans, in the era of capitalism, have practiced it) is itself a source of instability. Yes, maybe growth as we have been doing it for the past centuries is not the only possible sort of complex civilization. Perhaps some other species may avoid putting all its eggs in one fragile basket. But the Fermi Paradox...

1.5 Stars
Henni - Miss Lasko-Gross

Depicts the process of breaking away from a fundamentalist upbringing with all the subtlety of a crayon drawing.  The characters, even Henni, are one-dimensional, the plot is a string of atrocities and absurdities committed by ee-vile fundamentalists, and it's all laid out in some of the worst, most baldly obvious dialogue I've ever read.  I give it an extra half star beyond one because the art is competent, though uninspired.

3 Stars
Rupert Wong, Cannibal Chef
Rupert Wong, Cannibal Chef (Gods and Monsters) - Cassandra Khaw

If the cover didn't sufficiently warn you, I will make clear: you need to have a stomach for the gory and gruesome to read this book.  I can't say I enjoyed the experience much myself. Every time I set the book down, I found myself reluctant to pick it up and discover how much guts were splattered on the next page.


That apart, it's clever enough.  This book is Malaysian and jumps right in to the setting, leaving the reader to look up local terminology if they need to.  It's narrated by Rupert Wong, a criminal who is paying off his former crimes by acting as chef to anthropophagous Malay gods.  (They like exotic cuisine as much as anyone and thus prefer the taste of Westerners.)  One day the Dragon King of the South summons Rupert to track down whoever killed his daughter: puzzlingly, it seems to have been the Greek Furies.  The penalty for failure is dire, of course; success may pay off his debt and that of his wife, a blood-drinking langsuir.  Thus begins a breathless chase through Kuala Lumpur, hindered by its many very unpleasant supernatural inhabitants.


Rupert's perspective is a thoroughly amoral one; he cares about no one but himself and his wife, and no, he won't be redeemed in this book, nor will he do anything to make the world a better place.  The machinations of the gods are thoroughly cynical too. Rupert is quite aware how corrupt everything is, and talks about it with considerable irony.  The role of Western tourists and entrepreneurs, and the attitude of mingled envy and exploitation that Malaysians take toward them, come in for some sharp digs.  I can't quite grasp the significance of having the supernatural representatives of the West be the Furies.  At any rate, for some reason while Rupert is telling this story he is speaking to someone he addresses as "ang moh" (a somewhat impolite term for a white person); it's never explained who this is or why Rupert's talking to them.  Maybe the reading audience, since the book was published in Britain.  Whovever this person is, they have little reason to feel comfortable or superior.

4 Stars
The Anatomy of Curiosity
The Anatomy of Curiosity - Brenna Yovanoff, Tessa Gratton, Maggie Stiefvater

Maggie Stiefvater, Tessa Gratton, and Brenna Yovanoff are YA fantasy authors who have been writing buddies since 2008. In 2012, they decided to demonstrate what it is that their critique group does by publishing The Curiosities, a collection of short pieces that one of them had written and the other two had marked up. Now, with The Anatomy of Curiosity, they again open up their writing process, in the form of a round robin where each in turn comments on all the things that go into a work from first inklings to final revision, and each contributes a novella annotated by the author.


This is not so much “how to write” (though tips can be gathered from it) as “how I write” × 3. Stiefvater says, of how they came to work together, “their reading and writing tastes are similar enough to mine that they enjoy my writing for what it is”; yet placing their reflections next to each other makes clear that they actually work quite differently. It should encourage a beginning writer to find what suits them personally. Yovanoff has a method that everyone including her originally thought was cockeyed: she writes according to a rhythm, leaving blanks for words and paragraphs to be filled in later. And yes, her story flows rhythmically!


In her introduction to her story “Ladylike” Stiefvater describes starting it by thinking of a character interaction, then fleshing out the characters involved and expanding from there. The main character, Petra, is a painfully awkward girl who only loses her self-consciousness when reciting poetry; hired to visit and read to an elderly woman, the elegant and gracious Geraldine, Petra finds someone to admire and be encouraged by, and begins remaking herself into a better version from the seed of confidence she already had. The plot takes a dark turn when we learn that Geraldine has formerly remade herself more radically. A third character is introduced whose development complements the other two thematically. It’s a nice story, well-paced (except, perhaps, some of the large amount of quoting and discussing poetry). I found Geraldine more compelling than Petra, but maybe a teen would disagree.


Gratton’s story “Desert Canticle” takes place in a secondary world; she started with a couple of small worldbuilding details, imagined what sort of cultures might go with them, and brought those cultures to life with her characters. Her very interesting notes point out the ways in which, in the final version, worldbuilding, characters, and themes are inextricably intertwined; she also convincingly shows how she used small details to tie in themes. The story’s main character, Rafel, is a soldier who was once a very effecive killer and now has been assigned to a squad disarming magical mines, working closely with a mage, Aniv, from the people whose insurgency he helped defeat. The two of them fall in love, but over the course of the story it becomes clear how each of them has been shaped (and fettered, particularly in Rafel’s case) by their respective cultures; they may not find a way to join together. The very non-real-world cultures are excellently developed, with interesting gender dynamics (central to the story, but not the only theme); the characters are memorable and the plot is suspenseful. Recommended.


The third story, “Drowning Variations” by Brenna Yovanoff, is different because she decided to describe her writing process in the fictional form itself. The main character is an author (a version of Yovanoff) who has had two formative experiences, once when she nearly drowned as a young chld, and once when a fellow teenager drowned near her house; over the course of many years these experiences work in her head and she tries to write them over and over. We are given three very different stories (with some elements carried over from one to the next), ony the last of which she considers successful. In it, drowning, and the mental forces that sink troubled teens, are embodied as a monstrous green-haired girl. The main character, Jane, is struggling to find what to say to Ethan, the boy she’s attracted to; more so when Ethan’s best friend drowns, possibly suicide, and Ethan is visibly foundering himself. I wasn’t altogether enthused by this story, whose high-school romance seems just a bit generic and whose monster lacks consistency in description. However, the larger story’s depiction of reworking and reunderstanding a thematic idea is interesting.


The hardcover book is beautifully and legibly laid out. Overall, this is a very appealing publication.

4 Stars
The Infinite Loop
The Infinite Loop - Pierrick Colinet, Elsa Charretier, Elsa Charretier

Ah, Teddy -- what a warrior for social justice (take that, those of you who use SJW as an insult), fists clenched, wielding time disruption like a bomb in the cause of love and understanding, determined to forever destroy the infinite loop of hate. It takes her a while, in this book, to start fighting, though.


Teddy was born in a future where danger, darkness, and negativity have been abolished, and so has love -- too disruptive. Freedom and knowledge are too dangerous, too. Time travel has been invented; Teddy works for an agency that aims to prevent anyone using time travel to change the future; whenever there is a time disruption something comes into existence, an "anomaly," usually an object. A woman named Tina runs the agency and invented a gadget that erases time anomalies (and has more sinister effects, as we learn) -- it's her creed that the present state of the world is perfect and the future must never alter. Teddy has been obediently agreeing, and living a drab life, although she may be the world's most powerful time-manipulator, but then one anomaly turns out to be a purple-haired woman (dubbed "Ano" short for anomaly), who Teddy falls instantly in love with and will not agree to erase; Teddy wants the two of them to hide in a backwater of time, but Ano has more revolutionary ideas, and so do a multitude of other versions of Teddy....


I can't praise the art and visual storytelling here enough. Making a story this complex comprehensible, with its leaps in time, multiple timelines, multiple versions of the same character, is no mean challenge; Elsa Charretier does it with dazzling brio, establishing visual cues to guide the reader, such as shapes and color schemes, and filling the pages with dynamic motion that tells the story. Plus there are creative ways of representing Teddy's thoughts such as decision trees and conversations with other versions of herself; it's humorous, colorful, and vivid.


Then there's the story; as much a manifesto as a narrative, but what a well-written one. Characters are somewhat caricatured, but they play their parts well enough, and the love story of Teddy and Ano is pretty touching. The plot development is what it takes to shake Teddy out of her pessimistic conviction that human nature never changes, an infinite loop; after all, even in her "safe" time people are hated (time agents call Ano an "abomination"). Given that the struggle for racial civil rights is a recurring theme in this story (a key event in Teddy's career was witnessing an act of Klan violence in 1964 Mississippi), it's with conscious irony that the authors made Tina black. The reason the loop is infinite, after all, is that anyone, no matter what exclusion they or others like them have suffered, can and usually will turn around and find someone else to exclude. So believing that tolerance can keep expanding takes a real leap of faith.


I have only one real complaint, and that's the translation; it would hardly be going too far to call it dreadful. I have only been able to find bits and pieces of the French version on line, but just looking at the English shows a multitude of faults. What exactly is a line like "Passiveness and cowardice are parents of humanity" supposed to mean? There were at least a half dozen times I wished I could check the original to figure out what was really being said. A couple of times Ano apparently cracks a dirty joke, but it's incomprehensible in English. The French version calls people creating time anomalies "forgeurs"; this is simply translated as "forgers", but that is not quite an equivalent word. Anyone with a basic competence in English should know we no longer use "men" to refer to all humankind, even if "les hommes" is still acceptable in French. And on and on.


Well, even if the words get a bit lost, the story and the art are there... and can be thoroughly enjoyed as a funny, exciting, militant experience.

3.5 Stars
Binti - Nnedi Okorafor

As is her usual method, Nnedi Okorafor mixes fantasy and science fiction here, in a story of mathematical mysticism, strong cultural ties, and intercultural communication. The main character Binti is a Himba, a (genuine) people of the Namib desert who (in this story) have developed mathematics to a high art. They don’t have enough water to spare for washing so they keep clean by rubbing their skin with otjize, red clay mixed with flower oil. Other humans (especially their neighbors the Kush) look down on the Himba, and when Binti is chosen to be the first Himba to attend Oomza University on another planet — because of her mathematical abilities, she is a “master harmonizer”–, her family is dismayed and she feels profoundly dislocated. However it turns out to be a good thing that she decides not to give up her otjize, and her calling as master harmonizer turns out to be crucial when she is a bystander caught up in a war that has a large element of cultural misunderstanding at its basis. Mathematics is used symbolically in this story as representing harmony and clarity. Binti can call on both to think her way out of potential conflicts, and be understanding enough to make a friend out of an initially incomprehensible alien. Her position as cultural outsider makes her a good mediator too.


It is a simple plot, and there are a few too many deus ex machina elements in it. Still, it is well told, with many reflections on belonging and outsiderhood in contexts of cultural conflict. Rating: recommended.