Acceptance in Lightspeed Queer Issue + Publication in EscapePod

Two bits of great news to report.

First, my post-apocalyptic story “Blight” has appeared in EscapePod, the audio SF magazine. Read it here: http://escapepod.org/2015/03/17/ep486-blight/.

Second, my story “Trickier With Each Translation” was accepted for the Lightspeed: Queers Destroy Science Fiction special issue highlighting queer science fiction. I don’t normally announce acceptances here, but I’m really psyched. I love Lightspeed and I love what they’re doing with the Destruction Series. Here’s the rest of the awesome lineup.

To read my essay from their successful Kickstarter campaign on why queer representation in SFF is important to me, click here.

“They Come With the Carnival”

On Monday, my short short story “They Come With the Carnival” came out on Daily Science Fiction. Read it online for free here: http://dailysciencefiction.com/hither-and-yon/magic-realism/bonnie-jo-stufflebeam/they-come-with-the-carnival.

Just in time for Halloween, this creepy, apocalyptic story was inspired by art from my Art & Words Show. I never participate formally in the show, but every year I’m so inspired by the artwork that I always complete a few stories of my own.

Art is part of the Carnival Series by Kris Goto. Check her out; she’s amazing!

Collection Review: The Book of Apex Volume 4

Back in September, editor Lynne M. Thomas announced that after two years she will no longer be editing Apex Magazine. Thus it was a pleasure to accept a copy of The Book of Apex: Volume 4 of Apex Magazine for review, edited by Lynne M. Thomas, as it allowed me a chance to celebrate Thomas’ Apex reign by reviewing some of the best Apex had to offer in its 4th year. Most of these stories are well written and highly original. Still, some were of course more to my tastes than others. Here are the highlights:

In A.C. Wise’s “My Body, Her Canvas,” a young man gives himself, body and soul, to an artist who is determined to tattoo her nightmarish masterpiece onto him, and I mean that literally; she uses his skin to exorcise her nightmares. The man allows himself to be used, and the artist sees him as little more than a canvas and a scapegoat. A darkly beautiful story about artistic expression and obsession and, perhaps, the way we treat those who love and believe in us the most. I always appreciate stories about visual artists and art in general, so this story was especially resonant to me.
The final story in the collection, Lettie Prell’s “The Performance Artist,” also speaks of the limits and lengths of artist expression, though in a different manner than Wise’s. A well-known and controversial performance artist, Anna Pashkin Bearfoot, unveils her newest piece in stages over a month. First she simply sits while videos of interactions between people and machines are projected around her. The second day she sits beside a machine that is typically used to “transfer human consciousness into a computer.” On the fourth day, it is revealed that as part of the piece, she will use the machine to download herself, which will eliminate the need of a physical body and, to some members of the populace, is considered death. The exhibit gets progressively more controversial and interesting from there. Written in the style of an unbiased observation more similar to a report or a review than a traditional narrative, the main character in “The Performance Artist” could be said to be the art itself rather than the artist or the observers. This is a story that I don’t think will ever leave me, as I felt, reading it, as though I were observing the art installation firsthand.
I was particularly impressed by both of Mari Ness‘ stories here. I had not read her work before, but I will certainly be doing so in the future. In “Copper, Iron, Blood and Love,” a child of a raven and a murderess (the mother tries to kill her children “in the hopes of bringing the raven back,” and the youngest, our protagonist, is the only one who survives) grows up silent and gossiped about in the town where she resides. Word gets out of the mysterious, silent raven’s daughter, and men come to try and get her to speak, but this is not the whole story. The fairy tale twists and turns and digresses; the most interesting parts of the story, for me, were the stories the townspeople and the people from neighboring towns tell, as well as the brief mentions of the way the townspeople interact with the remaining ravens, and the legends and customs that have grown up around them. Some excellent fairy tale world building.
Mari Ness’ second story in the collection,“Labyrinth,” is darker and stranger. People accused of crimes are sentenced to the labyrinth, where they must find their way to the center and then engage in a fight to the death with a “dancer” who plays the part of judge. If she or he is able to kill the offender, then it is agreed that the gods have found him or her guilty of their crime. Our protagonist is the dancers’ leader and one of the most talented dancers herself. She has seven sons and daughters, all of whom are expected to become dancers themselves. Finally it is time for one of her daughters to enter the arena, where they will dance together. Ness manages to reveal a lot about the world using very little space, but it is what she does not reveal that terrifies and makes the story pack a real punch.
In the surreal, fast-paced “The 24 Hour Brother” by Christopher Barzak, a young boy experiences the full life of his baby brother, who runs through his life cycle in the span of 24 hours. Although I feel I have read similar stories, this is still a devastating tale told with a bare-bones prose but worth checking out.
And then there’s the wonderful “Armless Maidens of the American West” by Genevieve Valentine, who is fast becoming one of my favorite writers. A small town is partly shaped by the silent presence of an armless maiden in their woods, who they largely ignore in the flesh but tell stories about as though she were a legend. The main character is one of the only people who has ever encountered her, when a researcher comes to town hoping to meet the maiden and interview her for a study on armless maidens. The armless maiden could call to mind for the reader any number of situations people speak around instead of directly addressing: victims of rape and mutilation, the mentally ill, or simply those who do not quite fit with the status quo. But this story also suggests that the most important thing, even more important than making metaphors of people who may not belong, is communication.

Magazine Spotlight: The Journal of Unlikely Entomology

Some things about TheJournal of Unlikely Entomology:

The Journal of Unlikely Entomology is a magazine devoted to stories about bugs. At least, that’s the magazine’s surface level purpose. As their website claims, within its pages you will find stories that are not just about bugs but are also about “the limits of what it means to be human.” I can’t really say it better myself. Which is why I didn’t try.

The Journal of Unlikely Entomology publishes two issues a year, in May and November, though it also publishes mini-issues during the year. Thus far, they have seven issues for your perusal, available for free reading online at the website or available for download – donations encouraged.

The Journal of Unlikely Entomology is delightfully absurd. The whole endeavor is sponsored by a character named Sir Reginald F. Grump XXIII, whose silhouette looms on every page of the website as well as on the front cover of the magazine.

Issue 5, published in May of this year, 2013, signals the start of the journal’s third year. If you’re interested in checking out this magazine, I highly recommend downloading a PDF of an issue, as there are absurdist touches within that are not available via the website only, such as one page “intentionally left infested with ants.” The magazine also includes a buggy drawing for each story. I particularly enjoyed Athina Saloniti’s terrifying The Hive in which a beehive is filled with human bodies curled into balls and Rasa Dilyte’s watercolor, Bug.

Issue 5 contains seven stories:

  • Jeanette’s Feast” by Michelle Ann King, in which a man, Gavin, struggles to raise his daughter by himself, especially since his daughter is capable of eating an entire buffet full of desserts in a very small amount of time. Her eating habits are consuming all of his money, and his mother, a completely unsympathetic character, demands that the father break her of this habit or move out of her house, which puts him in a bind as he doesn’t have the money to pay for his own housing. Gavin also does not want to force his daughter to kick her eating habit; teenagers need growing food, right? A sweet and sour story in which the bug appears late and serves as a catalyst.
  • The Lonely Barricade at Dawn” by Jesse William Olson, which tells the story of an invasion of earth by bug-like aliens through about eight different voices, and does so effortlessly. By the end of the story, I was pleasantly surprised by where I had ended up. What the story lacks in originality of premise – there isn’t much difference in the actual story of this alien takeover as in other stories with alien takeovers – it makes up for in structure.
  • Ecdysis” by Nicole Cipri is an escape story about a little girl in a world newly plagued by locusts that devour crops and cats and people, too. The little girl is mistreated by the uncle who is raising her on his farm. I feel genuinely sorry for her character, and genuinely want her to succeed as she attempts to save her cat and kittens from the oncoming swarm. But, then again, who wouldn’t root for a little girl trying to save kittens? Still, the ending is chilling and unexpected.
  • The Space Between” by Lew Andrada is the most original of all the stories. Bug-like aliens have come to earth to take us over and failed; they’ve been allowed, however, to live amongst us, though they are discriminated against. This story is about two of them, Rozan and his previous captain, Senith, who work on a farm. Senith misses his wife and is saving to send a letter home to her, while the farmer is annoyed that his own wife wastes their food on the aliens by serving them the same meals as she serves him. A bittersweet story about the trials and tribulations of marriage. And failure.
  • B.” by Nicola Belte. In this story, which I would categorize as horror with a twist, a man who has lost the woman he loves, his “Queen,” picks up women in bars and takes them home to meet his “hive.” Although the details are fuzzy – I’m still not how exactly the man thinks he will bring his love back – the writing is crisp and to-the-point.
  • Spiders, Centipedes, & Holes” by Cat Rambo is a short, smart piece about language, bugs, and, it seems, seeing the world through different points-of-view.
  • The bug element in “Silent Drops of Crimson andGold Rain” by Pam L. Wallace is secondary to the story of a woman grieving the loss of her sister. Their relationship is portrayed realistically and poignantly, though by the end of the story I felt I knew the dead sister better than the living one. Still, an effective chronicle of sisterly love and letting go.

 

The highlights of the issue were, for me, “Jeanette’s Feast,” “The Lonely Barricade at Dawn,” and, surprisingly, “B.” Though it must be said that I didn’t dislike any of the stories in this issue; each had something to offer, some element that I remembered vividly after closing the PDF. This magazine is worth a look for lovers of bugs, lovers of the absurd, and lovers of stories.

McSweeney’s Issue 41

As far as short fiction goes, McSweeney’s has always been one of my favorite magazines, partly because they don’t shy away from the fantastic. In the most recent issue, McSweeney’s 41, we have twelve short stories, four of which are written by Aboriginal Australian writers in a section highlighting Australian short fiction. The issue also contains two excerpts from McSweeney’s titles and two nonfiction essays.

Of those twelve short stories, two contain speculative elements. Steven Millhauser’s “American Tall Tale” is one of my favorites in the issue. The story tells of Paul Bunyon’s lazy, skinny brother, James Bunyon, and the sleeping contest they challenge one another to. I found this retelling refreshing in its lightheartedness, an entertaining exploration of sibling rivalry written in the style of those larger-than-life tall tales they teach to elementary school students.

I’m less enthusiastic about Ryan Boudinot’s “Robot Sex,” but it also has its merits. This story concerns the life of a robot who works in an office and communicates regularly with two exiled orangutans in space who are plotting with the rest of their species to take over the world. The robot’s life is much like ours, adjusted only slightly, but copulation for his kind is illegal and involves finding a “chop-shop owner who’s willing to look the other way for a couple of grand (pg. 170),” after which they weld, solder, and cross-connect their processors. He meets a lady robot, and trouble ensues. The ultimate message of the piece, that humanity is stuck in a violent cycle, is nothing new to fiction, but I like that technology is not viewed as destructive; rather, people are viewed as destructive toward technology.

“The Wolf and the Wild” by Jess Walter is possibly my favorite story in the issue. Although the main character, Wade, is a rich man convicted of a white collar crime, I could relate to him. Sentenced to volunteer work first as highway cleanup and then as a tutor for a school district, Wade’s attempts at redemption read sincere.

In Thomas McGuire’s “River Camp,” two childhood friends with a tumultuous past–one of them has slept with the other’s wife, and they both resent each other’s lives–go on a camping trip with an increasingly unstable, eccentric guide who begins to unravel. The tension is palpable, with strong characterization making the story stick out.

The hard Las Angeles agent, Richter, in Henry Bean’s “The Virago” also strikes me as a realistic character. By the end of the story, I felt I might know her, that she might be someone out there who I could one day encounter. Again I was surprised at the sympathy I felt for the rich woman afraid of losing her good fortune; having overheard a table of four young women calling her names, Richter becomes obsessed with destroying the careers of each of them. Already on a downward spiral, this obsession only speeds that spiral up, and her desperate attempts at keeping her place in the entertainment world makes you feel for her. An inside look at a character who ordinarily would be treated as a black-and-white villain.

We’re also given the villain’s point-of-view in Deb Onlin Unferth’s “Stay Where You Are,” though the majority of the story is told from Jane’s point-of-view. In the story a married couple, Max and Jane, with a tendency to stay constantly on the move are captured by a South American gunman. As he speaks Spanish and the couple does not, they don’t understand him, but the reader knows that the gunman has captured them in an attempt at impressing his group, thinking that they are Americans. Jane is tired of traveling all the time, wants to settle down, but Max cannot stand the idea. Jane’s struggle consumes her even in the midst of the situation at hand, which literalizes her longing to break free.

Aimee Bender’s “Wordkeepers” is a humorous flash fiction piece on our society’s reliance on technology, a young teacher and his students’ inability to find words for things because of that reliance, and his relationship with his much more old-fashioned neighbor. Bender’s ability to inhabit her stories is unrivaled.

The stories in the Aboriginal Australian portion of the issue are short, but they each provide an insight into Australian culture. In Tony Birch’s “The Promise,” an alcoholic whose wife has recently left him attempts to get her back, though not to change. The promise of the title is a promise he made as a young man, both to his wife and to anyone who asked of his plans for the future, to build a church. This is a story of hitting rock bottom, of transformation, and I appreciate Birch’s ability to put the reader into the mind of his main character.

In Ellen Van Neervan-Currie’s “S&J,” two young Aboriginal women pick up a hitchhiker. When one of them takes up with that hitchhiker, the other is faced with her own jealousy. The prose is well-written, sparse and to-the-point, and the distance of the narrative from the main character reflects her reluctance to admit to herself and others both her ethnic background and her sexuality.

Tara June Winch’s “It’s Too Difficult to Explain” is about a well-known runner on his own downward spiral. The prose here is often beautiful, the light coming in through Vincent’s window “the color of brittle toffee.” In Melissa Lucashenko’s “Tonsils,” a parental figure who has taken in an abusive mother’s gay daughter is forced to deal not only with the daughter’s increasingly poor health–she has a chronic cough, but the doctors will not remove her tonsils–but also the appearance of the daughter’s mother.

Overall, a solid issue of McSweeney’s.

Issue 41 on sale through McSweeney’s website.