Book Review: A Song for a New Day

TW for discussion of the pandemic

The weirdest thing about Sarah Pinkser’s book A Song for a New Day is that it was written last year but reads like it’s about this year. The plot follows two paths and characters, beginning with musician Luce Cannon. Let’s have a moment of appreciation for that name. I love it. Luce is a musician about to play her first big stadium gig when terrorism shuts the world down. She still plays, earning her the dubious honour of being the last known musician to play a live show in the future that follows.

Next, we meet Rosemary Laws, years into the digital future, and from her we understand a scarring pox virus hits soon after the bombs, and life changes drastically. The world goes into lockdown and everyone isolates. School goes digital, dating goes virtual, concerts become a virtual, online event, usually through the StageHolo venue, a link in the monster Superwally conglomerate which monopolizes the future. Packages are delivered by drones and thanks to virtual reality tech, life goes on from isolation.

wp-1594392281572.png

This section of the book was enormously comforting to read from my own lockdown and isolation. Many of us are worried about how life is going to look post-pandemic and here is an easily believable future already imagined for us. We survive, and it isn’t that bad at all.

Except.

Sigh.

It turns out that the Superwally’s of the world were making a little too much money off of this new status quo, so much so that they developed a vested interest in keeping people isolated and using their gear. Twenty or so years on, there are congregation laws that dictate people aren’t allowed to meet up in any numbers but there hasn’t been any outbreaks or terrorism in a long time. Luce is heavy into an underground scene of speak-easy like illegal concerts where people attend to experience live music, elements of which never quite translated to the virtual space. The artists chafe against StageHolo’s monopoly of the music industry.

Meanwhile, Rosemary has been hired by StageHolo as a talent scout and is venturing outside her family bubble and meeting people in the real world for the first time, which both terrifies and exhilarates her. She’s about to find out that her safe digital world might be an economic prison fabricated with methods she doesn’t agree with.

This book is a good read, especially from a mid-pandemic perspective. I like that it gave me hope and rang true while also projecting a few cautionary elements that are based in corporate nature. I thought a lot about my musician friends, especially the ones who have been hosting facebook live concerts since March, while I read this book, but I also thought about my own situation.

As a writer, I can handle a degree of isolation without my art suffering for it (unlike Luce). As a mother of young children living in eastern Canada, I’m largely left out of the wider social world of writing conventions, so when conventions went online, I felt like a kid in a candy store. Some aspects of this digital world have far-reaching benefits and I’m not in a place to accept their downsides without a fight. Therefore, the second half of this book made me as grumpy as the first half comforted me. People in similar situations, or people who have disabilities that keep them isolated, may feel the same.

Ultimately, the story wins over my own moodiness. If your mental health is in a place where you can read about a pandemic, do yourself a favor and grab this book. 4 1/2 out of 5 stars.

 

Book Review: Dreadnought by April Daniels

TW for discussion of transphobia.

April Daniels’ Dreadnought tells the story of Danielle, a transgender girl who happens to be present when the superhero and Legion-member Dreadnought is killed by the supervillain Utopia. Upon his death, the Dreadnought mantle passes to Dani, giving her superpowers but also physically transitioning her to female. Dani’s dreams have come true, but there’s still her friends and family to deal with and when she finally comes out to them, they fail to support her. wp-1593696052282.png

Worse still, when the Legion invites her for a meet-and-greet, she is outed without her persmission and Legion member Graywytch proves herself to be extremely transphobic. Dani leaves, determined to figure out things for herself, and strikes up a friendship with Calamity, a western-styled hero, not super, but with excellent sleuthing and parkour skills. With Calamity’s support, Dani learns how to navigate both superhero-hood and accepting herself for who she is.

Here’s the thing that grabbed me the hardest, reading this book in this time and space. I probably won’t always recognize transphobia on my own but  I believe my transgendered friends when they tell me something or someone is transphobic.  I believe them when they tell me a certain famous magic book author is being transphobic. Heck, I bought this book to support a transgender author while that whole fiasco was happening. But. BUT. This book made everything clear. There’s a scene in which Graywytch goes on a rant about why she despises Dani and everything she is. The story is told from Dani’s perspective, so we see Dani’s exhaustion with hearing these tired, damaging stereotypes over and over again. These stereotypes? Claiming that transgendered women will use their access to female spaces to sexually assault cis women. Claiming that she (Graywytch) will never stop trying to protect her sisters, and in this instance “sisters” is meant in a feminist sense.  Which is exactly what the transphobic author is tweeting. My eyes almost popped out of my head. She could have pulled those tweets straight from Graywytch’s dialogue. And here’s the thing, and why Dreadnought is an important book for cis folks to read, because if you can’t recognize the stereotype for the parroted drivel of hate that it is, who the person who parrots that drivel can hide just how bad what they are doing is.

We need to read books that explore identities outside of our own precisely because they are outside of our own. The powerful awakening that Dreadnought gave me is a fine example of how books can broaden our worldview. Stories are a unique means to live as another person, if only for a time, and that’s a superpower of its own. Obviously, I highly recommend this book, please read it. 5/5 stars.

Book Review: The Medusa Effect by J.S. Pailly

I seem to be overcoming my anxiety-related reader’s block. It’s also possible that the compounding anxiety has just cancelled the old anxiety out, welp. All told, it’s good news, because I’m excited about the Medusa Effect: A Tomorrow News Network Novella by J. S. Pailly.

wp-1591375119838.png

I finished this one the same day it came out: it’s that triple-threat of a great premise, easy to read writing, and excellent pacing.

The story’s teenage protagonist, Milo, is something of a screw-up. He lives with his family on a lithium mining colony on a far-flung planet. He has no memories of Earth and struggles with his grades and agriculture duties. When not overwhelmed by the science of the mines, Milo spends his time with his girlfriend Lianna, watching Talie Tappler and the Tomorrow News Network online as they travel through time and space recording the great tragedies, disasters, and events throughout the universe.

When he sees Talie and her cameraman, a cyborg addicted to illegal emotions named Cygnus, at his colony, he knows something terrible is about happen. I’ll stop here before I spoil the story.

Something that stood out to me with Pailly’s writing is the hard science embedded into the story that can easily confuse readers who may be unfamiliar with the more complicated concepts. Pailly glides the reader through these tricky bit with easy to understand explanations and admirable clarity. I suppose this is to be expected from a writer who also publishes a science blog.Click here if you’d like to visit that blog for yourself (I recommend it). Pailly is also a wonderful artist, as demonstrated on his blog and his cover artwork (did I already mention triple-threat? Yeah? Okay, I won’t say it again, then).

The Medusa Effect ends all too soon but there is a also a bonus short story at the end that introduces a rival time-travelling network (!!) and hints of more Tomorrow News Network stories to come. I’ll be first in line for those. I give this one 5/5 stars.

The Medusa Effect: A Tomorrow News Network Novella is currently available as an ebook for kindle. Click here to go check it out.

 

book review: Do Not Go Quietly

Apex Publication’s Do Not Quietly anthology of short stories is an emotional tour-de-force that will snatch you out of your seat and leave you cheering. 5/5 stars. Every story in this book is worth the read, but there are a handful that stood out or shook me to the core, and their review follows

Do Not Quietly opens with Brooke Bolander’s Kindle, the story of a little girl caught in a reincarnation cycle until she gets it right. The story that starts with a familiar match-girl, abused in the cold selling her matches. Frozen, she strikes a match, and pictures the flames devouring her abusers. It goes out. Another match and this time her lost matriarch whispers to her that the blood of warrior queens runs in her veins and she must take back what was taken from her. You know what happens next, she freezes there, on the ground, a dead girl with matches spent. In the next life she dreams of saving her friend, a dream version where the sulphur of the match factory hasn’t taken the girl’s teeth. There comes a few more cycles until she sets the flame to buildings, to factories, a palace, until she reclaims her own story. I held my breath for entire sections of this story, it absolutely blew me away with its simmering rage and stunning protagonist.

wp-1584101654759.png

Rachael K. Jones’ Oil Under Her Tongue introduces us to Erin, a youth growing up in a strict Christian cult. It is modern day but her only future is that of wife and baby-maker. For now, she’s not yet 18 and working with Carlos in a gas station. He’s just bought a junker car for $50 and Erin’s spinning psalms into magic spells. They’re in this car when Hailey, an android imprinted on an owner who has died and left her heartbroken, finds them. As the pair try to help the android overcome her programming, a loosely veiled metaphor for Erin’s own programming, the relationship between Carlos and Erin deepens and the certainty that they need to fight for their future clarifies. This story punched me in the gut. Erin’s early life ran a little too similar to my own, making this both hard to read and a story I will always keep close to read again and again.

I’ve never reviewed a poem before and I’m not sure where to start, but I’ll say this: I wish every little girl could read If the Fairy Godmother Comes by Mary Soon Lee. I copied it out and hung it up where my daughters will see every day.

April Teeth, by Eugenia Traintafyllou, is another one that haunts you after reading. In the story’s world teeth are pulled and given to a goddess-like Tooth Fairy on faith they will regrow. The devout will lose their teeth naturally, while others will have to them pulled. It’s a story about how power pivots on acceptance and faith in that power,  and the “invisible thread that goes taut every time you overstep the boundaries… set for you.”

If this sounds interesting to you, I encourage you to check out the Kickstarter the same publisher has going on for their next anthology, containing many of the same authors, Invisible Threads. In some of the rewards,  you can support them simply by ordering copies of Do Not Quietly and Invisible Threads. You can also get story crits from some of the best in the biz (gasp!) which I happily admit I’m drooling over. If it funds, they’ll also be opening to submissions (cough cough pay attention writers). Check it out by clicking here and please consider helping them reach their goal before time runs out.

Stay safe everybody. Wash your hands.

 

Book Review: Come Tumbling Down by Seanan McGuire

This week I’m reviewing Seanan McGuire’s Come Tumbling Down (2020, Tor), the fifth in the Wayward Children series which began with the award-winning Every Heart A Doorway. I am a huge fan of this series and I look forward to each new installment every January on tenterhooks.

wp-1583450592643.png

In Come Tumbling Down, we return to the lives of the Wolcott twins: scientist Jack and vampire-in-training Jill. We first met the twins in Every Heart a Doorway and visited their Moors world in Down Among the Sticks and Bones (book 2 in the series). All of the books in this series revolve around the students and teachers of Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children, a sanctuary for youth who once entered a portal into a magical world but were not allowed to stay. They are safe to suffer their broken-hearted longing for their magical worlds at the Home, and to spend their time searching for the Door that will take them to their worlds again.

After Jack’s girlfriend Alexis arrives at Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children with a Wolcott in her arms, we learn that Jill has exacted a terrible revenge upon Jack. Because Jack had murdered and resurrected her (Book 1), Jill is no longer able to become a vampire as her precious “father” intended to make her. To circumvent her dashed dreams, she has switched bodies with germaphobic Jack via Moor science. Jack, now trapped in Jill’s vampire-nibbled body, has arrived at the Home for Wayward Children to seek help. She must regain her old body before Jill is reborn as a vampire and Jack is trapped in Jill’s body forever. With Jack’s severe cleanliness issues, she knows her mind will break within months. Wild and sugary Sumi, mermaid Cora, skeleton Christopher, and stoic Kade follow Jack and Alexis into the monstrous Moors.

In this story, McGuire reveals more of the Moors, the gods and monsters of the sea, and offers hints of the creatures who live beyond the dark valley. She gives us more of the mythology behind the vampire-scientist duology, though admittedly it didn’t play out the way I expected with the twins. Yet.

This book, unlike the first four in the series, doesn’t open with the rich storyteller voice I’ve come to associate with the series. It works for the story as a small hint that we will be deviating from the usual rules, but I will say that I dearly missed the opening feast of words I found in the other books. I give it 4/5 stars and eagerly await book six.

book review: Silver in the Wood by Emily Tesh

When I picked up Silver in the Wood by Emily Tesh (Tor, 2019) I warned myself, “don’t get too excited, it might not be as good as it sounds.” It was, though. I finished it the day I started and happily give it 4.5/5 stars.

wp-1582845440284.png

This magical novella follows the story of a Green Man (of pagan lore), happy in his woodland home with his dryad friends, who befriends his flirtatious new landowner, the handsome Silver. Silver is a folklorist fascinated by Green Hallow’s history whose giddiness over his subject matter is both familiar and endearing. Our 400-year-old Green Man can no more resist the nerdy sweetness of Silver than he can act upon the lad’s flirtations. Our pagan friend, it turns out, has something of a curse upon himself and his past is about to threaten his new love interest. I’ll stop there before I spoil it for you.

I’m a sucker for the Old Ways and Tesh writes about the woods like someone who’s spent a childhood or two under trees. That’s rare. But they also bring in Silver’s mother and manage to make her one of the more intriguing characters in the story. That’s doubly rare. I am delighted by to see the overbearing, demonized mother trope flipped on it’s proverbial head. Now let’s kick into a Nixie’s pond and leave it there forever, hmm?

If you’re looking for a passionate love story, this slow burn Victorian affection isn’t it, but if you’d like a story that leaves you as refreshed and bright as a walk in the woods, choose this one. It’s lovely.

In Darker Corners of Your Favorite Band, Which Cannot Save You.

I’m trying to write more book reviews, the reason being that I’ve never been comfortable writing them. Imposter syndrome and all that. But I’m never going to get comfortable writing reviews if I don’t write more of them. Towards that end, here are two books I enjoyed this week.

In Darker Corners

wp-1582209391519.jpg

5/5 Stars – Indie

I was excited to receive my copy of Peter Gillet’s second collection of short works, In Darker Corners,  as I enjoyed his first, Mind Full of Prose. This collection has a blend of narrative nonfiction, album reviews, and dark fantasy stories.

Finding a sequel to the Beards and Bearability story, Tests and Testimonies, deep into the book was a delight. Fans of the original will not disappointed. Marked by Death, an essay about a tombstone that fell on the author as a child gave me the best kind of chills. No wonder Gillet’s horror works well, in particular the creepy Dimensions of Mediocrity and Viral. In Darker Corners is a wonderful collection to dip into for a story before falling asleep.

Your Favorite Band Cannot Save You

wp-1582209464504.png

4/5 stars – Tor Books

Your Favorite Band Cannot Save You by Scotto Moore follows a music blogger who comes across a transcendent new band that quickly becomes an obsession. The music starts controlling people’s emotions and soon sacrifices some listeners to open interdimensional portals. Alien monsters tumble into Earth. The protagonist denies all evidence in front of him and keeps plunging deeper into the music-caused danger like a hapless teenager in a horror movie, pulling the reader along for the ride.

Moore perfectly captures the annoying aloof quality of your music snob friend and then blows it into another dimension. This book is like the movie Almost Famous collided with the crack in Amelia Pond’s wall (Doctor Who) during a Sharknado and Your Favorite Band Cannot Save You climbed out of the wreckage fully formed. It’s a fun, campy read and I can honestly say I’ve never read anything like it. I’m hopeful for a sequel. Let’s take this ride off-world.

 

Submit Your Stories Sunday: witches in the city

Notice: due to the death of a friend, I am taking a small hiatus. Posts will resume on Wednesday, March 6th. The next Submit Your Stories Sunday will be posted on March 10th. Thank you for understanding.

Welcome to this week’s edition of Submit Your Stories Sunday! Every week I bring you a unique call for submissions to help you find a home for your stories or inspire a new one. Each call will contain a speculative element and will offer payment upon acceptance. Next, I’ll recommend a story to help inspire your submission and finish off with a list of writing news and articles I came across this week.

rawpixel-315198-unsplash

Speculative City: Occult

Eligibility: original stories, essays, and poems set in a city, written to the theme of occult and under 5500 words.

Take Note: the editors define “occult” in the call for submissions, so be sure to click through and make sure you’re on track.

Payment: $20-$75 depending on length

Submit by: March 25, 2019

Click here to go to the original call for details.

A story to ignite your creativity:

This story came onto my radar after it received a Nebula nomination earlier this week (you can find a link to that below in the writerly links of the week) and I’m glad it did. A Witch’s Guide to Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies by Alix E. Harrow tucks witchcraft into a library, and makes witches of librarians. It’s a delightful read for a bibliophile or anyone who has ever found solace in a library.

assorted books on shelf
Photo by Element5 Digital on Pexels.com

What I like about this story is how Harrow takes an ordinary profession and makes us see the mundane in a magical light. The power of the story doesn’t come from shock and awe, but from its heart. This heart cannot be divorced from its occult leanings, yet it is vastly different from the usual paranormal tropes. A Witch’s Guide is an outlier, a unique way of seeing and using magic, and it has been my experience that there is a sweet spot of inspiration out there among the outliers. The trick is standing on the outlier’s shoulders, glancing back at the usual tropes from where you’ve come, and noticing what’s taking form beside you.

Good luck, writers.

Writerly links of the week:

The romance world was rocked by a plagiarism scandal on an unprecedented scale that just got worse as the day went on.

Orson Scott Card’s InterGalactic Medicine Show, a pro speculative fiction magazine, has permanently closed to submissions. The last issue will be June/July 2019.

Writer Beware posted about a new scam writers should be watching for: publishers who claim copyright on edits. Yikes. Click here to go read up on that one.

It wasn’t all doom and gloom this week, for the SFWA has released the Nebula nominations for 2018, no doubt making several author’s dreams come true. Click here to go see them now. Congratulations to the writers (squee!).

Happy writing!

Submit Your Stories Sunday: outsiders

Welcome to this week’s edition of Submit Your Stories Sunday! Every week I bring you a unique call for submissions to help you find a home for your stories or inspire a new one. Each call will contain a speculative element and will offer payment upon acceptance. Next, I’ll recommend a book to help inspire your story submission and finish off with a list of the best writing-related articles I came across this week.

rawpixel-315198-unsplash

Songs for the Elephant Man

Eligibility: Writers can submit two stories about outsiders, preferably with a tinge of weird, from 1000 to 7000 words. Reprints welcome.

Take Note: the call specifically mentions how outsiders often prove more sympathetic protagonists than the gatekeepers to the ‘inside,’ suggesting this is an important element to the editors.

Payment: 1p per word to a maximum of 50 Euros per story

Submit by: March 18th, 2019

Click here to go to the original call for details.

A Book to Inspire You:

The ‘Elephant Man’ the anthology is named after was a cruel nickname given to Joseph Merrick. Merrick was a scholarly, sensitive man who was exhibited in a circus show as a monster because of his physical deformities when he was young. His sad life continues to capture hearts in books, movies, and history.

Another creature deemed monstrous who has long captured the imagination of humanity is Frankenstein’s monster. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is the first ‘classic’ I read as a youth that I didn’t have to struggle through. I picked it up one wintry afternoon and didn’t put it down until I was finished. I followed Dr. Frankenstein’s descent into mad science as he dug up bodies, collected amniotic fluid from birthing mothers, and set up his lightning rods to capture lightning. Dr. Frankenstein may have been the protagonist of the story, but he was the stuff of nightmares.

The monster, on the other hand, I loved. I wept for him, bled for him, and I steeled myself when he made his first kill. I wanted to get inside the book and undo that scene, rewrite it, change it, do something to save the monster from himself. That’s where Shelley’s genius shone.

Of course, I couldn’t crawl inside the book and save the monster, or protect any of the innocents from what was coming next in the story’s terrible climax. In case you haven’t read Frankenstein yet, I won’t spoil it. It is a classic worth the title, and a thrill ride of its own merit. More importantly to our topic, Frankenstein hits on the elements mentioned in the anthology’s call – wherein the outsider garners more sympathy from the reader than the gatekeeper, in this case, Dr. Frankenstein himself. Another element worth studying is how the Doctor’s motivations are equally strong in opposition to the monster’s.

Writerly Links of the Week

Mythcreants posted an article arguing against ‘Cheap Descriptions of Bullying’ which may offer a few suggestions to anyone writing for the above call too.

The New Yorker posted a head-shaking exposee of best-selling author Dan Mallory/A. J. Finn early last week that has every layperson suddenly interested in the high-stakes, deceptive world of… publishing?

Submit Your Stories Sunday: roaring for kidlit

Welcome to this week’s edition of Submit Your Stories Sunday! Every week I bring you a unique call for submissions to help you find a home for your stories or inspire a new one. Each call will contain a speculative element and will offer payment upon acceptance. Next, I’ll recommend a book to help inspire your story submission and finish off with a list of the best writing-related articles I came across this week.

rawpixel-315198-unsplash

Roar Kid’s Magazine

Eligibility: original stories for children aged 3 to 9-years-old up to 500 words.

Take Note: the first issue of this magazine has not been published yet so be sure to read your contract carefully and understand what rights you are selling

What makes this call stand out: this is a lucrative new market in a tiny pool of paying children’s fiction

Payment: $0.25 per word

Submit by: no deadlines on submissions at this time

Click here to go to the original call for details.

A Book to Inspire Your Submission:

I could go on about my favorite children’s books for tens of thousands of words, but since you’ve got a submission to brainstorm, I’ll keep it short. My favorite children’s author is William Joyce. Of his books, The Sandman is my favorite. The Sandman follows The Man in the Moon in the Guardians of Childhood series (you may have seen the animated movie Rise of the Guardians with these characters).

20190124_112335.jpg
from The Sandman: Sanderson Mansnoozie in his shooting star ship

The Sandman, Sanderson Mansnoozie, begins his story as the pilot of a shooting star who is attacked by the Nightmare King and his terrible band of Dream Pirates. Sanderson’s star crashes to Earth, where the wishes of children wishing on his star help him dream himself to safety. His ship crashes into the ocean and becomes an island of dream sand. The Sandman sleeps for many years, watched over by mermaids, until the Man in the Moon wakes him to ask for his help watching over the children of Earth.

This is a magical story. I love reading The Sandman to my girls at bedtime, despite it being longer than most picture books. The artwork is exquisite and the story fanciful enough to be a dream of its own, the perfect thing to fill their little minds before falling into their own dreams. This is the kind of wonder-filled story I’m always trying to find for them (and write for them!).

2019-01-24 11.34.22.jpg

Writerly links worth sharing this week:

Well-Storied published an excellent post on critical reading you can read by clicking here.

The Dream Foundry is starting a promising Media Exploration Club to help writers learn to navigate mediums new to them.

Canadian writers are asking for help in ensuring they are properly compensated for copies of their work. You can help us by clicking here to read more about these issues . If it sounds reasonable to you, please consider sending the email embedded into the site.

If you happen to live on the East Coast of Canada (like me!), the award-winning science fiction writer Julian Mortimer Smith is offering the workshop Tiny Universes: Writing and Publishing Science Fiction Stories in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, on March 2nd. You can read his work in Daily Science Fiction and Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2016.

Happy writing!