What I’ve Been Reading Lately: Short Fiction Edition

I don’t read a huge amount of short fiction, but I read a lot more than I used to, usually stories I see linked on Twitter and save to the Pocket app. For the last couple of years I’ve taken to sharing each story I read on Twitter myself, but today I felt like collecting some of my recent favourites into a post.

Before I get to the links, though, I had a thought to share. I found myself thinking this morning that most of the really great short fiction I read, while it’s SFF genre, centres not the genre concepts or the plot, but the relationships between characters, romantic and otherwise. And it occurred to me that this is, in part, what the Sad Puppies were reacting against, way back in the early years of that kerfuffle.

Larry Correia’s stated purpose in starting Sad Puppies was to get award nominations for “unabashed pulp action that isn’t heavy handed message fic[tion]”. The second half of that has gotten plenty of attention (there is indeed a large part of this which is a reactionary response to the increase in inclusive and diverse works being recognised for awards, for which see Foz Meadows’ excellent breakdown of where they’re getting it wrong), but it’s more to the first part my thoughts went today. In addition to the diversity backlash, the Puppies often set up a conflict between this “unabashed pulp action” and the supposedly more ‘literary’ work which was appearing on award ballots. And it seems to me that this part of it was about exactly what I observed above: the stories they object to are the ones that do not place action or cool SFnal ideas at their centre, but the interpersonal relationships of characters; where character and relationships are the main throughline and focus.

It does feel like there has been a popular shift toward that kind of fiction in recent years (in novels also – look for example at the popularity of The Goblin Emperor and Ancillary Justice), but it’s hard for me to make a solid claim on that. The short fiction market has changed dramatically with the growth of online publishers, and many people – myself included – just did not read much short fiction before that change. I also can’t say what short fiction the Sad Puppy supporters have been reading now or in the past, but having been exposed to their complaints on and off for the last few years, it certainly seems like part of the trigger for their lashing out was seeing award-nominated stories which had their focus in a different place from what they were used to.

Personally, I’m one of the apparent majority who is very much enjoying these stories. Even the weirdest of weird SF is about people in some sense, and human relationships and emotions are a familiar point for readers to hold on to while experiencing the utterly unfamiliar. In addition, SFF concepts are and always have been a great tool for exploring ordinary human issues, whether large-scale social concepts, or just the way two people relate to one another. The small stuff is just as important as the large, and (IMO) can be a vehicle for more emotionally poignant stories.

I guess I’m just not in it for the action.

Anyway, that (long) tangent aside, let’s get to the story recommendations. I can’t say all of these will fit the type I’ve referred to above, but I can say that I greatly enjoyed every one. These have all been read in the last month or so, mostly while I was on holiday (when I did a lot of reading in airports and on planes). Listed in alphabetical order.

Android Whores Can’t Cry, by Natalia Theodoridou, in which a reporter visits the Massacre Market, where people engage in illicit trading of evidence of the government’s atrocities (and then things get much weirder).
Candidate 45, Pensri Suesat, by Pear Nuallak, in which an agender art student struggles with their place at a demanding school.
Infinite Skeins, by Naru Dames Sundar, in which a parent searches through infinite alternate worlds for their missing child.
Meshed, by Rich Larson, in which a talent scout has to convince a young athlete to have a “nerve mesh” installed, but his father objects.
Morrigan in Shadow, by Seth Dickinson, in which the question is posed of whether achieving victory is worth making monsters of ourselves.
The Light Brigade, by Kameron Hurley, in which a darker and weirder take on Star Trek transporter tech is used for war.
When Your Child Strays From God, by Sam J Miller, in which a mother sets out to find her son, who has taken a strange new drug.
Without Faith, Without Law, Without Joy, by Saladin Ahmed, in which three brothers are trapped in another man’s story, robbed of their own name and nature.

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Cyranoids – Who Are You Really Talking To?

This fascinating article on Wired has been bouncing around Twitter today – about an experiment into “cyranoids”, a term coined by psychologist Stanley Milgram for “people who do not speak thoughts originating in their own central nervous system: Rather, the words that they speak originate in the mind of another person who transmits these words to the cyranoid by means of a radio transmitter.”

As it turns out, people aren’t really primed to question the source of the words being spoken by someone they’re interacting with. Even when it seems incongruous – or impossible, as in a case described in the article where a group of 10 people answered questions simultaneously – you just don’t expect that a person is only repeating words whispered in their ear.

It’s a concept that sets my mind racing on all kinds of ideas. What happens to a society that knows you can never be certain who you’re talking to, even face-to-face? John Scalzi’s recent novel Lock In has a concept that can play off this idea: in it there are individuals called Integrators, who loan out their bodies to be controlled by others suffering from lock-in, who cannot use their own. When speaking to an Integrator, you might actually be speaking to one of their clients.

There are all sorts of interesting storytelling dilemmas you could create from the idea that you might not really know who the person standing in front of you is. Really very interesting to consider.

Hugo Award Shortlist

The shortlist for the 2014 Hugo Awards (and the 1939 Retro Hugo Awards) was just announced. You can see it on the Loncon3 website. I wanted to just make a quick post looking at the shortlist compared to my own nominations.

Overall, 11 of my nominations ended up on the final ballot. Unfortunately, not all of the ones I was most excited about: The Shining Girls, Rupetta, and Locke and Key are nowhere to be found. Oh well.

Also, while Doctor Who used to be a good show, these days I don’t think it really deserves to have two episodes on the ballot. Of these two, “The Name of the Doctor” was bad, “The Day of the Doctor” wasn’t. At least the godawful “The Time of the Doctor” didn’t make it. But, this is a popular vote and it’s a popular show, so no use getting worked up about it. I have no issue with the two other Doctor Who-related things that made the short form ballot – I even nominated one of them.

Thursday Linkdump Returns

This will probably not become a regular feature again.

Riot Square Sanctificare – Molly Crabapple

Why You Shouldn’t Tell That Random Girl On The Street That She’s Hot

The Dollar-And-Cents Case Against Hollywood’s Exclusion of Women – fivethirtyeight

Confirmation Bias, Epic Fantasy, and You – N K Jemisin

Rising from the Middle East – Arab sci-fi

Buried Badasses: The Forgotten Heroines of pre-Code Comics – Saladin Ahmed

Sam Sykes on learning new things

World Record Book Domino Chain

Thursday Linkdump

And since it’s Halloween, I’m throwing in a few links on that theme. Those’ll be at the bottom.

1. A Good Men’s Rights Movement is Hard to Find
On the problems with “men’s rights” communities online and the harm they’re doing to women and men.

2. I Got Better
Wil Wheaton on depression.

3. It’s Not a Real Heart, It’s a Real Artificial Heart
Ann Leckie on the question of the “significance” of works of SF/F fiction that do better than usual with regard to sexism and racism, but are otherwise similar to other works.

4. Putting Time Into Perspective
A series of images showing time on various scales, and how little of it we’ve been around for.

And for Halloween:

5. Out of Skin

6. The Little Witch
(Found via The Bloggess)

7. The Thing of the Fourble Board
(Found via Kate Beaton)

Thursday Linkdump

It’s a big one, this week. I always have trouble deciding what order to post these in… Guess I’ll start with writing-related stuff then move on.

1. The Worst Ways To Begin Your Novel

2. Wonderbook
This came out last week from Jeff VanderMeer, it’s an excellent illustrated writing guide, which I’m slowly reading through (and trying to follow the writing exercises). Here are a couple of interesting interviews about the book:
Interview with Jeff VanderMeer
Interview with artist Jeremy Zerfoss

3. Maureen Johnson on Dealing with Criticism

4. Kameron Hurley on Why Being “Good” Isn’t Good Enough

5. Let’s Talk About Racism in the Classics, on BookRiot

6. On Video Game Reviews
Focusing largely on Bioshock Infinite, but talking about reviews in general, Tevis Thompson has some interesting points to make.

7. A review of DSM-5, the new dystopian novel from the American Psychiatric Association

8. Myke Cole on True Grit

9. Petra Collins on Censorship and the Female Body

10. L Gwenn on Sexy Objects and the People Inside Them

11. Interview with Laurie Penny on Cybersexism

12. Author Ann Leckie with an interesting essay on the human mind
(The headline on the article really doesn’t seem to fit the content.)

13. And finally, some science news on possible new ways to make smaller particle accelerators

Thursday Linkdump

That time again. Running through them quickly.

1. Why I Will Never Return to the USA
A Dutch man’s experience trying to cross the US border.

2. Female in Public

3. Why an Attack on Sexism in Tech is NOT an Attack on Men

4. Matt Fraction on Suicidal Thoughts
Very good, honest post.

5. Race and the Changing Face of Geekdom

6. Nicola Griffith on Characters’ Sexuality

7. The Blog Post That Lost Me Half My Audience
Kameron Hurley on including men in feminist conversations.

8. Writing is not Breathing
On those old cliches about writers needing to keep writing.

9. “Keep Your Politics Out of My Video Games” (video)

10. You Have Body Issues
Excellent short comic about body issues. I’ve decided to end this list by talking a bit personally on this subject.

Whenever I’m not at work, I wear polo shirts. Several years back, I used to wear t-shirts all the time – now I never do. What changed? I started noticing my chest.

If I put on a t-shirt now, all I can see in the mirror is my slightly flabby chest sticking out. Polo shirts, with the buttons and collar, seem to distract from it. I know its irrational, and there’s actually very little difference, but I can’t bring myself to go outside in a t-shirt any more. I get way too self-conscious.

So yes, we all have our body issues.