Saturday, September 24, 2016

Quick Thoughts - Essential

So recently at Nerds of a Feather we've been running posts that feature "essential SFF." Followers of Quick Thoughts know that I have some opinions about canon and about anything that seeks to create objective divisions between genres, books, and writers. And so when tasked with thinking about essential SFF, my first reaction was to balk. To want to step back and let other people more comfortable with the concept make their lists and leave it at that. But then… Well, it's not that I necessarily object to other people making essential SFF lists. It's that…it's that when I was thinking about what to include on an essential SFF list I looked at what other people put on their lists. At what was out there in terms of recommendations.

The answer, predominately, was novels. Pretty much every list out there about essential SFF was about novels. And yet the lists weren't necessarily labeled as essential novel lists. More often they were labeled as essential SFF books. And there was really no YA on these lists. Or romance. Or graphic novels. Or collections. Or poetry. These things got their own lists. Separate lists. And…and to me those are just as much books as any novel. I feel that often people think of amazing books and they think only of novels. Because how can you consider poetry next to short fiction next to graphic novels next to novels? They're apples and oranges and lemons and grapefruit. Mustn't we strive for specificity? Mustn't we first determine what is a great novel and then, elsewhere, determine what is a great graphic novel? Mustn't we first determine what is a great SFF novel, and then, elsewhere, determine what is a great SFF romance? Or SFF poem? Surely we can all agree that these things cannot share a space.

There is a reason that it is harmful to have a list of American Authors and a separate list of Female American Authors and have it mean being included on the second means you are not included on the first. I understand people who like to look at genre and want narrow definitions of what makes something SFF. I just don't agree with them. At all. I find such narrowing of genres and considerations to be harmful. For the health of the genre, for the writers trying to push the boundaries of form and meaning, and for readers looking to connect with books they love. It is a way only to catch people in an endless loop of the same boring, comfortable crap. And that does no good for anyone. So when I approached putting together a list of essential SFF, I wanted to do it in a way that reflected my thoughts on the matter but also…well, I wanted to try and define "essential" in a way that doesn't mean "should be part of a canon." I do not really find value in a canon. But I find value in book recommendations. I do find value in knowing what works spoke to people.

Basically, what I've enjoyed when many places have done lists of recommended stories and books has been the passion of those recommendations. The sense that here were books that shaped a person, that inspired them. That pushed them to try new things. That affirmed them. That saw them. And so when I thought about what is essential SFF I ended up looking at what has been essential to me. What has shaped me. So yes, I wrote it and it will out on Tuesday and everyone can check it then. It was, ultimately, a fun experience, because it made me think about the person I am and the person I want to be and how my reading has steered that internal conversation. How I've changed because of the books I've read. How I am changing still. It's a list that, for me, ranges all over the place, so SFF purists might want to avoid (though what SFF purists are doing on this blog I'm not sure).

Anyway, it would also be cool to know what other people's essential SFF lists would be. I love getting recommendations and if anyone has a list they've published on a blog or on goodreads or who wants to, I'd love to hear about it. Thanks for reading!

All the best,

Charles Payseur

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Quick Sips - Fantastic Stories of the Imagination #236

The two fiction works in this issue of Fantastic Stories of the Imagination are solidly urban fantasy, exploring how the creatures of myth and legend live among "normal" humans. These are, to me, stories about abuse and about struggling to overcome abuse, to stop it where it is or at least try to stop being a part of it. The worlds presented are mirrors to our own, where the magical elements are hidden but for those who know to see, and it mirrors the way that abuse in our world is often invisible, lurking. Both stories do an amazing job of creating compelling plots and characters and complicating the traditional folklore. It's an excellent issue that I should just shut up and review! 

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Quick Sips - Apex #88

It's another fairly large issue of Apex Magazine with three fiction pieces and four poems, exploring a number of interesting different worlds that all seem to reflect back on our own. With the fiction, the stories are all rather more fantasy than science fiction this issue, though perhaps science fantasy might fit some of them better, with mixtures of magic and mortality. The poetry takes things in a bit more science fictiony direction, though, with glimpses of post-apocalyptic Earth as well as other worlds that might be experiencing catastrophes of their own. It's an issue that brings the dark but doesn't forget to pack some extra hope just in case. So yeah, to the reviews! 

Art by Mélanie Delon

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Quick Sips - Uncanny #12 (September Stuff)

What can I say about the September content from Uncanny that will convince you enough to go out and read it now? Star Trek nonfiction? There are two and they are amazing and I would love this month's offerings for that alone but there's also three pieces of fiction that delve into relationships and love and yearning and dysfunction and are definitely worth checking out and there is a poem that has left me desperate for a flavor I've never know, a food that I can almost taste and it is so good. Seriously, everything is good this month and this is just the thing for people looking for some great SFF fiction, poetry, and nonfiction! To the reviews!
Art by Kirbi Fagan

Monday, September 19, 2016

Quick Sips - Strange Horizons 09/05/2016 & 09/12/2016

With two stories and four poems*, Strange Horizons has kicked off their annual fund drive with these two weeks of content. There's announcements galore and, oh right, some SFF to read and enjoy. The fiction offerings are decidedly different, from a longer piece deconstructing the idea of art and death and sentience to a cute little story that looks at loss and fantastical cooking. There's certainly a lot to digest between the stories and the fiction, though, and a great many reasons that giving to Strange Horizons is a great idea! So yeah, time to review!  (*well it was two and then bonus content happened so now it's four, hurrah!)

Art by K. C. Garza

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Quick Thoughts - "Defying Gravity"

I was sorely tempted to take my Thoughts this week and try to capture some of my feelings surrounding some recent happenings on Twitter but should probably be grateful that I have a new publication to talk about instead. That's right, my story "Defying Gravity" is out now in Dreamspinner Press' Starstruck anthology. Which, the theme of the anthology is basically m/m romance with a celebrity element, so I couldn't really resist making the main character a superhero of moderate success meeting a guy who wants to be his sidekick. Hijinks ensue.

Part of what I love about writing superhero stories, and especially superhero romance stories, is that I can revel in the ridiculousness of the genre tropes. These are stories that feature superpowers and villains with rather peculiar ways of doing business and instead of bringing on the grit I decided to go for more of a…well, faux-classic feel. High drama and talking gorillas and giant, universe-destroying shark gods. And a bit of a romance thrown in for good measure. The main character is Gravity who, as you've probably guessed, has gravity powers. Largely unexplored gravity powers, though he's been around a while and has enough of a following to crowd-fund his living expenses to superhero all day. Which, I couldn't help but imagine what modern superheroing would look like, how people with powers would be able to live free of corporate sponsorship. Crowd funding seemed like a good bet.

I think I love this story a little too much. It's rather over-the-top and saccharine but it's also unapologetically fun. When I say that I write smut to keep myself sane, this is the kind of story I mean, that's just unambiguous and happy. I get to write happy queer love and that's rather amazing, given that it's not often I can find something so…positive in SFF. And hey, I don't always want to write happy fluff, but sometimes I do and this is my outlet. Deal. And okay, so smut always has these forms to fill out for blurbs and things like that (which is also something that SFF lacks), and this story probably has my favorite descriptive text I've ever given to a story. Basically: [SPOILERS]

[SERIOUSLY SPOILERS!!!] Gravity meets Bruce, an eager gentleman who wants to be his sidekick, and immediately starts having troubles defeating the villains he's always had no issue with. Accelerator. Gorillord. Small time stuff. He fears his attraction to Bruce is making him weak but nope, turns out that Bruce only showed up to try and help because Bruce's evil twin brother couldn't stand his attraction to Gravity. Turns out Bruce's twin, Clark, is SUPER STRAIGHT and feels that his twin being bi somehow implies that he's bi as well (BECAUSE THAT'S HOW TWINS WORK I GUESS) and is out to destroy the main object of Bruce's perverted lust: Gravity. Cosmic shark gods are summoned, Gravity learns how to accept and ask for help, and Clark is a complete asshole. Things happen and resolution with kissing probably. [OKAY SPOILERS OVER!!!]

This is what I live for sometimes. There's also a ton of little easter eggs and bits of world building going on because I can't resist when it comes to superheroes. Indeed, I liked this so much that I have a related story appearing in December as part of Dreamspinner's Bah Humbug Advent Calendar. There is a supervillain and his boyfriend and all the attempts to destroy Christmas and I just love writing these so much. I'm thinking of further fleshing out the setting with future stories as well (and who knows, if this is popular at all maybe something longer still). For the moment, though, this represents my first step into this world. And for fans of not-erotica (notrotica? enotica?) it peaks at kissing so is more just these two guys first meeting and getting involved (for fans of yes-erotica, the Christmas story includes some much steamier bits).

Anyway, indeed. This was probably much more pleasant to write about than thinking about trying to engage on Twitter and then being told I'm wrong and just don't understand and all my priorities are stupid and I don't think ahead because I'm too emotional and all. Because yeah… Thanks for reading!

All the best,

Charles Payseur

Friday, September 16, 2016

The Monthly Round is Up!!!

The Monthly Round, my favorite stories for August with reviews and drink pairings, is up right now at Nerds of a Feather. Check it out!

Tasting Flight - August 2016

"The Gentleman of Chaos" by A. Merc Rustad (Apex #87)
"Superior" by Jessica Lack (The Book Smugglers)\
"What Pada-Sara Means to the Elephant" by Jeremy Sim (Beneath Ceaseless Skies #206)
"Fragile Insides" by Jason Kimble (Orthogonal: Code)
"An Ocean the Color of Bruises" by Isabel Yap (Uncanny #11)
"Rooting" by Isha Karki (Mithila Review #5&6)


"Creation" by Sara Norja (Flash Fiction Online)
"The Company" by Sanya Noel (Omenana #7)
"The Singing Soldier" by Natalia Theodoridou (Shimmer #32)