Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Story Notes for "Traces of Us"

My latest story, “Traces of Us,” is now live at GigaNotoSaurus. It’s a story about sentient spaceships and neuroscientists in love. It’s dear to my heart for a number of reasons, and I’m so gratified by the responses it’s been getting from readers. (Writer and critic Charles Payseur has an absolutely beautiful review--with spoilers!--here)

The story is grounded in some very real science. I'd like to talk a little about that scientific grounding, and the inspirations (both scientific and not) behind this story.

(I’d suggest continuing only after finishing “Traces of Us”)


The story seed

The seed for this story came from a feature article I read in The New York Times back in 2015,“A Dying Young Woman’s Hope in Cryonics and a Future.”  It’s a beautifully written story about Kim Suozzi, a young woman who died of brain cancer at the age of 23, but who hoped to have her mind preserved for the future. Alongside a moving and vivid portrayal of Suozzi and her partner, the article also provides a look into the science behind the promise of brain preservation and “mind uploading.” It offers a clear and accessible introduction to “connectomics”—the mapping of all neuronal connections within the brain and what that might mean.

Intellectual credit where it’s due (or, this is where my footnotes go because there’s no room for citations in fiction magazines)

---In my story, Kathy and Daniel argue over the plausibility of 
    replicating the brain in digital form. When Kathy argues
    that we don't actually need to understand everything
    about how our mind works to replicate it, she draws an 
    analogy to the recording of music.  

    “What if it’s like music?” she said, waving a hand vaguely.
     Music was in fact playing softly from speakers in the next room 
     — a melancholy pop song with blues-like tones, something 
     Daniel didn’t recognize. “You don’t need to know how a violin 
     works to replicate its sound. You don’t need to know what wood 
     it’s made of, or how it’s strung, or anything about timbre or 
     musical theory. You just need to record the sound waves. Play 
     them back and there! It’s like the violin is playing right in front
     of you.”

    This elegant analogy was actually drawn from an essay by
     magazine (I am not smart enough to come up with this type of
      analogy on my own. Much thanks to his lucid writing).

---The details of the brain preservation process which Kathy 
     undergoes were drawn from a hypothetical scenario outlined by 
     neuroscience researcher Kenneth Hayworth, as detailed in this 
     article in The Chronicle of Higher Education in 2012. 

---I also spent on a lot of time on the official website for the NIH 
    Blueprint for Neuroscience Research and the Human 
    Connectome Project Fun fact: Washington University in St. 
    Louis (the unnamed institution at which Kathy and Daniel do 
    their graduate work) is in fact a leader of research into the   
    human connectome.

Personal connections/inspirations

There are readers who may guess, from the details of this story, that I have a personal connection to St. Louis. Those readers would be correct. I lived there many years ago when I was attending graduate school in biology (molecular cell biology, not neuroscience) at Washington University in St. Louis. I met my husband, also a graduate of WashU, in that city. In a sense, “Traces of Us” is a love letter to St. Louis and Washington University and the time I spent there.

More thoughts

I mentioned the New York Times article on Kim Suozzi above as the main inspiration for this story. Kim Suozzi was a real person, and the people who loved her are real. My story is fiction, pulling in inspirations and influences from many different places, and with completely fictional characters. Yet I still feel something of a sense of responsibility to Kim Suozzi.

I have been lucky enough to not truly be affected by cancer or serious illness in my life or those of my immediate family. There have been close calls, tangential brushes. . . Like everyone else, I know someone who knows someone who had cancer. But I personally have been lucky to date.

I spent a lot of time on patient forums while researching this story. I tried as best I could to understand and get it right. I remembered that even in times of darkness and stress, people crack jokes and laugh with one another.

We writers may write of far futures and impossible technologies. . . but in the end, our stories are usually rooted in real experiences. If they are not experiences we ourselves have known, they are experiences other real people have had. I try to always remember that. I hope my writing here reflects this.

Finally. . . 

What do I think of the science of “mind uploading,” of digitally replicating the human mind? Like Daniel, I am a skeptic (mainstream science also appears skeptical). But I do not rule anything out.  

Friday, March 9, 2018

New story out in Reading 5X5 anthology! And a cooking lesson!

I forgot to mention this earlier, but the Reading 5X5 anthology came out this week!

Five stories told five different ways, twenty-five authors in all. I have a story here, alongside some amazing writers I know. For a more detailed explanation of the concept behind this book, and links on how to buy it, visit the official website here (note: all proceeds benefit charity!)

My story is about food and family. It's about magic and the end of the world and what happens when family ties fray. And oh, can I mention food again? This story is perhaps a little indulgent in its descriptions of Thai food.

Last night, to celebrate the release of this book, I made Thai chicken curry puffs. My mother made them for parties and special occasions as a child, but I had never learned how to do it from her. I cobbled together a recipe from the Internet, and made these on my own (with the help of Eldest Daughter who helped fold and crimp the puffs at the end.To be honest, she was the one who figured out how--from a Youtube video--to crimp them correctly in the first place.

                     Curried chicken potato filling. Diced onions, potatoes, and chicken fried with yellow curry powder, white pepper, and soy sauce. 

    Two types of dough: "water dough" (the bigger balls) and a "grease dough" with oil or butter (mine had butter).

          You put a "grease dough" ball on top of a flattened "water dough" ball, and
                                                        enclose it completely.

                                                               Like this. 

                            Then you flatten it out and roll it up like a Swiss jelly roll.

              You turn that roll 90 degrees (so that it's facing up at you, flatten it out and roll it out AGAIN)

You roll it up like a Swiss roll for the SECOND time, then slice it into ~ 1 cm thick slices.

       Flatten out each of those slices with a rolling pin. See the pretty spiral pattern
                                                            that's preserved? 

Now you get to fill each flattened slice with golden-tinged filling. Seal and crimp. 


 And enjoy.

      These were SO GOOD, and just as I remembered--the pastry crisp and shattering in the mouth, perfectly complementing the savory filling. My family loved them!

And while Eldest Daughter and I were still wrapping these babies up, Husband came in with the mail and the inspiration for why I made these in the first place.

So if you buy the anthology and you've read through all this, now you'll be able to visualize it when the grandmother in my story makes Thai curry puffs. =)

And if you'd like to make them yourself, you can use this recipe from Sam Tan's kitchen. As you can see by following the link, these curry puffs are enjoyed in Malaysia (and Singapore) as well as in Thailand!

(note: my filling is a little different from the recipe linked above: I don't use chilies or garlic, and I add soy sauce)

Thursday, March 1, 2018

New story at GigaNotoSaurus! "Traces of Us"

I have a new story out today at the online magazine GigaNotoSaurus! It’s my second publication there, and I’m so excited to appear there again.

The story is called “Traces of Us,” and it’s a hard science fiction story about sentient spaceships and neuroscientists in love. It’s also something of a love letter to St. Louis, where I lived years ago. It’s dear to my heart, and I hope you read and enjoy it.

More story notes to come soon =)

Friday, February 16, 2018

Short Fiction Recs: December 2017 and January 2018

This winter has brought such a treasure of great stories that’s it’s been more of a struggle than usual to keep up. Here are just some that I read and loved in December and January.


“Out From Behind a Rock” by K.C. Mead-Brewer at Cotton Xenomorph

This was the debut story in Cotton Xenomorph, a new literary journal of poetry and flash fiction. It exemplifies much of the other fiction I’ve seen in Cotton Xenomorph since: not outright speculative fiction or fantasy, yet seeming to tilt in that direction. Reality that feels askew, or that’s related from an unusual vantage point. Mead-Brewer’s piece is particularly strange (while also being set in a plausibly real setting); it’s violent, disturbing, breath-taking. Its central image is also dazzling, and the last line is haunting. Mead-Brewer is a writer to watch, and Cotton Xenomorph (which has also published stories far gentler than this one) is a magazine to follow.

“Mother’s Rules for a Burned Girl” by Rebecca Mix in Flash Fiction Online

I love how an entire story can be contained within 1000 words. Rebecca Mix achieves that in this searing tale of dragons, abuse, rules, and breaking free.  

“Milk Teeth and Heartwood” by Kathryn McMachon in Syntax and Salt

A creepy, creepy tale of a haunted wood, and of that which takes root and grows within.

“Landmark” by Cassandra Khaw at Clarkesworld

An aching tale of love over long (very long!) distances. Khaw is the one of the best prose stylists I know, and I love the way she writes of bodies here, of how physical touch becomes poetry. Every line here is a poem.

Short Stories

“The Feast,” by K.C. Mead-Brewer at Carve Magazine.

 Another story by K.C. Mead-Brewer, in a literary journal which is new to me. Mead-Brewer enters the world of the overtly fantastical for a lovely, haunting, infuriating, and piercing tale of giving and giving and hunger which can never be satisfied.

“In the Beginning, All Our Hands are Cold,” by Ephiny Gale at Syntax and Salt

Everyone in the village is born without hands; the children get along just fine with elbows and teeth and toes.

The story of a village where children are born without hands. . . but when they are old enough, they walk to a forest to pick out the hands that fit just right. This is such a strange and wonderful story. It’s a tale about friendship, the paths you choose, the paths you didn’t foresee, and the twists that life takes. It’s a gentle story filled with warmth, light, and the inevitable heartbreak that comes with life. Poignant and filled with love.

A disquieting fever-dream of a story, told in the format of a three-act play. A young woman comes to paint a crumbling old tower on the Straits of Malacca. What unfolds is a mash-up of English Gothic horror with a Malaysian monster story, a riff on “Bluebeard” set in the tropics and with more than one twist. The near-overwrought language expertly evokes the mood of Gothic tales. An eerie, atmospheric piece.

 And oh, this is a change of pace! A group of cyborgs steals a restaurant-ship to escape the luxury resort where they’ve been forced to wait upon humans… And hijinks ensue. Horrifying, grotesque, hilarious hijinks. I laughed aloud several times while reading this. You’ll never encounter a restaurant like this anywhere else, and the menu served is fascinatingly, mesmerizingly disgusting. This is a cautionary tale against chasing those stars on Yelp reviews. . . and in chasing external validation in general. There’s some poignancy in that lesson learned (or rather, not learned). But oh my, this is fun as well.

Boneset by Lucia Iglesias at Shimmer

The story of a bonesetter and the price he will pay to write his magnum opus. A strange story of gorgeous prose with unusual and hypnotic rhythms. It’s both gruesome and whimsical, richly inventive and utterly entrancing.

The Poet and the Spider by Cynthia So at Anathema

You saw the Empress once, when you were still a pillow-cheeked and blossom-mouthed child. She was tall and severe, and the train of her yellow dress flowed behind her for miles and miles, a river of pure gold. You stood behind your mother and wanted to bathe yourself in that river, and the Empress turned, her crown twinkling like a cosmos of cold stars, and she looked at you. 

Told in the second person, the main character of this story dreams of becoming Court Poet after seeing the Poem of The Land written on the flowing train of the Empress’ dress. To achieve her dream, the main character dares seek the help of the Spider Sisters of the West “who, like the Empress, are lovers of rhythm and metre, and strict critics.” This is such a gorgeously, gorgeously written fairy tale, written with lovely imagery, humor, and heart. And wonderful characters, too, with wonderful names! (e.g. the Spider of Bruises and Plums, who becomes the main character’s poetry mentor). I smiled so many times while reading this.

“On the Highway” by Francesca Forrest (available as an Amazon single)

This was released just before the New Year, and it’s a chilling New Year’s Eve tale set on a cold, lonely highway. It’s a story of ghosts, love, marriage, and (possibly, or possibly not) second chances. The author packs a lot into this slim story, and it takes unexpected turns within a small space. A sharp tale that leaves an echo.

“The Glow-in-the-Dark Girls” by in Senaa Ahmad in Strange Horizons

A moving, brutally gorgeous tale of girls who were made to be weapons.

Presque Vu by Nino Cipro in Liminal Stories

And oh, this story bent my mind and cratered my heart. A surreal tale of millennial angst in a town where people are haunted by housekeys that appear in throats, mysterious postcards, phone calls. . . and real wraiths that call for car rides. Clay is a driver for an Uber-like car service, picking up both wraiths and humans. Like everyone else in town, he’s haunted. And he’s hollow, detached, just trying to get by in life. “Presque vu” (I had to look this up) is a term for that tip-of-the-tongue phenomenon, where you know the name of something but can’t quite recall it. And that title has a fitting resonance for this story, which somehow manages to obliquely convey a mood and theme which I know but can’t quite put into words. But I do know that it’s something to do with the sadness of this modern world, and with an underlying horror which we are all trying to ignore. But there’s also the warmth of community in this story: friends, lovers, and neighbors come together toward the end, and it’s enough, if only for a moment, to help keep the darkness at bay.  

“A Cookpot, a Knife, a Pile of Rags,” by Virginia Mohlere at Cicada Magazine

She can’t stand the taste of apples. It’s the flavor of waking up from a nightmare, the flavor she chokes on in the dark. Can’t stand the smell of them, not even the sight.

And oh, this story of my heart. This fierce, gorgeous, painful, and ultimately healing retelling of the tale of Snow White. A Snow White who, traumatized by her past, walks away from her prince and eventually finds new strength in herself, with the help of a new friend.  

She will walk until she reaches the top or until her body cannot walk anymore, she has decided. Her second great decision: the first was to walk away, and the second is to walk on.


Pretty Marys All in a Row by Gwendolyn Kiste (Broken Eye Books)

A house of urban legends and nursery tales come to life, the five “Marys” of the title. There’s “Resurrection Mary” a ghost who hitchhikes along a lonely stretch of highway. “Bloody Mary,” who appears in your mirror if you chant her name three times. Twists on “Mistress Mary” who grows her garden quite contrary, “Mary Mack” dressed in black, and an incarnation of the Welsh legend of the Mari Llyd. The Marys have lived together like sisters for untold years, haunting separately and then coming back to their house to feast together on the fear they’ve gathered from their hauntings. But a change is coming. And “Rhee” (Resurrection Mary) must fight to save herself and the others, and to remember who she used to be. This novella is stylish and elegantly written, atmospheric and with an often sly wit. Compelling and highly recommended.

“The Frozen Sea Takes Everything I Love,” by Meryl Stenhouse at The Fantasist

People who lived on the land, who saw the changing of the seasons, who heard the rush of meltwater over the soil did not know, would never know, that ice had a voice. Sometimes it sang under the iron runners, a grating harmony that you heard through your ears and through your bones. If the sails were belling full its frozen voice would rise to a scream that travelled faster than your ship, faster than the wind.

This story will make you feel the cold. An intensely atmospheric, gritty, tense story of survival in an alternate-history where the seas of Europe are frozen and traders sail their ships over ice. There are similarities with another story of Meryl Stenhouse’s which I love, Gone to Wrack and Ruin. Both this story and her previous one are grounded with details that make their worlds feel real, lived-in as few fantasy worlds are. And as Stenhouse said in a recent interview, both these stories “are about older women struggling to protect their families when they have little to no personal power or agency.” I love that about these works. I love the fierceness of Marta, the matriarch of “The Frozen Sea Takes Everything I Love.” And I love the sense of realism, of unsparing narrative honesty, in a unique secondary world.  

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

New story: "Wild Ones" at Bracken Magazine

I’m thrilled to announce that my latest story, “Wild Ones,” is now up at Bracken Magazine. I have loved this magazine since it’s first issue, and am so happy to be appearing there now, alongside absolutely lovely artwork, poems, and other stories.

Bracken Magazine’s tagline is “lyrical fiction and poetry, inspired by the wood and what lies in its shadows.” “Wild Ones” indeed takes it setting from the woods. It’s the story of a mother and her teenage daughter, and of the wildness within us all.

Some notes on inspiration:

--Years and years ago, I read Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising and fell in love with its invocations of Celtic mythology and Old European legends. The scene where Herne the Hunter leads the Wild Hunt against the Dark has never left me.

--There is a patch of woods near my home, a tiny scrap of forest hemmed in by suburban development. I like to walk there, especially in the fall.

--The fall is my favorite time of year. And the sound of the autumn winds rushing through trees is like nothing else.  

Sunday, January 7, 2018

2017 Writing Roundup

I am late with this, as with everything these days.

I had only one piece of fiction published this year: “Taiya,” which appeared in the fall in The Future Fire. But this one piece has received more attention than any other short story I’ve written. It’s received some wonderful reviews. Maria Haskins and A.C. Wise both featured it in their recommendations. It’s listed in the 2017 Nebula Suggested Reading List. And today I found out that it’s also featured on The Book Smugglers website in “12 Short Stories as New Year’s Resolutions.” 

(Click on those lists above, please. They feature amazing, amazing authors and works that I love, and I am still stunned to be listed alongside them.)

It means so much to me that “Taiya” has gotten this attention. It means so much to me that this story resonates with people. This was one of those stories from the heart; this was the first story which truly scared me to write. I described some of its inspirations and background, and some early reviews, in this post.

Since writing “Taiya,” I’ve finished other stories which scared me to write. I hope to keep doing so.

Other news and thoughts, since this is supposedly my 2017-in-review post:

If you missed it, the lovely Gwendolyn Kiste interviewed me about my writing on her blog here  (and you should definitely also check out her work!)

I’ve posted several of my older stories at Curious Fictions. This is a new website which reprints previously published fiction, and my author page is here. As Curious Fiction’s Twitter account states, it’s a site that allows you to “Read great stories on the go, tip authors for stories that you love.” There’s a lot of great stuff there now by many writers I follow and love. Also, I know that there will be some very cool changes and announcements from this site soon, so keep an eye on it!

Early in 2017, the lovely Meryl Stenhouse invited me to join an online critique group of talented writers. In terms of my writing development, this was the probably the most significant development of the year, and certainly one of my personal highlights. My friends in this group have seen the holes in my stories and pushed me (gently but firmly, with much cheerleading) through revisions which I hated but which absolutely needed to be done. They have pushed me in other ways to take risks in my work. They have made my stories better. I’ve come upon new opportunities through this group. And I have learned from critiquing and reading their wonderful stories, as well as having my own stories critiqued by them.

In 2017, I’ve also made friends with more writers online, as well as continuing old friendships. Their support means everything to me. Advice to new writers: find your writing support group. So many of us live with families and friends who are not writers (sometimes they’re not even readers), and who don’t understand. You need people who do.

2017 doesn’t look very productive on paper for me—not from a publication standpoint. But I did write some new stories I’m proud of, and I sold some stories, and as of today I have five new stories which should see publication in 2018. I’m also involved in some exciting group publication/community projects. I am looking forward to many things.

I am genuinely hopeful for some things in 2018, and trying to be hopeful for others.

Hug your loved ones, my friends. If it’s cold where you are (as it is now for me, here in the Midwest-transformed-to-Arctic-tundra), stay warm; wear layers; wrap yourself in a thick blanket and drink tea and eat hot soup. Here is a splash of color from warmer climes:

Artwork from the artist Likhain, sent through the post from Australia. The painting on the right was a Christmas present to myself, and is the original cover art for my novelette, The Lilies of Dawn. I wish I could truly show you the detail in the work, the glitter of gold and silver. Likhain so generously gifted me with the extra painting on the left, and the cards below also showcase her extraordinary talent.

Monday, December 11, 2017

October-November 2017 Short Fiction Recs

Snow is falling in thick flurries past my window as I type this. Winter is finally here; the nights are long and the daylight brief.

Stories are lights in the darkness. At least, the right ones can be. And even dark stories can bring comfort; they can give shape and a semblance of control to that which is chaos; they let us know that we’re not alone, that others have been through the darkness, too. 

This past fall brought so many wonderful stories of dark and light, often in the very same piece. I can’t hope to read more than a tiny fraction of all the worthy work being published these days. But of all the great stories out now, here are some that I did find and love. I hope you love some of them, too.  

Stories of Sea and River 

Gone to Wrack and Ruin by Meryl Stenhouse at Empyreome Magazine

Oh, what a creepy, eerie read!  Yeva and her granddaughter Lusine eke out a precarious living from the sea, gutting fish in warehouses and collecting wrack from the shore. There finally seems a chance at prosperity when Lusine’s new husband gets a job on the largest fishing boat in the city, iron-sided and driven by steam. But things go wrong. . . and then more wrong. The sea will claim what it will, and all the sacrifices the city offers cannot stop it. I love all the gritty details in this piece, how they create the sense of a real, lived-in world—from the descriptions of fish-gutting and whale-butchering to the other references to the city’s structure and economy. I love the slow escalation of weirdness which builds and builds, taking unexpected turns. Dark and mesmerizing.

The Better Part of Drowning by Octavia Cade in The Dark 

In this piece, the horror and weirdness kick off right from the start. There are giant, terrifying, man-eating crabs (which also sing!). There are children desperate to live, and those above who exploit them. There’s sweet chowder and sugar and darkness. This is gripping, visceral stuff. Octavia Cade is one of the best horror writers I know. 

Glasswort, Ice by Emily Cateno at Lackington’s Magazine 

She’s old enough to remember when the ice whales first crept into the subway tunnels and changed everything, when their underwater song fogged the harbour with ice and froze the freighters in their moorings. She’s old enough to remember the first icicles dripping off the washers and dryers of basement laundry rooms.

This is strange, rich, and gorgeous. Ice whales are besieging a city with their song. An old woman has lived 72 years with their songs. But perhaps, just perhaps, this might one day change. An evocative piece that had me feeling the cold. A story of sisters, persistence, and keeping faith.

River Boy by Innocent Chizaram at Fireside Fiction.

A haunting, wistful tale of a River Boy caught between his human family and his supernatural one, between dry land and his underwater home. The trope of a character caught between human and supernatural worlds is a common one in fantasy. . . yet Chizaram gives it fresh life. Heartbreaking, and truly lovely.

1,000-Year-Old Ghosts by Laura Chow Reeves in Hyphen Magazine

Every time he comes back, he feels more foreign. He says “néih hóu ma,” but she responds in English. She practices with Anne. She learns new words every day.

“One day Anne’s children will not know how to speak our language,” he tells her. 

She wants to say, "Maybe that will be for the best. They will stop longing for things they cannot have. There will be no reason to leave. Not everyone can live in between things. Not everyone can survive being split into two. There are fish that die in saltwater.”

An achingly gorgeous, yearning piece. The connection to the sea is more tangential than the stories I’ve listed above, yet it’s there. The narrator’s grandmother pickles painful memories in jars of salt-water to forget them. She tries to forget her husband, who so often left her to cross the sea. She doesn’t pass on the language of her birthplace to her daughter or granddaughter. This story is quite short, yet so sharp and beautiful. A haunting and complex tale of diaspora, assimilation, loss, and memory.

Also see Yosia Sing’s review (and I thank them for pointing me to this story via their blog!)

Stories of Love and Grief

Chasing Flowers by L. Chan at Podcastle

The sky is raining ashes, grey snow; the air is heavy with hope. Once a year, the gates are open. Once a year, the dead are free for a month and then to return.

In modern-day Singapore, Mei drifts through life unable to truly connect with anyone, downing pills and hurting herself to deal with her inner pain. In the Chinese afterlife, Lian means to escape to the land of the living. Their stories intersect in this gripping, immersive tale of the Chinese Ghost festival, hell, and enduring love. Keen and beautiful prose, and striking imagery and feeling. 

When One Door Shuts by Aimee Ogden at Diabolical Plots

A different story of love and the dead. In this world, doors have suddenly appeared on every house—doors which bring back loved ones who passed away. But the dead come back only at a cost. This is a somber tale of family and mourning and love, and the suspicion that you’re not as loved as much as another. Quietly devastating.

Strange and Shimmering

Hare’s Breath by Maria Haskins at Shimmer

It's Midsummer’s Eve and even this close to midnight there’s no darkness, only a long, translucent dusk that will eventually slip into dawn.

Britt and I are fifteen, and she has just come back from That Place, the one the adults won’t talk about even when they think I’m not listening. Something’s happened to her there, but I don’t understand what it is, and she can’t find the words to tell me.
This is one of the most exquisitely beautiful and heartrending things I have ever read. Swedish folklore and Midsummer’s Eve magic frame a tale of real-world horror—of a real moment in history, and a crime which was not limited to Sweden. This crime is revealed only slowly, and the oblique glances at the horror make it only the more devastating. Sunlight, flowers, song, magic—these are all contrasted against the darkness, sharpening both shadow and light. This is the story of those who can’t fit the roles society demands, who can’t make themselves “fit into small rooms, into narrow and cramped words.” And it’s the story of what society does to people like this, how it tries to cut them to fit. Haskins’ control of her story is remarkable; it’s so perfectly crafted, delicate and shimmering and utterly devastating.

The Atomic Hallows and the Body of Science by Octavia Cade at Shimmer

Another pick from Shimmer Magazine, and another pick from Octavia Cade. Cade doesn’t just write chilling horror; she also writes of science and science history. Here, she spins a strange, surreal tale from the lives of the scientists and others involved in the development of the atomic bomb. Lise Meitner and Otto Hahn discover nuclear fission in Europe; Oppenheimer leads his team in the desert of New Mexico. Niels Bohr and others make appearances. Dorothy McKibbin, an office manager with the Manhattan Project, witnesses the first testing of the nuclear bomb.

At 5:30 am, a light from the sands flashes toward them, a spear from the waste land stabbed out and shining. The leaves are transubstantiated and the trees turned to brief gold about her--lovely and gleaming in the sterile sunlight. 

"I'd never have thought that light had a taste," she says. That taste is lemony, with undertones of burning.  

This is a surreal tale of bold, striking imagery. The atomic blast is a spear, and Lise Meitner’s fingernails become spears, too. Glyphs appear on Robert Oppenheimer’s neck and paintings appear on the back of his knees. Armadillo-like plates grown on Dorothy’s McKibbin’s tongue. Bodies and minds are transformed. This is a story of war, guilt, betrayal, transformation, and consequences. Cade’s prose shines and startles. I confess that it’s a work I don’t fully understand, yet it’s spellbinding, and worth more than one read.  

Flash Stories

Elemental Love by Rachel Swirsky in Uncanny Magazine

A beautiful prose-poem of light. You, dear reader--dear human--are a miracle.

Everyone’s at Our Place EvenThough We’re Gone by Chloe Clark at Ellipsis Zine

An absolutely lovely flash piece of ghosts, love, and the burdens we share. I’m awed by how Clark does so much in so few words.


 Hungry Demigods by Andrea Tang in GigaNotoSaurus

And oh, this story hits nearly all my buttons. Food. Food magic. Family and cultural code-switching, and can I mention food again? This is the warm, wonderful tale of a Chinese-French-Canadian-baker-witch in Montreal, her family, and the cursed young man she’s trying to help. Within the first few paragraphs, I’d fallen utterly in love with Isabel Chang and her snarky, code-switching banter. This story is charming and delightful, with a wonderful lightness of touch; yet there are also some truly poignant moments about family and the difficulties of love. Also, there are both beignets and cha siu bao.

For a more extended analysis, check out Charles Payseur’s review

And for a more spoiler-y take (with excerpts of some of my favorite lines!) see Yosia Sing’s review 


Water into Wine by Joyce Chng. Published by Annorlunda Books

Xin has inherited a vineyard on another planet from their late grandfather. In the wake of a divorce and other transitions, Xin decides to uproot their children to try to fulfill their dream of being a vintner—even though they have no experience in the field. Xin’s mother comes along, and is a comforting figure of support. Xin’s vineyard has just started to put forth the first flower buds, and they and their family have just started settling into a new life, when war comes to their new home.

This is a lovely, moving tale of family, love, war, identity, and endurance. It’s about ordinary people--not military heroes, not political leaders—just trying to survive war and its aftermath. Xin and their family undergo many changes during the course of this novella. Near the beginning of the piece, Xin reveals that they had been taking hormones to suppress menstrual periods and had been “living openly as a man.” However, after some time on the new planet of Tertullian VI, Xin decides to discontinue the hormone treatment and claim a gender identity which is neither man nor woman.  Through the course of this novella there is love, death, and suffering, but also warmth in family meals and celebration. There is growth and transformation. Yet there are no easy resolutions, no simple happy endings. There is an emotional honesty to this piece which I adore. The prose is spare and graceful, seemingly delicate. Yet underneath is steel.


The Shape of the Darkness as it Overtakes Us By Dimas Ilaw in Uncanny Magazine

If you read anything at all on this list, please, please read this essay. Dimas Ilaw reminds us why stories matter.

If you are a writer struggling to create in dark times, you need to read these words:

You don't know me and probably my words will never reach you. But I want to say to you: you have made a difference in my life; you continue to make a difference. You tell me there are things that continue to exist outside of evil, beautiful and defiant and brilliant as fire. You tell me to look at the sky. How high it is, dear reader. How it stretches endlessly on. 

If you are a reader who has been told that stories don’t matter, that your reading is frivolous, then you need to read these words:

Reading transforms us as much as it gives stories flesh. Is this not what is needed now? When tyranny would have a monopoly on what must be believed or heeded; when dictators would have us cower in fear, too starved of words to resist or dissent.
Readers join the massive chorus of resistance. You refuse to let voices be silenced. 

Everyone: read the whole thing.