Hiya!

I'm a writer, among other things.

I write speculative fiction and poetry. I review short genre fiction for Skiffy and Fanty, and I contribute to The Ruined Report, a blog about social justice, simple living, community, and spirituality.

I blog here, usually to share my thoughts on what I've been reading.

I'm also on Twitter.

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Recent Reading: March 2019

March 9, 2019 reading

Photo of bookshelves in a bookstore

Born to the Blade: Season 1 by Michael R. Underwood, Marie Brennan, Malka Older, Cassandra Khaw

Serial Box, 2018. https://www.serialbox.com/serials/born-to-the-blade

This was tons of fun. The mash-up pitch is: Avatar: The Last Airbender meets Babylon 5. It’s got floating islands, duels with both magic and swords, intriguing politics, great worldbuilding, and nonbinary main character. Please read it at then tweet @SerialBoxPub and ask for a season 2.

I especially liked how nuanced the villains are. There’s one clear set of bad guys, Mertika, the classic imperialist power. They suck. But I loved how Quloo, Mertika’s capitalist rival, wasn’t without faults either. Quloo also sucks. In some ways, you could even argue Quloo is worse than Mertika. (I’m writing in general terms here so as to not spoil things.) I loved this nuance. A fun effect of this is that our heroes end up running around trying to stop everything from going to shit, which I think is a more interesting storyline than a “just” war against a flat villain.

The Stars Change by Mary Anne Mohanraj

Circlet Press, 2017.

The Stars Change is a queer SF romance, set on a different planet, at a university founded by Indian immigrants. It’s mostly a human populated planet, but there’s also a good number of aliens living and working there as well. The central conflict revolves around a group of likable, everyday people cooperating to try to stop a terrorist attack conducted by radicals whose slogan is “Humans First.”

I really liked this short novel because of its:

  • Indian-centric worldbuilding
  • classic pulp SF setting and feel
  • deeply ingrained intersectional feminist approach
  • compassionate and sophisticated engagement with important contemporary political themes

I will quickly recommend this book to basically anyone.

Acadie by Dave Hutchinson

Tor.com, 2017. https://publishing.tor.com/acadie-davehutchinson/9780765398253/

This short and fun novella is short and fun. I was able to read it in a day. I liked it. The twist near the end was fun and well-executed. An impressive amount of interesting worldbuilding is crammed into this short book.

I recommend this book if you like twists or if you like stories about genetics, human modification, and/or transhumanism.

The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion by Margaret Killjoy

Tor.com, 2017. https://publishing.tor.com/thelambwillslaughterthelion-margaretkilljoy/9780765397355/

An anarchist community of squatters summons a demon to protect them. When it turns out the demon may be turning on them, the community begins to turn on itself.

I was inspired to read this in part because last year I read “The Fortunate Death of Jonathan Sandelson” by Margaret Killjoy in Strange Horizons, a fun, powerful, and heartbreaking story about trolling, capitalism, and immigration. (See my roundup of 2018 short fiction here.) I loved that story. You should go read it. So when I was looking for novellas to read (I got on a novella kick the other week, can you tell?) I decided to give this one a shot.

Margaret Killjoy has become a new favorite of mine for the way she portrays anarchists, punks, squatters, activists, trans people, and others who are generally not only on the margins of society but also underrepresented in fiction. When these people are represented, they’re all too often represented in problematic, caricatured, and/or flat ways. So it’s really a joy to read Killjoy’s writing, which compassionately and empathetically centers these voices.

In particular, I loved the collectivist community of anarchist squatters that Killjoy depicts in this book. One of my favorite books ever is The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin (it has an anarchist-communist society on the moon!), and while I love that book, it takes place in another star system far in the future. It’s detached from everyday life on Earth in the early 21st century. The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion examines how people can try to live in anarchist communities now, in the present(ish) day, and it depicts squatters, punks, and activists who are currently trying to do so.

To me, the plot felt a little tight, a little too hurried. I think it would have benefited from more room to stretch. That said, the novella was long enough to be engrossing and short enough to read in a day, which is a pretty delightful length. I want to read the sequel, The Barrow Will Send What it May, and I hope that that book is able to spend more time worldbuilding and developing characters.

Walkaway by Cory Doctorow

Tor Books, 2017. https://craphound.com/category/walkaway/

Wow. I totally loved this book. The way I see it, Walkaway is a book about the end of capitalism and the end of death. Which like … yes please I want to read that. I was mostly interested in reading about the end of capitalism(!), but I was also totally onboard for exploring the end of death as well, which Doctorow does here with much more nuance and sophistication than he did in his earlier Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom.

Let’s just pause for a moment and appreciate that here we have an intelligent, well-written novel that takes place over a span of maybe a couple decades and imagines how capitalism might end and illustrates for us the essential process by which capitalism is replaced. [Pause for a moment.] Heck yes this book is awesome!

Now let’s single out two things in particular that I loved about Walkaway.

First, throughout the book, characters get into discussions/arguments/debates about any number of topics, and these conversations can go on for pages, with the characters really diving into the arguments and exploring their implications. Perhaps some readers may get bored by these conversations or feel they are somewhat unrealistic. That was not my experience at all. I loved these conversations. I was fascinated by them and felt they were acutely realistic. I was reminded of my friend Jordan, and how he and I will often get into just these sorts of conversations. I haven’t seen him in a while, so I loved getting to vicariously enjoy these sorts of conversations while reading the novel.

Second, quite possibly my favorite thing about Walkaway is the way it imagined family and community structures. From what I can tell, this element hasn’t gotten a lot of attention in either reviews or in Cory Doctorow’s own talks about the book, so I’m thinking I may have to write an essay exploring this in more detail. But for now, I just want to point out that in the novel there are essentially two societies: “default” (which is basically today’s world nearing the point of collapse) and “walkaway,” which can be described in a lot of ways, but here I’ll sum it up as a collective of anarchist-communist co-ops. Walkaway society is formed by people who walk away from default, and the base unit of society for walkwaways isn’t the nuclear family but rather a form of community life. Walkaways mostly live together in what are essentially anarchist-communist housing co-ops. Now, one of my core research interests and artistic obsessions has to do with family and community structures, specifically with alternatives to the heteronormative nuclear family. And I find it deeply significant that, in Walkaway, the exact point at which capitalism starts to really die is when people go walkaway and begin to live in community co-ops with one another. I also find it significant that one of the main villains of the book is the father of one of the walkaways, and he does some pretty fucked up things in the name of “family.”

Lastly, this book made me happy because of its queer, transgender, and POC representation.

I tend not to reread books all that often, but I’m already itching to reread this one.

A People’s Future of the United States edited by Victor LaValle and John Joseph Adams

One World, 2019. http://www.johnjosephadams.com/projects/peoples-future/

This is an A+ Trump-era anthology of politics, resistance, and hope. Some of the stories are dark and heart-wrenching, but others are warm and hopeful. See my recent Skiffy and Fanty review for more thoughts on this.

My favorite stories in the anthology are:

  • “The Bookstore at the End of America” by Charlie Jane Anders
  • “Our Aim Is Not to Die” A. Merc Rustad
  • “It Was Saturday Night, I Guess That Makes It All Right” by Sam J. Miller
  • “Riverbed” by Omar El Akkad
  • “The Synapse Will Free Us from Ourselves” by Violet Allen
  • “No Algorithms in the World” by Hugh Howey
  • “A History of Barbed Wire” by Daniel H. Wilson
  • “Harmony” by Seanan McGuire
  • “Now Wait for This Week” by Alice Sola Kim

If you want to read excellent science fiction short stories that feel hyper-contemporary, read this. I can practically guarantee you’ll enjoy it.

Invisible Planets: Contemporary Chinese Science Fiction in Translation translated and edited by Ken Liu

Tor Books, 2016. https://kenliu.name/translations/collection-invisible-planets/

I’m a fan of Ken Liu and Liu Cixin, and I’m also a sinophile who currently lives in China and studies Chinese, so this anthology seemed like a thing I should read.

I really liked Liu Cixin’s stories in this anthology. I also liked Ma Boyong’s “The City of Silence” and Hao Jingfang’s “Invisible Planets” and “Folding Beijing.” Generally speaking, I appreciated but didn’t particularly enjoy the other stories here.


Website Redesign

March 2, 2019 web design

Photo of a programmer's computer screen

Over the last two months, I taught myself the Bootstrap framework for web development, and I used it to redesign my website/blog. This project was on my to-do list since April 2017, and I’m glad that I had the chance to get it done this season. The blog looks much better now.

Screenshot of the blog from before the redesign
Here's how my blog looked before the redesign. Functional, but sad.

Much better.

Bootstrap

Bootstrap is a fabulous tool, and I think it should be taught to beginners right alongside HTML and CSS because if you want to do some basic web design-y things (like add a navbar), it’s actually quite a bit of work if you’re just using HTML and CSS, but with Bootstrap, it’s a cinch. And it’ll look good. The basics of Bootstrap aren’t much more complicated than the basics of HTML, and Bootstrap has another significant advantage: Bootstrap is a tool for developing responsive websites, websites that shift their layout depending on whether the reader is accessing the site on a desktop, tablet, or phone.

It also turns out that Bootstrap integrates really well with Jekyll, the platform that powers my blog, which made this redesign quite a bit of fun.

What’s New

Thanks to Bootstrap, my website/blog is now responsive, so it’ll look nice whether you access it on your desktop or your phone.

I added color and photos to the blog, simple design basics that I had neglected before. They do a lot of good, go figure.

I’ve added support for both categories and tags.

I also added support for Twitter cards, so that when I post blog links on Twitter, Twitter adds a nice little box with the post’s featured image and an excerpt. Like so:

Screenshot of a tweet showcasing a Twitter card
Here's a pretty Twitter card that now shows up when I post links to my blog.

And, of course, in the process of redesigning the website, I also made lots of other small typographical and design edits. All in all, I’ve very happy with the site now.

Forking My Website/Blog

This website/blog is powered by Jekyll and hosted for free on Github thanks to Github Pages.

It’s a pretty sweet setup because it means: I don’t pay hosting fees; the website is super easy to backup; it’s easy to host elsewhere if I decide to ditch Github. Also, I was able to set up a custom email and email forwarding for free through Google Domains.

If you’re looking to set up your own website/blog, you’re welcome to fork my website on Github and use it for yourself. In an earlier post I reflected on the benefits of using Jekyll and Github Pages over a platform like WordPress, so check out that post for more details. It’s a little complicated, but if you’re tech-savvy, you can probably figure it out okay. Feel free to shoot me an email if you’ve got any questions.


2018 in Reading

January 20, 2019 reading

Photo of a library

Here’s all the books I that read in 2018:

  • The Plays of Roswitha translated by Christopher St. John
  • UH-OH: The Collected Poetry, Stories and Erotic Sass of Derrick C. Brown by Derrick C. Brown (poetry)
  • Dream Hoarders: How the American Upper Middle Class Is Leaving Everyone Else in the Dust, Why That Is a Problem, and What to Do About It by Richard Reeves
  • Our Super American Adventure by Sarah Graley (comics)
  • Binti: The Night Masquerade by Nnedi Okorafor
  • Star*Line 40.4 edited by Vince Gotera (poetry)
  • Beneath the Sugar Sky by Seanan McGuire
  • The Miserable Mill by Lemony Snicket
  • Uncanny Magazine Issue 20 edited by Lynne M. Thomas and Michael Damian Thomas
  • Drink Cultura: Chicanismo by José Antonio Burciaga
  • Dreams & Nightmares 108 edited by David C. Kopaska-Merkel (poetry)
  • The Stars Are Legion by Kameron Hurley
  • Capricious Issue 9: Gender Diverse Pronouns edited by A.C. Buchanan
  • The Austere Academy by Lemony Snicket
  • Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation by Parker J. Palmer
  • Pole Dancing to Gospel Hymns by Andrea Gibson (poetry)
  • The Female Man by Joanna Russ
  • The Ersatz Elevator by Lemony Snicket
  • The Imperial University: Academic Repression and Scholarly Dissent edited by Piya Chatterjee and Sunaina Maira
  • The Vile Village by Lemony Snicket
  • Uncanny Magazine Issue 21 edited by Lynne M. Thomas and Michael Damian Thomas
  • The Missionary’s Curse and Other Tales from a Chinese Catholic Village by Henrietta Harrison
  • Mythic Delirium 4.4 edited by Mike Allen
  • A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller Jr.
  • In the Pockets of Small Gods by Anis Mojgani (poetry)
  • Uncanny Magazine Issue 22 edited by Lynne M. Thomas and Michael Damian Thomas
  • The Hostile Hospital by Lemony Snicket
  • Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke
  • The Hacked World Order: How Nations Fight, Trade, Maneuver, and Manipulate in the Digital Age by Adam Segal
  • The Carnivorous Carnival by Lemony Snicket
  • The Slippery Slope by Lemony Snicket
  • The Grim Grotto by Lemony Snicket
  • The Penultimate Peril by Lemony Snicket
  • The End by Lemony Snicket
  • Phoebe and Her Unicorn by Dana Simpson (comics)
  • The China Questions: Critical Insights into a Rising Power edited by Jennifer Rudolph and Michael Szonyi
  • Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey
  • Uncanny Magazine Issue 23 edited by Lynne M. Thomas and Michael Damian Thomas
  • Teaching Critical Thinking: Practical Wisdom by bell hooks
  • The Bride was a Boy by Chii (manga)
  • Babylon’s Ashes by James S.A. Corey
  • Dwarf Stars 2018: The Best Very Short Speculative Poems Published in 2017 edited by Deborah P. Kolodji (poetry)
  • Broken Metropolis: Queer Tales of a City That Never Was edited by Dave Ring
  • The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin and translated Ken Liu
  • Transcendent: The Year’s Best Transgender Speculative Fiction edited by K.M. Szpara
  • The Dark Forest by Liu Cixin and translated Joel Martinsen
  • Fiyah Magazine Issue 7 edited by Justina Ireland, Troy L. Wiggins, and Brandon O’Brien
  • Death’s End by Liu Cixin and translated Ken Liu
  • Capricious Issue 10 edited by A.C. Buchanan
  • Mithila Review Issue 10 edited by Salik Shah and Ajapa Sharma
  • Over the Anvil We Stretch by Anis Mojgani (poetry)
  • I Am Providence by Nick Mamatas
  • Uncanny Magazine Issue 24: Disabled People Destroy Science Fiction! edited by Dominik Parisien and Elsa Sjunneson-Henry
  • Sword and Sonnet edited by Aidan Doyle, Rachael K. Jones, E. Catherine Tobler
  • Uncanny Magazine Issue 25 edited by Lynne M. Thomas and Michael Damian Thomas
  • Kim Reaper: Grim Beginnings by Sarah Graley (comics)
  • Discipline & Punish: The Birth of the Prison by Michel Foucault
  • The Remnant Fleet by Geonn Cannon
  • Moonstruck Vol 1: Magic to Brew by Grace Ellis and Shae Beagle (comics)
  • Amaryllis and Other Stories by Carrie Vaughn
  • Dreams & Nightmares 109 edited by David C. Kopaska-Merkel (poetry)

Let’s review the highlights.

Hrotsvitha of Gandersheim

Hrotsvitha of Gandersheim is so awesome and I love her. She’s a 10th-century German canoness, dramatist, and poet who attempted to christianize the work of Terence, the Roman comic playwright. I reread her plays at the start of 2018 and blogged about them.

This year, now that work from 1923 has finally, definitively entered the public domain, an English translation of her plays is now in the public domain. Yay! I blogged about that earlier this month and also shared an ebook of that book that I had designed.

Novellas

Beneath the Sugar Sky by Seanan McGuire was another fabulous entry in Seanan McGuire’s fabulous Wayward Children series.

Binti: The Night Masquerade by Nnedi Okorafor is a delightful and surprising conclusion to Nnedi Okorafor’s Binti trilogy.

A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller Jr.

Wow. This science fiction classic is funny, powerful, and stunningly unique, even 60 years later. I loved it.

A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket

This series was fun and surprisingly challenging at times. I hadn’t read it before, and I’m very glad I read it last year.

The Expanse

The Expanse series remains tremendous fun. If you like space opera, or if you even just like stories set in space, I highly recommend you read this series.

The Remnant Fleet by Geonn Cannon

This was a fun, queer, and relatively short space opera that I stumbled upon. Of course I loved it.

Remembrance of Earth’s Past

This is the trilogy written by Liu Cixin and comprised of The Three-Body Problem, The Dark Forest, and Death’s End (translated Ken Liu and Joel Martinsen). I really enjoyed this imaginative and expansive trilogy.

Nonfiction Hits

Here’s some of the best nonfiction I read in 2018:

Short Fiction

And of course I read a ton of short fiction last year too. Check out my “Favorite 2018 Short Stories” post for more on that.

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