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I'm a writer, among other things.

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

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Favorite 2019 Short Stories

February 4, 2020 reading

A stack of books, an open book, a mug of coffee, and a vase of flowers

Last year, I wrote a short fiction review column for Skiffy and Fanty. Life got busy and I missed some months, but hey, that’s the way life works, particularly when you’re a fan writer/doing unpaid labor.

By my count, I read nearly 200 pieces of short fiction originally published last year. (There’s also an uncounted number of short stories that I started reading but didn’t finish.) It’s not the nearly 300 short stories that I read the year before, and it’s certainly not nearly as much as the remarkable Charles Payseur, but I’m fairly happy and impressed with myself nonetheless.

Trump-Era Anthologies

Last year, I read three of what I’m calling “Trump era anthologies”:

  • A People’s Future of the United States ed Victor LaValle and John Joseph Adams
  • If This Goes On edited by Cat Rambo
  • Do Not Go Quietly edited by Jason Sizemore & Lesley Conner

I enjoyed them all. A People’s Future of the United States had the most impressive roster of contributors, and it showed — its stories were excellent. The stories in that anthology engaged with contemporary themes, such as racism, xenophobia, and polarization, in relatively broad and general ways. If This Goes On took a different approach, engaging with more specific contemporary issues, like immigration, healthcare, gun violence, abortion, and net neutrality.

Favorite Stories

Last year, I was able to pick a favorite story: “You Can Make a Dinosaur, but You Can’t Help Me” by K.M. Szpara. It’s an amazing story about family, found family, dinosaurs, and trans romance that’s unlike anything else I’ve come across.

This year, I wasn’t able to choose a favorite, but I can manage to narrow it down to my top five.

“Harmony” by Seanan McGuire (A People’s Future of the United States edited by Victor LaValle and John Joseph Adams) — This is a story about queer couples and families founding their own rural community together. If you, like me, are fascinated by alternatives to heteronormative nuclear families, this story is for you. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

“Ti-Jean’s Last Adventure, as Told to Raccoon” by KT Bryski (Lightspeed Magazine Issue 105, February 2019) — This is a hyper-Canadian fable about Death. It’s equal parts fun folklore and serious cultural critique. I highly recommend this story to everyone. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

“Everything Is Closed Today” by Sarah Pinsker (Do Not Go Quietly edited by Jason Sizemore & Lesley Conner) — A delightful tale about skater girls, activism, and building community! (Reviewed in more detail here.)

“Ten Excerpts from an Annotated Bibliography on the Cannibal Women of Ratnabar Island” by Nibedita Sen (Nightmare Magazine Issue 80, May 2019) — A playful, intelligent, and cutting story, written in the form of an academic text, that actually subverts that form and criticizes the academy for perpetuating sexism, racism, and colonialism. If you love academic scholarship and theory — or, for that matter, if you hate those things — you gotta check this one out. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

“Spectrum of Acceptance” by Nyla Bright (Escape Pod Episode 689 on 18 July 2019) — This is a story about dis/ability, social structures, and utopia/dystopia. It’s one of the most intelligent and challenging stories I’ve read, largely because it dares to imagine: what if society truly centered people with disabilities? (Reviewed in more detail here.)

Finally, if you want more recommendations, check out my column on Skiffy and Fanty for more stories I loved from 2019.


2019 in Reading

January 10, 2020 reading

A colorful stack of books

Here’s all the books that I read in 2019:

  • Walkaway by Cory Doctorow
  • Zen to Done: The Ultimate Simple Productivity System by Leo Babauta
  • Uncanny Magazine Issue 26 edited by Lynne M. Thomas and Michael Damian Thomas
  • Dreams & Nightmares 110 edited by David C. Kopaska-Merkel (poetry)
  • The Only Harmless Great Thing by Brooke Bolander
  • Dreams & Nightmares 111 edited by David C. Kopaska-Merkel (poetry)
  • Born to the Blade: Season 1 by Michael R. Underwood, Marie Brennan, Malka Older, Cassandra Khaw
  • A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn
  • Acadie by Dave Hutchinson
  • The Stars Change by Mary Anne Mohanraj
  • A People’s Future of the United States edited by Victor LaValle and John Joseph Adams
  • The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion by Margaret Killjoy
  • Vulture Bones Issue 4 edited by B R Sanders
  • Invisible Planets: Contemporary Chinese Science Fiction in Translation translated and edited by Ken Liu
  • If This Goes On edited by Cat Rambo
  • The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu
  • Miranda in Milan by Katharine Duckett
  • Uncanny Magazine Issue 27 edited by Lynne M. Thomas and Michael Damian Thomas
  • Legalizing LGBT Families: How the Law Shapes Parenthood by Amanda K. Baumle and D’Lane R. Compton
  • Radicalized by Cory Doctorow
  • Rocket Fuel: Some of the Best from Tor.com Non-Fiction edited by Bridget McGovern and Chris Lough
  • The Wall of Storms by Ken Liu
  • Do Not Go Quietly edited by Jason Sizemore & Lesley Conner
  • A Whirlwind Tour of Python by Jake VanderPlas
  • Uncanny Magazine Issue 28 edited by Lynne M. Thomas and Michael Damian Thomas
  • Plays by Roswitha of Gandersheim
  • Free Software Free Society (Third Edition) by Richard Stallman
  • Sex and the Constitution: Sex, Religion, and Law from America’s Origins to the Twenty-First Century by Geoffrey R. Stone
  • The Black Tides of Heaven by JY Yang
  • Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned by Walter Mosley
  • The Red Threads of Fortune by JY Yang
  • The 2019 Rhysling Anthology edited by David C. Kopaska-Merkel (poetry)
  • Our Super Adventure: Video Games and Pizza Parties by Sarah Graley & Stef Purenins (comics)
  • Uncanny Magazine Issue 29 edited by Lynne M. Thomas and Michael Damian Thomas
  • In an Absent Dream by Seanan McGuire
  • So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport
  • The Wild Dead by Carrie Vaughn
  • Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World by David Epstein (skim read & took notes)
  • Dragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee
  • Algorithmic Shapeshifting by Bogi Takács (poetry)
  • Uncanny Magazine Issue 30: Disabled People Destroy Fantasy! edited by Katharine Duckett, Nicolette Barischoff, and Lisa M. Bradley
  • The Second Mountain: The Quest for a Moral Life by David Brooks
  • This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone
  • The Raven Tower by Ann Leckie
  • Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones by James Clear
  • Unicorn on a Roll: Another Phoebe and Her Unicorn Adventure by Dana Simpson (comics)
  • The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen
  • Unicorn vs. Goblins: Another Phoebe and Her Unicorn Adventure by Dana Simpson (comics)
  • The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin
  • Unicorn Crossing: Another Phoebe and Her Unicorn Adventure by Dana Simpson (comics)
  • Phoebe and Her Unicorn in The Magic Storm by Dana Simpson (comics)

I also read a good chunk of short fiction. I’ll have another post coming soon in which I shout out my favorite short stories originally published in 2019. But for now, let’s review the highlights of the books that I read last year.

Born to the Blade: Season 1

This was my first venture into the world of Serial Box. I really enjoyed this story. I feel a little burned on Serial Box now, though, because this season ended on a cliffhanger, and it looks like there’s not going to be a season 2. I would like to read The Vela from Serial Box, but I don’t want to start it until I know it gets some sort of resolution.

Favorite Novels

  • Walkaway by Cory Doctorow: a fun and fascinating novel about the end of capitalism and the end of death. I absolutely loved it.
  • The Grace of Kings and The Wall of Storms by Ken Liu: Just wow. These books are stunning achievements. I’m dying to read book three in this series. More of my thoughts here.
  • The Wild Dead by Carrie Vaugh: a tremendously fun and smart post-apocalyptic murder mystery. It’s a sequel to Bannerless, which I also loved.
  • The Raven Tower by Ann Leckie: This is Ann Leckie’s new book. Therefore, it is superb.
  • The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin: I now understand why this series won all the Hugos. I am really looking forward to reading the next two books in the trilogy.

Favorite Novellas

Two standout novellas that I read last year were In an Absent Dream by Seanan McGuire and The Stars Change by Mary Anne Mohanraj.

In an Absent Dream is the latest book in McGuire’s Wayward Children series. This book was wonderful. The series is phenomenal. Here are my thoughts on the first three books in the series: Every Heart a Doorway, Down Among the Sticks and Bones, and Beneath the Sugar Sky.

The Stars Change is amazing. Check here for my thoughts on it.

Comics!

Our Super Adventure: Video Games and Pizza Parties by Sarah Graley & Stef Purenins was delightful. If you’re unfamiliar with their cute, geeky diary comic Our Super Adventure, you should definitely check it out.

I’ve also been reading Dana Simpson’s Phoebe and Her Unicorn books. Again, if you haven’t read these, you gotta check them out. This comic series rivals (and honestly I enjoy more than) Calvin and Hobbes and The Peanuts. I particularly loved Phoebe and Her Unicorn in The Magic Storm, which was a graphic novel rather than a collection of individual strips.

Related, you should also definitely be following Pepper & Carrot, a gorgeous and funny web comic about a young witch and her cat.

Nonfiction Hits

Here are my favorite nonfiction reads from 2019:

  • A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn: the critical view of US American history that they don’t teach you (but should) in school
  • Sex and the Constitution: Sex, Religion, and Law from America’s Origins to the Twenty-First Century by Geoffrey R. Stone: an engaging, deeply informative, and actually really fun read all about sex, contraception, abortion, same-sex marriage, censorship, obscenity, morality, religion, and law in the US
  • The Second Mountain: The Quest for a Moral Life by David Brooks: a thoughtful and persuasive book in which David Brooks argues that lives of meaning and purpose are rooted in commitments to a spouse and a family, to a vocation, to a philosophy or faith, and to a local community.
  • So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport: an easy, interesting, and persuasive read. Somewhat counter-intuitive. Newport argues that rather than following your preexisting passions, you should instead cultivate rare and valuable skills in order to have a successful career that you enjoy.
  • Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones by James Clear: an engaging, informative, and easy read all about habits. If you want to cultivate good habits, start here.

Recent Reading: July 2019

July 20, 2019 reading

Photo of books and tea

If This Goes On edited by Cat Rambo

Parvus Press, 2019.

Another Trump-era anthology. My favorite stories were:

  • “Green Glass: A Love Story” by E. Lily Yu (about climate change and class divides — reviewed for Skiffy and Fanty)
  • “A Gardener’s Guide to the Apocalypse” by Lynette Mejía (about love and gardening after the apocalypse)
  • “But for Grace” by Hal Y. Zhang (about immigration and teen pregnancy)
  • “One Shot” by Tiffany E. Wilson (about healthcare)
  • “That Our Flag Was Still There” by Sarah Pinsker (about flags, patriotism, and speech)
  • “Free WiFi” by Marie Vibbert (about Internet access and net neutrality)
  • “Bulletproof Tattoos” by Paul Crenshaw (about gun violence)

Do Not Go Quietly edited by Jason Sizemore & Lesley Conner

Apex Publications, 2019.

Another Trump-era anthology. My favorite stories were:

  • “Oil Under Her Tongue” by Rachael K. Jones (about sex and religion, featuring biblical erasure poetry!)
  • “Everything Is Closed Today” by Sarah Pinsker (about building community, practicing activism, and putting together a gang of skater girls — reviewed for Skiffy and Fanty)
  • “The Judith Plague” by Merc Fenn Wolfmoor (about androids, Hollywood, horror movies, and sexism)

Radicalized by Cory Doctorow

Tor Books, 2019.

This is a really strong collection of four novellas all about technology, activism, politics, and society. Check out my review up on Skiffy and Fanty for my thoughts on this one.

Miranda in Milan by Katharine Duckett

Tor.com, 2019.

This novella is a sequel to Shakespeare’s The Tempest that questions and queers the original. This needed to exist and now it does!

The Grace of Kings and The Wall of Storms by Ken Liu

Saga Press, 2015 and 2016.

I haven’t read books this long in a while. The Grace of Kings is almost 200,000 words, and The Wall of Storms is around 275,000 words (around 900 pages). I have tended to steer away from long epic fantasies because I reasoned that if I read shorter books, I could read more books, which seemed like a good trade off. However, I actually had so much fun reading these books that I ended up binge-reading the second half of both novels! It was just so delightful to get deeply absorbed into the world and the story. So I am now resolved to try to read more really long books.

In particular, I loved these books because they are epic fantasies rooted in East Asian culture, rather than Medieval Europe. That was awesome, delightful, and refreshing.

These novels have a somewhat unique structure, and it’s a structure that is grounded at least partially in East Asian literary traditions. These books are centrally concerned with society as a whole and with communities of characters, rather than just with the hero’s journey of one core protagonist. Significant events often happen in the span of a few pages or even sometimes off screen. So despite being such long books, the pacing is consistently fast and engaging. Sometimes it would be a little tiring to meet so many new characters, but Ken Liu’s writing is sufficiently engaging that I never really minded taking a detour to learn about a new character’s backstory.

The Wall of Storms, in particular, is a masterpiece. While The Grace of Kings takes place in a patriarchal society, The Wall of Storms upends that and brings women to the forefront of the narrative. Thematically, The Wall of Storms is filled smart and original questions and commentary about indigenous peoples, colonization, power, leadership, and justice. And although these are fantasy novels complete with magic and gods, these novels are also deeply scientific and science fictional. For example, The Wall of Storms introduces a species of dragons, but it doesn’t rely on magic to explain them. Instead, Ken Liu incorporates a convincing scientific explanation for why dragons can fly and breath fire!

I really want to read the (yet-to-be-published) next book in this series.

Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned by Walter Mosley

Washington Square Press, 1998.

This is a collection of interrelated short stories about Socrates Fortlow, an ex-con living in Los Angeles and trying to be a good person even though he knows he isn’t one. Socrates reminds me of Amos from James S.A. Corey’s The Expanse series — both Socrates and Amos are traumatized killers trying to be good. They’re both really compelling characters who raise big, intriguing questions: what is it to be good? When evaluating a person’s goodness, how do we balance character, actions, and history?

Walter Mosley writes really great prose. This book alternates between simple and straightforward third-person narration and really gorgeous, really readable dialect.

Side note: reading books published in the 1980s or 1990s is strange because it feels very modern, but then you can’t stop wondering: why don’t they have cell phones? Why don’t they just check the Internet? Oh, how times have changed.

Plays by Roswitha of Gandersheim

Standard Ebooks, 2019.

I reread Hrotsvitha’s plays as I was working on the Standard Ebooks edition of this text. As always, it was an enjoyable read. Check out my recent posts on The Ruined Report and on this blog for more on Hrotsvitha and my recent Standard Ebooks design project.

Legalizing LGBT Families: How the Law Shapes Parenthood by Amanda K. Baumle and D’Lane R. Compton

New York University Press, 2015.

This is a sociology book about LGBTQ+ families. It was published in 2015, pre-marriage equality. It’s about legal rights, family formation, and legal consciousness. The authors conducted interviews with 137 LGBTQ+ parents throughout the country, and looked at how they became parents, which legal rights they had secured, and their legal consciousness. Then, the authors analyzed how family formation and the seeking of legal rights were affected by a slew of factors: sex, gender, orientation, locale, geography, state laws, federal laws, media, legal actors, familial desires, social networks, race, class, etc.

This was my first introduction to the concept of legal consciousness, which I found to be an interesting, useful theoretical tool to have access to.

Mostly, I’m grateful for reading this book because it gave me a better understanding of LGBTQ+ family formation, particularly in regards to fostering, adoption, surrogacy, insemination, and the law.

Relatedly, I’ve also been binge-ing the podcast Outspoken Voices from the Family Equality Council. The podcast is all about LGBTQ+ families, and it really brings this book to life. If you’re interested in LGBTQ+ families, I’m not sure I’d recommend this book, as it’s very dry (although well-written and accessible). I would, however, recommend that podcast in a heartbeat.

Free Software Free Society (Third Edition) by Richard Stallman

Free Software Foundation, 2015.

This is a great book to read if you’re looking to learn and think more about free and open source software and why it’s so darn important.

I read the second edition of this text back in college when I was first discovering the free software and free culture movements. I read the third edition this year because: (1) I wanted to read the new essays, and (2) I wanted to engage more deeply and critically with Stallman’s ideas.

Recently, the good folks at the Software Freedom Conservancy have been putting out new episodes again of the marvelous Free as in Freedom podcast, and listening to those has inspired me to use more free software and to work to be a better free software advocate. Rereading Free Software Free Society seemed like a good place to start. I largely agree with Stallman’s arguments and conclusions, but there are a few minor points where I may disagree from him or wish to inject more nuance. I’m planning to explore and map out those points in a future project, so stay tuned for more on that.

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