Nine reviews for week 45:

Fiction

The Black Tapes Podcast, Season 1 by PNWS & Minnow Beats Whale

May 2015–October 2015; twelve 30-minute episodes. Whereas Limetown, another podcast I adore, has been a scifi-horror podcast, the Black Tapes is more paranormal horror with an edge of spunky lightness. I love the chemistry between Alex and Dr. Strand, and their banter is always fun to listen to. The way the stories are coming together is fascinating, and there’s enough of a unique edge to familiar tropes to keep the mysteries fresh and interesting. The season finale didn’t feel like a conclusive finale—more like a huge cliffhanger—but I’m so intrigued and can’t wait to hear more.

The Bookmaking Habits of Select Species by Ken Liu (Lightspeed)

August 2012; 2,700 words. Oh man, what a fantastic story. I adore metafiction, linguistics, and pseudoacademic styles, so The Bookmaking Habits of Select Species was absolutely a delight to read for me. Ken Liu’s worldbuilding here is effortless and compact; there’s so much wonder in such a small space, and he even pulls a storyline through the rolodex-type descriptions. I’ve been toying with exploring language—not just writing—among various alien species, and this story was quite inspirational and gives me hope that there’s an audience for my eventual xenolinguistics survey too. 😊

Good Hunting by Ken Liu (Strange Horizons)

October 2012; 7,200 words. Oh my gosh, I cannot fawn over this story enough. This is the type of steampunk that I always wanted to see and always imagined vaguely in my head, but never found or managed to create. Again Liu’s worldbuilding is magnificent; wonderful details scaffold a whole story, creating a complex, interlocking framework that draws from various Chinese mythologies and traditions to build a magical world that also feels close to our own in many ways. The ending was wonderful; I loved that one type of magic was transformed into another. Beautiful work.

How to Remember written by Sylvia Anna Híven, read by Patrick Bazile (Pseudopod)

July 2015 (originally 2014); 22 m 30 s. Bazile’s voice is so, so perfect for this story—deep, rich, heavy; Bazile guides us through Híven’s desolate world and adds so much character to the narrator. There’s so much atmosphere and sorrow that flows throughout How to Remember, and the ending was both heartbreaking and ominous. I love horror like How to Remember, stories that aren’t necessarily frightening as they are difficult, probing the bleaker parts of humanity.

Jackalope Wives by Ursula Vernon (Apex Magazine)

January 2014; 5,000 words. I’ve seen Jackalope Wives come up in so many awards list and figured it was finally time to read it. Again I found that this story touched on many of my interests that I’d only vaguely realized I was into—I long so much for stories that trade a lot in atmosphere, and Jackalope Wives did that for me. Plus, I apparently have a thing for kinda-desolate-vaguely-western settings (cf. How to Remember, this story, Pretty Deadly). The plot itself is interesting enough, but I’m finding nowadays that I’m less interested in what happens in a story as I am in how it happens. The style/tone/voice of the story had such an individuality to it, and every image felt imbued with magic. And just like watching an actual magic trick, I couldn’t for the life of me pick the act apart to find the slight of hands that made the magic happen. Love love love this story.

Monstress, Issue 1 written by Marjorie M. Liu, illustrated by Sana Takeda (Image Comics)

November 2015; 66 pages. Oh man, I have already waxed poetic about Monstress all over all my social networks, but I can still wax even more poetic. I think one of the things that struck me first about Monstress was how deep the worldbuilding goes—Monstress takes place in an alternate Asia and it’s clear from the very first page that we are in a different world. Liu drops so many clues about this place—its history, its customs, what people value, what people detest; how people live, the role of magic, the relationships between people… It can be overwhelming when writers throw us into new worlds, but somehow I felt that the worldbuilding was dense but still manageable.

Cover art for Monstress #1 by Sana Takeda
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Cover art for Monstress #1 by Sana Takeda

I also adore that there are so many women in the story—outspoken women, violent women, vulnerable women, confident women, shy women; so much room for multifaceted representations of so many people. And with so many characters come a multitude of stories; I can already pick up on some of the themes and topics that Liu is touching on, and I’m so excited to see where the story goes. Liu’s end notes made me tear up a bit, because I identify so much with what Liu said about war and history, about being Chinese-American, about being monstrous. Too many feelings!

And Sana Takeda’s art—wow. There’s so much detail in the lineart; Takeda’s contribution to creating Monstress’s world and its atmosphere is immeasurable. I’m not seeing a separate colorist in the front credits, so Takeda must have done the colors as well, and they are majestic. (Is that too epic of a descriptor? Eh, it feels appropriate.) The color palettes shift across pages and build the atmosphere and emotions of each scene. And there’s so much texture on each page; there’s so much to pore over. The grandness of the story leaps off the page. I haven’t felt this excited about a comic in a while.

Sacred Cows: Death and Squalor on the Rio Grande by A. S. Diev (Giganotosaurus)

May 2015; 11,200 words. Okay, apparently this week is the worldbuilding issue, in part because three of the stories were assigned specifically to pair with the worldbuilding chapter in Wonderbook for my creative writing class, but also because I just happened to read a lot of stuff with really, really fantastic worldbuilding. Sacred Cows: Death and Squalor on the Rio Grande is no exception. Long-form journalism is another format I really enjoy reading, but I don’t see much of it in fiction. Sacred Cows taps into that style and structure perfectly and drew me in from the very first line. The pacing is fantastic, the case intriguing with a wonderful edge of absurdity, and the worldbuilding and imagery were so rich. Diev uses only choice details to conjure up incredibly vivid images. I didn’t see the twist with Maria coming at all; it was both horrifying and ingenious. I wish there had been just a little more explanation about what was going on—I sensed an unspoken scheme that wasn’t fully elaborated on—but other than that, this story was delightful and such a wonderful read.

Tanis, Episodes 1–4 by PNWS & Minnow Beats Whale

October 2015; four 30-minute episodes, ongoing. Sister podcast to the Black Tapes, although they don’t cross over except that Alex and Nic appear in both. Another fascinating podcast from PNWS; Nic and meerkatnip have a fantastic relationship, and I love meerkatnip’s confidence and sass. The House of Leaves-esque cabin and the mysterious nature of Tanis keeps me listening. Tanis definitely feels more constructed and connected than the Black Tapes—less of a mystery to solve than reporting to follow along to—but I do enjoy the photos and documents that appear on the podcast website.

I find myself uncomfortable with how Tanis and the Black Tapes represent Native American people, though—I pick up some Othering from both, but as I’m not Native myself, I can’t tell if I have an actual criticism for either podcast. (Except for the line that North America was separated from “civilization” by an ocean—first, there was already civilization on North America; second, just one ocean? North America borders two oceans, and both sides have civilization…) An intriguing listen; I’ll definitely be following this podcast to its conclusion.

Winter in the Mouth of the Wolf by JY Yang (Funds for Rochita)

October 2015; 7,600 words. Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful. Yang’s prose is precise, not unlike the main character Yining’s dedication to her research and detail. Every description is careful and deliberate, conjuring a bleak, isolated, and cold environment. Snow and forests and nothing else; yet again I’m discovering my soft spots, and Winter in the Mouth of the Wolf reaches the parts of me that love stories with lots of snow, stories about language, stories about isolation, stories about girls and wolves. The relationship between Yining and Avgust develops naturally, and Yang balances the tension between them masterfully. The ending was exactly the sad ending that the story builded toward—and thus felt satisfying and right, even if part of me secretly wanted a happy ending. The fundraiser for Rochita Roenen-Luiz should still be open for a little while longer, so contribute today to unlock this wonderful story, as well as a bunch of other fantastic work.