My name is February Makeup. I am thirty-four years old, and I live with a number of other mammals and rather a lot of computers. I have often thought with any luck at all I could have been born a much smaller person, because there is nothing particularly noteworthy about my hands that would betray, say, werewolfdom or anything else other than my size, but I have had to be content with what I have. I dislike washing dishes, and dogs, and I love all kinds of noise. I like almost no one (but have never met Constance or Richard Plantagenet), and I am indifferent to Amanita phalloides, the death-cap mushroom. Many of my family members are, in fact, not dead.
True story: Shirley Jackson is among my top-flight absolute-favorite authors ever to live on this island Earth. So it makes me happy that, for the last almost-dozen years, there have been awards given to horror and weird fiction in her honor. The (rather short) list of people who have won Shirley Jackson awards already reads like a who’s who among the sort of writer that I spend my free time with, and thus it comes to be inevitable that I shall evaluate the books hereto nominated.
The awards themselves are aimed at recognizing “outstanding achievement in the literature of psychological suspense, horror and the dark fantastic”, which provides the double-boon of not only being a pretty clear set of nomination criteria 1, but a set of nomination criteria that pitches the stories themselves pretty clearly into my wheelhouse 2.
And then, of course, there’s the serendipitous timing of the awards: the Hugos are a month away, the Nebulas were a couple of months ago, the World Fantasy Award nominations are still being tabulated, so I not only enjoyed this one, but I had time to read everything I hadn’t read already 3. So I’m ready for it, is what I’m saying, and I’m ready to shepherd you all through, into the dark and disturbed waters of the Shirley Jackson awards.
This category was something of a difficult one to evaluate. A mixed anthology is never the easiest thing to judge the quality of – some of these are grouped by subject matter, some by theme, and in any event nothing is going to be for everyone, and any assemblage of this kind of thing requires some pretty serious gear-shifting, no matter how capably the stories are grouped 4. This kind of fiction (the kind nominated for Shirley Jackson awards) really lives in its short stories, so I felt it was important to give each story as much of its due as possible, but it was sometimes quite difficult to get things separated enough that they didn’t just smear into each other. This may be my problem, and not even a problem for anyone else. I have no idea.
The Djinn Falls in Love, edited by Mahvash Murad and Jared Shurin, was probably the hardest of these for me to get through. I don’t read enough stories about djinn out in the wild for me to know if the difficulty is that the subject matter lends itself to the kind of material I’d sooner avoid, or if the editors themselves are into that kind of story. I’m inclined toward the former, given primarily that Claire North and Nnedi Okarafor, writers that I’m ordinarily over the moon about, failed to impress me with this one (although neither story was bad). The book wasn’t without its charms however. KJ Parker’s “Message in a Bottle” recasts a genie as an evil science monk, and it’s possible that his story ends in the end of the world, which I’m always a big fan of. Catherina Faris King’s “The Queen of Sheba” was a sort of “secret family history” story that worked pretty well. Saad Z. Hossain wrote a great story about a genie that helps start a floating restaurant for the disenfranchised, which also manages to refer to the djinn doing what the djinn does as “djinnjitsu,” which is just great. Maria Dahvana Headley’s “Black Powder” was the head-and-shoulders standout, about wishes and guns, with the idea of the “djinn” taking several different forms throughout. I was glad to read the collection for “Black Powder,” if nothing else. Oh, and there’s an extract from American Gods in it (the bit about the Djinn, as one could assume). American Gods is still great. It’s probably my favorite novel, in fact.
Black Feathers is one where I can be assured that I just don’t have much deep-seated feeling for stories about birds, since I’m more familiar with the editorial work of Ellen Datlow than Mahvash Murad and Jared Shurin, but also there are always a bunch of stories in Datlow-edited anthologies that I bounce off of entirely, and this was no different 5. Seanan McGuire’s “The Mathematical Inevitability of Corvids” is the standout of the pack – it’s brutal and affecting in the best possible ways, and concerns a non-neurotypical young lady and a certain Scandinavian counting charm. Priya Sharma’s “The Crow Palace” is an exceptional story that is also paced really well – the setup part of the beginning slides, avalanche-style into the supernatural part at the end, and it’s really compelling as a result. Nicholas Royle’s “The Obscure Bird” is brief and hard to describe without giving it away, but I liked it a lot, and owls are pretty good birds for all that. Pat Cadigan’s “A Little Bird Told Me” is a little story about a big afterlife bureaucracy, and the people trying to help folks navigate through it, and the role of psychopomps in the whole thing. Obviously the book wasn’t without its high points, but it didn’t have quite enough of them.
The Talking Board, edited by Ross E. Lockhart, was the book that I was the most surprised by. Not because it was particularly good (it’s fine, on the whole), but because it does indeed manage to mine fertile creative material out of Ouija boards. There’s a pretty cool piece of historical fantasy in the form of Anya Martin’s “Weejee, Weejee, Tell Me Do”, about nightclub singers. S.P. Miskowski’s “Pins” is a brief, moving story about the difficulties of psychic powers. Nadia Bulkin’s “May You Live in Interesting Times” is an effective story about not moving on from the dead, and about people’s reactions to actual magic. The Talking Board really excelled when it was playing to the cheap seats, though. Scott R. Jones’s “Worse Than Demons” concerns a Jehovah’s Witness who finds out the worst news possible through a talking board. Matthew B. Bartlett’s “Deep Into the Skin” concerns a tattoo artist who finds himself roped into a particularly horrifying bit of business. David James Keaton’s satisfyingly nasty “Spin the Throttle” is about a party on the back of a firetruck that probably should have been shut down a long time ago. All told, this one was wildly uneven, but occasionally very entertaining.
Michael Kelly saw the seventh installment of his Shadows and Tall Trees series nominated 6, and it remains the case that, to be frank, Michael Kelly and I do not value the same things, story-wise. It’s not bad (none of them are bad), but the things that are good about it are not necessarily things to which I respond particularly. Robert Shearman is always great, and his “The Swimming Pool Party” is as weird and scary as one could want. Mary Rickert’s “Everything Beautiful is Terrifying” is, itself, equal parts beautiful and terrifying, and concerns a woman whose best friend died when they were young, and is haunted. Rebecca Kuder’s “Curb Day” is the best story in the collection 7, and is in the sort of “paranoid and harrowing” lane that many of my favorite things occupy, about a lady who has to get rid of a bunch of things for the unknowable benefit of some unknowable group. It’s a truly incredible piece of work.
Looming Low, edited by Justin Steele & Sam Cowan, manges to have the most hits, if not precisely the highest hit-to-miss ratio 8, of any book here. Kurt Fawver’s “The Concavity of Our Youth,” Nadia Bulkin’s “Live Through This” and Brian Evenson’s “The Second Door” were all nominated independently in the short story category, so you’ll read more about them in a minute. A.C. Wise’s “The Stories We Tell Ourselves About Ghosts” is a straight-up ghost yarn, with some decidedly modernized touches, and is wonderful for it. Betty Rocksteady’s “The Dusk Urchin” is perhaps the outright scariest of the stories here, about a little girl who can really ruin one’s traditional expectations. If it isn’t the scariest, then that would be Sunny Moraine’s “We Grope Together and Avoid Speech”, which is about mouths, and manages to make an enormous psychological impact in its very brief time across the eyes. Lisa L. Hannett’s “Outside a Drifter” is a strange, wistful story that also manages to be full-on body horror, but not in a way that disgusts, just makes one kind of sad. Kirsti DeMeester’s “The Small Deaths of Skin and Plastic” is about a woman who gives birth a lot, and is weird and ambiguous and unsettling. Christopher Slatsky’s “SPARAGMOS” is about dementia 9, and also about a weird shadowy group that is doing something weird and shadowy in the background (obviously this is the easy path to a successful goal-scoring with me). Michael Griffin’s “The Sound of Black Dissects the Sun” is the longest piece in the collection, and once it settles down past its name-dropping instincts manages to hit a groove as a deeply unsettling story about a piece of music that is so compelling that it seems like it might actually change reality, where it comes from, and where it goes. All told, I’m happy to have read Looming Low Volume 1, and look forward tremendously to volume 2.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Looming Low, Volume 1
There are some tremendous heavy hitters here nominated. Nadia Bulkin is something of the current avatar of the Shirley Jackson awards, having won several of them, and nominated here not only for her collection She Said Destroy, but also appearing in a couple of the other collections 10. She Said Destroy is a uniformly-satisfying bit of writing, with a number of exceptional stories, especially “The Five Stages of Grief,” about a world where the dead don’t actually depart, “The Warren”, which actually also concerns the dead not staying dead as such, and “No Gods No Monsters,” about the price a family pays for their place in the world, among other things, which is also a story that I would happily have read several hundred pages of. “Only Unity Saves the Damned”, “Girl I Love You” and “Red Goat Black Goat” were also fantastic stories, and I really enjoyed “Seven Minutes in Heaven” when it was part of Aickman’s Heirs as well. All told, she’s doing wonderful work and it’ll be exciting to see more of it – she certainly seems to be prolific enough to keep us all satisfied.
Carmen Maria Machado’s Her Body and Other Parties was not always my bag – she writes a lot of erotica-tinged pieces, and this will never be something I have an easy time responding to 11. That said, that’s a me problem, and many of the stories are more than enough to overcome my own prudish weirdness. “Eight Bites” is about bodies in a completely different way, and is just gorgeous. “Real Women Have Bodies” runs along similar lines 12, and contains probably the best single line I read for the entire kit and kaboodle 13. “The Resident” was published recently enough to be considered below, in the short-story collection, but it appears here and is incredible. The real towering achievement, however, remains “Especially Heinous,” an imagistic piece that floored me when it came out a few years ago, and that builds a braided set of helices of narrative out of the titles (and general cultural space) of Law & Order: SVU episodes. It says a whole lot about people, and the way we interact with that kind of story, and what that kind of story actually is in a way that is just impossible to not stop and gawp at for awhile. Her Body and Other Parties should be nominated for all sorts of things on its back, and this would be the case even if the other stories were no good at all.
Samantha Hunt’s The Dark Dark is a pretty good collection of fantastical literary weirdness. A lot of it feels paranoid and in extreme close-up, as it is largely full of characters with no air to breathe and no way to open up the space around them, literally or metaphorically. “The Story Of” and “The Story Of Of” [sic] bookend the collection with two very different stories about a very particular set of events 14. “The House Began to Pitch” (about a hurricane and a woman’s relationship history, broadly), “Beast” (about a weredeer, broadly) and “A Love Story” (a highly-visual story about bodies and relationships between people with bodies, broadly) are all pretty good weird-type lit-adjacent horror fiction 15. All told, The Dark Dark is a fine collection.
It really came down, in the end, to two of the books here. Chavisa Woods’s Things to do When You’re Goth in the Country is a phenomenal piece of work, and she balances the literary and the horrifying tremendously well. Her particular take on being bored and rural and out-of-place is revelatory in the completeness of her depiction of that particular emotional state. It moves from hyper-realistic to completely contra-natural. The title story (a piece of presumably at least semi-autobiographical portraiture, as well as a handy how-to, as the title implies) and the heartbreaking “Zombie” 16 are more-or-less devoid of actual supernatural elements. The long and devastating “What’s Happening on the News” is more-or-less entirely real, although it’s suffused with a narrative quality that makes it seem like there could be something extranatural going on 17. The elsewhere-nominated “Take the Way Home That Leads Past Sullivan Street” (see below) is ambiguously supernatural (spoiler alert) and is also probably the best piece of fiction that I read for these here awards that also has a really graphic sex scene in it. “A New Mohawk” is a fantastic, absurdist piece of humanist magical realism, that manages to be weird and non-real without sacrificing the gravity of its subject matter. All told, it’s a fantastic piece of work that probably deserves the award, and a bunch of other awards besides (to this point, Woods is not exactly lacking in accolades – the book is fantastic).
I think the best of them, however, is Camilla Grudova’s The Doll’s Alphabet. This collection, despite being the slimmest of the ones involved, has everything. It’s weird, it’s scary, it’s funny (sometimes all at once), it manages to be thought-provoking at pretty much every turn. The stories themselves, to a one, contain only and exactly as much information as you’d want for the story to be effective, and I don’t think there’s a wasted word in the whole thing. The title story is nothing more than a couple of sentences, for example. The best story in the collection, “Waxy,” about a world where gender relations are hopelessly skewed in a way that benefits no one and seems as dire and post-apocalyptic as anything I’ve ever read, is a previous Shirley Jackson Award winner. “The Mouse Queen” is here nominated as on its own as well. “The Sad Tale of the Sconce” is a touching shaggy-dog story (it does exactly what it says on the tin). “Hungarian Sprats” is wildly effective horror-comedy. “The Gothic Society” (about a guerilla art group) and “Please Do Not Pamper the Dead” (about a guy who…well….dies) are stories about people continuing to be people even as the world they’re in is brutally unrecognizable 18. “Rhinoceros” is a story about perseverance in a world that has moved on, and “Agata’s Machine” is about a person failing to move on in a world. The final piece, the incredible “Notes From a Spider” is light body horror 19 and a moving story about weirdness in which the weirdness is the action of the story, not necessarily its focus. There’s also a really interesting recurrence of sewing machines, which contributes to an effect where even though none of the stories are specifically related to each other, they all kind of build upon one another, and the effect of every story washing over the reader one after the other is immense.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Camilla Grudova, “The Doll’s Alphabet”
All of these stories but one appear in collections that are elsewhere-nominated, which strikes me as worth noting, but probably is just about par for the course, when I think about it. Anyway. Carmen Maria Machado’s “Blur” is actually my favorite of the stories that I read from her this year that were at this length 20. Also, as someone whose vision is just terrible 21, I appreciate getting to think about what it would be like if my vision were replaced with visions. NB that this may, in fact, be exactly the wrong thing to take away from this story.
“The Mouse Queen” is, as one could guess from my previous gushing about Camilla Grudova, pretty great. Perhaps unexpectedly, then, it’s also the story that has the closest thing in the book to pacing problems, the thing that I just said a couple of hundred words ago was one of Grudova’s strengths as a writer. What it nearly lacks in that department it more than makes up for in being genuinely creepy. It’s also the most “straightforward” story in the book – it’s giving too much away to say what happens, but suffice it to say it’s considerably more visceral than any other story in the book 22
Brian Evenson’s “The Second Door” is a brief, punchy screamer – it gets in, builds up a healthy sense of dread, then gets out. It deserves praise for its genuinely bizarre setting, and for Evenson’s confidence in the strength of his storytelling and his premise, and not trying to do anything particularly showy with it.
Kurt Fawver’s “The Convexity of Our Youth” is an unnerving piece of work, concerning the body-horror effects of a strange orange ball, and the reaction of the citizens of several towns (and one in particular) to said effects. It’s fully unique, and it’s genuinely creepy, but manages to twist everything back around so that you don’t know who to feel worse for in the end.
It’s Nadia Bulkin’s “Live Through This” that I think is the strongest of the nominees here. It’s the story of a young lady who kills herself, and then, through unexplained mechanisms, starts to take her revenge. It manages to encompass a number of thoughts about revenge, about justice and about memory. Bulkin is a remarkably effective conveyor of narratorial emotion, and this story is as angry as they come, and that kind of burning intensity really carries the story all the way through. Even in a year full of excellent Nadia Bulkin stories, this one is truly great.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Nadia Bulkin, “Live Through This”
Novelettes seem to be a difficult word-count needle to thread – in other novelette categories, it seems that they’re either too long or too short. This crop largely avoids that, which is comforting, as I had started to think that I’m categorically opposed to something based on nothing more than the number of words it contains, which is a clearly-irrational position that I’m glad to be disabused of. Hurray!
Chavisa Woods’s “Take the Way Home That Leads Past Sullivan Street” is a weird piece of work that manages to use its “crypto-cultish rich people” device to tell a surprisingly moving story about expectations and class relations, and how difficult families are, all fairly obliquely. It’s not necessarily a standout from Things to Do When You’re Goth in the Country, but it’s a pretty good story in and of itself.
Laura Maro’s “Sun Dogs” is a touching story about falling in post-apocalyptic love with someone who is, in fact, not what they appear to be. It establishes a lot of world very quickly, and exists very effectively within that world, without making it seem like there’s much more to say about the story in question. It’s very well-told, but kind of slighter than the other work here.
Kahtleen Kayembe’s “You Will Always Have Family: A Triptych” is a shifting-narrator story about supernaturally-affected family and revenge. It’s a nail-biter, and flings itself over the cliff of its narrative style to land at the bottom in a truly surprising ending, with scarcely a break in between 23. It’s a great ride of a story, and I applaud the nonstandard narrative style.
Jeremiah Tolbert’s “The West Topka Triangle” is about a piece of land that may be supernaturally cursed, and centers around the phrase “the nail that sticks up gets the hammer.” It’s built emotionally around the isolation of living in a small town, and of being bullied, using the very real social ostracization of the main character to add friction and texture to the character’s investigation of what is going on in the titular triangle. It’s a wonderful piece of work, generally.
Carmen Maria Machado’s “The Resident” is great. I stated previously that Machado is at her best in her longer pieces, and this is definitely one of them. It’s a bizarre fever dream that takes place in a writer’s residency. It makes an excellent argument about what art is, and contains the best closing lines of anything I’ve read all year. Along the way she ruminates on paranoia, unease and illness. It’s a big swing that largely connects, and the result is an unusually strong piece of work, even for someone who’s a very strong writer as a matter of course.
Novellas seem to be having a real moment 24, and as someone who’s always enjoyed the word-count 25, I’m pretty chuffed to see so much great work being done. This is the only category that consists solely of works that I would recommend unreservedly to just about anyone – while the other categories are all solid 26, this one is especially good, and extremely-likable, with even the most out-there stuff still being pretty conventionally successful as writing.
James Morrow’s The Asylum of Doctor Caligari is very good, albeit standard James Morrow: it’s funny, it deals with philosophy issues, and it’s probably the only piece of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari fan-fiction I’ll ever read (this last bit is not a feature of “standard James Morrow” stories). There’s a lot of art history in there, and a lot of regular European history, and while it largely avoids the dreaded info-dump there’s still a lot of factoidal narration in there. While I enjoyed this immensely – and was especially impressed and/or touched by the ending – it’s the weakest of the offerings here.
Stephen Graham Jones’s Mapping the Interior starts out very slowly, and lays out its dominoes pretty carefully, only to knock them all down in a surprising, unexpected frenzy at the end. The last domino (to stretch the metaphor) especially contains a pretty potent surprise. It’s a marvelous ghost story set on a reservation, and takes the time – although not so much that it derails the story – to deal with poverty and the socioeconomic realities of its mie. Obviously I’m a sucker for a story well-grounded in rural poverty. It’s got a lot of admirable qualities, but it really does make its bones on its ending, which I am 100% here for.
Lindsay Drager’s The Lost Daughter’s Collective is a beautiful, elliptical story, in which most of the primary action is accomplished sidelong to the actual writing. Bits of it are gorgeous prose poetry, and the language is superb. Even while telling a story that is hinted more than told (although it is pretty directly hinted) it manages to be captivating and make you feel deeply for several of the characters, and think pretty hard about what it means to have or be a daughter. Or at least, it made me, a person who does not have and has never been a daughter, think about what it means to have or be a daughter.
Margaret Killjoy’s The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion takes on one of my particular favorite ways of telling a story. The thing that happens before the action of the book is that a utopian squatters’ collective summons a supernatural force to help protect their city. The book, then, is about the problem with having a supernatural creature around that is no longer tasked with doing the thing they summoned it to do. It’s not particularly challenging (which isn’t a point against it), and it’s a breeze to read. It’s the sort of comfort-food literature that makes me happy there are people out there doing it, and if it isn’t the best of these, it’s definitely, absolutely the most outright enjoyable.
Tade Thompson’s The Murders of Molly Southbourne is a gripping and inventive story about a woman who produces a large number of clones. It’s very good in and of itself, but does lose a little bit of its effect by clearly being the thing that’s there to set up further installments in the series. That said, it’s wonderfully-written, and manages to make its outlandish supernatural premise seem livable and believable. It continues to surprise all the way through, and ends in a place that makes the reader really wonder where it’s going from there, while also providing a reasonably-good ending to the story we just read. It’s a setup novella, but as far as all that goes, it’s an awfully good one.
Samanta Schwelbin’s Fever Dream is an aptly-titled story about the splitting of a soul, and the effect of that on a family. It manages the narrative trick of seeming completely opaque, but much like its titular condition, carrying enough of its own narrative even under the gauzy, blurry language involved 27 to make itself clear. It thoroughly explores the nature of its premise, and Schweblin guides the story through its notes without necessarily making it apparent what she’s doing, but leaving the reader with an absolutely clear picture of what has just happened and why. It’s an astonishing piece of work.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Samanta Schweblin, Fever Dream
What a fantastic set of novels! I would be more-or-less happy to see any of these win. Well, almost any of these. I’ll get to it in a minute. Earlier I said that this kind of fiction really lives in its short stories, and, well, I still believe that. It turns out, however, that even so, there’ still a lot of excellent work being done in longer forms.
Hye-Young Pyun’s The Hole is probably the one I liked the least of all of them. It’s fine – it’s a tremendously effective story about isolation. It gets a lot of its initial DNA from Stephen King’s Misery, but it manages to more effectively convey its own sense of dread and solitude, and it’s more internally-driven than externally. It abandons its roots, however (wordplay!) when it starts to get seriously weird. Its real issue is that it takes a long time to get its engine running. It may also suffer somewhat in translation 28. It’s definitely good and worth the time if you feel like reading a weird book about obsession and isolation. It’s just not as good as some of the other stuff here.
Dan Chaon’s Ill Will is also about things that are not what they seem. There’s a string of murders, and a psychologist with his own murder-filled past who gets roped into trying to figure them out, while also managing to completely misjudge his relationships with several of his family members. The book is compelling and thrillingly paced, and may in fact be less distracting to people who don’t live in the place the book is set 29, and I was nothing short of awed by the ending, which can easily be the weakest part of this kind of “what is real” horror-mystery type thing. He really stuck the landing, and he did so without compromising how tremendously easy to read and enjoy the whole thing is. He also makes excellent use of typography and page layout, occasionally making really bold narrative-style decisions that all pay off and make the story more dynamic on the page.
David Demchuk’s The Bone Mother is a novel in a series of vignettes, about the end of the time of monsters on Earth, and the forces that seek to exterminate them. It starts out reading like a series of disconnected incidents, and then picks up steam as the plot actually develops. It is tremendously Balkan 30, which is a lot of fun, and, like many of the other stories I’m praising in this space, does a fantastic job of telling its story alongside the portraits of the non-humans he’s writing about. It also made me feel really bad for a bunch of made-up, folkloric non-human creatures, which is always nice. I like a story from the monster’s point of view.
Paul LaFarge’s The Night Ocean is maybe not the best of the novels I read here, but it’s certainly the twistiest. It starts out as one thing, and ends as a completely-different thing entirely. I will say, without spoiling anything here, that there was some objection to this book for awhile due to certain liberties that he took with history 31, he does not actually take those liberties. Anyway, it’s a fantastic book about obsession, and it manages to pull off the trick of being told at at least one layer of remove, and sometimes up to three or four (that is to say, the events of the book do not happen to the people that are narrating them, with a couple of minor exceptions). There’s been a whole lot of Lovecraftiana in the last few years, and this is a clear high point, and manages to be much more Lovecraftian than it would at first appear to be, in a decidedly different way than the average (i.e. there are still things man was not meant to contemplate, but they’re not space squids or giant fish).
The cream of this, and any other crop, though, is probably Victor Lavalle’s The Changeling. It’s hopefully not saying too much that I was genuinely impressed by how straightforward the title is, and how unafraid it was to dive into it supernatural elements, and not try to ambiguate them or make them at all a question. Everything that happens in the novel actually happens, which is the least of its accomplishments as a story, but the most impressive. It also manages to be a thoroughly-modern horror story, incorporating rather than finding ways to discard technology, and the highly-online state of the world as it is. All while also telling a story about the very worst thing that can happen to parents. It’s a phenomenal piece of work, and deserves this and every other award someone can think to give it.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Victor Lavalle, The Changeling
- which is what keeps a lot of the smaller literary awards from occurring here – I don’t know what people are looking for with a lot of them, except for the ones where it’s about country of origin, and by including several genres/sub-genres, they’re making it pretty easy to avoid debates about whether a thing really is in the genre. In a month I’ll write about the Hugo nominations, and there will be some things there that help make the latter point. ↩
- this contributes the bulk of the rest of the reason why I don’t write about more book awards: aside from the large, vastly-encompassing ones, I just don’t have anything to stand on. ↩
- compare to, say, the Locus awards which are great and which happen at right about the same time – they were a couple of weeks ago – but for which the nominations are announced, like, six weeks before the actual ceremony, and I simply do not read that fast. ↩
- I struggle with how to deal with reading this kind of thing comfortably, and have basically landed on reading one story a day from each anthology, which gives me the physical distance of putting the book down – or, y’know, browsing away from the file on my kindle or whatever – to consider and shift gears while I pick up another book. It means that these things take forever to actually finish, and that I’m reading an absurd number of books at once. I suppose I could mimic this experience by closing the book and putting it down and doing a lap around my house or whatever while I’m reading, but that also seems silly. Woe is me, I guess. ↩
- the book also forced me to confront the fact that I have basically no strong feelings about birds. I don’t know anything about them, I don’t think about them when I’m not being given an immediate pressing reason to do so, they just genuinely do not make up a part of my day. Sometimes I notice them when the starlings around my house seem like they’re about to kamikaze my face, but that’s about it. I do not blame birds for this, I am comfortable admitting this is my problem, but it is, nonetheless, the case that I do not feel anything for birds. ↩
- I grappled with the sixth for the World Fantasy Awards a couple of years ago. ↩
- this is the first I’ve heard of her, although I’ve since done some digging. She lives in Ohio and has some other stuff that I absolutely must read, because it is not for nothing that someone wrote a story I liked more than Robert Shearman and Mary Rickert. ↩
- it has a lot of stories in it, y’all. ↩
- it is actually the better of two stories that appear sequentially in the collection about dementia, the other being Jeffrey Thomas’s “Stranger in the House”, which isn’t quite as effective. ↩
- In addition to the previously-mentioned Looming Low, she’s also in Tales From a Talking Book ↩
- I also respond poorly to fight scenes and the like. This is not unique to Ms. Machado. ↩
- it’s fair to say that even when any given story is not actually erotica, Machado writes primarily about bodies and what is done with them. ↩
- “The blood runs down her arm like maypole ribbons” ↩
- well, somewhat more than two, but you’ll have to read it. ↩
- I suppose I am prepared to posit that this is their genre distinction. ↩
- one of the things that I suppose fuels being so impressed by Woods’ grasp on the type of things she writes about is that rural Indiana isn’t that different from rural Ohio, and so while there are a number of reasons why I wasn’t quite as out-grouped as she was (said reasons being demographic and self-evident), the above weird reference to the “completeness” of the emotional content has something to do with the fact that we’re about the same age and came from roughly similar places, and she really gets it. So I guess what I’m saying is that “Zombie” might only be in the top ten most heartbreaking things you’ll read all year, instead of, like, the top three. ↩
- I have so far used the words “contra-natural” and “extranatural” here, and that is not accidental – it doesn’t always seem supernatural as such, but there’s definitely stuff involved that is not part of the natural order. ↩
- there’s nothing brutal about these two stories, just the worlds in which they take place. ↩
- parlor body horror? It doesn’t actually take place in a parlor very much, I suppose. Well it kind of does. ↩
- by which I mean “relatively short” – if Her Body and Other Parties was anything to go on, I generally prefer her stories when they’re longer, and find the shorter ones a little less-satisfying. I think it’s because the thing I like about her stories is their tone, which in the longer pieces is something I can really settle into. ↩
- in addition to being frightfully nearsighted, and nearly-legally-blind in one eye, I’m also color-blind. ↩
- except the previously-mentioned “Waxy”, which is just incredible in every aspect. I mean in the sense that I am literally not credulous in believing that a human being wrote that story. It’s so good, guys. So good. ↩
- as, y’know, falling off a cliff doesn’t actually have a break. Well, until the end. Also I mean “falling off a cliff” in a sort of “narrative propulsion” sense, not in a “this sucks and gets bad quickly” sense as the phrase is usually used. ↩
- there have always been novellas, but there seem to be more of them around. I assume two things: 1) that this is to do with ebooks, and the ease of getting a novella out digitally as compared to in print, and getting it seen and considered, especially given the generally-lower price point and 2) that there is way more insightful thoughts about this written somewhere else, and they are not in this footnote. ↩
- if I seem insistent on this, please bear with me. I only recently realized that I think of things this way, and it’s a stupid way to think – to prefer one word count over another? That seems stupid. On the other hand, I guess there’s a reason things are written to these lengths. I don’t know, man. Expect a post working it all out soon enough probably? ↩
- this set of nominees seems to be the strongest one of any book awards I’ve ever written about, although that may have more to do with it being pitched directly into my wheelhouse than anything else. ↩
- it is a testament to Megan McDowell, the translator, that these qualities of the writing and language are maintained even in translation. ↩
- it’s wildly popular in its native country of South Korea, and while it’s true that I don’t know a lot about South Korean book sales, I know that “very slow to start” and “wildly popular” very rarely intersect. Although it’s not unheard of, so I don’t know. ↩
- it’s set in Cleveland Heights. At one point he is using Streeetsboro, Ohio, which is directly between Cleveland Heights and Kent (where I lived before I lived in Cleveland Heights), as a stand-in for the banality of the exurban freeway-stop town,and he names the businesses that are there in a way that made me say not “oh yeah. The banality of road towns” but rather “oh hey, I know exactly when he made this drive by which businesses were open.” That probably doesn’t happen to most readers, if I’m guessing correctly. There’s a bunch of other little moments like that. ↩
- it takes place on the Romania/Ukraine border, which I guess would make it half Balkan, half Baltic. ↩
- it addresses the very real weirdness of H.P. Lovecraft and his strange and ultimately quite-tragic friendship with Robert Barlow. ↩