This week’s Monday Minis are a bit of a special edition. I’ve been reading quite a bit of short fiction recently – thanks to some amazing publicists who have sent me some anthologies and collections for review – so I thought I’d do a roundup of the lovely books I’ve read! I received review copies of all of these, all opinions are my own as usual.
We’re Here: The Best Queer Speculative Fiction 2020, edited by C.L. Clark and series editor Charles Payseur came out from Neon Hemlock Press in August. It reprints a selection of short fiction published in 2020 that the editors chose as their ‘best of’ 2020 – which, as they quite eloquently explain in the introduction is a very subjective classification and always ends up missing out on great things due to a variety of reasons. As such, this was quite a mixed bag for me personally. I think as a whole, the anthology was very well done and put together in a way that made sense, even if the individual stories weren’t all to my taste. I did feel like the stronger stories were in the second half of the anthologies – the ones that stood out to me most were “Thin Red Jellies” by Lina Rather, which shows the heartbreaking deterioration of a relationship under strange circumstances, and “The Wedding After the Bomb” by Brendan Williams-Childs, which focused on the found family aspect of queer groups. A solid entry if you want to get into reading more short fiction!
I first came across Aliya Whiteley’s work late last year, when I read and reviewed the brilliant Skyward Inn (see my review here). So I jumped at the chance to read her new collection From the Neck Up, full of short fiction about the strangeness of life and the uncanny things that people encounter in their everyday lives, published by Titan Books in September. I highly enjoyed all of the stories in this collection – I really appreciate how Whiteley manages to evoke an uncanny atmosphere using relatively simple and accessible language, keeping her work grounded in reality while unsettling the reader with the content of the stories. These stories are really taken from the mundane, rather than the poetic and abstract, and that makes them all the creepier. An excellent collection of light horror stories.
I’ve been on a bit of a translated fiction binge recently, and Sinopticon has only given me more authors to look up and read more from. Edited by Xueting Christine Ni, this collects and celebrates stories written by Chinese authors over the past few decades and makes them accessible to a far wider audience by translating them into English. I would love to see more of these kinds of anthologies and really dive into the way storytelling differs in different places. This anthology features some true gems – the two stories that stood out the most to me were “The Great Migration” by Ma Boyong and “Flower of the Other Shore” by A Que. Two utterly different stories that managed to draw me into their worlds completely. The first, “The Great Migration” is set in a far future where humans have colonised Mars and features two travelers who meet trying to travel home to Earth in the limited window where the two planets are closer to each other. This is an analogy to the Chinese tradition of people returning home to their families across the country for the holidays, such as Chinese New Year, turning a really mundane encounter into something special through great writing. The second story, “Flower of the Other Shore” is more out there – it’s story of the zombie apocalypse, but it’s a truly special one. The writing is haunting and the characters are ones that will stick with you. So definitely an anthology that should be on your radar!
The Tangleroot Palace by Marjorie M. Liu collects seven of the author’s stories and was published in June 2021 by Tachyon. This was my first foray into Liu’s prose work – I’d read the Monstress graphic novels, which she writes, but a graphic novel isn’t quite the same thing as a prose story. Now that I’m finished with the collection, I remain torn with my thoughts about it. I love that the stories all have that almost whimsical, ethereal feel to them that I expected from Liu’s work after Monstress, but none of them stood out to me in particular as stories that I loved. So while the atmosphere and the writing worked really well for me, I didn’t connect to the stories on an emotional level and found the individual stories almost forgettable. What I did really enjoy is that all of the stories had a little afterword about their inspiration, about their original publication. I loved reading these little insights that Liu had while going over her earlier work again in preparation for the collection, as all of the stories contained here are reprints. If you like Monstress, or enjoy atmosphere-driven stories with a good dash of whimsy, you might enjoy this collection a lot!