A.C. Wise is the author of numerous short stories appearing in print and online in publications such as Clarkesworld, Apex, Lightspeed, and the Best Horror of the Year Vol. 4. In addition to her fiction, she co-edits Unlikely Story, an online magazine publishing three issues of fiction per year with various unlikely themes. Follow her on twitter as @ac_wise.

Women to Read: Where to Start – January 2014 Edition

by A.C. Wise

A new year is upon us, which means a whole lot of new reading needs to be done. Or is that just me? Regardless, if you’re new to this series, welcome! Basically, I recommend women to read and where to start with their work. Sometimes there’s a theme, and sometimes there isn’t. This time around, there isn’t an overt theme, but there is an underlying thread of conflict and a questioning of the notion of self in these works. Either way, I hope you enjoy them, and I wish you happy reading in 2014!

Ann Leckie‘s Ancillary Justice has received quite a bit of praise, and rightly so, making it a logical recommended starting point for her work. There are several fascinating things about the novel, but one of the most interesting is the way it removes gender from the equation. The default pronoun is female (she/her), and many characters have more than one body, allowing every character to be simultaneously male and female in the reader’s mind. It also brings into the play the question of self-perception vs. being perceived by others, and which is more authentically true. This is powerful stuff, and it’s made even more powerful being an undercurrent, only the bones upon which the novel is built, making for a rich, deep world. The plot itself is an intricate puzzle box, slowly unfolded (or put back together if you prefer) to reveal a central conflict. It’s masterfully done, and as I said, deserves every bit of praise it’s received.

Benjanun Sgriduangkaew‘s short fiction has been popping up all over the place recently, including in Beneath Ceaseless Skies and Clockwork Phoenix 4. My recommended starting place is one of her most recent publications – “Silent Bridge, Pale Cascade“, in the December 2013 issue of Clarkesworld. The prose is lush and evocative. Even the smallest details hint at entire stories: an orchid blade, a helm of black scarabs, a sky of fractal glass – and that’s all within the first few paragraphs. Beyond the poetry, the story is lovely – a weary soldier of fluid gender is brought back from the dead and forced into confrontation with her ex-wife. The story portrays a world of conflict on multiple levels, many happening beneath the surface. Fittingly, the story ends just before the first punch is thrown.

Yoon Ha Lee‘s short fiction has also appeared just about everywhere, and her first short story collection, Conservation of Shadows, was published by Prime Books in early 2013. My recommended starting point is “The Knight of Chains, the Deuce of Stars“; it provides a perfect companion piece to Sgriduangkaew’s “Silent Bridge, Pale Cascade”. Lee’s story is another one full of lush prose, where the background details suggest entire worlds begging to be explored. There are also characters in conflict here, employing unconventional means of violence against each other. While Sgriduangkaew’s story is one of personal conflict, Lee’s is a story of archetypes, weary characters of myth and legend who have been battling for a very long time. At the same time, the conflict feels intimate, as much about personality as battle on an epic scale, which is not an easy trick to pull off.

Last but not least, my recommended starting point for Priya Sharma‘s work is “Egg”, appearing in Once Upon a Time: New Fairy Tales. The story deals with conflict on very personal level as well, and circles back to the notion of self. Sharma crafts a new fairy tale, built on the bones of old tropes and presenting a unique twist on the mother-daughter relationship and the classic wish for a child. The story is complicated, it portrays the sacrifices one makes becoming a parent in a realistic and brutal manner, but still gives the story the veneer of the fantastic. Here, reality is pushed to the extreme through the lens of fantasy, showing a parent caring for a child that is barely human and wholly incomprehensible. The story is beautiful and brutal, showing the struggle between self and other, between a parent’s desires and the way they can, and possibly must, become subsumed and erased in their life of their child.

That’s it for January! I hope I’ve provided a good starting point for a year full of fiction. What fantastic work by women have you been reading lately? What upcoming works are you excited about for 2014?

guest post, A.C. Wise, Women To Read
Ann Leckie, Benjanun Sgriduangkaew, Yoon Ha Lee, Priya Sharma

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