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 – March 2014

by A.C. Wise

Amal El-Mohtar is a poet, author, and the editor of Goblin Fruit. There are many places one could start with her work, but my recommended starting point is “Hollow Play” from the anthology Glitter & Mayhem (an also available in an audio version from Podcastle). In addition to the positive portrayal of trans* and gender queer characters, El-Mohtar deftly portrays how painful, beautiful, complicated, and messy human relationships can be. “Hollow Play” both is and is not a happy-ending story, with characters finding their own way to peace despite broken hearts and loss. The mythical elements are beautifully woven into the story, allowing both the mundane and the magical worlds to shine. El-Mohtar’s language and imagery are gorgeous as well, making it one of the strongest stories in an overall very strong anthology.


Jo Walton‘s Among Others is an award-winning/nominated novel that stands as a love letter to SFF, a genre women aren’t supposed to be interested in reading or being a part of, according to some detractors. Frankly, I’m amazed I haven’t covered it in this series before. It’s also a story about chosen family versus the family you’re born into, and finding the place you belong in the world. The speculative element is subtle, and there are hints that it may not even be present at all. Rather than being frustrating, the ambiguity makes the story even more powerful. Mori can be an unreliable narrator, and Walton never fully reveals if the supernatural events described actually occurred, or if magic is the filter through which Mori perceives the world. This uncertainty allows the novel to be read in multiple ways – as a straightforward narrative, as an escapist fantasy helping the main character cope with loss, or as something existing in the liminal space in-between these possibilities, encompassing them both and more. Either way, it’s a beautiful story and a perfect starting place for the author’s work.

It may be cheating to recommend starting with a series, but Francesca Lia Block‘s Dangerous Angels series (a.k.a. The Weetzie Bat Books) books really need to be read together. Besides, once you start, they’ll make you want to keep going until you’ve devoured them all. Block’s voice is strong, poetic and twisty, and unlike anything I’d read before when I first came across them. There is an irresistible rhythm to the words; Block’s language itself is a character, guiding the reader through the book. To give an example:

“Weetizie and My Secret Agent Lover Man and Dirk and Duck and Cherokee and Witch Baby huddled on the pink bed and cried. Grief is not something you know if you grow up wearing feathers with a Charlie Chaplain boyfriend, a love-child papoose, a witch baby, a Dirk and a Duck, and a movie to dance in. You can feel sad and worse when your dad moves to another city, when an old lady dies, or when your boyfriend goes away. But grief is different.”

They’re billed as YA books, but strike me as equally appealing to adults. The books are important in offering up a strong female protagonist who is allowed to fail and be flawed, and be changed by the mistakes she makes. I don’t know if the Weetize Bat books were a source of inspiration for Ysabeau Wilce (another author whose work I highly recommend and in fact have done so in this series before), but Weetzie feels like a spiritual predecessor to Flora Segunda. The two characters have a lot in common, which probably means they wouldn’t get along at all, and it would be a lot of fun to watch them spark off each other.

Mary Robinette Kowal‘s “The Lady Astronaut of Mars” originally appeared in the audiobook anthology, RIP-OFF, and was recently reprinted at Tor.com. As with many of the other authors included in this series, Kowal is multiply award-nominated and award-winning, and there are numerous places one could start with her work. “The Lady Astronaut of Mars” struck me in particular as a good starting point because it does something not a lot of SFF stories do – it deals with age and aging in a painful and straightforward manner, rather than presenting it as something science has magically cured or otherwise eliminated as a factor in daily life. Older characters in general tend to be largely absent within the genre, and rarely get the starring role as Kowal’s Elma York does in this story. Here, the reader gets a fully-fledged character, rather than a hastily sketched caricature – the wise/wicked old crone, the kindly/evil wizard, the mad scientist/aging starlet futilely trying to regain their youth, etc. On top of all that, the story presents the character with a heart-wrenching choice, and doesn’t do the audience the disservice of a stark right vs. wrong scenario; both options are valid, and the character has motivation for wanting either, making the story all the more effective. As an extra bonus starting point, I’d also recommend following Mary Robinette Kowal’s twitter feed (@MaryRobinette). In addition to being an award-winning author, she’s also an accomplished puppeteer and frequently tweets hilarious, innuendo-filled things about puppets.



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.

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