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.
by A.C. Wise
Welcome to another installment of Women to Read: Where to Start. There’s no particular theme this time around, just a bunch of work I’m excited about, things I read and loved that I want other people to read and love, too.
Jacqueline Koyanagi‘s debut novel, Ascension, was my first exposure to the author’s work, making it a logical recommended starting point. If the novel’s subtitle, A Tangled Axon Novel, is any indication, Koyanagi plans more works set in this universe, and I for one will be delighted to purchase and devour them. As stated in her author bio: “Her stories feature queer women of color, folks with disabilities, neuroatypical characters, and diverse relationship styles, because she grew tired of not seeing enough of herself and the people she loves reflected in genre fiction.” Ascension features an almost all-female cast, fluid depictions of sexuality, and a wonderful and positive depiction of polyamory. There’s also a disappearing woman who smells like honey and buzzes like a hive of bees, a man who is a wolf, and the most gorgeous descriptions of ship mechanics I have ever read. One thing Koyanagi does particularly well is write characters who remain true to themselves, whose individual personalities drive the plot rather than letting the plot dictate their actions. Their relationships aren’t always peaceful or easy; as in real life, they are often messy and complicated as each individual moves from their own personal understanding of the world to see things from each other’s perspectives.
Kij Johnson likely needs no introduction, being a multiple award nominee and winner. The first of her works that came to my attention, and my recommending starting place with her work is “Spar“, first published in Clarkesworld in 2009. It won the Nebula the same year, and was nominated for the Hugo and the Locus Awards, and deservedly so. “Spar” is the kind of story that sticks with you – yes, partially because of the graphic sexuality and the ick-factor, for lack of a better word, but these are only the tools used to tell a deeper story. Rather than being simply used for shock value the sex in the story serves to explore the notion of the truly alien and the idea that if and when humans do encounter non-terrestrial life, there’s a good chance it will be so incomprehensible to us that communication on any level may be impossible. To top it all off, the story manages to do all this in just over 2,000 words.
Tang Fei is a Chinese author whose first story published in English, “Call Girl“ (translated by Ken Liu for Apex Magazine) is my recommended starting point. According to her bio, her work has appeared under various pen names in magazines such as Science Fiction World and Jiuzhou Fantasy. Based on “Call Girl”, I can only hope we’ll be seeing more English translations of her work soon. The story’s title evokes specific associations, and the story’s opening leads the reader along a path in line with those expectations before veering sharply off the expected route to deliver a surprisingly poignant tale, which is – at its heart – a love letter to the notion of story itself. The imagery here is evocative and dream-like, and for being a relatively short tale, it manages to deliver characters that feel deep and well-developed with layers extending well beyond the story’s framework.
My first encounter with Susan Palwick‘s work was through her short story, “The Fate of Mice”, originally appearing in Asimov’s and later reprinted elsewhere, including in her 2007 short story collection of the same name. I’m recommending it as a starting point since it’s the one that got me hooked. Like Tang Fei’s story, it’s also a story about stories and their power to shape our perceptions of the world. Palwick puts an interesting spin on the theme, telling the story from the point of view of Rodney, an IQ-enhanced lab mouse who inherits the memories of the fictional mice who came before him, including the mice from Cinderella, Stuart Little, and Algernon from Flowers for Algernon. The story draws the reader’s attention to the way narratives are shaped by who is telling them. As Rodney points out, even when mice are the star of the story, their ultimate fate is of little importance to humans. This point is paralleled in the human relationships in the story, as Doctor Kantor, whose lab Rodney inhabits, has very specific narratives in his mind concerning his daughter, and his ex-wife and her new boyfriend, which often blind him to who they are as people.
So there you have it, another installment of Women to Read: Where to Start. I hope you’ll seek out and enjoy work by these wonderful authors. As always, I invite you to leave a comment sharing the work by women you’re excited about and want other people to read.