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. I missed the anniversary mark for these posts last month, so happy anniversary plus one month to celebrating fiction by women! This time around I’m recommending circuses, time travel, living toys, and genetic modification against the backdrop of human-extraterrestrial relations.
I’ve been consistently impressed with Caroline M. Yoachim’s short fiction, making it hard to pick just one piece as a starting point. Ultimately, I decided to go back to the first story of hers I read, “Time to Say Goodnight“, published in Fantasy Magazine in 2007. “Time to Say Goodnight” was listed as a notable story in the 2007 Million Writers’ Award, and deservedly so. Presented as a sweet, fairy tale-like story about a little girl and her magical toys, it’s also a story about family, loss, growing up, and dealing with the realities of life – like divorce and death – from a child’s perspective. The story balances these elements perfectly, never becoming saccharine or heavy-handed. I would also recommend Yoachim’s “Pieces of My Body” – a delightfully creepy story full of poetic imagery, recently published in Daily Science Fiction, and “The Carnival Was Eaten, All Except the Clown“, in the final issue of Electric Velocipede. All three stories showcase the author’s talent for offering layers of depth and emotion in her stories, while maintaining an economy of words – not an easy thing to do.
Mary Anne Mohanraj is the founder of Strange Horizons, one of my favorite publications. She edited the magazine for several years, and currently edits Jaggery, a South Asian literary journal, as well as being an incredibly prolific poet and author of short and novel-length fiction. My recommended starting point for her work is “Communion“, published in the June 2014 issue of Clarkesworld. Mohanraj packs a lot into this story – ideas of beauty, moral questions surrounding genetic modification, differing traditions surrounding death, and what it means to be a family and a community – among others. My only complaint regarding the story is not exactly a complaint, but more a wish that the work was longer and had more time to explore each individual component of the tale. The question of genetic modification in “Communion” was particularly intriguing to me. A couple – one modified by her parents to have advantages such as beauty and perfect health, and the other not modified by her parents – are faced with the question of how far they will go as they prepare to start a family of their own. Every parent wants their child to be healthy and happy, but where do they draw the line? Wrapped around this question is a story about bridging the gap between human and alien culture, how each culture honors their dead, and the tension surrounding a world that has recently suffered a violent attack. Again, I’d love to see each piece unpacked and examined in greater depth. Perhaps, if I’m lucky, the author will expand the story into a novel some day.
A.M. Dellamonica is a fellow Canadian (always a bonus), a novelist, and a writer of short fiction. My recommended starting place for her work is the recently-published “The Color of Paradox” at Tor.com. The story straddles the border between horror and science fiction, as time travelers are sent back to postpone the extinction of the human race. Note that it is postpone, not prevent, as there’s a certain sense of inevitability to the end of the world, though Dellamonica never definitely answers whether it can be stopped. Rather than making the characters’ actions feel futile, the idea of inevitability speaks to the perseverance of humanity in the face of seemingly impossible odds. It also adds an interesting dimension to the travelers’ mission – is it worth taking a life or giving up your own just to buy time? One of the things I found particularly interesting about the story is that some of the most intriguing bits lie not with the protagonist, but with the secondary character, Willie. As someone pointed out recently, there’s a dearth of female time travelers in general (if you don’t count the Doctor’s companions, and even they are mostly along for the ride and not the primary instigators of travel), so it was refreshing to see Willie presented as the first successful time traveler in this story. A lot of Willie’s story is implied, rather than told outright, and as with the character’s of Mohanraj’s “Communion”, I could easily see reading a novel focused on her if Dellamonica ever chooses to expand the story.
Is it possible I haven’t already included Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus in this series? That seems like a major oversight on my part. The Night Circus was Morgenstern’s debut novel, and as debut novels go, she couldn’t have asked for a better one. I’m a sucker for circus stories, and this one is enchanting in all senses of the word. A magical battle spanning centuries and generations? Check. A gorgeously described black and white circus, filled with impossible people and creations? Check. A love story? Check. A ghost story? Check. Lavish dinner parties and world travel and intrigue? Check, check, and check. There are novels one appreciates from a distance, and settings one reads about, but would never actually want to visit. That is not the case with the Night Circus or the world surrounding it. To quote Liz Lemon, “I want to go to there.” I want run from tent to tent and drink the circus in night after night. I want to attend the dinner parties and meet the people of the circus and its followers. Thanks to Morgenstern’s gorgeous prose, I almost feel like I have done those things. Almost, but not quite. I’m still hoping the Night Circus will make a stop in my town.