Flowchart of the Damned: Stephen Graham Jones, Jonathan Wood, Stant Litore

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Stephen Graham Jones’s Flowchart of the Damned, depicting the gamut of weird fiction, seems like a fitting visual for this short post alerting you to some interesting new releases. Over at Weird Fiction Review, you’ll also find a new feature about Jones’s story in The Weird–great stuff.

First off, Jones has a new story collection out, After the People Lights Go Out. He’s in our The Weird anthology and highly recommended. Just a great writer.

Jonathan Wood’s Yesterday’s Hero came out last week and looks to be an action-packed and entertaining follow up to No Hero. This is weird fiction, but also sends up weird fiction in a way.

Stant Litore, who is featured in Wonderbook, has been doing fascinating phantasmagorical things with zombies in biblical times. He has a new single out on Amazon, I Will Hold My Death Close. Check it out and then his novels if you haven’t yet read his work.

Later this week: A reverie about some Dorothy Project books, among others. Yep, that’s right: keeping it eclectic now and for always.

Must Read: The Metanatural Adventures of Dr. Black by Brendan Connell

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A unique book you definitely should pick up is the rather wonderfully eccentric The Metanatural Adventures of Dr. Black by Brendan Connell. One of these stories appeared in the World Fantasy Award winning Leviathan 3 anthology edited by me and Forrest Aguirre. This is a sumptuous and beautifully designed thick hardcover collecting all of Dr. Black’s many (mis)adventures along with a lot of interstitial material of the meta variety–delightfully cheerful and cheeky. Quirky, weird in a good way, with sublime writing, and often very funny. The image above doesn’t quite give you the true measure of the lovely texture and approach used for the cover. You can order here–paypal accepted.

I wrote the introduction to The Metanatural Adventures of Dr. Black and I’ve posted half of that intro below so you can get a better sense of what this book is up to…

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UK Book Tour: The Important Part, the Books Acquired!

I’ll do a blog post about two weeks spent on the road in the UK doing book and book-like events. But for now, the important thing: The report on the books bought while over there! I think you’ll find some intriguing titles here…

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–The new Murakami novel is written in a plain style probably reflecting the kind of everyman main character. I’m about seventy pages in and enjoying it for the unfolding story rather than any particular element of the prose.

–Philippe Claudel’s The Investigation I discovered at the very dangerous bookstore at the Edinburgh book festival, and the cover alone was enough to make me buy the novel. But the Kafkaesque situation of an Investigator sent to a provincial town to report on a series of mysterious deaths at The Firm certainly didn’t hurt!

–Antwerp by Robert Bolaño, discovered in a discount bookstore on the fringe of Dublin’s Temple Bar. It’s got the concision of prose poetry and that dreamy quality, too. The last Bolaño to be acquired.

–David Vann’s Caribou Island was pretty exceptional, so I didn’t hesitate to pick up his Legend of a Suicide at Mr. B’s Book Emporium in Bath. The novel’s about a man still struggling with the death of his father, but as with all of Vann’s work the unique qualities are in his characterization, situations, and prose more than the over-arching story being told.

–Picked up at the Blackwell’s in Edinburgh, Murakami’s Hard-Boiled Wonderland and End of the World is one of two novels by this likely Nobel Prize winner I haven’t yet read. Blackwell’s in Edinburgh, btw, is a wonderful place to shop, with a collection of books in part curated by the awesome Ellie Wixon.

–My wife Ann selected The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden by Jonas Jonasson, also at Blackwell’s. A ruthless secret service. A woman run over by a drunken engineer. All of it apparently hilarious. (Speaking of novels with Girl in the title, Ann read The Girl With All the Gifts and liked it, although she said it started strong and got a bit weak by the end.)

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–Our friend Neil Williamson bought Kirsty Logan’s short story collection The Rental Heart for us, and, man, am I glad he did. I’m about half-way through and I love the stories. Quirky, sometimes fantastical. Strong, strong stuff–definitely seek it out.

–Since the Southern Reach trilogy started to come out, many readers have been recommending Jim Crace to me, so I finally picked up a couple of his early titles while on the road.

–Pascal Garnier is a dark, dark writer of gritty pseudo-noir and creepy kind of Decadent but realistic tales of down-and-out and downright strange people. Reminds me a little bit of the work of Derek Raymond, although in a slightly different register. All of these were picked up at Mr. B’s Book Emporium, recommended by the staff and by Peter Sutton and his wife Claire, who were our gracious hosts while in that part of the country. Mr B’s is a rather remarkable bookstore that I highly recommend. Lovely people work there, too.

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–Off the Map by Alastair Bonnett, picked up by Ann at the Edinburgh Book Festival bookstore, is an astonishing book. I’m about half-way through this collection of essays about lost spaces, invisible cities, forgotten islands, and feral places. Just stunning. The author is incredibly compelling in the tales he tells, and his central thesis about how the human imagination needs places off the map. Even just the bit about the US Navy sending out military vessels to expunge an imaginary island is surreal and fascinating. Other books on this theme have been published, but this is my favorite thus far. A 2014 release.

–It was my pleasure to blurb The Moon King, a first novel by Neil Williamson, and also a pleasure to receive a copy from him while in Glasgow. It’s a lovely hardcover edition.

–Owls by Mike Toms is one in a series of naturalist volumes by the imprint William Collins and it’s a fascinating book. A guide to owls, very comprehensive and well-structured. I picked it up in a lovely Waterstones store near Covent Garden.

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–I’ve heard good things about Ali Smith and this collection, Shire, with images by Sarah Wood, just begged to be bought. Stylish, nicely designed. I bought it at Topping & Company in Bath, along with the other books in that row. Topping, like Mr. B’s, is a rather amazing bookstore and I was delighted to be able to drop by and talk to their staff.

–Robin Sloan has a prequel to his famous Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, and it’s rather smartly designed too, so I couldn’t not pick it up.

–I hadn’t encountered Bloomsbury Classics before, in these miniature editions. A tiny collection of Will Self fiction? Sign me up! Now I’m in danger of wanting the entire series.

–To my abiding shame, I had fallen behind on my Margaret Atwood reading and hadn’t yet gotten around to reading her MaddAddam trilogy, although I’ve read most everything else. Then I encountered these amazing trade paperback versions in Blackwell’s and I just had to have them. I read Oryx & Crake on the plane home and thought it was brilliant and sad and awful and tragic and wonderful and all of those things that a great novel should be.

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–I know absolutely nothing about Eduardo Belgrano Rawson or his book Washing Dishes in Hotel Paradise but when I saw the following quote on the back of the book I had to buy it: “Suddenly he spotted Borges waiting to cross the road…” Another Mr B’s purchase.

–Another Pascal Garnier, The Panda Theory, which I also read on the plane back. I loved the first three-fourths and then felt it fell apart. But I loved that three-fourths enough to recommend the novel. Some amazing turns of phrase and observations about the human condition.

–The Slynx by Tatyana Tolstaya is just barking mad in the best possible way, a future dystopia that reads in part like fairy tale, full of towering feats of the imagination. An untamed whirlwind of a novel–and that’s just the first ten pages! Can’t wait to dive into more of it. Thanks again to Mr. B’s for this recommendation.

–The Murakami with the, ahem, stickers inside. (Yes, it is being sent to you, Mr. DB, very soon.)

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–Fat Years by Chan Koonchung was an impulse buy by Ann that looks very interesting. About a month that goes missing in the near future. Another Mr. B’s rec.

–Lee Rourke’s Vulgar Things was gifted to me by The Fourth Estate while I was signing over at HarperCollins UK’s central offices. The novel just looked fascinating. A quixotic week on an island after the death of a relative of the main character. With some linguistic trickeration, among other things.

–I couldn’t resist The Exploits of Moominpapa by Tove Jansson in a beautiful hardcover, found in the Moomin Shop in Covent Garden, London.

–Technically, I received the Bolano Last Interview book from Melville right before I left, but I read it on the plane over to the UK. Really a great book about a brilliant writer’s work. Well worth checking out.

–Independence An Argument for Home Rule I bought not just because I support Scotland achieving home rule, but also because I cannot resist, ever, any book that has art from Alasdair Gray on the cover.

–Ann finally picked up The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton, a novel we’ve both wanted to read for a long time…but I think you all know what it’s about, so I won’t tarry here…

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–Two John Wyndham novels, Trouble with Lichen and The Day of the Triffids, bookend this photo. Again, readers have told me to check these out ever since the Southern Reach novels started being published in February. Ann picked them up in a cool used bookstore on the edge of the Trinity College area in Dublin.

–In Bath, Tom Abba was kind enough to gift us with an amazing hand-made book with two chapbooks saddle-stapled to the interior of the amazingly supple single piece of worked wood that folds across both as a kind of hard dustjacket. It’s difficult to describe the intricacies of this project, so I’ll just guide you over here for more information. Just a stunning piece of conceptual art and also concrete book-making.

–Having just been brutally disappointed by Edward St. Aubyn’s lackluster Lost For Words (tip: if you’re going to do book culture satire, go for the jugular vein unless you want to up in some lukewarm purgatory of not-interesting-enough), it’s brave of me (yay me?) to dip back into another satire, but this title by Filippo Bologna looked very interesting. Another Blackwell’s purchase, Bologna’s The Parrots concerns three men preparing to do battle over a prestigious literary prize.

–Finally, another Philippe Claudel title, Brodeck’s Report. I’m a sucker for novels about reports, apparently. A stranger is murdered. The title character then files a report. Honestly, I think this will be great. Your mileage may vary depending on your love of reports in fiction….

Books Read and in Progess: Smith Henderson, Evie Wyld, and More

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So far this year I’ve had a chance to read and review a handful of novels for the NYTBR, LA Times, and the Guardian—here are some links and info, along with, first, my current reading—very excited about everything I’m reading now.

CURRENT READING (in progress)

Right now, I’m on the road and am reading the following, all of which I’m really enjoying thus far. I don’t know why, but I’ve been going back and forth between them without it destroying my immersion in any of them.

–After the Fire, A Still Small Voice by Evie Wyld (magnificent author—such a sharp, sharp writer)

–McGlue by Ottessa Moshfegh (out in October; profane, ‘orrible in the best way, and brilliant style for the protagonist)

–Idiopathy by Sam Byers (so far a spot-on critique of every aspect of our modern post-industrial existence)

–Tove Jansson: Life, Art, Words by Boel Westin (most excellent biography of the wonderful writer and artist, lovingly written and with copious illos and photographs)

–The Poetry of Derek Walcott 1948—2013 (the best from the Nobel Prize-winner; I’m making this one last, reading a couple of poems every day)

THE BEST

Fourth of July Creek by Smith Henderson: “Early in the story, Pete observes that “We’re all animals. Just dancing bears in tutus and monkeys with cigarettes. Painted up and stuffed into clown cars.” Henderson is committed to showing us unhappy and unstable people existing at the edges of any safety net. But they’re also people struggling to find a kind of truth, and they’re portrayed with compassion and humanity, in a voice that crackles and lurches with the intensity of a Tom Waits song.”

All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld: “Wyld’s also not afraid to just give the reader the blunt, brutal truth. There are aspects of Whyte’s past—because of what’s been done to her and what she herself has done—that you get full-on, in detail…some level the rest of All the Birds, Singing is nothing but exploration of her character, a kind of clear-seeing that creates empathy even through the most disturbing sequences.” (Granted, this one’s a cheat—I posted this review on my blog, but it’s a favorite read of the year so far and if I’d found it earlier would’ve pitched it for review.)

The Great Glass Sea by Josh Weil: “Yet Weil’s earnest, deep commitment to a portrait of brothers in crisis means that these issues recede into the backdrop. There’s pathos and tension in how Yarik becomes trapped in his relationship with Bazarov. There’s breathtaking brilliance in Weil’s portrayal of Dima as an outcast estranged from society, especially in one astonishing scene in which Dima walks around in a reverie of dissolution.” (Note: I had some negative things to say about this novel, but it’s the kind of book that I think a good many readers will enjoy a lot and a fair number of reviewers may not have the same caveats I did. I’ve now ordered his story collection and awaiting it eagerly.)

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Review: All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld

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I picked up Evie Wyld’s All the Birds, Singing on a whim, because I liked the cover design and the tone of the review quotes on the back. I didn’t know anything about the author, and it wasn’t until I was about three-fourths of the way through that I discovered she’d won a lot of literary prizes for the novel. All I knew by then is that Wyld deserved all of those prizes.

I can count on one hand the number of novels I’ve read in the last couple of years where the prose is truly exceptional and the author’s vision has both clarity and substance. In All the Birds, Singing Wyld creates an unforgettable character in Jake Whyte, a woman with a troubled past who, in the present, lives on a farm she owns on a remote British island. The story of her encounters with a strange beast and neighbors she wants nothing to do with is interwoven with a narrative about the past that gradually delves farther and farther back in time.

We learn that Whyte knows a lot about how to shear and care for sheep, a job she’s taken up again by choice in her isolation on the island. We learn that she grew up in Australia and in fleeing her past she got a job at a sheep station in Australia. The scenes in which she is navigating a landscape full of men, many of whom don’t trust her, are riveting and contain brilliant moments of character insight. All of the secondary characters come to life with deft, economical precision, and the bustling sheep station provides a great early contrast to the isolation of Whyte’s life on the island.

But the contrast between these scenes and the ones in the present isn’t just expressed through a shift in tense—the past cleverly presented in present tense—it’s also in the atmosphere. Whyte’s subtle but adept in how the island scenes are slowed by cold and mud while those in Australia are alive with heat; the syntax shifts and adjusts to fit the setting. This is in part a function of conscious thought about style by the author and in part due to first-hand knowledge of both landscapes…or at least this is my impression; perhaps Wyld’s just a really good liar about details of setting.

Wyld’s also not afraid to just give the reader the blunt, brutal truth. There are aspects of Whyte’s past—because of what’s been done to her and what she herself has done—that you get full-on, in detail. To describe them here would be spoilery, in that the life of the novel is in the moment and in the particulars of sometimes fairly brief scenes. But my point is that we begin the novel with a mystery about Whyte—who she is and why she’s now on the island— and on some level the rest of All the Birds, Singing is nothing but exploration of her character, a kind of clear-seeing that creates empathy even through the most disturbing sequences.

The writing in the novel is muscular without being lush or overly descriptive; Wyld knows how to pick her spots so that everything we get counts. A bicep on a scrawny man bulges like “a new potato” during an arm-wrestling contest. Recalling a horrible encounter, Whyte feels like “wax is coating me from the inside.” Trees in a moment of tension “appeared to swell and shrink with the rhythm of breath,” which is perfectly placed after a description of birds rising out of the trees and then settling back in that reinforces the illusion.

As All the Birds, Singing progresses, it’s true that the evocations of the past aren’t always as fresh or new as at the novel’s start—and the conclusion feels much more like stopping than ending, perhaps in part because no matter whether a mystery is about a dead body or a living one the reveal can’t be as compelling as the set-up.

But the clear-eyed self-appraisal present throughout, the evocations of island life and Whyte’s interactions with a mysterious man who shows up at her farm, the utterly stunning set-piece involving her home town and a tragedy…all of these elements have softened my slight disappointment at the end to the point where all I remember are the brilliant things about this novel. Especially in a context where Wyld gives the reader such a memorable, unique, strong-yet-flawed woman as her viewpoint character.

In short, All the Birds, Singing now makes me want to read everything Wyld has ever written.

Finnish Weird: It’s the Hot New Thing from the Cold Place

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(Oh–there it is. Finnish Weird. Popping up amongst the ‘shrooms.)

Finnish Weird now has a fruiting body: a one-off magazine that allows you to sample some of the best examples of this delectably strange Nordic truffle. Download these infectious spores or enjoy them right there online.

In addition to iconic Finnish writer Johanna Sinisalo’s editorial, “Rare Exports,” Finnish Weird includes an essay “Finnish Weird From the Land of the North” by Jussi K. Niemela and features Emmi Itaranta, Jenny Kangasvuo, and Tiina Raevaara. Fiction and interviews and essays all come with a great visual presentation, too.

Mentioned in the nonfiction is It Came From the North, an anthology of the Finnish fantastic edited by Desirina Boskovich from our own Cheeky Frawg Books. In honor of Finnish weird, we’ve discounted it for Kindle to $2.99 for one week only. If you’d prefer a different seller, we recommend Weightless (although we can’t discount that version).

So go read Finnish Weird and check out It Came From the North if you’re so inclined.

It Came from the North--Finnish Fiction

Oxford Exchange in Tampa: Book Haul

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We meant to work all day while still here in Tampa, but took some time off this afternoon to go to the Cigar City Brewery and then Del Rio’s for dinner (a great Cuban place). But before that, we stopped by the Oxford Exchange Bookstore, which was recommended to us by Liz at USF (thanks!). What a great, well-curated, unique bookstore! Definitely worth it. I haven’t bought books in awhile, and I’m sorry to say I splurged. (Well, not too sorry.)

In this first photo, just a few notes. I’ve wanted the Lethem collection for awhile—can’t wait to dig into that. Snow I have in another edition, but the font was just not right for me, so this Everyman edition is a godsend. Weirdlife is about the search for unusual lifeforms. It’s a good refresher as I dive into the second Southern Reach novel, Authority, on a couple of areas of interest.

Peter Nadas’ sprawling novel set during the middle of the last century just was too enticing to pass up—just an amazing-looking book that I’m going to be immersed in, I’m sure. Ann wanted Miss Dreamville and the new Karen Russell collection, so I added on Swamplandia, to give it another go. The Nabokov biography I had to buy since I collect all things Nabokov, including nonfiction about him. This is probably around the 80th book in my collection. Its slant is that there is a lot of politics and whatnot in the backdrop and subtext of the master’s work. To which I say, well, DUH. Too bad a world-class style and verve can blind us to what’s staring out right in front of us.

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Ann also wanted the New American Haggadah, which looks fascinating for a number of reasons. Viola Di Grado’s novel from one of my favorite imprints, Europa, just grabbed me from the first paragraph and I couldn’t pass it up. Similarly, Speedboat by Renata Adler, a reprint from the 1970s, captured me and wouldn’t let me go. It’s from another of my favorite presses, New York Review of Books, which does such a wonderful job of bringing fiction into the world that might not otherwise be in print. Buying How Fiction Works was another case of having an edition where I hated the font. This more portable, better-designed edition I’m already having more luck with. I don’t agree with Wood on everything, but it’s useful to engage with his ideas.

I was so happy to find The Best of Archy and Mehitabel—a lovely set of poems/adventures featuring a cat and a cockroach. Without Michael Moorcock mentioning Archy to me a decade ago I never would’ve discovered these too joyful miscreants. Ann wanted the Book of Nice, which I pointed out was from the same publisher has her perennial favorite Bad Cats. And the Oxford Exchange also has lovely notebooks, of which I purchased two.

The ambiance of the Oxford Exchange bookstore is rather amazing—the curating of the bookstore is eccentric in a meaningful rather than frivolous way. It is on the small side, but it makes the space count, and the selections seemed to hit my sweet spot rather more often than not. The many props, including manual typewriters and card catalogues, lend a real weight to the place as well. Beyond the bookstore is a more general gift store, a coffee shop, and a restaurant. All of it combined lends itself to a great experience—and across the street is the University of Tampa, with its steely minarets and nice river walk. I highly recommend you check out the bookstore if you are in the area.

Lindsay Stern’s Town of Shadows

Every once in awhile something exceptional pops up unexpectedly—in this case Lindsay Stern’s Town of Shadows, which was published this past month and which I just learned about last week. Stern’s still in college, but the book reflects a mature voice and is of definite interest to anyone who likes the darkly fantastical.

Going into overdrive, our managing editor Adam Mills has interviewed Stern for Weirdfictionreview.com, have posted an excerpt, and also posted a review. Check it out. This is why we get excited about fiction. This is the cool stuff. (Like what you read at Weirdfictionreview.com? Donate!)

Atlas by Dung Kai-Cheung

My google feed brought me this possible gem today: Atlas, by Dung Kai-Cheung. I’m buying it right now.

Here’s a description:

Set in the long-lost City of Victoria (a fictional world similar to Hong Kong), Atlas is written from the unified perspective of future archaeologists struggling to rebuild a thrilling metropolis. Divided into four sections — “Theory,” “The City,” “Streets,” and “Signs” — the novel reimagines Victoria through maps and other historical documents and artifacts, mixing real-world scenarios with purely imaginary people and events while incorporating anecdotes and actual and fictional social commentary and critique.

Much like the quasi-fictional adventures in map-reading and remapping explored by Paul Auster, Jorge Luis Borges, and Italo Calvino, Dung Kai-cheung’s novel challenges the representation of place and history and the limits of technical and scientific media in reconstructing a history. It best exemplifies the author’s versatility and experimentation, along with China’s rapidly evolving literary culture, by blending fiction, nonfiction, and poetry in a story about succeeding and failing to recapture the things we lose. Playing with a variety of styles and subjects, Dung Kai-cheung inventively engages with the fate of Hong Kong since its British “handover” in 1997, which officially marked the end of colonial rule and the beginning of an uncharted future.

Japan Times has this review, which reads in part, “The faux-scholarship in this section is beautifully done and is equaled, though in a different vein, in the next part, where we move from theory to The City, an entity approached not directly, of course, but through maps and documents such as Round the World on the Sunrise by John Smith, a chronicle of, among other things, Smith’s movements on Aug. 9, 1907, the day he spends in Victoria. In Smith’s account, with characteristic subtlety, Dung mocks colonial travelers and the memoirs that reveal their odd interpretations of cultures to which they can only condescend.”

Interview with the author here.

Brit Mandelo’s Beyond Binary Interview

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Over at Omnivoracious.com you’ll find my feature on the excellent anthology Beyond Binary, including quotes from an interview I conducted with editor Brit Mandelo. Go check it out and recommend it to your friends! And below you’ll find Mandelo’s full answers to a couple of the questions; I couldn’t include everything due to length considerations.

What do you think makes SF/F ideal for exploring ideas and issues related to gender and sexual identity?

I think that the astounding range of possibilities speculative fiction offers for asking vital questions, reinterpreting or discarding contemporary mores, and breaking boundaries is what makes it ideal for exploring issues of gender and sexuality. SFF not only allows us to ask “what if?,” it also allows us to make real whatever we can imagine—the very nature of the form, as a literature of extrapolation and invention, opens up a field of discourse where everything has potential and anything is possible. This nearly unlimited ability to explore, expand, and explode definitions makes speculative fiction the only form that can effectively transcend and truly embody an equally vast multitude of potential gender and sexual identities.

In the same vein, Joanna Russ’s argument for speculative fiction is one that resonates with me, too, and I tend to quote it when asked a question like this. She said, “science fiction […] provides myths for dealing with the kind of experiences we are actually having now, instead of the literary myths we have inherited, which only tell us about the kinds of experiences we think we ought to be having.” In SFF, we can deal authentically with issues of identity and self in a way that is often effaced or barred from traditional literary forms; being able to twist and restructure reality in narrative is a powerful tool for social criticism. In fact, I’d say that the tools for social criticism are natural to and almost inseparable from the same narrative machinery that drives speculative fiction to begin with—that willingness to ask questions, to imagine, and to invent worlds that are not quite like our own. Speculative fiction, then, offers a golden opportunity for folks whose stories are often silenced to encompass their narratives, their identities, in a form that is—in a lot of ways, though this is a whole different argument—itself a sort of outsider literature.

I’m curious as to what kinds of effects stripping out gender referents has on fiction, in your opinion?

When done well, it can destabilize narrative assumptions about gender—and, even more so, reader assumptions. When we begin reading a story, we make assumptions based on hints and clues from the narrative, yes, but also based on our own implicit worldview. I’m as guilty of this as anyone; it’s just a way that we make meaning during the reading process. But, when a story manages to sidestep gender referents and craft a narrative not mediated by explicit gender, that’s something special: it forces the reader to step back and check their own assumptions about character gender, and destabilizes the assumption that everyone presents a specific gender. The thematic force of a narrative that rests on an agendered, neutrois or un-gendered person can also be pretty stellar, challenging mythologies of gender performance and the binary of male/female that the English language so commonly subscribes to. (And, on a craft level, writing without gendering a character is a pretty thrilling display of technical mastery. It’s hard to overstate the control and precision required to write, and write well, without pronouns or gendered language.)