The winter of my discontent with reading material is over. I read “Sweetlings” by Lucy Taylor too fast the first time, but that’s just a sign of good horror. The second reading of this long form fiction nominee for the Bram Stoker Award was even better.
The world as we know it has already ended. Gone. Washed into the encroaching sea or submerged in inland lakes and swamps. Yet the transformation of the world is not over. Like a tide pool-stranded octopus, human existence on the remaining land is pretty dismal. Evolution seems to have kicked into high gear for all lifeforms, and the boundaries between the sea dwellers and the land dwellers is being erased.
We navigate this world through the eyes of Mir, a teenager who is among the first generation born after the inundation. She has adapted to the new world’s terms enough to keep going, sloughing off the old expectations imposed by civilization and adapting to the new world with the clear-eyed purpose of one who must eat or be eaten. Her mother is gone, having walked into the sea shortly before the story begins, and taking Mir’s baby brother with her. This is hardly remarkable in a settlement of survivors who disappear on a regular basis. Death is all around. All Mir has left is her father, a science teacher and amateur oceanographer, and her boyfriend Jersey, a teenager who has survived the demise of both his parents.
The touching gestures of attraction between Mir and Jersey are very well written–realistic without compromising the scope of the story to dawdle too long over young adult romance. As the scales tip toward the sea dwellers a little faster than Mir and Jersey are ready for, they strike out for the west and the promise of higher and drier land. Continue reading
The Horror Writers Association announces the final ballot for the Bram Stoker Awards, which will be presented March 3rd. Check this fantastic reading list for long and short fiction, plus take a look at the nominees in other categories here. Congratulations to one and all!
Superior Achievement in Long Fiction
Superior Achievement in Short Fiction
Far behind the popular curve on this one, I just finished Updraft by Fran Wilde, which was published in 2015 as the first novel in the Bone Universe series. Cloudbound and Horizon are the subsequent titles. Updraft was an enjoyable read, well worth the investment of time, and deserving of its acclaim, but it was also an example of how young adult (YA) novels sometimes sketch the big picture with the thinnest of brushstrokes, and that may not be enough.
There is plenty to say about the novel’s character development and plot, which you can see in a review on Strange Horizons here, but world-building was its core strength. Survivors of some unnamed historic tragedy live high above the ground, above the clouds even, in towers made of living bone. There were key details, such the living tiers shaped like vertebrae in a spine; mostly invisible, tentacled monsters sail around the towers and eat people on occasion; and the challenges of navigating air currents while flying. All important aspects and engaging, but as a reader I felt the novel wasn’t fully fleshed out. We never learn– Continue reading
The county bladed the road once, but it’s 17 degrees, and now the snow and salt and mineral used to treat the blacktop has packed down. Treacherous. You drive this lonely highway in Texas County with your eyes open, your ears open, your right foot playing the gas pedal like a heart string. You’re going to end up in the ditch. You drive at 45 and marvel at how ugly the old houses are, beaten down under the broody sky, but you’ll never admit to this mean observation because a puff of smoke above the poorest place is a sign of life, and life is precious. Winter in Texas County will teach you this if nothing else. You already appreciate the denizens of that shack ahead, put up in front of an old crumbling foundation of the grander home that came before, and still sheltering in the arms of bare oak trees that once embraced the old homestead.
You imagine that the descendants of that place might find you when the black ice takes you for a spin. You know that if anyone could save your sorry hide it would be these dwellers in desolated houses so adept at coping with winter with nothing but tar paper and shingles hung on warped wood frames that they would smell your stupid accident before the snow settled into the skid marks. You admire their fortitude until you remember that their strength has been carved by fate not foresight. Only their children ask why the road can’t be cleared like the interstate that passes by miles off to the west. The idea of it itches like a dream or the memory of a Hallmark movie they saw once, but the elders don’t have words for such frivolous chirping. They would frown and say the government isn’t going to take more of their money–those goddamn paid thieves, never a one worked a day in their lives, socialists and libtards. And they will not have it.
If they find you a curious fool, be glad, for that means they cannot hate you like they hate the road crew who are agents of the government, who are good-for-nothing idiots taking this country down and who they do not need because they know how to endure anything. They would dare you to deny it when they save your miserable life, but that would require words on their part and having to listen to you prattle on about how dangerous the roads are, and they will not have it. You’d like to ask them, not how they endure winter because winter is still a season that passes, but you would like to ask them how they endure nothing. Nothing at all. You’re not sure you have the words for this, and besides it would be impolite so you decide to say nothing but thank you when the time comes. All this you know when it is 17 degrees, and you are driving a snow-covered highway in Texas County.