Spring: a good season for reading and writing horror

FoxSpring has crept forward like the fox who lives in the brush behind the abandoned house nearby. He has been on high alert, sniffing the air and disappearing like smoke for weeks. Like him, this year’s spring was unwilling to touch the edge of winter’s hold, much less challenge it. Very slowly the moon has drawn the fox out, and now he plays about in my yard when he thinks no one is watching. This week he has been so bold as to rest under the forsythia and trot among the boxwoods with his mate. No one can deny that spring is here.

Ah, spring!

In between bursts of gardening, during which weeds and I spar like Foreman and Ali, I am reading a good bit of horror. This often happens to me at this time of year. Perhaps this habit of reading horror in spring is tied to the violent emergence of life in the garden and the brutal rule of the gardener. How can one be unaffected by the painful decision to rip out a much-loved spirea by its roots so that the butterfly plant will survive? Or fail to enjoy amputating the deadwood in the crape myrtle? How can one help but be impressed by the slow, insectile unfolding of a peony or the cut-short scream of a young rabbit that will feed the vixen and her kits?

Horror is welling up in the short stories I’m working on right now. One story is set in a world where a virus is causing a dangerous psychosis in males. In another story a great aunt finds herself as the last bastion of defense against water creatures with a hunger for young humans.

Every night before I sleep, I’m rereading The Sandman, Vol. 1: Preludes and Nocturnes by Neil Gaiman. In the daylight I’m also reading Maya’s New Husband by Neil D’Silva, which is so gore-soaked it’s almost too much for me. As soon as I’m done with those, it’s going to be The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey (aka Mike Carey) and Pretty Little Dead Girls by Mercedes M. Yardley. I’m also looking forward to The Devourers by Indrapramit Das when it’s available here in North America.

Are you reading any horror now? What has you checking under the bed? I’m particularly interested in new horror by female authors, so send your recommendations.

Revisiting the classics when I should be writing

The last two chapters of my work-in-progress have taken me forever to draft, and I’ve got three short story ideas singing like sirens and luring me toward the sharp rocks where novels go to die. Add to this my latest distraction:

Judith Adam’s adaptation of Ursula Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness on BBC Radio 4 is fabulous! I often listen to short stories online, but this is the first time I’ve listened to a novel in installments in a long, long time. I first found LHD in the Rolla Public Library when I was 10, and it was just too much for me. It went back to the library when we returned to town, and I somehow never got around to checking it out again even though I raced through the The Earthsea Trilogy just a year or two later. If I’m distracted, you should be, too. Go. Listen to it. Read it. There are worse ways to procrastinate than catching up on the classics you’ve missed.

Family and females feature prominently in the Nebula short story nominees / La familia y mujeres aparecen prominentemente en los cuentos nominados a los Premios Nebula

It’s been a great month of reading and thinking about this year’s short story nominees for the Nebula Awards. (My reviews of the nominees can be found in the March and April 2015 archives on this blog.) I hope I’ve learned something about writing speculative fiction from seven impressive writers, but I’ve definitely enjoyed the trip to seven different, fully imagined worlds that drew me in, carried me along and left me a happy reader.  I thought it was interesting that the concept of family featured so clearly among the nominees. It is a prominent theme for five of the seven stories, maybe six, if you accept that the love of an undead man and woman meets the criteria of a family.

The obligation to ancestors, the loyalty of siblings, the pain of familial betrayal, secret inheritance, the process of maturing, fear for the well-being of children–it’s all here in these stories. For those who turn up their noses at speculative genres and think that science fiction, fantasy and horror are only about space ships, aliens, elves and vampires, there’s no better rebuttal to this prejudice than a critical read of these nominees. Continue reading

Nebula nominee review: “A Stretch of Highway Two Lanes Wide” by Sarah Pinsker / Reseña del cuento nominado al Premio Nebula: : “A Stretch of Highway Two Lanes Wide” de Sarah Pinsker

Note: This is the seventh and final review of the short story nominees for the Nebula Awards.

This short story, and I think it is the shortest of the nominees, moves slowly and steadily around the protagonist, a young farmer named Andy. He has suffered a life-altering accident and lost his right arm all the way up into the shoulder. The story balances on the irony that the accident actually didn’t alter Andy’s life in any meaningful way at all, and it is only the quirky technology hooked up to him that introduces our protagonist to some new ideas.

We are invited to wide open Saskatchewan in and around the town of Saskatoon where Andy and his family have lived their whole lives. Andy is a bit of a traditionalist who likes to use horses and old machinery even though his parents are more pragmatic farmers. All the players in Andy’s life are there — the girlfriend who dumped him, the girl who is interested, the other school friends. They’ve come back, if they ever left, like migrating geese or songbirds. Continue reading