I didn’t actually read many books in March (whoops!), but I still had an excellent reading month thanks to THE PAPER MENAGERIE AND OTHER STORIES by Ken Liu. This collection of short fiction from throughout Liu’s career (plus one new story) is absolute perfection. I was largely unfamiliar with Liu’s work before this, though I had read and loved one of the stories included here (“State Change,” about a woman whose soul is a literal cube of ice). Every single story is a masterpiece, but they also work brilliantly together in this specific order, often seemingly in conversation with one another. I was particularly taken with the pairing of “The Waves” and “Mono no aware,” which both follow humanity into the stars. Honestly, I finished this collection weeks ago and I’m still processing. I’ll probably need at least one more read through to be able to talk about it with anything approaching coherence. These stories deserve to be read intently and thoughtfully. They deserve to be read period, and carried with you for long after, perhaps until we finally meet the stars. Perhaps even longer.
Shveta Thakrar is one of my favorite current short fiction writers, and “The Shadow Collector” just reinforced that. This story is about girls born from flowers, the gardener who cares for them, and a queen and her flute. Thakrar’s beautiful language and vivid imagery are on full display here, as are the many emotions she’ll seed and nurture in you until they bloom full by the end of the story. (For an in-depth look at Thakrar’s body of work as a whole, definitely check out Haralambi Markov’s profile at Tor.)
One of my other current favorite writers is Alyssa Wong, whose latest for Tor gutted me. A story of sisterhood, death, grief, time bending, weather working, and love, “A Fist of Permutations in Lightning and Wildflowers” is both delicate and wrenching at once. I don’t want to say too much more, not because I’m afraid of spoiling the plot so much as of spoiling the experience of reading it for the first time.
Liminality‘s spring issue came out this past month, and it is wonderful. I particularly loved “The Lies You Learned” by S. Qiouyi Lu. It’s an incredibly powerful piece, and accessible for those who don’t read poetry often. Once you read the poem itself, I’d also suggest reading Lu’s liner notes.
Essays and Articles
Nicole Chung curated a month of essays for Catapult’s Adopted series, and every one of them is worth reading. Start with Chung’s introduction and then make your way through the whole collection.
This article on dysphagia (aka difficulty swallowing, aka the thing that means I can’t eat solid food anymore) was both fascinating and super strange to read as someone who has actually gone through it.
Daniel José Older’s essay, “This Far: Notes on Love and Revolution,” is powerful and passionate and beyond beautiful.
This is a devastating article on abuse in group homes for disabled children. Trigger warnings galore.
My News and Stuff
Disability in Kidlit hosted a two-week long SFF event, which was wonderful (I’m not biased at all, shut up), and I highly encourage you to check out the whole thing. As part of the event, I reviewed YOUNG KNIGHTS OF THE ROUND TABLE and co-wrote an article on overly convenient approaches to disability with Corinne Duyvis.
In speculative fiction, by the very definition of the genre, you’re dealing with magic, technology, or other elements that aren’t present in our world. This opens up tons of story possibilities for authors.
It can also close off opportunities. For example, if you want to include disabled characters without using magic workarounds, it’s occasionally difficult to realistically integrate them into your world. After all, if your characters are incredibly skilled magicians, is it realistic that they wouldn’t try to minimize or heal their disability? If you’re working with warp portals and faster-than-light travel, wouldn’t that world also have prostheses that are nigh indistinguishable from natural limbs, and far more effective medications around the board? Magic and technology will absolutely mean different approaches to disability, ranging from hyper-advanced tools to creative uses of magic to medical/magical cures. We want to acknowledge and integrate this reality into the narrative. Sometimes, though, books may use SF/F elements to circumvent dealing with the drawbacks of disability entirely. When you’re a disabled reader, that can sting: it’s like you’ll only be allowed to participate in exciting sci-fi adventures as long as you’re not too much trouble.
I wrote about my evolving sexual identity and the role that language choice has played in that evolution for the Queer Girl Cafe:
I settled on “bisexual and heteroromantic” the first time I came out publicly. I talked about how our culture’s inseparability of sexual and romantic attraction had confused my own understanding of my identity. I said that thinking about two orientations rather than one helped me find labels—words—that fit me. And that was all true, for a time anyway.
I dropped the heteroromantic relatively soon after I’d claimed it. I didn’t announce the rejection to the world or even to myself. It was barely a conscious decision at all. The word was a sweater that looked good when I tried it on at the store, but that suddenly didn’t sit right once I got home. So I tossed it away, my last linguistic connection to straightness.
Finally, my latest essay for The Toast is a quiet one focused on swimming:
My body stays bent for a moment, clinging to its familiar right angles, but then I stretch. I press the balls of my feet into the slick, scratchy concrete and push. I bob myself up and down—like the round plastic floats we’ll use later in the day to spot fish on our lines—before tipping my head back and dousing my hair. I’m careful not to lose my balance (I’d never get myself upright if I did), but I’m not worried.
The water covers and carries me, both of us glimmering under the sun.