Monday, December 11, 2017

October-November 2017 Short Fiction Recs

Snow is falling in thick flurries past my window as I type this. Winter is finally here; the nights are long and the daylight brief.

Stories are lights in the darkness. At least, the right ones can be. And even dark stories can bring comfort; they can give shape and a semblance of control to that which is chaos; they let us know that we’re not alone, that others have been through the darkness, too. 

This past fall brought so many wonderful stories of dark and light, often in the very same piece. I can’t hope to read more than a tiny fraction of all the worthy work being published these days. But of all the great stories out now, here are some that I did find and love. I hope you love some of them, too.  


Stories of Sea and River 



Gone to Wrack and Ruin by Meryl Stenhouse at Empyreome Magazine


Oh, what a creepy, eerie read!  Yeva and her granddaughter Lusine eke out a precarious living from the sea, gutting fish in warehouses and collecting wrack from the shore. There finally seems a chance at prosperity when Lusine’s new husband gets a job on the largest fishing boat in the city, iron-sided and driven by steam. But things go wrong. . . and then more wrong. The sea will claim what it will, and all the sacrifices the city offers cannot stop it. I love all the gritty details in this piece, how they create the sense of a real, lived-in world—from the descriptions of fish-gutting and whale-butchering to the other references to the city’s structure and economy. I love the slow escalation of weirdness which builds and builds, taking unexpected turns. Dark and mesmerizing.

The Better Part of Drowning by Octavia Cade in The Dark 

In this piece, the horror and weirdness kick off right from the start. There are giant, terrifying, man-eating crabs (which also sing!). There are children desperate to live, and those above who exploit them. There’s sweet chowder and sugar and darkness. This is gripping, visceral stuff. Octavia Cade is one of the best horror writers I know. 

Glasswort, Ice by Emily Cateno at Lackington’s Magazine 

She’s old enough to remember when the ice whales first crept into the subway tunnels and changed everything, when their underwater song fogged the harbour with ice and froze the freighters in their moorings. She’s old enough to remember the first icicles dripping off the washers and dryers of basement laundry rooms.

This is strange, rich, and gorgeous. Ice whales are besieging a city with their song. An old woman has lived 72 years with their songs. But perhaps, just perhaps, this might one day change. An evocative piece that had me feeling the cold. A story of sisters, persistence, and keeping faith.

River Boy by Innocent Chizaram at Fireside Fiction.

A haunting, wistful tale of a River Boy caught between his human family and his supernatural one, between dry land and his underwater home. The trope of a character caught between human and supernatural worlds is a common one in fantasy. . . yet Chizaram gives it fresh life. Heartbreaking, and truly lovely.

1,000-Year-Old Ghosts by Laura Chow Reeves in Hyphen Magazine

Every time he comes back, he feels more foreign. He says “néih hóu ma,” but she responds in English. She practices with Anne. She learns new words every day.

“One day Anne’s children will not know how to speak our language,” he tells her. 

She wants to say, "Maybe that will be for the best. They will stop longing for things they cannot have. There will be no reason to leave. Not everyone can live in between things. Not everyone can survive being split into two. There are fish that die in saltwater.”

An achingly gorgeous, yearning piece. The connection to the sea is more tangential than the stories I’ve listed above, yet it’s there. The narrator’s grandmother pickles painful memories in jars of salt-water to forget them. She tries to forget her husband, who so often left her to cross the sea. She doesn’t pass on the language of her birthplace to her daughter or granddaughter. This story is quite short, yet so sharp and beautiful. A haunting and complex tale of diaspora, assimilation, loss, and memory.

Also see Yosia Sing’s review (and I thank them for pointing me to this story via their blog!)

Stories of Love and Grief

Chasing Flowers by L. Chan at Podcastle

The sky is raining ashes, grey snow; the air is heavy with hope. Once a year, the gates are open. Once a year, the dead are free for a month and then to return.

In modern-day Singapore, Mei drifts through life unable to truly connect with anyone, downing pills and hurting herself to deal with her inner pain. In the Chinese afterlife, Lian means to escape to the land of the living. Their stories intersect in this gripping, immersive tale of the Chinese Ghost festival, hell, and enduring love. Keen and beautiful prose, and striking imagery and feeling. 

When One Door Shuts by Aimee Ogden at Diabolical Plots

A different story of love and the dead. In this world, doors have suddenly appeared on every house—doors which bring back loved ones who passed away. But the dead come back only at a cost. This is a somber tale of family and mourning and love, and the suspicion that you’re not as loved as much as another. Quietly devastating.

Strange and Shimmering

Hare’s Breath by Maria Haskins at Shimmer

It's Midsummer’s Eve and even this close to midnight there’s no darkness, only a long, translucent dusk that will eventually slip into dawn.

Britt and I are fifteen, and she has just come back from That Place, the one the adults won’t talk about even when they think I’m not listening. Something’s happened to her there, but I don’t understand what it is, and she can’t find the words to tell me.
This is one of the most exquisitely beautiful and heartrending things I have ever read. Swedish folklore and Midsummer’s Eve magic frame a tale of real-world horror—of a real moment in history, and a crime which was not limited to Sweden. This crime is revealed only slowly, and the oblique glances at the horror make it only the more devastating. Sunlight, flowers, song, magic—these are all contrasted against the darkness, sharpening both shadow and light. This is the story of those who can’t fit the roles society demands, who can’t make themselves “fit into small rooms, into narrow and cramped words.” And it’s the story of what society does to people like this, how it tries to cut them to fit. Haskins’ control of her story is remarkable; it’s so perfectly crafted, delicate and shimmering and utterly devastating.


The Atomic Hallows and the Body of Science by Octavia Cade at Shimmer

Another pick from Shimmer Magazine, and another pick from Octavia Cade. Cade doesn’t just write chilling horror; she also writes of science and science history. Here, she spins a strange, surreal tale from the lives of the scientists and others involved in the development of the atomic bomb. Lise Meitner and Otto Hahn discover nuclear fission in Europe; Oppenheimer leads his team in the desert of New Mexico. Niels Bohr and others make appearances. Dorothy McKibbin, an office manager with the Manhattan Project, witnesses the first testing of the nuclear bomb.

At 5:30 am, a light from the sands flashes toward them, a spear from the waste land stabbed out and shining. The leaves are transubstantiated and the trees turned to brief gold about her--lovely and gleaming in the sterile sunlight. 

"I'd never have thought that light had a taste," she says. That taste is lemony, with undertones of burning.  

This is a surreal tale of bold, striking imagery. The atomic blast is a spear, and Lise Meitner’s fingernails become spears, too. Glyphs appear on Robert Oppenheimer’s neck and paintings appear on the back of his knees. Armadillo-like plates grown on Dorothy’s McKibbin’s tongue. Bodies and minds are transformed. This is a story of war, guilt, betrayal, transformation, and consequences. Cade’s prose shines and startles. I confess that it’s a work I don’t fully understand, yet it’s spellbinding, and worth more than one read.  

Flash Stories

Elemental Love by Rachel Swirsky in Uncanny Magazine

A beautiful prose-poem of light. You, dear reader--dear human--are a miracle.

Everyone’s at Our Place EvenThough We’re Gone by Chloe Clark at Ellipsis Zine

An absolutely lovely flash piece of ghosts, love, and the burdens we share. I’m awed by how Clark does so much in so few words.

Novelette


 Hungry Demigods by Andrea Tang in GigaNotoSaurus

And oh, this story hits nearly all my buttons. Food. Food magic. Family and cultural code-switching, and can I mention food again? This is the warm, wonderful tale of a Chinese-French-Canadian-baker-witch in Montreal, her family, and the cursed young man she’s trying to help. Within the first few paragraphs, I’d fallen utterly in love with Isabel Chang and her snarky, code-switching banter. This story is charming and delightful, with a wonderful lightness of touch; yet there are also some truly poignant moments about family and the difficulties of love. Also, there are both beignets and cha siu bao.

For a more extended analysis, check out Charles Payseur’s review

And for a more spoiler-y take (with excerpts of some of my favorite lines!) see Yosia Sing’s review 

Novella

Water into Wine by Joyce Chng. Published by Annorlunda Books

Xin has inherited a vineyard on another planet from their late grandfather. In the wake of a divorce and other transitions, Xin decides to uproot their children to try to fulfill their dream of being a vintner—even though they have no experience in the field. Xin’s mother comes along, and is a comforting figure of support. Xin’s vineyard has just started to put forth the first flower buds, and they and their family have just started settling into a new life, when war comes to their new home.

This is a lovely, moving tale of family, love, war, identity, and endurance. It’s about ordinary people--not military heroes, not political leaders—just trying to survive war and its aftermath. Xin and their family undergo many changes during the course of this novella. Near the beginning of the piece, Xin reveals that they had been taking hormones to suppress menstrual periods and had been “living openly as a man.” However, after some time on the new planet of Tertullian VI, Xin decides to discontinue the hormone treatment and claim a gender identity which is neither man nor woman.  Through the course of this novella there is love, death, and suffering, but also warmth in family meals and celebration. There is growth and transformation. Yet there are no easy resolutions, no simple happy endings. There is an emotional honesty to this piece which I adore. The prose is spare and graceful, seemingly delicate. Yet underneath is steel.

Nonfiction

The Shape of the Darkness as it Overtakes Us By Dimas Ilaw in Uncanny Magazine

If you read anything at all on this list, please, please read this essay. Dimas Ilaw reminds us why stories matter.

If you are a writer struggling to create in dark times, you need to read these words:

You don't know me and probably my words will never reach you. But I want to say to you: you have made a difference in my life; you continue to make a difference. You tell me there are things that continue to exist outside of evil, beautiful and defiant and brilliant as fire. You tell me to look at the sky. How high it is, dear reader. How it stretches endlessly on. 

If you are a reader who has been told that stories don’t matter, that your reading is frivolous, then you need to read these words:

Reading transforms us as much as it gives stories flesh. Is this not what is needed now? When tyranny would have a monopoly on what must be believed or heeded; when dictators would have us cower in fear, too starved of words to resist or dissent.
Readers join the massive chorus of resistance. You refuse to let voices be silenced. 

Everyone: read the whole thing. 



Friday, November 24, 2017

Review: Under the Pendulum Sun by Jeannette Ng


The moment I heard the premise of Jeannette Ng’s debut novel, I knew that I wanted it. Victorian missionaries in Fairyland? Dark Gothic alt-history inspired by the works of the Bronte sisters? This sounded like the book of my dreams.

And indeed, Ng’s novel is a dream that does not disappoint. It’s a rich, strange, increasingly nightmarish phantasmagoria of both horror and beauty. It’s impressively erudite and sly. It draws the reader expertly in, builds steady tension, then lays shocking plot twist after plot twist. It’s a novel that opens into landscapes of wonder, and becomes a moving, even rapturous, journey.  

In the alternate-history world of this novel, the Faelands (also known as Arcadia) were discovered on the fourth voyage of Captain James Cook, when “the greatest navigational mind became impossibly lost and thus impossibly discovered a different realm.” As with all other lands discovered by the English, the English of this novel decide that the Faelands must be opened to trade and to the Gospels of Christianity. Reverend Laon Helstone has seemingly disappeared while trying to bring the Good Word to the Fae. His sister Catherine Helstone sails to Arcadia in search of him. She takes up residence in Gethesmane, the strange castle where her brother was staying and to which, she is assured, he will soon return. Mysteries surround her as she waits. When her beloved brother finally arrives, the mysteries only deepen. The Pale Queen follows on her brother’s heels, and she and Laon are pulled into sinister fae mind-games which they cannot even begin to comprehend.

 One of the most immediately impressive feats of this novel is how well the author nails the mid-nineteenth century narrative voice. Catherine’s story feels almost as though it could indeed be a real novel from the Victorian period. It’s as though plucky, spirited Jane Eyre had been transported to Fairyland and the weirdness and horror that’s always lurked in the Bronte novels turned up to 11 (incidentally, I kept imagining her brother Laon as the spitting image of Jane Eyre’s St. John Rivers). Jeannette Ng completely inhabits her Victorian narrator’s mind, and a consequence of this is that the story takes the characters’ Christian faith with absolute seriousness. That’s a rare thing in the fantasy genre, and in contemporary literary fiction in general as I’ve seen it. I started the book expecting an obvious take-down of the main characters’ colonialist attitudes. Indeed, a contemporary awareness of that cannot help but hover in the story’s edges. But Ng isn’t going for obvious take-downs here. Her story is subtler, more nuanced than that. Catherine and Laon sincerely believe in Christ and in bringing His message to the fae. They both have doubts, and they anguish over these as they passionately debate abstract points of religion with each other and with the book’s sole fae convert. They are woefully in over their heads (as becomes increasingly and painfully clear), but the novel does not scorn them for this. It takes them seriously.

And beyond the novel’s impressive style—the skilled evocation of Gothic Victoriana, the dazzling display of erudition and wit, the gorgeous and startling imagery and invention--is a moving story with a claim on the heart. Catherine Helstone is a winning character, in the tradition of all plucky Gothic heroines who brave a sinister castle’s halls in search of answers. Not all the answers are to her liking, but she does not turn away. About a third of the way through this novel, the brooding story plunges as though off a cliff into ever deeper psychological horrors (even as fae magic also grows wilder and more enchanting). Emotions reach a pitch worthy of Wuthering Heights and the great English Romantics. I was utterly swept up.

To summarize: two Victorian missionaries travel to the Faelands to save the Others’ souls. In the process, both confront their own darkness and sins. This is a gorgeous, haunting book. I’m very much looking forward to following Jeannette Ng’s career.


Note on faery magic: In the Faelands, the sun is a pendulum swinging over the flat earth. The moon is a fish. There are whales swimming through the soil. And yes, you absolutely want this book. 

Monday, October 30, 2017

Review: Markswoman by Rati Mehrotra (coming out from Harper Voyager in 2018)


Disclaimer: Rati Mehrotra is a friend, and I received an advance review copy of this book from her.


I’ve been looking forward to Markswoman since first hearing about it. Rati is an accomplished short fiction writer (see links to her short stories at https://ratiwrites.com/ ) and I was eager to see what she could do in the long form. Reader, I was not disappointed.

Markswoman takes place in a world I’ve never seen before: a seeming post-apocalyptic Asia which mixes science fiction and fantasy. In the distant aftermath of a Great War, five Orders keep peace over the numerous clans of Asiana--Orders of warriors who are telepathically bonded with their magical knives. Kyra Veer is the last of her clan and a young warrior in training in the sisterhood of the Order of Kali. As the novel opens, she is completing the last task needed before becoming a full-fledged Markswoman of her Order. Kyra’s future should be relatively set after this. But, of course, there is no smooth sailing for our heroine: intrigues and adventure abound as Kyra fights a threat to her Order and long-buried secrets come to light. This is a world of warrior women (there is only one Order made up of men); ancient technological artifacts left behind by mysterious visitors from the stars; lush valleys and harsh deserts, and a multitude of cultures. The most obvious inspiration for the world is South Asia, but there are touches of East Asia as well, and the author’s own original inventions.

Once the action in this novel takes off, it really takes off. I hesitate to say too much about the plot, other than this: Marksowman is one of the most strongly plotted novels I’ve read, with twists and turns coming fast and furious. Yet the twists and reveals never come completely out-of-the-blue; the groundwork is carefully set, and each twist makes sense. There is romance amidst the thrills: part of the narrative is given over to Rustan, a young warrior of the only male Order in Asiana. While Kyra and Rustan’s romance is not surprising, it is handled deftly: there’s real chemistry between the characters, and I believed in their relationship and rooted for them.

It’s easy to root for all the characters here (with exception of the villains, of course). Kyra is stubborn, caring, devoted, and just a bit hot-headed. A calmer-seeming (but guilt-stricken and haunted) Rustan is a good foil. These two central characters are surrounded by friends and colleagues who are likeable, entertaining, and/or endearing. And they’re all embedded in a fascinating, intriguing world.

The worst part of this book? It ends on a cliffhanger that just might leave you screaming. The fate of more than one character is left in the air. I am greatly looking forward to more of Kyra and her friends, and to the mysteries of their world, with the sequel.

TLDR: An exciting, swiftly-paced adventure in a truly original world, with intrigue, romance, mystery, and strong characters to cheer on.





Friday, October 13, 2017

New story out: Taiya


A few weeks ago, my latest fiction story was published. It’s called "Taiya," and you can read ihere at The Future Fire. It’s a ghost story set in an imaginary country. And it’s been getting some wonderful reviews.

Maria Haskins included it in her September 2017 Short Fiction Round-up

A.C. Wise featured it (and me!!) in her series, Women to Read: Where to Start: October 2017 post.

The website Lady Business also has a lovely review (warning: spoilers! I’d suggest reading the story first before reading the very perceptive analysis here)

As a writer, I am of course always thrilled by good reviews and attention to any of my stories. But this one is particularly dear to me. I wrote it three years ago, and it was the first story that truly scared me to write. It wasn’t the (named) ghost in the story that scared me. What scared me was the feeling of exposure, of revealing something about myself that I perhaps didn’t want anyone else to see.

This is why some of us  write fiction. Because it lets us talk about truths we could not otherwise say.

I’m so thrilled to see people recognizing the truths in this story. Not only do I have readers who “get it”—some have pointed out truths to me in this story which I didn’t recognize myself, connections which I did not consciously plan but which are obvious in retrospect.Thank you so much to Djibril al-Ayad and the team at The Future Fire for giving this piece a good home (as they have given to other stories of mine!) And thank you to Eric Asaris for the eerie illustration which perfectly catches the mood.

Some notes on inspiration below:

--In the fall of 2014, I had only just learned of the Buddhist concept of Hungry Ghosts. I was fascinated by them—the idea of ghosts ravaged by hunger but unable to satisfy it, cursed with long, thin necks and tiny mouths so they could never eat as much as they wanted even in the face of abundant offerings. I wanted to write a story about them, but I didn’t know how.

--The summer before, I’d been reading a travel blog of Eastern Europe.

--I was taking long walks by myself. I was feeling sad.

Somehow, the idea of Buddhist Hungry Ghosts twisted and changed in my mind: they became not the eaters, but the eaten, ravaged into almost nothingness. And I took these mutant ghosts out of Asia and transplanted them into an imaginary European city. The story poured out in two and a half weeks, which is very quick for me. Then it took three years to sell. It was, for a while, That One Story. (And yes, this was the piece accepted at a new pro-paying market which folded before the story could be published.) But “Taiya” eventually found a home. I'm so happy to see it out in the world..

Update: Yosia Sing has an absolutely lovely review of Taiya up now as well! I really appreciate Sing's perspective here, and am so very very gratified to know that this story resonates. 




Thursday, October 12, 2017

Jenny Zhang's writing is a knife in the heart.


"It was my mother who tucked him in and told him that there exists a sort of love in the world that only survives as long as no one speaks of it, and that was the reason why he would never have to worry because my grandmother was never going to be the kind of mother who held her children in her arms and told them how smart and beautiful and talented they were. She was only ever going to scold them, make them feel diminutive, make them feel they were never good enough, make them know this world wouldn’t be kind to them. She wasn’t going to let someone else be better than her at making her children feel pain or scare them more than she could, and to her, that was a form of protection.

That’s how we will be with our own children, my mother told my uncle, proud that she had realized this." 
             --Jenny Zhang, "Our Mothers Before Them," from her collection Sour Heart


Monday, October 9, 2017

Aug-Sept 2017 Short Fiction Recs



On gray autumn days, there’s nothing I want so much as a cup of hot tea, a blanket, and a good story. Here are some good things I read over August and September—stories to drink in with your tea (or beverage of choice) as the season darkens and chills.

Stories strange and beautiful, dark and light


These Bones Aside by Lora Gray in The Dark

Each month, Yagra plants a new goddess to swallow the moon and save the world. This is such a hauntingly beautiful and painful story of motherhood, loss, sacrifice, and innocence. It marries mythic imagery and imagination with intimate feeling. Absolutely gorgeous.

Red Bark and Ambergris by Kate Marshall at Beneath Ceaseless Skies

Sarai was kidnapped to be a maker of perfumes for a Queen. She has the talent for it—to be a scent-maker—but what she wants is to be a poison-tamer, for it’s only as a poison-tamer that she may be able to escape her island prison. This is a beautiful and heartbreaking story of love, loss, bitterness, and accepting one’s true talent. And it’s fitting that a story about scents should be so rich in sensory details. Marshall deftly creates an immersive, beautifully realized world.

Though She Be But Little by C.S.E. Cooney at Uncanny Magazine 

And oh, this is such a delight! Weird, wild post-apocalyptic adventure with a girl who is little but fierce indeed. When the sky turns silver, 65-year-old bunco-playing Navy widow Emma A. Santiago wakes up as 8-year-old Emma Anne. There are pirates, flying alligators, talking animal sidekicks, the Chihuahua Ladies, and more. This story is almost impossible to summarize, and I won’t try. I’ll just say: Cooney’s imagination is dazzling, and you want this wild fun.  

In Spring, the Dawn. In Summer, the Night. By Aidan Doyle at Podcastle 

Another feat of wild imagination, but set in a far different world and told with a delicate air. Doyle imagines Sei Shonagon, the Japanese Heian-era author of the classic The Pillow Book, as a “battle-poet.” Shonagon is the champion for Empress Teishi in a court battle of seasonal poetry—and her poetry literally fights shadows as well as the verse of competing poets. Doyle’s piece delightfully evokes and pays homage to the real Sei Shonagon’s writing and the world of delicate and elegant beauty which she described. Lovely and charming. 

The Age of Glass by Ryan Row in Persistent Visions

“The Stickmen are beautiful and misshapen. Almost human in proportion, but thin and with random extra joints or protruding nobs of glassy flesh. . . As translucent as moonlight or handmade glass.”

This is a dark, gorgeously written piece about coming of age during a glass alien/monster apocalypse. The mysterious Stickmen have emerged from the ground in the “Creator Lands,” and America seems to be in a state of perpetual war against them. Yet south of the battle lines, a semblance of ordinary teenage life goes on: the narrator goes to high school and gossips with her friend, fights with her mother, and falls in love. But the trauma of war hangs over everything, including the narrator’s veteran boyfriend. This is such a strange, dark, layered and immersive piece which unwinds like a slow nightmare. . . but a nightmare that also glitters with shards of beauty.  

Stories of family

The Dead Father Cookbook by Ashley Blooms

Like “The Age of Glass,” this is a dark and unsettling piece which skillfully blends realist detail with the surreal. Addie and Ben are a sister and brother who grew up in the “care” of an abusive and neglectful father. Under these circumstances, the siblings formed an extremely tight bond, but it’s a bond that Addie frets has been fraying since Ben left their hometown for college. When their father dies, Addie sees a chance to summon Ben back, “to get him out of the city and away from his new friends with their professional haircuts and working cars and matching dinner plates”—and to recapture their closeness. She’s not above using magic to do so. What follows is a painful, intimate, and tender story of family and trauma, of partial healing and of what can never be healed. And yes, the siblings eat their father. 

The Last Cheng Beng Gift by Jaymee Goh in LightSpeed 

Like “The Dead Father Cookbook,” this is a story of family and of a painful relationship between parent and child. But the abuse in this story is less obvious—and it’s one that the main character, a proud and socially prominent mother, does not recognize at all. Mrs. Lim has died and receives gifts from her children in the Chinese afterlife during the festival of Cheng Beng (also known as Qingming). But the gifts from her youngest daughter, Hong Yin, always disappoint her. In fact, Hong Yin herself has always disappointed her mother. This is a quiet, understated tale of parental expectations and the damage they can inflict, of disappointment, distance, and love. As in “The Dead Father Cookbook,” there is no easy reconciliation in either life or death. This is the kind of quiet story that still punched me in the gut.

Stories of the future and hope

I want to end this story round-up with two stories of hope. It’s too easy to see only despair and dystopia in our near future. In recent issues, Clarkesworld presents something different.

Pan-Humanism: Hope and Pragmatics by Jess Barber and Sara Saab at Clarkesworld

The story’s themes are in the title. In a near-future world, climate change has devastated the environment and led to large-scale water shortages in the Middle East. . . but in the wake and midst of ecological destruction is hope. While dealing with water rationing in a future Beirut, two teenagers, Amir and Mani, meet and fall in love. Both teens are idealistic and intensely driven to improve the world with their talents. They become scientists and urban planners. But though they work in similar fields, their careers take them to different countries and keep them apart. This is a story of love over a lifetime: Amir and Mani meet, connect, and leave one another again and again. Their relationship is often a source of pain. But it’s always there, even when they’re far apart; no matter what, Amir and Mani are, in the words of one of Amir’s other lovers, “locked together.”  

“I love you,” says Mani. “Even if we never quite figure out what that should look like. You know that, right?”

This is a deeply beautiful and hopeful story. It depicts a kind of social utopia, yet it’s also a story which is nevertheless deeply aware of the unavoidability of human pain. Amir and Mani are always surrounded by love; their friends and lovers are fellow scientists and artists doing all they can to improve the world. During the course of the story, Amir and Mani live and work in multiple countries, and everywhere they go it appears that governments and people care about the earth and accept and support science—which to me seems an incredible utopia all on its own. There are no depictions of academic backstabbing or competitiveness; their work colleagues and mentors are all supportive and caring. Moreover, polyamorous relationships among multiple genders appear widely accepted, and jealousy/possessive among lovers seems nonexistent. This is a kind of utopia founded amidst environmental ruin. . . made up of people looking to heal that ruin. It’s a story of hopeful technology and science, a story of work and love which acknowledges the terrible conflicts that can occur between work and love. It’s a story about how love can be complicated and painful even in the best of worlds. And it is deeply hopeful, humane, and beautiful.

The Stone Weta by Octavia Cade at Clarkesworld

I’m cheating—I read this story on October 1, so I should really be including this in my next recs list! Yet it pairs so well with the story above that I felt I had to include it here. Like Barber and Saab’s Clarkesworld story, this is a hopeful story of scientists coming together to save the world. Unlike Barber and Saab’s story, the scientists in Cade’s story are working to do this under governments which would stop them—governments which are trying to suppress data on climate change. The parallels to current politics are clear and terrifying. Yet I found this a hopeful and uplifting story. The stone weta is an insect endemic to mountains of New Zealand, and it survives terrible winters of cold and snow by entering a state of hibernation in which “Eighty-two percent of the water in its body turns to ice.” “Stone Weta” is also the code name of a biologist who smuggles and hides climate data in the mountains. This is a story of persistence and survival—of living things, often small and unnoticed, who are able to survive under the harshest of conditions. It’s a story of resistance. It’s a story of a network of scientists working together to preserve knowledge. And it’s a story of transformation—of more than one type—and of hope.

Nonfiction

On American Identity, the Election, and Family Members Who Support Trump by Nicole Chung at Longreads.com. Excerpted from the collection, Nasty Women: Feminism, Resistance, and Revolution in Trump’s America.


This is a deeply felt and necessary essay. Chung writes of trying to have the type of conversations which so many of us are now struggling to have. She writes from her own specific perspective as a woman of Asian descent who was adopted by a white family that now supports Trump. . . but I think her confusion and pain are shared by so many of us now, of all ethnicities and family circumstances. The ending to this made me tear up. 

Bonus random rec

And while you're here. . . if you'd like to hear the voice of an angel, check out this video of a young singer from Kazakhstan instantly stealing hearts around the world as he sings a French rock opera song for a Chinese musical contest show.


Monday, August 21, 2017

Hawaiian vacation, 2017

So last month we went to Hawaii. We flew from Michigan to Honolulu. We stayed in a hotel on Waikiki Beach and on our third day there we saw this. 

It's a double rainbow! Look closely for the second, fainter rainbow to the right. 


We walked under rainbow shower trees and by flowering plumeria, among the luxury stores and high-end glitz of Waikiki. We kept going back to the Japanese food court across the street from our hotel. There, we stuffed ourselves on Japanese curry (tonkatsu with curry is the best), musubis, and ramen the likes of which we have never ever had here in the Midwest.

Rainbow shower tree in Waikiki











Japanese food so good, we just kept going back











We used Lyft for the first time and discovered that Lyft drivers are often very colorful characters. Husband and I were particularly taken with the man who was sooo excited to tell us all about his start-up business developing customized cannabis-derived cocktails to treat. . . everything, really.

Since we had no car, we hired a van driver for a day to take us to sights outside Honolulu. This chatty, middle-aged local had the best stories of any of them, and deserves an entire blog post dedicated to him and his family.

We met up with old friends, locals who took us to the Side Street Inn, where we were introduced to poke made from opihi, an expensive, locally harvested shellfish. Opihi taste like the sea, only more so. Each year, our friend told us, people are washed away and killed while harvesting these little shellfish from the rocks.*

We had dim sum in Chinatown, our 10-year old had her first surf lesson and briefly stood on a board, and both kids had a ukulele lesson at the hotel.

And after five days on the island of Oahu, we left the bustle and glamour of Honolulu for the far quieter island of Kauai. We saw otherworldly landscapes like this:

Waimea Canyon (the "Grand Canyon" in Kauai)

Deeply carved cliffs of the Na Pali Coast, seen from helicopter

Kilauea Lighthouse in Kauai


Taro fields on northeastern coast


Unlike in Oahu, we rented a car for more rural Kauai. We drove around the island, through a tunnel of eucalyptus trees, into hills that seemed perpetually covered in mist. We saw Waimea Canyon, which looked unreal with its alternating colors of red and green—exposed red rock and stripes of vegetation. We drove along the deep blue ocean, along seascapes that also looked unreal in their beauty. The hit Puerto Rican song, Despacito, blasted from the radio. We waded after colorful fish at Poipu Beach. We took a helicopter tour.

So much to see and do. But certainly, one of the highlights of the entire trip was that the children got to spend time with their grandmother, Husband’s mother, who came along with us to Hawaii and whom we rarely see.

***
We’ve been back in Michigan for nearly a month, and I’ve been struggling to write this post. I’ve been struggling to write in general. Yesterday we visited Ludington State Park, one of the treasures of our home state. We kayaked around a lake (my first time!), and then drove to the Big Lake: Lake Michigan, our inland, freshwater sea. I was reminded of the great natural beauty close to home. In the waning days of summer, I’ve been reminded of the beauty all around.

I’ve been trying to focus on that, but it’s hard. Even in Hawaii, in “paradise”, Husband and I felt ourselves unable to tear ourselves away from the political news. Ever since we’ve come back, it just seems to get worse.

I am trying to balance awareness and anger. I’m trying not to be overwhelmed with cynicism. I know that I am so, so privileged.

There are beautiful hills, and ocean, and kind people. There’s the scent of plumeria, and the taste of sugar pineapples and lychees. There is so much in the world. I hope my husband and I can take our kids back to Hawaii someday. There’s more we’d like to show them there. There’s so much to show them right here at home.

I am writing to remember all of this.  

 ________________________________

*More about opihi: Our voluble van driver had a story about people showing disrespect for this food: at a fancy party he attended, a person new to the islands grabbed a big scoop of the expensive delicacy, tried a bite, went “Eww!” and to other guests' shock and horror dumped his plate of opihi into the trash. “We were ready to kill him!” the van driver said. “We were ready to wring his neck!” (Hawaiians are clearly passionate about food.) 

**Full list of food recs. (Because my family is food-obsessed and I want this list for future reference)

Oahu

Every place we tried at YokoCho Gourmet Alley (collection of small Japanese restaurants. Tonkatsu and curry from the curry house was one of my favorites)

Opihi, fried pork chops, and kimchi fried rice at Side Street Inn

Shrimp (what else?) at Fumi’s Shrimp Truck, north shore of Oahu

Dim sum at Legend’s Seafood Restaurant, Chinatown, Honolulu. The dumplings are among the best I've had.

Malasadas at Agnes’ Portuguese Bake Shop

Tonkatsu at Tonkatsu Ginza Bairin


Kauai

Shaved ice at Wailua Shave Ice 

Poke at Eating House 1849 

Lilikoi pie at Hamura Saimen 

Spam musubis and other masubis at local 7-Eleven. (Also delighted to see char siu bao and Chinese dumplings by the cash register, although we did not try them)