Belatedly posting this because it’s been a busy year, but here goes…
For your consideration
In 2018 I published a bunch of things, but here’s one I was particularly happy with: “Children of Thorns, Children of Water” is basically my homage to the Great Bake Off. With dragons in human form, a Gothic devastated Paris, and creepier magic than my main characters had originally bargained for 🙂
You can read it online at Uncanny Magazine (it’s listed as a reprint in the July 2017 issue, but the original publication date was April 2017, which makes it eligible for awards! The original publication was as a pre-order reward for my novel The House of Binding Thorns: it’s a standalone set in the universe, though you’ll get some Easter eggs if you’ve read the books.).
And now for the stories & things from other people I absolutely loved this year:
Elaine Cuyegkeng’s “House that Creaks” is the sort of horror story that just sticks in the mind long after reading it–about a haunted house and how it became that way, and political dissidents, and the force of memory and sorrow and anger.
Nghi Vo’s “Twelve Pictures from a Second World War” manages to use its very brief amount of words to picture something haunting with sense of loss–and to show us a side of WWII in non-Western countries that often gets set aside in SFF.
Rose Lemberg’s amazing novella, “A Portrait of the Desert in Personages of Power” (Beneath Ceaseless Skies) is a masterpiece of worldbuilding that brings together two very different characters with vastly different histories, and tracks the consequences of their meeting–effortlessly rich and romantic, laden with worldbuilding that both feels familiar and strange, this definitely stuck with me long after I’d read it.
Tade Thompon’s The Murders of Molly Southbourne takes a wild premise (every time Molly bleeds, her blood creates a double who turns murderous on her, and whom she then has to kill), amps it up to eleven, and turns it into a detailed, twisty thriller that follows Molly from childhood to adult, asking questions about free will, identity and the price of survival on the way. A gruesome and neat little horror book.
Stephanie Burgis’s Snowspelled is the perfect book to curl up with if you need a pick-me-up. It’s fun and fluffy but also quite effortlessly deep. Set in an alternate England in a fragile peace with the neighbouring elves, the novella follows Cassandra, once a star magician but now a broken woman who lost her powers. Expecting nothing but obscurity, Cassandra finds herself stuck in a mansion in the middle of the snowstorm—with a rogue magician to track, a powerful and haughty elf to placate, and worst of all, a persistent ex-fiancé who refuses to take no for an answer. It’s sweet and beautiful and just left me ready for the sequel.
Martha Wells’s All Systems Red is a fast paced SF romp with an unforgettable protagonist, the misanthropic Murderbot, whose only dream is to watch TV series—except that those pesky humans keep getting into trouble…
I don’t always do poetry, but Brandon O’Brien’s “Birth, Place” is amazing–beautifully evocative, with an ending that lingered in my mind. I want to frame entire pieces of it on my wall, as a reminder for hard times.
Best Fan Artist
And Likhain’s art continues to be amazing: she was up for a Hugo this year for Best Fan Artist. Below are two of the pieces she did as promo art for The House of Binding Thorns–she’s still eligible this year in Best Fan Artist, if you’re so minded to nominate her.
Ken Liu’s Wall of Stormstook everything I loved about The Grace of Kings and made it better. If I had one criticism of Grace of Kings, it was that the book was scarce on women until the very end. Wall of Storms has them in abundance, and shifts from a war to control a kingdom to my favourite trope: court intrigue and manoeuvring of different factions who all try to pretend it’s for the good of the country. It deals with loss and legacy, and it also has the best engineering in fantasy sequence I’ve read in a long long time.
Yoon Ha Lee’s Raven Stratagem is also a sequel (to his great Ninefox Gambit, which I recommended last year to everyone who would listen to me). It expands the fascinating universe of Hexarchate by showing us characters from outside the assault section trying to take over a fortres: the hexarchs themselves (Mikodez ftw)), the civilians, the soldiers on space stations, and more factions beyond the ones we saw in Ninefox Gambit. And the ending left me hungering for more (book 3 is out next year!!).
Elizabeth Bear’s The Stone in the Skullreminded of me of why I love big fat epic fantasies: it’s got everything from creepy threats, lush worldbuilding and a great big cast of characters, but without the casual misogyny, gender essentialism and racism that throws me out of texts. The cast is diverse (yay toddlers in SFF!), and I felt like I’d barely read enough when the book ended.
Jeannette Ng’s Under the Pendulum Sun is a creepy Gothic fairytale that takes as a premise the sending of two Victorian missionaries to Fairyland. I hadn’t thought the finer points of theology could be this gripping, but the claustrophobic meditation on the nature of faith and stories that follows is a treat. And I’ll never forget the banquet at the midpoint of the book: Jeannette has a gift for the genuinely unsettling images and twists.
Foz Meadows’s A Tyranny of Queensis superlative portal fantasy: an epic cast of characters, wonderfully drawn societies and a thoughtful, nuanced treatment of abuse and PTSD. Only drawback is you’ll have to read the first book, An Accident of Stars, but trust me, it’s totally worth it.
Best YA novel
Cindy Pon’s Want is a fast-paced look at a dystopian Taiwan where the gulf between haves and have-nots is counted in years of good health.
Kate Elliott’s Buried Heart brought her Court of Fives trilogy to an awesome end, and tackled colonialism, revolutions, history and the way people have to make hard and impossible choices. I loved that Jess continued to have a relationship with her entire family, and all the different roles for characters from domestic to military.
Victor Fernando R Ocampo’s The Infinite Library and Other Stories is a breathtaking short story collection of loosely linked stories that run the gamut from whimsical to dark, but always infused with a sharp perception of what makes people. It’s a mite hard to find in the West as the publisher is based in Singapore but it’s well worth a read if you can track it down.
Also check out: JY Yang’s Red Threads of Fortune and Black Threads of Heaven (novellas), Corey White’s Killing Gravity (novella), Malka Older’s Null States (novel), Karin Tidbeck’s Amatka (novel), Fonda Lee’s Jade City (novel).
Thrilled to announce I’ve sold “A Burning Sword for her Cradle” to Ellen Datlow for Echoes: the Saga Book of Ghost Stories, out Fall 2018.
It’s, er. A story about war, immigration, hauntings passed down the blood, and the cost of the future. Basically “Aliette does horror”, which means food, strong-willed aunties and families. Also creepy ghosts because obviously!
Bao Ngoc has set her appointment with the witch at dawn–because it would make her leave the house in the dark, at a time when neither her sister nor her brother-in-law would be awake.
Things, however, never work the way they’re supposed to.
She’s made her morning worship at her ancestral altar, leaving oranges and apples for her parents’ spirits, mouthing the familiar litany beseeching them for good fortune, gritting her teeth against the agony in her chest. Now she’s rummaging in the kitchen for coconut water, opening the cupboard in the darkness. In the background, the familiar buzz of the fridge, a warbling Bao Ngoc keeps–with effort, with pain–from turning into the angry remonstrances of ghosts.
I’ve been sitting on this forever but am super happy to report that my novella The Tea Master and the Detective will be coming out from Subterranean Press in March 2018, with lovely art by Maurizio Manzieri.
This is my “Xuya meets Sherlock Holmes” book: in a galactic empire infused by Vietnamese culture, a detective and a mindship must team up to solve a mystery. Very loosely inspired by A Study in Scarlet, if Holmes were an eccentric scholar, and Watson a grumpy decommissioned war mindship. I had lots of fun writing this: it’s full of digs and references to classic Sherlock Holmes, plus all the detective stories ever. It turns out that grumpy mindship is best mindship when it comes to writing! Also, gender swapping everyone made for rather fun situations (the ending had me tearing out my hair but I’m so happy it all worked out).
Many thanks to Fran Wilde, Genevieve Cogman, Tade Thompson, Liz Bourke, Lynn O’Connacht, Ava Jarvis, Stephanie Burgis, Seth Gorden, Samantha Henderson, Fran Wilde, Likhain, and Kate Elliott. As well as to John Berlyne, Yanni Kuznia, Geralyn Lance, and everyone involved with the book (I hope I haven’t forgotten anyone!).
And special thanks to Vida Cruz, Victor Fernando R Ocampo and Tade Thompson for helping me with cover copy!
Here’s the summary:
A new novella set in the award-winning, critically-acclaimed Xuya universe…
Welcome to the Scattered Pearls Belt, a collection of ring habitats and orbitals ruled by exiled human scholars and powerful families, and held together by living mindships who carry people and freight between the stars. In this fluid society, human and mindship avatars mingle in corridors and in function rooms, and physical and virtual realities overlap, the appareance of environments easily modified and adapted to interlocutors or current mood.
A transport ship discharged from military service after a traumatic injury, The Shadow’s Child now ekes out a precarious living as a brewer of mind-altering drugs for the comfort of space-travellers. Meanwhile, abrasive and eccentric scholar Long Chau wants to find a corpse for a scientific study. When Long Chau walks into her office, The Shadow’s Child expects an unpleasant but easy assignment. When the corpse turns out to have been murdered, Long Chau feels compelled to investigate, dragging The Shadow’s Child with her.
As they dig deep into the victim’s past, The Shadow’s Child realises that the investigation points to Long Chau’s own murky past–and, ultimately, to the dark and unbearable void that lies between the stars…
Available for pre-order now as a lovely signed hardbound edition, coming out March 2018: it’s a limited print run so I don’t know how long it’ll last (my last limited edition chapbook sold out rather fast!). You can hop on to the Subterranean website to check it out and get your very own copy!
There’s a new Xuya story up at Lightspeed Magazine: “Crossing the Midday Gate” was originally published in Athena Andreadis’s wonderful To Shape the Dark. It’s now been reprinted, and you can read it free online.
It’s about intergalactic plagues, vaccines, court intrigues and second chances–and what to do when the entire world changes around you. Also badass older women bacteriologists ftw.
I’ll be attending the Gollancz Festival in Foyles in London Nov 4-Nov 5. There are still a few tickets left if you want to attend: come hear me and other authors (Ben Aaaronovitch, Joanne Harris, Joe Hill, Justina Robson, Bradley Beaulieu, Alastair Reynolds and many others!) talk about publishing, writing and everything in between.
Happy to reveal the cover for Elsie Chapman and Ellen Oh’s A Thousand Beginnings and Endings, in which my story “The Counting of Vermillion Beads” will appear. It’s a retelling of Tấm Cám, except set in a science fantasy palace where girls compete to become high-ranking officials of the Everlasting Emperor–and it’s about sisterhood and families and the threads that never really can be snapped.
And best of all, it’s only one of a stellar lineup that includes Shveta Thakar, EC Myers, Cindy Pon. Eeeeeeeeeeeee!
My story “Children of Thorns, Children of Water” has now been published at Uncanny Magazine. You can read it here.
This is set in the Dominion of the Fallen, my Gothic ruined Paris with Fallen angels, dragons, alchemists and magicians (aka my love letter to 19th Century Gothic fiction and manga and anime like Fullmetal Alchemist and Black Butler, which includes novels The House of Shattered Wings and The House of Binding Thorns ). It’s a standalone: an excellent introduction to the universe, and a good return to it if you’re already familiar with it!
What you get: dragons, creepy magic, cooking (!).
In a Paris that never was, a city of magicians, alchemists and Fallen angels struggling to recover from a devastating magical war…
Once each year, the House of Hawthorn tests the Houseless: for those chosen, success means the difference between a safe life and the devastation of the streets. However, for Thuan and his friend Kim Cuc, — dragons in human shapes and envoys from the dying underwater kingdom of the Seine — the stakes are entirely different. Charged with infiltrating a House that keeps encroaching on the Seine, if they are caught, they face a painful death.
Worse, mysterious children of thorns stalk the candidates through Hawthorn’s corridors. Will Thuan and Kim Cuc survive and succeed?
If you’ve already read and enjoyed it, why not try The House of Binding Thorns , in which you get to meet again Thuan (aka, the queer, bookish dragon prince with amazing talent for getting himself into trouble), as well as a host of other characters?
(or you can also pick up the full issue of Uncanny Magazine, which has fiction by Seanan McGuire, Mary Robinette Kowal, Cassandra Khaw and other fine folk)
The Dominion of the Fallen Reading Order (Novels Only)
With thanks to Stephanie Burgis, Kate Elliott and Fran Wilde
It was a large, magnificent room with intricate patterns of ivy branches on the tiles, and a large mirror above a marble fireplace, the mantlepiece crammed with curios from delicate silver bowls to Chinese blue-and-white porcelain figures: a clear statement of casual power, to leave so many riches where everyone could grab them.
Or rather, it would have been, if the porcelain hadn’t been cut-rate–the same bad quality the Chinese had foisted on the Indochinese court in Annam–the mirror tarnished, with mould growing in one corner, spread down far enough that it blurred features, and the tiling cracked and chipped in numerous places–repaired, but not well enough that Thuan couldn’t feel the imperfections under his feet, each one of them a little spike in the khi currents of magic around the room.
Not that Thuan was likely to be much impressed by the mansions of Fallen angels, no matter how much of Paris they might claim to rule. He snorted disdainfully, an expression cut short when Kim Cuc elbowed him in the ribs. “Behave,” she said.
“You’re not my mother.” She was his ex-lover, as a matter of fact; and older than him, and never let him forget that.
“Next best thing,” Kim Cuc said, cheerfully. “I can always elbow further down, if you insist.”
Thuan bit down the angry retort. The third person in the room–a dusky-skinned, young girl of Maghrebi descent, who’d introduced herself as Leila–was looking at them with fear in her eyes. “We’re serious,” he said, composing his face again. “We’re not going to ruin your chances to enter House Hawthorn, promise.”
They were a team: that was what they’d been told, as the House dependents separated the crowd before the House in small groups; that their performance would be viewed as a whole, and their chance to enter the House weighed accordingly. Though no rules had been given, and nothing more said, either, as dependents led them to this room and locked them in. At least he was still with Kim Cuc, or he’d have been hopelessly lost.
For people like Leila–for the Houseless, the desperate–it was their one chance to escape the streets, to receive food and shelter and the other tangible benefits of a House’s protection.
For Thuan and Kim Cuc, though… the problem was rather different. Their fate, too, would be rather different, if anyone found out who they really were. No House in Paris liked spies, and Hawthorn was not known for its leniency.
(thanks as always to our friend Paul Weimer who helps clean up the CtB kitchen after we destroy it…)
Podcast #031: Lines of Supply – Cooking the Books with Malka Older
pepper (any kind),
Sautée the onion and pepper in the oil. Add the ground beef and break it up to brown thoroughly. Add the garlic, minced or crushed.
Add a lot of oregano (I am not kidding, a lot) and some cumin.
Add tomato sauce and bring to a boil. Add raisins and olives, turn heat down and cover, simmer for 30-45 minutes.
If it gets dry add liquid: water, beer, stock, etc.
Malka Older is a writer, aid worker, and PhD candidate. Her writing can be found at Leveler, Tor.com, Bengal Lights, Sundog Lit, Capricious, Reservoir, Inkscrawl, Rogue Agent, in the poetry anthology My Cruel Invention, and in Chasing Misery, an anthology of writing by female aid workers. Her science fiction political thriller Infomocracy is the first full-length novel from Tor.com, and the sequel Null States will be published in 2017.
She was nominated for the 2016 John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. Named Senior Fellow for Technology and Risk at the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs for 2015, she has more than a decade of experience in humanitarian aid and development. Her doctoral work on the sociology of organizations at the Institut d’Études Politques de Paris (Sciences Po) explores the dynamics of multi-level governance and disaster response using the cases of Hurricane Katrina and the Japan tsunami of 2011. You can find her on Twitter, Facebook, and at malkaolder.wordpress.com.