Review: To Be Taught, if Fortunate by Becky Chambers

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There is no such thing as too many hopeful, optimistic narratives in fiction. Not now, in 2019, and not in science fiction specifically, a genre whose existence is dedicated to the imagination of potential futures. And while she is no stranger to bright, character-based science fiction adventures, Becky Chamber’s most recent novella, To Be Taught, if Fortunate is a step away from her Wayfairers universe into a different kind of story - one with a heart that beats so loud it screams, an enduring love letter to the mysteries of science, with an ending that will strike like lightning as a divide between those who loved it and those that didn’t. 

In an interesting twist on the idea of terraforming - shaping the land to meet the needs of our bodies - instead, Chambers’ intrepid astronauts undergo the process of somaforming during the deep sleep between planets. Through a mixture of various gene replacements, enzyme therapies, vitamin dispersals and the like, our characters wake up with bodies perfect for the planets they explore. Our narrator, Ariadne, and the small team of just three other crew along with her, are exploring a set of distant planets and moons as the geopolitical situation on Earth shifts, growing ever more precarious. Of course, being in the depths of space means they don’t realize just how precarious things on Earth have gotten until it’s potentially too late - leaving the crew with hard questions to be answered. The conclusions they come to will satisfy some and infuriate others in an ending that will most definitely be remembered. 

However, even that brief summation of this short book fails to capture what makes this book such a joy to read. As readers of Chambers’ previous work will know, she manages to capture just enough science in her science fiction while leaving plenty of room for her characters to grow, to mature, to make mistakes and form relationships that bring the vastness of space to the intimacies of human (and alien) nature. This skill really shines in the compact narrative, as does the more episodic style that readers will recognize from The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet. That vignette-based structure didn’t work for every reader of Long Way, which is understandable, but it’s worth mentioning how much more that format suits the narrative here in To be Taught, as each planet our astronaut crew visits is so disctintly geologically different from the last. It is the geological differences that allows Chambers to rotate the emotional focus of each experience, as the physical and somatic informs the psychological and spiritual. 

The first planet we visit, Aecor, serves a two-fold narrative function. Firstly, it allows Chambers to quickly introduce our known, contained world, a world that is recognizable enough to our own. It is a world where compassionate details reign, where mirrors are placed far enough from deep-sleep pods that waking up isn’t a terrifying adjustment and a casual bisexuality among the crew allows for both relaxed intimacy and Chikondi’s asexual identity. A world where the crew looks forward to updates from home, and dreams beyond the bounds of their current mission. 

Secondly, the discoveries the make on Aecor allow the crew - and Chambers herself - to wax euphoric about the beauty and effervescence that comes with new scientific discoveries. To be frank, Becky Chambers can write one hell of a gorgeous sentence, and it’s on Aecor that we get gems like

We were one being, one moment, all boundary of body and person dissolved in the presence of shared euphoria

I am not a science or maths person, but being on Aecor with Ariadne makes me wish so dearly that I was. 

After Aecor, the crew heads to Mirabilis, and this section is perhaps the most scientifically dense of all the sections. Which is not to say that it is dense - Chambers writes in a way that keeps her science softer, even as she discusses everything from evolutionary biology to meteorology. But this is the section in which the most focus is placed on what it is our astronauts are actually doing when they’re cataloging the life they find. It is also in this section that some of the cracks in our story begin to appear, as the longer and further the crew goes, the less reliant they become on news reports from Earth. As Ariadne becomes more and more-so the only member concerned with opening the status reports that come from Earth, things come to a head when Jack snaps at her:

“‘Listen, every time we watch the news, the air in here gets heavy for a few days. Or longer. It eats at us. Why are we letting something millions of kilometres away and fourteen years behind fuck up our ability to focus on the thing we were actually sent here to do?’ He finished his water. ‘If there’s something important, we’ll get a mission update. But the news – I mean, how does it help me to know that some fuckwit I’ve never heard of is leading a coup, or whatever? It doesn’t. So, that’s how we show we care – by doing a good job. We can catch up on world history anytime we want to. Because it is history by now.’”

This is the first mention of the tension that is beginning to stir underneath everything. Because Chambers is infinitely kind to her humans - and creative in the ways in which she decides to put them through their paces - the tension isn’t related to any interpersonal drama as much as it is the creeping existential dread of time, separation, and what their role is to science versus to the planet that has put them in space to begin with. After all, Lawki 6 - the mission our crew serves on - is a crowd-funded exploration and as the book progresses, we see the dangers that can happen for the individual when the communal begins to break down. As readers, they are a series of interesting questions to consider, especially as we kill the planet out from underneath us and look towards commercial space flight to be even a small part of the solution.

This tension culminates in a traumatic moment in which Chikondi, until this moment a quiet and tender man, is forced to kill an alien who gets inside the crew’s decontamination protocol. It is truly a heart-wrenching and depressing scene, and it’s this moment that makes me tag for ‘animal death’ - because as alien as the animal may be, the effect it’s killing takes on Chikondi is unmistakably similar. It is directly after this incident that Ariadne realizes that the crew is also several news updates short - giving us the first hint that things on Earth aren’t as predictably chaotic as expected. Both of these occurrences begin to push the narrative towards the emotional Dark Night of the Soul moments, which take place on Opera.

Before they can even land, things go wrong, trapping the crew on Opera, a dismal rock in the middle of a raging storm, in which all they can see is rain and the underbellies of the ‘rats’ that are slowly covering the ship from the outside, filling the space with a kind of constant, low-grade noise. The planet is a dim one, and we follow our crew further and further down their own manifestations of resultant psychological darkening - Jack becomes enraged at the ‘rats’, pounding on the walls to try and scare them off; Elena becomes obsessive about checking and rechecking systems and software, convinced she can find a solution to the weather problems that prevent them from taking back off. And Chikondi has fallen into a depression, coupled with a deep-rooted questioning of what, exactly, their mission is worth.

It’s here that we get the second central theme of Chambers’ work - questions about the ethicality of science, the morality of personal sacrifice in the light of the ‘greater good’. In an absolutely beautiful metaphor, Chikondi compares the astronauts’ work to turning over rocks, looking for worms:

“‘‘You always put the rock back. We always put the rocks back.’ 

‘It still hurts before we do so. Is that a fair trade, their pain for our knowledge?...You can only call it sacrifice if it’s consensual. Nobody asked the worms under the rock what they thought about the whole thing.’”

It’s the trolley problem, with the added layer of consent that history has taught us is key to ethical science. Chambers doesn’t come to any conclusions on this question, not outright (although I have my theories on where she lies on the issue) and it’s this lack of resolution to this central question that I think leads to some issues readers have with the ending - which we’re getting to, I promise.

It’s also on Opera that Ariadne begins her own struggles with mental health, as she tries so desperately to take care of the people around her that she loses track of her own well-being. As a fellow enneagram two, I deeply related to this particular style of mental health portrayal, which is a slow and almost imperceptible degradation that’s often not caught until it’s almost too late. Which is precisely what happens to Ariadne. The crew, finally able to secure a launch window, abandons their scientifically useless rock to head on to their next planetary assignment. Once they reach orbit, we watch as Ariadne loosens the tight grip she’d been keeping on her own emotional output that she’s on the brink of making a very dangerous, irreversible choice. It’s Chikondi that pulls her back, in a dialogue exchange that is so poignantly beautiful and deftly handled, it’s worth saving to read in context. This is a dark moment in the book, but it’s tinged with light, like the smallest reddening of the horizon as dawn inevitably approaches. 

Which brings us to our ending, and to the planet Votum. In another stellar display of craft, Chambers deftly recognizes how quickly mental health struggles can change you, become a part of you and the way you interact with the future world in a way that can’t be undone:

I would never again be the Ariadne who had not been to Opera, just as I would never again be the Ariadne who had never left Earth, just as I would never again be the Ariadne who had never left her parents’ home, who had never bled, who had yet to learn to walk. A moth was a caterpillar, once, but it no longer is a caterpillar.

And it’s this inability to go back to the people we used to be - and to the lives we used to know - that gets echoed in this final section and the ultimate ending of the novella. As we’ve now seen multiple times, Votum becomes a geological representation of the mental states of our characters, a kind of sterile emptiness that provides a quiet kind of relief and healing after the constant noise and stress of Opera. There is little life to be found, until a system of caves is discovered, allowing for a rekindling of the spark for science we saw on full display on Aecor. Our crew has gone through the emotional ringer, a cycle of elation and depression that reflects a struggle known by so many of those who struggle with various aspects of their mental health. And on Votum, they’re allowed the individual space - literally, and pun most definitely intended - to begin healing in the individual ways that work for them.

It’s also on Votum, however, that the crew begins to wrestle with how long it’s been since they’ve heard from Earth. They receive a message from Lowki 5, letting them know that they’ve returned to Earth’s atmosphere and found - nothing. No satellites, no response from the surface, nothing. It’s put them in the spot of risking a return, with 14 years of communication time between the teams. And so Lowki 6 is faced with what would be, in my opinion, one of the scariest existential decisions to face: to return home, risk what they find, and help how they can? To stay in space, conduct what research they’re capable of, and die as the universe wills it? Or make for a star-system that has proven to be remarkably like Earth’s atmosphere, hoping against hope for what you might find there?

Complicating this decision is the fact that the Lowki program was a crowd-funded effort, and as such there is the pull of loyalty to the society that sent them to the stars to begin with - a society torn apart by war, ravaged by climate, who sent out the Lowki astronauts as a final bastion of hope. So what does the Lowki program - what do the crew - owe to those who sent them there? What if none of them remain on Earth to begin with? It is an ending that is filled with more questions than answers, and I know for a fact that the ultimate decision the crew comes up with frustrated many readers. However, I think it all comes down to how much you think Becky Chambers ‘earned’ her themes, and if the emphasis the narrative places on community, teamwork, and collectivism for ultimate success is one that you think offsets the questions left open by the ending.

In this reviewer's opinion, I think Chambers earns the ambiguity of her ending. The cycle we’ve followed Ariadne and her fellow crew through, the emotional growth we’ve seen them endure, the emphasis on the team and on the interconnectedness of science as both an entity and an academic discipline, all of it leads to a point at which the Lowki crew decides to make the ultimate sacrifice, to trust the collective and the future entwining of hope and science. Like in Chambers’ other work, the conclusion is an optimistic one, a trusting one, one that many might think is naive given the world we live in. But what is science fiction if not the chance to hope for hope, to imagine a future that does look different than the world in which we currently live? Ariadne and her fellow crew take the risk and place their faith in the future good of humanity. As a reader, it becomes harder to resist the call to do the same. 

Bits and Bobs: Friday, May 10th, 2019

I don’t know about y’all, but it feels like this week has been approximately 1 million years long. I am so beyond glad that it is finally Friday! Only two more days until the next installment of Game of Thrones, and only one more day until I can finally hit my favorite springtime hangout - the farmers’ market! It’s been open for several weekends, but as is always the case with life, I’m just now getting the chance to go. Hopefully the weather this weekend allows you to do your favorite not-inside thing, and that your Friday wraps up quickly. To aid in that effort, here are some of the most fun, interesting, thought-provoking, or downright bonkers things I found on the internet this week!

“Arise, A Knight: Why We Need Brienne’s Unique Journey on Game of Thrones” by Amy Imhoff at is a really nice, focused look at both Brienne of Tarth and the actress who plays her, Gwendolyn Christie. Imhoff does a fantastic job of weaving together the importance of Brienne’s physicality, her heighth especially, with the revolutionary aspects of the role. As someone who has stanned from Brienne from moment one, I really loved reading Imhoff’s take on her best scene to date.

“Behold, the Cover for André Aciman’s Sequel to Call Me By Your Name by Emily Temple at LitHub. This link is taking home the award for ‘link I didn’t actually want to click on’ this week, because man I wish I did not care about this follow-up novel. The plot sounds branching enough that I don’t want to risk it, and I’m pretty firmly camp This Book Doesn’t Need a Sequel, and yet here we are. The cover is definitely evocative of the tone Aciman has said he’s going for, and I’m intrigued to start hearing from the first round of reviews.

“What Rachel Held Evans Means to Christians” by Emma Green at the Atlantic was a hard piece to read this week, but ultimately a satisfyingly joyful one. Evans is one of my hands-down favorite contemporary Christian writers and hearing news of her passing at 37 earlier this week was quite the saddening moment. But, as is frequently the case, her passing has brought out an outpouring of love, support, and beautiful grief of the lessons she taught and the life she lived. I highly recommend first this piece, and then her entire backlist.

“Unpopular Opinion: Tagging Authors in Negative Reviews” by Abby Hargreaves at Book Riot. If you’re involved in bookish Twitter at all, you’ve seen this article making the rounds already. And while tagging authors in negative reviews (or just positive ones, or not at all) is a subject of fairly regular discussion, Hargreaves’ assertion that tagging the authors increases reader discoverability is messy, convoluted, and falls a bit flat. The general authorial consensus is that no one wants to be tagged into negativity, and that if reviews don’t exist for authors anyway, there’s not much reason to tag them into explicitly negative ones.

“Watch the First Trailer for IT: Chapter Two by Stubby the Rocket at Oh my God. OH. MY. GOD. I am incapable of producing anything but high-pitched squealing noises at how excited/terrified I am for this movie! I loved the first installment, and while I am always wary of if or how they’ll do That Scene from IT, I could not be more excited for this casting, the music cuts, literally every part of this trailer!

“The Pond Gets Loud: 8 Book Bloggers Share Their Cost of Book Blogging, Part 1” by CW at The Quiet Pond is the first installment in a lengthy blog discussion about the costs - hidden and not - of this hobby and creative outlet so many have come to love. As a book blogger myself, it’s both reassuring and a bit of a slap to realize just how much time, effort, and sunk cost goes into spreading the love for the books we read. And on a side note, I could not more highly recommend the blogging work being done over at TQP!

“The Friend Zone: Emotional Intimacy Between Men in Romance” by Kate Clayborn at Frolic was absolute cat-nip for me this week. As someone who has long been obsessed with the way our culture shapes and influences masculinity and homosocial behavior, and is also a romance reader and writer, it was fantastic to read this piece calling us to examine the way we write, read, and interact with male friendships in romance novels. Clayborn brings up several examples of friendships done well, as well as the myriad of ways in which authors could be doing better by their heroes and, by extension, their heroines.

Review: Imperial Stout (Trouble Brewing #1) by Layla Reyne

The Spartans were famous for their shield walls.” “Shield walls?” “When under attack, a Spartan phalanx would lock shields and advance together. As one. They were nearly impenetrable. Saved countless lives.” Not so non sequitur after all. “Before you dig into this further, Price, think long and hard whether your shield of one is enough. For both— for all —our sakes.”

The Spartans were famous for their shield walls.” “Shield walls?” “When under attack, a Spartan phalanx would lock shields and advance together. As one. They were nearly impenetrable. Saved countless lives.” Not so non sequitur after all. “Before you dig into this further, Price, think long and hard whether your shield of one is enough. For both— for all —our sakes.”

Imperial Stout is the first book in Layla Reyne’s romantic suspense series Trouble Brewing, which exists as a companion/spin-off series to her previously published Agents Irish and Whiskey series. The book is hot, hot, hot, and the reading equivalent of the summer’s action blockbuster, with way more sex. Steamy, powerful, dynamic sex.

The story revolves around Assistant United States Attorney Dominic ‘Nic’ Price and the Assistant Special Agent in Charge he’s working with, Cameron Byrne, affectionately (and very, very sexily) called ‘Boston’. By Nic, and Nic alone, of course. After a case is botched by third-party interference, costing a diplomat’s wife her life, Cam and Nic have to decide just how trustworthy their CI is, just how far they’ll go to solve this case, and just how long they can dance around each other before their sexual chemistry blows up in their face. They’ve shared a kiss, and now lives, careers, and families are on the line.

An action-packed book from start to finish, the plot drops you in running and asks you to catch up, or get left behind. Nothing is inherently complicated, but as a political suspense novel, there are a lot of acronyms and departmental names/positions to get used to handling at first. It’s not an insurmountable wall, but was a bit of a speedbump. As was the feeling that there was just that little bit of something extra I was missing about all these characters. Now, I take responsibility for this feeling as a reader, because this is a series adjacent to another that’s already been published, that I chose not to read before diving into this one. Mostly because time is a fickle, fickle mistress and I still haven’t figured out how to read books in my sleep yet.

I want to make it really, really clear that this book can absolutely stand on it’s own, and I didn’t necessarily feel as though this book was lacking anything. It was more that I could see these clearly open doors and breadcrumbs as I made my way down the path of this narrative, and those little glimpses were just enough to remind me that there were things I may not be fully grasping the weight of, because of X, Y, or Z. It’s always difficult to judge what you don’t know is missing from a narrative, but sometimes that feeling of this ghost narrative lingers more strongly in some stories in this one. If anything, it’s pushed the Agents Irish and Whiskey books that much further up my list.

Those two minor issues aside, however, I really enjoyed reading this book. It was everything I didn’t know I wanted, largely because romantic suspense is one of my lesser read romantic subgenres.  Which doesn’t really make any sense to me, when I think about it, given my love of high drama, high stakes narratives, and it’s a blindspot I plan on remedying as fast as I possibly can!

The tension between Cam and Nic builds really beautifully alongside the dynamics of the case they’re solving, and one of the things I loved most about this book was Layla’s ability to balance the overarching narrative of the entire series she’s establishing in this book with the quickly moving bottle-narrative of this first book. It’s a trick dance to do, but this book does a really great job, and it leaves the reader with a HFN that’s both deeply satisfying and intrinsically addicting.

Cam is bisexual man, and Nic is gay and out at work, which comes up in discussion at a couple of times in the book to really interesting effect. In the first scene, we see Nic outlining his sexual orientation (along with his inflammatory and trouble-making nature) being a reason he’ll probably never be promoted from AUSA, whereas Cam’s bisexuality makes it easier for him to straight-pass and thus avoid the question entirely.

More than that, he was gay, very out about it, and that wouldn’t fly with the current administration, even at a post in San Francisco. Maybe if he were bi, like Cam, he could pull it off, but he wasn’t. He liked men, period. He’d never wavered, even when his sexual orientation had gotten him disowned.

The second scene involves their Confidential Informant, Abby, who is attracted to Cam. Cam, under his ruse of being a cop-turned-B&E artist, doesn’t discourage her attraction in an effort to further cement his cover. It’s never presented as a point of insecurity or doubt for Nic, which is important, but Cam’s orientation does allow Abby to explain away the relationship she knows to exist between Cam and Nic.

“So that kiss last night was a lie too?” “I had to know whether you were lying. If you were still on Becca’s side, for real, I had to sell the rogue cover. I need to stay close, if I’m going to get you and your sister out of this.” Sighing, she sank onto the end of the bed. “Who the fuck am I supposed to trust? How do I know you’re not lying now? Becca’s got me tied in knots and you just pulled a fucking one-eighty. Which end is up?

I point out these two moments specifically not because they bothered me in any way, but because I think they’re incredibly interesting and important in a book where we’re looking at a m/m relationship that’s not a strictly homosexual relationship, amidst a world where Alphaholes and hegemonic masculine standards can run amuck. It was one of the best parts of the book for me, outside of the sex scenes, and I just so greatly appreciated the way Layla framed the outlines of this particular relationship!

I should probably finish by discussing the sex scenes in this book, because Lordy were they just smoking hot from start to finish. No closed doors here, folks — doors thrown wide open and tables reinforced here, folks! It’s five-alarm, in no small part because of the external stakes on this relationship. It’s a tale as old as time that it’s ten times hotter to sex up the person you love if you think there’s a good chance they’ll die during their bank heist tomorrow.

I mean, in the tales I’ve been reading anyway.

I gave this book three stars, and had an absolutely fantastic time talking to Layla for today's episode of Not Now, I’m Reading!

I was provided an ARC of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review, which this most definitely was.

Where I've Been

Hannah Gadsby's  Nanette  comedy special has been playing in my house nonstop since I was introduced to it a few days ago; a commentary on narrative, comedy, rage, and the queer experience, it was everything I didn't realize comedy could be, and I encourage you all to see it.

Hannah Gadsby's Nanette comedy special has been playing in my house nonstop since I was introduced to it a few days ago; a commentary on narrative, comedy, rage, and the queer experience, it was everything I didn't realize comedy could be, and I encourage you all to see it.

It's been a shit week, friends. Truly. And I know I'm not alone in thinking so.

Anyone paying more than a modicum of attention knows that America's soul is currently at stake, and I don't feel I'm being melodramatic in saying that. We are, at this very moment, ripping children out of the arms of mothers and facing the very real reality that women are on the knifes edge of statutorily losing their right to bodily autonomy. 

Things have not been bright in our country in a long time, but the sheer amount of despair I felt rippling through every one of my communities following the announcement that Justice Kennedy is retiring was, for the first time in a long time, enough to overwhelm.

It did overwhelm.

Admitting weakness takes strength, and this week broke me, friends. I am at the convergence of several different avenues of privilege, and so while my rights might not be as immediately under siege of those of women of color, members of my queer family who aren't so easily straight passing, and the disabled community at large, I am also a queer woman operating in a country where those two markers alone are enough to be deeply dangerous. History has outlined for us the descent into fascism before, and we are checking off boxes with faster and faster speed.

It's hard to write like this. I have lived my entire life as a deeply optimistic person, often to the point of naivety and poor emotional energy management. I am not alone in feeling feckless, and in having that feeling amplified over each new day. This week, I have donated to every place I can, ever dollar that I can, and still it does not feel like enough. Because it isn't enough, and most likely won't be until those in power no longer have to have the basics of humanity outlined to them on an hourly basis.

They don't care.

I care. Many, many of those closest to me care more deeply than words can put scope to. But there is a relentless exhaustion that, admittedly, I am lucky to have not previously encountered.

My complaints are not new, nor are they to be indulged. I try to fill my Twitter with those who have been here before, who have roots in organization and action and a legacy of hope in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. Lately, even they have been tired. And so it is hard, but my hard is nothing in comparison to the hard of so many others.

What's the point here? Navel gazing, mostly, and a general off-loading of the rage and anxious energy that has filled me for weeks with so little other output. I started this post with a picture from Hannah Gadsby's Nanette because I found watching it to be one of the most deeply cathartic things I've seen, at a time when catharsis was needed so incredibly needed.

Because Hannah is fucking furious.

And so am I. 

Friday TEN 06.15.18

Did you miss me last Friday, friends? Because I sure did miss you. But, honestly, it's been a really rough couple of weeks, spoon-management wise, and the passing of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain wasn't helping anyone in my immediate social circle. 

But, the show must go on, and I'm incredibly lucky to have wonderful people in my life, supporting me in all sorts of wonderful ways. Including, apparently, sending me links they think I'll love enough to maybe include here! Because I was gone last week, I've managed to amass quite the little collection of things I enjoyed (or was alerted to) on the internet in the last two weeks. So this week's Friday Five is going to be a DOUBLE PACKED Friday Ten! 

One of the surprise-amazing things (to me, I'm sure they are not a surprise to a great many other people!) coming out of the most recent WisCon is the write-ups and analyses of different panels that happened over the course of the conference. For those like myself, who were unable to get to WisCon for a number of different reasons, they are truly amazing resources! 

Creativity and "Productivity": A Panel Report and Meditiation by KJ on Dreamwidth

When I saw the title of the panel KJ reviewed, I had to scoop my jaw up off the floor. Rarely has a panel so deeply spoke to a moment I was going through in my own life so clearly. KJ does an amazing job summarizing and synthesizing the information the panel covered, and if you're anything like me, the line "we're all striving to be Olympic level fans when we could be playing at the intramural level and still enjoying ourselves perfectly well" will hit incredibly close to home!  

WisCon 42 Panel Writeups: "Positive Representations of Masculinity" by Ira at Lady Business

WisCon 42 Panel Writeups: "Redemption And Revenge: Antiheroines And Villainesses Taking Control"

When Ira mentioned that they were going to maybe be doing panel write-ups of WisCon, I was delighted. When it turns out that they have plans to write-up all the panels they went to at WisCon, as well as they ones they were on, I almost DIED. I am always so fascinated to read anything Ira writes, especially with an analysis bent, because the way they write about their thought process, especially at something as chaotic as a convention panel, is something I deeply admire. Which is why you'll find two of their write ups in my link round-up this week! 

Burlesque and the Lens of Rewriting By Elsa Sjunneson-Henry at Uncanny Magazine

This absolutely amazing piece about disability, burlesque, and SFF's power to expand it's representative imaginative capacity sent chills through me. Elsa is a deafblind author who writes with fire about the way burlesque helped to expand her ability to reclaim and reimagine the disable characters she was seeing in fiction - and the lessons the speculate fiction community at large could learn from that. 

When women have been shamed by trolls for simply being women, when disabled women are shamed for having bodies like mine, it can be terrifying to share what I have done with mine. But I’m shedding my shame, because shame is worthless. Shame is dangerous, shame strips us of our power, and striptease gave me the power to retell stories.

Some Queer Short SFF - May 2018 by Charles Payseur at Quick Sip Reviews

Charles is the kind of reviewer I look at and just kind of mutter '...damn' quietly under my breath. He manages to review SO MUCH short fiction, with such clarity and insight, that I am truly left reeling. This particular list is one of a monthly feature he does on his Patreon, that is available for free. Y'all know how crazy I am for queer media, and having a lot of short queer content coalesces into one place is amazing.

And while this and many other posts are free, if you have a few dollars that you could toss to Charles, I highly recommend doing so! 


Curation Fandom v Transformative Fandom: A Twitter Thread by @rahaeli

This is the exact kind of fandom-related discourse I am here for, to be completely honest. After Star Wars Fan BoysTM got all up in their horrendous glee at chasing Kelly Marie Tran off Twitter, a great number of people took to lamenting on Twitter.

Denise replied in amazing fashion, laying out the difference between curation and transformation in fandom, and how the former can lead to gatekeeping, toxicity, and the kind of behavior we've seen over and over again from some of the most toxic corners of the major fandoms. 

Skin Matters by Troy L. Wiggins at Expanded Horizons

We're a little light on individual fiction in this round-up, which is less about the fiction and more about the amount of bonkers-good nonfiction I've run across recently. However, I read this short story a few minutes after posting the last Friday Five, which means that it's stuck with me in the last few weeks - no easy feat for a piece of short fiction!

The story of a mother and her android son, the story looks at motherhood, choice, the nature of having a heart, and what we face when society forces us to choose - and may not like the outcome of our choice. It's not a long story, but God damn it is an amazing one!

The Writer’s Page: The Un-Hero’s Journey by Kekla Magoon at The Hornbook

As a person who (very fortunately) gets access to a number of ARC copies of various things, I do my best to make sure I'm reading things approximately close to when it comes out.

That didn't happen with Kekla Magoon's new book, The Season of Styx Malone. It's not out until October, but I devoured it. When this piece by Kekla floated across my Twitter, I dropped what I was doing and read it immediately - with no regrets! The piece looks at heroism, narrative, and the messages we give kids about being the heroes of their lives (especially in a world where very few people may ever do A Big Thing, but that doesn't erase the validity of small heroism). It gave me a lot of feelings, and I think it'll probably do the same to you!

Gender Presentation and Ableness: a Twitter Thread by @TheBreeMae

Bree is one of my Twitter idols, and I don't say that flippantly or hyperbolically. An openly bisexual woman in a relationship with a man, there are a number of times weekly that Bree's feed brings me close to tears with love, validation, and the knowledge that my community is being seen.

This thread, on separating the way we present our gender from the physical tasks we're capable of (in this case, butch presentation paired with a physical inability to do a number of 'butch' tasks) was not only fascinating, but illuminating of yet another aspect of this messy, wiggly thing we call gender. 

Tracking Romance Reviews by Jen at Jen Reads Romance

Following in the vein of The Ripped Bodice's Diversity in Romance report, Jen has taken on a truly amazing project to look at the romance books being reviewed in eight major outlets, and how many of those titles reviewed are diverse. 

Not surprisingly, the numbers are Not Good. Jen outlines her methodology, as well as providing an entire second report about the role and importance of romance reviewers as gatekeepers, and the importance of her work shouldn't be ignored. There is a diversity problem along every rung of the publishing ladder, and making sure I'm doing what I can from my rung is the most important immediate task. Jen's numbers make that job easier.

I hope that's enough for y'all, friends! Because that's all I've got for this week. I'll be back next week with another Friday Five, my first *actual* book review, and - if I can manage to get my thoughts corralled into a line, maybe even an essay on just how much I still hate Izzie Stevens after all these years.

Friday Five 6.01.18

This one is coming in juuuust under the wire, friends. I feel, in so many ways, like this week has completely gotten away from me. It's mostly due to my temporary hermit status I had to impose in order to finish my mom's birthday present, but it's also because life truly seems to be picking up the pace right now. My grandmother, like so many others, always hammered home the 'god closes doors and open windows' adage, although this time when the door slammed, the floodgates opened! It's an adventure, and I'm loving it, but I'm also still dancing a bit in the effort to get my feet under me. Luckily, daylight hours are getting longer, and even in the most hectic weeks, I was able to find five amazing things for you to check out this weekend. 

F.O.F. was founded in 2015 by local queer kid Lane Gibson as a response to the lack of accessible and diverse clothing available to their community.

When I heard the ad spot that Fat Owl Fashion ran during a recent My Brother, My Brother, and Me episode, I knew immediately it was a company that I needed to check out. While there are no shortage of amazing small businesses making all sorts of sassy queer apparel, there is something about the low-key pride designs featured at F.O.F., combined with their focus on inclusion for the disabled community, that really caught my eye. I've purchased several things from them just in time for Pride (HAPPY PRIDE Y'ALL) and some things, really, are perfect any time!

The Life and Times of the Literary Agent Georges Borchardt at The Paris Review

When my good friend Charlotte linked to this interview earlier this week, I don't think she knew just how directly she was targeting my wheelhouse. As a Good Book Nerd, I am always interested in a person's movement through their literary life, but I have a special soft spot for the behind-the-scenes folks like agents, editors, and PR people who work for and alongside some of the names we come to know best.

This profile not only scratched all of those itches to a "T", but had the added bonus of being an absolutely beautiful and fascinating sketch of a life lived in books among the trials of war, persecution, and the Holocaust. Fittingly, if any of those subjects are triggering to you, know that they are briefly touched on, but only briefly, and the humble yet honest answers Borchardt provides as to his path to success are well worth the read.

AAR's Top 100 Romances List: Diving Into the Data at ReaderWriterVille

A few...months (?) ago - because what is time in 2018 - the first AAR poll for the 2018 Top 100 Romances list hit Twitter and it was...not great. Authors of color, specifically black authors, were largely ignored and left off the list. When this was pointed out, readers were assured that this list was just the first step of many, and that by the time the list came out, the problem would be rectified. 

And call me cynical, but when the AAR list actually dropped this week, I was frustratingly unsuprised to see that, in fact, it hadn't really been fixed. Which is why I'm linking to this post, as opposed to the actual list - I think it's far more helpful as a reflection tool. Sunita does a fantastic job of looking at the numbers from the list through a variety of different lenses, and allows you to draw your own conclusions accordingly.

For me, the bottom line is that I just can't bring myself to trust a list about romance novels that only includes one black author, Alyssa Cole. And that's no shame to Cole, whom I adore, but if you can't at least include Beverly Jenkins and Brenda Jackson to that still-too-small number, I find your list inherently dubious. 

"The Boy and the Bell" by Heidi Heilig at The Hanging Garden

I live my life in a perpetual state of catching up, with short fiction moreso than almost anything else! Which is why I'm only just now getting to this March story published by Heilig, and oh my sweet friends am I glad to have put these words into my eyeballs.

Normally, I am the first person to tell you that I am over the vampire narrative, and truth be told was never much here for it to begin with. That is, until you combine vampire myths with early medical history and a trans narrator, which will apparently turn my interest to eleven! Atmospheric and twisty, this story packs a punch into it's shorter length, and with a beautiful pacing and unfolding of details, Heilig has hit the highest bar of short story writing - leaving the readers desperately wanting more. 


A Change in Energy by kvikindi at AO3

This rec first popped up in the absolutely must-follow newsletter The Rec Center, but as always seems to be the case, it flitted on by until dear Jenny DM'd me to call it to my attention - and to reassure me that it's 450K length was the slow burn angst-fest that I'm always looking for in my reading life. 


Don't watch Stargate? That's fine! The author put together this incredibly hand primer, but even if you possess no desire to know about Stargate, this fic stands on it's own about a man falling in love with a man who might also be merging with a ship's AI. I'm only about 100K in, because I'm forcing myself to parcel it out, but y'all. Y'all. It is so absolutely worth every lingering minute. 

There it is, friends! I feel like I've gotten to spend the last little bit at rest in the eye of the hurricane (yes, it's fine, I too am singing the Hamilton song) and now it's back unto the breech. But as the waves keep coming, at least the summer sun is bright! Take care until next week (when who knows - maybe I'll even manage to get an actual review up!)

Friday Five 5.25.18

It's been a whirlwind of a week, friends, but when is that ever not the case?! Between a couple of closed school days, a handful of scheduling tornadoes, and the ever-pressing need to mow the lawn because - that's right! - summer is here at last, I almost didn't manage to track down five for this week's Friday Five. Luckily, the internet never fails to provide, and so here are a handful of the super interesting things I ran across on the internet this week!

"Sorry, haters: Almost no one in ‘Star Wars’ is canonically straight" by Gavia Baker-Whitelaw at The Daily Dot

Gavia is always one of my go-to reads when it comes to intelligent, insightful critiques and commentaries on a wide breadth of the pop culture landscape. Her analysis of the Star Wars canon (and what is canon, anyway?!) in light of the recent meta-revelation that Lando Calrissian, noted space lothario, is indeed pansexual. Now, I will say that my bullshit meter goes off at top volume when you're queer characters are created by external commentary and not in the text itself, but do yourself a favor - go read Gavia's piece. She breaks it down so much better than I ever could.

"Neil Gorsuch Just Demolished Labor Rights" by Mark Joseph Stern at Slate

 It will come as no shock to people that I know me that I am a bit of a policy wonk, a political science dork. Which as made the last eighteen months or so not only a nightmare in terms of resisting by existing, but also in regards to watching some of what are, in my mind, the tent poles to successful American democracy, erode from under us. In this specific case, as the rest of the world imploded, a 5-4 decision from the Supreme Court reversed an earlier judgement and allows employers to keep employees from suing under collective action for things like wage theft.

Justice Ginsberg (FOREVER FAVORITE) wrote a scathing and passionate dissent of the act, which further allows companies to operate free of consequence with regards to their employee's ability to act collectively. 

I will hate the Republican party forever for a lot of reasons. Stealing this Supreme Court seat is just the tip of the iceberg.

"#TraLaFrankenstein Readalong" by the Demographically Similar Jennys at Reading the End

It is no secret that I LOVE THE JENNYS! I also love the story behind the creation of one of science fiction's first texts - written by a teenage girl, no less! While I didn't have a ton of luck with the actual text of Frankenstein when I read it years ago, I'm having a much better time following along with these hilarious posts. The readalong is only running through the end of May, but there's a giveaway, and I think these posts make a perfect companion to Frankenstein whenever you manage to get to it.


"Lave Cake for the Apocalypse" by Wendy Nikel at

I will admit, the first time I saw the domain for this story, I was convinced that I'd clicked on the wrong link somehow - I was completely ignorant to the fact that Nature posts EcoSFF fiction on their site as well!

After finding a weathered Earthen recipe card for lava cake, a far-future, space-dwelling human colonist returns to Earth to track down the ingredients needed to make the cake the old-fashioned way. What follows is a world built in the space between the words, a hinted-at global meltdown in the background of one person's quest to bring happiness to another in even the smallest ways.

And there you have it, pals! Five great reads to tide you over on this wonderful Memorial Day weekend. May your mornings be sleep-filled, your coffee be hot, and your books be absolutely amazing!