“In the Land of Broken Things” is now Live

My short story “In the Land of Broken Things” is now live over on Slate. To entice you, here’s the first paragraph:

Derelict cars began to appear with greater frequency as Mallory crossed over the river and into downtown Dayton. Rusted-out artifacts shoved to one side of the road decades ago, after the Ejection had fried their electronics. Over time they seemed to be gradually fusing with the cracked, washed-out blacktop.

You can read the whole thing here. Hope you enjoy.

Soon to be in Print

Last night, I turned in the final edits for “In the Land of Broken Things”, my short story that will be published on May 29 by SLATE, as part of their Future Tense Fiction series. Here’s the fun description they came up with for it:

In a world where electricity is scarce, so are the technologies that can keep people alive.

This marks my first professional fiction sale after 58 rejections accumulated over 16 years (I keep a tracking spreadsheet). It’s been six months since I found out it was happening, but I am still kind of in disbelief that anyone wants to actually pay me for something I wrote, let alone a publication like SLATE. I always figured I would eventually get published, some day, but one never knows. So it’s really nice to cross this one off my bucket list.

I will of course be sure to share the link when “Broken Things” goes live.

Contentment Is

A Friday night spent with your best girl — ok, fiancée — having dinner from a local Mexican joint — La Taqueria Mixteca, newly on 937 Delivers! — that is very spicy to my delicate whiteboy tastebuds, but extremely delicious, pleasantly drunk on “margarita wine” — thank you, Trader’s Joe’s — watching BABYLON BERLIN, a weird but wonderful 1920’s period German noir.

Sometimes it’s the quiet, low-key moments that are my favorite.

THE TEN THOUSAND DOORS OF JANUARY, by Alix E. Harrow

It’s not often that I feel compelled to review a book, but then it’s not often I read a book like THE TEN THOUSAND DOORS OF JANUARY.

THE TEN THOUSAND DOORS OF JANUARY, by Alix E. Harrow, came out in 2019, but I only stumbled upon it recently. It will likely be my favorite book this year. It could also be one of my favorite books ever. It falls into one of my favorite genres of sf: portal fantasy. If you’re unfamiliar with the phrase, you’re almost definitely familiar with the type of story. In a portal fantasy, an ordinary person is transported from one world to another via magic, perhaps through a secret door, a piece of furniture (like, say, a wardrobe), or some other magical mechanism. Think the Narnia books, THE WIZARD OF OZ, PETER PAN…

As TEN THOUSAND DOORS opens, young January Scaller lives in a sprawling mansion with her guardian, a wealthy gentleman archaeologist. January is sort of an orphan, and spends her days largely by herself, exploring the mansion’s collection of mysterious artifacts. All that changes when January discovers a strange book that tells a story filled with secret doors, adventure, other worlds, long-lost lovers… As she reads on, she realizes her connection to the story is very personal. Adventure ensues.

I am a sucker for a book that features a book-in-a-book as a narrative device, and it’s expertly done here. I won’t talk about that aspect any further, so as not to spoil it, but it’s a lot of fun. Harrow’s writing is vivid and full of wit, and the story just completely reeled me in. January goes on a Hero’s Journey, as one would expect from this type of book, but it’s done in a way that feels organic. She doesn’t just level up at the end of each chapter. It’s earned, and certainly not easy.

Most of the main characters are BIPOC, and as the story is set in the early 20th century, Harrow doesn’t shy away from dealing with how, uh, challenging not being white in that era would be. It never feels heavy-handed or clunky, though. The characters’ non-whiteness doesn’t define who they are; it just makes them more richly drawn.

If I were to describe how reading TEN THOUSAND WORLDS made me feel, I would compare it to MR. PENUMBRA’S 24-HOUR BOOKSTORE and THE INVISIBLE LIFE OF ADDIE LARUE. That’s not to say that the plot bears any resemblance to those books; it doesn’t, other than — and this is only now occurring to me — they too feature stories as a plot device. What I am trying to say is that when I finished each of them, I sat back, happy, knowing I’d just read one hell of a book.

What if: COVID, But 20 Years Ago

I know everyone is tired of talking about the COVID life — god knows I am — but I thought this bit from Ian Leslie’s excellent newsletter, The Ruffian, offered a really interesting perspective. As bad as COVID has been, if it had struck twenty years ago, things would have been much, much worse.

Imagine if this virus had emerged two decades ago – perfectly plausible, and nothing in historical terms. Scientists would have not have had the wherewithal to crack the code of the virus or to share it globally and instantaneously. Office workers, in firms and in governments, would not have been able to meet over video, businesses would have not been able to reinvent themselves. Friends and family would have even less connection with the outside world than before. Food and other essential goods and indeed non-essential goods would have not have remained accessible to nearly so many people. Neighbours wouldn’t have been able to look after each other as easily. Governments, health services and businesses wouldn’t have been able to gather data or share information nearly so efficiently. A huge part of the reason we were able to adapt as we have is down to technologies that didn’t exist or were not in widespread use twenty or even ten years ago. It’s enough to make you believe in progress.