Lauren Beukes is a South African journalist, director, and writer, who broke into the Mainstream with her time-travelling-serial-killer story The Shining Girls. Before that she worked as a journalist, scriptwriter, directed a documentary (about Gay Beauty Pageants), and published 3 novels - a non-fiction one called Maverick: Extraordinary Women from South Africa’s Past, and two genre-titles (corporate-dystopia Moxyland, and a magic-crime-thriller called Zoo City) Her latest novel is set in Detroit, and called Broken Monsters. Slipping is a collection of her short writing - fiction, essays, and non-fiction. All stories here have been previously published - you will, like me, have come across some/most of these before if you’ve been following Lauren’s career through genre success to exploding into the Mainstream & beyond.
The scope of and approach to the content is as varied as you would expect from such a retrospective - it runs from (re)visits of the world of Moxyland in Branded, to general current/near-future social commentary in the likes of Confirm/Ignore or Pop Tarts. There is horror here, like in the very uneasy My Insect Skin; and classic SF like The Green with its Alien Pharma harvesting, or Unaccounted which mixes Alien contact with Guantanamo and its associated paranoia. And there is pure, unfettered, near-Dadaist fun like Unathi Battles the Black Hairballs. All that before we even get to the non-fiction part, which throws an interesting light on Lauren's background, her approach to writing, and her thinking as a mother in today's society. The quality of the writing is very high, though, I do not recall anything which felt weak, or like filler here. Yes, the stories are very different, but they are well written, engaging, and frequently thought-provoking.
The book is split into fiction and non-fiction work, and followed by a Glossary of South African terms/slang/key concepts, plus the copyright notices from the original publication of the stories between 2003 and 2014.
This is just a quick note, as I've just tripped over the fact that Daniel Lieske has the 9th chapter in his long-standing webcomic (er, graphic web album? comic really doesn't do this justice!) called The Wormworld Saga available for all to see and read.
The Wormworld Saga follows the adventures of a boy called Jonas in a parallel world, which he entered through a picture/mirror/empty frame in his Grandmother's attic. So far so default a setting, what really sets this apart is the storytelling, but even more it's the artwork by Daniel which drives this. The drawings, in an unusual, vertical format, are exquisite, a visual smorgasbord of impression and references, really bringing to life the cultures, settings, and creatures in the story.
But go look for yourself - you will want to start with Chapter 1 if you have not read this before, there are no real jumping-on points, and it's very well worth starting at the beginning!
I notice that Daniel meanwhile also has a Patreon page, so if you like what you see you could, nah, should help him with making ends meet whilst he crafts these great stories (or you could always visit the shop, and buy the books, or merchandise, or the game to go with the on-going story!).
Anyway, enough hyperbole. Go look, and make up your own mind!
European History is full of wonderful (and sometimes horrific) little pockets of oddness, forgotten corners, and attempts at societies and developments which did not stand the test of time, or were extinguished before they could prove themselves. Pirate Utopia deals with one of those by telling a story set in it, and using it as a sketched-in jumping-off point into a different future than the one we ended up in. I found it rather fascinating to read up on the Regency of Carnaro, and the Free State of Fiume, which is the reality, as fantastic as it is messy, that this story is set in/based on. Not a chapter of post WW1 European History I was aware of previously…Sterling labels it as “one of the strangest episodes of political extremism in European History”.
Bruce Sterling himself is an old hand at this fiction game - he came to prominence as part of the Cyberpunk movement (I still wish he had written more in his Shaper universe before the world, and himself with it, moved on!), and the preface of this book lists 12 novels, 7 collections, 2 edited works, and 4 non-fiction books in his name. Good going, I would say, all the more so as several of these are considered genre-defining classics. These days he splits his time between Austin, Turin, and Belgrade, and knows the setting of this story first-hand.
The book kicks off in style, with an introduction to the topic by Warren Ellis: “Futurism, the business of the future, is the act of telling stories of about what’s next”. Of course, the Futurists had their own slant to how they saw things develop, being “drunk on speed, technology, youth, violence, war - the car, the aeroplane, the industrial city”. And, incidentally, being a precursor/influence on Fascism. This is followed by a Cast of Characters (most of them historically correct), the actual story in 6 chapters, an Afterword by Christopher Brown, an Interview with the Author by Rick Klaw (loads of interesting background in this!), Notes on the the Design by the John Coulthart, and Biographies of all involved (and no, Warren does NOT live in London).
I first came across Mercurio D. Rivera in Ian Whates’ story collection Paradox, which assembles a number of writers and scientists to explore the different answers/approaches to the Fermi Paradox. A recommended book on its own, but not what we’re talking about here. Mercurio’s contribution to the collection was such that I smartly turned around and ordered Across the Event Horizon, the only full-sized book published under his name so far (it won’t remain the only one, I can assure you), which is this collection of the majority of his short fiction to date. You might have gathered already that Mercurio D. Rivera is considered the next big thing by those who claim to know, and I have to agree that if he keeps delivering stories of this calibre he will indeed become a household name, at least in SF circles. He is based in New York, is blogging at mercuriorivera.com, has seen his stories in a number of publications and collections, and has been nominated for the World Fantasy Award.
Did the book live up to my expectations from the story in Paradox, you ask? Yes and no – overall this is fascinating and engrossing stuff, but not every story hits home the same way, as you are no doubt not surprised to hear. It’s a collection, after all…
What else can I tell you without spoilers? The book starts with an Introduction by Terry Bisson (who is full of praise for Mercurio), and ends with a potted biography called About the Author and a short chapter on Story Honors and Accolades. All the stories have been published before, between 2005-2012, there is no original first-publication content here. Nevertheless, he excels at stories which I felt are slightly twisted, slightly uncomfortable, even if the subject matter frequently follows classic SF tropes.
One to watch (for the author), and one to buy (for the book), would be my recommendation.
For this month I'd like to point you, not for the first time, at a short story by Aliette de Bodard.
This time is a classic adventure tale called The Dragon's Tears, initially published by Electric Velocipede in 2008, and re-published by Lightspeed Magazine this month (you can obtain a hardcopy of the issue via the link below!)
The story is one which has been told in ever so many variants across all the different cultures - it follows a young man who goes on an adventure to obtain the means to heal his terminally ill mother. I'm not going to spill what makes this iteration of the trope specific, you can find that out yourself through the old-fashioned process of reading the story, but I can confirm that this is indeed well written, and affecting, and worth your time.
The rather wonderful picture on the right is from an artist calling him/herself Reverie Addict, and is not related to the story save by sharing its title.
Now here is a strange, subtly unsettling, and generally unusual book, with a suitably unusual history to it. Orgasmachine is Ian Watson's 'lost novel'. Originally written in 1970 during his stay in Japan, it was nearly sold (the publisher went bankrupt), re-written during the 1980s, sold to Playboy whose book division was sold and subsequently dropped the book; part of it was included in an Anthology in 96 to rave reviews, and it was finally published, back in Japan, in 2001 to coincide with the movie version of AI (Ian has screen-writing credits for that), and short-listed for the Seian award. And, finally, in 2010, Ian Whates' Newcon Press released the book in English, too...
The story follows a number of friends from the same generation of custom-built girls: Jade with the huge blue eyes, Hana with her 6 breasts (plus a nipple on her chin); Mari, a furry cat-women, plus some others. You see, this world is a man's world. Women are, by default, subservient, controlled via brain-nets, mood settings set via remote, and Dream-Cast from the all-controlling Data-Swarm-Male (MALE – for Module for the Application of Law Established). Women are things, owned and discarded at the whim of their owner.
The Three Laws of Feministics:
Your body is not your own; it belongs to another. Therefore you may not damage it nor, through inaction, allow it to be damaged.
You must obey all orders given you by your owner (or in cases of loss of ownership, by any man) even if such orders conflict with the First Law.
You may not injure any man, nor through failure to comply with the Second Law, cause him displeasure and mental injury.