Tag Archives: horror

New stuff from me

YES, because it’s been a while. And these have actually been out for a while. But I swear, I’m developing an aversion to updating this damn thing.

ANYWAY. Here’s what they are:

Shape Without Form, Shade Without Color (Tor.com)

This is a weird, dreamlike, not very clearly explained piece of darkness. It’s also heavily autobiographical, and really it’s more a look into my particular state of mind during a really rough part of a really rough year. It’s about mental illness more than anything else – and I think that’s one of the reasons why, it seems to me, the reactions to it have been fairly polarized. I don’t usually like to talk about reactions to my own stuff, because I don’t like the possibility that I’m giving the impression that I go after negative reviews. I try to not engage negative reviews at all, ever, because it’s a really really bad idea in addition to being a dickish thing to do. But there are things about some of the reactions I saw that I found both interesting and frankly troubling, and I did talk about it some in a thread on Twitter. Which seemed to strike a nerve with a lot of people, in a good way.

I’ll probably write a longer post about this, assuming I can get my act together, but basically the reactions I saw fell, for the most part, into two categories: “I didn’t understand this/this didn’t make any sense/this wasn’t really a story and therefore I disliked it” and “yes, yes, this is exactly how it feels.

Which, in retrospect, isn’t very surprising. Again, I might – I want to – talk more about this at some point in the future.

AND

eyes I dare not meet in dreams (also Tor.com)

This was originally written for a society and technology blog – Cyborgology – that I used to semi-run with some friends, and it wasn’t even originally a story, per se. It only became clear to me after the fact; it was (and is) an explosion of anger that had been building for a while, about… Well, if you read it, it should be pretty obvious. A particular favorite deceased (or possibly “deceased”) character of mine makes a cameo appearance; those people who know the fandom side of my life will probably spot her.

Y’know, I didn’t even think it was that good at the time. I now think it’s one of the better things I’ve written. Like “Shape Without Form” it isn’t so much an actual story in the traditional sense. As I said, at heart it’s a rant.

I think it’s a fun rant tho.

here are my stories what are award-eligible

If you care; I always feel weird about making these, but here we go.

I had a pretty good year, short-story wise. Had a pretty good year novel-wise, in swordandstar_1200x1800hrthat I had one come out – the (VERY LONG AWAITED, AT LEAST BY ME) follow-up to my debut Line and Orbit, Fall and Rising. Publisher’s Weekly called it “a satisfying and provocative hybrid”, and said the relationships were “honest and engaging”, which is very nice.

There’s also the final book in the trilogy, Sword and Star, coming December 21 (and available now for presale) – juuuuuuust in time for Christmas.

In short storydom:

  • “Love Letters to Things Lost and Gained” in Uncanny Magazine kicked things off for me this year. Story about a woman who finds herself fitted with a prosthetic limb after an accident, and the limb doesn’t fit well – psychologically and emotionally, not physically. I wanted to write a story about human relationship with intimate forms of technology, and where the line between “real” and “artifical” lies, as well as the value judgments we make when we draw those distinctions.
  • “A Shadow on the Sky” in Mythic Delirium. This is in many ways yet another installment in what’s becoming a series of what I’ll call “drone fiction” on my part – explorations of the relationship between humans and unmanned aeriel vehicles. A woman suffers tragedy when her home is destroyed and becomes a kind of goddess of vengeance, capturing enemy combat drones and making them into an army of which she’s the queen. Some people make a pilgrimage into the desert to find her and hijinks ensue. Bad, dark hijinks.
  • “Come My Love and I’ll Tell You a Tale” in Shimmer. Probably one of the most relentlessly dark things I’ve ever written (a huge amount of what I write at present is very dark, in fact). A slow-burn and somewhat chaotic second-person narrative set in an unspecified post-disaster world, desperately yearning for the world that was while being forced to confront the world that is and the unimaginably terrible thing the character is contemplating doing in order to survive.
  • “It is Healing, it is Never Whole” in Apex Magazine. Written after a family member committed suicide, and I think part of an attempt to process. In a strange and vaguely industrial afterlife, spirits collect the souls of suicides and transfer them to a train that takes them on to points unknown. But one worker finds a soul that connects with them on an entirely new level, and wonders what it all means.
  • And finally: “Dispatches from a Hole in the World” in the Queers Destory Horror! edition of Nightmare. This is the other story I’m most in love with, and it rivals “eyes I dare not” in terms of my Nightmare_37_October_2015estimation of quality. I think it might be one of the best things I ever wrote, in fact. It’s certainly incredibly personal. It’s about graduate school, mental illness, connection and disconnection, technology, and hope battling hopelessness. It’s incredibly dark, and very triggery for anyone who has issues with graphic depictions of suicide. Really it’s kind of a snapshot of a particular mental state. A graduate student finds themselves being consumed by their dissertation in ways that go far beyond the norm, as they immerse themselves in the history of a year of an epidemic of documented suicides – a year they lived through.

So yeah. Them’s my stuff. If you read, if you consider for any awards, if you just like the damn things, thanking you kindly. Again, I think this was a pretty good year in this respect. A hugely difficult one, but good. Hope the next one is also good sans at least some of the difficulty.

Here be my 2014 awards post, yarr

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2014 was a decently productive year for me, publication-wise. It was also a year full of awkward, jerky stops and starts and a bunch of things ended up being way bigger and way more exhausting than I thought they would (and the year isn’t over yet), but overall I’m pleased with things. I’ll be doing a year round-up post around New Year’s, but for now here are the things by me that are award-eligible this year. Most of them are free to read online. If you’re reading for awards and you want copies of any of the stuff that isn’t, feel free to get in touch with me and I’ll shoot it your way.

Short stories

  • “So Sharp That Blood Must Flow” – Lightspeed – February 2014. I’ve been referring to this as my Misandrist Little Mermaid story, and so it is. It’s a violent, vengeful take on the fairy tale, and it was somewhat cathartic to write. I would actually consider it horror more than fantasy. I’m very proud of how uninterested it is in taking any prisoners.
  • “To Increase His Wondrous Greatnesse More” – Apex Magazine – March 2014. In some ways this can be read as a companion piece to the above. It’s not necessarily a take on any one fairy tale as it is an attack on tropes common to many of them. A maiden, a dragon, and a queer meditation on storytelling and the monstrous feminine.
  • “Across the Seam” – Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History. An extremely personal story about Baba Yaga, a Slavic immigrant coal miner who’s also trans, and a massacre that ended a miner’s strike in Lattimer, Pennsylvania. You can read more about it here.
  • “Cold as the Moon” – Strange Horizons – August 2014. Got a “recommended” from Lois Tilton at Locus. This one came from the image of the very first line and became a story about neglectful/abusive parents and children who have to grow up far too early. It’s an angry story. A lot of the stuff I published this year was angry, actually.
  • “Singing With All My Skin and Bone” – Nightmare – September 2014. If there’s a single story I’m most proud of in 2014, this is it. It’s by far the most personal thing I’ve ever written. It’s basically autobiography with a speculative veil. Writing it was an incredibly raw, visceral experience – appropriately so, given the subject matter. Which, speaking of, you should be aware of if you have any self-injury triggers.
  • “What Glistens Back” – Lightspeed – November 2014. This is the other one I’m most proud of. I’ve taken to saying that it’s a first contact story and a last contact story; it’s about discovery but it’s also about saying goodbye to a loved one in the moments before death. Apparently it made a bunch of people cry. Good.

Novels

So that’s it. If you’re reading for awards, I hugely appreciate you giving them a look. If you’re not, hey, give ’em a look anyway. I mean, I think they’re all right.

Some thoughts on Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs and participatory storytelling

pigline_3

Capitalism!

Because there’s nothing like kicking off the morning of three weeks of teaching an intensive intro-to-sociology course like writing about one of the most delightfully disturbing games I’ve ever played.

I should note that as usual, I’m behind on this. A Machine for Pigs actually came out this past fall, but – as I think I’ve said before – for a variety of reasons both temporal and financial I tend to refrain from purchasing games until they get severely discounted in Steam sales. So I finally have it, and I played it, and it’s probably among my top ten games that I’ve ever played.

I loved the first Amnesia, though it was an abusive kind of love, because I have rarely played a game that made me want to stop playing it as much as Amnesia:The Dark Descent. I don’t scare all that easily, though I used to; much of what I write these days is arguably horror – or at least could be categorized as dark-fantastic – and I watch horror flicks to relax. That said, the first Amnesia was full of more NOPE moments than I thought possible in a game (until Outlast came along and left my every nerve raw and frayed at the ends) and I thought then that in terms of sheer dreadful atmosphere, it was pretty much unsurpassed by anything else I had experienced.

Then, as I said, Outlast came along, and I was stuck with a new standard of NOPE. Outlast is not a long game, but it took me a long time to finish it on account of how many nights I simply refused to play it at all because I literally could not deal.

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I JUST

So. A Machine for Pigs.

I’m a huge, huge fan of The Chinese Room’s previous game Dear Esther (The Dark Descent studio Frictional Games essentially handed the sequel off to them). Dear Esther contains what I think is some of the best prose I’ve encountered in any game, and in fact inspired a story of mine, so I was fantastically excited when I heard they were the ones developing A Machine for Pigs, and on the writing side, I wasn’t in the least disappointed. How the writing is integrated into the game is massively important, and a massive part of why it worked so well for me; The Chinese Room went the – fairly conventional – route of leaving notes and memos around for you to find as you explore the world, that incrementally reveal who exactly you are and what exactly you’ve done. But more unconventionally – and very much like Dear Esther – the notes are frequently puzzles in themselves, and hint at horrors rather than making them explicit (except for a few wonderfully macabre instances toward the end). They’re not in order, temporally, and it’s only once you’re a good bit of the way through the game that they actually start to present a coherent picture. Dear Esther did the same thing, though in the service of a very different mood, and the result was an experience full of gentle, meditative, revelatory punches to the gut.

Dear Esther: I can't even with this game. Weather continues cloudy, wish you weren't all ghostly. XOXO

Dear Esther: I can’t even with this game. Weather continues cloudy, wish you weren’t all ghostly. xoxo

A Machine for Pigs is the same, except instead of gentle and meditative it’s all creeping dread and slowly intensifying horror. Also disgust, because while The Dark Descent made it a point to scare the everloving shit outta you, A Machine for Pigs is more about visceral vileness and dehumanization. The theme is really in the name – think about our cultural connotations of “pig”, regardless of how accurate it really is, about their social context, how we use the word and the idea, and what images are called up when we think about them as animals that exist to be slaughtered and consumed. I’m not a vegetarian by any stretch, and I love animals, and I’m very aware of the cognitive dissonance and even the hypocrisy involved in that.

The language that writer Dan Pinchbeck employs in the service of this theme is careful, and to me resonant of both things like Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle – an obvious reference point – and the work people like Zygmunt Bauman and Hannah Arendt have done on the nature of dehumanization and the mechanized, industrialized erasure of the value of life. The game is in part a vaguely Marxist indictment of capitalism run amok, though one doesn’t have to be aware of that aspect in order to feel the horror Pinchbeck wants you to feel.

well let's not get carried away or anything

well let’s not get carried away or anything

Again, like Dear Esther – and like many other games that employ the same basic mechanic – these things are fragmentary, and the story you piece together is drawn from what isn’t there as much as what is. This weekend at Readercon I had a wonderful hallway conversation with fellow writer and buddy Kenneth Schneyer (he has a short fiction collection out and you should get it) about his story “Selected Program Notes from the Retrospective Exhibition of Theresa Rosenberg Latimer” and about fiction in that same basic format: found documents, descriptions of the contents of containers, emails, images, journal entries, etc. Things that reveal a story in fragments and increments, and hit you in the gut more on the basis of what’s implied than what’s straightforwardly shown. I happen to love those kinds of stories, though I have yet to do one myself in a way that I think works even a little, and I’m finding more and more that one of the media that’s doing that kind of storytelling especially well is video games. I’ve written before about how one of the major strengths of storytelling in video games is the fact that you’re not just an audience but a participant, and I think written fiction of that fragmentary kind approaches the same kind of active participation on the part of the reader and is effective for many of the same reasons. You have to work out the puzzle. You have to make sense of what you’re seeing.

And of course, it’s old wisdom that some of the greatest horror is what you never actually see but know is lurking there in the dark, red in tooth and claw.

this all looks very normal

this all looks very normal

So yeah. Basically I loved A Machine for Pigs. It’s not as scary as its predecessor, but it’s way more horrifying, and it’s a kind of horror that resonates more with me. As a work of fiction, I think it’s fantastically compelling, and the prose is a delight. I’d recommend it whole-heartedly to people who don’t normally play games, and in fact I might recommend it especially to those people. Just make sure you have a strong stomach. Or at least don’t mind when it gets turned.

so happy new year is pretty much what I'm saying here

so happy new year is pretty much what I’m saying here

I have a wolf’s bite; I have a pack at my heels

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This is from “Singing With All My Skin and Bone”, which will be out at some point in Nightmare, and which I’m posting because I’ve been thinking about it, because it’s pertinent to my post last night, and it remains the most intensely personal thing I’ve written in a long time. It is essentially autobiography through a veil. It was frightening to write. I’m glad I did.

Let me tell you what I wish I could have said, when they saw the blood and the pits in my flesh and tried to get me to stop, because everyone knows a little kid shouldn’t do this shit to themselves. Let me tell you that when you discover a direct line into the fabric of the universe, it’s very difficult to just leave that alone. Let me tell you what it’s like to wear every mark like a secret ornament that only you find lovely, and to hate them at the same time because of what they’ll mean to everyone else, so you hide them as best you can with long sleeves and shadows but they always see in the end. Let me tell you what it’s like to make blood magic, real magic, because packed under your fingernails the world loses its power to hurt you anymore. Let me tell you want it’s like to run pain through a complex refinement process that makes it chocolate and warm sheets and dappled summer sunlight. Let me tell you what it’s like to select your instruments of sorcery according to their sharpness and keen edges. Let me tell you what it’s like to be a witch in junior high school. Let me tell you. Shut up and let me talk.

~

I wish I could get this into words. None of them are coming out quite right. I want to tell you what it’s like to have magic in your skin. Sit down beside me and let me illuminate all my scars, let me tell you all my many early names. No, they weren’t bestowed like honorable titles and they hurt worse than the actual wounds, but they dug into me just like everything else, and I have them still. Not all scars are the kinds you can see. Not all scars are beautiful. A changing body is a dangerous thing; a body that can be changed is more dangerous still. All these little bodies, all this potential, and imagine if they all found out how to take hold of it all at once. Every single beaten-down body, rising in angry flames.

God, we would have been terrifying. Can you imagine? Can you just imagine that? There’s a reason why we send children off to war.

Part of a Thing I Love: Twofer edition

Here are two short stories that I’ve majorly dug recently. Both are, in their own way, quite horrifying, and both deal in horror that’s fundamentally about loss and powerlessness in loss – which is really the kind of horror that I find most powerful at this point in my life. The first one especially deals with the loss of loved ones, and not only their loss but the horror of watching them fall apart in front of you and not being able to do anything but be there with them.

Both stories also deal with injury and sickness, the destruction of the body – which is something else that resonates very strongly with me, given how much I’ve been writing about it lately.

Anyway, here we go:

Glen Hirshberg – “I Am Coming to Live in Your Mouth” (Nightmare Magazine, Feb 2014)

She was moving his hand against the inside of one of her wrists, now. Feeling the paper-thin membrane against her smoothness, right where the sleeve of her robe ended. Dazed, she moved his hand to her cheek. Held it there. Stroked once, so gently, down. Back up. Down again. Then she slid Joe’s hand to her neck. Down farther, into the V of her robe to brush one nipple. The other. How long had it been now? Two years? Three? They’d had such sweet touching in the eighteen months before what they’d always known was coming—or, coming back—arrived for good. Such patient touching, as though they’d had all the time in the world. Now his skin—what there was of it—just felt scratchy and hard, like a dried-out loofa.

I am coming to live in your mouth.

Damien Angelica Walters – “Green is for Silence, Blue is for Voice, Red is for Whole, Black is for Choice” (Daily Science Fiction)

Leda sleeps within a nightskin.

From the outside, it appears featureless, a chrysalis connected to the machinery below with tubes and wires. When the stitches dissolve, she knows it’s time to emerge. A week? A month? She doesn’t know. Time slips while inside the nightskin. Slips and falls away.

She wakes in stages. First, there is a subtle awareness, a shift in the light perhaps, as the stitches begin to give way and the skin loosens around her. The synthetic framework holding her muscles and tendons in place acknowledges the new space. Her limbs stretch out, pushing the gap open. The nightskin falls open; Leda within, like a peeled grape.

Best Dark Fantasy and Horror 2014: Cover, ToC, AWESOME

Revealed, courtesy of Paula Guran, the cover and table of contents for The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy and Horror 2014, which I am in:

“No matter your expectations, the dark is full of the unknown: grim futures, distorted pasts, invasions of the uncanny, paranormal fancies, weird dreams, unnerving nightmares, baffling enigmas, revelatory excursions, desperate adventures, spectral journeys, mundane terrors and supernatural visions. You may stumble into obsession or find redemption. Often disturbing, occasionally delightful, let The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy and Horror be your annual guide through the mysteries and wonders of dark fiction.”

Contents (in alphabetical order by author’s last name):

  • “Postcards from Abroad,” Peter Atkins (Rolling Darkness Revue 2013, Earthling Publications)
  • “The Creature Recants,” Dale Bailey (Clarkesworld, Issue 85, October 2013)
  • “The Good Husband,” Nathan Ballingrud (North American Lake Monsters, Small Beer Press)
  • “Termination Dust,” Laird Barron (Tales of Jack the Ripper, ed. Ross Lockhart, Word Horde)
  • “The Ghost Makers,” Elizabeth Bear (Fearsome Journeys, ed. Jonathan Strahan, Solaris)
  • “The Marginals,” Steve Duffy (The Moment of Panic, PSPublishing)
  • “A Collapse of Horses,” Brian Evenson (The American Reader, Feb/Mar 2013)
  • “A Lunar Labyrinth,” Neil Gaiman (Shadows of the New Sun: Stories in Honor of Gene Wolfe, eds. J. E. Mooney & Bill Fawcett, Tor)
  • “Pride,” Glen Hirshberg (Rolling Darkness Revue 2013, Earthling Publications)
  • “Let My Smile Be Your Umbrella,” Brian Hodge (Psycho-Mania!, ed. Stephen Jones, Robinson)
  • “The Soul in the Bell Jar,” K. J. Kabza (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Nov/Dec 2013)
  • “The Prayer of Ninety Cats,” Caitlín R. Kiernan (Subterranean Online, Spring 2013)
  • “Dark Gardens,” Greg Kurzawa (Interzone # 248)
  • “A Little of the Night,” Tanith Lee (Clockwork Phoenix 4, ed. Mike Allen, Mythic Delirium)
  • “The Gruesome Affair of the Electric Blue Lightning,” Joe R. Lansdale (Beyond Rue Morgue: Further Tales of Edgar Allan Poe’s First Detective, ed. Paul Kane & Charles Prepole, Titan)
  • “Iseul’s Lexicon,” Yoon Ha Lee (Conservation of Shadows, Prime Books)
  • “The Plague” Ken Liu (Nature, 16 May 2013)
  • “The Slipway Gray,” Helen Marshall (Chilling Tales 2, ed. Michael Kelly, Edge Publications)
  • “To Die for Moonlight,” Sarah Monette (Apex Magazine, Issue #50)
  • “Event Horizon,” Sunny Moraine (Strange Horizons, 21 Oct 2013)
  • “The Legend of Troop 13,” Kit Reed (Asimov’s Science Fiction, Jan 2013 / The Story Until Now: A Great Big Book of Stories, Wesleyan)
  • “Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell,” Brandon Sanderson (Dangerous Women, eds. George R. R. Martin & Gardner Dozois, Tor)
  • “Phosphorous,” Veronica Schanoes, (Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells: An Anthology of Gaslamp Fantasy, eds. Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling, Tor)
  • “Blue Amber,” David J. Schow (Impossible Monsters, ed. Kasey Lansdale, Subterranean Press)
  • “Rag and Bone,” Priya Sharma (Tor.com, 10 April 2013)
  • “Our Lady of Ruins”, Sarah Singleton (The Dark 2, Dec 2013)
  • “Cuckoo,” Angela Slatter (A Killer Among Demons, ed. Craig Bezant, Dark Prints Press)
  • “Wheatfield with Crows,” Steve Rasnic Tem (Dark World: Ghost Stories, ed. Timothy Parker Russell, Tartarus Press)
  • “Moonstruck,” Karin Tidbeck (Shadows and Tall Trees, Vol. 5, ed. Mike Kelly, Undertow)
  • “The Dream Detective,” Lisa Tuttle (Lightspeed, Mar 2013)
  • “Fishwife,” Carrie Vaughn (Nightmare, Jun 2013
  • “Air, Water and the Grove,” Kaaron Warren (The Lowest Heaven, eds Anne C. Perry & Jared Shurin, Jurassic London)

Writer Me from five years ago says: jesus christ look at who I’m in a book with