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  1. it me, ur smol by A. Merc Rustad [Jump]

  2. Rabbit Heart by Alyssa Wong [Jump]

  3. A Hundred and Seventy Storms by Aliette de Bodard [Jump]

  4. Pistol Grip by Vina Jin-Mie Prasad [Jump]

  5. Refugee, or, a Nine Item Representative Inventory of a Better World by Iona Sharma [Jump]

  6. From the Void by Sarah Gailey [Jump]

  7. Octo-Heist in Progress by Rich Larson [Jump]

  8. A Fist of Permutations in Lightning and Wildflowers by Alyssa Wong [Jump]

1. it me, ur smol by A. Merc Rustad [Top]
A. Merc Rustad's it me, ur smol is great. It's about an AI that was set to procedurally generate drink names and tweet them out, only to discover that a distressing amount of people aren't drinking enough water – so sets out to fix it! It's a story with such pure concern, I love it! My favourite part is probably the market research and assessment of human twitter practises to figure out the best approach, and the way it interacted with people! The concern is so sweet, and the way it gains sentience and tries to do its best! it me, ur smol is so hopeful and sweet and kind, with the political wish-fulfilment I need in my life right now, and a last line so sweet that I just want to hold it in my heart for a while. I loved it.

2. Rabbit Heart by Alyssa Wong [Top]
Rabbit Heart is a story about grief and guilt through the medium of growing copies of dead loved ones using rabbit cells. Unsurprisingly, it's really good. I love the way that the threads of grief and guilt are woven through the story, from the rules the main character enforces to the subtleties of what's going on with Lilin. I liked the contrast between the people who put themselves through losing someone again once and learn to let go, and the people who come back again and again looking for someone malleable and replaceable – and the fact that the protagonist simultaneously judges and understands them. The guilt is delicious, and the moment where Lilin's role in the story clicks is so good. Rabbit Heart is a little bit dark and grim, but honestly it is so good.

(I'll tell you what it made me think of though; the first Pet Shop of Horrors story, where a pair of indulgent parents buy a rabbit that looks exactly like their dead daughter and don't listen to the feeding instructions. There's no connection between the two, but that's where my brain went.)

[Caution warnings: Off-screen abuse and murder]

3. A Hundred and Seventy Storms by Aliette de Bodard [Top]
Another Xuya-verse story, yay! A Hundred and Seventy Storms is different to the other Xuya-verse stories that I've read – it's set in orbit around a mining planet, and focuses on protecting the mind of a mindship through the regular horrific storms that could destroy their physical body. The idea that a mind-ship could feel pain or need protecting isn't one that I'd considered before, even though I've read stories where they grieve, have PTSD and die, so it only makes sense. A Hundred and Seventy Storms shows that unexpected vulnerability really well; The Snow Like a Dancer, the mindship, is painfully aware of the danger and damage to her physical body, and that she's now survived the same number of storms as her predecessors. The imagery of the hostile environment is really well done; the storm rolling in feels appropriately tense and dramatic, even though most of the story takes place in one room.

It also shows the hurt of being unable to leave your home (The Snow Like a Dancer can't survive leaving the planet's atmosphere) when your loved ones can. It has supportive family members, and people who are willing to leave their family behind to benefit their family, which is a really nice feeling of character growth.

I'm always excited to find more Xuya stories, and I think A Hundred and Seventy Seven Storms is a pretty good addition to the series!

4. Pistol Grip by Vina Jie-Min Prasad [Top]
So it's a non-linear story about supersoldiers breaking out of jail and going on a revenge spree, from the POV of the soldier that doesn't actually care about revenge as much as keeping their partner alive in the face of his death wish, desire to commit havoc, dramatic attempts at body modification, and refusal to accept any kindness the protagonist wants to offer. I swear I've read this fic.

I loved the non-linear aspect of it, because it layers up the feelings and reveals of what happened and how they got there really well! (Although the story's introduction is someone being banged with a gun, so for me there was an instant "Wait, what, hang on," aspect that I believe was completely intentional but is probably what contributed to the "Hang on, was this a [livejournal.com profile] bb_shousetsu story?" idea.) I especially liked the point of view — there's a cyberpunk thriller-subterfuge-assassination plot going on in the background of Pistol Grip that the protagonist is only interested in as far as it affects their partner, and there's a messy one-sided romance going where the protagonist wants to show tenderness and kindness to someone determined to self-destruct, but the only way they can be permitted that is through silence. The prose feels spare, but the way that it gets across emotion and the world-building in tiny effective details (The lagging holos! The changing of birds and skin!) works for me.

It's a good story! Just fair warning on the self-destructive partner.

[Caution warning: abuse, gunplay, self-harm]

5. Refugee, or, a Nine Item Representative Inventory of a Better World by Iona Sharma [Top]
Refugee, or, a Nine-Item Representative Inventory of a Better World is pretty high on the list of "short stories that made me want to cry." A widow in a world where heroes and refugees from another time will occasionally wash up on people's doorsteps in need of help finds a young man in her kitchen, who she both knows and doesn't. It is full of grief and kindness in all directions, and it really touched me. It's beautiful even as it's describing horrors, even as it's showing someone in pain out of the door back into the world that hurt them. It gives the characters exactly a strong enough presence for the story being told – Kiran, for example, the narrator's dead wife, never appears in the story, but she's still an important part of it. Plus, I've already told you all that I'm a sucker for good lists. If you need a story with kindness for these unkind times: this might be a place to start.

[Caution warning: offscreen torture, offscreen childbirth]

6. From the Void by Sarah Gailey [Top]
From the Void is about survivor's guilt and best friends and loss, through the medium of the last survivor on a generation ship hit by a plague. A plague that makes the victims cough up feathers. ... I know, right?!

(The death by feathers is so gross and yet so vividly written, I have to tell you that first off because augh.)

The depiction of grief and loneliness is really well done, and I enjoy the way that the story moves back and forth between Judith's present, where she is alone and trying to complete the funeral rites for the dead, and her past, where she and her best friend Esther are trying to hold each other together as the ship dies around them. The contrast between the bleakness of the present and the more bearable horror in the past is really stark, and seeing the friendship between Judith and Esther makes the present even worse. The mystery of what exactly happened to Esther – we can guess, but we don't know – is so satisfyingly built, and the final scene – and Judith's anger, that's been simmering below all of the scenes before it – is brilliant and took me out at the knees.

The world building is great too — especially for Judith's religion, which appears to be based on the infinite void of space!

I really enjoyed From the Void, and if you want a bleak story about friendship and grief, definitely start with this one.

7. Octo-Heist in Progress by Rich Larson [Top]
Etta has a problem that can only be solved through breaking and entering, so she recruits the only man that she thinks can help her: the one whose partner in crime is a cyberpunk octopus.

... It's a heist story with a cyberpunk octopus, of course I was going to read it.

What I'm taking from the grand total of two stories that I've read by this author is that Rich Larson is way worse at writing beginnings than endings. The beginning reads very much like a description exercise for a creative writing class, rather than being an organic part of the story, and the character introductions aren't quite steady – there's something self-conscious in the way that he has one of the characters speak and define the slang he's using that I can't quite work out if I should attribute to the character or to the writing. (It was "Hello fellow kids" enough that I was half-expecting the twist to me that the thief was actually an undercover cop or something, that level of awkward.) But once the story got going, it was fun! Predictable and stereotypical, with important lessons being learned, but it was fine! Etta's friendship with the octopus was absolutely predictable, but I still kinda liked it.

[Caution warning: vomit, using an octopus for crime and not being kind about it, drug use]

8. A Fist of Permutations in Lightning and Wildflowers by Alyssa Wong [Top]
I reviewed A Fist of Permutations in Lightning and Wildflowers a million years ago when I first read it, and I've come back to find that my opinion hasn't actually changed – it's still a beautiful story full of all of the things that I love in fiction. This time around I found that I paid more attention to Melanie – the way that she specifically wants to take back ownership of herself and her death and the way that she acknowledges that Hannah's lashing out and attempts to change things are a way of taking control of something that was never under her control to begin with.

It's still possibly my favourite story about siblings and time loops, and I'm still choosing to believe that the ending is a hopeful one. It's great.

[Caution warning: offscreen transphobia and misgendering, sexual assult, suicide]

Reading Goals

Reading goal: 35/200 (8 new this post) Prose: 10/100 (8 new this post) Short fiction: 8/10 (8 new this post) Nonfiction: 2/12
#ReadMyOwnDamnBooks: 16/100 (0 read this post)
#unofficialqueerafbookclub: 19/75 (4 new this post; Pistol Grip, From the Void, A Fist of Permutations in Lightning and Wildflowers, Refugee)


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