Monday, 29 September 2014

Book Review | Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld

Darcy Patel has put college on hold to publish her teen novel, Afterworlds. With a contract in hand, she arrives in New York City with no apartment, no friends, and all the wrong clothes. But lucky for Darcy, she’s taken under the wings of other seasoned and fledgling writers who help her navigate the city and the world of writing and publishing. Over the course of a year, Darcy finishes her book, faces critique, and falls in love.

Woven into Darcy’s personal story is her novel, Afterworlds, a suspenseful thriller about a teen who slips into the “Afterworld” to survive a terrorist attack. The Afterworld is a place between the living and the dead, and where many unsolved—and terrifying—stories need to be reconciled. Like Darcy, Lizzie too falls in love... until a new threat resurfaces, and her special gifts may not be enough to protect those she cares about most.


As someone somewhen almost certainly said, the story is the thing... and it is, isn't it? Most readers read in order to know what happens next—to these characters or that narrative—rather than out of interest in much of anything outwith a given fiction; assuredly not the particular process of authors, though after Afterworlds, I've begun to wonder whether we mightn't be missing a trick.

A twofold story about storytelling, Scott Westerfeld's insightful new novel alternates between a pair of coming of age tales. In one, we meet Lizzie: a typical teenager, to begin with, who's too busy texting to notice the start of a terrorist attack:
I'd never heard an automatic weapon in real life before. It was somehow too loud for my ears to register, not so much a sound as the air ripping around me, a shudder I could feel in my bones and in the liquid of my eyes. I looked up from my phone and stared. 
The gunmen didn't look human. They wore horror movie masks, and smoke flowed around them as they swung their aim across the crowd. [...] I didn't hear the screams until the terrorists paused to reload. (pp.5-6)
Luckily, Lizzie comes to her senses eventually. As quietly as she can, she calls 911 as the bullets fly by. The operator on the other end of the telephone tells Lizzie her best bet is to play dead, and in lieu of a safer location, she does exactly that.

A touch too well, in truth, because she faints, and awakens in another world. There, in the land of the no longer living—a grayscale place where "the air [tastes] flat and metallic" (p.20)—she promptly falls for a foxy psychopomp:
These terrorists had tried to kill me but I'd gone to the land of the dead and now could see ghosts and apparently had acquired dangerous new powers and this boy, this boy had touched my fingertips—and they still tingled. (p.76)
In the aftermath of the attack, it beggars belief, a bit, that this boy is Lizzie's priority. Not the loss of so much life. Not her own nearness to nothing. Not even the realisation that she can move between worlds at will. Rather, Yamaraj, "a hot Vedic death god" (p.77) "modeled [...] on a Bollywood star" (p.121) by his faithless creator, debutant Darcy Patel.

Friday, 26 September 2014

Book Review | The Relic Guild by Edward Cox

It was said the Labyrinth had once been the great meeting place, a sprawling city at the heart of an endless maze where a million humans hosted the Houses of the Aelfir. The Aelfir who had brought trade and riches, and a future full of promise. But when the Thaumaturgists, overlords of human and Aelfir alike, went to war, everything was ruined and the Labyrinth became an abandoned forbidden zone, where humans were trapped behind boundary walls 100 feet high.

Now the Aelfir are a distant memory and the Thaumaturgists have faded into myth. Young Clara struggles to survive in a dangerous and dysfunctional city, where eyes are keen, nights are long, and the use of magic is punishable by death. She hides in the shadows, fearful that someone will discover she is touched by magic. She knows her days are numbered. But when a strange man named Fabian Moor returns to the Labyrinth, Clara learns that magic serves a higher purpose and that some myths are much more deadly in the flesh.

The only people Clara can trust are the Relic Guild, a secret band of magickers sworn to protect the Labyrinth. But the Relic Guild are now too few. To truly defeat their old nemesis Moor, mightier help will be required. To save the Labyrinth—and the lives of one million humans—Clara and the Relic Guild must find a way to contact the worlds beyond their walls.


The end result of more than a decade of obsessive endeavour, The Relic Guild by Edward Cox is the first part of a fine fantasy saga mixing gods and monsters that promises a lot, but delivers on too little to linger long after its last page.

Be that as it may, it's engrossing in the early-going, as the author thrusts us into the midst of a magical battle between Marney, an out-of-practice empath; a goodly number of golems in service of someone called Fabian Moor: an evil Genii determined to bring his banished master back from the blackest corners of beyond; and Old Man Sam, a bounty hunter unburdened by the little things in life, like what's right.

The good, the bad and the ugly are all searching for the same thing, in this instance: a girl called Peppercorn Clara. "Barely eighteen, she was a whore rumoured to have a libido as spicy as it was insatiable. The story was that [she] had killed a client halfway through a job." (p.7) Needless to say, this is a fabrication. Clara's only crime is that she's different from most of the million mere mortals who live in Labrys Town, being the first magical being born within its walls in a generation.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Book Review | The Infinite Sea by Rick Yancey

How do you rid the Earth of seven billion humans? Rid the humans of their humanity.

Surviving the first four waves was nearly impossible. Now Cassie Sullivan finds herself in a new world, a world in which the fundamental trust that binds us together is gone. As the 5th Wave rolls across the landscape, Cassie, Ben, and Ringer are forced to confront the Others’ ultimate goal: the extermination of the human race.

Cassie and her friends haven’t seen the depths to which the Others will sink, nor have the Others seen the heights to which humanity will rise, in the ultimate battle between life and death, hope and despair, love and hate.


Following the first phases of the invasion revealed in Rick Yancey's breakthrough book, the world of The 5th Wave "is a clock winding down," (p.1) with each tick of which, and every tock, what little hope there is left is lost.

No one knows exactly how long the last remnants of humanity have, but they're looking at a matter of months, at most... unless someone, somewhere, can conceive of a means of driving the aliens away—aliens who, as the big bad of the series says, have nowhere else to go.

"You've lost your home," Vosch asks The Infinite Sea's central character—not Cassie, as it happens—to imagine. "And the lovely one—the only one—that you've found to replace it is infested with vermin. What can you do? What are your choices? Resign yourself to live peaceably with the destructive pests or exterminate them before they can destroy your new home?" (p.201)

Friday, 19 September 2014

Book Review | The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell

One drowsy summer's day in 1984, teenage runaway Holly Sykes encounters a strange woman who offers a small kindness in exchange for asylum. Decades will pass before Holly understands exactly what sort of asylum the woman was seeking...

The Bone Clocks follows the twists and turns of Holly's life from a scarred adolescence in Gravesend to old age on Ireland's Atlantic coast as Europe's oil supply dries up—a life not so far out of the ordinary, yet punctuated by flashes of precognition, visits from people who emerge from thin air and brief lapses in the laws of reality. For Holly Sykes—daughter, sister, mother, guardian—is also an unwitting player in a murderous feud played out in the shadows and margins of our world, and may prove to be its decisive weapon.


An exquisite exploration of the beauty and the tragedy of mortality, The Bone Clocks is a soaring supernatural sextet split into sections carefully arranged around the novel's initial narrator.

A baby-faced runaway when we meet in the mid-eighties, Holly Sykes has become a wistful old woman by the book's conclusion in the year 2043. Between times David Mitchell depicts her diversely: as a friend and a lover; a wife and a mother; a victim and a survivor; and more, of course, as the decades prance past. The Bone Clocks is, in short, the story of Holly Sykes' life: a life less ordinary that leads her—as if by the whims of some Script—into the midst of a macabre conflict between eternal enemies fought in the farthest fringes of existence.

But that doesn't happen until the last act. In the beginning, Holly is no more and no less than a normal girl in a normal world with normal problems—like the backstabbing boyfriend she left the nest to take up with. Too proud to crawl back to her family after a screaming match with her Mam, Holly hightails it as far away from home as her aching feet can take her—pretty much to prove a point:
Six days should do it. The police only get interested in missing teenagers once a week's up. Six days'll show Mam I can look after myself in the big bad world. I'll be in a stronger, whatchercallit, a stronger negotiating position. And I'll do it on my own, without a Brubeck to get all boyfriendish on me. (p.40)
Even as a teenager, Holly's pretty together, so she manages to make ends meet in the interim. Furthermore, she finds a few ways to extend her experimental independence... if not indefinitely, since the Script we learn about later has other plans for our protagonist.

Monday, 15 September 2014

Book Review | The Revolutions by Felix Gilman

In 1893, young journalist Arthur Shaw is at work in the British Museum Reading Room when the Great Storm hits London, wreaking unprecedented damage. In its aftermath, Arthur’s newspaper closes, owing him money, and all his debts come due at once. His fiancé Josephine takes a job as a stenographer for some of the fashionable spiritualist and occult societies of fin de siècle London society. At one of her meetings, Arthur is given a job lead for what seems to be accounting work, but at a salary many times what any clerk could expect. The work is long and peculiar, as the workers spend all day performing unnerving calculations that make them hallucinate or even go mad, but the money is compelling.

Things are beginning to look up when the perils of dabbling in the esoteric suddenly come to a head: A war breaks out between competing magical societies. Josephine joins one of them for a hazardous occult exploration—an experiment which threatens to leave her stranded at the outer limits of consciousness, among the celestial spheres. 

Arthur won’t give up his great love so easily, and hunts for a way to save her, as Josephine fights for survival... somewhere in the vicinity of Mars.


John Carter from Mars meets Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell in Felix Gilman's boisterous new novel, in which a man of fact finds himself face to face with the stuff of fantasy.

The tale takes place in London in the late 1800s: a dark and dirty and dangerous place. Jack the Ripper has finished his grisly business, though the murders attributed to this almost mythical figure remain in recent memory, so when the Great Storm strikes, some see it as the world's way of cleansing the city of its sins.

Other individuals, thinking this wishful, seek escape via more mystical means—among them the members of the Ordo V.V. 341, which fashionable fraternity Arthur Shaw attends at the outset of The Revolutions, with the apple of his eye, Josephine Bradman, on his arm. A science writer for The Monthly Mammoth, recently made redundant, he has precious little interest in spiritualism, however it's her bread and butter, as a typist and translator specialising in the supernatural.

The couple don't expect much out of the meeting, but there they're introduced to Atwood, the Lord and leader of another order. Seeing something in Josephine, he invites her to join his more serious circle, and offers Arthur an inordinately profitable job that he's not allowed to talk about.

Josephine doesn't trust this fellow for a second, and cautions Arthur accordingly, but with a wedding to pay for, they put aside their misgivings for the sake of their relationship. Thus, in the name of love, they are undone. Momentarily, our man is driven mad by Atwood's sinister business, which is wreathed in "secrecy, codes [and] conspiratorial oaths." (p.71) In the depths of her despair, his other half's only option is to ask Atwood to intervene.

He will, on one condition... that Josephine joins his order: a secret society dedicated to astral travel.

Friday, 12 September 2014

Book Review | Gleam by Tom Fletcher

The gargantuan Factory of Gleam is an ancient, hulking edifice of stone, metal and glass ruled over by chaste alchemists and astronomer priests.

As millennia have passed, the population has decreased, and now only the central district is fully inhabited and operational; the outskirts have been left for the wilderness to reclaim. This decaying, lawless zone is the Discard: the home of Wild Alan.

Clever, arrogant, and perpetually angry, Wild Alan is both loved and loathed by the Discard's misfits. He's convinced that the Gleam authorities were behind the disaster that killed his parents and his ambition is to prove it. But he's about to uncover more than he bargained for.


Hot on the heels of three deeply discomfiting horror novels, Gleam marks the starts of a fantasy saga that's never better than when it harks back to Tom Fletcher's first fictions. It's burdened by a bland protagonist and a lacking opening act, but besides that, The Factory Trilogy is off to a tantalising start.

In large part that's due to the darkly wonderful world it introduces us to. Gleam is a devastated landscape equal parts Ambergris and Fallout 3, arranged around a truly hellish edifice:
From the centre rises the one structure that is not tarnished with extraneous growth, or overwhelmed with moss, or just rounded and worn by erosion. It's a vast, black, six-sided pyramid, separated from the rest of the chaos by a ring of ashen wasteland. The wasteland is the top of a hill, which slopes down into a darkness from which all the rest of the chaos emerges. This is the only visible ground in the whole place, and it's grey and dusty and somehow creepy. The pyramid itself, though, looks clean and new, and its edges are all sharp. (p.3)
Alan has lived in this "knot of lies and rituals that referenced only each other and combined to mean less than nothing" (p.211) for twelve tedious years—long enough to meet and marry his wife, Marion, and father a boy by the name of Billy with her—but he doesn't belong here any more now than he did on the devastating day he was made welcome within its walls. "He'd never been a Pyramidder and he never would be. He still dreamed about Modest Mills; being able to run around outside. And not in some courtyard or garden, but the real outside—the Discard." (p.12)

His dreams of freedom come true too soon, in truth. In short order Alan offends an Assistant Alchemical Co-ordinator, who sends heavies to his house to remind our protagonist of his place in the Pyramid. In the aftermath, Marion asks Alan to leave—not because she no longer loves him, but for the sake of their son's safety.

She doesn't have to ask him twice. He packs a bag and skedaddles, to find that though life in the Discard is difficult, it's not as awful as the Pyramidders insist.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Guest Post | "Many Worlds" by Tom Fletcher

I didn’t really think about genre when I started writing The Leaping, which was my first novel. I thought a lot about theme, about narrative voice, about character, about story. (Not necessarily in that order). I knew I wanted to write something about what it meant to be human, fear of death, about paranoia and paralysis in the face of a confusing and hostile world. About how late-stage capitalism insulates us from the consequences of our consumerist actions and choices. Nothing too ambitious, then.

In the end the book was about people objectifying and then frantically dismembering each other in some kind of desperate search for a soul, or meaning, and finding—this isn’t much of a spoiler—very little. I showed it to a friend and mentor, Nicholas Royle, who sent it to an editor, who made an offer for the book. I was delighted, obviously. They said they saw it as a horror novel. Well, I thought; yes. Perfect. It is a horror novel. I didn’t know much about horror fiction, having grown up mostly on fantasy, science-fiction and mainstream stuff, but The Leaping had a supernatural aspect—more than an aspect—and plenty of blood, so it made sense to me. And I was happy with that. 

Second and third novels followed—The Thing on the Shore and The Ravenglass Eye, respectively. Standalones, but set in the same collapsing universe as The Leaping. They were horror novels too, I think, though I was trying not to let any ideas about genre shape what I wrote. I tried to resist neat conclusions and anything approaching redemption or morality, but I didn’t know if this approach was making my books more horror, or less horror. What I wanted was a sense of nightmare, which—for me, then meant creating a sense of wrongness (though not badness) on every level. These books ended up quite cold, and jagged. I was committed to honesty, and that meant not shying away from themes or scenes that were unpleasant to contemplate, and it also meant writing instinctively—following a logic (a nightmarish logic) that operated at a deeper level than the plots, arcs and plans I’d spent a lot of time on.

These books, and a fourth horror novel called The Dead Fool, which is under contract but not yet published [ooh!—Ed], are—and I say this with pride—strange, bleak, and alienating. And they were strange, bleak, and alienating to write, too. After writing The Dead Fool, I was exhausted, and wanted a change. I wanted to write something expansive, and not intensely introspective. I wanted to write something a bit pacier, and a bit more structured. I wanted to write something a bit more fun.

Yes, I wanted to write something different. But this wasn’t a case of jumping one ship for another; abandoning horror for fantasy. I could have written a horror novel that was pacey, rigorously planned, and fun. And fantasy can be extremely disconcerting and uncomfortable. The truth is, I’d always wanted to write fantasy, as well as everything else. When I decided I wanted to be a writer—way, way back at secondary school—I was devouring writers like Pratchett, Peake, and Hobb, and I’d envisaged myself writing fantasy and sci-fi. When writing my first few novels, I was also noting down ideas for mainstream fiction, and writing SF shorts. Yes, my published novels were horror, but that didn’t mean I was a horror writer exclusively.

Pitching a fantasy trilogy to Jo Fletcher Books—of which Gleam is the first book—was the realisation of a long-held idea, and it coincided with my desire to try a different approach to writing for a while. And I’m having a blast. Creating a whole other world is a new challenge, but it’s incredibly liberating, as is working across the larger canvas of a trilogy. 

None of which is to say that Gleam is all sweetness and light, of course. It’s not all colourful moons and campfires and magic crystals. There are ruins, bandits, bloodletters, drugs, giant slugs, and other monsters. There’s darkness, and there’s despair, and there’s violence. But in Gleam, as opposed to in my horror novels, the characters are not completely overwhelmed by the threat, and so the narrative has room for humour and warmth. Wild Alan, Bloody Nora, The Mushroom Queen, Churr, Spider Kurt—they’re all equipped to cope with the world they inhabit, which my horror novel characters are not.

The worlds are very, very different. ButI fully intend to return to the brutal, nihilistic world of The Leaping et al in future, and I’ve got plans for another trilogy set in the weird, magical Factory of Gleam too. I’ve grown deeply attached to it (and I hope you’ll all grow as attached to it as I have). 

I can’t imagine working in only one genre for my entire career. I don’t know any writer who can. And yet you hear of ‘horror writers’ and ‘fantasy authors’. These are reductive terms. Books might (might) have genres; writers don’t.


Tom Fletcher was born in 1984 and lives in Manchester with his wife and son. He's published a number of short stories alongside three loosely connected horror novels, namely The Leaping, The Thing on the Shore and The Ravenglass Eye. His new book, Gleam, is the first part of The Factory Trilogy. Find out more about it and its author at The Endist.

Monday, 8 September 2014

Book Review | Acceptance by Jeff VanderMeer

It is winter in Area X. A new team embarks across the border on a mission to find a member of a previous expedition who may have been left behind. As they press deeper into the unknown—navigating new terrain and new challenges—the threat to the outside world becomes more daunting. 

In Acceptance, the last installment of Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach trilogy, the mysteries of Area X may have been solved, but their consequences and implications are no less profound—or terrifying.


In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was... well. That'd be telling.

Because the Word was whatever you wanted it to be. The Word was possibility. The Word was promise. For in the Word was the beginning, to boot, and beginnings are simple. They're questions, essentially. It follows, then, that endings are answers. And it is far harder to answer questions satisfactorily than it is to ask 'em.

Acceptance is the end of the Southern Reach series, which began with Annihilation—with its countless cosmic questions. What is Area X? Where did it come from? Who—or what—created it? Not to mention: when? And why?

Readers are apt to approach Acceptance expecting answers, and they'll find a fair few, to be sure; Jeff VanderMeer does indeed complete the sinister circle of the Southern Reach series here. But when all is said and done, much of the mystery remains. Area X is, in the end, as unknowable as it was when we breached its impossible border at the very beginning of the trilogy. It has lost none of its promise. Possibilities still spring from its fantastical firmament. In the final summation, I can't conceive of a finale more fitting.

Friday, 5 September 2014

Book Review | J by Howard Jacobson

Two people fall in love, not yet knowing where they have come from or where they are going. Kevern doesn't know why his father always drew two fingers across his lips when he said a world starting with a J. It wasn't then, and isn't now, the time or place to be asking questions.

Ailinn too has grown up in the dark about who she was or where she came from. On their first date Kevern kisses the bruises under her eyes. He doesn't ask who hurt her. Brutality has grown commonplace. They aren't sure if they have fallen in love of their own accord, or whether they've been pushed into each other's arms. But who would have pushed them, and why?

Hanging over the lives of all the characters in this novel is a momentous catastrophe—a past event shrouded in suspicion, denial and apology, now referred to as What Happened, If It Happened.

J is a novel to be talked about in the same breath as Nineteen Eighty-Four and Brave New World, thought-provoking and life-changing. It is like no other novel that Howard Jacobson has written.


Alongside Us, The Bone Clocks, and How To Be Both, J by Howard Jacobson was one of a number of novels longlisted for the Man Booker Prize in advance of its publication date. A source of frustration for some, I'm sure—though this has ever been the panel's habit—but for others it represents a reason to update reading radars.

This year, I found myself amongst the others above, because if not for the nod, I doubt I'd have looked twice at this book. When I did, additionally, it was with some scepticism; after all, Jacobson has won the Booker before, for The Finkler Question in 2010—the first comic novel to take the trophy home in 25 years—and pointedly acknowledging former nominees is another of the panel's practices.

Not today. J, I'm pleased to say, is in every sense deserving of its spot on the longlist. It's a literary revelation wrapped in understated dystopian clothing; a wonder of wit and whimsy that takes in the chilling and the ridiculous—the hilarious and the horrific. That said, it's a novel that requires rereading to appreciate completely.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Book Review | Scale-Bright by Benjanun Sriduangkaew

Julienne’s aunts are the archer who shot down the suns and the woman who lives on the moon. They teach her that there’s more to the city of her birth than meets the eye—that beneath the modern chrome and glass of Hong Kong there are demons, gods, and the seethe of ancient feuds. As a mortal Julienne is to give them a wide berth, for unlike her divine aunts she is painfully vulnerable, and choice prey for any demon.

Until one day, she comes across a bleeding, wounded woman no one else can see, and is drawn into an old, old story of love, snake women, and the deathless monk who hunts them.


World Fantasy Award winner Lavie Tidhar has it that Benjanun Sriduangkaew may be "the most exciting new voice in speculative fiction today," and on the basis of Scale-Bright, he might be right. A love story set in heaven and Hong Kong arranged around a troubled young woman's belated coming of age, it's the longest and most involved tale Sriduangkaew has told to date, and considered alongside The Sun-Moon Cycle, it represents an achievement without equal.

"An orphan who spent seven years hating equally the parents that died and the extended family that did not," Julienne, when we join her, lives what you might describe as a quiet life with her adoptive aunts, Hau Ngai and Seung Ngo. The fact that they're myths in mortal form complicates things a little, admittedly.

Julienne adores them both, though. They've given her everything—not least love—and their greatness is an inspiration:
She can't stop thinking about them. To adore each other so much after so long, for all the complications neither will voice. Julienne hopes that by the time she looks their age she'll have fixed herself. All her neuroses will be gone, as amusing and harmless as baby pictures. She doesn't want to think it's taken Hau Ngai and Seung Ngo centuries to become who they are. They have forever, and she has only a handful of decades. It doesn't seem right that at twenty-four she still finds herself with problems that should've been shed with adolescence, like bad hair and acne.
"To be well, to know confidence, to have someone like Hau Ngai—just a little like, more human and less legend—for her own." These are her humble hopes. Alas, when your aunts are the archer who shot down the suns and the woman who lives on the moon, all is not so straightforward.

Monday, 1 September 2014

Guest Post | "Interconnection and Telling Myths" by Benjanun Sriduangkaew

When Niall asked me to pick a blog topic and suggested, as one option, why I kept coming back to the mythological grounding of Scale-Bright and its related stories, I jumped at the chance: it seems like a perfect way to combine that particular subject and the more general one of writing interconnected short stories that share a world or characters.

I have it on good genre authority—mainly Rachel Swirsky and Niall Harrison—that interconnected short stories are far from uncommon; Aliette de Bodard is famous for it with her Xuya stories, which share a space opera universe best known for its sentient ship AIs and complex families, and the novella On a Red Station, Drifting in the same setting. We know Ann Leckie’s Radchaai mostly from Ancillary Justice, but there are also short stories like They Sink and Are Vanished Away’ and ‘Night’s Slow Poison’. Richard Parks has his Lord Yamada stories and the novel Yamada Monogatari. Lavie Tidhar has built up his Central Station over the years. E. Catherine Tobler has her Unreal Circus, Jason Sanford his Plague Birds while Mike Allen has phantasmagoria SF Hierophants stories and poetry. That’s just to name a handful! It seems to me that the drive to establish a sense of continuity is shared by many writers; sometimes we come up with a world, or a set of characters, we can’t entirely let go after just one story.

But another draw for me is that while reconfigurations of folktales and myths are plentiful, the type of what gets retold tends to be particular. Sleeping Beauty, Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella and so on are the frequent choices. I wanted to pick a story outside that range. It’s far from obscure; the story of the archer Houyi and the legend of the White Snake are staples—but to some the fact that I gender-flipped Houyi can go entirely unnoticed! So it’s interesting to try this out, introducing tales that are new to some readers while being deeply familiar with others. I’ve observed that retellings tend to give sly nods to readers who know the original—through motif, iconic moments—and that’s part of the delight; I do it too, though I also like to think that I’ve drawn these stories in a manner that can be enjoyed by those unfamiliar with them as well. And once I did one part of this, the rest demanded their turn. ‘Woman of the Sun, Woman of the Moon’ came first, focusing on Chang’e and Houyi; it led me to research Xihe, the mother of the suns Houyi (somewhat inconsiderately) brings down, and then I wanted to give her a story too—one mostly of my own invention, taking elements from the original material and reconfiguring them to varying degrees. I couldn’t stop there though; at the time I wanted to do so much more with these characters, but ran into the issue that Houyi and Chang’e had already finished their arc, if you will. They’d overcome most of their obstacles, achieved narrative closure, and it’s time to relegate them to secondary roles.

I needed a new character, a new focus, and a new story. Bringing all of this to our time seemed like a fine way to do it, and making the main character a many-times removed grandniece of Chang’e’s gives them a crucial family connection. Then I lit on the concept of tying it into a different myth—which offers its own (relatively) young, hot-headed figure in the Green Snake as foil to the young, uncertain woman I’ve made the lead of Scale-Bright. Things ballooned and before I knew it, I had in my hand an entire novella. It couldn’t be squeezed back into a short story anymore.

It’s not all smooth as this is not my culture, but I hope that I’ve put in thought and research, though if concerns are raised I would be more than happy to attend to them. Part of my goal was relentless fidelity in specific aspects. I never include glossaries in my work, as it’s important to me that words are understood through their contexts organically. The characters speak more than one Chinese—readers who know will recognize the markers around that. There are terms in the novella I leave untranslated and undefined, and while that might make the reading experience challenging to some, in that regard I’m of the Junot Díaz school of thought: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao comes without a glossary, so I like to think I’m safe, or at least in good company!

And it’s satisfying, as well, to fulfill the obligation to characters who’ve taken root in your head. To make them complete, while simultaneously sharing something you love—a body of myth that resonates with me, recast slightly in a way I hope will resonate with others too. That, to me, is one of the best things of this business: sharing what you care about, what matters to you, and writing from a place of joy.


Benjanun Sriduangkaew is "a writer of SF, F, and other things in the between" whose fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Clarkesworld, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, The Dark, and a number of anthologies such as Solaris Rising 3, Phantasm Japan and The Mammoth Book of Steampunk Adventures. A 2014 Campbell Award finalist for Best New Writer, her debut novella Scale-Bright is out now from Immersion Press. Find out more about it and its author at A Bee Writes.