Review of “Sabbath Wine” by Barbara Krasnoff

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This story was published by Clockwork Phoenix 5 and Mythic Delirium. It ended up with five recommendations on the Nebula Recommended Reading List. Note: This review contains spoilers.

Malka is a Jewish girl who sits on the steps to hear a Baptist gospel choir rehearse. She meets David there, a dead African American boy who also lives in the neighborhood. Malka wants to invite David to a Sabbath meal on Friday night, so she asks her father Abe to help prepare it. Abe is non-practicing and at first he objects, but finally he relents and starts the preparations. The sticking point is the wine, as Prohibition has recently gone into effect. On a quest for kosher wine, he talks to friends in the park and a local rabbi without results. David says his father Sam can supply it, so Abe goes to his store where Sam agrees to supply the wine. Abe invites him to the meal, as well. On Friday evening, Sam arrives at the apartment with the wine. The two men drink together and trade stories about how their children were murdered. “Does she know?” asks Sam.

On the pro side, the story provides an excellent glimpse of Jewish life and concerns during the 1920s. Strong characters, good plot. There are background conversations about unions, religion, black-market business, socialism and racial tensions as Abe works through his quest for the wine. It has a big emotional impact as the two fathers talk about their lost children. This is also an inclusive story in an age where African Americans and Jews have recently been at political odds.

On the con side, this is still another story about abused children. That makes five with this theme so far that I’ve reviewed among Nebula contenders. Slightly clunky prose.

Three and a half stars.

Review of “Seasons of Glass and Iron” by Amal El-Mohtar


Since the Nebula finalist list is out, I’ll work through a few more reviews. This is a fantasy story published in The Starlit Wood and reprinted in Uncanny Magazine. It ended up with four recommendations on the Nebula Recommended Reading List.

Two women are bound by magic. Tabitha must wear out seven pairs of iron shoes in order to find her lost husband. Amira sits motionless atop a glass hill while suitors try to ride up and claim the golden apples that appear in her hands. On her journey, Tabitha comes across the hill, and her magic shoes allow her to climb the glass. Amira gives her an apple. Tabitha stays through the winter, wearing out her iron shoes against the magical glass, and the two women develop a relationship, exchange stories of their hardships. Can they escape the magic together, or are they forever bound?

This is a very well-done story, drawing from different fairy tales. There’s not much to the plot, as the two women only find one another and talk. However, the narration covers a lot of ground. First up is the observation about the different kinds of shoes men and women get to wear in fairy tales. Hm. Excellent point. Next, the conversation turns to men and after that, the women’s failings that led to their current loss of freedom. This makes it quite complex, as far as what it accomplishes goes. The story is also very absorbing, with excellent flow, good imagery, theme, etc.

On the con side, the story fails the Bechdel Test big time, i.e. whether a work of fiction features at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man. It’s also message fiction with a troubling conclusion: that women should give up on husbands in order to find their freedom with each other. Isn’t same sex marriage subject to abuse and loss of freedom just the same as any other relationship? This has a slight misandrous feel.

Three and a half stars.

2016 Nebula Finalists

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The SFWA published the list of Nebula Award finalists on schedule this week. There was one bit of awkwardness, as Cat Rambo’s story “Red in Tooth and Cog” was initially listed in the novelette category, but turned out to be slightly below the required word count (7500 words). Rambo withdrew the story from consideration rather than upset the published short story results. Interestingly, there was a 3-way tie for 5th place in the short story category, leading to a list of 7 finalists. As expected, most of these were stories with fairly high numbers of recommendations.

For this year’s minority count, I’m slightly confused by learning that some groups are no longer considered minorities for diversity purposes. For the count below, I’m ignoring sexual orientation and Jewish heritage, for example, but including trans/non-binary and Asians. Others might feel the minority count is higher or lower. Adding things up: 16 women finalists, 7 men, 1 non-binary. This suggests that women will figure strongly among the winners again this year.

Novel (4 women, 1 man, 5 minorities)

All the Birds in the Sky, Charlie Jane Anders (Tor; Titan)
Borderline, Mishell Baker (Saga)
The Obelisk Gate, N.K. Jemisin (Orbit US; Orbit UK)
Ninefox Gambit, Yoon Ha Lee (Solaris US; Solaris UK)
Everfair, Nisi Shawl (Tor)

Novella (3 women, 3 men, 3 minorities)

Runtime, S.B. Divya ( Publishing)
The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe, Kij Johnson ( Publishing)
The Ballad of Black Tom, Victor LaValle ( Publishing)
Every Heart a Doorway, Seanan McGuire ( Publishing)
“The Liar”, John P. Murphy (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction)
A Taste of Honey, Kai Ashante Wilson ( Publishing)

Novelette (4 women, 2 men, 1 minority)

“The Long Fall Up”, William Ledbetter (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction)
“Sooner or Later Everything Falls Into the Sea”, Sarah Pinsker (Lightspeed)
“Blood Grains Speak Through Memories”, Jason Sanford (Beneath Ceaseless Skies)
“The Orangery”, Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam (Beneath Ceaseless Skies)
“The Jewel and Her Lapidary”, Fran Wilde ( Publishing)
“You’ll Surely Drown Here If You Stay”, Alyssa Wong (Uncanny)

Short Story (5 women, 1 man, 1 nonbinary, 4 minorities)

“Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies”, Brooke Bolander (Uncanny)
“Seasons of Glass and Iron”, Amal El-Mohtar (The Starlit Wood)
“Sabbath Wine”, Barbara Krasnoff (Clockwork Phoenix 5)
“Things With Beards”, Sam J. Miller (Clarkesworld)
“This Is Not a Wardrobe Door”, A. Merc Rustad (Fireside Magazine)
“A Fist of Permutations in Lightning and Wildflowers”, Alyssa Wong (
“Welcome to the Medical Clinic at the Interplanetary Relay Station│Hours Since the Last Patient Death: 0”, Caroline M. Yoachim (Lightspeed)


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My short story “Illegal Aliens” will appear in the upcoming Refractions (vol. 5). This is a literary type journal mainly aimed at children and teens, but also great reading for kids of all ages. It’s generally available from the Golden Fleece Press website, or from online distributors. I’ll post again when publication is imminent.

More on Double Standards. Is it racism?


In the last blog I asked why Benjanun Sriduangkaew and Sunil Patel have been treated so differently after bad behavior within the SFF community. Under her persona as a lesbian Thai writer, Sriduangkaew has been promoted in various high profile magazines despite being exposed as a notorious online bully. On the other hand, Patel has recently been blacklisted by several publications because of complaint by women via Twitter that he engages in “manipulation, gaslighting, grooming behavior and objectification of women” (but not apparently direct sexual harassment). So, why the difference? Is there an issue here? I checked around on the Internet for different opinions on the matter.

Here’s one from last fall where Billy D offers a fairly standard view that the Twitter charges are vague, non-specific and unsupported by any real evidence.

Here’s an interesting opinion by Natalie Luhrs. According to Luhrs, “…if Patel were a white man, I don’t believe the people he abused would be getting nearly the same degree of support from the community.” She goes on to give examples of white men who have been accused of similar behavior without much effect. She also notes that Patel has moved to position himself strongly within the community, but he’s actually just an up and coming editor/writer without much of network that would give him real power and influence to resist the charges.

These opinions are interspersed by announcements by publishers about cutting ties with Patel because of the complaints. These include Lightspeed, Book Smugglers, Alliteration Ink, Mothership Zeta and Around the World in 80 Books Blog, who pulled an interview with Patel.

No one has brought charges of sexual harassment, but clearly Patel is out of line in a major way. Luhrs thinks his behavior would be considered standard in a white man. So, is the problem here really that Patel is a dark-shinned man-of-color? No one has uttered the word “racism” in this discussion, but Luhrs’ comments about Patel’s status in the SFF community lend to this idea. In previous blogs, I’ve noted that men-of-color clearly have lower status than women-of-color. Patel is ambitious, and he’s probably following the standard formula as outlined by John Scalzi, which is “sucking up and punching down.” However, he’s missed the fact that this only works for men with “white” privilege. The result is a serious offense.

I’m not coming out in support of Patel’s behavior. However, he’s clearly being treated differently than Sriduangkaew–or, for example, YA author Greg Andree, who was accused of similar behavior but escaped unscathed.

So, is the issue racism, or not?

A Question about Double Standards


The Nebula nominations are closed now, so while they’re producing the list of finalists for review, I’ll talk about something else for a few days. First, a question seems to have arisen this week about whether racist Internet bullies and/or abusers should be forgiven even if it looks like they’ve reformed their ways, or whether they should be blacklisted in some way.

The pertinent issue right now is about Requires Hate, an Internet personality who spent years harassing and bullying writers under different screen names, especially young writers of color. Her different personas were eventually connected to her pen name for fiction, Benjanun Sriduangkaew, and Laura Mixon won a 2015 Hugo Award for an expose. Sriduangkaew, in her persona as a Thai lesbian writer, was by then a rising star published by a number of high-profile magazines and a nominee for the 2014 John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. I’ve had commenters on my blog assume that being exposed as a racist, homophobic bully ended Sriduangkaew’s writing career. However, it didn’t. The high-profile magazines continued to promote her stories, while she apparently continued her harassment behaviors. This issue came up last week when Apex Magazine included Sriduangkaew on a roundtable event. After complaints, editor Jason Sizemore issued an apology.

Contrast this with the recent treatment of writer Sunil Patel. After various complaints from women about “manipulation, grooming behavior and objectification of women” (but not apparently direct sexual harassment), several publishers cut ties with Patel, dropping him out of scheduled publications. This happened even after he publicly apologized.

So, why the difference? Why does the community of editors (and presumably readers) ignore Sriduangkaew’s racist, homophobic transgressions and continued harassment of writers, while blacklisting Patel? Is there a double standard of some kind in work?

Review of “Runtime” by S.B. Divya


This is a novella published by Tor. It currently has 21 recommendations on the Nebula Recommended Reading List.

Marmeg is unlicensed, has cobbled together a set of exos and some illegal embed chips so she can work as a club security guard. The Minerva Sierra Challenge is coming up, and Marmeg dreams of winning the race so she can get real gear and trans surgery to become a beautiful asexual moot. Her Filipino mother works as a health aide and dreams of Marmeg going to school to become a nurse. Instead, Marmeg has spent the tuition money on the entry fee for the race. She spends the last of her wages to get to the site, lies about a support team and starts the race. She quickly runs into bad weather, dangerous competitors and survivalist nats who offer her an opportunity to cheat. What will she do?

As Greg Hullender has promised in recent comments, I’ve gotten a solid story right at the top of the novella recommendations. Pros: This is science fiction, as there wouldn’t be a story without the technology and the moots. It’s got pretty well defined characters, strong imagery, good human elements and a strong plot. The main theme is about honesty and values, but sub-themes about body alteration, survivalism, illegal status and the American caste system ask questions and add complexity. Cons: The prose is a little clunky. Plus, I’m suspicious of the HEA (happily ever after) ending and that Marmeg is rewarded so generously for her value choices. Given the setting, I’d expect the adults and the wealthy class would be as far into the caste system as anybody else. I’m also a little concerned that she gives up her own dreams so quickly.

Solid competitor. Four stars and a half.

Review of “The Kraken Sea” by E. Catherine Tobler

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This is a dark fantasy novella published by Apex Publications. It currently has 3 recommendations on the Nebula Recommended Reading List. Normally I start at the top of the list, but it happens I’ve already read this one.

In 1893 Sister Grace takes a 15-year-old orphan boy named Jackson to a place called Macquarie’s in Chicago, where he is adopted by a woman named Cressida. Jackson isn’t a normal boy. When he’s upset, scales and tentacles appear that he struggles to suppress. Cressida assures him that he’s safe at Macquarie’s and doesn’t have to hide what he is any longer. Macquarie’s is a dark place, where the bronze lions at the door come alive and the rooms mysteriously rearrange. Jackson discovers there are rents in reality, and a kracken rises from the sea below the house to devour things. He becomes involved with a freak show, meets a lion-tamer named Mae, and tries to deal with various alliances in the transition to adulthood.

On the pro side, I really loved the atmospheric style of this one. It has a dark, stream of consciousness flow that carries the reader through the various occurrences and shifts in reality. It’s well-written, with strong characters and good imagery. On the con side, nothing much happens. There are a lot of threats and some of the characters meet horrific ends, but it’s hard to make out any kind of plot. I gather the freak show is significant and the themes are “coming-of-age” and “dealing with the monster within,” but it’s all a bit too murky and symbolic to produce a meaningful story.

Best read if you enjoy Tobler’s writing style. Two and a half stars.

Review of “The Ballad of Black Tom” by Victor LaValle

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This is a novella, published by and sold through Macmillan. It runs about 160 pages, and it currently has 11 recommendations on the Nebula Recommended Reading List.

Charles Thomas Tester is an African American who lives New York City in the 1920s. He’s comfortable in the multiracial, immigrant background of the city and makes his living, not quite as a con man, but through brokering magical dealings. He’s young, and his father warns him about the dangers of what he’s doing, but Tester thinks he can handle it. While pretending to be a jazz musician, he’s hired by rich eccentric Robert Suydam to play for a party. The man turns out to be pursuing an occult power. When Tester’s father is killed by police, Charles Thomas turns to the dark side, following Suydam into a scheme to overthrow civilization as we know it.

This novella is a retelling of Lovecraft’s “Horror at Red Hook.” The story is generally considered to be strongly racist, as it expresses Lovecraft’s revulsion of the mixed immigrant population he found when he moved to New York City. Tester gives us the African American perspective from the 1920s as he hides out under various personas, pretending to be subservient and to know his place, while actually being very successful at what he does. His father’s murder by the police injects a contemporary note, and Tester reacts with rage. At this point, the narrative shifts to the perspective of Detective Malone, who investigates the events at Suydam’s mansion. I thought this weakened the narrative, as I was very invested in Tester as a character at this point, and I didn’t connect with Malone at all. How this all worked out for him was afterthought.

So, the story is one thing, but the message is another. This is about racism, about how African Americans were treated in the 1920s and how they’re treated today. And, of course, it also suggests how some individuals with the weight and talent might be tempted to invoke Cthulhu to get their revenge.

Good imagery, strong characters, brings the 1920s to life. Four stars.

Review of Super Extra Grande by Yoss

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If you’re unfamiliar with Yoss, he’s a Cuban writer. This novel is humorous science fiction, translated by David Fry and published by Restless Books. It’s short, running around 160 pages, and it didn’t make the Nebula Recommended Reading List. It’s just for fun.

Dr. Jan Amos Sangan Dongo is a very large man, so it’s only natural that his interest in biology leads him to become Veterinarian to the Giants. This story details a couple of his adventures in finding a missing bracelet in the gut of a giant Tsunami sea worm and rescuing two ambassador-folk from the innards of an even more gigantic laketon (similar to an amoeba). Sangan Dongo is successful in both ventures, happily, and settles down with the two ambassadors, who prove to be interesting (and gratifying) love interests.

This is sort of different. The story rambles along, in no way serious, and presents background on the narrator’s parents, how faster-than-light travel was invented by an Ecuadorean Jesuit and various alien species that humans have met “out there.” It’s also full of jokes, like the narrator’s name, meaning “really big” in Cuban slang (you get the idea), aliens with lots of breasts, and various jabs at gringos. Most interesting feature: The dialog is written in Spanglish. I’ve never encountered this before, but found it entertaining and very readable with only a rudimentary understanding of Spanish.

Highly recommended. Three stars.

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