Both our forthcoming 2020 titles, Depart, Depart! by Sim Kern and Night Roll by Michael J. Deluca have received Publishers Weekly reviews.
“High stakes and a solid emotional core”
Sim Kern’s Depart, Depart! received a starred review (here) which highlights Kern’s deft treatment of characters and communities in adversity:
Texas is shaken by an apocalyptic flood in Kern’s tense, entrancing debut novella. Noah, a trans man, takes refuge in a Dallas basketball arena-turned-relief shelter, rubbing shoulders with the full spectrum of Texas society, from members of the Austin queer community to conservative good ol’ boys. Noah finds his place with Elena, a trans woman, and nonbinary Malone as the shelter residents band together in small groups to help one another. Noah is also visited by a ghostly boy, Abe, who he believes to be the spirit of his great grandfather, who delivers warnings and doles out advice. Noah struggles in a world without privacy, grapples with his complex relationship with his Jewish identity, and, as tensions rise between factions and conditions in the arena deteriorate, his loyalty to his newfound friends is tested. Noah faces the same choice his great-grandfather once wrestled with: to save himself or die helping his friends. With high stakes and a solid emotional core, and a perfect balance of speculation and an all-too-real vision of climate apocalypse, Kern shows the necessity of compassion, empathy, and community in the face of crisis. Agent: Kerstin Wolf, D4EO Literary Agency. (Sept.)Publishers Weekly starred review (link)
“A hypnotic near-future novella that will captivate literary and genre readers”
Michael J. DeLuca received a Publisher’s weekly review (here), which captures his novella’s dreamy feel and deep Detroit roots:
DeLuca debuts with a surreal ride through the supernatural history of the city of Detroit and the strange territory of new parenthood. Aileen is a recent transplant to Detroit and a single mother of a newborn. Her neighbor Virgil is the only person she’s grown close to since the move, so when he asks to borrow her bicycle so he can participate in a semimythical monthly bike ride called the Night Roll, a riff on the folkloric Wild Hunt, she feels obligated to say yes. When Virgil doesn’t return, Aileen becomes desperate enough to venture out to find him, bringing baby Christian with her—and stumbles into a small but generous community of Detroit locals. In the process of earning their trust, Aileen gets many lessons on local history, learning about the Rebellion (also known as the ’67 riots) and the Elf, the ageless trickster who leads the Night Roll. The odd, lyrical story meanders, propelled only by the force of Aileen’s determination to take control of her life—a determination that culminates in the reality-bending Halloween Night Roll. The result is a hypnotic near-future novella that will captivate literary and genre readers alike. (Oct.)Publishers Weekly review (link)
Depart, Depart! and Night Roll are available for pre-order directly from our website, or from any other bookseller.
Review: Dominion: An Anthology of Speculative Fiction from Africa and the African Diaspora (Volume One)
Edited by Zelda Knight and Ekpeki Oghenechovwe Donald
Editors Zelda Knight and Ekpeki Oghenechovwe Donald are bringing speculative fiction by writers from Africa and the African diaspora to a wider audience. For readers who are interested in the broad spectrum of speculative fiction, this anthology offers science fiction, fantasy, science fantasy, horror, and myth — sometimes within the same story.
This convergence of genres and subgenres is one of the anthology’s strengths. Stories which cross genre boundaries force readers to question the often impenetrable boundaries between science and myth or imagination, to enquire as to whether so-called objective truths could be approached from a different perspective. This was my experience as a Western non-Black reader; I can’t say I understood all of the references, but I enjoyed the way many of these stories — in their uses of language and, particularly, story structure — vigorously demanded a flexibility of mind. Speculative fiction readers can certainly benefit from more such exercises.
The Pressures of Ecological Destruction
While few of the stories in this anthology contain a focused environmental message, many stories use ecological destruction as a setting or plot device. For example, in “Trickin'” by Nicole Givens Kurtz, old gods return to a people inundated with water to assess if they still remember and adhere to the old ways; “The Satellite Charmer” by Mame Bougouma Diene uses Chinese neo-colonization through resource extraction as a frame for an ambiguous superhero story in which the hero, in his increasing power and alienation, turns away from Earth. Ekpeki Oghenechovwe Donald’s “Ife-Iyoku, The Tale of Imadeyunuagbon” is a story which takes place after a devastating war between the United States and the Middle East, the result of which is the destruction of most of Africa. In this story, the inhabitants of Ife-Iyoku have acquired powers and skills which have helped them to survive a devastated environment.
In each of these stories, ecological destruction is a pressure placed upon the people. In many cases, pressure is relieved by ritual or the adherence to or recovery of traditional knowledge or practices or structures. This is not to say that traditionalism is an easy answer to conflict in this anthology; the aforementioned writers each, in their own ways, acknowledge the difficulties presented by the often paradoxical presence of tradition and modernity in the lives of people living in colonized spaces. The way forward is often picked out as a rocky, winding road between old ways and new. Elements of the fantastic often help characters navigate this road.
Another strength of the anthology from an environmental perspective is the presentation of fantastic but specific eco-cultural knowledge. For example, “Convergence in Chorus Architecture” by Dare Segun Falowo is both broadly mythological and specific about how humans interact with the nonhuman world. When Akanbi and Gbemisola are struck by lightning and members of their community must follow them into the dream into which the strike propelled them, the dream ceremony is described in terms of specific herbal-mineral concoctions they must imbibe in specific amounts, their bodies are decorated in ceremony to compel them to dream for a specific length of time. The details of the worldbuilding are intricate, expressing the depth to which characters are integrated into their environments. The ease with which Falowo’s story slips from fantasy worldbuilding to the broader movements of myth is an example of one of the elements I enjoyed most about this anthology. The mythical voice in many stories draws the reader into an expanse of cultural experience which, in turn, adds depth of character.
Dominion: An Important Collection
As speculative fiction is increasingly defined as a literature that moves outside the borders of the Western world, a collection of African and African diasporic speculative fiction is an important addition to a growing body of work. Further, while speculative fiction readers who are African or of African descent can enjoy these stories that may feel both culturally familiar and fantastic, others can and should take up this collection to be both entertained and challenged to see the world — and dreams of the world — from another perspective.
Pre-order the anthology here.
Both of our fall titles are now available to download for review purposes from NetGalley. Signing up for NetGalley is free. Users receive a DRM-protected ebook and the opportunity to post their reviews on the NetGalley site. Reviewers can also post their reviews to Goodreads, Amazon, or their own blogs or other social media. We appreciate every review!
Michael J. DeLuca’s NIGHT ROLL is brand new on NetGalley today and is pre-approved for download for NetGalley users. Access DeLuca’s NIGHT ROLL here. On the NIGHT ROLL NetGalley page, you’ll also find title and price information and a synopsis of the book.
Sim Kern’s DEPART, DEPART! has been up on NetGalley for a month and has been getting very positive reviews. Kern’s novella is also pre-approved for download. Access DEPART, DEPART! here.
Below are a few excerpts from recent reviews from NetGalley readers:
Beautifully written and very timely, Depart, Depart! is an eerie look into the possible near-future. It’s filled with interesting characters with a rich story. … This is short, but it packs a big punch.Review from Media 592684
I loved every page of this, every thread and theme, every statement about humanity and politics. … This is a thought provoking and haunting book. Every praise I can give it pales in the amount of praise it should receive.Review from Aaron M.
This post discussing some of the considerations in developing a House Style for Stelliform may be a bit nerdy for some. But in the context of current conversations about appropriate terminology and style for inclusiveness and equity, I thought it important to make process and position more transparent.
First, as Editor-in-Chief, my editing is influenced by my positionality. My own racial identity is something that I’ve struggled to describe for most of my life. It wasn’t until I went to graduate school that I was exposed to the kind of language that enabled me to describe my experience as the daughter of an immigrant to Canada. I won’t go into the complexities of that struggle here, but I will say that I am a biracial woman — my mother is part of the South Asian diaspora, coming to Canada after growing up under colonial rule in Zimbabwe. My father was white, though also with a racially and ethnically mixed recent ancestry.
Presenting as white to most people, I have privilege that other WOC do not have. I seek to use the white privilege I have to help others. My hybrid identity helps me as an editor to recognize ways to challenge conventional narratives and also, I hope, ways to make space for less familiar voices and stories. At the same time, because of the way I look and the way I was raised, I have gaps in my knowledge and perspective that I am always seeking to fill. I am struggling to reclaim knowledge that colonization and assimilation has taken away from me and my family. Most of this struggle comes out in conversations with friends and in my own fiction. But it also occasionally informs editorial approaches and decisions.
An Evolving Style
One of the ways I am reclaiming knowledge is by questioning the assumptions inherent in both texts and publishing processes. As an editor, I am confronting the norms of publishing, especially as the current cultural moment is moving quickly to discard some of those norms. I am paying attention to the language that people use to describe themselves and their experiences and holding these examples up against established style guides, such as the Chicago Manual of Style. The CMoS is the foundation of our house style, but we are also consulting other sources and making adjustments as required. Any adjustments we make are in an effort to make our editing process and the books we publish clear, inclusive, and relational.
One such source for staying up to date on discussions around inclusive and equitable editing is The Conscious Style Guide. Another is Elements of Indigenous Style: A Guide for Writing By and About Indigenous Peoples by Gregory Younging. This guide frames the problem of editorial authority in its first chapter:
The failure [of presenting Indigenous experience with accuracy] comes from a colonial practice of transmitting “information” about Indigenous Peoples rather than transmitting Indigenous Peoples’ perspectives about themselves … Cultural understanding … can only be achieved by a “perspective from the inside.” Indigenous and other scholars have since coined other terms for this perspective, such as Eurocentrism, and have written about, for example, the British-centrism of Canada.Elements of Indigenous Style, Gregory Younging
Younging presents twenty-two principles of style which Stelliform also upholds to counter a Eurocentric perspective. The first, “to produce works that: reflect Indigenous realities as they are perceived by Indigenous peoples … [and] are truthful … [and] respectful of the cultural integrity of Indigenous Peoples” is supported by the second principle. This second principle is very simple. It is that when a conflict arises between Indigenous content or style and the standard style guides, “Indigenous style overrules other styles.”
This principle is already shaping Stelliform’s editorial approach to our authors who, so far, are not Indigenous. We respect our authors and the ways they choose to tell their stories. When we edit a manuscript, we make suggestions and initiate conversation but ultimately defer to the author’s way of telling the story. This deferral, which comes from a place of respect and openness, makes space for non-Eurocentric, non-heteronormative, and non-patriarchal perspectives and the issues of language, grammar, and style that support these perspectives.
Opening up discussions of how we approach the world around us necessarily includes the people around us. We can never be perfect in our approaches, but we can commit to being informed, to continuing our learning, and to valuing the lives and experiences of our authors and readers through what we publish.
For Pride Month 2020, we’re featuring a story by E. I. Richardson, a queer Black and Malay writer. “A Good Mother” (link) is a powerful, subtly unnerving horror story about family relations, abuse, and the day to day tasks of living with and working through trauma.
When the protagonist encounters a small child who then moves in with her, it is unclear where this child came from and who she is. There is evidence — in the way the main character recognizes her own “stubborn set of her mouth” on the child’s face, in the way she texts her sister about the arrival as if the child is known or even expected — that the child is the protagonist’s own mother. The appearance of the child is not explained and is taken in stride as the main character arranges her days around caring for an emotionally needy little girl. That the child is more than a strange echo of the protagonist’s past and her relationship with her mother surfaces in the occasional acknowledgement of the child’s shifting form, the way she is “sometimes brown, sometimes pale peach, sometimes short, sometimes a gray mound hulking over me, wrapped in winding sheets.” Even though the child is vulnerable, her mysterious, amorphous nature brings a sinister quality to the narrative.
That the child is an amorphous being that demands the love and attention of the protagonist in a way that can never be satisfied lends the story a cosmic horror feel: the child’s demands threaten to overwhelm and subsume in an almost mythical fashion. And for many people who live with the traumas of their abusive upbringingings, this is how day to day life can feel. Childhood experiences do become the mythology through which we understand and navigate adulthood. Childhood trauma is a past, present, and often future experience.
Motherhood and “Mother Earth”
“A Good Mother” is not an environmental story. An environmental reading of this story is not extracting inherent meaning from the narrative; instead, it is using E.I. Richardson’s examination of abusive mother-child relationships to understand the inherent relationality of human life in the environment in the time of climate change. The idea of a “Mother Earth” is still prevalent in the West, to the dismay of feminists who have worked to interrupt the idea of womanhood and motherhood as inherently “natural” or associated with the non-human environment (a dehumanizing move). Interrupting this idea is an ongoing process especially for Black feminists. So instead of reinforcing this paradigm, I would like to offer a mirror image, the flipped relationality of the Anthropocene.
We* are the abusive mother. We are the eldritch entity that shows up on Earth’s doorstep and demands, and needs, and demands some more. We reshape the ecosystems of our future children.
We are currently in a dangerous position, poised on the balcony railing. The question remains whether we are capable of throwing off the ways which perpetuate abuse. But also, possibility exists in instead throwing off the relations that capitalist-consumerist culture demands, taking up the mantle of the eldritch, disturbing entrenched power systems with the hulking presence of a populace fighting for equity and justice. Horror stories like “A Good Mother” are doing some of this work by holding up the light of examination to relationships of abuse and inspiring us to find and root out abuse everywhere.
*By “we” I mean Western people, those who uphold Western powers tangibly and ideologically, and those enjoying and perpetuating the specific types of power relationships which contribute to unsustainable living, both environmentally and otherwise.