2022 in Review: Reality is
Not Governed by the Believability Constraints of Fiction
by Cynthia Ward
Neither my partner nor I have
ever had a year like this. Financial disaster, vicious cancer, different
vicious cancer, etc. And there were so many musical losses: country legend
Loretta Lynn; Dead Kennedys drummer Daron Peligro; Specials lead singer Terry
Hall; Fleetwood Mac singer/songwriter/musician Christine McVie; Seekers lead
singer Judith Durham; Canadian folk legend Ian Tyson; fave singer of my teen
years Olivia Newton-John….
But it was good to get
diagnosed with autism (so much is explained), and the year ended on a high
note, with teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg hoisting an
alleged-human-trafficking, kickboxing misogynist by his own...petard (if you
missed it, Rebecca Solnit has an interesting report
in the Guardian).
Here are some other good
things from my voyage through 2022.
* * *
Thunder in Our Hearts (Music)
"Close to You" by Rumer - My particular
vocal catnip is a certain sort of melancholy tinge, and no one ever turned my
head like Karen Carpenter and Sandy Denny, until Rumer.
"Eres Tú" by Mocedades - I had wondered if
any Eurovision songs besides ABBA's "Waterloo" had become an
international smash; Spain's entry for the 1973 contest answers my question
(and this lovely song was only the runner-up!).
"Good as Hell" by Lizzo - A great song and
video, and my gateway drug to this wonderful performer.
"Journey to the End" by Windir - You need
some Norwegian black metal right about now.
The Most Wuthering Heights
Day Ever - These videos of flash mobs celebrating the iconoclastic entertainer
Kate Bush's birthday by performing her famous song have proven a source of joy in
a year in which it's been scarce—my favorite may be found here.
Girl's Day x Boy's Day - The reputation of K-Pop boy bands for androgyny is not
lost on K-Pop boy bands, which makes for some delightful videos, and my
favorite is this one; it
takes about a minute and a half for the androgyny to represent, but the wait will
well repay your patience; plus, the song and performances are great (and you
can find more of NU'EST's
amazing Ren in this commercial for a
"Waterloo" by ABBA - Since I've mentioned it,
here's the nascent ABBA's winning performance at the 1974 Eurovision contest,
with their signature over-the-top costumes already in place (tangentially,
England's finalist that year was Olivia Newton-John, who performed a much
weaker song called "Long Live Love,"
not particularly an international smash despite ONJ also recording a German version. But ultimately all is forgiven).
The Whole Story by Kate Bush - An excellent collection, but the lone
disc of this best-of CD hardly offers the whole story at this point in Kate
Bush's decades-long career—she has not been well served by record labels, at
least in the U.S. (nor always well served by herself, as the re-recorded vocals
here for "Wuthering Heights" demonstrate).
* * *
Humans and Other Animals (Books)
The Autistic Brain:
Thinking Across the Spectrum by
Temple Grandin and Richard Panek - Authoritative, useful, and utterly
fascinating; I'm hoping there will be an updated edition, because it's almost a
decade old now, and the science is fast-changing (the book mentions vaccines as
a possible cause of autism, a hypothesis now thoroughly debunked and
A History of the Bible:
The Book and Its Faiths by John
Barton - A title of pure truth in advertising; a wide-ranging and erudite book
from a respected guide; an even-handed, informative, and riveting (if sometimes
Kate: The Woman Who Was
Hepburn by William J. Mann -
Generally, I have zero interest in celebrities beyond their performances, but
Mann's massive, exhaustively researched, and authoritative biography is a
complex, fascinating book about a complex, fascinating, and not particularly
straightforward woman...and a book which left me wondering if 20th Century
America's most beloved actress would identify as straight and/or as a woman in
the modern era.
Seven Types of Atheism by John Gray - Gray is a lucid, blunt, and sometimes funny writer
and thinker, and if you suppose he might favor atheists over believers, or
vice-versa, you will swiftly be disabused of that notion; highly recommended (but
brace for discomfort, possibly in abundance, whatever your flavor of skepticism,
faith, or politics).
An Immense World: How
Animal Senses Reveal the Hidden Realms Around Us by Ed Yong - This beautifully written nonfiction book
on nonhuman sensoria unintentionally exposes how rarely science fiction presents
truly-alien aliens, and will undoubtedly become an important influence on many
SF writers; I hope it will also do much to improve the treatment of animals.
* * *
Amor Actually: A Holiday
Romance Anthology by Zoey Castile, Alexis Daria, Adriana Herrera, Diana Muñoz
Stewart, Priscilla Oliveras, Sabrina Sol, and Mia Sosa - In this sometimes-queer,
oft-steamy assemblage of linked Nochebuena novellas by best-selling Latina
authors, Christmas Eve changes many lives and hearts.
And What Can We Offer You
Tonight by Premee Mohamed - This
Nebula Award-winning dark far-future novella of crime and punishment and sex
work reminds me very favorably of the late, legendary Tanith Lee's weird fiction,
while entirely retaining its own voice and viewpoint; how often can you say
Astreiant/Points series by
Melissa Scott and Lisa A. Barnett - If there were any justice, this terrific, queernormative
police-procedural series—set in an alternate world of two suns, where astrology
and alchemy are working sciences, men are the disenfranchised sex, and magic facilitates
crime—would be one of the most popular and influential fantasy series of all
Bodyguard by Dassy Bernhard - A young man with mysterious
powers and an even more mysterious background foils the kidnapping of a K-Pop
group, thereby landing neck-deep in corporate intrigue and MM desire; the
romantic element is a bit underdeveloped, but this is a fun, genre-blending
A Caribbean Heiress in
Paris: A Historical Romance (Las
Leonas Book 1) by Adriana Herrera - Sparks of many sorts are struck when an
Afro-Latina rum heiress with everything on the line travels to the 1899 World's
Fair, only to clash with a whisky-distilling Scottish earl.
Counterfeit by Kirsten Chen - A pair of Stanford University
products profitably deploy Asian designer fakes as good as the originals, in a literary
novel in which other things, too, may not be as they seem; this book is the
real deal—why is it not festooned with mystery/suspense awards?
A Counterfeit Suitor by Darcie Wilde (who also writes as Sarah Zettel) -
The 2021 installment of the Regency mystery series (which owes more to Jane
Austen than Georgette Heyer) moves its slow-burn MF romance onto more solid
ground as amateur sleuth Rosalind Thorne, a "useful woman" in a
tenuous social position, finds herself collaborating with the enemy who seeks
to banish her from genteel society.
Delilah Green Doesn't Care by Ashley Herring Blake - In this perceptive nominee
for Goodreads Best Romance of 2022, the titular New York photographer does care
about her art, but she's not a fan of either long-term relationships or the
Northwestern step-family with whom she was stranded in childhood by her father's
death; then one of her stepsister's friends, a struggling, plus-size single
mother in a complicated co-parenting situation, proves unexpectedly compelling.
D'Vaughn and Kris Plan a
Wedding by Chencia C. Higgins - A
particularly romantic romance novel, centered on a Black/Hispanic lesbian
couple matched on a fake-engagement reality-TV show—a brilliant concept for
making the reader (or at least this reader) extremely tense and involved.
Fireheart Tiger by Aliette de Bodard - An interesting but choppy Vietnamese-influenced
fantasy novella of colonial threat and sapphic longing, which would have
benefitted from novel length.
Garnet Run series by Roan
Parrish - Parrish writes smart, deeply empathic, typically queer romances which
typically center on the sort of individuals called "weird" by
schoolyard bullies and "quirky" by reviewers; this MM series is a
good place to start with the author (and it also includes a publishing
milestone: the first-ever gay Harlequin category romance).
Hen Fever: A Sapphic
Victorian Romance by Olivia Waite - I
usually cannot engage with Christmas romances, but I greatly enjoyed this
charming, secular historical novella of competitive chicken-showing which centers
on a lesbian romance of unseasonal heat.
High Times in the Low
Parliament by Kelly Robson - In this
sly novella, the survival-minded fairy folk have taken charge of human
government (and perhaps also eliminated men), but when a novel human approach to
genocide rouses the fae, humanity's only hope may rest on a ne'er-do-well young
scribe more interested in a hot politician than in politics.
The Holiday Trap by Roan Parrish - In this fun geographic spin on the "trading
places" trope, a Maine island-born lesbian and a New Orleans-based gay man
swap housing to escape desperate situations, only to find romance; the NOLA
section is reasonable as far as this tourist can tell, but…if writing about
Maine as an outsider, please get in touch.
In the Event of Love by Courtney Kae - In this light contemporary holiday FF
romance, an event planner's drunken dance with a client's famous fiancé goes disastrously
viral, and her retreat crashes her literally into her ex's business, with
The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang - A contemporary interracial MF
romance that's quite good in some ways and pretty problematic in others; one
strength is that there's solid enough autistic representation for the author to
discover she was autistic and the reader to hear certain bells ringing. Very
loudly. Loudly enough to find out.
A Lady for the Duke by Alexis Hall - I enjoyed this ground-breaking trans/cis
MF Regency Romance, though it was rather a choppy read for my tastes; I could
never get comfortable with the mix of fairy-tale and gritty elements.
The Language of Roses by Heather Rose Jones - Taking a break from her
Alpennia series of feminist Ruritanian fantasies, Jones reimagines Beauty and
the Beast in an ambitious, deeply insightful, diversely queer, literary fantasy
Lavender House by Lev A.C. Rosen - It's an intriguing premise for a
novel (hardboiled murder mystery set in a mid-20th-Century safe space for queer
found family), but in execution, it's rather bland and sometimes anachronistic,
with a solution I didn't find very surprising; of course, your mileage may vary
(content note for suicidal ideation and a brutal queer-bashing).
Light From Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki - This diverse, gender-savvy, genre-blending
novel is lovely and gentle and tough and (in so many ways) lyrical, and provides
some original twists on the deal with the devil trope; at press time, I've
learned it's the deserving co-recipient of the 2021 Otherwise Award.
The Love Study and The Hate Project (Love Study Books 1-2) by
Kris Ripper - Sensitive and smart, queer and genderqueer, these contemporary
romance novels offer sharp portrayals of vividly-voiced protagonists with
mental health issues which are significant, yet never trivialized, swept under
the rug, an impediment to reader enjoyment, or magically cured by love; that's
rare and impressive, and I'm eager to read the third book, The Life Revamp.
Lupin Leaps In: A Breaking
Cat News Adventure by Georgia Dunn -
After the comic strip began irregularly crossing my internet path, I read one
of the collections, and found a lot more depth than I expected, given the
light, funny, cuddly surface; and I mourned, soon after, when the real-life
Lupin (inspiration for not only the deaf lead anchor cat of BCN, but the series
itself) passed away.
Masters in This Hall by KJ Charles - And so we come to another Victorian
secular holiday romance I enjoyed; it probably didn't hurt that this novella leans
into the crime/caper/murder mystery genre, or that it's from the amazing KJ
The Necessity of Stars by E. Catherine Tobler - In a queer near-future
novella focused on the sort of older characters rarely centered in speculative
fiction, an aging diplomat may find a way to counter ever-worsening climate
devastation...or she may be suffering from hallucinations and memory loss.
New Edge Sword &
Sorcery Magazine Issue #0 - New Edge refers
to S&S with modern sensibilities and diverse awareness; the inaugural issue
of this new magazine has fine fiction and nonfiction, and the eBook edition is available
free at this link, while the hardcover and paperback editions
are available at cost from various bookstores, physical and virtual.
New Suns: Original
Speculative Fiction by People of Color
edited by Nisi Shawl - Few anthologies have such consistent excellence of
contents, so it's a pleasure to see the project and its stories and editor
lauded and awarded as they deserve; I eagerly await New Suns 2.
Ordinary Monsters by J.M. Miro - A globe-spanning Victorian spin on the
school-of-mutants subgenre, this intense and deeply atmospheric fantasy novel
might have been still stronger had it been published as a trilogy (as an aside,
this work is unusual for recent speculative fiction [in my experience] in having
no romantic content and minimal overt identification of sexual orientation).
The Perks of Loving a
Wallflower: The Wild Wynchesters Book 2
by Erica Ridley - The motley Wynchester family functions more than a little
like a superhero group, performing daring deeds to right wrongs; in this
volume, a young bluestocking lady with an overbearing mother and a fraud or two
to foil finds herself relying on the Wynchesters, and especially on their
master of disguise, who sometimes goes by Thomas and sometimes by Thomasina
(this has been described as F/F romance, but F/NB seems a more accurate
The Plains of Shadow (Kurval Book 1) by Richard Blakemore and Cora Buhlert
- With a metafictional auctorial twist to this short pulp eBook, Hugo Award
winner Cora Buhlert launches her imaginative sword and sorcery series about a
wandering barbarian swordsman who is a tribute to the creations of Robert E.
Howard yet very much his own man.
A Psalm for the Wild-Built and A Prayer for the Crown-Shy (Monk &
Robot Books 1-2)
by Becky Chambers - When the
peripatetic/therapeutic tea monk Sibling Dex encounters the robot Mosscap in a post-capitalist, post-technocratic world abandoned
by robots, questions about human meaning gain a new urgency; Chambers has
quietly become one of our most interesting writers of philosophically informed
fiction, and one who is also, I think, operating from a thoughtful secular
perspective, which tends to be demoted in reviews to "doesn't understand
religion/faith," when what she's doing is taking a whole other ontological
tack (one which delights and fascinates me as an areligious agnostic atheist
reader, and leaves me kind of envious as a writer, but in a good way).
The Queer Principles of Kit Webb by
Cat Sebastian - A fine MM Regency romance with fencing and political
radicalism; I'm looking forward to the MF sequel, The Perfect Crimes of
by Miyuki Jane Pinckard - A literary gothic/ghost/murder mystery set largely in
the titular residence hall of a WASPy turn-of-the-previous-century women's
college in New England, this ambitious and involving novella will appeal to
pretty much anyone who enjoys dark historical fantasies like Jordan L. Hawk's
Widdershins series or KJ Charles's Charm of Magpies series (despite the title, the
novella has no particular tie that I could discern to the ground-breaking British
lesbian author Radcliffe Hall).
The Red Man and Others by Remco van Straten and Angeline
B. Adams - These gritty, graceful stories of a short swordswoman, a disabled
scholar, a youthful con artist, the titular soldier, and other rarely-seen
characters perceptively reimagines sword and sorcery through outsider, working-class
perspectives, an approach which also puts this collection in the
nearly-forgotten low fantasy subgenre.
Savvy Sheldon Feels Good as Hell by
Taj McCoy - In this enjoyable if uneven novel of self-actualization, L.A. style
(marketed rather misleadingly as a romance), the eponymous Savvy, a Black/Vietnamese-American
woman of size, moves beyond life as an insurance claims adjuster married to her
job, with the help of her supportive and insightful gal-pals and a sensitive and
sexy home-remodeling contractor.
Sing You Home by Jodi Picoult - My
introduction to the English language's second-bestselling female author is a romantic,
literary, melodrama-edged page-turner about legal inequities and a later-in-life
lesbian relationship; it left me eager never to have a star turn in a courtroom,
and also left me trying to parse the difference between the portrayals of queer
characters by queer writers and those by straight writers (I think it's "isolated
and crushed in oppressive society vs. supported in healthy and happy community";
but my cishet judgement is suspect at best).
Siren Queen by Nghi Vo - In a
subgenre (fiction about film) in which an original twist is a rare sight, Vo's alternate-historical
novel of a queer Asian-American actress negotiating a literally magical and
genuinely dangerous Hollywood never fails to surprise; this is one of the most
impressive fantasy novels I've ever read, or most impressive fictions
Spear by Nicola Griffith - This women-centered literary fantasy
novella of post-Roman Britain beautifully reimagines Arthurian legend with
feminist acuity, overt queerness, and a rare and much-appreciated depth of
Spirits Abroad (expanded 2021 edition) by Zen Cho - Nineteen unpredictable,
gorgeous stories of ghosts and monsters, families and lovers, East and West,
death and life, past and present and future, from the brilliant and essential author.
"sturm und drang" by spit_kitten - This
original (non-fanfiction) MM Regency romance at the famous fanfic platform AO3,
a shorter novella, is better than most romances I've read at any length.
To Be Taught, If Fortunate by Becky Chambers - When technological breakthroughs
permit a small exploratory crew to reach the stars, extrasolar planets may
prove more than the human body and mind can handle; the ending opens outward,
which works for me, but won't for everyone.
Twelve Drummers Drumming by C.C.
Benison - The title implies a holiday tie-in, but this contemporary mystery
novel (first in a series) is set in a warmer season, and the Christmas in
question is widowed Church of England vicar Tom Christmas, whose new life is
upended when he discovers a pair of bodies in bizarre locations.
When Women Were Dragons by Kelly Barnhill - In this thoughtful, emotionally
intense, romantic, feminist literary fantasy novel, a mysterious mass event in
an alternate 1950s America turns thousands of women into, well, you know.
Winter's Orbit by Everina Maxwell - This gender-savvy SF novel dances
at the far-future edge of diverse space opera as a pair of men forced to marry
for political reasons contend with imperial treachery and their own cross-threaded
Ward has published
stories in Analog, Asimov's,
Nightmare, Startling Stories, Weird
Tales, and other magazines and anthologies. For WolfSinger
Publications, she edited the diversity-themed anthologies Lost Trails: Forgotten Tales of the Weird
West Volumes 1-2.
With fellow Aqueductista Nisi Shawl, Cynthia
coauthored the Locus Award winning fiction-writing guide, Writing the Other: A Practical Approach.
In Autumn 2021, Aqueduct Press released the
concluding novella in her Bloody-Thirsty Agent series, The Adventure of the