Dreaming Anthologies

Dreaming Anthologies: To Wreck and Reign by Liz Bourke

In addition to our regular reprint series curated by Bogi Takacs, we here at Galli Books are always interested in seeing what people have been reading and enjoying elseweb. In the wake of a particularly interesting table of contents for a theoretical reprint anthology tweeted by Liz Bourke, we decided to seize on the concept: Dreaming Anthologies, a series of occasional essays by critics, writers, editors and more, telling us about their dream reprint anthologies made up of fiction that you can read online. If you’d like to pitch your own essay to us, just use the contact form on the website!

Our first Dreaming Anthologies column is by the formidable and beloved genre critic Liz Bourke herself. Without further ado, over to her…
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This anthology doesn’t exist. I’ve composed it from eight stories, all available freely online — though one takes a little looking, since the late and lamented Ideomancer has since gone defunct. If I were to title it, I’d probably call it To Wreck and Reign, but then, I’m a) terrible at titles, and b) never could resist a bad pun.

All the stories in this anthology deal with love, in some form or other: with love and with power, and with the inevitable costs of our choices. None of the stories in this anthology are particularly romantic, but several of them are epic, despite their short length. Their themes includes difficult questions of identity, loyalty, grief and survival. Their worldbuilding is precise and gloriously sharp. Some of them are batshit fun. Most of them are bittersweet, complicated gems.

Let’s open with Arkady Martine’s “All the Colors You Thought Were Kings.” Originally published in Shimmer Magazine in 2016 (Issue 31), this gorgeous and painful science fiction story is a paean to loyalty, (half-doomed) idealism, and sacrifice told in the second-person present tense. An unusual choice of perspective, but it really works.

“You wish so much it were that simple. You also wish it weren’t true. You’d like it if you could ever feel all one way about a thing.”

Then we’ll swoop along to Aliette de Bodard’s “A Salvaging of Ghosts,” first published in Beneath Ceaseless Skies, also in 2016 (Issue 195). Set in de Bodard’s Xuya continuity, it features Thuy, a woman who’s lost her daughter and grieves her deeply. Like her daughter, Thuy is a deep-space salvager, diving wrecks in the deep spaces where humans can’t long survive even with the aid of technology. “A Salvaging of Ghosts” is a story about grief and the temptations of self-destruction — and the possibility, too, of carrying on.

The third entry on our Table of Contents is Elizabeth Bear’s “She Still Loves The Dragon” (Uncanny Magazine, 2018: Issue 20). This is a story about love and pain and choices, and the fact that even the things (the people) you love can hurt you — but you can choose what to do with your hurt, afterwards.

“Everything is pain.

Beneath the pain is freedom.”

If we go past the dragon, we come to “ζῆ καὶ βασιλεύει,” by Sonya Taaffe. Published in Ideomancer in 2015 (Vol 14 Issue 1), it is a story of a sister of Alexander the Great — a world-conqueror in her own right, besieging the city of Tyre and making bargains with a goddess.

“The sea will take you, in the end. The sea of salt or the sea of sand, the sea of forgetfulness and the sea of time.” For a moment the goddess’ eyes were empty as a toppled statue, her palms cracked ochre. The sphinx’s shadow looked like a larnax, lid open, awaiting its bequest of ash. Then the tent walls rippled with a sea-wind; the lapis inlays of the flowers around ‘Aštart’s throat gleamed like phosphorescence on the silky black sea-swell and she looked like a living woman again, or near enough that Eurydike could look at her, potent and perilous as dusk and dawn. “I cannot make you unperishing” — the heroic word, aphthita. “I would see more of you before then.”

“Then, yes,” said the woman who was Kynnane to her lovers and her mother’s shade, Eurydike the third of that name in Makedonia.

Then a slightly lighter note, Yoon Ha Lee’s “Extracurricular Activities” (Tor.com, 2017). Set in Lee’s hexarchate (or heptarchate) universe, the same setting as Ninefox Gambit and its sequels. In this story, a much younger Shuos Jedao has to go behind enemy lines and figure out what’s going on before everything explodes — and there’s a very attractive nice young man who’s interested in him for added flavour.

JY Yang’s “Waiting on a Bright Moon” (Tor.com, 2017) is a very accomplished novelette. It’s a story about revolution and repression, about prejudice and murder and unlikely connections. It, too, is told in the second-person present tense (I may have a slight weakness for this style in stories of a certain cast). Yang is an excellent writer, as their several award nominations bear out: this story is a bright and precise argument about choices and consequences.

“You study her face, noting how sharp and bright it is. She is as young as you are, perhaps younger. A terrible burden to carry, the title of starmage. You wonder if she ever tires of it.”

Our penultimate story is the award-winning “Seasons of Glass and Iron,” by the brilliant and talented Amal El-Mohtar. Available online at Uncanny Magazine, it was first published in The Starlit Wood: New Fairy Tales (Saga Press, 2016). It is about cruelty and loyalty and the slow blossom of friendship and love between women, and it is the kind of story I fall back into again and again, every time I read it.

“Tabitha”—and Amira does not know what to do except to reach for her hand, clutch it, look at her in the way she looks at the geese, longing to speak and be understood—“you did nothing wrong.”

Tabitha holds Amira’s gaze. “Neither did you.”

And going out with a meditation on monsterhood, with nuclear explosions and desperate last stands, we finally come to Seth Dickinson’s “Morrigan in Shadow” (Clarkesword, 2015, Issue 111), full of bombs and pain and love and loss and striving. I think it’s a high note.

Laporte doesn’t know what to say to that. She has been a monster. But she’s going to see Simms again, and when they’re together, she won’t feel like anything but a happy woman. Is monsterhood conditional? Like a mirror you hold up to the war around you, just long enough to win?

Everything dies. Even humanity, Laporte supposes. Maybe how you live should count for more than how long you last.

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Liz Bourke is a cranky queer person who reads books. She holds a Ph.D in Classics from Trinity College, Dublin. Her first book, Sleeping With Monsters, a collection of reviews and criticism, was published in 2017 by Aqueduct Press. It was a finalist for the 2018 Locus Awards and was nominated for a 2018 Hugo Award in Best Related Work. Find her at her blog, where she’s been known to talk about even more books thanks to her Patreon supporters. Or find her at her Twitter. She supports the work of the Irish Refugee Council, the Transgender Equality Network Ireland, and the Abortion Rights Campaign.