One of the most sheerly fun things I’ve read in recent years has been Hal Duncan’s series of Scruffian stories, which are a unique variation on stray child fantasies like the Lost Boys or the Borribles. They incorporate clever twists to history and mythology, a cheeky-but-probably-reliable-enough narrative voice, and a rambunctious spirit that’s as punk and D.I.Y. as any fold-over ‘zine you’ve ever rattled off on your day job’s Xerox machine.
The Scruffian stories come in the form of a Lethe Press collection (above) and a handful of chapbooks available in print, epub, and e-audio formats through the author’s Bandcamp page. There’s a new one coming out in a couple weeks, so if you’re a fan you might need some recommendations to tide you over. Or, if you like the books I’m reccing but haven’t read any Scruffians yet, that means now is a great time to get in to it!
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One of my favorite books from last year was Leech Girl Lives, by Rick Claypool. It’s a wonderfully satirical and decidedly leftist novel about a safety inspector in the far-future who gets exiled from her bubble-city after being framed in a plot to create an unsafe environment. While in the wilderness, two symbiotic leeches devour her arms and latch on to her shoulders, and things only get stranger from that point. There’s a LOT going on with this book, the ideas it tangles up, and the surreal world it presents. Which means there’s a lot of possible angles from which it looks a little like other books.
So you enjoyed this bizarre romp of a book and are still hungry for more. If…
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I’ve just gotten a short story about incorporeal solidarity published in the magazine Speculative City alongside awesome writers like dave ring, Stefani Cox, and Robin M. Eaves! It’s a great magazine from some really sharp publishers, so give it a look!
“Oh Ghost of Mine” is a story featuring Decca, one of the characters from To Another Abyss. The plot is completely separate so you don’t need to have read the novel beforehand, but you can totally pick up a copy afterwards if you want more of her snerky socialist supernatural solutions.
I think what first kicked off this story idea was a couple friends of mine who were having a discussion about where modern freelancers and the self-employed fit in to traditional Marxist class structure, and what shape a worker’s “solidarity” can take when they don’t really have co-workers or managers.
I don’t have much background in political theory so the first and most amusing answer I could come up with was “choose a line of freelance work that will grift the rich.” Which I find satisfying on a visceral level, but it isn’t really practical career advice, so I was left to explore it in fiction. I couldn’t think of any stories where someone had actually turned that old line about “the specter of communism” into a literal specter, and what’s the point in a metaphor like that if you can’t literalize it every now and then?
Moreover, ghosts are a pretty good model for activism. If you look at any story from M.R. James all the way back to Hamlet, ghosts have always known that the only way you’re going to get results if you start pestering folks who are comfortable with the status quo. Loudly. In their own bedrooms if that’s what it takes.
Part of my day job entails coming up with Read-Alikes: little lists for popular books that can direct readers to other titles based on sharing similar themes, concepts, or aesthetics. For example, Laird Barron’s The Croning could be on a Read-Alike list for Jeff VanderMeer’s City of Saints & Madmen due to them both dealing with strange nonhuman entities and toying with the reliability of historical accounts. Diehard cosmic horror fans could probably quibble over the finer points of the comparison, but it’s a way of saying “if you liked X, try Y” for people who may not be that familiar with the genre.
And if there’s one thing common to the genres I like the most, it’s that lots of folks aren’t familiar with them.
So here’s a list of Read-Alikes for To Another Abyss. If…
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