BookDragon Books for the Diverse Reader

Five More to Go: Corinne Manning’s We Had No Rules [in The Booklist Leader]

We Had No Rules by Corinne Manning

Corinne Manning’s author statement couldn’t be clearer: “I had no idea how to write authentically until the day when I typed the sentence ‘Oh, f*ck it. I’m writing lesbian fiction.’” That declaration became “Gay Tale,” one of 11 stories in her debut collection about the myriad ways of falling into, making, betraying, and celebrating love. Two stories, “We Had No Rules” and “The Wallaby,” share the same narrator, a 16-year-old who has run away to live with her sister in New York City, in the former; in the latter, set decades later, she faces the loss of that now fatally ill sibling. Three family members affected by divorce each get a story, moving backwards in time: the cuckolded husband attending his ex-wife’s funeral in “The Appropriate Weight“; the gay wife concerned about their distracted adult daughter in “Seeing in the Dark,” and the daughter as a 16-year-old discovering romance in “The Only Pain You Feel.” Wistful, funny, angry, bitter, raw – Manning’s writing both shocks and enthralls.

Short stories done well feel like a literary gift – endless variations of form and content, always new surprises and discoveries. Below you’ll find five uniquely voiced collections, all published within the last year-ish.


Apsara Engine by Bishakh Som

A woman goes out for her regular evening walk on the beach, contemplating her relationship with her husband, until she sees a mermaid washed up on the shore. And here text and graphics suddenly diverge: the words reveal a recent affair, while the frames depict the mermaid dragging the woman down into dark waters. That mesmerizing juxtaposition in “Come Back to Me” inaugurates Som’s extraordinary debut, signaling an exceptional graphic achievement. Richly hued, gorgeously lettered, and often exquisitely detailed, Som’s work, the writing as well the art, presents a brave new world of diverse women – talking, dancing, dreaming, plotting – living among friends, lovers, and chimerical creatures, in familiar cities and faraway landscapes, balancing the expectantly mundane with the utterly fantastical.


Exhalation by Ted Chiang

Chiang, whose 1998 novella “Story of Your Life” became the Oscar-nominated film Arrival, returns with another intriguing collection featuring seven previously published stories plus two new ones. If you choose to listen, Edoardo Ballerini voices four stories, Dominic Hoffman two, and Amy Landon three, but most notable is Chiang himself, who appends each story with a revealing provenance. Chiang’s regular aural interjections underscore the taut thread connecting his future worlds: the human relationship – repercussions, consequences, rewards – with sci-fi inventions, including (especially) all manner of artificial intelligence. Hollywood is already developing “The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate” and “The Lifecycle of Software Objects,” so hearing the stories here first is a must for (over)active imaginations.


Good Citizens Need Not Fear by Maria Reva

Ivansk Street, Number 1933, in Kirovka, Ukraine, seems be an exact address, but the town council’s clerk insists “that building does not exist.” Constructed last year, “someone seemed to have forgotten to connect [the building] to the district furnace,” but plenty of people already live there. These inhabitants comprise the memorable cast – inspired, remarkably, by her own family’s experiences – in Ukraine-born Reva’s skillful, interconnected collection, which proves to be a stupendous amalgam of pathos, black comedy, and preposterous, post-USSR surreality. Nine entangled, intertwined, intricate stories later, Reva’s fictional characters living in a nonexistent building might seem absurd, but her remarkably convincing narratives assure plenty of thoughtful entertainment.


How To Pronounce Knife by Souvankham Thammavongsa

In her under 200-page fiction debut, Canadian poet Thammavongsa showcases 14 spectacular stories. Born to Lao parents in a Thai refugee camp and raised and educated in Toronto, Thammavongsa parses her own culturally amalgamated heritage through most of her narratives, some previously published. The collection opens with the Commonwealth Short Story Prize short-listed title story, a poignant, eyes-wide-open exploration of a young girl’s embarrassed realization of how little her immigrant father seems to know. Other lingering standouts are many, including the 2019 O. Henry-prized “Slingshot,” which introduces a did-that-really-happen relationship between a 70-year-old woman and her 32-year-old neighbor. Cosmopolitan aficionados of pristine short fiction will want to read in.


Readymade Bodhisattva: The Kaya Anthology of South Korean Science Fiction edited by Sunyoung Park and Sang Joon Park

Science fiction in Korea is relatively new, initially imported from the West via early-twentieth-century translations. By the late-1950s, the rapid modernization of postwar South Korea proffered considerable fodder for sf-writer wannabes. Over the following decades, Korea’s ongoing political, socioeconomic, and technological reinventions created fertile conditions to nurture a distinctly homegrown sf community of writers and readers. Tenaciously indie Kaya Press launches its Magpie Series with this collection of 13 diverse sf stories originally published in the 1960s to the 2010s. Editors Sunyoung Park and Sang Joon Park have assembled a village of translators and academics to provide additional, insightful context for each story and author, bestowing upon Anglophone readers a multilayered introduction – presented in a most unique layout – to contemporary Korean science fiction.


Published: “Five More to Go: Corinne Manning’s WE HAD NO RULES,” The Booklist Reader, May 12, 2020


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