Thursday, May 15, 2014

When Slush Reading is Worth It

The life of a slush editor can be trying. It's hard to understate the amount of terrible, terrible stories you get. There are some that are just banal, but others that are downright disturbing. I mean, there's frequently a point where you get to the fourth spousal abuse/killing/revenge story in a row, and you start to wonder about a career in marital counseling, because clearly there's a big need there.

 But there are also those amazing moments, the ones you keep reading for. Where you lift your head from where it's rested dejectedly in your palm, and remove your hovering mouse from the 'reject' button. Where you forget you're an editor and become an entranced reader again. It's happened to me only a very few times. Even fewer were the stories that struck me so deeply that I can clearly recall the first time I read them. It happened for Brass Canaries. And for Seed. And it happened once while I was reading slush for Clockwork Phoenix 4, a story by Benjanun Sriduangkaew called "The Bees Her Heart, the Hive Her Belly."


I remember being entranced, completely lost in the story – particularly rare because I've never been a huge fan of sci-fi. But it's hard for me not to love a story about a woman with a heart full of bees (literally). And it's worth noting that this was the ONLY non-solicited story that Mike picked to publish in Clockwork Phoenix 4.

 This is one of my favorite passages:
"She went to have her chest cut open and a small metal lattice installed between her breasts. When the bees became too much, she would open that little gate and let them out in a cascade of corpses and restless workers. The living ones always returned to Sennyi-as-hive, for they were creatures of habit. They drove her to eat voraciously and she developed a private memory. It jolted her to have a cerebral partition that could not be edited by anyone but herself. Still, what had already been forgotten couldn’t be brought back." 

Since CWP4 was published, I've followed the reviews, and in almost every one, they call out this story as one of the best. It gives me a sense of pride, even though my only real accomplishment was to put the "pass forward" label on instead of the "reject." Which, given that I think anyone could have seen how amazing this story was, really isn't much. But it's great all the same.

 Besides Clockwork Phoenix 4, Benjanun has been published in Clarkesworld (three times!), Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and Giganotosaurus, and reprinted in The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year vol. 8 (the above story, as it happens), among others. And then, a few weeks ago, I was really excited to learn that Benjanun had been nominated for the John Campbell award for best new writer!! It's very well-deserved.

 You can read "The Bees Her Heart, the Hive Her Belly" here. I would call it R-rated; it doesn't have anything truly graphic, but it does have mentions of sex and so forth. But if you can handle the mentions, it's truly fascinating. I adore the ending. And you can see a list of Benjanun's stories at her website here. I'm excited to see where she goes next.

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