Let’s Talk About “Comfort Zones”

Danger Zone

Of the reactions to the piece on challenging yourself to read non-white, cis-het male authors for one year, I find one to be very telling about people’s assumptions of reading experience. Paraphrased, it goes something like:

But in her piece Tempest said that she only read fiction within her comfort zone!

What I’m understanding is that these decriers think that when I made the choice to not read fiction that bored me, made me mad because it wasn’t good, or offended me, I was looking to only be comforted.

I think the fault lies in the conception of what “offended me” means. Because people who are steeped in some kind of unexamined privilege often see Being Offended as Being Made Angry or Being Made To Feel Mildly Uncomfortable. That’s what I see as being behind all those “You’re just looking to be offended!” cries when a woman or person of color or any number of people from a marginalized or oppressed group points out offensive stuff.

The assumption is that I can choose not to be offended[1].

A white man might read stories written by other white men that have offensive to black people stuff in them and not even notice. At all. Or care. At all. Or, if they notice, the experience may be one of, “Oh hey, that’s not all right.” But it doesn’t hurt that white male reader.

Offensive stereotypes of black or brown people as ignorant savages hurts me. Fiction wherein women are only in the story to be sexual slaves without agency or even names hurts me. Even casual, offhand, not blatantly racist/sexist/whathaveyou offensive crap bourne out of a writer’s ignorance hurts me. Literary microagressions.

When I read fiction–especially for pleasure, but even for the purpose of analyzing it so that I can grow as a writer–I don’t want a majority of my experience to be about getting hurt. And a lot of the time the white, cis-het male writer behind those stories has not given two thoughts to privilege or stereotypes or that social justice warrior glittery hoo-ha crap[2]. So I stopped reading them.

However, in sticking to women, people of color, LGBT, and other authors from marginalized identities, I was not reading in a “comfort zone.” I was not more comfortable, I was just less likely to run across fiction that hurt me. But the stories were certainly not universally comfortable to read. Not at all.

I’ve never sought out comfort when looking for new things to read. A thing may become a comfort read once I finish it. In fact, much great fiction makes me uncomfortable, which is a big plus.

The first time I experienced this was in high school. I read Octavia Butler’s Kindred[3] and it made me profoundly uncomfortable. I still remember the almost panic feeling I got when I imagined for a moment if what happened to Dana happened to me. I was sure I would not have made it at all. The thought that it might happen was terrifying.

This was the first time I understood how fiction can affect a reader. No book, even books I loved, had ever made me that uncomfortable. And I had never identified with any protagonist so deeply.

Same thing happened with Derrick Bell’s The Space Traders. Oh man, that story jacked me up for years. Because everything Bell wrote in that story was so true. 100 percent truth.

Truth is rarely comfortable.

So no, I did not escape into my comfort zone when reading non-white, cis-het male authors. In fact, I put myself more and more out of it as I went. Because not all of the fiction I read catered to the mainstream gaze. And the gaze it catered to wasn’t necessarily mine, either. There were stories that challenged my notions of how stories are supposed to go, how plots are meant to unfold, how characters must be constructed and revealed and relate[4]. This is what happens when you step out of mainstream culture’s comfort zone.

That’s probably why so many people are scared.


  1. Which is… no. I can choose not to tell you I’m offended. I can choose to hide that I’m offended. I can also take the offense to heart, consciously or unconsciously, and feel like I’m worthless. I’m not going to do that just so you don’t have to hear me talk about offensive shit.[]
  2. This is not true for every single one of these writers. Noting is true for every single one of any kind of people. But these days I am less willing to give a new author from this group a try unless I see some evidence that they have thought about these issues. That’s not a hard thing for me. Thus I end up reading some of the best white, cis-het male SF/F authors publishing today. WIN.[]
  3. This was assigned reading, too! Yeah, I don’t know how that happened.[]
  4. If this all sounds like some awesomepants to you, then I suggest you go through my Favorite Fiction archive here on the blog and check out my column at io9.[]

Story Art – Highlights from July’s short fiction illustrations

My first month doing a weekly short fiction roundup at io9 is over and I’m really glad to be back in the groove of reading consistently. As I read more and more I’m newly struck by how many magazines are commissioning original art for stories and how wonderful that art is on the whole. I thought it would be nice to call out the pieces I liked best at the end of each month.

Here are my favorite story arts for July:

Richie Pope illustration for Sleepwalking Now And Then

Richie Pope’s illustration for “Sleepwalking Now And Then” by Richard Bowes.

Pope does a lot of work for Tor.com and has many other great pieces on display at his website.

Depot/Station by Albert Urmanov

Clarkesworld’s July cover art comes from Depot/Station by Albert Urmanov

Urmanov is a German artist who does a lot of amazing SFF illustration. See his other works at Art Station.

Rebecca Huston Grooming

Rebecca Huston’s “Grooming” for “Witch, Beast, Saint: an Erotic Fairy Tale” by C. S. E. Cooney

I couldn’t find a gallery of Huston’s art but did find out she inks tattoos for a living. Can you see getting a picture like that over your whole back?

Wesley Allsbrook illustration for A Short History of the Twentieth Century

Wesley Allsbrook’s illustration for “A Short History of the Twentieth Century, or, When You Wish Upon A Star” by Kathleen Ann Goonan

Another frequent Tor.com artist, Allsbrook has a really striking style that gives me the feeling that all the people and objects in his works are threads held together by a very tenuous connection to each other and will fly apart at any second. Check out his gallery.

Favorite Fiction (Feb & March 2013) plus new ways to find my faves

Favorite Fiction (Feb & March 2013) plus new ways to find my faves

Over at io9 my list of best short stories from February and March is now live. Those ten stories represent my very top picks, but there are several more I hearted over the past couple of months. I listed them below.

Before we get to that, a couple of things! First, I created a Flipboard magazine recently where I intend to collect all the stories I favorite each month. It’s the same list you’ll see here, so it’s basically another way to see the same info. With a Flipboard magazine you’ll get an update every time I add a new story and won’t have to wait for the end of the month. Plus, the stories will just show up in your regular Flipboard, no need to do anything extra. To subscribe, search for “ktempest” in Flipboard. The magazine is called Fantastic Flippin’ Fiction.

I mentioned in January’s post that I was looking for a venue where I could discuss short stories in depth. Not just the ones I like, but any one worth discussing, including stories I don’t like. To that end, I’m doing some experimenting. I created a Google+ community. I intend for it to be a participatory thing, not just me. Anyone can post links to stories, start a discussion, or make recommendations. If you have a Google account, you can join.

Now, onto the picks!

Visit my Favorite Fiction tag to see all the other short stories I’ve liked so far this year.

Favorite Fiction from January 2013; New Related Projects; Fiction Review Contraption?

Favorite Fiction from January 2013; New Related Projects; Fiction Review Contraption?

First favorite fiction post of 2013 and there is a lot to talk about besides the fic I liked! I’ll begin with business.

First, I am posting a short list of favorite fic every month over at io9 now. Click here to see January’s picks. Each month I’ll choose my top favorites, usually 5 or so, to list there. I’ll also do more with print/subscription/non-free fiction there and podcasts. That list won’t mean that these lists will go away, though. There are shorts listed here that aren’t listed there.

Second, I’m now part of the Not If You Were The Last Short Story On Earth crew, so I will contribute to the Twitter account and possibly the podcast (I’m not in Australia or anything, so I have no clue how that works). So if you want to keep up with the stories I like as I read them, follow that account. I’m not the only one who tweets, so you get bonus thoughts from other folks doing the same thing I am.

Last, ever since I started reading short fic regularly I’ve wanted to have a place where I could go to have discussions about the stories. Not just the stories I like, but the ones I don’t that I still find interesting enough to discuss. Last time I brought this up on Twitter many were interested, so I’m bringing it up again. The thing I’m unsure about is where to host this discussion. G+ communities are now live and could work. DreamWidth communities might be better since it can be a little bit (but not totally) private. I’m just worried about people who may want to join the discussion feeling like they can’t unless they join DreamWidth. Maybe that’s an unfounded concern. Anyway, I would love to hear suggestions on this.

Okay, all that taken care of, it’s now time for the favorites list!

Visit my Favorite Fiction tag to see all the other short stories I’ve liked so far this year.

The Best Short Fiction of 2012 (According To Me) + 2012 Fiction Stats

Now that I’ve finished reading short stories for 2012, it’s time for some lists and statistics! I know, I know, lists can be boring. But not this one. I put together a list of what I consider the best short fiction of 2012. This is culled from my Favorite fiction lists I’ve been doing all year. Keep in mind that this is pretty much limited to free fiction online, so it doesn’t include stories from print mags like F&SF, Asimov’s, and the like.

If you plan on nominating works for awards, I encourage you to consider these. All are eligible for the Hugo, and some are eligible for other awards (I marked the ones I could think of below).

I’ve listed them in chronological order from most recently published backwards.

Now as to stats.

There are 19 stories on my best of list, that’s out of 82 favorite stories for 2012. I don’t have an accurate count for how many stories I read in total, sadly, but I know I read a great deal. I can’t claim to have read every story published for free online. A lot of time I stuck to the magazines I know I like the most. But toward the middle of the year I did pick up some new reading and tried to dip into new-to-me markets more often.

Just taking the 19 stories on my Best Of list, it’s clear that I dig Clarkesworld and Lightspeed Magazines the most, since there are 4 stories from each. Next is Strange Horizons, with two stories that made the list. (Also keep in mind that this only represents stories published in 2012 and not reprints from other years).

This pattern pretty much holds when you look at the breakdown of all magazines that made my favorites list this year.

Lightspeed is at the top (again, this is with originals) followed closely by Clarkesworld and Strange Horizons. Apex also has a good showing. After that it drops pretty dramatically. For some magazines, this is because they publish far fewer stories in a year. Eclipse Online is new, so the percentage of stories I’ve liked from the magazine is high, relatively. However, it is telling that DailySF is only on my list once. If you include the reprints I liked (9 total) then Lightspeed gets 22 thumbs up from me for the year.

I would be interested to hear from the editors of these magazines on how many stories they published in 2012 so I can get an idea of what percentage of their offerings I liked.

Of my favorite stories, 60 were written by women and only 19 written by men. Two were written by persons of unknown (to me) gender. There are 18 authors of color on my favorites list. Most of the male authors I like are POC.

The SF/F split continues to be about even. 48 of the stories I liked are science fiction and 51 are fantasy. Only 4 horror stories and 3 I classed as Interstitial (with some overlap with SF/F).

Several authors show up in my favorites more than once: Aliette de Bodard, Rahul Kanakia, Ken Liu. This is partially a testament to how prolific they are, but also does represent my fondness for them. Liu in particular comes to mind whenever someone asks me about favorite authors or for suggestions on what to read. Should also mention here that I’m in Diverse Energies with both Liu and Kanakia — to be in this company makes me very happy. (I also really liked their stories.)

Overall, I’ve enjoyed reading all this short fiction in 2012. It’s definitely inspired me to write more. Plus, I like being able to see the growing expansion of the genre as I discover new gems. I will continue to read as much short fiction as possible in 2013. In fact, I’ll likely read way more.

The crew over at Not If You Were The Last Short Story On Earth asked me to join the blog, and I happily said yes. So more print mags are in my future. I also talked to AnnaLee Newitz and Charlie Jane Anders about possibly doing a short fiction roundup for io9. Hopefully that will happen this month.

You can see all of the short stories I liked this year by surfing the tag on my blog or over on Delicious. On Delicious you’ll see some more numbers that may interest you.

My Favorite Fiction from November and December 2012

Welcome to 2013, everyone! Since I was so abominably late with my October favorites I decided to spend my vacation time reading and thus get you my final favorites for 2012 just as we rang in the new year. In a separate post I’ll also put up my top picks for the year. The stories that I would put in a year’s best collection were I in charge of one.

There’s a nice, long list of great stories here with some new names among them.

Visit my Favorite Fiction tag to see all the other short stories I’ve liked so far this year.

My Favorite Fiction From October 2012

Yeah… so October. I realized today that the reason I’m behind on posting this list is that I just haven’t had the energy to write up a little review/summary of why I like these stories. And that continues and continues to be the case. Since we’re deep into December and I haven’t even posted November’s picks yet, I figured I would just toss the list up.

Here’s what I’ll say about them all: I liked each of these stories and loved others. If I had to pick out one that stood out, it’s Said The Princess. That one totally charmed and amused me. I think I was most surprised because Daily Science Fiction rarely publishes anything I like.

Visit my Favorite Fiction tag to see all the other short stories I’ve liked so far this year.

Fiction Favorites By The Numbers #1

Fiction Favorites By The Numbers #1

I’ve been keeping track of all my favorite stories over on Delicious as well as here on the blog. Delicious is still one of the best public bookmarking tools around thanks to the tagging system, which is a little better than it was under Yahoo (finally, spaces!). Due to the way I’ve been tagging stories, I have some good data on them. Peeking in there just now revealed a few things that surprised me.

To start, if you’d asked me what my favorite online magazine is, I would have said Strange Horizons or Clarkesworld. However, a look at the numbers reveals that of the 55 stories published in 2012 that I liked, Lightspeed published most of them (14, to be exact). Clarkesworld is a close second with 11 liked stories. Then after that Strange Horizons and Apex Magazine tie at 6 with Electric Velocipede right behind them with 5. Apparently, my tastes match up with John Joseph Adams’ pretty regularly.

Here are all the magazine numbers in helpful chart format:

Magazine Chart

click to embiggen

Some magazines have lower numbers because they don’t publish as often, but I’m a little sad for Tor.com.

I also track genre data and find that I like SF and Fantasy about evenly (27 and 24 stories, respectively) with a small smattering of horror. Very small. Of the 55 stories, 44 are by women and 14 by authors of color. Obviously there’s some overlap.

I’ll crunch these numbers again at the end of the year to see if anything shifts.I may also go a bit insane and calculate, based on number of stories published total and the number I liked if Lightspeed is still a favorite based on proportion. If a magazine publishes 12 stories a year and I like 5 vs one that pubs 50 stories a year and I like 10, the first one is obviously closer to my tastes.

Any of you out there keeping track of which magazines usually publish stuff that satisfies you in any kind of empirical way?

My Favorite Fiction from September 2012

My Favorite Fiction from September 2012

This month, the list is rather long. This explains my lateness in putting up this post (sort of… I’m also lazy!). I discovered a cache of new magazines this month, thus adding greatly to the number of stories I read and liked.

Several weeks ago I lamented about the fact that there weren’t many markets for long stories such as novellas and novelettes. As a result, people kept suggesting markets to me. I was reminded that Electric Velocipede takes longer stuff, and introduced to GigaNotoSaurus and The Red Penny Papers, which both take novelettes. I’ll put up a post later this week with a longer list.

As always, I welcome any discussion of these stories in the comments. let me know if you liked them or not and why an feel free to tell me I’m wrong and have bad taste! Also, consider dropping a comment where the option is available on the original stories.

Visit my Favorite Fiction tag to see all the other short stories I’ve liked so far this year.

Diverse Energies Launches Today!

Diverse EnergiesThe Diverse Energies anthology is now officially available in fine bookstores near you. Find it at a local, independent bookstore through IndieBound or grab it from Barnes & Noble or Amazon. I haven’t yet seen any eBook versions, but I think you’ll be able to find them through GoodReads.

Diverse Energies has 11 stories on a dystopian them for YA readers. Editors Tobias S Buckell and Joe Monti wanted to create an anthology full of characters that reflected the diversity they see in their own lives, so all of the protagonists are of color. Many of the authors are of color as well, and the stories well up from our perspective and experiences.

My story, “Uncertainty Principle”, features a girl of mixed Latina and Middle Eastern background who finds that the world changes around her — big changes that no one else but her notices.

Here’s the full TOC:

“The Last Day” by Ellen Oh
“Freshee’s Frogurt” by Daniel H. Wilson
“Uncertainty Principle” by K. Tempest Bradford
“Pattern Recognition” by Ken Liu
“Gods of Dimming Light” by Greg van Eekhout
“Next Door” by Rahul Kanakia
“Good Girl” by Malinda Lo
“A Pocket Full of Dharma” by Paolo Bacigalupi
“Blue Skies” by Cindy Pon
“What Arms to Hold” by Rajan Khanna
“Solitude” by Ursula K. Le Guin

Thus far I’ve seen many positive reviews of the book from advance readers. The Kirkus review even mentions my story:

Readers will find poor children working in mines and factories, a have-not yao boy kidnapping a rich you girl and a girl reeling as the world inexplicably changes around her, and no one else notices. Although many stories imagine bleak futures, their tones are refreshingly varied. Daniel Wilson’s tale of a robot attack at a frozen-yogurt shop takes the form of an almost-comical police-interview transcript. Ursula K. LeGuin’s “Solitude” is a sweeping, nostalgic epic. K. Tempest Bradford’s “Uncertainty Principle” is a character-driven time-travel tale. Understanding many of the stories takes patience: Readers are plunged quickly into complex worlds, and exposition often comes slowly.

There are a couple of other reviews that mention it as well, but everything is full of spoilers!

If you read the book and like it, please let folks know and leave reviews where possible. Also, buy it for the young persons in your life who like SF or like to read anything and everything.