This Writer’s On Fire
Who She Is
I think there are at least two Amal El-Mohtar’s. One lives in Ottawa, the other in Glasgow. There’s also the fiction writer, the critic who writes reviews for NPR, The LA Times, and tor.com among many others, the editor for Goblin Fruit, the voice-over artist reading beauty into your ears, and the poet. Yes, these could all be the same person, but you can never be too sure. Especially with a writer like El-Mohtar who often writes about people whose identities are more liquid than solid; people doing and being fantastical things.
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Why You Should Read Her
Because she’s telling truths. I know when I read an El-Mohtar review that I can trust her. The stories she loves, I will almost surely love. The things she finds problematic I take seriously. She’s generous about the things she loves, but unafraid to point out the faults. In a world of so many hit-pieces and reviews that often feel like competitive sport, El-Mohtar stands out for her love and respect for the work, her honesty. I trust her.
And then there’s her fiction. You should read her fiction because it is quite simply, magic. The kind of magic that builds slowly, a butterfly effect. Chaos magic. She starts with a refugee girl and some facts about owls and ends up with a hurricane-force story. There’s a familiar outline, but El-Mohtar’s stories follow their own fractal patterns, creating truly new worlds for her characters to inhabit, to explore and make. And new ways of thinking about what makes a person a person or an alien ocean a person or a person also an owl. Reading ‘The Lonely Sea In The Sky’ will change forever the way you think about identity, colonization, technology, personhood. El-Mohtar is taking on the hard stuff in the most beautiful ways imaginable.
She takes genre novels and stories seriously because she understands the power of these works to tell stories that can’t be told in any other way. She’s changing the way we read these books and who writes them. At a time when the mainly white male world of sf/f is changing even as small groups fight that change (See: Sad Puppies), El-Mohtar quietly shows us the glorious new worlds opened up to us all by new voices. And El-Mohtar’s is a powerful voice in the growing chorus singing sf/f into a better world, a world that isn’t championed and populated only by cis, straight, white, American and European men. It’s a world and a future I want to be in, a beautiful, complex world with room for everyone, even alien oceans. Even me.
Where to Read Her (highlights, check her bibliography for the complete list)
The Honey Month, e-book edition, Cheeky Frawg Books, October 2011
“Madeleine,” Lightspeed 61, special “Queers Destroy Science Fiction” issue edited by Seanan McGuire.
“The Lonely Sea in the Sky” Lightspeed 49, special “Women Destroy Science Fiction” issue edited by Christie Yant, June 2014
“Pockets,” Uncanny Magazine.
“The Truth About Owls,” reprinted in Strange Horizons.
“Wing,” Strange Horizons.
Reviews, Essays, Voice Work
All Hail The Glow Cloud: ‘Night Vale’ Welcomes Readers at NPR Books.
‘Watchmaker of Filigree Street’ is a magical tale of Victorian London at LA Times.
Rich and Strange at tor.com, “a weekly review column dedicated to thoughtful, in-depth consideration of individual pieces of short fiction from around the web, with a strong slant towards the positive and enthusiastic.” If you want to keep up with the best sf/f short fiction, start here.
‘Baru Cormorant’ Will Catch You Unawares at NPR Books.
Fan Fiction Comes To Life In ‘Carry On’ at NPR Books.
‘Sorcerer’ Is A Delightful Romp With Deep, Solid Roots at NPR Books.