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The first time I encountered Elizabeth Ziemska's fiction was when her short story, "A Murder of Crows," was nominated for the 2007 Shirley Jackson Awards. It was originally published in Tin House, a venue that wouldn't necessarily be nominated for a genre award like the Hugo Awards, but definitely a publication that savvy readers should monitor. Even back then, there was a succinctness and elegance to her writing style, while it maintained an atmosphere of speculative fiction—in other words, a story that could easily have found a home in Strange Horizons.

Reading Ziemska’s fiction, I thought I had stumbled on the next Kelly Link or Aimee Bender; it’s not just the writing style, but the sense that she could easily have fit in either the science fiction/fantasy or the literary community—and whichever social circle she chose, they would be better for it. Unfortunately, Ziemska is neither a prolific nor public writer, and tragically isn’t even on the radar of many genre readers.

So it was a surprise when I found "Count Poniatowski and the Beautiful Chicken" in Interfictions 2 (ed. Delia Sherman & Christopher Barzak), one of my favorite anthologies to date. The book included a lot of effective and touching stories, and it introduced me to several writers I had never heard of before. But when it came to curating a story for Strange Horizons, I knew I only had this single chance (what were the editors thinking picking me?), so I picked what I felt was not only one of the best, but a story from an author whom readers might not be aware of.

One of the best parts of this endeavour was rereading my favorite stories. "Count Poniatowskiand the Beautiful Chicken" stands the test of time and hits all the right notes, not just because it talks about the immigrant experience, features a female narrator, or is simply a well-written story, but because it’s one of the few narratives that makes me choke up and provides this sense of catharsis. Not surprisingly, several of those type of stories can be found at Strange Horizons ("L'Aquilone du Estrellas (The Kite of Stars)" by Dean Francis Alfar and “Little Gods” by Tim Pratt come to mind), which brings me to my second agenda.

Here in the Philippines, readers don’t have instantaneous access to books. It takes a month for bookstores (online or otherwise) to deliver books here (not to mention the expense). If I want to recommend a story, I’d better have the book or magazine in hand (and perhaps risk it never getting returned), or the recommendation will come to naught. And that’s why I love a website like Strange Horizons: I love this story, go to this website and read it. I hope readers will agree with me when I recommend "Count Poniatowskiand the Beautiful Chicken."




Charles Tan is the editor of Lauriat: A Filipino-Chinese Speculative Fiction Anthology, the Philippine Speculative Fiction Sampler, and Best of Philippine Speculative Fiction 2009. His fiction has appeared in The Digest of Philippine Genre Stories, Philippine Speculative Fiction, and The Dragon and the Stars. He has contributed nonfiction to The Shirley Jackson AwardsFantasy Magazine, The World SF Blog, and SF Signal. In 2009, he won the Last Drink Bird Head Award for International Activism. He was also nominated twice for the World Fantasy Awards.  You can visit his blog, Bibliophile Stalker.
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3 Aug 2020

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