Surprising insights from the slush pile

Having a teetering pile of queries in my inbox at all times has given me some interesting and unexpected insights into my taste as a reader. Every so often as I’m reading through them, I’ll notice myself going ‘ooh, more space archaeologists, YES PLEASE’, or ‘ugh, not more Celts’, and realise something new about what I like to read. Just for fun, I’ve made some lists of the surprising things I’ve noticed so far. I’ve left off things like ‘historical fiction with trans characters’ and ‘airships!’ and ‘the TV show Defiance but in manuscript form’ because obviously I always knew I was interested in those – these are just things that I didn’t know I was into/not into until I started reading queries. I don’t imagine this list will be even slightly useful, but I hope it will be entertaining.

Some things I apparently can’t resist for some reason.

– Books about the history of food and/or drink.
It started with Rebellious Spirits (out this Thursday!), of course. Ruth opened my mind to the fascinating history of spirits, and before I knew it I was spending hours on some of the internet’s foremost food history websites reading about the history of jelly and other interesting things. I think for some reason food and drink lends itself particularly well to the quirky, light-but-still-informative kind of non-fiction that I love most.

– Books about imaginary sports
I have no idea what this one is about. I have always hated playing sports, and the only sport I enjoy watching is hockey. But for some reason I am all over books about robot gladiators or werewolf wrestling or airship races or really any sport you can imagine (as long as you have imagined it and it’s not actually a real thing). The thrill of the competition! The surprising twists and turns of the race! The intriguing backstories of the competitors! The gritty determination of the hapless neophyte or plucky underdog or beleaguered champion or whoever it is that we’re rooting for this time! It’s all so exciting.

– Jews in science fiction
Entirely selfish. I like reading about futures that have Jewish people in them. Plus it means you get to phone up your client and say things like ‘so, the way that cloning works in this MS…what are the Jewish implications of that?’ and she says ‘I’m so glad you asked! I’ve been thinking about that for weeks!’ and it’s all very interesting if you like talking about the Talmud.

– SFF in which LGBTQIA+ characters have a nice time
Or have a terrible time but for reasons unrelated to gender or sexuality. I get a fair number of SFF submissions featuring LGBTQIA+ characters (probably because I keep asking for it – please send me more, especially if you identify with any letters of that acronym yourself), and I’m surprised at how often the characters in question are facing the same kinds of ill treatment and prejudice as they would in our world. I’m not saying there isn’t a place for that in SFF, but…surely there is also a place for not-that.

– Books about space archaeologists
I’ve seen a number of queries about space archaeologists (usually on fun, pulpy quests for mysterious alien artefacts) and I pretty much always request to see a partial, but I still haven’t signed any – I guess I’m still searching for the right space archaeology book. I think what appeals to me is the idea of a manuscript that has something of Rice-Burroughs’ swashbuckle and nothing whatsoever of his politics. The ones I’ve seen so far either seem to have both or neither.

– Magical or historical heists
From The Lies of Locke Lamora to Korean historical-fusion movie The Grand Heist, I rarely meet an SFF or historical heist that I don’t enjoy. I was not aware of this predilection until people started sending me heist queries – again, I still haven’t signed any, but I think it’s just a matter of time.


Some things I find offputting for no real reason

– Books where the human main character falls in love with an alien
I’m gettng SO MANY of these at the moment. I’m not sure if aliens are the new vampires or something, but whatever is happening here is not something I am on board with. It’s not so much that I’m squicked by alien sex (although I do have some questions about that) as that I’m bored by any book where Forbidden Romance is a significant part of the plot. So I guess actually I do have some sort of reason for this one.

– Books where the human main character turns out to secretly be an alien
But they don’t even know it, and the book is mostly about them coming to terms with the fact that they’re an alien. Or the Chosen One. Or the secret weapon that can destroy planets. Or the Key to unlock the doors between dimensions. None of that, thank-you, sorry.

– Urban fantasy.
It’s basically the real world but a bit of it is magical. I can see how that would be cool, but for some reason it doesn’t work for me and I’m not really sure why. I’m open to the idea that I might enjoy some historical urban fantasy if it were set in the right period, but I’ve pretty much stopped asking to see material for contemporary urban fantasy.

– Fantasy based on Celtic, Norse, Greek or Roman mythology
I don’t know why. I had no idea that I wasn’t interested in these mythologies before I started getting them in my slush pile. Maybe I read too much of them as a child? Maybe I just think there are too many books about them out there already? All other mythologies enthusiastically accepted.

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