You should be reading Sunil Patel.
That’s it. Full stop. Not a specific, not a specific subset of stories, not even a transcript of his plays (which are both unfailingly funny yet incisive.) Just read Sunil Patel. Start with his Twitter account, actually. Ghostwritingcow. Look at that name. Drink it down like the milk such a supernatural bovine would produce.
Like his Twitter handle suggests, Patel is a funny person, one that could likely make a living doing good-natured stand-up if it weren’t so immersed in other cultural pursuits. (Have you heard about Hamilton, by the way? I had absolutely no interest in it until I read Patel’s livetweets. Also relevant, his tweets about Jupiter Ascending.) The thing that his Twitter handle doesn’t suggest but is, nonetheless, also true is the fact that Patel is incisive, observant.
Girl in Blue Dress (1881) beautifully encapsulates the nature of the man. It’s a short piece, sharply written. Because of its length, I won’t spoil any of the content, but I’d say that much -- it has a very clear, can-be-missed message about the objectification of women in art. (There’s an interview that dips into its inspirations that you should read after you’re done.)
Reading almost like a counterpoint to Girl in Blue Dress (1881), The Man Who Saved Manhattan is ostensibly about a man named Dagger Blitzen, a rough-and-tough superhero with a marshmallowy core. Again, it is short and I don’t want to give away the twist, but The Man Who Saved Manhattan deals with the idea of female agency as well. What’s interesting, though, is that the story doesn’t deal with the right of a woman to be heard but instead, her right to choose quiet. (I can’t yet decide, but I think this might be one of my favorite pieces by the man.)
Moving away from the recommendations for a moment, I’d just like to point out that these stories exemplify Patel. There’s always humor to be found (Girl in Blue Dress is less funny, but the end made me smile), but also a kind of eye for improving diversity. Not just by expounding on the matter, but actively working to solve the matter -- one intelligent word at the time. (His reviews for Lightspeed are joy, partially because of how his enthusiasm leaks through, and partially because you can tell just how much he wants you to read more than your typical midlist fare.)
But going back to stories, The Merger’s a chunky, hilarious read if you’re looking for more Patel for your Patel. The core idea is simple enough: aliens have landed and are now endeavouring to seek host bodies. But where other tales diverge into body horror, The Merger examines the concept of first contact as a business.
“As our bylaws do not allow for hostile takeover, we must act in the best interests of the shareholders and prevent dilution of market share. Accordingly, please note that refusal of this offer may result in the destruction of your planet. As added incentive, we have increased our offer of compensation by 12.5%.”
Paresh chose to ignore the phrase “destruction of your planet” because it was absurd, even though his bar for absurd had recently risen. Instead, he focused on the “exciting opportunity,” which included money. Sita had been wanting to remodel the kitchen (or as she called it, her cooking laboratory). And their car was old, an embarrassment among his colleagues. Paresh raised his eyebrow. “What kind of compensation are we talking here?”
It’s interesting how Patel’s male characters take a backseat to proceedings. They’re not passive, to any extent. Blitzen, for example, fights aliens just fine. But they’re never alpha males, never the kind of men who need to be at the head of every battle. Paresh discusses everything with his wife, deferring to her judgment when he’s aware that she is likely in the right. And that’s wonderful.
Another tangent: Patel writes gorgeous plays like The Bow which comes across almost as an abusive relationship, with The Woman gleefully extolling her history and the Bow nervously providing a kinder voice. (P.S: I thought this was funny in a grim and horrible way. Patel does not.)
Long story short, however, I’d read anything that Patel puts out. I know for a fact that he’s working on a [redacted] [redacted] which already sounds like it’d be an absolute blast. Read Patel before he’s famous. You’ll feel smug when he gets there.