Somewhere away from the cities and towns, a group of men and boys gather around the fire each night to listen to their stories in the Valley of the Rocks. For when the women are all gone the rest of your life is all there is for everyone. The men are waiting to pass into the night.
The story shall be told to preserve the past. History has gone back to its aural roots and the power of words is strong. Meet Nate, the storyteller, and the new secrets he brings back from the woods. William rules the group with youth and strength, but how long can that last? And what about Uncle Ted, who spends so much time out in the woods?
Hear the tales, watch a myth be formed. For what can man hope to achieve in a world without women? When the past is only grief how long should you hold on to it? What secrets can the forest offer to change it all?
Discover the Beauty.
'The Beauty looks innocent. Then it knocks you over the head with some of the boldest, most transgressive ideas in modern storytelling. A post-apocalyptic fable of magic mushroom women and gender deconstruction, The Beauty is an unsettling examination of what we mean by love and family — and the lengths to which we’ll go to preserve them. Wonderfully weird fiction.'
– Stephanie Saulter, author of the ®Evolution trilogy
'This novella should win stuff. Seriously, just read it. Original work is being done. Here’s proof.'
– Nina Allan, author of The Race
'What a refreshing gust of tiny spores this novella explodes into, and I inhaled them all with glee'
– Adam Nevill, author of Some Will Not Sleep
[NB videos contain spoilers]
Aliya Whiteley was born in Devon in 1974, and currently lives in Sussex with her husband, daughter and dog. She writes novels, short stories and non-fiction and has been published in places such as The Guardian, Interzone, McSweeney's Internet Tendency, Black Static, Strange Horizons, and anthologies such as Fox Spirit's European Monsters and Lonely Planet's Better than Fiction I and II. She has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize twice, and won the Drabblecast People's Choice Award in 2007.
Her recent novella for Unsung Stories, The Beauty, was shortlisted for a Shirley Jackson Award and a Sabotage Award, and appeared on the Honors List for the James Tiptree Jr Award. Her writing is often violent, tender, terrifying and funny. It has garnered much critical praise and provoked discussion. Other published works of hers include a collection of short stories, a novel from Dog Horn Publishing, and a blackly comic crime novel from Macmillan. Further details can be found on her website at: https://aliyawhiteley.wordpress.com and she tweets most days as @AliyaWhiteley.
'The Beauty is a surreal and disquieting post-apocalyptic consideration of the roles we place ourselves in, and the damaging stereotypes and standards we hold each other to, spinning the the common sci-fi conceit of the “alien siren” into an unusual but effective discussion of gender and intimacy, one that disturbs even as it raises new questions about the way we’ve all organized our lives.'
– Barnes and Noble
'Teeming with the spirit of feminist speculative trailblazers like Margaret Atwood, Ursula K. Le Guin, and Joanna Russ, Whiteley’s original, gut-wrenching tale renders a world that exists somewhere between post-apocalyptic and fable-esque. Her characters are as multidimensional, nuanced, and somber as her writing, which soaks the reader like a hot bath [...] In short, Whiteley lives up to her various accolades with her sixth book-length effort, which channels the eerie spirit of Kelly Link and the environmental surrealism of Jeff VanderMeer. A murky delirium of sinuous language and unnerving storytelling that will delight both experienced genre fanatics and literary fiction lovers alike.'
– Kirkus Reviews
In her 2015 Hugo Award nominations: 'The very meaning of what it is to be a man is soon questioned – and then altered in some deeply disquieting ways.'
– Abigail Nussbaum
'I was provoked, shocked, disgusted, touched and, ultimately, I emerged feeling wiser. A brilliant, haunting original.'
– Craig Lines, Den of Geek's top books of 2014
'The Beauty is a stunning feast of originality and will impress readers who appreciate beautiful prose, sophisticated storytelling, New Weird elements and literary strange fiction. It's speculative fiction at its utmost best and most imaginative. I recommend it to fans of the darker and weirder side of speculative fiction, because its dark beauty beckons to be explored by speculative fiction readers. I can guarantee that once you've read this novella, you won't easily forget it.'
– Rising Shadow
'Science-fiction is a space to play with ideas, and to let them run to their conclusions. Whiteley has given her idea plenty of room to run and run, and the result is engaging and thought-provoking science-fiction.'
– Sabotage Reviews
'Aliya Whiteley’s elegant, dreamlike prose masterfully frames the most slippery of issues – the fluidity of gender and sexuality; history and the power of propaganda; the value of life in all its forms, and the complex, grotesque nature of desire and disgust. The deconstruction of gender roles provides a sophisticated comment on the natural passage of identity and selfhood.'
– Jennifer Wade, We Love This Book
'This is a short book with a lot to say, all of it interesting ... Most of all it's about the power of storytelling to preserve our past and shape our future, and so one can see why it would appeal to an imprint called Unsung Stories, on this evidence a name to look out for. The Beauty is intellectual and visceral, frightening and thoughtful, an adventure and a meditation.'
– Stephen Theaker, Interzone #254
'It is a short book that packs a ****ing huge punch. It is about love and loss and moving on and forwards and learning to live again. It is about being frightened and wanting to be loved and safe. It is also so ****ing deliciously ****ed up that I could squeal with delight.
– Everyone's favourite NSFW reviewer
'If I were to push one book on you from 2014, shove one book at you and say “this”, it would be The Beauty.'
– Benjamin Judge
'Whiteley is a prose stylist. Her sentences often have a smoky, psychotropic quality and they can wrap themselves around the base of your brain'
'Whiteley’s word choice and structure is superb. Her word craft is exquisite and not something I expected to find when I started reading. In fact, there are so many wonderful, quotable parts to the book that I eventually had to force myself to stop highlighting passages because I would’ve highlighted everything. If you just want to read an amazingly written story, regardless of genre, then you cannot go wrong with The Beauty.'
– By Lulu With Love
'The Beauty is unforgettable. It is startling and original, daring and considered. The language flows beautifully, a celebration as well as an exploration of the art of storytelling.'
– The Literary Tree
'This book, let me tell you, is a powerhouse ... What Aliya Whiteley has achieved here is nothing short of incredible. Probably the most exquisitely orchestrated deconstruction of gender roles I have ever read in my life.'
– The Spine Collector
'The Beauty is a brief novel about the quiet power and societal significance of women. Written in edged, poetic prose, it features gender role reversals, ghostly fungal women, and a dark, primitive setting wherein mankind is literally what the term expresses itself to be ... In The Beauty’s case the small press has delivered more substantial material than the big commercial houses.'
'Beautifully written, it’s a disturbing and though-provoking vision of one possible future for mankind ... Short but deeply affecting, The Beauty is a wonderfully written piece of post-apocalyptic fiction that you won’t want to put down.'
– Reader Dad
'It is grotesque and twisted but also wondrous. It is impossible but also impossibly true. It says important and uncomfortable things about gender and society and humanity’s relationship with nature and how and why we tell stories and at least a dozen other things. It has a logic of its own, both true to this world and the one it has created. It packs more into a hundred pages than most writers manage in a career. It gets under your skin. It festers. It’s a little bit special.'
'It’s the sort of book that sticks with you, that makes you want to press it upon your friends so you can have a long argument on a cold night—perhaps over a fire ... if you have any interest whatsoever in the intersections of gender and queerness in SF—you will want to pick up.'
– The Future Fire
'It is exquisitely crafted, astonishingly creative, and discomfiting as hell.'
– Exquisite Corpse
'Whiteley's writing is captivating ... the power lies in the simplicity and ease with which it seems that the world changes irrevocably ... It is not often that you accidentally stumble on a book that manages to take your breath away.'
– A Universe in Words
'Dystopian novels are fast becoming a favourite genre of mine and The Beauty helped me confirm that'
– A Book and Tea
'Aliya Whiteley can usually be relied upon for engaging stories with a dark twist, and The Beauty is no exception.'
– David's Book Blog
'Short, enchanting and powerful, if you like weird fiction and a story with social commentary included, then it truly doesn’t get much better than this ... It’s hard not to love it. Aliya’s writing is haunting and slow, melodious and dark, perfectly suited to the morbid tale and desperate, bizarre events that her strange tale captures.'
– Drunken Dragon Reviews
'This book is short and compelling. The sound of it is mythic and important. And it sounds gorgeous. It's about beauty, to an extent, and what we find beautiful. And how that changes according to experience. And what we do to what we find beautiful, how we take it for our own. It's about gender roles, and how we fall into them. Also, an individual's place and role within a society. Nevermind the function that society serves. And also it's about the nature and power of storytelling.'
– Magnificent Octopus
'What. The. Actual. Hell. Stunning book! And what a concept, too!'
– Reckless Indulgence
'Poetic, haunting, and beautiful.'
– Looking For a Good Book
'A book to be read and re-read, a story of beauty and horror, a story about stories. Though hardly a slog to read, The Beauty rewards the reader for the effort. I look forward to re-reading it and to seeing what Whiteley comes up with next.'
'Exploring questions about the nature of love and friendship, grief and loss, The Beauty is nothing short of brilliant. If you enjoy weird tales, creeping horror and great characters, this short work has it all.'
– Adventures in Sci-Fi Publishing
'Intriguing and terrifying in equal measure.'
– Plastic Rosaries
'A really engaging novella . . . and an amazing apocalyptic world. I look forward to reading more from the author.'
– Snakebite Reviews
'Where “Apocalypse” meets Lovecraft, Beauty exists. And it is horrible and disturbing and tender and loving all in one.'
'. . . this is a truly great piece of speculative fiction. Order it in to your local library. Shove it under your English Literature teacher’s nose. Buy it for someone as a Christmas present or put it on your own list. As far as I’m concerned the more people who discover The Beauty, the better our world will be.'
– Geek Syndicate
' . . . a rarity in contemporary science fiction: an overtly ideologically minded text, and one that serves as a useful conversation starter in a genre that could stand to engage with gender and queerness more.'
– Strange Horizons
'Implicit in this story is the questioning and breaking down of the binary opposition of traditional gender roles and a probing exploration of gender neutrality or androgyny. Again, Whiteley’s use of language here is both rich and subtle, demanding that we examine our unconscious use of gendered pronouns while also describing the ecstasy and fear of transition and uncertainty.'
– The Contemporary Small Press
'If you are fond of dystopian fiction that causes reflection and social commentary than I would recommend picking this story up. You won’t be disappointed.'
– World of Words
' ...a novella that packs a lot of punch'
– Curiosity Killed the Bookworm
'I thoroughly enjoyed Whiteley’s speculative fiction tale. Elements of it reminded me of Margaret Atwood and who can resist Doctor Freud’s misguided, endlessly perpetuating nonsense about women taking a good kicking?'
– The Writes of Woman
'The Beauty is a deeply human and thoughtful book that poses absorbing questions: How do we survive when there can be no survival? How do we love when there is nobody to return that love?'
– David Gullen
'The language is so vivid, the imagination on display so emphatic, The Beauty deserves to be consumed slowly and carefully. It’s a treat to find such an original story by an author who instantly becomes a must-read.'
– Who's Dreaming Who?
This is a book that I devoured and loved, and since reading it I have recommended it to many people. Aliya Whiteley, like her character Nate, is an accomplished storyteller; she is an author to watch.
– Shoreline of Infinity
Paperback ISBN: 978-1-907389-23-8
ePub ISBN: 978-1-907-389-25-2
Publication date: 1 September 2014
Format: Paperback, ePub and mobi