And we’re back!
Miscreants and gentlebeings, here we go again–I may not have blogged anything in the month of November itself, but I can still do my fiction nuggets!
With these roundups, I’ve decided not to stick to a strict number of 10 stories a month. 10, in fact, is going to be my upper limit. Going forward, I’ll be featuring fewer stories per month, but the ones I really really liked.
A running theme of family in this month’s picks, of parenthood and obligation and loss. My sister got married over the weekend and my brain is still a barren wasteland of scorched earth from the proceedings, so this roundup shall be written as starkly and shortly as possible.
A Whisper In The Weld by Alix E. Harrow (Shimmer) – Three paragraphs into Shimmer’s latest cover story I thought: This one is going into my fiction picks of the month. I cried actual tears reading it, no lie. Set during the Second World War, this is all at once a ghost story, a tale about motherhood, and a critique of the image of Rosie the Riveter as a middle-class white woman. The prose glows on the page and then sticks to you like furnace dust. One of the best stories I’ve read this year.
The Stagman’s Song by Ginger Weil (Apex) – Dip your canteen deep into this heavy, atmospheric piece and drink up. Taste cold, and forest-damp, and raw dirt. Susan’s family is bound to the mountain, hunting stagmen for the alchemists from the city, often with fatal consequences. A slow-walking parable of how poverty traps people in their circumstances. An incredible debut work from the author.
She Commands Me And I Obey by Ann Leckie (Strange Horizons) – This story revolves around a game of sportsball. I generally have no appreciation for sportsball of any sort whatsoever, unless it involves pointlessly being a secret Scouser and pointing & laughing at Mancs online**. Even so, not really. But the rich tapestry of this world, the religion and the intrigue, kept me glued to the story. It reminded me of why I used to love space opera yarns as a child. What’s not to love about a world in which the fate of political succession is left to a fight-to-the-death game of sportsball with religious undertones? Seriously, just read it.
Presence by Ken Liu (Uncanny) – This quiet little piece stood out to me and remained in the tide of Uncanny’s strong debut issue. The speculative element in this piece is pretty slight, balanced as it is on the premise of telepresence robots, which I consider to be science fact, not fiction. The hook of the story is emotional; it’s the a story of a man, a Chinese migrant to America, coping with his mother’s terminal illness on the other side of the world. The small, poignant observations are what makes the story:
You think about how strange it is to describe what happened as losing someone when the real loss happened years ago, so gradually that you weren’t even aware when it happened. You can’t remember the moment you decided you would not go back. You can’t remember the moment you accepted that she would not come to join you. You can’t remember when you became American. You think about how a thousand small decisions add up to irrevocable changes, how not deciding is the same as deciding.
Stone And Bone, From Earth And Sky by A.C. Wise (Giganotosaurus) – A coyote. A woman half born of the mud. A tale of sex, and revenge, and deceit, set in a carnival, unfolding in re-told narratives named after the major arcana of the tarot. It may be a longer read, but it’s riveting all the way to the end. There’s so much to love here, so much to unpack. This is a story I could read over and over again.
Touch by Debbie Urbanski (Interfictions) – Bearing shades of Atwood and Orwell, the story charts the story of an asexual protagonist in a world where sexuality is compulsory. The story is compellingly told, in the way tumbling down a hill is a compelling experience.
People have asked me, “When did you know?” They figure there was a particular moment, when the sky darkened, or all the pines in front of me fell down, and I realized that I was different. But it’s not like that. It’s more a series of moments, like picking up the broken pieces of something, and you don’t know what it is that you’ve broken, so you never bother to put the pieces together until it’s towards the end, until it’s obvious to a lot of people, including yourself.
Stalemate by Rose Lemberg (Lackington’s) – A tightly choreographed gem of a story that unfolds before you like a puzzle box, with its imagined-spaceworld setting and its forgetful protagonist and their longing for what they have lost. Also, chess. It’s like Monument Valley in story form, except less quiet, and you guys know how much I love Monument Valley. (No I’m never going to shut up about this game, deal with it). I’m not going to spoil it for you, because you should read it. It’s beautiful.
**My favourite footy-related activity is actually watching fans of rival clubs fling mud at each other in the comments section of Grauniad stories. I don’t even watch the bloody matches, who has the time, they’re ninety minutes and change each! (Says she who will happily sit down and watch 22 cars go around the same track fifty times over the course of three hours)