So it turns out that if you’re trying to run a monthly short fiction round-up, the moment you fall behind it leads to a rolling avalanche of neverending stories that will bury you.
Sorry for the long lull in fiction roundups for me. I was planning to do a roundup of November & December stories in Jan, then it turned to Nov-Jan stories in Feb, and then here we are. I had to make a choice, and I picked dropping the end-2014 stories for the ability to actually reasonably handle the 2015 stories. (Part of my reason for doing this is because these roundups will be super-useful for picking my nomination slate for the next awards season, so I had to prioritise the 2015 stories.)
Moving forward, I’ve come up with a new system to help me tackle these roundups a little more easily. For each month, I’m going to spotlight about three or so stories I highly recommend, and then a longer list of stories I also really enjoyed reading. For this round, I didn’t get to read as many venues as I’d like, something I will fix in the upcoming monthly roundups.
So, without further ado, the stories I liked from Jan to Mar:
Three Cups Of Grief, By Starlight by Aliette de Bodard (Clarkesworld) – A tale of tea, talking ships and family ties. Three people deal with the death of someone close to them. I have a soft spot for sentient ship stories, (a mushy, boiled-in-the-pot lump the size of Jupiter), but this one raises the bar with its lush prose and subtle tangle of emotions.
Documentary by Vajra Chandrasekera (Lightspeed) – On the notebook I lost I scribbled down: “A WEREHELICOPTER STORY VAJRA OMG ILU”. Seriously, though. werehelicopters. If that weren’t enough to sell you in the story, consider this: A haunting story about the costs of war told in the spliced-together narration of a documentary . One of the most brilliant and imaginative things I’ve read in a while.
Folding Beijing by Hao Jingfang (Uncanny) – Ken Liu is a gift to the SFF community, both for his incredible fiction, and his translations of amazing Chinese SFF stories, like this one. This tale of a Beijing partitioned in space and time is a parable of the way wealth and class divide our societies. From the description of working class life to the bureaucratic twists of life in the civil service, everything was layered with a thick crust of realism that spoke to me (hi there! civil servant from a working class background speaking!). I must admit that reading Chinese SFF always comes with a bittersweet pang for me, because on one hand, everything just sings to me so much more, yet at the same time I’m aware my Mandarin language skills are so poor that I can only rely on English translations.
The Sixth Day by Sylvia Anna Hiven (Beneath Ceaseless Skies) – Two sisters living in a barren, apocalyptic landscape struggle with the responsibilities of their special powers: One can raise corn from the cold dead ground, one can jump six days into the future. When it comes to fantasy, my preference is for contemporary or near-future fantasy is totally my wheelhouse, and the deft handling of emotional weight makes this story a compelling read.
Of Blood And Brine by Megan E Keefe (Shimmer) – I was delighted by the sensory tapestry of this story, the way scents are described.
Thus prepared, Child gathered the cloth into her hands and brought it as close to her nose as she dared. The aroma was warm, spice-tinged. Cardamom and violet with the faintest whiff of balsam. The sea would be a pleasant addition to such a scent, but Child had no idea how to blend such an aroma.
The story is straightforward, but its impression lingers on the tongue and in the mind. It tastes like a little sliver of a richer, bigger world I want to find out more about.
Meshed by Rich Larson (Clarkesworld) – I’m surprised by how much I liked this story, considering that it’s about sportsball of some sort, populated almost entirely by a cast of men (there is a brief mention of the protagonist’s girlfriend, but that’s it). But somehow, I was won over by the snappy prose and the pace of the story. A sports agent tries to recruit a potential star athlete, but there’s a catch: He doesn’t want implants put in for sensory broadcasts of his exploits. An entertaining read.
The Language of Knives by Haralambi Markov (tor.com) – This is a story about a world where you turn dead people into cakes. People cakes, my friends, people cakes. That alone should have made it the best story ever, but there’s thread about destiny and strained family ties all laced into it, and it is a juicy, delicious read. Not even sorry, guys. Not even sorry.
A Beautiful Memory by Shannon Peavey (Apex) – Here I have to confess a bias: I read this story when it was baby at Clarion West, and that makes me inordinately fond of it. But this was one of my favourite stories from CW, which, you know, included Nebula- and Bram Stoker- nomimated stories, so that’s saying something. The protagonist of the story has an unusual skill: She pulls emotion-birds out of her head and sells them. Full of spare, gorgeous prose and twisted spikes of imagination.
Pocosin by Ursula Vernon (Apex) – A little god comes to die at the doorstep of a witch, and she has to deal with all the people who come after it. The charm of this story lies in its lush sense of location. It’s so grounded in the place it’s set, and it was a delight to read.
This is the place of the carnivores, the pool ringed with sundews and the fat funnels of the pitcher plants.
This is the place where the ground never dries out and the loblolly pines grow stunted, where the soil is poor and the plants turn to other means of feeding themselves.
This is the place where the hairstreak butterflies flow sleekly through the air and you can hear insect feet drumming inside the bowl of the pitcher plants.
This is the place where the old god came to die.
Sing Me Your Scars by Damien Angelica Waters (Apex) – The titular piece of Damien’s short story collection is a beautiful heap of body horror. A young woman has her body replaced, part by part, by her mad scientist husband, turning her into a stitched-together manniquin of other women. Creepy, dark, and delightful to read.
I ALSO LIKED:
Unravelling by Julia August (Lackingtons‘)
Coming Of The Light by Chen Qiufan (Clarkesworld)
The Shape Of My Name by Nino Cipri (tor.com)
Indelible by Gwendolyn Clare (Clarkesworld)
The Half Dark Promise by Malon Edwards (Shimmer)
The Animal Women by Alix E. Harrow (Strange Horizons)
And the Winners Will Be Swept Out To Sea by Maria Dahvana Headley (Lightspeed)
The Apartment Dweller’s Bestiary by Kij Johnson (Clarkesworld)
What the Highway Prefers by Cassandra Khaw (Lackingtons’)
Maiden, Mother Crone by Ann Leckie and Rachel Swirsky (Lightspeed)
Cassandra by Ken Liu (Clarkesworld)
The Ticket Taker of Cenote Zaci by Benjamin Parzybok (Strange Horizons)
Requiem for Solo Cello by Damien Angelica Walters (Apex)
Drinking With The Elfin Knight by Ginger Weil (Giganotosaurus)