Monthly Round-Up

June 2021 Round-up and Short Fiction Focus

My long fiction slump continues, with no five-star reviews for a second consecutive month. But I’ve read some absolutely tremendous short stories this year, so let’s take a look at them.

Short Stories

June Favorites

  • Mono no aware” (2012) by Ken Liu. Ken Liu writes the most touching stories, and this one, about an attempt to flee into space when Earth is threatened with disaster, is the best I’ve read so far. It’s a Hugo winner, and it’s well-deserved. Cannot recommend more highly.
  • The Incident at Veniaminov” (2021 novelette) by Mathilda Zeller. A dark but not bleak story about mermaids, family, and colonialism. Absolutely enthralling, and I’d be shocked if this doesn’t go on my Hugo Award nominating ballot at the end of the year.
  • The Regression Test” (2017) by Wole Talabi. A clever and compelling short story about artificial intelligence and family, this won a Nommo Award for the best in African speculative fiction, and it’s worthy of even wider recognition.
  • Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience” (2017) by Rebecca Roanhorse. Virtual reality and cultural appropriation doesn’t make this story sound like it will be great, but it is a fantastic, mind-bending, and fairly dark offering that well deserved its Hugo Award.
  • Various stories from The Best of R.A. Lafferty. For my money, Lafferty was the best short story writer in the world during the 60s and 70s, and I’ve read all of these before, although not as presented in this collection, with each story coming with its own introduction (mostly from other science fiction or fantasy authors). Unsurprisingly, this collection has disproportionate representation among my favorites. Of the ten I’ve reread so far, four are good enough to join this favorites list, and the remaining six range from good to very good. I’ll dedicate a full post to the collection when I finish, but “Land of the Great Horses” is an all-time favorite, clever and funny, “Narrow Valley” is a tall tale expertly done, “In Our Block” is a fun and light tale of wonder hiding in ordinary places, and “Ride a Tin Can” is a dark and powerful tale disguised with folk tales and silly rhymes.

Strong Contenders

  • Bargain” (2015) by Sarah Gailey. An amusing and light twist on a deal with the devil.
  • Honestly five of the remaining six I’ve read in The Best of R.A. Lafferty are good enough to slide in here. I’ll save the details for the post about the collection as a whole. It’s incredibly good.

Other June Reads

  • Things I Learned Today” (2021) by Kyle Aistech. A light flash fiction about a toddler inadvertently summoning the devil.
  • A Series of Steaks” (2017 novelette) by Vina Jie-Min Prasad. An entertaining Hugo-nominated novella about a meat counterfeiter taking on her most difficult and high-pressure job yet.
  • Unseelie Brothers, Ltd.” (2021 novelette) by Fran Wilde. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Hugo nominations for this one as well, a creative story about Fae dressmakers and their outrageous dealings with high society.
  • Final Warnings in Open Fields” (2021) by Xander Odell. An apocalyptic flash fiction that you could probably read faster than I can pitch it.
  • The Rose MacGregor Drinking and Admiration Society” (2018) by T. Kingfisher. A light and entertaining Hug0-nominated short story about a woman who gave a few Fae a taste of their own medicine.
  • Judge Dee and the Three Deaths of Count Werdenfels” (2021 novelette) by Lavie Tidhar. An solid murder mystery in an ongoing series about a vampire detective. The first was shorter and I found it a little more enjoyable, but this certainly wasn’t bad.
  • And Then There Were N-One” (2017 novella) by Sarah Pinsker. My official policy is to give novellas their own full reviews, but I read this one in Uncanny Magazine, and so I mentally lump it in with short fiction even though it does cross the threshold from novelette to novella. At any rate, the multiverse premise is intriguing, but the murder mystery is solid and nothing more.
  • And I Awoke and Found Me Here on the Cold Hill’s Side” (1972) by James Tiptree Jr. In reading an article about the few Hugos with Lafferty nominations, I saw this cited as a story that was good enough to win. Reading it, I can see why, as it has a powerful message about colonialism and greed, although there’s a bit more sex-obsession than I prefer in my stories.

Novels and Novellas

Reviews Posted

  • The Six of Crows Duology (2015-16) by Leigh Bardugo. Perhaps the most popular thing I’ve read in the last several years, Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom are a pair of entertaining YA heist novels with some strong character work (even though the characters mostly act ten years older than they are).
  • Fugitive Telemetry (2021) by Martha Wells. I feel like I’ve read a disproportionate number of murder mysteries this month, but this one has Murderbot in it, which makes it better. If you like Murderbot, you’ll like this.
  • The Vanished Birds (2020) by Simon Jimenez. A literary-leaning science fiction novel that earned Jimenez an Astounding Award nomination, The Vanished Birds delivers excellent prose and more than a few outstanding vignettes from the ensemble cast.
  • The Hollow Places (2020) by T. Kingfisher. My first full-length horror experience, it’s an atmospheric, creepy portal fantasy with a couple extremely relatable leads. If it weren’t for one notable failure of genre savvy, this would’ve been my first five-star novel review of the last two months. It came close regardless.
  • Rosewater (2016) by Tade Thompson. A weird and engaging story about an alien biodome setting up in Nigeria, featuring the rare morally gray protagonist who isn’t a jokester.
  • Upright Women Wanted (2020) by Sarah Gailey. A fast-paced and entertaining Western set in a queerphobic dystopia.
  • No Gods, No Monsters (2021) by Cadwell Turnbull. My first ARC is a literary urban fantasy with myriad perspective characters, all with their own compelling stories.
  • The Imaginary Corpse (2019) by Tyler Hayes. Yet another murder mystery, this one taking place in the imagination and featuring some excellent character interactions and battling through trauma.

Other June Reads

  • The Hidden City (2008) by Michelle West. The opener to a sprawling epic features a rough loner who adopts an orphan and is guilted into saving the day. Full review to come.
  • The City We Became (2020) by N.K. Jemisin. Continuing with my journey through the Hugo finalists with a book with Jemisin’s signature creativity and outstanding prose. Full review to come.
  • From the Shadows of the Owl Queen’s Court (2018) by Benedict Patrick. My second novel in the Yarnsworld universe makes significant strides over the first, but this world is at its best in the small stories. Full review to come.
  • Every Heart a Doorway (2016) by Seanan McGuire. More murder mystery? More murder mystery, this one taking place in a home for teens who find themselves back from portal fantasies. Like in The Imaginary Corpse, it’s the interpersonal story that steals the show here. Full review to come.

DNFs

  • Pet (2019) by Akwaeke Emezi. DNF at 50%. Pet is set in a seeming utopia where children are indoctrinated into progressive ideals but are left to answer religious questions on their own. So, as a religious person, it was not my idea of a good society from the start. And while Emezi had their critiques, the parts that bothered me were treated as self-evidently good, which made it hard to get onboard with the project. Combine that with a patronizing prose tone, and I had no interest in finishing out even a very short novel.

Miscellaneous

  • I posted a list of the best short fiction I’d read this year, along with short descriptions. I’ve been posting my favorites every month, but putting it all together really drove home how much amazing work I’ve read this year. Posting it before the end of the month also successfully reverse-jinxed me into finding another story good enough to go on the list: “The Incident at Veniaminov.”

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