Awards nomination season is over, so March was a transition away from catching up on everything I could read from “Best of 2021” lists back to reading whatever struck my fancy (and, on the longer work, fit my last few Bingo squares–March 31 is the end of the Bingo year). I did find a gem of a novelette that forced a last-minute change in my nominating ballot, as well as a slightly older short that I absolutely adored. There was plenty to enjoy this month.
As I continue to sort out my format, I’ve decided that the third section of the short fiction roundup will include stories I find worth noting, not just stories I liked. There may be a story that didn’t hit for me that I think is still worth talking about. If my response is “meh, whatever,” I don’t need to touch on it. But I’ll try to mention everything that I’ve liked or think is otherwise worth mentioning. And I’ll tell you which is which. So let’s get to it.
The best stories I read this month were “Hog-Belly Honey” and “Seven-Day Terror,” both of which are among my all-time favorites and which I reread on a whim. But let’s put those aside for the moment and take a look at the best new reads.
- “Strange Waters” (2018 short story) by Samantha Mills. This tale of a city that knows both its past and its future manages a whole lot of worldbuilding in a short space, and the intense emotional core honestly threw me with how hard it hit. It didn’t come out in 2022, so I can’t nominate it for anything, but this will probably be among my favorites of the year.
- “The Last Civilian” (2021 novelette) by R.P. Sand. A really excellent story about a soldier on another planet slowly learning that the propaganda that has formed him is all a lie.
- “Things Can Only Get Better” (2021 short story) by Fiona Moore. A very fun short story about an investigation into an illegal gambling ring where the chief suspect is a self-driving car. It’s a whole lot of fun, and is a finalist for the BSFA Award.
- “Arisudan” (2021 novella) by Rimi B. Chatterjee. A post-apocalyptic story that’s engaging from the start and hits a lot of strong themes but doesn’t necessarily pull everything together for a tidy ending.
- “The Wishing Pool” (2021 short story) by Tananarive Due. An engaging short story about loss and being careful what you wish for.
- “To the People Who’d Never Known Good” (2022 novelette) by Thomas Ha. Another story about wishes with barbs attached (that seemed to be a theme in my mid-March reading), this one with themes of family, oppression, and choices with no right answers.
- “Rotten Little Town: An Oral History (Abridged)” (2021 novelette) by Adam-Troy Castro. It’s an oral history of the making of a dark Western TV series, and it’s not especially hard to see where the story is going, but it’s well-told and hits hard at a time where we’re beginning to learn more and more about show-runners overstepping their bounds with their casts.
Other March Reads of Note
- “Arriving from Always” (2021 short story) by Nerine Dorman. A tale that feels both apocalyptic and like the story of returning to a small town home after years away, it’s an entertaining read but doesn’t have quite the payoff that put it atop my list.
- “The Galactic Induction Handbook” (2022 flash fiction) by Mark Vandersluis. This flash piece is mostly just the table of contents of a Hitchiker’s Guide-style handbook. It’s a fun and clever piece, although probably doesn’t feel quite as subversive in 2022 as it may’ve in another time.
- “Tadpole Prophecy” (2022 short story) by Avi Burton. Again, you kinda expect certain stories to get subverted these days, but this was still a clever twist on the chosen one trope.
- “Bhatia, P.I.” (2022 novelette) by Shiv Ramdas. Apparently “be careful what you wish for” week was followed by trope subversion week, which continuous with this humorous take on urban fantasy and demon possession.
- “Christopher Mills, Return to Sender” (2022 short story) by Isabel J. Kim. A lighthearted tale of family and closure that opens with resurrection of someone who was perfectly content being dead.
- “The Egg” (2009 flash fiction) by Andy Weir. Apparently this one went viral about a decade ago and I missed it. It takes the “dying and meeting God” story in an interesting direction, and I can see the appeal, but it’s a little too pat for my tastes.
- “Packing” (2017 flash fiction) by T. Kingfisher. An entertaining but fairly plotless flash piece about preparing for an apocalypse of sorts and deciding what can be saved.
Novels, Novellas, and Collections
- The Thirteenth Hour (2021 novel) by Trudie Skies. An ambitious self-published piece with strong storytelling and character work and an excellent ending, but one that doesn’t quite nail the worldbuilding and meanders a bit in the middle.
- Iron Widow (2021 novel) by Xiran Jay Zhao. It’s billed as angry feminism and giant mech battles, and. . . that’s about right. The description of the oppressive society is particularly good.
- Ogres (2022 novella) by Adrian Tchaikovsky. A quiet revolutionary piece about a society in which humanity is oppressed by ogres, with absolutely exemplary use of second-person.
- We Are Satellites (2021 novel) by Sarah Pinsker. A messy near-future sci-fi that asks some excellent questions about ubiquitous technology and delivers some compelling slice-of-life vignettes, but one that oversimplifies a bit in order to come together for a tidy finish.
- The Best of R.A. Lafferty (2019 collection) by R.A. Lafferty. This collection doesn’t have every single one of my favorite short stories (for instance, it’s missing “Hog-Belly Honey”), but it’s hard to imagine a collection with a much better proportion of absolutely tremendous work, and there are short introductions by genre figures that give some fascinating context.
- One Day All This Will Be Yours (2021 novella) by Adrian Tchaikovsky. I called it the Dr. Strangelove of time travel novellas, and I stand by that–a fun dark comedy.
- Appropriately Aggressive (2019 essay collection) by Krista D. Ball. A reworked collection of essays on feminism, fantasy, and writing in general that’s easy to read and delivers plenty of insight.
- The Grey Land (2016-18 series) by Peadar Ó Guilín. A heart-pounding YA fantasy/horror survival game–with Fae antagonists–crossed with school drama. The sequel is probably unnecessary, but the first is excellent.
- The Four Profound Weaves (2020 novella) by R.B. Lemberg. A beautifully-written and intensely character-driven novella featuring a pair of older protagonists on journeys of self-discovery.
- The Children of Time Duology (2015-19 series) by Adrian Tchaikovsky. A generational novel with a fascinating depiction of the building of non-human culture, and its inevitable conflict with human culture, and a sequel that tries to recapture the magic with mixed success.
Other March Reads
- Artifact Space (2021 novel) by Miles Cameron. Opening of a military sci-fi duology that looks like a winner for mil-sf fans, but the aspects that most interested me are saved for the sequel. Full review to come.
- Destroyer of Light (2021 novel) by Jennifer Marie Brissett. Hits some heavy themes hard and does a great job with them, but sometimes let down by the structure. Full review to come.
- Prince Caspian (1951 novel) by C.S. Lewis. I read this to my five year-old as part of our read through The Chronicles of Narnia, which are still really fun reads even 25 years after my first time through them.
- Raven Stratagem (2017 novel) by Yoon Ha Lee. The sequel to Ninefox Gambit continues strong character work and does some nice exploration of revolution, although it continues making the main character look clever mostly by obscuring possibilities from the reader.
- The Tombs of Atuan (1970 novel) by Ursula K. Le Guin. Written in a mythic style, but with plenty of emotional stakes. I also appreciate that it resists the temptation to tie the ending into too neat a bow.
I’m partway through my second of our six new semifinalists, and the rest of the team has been doing some reading as well and have even dropped a few individual reviews. You can expect my reviews and official team scores to come later this month.