Between illness and travel and more illness, it’s been a weird spring. I hardly read any short fiction in April, so I’m rolling two months of short fiction together into one post. Because nomination deadlines passed in mid-March, I pivoted from catching up on “Best of 2021” lists to reading whatever caught my fancy, and it showed up with a smaller list of standouts this time around. But I still read some excellent stories this spring!
If we throw out rereads (I reread “That Story Isn’t the Story,” “Mr. Death,” and “Where Oaken Hearts Do Gather“–all of which are outstanding–to refresh my memory for Hugo discussion), the favorites list is sparse this time, but I read a pair in the last week of May that were worthy of the lead section.
- “Wind Will Rove” (2017 novelette) by Sarah Pinsker. After appearing thrice on my annual favorites lists the last two years–twice for Nebula-winning stories–I’m becoming convinced that Pinsker is one of the very best in the short fiction game, and “Wind Will Rove” is yet another data point in that direction. It tells a story that is simultaneously small scale and deeply philosophical, imagining the role of history and the arts on a generation ship where only the oldest generation remembers Earth and not a soul will survive to see their final destination. As I’ve come to expect from Pinsker, there’s no driving central narrative, but it engages from the start while asking big questions and not putting a foot wrong in the details.
- “Godmaker” (2022 short story) by J.A. Prentice. The honor of first entry in what will become my 2022 Short Fiction Recommended Reading List goes to “Godmaker,” which doesn’t reinvent a subgenre but delivers an exemplary tale that really captures the fabulist voice.
- “Unknown Number” (2021 short story) by Blue Neustifter/Azure_Husky. A Hugo Finalist chat log story that knows exactly what it’s trying to do and executes it well, telling a focused story of multiverse travel and gender dysphoria.
- “Free Coffin” (2022 short story) by Corey Flintoff. Another focused story–just one or two scenes in total–that doesn’t necessarily reinvent the wheel but executes nicely, building up slowly to a conclusion that feels inevitable but satisfies anyway.
- “Madam’s Sister” (2019 short story) by Mbozi Haimbe. I didn’t realize until halfway through that this isn’t speculative–“Shelter,” by the same author, was one of my favorites of 2021 and was certainly speculative–but it’s still an engaging story of African contemporary fiction that addresses attitudes toward the diaspora.
- “Flowerkicker” (2022 short story) by Stephen Graham Jones. More subtle and less gory than I usually expect from a horror writer who usually doesn’t shy away from blood, but Jones sure knows how to build the atmosphere, even if he’s just describing a simple walk in the woods.
- “Fried Rice” (2022 short story/flash fiction) by Shih-Li Kow. A short and sweet piece about grief, food, and family.
Other April/May Shorts of Note
- “Too Little, Too Little, Too Much” (2022 short story) by John Wiswell. This suffers a bit in comparison with the exemplary “That Story Isn’t the Story,” but Wiswell still tells a careful story that uses speculative tropes to examine abusive households.
- “The Chronologist” (2022 short story) by Ian R. MacLeod. A well-told, twisty time story. Probably not going to do anything totally unexpected for someone who’s read a lot of time travel tales, but it’s a good read regardless.
- “Clay” (2022 short story) by Isabel J. Kim. I’ve seen a good bit of praise for this story, and with reason, as it offers heartfelt reflection on those who are quite literally scarred by a system that cares for production more than people. I felt the ending a little bit too neat to elevate it to my favorites list, but there are plenty of excellent pieces here.
- “Lamia” (2022 short story) by Cristina Jurado. It’s very dark, but an excellent and atmospheric slow-build to a devastating conclusion.
- “Bots of the Lost Ark” (2021 novelette) by Suzanne Palmer. Like “The Chronologist,” this isn’t reinventing the subgenre, but if you enjoy bot-perspective stories, this is an entertaining addition.
- “Colors of the Immortal Palette” (2021 novelette) by Caroline M. Yoachim. Art, immortality, race, and gender in a beautiful and atmospheric tale that sometimes felt like it was trying to tackle a little too much for the novelette structure but certainly had enough good pieces that I can understand the Hugo nomination.
- “No Mercy to the Rest” (2019 short story) by Bennett North. A solid tale about the people caught in the crossfire when supervillains duke it out.
- “The Morthouse” (2022 short story) by Maria Haskins. The first of a couple stories on this list about grieving and what a person would do to reunite with lost loved ones.
- “An Arc of Electric Skin” (2021 short story) by Wole Talabi. Probably unethical experiments, love, and revolution.
- “Collecting Ynes” (2022 short story) by Lisa M. Bradley. Magical realism interspersed with verse mythologizing the life of a (real) world-renowned botanist.
- “Beginnings” (2022 short story) by Kristina Ten. More magical realism, in a bittersweet story about appreciating the good times.
- “The Long Way Up” (2022 short story) by Alix E. Harrow. The second I read this month about grief and a quest to magically reunite with a lost loved one. It’s Harrow, so you know it’s going to be well-written, and this one did a nice job exploring how reality compares to the idealized image of a lover.
Novels, Novellas, and Collections
We’re going to leave SPSFC reviews for their own section, or else there would hardly be room for anything else here. But I did have a chance to read a few books just because they caught my eye before diving into competition reviews for SPSFC and the Hugo Awards.
- One Arm Shorter Than the Other (2022 novella) by Gigi Ganguly. An indie novella featuring a Delhi setting and an intriguing structure, with three short stories that lean hard into magical realism and sometimes slice-of-life followed by a novelette that ties them all together. I enjoyed the initial stories immensely, although I felt this was the sort of tale where I’d personally rather see things left ambiguous than get a full explanation of all the strangeness.
- Artifact Space (2021 novel) by Miles Cameron. If you enjoy military sci-fi with a competent, likable lead and plenty of naval detail, you’ll doubtless love Artifact Space. I’m less of a mil-SF reader, and the alien communication plot that intrigued me most is unfortunately largely left for the sequel.
- Destroyer of Light (2021 novel) by Jennifer Marie Brissett. A retelling of the Hades and Persephone myth (no background required) with extratemporal aliens and some intense exploration of abuse and trauma.
- A Master of Djinn (2021 novel) by P. Djèlí Clark. My first foray into the Hugo Awards finalists was an entertaining murder mystery in an absolutely stunning magical Cairo.
- Zeroth Law (2019 novel) by Guerric Haché. A post-apocalyptic series-starter featuring a pair of heroines with very different journeys–one to master mysterious new powers, one hunting forgotten knowledge–that put them on a collision course for future conflict.
Other April May Reads
- The Sanctuary Duet (2014-15 duology) by Carol Berg. A return to the epic fantasy Navronne universe mixes Berg’s typically excellent character work with an investigation into corruption at the highest levels of the political and magical establishments. Full review to come.
- Light From Uncommon Stars (2021 novel) by Ryka Aoki. Perhaps the most optimistic take I’ve read on a “deal with the devil” tale, featuring a trans runaway with prodigious talent for violin in a story that makes California’s San Gabriel Valley come alive. Full review to come.
- The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet (2014 novel) by Becky Chambers. The famously optimistic tale of found family in space provides great character work without an abundance of plot. Full review to come.
My SPSFC judging team received three semifinalists each from two other teams, as part of the effort to narrow the competition’s thirty semifinalists down to seven finalists. I posted personal reviews for all six, and full team scores for four.
- Zero Day Threat (2020 novel) by R.M Olson is a heist novel that opens a broader series with found family themes. My full review is here.
- Of Cinder and Bone (2017 novel) by Kyoko M. feels like a summer blockbuster in book form, with a pair of scientists attempting to retrieve a genetically-engineered dragon after its capture by the Yakuza. I posted my review here, and the full team score here.
- Dog Country (2020 novel) by Malcolm F. Cross is a deeply psychological tale of a dog-hybrid genetically engineered to be a solider and struggling to find his place outside of war. I posted my review here and the full team score here.
- In the Orbit of Sirens (2020 novel) by T.A. Bruno is a sci-fi exploration novel with significant horror elements that sees its leads threatened by an endless parade of mortal danger. I posted my review here and the full team score here.
- Dead Star (2020 novel) by Simon Kewin is a tale of the lone survivor of planetary annihilation journeying across the galaxy to seek the suppressed history that may be the secret to overthrowing a tyrannical empire. I posted my review here and the full team score here.
- Age of Order (2016 novel) by Julian North is a young adult dystopian novel about a powerful-but-underprivileged girl whose scholarship to an elite high school puts her in the middle of schemes deeper than she would’ve believed. My full review is here.
In the Orbit of Sirens joins six contestants read by other teams to make up the SPSFC finals. I’ve been working through the remaining six, and you can expect reviews to come as the month progresses.
- My favorite reading challenge is back, and I spent a post planning for 2022’s r/Fantasy Book Bingo.