I read a ton of short fiction this month, with a mix of 2022 publications, 2021 pieces from Hugo-shortlisted magazines or editors, and even one backlist award winner. As for the longer works, all but one of my reviews posted in July was either an SPSFC or Hugo finalist, so the majority of the links will be in those two special sections. But first, as always, we start with the shorts. I read a few great ones this month, including a couple that I’m still thinking about weeks later. So let’s get to it.
- “Two Spacesuits” (2022 short story) by Leonard Richardson. This is an odd little story that won’t come unstuck from my mind. The premise of a man visiting home to find his empty-nest parents behaving bizarrely and possibly having joined an internet cult has become even more relevant than when he began writing the story, but that description leads a reader to expect a darker and more depressing story than grayer and weirder one we get. I’m not sure how to really go about recommending it, but it is well worth a read. And if you read it, come tell me what you think, because I have no one to talk short fiction with right now.
- “The Litigation Master and the Monkey King” (2013 novelette) by Ken Liu. A 2014 Nebula finalist makes use of a benevolent trickster from Chinese mythology to tell the story of a disreputable but good-hearted litigator who tries to help a local woman and finds himself in far deeper than he’d bargained for. I almost always enjoy Liu’s short fiction, and this meets his standard of excellence.
- “Sarcophagus” (2021 novelette) by Ray Nayler. A classic tale of a single explorer trying to survive a doomed mission on a distant planet, with equipment failing, the environment against him, and something terrifying stalking his every move. Really well-executed, gripping from the start.
- “Spirits Don’t Cross Over, ‘Til They Do” (2021 (?) short story by Jamey Hatley). I’ve gotten conflicting information about the publication date, but this one is included in the collection Trouble the Waters: Tales from the Deep Blue, edited by Sheree Renée Thomas, Pan Morigan, and Troy L. Wiggins, which was included in the 2022 Hugo Packet. At any rate, it’s a gorgeous story with literary flair, reflecting on Vietnam and the death of Martin Luther King Jr., intertwined with stories of encounters with mysterious supernatural Water Women. It culminates in an ending that provides more questions than answers, and it’s going to take at least one reread before I’m quite sure what to make of it. But it’s exceptional.
- “The Plastic People” (2022 short story) by Tobias Buckell. In a future where the rich have fled a dying earth to set up colonies in space, an heiress and her friends try to do a good turn for a boy living in literal garbage. On one hand, it feels like it’s just smacking you in the face with its message. On the other hand, it feels like a good number of rich heiresses could walk right into this story and behave the exact same way–hard to overlook that as a mark of quality.
- “A Dime” (2021 short story, published in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, November/December 2021) by Megan Lindholm. A sentimental, bittersweet, well-executed story about Christmas, family, and pay phones.
Other Notable July Reads
- “Slow Communication” (2022 short story) by Dominique Dickey. A nicely-done story about struggling with gender and responsibility to continue the family legacy of once-a-generation engagement with the alien.
- “Notes on the Forum of the Simulacra” (2021 short story) by Cadwell Turnbull. If you enjoy short fiction that leans into the weirdness and doesn’t need to tie everything into a bow at the end, this is well worth the read.
- “Queen of Crows” (2022 short story) by Rachel Ayers. A slow-building story with a fairytale vibe, complete with an enslaved servant to a group of witches and a crow queen who can take on human form.
- “Blue and Blue and Blue and Pink” (2020 short story) by Lavie Tidhar. A well-written, weird, and unsettling tale about pilots running smuggling missions that threaten their lives or their sanity. Like the Turnbull story, well-written, but only for readers who don’t need clear resolution.
- “Nobody Ever Goes Home to Zhenzhu” (2022 short story) by Grace Chan. A man returns to reckon with the people who ruined his family. . . but he’s being followed. Quite a bit neater than several others I read this month, but well-done.
- “Fox and Troll Steal Math” (2022 novelette) by Jeff Reynolds. An impossible theft in a steampunk world. Sticks fairly close to the archetypes and doesn’t break a lot of new ground, but it’s clever and entertaining.
- “To Revolt is to be Undone” (2022 short story) by Sid Jain. A customs inspector for a corrupt government has to figure out whether to risk her livelihood and possibly her life in order to help a subversive group expose their crimes. Right and wrong is fairly clear, but it still does a good job setting up the moral dilemma and finishes nicely.
- “The Crystal Pyramid” (2022 short story, forthcoming in Metaphorosis) by Mia Ram. A thief hunts down the semi-mythical pyramid that contains all the treasures of a lost empire. Fun adventure story with some intriguing twists.
- “Broad Dutty Water” (2021 novelette, published in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, November/December 2021) by Nalo Hopkinson. As well-written as I’d expect from a Grand Master of the genre, but I’m increasingly finding that post-climate crisis short fiction is more about the worldbuilding than plot or character, and I find myself rarely awed by world-driven books. The story is but one adventure in the life of an impulsive lead and her porcine companion, and it’s solid, but the evocative picture of the flooded future seems like the real star here.
- “A Cloudcutter’s Diary” (2022 short story) by Chen Chuncheng, translated by Jack Hargreaves. An isolated cloud-cutter frets over trying to find a special interest to study for the rest of his life. An interesting story, although the resolution came a bit too easily for my taste.
- “Scar Tissue” (2020 short story) by Tobias Buckell. A story about raising a robot from infancy that covers a lot of ground but certainly has plenty of emotional resonance for parents.
- “Red_Bati” (2020 short story, published in Dominion: An Anthology of Speculative Fiction from Africa and the African Diaspora, edited by Zelda Knight and Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki) by Dilman Dila. A fun story about a robot dog trying to figure out what to do after the death of its owner.
- “At the Opening of Bayou St. John” (2021 short story, published in the collection Trouble the Waters: Tales from the Deep Blue, edited by Sheree Renée Thomas, Pan Morigan, and Troy L. Wiggins) by Shawn Scarber. A nicely atmospheric story about the dangerous of dealing with greater powers, and the allure of asking for more.
- “Spaceship October” (2021 short story) by Greg van Eekhout. A story of oppression on a generation with the sort of secret history that never fails to hook me. I found the ending a bit too neat, but I really enjoyed this one.
Novels and Novellas
- Into the Broken Lands (2022 novel) by Tanya Huff. My only non-Hugo, non-SPSFC review of the month was an adventure fantasy that ran a little long for my tastes but certainly did not lack for monster encounters.
Other July Reads
- Babel (2022 novel) by R.F. Kuang. This anticolonial, dark academia novel set in a magical version of 19th-century Oxford is the early leader for my favorite of 2022. Full review to come shortly. And by shortly, I apparently mean “before I even get the July roundup up.“
- Sea of Tranquility (2022 novel) by Emily St. John Mandel. As expected, this had literary vibes, with compelling portrayals of the mundane details of seemingly unrelated lives, with an overarching sci-fi plot that ties it all together. Full review to come.
- Harriet the Invincible (2015 children’s book–though it’s a novelette by word count) by Ursula Vernon. I don’t usually review children’s books on this blog, but this one has me considering an exception. It’s Sleeping Beauty retelling with a clever twist that’s so much fun from start to finish, with plenty of jokes and pop culture references thrown in there for the adults (I particularly appreciated the “To Serve Man” nod). There was one twist that I felt was a bit awkward (and my six year-old was confused as well), but we both had an absolute boatload of fun with it. Full review to come, maybe, if I can find the time for it.
I’ve posted my ballot analysis for the Hugo Awards, which finished voting on Thursday, August 11. Included in that master post are links to my ballots for the four categories in which I read everything: Novel, Novella, Novelette, and Short Story. I also posted reviews for most of the finalists for Best Novel and Best Novella, which I won’t link again here, since they’re contained in both ballot posts. If you’re interested, click away.
The first annual Self-Published Science Fiction Competition (SPSFC) finished up, with S.A. Tholin’s Iron Truth crowned the winner. I posted my reflections on a year of reviewing, along with my favorite books I read in the first SPSFC. The second SPSFC also opened for submissions in July, and I’ve put another judging team together for SPSFC2, and I’ll be back with more information about that shortly.