It was a slow month for novels, but my goodness was it an incredible month for short fiction. Thanks to a final push of reading from Hugo finalist publications, my monthly favorites list is the longest it’s been all year. And then I put down the 2021 publications and promptly found my two favorite stories of 2022 within a couple days of each other. It’s been an embarassment of riches. So let’s get right to it:
- “Lajos and His Bees” (2021 short story, published in the November/December 2021 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction) by K.A. Ternya, translated by Alex Shvartsman. A dark, but gripping story that perfectly captures the folkloric voice.
- “You Are Born Exploding” (2021 novelette) by Rich Larson. A riveting novelette about a mother and her toddler living through a pandemic after an alien virus transforms humans into mindless shamblers. There’s a sense of building inevitability as the story progresses, with just one way the tale must go.
- “The Failed Dianas” (2021 short story) by Monique Laban. A clone reckons with her own life and her predecessor’s failure to live up to their parents’ expectations. An excellent piece that’s engaging throughout, with plenty of thematic depth.
- “The White Road, or How a Crow Carried Death Over a River” (2021 short story, published in issue #18 of FIYAH Literary Magazine) by Marika Bailey. My second exceptional short read of the month that absolutely nails the folkloric voice, telling a fun and engaging story that opens into a layer of real depth–this one would’ve made a real push for my Hugo nominating ballot had I read it in time.
- “Scissors” (2021 short story) by Anastasia Bookreyeva, translated by Ray Nayler. An intense story that really captures the creeping terror of childhood fears, along with a parent’s struggles to connect on experiences they no longer share. This isn’t a story that feels like it’s out to make a larger point, but it’s a heck of a ride.
- “All Us Ghosts” (2021 short story) by B. Pladek. One of the rare “the environment is unlivable and only the rich have access to basic resources” stories that doesn’t lead with the worldbuilding, starring an actor hired to provide friendship and romance to help prepare a rich kid for the real world. Deeply personal, with unblinking exploration of who loses when unjust systems topple. This is excellent and is another that may well have been on my Hugo nominating list this year, had I read it in time.
- “To Live and Die in Dixieland” (2022 short story) by Russell Nichols. It’s a slavery store, so the themes were always going to be intense and heavy. But it’s also a virtual reality story that brings a ton of tension in the present-day, resting on a plot that feels like it could come out of a 2030s newspaper and written in a way that doesn’t allow for an obvious, tidy resolution. There’s honestly not much missing here, and it immediately ascended the ladder for my favorite story of 2022.
- “In the Time of the Telperi Flower” (2022 short story) by David-Cristopher Galhea. But “To Live and Die in Dixieland” maintained my favorite spot for just four days before being passed by a stunning adventure fantasy featuring one of my favorite narrative devices: annotations that contradict the main text. It’s fun throughout and it all comes together in a big way. It’s hard to imagine this one not finding its way onto my Hugo nominating ballot in 2023.
- “Yesterday’s Wolf” (2021 short story) by Ray Nayler. A gripping story about a young shepherd–and talented coder–and her family trying to navigate a horrifically misogynist society in the wake of a war that has left high-tech dangers everywhere and reliable leadership scarce.
- “Delete Your First Memory for Free” (2021 short story) by Kel Coleman. The sci-fi section is just as it says in the title, but the premise led me to expect a darker story than it was; rather, memory-deletion is just a piece of something more slice-of-life, with a socially-awkward lead looking for friendship and romance.
- “Pull” (2021 short story) by Leah Ning. A heartfelt story about caring for a dying woman who can no longer control her ability to pull others into her memories. Much of the context is left unexplained, but the piece on display is deeply personal and doesn’t lack for tension.
- “D.I.Y.” (2022 short story) by John Wiswell. If you have the patience for a whole lot of Internet culture references, this is a really fun story about magic, accessibility, and the elite hoarding of resources.
Others I Enjoyed in August
- Baby Brother (2021 short story, published in issue #17 of FIYAH Literary Magazine) by Kalynn Bayron. A fantasy/horror tale that seems to simultaneously flaunt and hide the inevitable conclusion.
- Año Neuvo (2021 novelette) by Ray Nayler. Aliens have been living on the beaches of California for years, seemingly indifferent to all human attempts at interaction. But one day, they disappear, kicking off a story that explores a disparate group of people and how they are all ultimately connected.
- The HazMat Sisters (2021 novelette) by L.X. Beckett. A focused novelette that tells its story effectively, with three brown teenagers trying to survive a trek on foot through an America torn apart by pandemics and civil war–while giving nightly reports to their mother, who has gamified the entire thing to bait them into cooperation.
- The Steel Magnolia Experiment (2021 short story) by Jennifer Lee Rossman. An autistic lead wrestles with metaphors, bodily autonomy, and her mother’s terminal cancer diagnosis.
- Annie Without Crow (2021 short story) by Michael Swanwick. An amusing time travel story about the hijinks of mythical figures meddling with human history, with more than a healthy helping of girlpower.
- The Witness Brûska Lai (2021 novelette) by Aaron Perry. An investigation outside of time by a witness who can see the hour of death–twisty and entertaining but perhaps too complicated for that powerful clarity at the moment of reveal.
- The Loneliness of Former Constellations (2021 short story) by P.H. Low. An aging former warrior with power to topple galaxies learns to live a post-war life of limitation, taking on an up-and-coming knight as a housemate.
- Bright Lights Flying Beneath the Ocean (2021 short story by Anjali Patel). A short and sweet piece about sisters separated by an ocean and also a no-fly zone and total communications blackout, complete with rescue plans.
- Ensign (2020 short story) by Soyeon Jeong, translated in 2021 by Paige Aniyah Morris. A protracted domestic dispute between one party ready to leave a dying world to start fresh, and another doing her best to uphold her family’s legacy of shepherding the scant resources they have.
- Kora is Life (2022 novella by David D. Levine). A story about evolution—the good and the bad—in a traditional flying competition. It’s a bit neat for my tastes, but it captures the intensity of sports better than most sci-fi I’ve read.
- A Witch’s Guide to Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies (2018 short story by Alix E. Harrow). I might have a bit of bias against this one, as it beat one of my personal favorites (STET, by Sarah Gailey) for the 2019 Hugo Award. But it uses the experimental form well and has Harrow’s trademark engaging style, even if the ending is clear from the beginning.
- The Cheesemaker and the Undying King (2022 short story) by Lina Rather. How can you resist a conquering immortal when you’re a pudgy, unauthentic cheesemaker with no rhetorical skills to speak of? As it turns out, there are ways. Clever and enjoyable.
- Early Morning Service (2018 short story) by Irette Y. Patterson. An engaging story about an usher in a Black church losing her magic. I might’ve liked it to do a bit more overall, but it brings the reader into the scene perfectly.
- The Possibly Brief Life of Guang Hansheng (2016 short story) by Liang Qingsan, translated in 2022 by Andy Dudak. A quiet story, bordering on slice-of-life and with only a hint of speculation, about the lead’s quest to learn the history behind the mysterious author of century-old science fiction. Don’t expect a big finish, but it’s engaging from the start.
- The Pine Arch Collection (2018 short story) by Michael Wehunt. I’m not a regular horror reader, but I enjoy found document stories. The setup definitely signals who is involved with the horror, but the execution. . . well, it’s sufficiently creepy. As someone who doesn’t read a lot of horror, it’s hard to evaluate. For me, it’s solid work but not convincing me to dive further into an unfamiliar subgenre.
Novels and Novellas
- Across the Green Grass Fields (2021 novella) by Seanan McGuire. The sixth Hugo-nominated entry in the Wayward Children series, with strong character work and excellent found family themes but an overarching plot that feels a bit rushed.
- A Splindle Splintered (2021 novella) by Alix E. Harrow. A feminist retelling of Sleeping Beauty that isn’t necessarily blazing new territory, but has an entertaining snarky protagonist with a ton of pop culture references that makes it a lot of fun to read.
- A Desolation Called Peace (2021 novel) by Arkady Martine. The sequel to the Hugo-winning A Memory Called Empire includes the same fantastic culture-building as the original, but adds more character depth and an intriguing first-contact plot to go with it.
- Babel (2022 novel) by R.F. Kuang. A dark academia story set in an alternate history Oxford with translation magic in service of a ravening British empire–one of my favorites of the year.
- The Spear Cuts Through Water (2022 novel) by Simon Jimenez. A quest tale where the real star of the show is the mythic voice.
Other August Reads
- The Revenge of Bridget Cleary (2022 novel) by Mathilda Zeller. A young adult Fae tale taking a real-life murder as its jumping off point into a story of deception and redemption. Full review to come.
- The Hand of the Sun King (2021 novel) by J.T. Greathouse. A duology-opening coming-of-age about a magical prodigy torn between the empire of his father’s family and the rebellion of his maternal grandmother. Full review to come.
- Lonely Castle in the Mirror (2017 novel) by Mizuki Tsujimura, translated in 2021 by Phillip Gabriel. A school novel without the school–featuring a group of junior high dropouts who find a portal to a mysterious castle with a hidden room that grants wishes. Full review to come.
I posted an analysis of the full ballot, where I voted in 11 of 19 categories, five of which (Best Novel, Best Short Story, Best Short Form Editor, Best Semiprozine, and Best Fan Artist) saw my top choice win, plus an encouraging second-place showing from my top choice for Best Novella.
I’m leading a team for the second annual Self-Published Science Fiction Competition. No reviews yet, but I’ve introduced both this year’s team and the 28 books we’ve been assigned for the first round. Expect to see a flurry of activity in late October/early November, as we make our first cuts and choose our quarterfinalists, and again in January when we choose our semifinalists.