With holidays and travel, it was a light reading month, one that saw me read just three shorter pieces that weren’t part of the Africa Risen anthology or the November 2022 issue of Clarkesworld. But even in a light month, there was a lot to like. So let’s get to the stories!
- “Calf Cleaving in the Benthic Black” (2022 short story) by Isabel J. Kim. Given that Kim had shown up on my favorites list twice in the last year, I wasn’t exactly surprised to love this one. It’s a tale of scavengers happening upon a spaceship not yet picked clean who get more than they bargained for. The conclusion was a tad simpler than I’d have preferred, but the thematic work and the storytelling quality were enough to send it to my favorites list.
- “An Expression of Silence” (2022 short story) by Beth Goder. A first contact story about the difficulty of communicating between fundamentally different sorts of being, so pretty much exactly up my alley. The scale is fairly small, but it’s the sort of story I love, and it’s told extremely well.
- “The Lonely Time Traveler of Kentish Town” (2022 novelette) by Nadia Afifi. A small-scale time travel story picking out one in particular of the myriad offenses papered over by the powerful. The moral point is a straightforward one, and the development isn’t exactly unexpected, but it’s satisfying nonetheless.
- “Bishop’s Opening” (2022 novella) by R.S.A. Garcia. A story of food and family and love and memory and political scheming and doing the right thing. There are so many layers for a piece as short as it is, and they come together nicely.
- “The Transfiguration of the Gardener Irene by the Dead Planet Hipea” (2022 short story) by Ann LeBlanc. The remnants of a planet-sized intelligence pieces together the memories of one of their last human residents, trying to determine the threat to their life and how they are meant to survive. A bit of a slow build–at least for a short story–but ultimately an excellent tale.
Clarkesworld (November 2022)
Another month, another really excellent issue of Clarkesworld, as I continue to feel better and better about my decision to become a regular with this magazine. I admit that I found the opener–Michelle Julia John’s “The Rhythm of the Soul,” about the discovery and subsequent violent suppression of magical music–to be merely okay, but Aimee Ogden’s “Accountability, and Other Myths of Old Earth” was a very good read, even if a bit didactic, and as expected (and already mentioned), I loved Isabel J. Kim’s “Calf Cleaving in the Benthic Black.”
As seems to have been a pattern in the past three months, the middle of the issue contains a pair of novelettes, with Nadia Afifi’s “The Lonely Time Traveler of Kentish Town” providing a gripping tale of the marginalized seeking validation of their suppressed criticism of past heroes and Yang Wanqing’s “Hummingbird, Resting on Honeysuckles” (translated by Jay Zhang) telling of a difficult relationship between mother and daughter, brought to life through a device that captures every second of one’s life. A third story I’ve already mentioned–Ann LeBlanc’s “The Transfiguration of the Gardener Irene by the Dead Planet Hipea”–provides another intense punch before the fiction section closes with Samara Auman’s “The Whelk,” a shorter piece about nostalgia that may be more problematic than one remembers.
The non-fiction section includes interviews with two prominent authors–Ray Nayler and Nisi Shawl–and a piece on the science behind Arula Ratnakar’s “Babirusa.” I’ve been really enjoying Nayler’s work lately, and I enjoyed peeking behind the curtain a bit. I haven’t read “Babirusa” or anything by Shawl, and neither piece resonated quite so much, but they’re certainly worth a read for anyone curious about either author. This section closes with the editor discussing the obstacles to international short fiction publishing and sharing his plans to open Clarkesworld for Spanish-language submissions next year. The willingness to publish internationally (with November in particular containing one story translated from Chinese) is one of the elements I really appreciate about Clarkesworld, and I’m glad to see it continue moving in that direction (even if my Spanish probably isn’t sufficient to read adult fiction).
Overall, I didn’t like this issue quite as much as October, but there was only one story that didn’t really land for me, and it was balanced out by yet another ascending my favorites list and a couple more coming close. And, as in previous issues, even the stories that don’t necessarily hook me are still doing something interesting–it’s one of the things that make me enjoy reading this magazine so much. Recommended.
Other November Reads
- “12 Things a Trini Should Know Before Traveling to a Back in Times Fete” (2022 short story) by R.S.A. Garcia. A very short list story that doesn’t necessarily do anything surprising but is well-told and provides much-needed perspective as a time travel story from the perspective of descendents of slaves.
Novels, Novellas, and Anthologies
- Neom (2022 novel) by Lavie Tidhar. A very short novel about marginalized figures in far-future Arabia. With the feel of future mythology, this is excellent work that will appeal to fans of literary-leaning science fiction.
- Africa Risen (2022 anthology) by Sheree Renée Thomas, Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki, and Zelda Knight. A collection of 32 short pieces by African and diasporic authors. It wasn’t quite as full of greats as I’d hoped, but there is lots of good work here, led by Wole Talabi’s novelette “A Dream of Electric Mothers.”
- Sweep of Stars (2022 novel) by Maurice Broaddus. An at times dizzying opener to an epic Afrofuturist trilogy, with excellent characterization throughout and plenty more to come in the next two books.
Other November Reads
- Treason’s Shore (2009 novel) by Sherwood Smith. The closer to the Inda Quartet is more of what we knew and loved from the first three epic entries. Full series review to come.
- The Sharing Knife: Horizon (2009 novel) by Lois McMaster Bujold. A second quartet-closer that’s also more of the same for fans of the series–this one a fantasy romance in an analogue of frontier America. Full series review to come.
- Siren Queen (2022 novel) by Nghi Vo. A beautifully told, plot-light story about an actress’ struggles and triumphs in an early Hollywood populated with literal monsters. Full review to come.
- City of Last Chances (2022 novel) by Adrian Tchaikovsky. A fantasy revolution featuring myriad factions working at cross-purposes, sure to appeal to fans of multi-POV stories and Tchaikovsky’s style. Full review to come.
My judging team for the second annual Self-Published Science Fiction Competition (SPSFC2) have finished our first pass through our initial allocation, releasing a first, second, and third round of cuts before announcing eight quarterfinalists that we will each read in full on our way to ultimately selecting three semifinalists.