It was the month that sees the “best of 2022” lists start dropping (including mine!), which means it was the month that saw my short fiction TBR explode and my reading pace try desperately to catch up. Overall, I read 25 short pieces this month, and there were some really good ones in that batch.
- “Law of Tongue” (2022 short story) by Naim Kabir. An engaging, well-plotted story of a human trying to negotiate with orcas to protect Seattle’s coastal waters after climate disaster. Certainly calls to mind Anjali Sachdeva’s “Arbitrium,” which I also liked quite a bit.
- “Troubling a Star” (2022 novelette) by Andrew Dykstal. A tale of an apprentice diviner navigating a troubling relationship with her mentor, while trying to understand the purpose behind his myriad minor deceits. Barely over the short story/novelette border, it’s one of those tales that lays out clues such that the reader begins to understand mere sentences before the lead does.
- “Murder by Pixel: Crime and Responsibility in the Digital Darkness” (2022 novelette) by S.L. Huang. This is more a fictional thinkpiece than an actual story, but it captures the longform editorial voice perfectly, and the ethical questions it raises are all too real. It’s the sort of story I’d like to see assigned in machine learning classes.
- “Hydroplaning” (2022 novella) by Peter Medeiros. I really enjoy the “out-of-the-way town with a dark secret hidden just below the surface” subgenre, and this is a strong offering in that vein, with a secondary world setting and a creeping sense of wrongness that builds to an explosive finish.
- “Fostering” (2022 short story) by Ray Nayler. Quiet but raw, it’s a tale of foster parenthood that could drop every speculative element and not lose an ounce of power. It’s heart-wrenching, and has immediately jumped into my top three 2022-published short stories.
- “To Make Unending” (2022 short story) by Max Gladstone. The “high fantasy world has kids role-playing as 21st-century Westerners” inversion has been done before, but the execution is so good that it doesn’t matter.
- “Moral Panic 1986” (2022 short story) by Marshall J. Moore. It’s a fun subversion on the 1980s Satanic panic with worldbuilding that sometimes feels a little too surface-level for credulity, but which has an emotional core that makes it well worth a read regardless.
- “Upstart” (2022 novelette) by Lu Ban, translated by Blake Stone-Banks. A disturbing dystopia in which the poor are enticed to trade life for money provides the setting for a story that looks straightforward and then turns into something much different. This is long enough to approach the novella line, and there were times I thought it could’ve been more compact, but it’s overall really strong work.
- “Left to Die” (2022 short story) by Vandana Singh. A gripping story of betrayal, survival, and communication with alien intelligence. A lot going on, and it all works very well.
- “Nonstandard Candles” (2022 short story) by Yoon Ha Lee. An apprentice mapmaker learns to map complete emptiness. It’s clear the twist is coming, but it’s a lovely story that’s a pleasure to read regardless.
December’s issue of Clarkesworld was oddly split between stories that really worked for me and ones that didn’t. Both novelettes–Lu Ban’s “Upstart” and S.L. Huang’s “Murder by Pixel: Crime and Responsibility in the Digital Darkness”–were good enough for mentions in my first two sections. Honestly, they could’ve both hit my favorites list if the former had been a hair more streamlined. One surprised and horrified, the other prompted reflection, both were excellent reads. As were Naim Kabir’s “Law of Tongue” and Vandana Singh’s “Left to Die,” both of which kept me on the edge of my seat until the end.
As for the rest? Well, Ben Berman Ghan’s “The Resting Place of Trees” and Laney Gaughan’s “To Exorcise Mechanical Ghosts” have something to recommend them, but the former is more beautiful than it is a compelling story, and the latter sets up an interesting tale of a miner hearing the ghosts of a predecessor whose death may not have been a mere accident but doesn’t offer a lot of closure. I liked them both, but I had my complaints. And the other two did not work for me at all. Bri Castagnozzi’s “Keiki’s Pitcher Plant” has a lot to say about decolonization, but the story at its heart isn’t especially gripping. And Alex Sobel’s “The Lightness” sees a surrogate pondering their next step after the child’s parents die before the baby is delivered, but the story never generates the kind of weight that seems appropriate for the situation.
The non-fiction side has several fascinating pieces, opening with a reflection on sci-fi’s constant attempts to view the world from non-human perspectives, and how the advancement of science leads us to wonder whether the chasm between human and non-human perspectives may one day be possible to cross. It follows with an interview with author Bora Chung and translator Anton Hur. I haven’t read their works, but the interview has some interesting observations on the writing process, particularly regarding short fiction. We then see an interview with Lisa Yaszek on the distressingly overlooked history of women in science fiction, before closing with a letter from the editor about the need for a mental reset at the end of the year.
Overall, I didn’t enjoy this issue quite as thoroughly as I have some of the last couple, but there were still a whole lot of high points, and I continue to be glad I started reading Clarkesworld consistently.
Others I Enjoyed in December
- “can i offer you an egg in this trying time” (2022 short story) by Iori Kusano. An interesting short story about the difficulty of mentally recovering after returning from a fantasy world, albeit a bit more over-the-top than I personally prefer.
- “Choke” (2022 short story) by Suyi Davies Okungbowa. A horror story about university evangelism that builds the tension well but doesn’t totally bring it all together–what’s more, leaving the reader unsure whether it was a critique of prosyletizing in general or rather the colonialism that so often goes along with it.
- “TO: City of Fresno Permits Office” (2022 short story) by Josh Franklin. An amusing-but-not-surprising epistolary short that entertains but doesn’t quite manage to feel like a real exchange.
- “The Daily Commute” (2022 short story) by Sarah Gailey. A beautiful, uncanny slice-of-life tale of a commute in a town with bee-powered public transit.
- “Plum Century” (2022 flash fiction) by Simo Srinivas. A solid piece about a visit to a witch whose domain bends time in odd ways. It’s a good read, but doesn’t have enough length to generate real power.
- “Patterns in Stone and Stars” (2022 novelette) by M.V. Melcer. Nearly novella-length, with excellent reflection from the lead on trying to represent a conquered people in the institutions of empire, all connected to a first contact storyline that’s solid but not show-stopping.
- “Papa Legba Has Entered the Chat” (2022 short story) by DeVaun Sanders. A short, pointed piece about police brutality, with a magical conclusion that’s more cathartic than surprising. Still, a strong emotional core in a short space.
- “The Immaculate Ivory Tower” (2022 novelette) by Li Huayi, translated by Nathan Faries. A heart-wrenching story about coming up on an incomprehensible alien species, though with a somewhat slow-starting frame narrative.
- “Short Swims From Great Heights” (2022 flash) by Stephen M.A. A bird’s eye view of a world where fish are oppressed minorities frequently scapegoated from crimes. Short enough that it’s hard to emotionally invest in the lead, but the social commentary is on point.
- “Ten Steps For Effective Mold Removal” (2022 short story) by Derrick Boden. Officially an epistolary piece told via a series of Amazon reviews, but really more a diary than a series of reviews. An interesting piece nonetheless, where it becomes hard to tell exactly how unreliable the unreliable narrator is.
Novels and Novellas
- City of Last Chances (2022 novel) by Adrian Tchaikovsky. A tale of a revolution in a weird fantasy city, structured as a mosaic with perspective from myriad factions working at cross purposes. Short on relatable characters, but fascinating nonetheless.
- The Inda Quartet (2006-2009 series) by Sherwood Smith. An outstanding epic fantasy tetralogy, with academies, pirates, politics, and a large cast full of characters from different factions. A grim world, but good-hearted characters at the center make it a comfort read nonetheless. Absolutely a new favorite.
- Mapping the Interior (2017 novella) by Stephen Graham Jones. A novella about a Native youth seeing his father’s ghost, told in a style that makes it hard to tell what’s his imagination and what’s real. Always interesting, but with so much symbolism that went over my head.
- The Keeper’s Six (2023 novel) by Kate Elliott. A short adventure fantasy with a mother bringing a team back together to travel the worlds and save her kidnapped son.
- Siren Queen (2022 novel) by Nghi Vo. A beautiful tale of a Chinese-American trying to make it in Old Hollywood, with dreamlike imagery that’s worth the price of admission but sometimes makes the plot a bit less visceral.
Other December Reads
- The Golden Enclaves (2022 novel) by Naomi Novik. The finale to the Scholomance trilogy has some of the best moments in the series but can be a bit uneven. Highly recommended for fans of the series, not required otherwise. Full review to come.
- The Whitefire Crossing (2011 novel) by Courtney Schafer. An adventure fantasy featuring a mountain guide escorting a runaway apprentice mage on a dangerous flight from his master. Gripping, with a love of mountaineering that bleeds through every page. Full review to come.
- The Gallant (2019 novella) by Janny Wurts. A prequel set 500 years before the main action of The Wars of Light and Shadow, with Wurts’ trademark ornamented prose but a focused and compelling story of love, betrayal, and action. Full review to come.
- One Hand to Hold, One Hand to Carve (2022 novella) by M. Shaw. A weird horror novella mixed with a dollop of fable and plenty of exploration of a toxic relationship. Full review to come.
My judging team has announced our quarterfinalists. I posted my personal mini-reviews for Fear and The Sphere: A Journey in Time, and I’ve finished the last four quarterfinalists. Expect my personal full reviews within the next two weeks, and our official team scores in late January.
As mentioned in the open, I posted a first draft of my 2022 Recommended Reading List. I’ll continue collecting more favorites as I move through others’ favorites list, and I’ll post a second edition in early March.