As part of my “read more magazines cover-to-cover” goal for 2023, I have started what will be a monthly magazine review post, which means I don’t have 40 short stories to recap in the monthly roundup. But I’ve done a lot of short fiction reading outside of staying current with my three chosen publications, so there’s still a whole lot to talk about. Not to mention the end of the SPSFC2 quarterfinals bringing a flurry of scores and the announcement of our three hand-picked semifinalists. So let’s get to it.
As mentioned, I read Clarkesworld, GigaNotoSaurus, and F&SF in their entirety in January, and there were three stories that would be right at home in my monthly favorites list: “Anais Gets a Turn” by R.T. Ester, “Old Seeds” by Owen Leddy, and “Off the Map” by Dane Kuttler. And while it may not have quite hit the heights of those three, I enjoyed “Sharp Undoing” by Nathasha King an awful lot. For more on my magazine reading, check out the full review post. For other miscellaneous shorts, keep reading.
- “Notes to a Version of Myself, Hidden in Syphonie fantastique Scores Throughout the Multiverse” (2022 short story) by Aimee Picchi. A lot more than a fun title, Picchi provides a fresh spin on multiverses with a character who manages to grow a whole lot in a pretty short amount of time.
- “We Built This City” (2022 novelette) by Marie Vibbert. A piece about organized labor on a space station in the atmosphere of Venus builds the tension admirably and doesn’t oversimplify. Wonderfully executed.
My “almost-but-not-quite-favorites” list this month is absolutely littered with shorts from other people’s best of 2022 list. While I didn’t necessarily rate them as highly as some others did, there’s a ton of quality here, and I can see why so many have been impressed.
- “Caring for a Picky Eater During the Apocalypse” (2022 flash fiction) by Richie Narvaez. I have been open about my struggles to emotionally invest in flash-length pieces, but the ending really gives this list-format tale real power.
- “The Sadness Box” (2022 novelette) by Suzanne Palmer. A clever and entertaining tale of a boy and his useless machine trying to survive a war-torn and environmentally unstable world. In some respects seems to promise more than it delivers on the psychological front, but it’s nicely done and in my opinion compares favorably to Palmer’s 2022 Hugo winner.
- “Baby Nowruz Gives His Wife a Flower Only Once a Year” (2022 short story) by Fatima Taqvi. A story about the kinds of stories we tell and what we’re willing to work for, it has plenty of beauty and thematic depth for days, which carries it up my list even thought I wasn’t 100% convinced by the ending.
- “The Miraculous Account of Khaja Bairaq, Pennant-Saint of Zabel” (2022 short story) by Tanvir Ahmed. A mythic tale about the actions of a revolutionary magic flag over the years. Pretty much what it says on the tin, but really well executed.
- “Tender, Tether, Shell” (2022 short story) by M.J. Pettit. My love of difficult cross-cultural communication clashes with my struggles to connect to shorter pieces (this one is just 2280 words) in a short-but-strong piece about a human and an extraterrestrial dealing with grief and loss. Sometimes the line between my monthly favorites list and the almost-favorites list is fine, and this one is very close to it.
- “Rain of Days” (2022 short story) by Ray Nayler. It’s become undeniably clear over the last few months that I am predisposed to like pretty much anything that Nayler writes, and this one isn’t quite as consistently excellent as those littering my favorites list, but the themes of memory, loss, and responsibility come through very well, and the writing is compelling as usual.
Others I Enjoyed in January
- “Legend” (2022 flash fiction) by Karen Lord. An investigation of a complicated legacy that’s intriguing but not long enough to stick with me much.
- “The Part You Throw Away” (2022 short story) by Elizabeth Bear. A beautiful tale of ghosts and family memories, both good and bad.
- “Of All the New Yorks in All the Worlds” (2022 short story) by Indrapramit Das. Something of a lovers-to-friends piece, with a multiverse twist. I’m not sure I had quite as much emotional investment as I would’ve liked, but everything else is on point.
- “The Work-Clock” (2023 short story) by Benjamin C. Kinney. Another sci-fi/fantasy labor story–this one fantasy–that might not pop quite like “We Built This City” but is still very nicely done.
- “The Long View” (2022 short story) by Susan Palwick. An amusing, if occasionally on-the-nose satire of campus culture that turns surprisingly heartfelt. Oh, and there’s an emotional support dragon.
- “Between the Island and the Deep Blue Sea” (2022 short story) by Jaxon Tempest. A sea goddess doesn’t hesitate to kill scientists who look too close into the secrets behind her Caribbean island’s inexplicable defiance of rising sea levels. But then she’s faced with a researcher from her own people.
- “Banhus” (2022 short story) by M.E. Bronstein. A story about using people for their languages that fits right in to the year of fantasy headlined by R.F. Kuang’s Babel, with a nice long conclusion (well, long for a 4600-word story) that will satisfying those who appreciated The Scouring of the Shire.
- “Our Lady of Tomorrow” (2023 short story) by Natalie C. Parker. The speculative premise of seeing the future is used to examine the grief of loss in the past. Compelling, but open-ended.
- “A Brief Catalog of Humans, as Observed by the Cryptids of Encante” (2022 flash fiction) by Ruth Joffre. An entertaining list story that gets very didactic at the close.
- “Like Stars Daring to Shine” (2022 short story) by Somto Ihezue. A post-apocalyptic short that’s mostly world-building, with enough personality from the adolescent protagonist to add a little depth.
- “The Lifers” (2022 short story) by Erin Innes. Researchers on an unlivable Earth after climate crisis keep getting bizarrely inconsistent results. It’s not especially hard to see where it’s going, but it’s entertaining getting there.
- “The Massage Lady at the Munjeong Road Bathhouse” (2022 short story) by Isabel J. Kim. A story about trying to make things work as a single mother without getting cornered in a mundane routine with no place to go.
- “The Memory of Water” (2022 novelette) by Tegan Moore. As life dies off in the world’s oceans, an elaborate exhibit simulating oceanic history begins to suffer strange glitches. Uncanny, though short on answers.
- “Plausible Realities, Improbable Dreams” (2022 short story) by Isabel J. Kim. A multiverse romance with a narrative structure that’s a whole lot of fun, albeit with more punch at the beginning than the end.
- “Objects of Value” (2022 short story) by AnaMaria Curtis. A story about remembering a home as it dies, with a hint of romantic subplot.
Novels and Novellas
So. . . it turns out that literally every book review I posted this month was SPSFC-related. No wonder I’m 11 reviews behind right now. Anyways, we’ll get to the SPSFC ones later. And watch for a lot of reviews in February as I try to catch up.
Other January Reads
- Lone Women (2023 novel) by Victor LaValle. If you read Little House on the Prairie and thought it needed to be Blacker and scarier, this Gothic frontier novel is just the thing for you. Really outstanding work. Review to come shortly.
- Dead Silence (2022 novel) by S.A. Barnes. A haunted house in space–pretty well-executed, but more than a few Alien vibes. Review to come.
- Bloodmarked (2022 novel) by Tracy Deonn. The sequel to the outstanding Legendborn has some sequel problems, but is still an entertaining read that dives further into the beloved characters from the opening book. Review to come.
- They Made Us Blood and Fury (2020 novel) by Cheryl S. Ntumy. The opening to an epic in a fanciful African analogue, it doesn’t by any stretch stand alone, but the pieces are there for a quality tale. Review to come.
- The Ten Percent Thief (2023 novel) by Lavanya Lakshminarayan. A mosaic novel in a meritocratic dystopia that can be a little bit up-and-down but hits some outstanding high notes. Review to come.
- Self-Portrait with Nothing (2022 novel) by Aimee Pokwatka. A story where the advertising doesn’t really give a sense of what to expect. There’s plenty of multiversal musing here, but it’s much heavier on the thriller elements than I expected. Review to come.
In addition to the standard monthly round-up posted in early January, I also took the time to dive into some interesting (to me, at least) stats from a year of reading.
I posted reviews for all eight of Team Tar Vol On’s quarterfinalists for SPSFC2. Check them out:
- Fear by James McLellan is an absurdist tale of a disastrous far-future movie production.
- The Sphere: A Journey in Time by Michelle McBeth is a time travel thriller that really takes the time for character development.
- Syn City: Reality Bytes by Lewis Knight is a cyberpunk thriller with plenty of commentary on technology addiction.
- The Left Hand of Dog by Si Clarke is a silly, queer space opera that feels like a mix of Douglas Adams and Becky Chambers.
- Things They Buried by Amanda K. King and Michael R. Swanson is as much horror or urban fantasy as it is sci-fi, with survivors of child trafficking excavating the horrors of their former prison. This was one of my personal top three of the round.
- The View From Infinity Beach by R.P.L. Johnson is a YA sci-fi adventure tale about a group of teenagers fighting back against a hostile takeover of their space station home. This was one of my personal top three of the round.
- Exin Ex Machina by G.S. Jennsen is a cyberpunk-leaning thriller about uncovering suppressed history. This was one of my personal top three of the round.
- The Audacity by Carmen Loup is a zany space opera with more than a few echoes of Douglas Adams.
We have selected The Audacity, Exin Ex Machina, and The View From Infinity Beach as our semifinalists, and will be sending them to two more judging teams to read in the semifinal round.
We have also received three books each from two of our fellow judging teams.
From Team Escapist, we have received:
- Debunked by Dito Abbott.
- Night Music by Tobias Cabral.
- Those Left Behind by N.C. Scrimgeour.
From Science Fiction News, we have received:
- The Last Gifts of the Universe by Rory August.
- The Peacemaker’s Code by Deepak Malhotra.
- Dim Stars by Brian P. Rubin.
Team Tar Vol On will spend the next three months reading these six books, posting individual reviews on our own schedules and then official team scores in late April.