Monthly Round-Up

May 2023 Round-up and Short Fiction Miscellany

At the end of April, I finished up my annual scramble to read last year’s fiction before award nominations were due–and simultaneously, the scramble to finish the SPSFC2 semifinalists–and in May, I was freed up to dive into some backlist material and new releases. And I was rewarded with one of my best short fiction months in a long time. So many absolutely outstanding stories, even outside my usual magazine reading. I’m excited to dive in, so let’s.

Short Fiction

My monthly magazine review had the longest favorites list of the year, with Ferdison Cayetano’s “A Conjure-Horse in Ouvido,” Andrew Dana Hudson’s “Any Percent,” Naomi Kritzer’s “Better Living Through Algorithms,” Rich Larson’s “LOL, Said the Scorpion,” and T.R. Napper’s “Highway Requiem” standing above the crowd. Check out the full review for more on those pieces, along with a bunch of other excellent short fiction.

But the favorites list this month was deep, even outside my regular magazines:

May Favorites

  • The Bone Swans of Amandale” (2015 novella) by C.S.E. Cooney. It’s a retelling of the Pied Piper, along with a couple less familiar fairy tales, and it was good enough to hook even me–a reader who generally doesn’t connect with fairy tale retellings. The prose is excellent and the plot had enough substance that it didn’t feel like just a retelling, but the real star here is the narrative voice. The main character is a rogue, a rat/human shapeshifter with a flair for drama and the hots for a swan shapeshifter whose people are being hunted by an evil mayor of a local town. It’s an engaging story, but the lead’s voice takes it to an entirely different level. Highly recommended for fans of retellings, rogue leads, and strong narrative voices. This was nominated for a Nebula back in 2017, and I’m honestly not sure how it didn’t win, or how I didn’t hear about it for so long.
  • Winter Timeshare” (2017 short story) by Ray Nayler. Circling back to perhaps Nayler’s best-known short story, and it’s as contemplative as I’ve come to expect from him, with romance, friendship, class conflict, all packed into a scant few weeks of post-mortem embodiment. I’m not sure how to summarize it, but it’s worth the read.
  • Time Marked and Mended” (2023 novelette) by Carrie Vaughn. A remarkably bite-sized space opera, with a mystery that perfectly fits the novelette format while hinting at a bigger story that may be explored in future work. Apparently, this is the third story Vaughn has published in this universe, and I may need to circle back to the previous two, because my time with this one was lots of fun.
  • The State Street Robot Factory” (2023 short story) by Claire Humphrey. Is small-scale, near-future sci-fi becoming my niche? I’m not sure, but this is an excellent example of the subgenre, with a Chicago man selling miniature robots out of his apartment to pay for a functional set of legs. Very personal in scale and with a blend of frustration and hope that makes a tale feel real without just being depressing.

Strong Contenders

  • A Strange and Muensterous Desire” (2022 short story) by Amanda Hollander. Imagine what Twilight would have been like if the main character were too distracted trying to win a grilled cheese competition to notice the brooding hottie who just moved into town. Lots of fun, and it doesn’t overstay its welcome.
  • One Man’s Treasure” (2023 novelette) by Sarah Pinsker. Turns out that being a magical garbage collector is dangerous. Which is why they really need a union. The “day in the life” elements were exceptional, and the collective action was pretty solid, if perhaps a bit neater than I prefer.

Others I Enjoyed in May

  • Such an Honor” (2023 short story) by Sarah Gailey. What if awards left a permanent mark on the recipient? The bodily transformations may be a bit heavy for the squeamish, but Gailey always writes well, and this is no exception.
  • The Secret Life of Bots” (2017 novelette) by Suzanne Palmer. I circled back around to this one after the third Bot 9 story appeared in the May 2023 issue of Clarkesworld, and I liked it about as much as the other two. Bot 9 is endearing, but the balance is a bit more towards action and less toward character than is my preference.
  • The Pool Noodle Alien Posse” (2023 novelette) by M.L. Clark. What if first contact were ruined by the aliens reading social media and deciding maybe they should leave Earth alone? And the whole episode was enough fodder for conspiracy theorists to leave those who remained even more fractured? It’s a story that feels very true to contemporary experience without being preachy or trite.
  • Common Speech” (2023 short story) by Elise Stephens. Extraterrestrial colonialism, language barrier problems, and a deadly disease! Treads some familiar territory, but it’s well-done, and I enjoy this sort of story.
  • Our Exquisite Delights” (2023 flash fiction) by Megan Chee. I read like six flash pieces this month, and I don’t know why I bother–I never seem to connect to them. But if one were to stick with me, it would be this one, a collection of portal fantasies with a dark turn. It’s hard for 1200 words to really resonate, but this gave it a good run.
  • Haunting the Docks” (2023 flash fiction) by Marie Vibbert. Short and fun, with a lonely docking AI doing all the wrong things in an attempt to get people to visit.
  • Optimizing the Verified Good” (2018 short story) by Effie Seiberg. Why do battle bots continue to battle when it causes them harm? Maybe they ought to do something about that. . . .
  • Cold Relations” (2023 novelette) by Mary Robinette Kowal. A story of a necromancer and her estranged wizard brother. Introduces some big questions that it doesn’t really answer, but it’s an entertaining central story with family at its core.

Novels and Novellas

Reviews Posted

  • Self-Portrait with Nothing (2022 novel) by Aimee Pokwatka. The lead’s estranged-and-possibly-dead mother may be able to open portals to other universes, but there’s more time spent on a thriller plot than on exploring the possibilities.
  • Witch King (2023 novel) by Martha Wells. The customarily strong character work is overshadowed by a bit more action than I’d prefer, and a dual-timeline story structure that never clicked for me.
  • Saint Death’s Daughter (2022 novel) by C.S.E. Cooney. It’s a slow-building, single-POV epic fantasy with an absolutely outstanding narrative voice, a focus on family relationships and complicated legacies, and even some humor to add a bit of balance.
  • The Last Dragoners of Bowbazar (2023 novella) by Indra Das. A slow-paced and beautiful coming-of-age, starring a lead torn between a world of magic and turn of the millennium Calcutta.

Other May Reads

  • Mort (1987 novel) by Terry Pratchett. My second experience with Discworld is very funny, but the plot is a hair on the thin side. Definitely still a worthwhile read. Full review to come.
  • The Splinter in the Sky (2023 novel) by Kemi Ashing-Giwa. Intrigue and espionage in space, with a member of a conquered people thrown into the midst of court politics in the empire that took her land. Solid thematic work and keeps the pace moving, but a few familiar shortcuts keep it from reaching its full potential.


Finals reading is in progress. Keep an eye out for reviews from me, with full team scores coming in July.


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