Between travel and the end-of-the-school year rush, it was a light month of short fiction reading. But as I nearly always say in light reading months, I still found things to love. Hey, if it weren’t true, I’d stop saying it. But there is a new wrinkle this month: the death grip that near-future sci-fi has had on my favorites list has been broken by a pair of really outstanding fantasy stories. Take a look!
My monthly magazine review had a pair of really excellent stories, including one in the running for my favorite of the entire year. “Vast and Trunkless Legs of Stone” by Carrie Vaughn is a quality, personal first contact story. And “Day Ten Thousand” by Isabel J. Kim is a disorienting, meta, and quite possibly brilliant reflection on stories and tragedies. But I had a couple more favorites outside my regular magazine reading:
- “A Short Biography of a Conscious Chair” (2023 novelette) by Renan Bernardo. A very slow-paced bit of magical realism, with a family drama played out from the perspective of sentient furniture. A quiet, but beautiful story that builds to a powerful emotional conclusion.
- “Your Great Mother Across the Salt Sea” (2023 novelette) by Kelsey Hutton. This is a story about the British Empire and the First Nations with the serial numbers filed off. But it’s a really good story, with the lead’s magical dress-making not enough to make her grievances heard. There’s magic, diplomacy, reflections on family and commitment, and plenty of dramatic tension.
- “The Redoubtables” (2020 short story) by Premee Mohamed. A journalist investigates the horror that destroyed all living (and non-living) things in the vicinity of a secret island research base. But unlike so many stories about journalists investigating horrors, this one isn’t really about uncovering secrets–it’s about challenging the thinking that made such horrors possible. A surprisingly quiet story with the horror remaining in the background and not a lot of resolution, but undoubtedly a challenging one.
- “The Dark House” (2023 short story) by A.C. Wise. I can certainly understand why horror fans have been raving about this haunted house story rife with creepy photography. I’m not sure the rhythms of horror storytelling resonate with me quite so much as my primary genres, but it sure was creepy.
- “There’s a Door to the Land of the Dead in the Land of the Dead” (2023 short story) by Sarah Pinsker. Another Sarah Pinsker story, another really interesting read. Ho hum. Also a wonderful title. There’s a lot about the afterlife–or perhaps afterlives–but even more about queer friendship and seeking direction in life.
Others I Enjoyed in June
- “Even if Such Ways Are Bad” (2023 novelette) by Rich Larson. Something of a space opera novelette, but taking place almost entirely in transit, with extensive description of a living ship and plenty of excavation of the lead’s past. There’s good here, but a bit heavier on the worldbuilding than I prefer–especially in short form.
- “On Planetary Palliative Care” (2023 short story) by Thomas Ha. I want to say “what it says on the tin,” as if what it says on the tin gives you any idea of what to expect. But it’s a quiet story written in second-person about caring for dying planets, inevitably calling to mind both planetary threats and the struggles of families determining how to care for a dying relative.
- “One Eye Opened in That Other Place” (2023 short story) by Christi Nogle. Again, I’m not totally sure I’ve gotten into the rhythms of horror, but this is a weird and interesting one.
Novels and Novellas
- A Half Built Garden (2022 novel) by Ruthanna Emrys. A first contact novel with a fascinating dive into a terrestrial community focused on inclusivity and sustainability and how they and their political rivals respond to well-meaning extraterrestrial colonialism.
- The Ninth Rain (2017 novel) by Jen Williams. The opener of an epic fantasy trilogy is a lot of setup, but the scholarly lead is a lot of fun.
- The Surviving Sky (2023 novel) by Kritika H. Rao. Compelling perspective from both sides of a fractious marriage, as a plant mage and his unmagical wife seek to find the solution to the failures of the magic that powers their flying city.
- The Splinter in the Sky (2023 novel) by Kemi Ashing-Giwa. An intrigue novel in space, with a member of a small outpost community finding herself thrust into the machinations of the aristocracy of the empire that has conquered her people.
- The Deep Sky (2023 novel) by Yume Kitasei. A mystery in space, with a group of 22 year-olds needing to find a saboteur before their colonizing mission to Planet X ends in disaster.
- Unraveller (2022 novel) by Frances Hardinge. A beautiful and deeply thematic young adult novel about a teenager who can unravel the curses so prevalent in a forest of uncanny magic.
Other June Reads
- Tigerman (2014 novel) by Nick Harkaway. Part anti-colonial, part story about a middle-aged solider trying to be a role model, part repository for 2000s nerd culture references. Very good. Full review to come.
- Penric’s Demon (2015 novella) by Lois McMaster Bujold. A classic fantasy adventure story. Short and fun. Full review to come.