It was a big month, with the end of SPSFC2 and the announcement of the Hugo Finalists, so there hasn’t been very much short fiction miscellany. I have been reading Lost Places by Sarah Pinsker, which has a lot of excellent stories that I’d like to shout out, but which will get its own review in a few weeks. So let’s get going with the a brief short fiction focus, and then round-up some of the other things I’ve read this month.
Almost all of my short fiction this month has either come from Lost Places or my monthly magazine rotation, which added four stories to my monthly favorites list. “Timelock” by Davian Aw is a contemplative time distortion story, “What Remains, the Echoes of a Flute Song” by Alexandra Seidel is a beautiful and heartbreaking tour through a post-apocalyptic landscape, “A Meal for Frederick” is a small-scale, heartfelt tale about family illness and a homemade dragon, and Faith Merino’s “Serenity Prayer” is a flash fiction with lush prose and more than a few echoes of “The Lottery.”
Lost Places, of course, includes three stories that I have loved in the past: Hugo-winning “Where Oaken Hearts Do Gather” and “Two Truths and a Lie,” along with the delightful period piece “A Better Way of Saying.” But there was more good than that:
- “Escape from Caring Seasons” (2018 novelette) by Sarah Pinsker. An elderly woman flees a dystopian retirement community holding her wife in the hospital against both their wills. The setting is chilling, the characters are compelling, and the story takes the time to explore the little details of the world that really makes it to come alive–the crowdsourced missing persons tracker is a particularly excellent touch.
- “Saturday’s Song” (2023 novelette) by Wole Talabi. A story about stories, told by a personification of the days of the week. The (folkloric) story was interesting enough, but the frame story is particularly excellent here.
- “Everything is Closed Today” (2019 short story) by Sarah Pinsker. A pre-pandemic lockdown story about finding things to do and also organizing to take care of community needs. With the way Covid-19 has calcified the way lockdown stories tend to go, it’s fascinating to see a piece just a few years old that feels so different. And it’s an excellent story in its own right.
- “Left the Century to Sit Unmoved” (2016 short story) by Sarah Pinsker. The title is gorgeous, and it’s one of those that you don’t really understand until you see how it fits in the story. The story itself prefers to sit in ambiguity, with plenty of reflection about urban legends and confronting danger. It’s a good one.
- “Remember This for Me” (2017 short story) by Sarah Pinsker. A dementia story, and simultaneously an art story, but both with a magical twist. Beautiful, as I’d expect from Pinsker.
- “Science Facts!” (2023 novelette) by Sarah Pinsker. A group of middle school girls go camping and encounter spooky stories and uncanny circumstances. Not a story that necessarily explains every element, but it nails the tone.
Others I Enjoyed in June
Like I said, I’m planning a full review for Lost Places, so I’m not going to just go over the rest of the collection here. So here’s what I enjoyed that wasn’t Sarah Pinsker or my monthly magazines.
- “The Difference Between Love and Time” (2022 novelette) by Catherynne M. Valente. A Hugo-nominated novelette with a wild, time-hopping romance between a regular person and the literal personification of the space-time continuum and that also turns into a mother/daughter story. It’s beautiful, as Valente often is, and the relationship is an absolute mess in a way that many may find compelling, but I don’t think this clicked quite at “best of the year contender” level for me.
- “Re: Your Stone” (2023 flash fiction) by Guan Un. The Sisyphus myth cast into an office setting. Often hilarious, but undercut at times by being a bit too on-the-nose. A very fast read, either way.
- “The Morning House” (2022 short story) by Kate Heartfield. The second dementia story of the month, with a woman caring for her ailing father in the house that she’d imagined as a child had a better mirror house through the arbour in the yard. A bit of a quieter and more hopeful story than I expected, but a good read.
- “Who the Final Girl Becomes” (2023 short story) by Dominique Dickey. The first quarter is a horror movie, with every ounce of gore that entails. Then is the aftermath, with support groups and the final girl not totally comfortable in her own life. Like the one other piece I’ve read by Dickey, it takes a fantasy premise and uses it for a personal reflection on gender identity and experience.
Novels and Novellas
- Mort (1987 novel) by Terry Pratchett. Widely considered one of the preferred entry points into Discworld, it’s plenty amusing, even if the plot isn’t exceptional. And I’ve heard it sets up a lot of good later in the series.
- Blade of Dream (2023 novel) by Daniel Abraham. The second novel in The Kithamar Trilogy, it covers the same time period as Age of Ash, but from a different perspective. Even more slow-paced than the first, but in true Abraham fashion, it pays off in the long run.
- Penric’s Demon (2015 novella) by Lois McMaster Bujold. The first book in the beloved Penric and Desdemona novella series, it’s a very fun and easy read that sets up endearing characters sure to grow on readers as the series goes on.
Other July Reads
- The Grace of Kings (2015 novel) by Ken Liu. A grand, sweeping tale that feels more like a classical epic than contemporary fantasy. Full review to come.
- Even Though I Knew the End (2022 novella) by C.L. Polk. A noir in magical 1940s Chicago that nails the narrative voice but I’m not quite sure nails the ending. Still an interesting read. Full review to come.
- The Kaiju Preservation Society (2022 novel) by John Scalzi. Nothing about the reviews or blurbs made me expect I’d like this novel, and while it’s paced pretty well, there were some elements that grated. I can certainly see why many enjoyed it though. Review to come.
- Shigidi and the Brass Head of Obalufon (2023 novel) by Wole Talabi. A nightmare god and a succubus team up for a heist. In fact, “Saturday’s Song” provides a small snippet of backstory here. But I liked the story-about-stories framing of “Saturday’s Song” more than the classic heist here. Full review to come.
- What Moves the Dead (2022 novel) by T. Kingfisher. A retelling of “The Fall of the House of Usher” with solid atmosphere and the quick-moving plot and interesting characters I expect from Kingfisher, although there’s never much mystery about where the story is headed. Full review to come.
- Thornhedge (2023 novella) by T. Kingfisher. A Sleeping Beauty retelling from the perspective of the fairy that cursed her. Certainly not the first Sleeping Beauty subversion I’ve read lately (not even the first by this author, who wrote the delightful Harriet the Invincible, which remains my favorite read-aloud book with my elementary-school daughter), but it takes a different angle. Full review to come.
We closed out SPSFC2 by reviewing the four finalists that we hadn’t already reviewed in the semifinals, and we named a new champion: The Last Gifts of the Universe by Rory August. This was far-and-away the favorite of my own judging team, and we would commend it to the attention of anyone who enjoys character-driven sci-fi.
We’re working on preparing for SPSFC3, with some slight trimming down of the judging requirements with an eye toward sustainability. Judging applications are open, and I’m looking for teammates, so if anyone is interested, feel free to find me on social media (here, Reddit, Twitter, Bluesky. . .) for more information. Or just fill out the application form.