A real scramble this month, with the end of Hugo reading and the beginning of SPSFC3 reading. I’m wildly behind on reviews, but I’m not forgetting my short fiction crew. I’ve got some great stuff to talk about this month, like every month.
Did my September magazine review come out in October? No further questions please. But there were a few stories that have absolutely walked into my monthly favorites list. Check out that review for more details, but I was really impressed by “If I Should Fall Behind” by Douglas Smith, “Upgrade Day” by RJ Taylor, and “The Five Remembrances, According to ST-319” by R.L. Meza. But those were not the only things that impressed me.
- “Silicon Hearts” (2023 short story) by Adrian Tchaikovsky. It’s a riff on the AI submission of fiction that has become such a big story in real life recently, and it’s both clever and funny. Not a long story, very entertaining.
- “Stone Animals” (2004 novelette) by Kelly Link. This is not especially short, and I’m not sure I know what to say about it. It’s a haunted house story, but there’s no ghost, and it’s not really scary. More weird. Uncanny. Compelling. I don’t know whether this was pure brilliance or whether I was just strung along with a suburban family becoming increasingly freaked out by nothing. But I was engrossed, that’s for sure. I’d never read the famous Kelly Link before. I will do so again.
- “If You Find Yourself Speaking to God, Address God with the Informal You” (2022 novelette) by John Chu. It’s a sweet and fun cinnamon roll romance with gay Asian Superman who happens to lift at the same gym as the lead. There’s also a strong secondary plot of policy brutality and anti-Asian racism. I’m not sure it quite all melds together perfectly–though its Nebula win will tell you that many disagree–but it’s a good read nonetheless.
- “Zhurong on Mars” (2022 novelette) by Regina Kanyu Wang, translated by S. Qiouyi Lu. This 2023 Hugo Finalist features an AI turned loose on Mars after the humans leave for bigger and better things. It happens across multiple other intelligences, in a way that was well-written but not unique within the genre. Fortunately, the translator’s note brought out a resonance with Chinese mythology that I totally would’ve missed, elevating this story from “solid” to “very good.”
- “Tracking Song” (1975 novella) by Gene Wolfe. I don’t have a ton of experience with Gene Wolfe, but this is what I’ve come to expect. Utterly compelling prose that’s extremely cryptic about what is actually happening. It’s an adventure in a snowbound planet with a variety of sentient hybrid species. It’s not one that punches you with the payoff, but it’s an interesting ride.
Others I Enjoyed in September
- “Resurrection” (2022 short story) by Ren Qing, translated by Blake Stone-Banks. One of the 2023 Hugo finalists, with very much the feel of a Black Mirror episode.
- “Salissay’s Laundries” (2022 novella) by C.S.E. Cooney. I love Cooney’s storytelling, and the introduction to this tale of a journalist going undercover in a shadowy facility billing itself as rehabilitation for those touched by a faelike otherworld felt like it was going to be another smash hit. Instead, it was good. Recommended for those who like Fae stories and uncovering secrets, but not a “drop everything and read it” like some of Cooney’s others.
- “Golden City Far” (2004 novella) by Gene Wolfe. Fair warning: I listened to this as an audiobook, and I struggle to connect to audiobooks. It’s an entertaining story about a teenager whose fantastical dreams begin to bleed into the real world. It didn’t blow my mind. Is that because it was a podcast? Hard to say!
- “Aconie’s Bees” (2022 short story) by Jessica Reisman. A witch notices her bees start to fail. This prompts further exploration of just how this witch and her bees got to where they were.
Novels and Novellas
- Even Though I Knew the End (2022 novella) by C.L. Polk. A fantasy noir and period piece in 1940s Chicago. The narrative voice is tremendous, though I’m not quite sure the selling of souls plotline comes off without a hitch.
- Mammoths at the Gates (2023 novella) by Nghi Vo. The fourth entry in the Singing Hills Cycle returns to the titular abbey for a beautiful story about grief and remembrance.
- What Moves the Dead (2022 novel) by T. Kingfisher. A retelling of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher.” Sufficiently creepy, doesn’t run too long.
- The Daughter of Doctor Moreau (2022 novel) by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. Another retelling and period piece, this one a riff on The Island of Doctor Moreau set in 19th century Mexico. Gorgeously told, with as much influence from period dramas as from science fiction, and some fascinating perspective on religion.
- The Hexologists (2023 novel) by Josiah Bancroft. A steampunk murder mystery with an extraordinarily whimsical narrative style and a pretty entertaining mystery to boot.
Other September Reads
- Where the Drowned Girls Go (2022 novella) by Seanan McGuire. The seventh Wayward Children entry is more of what made the series so popular, though in some ways it seems a missed opportunity. Still plenty fun. Full review to come.
- Legends & Lattes (2022 novel) by Travis Baldree. A popular cozy fantasy is an easy and pleasant read, though the characterization and worldbuilding don’t quite hit the levels I’d hoped. Full review to come.
I have a team for the third annual Self-Published Science Fiction Competition (SPSFC3), and we have a set of books to read. Some of my teammates have already started posting reviews on their own blogs, and I’ve sampled several books and finished two of them. Keep an eye out here for my personal reviews and our full team decisions after the initial scouting phase.
I read a bunch of Hugo finalists, for the third year in a row, and I posted thoughts on the Best Novel and Best Novella shortlists, as well as some scattered musings on at least three categories involving short fiction.