Monthly Round-Up

October 2023 Round-up and Short Fiction Miscellany

Every once in a while, I read so much fantastic work in a short period of time that I begin to wonder whether I’m losing my standards. October was such a month. Five stars in my novels, five stars in my magazines, five stars in anthologies and in miscellaneous short fiction. It was a great reading month, and it’s time to share some favorites. Let’s go:

Short Fiction

October Favorites

We have a lot to start with. Between my ARC review of The Digital Aesthete and my regular magazine reading, I have seven favorites to share: “Down to the Root” by Lisa Papademetriou, “Timothy: An Oral History” by Michael Swanwick, “Silicon Hearts” by Adrian Tchaikovsky, “Torso” by H. Pueyo, “The Laugh Machine” by Auston Habershaw, “Hermetic Kingdom” by Ray Nayler, and “Prompt” by Marina and Sergey Dyachenko, translated by Julia Meitov Hersey. Like I said, I’ve read a lot of great stuff this month. But there’s more. For real, there is:

  • Descent” (2015 short story) by Carmen Maria Machado. For all that this gets into some pretty hefty real-world scares with a school shooting plotline, this is almost perfect as a “group of friends sitting in a circle telling scary stories” tale. If that’s your thing, I highly recommend.
  • The Haunted” (2023 short story) by Mathilda Zeller. I was wondering why the author of that mermaid story I loved so much a couple years ago (go read it, I’ll wait) had a ghost story in a journal of Mormon letters, but it turns out that this is a deeply Mormon ghost story! I’m not part of the same sect as the author or the lead, but it’s such a heartfelt story of growing up in a compelling but deeply flawed local religious community that I was pretty well hooked regardless. I admit this may be a niche story, but it’s a good niche story.
  • The Passing of the Dragon” (2023 novelette) by Ken Liu. Beautiful and heartfelt as Liu often is, this is fundamentally a story about an artist coming to grips with an audience that deeply does not get their art. Not gonna lie, I had some mixed feelings as a reviewer who tries to talk about a lot of things and sometimes just doesn’t get them. But it’s a lovely and thought-provoking piece, definitely worth a read.

Strong Contenders

  • Walkdog” (2015 short story) by Sofia Samatar. Formatted as a high school essay that absolutely nails the narrative voice, this turns into a something much more than a poorly-researched piece about a local urban legend. I wonder if the voice is so good that it obscures some of the emotional impact, but this is still very much worth the attention of anyone who enjoys unusual story formats and voices.

Others I Enjoyed in October

  • After the Animal Flesh Beings” (2023 short story) by Brian Evanson. This is one where some expectation-setting may have come in handy. It’s a series of vignettes about reproduction in some sort of mechanistic post-human society. It’s not a story where you wait for the “aha!” moment so much as one that invites the reader into the strange and sometimes horrifying.
  • Bozpo Witch-Bane” (2023 short story) by Simo Srinivas. Something of a classic fantasy story, in which the lead joins a friend in his one cat crusade to rid the world of the evil of witches. If that sounds like your thing, you’ll likely enjoy this one.
  • How to Host a Haunted House Murder Mystery Party” (2016 short story) by A.C. Wise. An extremely meta horror story that delivers some scares but heavily relies on the audience’s investment in popular horror tropes. The references are sufficiently well-known that I was never confused, but I also felt like I wasn’t totally the audience for this one.

Novels and Novellas

Reviews Posted

  • Apocalypse Parenting: Time to Play (2022 novel) by Erin Ampersand. An entry in my team’s SPSFC3 slush pile, this was my first ever LitRPG read, and it was a lot of fun.
  • The Mimameid Solution (2023 novel) by Katherine Kempf. Another SPSFC3 entry, this one the lengthy opener to a post-apocalyptic sci-fi epic.
  • Generation Ship (2023 novel) by Michael Mammay. A generation ship story, but not a generational story, this is a “politics in space” novel focusing on the fraught ending to a journey of centuries.
  • Starling House (2023 novel) by Alix E. Harrow. At this point, I know what I’m going to get from Harrow, but I like it. Starling House has a haunted house setup, a spitfire lead, and eminently hateable villains in a small town with a dark secret.
  • Nettle & Bone (2022 novel) by T. Kingfisher. In a lot of ways, the 2023 Hugo winner reminds me of Starling House, with loathsome villains and an easy-to-read narrative featuring a compelling lead and some archetypical side characters.
  • Spear (2022 novel) by Nicola Griffith. This is an Arthurian novel that’s one for the prose fans, with a style that’s poetic without being purple. It’s never quite sure how to handle the power imbalance between the magical and the mundane, but the characters and storytelling are good enough to win over even a reader who’s not much for retellings.
  • Where the Drowned Girls Go (2022 novella) by Seanan McGuire. Another Hugo winner, very much on-brand for McGuire with a story that’s exciting but not always as fresh as I’d have liked.

Other October Reads

  • The Haunting of Hill House (1959 novel) by Shirley Jackson. This horror classic is terrifying and disorienting. Not always an easy read, but often masterful. Full review to come.
  • A Canticle for Leibowitz (1959 novel) by Walter M. Miller, Jr. A novel about religious practice in the post-apocalypse and beyond, this is heavy on the thinking and a bit light on plot. A plenty interesting read. Full review to come.
  • The Changeling (2017 novel) by Victor LaValle. I’ve never been a huge horror guy, but I’ve liked everything I’ve read by Victor LaValle. Part literary, part horror, part fairy tale, it’s engaging from start to finish. Full review to come.


whispers my judging team in the third Self-Published Science Fiction Competition (SPSFC3) has actually finished our first pass through the slush pile and started quarterfinal reading, I’m just behind on updates. We’ve posted our first and second set of cuts, with one more to come before we officially announce our quarterfinalists. Watch this space, where I hope to have an update within a week.

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