What I’ve Been Reading Lately: Short Fiction Edition

I don’t read a huge amount of short fiction, but I read a lot more than I used to, usually stories I see linked on Twitter and save to the Pocket app. For the last couple of years I’ve taken to sharing each story I read on Twitter myself, but today I felt like collecting some of my recent favourites into a post.

Before I get to the links, though, I had a thought to share. I found myself thinking this morning that most of the really great short fiction I read, while it’s SFF genre, centres not the genre concepts or the plot, but the relationships between characters, romantic and otherwise. And it occurred to me that this is, in part, what the Sad Puppies were reacting against, way back in the early years of that kerfuffle.

Larry Correia’s stated purpose in starting Sad Puppies was to get award nominations for “unabashed pulp action that isn’t heavy handed message fic[tion]”. The second half of that has gotten plenty of attention (there is indeed a large part of this which is a reactionary response to the increase in inclusive and diverse works being recognised for awards, for which see Foz Meadows’ excellent breakdown of where they’re getting it wrong), but it’s more to the first part my thoughts went today. In addition to the diversity backlash, the Puppies often set up a conflict between this “unabashed pulp action” and the supposedly more ‘literary’ work which was appearing on award ballots. And it seems to me that this part of it was about exactly what I observed above: the stories they object to are the ones that do not place action or cool SFnal ideas at their centre, but the interpersonal relationships of characters; where character and relationships are the main throughline and focus.

It does feel like there has been a popular shift toward that kind of fiction in recent years (in novels also – look for example at the popularity of The Goblin Emperor and Ancillary Justice), but it’s hard for me to make a solid claim on that. The short fiction market has changed dramatically with the growth of online publishers, and many people – myself included – just did not read much short fiction before that change. I also can’t say what short fiction the Sad Puppy supporters have been reading now or in the past, but having been exposed to their complaints on and off for the last few years, it certainly seems like part of the trigger for their lashing out was seeing award-nominated stories which had their focus in a different place from what they were used to.

Personally, I’m one of the apparent majority who is very much enjoying these stories. Even the weirdest of weird SF is about people in some sense, and human relationships and emotions are a familiar point for readers to hold on to while experiencing the utterly unfamiliar. In addition, SFF concepts are and always have been a great tool for exploring ordinary human issues, whether large-scale social concepts, or just the way two people relate to one another. The small stuff is just as important as the large, and (IMO) can be a vehicle for more emotionally poignant stories.

I guess I’m just not in it for the action.

Anyway, that (long) tangent aside, let’s get to the story recommendations. I can’t say all of these will fit the type I’ve referred to above, but I can say that I greatly enjoyed every one. These have all been read in the last month or so, mostly while I was on holiday (when I did a lot of reading in airports and on planes). Listed in alphabetical order.

Android Whores Can’t Cry, by Natalia Theodoridou, in which a reporter visits the Massacre Market, where people engage in illicit trading of evidence of the government’s atrocities (and then things get much weirder).
Candidate 45, Pensri Suesat, by Pear Nuallak, in which an agender art student struggles with their place at a demanding school.
Infinite Skeins, by Naru Dames Sundar, in which a parent searches through infinite alternate worlds for their missing child.
Meshed, by Rich Larson, in which a talent scout has to convince a young athlete to have a “nerve mesh” installed, but his father objects.
Morrigan in Shadow, by Seth Dickinson, in which the question is posed of whether achieving victory is worth making monsters of ourselves.
The Light Brigade, by Kameron Hurley, in which a darker and weirder take on Star Trek transporter tech is used for war.
When Your Child Strays From God, by Sam J Miller, in which a mother sets out to find her son, who has taken a strange new drug.
Without Faith, Without Law, Without Joy, by Saladin Ahmed, in which three brothers are trapped in another man’s story, robbed of their own name and nature.

A List of the Short Fiction I Read Before Nominating for the Hugos

Immediately after making my post about Hugo nominations on Friday, I realised what I was doing was dumb. If I read and enjoyed all these stories, why was I avoiding naming them? I should be pointing them out and telling people to read them. But as I read a lot more good stories than could fit on the ballot – and I’m still not sure I was able to pick the best 5 of each – here’s my list of all the eligible work I read, with the nominated stories highlighted. As far as I know everything on this list is freely available to read online, except for the Gregory and Sriduangkaew novellas.

Everything listed here is at least worth checking out, if you’re interested in good short fiction.

Novella

We Are All Completely Fine, Daryl Gregory (Tachyon Publications)
What There Was to See, Maria Dahvana Headley (Subterranean)
Scale-Bright, Benjanun Sriduangkaew (Immersion Press)

(I would usually hold off on nominating if I hadn’t read enough to feel like I was giving a category a fair chance, but for some reason this time I decided to just go ahead and nominate all three of the eligible novellas I read.)

Novellette

Prayers of Forges and Furnaces, Aliette de Bodard (Lightspeed Magazine)
The Litany of Earth, Ruthanna Emrys (Tor.com)
Nine Instances of Rain, Huw Evans (GigaNotoSaurus)
Between Sea and Shore, Vanessa Fogg (GigaNotoSaurus)
“A Short History of the Twentieth Century, or, When You Wish Upon a Star”, Kathleen Ann Goonan (Tor.com)
Stone Hunger, N K Jemisin (Clarkesworld)
The Rose Witch, James Patrick Kelly (Clarkesworld)
The Bonedrake’s Penance, Yoon Ha Lee (Beneath Ceaseless Skies)
I Can See Right Through You, Kelly Link (McSweeney’s)
Reborn, Ken Liu (Tor.com)
Women in Sandstone, Alex Dally MacFarlane (Beneath Ceaseless Skies)
Among the Thorns, Veronica Schanoes (Tor.com)
Golden Daughter, Stone Wife, Benjanun Sriduangkaew (Beneath Ceaseless Skies)
Sixty Years in the Women’s Province, Benjanun Sriduangkaew (GigaNotoSaurus)
The Colonel, Peter Watts (Tor.com)
The Devil in America, Kai Ashante Wilson (Tor.com)

Short Story

As Good As New, Charlie Jane Anders (Tor.com)
Covenant, Elizabeth Bear (Hieroglyph/Slate.com)
When Gods and Vampires Roamed Miami, Kendare Blake (Tor.com)
Daughter of Necessity, Marie Brennan (Tor.com)
The Breath of War, Aliette de Bodard (Beneath Ceaseless Skies)
The Moon Over Red Trees – Aliette de Bodard (Beneath Ceaseless Skies)

Loving Armageddon, Amanda C. Davis (Crossed Genres)
The Color of Paradox, A M Dellamonica (Tor.com)
Anna Saves Them All, Seth Dickinson (Shimmer)
A Tank Only Fears Four Things, Seth Dickinson (Lightspeed Magazine)
Chopin’s Eyes, Lara Elena Donelly (Strange Horizons)
Seven Commentaries on an Imperfect Land, Ruthanna Emrys (Tor.com)
When it Ends, He Catches Her, Eugie Foster (Daily Science Fiction)
The Tallest Doll in New York City, Maria Dahvana Headley (Tor.com)
A Meaningful Exchange, Kat Howard (Lightspeed Magazine)
The Saint of the Sidewalks, Kat Howard (Clarkesworld)
Makeisha in Time, Rachael K Jones (Crossed Genres)
Seeking boarder for rm w/ attached bathroom, must be willing to live with ghosts ($500 / Berkeley), Rahul Kanakia (Clarkesworld)
If God is Watching, Mikki Kendall (The Revelator) *
Help Me Follow My Sister into the Land of the Dead, Carmen Maria Machado (Lightspeed Magazine)
The Vaporization Enthalpy of a Peculiar Pakistani Family, Usman T Malik (Qualia Nous/Medium.com)
Ten Days Grace, Foz Meadows (Apex Magazine)
Polynia, China Miéville (Tor UK)
Animal, Daniel Jose Older (Nightmare Magazine)
Anyway: Angie, Daniel José Older (Tor.com)
Undermarket Data, An Owomayela (Lightspeed Magazine)
The Hymn of Ordeal, No. 23, Rhiannon Rasmussen (Lightspeed Magazine)
Autodidact, Benjanun Sriduangkaew (Clarkesworld)
That Tear Problem, Natalia Theodoridou (Escape Pod)
Patterns of a Murmuration, in Billions of Data Points, JY Yang (Clarkesworld)
A Cup of Salt Tears, Isabel Yap (Tor.com)

*Unfortunately I forgot to note down this story after reading it, and was not reminded of it until the day after nominations closed, so it wasn’t considered while filling out my ballot.

No doubt there are good works I’ve completely missed, and no doubt there are people who will think I’m a fool for picking certain stories over others on my ballot. It’s all subjective, and it’s hard as hell to narrow down to 5 choices. All too late to change now. If you’ve not read these stories, check them out, and enjoy.

Kickstarter: Electric Velocipede

I’ve just been made aware that Hugo Award-winning speculative fiction magazine Electric Velocipede is currently running a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds. I was a subscriber to EV back at the tail end of university; I allowed the subscription to lapse because I just wasn’t finding the time to read short fiction, but I enjoyed what I read of it a lot – John Klima has published some excellent fiction through it.

Since the last time I looked, it appears the magazine has gone online, offering up the content for free on its website. The current campaign, where they hope to raise $5000, will allow them to continue publishing for another year – producing 4 issues – and rewards for backers include ebook subscriptions to these future issues.

Check out the site. Read some of the stories. If you like what you see, consider backing the campaign to keep the magazine going.

Stranger Things Happen


Stranger Things Happen is a collection of short stories by author Kelly Link, who as well as being known for her stories also manages small publishing company Small Beer Press with her husband Gavin Grant, and is one of the editors of the Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror series.

Link’s work is often categorised as Slipstream, mixing elements of sci fi, fantasy, horror, and realism. Stranger Things Happen was her first collection. I had read one or two stories from Link’s later collections before picking up Stranger Things Happen, but I didn’t know exactly what to expect.

Nick Mamatas made a post recently about people asking the question what is the point of this story?, and I must admit I can be guilty of this myself sometimes; Link’s stories quite often do not follow conventional lines of storytelling, and because of this I found myself early in the collection trying to decide if there was something I had missed, some extra meaning to the story, but this is more a failing on my part than any flaw in the work. Link often blurs the lines of fantasy and reality in a way that gives the stories a very dreamlike quality, and questions such as what part is real are irrelevant – something I had to remind myself.

The mixing of reality and fantasy is accomplished very well in a wide variety of ways by Link. In Travels with the Snow Queen, we have a retelling of the old fairy tale, which is at the same time the story of the emotional journey a woman goes through after her partner leaves her for another woman (“Ladies. Has it ever occured to you that fairy tales aren’t easy on the feet?”). Most of My Friends Are Two-Thirds Water could be entirely mundane, or it could reveal the secret that all blond women are in fact aliens. Survivor’s Ball, or, The Donner Party, too contains nothing immediately identifiable as fantasy, but it is the tone of the story, and the strange, almost unreal quality of the events that gives it a sense of spooky horror.

The back cover of the book describes the stories as “quirky, spooky, and smart”, and I’m inclined to agree. They also seem to contain a light humour in the writing even when they tend to the spookier side of things. If you’re accustomed to traditional stories with a straightforward plot, you might find Link’s work takes a little to get accustomed to, but these are funny, clever, touching, and deeply strange works which I hope any reader can appreciate.

Purchase Stranger Things Happen from Amazon UK.
Purchase Stranger Things Happen from Amazon US.