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Lately, I've been reading with an eye to making Hugo nominations, so this batch of short fiction reads is mostly selected from various lists of recommendations.


"The City Born Great," N. K. Jemisin; Tor.com, September 9, 2016
http://www.tor.com/2016/09/28/the-city-born-great/

An urban fantasy - though not the kind we're used to - about the gritty birth and life of the great cities, set in New York. Evocative and filled with a sense of urgency that pulls the reader toward its conclusion.


"This Is Not a Wardobe Door," A. Merc Rustad; Fireside Magazine Issue #29, January 2016
http://www.firesidefiction.com/issue29/chapter/this-is-not-a-wardrobe-door/

A story about imagination and hope and holding on to the magic of childhood when you believed you could change the world. At the end, I was crying.


"Checkerboard Planet," Eleanor Arnason; ClarkesWorld, December 2016
http://clarkesworldmagazine.com/arnason_12_16/

A new Lydia DuLuth talr from Arnason is always a treat. In this novelette, the AIs who control the interstellar stargates have asked Lydia to investigate conditions on a planet with a most peculiar ecology - the entire land mass and parts of the oceans are organised into giant squares, all of similar size, with all the life forms in each square the same colour. The planet has been colonised by a biogenetics corporation which, the AIs fear, is not acting in the best interests of the planet or humanity. An anti-imperialist first contact story with a gentle and at times even whimsical touch.


"Fifty Shades of Grays," Steven Barnes; Lightspeed Magazine, June 2016
http://www.lightspeedmagazine.com/fiction/fifty-shades-grays/

Carver Kofax is a master at marketing and sales. But when he and his colleague (and romantic interest) Rhonda, land the corporation they work for a lucrative and highly secretive contract, the nature of the campaign demands all their skills - and leads to unexpected and dire consequences for all of humanity. Barnes handles the revelations in the narrative and the protagonist's growing unease with a sure hand. Content warning: this novelette contains sexually explicit kink.


"A Dead Djinn in Cairo," P. Djeli Clark; tor.com, May 18, 2016
http://www.tor.com/2016/05/18/a-dead-djinn-in-cairo/

In an alternate pre-WWI Cairo, where djinn and angels from other dimensions mingle with humans, Special Inspector Fatma el-Sha’arawi of the Egyptian Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments, and Supernatural Entities investigates the apparent suicide of a djinn, only to discover a mad plot to destroy humanity. Will the dapper young inspector solve the mystery in time? Clark's novelette is a delighful genre-bending fantasy thriller with a touch of steampunk. Cairo comes to life in complex and sensual detail, and Fatma is a character I'd love to see again.


"The Witch of Orion Waste and the Boy Knight," E. Lily Yu, Uncanny Magazine, Sept-Oct 2016
http://uncannymagazine.com/article/witch-orion-waste-boy-knight/

A relatively young and inexperienced witch decides to accompany a young knight errant seeking dragons to kill, and learns a few bitter lessons about honor, trust and pride.


"The Green Knight’s Wife," Kat Howard; Uncanny Magazine, November 2016
http://uncannymagazine.com/article/green-knights-wife/

A compelling riff on the Arthurian tale of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, told from the perspective of the Green Knight's wife, in which one of those women who is always on the sidelines in such hero tales, treated as merely part of the mythic machinery, takes up agency and acts for herself.


"Foxfire, Foxfire," Yoon Ha Lee; Beneath Ceaseless Skies, March 3, 2016
http://www.beneath-ceaseless-skies.com/stories/foxfire-foxfire/

A novelette blending fantasy and sf, set in a Asian- derived alternate universe where loyalists and rebels do battle with giant powered mechas. A young spirit fox with a great desire to become human - which he can only achieve by killing and eating 100 humans - is faced with difficult choices when captured by a mecha pilot. A story about transformations, and finding one's self.


"Unauthorized Access," An Owomoyela; Lightspeed Magazine, September 2016
http://www.lightspeedmagazine.com/fiction/unauthorized-access/

You would think a high profile hacker who's already spent time in prison for releasing government information that there was no reason to hide would be seriously radicalised - but for Aedo Leung, getting out of jail is only the beginning. A cautionary tale about the sequestration of public information that has suddenly become even more timely and appropriate.

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"Harvestfruit," J. Y. Yang, july 2014, Crossed Genres
http://crossedgenres.com/magazine/019--harvestfruit/

In this chilling piece of flash fiction, Yang explores the responses of people traumatised by capture and forced integration into a society where they live only to satisfy the needs of others.



"So, You Must Talk to the Woman Who Is Wearing Headphones," Alexandra Petri, August 30, 2016, The Washington Post
https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/compost/wp/2016/08/30/so-you-must-talk-to-the-woman-who-is-wearing-headphones/?utm_term=.608e14c2aac8

A powerful and very pertinent piece 'inspired' by the public conversation about the inappropriate demands for attention men make on women who clearly do not want to be disturbed.


"The Lady Astronaut of Mars," Mary Robinette Kowal, electronic publication September 11, 2013, Tor.com
http://www.tor.com/2013/09/11/the-lady-astronaut-of-mars/

A moving novelette about an aging former astronaut called back in for a final mission that she is uniquely suited to perform, and the emotional costs of deciding between the desire to return to space and the responsibilities that arise from love.


"The Curse of Giants," Jose Pablo Iriarte, March 7, 2016, Daily Science Fiction
http://dailysciencefiction.com/hither-and-yon/magic-realism/jose-pablo-iriarte/the-curse-of-giants

Some stories give you all the clues you need to figure out what's happening, but nevertheless kick you in the gut at the final reveal. This is one of those stories. Some people might debate whether it's really science fiction, or magic realism, or something else, but it's powerful and it's both comment and critique on the world we live in, and the nature of courage.


"Between Dragons and Their Wrath," An Owomoyela and Rachel Swirsky, February 2016, Clarkesworld
http://clarkesworldmagazine.com/owomoyela_swirsky_02_16/

Domei and hir friend Hano live in a country that lies between two nations at war, a country ravaged and poisoned by dragons used as weapons of destruction. This story focuses on how the terrible aftermath of war and global exploitation affects innocent people trying to live their lives in the midst of destruction they neither caused nor understand. It is a story of despair, resignation, and faint, distorted hope, and it wracks the soul.

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"Mika Model," Paolo Bacigalupi, April 26, 2016
http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/future_tense/2016/04/mika_model_a_new_short_story_from_paolo_bacigalupi.html

A meditation on artificial intelligence - a high-end sexbot programmed to be whatever "her" user wants or needs her to be suddenly revolts against her owner's sadistic behaviour. But is it a case of product malfunction, or murder?


"Touring with the Alien," Carolyn Ives Gilman, April 2016, Clarkesworld #115
http://clarkesworldmagazine.com/gilman_04_16/

Aliens have arrived on Earth. So far, they have stayed inside their spaceships, doing nothing. Then one day, freelance long-distance driver Avery gets a call - an alien and its human translator want to go on a roadtrip. As Avery acts as tourguide to her two passengers, she comes to understand both the translator - abducted as a child to serve the alien in this way - and the relationship between them. Gilman draws a picture of a very different kind of alien interaction here, and encourages some serious thought about our own varied mental states.


"The Commuter," Thomas A. Mays, 2015, Stealth Books (stealthbooks.com)

The worlds of Faerie and mortal kind have become intermingled, and there are Accords governing how the two peoples interact in each other's territories. Jack's daughter Abby has run afoul of the rules by going on a school trip to the Unseelie Court without her parents' permission, and now she's been claimed as a changling. Jack's only recourse is to declare himself on righteous quest and go into Faerie after her. A funny and original story.


"The Stories She Tells Herself," Kelly Sandoval, April 1, 2016, Daily Science Fiction
http://dailysciencefiction.com/hither-and-yon/slipstream/kelly-sandoval/the-stories-she-tells-herself

Beautifully written, emotionally gripping, the stories she tells to herself are the stories that women in abusive relationships have always told themselves until that moment when they finally realise that, wounded though they may be, it is better to fly than to stay.


"Three Points Masculine," An Owomoyela, May 2016, Lightspeed
http://www.lightspeedmagazine.com/fiction/three-points-masculine/

In a world where you must have have the right gender for the job you want - but this depends not on your biological sex, your chromosomal sex, or your gender identity but on how you test on a scale of masculine and feminine traits. In this world, a person who identifies as a man but needs to be a girl in order to work in medicine and a trans man who doesn't test quite manly enough to be the soldier he wants to be meet on the battlefield.


"The Lover," Silvia Moreno-Garcia, July 2, 2016,
http://www.silviamoreno-garcia.com/blog/the-lover/

Judith has always lived in her sister's shadow, never loved, never free to make her own life. A haunting story about love, desire, and freedom.

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