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"After We Walked Away," Erica L. Satifka; Apex Magazine, November 21, 2016

A literalised response to Le Guin's "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas," this story follows two young people, man and woman, who left "The Solved City" - clearly based on Omelas - because they could not accept the violent magic on which the city is founded, that the deliberately caused unending suffering of just one child could produce a utopia for everyone else. They find our society, where almost everyone suffers, from systematic oppression and cruelty, and in different ways regret their decision. It's a strongly written and emotionally disturbing story, but it misses one very important thing. Le Guin's story is not about rejecting a utopia based on horror for some other existing world; Omelas is our society, or at least an an allegorical reference to it. Those who walk away are the rebels who reject our acquiescence in the very real cruelty and oppression in our world, the comforting lie that the poor will always be with us, with its corollary that therefore we need do nothing for them. They are the ones who would change the paradigm, who would give up their privilege to end the horror others experience.

It's a well-crafted and moving story, but at its heart it is dishonest in setting up a straw man to refute, and disingenuous in using that straw man to argue that the suffering of one is easier to accept than the suffering of many. I would rather remain with the vision given form by Le Guin, that there are those among us who realise that as long as one of us is chained, none of us is free.

"Crocodile Tears," Jaymee Goh; Lightspeed Magazine, September 2016

Goh here reworks a traditional folk tale of revenge. In Goh's version, a crocodile brings brings news to a successful man who has abandoned his family, telling him of the fates of his mother, his lover and the unborn child he left behind.

"That Game We Played During the War," Carrie Vaughn;, March 16, 2016

A sparsely written but deeply moving story about war and what happens when war is over and two sides try to make a peace, summed up in the interactions between two veterans, one from each side. Calla is a military nurse; during the was it was her duty to keep Valk - a member of a telepathic race - and other prisoners of war under sedation to dull their abilities. Later in the war, fortunes have shifted and Calla is the prisoner, Valk her keeper. Remembering the games of chess he watched her play with he other staff, he asks her to teach him, and together they find a way to enjoy playing a game of strategy between one who reads minds and one who does not. When a peace finally comes, Valk, recovering from wounds in hospital, asks Cala to visit him and bring 'the game they played during the war.'

Working together on the game creates a bond that can become a bridge, a way of understanding and building a trust that may support the fragile peace. A story of hope, a microcosm of good will between people tired of war.

"Bargain," Sarah Gailey; Mothership Zeta, December 27, 2015

"Bargain" is 2017 Campbell Award finalist Sarah Gailey's first professional sale, and it is a fine story indeed, in which old woman offers her soul and her life to a demon in return for health and youth for her dying wife - with such will and love that even the demon looks for a way to subvert the nature of the deal. Told with a surprisingly appropriate light, even humorous touch, it left me with tears brimming in my eyes, and a goofy smile on my face.

"Of Blood and Bronze," Sarah Gailey; Devilfish Review, Issue 17

Framed as a steampunk fairy tale, this is haunting and horrifying story of the mechanisms of corruption, and the truth that the ends cannot justify the means because they are changed and tainted by them. An alchemist works a terrible magic to save the life of the innocent and good young bride of a mad old king, so that she may rule the kingdom until the heir comes of age, with the best of intentions, and the unhappiest of consequences.

"The Art of Space Travel," Nina Allen;, July 27, 2016

Thirty years ago, the first mission to Mars ended in tragedy. The second mission is about to be launched, and two of the astronauts are scheduled to spend a night at the Edison Star hotel, where Emily Starr is head of housekeeping. Emily's mother Moolie, formerly a physicist, is mentally impaired and slowly dying as the result of forensic work she did on a plane downed by a dirty bomb. Sometimes she hints that Emily's father had some connection with space, perhaps even with the doomed Mars mission. The only physical link Emily has to her unknown father is a book, The Art of Space Travel, that Moolie says once belonged to him.

While this novelette has a sciencefictional setting, the real story is about daughters watching mothers age and become infirm, about children seeking, finding, and losing parents, about family and secrets and love, and about aspirations followed and aspirations left fallow. The Mars mission stands as a symbol of hope and persistence, but truly there are a hundred things that could have taken its place. Still, the implications of venturing into the unknown add to the poignancy of Moolie's terminal condition. A strong story about families and finding one's place and purpose, well written, but somewhat lacking in the 'what if' one looks for in science fiction.

"Jackalope Wives," Ursula Vernon; Apex Magazine, January 7, 2014

I read this because I knew I was going to read Vernon's "The Tomato Thief," which takes place in the same setting and shares a key character, and I wanted to know the backstory for that character.

Vernon's writing in this story is poetic and realistic by turns, which is appropriate considering it is a story about those who cross the boundaries of the magical and the mundane. There's wonderful sense of place - the southwestern American desert becomes a fairytale landscape where all sorts of magic are possible, and creatures out of myth are as real as the sun and the dry earth and the animals and plants that make a home there.

One one level, this is a story about making choices, and accepting consequences and shouldering responsibilities, and setting things right. But it's also a commentary on the way that men see women and assume that what they want, they can take - and how the consequences of that fall only on the women.

The key character, Grandma Harken, is a woman who has suffered a great loss at the hands and through the choices of a man, but has learned to accept what came from it, and make the best of her circumstances, and to come to terms with a changed life, making it her own. When given the choice between regaining what was lost, or saving another from the fate she accepted - a loss caused by another man, one she is kin to - she takes on the responsibility for setting right her grandson's wrongs. She is willing to make whatever sacrifice must be made - but though this is presented as a kind of pragmatic heroism, at the root of it, what she is doing is choosing once more to accept the consequences of a man and his unchecked desires.

The story bothers me. Its beautifully crafted, and the characters live and breathe just as the desert cones alive in the mind. It's a really good story. But It leaves me wondering how to respond to what it's saying. In a sense, it's about women who choose to live with the things men do, to clean up their messes and live with the consequences of them, because someone has to do the right thing, and the men in their lives certainly aren't going to do it. Are we to admire Grandma Harken, or pity her, or just to hope that someday men will stop taking from women - and the world around them - without thought for the consequences?

"The Tomato Thief," Ursula Vernon; Apex Magazine, January 5, 2016

This novelette is a return to the magical fairytale desert Vernon created in "Jackalope Wives" and to its central character, the shapeshifter-become-human Grandma Harken, with her sense of responsibility and duty. There's a certain similarity of theme here as well, in that Grandma Harken finds herself - grumbling about her age and mortality but still shouldering responsibility for making things right - setting out to save a woman caught in a powerful spell by a man of power.

There are some marvelous touches to the story that show the desert magic as a growing, evolving thing, adapting to the changes forced on it by the encroachment of man. The building of trains to cross and divide the desert has brought about the existence of the train-gods, and fittingly, their priests are found among the descendants of those forced to work on the railroads for the benefit of men of power living in the industrial east, the children of Asian labourers and indentured European workers.

Grandma Harken needs the intervention of the train-gods to find the hiding place of the sorcerer, who has folded the land around himself - and when she enters his domain, she will need all her wisdom and cunning, and the allies she makes along the way, to set things right again, defeat the sorcerer, and undo the damage done to people, animals and land.

Again, I find myself loving the story, the words, the imagery, the worldbuilding, the characters, the skill that went into its creation, while being unsettled by the story's implications. The underlying politics - in the sense of power relations - are clear, as they were in Vernon's earlier story. It's a reflection of the politics of our own world. Men of power, rich men, white men, men who think they can take and use and make everything they want their own, do as they will, which mostly causes distortion and harm to the land, to the creatures of nature and to the people without power. And because someone has to do it, it's the ones who have suffered who do what they can to ameliorate the damage. It's accurate, but I think what bothers me is that as Vernon writes these tales, it's just the way it is. There's no sense that it's not just the actions of the powerful, but the basic underlying dynamic that makes the powerless responsible for the work of mitigating the wrongs of other, is in itself wrong. There's just Grandma Harken, and the train-god priests, and the little girl who will be Grandma Harken's apprentice, who heroically shoulder the burdens that belong to others.

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"The Great Detective," Delia Sherman;, February 17, 2016

Steampunk and spiritualism, in an alternate literary universe where noted mechanical inventor Sir Arthur Cwmlech and his apprentice Miss Tacy Gof turn to colleague Mycroft Holmes and his masterwork the Reasoning Machine to solve a mysterious theft. A young Doctor Watson, recently returned from Afghanistan, seeks a new life as an inventor. All that is missing from the tale is the Great Detective himself - and if he does not yet exist, then surely someone will have to invent him. A light and witty tale that should appeal to fans of Holmes and the steampunk genre alike.

"Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies," Brooke Bolander; Uncanny magazine, November 2016

This was a short piece, essentially flash fiction, a stunning gut-punch. Hard to read, hard to breathe afterward. Searing and powerful indictment of male entitlement and rape culture.

"Seasons of Glass and Iron," Amal El-Motar; first published in The Starlit World (2016), reprinted online at Uncanny Magazine

There are many fairy tales about women. Women who must do impossible things, or accept impossible circumstances, because of men. Men who say they love them, men who want to test them, men who want to woo and win them. Sometimes, though, these women walk out of those tales and live their own lives instead, creating new kinds of tales.

"Lullaby for a Lost World," Aliette de Bodard;, June 8, 2016

De Bodard has said that of this story that it is "a sort of answer to “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” (one of my absolute favourite short stories)." It is very much a story about the prices paid for security, stability, and the like - and who makes the decisions on what prices are acceptable, and who pays those prices. A worthy counterpart to the story that inspired it.

"Things with Beards," Sam J. Miller; Clarkesworld, June 2016

A meditation on monsters and how they walk undetected in the world, both the monsters and evil aliens of speculative fiction (the backstory of the protagonist evokes the classic sf/horror film The Thing), and the monsters that have always been a part of the human race, the callous, the cruel, the killers of those who are labeled less than human.

"You'll Surely Drown Here if You Stay," Alyssa Wong;
Uncanny Magazine, May 2016

A young boy with an uncanny heritage to communicate with, and control, the dead is forced to use his powers for the greed of others. A supernatural Western with a deep friendship that survives dead and retribution at its heart.

"An Ocean the Color of Bruises," Isabel Yap; Uncanny Magazine, July 2016

Five young people, former college friends, take a vacation together to a second-class resort with a tragic past. When that past awakens, the quality of their own lives is called into question.

"A Fist of Permutations in Lightning and Wildflower," Alyssa Wong;, March 2, 2016

A story about two sisters with unimaginable power, the depth of grief and guilt, and the futility of trying to change the past. Deep truths about grieving, accepting and moving on - and the tragedy of refusing to do so.

"Red in Tooth and Cog," Cat Rambo; originally published in Fantasy and Science Fiction, March/April 2016, republished online February 21, 2017

A young woman frequenting a park has her phone stolen by an unlikely culprit, leading her to discover a new ecosystem in development. An interesting perspective on the definitions of life.

“Blood Grains Speak Through Memories”, Jason Sanford; Beneath Ceaseless Skies, March 17, 2016

Sanford's novelette is set in what seems to be a far distant future, long after the ecological disasters of pollution and the exploitation of natural resources have resulted in massive social change and, one infers, biological engineering on a vast scale. The land is infused with "grains" - semi-sentient beings, possibly organic, possibly cybernetic, it's never made clear - that infect people thereafter known as anchors - who are responsible for protecting the land and its ecosystems. Anyone not part of an anchor's family is doomed to a nomadic existence, destroyed by the anchors and other beings created/controlled by the grains if they tarry to long in one place, or injure the land in any way. Frere-Jones is an anchor dissatisfied with the way the grains control the anchors and limit the lives of the nomadic day-fellows. Her husband, who shared her opinions, was killed by the grains, and if they could replace her, Frere-Jones suspects the grains would kill her too.

I was both intrigued and dissatisfied with this novelette. I enjoyed the themes of rebellion and of sacrifice, but I was frustrated at knowing so little about the grains, the biomorphing of the anchors, and how it all came to be that way. Perhaps a longer format might have allowed more worldbuilding.

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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;, September 9, 2016

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

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

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

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;, May 18, 2016

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

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

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

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

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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"A Trump Christmas Carol," by Roz Kaveney, Laurie Penny, John Scalzi and Jo Walton; Uncanny, December 25, 2016

A brilliant piece of political fiction, a solid reworking of the ideas of Dickens' classic as the ghosts of 2016 teach the President-elect the true meaning and proper use of political power.

"The Orangery," Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam; Beneath Ceasless Skies, Issue #214, December 8, 2016

Using the myths of Apollo and Daphne and Apollo and Dryope as central images, Stufflebeam gives us a powerful look at the responses evoked in women when confronted with men's desire and sense of entitlement to women's labour, bodies and love. When confronted with all the women, including Daphne and Dryope, who have chosen transformation into trees, Apollo asks “Why do you women fear men so much that you would rather be tree than give a kiss?” It's a question answered by this novelette, though perhaps not in any way that one who must ask can understand.

"The Evaluators: To Trade with Aliens, You Must Adapt," N. K. Jemisin; Wired, December 13, 2016

A brilliant and truly terrifying cautionary tale told in modern epistolary style (excerpts from emails, reports and other documents) about the dangers of making assumptions and rushing first contact.

"Welcome to the Medical Clinic at the Interplanetary Relay Station | Hours Since the Last Patient Death: 0," Caroline M. Yoachim; Lightspeed, March 2016

Having spent way too much time dealing with medical personnel and institutions lately, this grim little story about the futility of getting any real healthcare from a bureaucratic and underfunded system hit close to home.

"My Grandmother's Bones," S. L. Huang; Daily Science Fiction, August 22, 2016

A short and moving story about generational relationships and cultural changes, seen through a series of funerary behaviours.

"17 Amazing Plot Elements... When You See #11, You'll Be Astounded!," James Beamon; Daily Science Fiction, May 3, 2016

An interesting approach to the retelling of a very old tale. Short, but worth reading for the way it's told.

"The Right Sort of Monsters," Kelly Sandoval; Strange Horizons, April 4, 2016
Powerful story about need, sacrifice and how humans deal with difference. A strange and alien grove - the Godswalk - appears mysteriously beside a village, leaving most of the inhabitants unable to have children of their own. In the forest are the blood trees, whose flowers produce children in return for human blood, children that are not quite human, but human enough. But when Viette enters the forest to seek a child to fill the void left by a series of miscarriages, she learns that the Godswalk hides deeper secrets than she realised.

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"Harvestfruit," J. Y. Yang, july 2014, Crossed Genres

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

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,

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

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

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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I was quite familiar with three of the finalists - White's The Ill-Made Knight, Van Vogt's Slan, and Smith's The Grey Lensman - all quite well-known classics of the genre, and all on my nomination list. Boye's Kallocain, which I had actually read earlier this year, was also one of my nominations [1]. So the only new novel to me among the finalists was The Reign of Wizardry by Jack Williamson [2], which, having now read, I think of as a quick and pleasant read, but not particularly special.

My personal opinion is that The Ill-Made Knight has aged the best of the the finalists, and as a retelling if the Arthurian legend, it holds a special place in my memories. But I'd be almost as happy if Slan wins, as it's a book I remember with much nostalgia from my childhood - as I suspect do many socially outcast young nerds.


Heinlein's If This Goes On… and Coventry - both personal favourites among his early work - were on my nomination list for this category. Magic, Inc., however, has always seemed to be one of Heinlein's lesser works and I did not consider it for nomination.
I had read both of the de Camp/Pratt finalists - The Mathematics of Magic and The Roaring Trumpet - before, but long enough ago that I did not remember them clearly. I have now remedied that [3]. Both of the de Camp/Pratt novellas were good, well-crafted comic adventure pieces, but I remain convinced that for technique, entertainment value, and maturity of themes and ideas, the two Heinlein science fiction pieces are the cream of this crop.


Heinlein's "Blowups Happen," Sturgeon's "It!” and Bates' “Farewell to the Master” were among my nominees - I was of course long familiar with the Heinlein novelette, but not Harry Bates' story, which I read for the first time this year and was quite taken with, or the Sturgeon novelette, which I also read earlier this year [4]. Heinlein's “The Roads Must Roll" was a close contender for me, though it just missed being one of my nominations. The late addition to the finalists, A. E. Van Vogt's "Vault of the Beast" was new to me, and sadly, I was not impressed [5]. All in all, "Blowups Happen" and "Farewell to the Master" made the strongest impression on me in this category.

Best Short Story

“Martian Quest” by Leigh Brackett, “Requiem” by Robert A. Heinlein, and "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius” by Jorge Luis Borges - I adore Borges - were all among my nominations for this category, and both “The Stellar Legion," also by Leigh Brackett, and “Robbie” by Isaac Asimov were among the works I had under consideration up to the end [6]. I think I'd be quite content if any of them were to win, but my secret hopes are for the Borges piece.

[4] short notes on the Bates and Sturgeon novelettes here:
[5] short notes on A. E. Van Vogt's novelette here:
[6] short notes on the two Brackett stories here:

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Short fiction

"The Maker Myth," Ahmed Khan, Inkitt

A nice twist on the creation vs. evolution debate, though the writing is a bit flat. It's more of an idea piece than a character and plot piece, and suffers somewhat from the narrow focus.

"The Vault of the Beast," A. E. Van Vogt

One of the finalists for the 1941 Retro Hugos, this can be read as a cautionary tale about mistreating your minions if you happen to be an evil overlord, although I suspect that wasn't Van Vogt's primary theme. This is one of those stories in which a hidden and ancient evil lies trapped in a ruined old Martian city, scheming to get out and conquer the universe, beginning with humanity. It's an early and not very remarkable piece by one of the Golden Age masters.

"That Which Stands Tends Toward Free Fall," Benjanun Sriduangkaew, Clarkesworld, February 2016

In the midst of a global war, a specialist in developing and guiding AIs is approached by old comrades. Beautifully written. Sriduangkaew excels in allowing a story to unfold, revealing both backstory and future direction indirectly but never missing out on the essentials.

"43 Responses to 'In Memory of Dr. Alexandra Nako'," Barbara A. Barnett, Daily Science Fiction, February 5, 2016

Told entirely as a (very realistic) series of comments on a memorial to a scientist who apparently died during a Near Death Experience experiment, this thought-provoking story builds to a chilling conclusion. Horror or religious fantasy? You decide.

"Left the Century to Sit Unmoved," Sarah Pinsker, Strange Horizons, May 16 2016

Just outside of town, there's a pond with a waterfall, where people go to sun, and swim, and climb to the top of the waterfall and jump. Not everyone who jumps comes back, and no one quite knows why. There are rules that are supposed to keep you safe if you follow them, but they aren't always reliable. The protagonist's brother jumped - or so it's assumed, because his car was found parked at the head of the trail leading to the pond, and he's never been seen since then. But no matter how many the pool takes, people still jump. Pinsker never resolves the mystery, which makes this story all the more powerful. No one knows where the taken go, but people still jump. And in all the reasons why lies a big chunk of what makes us human.

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"Mika Model," Paolo Bacigalupi, April 26, 2016

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

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 (

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

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

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,

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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Two of the finalists in the Best Novelette category were stories I'd already read - “Folding Beijing” [1] by Hao Jingfang, translated by Ken Liu, which was one of my own nominations, and Brooke Bolander's "And You Shall Know Her by the Trail of Dead," [2] which had been on my 'for consideration' list right up to the final cut. Both were reviewed earlier in the year - URLs are in the footnotes.

While I don't feel that Stephen King's "Obits" is quite as powerful as either of these, it is nonetheless a creditable finalist. Dark fantasy rather than outright horror, it tells the story of a young journalist who inadvertently discovers that he kill anyone he chooses by writing their obituary. King explores both the addictive power of the ability to decide between life and death, and the visceral recoil of the average human from it. In the end, though, it is a story of hope, arguing that it is possible to turn away from the seductive draw of such power.

"Flashpoint: Titan” by Cheah Kai Wai, published in the anthology There Will Be War X, is a relatively straightforward milsf story about a battleship, its captain, and a battle in space that is won at significant cost. The writing is clear, with minimal infodumping, the story stripped of all narrative elements other than those which further the military encounter. Commander Hoshi at least emerges as a well-developed character - though this cannot be said about most of the other characters. The leanness of the narrative means that we have little sense of the political milieu in which the encounter takes place, and no real understanding of the motivation of the enemy combatants. This is essentially battletech porn - each manouevre is detailed, every strike and counterstrike described. The opening gambit, the set up, and the battle are the story. Competently written, but too limited in scope for my taste.

On the other hand, “What Price Humanity?” by David VanDyke, the second finalist in the novelette category from the There Will Be War X anthology, is a well-written and thought-provoking piece with much to recommend it. The premise of the story is that Earth is under sustained attack from aliens with superior firepower, the defense of Earth and its colonies is going poorly, and the only way to survive is to push both technology and ideas of appropriate use of personnel to the limits - and possibly beyond. The story begins with a crack pilot waking up in a virtual simulation. At first he assumes he has been injured and the simulation's purpose is to communicate with him and check on his healing while his body regenerates. But as time passes, the simulation widens to contain 23 other pilots, all of whom he's served with, some of whom he's sure were killed in action. There are simulations within the simulation, as the pilots are given the opportunity to train on a different kind of individual fighter ship, with new mission parameters and tactics.

While I was able to figure out quite easily what was really happening and why, the 'twist' at the end isn't really the point of the story. It's more about establishing the essential humanity of consciousness - done through solid characterisation and a deft balance between the simulated actions of the pilots and the introspective ruminations of the key protagonist - and asking each reader to decide the title question for herself. A good and thoughful story.

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Only four of the best short story finalists are reviewed here. the omitted piece was to the best of my knowledge written and nominated for the sole purpose of mocking other authors and their work; as I find this contrary to the spirit of the Hugos, I'm not dignifying it with my time or consideration.

Turning to the other finalists, the cream of this otherwise stunted crop is Naomi Kritzer's short story "Cat Pictures Please," [1] which was added to the ballot to replace Thomas A. Hays' withdrawn piece "The Commuter." This story was on my shortlist though it was not one of my nominations - but this was a year in which It seemed a great many superlative short stories were published. I'm very happy to see it on the list of finalists. I reviewed it earlier in the year, but I will add that I find that I keep coming back to the essential question - is it better to have full autonomy even if one screws up royally, or to live, all unknowing, under the control of a beneficent force - and pondering various aspects of it. An excellent piece of work.

S. R. Algernon's very short piece "Asymmetrical Warfare" is all about alien invasion gone wrong, from the perspective of a mission commander who makes too many assumptions based on their own culture and experience. Told as a series of journal entries by the leader of a fleet invading Earth, this wry piece (even the title is a pun) details the confusion of the star-shaped aliens as they discover that the enemy whose weapons they have been destroying are not the radiates of the ocean but the bipeds on land. Sadly, the outcome for humanity looks rather grim regardless of the misapprehensions of the invaders. A slight piece, but fun.

“Seven Kill Tiger” by Charles Shao, from the anthology There Will Be War Volume X, is a vicious little piece of work, a short shockfic with racial overtones and no subtlety - and indeed, almost no story. China, engaged in the economic colonisation of sub-Saharan Africa, finds the indigenous population unsuited to their needs - too violent, too lazy - and designs a genetic virus to annihilate all Africans. An American scientist who discovers the plan is blackmailed into silence. The end. It's a nasty scenario, proposed and then left hanging.

Thanks to the appearance of "Space Raptor Butt Invasion" on the list of Hugo finalists for Best Short Story, I have finally read something by the famed (or is that infamous?) Chuck Tingle. While I prefer my erotica to be somewhat more literary in style, I must admit that I found the story to be quite a hoot. Not sure whether I'll sample any more of Dr. Tingle's output, so to speak, but the writing was competent and the story had a good build-up, consistent characterisation, plenty of action (of the kind one would expect, of course), and a satisfying conclusion - making it a rather better effort than some other recent finalists I could mention, though not in my opinion a work of sufficient calibre to merit a Hugo award.

[1] my comments on "Cat Pictures Please" can be found here:

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When I'm reading a book I wouldn't ordinarily pick up on my own accord, I like to check out a few reviews first, so I know something of what I'm getting into. So before starting Campbell Award nominee Brian Niemeier's debut novel Nethereal, I looked for reviews and read a few. It was a little disturbing to note that the majority of reviews I located were written by people situated within one degree of internet separation from a Rabid Puppy. Nonetheless, I embarked on the novel.

There is a way to plunge right into the manners, politics, history and culture of a secondary world without leaving the reader with so many questions that the text is frustrating in its opaqueness. Good science fiction and fantasy writers do it all the time, dropping just enough clues, giving just enough exposition, that the story and the characters' actions make sense. Neimeier, unfortunately, does not do this.

In addition to being frustrated and confused, this lack of incluing [1] left me feeling very little interest in the fates and fortunes of the characters.

I gave the novel a decent chance to grab me - but by the time I'd read ten percent, I was still uninterested and unimpressed. And I certainly would not consider an author for a Campbell award on the strength of it.

However, the other two works of Niemeier's that I located were a rather different story. The first is a novelette, Strange Matter, that was published in Up and Coming: Stories by the 2016 Campbell-Eligible Authors, edited by S. L. Huang and Kurt Hunt. A variation on the Groundhog Day theme, a mechanic finds himself reliving over and over again the last ten minutes and seventeen seconds before the end of the world. It's a competantly crafted story, and it kept me reading to the end.

The second is a short story Izcacus, which is posted on his website. [2] Told in an epistolary format, it's the account of a mountain-climbing expedition in a uncharted region of the Caucasus mountains gone horribly wrong. It's a very much a Lovecraftian story, all about horrors hidden in places where humans should not go, and what happens to them when they come up against the powers of an ancient evil, though it draws on Christian mythology rather than Lovecraft's, or one created for the story. It was decently structured and written, and I rather enjoyed it.

On the basis of my reading, I wonder if perhaps Neimeier's strengths are better suited to short fiction. While both pieces of short fiction are somewhat derivative, they are quite readable. Still not Campbell calibre, but decent work.

[1] Incluing is a technique for world building, in which the reader is gradually exposed to background information about the world in which a story is set. The idea is to clue the readers into the world the writer is building, without them being aware of it.


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Alyssa Wong was on my nomination list for the Campbell Award, based on three darkly brilliant short stories: "Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers," "Scarecrow" and "The Fisher Queen." [1]

Wong writes dark fantasy and horror, tales of gods and magical creatures, narratives often informed by by South Asian/Filippina tradition and culture, and queer sensibilities and experience. Her work is rich and multi-layered, dealing with complex psychological issues and post-colonial realities.

Such is the case in another of Wong's short stories, "Santos de Sampaguitas," [2] a heart-wrenching story about love and loss, betrayal, sacrifice and revenge. Woven into this emotionally searing narrative are backgrounded but powerful examinations of ableism, and class and race in Filippino society.

These four stories comprised the whole of Wong's published fiction as of the end of 2015 - though she has several stories coming out this year, and I'm looking forward to reading them - but considering that each story so far has been something very special (she has accumulated two Nebula nominations, one World Fantasy nomination and one Bram Stoker nomination with those four stories), I think she's earned the Campbell nom as well.

[1] all three stories reviewed here:

[2] Strange Horizons
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"Tear Tracks," Malka Older, Oct 21, 2015,

A first contact story that delves into the ways that subtle differences in cultural values can influence perceptions - and how being unaware of the differences can stymie the chances for true communication.

"Your Orisons May Be Recorded," Laurie Penny, March 15 2016,

What if our prayers were answered in a heavenly call centre by supernatural beings who can only listen to the pain of the world while keeping up productivity and client retention rates? What would it be like to be an angel who longed for more?

"Descent," Carmen Maria Machado, Feb 2015, Nightmare Magazine

Chilling. Traditional ghost story format in which one person recounts a horrifying or terrifying experience - in this case, dealing with survivors of a school shooting - and another person is directly affected by the tale, but brilliantly done.

"Faster Gun," Elizabeth Bear, August 8, 2012,

A day in the alternate life of an alternate Doc Holliday. Or so it seems. In Elizabeth Bear's novelette Faster Gun, a somewhat unusual party of tenderfeet - a man with a gift for magic, and four women with a variety of striking attributes - hire Doc to guide them to the wreck of an alien spaceship not far form the town of Tombstone. But the reality is something rather different indeed. Beautifully written, as Bear's work always is, with just enough clues to the explanation of what's really going on to make the realisation a slow and poignant one. I'm not particularly enthralled with the mythos of the American Old West, but a cowboy fantasy story this good transcends the very genres it embodies.

"Empty Graves," by Unpretty, April 3, 2016, An Archive of Our Own

As I've said before, fanfic counts. Now Superman is far from being my favourite fandom, but this is a brilliant piece of fic featuring a different and very captivating take on Martha and Jonathan Kent, updated from the original comics to a background as young adults in the 60s. Martha is the focal point here, and she is amazing.

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Because I am nominating for the 2016 Hugos, and there will be Retro Hugos for 1941 (meaning, material published in 1940), I have been doing some reading of short fiction from 1940. A lot of it has been re-reading of things I remember with some fondness - and I shan't be reviewing those, too much work, but there's been a few things I hadn't read before and was able to find here and there at little cost, so here's my thoughts on those.

"Song in a Minor Key," C. L. Moore

A very short but poignant piece in which one of Moore's great characters, Northwest Smith, reflects on his past... And moves on.

"The Stellar Legion," Leigh Brackett

One of many planetary romance stories Brackett wrote, this one is about treachery, honour and redemption in a Venusian version of the French Foreign Legion. The prose is delicious.

"Farewell to the Master," Harry Bates

Though it tells a rather different story, this novelette was the inspiration for the classic film The Day the Earth Stood Still. Here, Klaatu is killed by a madman the minute he leaves the ship, and he is interred in a mausoleum, while his robot companion Gnut is placed on display in a museum erected near the ship. The narrator, a daring young reporter, notices that despite being apparently immobile, Gnut has been changing position, and hides in the museum overnight to observe. Once he discovers what Gnut has been doing, he tries to help - and learns more than he wanted to about civilisation that Klaatu and Gnut are from.

"Fruit of Knowledge," C. L. Moore

A vibrant and psychologically complex retelling of the story of the Garden of Eden, of Adam and Lilith and Lucifer and Eve.

"Martian Quest," Leigh Brackett

A dispirited young man flees failure and a difficult family background to become a settler on Mars, but even this choice seems doomed when deadly Martian lizards threaten to overrun the settlement areas. An exploration of courage and redemption.

"It," Theodore Sturgeon

An intelligence somehow embedded in a collection of mould and dirt and ancient bones creates terror in a rural community. Solid horror story told from multiple viewpoints, including that of the 'monster.'

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"The Great Silence," Ted Chiang, May 2015, e-flux journal

A meditation on sentience, inter-species communication, language, and the consequences of co-existence with other intelligences. From the perspective of a parrot.

"Forestspirit, Forestspirit," Bogi Takács, June 2015,

An AI-driven battle machine, survivor of the last war, becomes the guardian of the forest at the instigation of a young boy.

"Folding Beijing," Hao Jingfang (trans. Ken Liu), January/February 2015

This elegant novelette from Hao Jingfang proposes a future China where overpopulation is so severe that the city of Beijing is redesigned and rebuilt so as to fold up and flip over twice in every 48 hour cycle. In the first 24 hours, the part of the city revealed is First Space - the world of the upper class, five million out of a total of 80 million. When First Space folds up and its inhabitants are tucked safely away in a drugged sleep, the city flips over and the next 12 hours belong to Second Space, the middle class, 25 million. After 12 hours, Second Space folds up and Third Space - the home of the working class and the poor - unfolds for another 12 hours. And the cycle repeats.

The protagonist of the story is Lao Dao, a worker in a refuse sorting plant in Third Space, who wants only one thing - to find enough money to educate his adopted daughter so that she can live in a better space. To do so on his own salary would be impossible, so he takes on an illegal commission to carry messages between people in other Spaces.

Through Lao's experiences, Hao delivers a profound critique of class, capital and the exploitation of the workers, while reminding us that the best parts of life are those that stand outside of the economic sphere - love, generosity, joy, simple pleasures, human interaction.

"Liminal Grid," Jaymee Goh, November 2015, Strange Horizons

In a dystopic future Malaysia where government surveillance and control are close to absolute, the rebels of a new generation struggle to escape the confines of a society they hate and fear, and go

"Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers," Alyssa Wong, October 2015, Nightmare Magazine

A compelling, visceral dark fantasy. Themes of vengeance on misogynist bile-mongers, intergenerational legacies and wounds, and the consequences of not being fully open with those one truly loves. I have to mention the effectiveness of the startlingly perfect use of imagery in this piece.

"Scarecrow," Alyssa Wong, originally published in Black Static, 2014, reprinted January 2015,

A powerful and moving dark fantasy story about love, self-deception, internalised homophobia, guilt and grief. A young man too afraid, or ashamed, to acknowledge his love for another joins his friends in tormenting his lover, with deadly consequences.

"The Fisher Queen," Alyssa Wong, 2014

The daughter of a fisherman discovers hidden truths about, not just her own family, but also about the trade she seeks to follow on her first fishing voyage. A dark story about family secrets and sexual violence.

"By Degrees and Dilatory Time," S. L. Huang, May 2015, Strange Horizons

A story about bodily integrity, loss and healing. A young man who has already lost a promising career as a competitive figure skater to a sports injury and knee replacement surgery develops a rare cancer in both eyes and must accept replacement surgery - artificial eyes - in order to survive.

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All the short fiction mentioned here was published in Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazine March/April 2015

"A Residence for Friendless Ladies," Alice Sola Kim - In this atmospheric novelette, a young trans man is forced to live as a woman when he is sent to stay with his grandmother, who runs an eerie and forbidding home for women - part hostel, part finishing school, part prison - who don't quite fit into society's roles. An unflinching look at identity denied and the courage needed to open closed doors.

"The Mantis Tattoo," Paul M. Berger - A trickster story in an African-inspired setting. Mantis the trickster chooses a young man to serve him, and sends him on his first mission - to save his people from the return of their historical enemies.

"Things Worth Knowing," Jay O'Connell - A highly dystopic look at the direction of privatised education and corporate recruitment.

"La Héron," Charlotte Ashley - A mysterious swordswoman registers for the Black Bouts of Caen - a tournament of duellists that draws contestants from as distant a place as the lands of faerie.

"This Is the Way the Universe Ends: With a Bang," Brian Dolton - An interesting take on the death and rebirth of the universe, with a rather unusual and determined heroine.

"Last Transaction," Nik Constantine - structured as a sequence of computer communications to a future citizen of a highly automated society, you think you know where this will end up... But you'd be wrong.

"Little Girls in Bone Museums," Sadie Bruce - a disturbing piece about the ways that women have distorted and tortured their bodies to adhere to male standards of beauty, accepted objectification in the place of respect, and convinced themselves that this will make them happy.

"A Small Diversion on the Road to Hell," Jonathan L. Howard - Sooner or later, bartenders see everything. This is a delightfully whimsical story about a day in the life of bartender in a place called Helix, and the twisty temporal paradoxes his time-travelling customers have been getting into.

"How to Masquerade As a Human before the Invasion," Jenn Reese - a short short story about passing for human. Its advice will be shockingly familiar to those of us who never quite fit in

"A Users Guide to Increments of Time," Kat Howard - two sorcerers whose magic can steal time become lovers , but cannot help stealing time - first to have more time together, and later, once love has altered, to destroy each other.

"Bilingual," Henry Lien - a young girl sets out to find a way to communicate with dolphins in the wild about threats from human hunters. Told almost entirely via Tweets.

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"Trollbooth," Maureen Tanafon, April 2015, Crossed Genres

While the men around her bluster around violently in an attempt to save two children lost to supernatural captors, a courageous young woman takes another path to win their freedom.

"And the Balance in Blood," Elizabeth Bear, November 2015, Uncanny Magazine

Bear's fantasy novelette is a marvellous story about an unusual hero, a grey-haired cloistered religieuse named Sister Scholique who has the gift of the gods' grace; her prayers are often answered by the gods, from small things like a prayer to allow her to overhear a conversation just beyond the range of her hearing, to prayers for the souls of the dead. In fact, it is this latter purpose that takes up most of her time, praying over wax recordings of prayers for the dead as she turns these cylinders in her chantry. When a dream gives her an idea of how to build an automated chantry that will give her more free time, she sets her church on a path that leads to potential abuses. A beautifully written tale that asks questions about the influence of the wealthy in accessing practices meant to be available to all.

"The House of Surrender," Laurie Penny, January 11, 2016, Der Freitag

In the future, people have learned to live mostly in harmony. Captialism, the belief in hierarchies and the idea that one person can with impunity interfere with the autonomy of another are all distant memories of the past. But sometimes people, being people, offend against others, and if there is no way for them to live among others, they come to the island of the House of Surrender. And there they stay. Until one day a man arrives at the House who claims to be from the past.

"Two to Leave," Yoon Ha Lee, May 28 2015, Beneath Ceaseless Skies

Yoon Ha Lee writes in a style all his own, lyrical, elegant, packed with images and delicate allusions. His writing seems to speak to the heart and the unconscious - when I read one of his stories, I often feel that I've just encountered something deeply profound, yet something I cannot quite capture in words, something that partakes of the nature of our dreams. So it is with this story, and deservedly so, for this is a story of a ferryman, and a river that cannot be crossed without sacrifice, a mercenary who kills with a swarm of bees, a messenger raven, and of eyes, and vision, taken and given. Of life and death and the states inbetween and the ways to reach them.

"Vulcanization," Nisi Shawl, January 2016, Nightmare Magazine

King Leopold of Belgium seeks to rid himself of the ghosts of the Congo. A steampunk meditation on atrocity, remembrance and guilt. Powerful.

"Our Lady of the Open Road," Sarah Pinsker, June 2015, Asimov's Magazine

In the future, people's fears of mingling with those they don't know, combined with increasingly sophisticated technology that makes possible holographic displays of concerts and sports events in the safety and security of one's home, have almost destroyed the idea of live performance and the travelling band. But a few artists remain on the road, committed to the belief that performance art involves the immediate relationship between performer and audience, no matter how high the cards are stacked against them.

"The Killing Jar," Laurie Penny, January 2016, Motherboard

In the not too distant future, the simulated murders of television and film are no longer sufficient to satisfy the public craving for blood and circuses. Society has recognised and legitimated a new kind of performance, the serial killer - who is free to kill as long as he follows the rules.
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I seem to be on a bit of a short fiction binge. Trying to read some stories from 2015, recommended in various places, that interest me.

"The Missing Guest," Alice Sola Kim, December 22, 2015, Lenny

An unsettling story about friendship circles and outsiders, about being both participant and observer, with distinct undertones of the weird. I'm still not sure who the missing guest is, nor am I certain that I'm supposed to be.

"Three Cups of Grief, by Starlight," Aliette de Bodard, January 2015, Clarkesworld

A nuanced portrayal of the varied responses to grief, set in de Bodard's Xuya Empire universe. A scientist whose work is vital to the future of the Empire dies, and her children - one of whom is a Mindship - and the woman who must carry on her mentor's work follow different paths in grieving. Moving piece, well written, with strong characterisation.

"Variations on an Apple," Yoon Ha Lee, October 2015,

A scintillating sciencefictional symphony of imaginings drawn upon the myths of the apple of discord and the siege of Troy. Lee does things with words and images and multi-layered references to music and mathematics that I can't even begin to describe. An ever-shifting but never-changing meditation on desire, choice and conflict.

"Adult Children of Alien Beings," Dennis Danvers, August 2015,

A somewhat pedestrian novelette that literalises the feelings of difference and - if you'll pardon the pun - alienation that most of us experience. A middle-aged man uncovers evidence suggesting that his parents may not have been who, or what, they seemed to be, and embarks on a search for the truth - but ultimately realises there is a better way to resolve his crisis of self.

"Pockets," Amal el-Mohtar, February 2015, Uncanny Magazine

Nadia has a peculiar problem. She keeps finding things in her pockets. Things she's never seen before, things that make no sense and have no apparent relevance to her life. Things that could not possibly be in her pocket, that are larger than any pocket she owns. El-Mohtar treats this surreal premise with the greatest seriousness, and brings it to a profound conclusion that speaks both to the mystery of the connections between people and the power of the creative impulse.

"Cassandra," Ken Liu, March 2015, Clarkesworld

A meditation on the nature of causality, the meaning of free will, and the morality of interference wrapped up in a super-hero tale, in which the villain is a vigilante acting on pre-cognition in an attempt to save the innocent while the iconic defender of truth and justice focuses on protecting the proper unfolding of time, come what may.

"Eye," Wole Talabi, February, 2015, Liquid Imagination

Powerful piece of flash fiction about impossible, abhorrent choices. How far will a mother go, what will she sacrifice, to save the life of one of her children?

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Some very good stories here, at least one will likely end up on my Hugo nominations list.

"Those," by Sofia Samatar, March 2015, Uncanny Magazine

A lyrical, haunting, many-layered story with distinct contrapuntal echoes of The Heart of Darkness, Heningen and the Ants, and other colonial literature. An aging man, once part of the Belgian colonial project in the Congo, tells his daughter stories about his life on the plantation, careless of how they sound to her ears.

"Steve Rogers: PR Disaster," ideopathicsmile, April 23, 2015, Rearranging The Alphabet (tumblr blog)

Yes, fanfic counts. When it's as flat-out funny and as pertinent to my interests as this, anyway. All-American war hero Steve Rogers, otherwise known as Captain America, was brought forward to our time. The hero game hasn't changed much, but as far as social issues are concerned, he's got a lot of catching-up to do. But not in the way you might think. Our boy Steve, it seems, was quite a progressive back in the Depression days. And it's driving his publicist up the wall trying to keep him in line.

"Monkey King, Faerie Queen," Zen Cho, Spring 2015, Kaleidotrope

Another very funny short story, in which Sun Wukong, the Monkey King from classical Chinese literature and folktales, finds himself in the European land of the Fae, and has a right royal dust-up with the Faerie Queen. This entertaining fusion of two different and ancient cultural mythos makes for a pleasant read.

"Milagroso," Isabel Yap, August 12, 2015,

In a future where "natural" food no longer exists, a miracle during a religious festival in The Philippines calls the value of the synthetic substitutions into question. To me, this reads as a serious critique of the whole issue of food engineering, the loss of native strains, and the way that our food is industrially grown and processed. A vividly written story that evokes both an artificial and corporatised future and a rich past that delights the senses.

"Ambiguity Machines: An Examination," Vandana Singh, April 29, 2015,

This novelette left me breathless, in awe. Framed as an examination paper on the topic of machines that may or may not be possible, the text is a theoretical discourse on the permeability of boundaries that we all believe immutable - time, space, reality, sentience, the self - limned in stunning, lyrical prose. Three vignettes, each telling the story of human experience with a technology that bends the laws of what we think is possible - ambiguity machines - are presented for the consideration of the student-candidate. A theoretical physicist by trade, Singh embeds the most transcendent thoughts about the physical nature of reality into an exploration of the power of imaginative creation.

"Elephants and Corpses," Kameron Hurley, May 13, 2015,

Hurley's work is often grim, and this story is no exception. Nev is a body-jumper. He survives by inhabiting and reanimating corpses. His companion and body-manager Tera can talk to the dead. When they buy a reasonably fresh body, they stumble into more than they can handle, and it will take all of Nev and Tera's unusual abilities to survive. Hurley adds depth to the story by considering the emotional complexities of living on as a succession of corpses while those around you die.

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"The Occidental Bride" by Benjanun Sriduangkaew, ClarkesWorld, #108, September 2015

Fascinating story on many levels. A young woman compromised by an innocent association with terrorists is forced by her government to help set up a trap for yet another terrorist by entering into an arranged marriage. And yet there is still the possibility of love and hope.

"Fabulous Beasts," Priya Sharma, July 27, 2015,

This is not a comfortable story. It is, however, a compelling one. Sharma's dark fantasy novelette is about family secrets, especially the ones that can't be told in the clean light of day, about mothers and sisters and daughters caught in those secrets, finding love as best they can. It's about living through the horror and pain, about surviving despite the wounds. Warning: sexual abuse, incest, rape.

"And You Shall Know Her by the Trail of Dead," Brooke Bolander, February 2015, Lightspeed Magazine

Rhye is a foul-mouthed demobbed cyborg supersoldier with nothing left to do but cage fighting for spare change when she meets Rack, a cyberhacker and security expert. They make a good team, right up until they are hired to break into a data storage environment protected by a security system Rack himself designed. Then it all goes to hell. Adrenaline charged cyberpunk novelette with more than a few twists. A fast-paced, well-written novelette with strong characterisation, and fun to read.

"Look at Me Now," Sarah Norman, March 5, 2015, Omenana

An undocumented black woman living in London finds that she is able to become invisible, especially when upset or distressed - which is frequent enough in her day to day life in London, but becomes more and more common, as the news of political unrest and violence from her home country grows worse. Strong characterisation and one hell of an ending.

"Discovering Time Travel," Suleiman Agbonkhianmen Buhari, January 15, 2015, Jalada

Interesting experiment in style. Aside from a brief introduction and conclusion, the story is told entirely in dialogue - an interrogation scene, in fact - and the reliability of the main character is in doubt throughout the entire scene. I found the dialogue awkward but the story it unveils interesting. And the end gave me a chill.

"Devil's Village," Dayo Ntwari, WRITIVISM Short Story Competition shortlist

Tautly written milsf-flavoured story about factional violence and government malfeasance in Nigeria. A mercenary on a mission to deliver a priest to an outlaw village discovers just how great the gap is between reality and political propaganda.


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