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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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I've decided that I need to read more short fiction, and so I've begun poking around the net for short stories available online, since I can't read paper magazines any more. And I want to keep a record of what I'm reading, so welcome to the first in an ongoing series of posts sharing brief thoughts on the short fiction (primarily spec fic) I'm finding of interest on the net. My intention is to make notes as I read and then post my thoughts when I have five or six stories to put into a post.

I'm going to be reading material that's been around for a while, and material that's new. I'll be including date of net publication and website/URL along with my thoughts.

"Kia and Gio," Daniel Jose Elder, Jan 6, 2015,

Atmospheric story about a young Hispanic girl who can't let go of a lost love. The closure that comes to her when she must help someone else face the ghosts of his past to be free of them works, and is a solid conclusion to her story, but the question of just what happened to Giovanni and his lover Jeremy leaves me unsatisfied. Are we to assume their mysterious disappearances (both are presumed dead, and Kia comes to believe this is so) are a result of violent homophobia, aliens seeking heaven knows what, or something else altogether?

"How to Become a Robot in 12 Easy Steps," A. Merc Rustad, Scigentasy Issue 4, March 1 2014

For anyone who has ever felt really, really different - so different you're not sure you are actually human or capable of "normal" human emotion - this story hits home, and hits it hard. A woman, in a pleasant platonic relationship with a gay man, finds that her deepest sense of emotional fulfillment comes from her regular contact with a somewhat out-moded service robot. A story about alienation, gender, sexuality, and the true meaning of family - it's the people who love you no matter what you are or love - that really hooked me.

“The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere," John Chu, February 2013,

So, yes, I have only just now gotten around to reading last year's Hugo winner in the short story category. And it is indeed a very moving and thought-provoking story, dealing as it does with family, love, gender, sexuality, coming out, sibling relationships, culturally defined familial expectations, the importance of communication, and all that good stuff. I know that some critics have said that this isn't science fiction - and they are probably right to a degree. But the unexplained water falling from the sky whenever one lies is the mechanism for a very profound what-if: what if in all our relationships, our friends, family, lovers, could tell if we were being truthful. This story may not be science fiction, or fantasy, but it's definitely not realistic fiction either.

"Headwater LLC," Sequoia Nagamatsu, Jan 2015, Lightspeed Magazine

A dying people possess the ability to change water into a restorative, healing liquid. Discovered and ultimately betrayed by a naive young woman, these people are enslaved and forced to use their gift for the profit of their captors. Drawing on Japanese folklore, Nagamatsu has created a powerful and moving story that is, at its heart, about the damage caused by the heedless exploitation of nature and indigenous peoples, and the tragedy that results when we acquiesce in and are co-opted by those whose only thoughts are about greed and power.

"He Came From a Place of Openness and Truth," Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam, Jan 15 2015, Lightspeed Magazine

This is a very different coming out story. A young man finds himself strongly attracted to a classmate, only to discover that his new lover is an alien who has come to Earth and selected him as a lover for a very specific reason. Closeted sex slowly evolves into deep affection, the protagonist learns his lover's secret, but there's still a chance that love will prevail. I was not fully satisfied with the story - tye protagonist's psychological journey was well delineated, but his alien lover remained somewhat of a cypher throughout, which frustrated me.

"i Can See Right Through You," Kelly Link, Dec 2014, McSweeney’s Quarterly 48.

An aging actor famous for an early role as a vampire, his career in decline, visits his former co-star, now the host of a successful ghost-hunting TV series, on location in Florida, only to become part of a tragedy. Or an entity first encountered by a young girl via a Ouija board follows her for decades and eventually claims her for his own. Or fame and fortune and the unrealities of Hollywood life lead to mental breakdown and a desperate, violent, attempt to regain past glory. Or something else. Link is known for creating tales that are ambiguous, or that can be interpreted in many ways. This story certainly fits that category. Its structure is non-linear and episodic, but tells a fascinating story - no matter how you interpret it. The main characters - Will, the aging actor, and his former co-star and lover Maggie - are vividly drawn. I'm still trying to make up my mind over which interpretation I favour.


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