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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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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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"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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