Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Short Fiction - March 2015

This month, due in large part to the deadlines for Hugo nominations and final Nebula voting, I read 50 stories, and am up to 126 so far for the year. Here are my favorites from my March reading; by "favorites," I mean the stories to which I would give 4 1/2 or 5 out of 5 stars. I briefly listed several of these in my March 9 post about Hugo nominations, but here I go into more detail on those and a few other stories. I also enjoyed many of the other 44 stories I read (scroll down for list).

Favorite Short Stories read in March 2015

(alphabetical by author)

"The Magician and Laplace's Demon" by Tom Crosshill

Published in Clarkesworld in December 2014, this novelette explores artificial intelligence, magic, and the nature of proof and belief. This story is currently on the final Nebula ballot, and I won't be surprised if it shows up on the Hugo ballot as well. Artificial intelligence is a popular theme in science fiction, but this one has a new take -- it's not often an AI has to cross figurative swords with a magician, after all. I thought that the sense of suspense the author builds made this story seem shorter than it was, and that's a compliment. (Read here)

"Stealing Arturo" by William Ledbetter

Hard science fiction is my first love, although I have to admit that not all the books I adored as a teen hold up for me well now. That's why I'm so glad that these days, it's a little easier to find hard SF that has well-developed characters. In this novelette, a widower named Clarke Kooper anticipates finally being able to escape an asteroid mining facility that keeps a tight rein on what are essentially its indentured servants, but he hadn't counted on becoming emotionally involved with a bright nine-year-old named Nora, so his plans have to change. Intelligent, problem-solving SF with characters I truly cared about? More, please. (Published by Baen; read story here.)

"Even the Mountains are Not Forever" by Laurie Tom

I don't know why, but I have always craved stories about years of quiet, dedicated study in monastic settings, and stories of sacrifice for the sake of knowledge. In this story, a woman called "the Kunchen" sleeps in a cryo-chamber and is woken every ten years to check on and advise her people, but the time is drawing near when she needs to choose a successor. The setting was just alien enough to fit the story, and the resolution was unexpected. A lovely, quiet story. I note this one was published in 2015, so not eligible for awards until next year. (Published in Strange Horizons; read here.)

"Jackalope Wives" by Ursula Vernon

I am nothing if not biased in my story likes and dislikes, but this time I was very, very surprised. I can recognize when I come across one that is well-written, but in general I simply do not like stories about shapechangers, especially when they are female foxes/geese/bears who are trapped in human form, usually out of love, and still longing to revert to their wild natures.

But I loved this one. There was such a naturalness to the prose, as if the story was just spoken by someone who'd told it many times before. And it had the perfect ending for this tale. This one was published in Apex Magazine and can be read or listened to in podcast form here.

"Toad Wives" by Ursula Vernon

It's astonishing to me that someone was able to take this simple fairy tale concept -- one daughter is "cursed" so that frogs and toads fall out of her mouth when she speaks, while the other is "gifted" with gold and jewels when she speaks -- and infuse it with so much meaning in so few words. But maybe it shouldn't be surprising, considering it's the same author who made me love a shapechanger tale. It's my understanding that this piece of flash fiction originally appeared on the author's blog here, and that it's also the title story in the author's collection under the name T. Kingfisher. It's a fabulous story.

And if there is one thing that my personal read-a-story-a-day goal has taught me, it is that flash fiction is not to be underestimated.

"Five Stages of Grief After the Alien Invasion" by Caroline M. Yoachim

This is another author who has elevated flash fiction beyond the norm. It's my understanding that this piece was originally an attempt to write a series of related but separate flash pieces, but they had a mind of their own and wanted to come together as one story. You can see the division, but it's a whole piece, and thus has a lovely underlying structure. In this story, different (but related) characters experience the five stages of grief in response to an alien invasion that leaves many dead. [Minor spoiler ahead] One of the loveliest parts is that the aliens appear to be grieving as well. This story can be found in Clarkesworld here.

Other stories read in March 2015:

(alphabetical by author)

- "Final Corrections, Pittsburgh Times-Dispatch" by M. Bennardo
- "Pioneer Possessions" by Lee Budar-Danoff
- "They are Legion. They are Pigeon." by Lynda Clark
- "The Conquest of Gliese 518-5B" by Gary Cuba
- "The Breath of War" by Aliette de Bodard
- "Practical Hats" by Cheryce Clayton
- "The Egg" by S.B. Divya
- "Hokkaido Green" by Aidan Doyle
- "The van der Rohe Forgery" by Raymund Eich
- "The Story of His Life" by David W. Goldman
- "Makeisha in Time" by Rachael K. Jones
- "Gallery" by KJ Kabza
- "America, Etc." by Michael Kardos
- "Machine Washable" by Keffy R.M. Kehrli
- "A Death" by Stephen King
- "The Meeker and the All-Seeing Eye" by Matthew Kressel
- "In the Forests of the Night" by Jay Lake (audio)
- "Night of the Living Poet" by Michael Landau
- "The Clockwork Soldier" by Ken Liu
- "The Tides" by Ken Liu
- "The Husband Stitch" by Carmen Maria Machado
- "The Vaporization Enthalpy of a Peculiar Pakistani Family" by Usman T. Malik
- "City of Salt" by Arkady Martine
- "Welcome to Argentia" by Sandra McDonald
- "Time Debt" by D. Thomas Minton
- "Communion" by Mary Anne Mohanraj
- "The Hair Club for Fairytale Princesses" by Heather Morris
- "This is the Story That Devours Itself" by Michelle Muenzler
- "Drones Don't Kill People" by Annalee Newitz
- "Amplexus" by Jonathan Penner
- "Until They Come" by Trina Marie Phillips
- "Bit Player" by Cat Rambo
- "Ice" by Patrice E. Sarath
- "The Saving Breath" by Michael Seese
- "How Earth Narrowly Escaped an Invasion from Space" by Alex Shvartsman
- "Bronze-Art, the Ferret Master, and the Auspicious Events at Swift Creek Farm" by Adrian Simmons
- "The Play's the Thing" by Fred Stanton
- "We Call Her Mama" by Natalia Theodoridou
- "The Fattest Dog in the World" by Cathy S. Ulrich
- "Everything's Unlikely" by James Van Pelt
- "The Mirror in the Bathroom" by Melon Wedick
- "The Fisher Queen" by Alyssa Wong
- "Goat Milk Cheese, Three Trillion Miles From Earth" by Caroline M. Yoachim
- "Sugar Showpiece Universe" by Caroline M. Yoachim

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