You do something two or three times, suddenly it’s a tradition. Here now is a non-exhaustive list of stories I loved in 2016. I may add to it in the coming weeks.
“Welcome to the Medical Clinic at the Interplanetary Relay Station | Hours Since the Last Patient Death: 0,” by Caroline Yoachim: Is this a funny sci-fi choose-your-own adventure, or a maddening documentary about our health system? ¿Porqué no los dos? Read this and laugh through your tears! Caroline is a regular in my year-end faves lists.
“The First Confirmed Case of Non-Corporeal Recursion: Patient Anita R.,” by Benjamin C. Kinney: The premise of this one is immediately engaging. It’s a ghost story, but it’s a science story. Figuring out the rules was a compelling puzzle. The characters have heart, and the ending left me smiling.
“Left Behind,” by Cat Rambo: Don’t worry, this isn’t some end-of-days rapture story. This story checks off a lot of elements that push my personal buttons–it’s an emotional story about aging, how we treat people when they become old enough to depend on us, and it features uploaded consciousnesses and virtual worlds, which are among my favorite spec tropes to read about.
“Four Haunted Houses,” by Adam-Troy Castro: I don’t consume very much horror. I generally don’t like horror movies and actively detest gore and jump scares. Lately, though, I’ve started to read a little bit of short horror fiction as I start to grasp that the literary genre of horror fiction is a very different thing from the film genre. This story is a perfect case in point. I love how this story begins breezily, self-aware, almost tongue-in-cheek, and lures the reader in, and I love how the actual horror at the end is rooted in real-world emotional trauma, how the story seems to say, Why are you afraid of these silly things, when the real scary things are the ones you allow into your life without even being conscious of it.
“When You Work for the Old Ones,” by Sandra McDonald: I seem to be developing a taste for horror stories as my years advance–or maybe it’s that the world is becoming so horrifying. In any case, I really enjoyed this creepy short. Like “Four Haunted Houses,” it starts off more amusing than horrifying, before taking a rather chilling turn, and I couldn’t help wondering if “working for the old ones” was a metaphor for being a freelance fiction writer. This story is a great example of what you can do in a very small space.
“Of Sight, of Mind, of Heart,” by Samantha Murray: If you know me, you know I love the stories that punch you in the gut. This story gave me all the parental feels. My daughters are about to finish high school this year and move on to whatever comes next, and I get emotional just thinking about graduation. This story encapsulated that journey into just a couple thousand words, against the backdrop of an interstellar war.
“Every Day Is the Full Moon,” by Carlie St. George: At first I read the mentions of werewolves, oracles, etc to be magic realism, which I love. Gradually it became clear that this was more straight fantasy in a contemporary setting, but with the fantasy elements still being used to illuminate the characters–the werewolf who is also just an asshole, the Valkyrie who can’t stand up to the asshole, the oracle who doesn’t see what’s coming for her, the girl with suicidal ideation who turns out to be . . . well that would just spoil things. The characters here felt real and I ached for them and loved them and wanted them to muddle their way through. I found this story unflinching but ultimately hopeful.