Back in 2012 I put together a year-end list of some of my favorite short speculative fiction of the year. I didn’t bother doing this in 2013, because I didn’t feel like I’d done nearly as good a job of keeping up with the field, but then some of my friends expressed disappointment, and told me they’d actually taken my recommendations to heart and tried out some stories they would not otherwise have known about. So even though I once again have only read a very small sampling of what’s out there, I figured I’d share some of the stories that had a big impact on me in the last year or so.
So once again, in no particular order*:
- Sarah’s Child, by Susan Jane Bigelow
I love stories that explore our understanding of gender. This story features a trans woman named Sarah who dreams of a biologically impossible son, Sheldon, only to discover that Sheldon is the real son of an alternate universe version of Sarah, a cis woman named June. I found this one of the most powerful stories I read this year.
- 57 Reasons for the Slate Quarry Suicides, by Sam J. Miller
If you follow short spec fic at all, then you’ve already heard of this story. It won the Shirley Jackson Award and had all kinds of buzz, which is the only reason I stumbled across it, because I usually stay away from horror. (I see now that this was actually published in 2013, but I didn’t read it until 2014, so, whatever.) This is a great exploration of bullying and revenge, with teenage characters. This is at its heart like the best of YA, like the kind of YA that draws me to the genre. In short fiction, things don’t tend to get labeled YA, because there isn’t really a YA short fiction scene, but this story reminds me of books like 13 Reasons Why, only with a speculative bent that makes it the perfect marriage of the two literary traditions I love.
- Selfie, by Sandra McDonald
This was such a sad and powerful story of . . . well, I won’t spoil it for you! Let me just say it was a nice bit of Matrix-style mind-screwing with a powerful story about grief and regret.
- 21 Steps to Enlightenment (Minus One), by LaShawn M. Wanak
Magic realism with a touch of the absurd. Many people get spiral staircases magically appearing in their lives at moments when they need enlightenment. Sometimes the enlightenment achieved is profound, sometimes it is banal. Sometimes the realization is that some people need to find enlightenment all on their own.
- 31-E, by M. Elizabeth Castle
This is the shortest story on this list–it won’t take you but five minutes to read it. So go check it out so you can be astonished at how much punch can be packed into a tiny bit of story.
- Five Stages of Grief After the Alien Invasion, by Caroline Yoachim
I’m less about spec-fic as the “literature of ideas,” and more into stories that take me on an emotional journey, in case it’s not obvious by now. This story focuses on some of the individual lives disrupted after an alien species, mistakenly believing Earth to be uninhabited, attempt to “terraform” Earth.
- The Great Detective, by Sarah Brooks
This is one of those stories where a young person sees an elderly relative’s supernatural claim as being silly, until realizing their elderly relative understood much more about life than the protagonist ever realized. It’s a narrative I’ve seen before, but it works just the same. If you’ve got a Grandma whose wisdom you miss, this story will make you feel all warm inside.
- What Glistens Back, by Sunny Moraine
This story hooked me instantly with what I saw as a very obvious (not in a bad way) question: what if you only had seconds to live? How would you face your goodbyes? Your regrets? Your life’s work?
- Lines on a Pamphlet Found Near the Museum, by Siobham Carroll
This is the trippiest of these stories. It’s not as emotional a story as I usually like, but this teased the other side of my personality, the math teacher in me. This was a Möbius strip of a narrative, where it’s hard to be sure what’s real or what’s possible. Imagine Night at the Museum if it were actually an intelligent story, and not a stupid Ben Stiller vehicle.
- Never the Same, by Polenth Blake
This story is told from the perspective of a psychopath, who has rules and checklists for approaching behavior others will find acceptable, but we quickly learn that the narrator is the trustworthy one, and that the characters this colony world respects are not necessarily good. On top of an exploration of morality and conformity, this story explores gender as well, with a protagonist that identifies as neither male nor female.
- Palm Strike’s Last Case, by Charlie Jane Anders
To the best of my knowledge, you can’t read this one for free. It’s in the July/August issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction Magazine. You can buy this issue for the Kindle–a subscription is actually quite cheap–and you *may* be able to find this story in the free Digest edition that includes some of the stories. This story features a Batman-style vigilante who leaves Earth for a new start on a colony world, only to awaken from cold sleep twenty years too late, after the colony is on the brink of starvation and suffering from a drug crime problem. This was an interesting mashup of a comic book style story with a more straightforward skiffy story about the scientist with a problem to solve. What made it appeal to me was the emotional throughline of father-child relationships: Palm Strike is a father who has lost his son, and on the colony world he befriends a girl who has lost her father. That really gave this story the extra dimension that made it powerful for me.
And I’ll throw in a shout out for another of my favorites from 2013, since I never did a recap last year:
- Alive, Alive Oh by Sylvia Spruck Wrigley
This is my favorite-story-that-did-not-get-enough-attention for ’13. I loved The Water that Falls on You from Nowhere and If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love, and these stories definitely deserved the awards they got, but this story pushed all my buttons as a parent trying to muddle my way through a job with no instruction manual, and with potentially wrong choices at every turn. How much protection is overprotection? How little before it’s neglect?
So anyway, I could actually keep going, but this is getting too long already. I hope you find a few gems you didn’t know about in this recap. If nothing else, I did enjoy looking back and remembering some of my favorite short reads.
* I apologize in advance for any inaccuracies in my recaps. They’re all from memory, and so hopefully I’m not doing these stories any grave injustices.