For the past few years, I’ve posted year-end recaps of some of my favorite stories, and friends have told me they found my recommendations helpful. I read short speculative fiction—particularly online short spec fiction—pretty voraciously, so I may have run across some wonderful stories that you don’t already know about. This blog post is not an exhaustive list of every terrific story I’ve read in 2015; follow me on Twitter or Facebook if you want that, because I share links to stories pretty much year-round. Rather, it’s a list of stories that have stuck with me even in the weeks or months since I read them.
There are no doubt plenty of amazing stories I haven’t run across. I’m not done reading yet for the 2015 award season, and I know I’ve saved some of the best for last. But right now, on December 31st of 2015, these are stories that have haunted me. I hope you’ll enjoy them.
In no particular order:
- “And You Shall Know Her by the Trail of Dead,” by Brooke Bolander
I’m a sucker for stories about women who kick ass, but this story had a tender heart too.
- “Limestone, Lye, and the Buzzing of Flies,” by Kate Heartfield
What if Walt Disney World’s Frontierland had real ghosts, who played out their ongoing dramas by possessing the castmembers? I thought this story was fantastic–beautiful at first, then chilling and foreboding by turns, and oh-so-atmospheric.
- “The Ways of Walls and Words,” by Sabrina Vourvoulias
This story is sweet and bitter and beautiful and unflinching. It’s a story of friendship, of self-sacrifice, of honoring your traditions, of honoring your loved ones, of finding commonality in your differences. It’s a story of surviving in the face of oppression, of bending but not breaking. There’s a raw honesty in this story. Check it out.
- “The Heat of Us: Notes Toward an Oral History,” by Sam J. Miller
I only discovered Sam J. Miller’s stories in the last twelve months or so, but everything I’ve read by him has been terrific, so when I ran across this story, I was looking forward to reading it. Then, about three paragraphs in, when I realized he was writing about the Stonewall Riots, I felt a literal frisson–what an amazing concept. This is like a documentary (or an oral history, as the title notes) of the riots that touched off the modern form of the LGBT rights movement–only in this version the fires were lit not physically, but by a mass psionic polykinesis. Which is freaking cool as hell. I’d read about the Stonewall Riots several times before, but this science fictional account made it more real for me, because it gave me characters to attach to and care about, so it became more than a dry history, but something to really get invested in. This story also raised in my mind interesting questions about to whom historical events belong–especially historical events that were experienced by and are meaningful touchstones for people who are still alive. (That sounds like a criticism. It’s not, though. It’s just another way this story made me think.)
- “. . . And I Show You How Deep the Rabbit Hole Goes,” by Scott Alexander
If you don’t normally read short stories, read this one. It counts, dammit. Sometimes you find fiction in the most unexpected places. This looks like nothing more than Tumblr silliness, but it’s a double dose of amazeballs, is what it is. No, DON’T just read the picture here. That’s not the awesome part. The awesome part is everything that comes after!
- “Nothing is Pixels Here,” by K. M. Szpara
I’ve often thought about what it would be like if our e-lives and virtual reality became so ubiquitous that it was possible to live your whole life in a virtual existence, like Second Life, only much more so. When I see other people play with this conceit, they always seem to come down on the side of treating this as some sort of horror story scenario, but I’ve never been quite convinced. Maybe because I’ve always been an early adopter–I feel like I grew up on computers and then online anyway. Anyway, this story explores the trope in a more nuanced way than I’ve seen before. This story wins the Damn I Wish I’d Written That Award for 2015.
- “Madeleine,” by Amal El-Mohtar
This one explores grief and sanity and reality and delusion. And more than anything else, loneliness. One thing that struck me in this story is the way support systems sometimes—often—edge away if you start to need TOO much support, or start to need support for TOO long. Like, okay, this bad thing happened, and here is the narrative for how you should feel the pain, and for how long, and when it’s time to get over it already. That’s not What The Story Is About, but it’s a thread running through the story that stood out to me. I’ve read a few stories by Amal El-Mohtar, but this is my new favorite.
- “Forestspirit, Forestspirit,” by Bogi Takács
This story had all the tense skiffy action, out-there inventiveness, high stakes, and big thematic ideas you could want, but at its heart (for me) was a touching relationship between a soldier and a child.
- “When Your Child Strays From God,” by Sam J. Miller
This story is a masterclass in writing an unreliable narrator, but beyond that it’s a great lesson in taking a deeply flawed central character and treating them with a ton of compassion and fairness as they come to some self-awareness. This is the second story I’ve recommended this year by Sam J. Miller; you really should just read everything he writes.
- “It Brought Us All Together,” by Marissa Lingen
I can see this story considered for Kaleidoscope’s Best YA stories of the year anthology. It features yet another unreliable narrator, skewering the faux-grief that tragedies sometimes bring out in a spot-on weary teen voice. The narrator, of course, is SO BEYOND it all . . . except that she’s not.
- “Descent,” by Carmen María Machado
I don’t generally do horror, but this is really more dread than horror, and this story is smart. I love how we get this image of concentric semicircles in the amphitheatre and then the story itself has pretty much the same structure, and story within a story within a story. And then the last three paragraphs gave me chills. (This story is sadly all too topical too.)
- “Let’s Tell Stories of the Deaths of Children,” by Margaret Ronald
If we care so much about children, why do we (as a society) seem to love stories in which they’re endangered so much? This story had so much going on. It’s a critique of such stories, while ironically participating in the genre. It’s delightfully creepy, it’s meta as all hell. And from a writing standpoint, it made me see how it’s possible to use deconstruction as an element within fiction. I’ll have to try that soon.
- “And We Were Left Darkling,” by Sarah Pinsker
I seem to be a sucker for impossible baby stories–my favorite story of 2014 was just such a tale. It might touch a nerve for me because I don’t and won’t have genetic offspring of my own. I love how real the characters are. Taya and Jo. No good or bad guys. Just people in a crazy situation doing their best. And I love the ending, in that it’s really a beginning. Wonderful story. Check it out if you haven’t read it. And then check out everything else by Sarah Pinsker.
- “When We Were Giants,” by Helena Bell
This is the sort of using-spec-metaphorically story that I just eat up. For me, this was a story of how we raise girls as a society, how we try to train them to be meek, to not be “big and loud.” And how we use the fear of bad things happening to reinforce this–how when somebody gets hurt it’s not, “It happens,” not a necessary risk, but “You shouldn’t have.” And ultimately, I thought it was a story of the women who internalize patriarchy, who give up the things that make them feel alive before somebody can take them away, and who end up resenting the women who refuse to do so.
So anyway, I hope you find something to enjoy here that maybe you hadn’t read before. There’s a lot of great short spec fiction being published these days, and it breaks my heart how many of my friends seem totally unaware if this short fiction golden age we’re living through. So give these a look, and let me know if you find something you love!