Obligatory year in review/awards recommendation post. Virtually all I read was short fiction and nonfiction, so at least it’s brief!
Three stories can’t be removed from my ballot(s) by any force of gods or nature: Malon Edwards’ “The Half-Dark Promise,” in which a Haitian-American girl’s disability is her literal armor; and she’s accompanied by one badass sword named Tonton Macoute. Rhythmic and poetic devices within the text render it the best story I’ve read this year in terms of prose. “A Song For You” by Jennifer Brissett, a myth retelling that takes place in a far future (or is it our present?) taught me something invaluable, which is that colonialist science fiction and apocalyptic science fiction are two perspectives of the same story. And Naomi Kritzer’s “So Much Cooking” (novelette), epidemic literature in the form of a cooking blog in which the protagonist is taking care of a bunch of other people’s kids and the availability-of-ingredients situation is becoming increasingly desperate, made me laugh and cry at the same time.
A few other stories I’ve read this year I’ve found to be very memorable. “Documentary” by Vajra Chandrasekera, post-apocalyptic fantasy about how there’s violence in the demand for public performance of pain, and Lisa Bolekaja’s “Three Voices,” which brings feminine power to the story of the danger of the creative unconscious, were getting me all cerebral long after I read them. Alix Harrow’s “Animal Women” (novelette) and Priya Sharma’s “Fabulous Beasts” (novelette) approach a sensitive topic, violence against women, and while they’re very traditionally structured, they do so well, with great protagonists and use of suspense — and they don’t end unhappily, which is refreshing.
The story with the most evocative imagery I read was “Ossuary”, the debut story by Ian Muneshwar, of the variety for which the first adjective to spring to mind is “lovely.” (He, along with Rachael K. Jones, whose catalogue I haven’t entirely caught up with yet but has published flash fiction stories this year I consider spectacular, are going on my Campbell ballot.) Two other stories that fit this category are Kat Howard’s “The Universe, Sung in Stars” and “A Short History of Migration in Five Migrations of You” by Wole Talabi. All of these stories approach the cycle of life and death in a way that isn’t necessarily happy, but is hopeful.
Finally, three stories that made me laugh my ass off, a quality that’s sorely lacking in this field as a whole, in ways I found to be very clever: “Ginga,” by Daniel Older; “The Merger,” by Sunil Patel; and “Cat Pictures, Please” by Naomi Kritzer.
Speaking of laughing my ass off, I’m particularly excited about the new zine Mothership Zeta, the first issue of which was released late last year. The mission of the magazine is to publish stories that are fun. In a field with so many, to quote myself, sad bastard cyborgs, I think this zine fills a critical need. The first issue contained several stories I enjoyed, and the nonfiction was interesting and substantive, without being too technical for a general audience. Other zines that continue to do excellent work are Shimmer, Fireside Fiction, and Omenana.
The two essays from this year that I consider most vitally important are “In Which This Margin is Too Small to Contain” by Vajra Chandrasekera and “No More Diversity Panels, it’s Time to Move on” by Leslie Light. The former addresses amongst other things how language can distort the ways we approach thinking about diversity, such as that diversity is not a property of an individual but rather a group. (That’s just where it begins. If you haven’t yet, read this essay.) The latter illustrates how the myriad forms of the “diversity panel” subtly reinforce various isms and have a segregation effect, as well as how they extract the emotional labor of participants. These two writers are unquestionably going on my ballot for best fan writer; Light writes book reviews and essays that are reliably substantive and succinct at Black Nerd Problems, and Chandrasekera presents shrewd criticism of SF/F literature as a system, as well as short fiction recommendations, on his blog.