In preparation for the Hugo nominations, I have been reading short fiction. Here follows a list (continually updated) of stories that struck me as award-worthy.



“And This Is the Song It Sings” – Megan Arkenberg; Nightmare, Issue 35, August (link)

Our narrator tells us that everyone has a ghost story. She listens to the ones from runaway girls. And she has a secret of her own, “Out there on the side of the highway, somewhere beneath those dying trees and behind those ridges of banded rock, there is a monster.”Sam Tomaino

“The Cellar Dweller” – Maria Dahvana Headley; Nightmare Magazine 33, June (link)

In a town, there are dark things that dwell behind the cellar door. There also dwells the Banisher. She starts out as a nine-year-old, but not a pretty child. She has a thriving business, “advertises her services particularly for the banishment of gremlins, poltergeists, pixies, and nixies. She does a side business in rats, racoons, starlings, and mice. They come with the territory.” She grows up and goes to college, graduating with honors and leaving that business behind. But that is not the end of her story. Sam Tomaino / Content warning: Child abuse, child death.

“Damage” – David D. Levine;, January 21 (link)

In the extremities of war, we may know what we’ve been, but not what we will become. “Damage” is a tale of desperate times, desperate measures, and the inner life of a fighter spacecraft. – Publisher’s note

“An Element of Blank” – Lynda E. Rucker; Supernatural Tales 30

Three friends attempt to vanquish an evil presence they first encountered together as children. Beginning with a conscious nod to Stephen King, the story goes on to explore the ways in which these three women do or do not fulfill their potential. The central character has remained in the same town, apprehensive and afraid, waiting for a chance at something like redemption. – S. P. Miskowski

“The Game of Smash and Recovery” – Kelly Link; Strange Horizons, October 17 (link)

Killer robot “handmaids” and vampires open our discovery of Anat, a young girl, and her brother Oscar, who live in a ship, “The bucket,” above a planet “Home,” exploring the warehouses built by the Warehouse Builders and cataloging items to sell for their parents, who have been gone. They left Oscar to look after Anat when it became clear that “Anat was different.” Anat’s “handmaids” explore the surface and protect her from the “vampires” who want nothing more than to feed on the siblings. The “game” of Smash and Recovery was created by the siblings to teach Anat how to safely search and seek and use the resources available to her, allowing her and the handmaids to explore the entire surface, except in the “Stay Out Territory.” But Anat is growing smarter the longer they wait for their parents’ return and she hates to lose their games. A sudden twist radically changes every assumption and turns the entire story 180 degrees from where it started. Eric Kimminau

“Hadley Full of Hate” – Michael Hernshaw; The Sockdolager, Summer (link)

Beowulf, baristas, and post-invasion mop-up of alien forces in the woods of Washington state. – Author’s note

“How My Father Became a God” – Dilman Dila; The Apex Book of World SF 4 (link)

A scifi tale set in an African nation long before colonialism. It features a little girl whose brothers are eager to sell her off into marriage so they can earn cattle to find wives for themselves. She has to rely on her father, an inventor, to fight them off. – Author’s note

“Kaiju maximus®: ‘So Various, So Beautiful, So New’” – Kai Ashante Wilson; Fantasy Magazine, Issue 59, December (link)

In a world devastated by giant monsters, a superhero’s husband and children, hungry and cold, follow loyally after her as she goes to fight the boss monster. – Vasha

“La Héron” – Charlotte Ashley; Fantasy & Science Fiction, March/April

“La Héron” is the story of a duelist who enters an illicit tourney only to find most of her opponents aren’t what they seem and are playing for stakes she didn’t agree to. But she’s a tough old professional with more than a few tricks up her own sleeve, so with a reluctant-nun-cum-brawler as her second, she’s determined to win it all and take the purse anyway. – Author’s description

“The Lady of the Soler Colony” – Rocío Rincón Fernández (trans. James & Marian Womack); The Apex Book of World SF 4

Set in a Catalan textile colony during an alternate Industrial Revolution. Each factory centers on a goddesslike machine, its Lady. – Vasha

“Little Fox” – Amy Griswold; Fantastic Stories of the Imagination, June (link)

Bella is supposed to go away to college today, but she finds out that her clone, Fox, has drugged her and taken her place. She doesn’t do anything at first and pretends she is the clone. When she tells her mother what has happened, she finds something else out about her family.Sam Tomaino

“Paradise and Trout” – Betsy James; Fantasy & Science Fiction, July/August

10-year-old Hally always spent more time roaming the canyon and dreaming beside the stream with the trout than doing the duty his family expected of him. Now he is dead, and his father's last instruction is to follow the spirit road through the canyon without replying to anything that speaks to him till he arrives at paradise where his uncles await. – Vasha

“Please Undo This Hurt” – Seth Dickinson;, September 16 (link)

Ever feel like you care too much? After a breakup, after the funeral…it feels like the way to win at life is to care the least. That’s not an option for Dominga, an EMT who cares too much, or her drinking buddy Nico, who just lost his poor cat. Life hurts. They drink. They talk: Nico’s tired of hurting people. He wants out. Not suicide, not that — he’d just hurt everyone who loves him. But what if he could erase his whole life? Undo the fact of his birth? Wouldn’t Dominga be having a better night, right now, if she didn’t have to take care of him? And when Dominga finds a way to do just that, when she is gifted or armed with a terrible cosmic mercy, she still cares enough to say: I am not letting him have this. I am not letting Nico go without a fight. – Publisher’s note / Content warning: Mental trauma, suicidal thoughts.

“Pocosin” – Ursula Vernon; Apex Magazine, January (link)

[A] folktale... [which] tells the story of a witch named Maggie Grace (always “Maggie,” not even the Lord God can get away with calling her Margaret) and of a last kindness to a small old god who is dying. Maggie stands off both Heaven and Hell in order to give the god his last wish: to die in peace and go wherever it is that gods go when they die.Jason Harrell

“Rat Catcher’s Yellows” – Charlie Jane Anders; Press Start to Play [Penguin Random House, August] (link)

A crippling disease has made the body of Grace’s wife a prison for her erratic, reclusive brain. The only hope for their marriage? A video game where she rules over kingdom of cats.Evan Narcisse

“Sea Change” – Kimberly Unger; Galaxy's Edge, September

Maryanne is a creature designed to defend the shores of the colony planet against The Adversary, which comes from the sea. But while watching, she has become attached to a family fleeing a ruthless Boss. When this Boss endangers the Family, Maryanne’s purpose shifts.Sam Tomaino

“Summer at Grandma’s House” – Hao Jingfang (trans. Carmen Yiling Yan); Clarkesworld, Issue 109, October (link)

Zhanzhan is spending his summer at his grandmother’s house. His college career is in a mess. He has changed his field of study more than once. He forgot to take his English exams. Things at his grandmother’s house are confusing. The door opens at the hinge side. What looks like a refrigerator is actually a stove. Various other things are not what they seem. His grandmother is a retired college professor and is always doing odd experiments. She teaches him something important and changes his outlook on life and his life itself.Sam Tomaino

“Three Cups of Grief, by Starlight” – Aliette de Bodard; Clarkesworld, January (link)

The author presents us with three characters following the death of Duy Uyen, and we see the accompanying grief and the manner in which each deals with it. Quang Tu, her son, will stew over the loss of both her being and her memories until the bitterness overtakes him. Tuyet Hoa, a fellow researcher and the receiver of Duy Uyen’s memory implants, must come to terms with both the loss and the fact that the woman will live on in her own mind for the remainder of her days. Duy Uyen’s daughter, now the mind ship The Tiger in the Banyan, is no longer human. Her grief is both the least and most human of the three, for in the end she is left only with her own memories of her mother, and is content with those. Clancy Weeks

“To Die Dancing” – Sam J. Miller; Apex Magazine, Issue 78, November (link)

“To Die Dancing” opens in a world where a new strain of puritanism has taken control of the government and all deviant behavior up to and including dancing is punished. Ostensibly the story deals with a one night pass to dance and relive the forbidden days of freedom. Clive, the protagonist, spends his night in fear that the whole thing is a trap; a way to flush out remaining undesirables. Yet he feels compelled to attend in an attempt to find his missing friend Ummi.Robert L. Turner III



“Another Word for World” – Ann Leckie; Future Visions

Ashiban is on a diplomatic mission, meeting with the Sovereign of Iss, hoping to avert war between their nations, even though neither one of them speaks the other’s language. Their flyer is shot down, they’re not sure who by. As they flee cross-country, they begin to realize just how misconceived the assumptions they brought to the meeting were. – Vasha

“The Body Pirate” – Van Aaron Hughes; The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, July/August

“The Body Pirate” is set on a world where humanoids and birdlike creatures form (seemingly) symbiotic pairings. The birds dominate the pairings, considering themselves “souls” while the humanoids are merely “bodies.” Our protagonist Adela has co-pioneered technology to allow a single soul to divide its time between two or more bodies. This has unintended consequences, both to the society and in Adela’s personal life. – Author's description

“Botanica Veneris: Thirteen Papercuts by Ida Countess Rathangan” – Ian McDonald; Old Venus

Our initial narrator here is Maureen N. Gellard, the grand-niece Ida Granville-Hyde aka Ida Countess Rathangan, whose papercut art is valued beyond all measure. Her prints are anthologized in many books, including fifteen editions of the Botanica Veneris, based on the flora of Venus. Now, her last journal and papercuts, detailing her only trip to Venus (where she disappeared), have come into the possession of her grand-niece, who presents them without further comment. Ida's unique voice adds immeasurably to her journey across Venus, looking for her brother, Arthur, who had absconded with the family jewel (and her dowry) the Blue Empress, on the eve of her marriage to the wastrel Baron Rathanagan. On her journey, she learns of her brother's sins and crimes, (described as a gambler, a thief, a murderer, and a seducer, by someone who likes him). There are more surprises in store.Sam Tomaino

“An Evolutionary Myth” – Bo-Young Kim (trans. Gord Sellar and Jihyun Park); Clarkesworld, May (link)

Our narrator’s father was king but abdicated his crown to his brother, who is cruel. The land is under a long drought and people and animals metamorphose to adjust to changing conditions. Our narrator undergoes many changes as he runs from the king’s assassins and soldiers.Sam Tomaino

“Little Men with Knives” – L. S. Johnson; Crossed Genres Magazine #31, July (link)

The dark story of a divorced school-cafeteria worker whose life is not completely ordinary because every evening she puts a plate of food on her porch for the two-foot-tall dwarfs she’s seen emerging from a hole under her hedge. – Vasha / Content warning: Animal death; physical and mental abuse; gore; suicide of a secondary character.

“No Placeholder for You, My Love” – Nick Wolven; Asimov’s, August

Claire believes she’s finally found her soulmate. But to win his love, she must navigate the rules of a world where all is not as it seems. – Author's description

“A Residence for Friendless Ladies” – Alice Sola Kim; Fantasy & Science Fiction, March/April

Our unnamed narrator is a transgendered boy trapped in a voluptuous girl's body, thrown out of prep school when caught taking male hormones and being in a rage. Now, his grandmother is forcing him to live as a girly girl in The H______ Residence for Friendless Ladies. The Residence is very bizarre with each lady in separate rooms. An important rule for each of them is that she must not answer a persistent knocking at her door at night. There is a very unsettling feel to this story as our narrator finds a way to survive.Sam Tomaino

“Our Lady of the Open Road” – Sarah Pinsker; Asimov’s, June (link)

Luce and her band are on the road in a future where the road is dying, driving in their restaurant-grease van from one gig to the next as they become fewer and farther between as the venues slowly disappear, along with the few remaining live bands. All entertainment now comes as holos. She does it for the music, for the live music and the few people who still come to see it, but it’s a dying way of life, as they get older and creakier, scrounge in dumpsters for food and sleep in the funk of the van, constantly looking out for cops who’ll harass them on general suspicion. Anything but sell out to the holo corporations.Lois Tilton

“Saltwater Railroad” – Andrea Hairston; Lightspeed, July (link)

“Saltwater Railroad” is a novella set in the antebellum South on a small island off the Georgia/Florida coast where misfits and escaped slaves gather. Delia, who talks to the spirits, helps keep them safe. But a new castaway, Rainbow – who also has some witchery about her – joins them and leads to some serious trouble. – Chuck Rothman / Content warning: Rape, slavery, and abuse in the backstory.

“Sinseerly a Friend & Yr Obed’t” – Thomas M. Waldroon; Beneath Ceaseless Skies #171, April 16 (link)

The central character is Mr Stutley Northrup, sometimes called “Old Stuck-Up”, who lives the near Pennsylvania shore of Lake Erie in the mid-nineteenth century. Now comes to him the Justice of the Peace, a former student, wondering about the rumors of a sea serpent in the lake. Northrup isn’t impressed; he already knows all about the sea serpent, seen it himself. But there’s a complication, the real reason the JP has come to Northup about—and against—the monster. A body has washed ashore, and it’s been identified as Amos, Northrup’s hired man, known by him as a fugitive slave...Lois Tilton



“The Bone Swans of Amandale” – C. S. E. Cooney; Bone Swans [Mythic Delirium Books, July] (link)

“The Bone Swans of Amandale” is a fairy tale mashup of “The Juniper Tree” meets “The Pied Piper” narrated by Maurice, a human/rat shapeshifter.... The swan people of Amandale are being killed by tyrannical mayor Ulia Gol and turned into ghostly musical instruments for her enjoyment (Gol is as unctuous as she is monstrous, a gloriously over-the-top antagonist for this type of collective-unconscious nightmare). Maurice assembles an unlikely band of heroes (including the Pied Piper) to save Dora Rose, the last of the swan people and the woman he loves: even if her hauteur and disdain for him should give him little hope.Carlos Hernandez

“Gypsy” - Carter Scholz; Fantasy and Science Fiction, November/December

Climate change, politics, capitalism, technology, religion, individual stupidity all contribute to a rapidly worsening situation, and the outlook for humanity is desperate. Against this, one charismatic scientific genius sets up a plan to leave Earth and head for a nearby star. The small crew go into hibernation on the voyage, carrying a small payload to help seed a new start on a distant planet.Mark Watson

“On the Night of the Robo-Bulls and Zombie Dancers” – Nick Wolven; Asimov’s, February (link)

In a time when computers control the economy, a financial wizard sets out on a quest to prevent the ultimate market crash. – Author's description

“Quarter Days” – Iona Sharma; GigaNotoSaurus, December (link)

It’s the winter of 1919, and the war is over. Grace, Ned and Thanet have returned to the only world they’ve ever known: the magical courts of the City of London, the Temple gardens, and the river. But while they were gone, it changed. – Author's description

Witches of Lychford – Paul Cornell [, August]

The villagers in the sleepy hamlet of Lychford are divided. A supermarket wants to build a major branch on their border. Some welcome the employment opportunities, while some object to the modernization of the local environment. Judith Mawson (local crank) knows the truth—that Lychford lies on the boundary between two worlds, and that the destruction of the border will open wide the gateways to malevolent beings beyond imagination. But if she is to have her voice heard, she's going to need the assistance of some unlikely allies.... – Publisher's description

Wylding Hall – Elizabeth Hand [Open Road, February]

In the summer of 1971, the manager of the acid folk band Windhollow Faire sent them off to an isolated manor house to prepare their next album. Soon, strange and troubling events began to happen, although their music was better than it had ever been. It all fell apart after Julian Blake, the band's guitarist and songwriter, disappeared. Forty years later, a documentary interviews the remaining band members as they reminisce and puzzle over just what became of Julian. – Vasha