posted Sunday 30 December 2012 @ 10:38 am PST
It’s time again to look back at the year’s short fiction. I see two general trends in 2012, one inevitable and one depressing. First, the continuing migration from print to electronic publication, in some cases with versions offered in both media. I don’t see this trend as reducing either the number or the quality of short stories available – if anything, the contrary.
I do have some concern for the future availability of novellas; too many webzines share with the little printzines an unnecessary preference for the shorter length. Without the digests and the rare ezine such as Subterranean, as well as the dying anthology market, I fear that SF at the more extended lengths would become an endangered species.
Second, the original anthology from major US publishers seems to be endangered. This, absolutely, is an impending loss. I have only to look back to last year to see that these collections gave us a significant number of the best stories. Even in this drought year, a few superior anthologies greatly enriched the crop of fiction. There will be a void in the field if they die out.
Otherwise, 2012 was a fairly uneventful year. We lost a couple of publications, most notably Redstone SF, and Weird Tales seems to have fallen into incapable hands. New publications started up, as they always will, and it remains in most cases to be seen how well they will do. I’m most hopeful about Eclipse Online and perhaps Nightmare and James Gunn’s Ad Astra becoming regular venues for good stories.
The sudden loss of Redstone makes more noticeable one gap in the field. I’d like to see an online publication dedicated to high-quality hard SF. I had wondered if Eclipse might turn out to be that publication, as its editor has an excellent track record in the area, but it seems that Eclipse is more broadly conceived.
Finally, I always like to see new authors making their mark in the field, and this year’s standout is E Catherine Tobler, who has not only had good stories all over the place but has given the little magazine Shimmer a strong boost as its new editor. M Bennardo is also standing out as a new writer to watch.
Herewith my listing of the publications that offered what I consider the best stories of the year, the ones I’ll look forward to seeing on the award lists.
After a rather lacklustre start to the year, this veteran zine came up with more superior fiction in the last half of 2012, to place it at the head of the list. As often is the case, many of the best stories came in at the greatest lengths, one reason why I consider the digests still essential to the wellbeing of the genre.
It’s hard to pick a favorite, but I really liked Andy Duncan’s “Close Encounters”, the story of a man whose account of alien contact has changed his life.
Other good stories:
· Eleanor Arnason, “The Woman Who Fooled Death Five Times”
· Peter S Beagle, “Olfert Dapper’s Day”
· Jeffrey Ford, “The Natural History of Autumn”
· Ted Kosmatka, “The Color Least Used by Nature”
· Robert Reed, “Katabasis”
· Lynda E Rucker, “Where the Summer Dwells”
· Kate Wilhelm, “The Fullness of Time”
I don’t consider 2012 to have been this magazine’s best year. Even so, there were some fine stories; I wouldn’t have expected otherwise.
I particularly enjoyed Rick Wilber’s alternate history of Moe Berg and Walter Heisenberg, “Something Real”.
More good reads:
· Dale Bailey, “Mating Habits of the Late Cretaceous”
· Elizabeth Bear, “In the House of Aryaman, a Lonely Signal Burns”
· Steven Popkes, “Sudden, Broken, and Unexpected”
· Alan Smale, “The Mongolian Book of the Dead”
Perhaps the most significant change announced recently won’t affect readers until some time in 2013: the resignation of longtime editor Stanley Schmidt. It will be interesting to see if the new management can breathe some fresh air into the pages of this venerable zine while retaining its often hardshelled loyalist readers.
In the meantime, old management came up with “Nahiku West”, Linda Nagata’s murder mystery set in an unusual dystopian world.
· Michael Alexander & K C Ball, “The Moon Belongs to Everyone”
· Rob Chilson, “Conquest of the Air”
· Daniel Hatch, “Siege Perilous”
· Catherine Shaffer, “Titanium Soul”
Readers may have noticed a change in the fiction here recently: less futuristic, less dismal, and quite a bit more fantasy. Of these, I highly recommend Steve Rasnic Tem’s haunting “Twember”, the tale of a world strangely altered by a phenomenon no one understands.
· Elizabeth Bourne, “Beasts”
· Caroline Yoachim, “The Philosophy of Ships”
A quality little magazine still sticking with the quarterly print format. My favorite is Derek Künsken’s “Long Leap”, with its sociopathic protagonist facing a very SFnal crisis.
The New Yorker
Besides publishing the occasional genre story in its regular pages, The New Yorker devoted its 2012 annual fiction issue to SF. While I didn’t consider it quite as experimental as many critics did, I thought highly of Jennifer Egan’s account of a volunteer assassin’s mission, “Black Box”.
Online sources of fiction have proliferated as the print sources diminish in number. Their quality is quite variable, but count three ezines as really outstanding, each in different ways.
This online magazine now features three pieces of original fiction each month and uniquely specializes in literary SF of superior quality. Nowhere else online or in print do I so consistently find such good stuff. Again, it’s hard to pick out just a few favorites.
Aliette de Bodard tells a fine story of poetry and revolution in “Scattered Along the River of Heaven”.
Yoon Ha Lee’ “The Battle of Candle Arc” is another well-written piece of literary military SF – which isn’t an oxymoron here.
Other good stories:
· Erik Amundsen, “Draftyhouse”
· Xia Jia [trans Ken Liu], “A Hundred Ghosts Parade Tonight”
· Kij Johnson, “Mantis Wives”
· Robert Reed, “Prayer”
· E Catherine Tobler, “(To See the Other) Whole Across the Sky”
In this quarterly, Subterranean Press features some excellent authors whom we don’t often enough see. It can also be counted on to offer longer works than most online publications, usually at least one superior novella in every issue, such as K J Parker’s “Let Maps to Others”, a fascinating tale of voyages to legendary lands.
· Maria Dahvana Heady, “Game”
· Kat Howard, “The Least of the Deadly Arts”
· Caitlín R Kiernan, “Random Thoughts Before a Fatal Crash”
· Jay Lake, “The Weight of History, the Lightness of the Future”
Beneath Ceaseless Skies
This biweekly zine bills itself as offering “literary adventure fantasy”. Well, no. What it regularly gives us is well-done genre adventure fantasy. In fact, what BCS has done in the few years since its founding is to revive adventure fantasy, secondary-world fantasy, as a respectable subgenre of short fiction, raising it from the midden of disdain into which it had been cast by most of the rest of the field. Not a trivial accomplishment. So we now have a place where we can find stories like Richard Parks’ “In the Palace of the Jade Lion”, the story of a man who marries a ghost.
· Emily Gilman, “The Castle that Jack Built”
· Justin Howe, “Shadows Under Hexmouth Street”
· Ann Ivy, “Scry”
· Karalynne Lee, “Unsilenced”
· Noreen Doyle, “His Crowning Glory”
· Mark Teppo, “The Heart of the Rail”
With a new editorial staff, this long-lived weekly ezine seems to be offering a fresher selection of fiction, with more SF.
I especially admired the descriptions in “The Grinnel Method” by Molly Gloss, the story of a dedicated naturalist trying to come to terms with a phenomenon that science can’t account for.
Other good ones:
· Samantha Henderson, “Beside Calais”
· Louise Hughes, “Over the Waves”
· Dorothy Yarros, “The Fourth Exam”
Beginning in 2012, Lightspeed has incorporated its sisterzine Fantasy to offer original fiction four weeks every month. It’s not always possible to distinguish the fantasy from the zine’s brand of soft SF. At least, I’d call both of my favorites for the year fantasy.
· Mark Laidlaw, “Forget You”
· Jeremiah Tolbert, “La Alma Perdita de Marguerita Espinoza”
New sisterzine to Lightspeed. I liked Laird Barron over-the-top western horror tale, “Frontier Death Song”.
Tor’s online magazine has been doing a lot less independent adult fiction this year, but there were a few good exceptions, particularly Meghan McCarron’s “Swift, Brutal Retaliation”, in which death doesn’t end a family’s dysfunction.
· Kathryn Cramer, “Am I Free to Go?”
· Pat Murphy, “About Fairies”
The most promising new online publication of the year is a reincarnation of the superior Eclipse anthology series, now unfortunately discontinued. With stories like these, it looks like it has a brighter electronic future.
· Christopher Barzak, “Invisible Men”, a skilled retelling of the Invisible Man story.
· K J Parker, “One Little Room An Everywhere”
I haven’t been overly impressed with the fiction in this new online futurist zine, but it’s hard to go wrong with a story from M John Harrison like “In Autotelia”, even if it’s not so obviously futuristic.
James Gunn’s Ad Astra
Another debut, this one an annual. I liked the story of tattoo linkage by Nikki J North, “Branches on My Back, Sparrows in My Ear”.
A new editor seems to have this ezine on the right track with some good stories.
· Katherine E K Duckett, “Sexagesimal”
· Kat Howard, “Murdered Sleep”
Journal of Unlikely Entomology
This highly unlikely publication continues to deliver some surprisingly delightful tales.
· M Bennardo, “The Famous Fabre Fly Caper”
· Karen Heuler, “The Clockworm”
· K M Ferebee, “The Bird Country”
· Nancy Hightower, “Mereá
· Caroline Spencer, “The Players”
As I mentioned above, it’s a shame that US publishers seem to be turning their backs on the original anthology for adults. There were two excellent collections of stories this year, mostly science fiction: one British, the other under Japanese ownership.
Edge of Infinity
Hard SF set mostly in the outer reaches of our solar system. Elizabeth Bear’s “The Deeps of the Sky” is a cracking good story of an alien stormwrangler who makes an unexpected contact.
· Pat Cadigan, “The Girl-Thing Who Went Out For Sushi”
· Gwyneth Jones, “Bricks, Sticks, Straw”
Solaris Rising 1.5
A short electronic collection from the same publisher, less successful than Edge of Infinity, but still with some good stuff, like Aliette de Bodard’s “Two Sisters in Exile”, a short story of future warfare.
The Future Is Japanese
While not so successful as a whole, this book of stories about/by/mentioning the Japanese includes several first-rate stories.
· Bruce Sterling’s “Goddess of Mercy” is a wildly absurdist tale set in an dystopian future.
· Catherynne M Valente creates a lovely fantasy about a calligrapher and his brush in “One Breath, One Stroke”.
“Eater-of-Bone” by Robert Reed
I also want to mention this excellent novella, the title story in the author’s collection from PS Publications [also British]. Reed had a great year, and this story of near-immortal posthumans stranded on a low-tech world was the best of it.