January’s Short Fiction Reviews

January Short Fiction

Legend has it that Socrates said: ‘the unexamined life isn’t worth living’. Taking this dubious aphorism to heart, as was ever my wont, this past December I decided that the new year would be a good time to finally start logging my reading.

I’m going to further break down the demographics of everything I read in another post, for now here’s a round-up of all the short fiction I read in January.

Keep in mind this is short fiction I read in January – I make no promises as to the timeliness or otherwise of my reading and/or reviewing.

Duly disclaimed, I want to first lay out the handful of stories that most stood out to me this month. They are:

Postcards From Monster Island by Emily Devenport

A city is invaded by scifi monsters. But Bernadette has the Martian Death ‘Flu, so she isn’t going anywhere. Neither are her neighbours. Community is at the heart of this sweet, incongruous story.

Cat Pictures Please by Naomi Kritzer

One of the pleasantest stories I read this month, Kritzer’s story envisions a near-future/possible-present in which an algorithmically-overpowered search engine develops sentience (and a burning desire for cute cat pictures) and decides it’s better not to let anyone know. Excellent in podcast.

Breaking the Spell by R. C. Loenen-Ruiz

This story is iridescent glass shattered into pieces and jumbled together beautifully. It’s an extra-dimensional love story. I’m ensorceled. I want more.

Angel, Monster, Man by Sam J. Miller

The legend of a vengeful gestalt creature conjured from the artistic remains of a generation of queer artists killed by HIV/AIDS. Full of rage and grief. The most powerful Miller story yet.

In the Queue for the Worldship Munawwer by Sara Saab

Life and death at the (probable) end of the world. Like an elegy to Lebanon and its people. The impossibility of being one person facing the death of millions.

In alphabetical order, the remainder of my short fiction intake this month (that’s nineteen further stories, which I’d like to point out aren’t necessarily substandard just because they didn’t end up in my top five) is as follows:

The Return of the Thin White Duke by Neil Gaiman

A fantastical origin story for David Bowie – while this doesn’t stand up as its own story, without the context of January, read this if you loved the Starman and want to be sad.

Hunting Monsters by SL Huang

No happily ever after in this post-fairy tale story – at least, not ever after. Revealing the tales woven into the fabric of this story would spoil it a bit, so all I’ll say is that I really enjoyed this bittersweet story about queer family and monsters.

Crystal by Ken Liu

This story was smaller than I expected, but still perfectly formed. An affecting story about loss in migration.

Seventh Day of the Seventh Moon by Ken Liu

(read or listen)
A story of two girls’ sweet, fleeting teenage love, and the myth they accidentally stumble into. Charming and sad, and yet life goes on.

Inspector Bucket Investigates by Sarah Lotz

Shocking murders in Disney’s latest, clone-staffed theme park: Dickens’ London. I listened to this story as a podcast from Dark Fiction Magazine, and I can’t help but wonder if it would have been better in print. But then again, hard-bitten noir prose has to be exceptional to snag me, and sadly I didn’t find this story exceptional.

Superhero Girl by Jei D. Marcade (as Jessica Lee)

Short, sad, sweet, somehow hopeful. A very different take on the superhero genre.

Ghosts of Home by Sam J. Miller

Agnes works for a bank, appeasing the domestic spirits of empty, repossessed houses. This is the economic crisis in America, expressed in magical realism. This is millennial self-loathing as a short story. This is fucking spot on.

The Heat of Us: Notes Toward an Oral History by Sam J. Miller

In this story, Miller uses fantasy to mythologise the actual events of the Stonewall Riot – fiercely wistful and proud, this is strange in a new and good way.

A Dozen Frogs, a Bakery, and a Thing that Didn’t Happen by Laura Pearlman

Fluffy as a cupcake, this little tale of fairy tale vengeance is nonetheless satisfying.

Tomorrow When We See the Sun by A. Merc Rustad

SFF at its most alien, this story follows what I want to call an AI or a cyborg, but can’t, quite. Operatic in scope, within a wider universe that is ripe for further revelation, I feel like this short story deserves to be adapted into a film by Guillermo del Toro.

Not Smart, Not Clever by E. Saxey

While this is a fun near-future story about undergraduate academic plagiarism (which will strike a familiar chord with anyone who’s been an undergrad in the era of electronic submissions), the podcast suffered from being a story with a noticeably British voice read by an American reader (listened to by this British blogger).

Minghun: Unlikely Patron Saints No. 5 by Amy Sisson

(read or listen)
What if you died, and met the love of your life? A simple story about getting what you hoped for and finding you don’t want it any longer.

Vulcanisation by Nisi Shawl

The first Nisi Shawl story I’ve read, and fuck, but this is a gut punch. Historically accurate racism makes this both difficult and important to read, but Shawl’s narrative chops and interestingly alternate take mean you keep going all the way to the end.

Selfies by Lavie Tidhar

A disordered series of snapshots chronicle a girl’s last days. I can’t sort out what message this story makes out of the modern trend of selfie-taking, but a good story, and spooky, nevertheless.

Wooden Feathers by Ursula Vernon

This story is about creation, and how the things that you create are your children, in a strange, twisted kind of way.

Lotus Face and the Fox by Nghi Vo

Grief and wonder mingle in this brand new, ancient-feeling, fable set in Nghi Vo’s own fictional city.

Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers by Alyssa Wong

If you, like me, have a squick about being eaten, reader, beware. This disturbing story wormed inside my brain and now haunts the forgotten corners there, and comes out when I’m not thinking of anything in particular.

Harvestfruit by JY Yang

A little snippet of POWs in a future organic vs. machine war. While a fine little story, to be honest, I struggled to grok the point of it.

Secondhand Bodies by JY Yang

A truly distasteful protagonist in a near-future body-swapping story that barely actually contains any body-swapping, but has plenty of interpersonal upper-class Singaporean politics. Worthwhile and ultimately satisfying.

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