It’s somehow March 2017 already—time, as They Might Be Giants so accurately said, is marching on (and now I’m even older). But I just can’t quite let 2016 go until I’ve rounded up my most favourite short fiction published in it.
So what follows is my favourite short fiction from 2016, with a link to the reviews post for the relevant month. This, like all my other reviews, makes no claims to be an objective list, if such a thing were even possible—I just really like these stories.
Don’t You Worry, You Aliens by Paul Cornell
There has been a quiet apocalypse—that realistic sort where no one knows that it’s the end of the world at the time—and it all felt very familiar, very ‘right around the corner. It also recalled to me what I’ve read of the UK’s preparations for nuclear war in the ’70s, but up-to-date, with the BBC news on the radio once a week alongside the Facebook and Twitter bots submerging the internet in empty noise.
The Life and Times of Angel Evans by Meredith Debbonaire
It’s hard to create a compelling character in a short story, but fuck I love Angel Evans. Even when she’s being a self-destructive idiot, I love her—which is a true test of character charisma.
More that that, the multiverse Angel traverses is delightful in its Douglas Adams-esque nuance and comedy. My favourite has got to be the dwarf city with a half-infrasound language and occupational genders.
The Night Bazaar for Women Becoming Reptiles by Rachael K. Jones
Oasis is a trap city—wanderers find their way there but then can never leave. The women of Oasis eat the eggs of snakes and lizards to become snakes and lizards, escaping Oasis and their human lives to slither away out into the desert.
But despite eating every new egg she can get her hands on, despite yearning for freedom, Hester has yet to transform.
Foxfire, Foxfire by Yoon Ha Lee
Foxfire, Foxfire, published in March, is the story of a gumiho—a Korean fox spirit, infamous for shapeshifting to ensnare humans and eat their livers—who, at 99 livers, is just one short of being able to become human for good.
Lee’s gumiho inhabits a nation rent by civil war in which huge, Jaeger-like mechs do battle alongside soldiers. When the gumiho targets an injured mech pilot as their final victim, it turns out they’ve bitten off more than they bargained for.
Coral Bones by Foz Meadows
Shakespeare’s play The Tempest ends with Miranda, daughter of the sorceror Prospero, married off—apparently happily—to Prince Ferdinand, the only man aside from her father and island native Caliban she’s ever met.
Foz Meadows’ novella Coral Bones takes issue with this happy ending. […] Through self-doubt and abduction to magic and granted wishes and belonging, Coral Bones is a miniature genderqueer odyssey, and I adore it.
Between Dragons and Their Wrath by An Owomoyela and Rachel Swirsky
Published February this year, [Between Dragons and Their Wrath] introduces us to Domei and their friends Hano and Kwesi, street kids in in the war-ravaged nation of Rho. Situated as it is between two warring nations, the particular weapon of war that has brought Rho to its knees is the use of dragons.
There aren’t really any dragons in this story. And that’s my favourite thing about it. The dragons were driven through Rho years before this story opens. What remains is their leavings—scales, blood, shit—and contact with these are powerful enough to change a human irreparably if not outright kill them.
Your Orisons May Be Recorded by Laurie Penny
Your Orisons May Be Recorded follows a gender-non-specific angel in the celestial call centre that the heavens have become, and their relationship with their co-worker, a demon, following the big merger of Heavenly and Hellish (corporate) bodies.
Penny’s style—in this story in particular—recalls Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams, and her humour is black as pitch and corkscrew-crooked.
Iron Aria by A. Merc Rustad
I loved this high fantasy story about a trans and neurodivergent boy carving out space for himself in a large and indifferent world. Rustad captures the nuances of a home that’s claustrophobic, that’s smothering, but that’s still and always will be where you’re from.
The Men From Narrow Houses by AC Wise
Through Wise’s hypnotic prose style, the imagery here is carnival-weird, nightmarish. And rich, so rich you think you could bite it and taste the blood and the dirt.
Read this story out loud to yourself in a darkened room. Soak in it. Let it get inside you and stand your hairs on end.
A Fist of Permutations in Lightning and Wildflowers by Alyssa Wong
In this story by Alyssa Wong (see posts passim for some of her other sterling work), there were once two witches who were sisters, Hannah and Melanie. Melanie was the more powerful of the two—but she’s gone now, having taken the rest of the world with her, and Hannah keeps turning back the clock to try and save her.