I love short stories, but don’t read enough of them. For science fiction in particular, a short story represents the perfect length to show off a good idea without getting bogged down. Stories here are less than 7,500 words, listed in order of reading. Given the short length, spoilers are somewhat inevitable.
An Unimaginable Light – John C. Wright
A human and a robot debate philosophy.
If you come at the king, you best not miss. This desperately wants to be in conversation with “I Robot”, down to the idea of a robot psychologist, but is instead a grotesque caricature of Isaac Asimov’s book. Where the stories about Susan Calvin where tightly focused examinations of individual aspects of the three laws of robotics, this story is a muddled hodgepodge of incomplete ideas and philosophical digs that are too scattered to be assembled into a coherent world view (though I can guess what bigoted, narrow-minded one it is based one). Even on a plotting level this is a failure, with the ‘twist’ being telegraphed on the first page, and an ending that is supposed to be a triumphant martyring actually playing as a suicide bombing.
An intellectual and literary train wreck that has no merit in even a so bad it’s good kind of way.
The City Born Great – N. K. Jemisin
A young street kid needs to midwife the birth of a great city.
The idea of the city of New York being born with the help of a poor, gay, black street kid (as representative of NY city as anybody else) is good, but I thought the execution a bit week. The birth of the city and ensuing battle is too abstract, the meaning of the living city is too vague, draining the story of impact and meaning. I fear that there was too much story for the format and something had to give.
A good idea that needed to be longer or more focused.
That Game We Played During the War – Carrie Vaughn
Two veterans from opposite sides of a war meet up in the ensuing peace to finish a game.
A gifted artist can take simple, often seen pieces and assemble them into something affecting. This is a straightforward story about a nurse and a soldier who alternated between captive and captor reunited after the war to play a game and build comradery into a friendship. And yet I was deeply moved by this tale of compassion between a telepath and a regular human building on what made them the same, rather than what made them different. All this was accomplished with a sparse, unadorned writing style that made it more powerful.
A great story about building bridges and finding compassion for others.
Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies – Brooke Bolander
After a godlike creature is murdered while slumming it, she comes back for justice.
This is technically a revenge tale, but it’s really a critique of the crime fiction genre. Fuck it, this is a war cry directed at sensationalist news and popular cultures focus on villains, not victims. It’s mainly written in bullet points in a dispassionate style, yet venom drips from every line and anger pokes through every word.
Distilled anger channeled effectively.
A Fist of Permutations in Lightning and Wildflowers – Alyssa Wong
A woman with immense powers keeps rewinding time to try to save her sister.
I can’t work out if this a very straightforward metaphor for the aftermath of a suicide, or something impenetrably deeper. At it’s most basic it is the story of a girl with god like powers who keeps rewinding time to prevent her sister’s suicide, but always fails and always feels responsible for not being there. It’s just a little too elliptical for me.
A time loop story about suicide that is a little too abstract for it’s own good.
Seasons of Glass and Iron – Amal El-Mohtar
A girl trapped on a glass hill meets a girl with iron shoes.
How many fairy tales would be radically altered if the heroine/victim of the tail gained some outside perspective? Here we have two tales of women trapped in quests whose paths cross, and from their meeting they gain the insight to escape their narrative traps. While it started slow, this quickly became one of the smarter stories I’ve read. The only major criticism I have is that the idea for this story is so good, that the author could perhaps have left more of it as subtext and it would have hit even harder.1
A incredible subversion of two fairy tales.
- That Game We Played During the War.
- Seasons of Glass and Iron
- Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies
- The City Born Great
- A Fist of Permutations in Lightning and Wildflowers
- No Award
Notes: The first three are all stories that I would be happy winning, the next two stories were OK, and I am voting No Award in this category.