It’s that time of the year again: the Awards Eligibility post–otherwise known as the Nominate Me Because You Like Me, You REALLY Like Me post–as well as My Favorite Short Fiction Recs of 2016. We’ll begin with my own award-eligible work first, because it’s a much, much shorter list.
I had two stories come out this year; amusingly, they turned out to be perfect bookends. “The Elixir of the Not-So-Disgusting Death Smell” was published in January at Mothership Zeta, and I’m crazy happy it’s there–I wrote the very first draft of this story years and years ago, and other than being the story that got me into Clarion West, it’s also the story that helped Young Carlie decide to focus on writing the kind of work she actually liked to read, namely speculative fiction. If romantic comedies with mad science, zombie hijinks, and Girl Scout cookies are your thing, then this might be a story worth checking out.
If you’re inclined to read only one of my stories, though–and who could blame you, time is short and there is SO MUCH good work out there–I’d actually push for “Every Day is The Full Moon,” which just came out today in Lightspeed.
I’m pretty proud of this one. We’ll see if that pride takes a hit after I read reviews or not (although I’m happy to say I’ve got at least one awesome one at Quick Sip Reviews), but regardless, this piece means a lot to me. It’s a YA story about girl friendships and abuse dynamics and what the power of love actually means. It also has werewolves, fairies, demons, Valkyries, and a bunch of other neat stuff. Because I’m an honest soul, I feel I should tell you upfront that this story is written in 2nd person POV, if that’s something you absolutely can’t stand. But also because I’m trying to balance low self esteem with an honest assessment of my skills, I’ll also tell you that I’m actually pretty decent at writing in the 2nd person.
Now. As far as everyone else’s work goes, I’ve compiled a list of my 10 + 1 Favorite Short Stories that I’ve read this year. They aren’t ordered in any meaningful way whatsoever, and I’m referring to the list as “10 + 1” rather than “11” because . . . well, because I read fanfiction, and that’s just the kind of mood I’m in–although I suppose you could look at this list as a compilation of my Favorite 10 Standalone Stories + 1 Series Starter.
Regardless. If you haven’t read these stories, I highly recommend checking them out.
10 + 1 Favorite Short Stories (or Novelettes) of 2016
1. “This is Not A Wardrobe Door” – A. Merc Rustad – Fireside
I’m hard-pressed to think of a more charming or optimistic story, which is something I think most of us could use these days. The ending is just what I’d hoped it would be, even though I didn’t actually expect it. Also, there’s a little bit of shade thrown at Narnia, which I can’t help but approve of.
Hi my name is Ellie and I’m six years old and my closet door is broken.
2. “How To Host A Haunted House Murder Mystery Party” – A.C. Wise (Bourbon Penn)
I just loved this story. I loved everything about it: it’s simultaneously both witty and melancholy, meta and elegant, not to mention a clever, gothic spin on some of my favorite tropes, like strangers invited to haunted houses or dinner parties with murder. By coincidence, I read this story a few days after watching Clue for the, oh, 112th time, which I think made this reading especially delightful.
Invite extra guests. Invite at least one person liable to turn up late. Provide at least one guest with the wrong address so they become lost along the way. They will consider themselves lucky, once all is said and done. Every tale needs a survivor.
3. “A Menagerie of Grief” – Kelly Sandoval – Flash Fiction Online
Just lovely. A perfect exploration of grief, and how it can be highly individualistic, how it can tear people apart or slowly push them back together.
They didn’t get along, Shane’s pretty little dog and my great ugly dragon. It was the dog’s fault. The way it pranced at Shane’s heels, so clean and appropriate, while my pain smoldered in the living room, curled around the couch where I’d taken to sleeping, its breath fogging up the windows. At night, the dog whined for hours. I could hear it pacing the bedroom, scratching at the door. Was it already trying to leave him? Maybe he only kept his grief for my sake. For the show of it.
4. “And In Our Daughters, We Find A Voice” – Cassandra Khaw – The Dark
A violent and gorgeous Little Mermaid retelling. This is the first thing I’ve read by Cassandra Khaw, and, yeah, definitely not gonna be the last.
My sisters die voiceless in a froth of red foam, gasping mouths and gaping eyes, no different from common fish.
5. “Blackpool” – Sarah Brooks – Shimmer
Disclaimer: Sarah is my friend, so, objectivity, or whatever.
Sarah’s prose is just so goddamn elegant; I was in constant awe/envy of her work when we were at Clarion West together, and, happily for me, “Blackpool” is my favorite of her CW stories. I’m so happy it found a good home at Shimmer because it is well worth a read.
The Detective seals the tears into a little plastic bag. When he examines them later he finds that they are genuine. He takes out a tear and places it on his cheek. It is cool on his skin.
6. “Once I, Rose” – A. Merc Rustad – Daily Science Fiction
The best Valentine’s Day story, ever. Short, wonderful, and romantic as hell.
Attempted Methods Of Communication Thus Far:
* Shedding petals into the words HELP ME. [Too difficult to arrange with no hands.]
* Pricking every finger that touches me; someone must realize I am not a rose. [People are imperceptive.]
* Asking the bees to carry my message to someone. Anyone. [Humans understand bees poorly.]
* Thinking your name as loud as I can, remembering how we said we would always recognize each other’s ghosts.
7. “A Spell to Retrieve Your Lover From the Bottom of the Sea” – Ada Hoffman – Strange Horizons
Also romantic, although differently. This is a lovely story with gorgeous imagery and a reminder to accept that not every battle is yours to conquer.
“Tell me the future,” you will say to your runes, but they will not quite tell you that. Instead you will cast them, again and again, and each future you see will be different.
8. “The Opening of the Bayou Saint John” – Shawn Scarber – Strange Horizons
I love the mythology here, this strange, fantastical world that’s been created out of the eerie swamps of New Orleans. Wonderful imagery and structure.
I grab the sharecropper by her dress and hold her. She fights to break away from my grip, but I am no woman. I may appear as a woman. Many a man has foolishly approached me as though I am eligible for their affections. But I am a thing. I am made of the swamps and dead sparrows and all the sorrows that wash up on the bank of the Mississippi.
9. “A Call to Arms for Deceased Authors’ Rights” – Karin Tidbeck – Uncanny
If you ever wished the term “ghostwriting” was a bit more literal, this is the story for you. Clever and enjoyable, particularly for writers.
As for the ghostwriters: writing for a corpse is traumatizing. You can’t just make someone do that and then chuck them into the street without helping them process the experience.
10. “Superior” – Jessica Lack – The Book Smugglers
Just a really cute YA, M/M romance between a superhero’s intern and a supervillain’s apprentice. I especially like how no one’s straight-up evil, even the characters you’d expect to be. And despite the word count (almost novella length), the story just flies by. Solid comfort read.
“Kidnapping a minor seems pretty bad.”
“Um, dude, all kidnapping is bad,” I say. “So is creating killer chimps using the cosmic power of Neptune.”
Tad is adamant. “I had to do four hours of research. It’s the power of Jupiter.”
(Plus One): “Hurricane Heels” – Isabel Yap – The Book Smugglers
This is actually a series of five interconnected stories, but I’m specifically highlighting the first one, partially because picking multiple stories is cheating, but also because the first one is easily my favorite. “Hurricane Heels” is about a bachelorette party that goes right to hell, and it celebrates what’s best in life: girl friendships and fighting monsters and jewelry that turns into weapons! My inner 12-year-old Sailor Moon fan is so stoked right now.
In hindsight, we should have expected things would go to shit. Like always. But it was Friday and Selena was getting married, and we wanted to drink and dance and not blow up monsters for one night.