I really like short stories, though it seems I read less of them than I should.
I read quite a few last year though. I subscribe to eFiction magazine and Clarkesworld, and bought issues of eFiction Fantasy, a collections of horror and dark fantasy, a collection of sci-fi and fantasy, and more eBook short-story collections than I care to remember. And of those the following are the best of the bunch, my three favorite short stories of 2012 in no particular order.
1. The Paper Menagerie, Ken Liu
This was originally published in Fantasy and Science Fiction in March/April 2011 but I only got around to reading it this year, just in time to vote for it in the Hugo ballot, which it won in the short story category. It tells the story of a man whose mother feels lost in the new world because she doesn’t speak English, and the fantastic (literally) origami animals she makes for him. It is a subdued sort of fantasy story, no dragons or swords and very little magic. It takes place in the here and now. It is the sort of story I tend to like, character-driven and well written, with the fantastic element used with subtlety.
I had heard a lot about the quality of The Paper Menagerie before I read it and was not disappointed.
One of my earliest memories starts with me sobbing. I refused to be soothed no matter what Mom and Dad tried.
Dad gave up and left the bedroom, but Mom took me into the kitchen and sat me down at the breakfast table.
“Kan, kan,” she said, as she pulled a sheet of wrapping paper from on top of the fridge. For years, Mom carefully sliced open the wrappings around Christmas gifts and saved them on top of the fridge in a thick stack.
She set the paper down, plain side facing up, and began to fold it. I stopped crying and watched her, curious.
2. All The Painted Stars, Gwendolyn Clare
I read this standing up in the kitchen of a basement apartment while on vacation in Stykkisholmur (a very pretty town in Iceland). My girlfriend and my son were sleeping in the next room and there was no door and the chairs were creaky. I read it standing up so as not to make any noise, you see. This is pure sci-fi, as good as it gets. Told through the viewpoint of an alien that intercepts a ship that has been found by humans. The ship is alien and he humans are trying to get it running and the main character, on the verge of suicide, ends up helping the humans.
Best sci-fi I’ve read in a long time.
They are not the Brights, and so I hesitate to save them. Part of me is eager, and part of me ashamed.
Even through the haze of plasma blasts dispersing over their shields, I recognize the ship as a Bright construct—too much glass, arranged in sharp geometric panels so the entire upper surface glitters with reflected starlight. Still, I know the pilots must not be Brights. First, because they fly clumsily and appear not to know how to fire the main cannon. Second, because the Brights went extinct some twelve hundred solar cycles ago.
3. The Swimmer in the Desert, Alex Preston
This is a story that I somehow stumbled upon. I had never heard of Fleeting magazine or Alex Preston before reading it. It is beautifully written, possibly the best of the three here. Maybe it is that I am trying to write a novel that has a desert setting, and I liked the way Alex wrote the heat and the feel of the desert. Maybe.
Probably it’s simply the story.
He spits over the side of the tower and pats the handle of the revolver in his belt. The ﬁrst silver line of dawn traces the outline of the mountains and he realises he can hear water. He has heard it before in the morning but never this clearly.
Even the night air feels as if it has been breathed a million times, as if some desert djinn is panting stale air straight into his lungs.
Your turn. What were the best short stories you read last year?