The story form so nice I spelt it twice and then some more.
Five solid stories with a better mix of science fiction and fantasy – plus one entry not worth bothering with. As with the other short fiction, I’m finding it hard to rank these and may well change my rankings.
In reverse order my take on things:
7. Not ballot worthy: Alien Stripper Boned From Behind By The T-Rex, by Stix Hiscock (self-published). As a crude joke I suppose it might get a paragraph of absurd humour out of the concept. However, this nominee from the Rabid Puppies has none of Chuck Tingle’s wit or commitment. It doesn’t know what it is and hence fails as erotica, sci-fi, humour or absurdism.
6. No Award. Not as strong a contender as previous years but once again it gets a minor boost from the activity of Rabid Puppy griefing.
5. “The Jewel and Her Lapidary”, by Fran Wilde (Tor.com, May 2016). A fantasy story set in a kingdom where royal “jewels” control psychic gems via their servant “lapidaries” to whom they are bonded. The story flows better on a second reading but first time through I found the two central characters too similar and the relative roles in the magical powers unclear. At the same time, the story didn’t seem to progress much. However, I was more charmed by it on a second reading. Fran Wilde has strong talent for world-building and even on that first reading I felt I had a real sense of the place the story was set. The use of a travel-guide’s excerpt set further into the future of the story helped create a sense of place.
4. “Touring with the Alien”, by Carolyn Ives Gilman (Clarkesworld Magazine, April 2016). An interesting road trip story as an alien’s human interpreter and an intelligent but not self-aware alien are driven around parts of the US. I liked the broad sketch of the story but I found it didn’t really draw me in. The concept of the aliens who can become addicted to a human’s capacity for conciousness was an interesting one. At first I thought it was perhaps under-explored as an idea but maybe the balance was just right for a story of this length i.e. it left you considering the implications. In particular there is an important question about deciet and deception that is not expressed but is implied.
3. “The Tomato Thief”, by Ursula Vernon (Apex Magazine, January 2016). Grandma Harken is back and somebody is stealing her tomatoes. The Jackalope Wives was one of my favourite stories from 2014 and this story shares the character of Grandma Harken and her down-to-earth wisdom and powers. The surrounding world she lives in is sketched out further with hints at bigger and weirder ideas (the train-gods) in a desert town in a not-exactly-USA. Some fantasy action, an original-but-familiar protagonist, a strong sense of folk tales and gardening tips.
2. “The Art of Space Travel”, by Nina Allan (Tor.com , July 2016). Primarily a story about a woman whose mother’s health and mental capacity is slowly failing, and a story about her unanswered questions on the identity of her father. The backdrop is against a London hotel preparing for the visit of astronauts for a new mission to Mars. Threaded through the story are two disasters: a previous failed Mars mission in which the crew all died (one of whom may have been the central character’s father) and a disasterous aircraft accident that is implicated in the mother’s failing health. That is a lot to cram into a relatively short piece of writing and wisely Nina Allan concentrates on the human story. Even so, the story feels unfinished and a number of elements (particularly around the aircrash but also the journalist who is clearly digging into aspects of the crash) are left unresolved. So while I was impressed by the story I also felt unsatisfied by it, like I’d been cheated out of a longer more complex tale.
1. “You’ll Surely Drown Here If You Stay”, by Alyssa Wong (Uncanny Magazine, May 2016) I’m actually surprised that this is my number one. I find Wong’s stories creep me out and leave me feeling disturbed. Yet I also find her writing draws me in quickly into stories that I don’t like conceptually. So, do I like her stories or not? I don’t know, so I’ll blame my lack of understanding of my own views on her talent.
Back out into the desert with this story in a weird-west tale of greedy mine owners and two orphans living in a brothel. The undead haunt the surroundings but there is nothing stylistically that make this a zombie-story.
I think my top three may wander around in order. All of the top five I really enjoyed reading.