So what have we learned from reading the almost 100 stories on this list? That there were actually quite a few excellent fantasy and science fiction stories published last year, that even when coming already curated there’s so much stuff out there you can easily drown in it and that there a fair few writers doing interesting things at the short story level I hadn’t heard of before I started this, who I like to see more off.
Of the stories on the list, the following got nominated for one of the short fiction Hugo Awards by me:
Rachel Swirsky, “Grand Jeté (The Great Leap).” Subterranean, Summer 2014.
A brilliant story about a daughter and a father and how they cope with her impending death. I’d call it a 21st century Helen O’Loy if that wasn’t a creepy sexist bit of sentimental shite and this isn’t.
Veronica Schanoes, “Among the Thorns.” Tor.com, May 7, 2014.
Re-imagining a horribly anti-semitic Brothers Grimm fairy tale.
Carmen Maria Machado, “The Husband Stitch.” Granta, October 28, 2014.
A very meta, very allegorical, feminist sort of fantasy story.
Yoon Ha Lee, “Wine.” Clarkesworld, January 2014.
A great space opera sort of science fiction story, with a trans protagonist.
Kathleen Ann Goonan, “A Short History of the Twentieth Century, or, When You Wish Upon A Star.” Tor.com, July 20, 2014.
You could argue that this isn’t science fiction, but this is a story that concerns itself with everything science fiction should concern itself with in the 21st century.
Ruthanna Emrys, “The Litany of Earth.” Tor.com, May 14, 2014.
A Lovecraftian story that refutes Lovecraft’s racism.
Alyssa Wong, “The Fisher Queen.” F&SF, May/June 2014.
“The Fisher Queen” is perfect, already a Nebula nominee and deservedly so. It’s a story about a fisher girl from the Mekong delta who one day learns the truth behind her father’s joking that her mother was a mermaid. Perhaps the best way to describe it is as a feminist fairy tale.
Damien Angelica Walters, “The Floating Girls: A Documentary.” Jamais Vu 3, September 2014.
A very simple story about an unexplained wave of girls, well, just floating up into the air and the indifference with which it is greeted. It feels very much of the moment, a response to things like GamerGate and such.
Kelly Sandoval, “The One They Took Before.” Shimmer #22, November 2014.
An urban fantasy story that looks at what happens after you get back from fairy land. It reminded me a bit of Jo Walton’s Relentlessly Mundane, about the same general emotions of loss and bitterness, but in a different key so to speak.
Rachael K. Jones, “Makeisha in Time.” Crossed Genres #20, August 2014.
Almost impossible, but Rachael K. Jones has managed to write a novel time travel story, of a woman who keeps getting pulled back into the past to lead entire lifes there, only to return to the exact method she left, her family and friends none the wiser, and how she adapts to this. A great story.
Xia Jia, “Tongtong’s Summer.” Translated by Ken Liu. Clarkesworld, December 2014 (originally in Neil Clarke (ed.), Upgraded, Wyrm Publishing, 2014).
Xia Jia writes about the impact of high technology on everyday life and here tackles a very contemporary subject, the use of robots to help an aging population cope with day to day life. In this case Tongtong’s grandfather, in his eighties but still working at the clinic every day until a bad fall, has to come live with them, so Tongtong’s mother could take care of him. Because she and her husband both work, Tongtong’s father brings home a robot, an Ah Fu, to help them. Which isn’t actually a robot, but a tele-operated machine run by an intern for the company Tongtong’s father works for: real robots don’t work and full time carers are too expensive.
Apart from that I also recommended Carmen Maria Machado, Bogi Takács & Usman Malik for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer based on their stories; all were in their second year of eligibility.
On a more negative note, a couple of these stories were just not very good:
Harry Turtledove, “The Eighth-Grade History Class Visits the Hebrew Home for the Aging.” Tor.com, January 8, 2014.
Am I the only one who found this story about an Anne Frank who survived WWII on the creepy side, and not in a good way, especially coming from somebody who made his name essentially writing Slaver Rebellion fanfiction? It doesn’t help that it’s so damn pious about it all, with huge chunks of as you know Bobbery about the Holocaust and what happened to the Dutch Jews in World War II. It’s a very American way of looking at the Holocaust and an approach I find suspicious at the best of the times. I much prefer Lavie Tidhar’s way of handling it, much more willing to take risks with such a heavy subject.
Mary Rickert, “The Mothers of Voorhisville.” Tor.com, April 30, 2014.
This is a stupid story about stupid people doing the most stupid thing possible because they have to adhere to the conventions of genre fiction, so nobody ever talks to anybody else until it’s too late. It’s mired in gender essentialism and goes on for way too long.
Dale Bailey, “The End of the End of Everything.” Tor.com, April 23, 2014.
Now if we do want to talk about science fiction aping memetic, mainstream fiction, the worst it could do is to ape that cliched standby of fanboy sneers, the English professor with a midlife crisis contemplating infidelity. It’s the end of the world, the Ruin is creeping up on the artist colony Ben and his wife Lois have been invited to, but he can’t help thinking of his friend’s gorgous new wife or the mutilation artist living a couple of houses over. Bailey does have a way with a turn of phrase, but the dillemma at the heart of the story didn’t convince me, the allure of torture, death and mutilation was too bland, too safe when it doesn’t matter anymore because the world is ending anyway.