September was the scary month with few great or even particularly good stories but October rebounded resoundingly with several remarkable tales (out of only thirty-five read of 158K words), and from relatively unusual venues. Flash Fiction Online produced an excellent Valloween issue combining Valentine relationships with Halloween darkness. Uncanny and Apex also had stories above the usual fare. While Nature produced no recs this month, it produced a double-honorable-mention and got into the Halloween spirit with both, one of which would have fit into the FFO issue and one of which was outright horror. Plus there was a trio of quite remarkable near-misses of fantasy from a trio of other sources, at least a couple of which also fit the season and one of which was a rare webzine novella. For those not in the Halloween mood, there were still a few good tales that weren’t so dark. Speaking of scary, though, Tor.com published only one story in September and posted only two original ones in October. Here’s hoping they get back on track.
- “Fandom for Robots” by Vina Jie-Min Prasad, Uncanny, short story (rec)
- “Penelope Waits” by Dennis Danvers, Apex, short story (rec)
- “A Siren Song for Two” by Steven Fischer, Flash Fiction Online, short story (rec)
- “Claire Weinraub’s Top Five Sea Monster Stories (For Allie)” by Evan Berkow, Flash Fiction Online, mainstream-billed-as-fantasy short story (rec)
- “The Daughter You’ve Always Wanted” by Steve Pantazis. Nature, short story
- “Runes Transcribed from Dig Site 401A in Ladysmith, Wisconsin” by Rachael K. Jones, Nature, short story
- “Crispin’s Model” by Max Gladstone, Tor.com, novelette
- “The Dragon of Dread Peak” (and the conclusion) by Jeremiah Tolbert, Lightspeed, novella
- “Ernest” by Geoff Manaugh, Terraform, short story
Much like last month’s “Ugo,” “Crispin’s Model” was a story on the edge of true greatness which just seemed to come apart at the end. One sort of ending could have been great and even the ending it had could have worked if it had been made to seem more earned and fitting and less like a squeamish cop-out. Still, the first part of the tale takes the “weird artist and his weirder relationship with his muse” motif and gives it the nice twist of having the model/muse be the narrator and has her be inspired (and weird) at least as much as he. The initial narration is superb, the atmosphere is creepy, it’s quite suspenseful and thought- and emotion-provoking. For those readers who like the ending, it’ll probably be a masterpiece.
“The Dragon of Dread Peak” is actually a recommendation for those in the market for a D&D-like YA fantasy of a rather conventional, if creatively underpinned, sort but may not appeal all that much to others. Also be warned that this “quest, with dragons” story is a sequel and ends in a way that makes it clear another sequel will be forthcoming.
Terraform presented us with an atypical fantasy story (perhaps taken by the spirit of October) but planted its ghost in the usual Terraformed world of social networking and reality TV. The positive aspect of this one, for me, was the sympathetic ghost (as well as the other swift, deft, characterizations).
As far as the Nature short-shorts, “Daughter” makes me wonder if it cleared legal because it’s basically Alien fanfic (though that’s arguably just van Vogt fanfic in turn), but telling a story from the chestburster’s point of view was disturbing and effective in a heavy-handed way, while “Runes” is an interesting time travel/relationship story that would have fit right into FFO‘s issue (though, aside from the time travel, it’s more interested in scientific facts and details than most FFO stories).
Edit (2017-11-03): Updated numbers to include the belated Apex story.