Collated Contents of the Year’s Bests (2018 Stories, Links)

Welcome to the third annual linked collation of annuals or “year’s bests.” As the contents of the Afsharirad, BASFF, Clarke, Datlow, Guran, Horton, Shearman/Kelly, and Strahan science fiction, fantasy, and horror annuals are announced, they will be combined into one master list with links to the stories which are available online. Hopefully, you’ll enjoy some of them and that will help you decide which annual or annuals, if any, to purchase.

(There will often be information after the story’s place of publication. In the case of stories with multiple selections, the initials of the last names of the editors or editing team who selected it will be present. If a story has “Read,” “HM,” “Rec,” or “YB” after it, it indicates that I’ve read it and, if so, whether it got an honorable mention or a recommendation when I reviewed it, or was a recommendation which made my virtual Year’s Best Short Science Fiction and Fantasy #2 (2018 Stories). Stories in the last three categories are in bold font.)

You may also be interested in the previous posts in this series which cover 2017 stories and 2016 stories.

This 2018 edition is in remembrance of Gardner Dozois.

Latest change (see Changelog/Credits below for details): 2018-12-18.

One Annual

The Best Science Fiction & Fantasy of the Year: Volume Thirteen, Strahan, ed.


Changelog/Credits:

  • 2018-12-16: First version of this year’s collation posted after Jonathan Strahan announced the contents of The Best Science Fiction & Fantasy of the Year: Volume 13 the day before.
  • 2018-12-18: Removed the “Firelight” link which went to a teaser instead of the complete story. (Sorry about that.) Thanks to Roger Silverstein for pointing it out.
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Year’s Best Short Science Fiction and Fantasy #2 (2018 Stories)

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Introduction

This second annual virtual anthology of the year’s best speculative fiction differs in four primary ways from last year’s Web’s Best Science Fiction #1 (2017 Stories) and Web’s Best Fantasy #1 (2017 Stories). Rather than restricting my coverage to web magazines as in 2017, I added coverage of several 2018 print magazines which created a much larger pool of stories to choose from. Thus, the word count for the “best” stories has increased from 140,000 to 250,000 words. Further, those words were evenly divided between two volumes of science fictional and fantastic stories but have now been combined into a single volume with three sections of uneven story and word counts. Finally, because of some of this, I renamed it to Year’s Best Short Science Fiction and Fantasy.

What hasn’t changed is the principle of selecting (to repeat the first introduction’s quote of the late Gardner Dozois) “only those stories that honestly and forcibly struck me as being the best published during that year, with no consideration for log-rolling, friendship, fashion, politics, or any other kind of outside influence.” And there’s still the same qualification to that: for variety’s sake, if multiple stories are by the same author or have strikingly similar elements, I try to select only one. Similarly, I’ve attempted to sequence the stories for a varied reading experience rather than any other principle. (The sequencing may not be ideal, though, as I wasn’t planning to do it this time, because not everyone will be able to read all the stories, but I wasn’t happy with other ordering methods.)

So what are the specifics of these principles and what sort of compilation did they produce? From December 11, 2017 to December 9, 2018 I read nearly 900 stories (872, I think) from 22 magazines (Amazing, Analog, Apex, Ares, Asimov’s, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Clarkesworld, Compelling, Cosmic Roots and Eldritch Shores, Diabolical Plots, F&SF, Flash Fiction Online, Galaxy’s Edge, Grievous Angel, Lightspeed, Nature, Nightmare, Slate, Strange Horizons, Terraform, Tor.com, and Uncanny) plus occasional issues from others. I selected 29 stories from fourteen of those regular, and two irregular, magazines which, despite the increased word count, is only three more stories than last year. The main reason for this is that last year there were several flash or very short pieces and no novellas while this year there are only three flash pieces and four novellas (which ironically include two from the web).

Partly due to the increased coverage and word count and partly due to an intrinsic quality of some of the best fiction, I felt it was better to split the fiction into three sections called “Natural,” “Pseudonatural,” and “Supernatural” fiction. The natural stories are science fiction stories which, while they might push the boundaries or make mistakes, are stories set in this space/time continuum and deal with things intended to represent the physical phenomena of nature while supernatural stories are fantasy stories which slip those mortal coils and deal with ghosts, vampires, spells, or otherwise purely fantastic things. There were a number of stories, though, which didn’t quite fit either category but which might be called alternate history, steampunk, rationalized fantasy, science fantasy, etc. They may insert fantastic elements into a science fictional milieu or apply the scientific method to fantastic things or at least approach them in a particularly reasoning and empirical way. They may be set in different timelines or use imaginary science or otherwise stress the notion of natural plausibility without sacrificing literary quality. Or they may just oscillate back and forth between genres while being experienced, like optical illusions.

Each section’s story count is not identical but happens to have come out close though the wordage of the “natural” stories (114K) dominated the rest and the “pseudonatural” stories (58K) formed the smallest group. If forced to pigeonhole everything as either SF or F, I’d probably split the “pseudonatural” category titles evenly between them. In terms of quality, I felt the SF in the first volume was generally stronger than the fantasy but this year produced numerous especially powerful fantasies.

As I did last year, I once again wish I could present more than three space-based or extra-terrestrial stories in the “natural” section and almost substituted one cluster of stories for another to achieve that but, strictly on quality, decided not to. I wish there were more combinations of Nina Allen’s “A Gift of Angels” (a beautifully written but almost mainstream story) and G. David Nordley’s “Empress of Starlight” (a huge toybox of Big Dumb Objects and interstellar exploration/adventure without appealing characters) but most excellent stories, if not that lopsided, still excel more in one domain than the other.

One type there was more than enough of, which cuts across subgenres, is the “Young Adult” or “juvenile” tale. More than one good story failed to appear in this group due to an excess of that type and they still make up over a third of the titles. On the one hand, this shows the remarkable quality of such stories and that’s a good thing but, while “YA,” I’m not sure how many young adults they’d actually excite. I can only hope it’s a lot.

A last thing to note about the contents is that 26 authors make their first appearance this year with only Ashley Blooms, Greg Egan, and Susan Palwick repeating.

As a final note on the field generally, the magazine is dead! Long live the magazine! Ares and Grievous Angel no sooner became SFWA-qualifying markets than they died. While Grievous Angel lasted most of the year, Ares died before I ever saw an actual issue and after I’d read only one story which was released on their website. To make up for this, Amazing (the cat of science fiction magazines) was reborn yet again and The Dark raised its pay rate to an SFWA-qualifying level. Here’s hoping they not only survive to qualify but prosper after doing so.

Part One: Natural Fiction (Science Fiction)

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Umbernight” * Carolyn Ives Gilman
Clarkesworld #137, February 2018

The Independence Patch” * Bryan Camp
Lightspeed #94, March 2018

Redaction” * Adam R. Shannon
Compelling #11, Summer 2018

“Galatea in Utopia” * Nick Wolven
F&SF, January/February 2018

Flash: “My Favourite Sentience” * Marissa Lingen
Nature, April 25, 2018

Grace’s Family” * James Patrick Kelly
Tor.com, May 16, 2018

Octo-Heist in Progress” * Rich Larson
Clarkesworld #146, November 2018

The Nearest” * Greg Egan
Tor.com, July 19, 2018

“The Camel’s Tail” * Tom Jolly
Analog, March/April 2018

Sour Milk Girls” * Erin Roberts
Clarkesworld #136, January 2018

“The Last Biker Gang” * Wil McCarthy
Analog, May/June 2018

Part Two: Pseudonatural Fiction

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“Likho” * Andy Stewart
F&SF, March/April 2018

Strange Waters” * Samantha Mills
Strange Horizons, April 2, 2018

“In the Sharing Place” * David Erik Nelson
Asimov’s, September/October 2018

A Song of Home, the Organ Grinds” * James Beamon
Lightspeed #98, July 2018

“Never the Twain” * Michael Reid
Interzone #274, March/April 2018

Leviathan Sings to Me in the Deep” * Nibedita Sen
Nightmare #69, June 2018

Nine Last Days on Planet Earth” * Daryl Gregory
Tor.com, September 19, 2018

Flash: “This Big” * John Cooper Hamilton
Nature, March 21, 2018

Part Three: Supernatural Fiction (Fantasy)

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“The Lady of Butterflies” * Y. M. Pang
F&SF, November/December 2018

The Thing About Ghost Stories” * Naomi Kritzer
Uncanny #25, November/December 2018

A Witch’s Guide to Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies” * Alix E. Harrow
Apex #105, February 2018

The Thought That Counts” * K. J. Parker
Beneath Ceaseless Skies #250, April 26, 2018

“Hainted” * Ashley Blooms
F&SF, July/August 2018

The War of Light and Shadow, in Five Dishes” * Siobhan Carroll
Beneath Ceaseless Skies #247, March 15, 2018

“Hideous Flowerpots” * Susan Palwick
F&SF, March/April 2018

“The Monstrosity in Love * Sam Thompson
Black Static #64, July/August 2018

Flash: “The Ghost In Angelica’s Room” * Maria Haskins
Flash Fiction Online, March 2018

Shadowdrop” * Chris Willrich
Beneath Ceaseless Skies #261, September 27, 2018

Weekly Webzine Wrap-Up (2018-12-08)

Weekly Webzine Wrap-Up image

Original Fiction:

In this sub-par week, the three single-story zines brought us two science fiction stories of under two thousand words and one fantasy of just over three. “Beginner’s Guide” takes the familiar idea of colony ships being leapfrogged by later, faster colony ships and puts it into a familiar cyclical/ironic monologue structure. The only unfamiliar thing is a reference to us as “carbon breathers.” “Mammoth Steps” is a sort of sentimental and undramatic cli-fi tale of an engineered mammoth and his human friend trekking south to meet up with some elephants. It’s nice enough in its way, but makes me think of a significantly lesser “Jackie’s-Boy” (Steven Popkes, April/May 2010 Asimov’s). Like several Diabolical Plots stories recently, “Prayer” is a religious story, this time involving a golem and a woman the golem describes as “wearing a black suit so rumpled and careworn it wanted to slide off on its own in search of a sewing machine” whose “bittersweet smile gripped [him] with the certainty of prayer” and whose “eyes resisted, as sharp as a dream’s leading edge.” She represents “some scientist’s career” and his boss represents those who want others “to serve our country” and they fight over him before he decides to trump them both.

BCS #266 is the “animal women in the woods” issue (with fawns and foxes), the “familiar BCS motifs” issue (with artistic revolutions and kitsune (Ainu/Japanese shapeshifting fox-people)) and the “‘creative’ English” issue (with phrases like, “[o]ne Forester must have stayed on the ridge to fool Cole that his ruse had worked” in one and “she laughed the once I asked” and “[t]he full of the storm is upon us” in the other).

After supposedly interesting things have happened and before more supposedly interesting things will happen, we have the actual content of “Forest Spirits,” in which nothing happens. Our two artistic revolutionaries are in a forest and we’re told that technology (here called “magic” and, like the action, little in evidence in this generally mundane, medieval forest) is bad, has ruined nature, and must be done away with. Two defenders of the status quo and their boars chase them in a remarkably lackadaisical way as they have time to wring out wet clothes, sleep, hug (making me think of “Escape now, hug later!”), and so on. Finally, when they are about to be caught, we see that the climactic moment will be the girl dancing, dancing with Mr. Deer, but that doesn’t actually occur in this story’s frame. Like many “art is revolution” pieces, this isn’t convincing.

Frozen” deals with a sister who’s gone away and a fox who’s arrived in a storm. The girl learns something about her mother and sibling and follows the fox into the woods where she learns more about her sister and makes a decision about her own life. The conflict here is between the cost of secrecy, the reaction of society (the village) if some of them come out of the closet, and familial desires to stay bonded. When in English, this is the stylistically superior of the two tales, though it seems too familiar and the ending is somewhat implausible (which is minimized by suspending the story before too many difficulties can be played out).

Review: Apex #115

Apex #115, December 2018

Original Fiction:

  • “On the Day You Spend Forever with Your Dog” by Adam R. Shannon
  • “Girls Who Do Not Drown” by A.C. Buchanan
  • “Captain Midrise” by Jim Marino

All three stories in this issue of Apex are short (4/3/5K) and might as well be called fantasy. The metaphorical intent of the time travel motif in “Dog” overwhelms any scientific or even fantastic effect it might have. A man adopts a dog who’s been hit by a car but, three years later, has to put it to sleep, so keeps cycling through those years until something is revealed to us and something else comes clear to him. As with many cyclical stories, too little is done with too many cycles, straining the reader’s patience. (In other words, this did not hit me like Where the Red Fern Grows or J. T.) “Girls” uses a faintly pompous tone to tell us about Alice, who “looks every bit the boy she isn’t” and her inversion of a fairy tale (ironically, from the Isle of Man) involving a glashtyn (sea-creature which drowns girls). This wish-fulfillment lacks grit and drama.

A New York City reporter introduces us to “Captain Midrise.” Part of what the tale illustrates is how the miraculous becomes commonplace and how some people really do ask, “What have you done for me lately?” Whether due to age or some psychological blockage or some other problem, The Golden Crusader can only sort of slowly tack along at a sixth-floor level these days, though he still does his best to rescue people from burning 22nd floors and so on. A problem with this tale is that it doesn’t have much plot for its 5K length or has too much wordage for its plot. With a story like this, it’s more the latter, though all the incidents are interesting. The mixed reactions of people (from continued love to contempt) are portrayed well, the semi-superhero is striking, and the skewed view and tone make it notable.

Review: Lightspeed #103

Lightspeed #103, December 2018

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Original Fiction:

  • “Mouths” by Lizz Huerta (fantasy short story)
  • “Under the Sea of Stars” by Seanan McGuire (fantasy short story)
  • “A Love Story Written on Water” by Ashok K. Banker (fantasy novelette)
  • “Grandma Novak’s Famous Nut Roll” by Shaenon K. Garrity (fantasy short story)

I suspect people are tired of my comments on genre (I’m tired of making them) but I feel like people ought to know what they’re getting. This isn’t a special “all fantasy” issue of Lightspeed, in that the first two are billed as SF, but it’s difficult for me to call the first SF and impossible to call the second one that. Also, while the fourth is trying to be funny and thus leaves the horror deeply backgrounded and washed out, it’s actually more of a horror story than the second Nightmare story of this month which, despite its werewolves, was more of a fantasy story.

As I said, it’s difficult to call “Mouths” even “science fantasy.” It’s really a post-apocalyptic fantasy in which the apocalypse is not clearly described and the “post-” makes little sense. A woman hurts her mouth and goes to a sort of dentist who takes her on as an apprentice until the woman’s lover shows up for her. Having fallen in love with the first woman, the dentist wavers between suicide and subjugating himself to them.

Under” is a fantasy about a woman leading a 19th century expedition into a dangerous and bizarre river (which really exists, though not quite as described). The woman’s grandfather had met a strange woman there, produced our heroine’s mother with her, and vowed to explore the river but died without completing his task. Taking the baton, the granddaughter discovers things she was Not Meant to Know. Despite having a weakness for subterranean aquatic tales such as Edmond Hamilton’s “Serpent Princess” (1948) and some Lankhmar stories and so on, this didn’t really grab me (in part due to the problems of the choice of protagonist and time-period in which the woman is an anachronistic and overly gender-conscious leader but overly Victorian otherwise) but it may work for some.

Love Story” (also the Cover Story) is an elaborately contrived Hindu-flavored fairy tale about a river goddess, her mortal lover, and the strange conditions under which she must destroy their children. A couple of aspects seem unintentionally contradictory and it takes a long, though colorful, time to get to an ending which is obvious except for its low cost. The didactic romance seems to have dual themes on the proper way to love along with an element of “accept that mother knows best and that she works in mysterious ways.”

Finally, “Nut Roll” is a patented “Lightmare” combination of letter and list with the contents being a bunch of recipes (each presented in its entirety). The people sharing these recipes are not normal and the food is more than just filling. However, the story is less.

Review: Nightmare #75

Nightmare #75, December 2018

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Original Fiction:

  • “The Ten Things She Said While Dying: An Annotation” by Adam-Troy Castro (horror short story)
  • “The Island of Beasts” by Carrie Vaughn (fantasy short story)

Ten Things” is yet another “listory” from “Nightspeed.” In this, a scientist seeking to open a portal for interstellar travel has instead opened a portal in his chest for a Lovecraftian monster-god to burst through—a monster god which makes Alien chestbursters look like fluffy bunnies. His assistant is mortally wounded in her boss’ explosion and she faces a fate worse than a fate worse than death, conditional on the monster’s explication and evaluation of her ten dying utterances, one by one. While this actually has entertaining aspects, the main problem is that the monster is a little too complacently self-satisfied, forgetting that the reader will be judging it as it judges her, and the structure leads to a stilted, essentially static, pace and distanced events.

A female werewolf refuses to accept her supposed place in the world, so is exiled to “The Island of Beasts.” There, she seems to find herself in a situation just like the one she left, except with fewer choices and less room to roam, but still she persists. Werewolves or not, this isn’t even “dark fantasy,” much less horror, but is readable despite having little plot and less climax.

Summation: November 2018

The issues of Clarkesworld and F&SF were especially strong and Galaxy’s Edge had a couple of nice tales. I also began belated coverage of the resurrected Amazing‘s August “Fall” issue this November. On the other hand, in general, non-prozine news, Shimmer ceased publication and I noticed that the long-dormant SQ Mag had finally acknowledged its death in September. Speaking of death, this month’s wombat was at least three excellent stories in which the deaths of mothers and a sister played significant parts.

The tally for November was 79 stories of 482K words (plus five October stories of 19K in November’s first review of the weeklies) with thirteen noted and six of those recommended. In more general site news, I’ve decided on Featured Futures‘ 2019 coverage. The link to that is in the “News” section at the end of this post.

Noted Stories

Recommended

Science Fiction

  • “Empress of Starlight” by G. David Nordley, Analog, November/December 2018 (novelette)
  • “Foster Earth” by Julie Czerneda, Amazing, Fall 2018 (short story)
  • The Gift of Angels: an introduction” by Nina Allan, Clarkesworld #146, November 2018 (novelette)
  • Octo-Heist in Progress” by Rich Larson, Clarkesworld #146, November 2018 (short story)

Fantasy

  • “The Lady of Butterflies” by Y. M. Pang, F&SF, November/December 2018 (novelette)
  • The Thing About Ghost Stories” by Naomi Kritzer, Uncanny #25, November/December 2018 (novelette)

Honorable Mentions

Science Fiction

  • “Joyride” by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Asimov’s, November/December 2018 (novella)
  • A Waltz in Eternity” by Gregory Benford, Galaxy’s Edge #35, November/December 2018 (novelette)

Fantasy

  • “The Baron and His Floating Daughter” by Nick DiChario, F&SF, November/December 2018  (short story)
  • Cat Lady” by Susan Taitel, Galaxy’s Edge #35, November/December 2018 (short story)
  • The Coal Remembers What It Was” by Paul R. Hardy, Diabolical Plots #45B, November 16, 2018 (short story)
  • Godzilla vs. Buster Keaton or: I Didn’t Even Need a Map” by Gary A. Braunbeck, Apex #114, November 2018 (novelette)
  • “Thanksgiving” by Jeffrey Ford, F&SF, November/December 2018 (short story)

Reviews

Magazines

News