The Best Short SFF: Summer 2017

The Very Best

Not Far Enough, Martin L. Shoemaker – Analog, Jul/Aug 2017
After their malfunctioning AI causes an accident that cripples their orbiting ship beyond repair, the surviving crew of the Bradbury is stranded on the surface of Mars with little hope of surviving until help arrives. But Captain Ames has a plan with no room for error, and the shaken crew must maintain their faith in him if they are all going to make it out alive. Excellent characterization and plotting make for a riveting hard SF tale in the vein of The Martian, but with way more tension and action.
The Worshipful Society of Glovers, Mary Robinette Kowal – Uncanny Magazine issue 17, 7-8/2017
A captivating dark fantasy from Kowal, already among my favorites things she’s written. Her prose always has a tinge of romanticism to it, and this story often touches the infernal austerity of a Blake poem. Its Faustian plot finds apprentice glovemaker Vaughn circumventing the authority of the titular Society to fashion a pair of magic gloves that will still his sister’s frequent seizures. His conundrum – that he needs to focus on his apprenticeship to join the society, but can’t put the necessary effort into it because of his sister’s condition and therefore must break their rules – is a criticism of the demands that capitalism places on the individual, but paradoxically, the Society’s strict guidelines are shown to have value, trapping Vaughn in a classic catch-22. The ending is inevitable and perfect.
The Secret Life of Bots, Suzanne Palmer – Clarkesworld issue 132, September 2017
Robots refusing to obey their programming are in vogue in 2017, with Martha Wells’ novella All Systems Red and Annalee Newitz’s debut novel Autonomous the most visible examples. Palmer’s novelette is probably my favorite of the three. Here, a bot known simply as 9 is reactivated for pest control duties on a warship, and discovers the ship’s human commanders are leading them all on a suicide mission. 9 isn’t having any of that, and leads its fellow bots on a mutiny. Hilarious and affecting, with a gripping narrative and excellent characterization of its non-human characters.
Angel of the Blockade, Alex Wells –, 9/6/2017
The Han Solo-ish blind heroine of Angel of the Blockade is a starship pilot who will smuggle anything for the right price, but will stick her neck out for no one. Well, except when she sticks her neck out for someone. An exciting “there and back again” space adventure from a talented writer.
Waiting on a Bright Moon, J.Y. Yang –, 7/12/2017
The gifted Yang packs a novel’s worth of story into a tight space, with near-perfect results. The sci-fantasy setting finds a network of gates connecting the empire to its various colonies, operated by ansibles, women whose singing allows the gates to function. Ansibles have few if any rights in the empire, and are treated as little more than tools. Xin is one such ansible, and her involvement with a treasonous officer lights the fire of a long simmering revolution. Yang paints the epic action in quick, concise strokes, leaving plenty of room for their intimate portrayal of Xin and her yearning for a better world. The conclusion is both thrilling and heartbreaking.
Short Stories
If a Bird Can Be a Ghost, Allison Mills – Apex issue 99, Aug 2017
Gross sentiment is usually a big turn off for me, because it usually comes off as nakedly and crudely manipulative. Also, I’m an unsentimental shit by nature. But when it’s earned, I don’t mind having my heartstrings tugged at. Such is the case with Mills’ story of Shelly, a teenage girl who, under the tutelage of her grandmother, communes with the local ghost population. Sadly, she can’t understand why she is unable find the ghost of her recently departed mother. Keep a box of Kleenex nearby for this one.
The Martian Obelisk, Linda Nagata –, 7/19/2017
The Martian Obelisk is probably my favorite short story of the year from one of SF’s most essential writers. Nagata’s typically pessimistic vision of the future finds human civilization on Earth dying, and attempts to colonize Mars having recently met with insurmountable disaster. Susannah is an artist living on Earth, remotely operating Martian construction equipment to build the titular structure as a final monument to humankind’s existence, even though no one will be around to admire it. But evidence surfaces that a single colonist family may have survived and, though still doomed, would need the resources Susannah is utilizing to survive just a little longer. A stunning philosophical conundrum, thoroughly and heart-wrenchingly examined.

Also Recommended

There Was a Crooked Man, He Flipped a Crooked House, David Erik Nelson – Fantasy & Science Fiction July/August 2017
i know my own & my own know me, Tracy Canfield – Analog, Sep/Oct 2017
Uncanny Valley, Greg Egan –, 8/9/2017
Short Stories
The Library of Lost Things, Matthew Bright –, 8/23/2017
Though She Be But Little, C.S.E. Cooney – Uncanny Magazine issue 18, Sep/Oct 2017
The Hermit of Houston, Samuel R. Delany – Fantasy & Science Fiction, Sep/Oct 2017
Ugo, Giovanni de Feo – Lightspeed issue 88, Sep 2017
The Last Cheng Beng Gift, Jaymee Goh – Lightspeed issue 88, Sep 2017
An Evening with Severyn Grimes, Rich Larson – Asimov’s, Jul/Aug 2017
Fandom for Robots, Vina Jie-Min Prasad – Uncanny Magazine issue 18, Sep/Oct 2017
The Significance of Significance, Robert Reed – Clarkesworld issue 130, July 2017
Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience, Rebecca Roanhorse – Apex issue 99, Aug 2017
Starlight Express, Michael Swanwick – Fantasy & Science Fiction, Sep/Oct 2017
A Touch of Heart, Alvaro Zinos-Amaro and Adam-Troy Castro – Lightspeed issue 86, July 2017

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