The Best Short SFF – December 2018

Must Read

Master Zhao: The Tale of an Ordinary Time Traveler, Zhang Ran (Trans. Andy Dudak) (Clarkesworld Issue 147, December 2018) – Novelette

By turns lighthearted and tragic, Zhang Ran chronicle of a hapless time traveler is one of the most entertaining stories I’ve read this year. The “Master Zhao” of the title sits down with a casual acquaintance, Zhang, to relate his tragicomic escapades in the many divergent timelines he’s lived in. Dudak’s translation finds a loose, playful tone that guides the story’s many mood swings to its poignant conclusion.

Highly Regarded

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Cover Art by John Picacio

Sequestration; Vitrification, Allison Jamieson-Lucy (Strange Horizons, 17 December 2018) Short Story

Jamieson-Lucy discards the classic “golden age” sci-fi narrative of heroic problem solving in favor of a more realistic one: “That was how science worked: it was difficult and demoralizing until finally one of the pieces broke through and turned into discovery. Each discovery paved the way for more difficult, demoralizing work…” In Jamieson-Lucy’s near-future, we’ve hit peak radioactive waste and scientist Lynn is soldiering through the demoralizing work of finding an innovative way to store it safely. “Sequestration; Vitrification” is excellent, character driven sci-fi, and its confluence of science and art and activism is invigorating.

The Thing About Ghost Stories, by Naomi Kritzer (Uncanny Magazine Issue 25, Nov 2018) Novelette

Leah is an academic specializing in ghost stories who ends up living a ghost story of her own. That’s a good elevator pitch, but it hardly does the story justice. There are many layers to peel back in “The Thing About Ghost Stories”, not the least of which is how we define what a ghost is and how they affect our lives. This works both as an engaging first person narrative and as an exercise in metafiction.

“The Lady of Butterflies”, Y.M. Pang (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Nov/Dec 2018) Novelette

Y.M. Pang is a 2018 debut author who arrived like an unexpected storm, publishing eight stories over five months from June to November. I don’t know if she planned it this way, but she finished the year with panache, offering her best yet in the venerable F&SF. “The Lady of Butterflies” is the story of Lady Rikara, First Sword of the Kejalin Empire, who becomes a companion and protector to a strange woman named Morieth who appears one day in the Emperor’s courtyard. Morieth’s presence in the palace sets off a cascade of political tensions, forcing Rikara to make a hard choice about where her loyalties rest.

Also Recommended

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Cover Art by Alan M. Clark for ‘The Iconoclasma’

Bringing Down the Sky, Alan Bao (Clarkesworld Issue 147, December 2018) Novelette

A thoughtful chronicle of exploitation and greed in a pollution choked future.

“The Baron and His Floating Daughter”, Nick DiChario (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Nov/Dec 2018) Short Story

A lively folktale about a prince hoping to court a nobleman’s daughter – if he can get her to stop floating up to the ceiling.

Some Personal Arguments in Support of the BetterYou (Based on Early Interactions), Debbie Urbanski (Strange Horizons, 5 November 2018) Short Story

A powerful account of a woman suffering from depression who gets a lookalike android replacement to take over her familial duties. Some readers may wish to heed the content warnings before reading.



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