It is time for the second of my two Best of 2016 lists, and as promised, this one will celebrate the best works of short fiction, singular and collected, that I read this year, with a Gold Star spot for my absolute favourite. So let’s get on with it!
I love a beautifully written fantasy story from an interesting perspective, and this one pushed both buttons for me. Fran Wilde is an author whose short fiction is what brought her to my attention, and I absolutely intend to read more of it if this is anything to go by. Tor.com proved to be a great resource where this goal is concerned, and I’m pretty sure my interest in it began here. So, nice work to both!
Another treasure trove for fresh and exciting new SF/F short fiction that I discovered this year was Book Smugglers Publishing, who are responsible for bringing this collection of fairytale retellings to my attention. It’s a series of interconnected stories, featuring familiar fairytale princesses (and queens) who present their own stories in new – and sometimes very dark – ways. Fairytale retellings which crank up the darkness that all fairytales, lest we forget, are rooted in are definitely my cup of tea. These stories are among the best I’ve read. They are dark, but it’s more than a stylised darkness. This is the darkness of angry women who’ve been mistreated, used and abused, and the window into their worlds is thrown wide open here. This is the truth of fairytales, without a sugar coating, and it’s the kind we need more of if you ask me.
As an established fan of the Newsflesh trilogy, getting my hands on this collection of (mostly) previously published Newsflesh short fiction was a must this year. It finally came my way in the form of the mighty hardcover edition thanks to a wonderful friend, and it was thoroughly worth the wrist pain. The jewel in its crown was a brand new, never-before-read and long-awaited story featuring the protagonists from the original novels, and … Well, I won’t go into spoilers but it was everything I’d wanted and more. Whether you’re in it for the zombies or for the humanity, this body of work will always be on my recommended list.
Any ‘best collected work’ list I could come up with would be incomplete without this, let’s be honest. This collection of essays from one of the fiercest SF/F writers I’ve ever discovered (and this site’s standout recurring guest!) was another Absolutely Must Have book for me this year, and there’s an army of fans out there who’ll agree with me. From stories of her own troubled road to becoming a published author, to fandom, feminism and good old-fashioned geekery, it all provides an eye-opening look at the world through Hurley’s lens, and it set my mind on fire when I read it. Whether you enjoy her books or not, I would recommend not ignoring what she’s got to say, here – be you a writer, a fan, a woman, a geek or any combination of all of that. Read this book, friends.
Amal El-Mohtar writes some of the most gorgeous short fiction and poetry I’ve ever read in my life. Period. This collection, a showcase of literary synesthesia inspired by various flavoured honeys she was given as a gift, is probably the most niche book I’ve ever read – but it’s still my benchmark for truly inspired work. Amal’s way with words is awe-inspiring, and even her more standard SF/F fare delights and charms me in ways that I don’t think any other short fiction writer has quite managed to achieve (save for … some, but I’ll get to that). If she ever publishes a novel, God help me, because I may just actually melt from the happiness. (Yes, that’s a challenge. Come at me, El-Mohtar.)
“15 stories of Belles, Bank Robbers and Other Badass Girls.” This is what sold me on this book, and I am not sorry, my friends. If you want to make sure I will drop everything to read an anthology, sell it like that. This has famous badass women of history telling their stories, or sometimes featuring delightfully in someone else’s, but always being the undoubted stars of their own stage in ways that, as you might be aware, history hasn’t always allowed them to. This anthology had me looking up non-fiction books to find out more about some of these women, and that is probably the biggest compliment I could pay it.
Another hit scored for The Book Smugglers this year. I reviewed this one for my (horribly patchy, but it’ll get better!) Mini Rainbows feature, and from the depths of its trope-twisting soul to its lovely cover art, I loved it.
One of only a select pair of authors to feature on both lists, Foz Meadows had another strong showing this year with her gender-bending, delightfully queer retelling of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, which was included in the Monstrous Little Voices collection. Words literally failed me any time I tried to write a review for this one, but I always knew that when the time for this list came, Coral Bones was going to be on it – and again, if not for one other contender, this would get my top spot. Not that this is a failing! I expect absolutely amazing things from Foz next year and beyond, and my faith is rooted right here. I can’t explain how awesome this story is, so go and find out for yourselves. (The story’s available for Kindle on its own, if you’re especially keen!)
This ended up being a surprise late addition to what I thought this list would contain, but it’s certainly no less worthy of its place. I was aware of Isabel Yap as a writer of short SF/F, but hadn’t read anything of hers before now. This collection of stories, which weaves together the story of supernaturally gifted young women fulfilling their destiny with their own individual tales of self-exploration and discovery, almost leaves the superhero trappings of its premise in the background. Rather than dominating the tale, that premise is more like the catalyst that allows the real stories to be told: it serves its purpose only when it’s called for. This leaves the way clear for an emotional weight to each story, and to its underlying moral, that won me over – and blew me away – more than any flashy trope ever could. This is how you tell a superhero story. Marvel, are you listening? Better yet, are you reading?
You might have noticed the way I’ve been talking this up lately, heh.
There is honestly not enough space here to go into all of the reasons I love this Riverside serial, but if Ellen’s original novel(s) deserved their place on yesterday’s list, then there was no way I could leave Tremontaine out. It is, after all, what started this fangirl ball rolling for me. And I knew in my heart that if I was going to include it here, it would be at the top of the list. I’ve fallen in love with it, folks, and it’s only gotten better with time. If you want more of my thoughts, do check out my weekly reviews with all of my episodic love. And maybe you’ll fall for it yourself. Who knows?
So there it is. The best of the best, at least in my book. If you have thoughts or feelings or favourites of your own, let’s have them in the comments!
Until next year, friends – and I can’t wait to see what fictional wonders it will bring!