Now that I’ve finished reading short stories for 2012, it’s time for some lists and statistics! I know, I know, lists can be boring. But not this one. I put together a list of what I consider the best short fiction of 2012. This is culled from my Favorite fiction lists I’ve been doing all year. Keep in mind that this is pretty much limited to free fiction online, so it doesn’t include stories from print mags like F&SF, Asimov’s, and the like.
If you plan on nominating works for awards, I encourage you to consider these. All are eligible for the Hugo, and some are eligible for other awards (I marked the ones I could think of below).
I’ve listed them in chronological order from most recently published backwards.
- The Wisdom of Ants by Thoraiya Dyer
Though this story is pure science fiction, it has a fantasy sensibility that I deeply love. Here again is that thing I like to read about: female empowerment mixed in with some coming of age. And comeuppance. I love me some comeuppance.
- Good Hunting by Ken Liu
Yet another amazing Ken Liu story. His works aren’t always a home run, but when he’s on he’s really good, and this story is just more evidence of that. There are several layers of complexity here as he folds in colonialism, imperialism, and cultural death while addressing issues of sexism and even rape culture (there are no on-screen rapes, though). Very finely crafted story. [World Fantasy, Carl Brandon Parallax Award & Kindred Award]
- Household Management by Ellen Klages
Sherlock Holmes fans who love Mrs. Hudson will love this story. And I’m not just talking people who like BBC Sherlock or the Downey/Law movies or people who’ve read the books and stories. It’s one that works across many of the different Sherlock-infused medium (at least, the ones that include this character. Sorry Elementary fans). short and fun and very on point (and feminist, too).
- How to Make a Triffid by Kelly Lagor
Despite not being a huge science geek myself, I love the way this piece entwines hardcore biological science with a richly-told character exploration and doesn’t force me to feel one particular way about the protagonist in the end. Really complex and great.
- One Little Room an Everywhere by K.J. Parker
This story could be read as a fun little romp, but I like the intricacies of the magic system and the protagonist. [World Fantasy]
- The King’s Huntsman by Jennifer Mason-Black [novelette]
This is a novelette, so be prepared to settle in for a long read. It’s well worth it, since this story uses the space to develop the main character and the world very well. Though it seems like your standard woman passing as a man in repressive patriarchy for the sake of freedom story, Mason-Black goes beyond that basic trope. I don’t know that it quite reaches the resonance the author was going for in the end, but it comes very close. [World Fantasy]
- Said the Princess by Dani Atkinson
DailySF usually doesn’t publish stuff I like, but this one caught me off guard. The quirkiness, mostly, and also the meta aspect. In the end it’s fun without being fluff, and I appreciated what the author did to solve the central problem. [World Fantasy]
- The 17th Contest of Body Artistry by Alex Dally MacFarlane
Obviously, I’m a fan of stories that take some format other than a straight up narrative, so this one hits my kink in that arena. Plus, it’s just very good and once again has me thinking about aspects of my own worldbuilding. The things that can be revealed about a culture from such things as an art contest and how people react to it is many and varied. Lovity love.
- Mrs. Henderson’s Cemetery Dance by Carrie Cuinn
I had no idea where this story was going when I started, but I loved where it ended up. Funny and touching.
- Breaking the Frame by Kat Howard
There are a million post modern, female centric takes on fairy tales out there, but I particularly like the frame (hahaha) Howard uses for this story. At first I was not down with the cliched relationship at the beginning, then I realized the author was doing that for more than just hipster irony. Highly recommended.
- The Bookmaking Habits of Select Species by Ken Liu
“Everyone makes books.” Not only do I just love this story for the glimpses into other worlds and other species, I also love that it made me start thinking about the kind of books exist in the worlds I create in fiction. Oddly, it’s not a question I generally ask myself, though you’d think it would be one of the first things to come to mind. Wouldn’t this make an excellent interview question for any writer? What kind of books do your characters create? [Carl Brandon Parallax Award]
- Mantis Wives by Kij Johnson
I’m not entirely sure this is science fiction or fantasy, but it’s certainly speculative. Regardless, Johnson pulled me in with the descriptions of these intricate art pieces.
- Fade to White by Catherynne M. Valente
Because I read the first paragraph of this story, got interrupted, then came back later, I didn’t remember that Cat wrote it until I got to the end and went back to read it again. I love, love, loved this and I already suggested it to the Tiptree jury. I really dug the way she played with gender roles and with the commentary on advertising and marketing slyly added in. It’s just a really good story, go read. [Sturgeon Award]
- Song Of The Body Cartographer by Rochita Loenen-Ruiz
I love this story’s worldbuilding and the characters. Though I felt it wasn’t truly complete the first time I read it, the great elements stuck with me for months. [World Fantasy, Carl Brandon Parallax Award & Kindred Award]
- Astrophilia by Carrie Vaughn
Post-apocalyptic stuff usually isn’t my thing, but this story manages to make that trope feel less like window dressing than most other stories I’ve read.
- Winter Scheming by Brit Mandelo
[TRIGGER WARNING: Domestic Violence.] What I like best about this story is that it starts out in an unexpected way given what’s really going on (which you understand at the end). Very well structured and executed.
- Daddy’s Girl by Amy Sundberg
I love the main character of this story like burning. She’s is so damn fierce!
- Her Words Like Hunting Vixens Spring by Brooke Bolander
Revenge story! And it doesn’t pull punches in the end. I am a fan of that.
- Recognizing Gabe: un cuento de hadas by Alberto Yáñez
This gorgeous folktale-like story is fierce and forthright, which I love. It also doesn’t go for easy sentimentality, which it could have slipped into with a lesser author. Yanez explores gender issues without being preachy or prescriptive. That’s not easy to pull off, but he does. [World Fantasy, Carl Brandon Parallax Award & Kindred Award]
Now as to stats.
There are 19 stories on my best of list, that’s out of 82 favorite stories for 2012. I don’t have an accurate count for how many stories I read in total, sadly, but I know I read a great deal. I can’t claim to have read every story published for free online. A lot of time I stuck to the magazines I know I like the most. But toward the middle of the year I did pick up some new reading and tried to dip into new-to-me markets more often.
Just taking the 19 stories on my Best Of list, it’s clear that I dig Clarkesworld and Lightspeed Magazines the most, since there are 4 stories from each. Next is Strange Horizons, with two stories that made the list. (Also keep in mind that this only represents stories published in 2012 and not reprints from other years).
This pattern pretty much holds when you look at the breakdown of all magazines that made my favorites list this year.
Lightspeed is at the top (again, this is with originals) followed closely by Clarkesworld and Strange Horizons. Apex also has a good showing. After that it drops pretty dramatically. For some magazines, this is because they publish far fewer stories in a year. Eclipse Online is new, so the percentage of stories I’ve liked from the magazine is high, relatively. However, it is telling that DailySF is only on my list once. If you include the reprints I liked (9 total) then Lightspeed gets 22 thumbs up from me for the year.
I would be interested to hear from the editors of these magazines on how many stories they published in 2012 so I can get an idea of what percentage of their offerings I liked.
Of my favorite stories, 60 were written by women and only 19 written by men. Two were written by persons of unknown (to me) gender. There are 18 authors of color on my favorites list. Most of the male authors I like are POC.
The SF/F split continues to be about even. 48 of the stories I liked are science fiction and 51 are fantasy. Only 4 horror stories and 3 I classed as Interstitial (with some overlap with SF/F).
Several authors show up in my favorites more than once: Aliette de Bodard, Rahul Kanakia, Ken Liu. This is partially a testament to how prolific they are, but also does represent my fondness for them. Liu in particular comes to mind whenever someone asks me about favorite authors or for suggestions on what to read. Should also mention here that I’m in Diverse Energies with both Liu and Kanakia — to be in this company makes me very happy. (I also really liked their stories.)
Overall, I’ve enjoyed reading all this short fiction in 2012. It’s definitely inspired me to write more. Plus, I like being able to see the growing expansion of the genre as I discover new gems. I will continue to read as much short fiction as possible in 2013. In fact, I’ll likely read way more.
The crew over at Not If You Were The Last Short Story On Earth asked me to join the blog, and I happily said yes. So more print mags are in my future. I also talked to AnnaLee Newitz and Charlie Jane Anders about possibly doing a short fiction roundup for io9. Hopefully that will happen this month.
You can see all of the short stories I liked this year by surfing the tag on my blog or over on Delicious. On Delicious you’ll see some more numbers that may interest you.