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Best Short Fiction 2016

29387827The Terracotta Bride
Zen Cho
Fantasy

Siew Tsin is dead, like everyone else in the afterlife. She has been sold to the wealthiest man in hell, who is already married, and lives a comfortable but dull life.   Her husband brings home a third wife, the Terracotta Bride Yonghua. Yonghua is not human, not dead, and her origins and intentions are a mystery that Siew Tsin begins to uncover. As their friendship grows, Younghua awakens life inside Siew Tsin.

Zen Cho has some excellent worldbuilding and characterization in this tiny little story.   This is a beautiful mix of mythology and modernity. Cho’s restrained writing make this a heartwarming and spooky read about being awake, falling in love, and learning to let go.

Scent Notes: wet terracotta, polished wood, and petrichor

29920704Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers
Alyssa Wong
Horror
Jen is a vampire – she feeds on bad thoughts and evil. Her feasts are the violence, jealousy, and anger of others.  Jen’s insatiable hunger damages the kind woman she loves. When Jen meets others of her kind, she has to make a choice about which part of herself she wants to sustain.
While this book was macabre and creepy, it was equally beautiful for descriptions of romance and need. The images of Jen’s mother, living a life surrounded by jars full of all of the bad thoughts and bad people she’s taken throughout her life, were utterly haunting and pitiful. I was left not with a sense of horror as much as the loneliness inherent in our addiction and love for other people. This story is free to read, and takes about 20 minutes– you won’t regret it.

Scent Notes: Rice flour in your home cupboard, oversweet blackberry jam, and sharp anise

25362907The Assimilated Cuban’s Guide to Quantum Santeria
Carlos Hernandez
Magical Realism
Overall a strong collection of short stories about searching for, finding, or losing yourself or someone you love. Each left me with a sense of loss and gratitude.  Some highlights-

The Aphotic Ghost: A bittersweet story about tending immortal jellyfish, love, and duty to family. I’m a big fan of the sadness inherent in stories about loving people, and this one was touching while still being surprising and strange.

The International Studbook of the Giant Panda: Like nothing I’d ever read before, and surprisingly emotional considering it is about giant panda robot sex. If you want to imagine strapping yourself into a full body harness and taking a VR one for the whole panda species, this is the story for you. More seriously, this one will make you long for a deeper relationship with nature. Of the sci-fi stories in this collection, this one felt the most near and plausible. And again..remarkably touching considering all the panda sex.

More than Pigs and Rosaries Can Give: A man and wife travel to his homeland to resurrect the ghost of his mother. This was the story I most wished was a full novel. Some of the descriptors completely leapt off the page for me, and the characters were immediately interesting and engaging. It could have all gone much slower and deeper and the end might not have felt so abrupt and disappointing for me.

These stories were so packed with potential that I was left wanting more from each. Definitely a collection worth checking out.

310717St Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves
Karen Russell
Magical Realism
Maybe because I’ve only just discovered this year that I enjoy short stories and magical realism, but when I read this collection, I was in awe. Russell has excellent titles and excellent ideas, and her writing is gorgeous. Her style is one I strive to emulate in my own writing. Choosing a favorite from this collection is difficult, but I think the titular story was the one that stood out the most, with the Minotaur taking his family out west being a close follow. The downside to most of Russell’s stories is they end too soon, right at the peak of the momentum. For that, they feel even more like a dream.
Definitely recommended for anyone that likes magical realism, quirky stories, and tales of maturation.

28167979Bitch Planet
Kelly Sue DeConnick, Valentine De Landro, Robert Wilson IV
Volume 1
I needed Bitch Planet in my life, especially this year. Comics have, to put it simply, always made me feel like shit. Between shallow plots, cookie-cutter characters, and dehumanizing art, I’ve just never really felt like comics had anything to offer me. 2016 was the year that changed. I read some excellent femme-centric comics this year, but Bitch Planet was by far the most fun. There are criticisms to make about the first volume for sure, but honestly I was too busy enjoying myself to take much notice.

Everything from the cover art, to the ads in the back of each issue, to the dull colors of real life juxtaposed with the toxic bubblegum of the ‘compliant women’, to the unsexualized naked bodies everywhere, felt like I was finally reading a comic that understood women. The world of Bitch Planet is both hilarious and horrifying, speculative and intimately familiar. Intersectional feminists can enjoy this comic without having to turn on our media blinders, and that feels really fucking good.

I’ll be hoping that we get more depth in plot and character in the future.  Volume one is kind of all over the place in genre, and despite being about women trying to survive/escape prison, lacks explicit stakes or urgency. For now, this definitely feels less about plot and more about social commentary, but I’ll be patient. Criticisms and all, I’m seriously considering getting a NonCompliant tattoo.

Scent Notes: Sweat-damp cotton, steel bars, and bubblegum cough syrup.

Good/Bad

29396738Monstress
Marjorie M Liu, Sana Takeda, Rus Wooton
Volume 1
Anybody paying attention is probably well aware of Monstress- it’s been getting a ton of hype the past half year. I think most of that is deserved. This is a complicated and mysterious story set in a art deco/steampunk fantasy 1900s Asia, and it is unlike anything I’ve read (in both story and art) before. You could flip to nearly any page in this volume and have an astounding, frame-worthy piece of art. Other than the overt sexualization of a few characters, you’re not going to be visually bored.

That said, the story of Monstress did leave me feeling pretty ungrounded. It vacillates between cute and grotesque, heart-warming and horrifying, confusing mystery and dull exposition. Following the struggle of Maika and her choices felt morally grey and lovely, but then the villains are so outrageously evil that it is almost eye-roll worthy. There’s so much to love here (if nothing else, the art!) that I’ll likely give this a second read-through soon.

Scent Notes: Gold filigree, cat fur, and lots of blood

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