When I look back at the year in short fiction, what stands out is the fact that there is nothing really standing out. The field seems to have been trapped in a stasis bubble. No major new publications started up. No major publications went under – at least for this year. Although there have been several reports of significant changes to come, mainly for the worst, the real impact of these moves will not be felt by readers until the upcoming year.
In 2011 the same publications mostly published the same kinds of stories by the same bunch of authors. I notice a definite dulling of the edge. There were, of course, some good stories that I was happy to recommend, but relatively few that inspired me to go running in circles waving them high in the air and screaming Look at this! You gotta read this! Nor did I notice many new author stars blazing an incandescent trail across the genre horizon. Ken Liu stands out as perhaps the year’s brightest, and An Owowmoyela made a strong showing.
Following is an overview of my picks for the best of 2011’s short fiction.
Even a static Asimov’s will provide some well-written stories, and this year I place it back at the top of its class. I was particularly happy with “The Choice” by Paul McAuley, “Movement” by Nancy Fulda, “The Man who Bridged the Mist” by Kij Johnson, “Smoke City” by Christopher Barzak, “My Husband Steinn” by Eleanor Arneson, and “Ephemera” by Steve Rasnic Tem.
This venerable zine continues to improve the overall quality of its writing. Once again, I pick Sean McMullen as providing one of the year’s best with his “Enigma.” Also Alec Nevala-Lee’s “The Boneless One.”
Last year, the zine led my YB list, but it’s slipped this time around. One of my choices was Ken Liu’s “Altogether Elsewhere, Vast Herds of Reindeer” and I also liked “The Corpse Painter’s Masterpiece” by M Rickert, “Botanical Exercises for Curious Girls” by Kali Wallace, and Alan Peter Ryan’s “Time and Tide.”
The sharp cutting edge of the premier British zine appears to have dulled a bit this year; I even spotted a couple of fantasies! Which doesn’t mean there weren’t good stories. I picked “Sleepers” by Jon Ingold and “The Metaphor” by Fiona Moore.
Realms of Fantasy
After a short time under new management, this zine has come to an end of its run. I chose Leah Bobet’s “The Ground Whereon She Stands” as the best story of RoF’s final year.
There was one double issue in 2011 of this zine that managed to retain a good sharp edge, as shown by “∞” by Darin Bradley and “Memories of Chalice” by Peter M Ball.
An uneven year for this little zine, but it gave us “The Crystaiad” by Bruce Barber and “On the Many Uses of Cedar” by Geoffrey W Cole.
The zine only managed to put out one issue for 2011, from which I pick the veteran Darrell Schweitzer’s “Into the Gathering Dark”.
Two issues came out for 2011. “Son of Flanders” by William Knight was the best story.
This one doesn’t always meet my standards for professional-level fiction, but it happily gave us M David Blake’s wonderfully weird “Absinthe Fish”.
In this category, there’s no question what zine I rank in first place, in large part because of the excellent Yoon Ha Lee. Besides her “Ghostweight” and “Conservation of Shadows”, Clarkesworld also published E Lily Yu’s “The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees” as well as Gord Sellar’s “Trois Morceaux en Forme de Mechanika” and Genevieve Valentine’s “Semiramis”.
This publisher also put out an issue of its print magazine in 2011, but I did not receive a copy for review. From the online zine, the highlights were “The Boy Who Followed Lovecraft” by Marc Laidlaw, “A Small Price to Pay for Birdsong” by K J Parker, and “White Lines on a Green Field” by Catherynne M Valente.
After spending about a year in the editor’s chair, Catherynne M Valente stepped back to the author position with the excellent “The Bread We Eat in Dreams.” “The Speaking Bone” by Kat Howard was also a fine choice from editor Valente.
This one slipped in my estimation under the new editorial hand for 2011, as well as cutting in half the number of original stories. My favorite was from An Owomoyela, “Of Wolves and Men”.
I’ve never been able to find much enthusiasm for most of the soft SF published here, but it did well with Robert Reed’s “Woman Leaves Room”.
In contrast, Redstone’s science fiction is always the hard stuff, but the literary quality has sometimes been low. Two good ones were “Like a Hawk in Its Gyre” by Philip Brewer and “Evoë! Evoë!” by Robert Pritchard.
Among a lot of rather similar stories, I saw one real standout: Gavin J Grant’s “Widows in the World”
Beneath Ceaseless Skies
From this zine, I liked the strangeness of “Walls of Paper, Soft as Skin” by Adam Callaway
Intergalactic Medicine Show
Orson Scott Card’s bimonthly zine seems predicated on edgelessness: soft, safe stories. I was, however, quite happy to read Jeffry Lyman’s “The Hanged Poet.”
I never know what I’m going to find at this site, which leads to some really happy surprises like Paul Park’s verse “Ragnarok.” Also recommended, Michael F Flynn’s AH “The Iron Shirts”
Although supposedly dedicated to longer fictions, the zine disappointed with a run of short stories in mid-year. I recommended “Work, With Occasional Molemen” by Jeremiah Tolbert.
I received more of these for review this year, although not all the anthologies I would have most liked to see. Here are the highlights of the anthology year, which fell into two general categories
It seemed that every other volume in 2011 was labeled “urban fantasy.” From which I conclude that there is no agreement on the boundaries of this subgenre, or just what kind of stories it actually includes. There is the elfy sort; the ass-kicking vampire-lover sort, crossbred with romance; the detectivey sort, crossed with mystery. Caveat lector.
Subterranean: Tales of Dark Fantasy 2, edited by William Schafer
A high quality collection showcasing authors published by this small press. The fantasy ranges from light to horrific dark, which is the tone of my favorite, Norman Partridge’s western-themed “Vampire Lake.”
Naked City, edited by Ellen Datlow
One of the strongest of the year’s urban fantasy anthologies, in which the editor has chosen to emphasize the urban settings in which the stories take place. Among these, I particularly liked Kit Reed’s “Weston Walks”, Lavie Tidhar’s “The Projected Girl”, and Jeffrey Ford’s “Daddy Long Legs of the Evening”.
Ghosts by Gaslight, edited by Jack Dann and Nick Gevers
The title accurately reflects the contents of these works: Victorian ghost stories. Best was Paul Park’s New Orleans-themed “Mysteries of the Old Quarter”.
Down These Strange Streets, edited by Gardner Dozois and George RR Martin
This interpretation of urban fantasy centers on the murder mystery. My favorites were “The Bleeding Shadow” by Joe R Lansdale and “The Adakian Eagle” by Bradley Denton.
Blood and Other Cravings, edited by Ellen Datlow
Vampires, mostly the psychic or metaphorical sort. I liked “Miri” by Steve Rasnic Tem.
I also saw a lot of science fiction anthologies, which proved overall to be a better showcase for SF than the zines.
Engineering Infinity, edited by Jonathan Strahan
A good collection of hard science fiction from a strong lineup of authors. My choices were “Malak” by Peter Watts, “Laika’s Ghost” by Karl Schroeder, and “A Soldier of the City” by David Moles
Welcome to the Greenhouse, edited by Gordon Van Gelder
An SF anthology on the theme of global climate change. A varied mix of stories, tragic to comic. The best, on the tragic side, was Brian W Aldiss’s “Benkoelen”.
Eclipse Four, edited by Jonathan Strahan
Unthemed, genre-inclusive anthology, latest in this well-received series. Caitlín R Kiernan had a superior SF story: “Tidal Forces”.
Panverse 3, edited by Dario Ciriello
The third volume of this collection of novellas was the best yet, and, sadly, will apparently also be the last. The stories were almost all science fiction. Especially good were Tochi Onyebuchi’s “Dust to Dust” and Ken Liu’s “The Man Who Ended History”.
Solaris Rising, edited by Ian Whates
More science fiction, another strong group of stories. My picks are “The Best Science Fiction of the Year Three” by Ken MacLeod, “The Lives and Deaths of Che Guevara” by Lavie Tidhar, and “At Play in the Fields” by Steve Rasnic Tem.