Looking back over 2014 to pick my favorite stories, I don’t see it as a really good year for short SF. From many directions come charges that the field has fallen into a rut, and the evidence doesn’t strongly dispute it. Subterranean Press discontinued its high-quality magazine and no new periodicals have yet risen to replace it, although Uncanny shows promise. Overall, my assessment of this year’s stories would have to be: lackluster.
Most disappointing were the old-line print periodicals. There was plenty of good-enough fiction published, but few stories that made me sit up in awe and think: “I wish I could have written that.” I found a lot more outstanding pieces of fiction in the electronic periodicals, most notably Tor.com and Clarkesworld. It was also a good year for anthologies, especially for Hard SF of which I see far too little in the periodicals.
This year’s new author of promise is J Y Yang.
If the field is in a rut, it’s most visible here. Only a few years ago, I recall selecting more stories for my list from this magazine than just about any other venue. Now, not so many. And it’s noteworthy that most of these came from a guest-edited issue: Paul M Berger’s “Subduction” and Spencer Ellsworth’s “Five Tales of the Aqueduct”. Fortunately, the zine continues to publish Robert Reed, although his contributions here this year were not my favorites, and the ever-entertaining Matthew Hughes. I also liked Sarah Pinsker’s “A Stretch of Highway Two Lanes Wide”. But this is a decline, overall, from better days.
At one point, this magazine used to vie with F&SF for the honor of premier source of short fiction in the genre. While the zine is less addicted to the work of the same regular authors, it still isn’t publishing a lot of new, exciting work. It did give us what I consider Robert Reed’s best piece of the year: “The Cryptic Age”. I also liked Derek Künsken’s “Schools of Clay”.
Here, stasis would seem to be a feature, not a bug, but given this, I found the quality of the fiction on the upgrade, the best being Craig DeLancey’s “Racing the Tide”.
This just-as-venerable print magazine definitely showed that it’s open to change, continuing a shift from dark future dystopias to more optimistic works that include actual fantasy. The best here is still SF, however, such as Nina Allen’s sophisticated “Mirielena”. I also liked new author D J Cockburn’s debut piece, “Beside the Dammed River”, with a fresh look at dystopia.
This website is one of the few sources I read selectively, given the amount and variety of the content, but I’ve found a lot of good original stuff here over the last year. I’m particularly pleased by the number of longer stories, most notably the fantasy novella by new author Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinin: “Where the Trains Turn”, and the long novelettes by Richard Bowes: “Sleep Walking Now and Then”, and Julio Cortazar: “Headache”. Also Anna Tambour’s “The Walking-Stick Forest”.
Of shorter works, Marie Brennan had two fine fantasies: “Mad Maudlin” and “Daughter of Necessity”. I also liked the imaginative science fantasy “Combustion Hour” by Yoon Ha Lee and Genevieve Valentine’s intricately plotted “The Insects of Love”.
The fiction here tends to be at the shorter lengths, but not less in quality. I note that that Robert Reed had two highly strange and original pieces here in 2014: “Pernicious Romance” and “wHole”. Other of my favorites were by Kat Howard, “The Saint of the Sidewalks”; Joseph Tomaras, “Bonfires in Anacostia”; J Y Yang, “Patterns of a Murmuration in Billions of Data Points”; Tom Crosshill, “The Magician and LaPlace’s Demon”, a fascinating science fantasy.
Beneath Ceaseless Skies
This site has become a long-running success, and one of the few regular sources for secondary-world fantasy, which other publications have largely disdained. I’m particularly pleased to find K J Parker publishing here now, with “Heaven Thunders the Truth”. I also enjoyed “Make No Promises” by Rachel Halpern, “Crossroads and Gateways” by Helen Marshall, and “The Sorrow of Rain” by Richard Parks.
My favorites from this ezine were Polenth Blake’s “Never the Same” and J Y Yang’s “Storytelling for the Night Clerk”.
This eclectic little magazine is now digital. I liked Craig DeLancey’s ambiguous “Cantor’s Dragon” and K M Ferebee’s imaginative fantasy “The Earth and Everything Under”.
Unhappily, this publication didn’t go out on the strongest note. I did like “The Things We Do for Love” by K J Parker, “Pushing the Sky Away . . .” by Caitlín R Kiernan, and “Grand Jeté . . .” by Rachel Swirsky.
This new dark fantasy zine is starting to fulfill its promise with such works as “Burial” by Helena Bell and “Mr Hill’s Death” by S I Gilbow.
Lightspeed had a full and interesting year with its kickstarted “Women Destroy” issues, but I can’t say this resulted in the best quality fiction. Best by far was from the regular lineup, Theodora Goss’s fine creative fantasy “Cimmeria: from The Journal of Imaginary Anthropology”.
Apex Magazine has been struggling recently with an instability of editorial direction. It did publish good stories “Economies of Force” by Seth Dickinson and “Jackalope Wives” by Ursula Vernon.
I’ve been known to complain in the past that I see too few original anthologies, but 2014 gave me more than I managed to read. The year had a particularly good crop of Hard SF collections, and I’m not going to complain about too much Hard SF.
This one was created by a collective headed by Neal Stephenson on a mission to pull SF out of its rut and imbue it with a sense of “techno-optimism”. There’s good stuff here, real science fiction, which is all too rare on today’s publishing scene. Among these stories, I especially like the realistic, probable futures portrayed by Geoffrey A. Landis in “A Hotel in Antarctica” and by Cory Doctorow in “The Man Who Sold the Moon”.
Reach for Infinity
Another good SF anthology from Jonathan Strahan, the theme being human expansion into space. The best stories are “The Fifth Dragon” by Ian McDonald and “Kheldyu” by Karl Schroeder.
Another anthology from Strahan, this one fantasy and not quite as successful as the science fiction volume. I best liked “On Skybolt Mountain” by Justina Robson.
Carbide-Tipped Pens is another Hard SF anthology, not as good as its title, edited by Ben Bova and Eric Choi. It has a nice piece by Gregory Benford: “Lady with Fox”.
Upgraded, edited by Neil Clarke, takes on the subject of artificial intelligence. I liked Ken Liu’s “The Regular”.