Lovers of SFF can only deplore the late year’s outbreak of divisiveness and animosity, with the hostile parties displaying a willingness to destroy the genre in order to deny it to the other. Calls for unity go unheard while the partisans make plans to continue the hostilities in the upcoming year. The only bright spot is that ordinary readers appear to have largely ignored the entire thing.
While I’m deploring, I also observe that these developments have only deepened existing fissures in the fiction landscape, notably the persistent gap between print and electronic periodicals, where I see little hope of reconciliation.
A year ago, in my summary of 2014’s short fiction, I noted a general falling-off in the quality and appeal of the stories, particularly in the print digests. This year, I’m seeing an improvement in the printzines, especially relative to online publications, where a decline seems evident. In this regard, I note a recent editorial from Neil Clarke predicting a contraction in the number of publications as the number of quality stories fails to keep up with the expansion of online markets.
But such changes tend to come as a slow, creeping erosion instead of an earthshaking convulsion. Or perhaps a self-inflicted death of a thousand mutually-destructive cuts. Otherwise, I saw no great seismic shifts in the genre, no significant new publications striding onto the scene, no more important ones dying off. The zines that had been publishing good stuff largely continued to do so, the others largely didn’t.
In past years, I’ve used these annual reviews to single out a newer author who seemed to show particular promise. This hasn’t worked out quite as well as I’d wished. Instead, for 2015, I want to take note of the publishers who are featuring translated work from non-English-writing authors, greatly expanding the diversity of viewpoints from which we see the worlds our imaginations can create. And an honorable mention to Ken Liu, who’s been ably translating many of the stories from the Chinese.
Following are the publications where I found potentially award-worthy fiction.
Once, these publications defined the genre, but erosion has taken a great toll. The magazines we have left are survivors; most of them have been around for decades. But longevity can have its own drawbacks. Editors and publishers can get caught in a rut and fail to keep up with the changes in a genre that was born with its gaze on the future. I’m happy to note that in 2015 there was a general shaking-off of dust. It was a relatively good year for stories in print after a disappointing 2014. I’m pretty confident that these periodicals will be with us for some more time to come.
If we were looking for change anywhere, it would be in this venerable zine, which acquired new editorial direction near the beginning of the year. I can already discern some difference, primarily in the expansion of the author base to include both newer and well-established writers rather than over-relying on an overused few. In the year to come, the nature and extent of the change should become more apparent.
For this year, my favorites came from established masters:
Dennis Etchison’s “Don’t Move”
Robert Reed’s “The City of Your Soul”
Jeffrey Ford’s” Winter Wraith”
And worthy works from somewhat newer authors:
“The Mantis Tattoo” by Paul M Berger
“Paradise and Trout” by Betsy James
While there seems to be no overt change at this zine, I find my Year’s Best list quite loaded with Asimov’s stories, quite the way it used to be only a few years ago. This seems to speak well of longevity and stability. The Greg Egan novella especially has award-winning Hard SF quality.
“The Four Thousand, the Eight Hundred” by Greg Egan
“Inhuman Garbage” by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
“Two-Year Man” by Kelly Robson
“Walking to Boston” by Rick Wilber
“Empty” by Robert Reed
The thought of change here would almost seem self-contradictory, but I’m seeing more better stories recently and fewer unreadable ones. My favorites:
Andy Dudak, “Samsara and Ice”
Adam-Troy Castro, “Sleeping Dogs”
This is a publication that never stands in one place to collect dust; change is pretty much a constant. While this year saw more overt fantasy, the pieces I liked best were science fiction. The Reynolds story may be my very favorite of the year; I’m not often blown away, but this one did it. In addition, for the second year in a row, I find myself singling out the winner of the zine’s contest for new writers.
Alastair Reynolds, “A Murmuration”
Jeff Noon, “No Rez”
Mack Leonard, “Midnight Funk Association”
Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet
A relatively new little printzine, in little print, that offers a lot of unusual and experimental works, sometimes but not always successful. My pick of these is the rather more conventional
“March Wind” by Eric Gregory
Crossing over into another country. In recent years, I’ve found the majority of my Year’s Best stories in these venues, and if that isn’t the case this year, I still suspect that the electronic medium is where the long-term future of the genre lies. Of course there’s a great variation in this part of the field, but reflecting on Neil Clarke’s message, I’m reminded how often I’ve seen readers commenting that a lot of the current ezines seem to be indistinguishable from one another. There seems to be a tendency for many online publications to be more author-driven and social-media-driven, as well as often recirculating the same few dozen authors among themselves.
Of the following, most look like they’ll be survivors.
The zine persisted in 2015 with its “Destroy” special issues, of which the “Destroy Fantasy” issue, coming out under the Fantasy Magazine label, was superior. My picks are:
Chaz Brenchley’s “The Astrakhan, the Homburg, and the Red, Red Coal”
Catherynne M Valente’s, “The Lily and the Horn”
Kai Ashante Wilson’s, “Kaiju maximus”
I also found fiction worth recommending in the regular issues, making 2015 the best year yet for this ezine.
Chen Qiufan, “The Smog Society”
Nike Sulway, “The Karen Joy Fowler Book Club”
In previous years, I would usually put this publication at the top of my list, but I didn’t really find any one venue standing out in 2015. My favorites here:
Robert Reed, “The Empress in Her Glory”
Chen Qiufan, “Coming of the Light”
Andy Dudek, “Asymptotic”
Always a reliable source for fine fiction, although sometimes hard to find amid many other sorts of offering. This year, the best stories are:
“Islands off the Coast of Capitola, 1978” by David Herter
“Variations on an Apple” by Yoon Ha Lee
“The Pauper Prince and the Eucalyptus Jinn” by Usman T Malik
Another publication, venerable among webzines, that doesn’t seem to change much from year to year. It hasn’t yet fallen into a rut that keeps it from producing some occasional good stories. The monthly word count, though, is still pretty low, and I note that the longer stories I’m likely to prefer are often serialized over a couple of weeks, which is frustrating.
“Utrechtenaar” by Paul Evanby
“The World in Evening” by Jei D Marcade
“The Game of Smash and Recovery” by Kelly Link
Here’s an ezine that’s suffered from excessive turnover of editors the last few years, and readers can’t really know what to expect from month to month, the quality being highly uneven. The high points are as good as anything else out there:
“Pocosin” by Ursula Vernon
“It Is Healing, It Is Never Whole” by Sunny Moraine
My favorite from this little zine is a lovely, imaginative fantasy about a woman who dissolves into mist.
“Serein” by Cat Hellisen
Beneath Ceaseless Skies
Because of its subject matter, BCS isn’t likely to be mistaken for any of the other ezines here, although it’s increasingly using some of the same authors. The quality seems to have fallen off a bit in 2015, although there were still quite a few stories I liked.
Kate Marshall’s “Stone Prayers”
Rebecca Campbell’s “Unearthly Landscape by a Lady”
The weirdest of all the publications I’ve seen recently, although this leads to a very uneven selection of fiction. My favorite:
Julia August’s “Soteriology and Stephen Greenwood”
One of two new publications that have successfully completed their debut year and are still with us. Uncanny is staking out a feminist turf, although readers will note a lot of the same authors in as other zines, making it less distinctive than it might be. The year’s real standout is:
Hao Jingfang’s “Folding Beijing”
This first-year ezine is another distinguished by its subject matter: dark fantasy that frequently evokes the reaction “disturbing”. Best stories include:
“In the Dreams Full of Sleep, Beakless Birds Can Fly” by Patricia Russo
“What Hands Like Ours Can Do” by Megan Arkenberg
Anthologies are always problematic. Some of the best stories of every year come from anthologies, but I don’t always receive all the books I’d like to review, and I don’t always have time to review all the ones I receive. This year’s anthology crop was relatively thin, based on what I did get to read—only two clear standouts: Meeting Infinity, hard and near-hard science fiction, and Old Venus, which I have to call science fantasy.
Meeting Infinity, edited by Jonathan Strahan
This is a collection of future science fiction on the general theme of change, albeit not really infinite change. A lot of strong work here, but two real winners.
John Barnes, “My Last Bringback”
Bruce Sterling, “Pictures from the Resurrection”
Old Venus, edited by George RR Martin and Gardner Dozois
Stories set in the Venus of the imagination, before science poured cold water on the planetary romance. Again, a lot of entertaining stories and one outstanding one:
“Botanica Veneris” by Ian McDonald
Twelve Tomorrows, edited by Bruce Sterling
A futurist anthology, not as strong as I would have liked, and I can’t really recommend it as I can the previous two, with the exception of one lively action piece:
“It Takes More Muscles to Frown” by Ned Beauman