The Year in Review 2021 by Karen Burnham

Karen Burnham

2021 was a tumultuous year for me personally, but I’m ending it in a much better place than I began (psychologically speaking). I fervently wish the same for all of you, and I think we all hope that 2022 might, some­how, be less tumultuous than the last few years. Through it all I’m always amazed and impressed by the writers who keep writing and the editors who keep editing, through upheavals both personal and global. It’s not an easy gig, and worldwide pandemics don’t help.

So I totally understand when venues have to call it quits or have unexpected delays/hiatuses, which may have happened a little more frequently in 2020/2021 than some other years. Deep Magic finished with a final issue in the Spring. Arsenika’s eighth issue was its last. Departure Mirror officially folded. I didn’t see formal closing announcements, but Terraform, Unsung, Kasma, Constellary Tales, Red Sun, Augur, and Electric Athanaeum haven’t been heard from in over a year (please let me know if you’ve seen issues in 2021 that I missed). I’m a little worried about Speculative North – they started in 2020 and I reviewed them for the first time in my column this month. They had a very strong line-up of fiction, but I see they only put out one issue in 2021 and are currently closed to submissions.

However, the departures are usually balanced, more or less, by new arrivals. Deadlands is a new horror venue with some excellent work, as is Common Tongue. Sexy Fantastic debuted this year (although I found it quite hard to access the issues). khōō started up with authors from communities that have experienced immigration and diaspora. Constelación had two issues this year with all stories published in both English and Spanish. And Apex Magazine has been thankfully revived. I feel like horror is having a heck of a year (for more see Paula Guran’s writing elsewhere in this issue), and some­how the market for publishing translations continues to hold steady, if not grow as much as I’d like to see.

Speaking of new arrivals, I’m always on the look­out for debut authors, since so many of them appear in online ’zines when they’re just starting out. I feel like a few words of encouragement mean more to an author with their first handful of stories than at any other time in their career. My list of Recommended Stories for the year is all drawn from debut/early career authors. L Chan is making a strong impres­sion based on stories in Clarkesworld (“The Death Haiku of the Azure Five” and “A House is Not a Home”). I was glad to see Kevin Wabaunsee returning in Apex #126 after loving one of his Strange Horizon stories in 2019. Metaphorosis has been fantastic at developing new voices with stories such as “Superbloom” by Lynne Peskoe-Yang and “Rock-Adda’s World” by Chloe Smith. Fiyah brings new Black voices to the industry, as with “Fatal Conditions” by Chris Campbell and “The Techwork Horse” by M.H. Ayinde. Clarkesworld is another great place to look for new voices: Isabel J. Kim’s “Homecoming is Just Another Word for the Sublimation of the Self” and Maya Beck’s “Yearning” come to mind.

Strange Horizons seems to be making a concerted effort to get new names in front of us; see both my col­umn in this issue and plenty of others, such as “The Demon Sage’s Daughter” by Varsha Dinesh and “Ootheca”, from Mário de Seabra Coelho. Also keep an eye on Anathema: Spec from the Margins. Stories such as “Before Whom Evil Trembles” by Nhamo are definitely worth your time. Honestly, as I was going back through my columns and noting strong early stories it was a pretty overwhelming list, only a portion of which is below. This might be one of the silver linings of the pandemic, where more writers may have found time to write or motivation to submit. I hope they’ll keep it up in 2022 and that editors and translators are able to keep moving ahead, bringing us the most diverse and interesting speculative short fic­tion possible. They certainly keep my job from ever being boring!

Recommended Stories

“Superbloom”,  Lynne Peskoe-Yang (Metaphorosis 1/21)
“Rock-Adda’s World”, Chloe Smith (Metaphorosis 2/21)
“Homecoming is Just Another Word for the Sublimation of the Self”, Isabel J. Kim (Clarkesworld 3/21)
“Fatal Conditions”, Chris Campbell (Fiyah #18)
“Si Shou”, E.A. Xiong (Strange Horizons 3/21)
“Before Whom Evil Trembles”, Nhamo (Anathema 5/21)
“Temporal Slider”, Blaze Forbes (Strange Horizons 6/21)
“For Future Generations”, Rachel Gutin (khōreó, #2)
“A Thousand Tiny Gods”, Nadia Afifi (Fiyah #18)
“All Us Ghosts”, B. Pladek (Strange Horizons 8/21)
“Tempus Reverso”, Ember Randall (Abyss & Apex 2Q/21)
“The Mama Puzzle”, Emmalia Harrington (Abyss & Apex 2Q /21)
“The 74th District” Wen-Yi Lee (Speculative City Spring ‘21)
“Arisudan”, Rimi B. Chatterjee (Mithila #15)
“This Stitch, This Time”, Anna Martino (Clarkesworld 11/21)
“The Constellations Are Unrecognizable Here”, Andrew Joseph White (Strange Horizons 11/21)

Karen Burnham is an electromagnetics engineer by way of vocation, and a book reviewer/critic by way of avocation. She has worked on NASA projects including the Dream Chaser spacecraft and currently works in the automotive industry in Michigan. She has reviewed for venues such as Locus Magazine, NYRSF, Strange Horizons,, and Cascadia Subduction Zone. She has produced podcasts for and, especially SF Crossing the Gulf with Karen Lord. Her book on Greg Egan came out from University of Illinois Press in 2014, and she has twice been nominated in the Best Non-Fiction category of the British SF Awards.

This review and more like it in the February 2022 issue of Locus.

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