Welcome to Smugglivus 2017! Throughout this month, we will have guests – authors and bloggers alike – looking back at their favorite reads of 2017, looking forward to events and upcoming books in 2018, and more.
Smugglivus continues with our next guest: Jodie/bookgazing, one of the editors of the Hugo Award winner fanzine Lady Business
Have you made any New Year’s resolutions? Is one of them to read more short SFF fiction? If so you’re probably already feeling a little overwhelmed. You want to dive into the wonderful world of short SFF but there’s SO MUCH out there. So let me help you out this Smugglivus with a list of twelve great stories you could potentially peruse. Investigating twelve stories seems more manageable than staring into the void repeating ‘so many stories’, right?
- “Seasons of Glass and Iron” by Amal El-Mohtar
Let’s kick things off with “Seasons of Glass and Iron”, which won the 2017 Hugo Award for Best Short Story. It’s a delightful, feminist fairy tale, full of snark and sweetness, about two women who help to free each other from the sexist restrictions of their stories. Tabitha is forced to walk the earth wearing down iron shoes to atone for a mistake. Amira sits perfectly still on a glass hill to avoid attracting a suitor, and bringing war to her kingdom. Both, in their own way, are held captive by men and traditional, sexist fairy tale conventions but both women actually blame themselves for their current misery. When the two women meet at the top of Amira’s hill, their blossoming friendship (and romance – yes, Virginia this is a love story) helps them to see things a little differently. Recommended for readers who like to see fairy tales taken apart and put back together with humour, grace, and a sharp feminist focus.
- “Maps of Infinity” by Heather Morris
If myths are more your thing than fairy tales, try “Maps of Infinity” by Heather Morris; a retelling of one of a very famous Greek myth. In Morris’ story, two well-known characters get new stories, and some much needed depth of character. I won’t spoil the twist by telling you which characters appear, but I will say a famous monster is involved. This myth is a personal favourite of mine, and I enjoyed seeing a totally different take on this classic story.
- “The Cure” by Malinda Lo
So you like new twists on classic stories, but want something in more of a gothic vein? With “The Cure”, Malinda Lo has created a feminist, female-focused take on vampiric seduction – take that Bram Stoker. Confined to an asylum for being ‘hysterical’ the unnamed, female narrator is visited at night by a female vampire who helps to set her true desires free. This is one sexy, smart story which blends history and fantasy into a delicious gothic concoction.
- “Taiya” by Vanessa Fogg
If you like stories about unearthly visitors, you should also check out “Taiya” by Vanessa Fogg. Karen inherits a ‘taiya’ or a ghost when she moves, with her husband, to a new house in a new country. At first, Karen tries to ignore the ghost; as instructed by the local community. However, she feels isolated while she waits for her freelance career to get started, and eventually begins to listen to the ghost. What follows is an intelligent, empathetic story about a woman struggling with depression, and the difficulties of reaching out to a partner who doesn’t quite get it. “Taiya” works on both a metaphorical and a literal level. And, while it’s not always a cheerful tale, its conclusion is filled with hope.
- “How to Become a Robot in 12 Easy Steps” by Merc A. Rustard
“How to Become a Robot in 12 Easy Steps” also deals with depression, and the difficulties of explaining things; in this case Tesla, the narrator, struggles to explain that they are really a robot, and that they are in love with another robot. The story is often written in lists, and the style is innovative, but my favourite thing about this story is the emotional truth written into every line. It’s a story about knowing who you are, yet struggling against a host of practical difficulties which prevent you from showing that true identity to the wider world. And it’s a story about how supportive people can be when they really start to understand you. A real heartwarmer of a story.
- “When We Die On Mars” by Cassandra Khaw
Another tale delicately poised between a feeling of possibility and fear is “When We Die On Mars”. Cassandra Khaw’s tale shows the build-up to a long term expedition to Mars. All of the crew know it will be impossible to return, and are caught between excitement and dread. What makes the story so special is the developing relationships between the crew, and the tender way the story walks the line between terror and desire. It’s a sweet, and thoughtful story that will stay with you for a long time.
- “Wooden Feathers” by Ursula Vernon
Moving on to something a little creepier – Ursula Vernon’s “Wooden Feathers” will mess you up. It’s the tale of a struggling craftswoman drawn into the sinister, magical world of a retired wood carver. “Wooden Feathers” is a slow burn story that takes a while to reveal the unsettling fantasy at its heart, but it’s well worth the wait. I’m still not sure how to feel about the central relationship in this tale, and that ambiguity is one of the story’s great strengths.
- “Eyes I Dare Not Meet in Dreams” by Sunny Moraine
Every wondered what would happen if dead girls came back, and just kind of hung around? Sunny Moraine has, and their story “Eyes I Dare Not Meet in Dreams” presents a unique, feminist examination of what might happen. This is an unsettling, clever story which critiques our culture’s voyeuristic approach to female death, and its obsession with stuffing women in refrigerators. If you’re tired of seeing female characters get snuffed you need to check out this story.
- “The Husband Stitch” by Carmen Maria Machado
Still after more creeptastic stories? “The Husband Stitch” is a great for fans of Angela Carter and Helen Oyeyemi, which should tell you this story is tricky, feminist, and seriously weird in the very best way. It’s a tale of female desire, marriage, and motherhood. And it weaves fairy tales, and stage directions through its structure to create a deliciously meandering, vaguely troubling gothic tale. Carmen Maria Machado’s short story collection is currently gathering rave reviews, and this free short story gives you a chance to see if you’ll enjoy the author’s style.
- “A Fist of Permutations in Lightening and Wildflowers” by Alyssa Wong
Alyssa Wong’s Hugo Award short-listed story is less creepy and more tragic, but either way it’s very dark. “A Fist of Permutations in Lightening and Wildflowers” is a time travel story about magical sisters fighting for survival (their own and each others). Hannah’s persistent, possibly doomed, struggle to save her sister will make you sob buckets. Enjoy!
- “If You Were a Tiger, I’d Have to Wear White” by Maria Dahvana Headley
Still looking for more stories and want something really weird? Try Maria Dahvana Headley’s story about a retired star of stage and screen. It’s a longer read but worth it because, from the framing device to the subject matter, you definitely won’t have read anything like this before.
- “The Light Brigade” by Kameron Hurley
Finally, “The Light Brigade” is the science fiction war story of my heart! It tricks you with its initial bombast, and then gets right into the heart of the problems with stories about war, propaganda, and the problems of war itself. It is one of the smartest pieces of military sci-fi that I have ever read, and the fact that the end is so redemptive didn’t hurt either.
So, there’s a little taste of the SFF short fiction world to get you started (or just to give you more stories to explore). Be sure to let me know if you liked any of these stories, or rec me your own favourite short SFF, in the comments.
bookgazing is an editor of the Hugo Award winning blog Lady Business. She also reviews short stories over at SFF Reviews. By day, she makes her living as a bookseller.