The Best of 2016: Short Fiction

I didn’t get to read nearly as much short fiction this year as I’d have liked, but I definitely read more than I have in other recent years and I expect to continue reading more short fiction, especially in magazines and anthologies, as we head into the new year. I haven’t been this into short fiction in probably twenty years, but I’m loving it, as evidenced by my multiple new subscriptions and the number of new anthologies on my TBR list and backed on Kickstarter.

Readers, there is so much great stuff out there, and though 2016 was a garbage fire in general there was nonetheless some truly superb stories to read this year. While I don’t think I’ll ever be able to read as much as I want to, I think I managed to catch a few of the year’s best stories. Here, in no particular order, are my favorite short reads of 2016.

“The Super Ultra Duchess of Fedora Forest” by Charlie Jane Anders
In The Starlit Wood: New Fairy Tales (ed. by Dominik Parisien and Navah Wolfe)
Listen. This is certainly not the best story I read in 2016, but it might be my favorite simply because it’s so delightfully unexpected. The thing is, while princess story retellings and reimaginings are a dime a dozen, no one ever goes for the really weird stuff. Charlie Jane Anders goes for the weird stuff, and it’s awesome.
Buy the book here.

“Spinning Silver” by Naomi Novik
In The Starlit Wood: New Fairy Tales (ed. by Dominik Parisien and Navah Wolfe)
“Spinning Silver” is both retelling and reclamation, and Naomi Novik has made something very old and rather ugly into something new and clever and beautiful.
Buy the book here.

“Seasons of Glass and Iron” by Amal El-Mohtar
In The Starlit Wood: New Fairy Tales (ed. by Dominik Parisien and Navah Wolfe) and Uncanny #13, Nov/Dec 2016
Even I occasionally like to read a good retelling of a princess story, and “Seasons of Glass and Iron” is a mashup of a couple of lesser-known ones. Amal El-Mohtar’s distinctive voice and lovely prose elevate this short romance to something far more like myth-making.
Read it online here.
Buy the book here.
Buy the magazine here.

“Fifty Shades of Grays” by Steven Barnes
In Lightspeed Magazine #73, June 2016, People of Colo(u)r Destroy Science Fiction! Special Issue
Wickedly smart, darkly funny, and just the right amount of fatalistic.
Read it online here.

“The Beasts Who Fought for Fairyland Until the Very End and Further Still” by Catherynne M. Valente
Self-published on her website.
My favorite of several stories I read in November that were born from the grief and anger many felt (and still feel) following Donald Trump’s election.
Read it online here.

“Can You Tell Me How to Get to Paprika Place?” by Michael R. Underwood
In Upside Down: Inverted Tropes in Storytelling (ed. by Jaym Gates and Monica Valentinelli
I never would have guessed that in 2016 I would find myself crying over a couple of Sesame Street-esque characters who have been turned into super soldiers and are trying to find their way home after a war with something very like Disney, but I did.
Buy the book here.

“Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies” by Brooke Bolander
In Uncanny #13, Nov/Dec 2016
This story has gotten a lot of buzz among people whose opinions I value, and it’s easy to see why. It’s a story about rage, revenge and catharsis, and it turns out that these are timely themes in late 2016.
Read it online here.
Buy the magazine here.

“43 Responses to ‘In Memory of Dr. Alexandra Nako'” by Barbara A. Barnett
On Daily Science Fiction, February 5, 2016
“43 Responses” utilizes a format–of an internet comments section–that could have been gimmicky or too-precious in a genuinely interesting way, and I love the way Barbara A. Barnett uses this form to slowly spool out story for the reader and create an immersive reading experience.
Read it online here.

“This is Not a Wardrobe Door” by A. Merc Rustad
In Fireside Magazine Issue 29, January 2016
If you liked Seanan McGuire’s novella, Every Heart a Doorway, at all, you should definitely be sure to read this story.
Read it online here.
Support Fireside Fiction on Patreon.

“Red Dirt Witch” by N.K. Jemisin
In Fantasy Magazine #60, December 2016, People of Colo(u)r Destroy Fantasy! Special Issue
I wept.
Buy the magazine here.

“Black, Their Regalia” by Darcie Little Badger
In Fantasy Magazine #60, December 2016, People of Colo(u)r Destroy Fantasy! Special Issue
Native goth kids saving the world with music. They are badasses. Darcie Little Badger is a badass storyteller.
Read it online here.
Buy the magazine here.

“The Things My Mother Left Me” by P. Djeli Clark
In Fantasy Magazine #60, December 2016, People of Colo(u)r Destroy Fantasy! Special Issue
This is the 2016 story that I most hope gets expanded upon in novel form. It’s simply a marvel of short story worldbuilding, with a capable young woman protagonist of a type that I find endlessly compelling. Also, elements of the story reminded me strongly of the Midnight Carnival parts in The Last Unicorn, and that’s never a bad thing.
Read it online here.
Buy the magazine here.

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