List – The Best Short SFF: Winter 2017

The Very Best

Novellas
And Then There Were (N-one), by Sarah Pinsker; Uncanny Magazine, Issue 15 (Mar/Apr 2017) 10 (out of 10)
At a trans-dimensional conference of Sarah Pinskers, insurance investigator Sarah Pinsker must find out who was responsible for the murder of DJ Sarah Pinsker as an Agatha Christie style-storm confines all the Sarah Pinskers to an island hotel. You don’t have to be a longtime Sarah Pinsker admirer to enjoy this supremely engrossing meta-mystery, but if you are, this is basically the greatest piece of fan service ever written. Pinsker’s stories have always centered around protagonists who are willing to pursue their personal obsessions well beyond the limits of reason, exploring the unstable ground that lies between narcissism and self-awareness. And Then There Were (N-one) is easily the most explicit rendering of this theme, and possibly her most entertaining.
Novelettes
Concessions, by Kaalidah Muhammad-Ali; Strange Horizons (March 6, 2017) 9.5
An emotionally complex and satisfying tale of a doctor living in exile who must make sacrifices to help her community and herself, in a future where a worldwide catastrophe has greatly increased the number of pregnancies that result in stillbirth. Interesting world-building, with a memorable protagonist.
The Dark Birds, by Ursula Vernon; Apex Magazine, Issue 92 (January 2017) 8.7
A vicious little folk tale, grotesque and disquieting, about sisters who suffer horrifying abuse – and an even more horrifying fate – at the hands of their monstrous parents. I loved it, but read at your own risk.
Extracurricular Activities, by Yoon Ha Lee; tor.com (February 15, 2017) 9.2
Set well before Ninefox Gambit in Lee’s Machineries of Empire series, Shuos Jedao must infiltrate an enemy station to retrieve an old friend, and the intelligence they’ve gathered. Casting Jedao in a James Bond-type role is a stroke of genius – also, if you are unfamiliar with the character and the universe, this story will make an excellent primer.
A Series of Steaks, by Vina Jie-Min Prasad; Clarkesworld, Issue 124 (January 2017) 9.8
Helena is a criminal living in hiding, printing counterfeit steaks for high-end restaurants who pass them off as the genuine article. When she is blackmailed by Mr. Yongjing, she must find a way to get out from under his thumb. A quirky idea set in a brilliantly realized near-future, with memorable characters and a perfect ending.
Soulmates.com, by Will McIntosh; Asimov’s Science Fiction (Mar/Apr 2017) 9.8
This one plays like a dark counterpoint to the Spike Jonze film Her. Here, a grad student thinks he has found the perfect girlfriend online, only to discover she is not who she appears to be. A cat and mouse revenge game ensues. An excellent deconstruction of the self-pitying, lovelorn male romantic hero.
Short Stories
Necessary Illusions, by Tom Greene; Analog Science Fiction and Fact (Jan/Feb 2017) 8.8
A galactic empire uses unusual tactics to persuade a colony world to join the fold. Old-school space opera packs a lot of epic into a small space, while unpacking a lot of complex layers as it goes along. Also somehow manages excellent characterization. An exhausting but rewarding read.
Nine-Tenths of the Law, by Molly Tanzer; Lightspeed Magazine, Issue 80 (January 2017) 8.7
A very funny tale of multiple self-deceptions. Donna is bored with her routine marriage to her scientist hubby, Jared. She discovers a way to spice things up when he inadvertently brings his work home with him. A most original take on the cuckold genre.

Also Worth Reading

Short Stories
Alexandria, Monica Byrne; The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction (Jan/Feb 2017) 7.8
Auspicium Melioris Aevi, J.Y. Yang; Uncanny Magazine, Issue 15 (Mar/Apr 2017) 7.2
Crimson Birds of Small Miracles, Sean Monaghan; Asimov’s Science Fiction (Jan/Feb 2017) 8.2
In the Shade of the Pixie Tree, Rodello Santos; Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Issue 221 (March 16, 2017) 8.0
Queen of Dirt, Nisi Shawl; Apex Magazine, Issue 93 (February 2017) 7.1
The Scholast in the Low Waters Kingdom, Max Gladstone; tor.com (March 29, 2017) 8.1
Seven Salt Tears, Kat Howard; Lightspeed Magazine, Issue 80 (January 2017) 7.0
Soccer Fields and Frozen Lakes, Greg Kurzawa; Lightspeed Magazine, Issue 82 (March 2017) 8.1
The Torchman’s Tale, Edward M. Lerner; Galaxy’s Edge (January 2017) 7.0

 

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