I've always read a lot of short stories, but thanks to my participation in Brian Lindenmuth's "365" Short Story Challenge, I read even more this year, and I read more widely than I would have on my own. Crime fiction remains my first love, but speculative fiction has always run a close second. This was a really good year for speculative fiction and the three spec fic stories I've included have a lot in common--beautiful language, lovely imagery and a sense of the magical. The other two stories use humor to fantastic effect and I've found that's difficult to pull off. So here are five terrific stories by five great writers:
"Paper Menagerie" by Ken Liu--This story (and Liu's work in general) has won a slew of awards, including this year's Nebula for short story. It is completely magical, a bittersweet story of a mother and a son. It originally appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. You can read it online here. You can read more of his work here.
Link for the story: http://escapepod.org/2012/05/17/ep345-the-paper-menagerie/
Link for more of his stories: http://www.freesfonline.de/authors/Ken_Liu.html
"The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees" by E. Lily Yu--This story was nominated for this year's Nebula, Hugo, and Locus Awards. We'll see her work nominated again and soon. This story has a fantastic premise rooted in fact (she keeps bees) and the language she uses is gorgeous. It was published on Clarkesworld Magazine and you can read it here.
Link for the story: http://clarkesworldmagazine.com/yu_04_11/
"Letter from the Understudy" by Kathryn Simonds--The author is an award-winning poet and short story writer based in London. In this story an understudy writes to the director of a play, complaining about the leading man and apologizing for his actions in regards to the narcissistic twit. It’s funny and tragic at the same time. You can read the story here.
Link for the story: http://www.eastoftheweb.com/short-stories/UBooks/LettUnde.shtml
“Worlds like a Hundred Thousand Pearls” by Aliette de Bodard--This is the first story I’ve ever read by the speculative fictionista and it won't be the last. In this story a bereaved parent is offered a choice and the consequences of that choice are terrible. You can read the story here, and you can sample her other works at the free speculative fiction online site.
Link for the story:
Link for her entry in the free speculative fiction online site:
"Death by Scrabble" by Charlie Fish--The word that comes to mind when you read this story is "clever," the kind of clever that you can only pull off with a lot of skill. I found this story on the East of the Web site (read it here) so I don't know exactly when it was written, but it's the kind of story that should be anthologized and taught in English class.