It’s that time of year again! In 2020, my eligibility and recommendations lists come in both video and text format, and both can be found below.
To briefly discuss my own eligibility, I had three new stories published in 2020:
- The Candle Queen (about 2,300 words) at Beneath Ceaseless Skies, about a young woman who is always expected to carry lit candles on her head, and not doing so is supposed to bring about the end of the world.
- All the Times I’m Ten (about 900 words) at The Year After, about someone who lives out many lifetimes and keeps waking up as a 10-year-old expected to save the world.
- Light and Sleek and Strong (about 1,100 words) at Wyldblood, about someone who wakes up from surgery and discovers multiple apocalypses are in progress.
If you’re new to my work, I’d suggest checking out ‘All the Times I’m Ten’ first, as I think it’s the most accessible and friendly to new readers. Alternatively, ‘Light and Sleek and Strong’ is definitely one of my weirder and more surreal pieces.
And now, onto the recommendations! To qualify for this list, a story had to be:
- First published in 2020.
- Shorter than novel length.
- Free to read online, and
- Actually read by me (of course, I have only read a tiny fraction of the short fiction that was published this year).
With all of that said, here are 10 of my favourite stories from 2020:
Hearts in the Hard Ground by G. V. Anderson at Tor.com
- After her mother dies, a nurse moves into a new house and promptly discovers it’s haunted. There are stubborn ghosts, seagulls who won’t stay dead, and of course, her own grief to grapple with.
- I particularly liked how the protagonist struggled with what makes someone ‘good’ or ‘kind’.
- This was a quiet, thoughtful story about what haunts us and moving on, with a bonus queer romance.
The Maid from the Ash: A Life in Pictures by Gwendolyn Kiste in Weird Whispers
- A low-key, witchy-feeling story about a girl first discovered in the aftermath of a fire, cleverly told through a series of exhibits.
- Gwendolyn Kiste creates a pleasing sense of mystery, keeping the reader at arm’s length, while also ensuring that everything feels very grounded in reality. The epistolary format adds to the feeling of “this could have really happened.”
Plucked by Tara Calaby in Corvid Queen
- A teenage girl starts to grows magical feathers, and then others want to use her up, piece by piece.
- Beautiful, visceral imagery and atmosphere. A gorgeous fairy tale with teeth.
- Tara Calaby also had some other impressive publications this year, such as stories at Galaxy’s Edge and Strange Horizons.
Resilience by Christi Nogle in Pseudopod
- A twisty, compelling horror story about kidnappings and consuming terrible things (don’t read this while eating!).
- It’s very clever with its unravelling, and also with its discussions of ‘strengthening’ children through trauma versus allowing them to be safe and ‘soft’.
A Good Mother by E.I. Richardson in Syntax & Salt
- A woman suddenly becomes a mother to a child of about 9 years old, who has appeared out of seemingly nowhere. The child is angry and difficult, and she may or may not, in some sense, be the protagonist’s own mother.
- A powerful story about the ways that children and parents care for each other, and also hurt one another.
- This was Syntax & Salt’s final issue – I’m very sad to see them go!
Sunrise, Sunrise, Sunrise by Lauren Ring in Apparition Lit
- A queer time loop story set in space, bathed in golden light just near the surface of a star.
- Slow and quiet, with some very satisfying character development, like many good time loop stories often have.
Getaway by Nicole Kornher-Stace in Uncanny Magazine
- Another time loop story (I love time loop stories), this time following a crew of thieves and one of the shortest time loops I’ve ever encountered.
- I found the ending particularly optimistic and satisfying, about persistence and hope in the face of the very long, long term, though your mileage may definitely vary.
You Can Check Out Any Time You Like by Rhonda Eikamp in Apparition Lit
- There is an endless list of things wrong with our patient, and reality warps around her in a hundred different ways, but she is still sick – isn’t she?
- Captivating and surreal. Rhonda Eikamp does a great job of anchoring us in the protagonist’s point of view and feelings, even in a very strange and shifting situation.
The Genetic Alchemist’s Daughter by Elaine Cuyegkeng in Pseudopod
- A dark and creeping tale about genetically altering children to conform to their parents wishes, even once those children have already been born.
- In addition to the main plot, I enjoyed the descriptions of the genetically altered animals and plants that our protagonist gets to interact with, like a winged cat.
Winter’s Heart by Vanessa Fogg in Hexagon Magazine
- Our protagonist is torn between her past as one of the Winter Queen’s maidens, and her more mundane life with her husband and children.
- Like I’ve come to expect from Vanessa Fogg’s stories, the writing here is really beautiful and delicate.
This ended up being a pretty dark recommendations list – certainly darker than last year’s. I’m sure my own moods and tastes have influenced that, but I also think a larger portion of the stories published and shared in 2020 were darker than in 2019, which does make sense given the general state of the world.
There are also several stories on this list about mothers and daughters, and the way we treat our children more generally. There’s a lot to explore in the parent-child relationship, but last year’s list had maybe three stories that would fit into this category, as opposed to this year’s six or seven, and I wasn’t expecting that to double.
It’s interesting to see what’s being written and published as part of the general zeitgeist, and I’ll be keen to see the themes and patterns of next year’s list.
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