The end of this year feels like it has snuck up very quickly. In 2021 I had five stories published and read many excellent tales from some old favourites and some new-to-me writers alike.
The stories I had published in 2021 were:
- Traces of Us, Hot Enough for Dinner in The Dread Machine (about 2,500 words) – A dark fantasy story about a woman trapped in a time-loop on the anniversary of her finacee’s death. My favourite pick if you don’t mind your fiction on the darker side.
- Lovely Lilas in Utopia Science Fiction Magazine (about 400 words) – A short and sweet tale of having one’s personality copied to use in an Android.
- Watchhouse in The Dread Machine (about 1,200 words) – A dark science-fiction story about queer dread, being trapped and being watched. Please exercise caution with this one.
- Ringing in Her Ears in Stupefying Stories (100 words) – A very brief piece about hauntings and working at fast food restaurants, written for a 100-word story competition.
- Last Text in Daily Science Fiction (about 700 words) – A short fantasy tale about a woman who receives victim’s final text messages before they’re murdered, and the police officer who loves her.
And now for the recommendations. To qualify for this list, a story had to be:
- First published in 2021.
- 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 2021:
We, the Girls Who Did Not Make It, by E. A. Petricone in Nightmare Magazine
- Narrated by a group of thirteen ghosts – young women killed by serial killers – this story is compulsive, memorable, and pulls no punches.
- We get to know the existing ghosts while simultaneously following a fourteenth girl who is captured by the killers; Petricone balances these two threads expertly.
Where Oaken Hearts Do Gather, by Sarah Pinsker in Uncanny Magazine
- The only story I’ve ever read in the style of – how do I best describe this – a lyrics discussion forum? And one of the few stories I’ve ever read twice in quick succession, absolutely captivated.
- In its simplest form this is a story about an ambiguous and spooky folk ballad and a group of posters discussing the ballad, although of course there’s more to it that I won’t spoil here.
- If you, like me, really enjoy the lore of media then I think you’ll love this. If you’ve ever participated in a fandom discussion forum or enjoyed a YouTube video analysing your favourite show, give this a try.
Questions Asked in the Belly of the World, by A. T. Greenblatt at Tor.com
- Some excellent worlbuilding by Greenblatt. The people in this story must regularly have their nutrients absorbed by the surface they live on to stop their skin from glowing. Glow too much, and you’re no longer performing your duty and are violently cast out.
- Pleasingly mysterious. The reader is often in the dark just as much as our protagonists, who ask a series of dangerous questions as they struggle to learn more about their world and save themselves from a likely death.
Eating Bitterness, by Hannah Yang in The Dark
- The women of this world develop extra mouths in order to eat and absorb the negative emotions of their families. It’s considered their daily duty to take on all of the pain, stress, and sadness, which can manifest phyiscally on the women’s bodies.
- Our young protagonist begins the story excited to grow her extra mouth, as society considers this a rite of passage and a sign of growing up. Her arc throughout the story is particularly satisfying.
L’Esprit de L’Escalier, by Catherynne M Valente at Tor.com
- A modern retelling of Orpheus and Eurydice. Although I’m sure there are many more layers to appreciate if you’re familiar with the original tale, this is still a very enjoyable story if you have no prior background knowledge, like I did.
- A clever portrait of a marriage that is slowly falling to pieces, while one of its protagonists is undead and literally falling to pieces.
- As usual for Valente, the descriptions here are rich and the style sharp and gorgeous, especially in her discussion of decay.
The Art and Mystery of Thea Wells by Alexandra Seidel in Diabolical Plots
- Another pleasantly mysterious and lore-filled story, chronicling flashes of Thea Wells’ life and art through a series of several paintings.
- Seidel deftly depicts the surreal and magical paintings and additional tableaus that encompass the centrepieces of this tale, creating a vivid base for the fictional discussion to revolve around.
What Sisters Take, by Kelly Sandoval in Apex Magazine
- A piece about human girls with supernatural twins who feed on their human sisters, and the variety of interesting relationship dynamics that result.
- This reminded me of House of Hollow of Krystal Sutherland, one of my favourite novels of 2021.
The Family in the Adit by A.T. Greenblatt in Nightmare Magazine
- A deliciously dark story that gives up its secrets slowly. Greenblatt keeps the tension high throughout.
- Characters desperate to escape a deadly mine. A poisonous dinner party.
- A pleasing circular puzzle-piece; an ourborous.
The Atoll, by Caleb Stephens in The Dread Machine
- Tropical horror. Our protagonists are stranded on a small strip of land in the middle of the ocean, struggling with dehydration, starvation, sunburn, and each other. Their sanity isn’t in strong supply, either, and there’s something in the waves that’s threatening the last of it.
- Reminded me of some of Stephen King’s best ocean-based short stories.
Unseelie Brothers, Ltd, by Fran Wilde in Uncanny Magazine
- A mythical shop of designer gowns that disappears and reappears without warning, and the unpredictable – and dangerous? – staff within.
- Wilde makes this story feel dense and lived-in, like it’s much longer than its ~8.6k length.
- Anyone interested in sewing, clothes, and fashion will likely especially enjoy this.
Like last year’s, this ended up being a pretty dark recommendations list overall, although that wasn’t intentional. There are fewer stories about the mother-daughter relationship on this year’s list, and many more about how we consume and use each other’s bodies in a variety of different ways.
Thanks for 2021, folks. I’m looking forward to seeing what 2022 has to offer.