"1998: SF Short Fiction Year in Review" by Richard Horton

[This was originally posted at my SFF Net newsgroup (sff.people.richard-horton, or go to SFF Net and follow the links to Newsgroups). I've added a lot of summary contents. I said much more about some of the stories in various Tangent reviews, or in other postings on my newsgroup.]

The following is a quick numerical summary of my 1998 short SF reading, along with some interpolated comments on the best stories. This is a cut-and-paste job, mostly, from my end of the year summaries for the various magazines, and a review or two, along with some later additions from the current perspective.

I read:
Novellas: 34
Novelets: 115
Short Stories: 303

The last total includes the 5 end of the book short-shorts published in Odyssey, which I had forgotten in my Odyssey summary, as well as the 7 Probability Zero pieces Analog published this year. (I hadn't summarized Analog's totals before: they published 13 novellas, 17 novelets, 29 shorts, and the 7 PZ's. (And one four-part serial.) Odd how different these totals are from both Asimov's, F&SF, SF Age, Interzone, Odyssey. All publish a significantly different "length spectrum". I guess if I had my druthers I'd ask for more novellas everywhere (except Analog and SF Age, which both try to publish 1 novella/month).

While I think I've read pretty comprehensively in the in-field magazines, I haven't seen much out-of-field SF Anyone see anything notable in Playboy or the likes? (I did read the Brin story in Popular Science.) And I suppose I ought to add online sources. I have offered to review the Event Horizon stories for Tangent, that will add 6 or so to the total. (I did, and I would add Pat Cadigan's "Latin Larry" story to the list of honorable mention novelets.)

Anyway, herewith my first cut at a Hugo/Locus/Recommending Reading list, for each short fiction category. I have in each case listed my first five picks in no particular order, followed by the other stories which were real close, and which in some cases might displace my current choices by the time I actually fill out a ballot.

"Story of Your Life", Ted Chiang (Starlight 2)
"The Summer Isles", Ian R. MacLeod (Asimov's)
"Aurora in Four Voices", Catherine Asaro (Analog)
"A Princess of Helium", R. Garcia y Robertson (F&SF)
"Sea Change, With Monsters", Paul J. McAuley (Asimov's)

"Family", Geoff Ryman (Interzone)
"Mother Death", Robert Reed (Asimov's)

Comments: "Story of Your Life" is still my favorite SF story since 1995, a fascinating mix of neat speculations about aliens who perceive the world fundamentally differently, and how this is reflected in their language; with a moving reflection on the "Story" of the life of the narrator's daughter (the narrator having been a key member of the alien contact team.) "The Summer Isles" won a Sidewise Award for best Alternate History story: this was surely well deserved. It's an involving character study in a timeline where the Germans won World War I, and a Nazi-analog movement came to power in England. The eventual Hugo winner was Greg Egan's "Oceanic", by a very narrow margin over "Aurora in Four Voices". I'd expected the Egan to win, particularly as he's Australian, but also because it was time for him to win. I have some issues with "Oceanic" which I've hashed out with Egan and others on various forums in the past, and I've softened my original view (that it was merely strawman-bashing) somewhat, but I still don't think it a wholly successful story. It is well worth reading, though.

"Auschwitz and the Rectification of History", Eliot Fintushel (Asimov's)
"Home Time", Ian R. MacLeod (F&SF)
"Minutes of the Last Meeting", Stepan Chapman (Leviathan 2)
"Taklamakan", Bruce Sterling (Asimov's)
"Echea", Kristine Kathryn Rusche (Asimov's)

"Animae Celestes", Gregory Feeley (Asimov's)
"Approaching Perimelasma", Geoffrey A. Landis (Asimov's)
"The Planck Dive", Greg Egan (Asimov's)
"Rules of Engagement", Michael F. Flynn (Analog)
"A Dance to Strange Musics", Gregory Benford (SF Age)
"Mrs. Mabb", Susannah Clarke (Starlight 2)

Comments: The Fintushel story didn't get much notice, though I think it's his best. The Chapman story, a very strange piece about a wildly alternate Russian Revolution, complete with nanotech and nuclear power in 1917, also seems to have been widely ignored, though in its case that's explained by the somewhat obscure nature of the anthology it appeared in. The MacLeod story is a neat time travel paradox story mixed with south polar exploration. "Echea" is my favorite Kristine Kathryn Rusch story ever, which isn't as high praise as it might sound, coming from me. But this particular story was very good and very moving. The eventual Hugo winner was "Taklamakan", not at all a bad choice. That's another wild story, with a really weird, original, though perhaps implausible, central idea. The Egan and Landis stories, oddly, are both about trips to the center of a black hole, and there was even another, less accomplished, story in Aboriginal SF on the same theme.

Short Story:
"The Mars Convention", Timons Esaias (Interzone)
"Instructions", Roz Kaveney (Odyssey)
"Access Fantasy", Jonathan Lethem (Starlight 2)
"Artifacts", Jerry Oltion (Analog)
"Maneki Neko", Bruce Sterling (F&SF)
"The Dream of Nations", Wil McCarthy (Analog)
"Outsider's Chance", Geoffrey A. Landis (Analog)
"Dante Dreams", Stephen Baxter (Asimov's)
"Radiant Doors", Michael Swanwick (Asimov's)
"First Fire", Terry Bisson (SF Age)
"Jack Neck and the Worrybird", Paul di Filippo (SF Age)
"Congenital Agenesis of Gender Ideation", Raphael Carter (Starlight 2)
"Monogamy", William Eakin (F&SF)

Comments: I really really liked "The Mars Convention". Sigh, it was pretty much ignored by everyone else. "Maneki Neko" was my next favorite, in the final analysis, a sly story about a future "gift economy". "Artifacts" is very scary: again, it was basically ignored. Michael Swanwick was the eventual winner, after having no less than three stories on the final ballot. (With preferential voting, this is actually an advantage, despite conventional wisdom.) However, the final winner wasn't "Radiant Doors", my favorite Swanwick story, or even "Wild Minds", my second choice, but "The Very Pulse of the Machine", which I thought was pretty ordinary. The Carter story won the Tiptree. And as time goes by the William Eakin story, "Monogamy", has really stuck with me. It's about a rather unusual wedding gift, and it's very well handled. I've seen several other Eakin stories, mostly set in the Deep South town of Redgunk, Mississippi: these have been intermittently interesting but very uneven. "Monogamy" is much better.

A few authors had particularly notable years both in quantity and quality. I would mention in particular Robert Reed and Michael Swanwick. In addition, R. Garcia y Robertson continues to delight with his colorful adventure stories, and Ian MacLeod is a wonder.