Saturday, October 10, 2015

Short Fiction You Should Have Read Last Year: ArmadilloCon 2015 panel

For starters, panelists K. B. Rylander (moderator), Eugene Fischer, and Rebecca Schwarz list their favorite short stories of the year.

Rebecca Schwarz. Ken Liu "Cassandra".

K. B. Rylander. Eugie Foster "In the end, he catches her". It was published the day she died, just by coincidence.

Best sources of short stories

Rebecca Schwarz. I listen to a lot of stories. There are lots of great ways to listen to them, such as the podcasts by Clarkesworld, Cast of Wonders (Young Adult fiction), Beneath the Ceaseless Skies, Strange Horizons. Tor is on and off with their podcasting, but sometimes you can discover great stories there, like Kij Johnson. Escape Pod -- they do a lot of reprints. (It also exists in the print form.) Starship Sofa also does a lot of reprints. Bourbon Penn.

Eugene Fischer. Lightspeed, Strange Horizons. Oddly, the best publication for finding new authors these days is Twitter. Follow authors, they will recommend a lot of stories. This year majority of the stories I found is not because I read Asimov's cover to cover, but because I follow authors, and when they have a story out, they'll tweet a link. You can harness social network effects to curate your reading for you.

Short Stories You Should Have Read This Year panel, left to right: K. B. Rylander (moderator), Eugene Fischer, Rebecca Schwarz.
Short Stories You Should Have Read This Year panel, left to right: K. B. Rylander (moderator), Eugene Fischer, Rebecca Schwarz. More pictures from ArmadilloCon 2015 (37) are in my photo gallery.

K. B. Rylander. When you think about stories you loved, what makes a great story? What makes them stand out?

Eugene Fischer quotes Kevin Brockmeier, who said that every great fiction owes its greatness to fidelity to one of 3 things: fidelity to language, fidelity to lived human experience, or fidelity to authorial obsession. An example of fidelity to language would be Ursula le Guin. An example of fidelity to authorial obsession -- J. G. Ballard. His writing is off the wall, but the images were strongly felt to the author. If a story doesn't bring at least one of those things to the table, says Kevin Brockmeier, then it won't work.

Rebecca Schwarz. I like stories that play with form, such as "Five Stages of Grief After The Alien Invasion" by Caroline Yoachim, who hangs the story on the traditional five stages of grief. Another example would be "Noise Pollution" by Allison Wilgus in Strange Horizons. It's punk as in cyberpunk. It's a young rebellious kid narrator telling a story.

K. B. Rylander. The way I approach story, the story needs to elicit emotion from the reader. Even in hard science fiction there needs to be emotional interest for that reader.

Eugene Fischer. "Cimmeria: From the Journal of Imaginary Anthropology" by Theodora Goss, published in Lightspeed, resembles Borghes: it's about how reality actually works. Lorrie Moore, in an introduction to "Best American Short Stories", said that a novel comes to us already half-ruined by its length, but in short story we can experience something pristine: a single moment. It is not necessarily in time, but a single esthetic moment. In "Cimmeria", students go to a field study in a country that exists only because they made it up. One of them falls in love with the daughter of a king. In this country there are strange cultural differences that they invented when they designed this country. One of them is, twins are actually the same person. The esthetic moment is, a shift from viewing cultural experience as an outsider, to viewing it as an insider. It's not a moment in time, but a moment in cognition.

K. B. Rylander. A lot of time in a story there is a very visceral emotion that people can relate to: loss, love, revenge. Those strong emotion stories are often ones that become the big stories for the year.

Rebecca Schwarz. Annie Bellet "Goodnight Stars": it was nominated for Hugos, but she withdrew.

Eugene Fischer Sam J. Miller "We are the cloud".

The panelists mention that they've found many notable stories that draw from global mythology, such as Chinese or Pakistani. An example would be Carmen Maria Machado "The Husband Stitch", nominated for the Nebula Award.

Humor stories

Rebecca Schwarz. Daily SF publishes a lot of humor. Also, Alex Shvartsman publishes humor anthologies, Unidentified Funny Objects.

K. B. Rylander. Two flash pieces: "I am Graalnak of the Vroon Empire, Destroyer of Galexies, Supreme Overlord of the Planet Earth. Ask Me Anything." by Laura Pearlman. It's a Reddit with an alien who has came to earth. Oliver Buckram "Half a Conversation, Overheard While Inside An Enormous Sentient Slug".

Eugene Fischer. Alice Sola Kim "Mothers, lock up your daughters because they are terrifying" -- a ghost story of Korean adoptees loking for the biological parents with the help of Cthulhu.

K. B. Rylander. Kris Dikeman "Madhouse on Aisle 12" -- a woman goes to a grocery store, and the food talks to her. It's hilarious.

Great stories that didn't get much attention

K. B. Rylander. What stories were great, but didn't get a lot of attention?

Eugene Fischer. Guernica magazine published a story by Anna Noyes, "Becoming", from a point of view of chimpanzee who grew up in an 1950s experiment of raising a chimp in a human family to see if it grows up like human. It's not going to get attention in genre fiction awards, and there's no such thing as realist fiction awards.

K. B. Rylander. Story by William Ledbetter, "That Other Sea", publsihed on Escape Pod (available in both podcast and text versions). It takes place on Europa, on the theory that there is life under ice on Europa. It's a first contact story from the point of view of the aliens. What drew me into the story is that the alien has overwhelming curiosity about the world, the yearning for what's out there.

Rebecca Schwarz. A story in Strange Horizons, Kate Heartfield, "Limestone, Lye and the Buzzing of Flies". It leans a little literary, it's a little interior. It's a fantastic coming-of-age story with magic elements.

Must-read short story writers

K. B. Rylander. Do you have any must-read writers?

Eugene Fischer. Carmen Maria Machado, Ted Chiang, Alice Sola Kim, Kelly Link, Meghan McCarron.

Rebecca Schwarz. Karen Russell, M. Bernardo (she recommends his story in Beneath the Ceaseless Skies, possibly "The Penitent" or "After Compline, Silence Falls"), Kevin Brockmeier.

K. B. Rylander. Sarah Pinsker, Caroline Yoachim.

Controversial, influential, wave-making stories

K. B. Rylander. What stories do you think were very important to the industry as a whole, that really made waves, that were controversial?

Rebecca Schwarz. Cruel stories well done are just perfect. Chuck Palahniuk wrote a story "Loser" in Neil Gaiman anthology, it's aboujt a guy on The Price is Right, he's tripping on acid, and he gets called on the stage.

Eugene Fischer. Kij Johnson "Spar". Kij Johnson experimented with stripping as much as possible from the story. It produced incredible winners, including "26 Monkeys". Rachel Swirsky "If You Were A Dinosaur, My Love".

Rebecca Schwarz. "Dinosaur" became politicized in the Hugos, and that had nothing to do with the story.

Eugene Fischer. "Dinosaur" became a token, a symbol for people for who stories with emotional load is not sufficient. People who think they have ownership over what the speculative fiction genre should be.

Trends in short fiction

K. B. Rylander. Do you want to talk about any trends in short fiction? Do you see it evolving recently?

Eugene Fischer. Last year it shifted to digital publication. Print is fully an afterthought. Charlie Finley's new regime in Fantasy and Science Fiction produces very good stuff. Print venues are continuing to do good job, but the critical mass of attention has shifted online.

Rebecca Schwarz. I'm seeing more diversity. Ken Liu has now translated several short stories from Chinese.

Eugene Fischer. Chris Brown two years ago co-edited an anthology "3 messages and a warning" of Mexican science fiction stories translated into English.

Then Eugene Fischer asks the other two panelists: What's out there that people should read of yours?

Rebecca Schwarz. "Black Friday". It is a story of a future dystopic Thanksgiving that has become codified, football game to the death, in a big box store, that everybody watches. It is in Devilfish Review.

K. B. Rylander. "We Fly", about trying to find life in Alpha Centauri system. It's based on real science. The story opens when an uploaded human mind, a woman, wakes up in a spaceship. She wakes up, and something is completely wrong, but there is no external damage. It's her trying to work through these things.