Best Short Fiction of 2015

Best Short Fiction of 2015

Short Fiction. Perhaps even more trickier than writing a full length book. One of the most obvious limiting factors is the page/word count. Some stories just fail utterly because they want to show to much or show to little and would have been better if turned in a novel. The stories below are the ones that just wowed me. Short, to the point and they pack a punch. First there is The Builder which is published by the new imprint. Daniel Polansky is no stranger for me. His books have always left a mark on my but The Builders has definitely left a strong one. Daniel is master of the creativity. Today I am Paul is by far the most emotional story that I read this year. Martin L. Shoemaker created a emotional rollercoaster of a story. Powerful and heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time. Paul Cornell who i know best for his Shadow Police series. Find a Way Home is something completely different. It's part a boisterous adventure of a young boy, but when you dig through it, the story becomes so much more. A remarkable story. Elephants and Corpses is just pure fun to read Kameron Hurley really knows how to create an epic adventure in the making. Body merc's for the win. Elephants and Corpses really felt as the start of something big. I hope to see more of it in 2016. The science fiction genre has always been there to explore ideas, and this is precisely what John Chu shows in Hold-Time Violations. The world building is just brilliant. I really urge you to read it. 

  • The Builders by Daniel Polansky
The information given in the synopsis is not a lot to go on. The same counts from the reviews on Goodreads, the thing they have in common is the mention of Redwall. This book is unfamiliar with me but now I know that it is a book about animals. Now with the cover art things do start to fall into place. Welcome to Daniel Polansky's newest hit. The Builders an Dark Epic Fantasy story featuring animals, they are furry but far from the cuddly kind. 

So The Builders. Meet the Captain, a mouse. He was defeated a long time ago and since then, his old company was disbanded and they all chose to try to live normal lives. But some things you just can bury, you just cannot let them go and this is precisely what the Captain is facing. He was defeated, but needs revenge and this is what he will get, no matter the cost. In order to get his revenge he needs to assemble the old gang back together. This is the introduction of the story as you get introduced to every old crew member of the Captain. Though the Captain is a mouse, his old company aren't all mouses as well, you have a badger, an owl, a salamander, a mole and much more. Each of these creatures excels in something or another, all with the same goal and ending, killing. Some of the Captain's crew aren't that delighted to see him calling on them but well. Once a killer always a killer. And thus they set out to get the Captains revenge. 

I read Those Above earlier this year and was surprised by what Daniel Polansky put down, it was totally different than the Low Town series. With The Builders he once again goes into a new direction, granted it is Epic Fantasy but then again with a definite unique feeling to it. Let's call it Polanskynization. Daniel Polansky is one of those authors that does daring things in a brilliant way. His works have a distinct feeling to it. The way that the story is written is diverse. There are scenes where everything is presented in a straightforward way but when you look at the bigger picture like the framework of The Builders it is different. 

Take for example the introductions. The Captain is sitting in the bar and as each of his crew members are introduced there is first a scene taking place some days prior to it. Showing the encounter between the Captain and the individual in question. Even more so it the effect that the Captain tells his company what they are going to do offscreen if this doesn't pique your interest I don't know what will. 

Great story telling the ending is even more brilliant. Precisely what I would have imagined with the Captain. 

  • Today I am Paul by Martin L. Shoemaker
I guess I got a way of finding stories that are emotional. Today I am Paul might not have the title of one, but trust me this is one big emotional rollercoaster. Imagine a future where healthcare is provided with androids (and not the Baymax kind). Today I am Paul offers a near future experience in this field.

The story starts of with the question of where Paul is and soon the reply comes. But before that you learn that there is something that can change it's appearance, cheek line and eyes colors etcetera. Completely emulating a person. Meet Medical Care Android BRKCX-01932-217JH-98662, who takes care of the old lady Mildred. As I said this android can emulate, copy cat people. What I could make up of the story is that Mildred has lost some people and is probably suffering from dementia. The family members of Mildred either life not closeby, have busy lives or are dead the sole caretaking fall on Android. But this doesn't come without some tricky bits, as one moment Mildred remembers Paul, her son or Susan her daughter or her husband Henry in a completely different way. It has to switch fast between the persons he is emulating. And more than once it is a close call and the last thing you want to have is a dementing person being up set. Anyway, all is going just as it should be until one terrible day when the house of Mildred burns down and she becomes wounded. Burn marks and smoke inhalation. Android does it's best with taking care of her but has to wait for the paramedics to take Mildred to the hospital. But due to the damage she had suffered in the fire, she is beyond saving. In the continuation of this lies the true beauty of the story and one that you will have to find out by yourself. I must urge you to to completely scroll down to the bottom of the story because that will be a spoiler for you. 

I must say that I am very impressed with this short story that Martin L. Shoemaker wrote down. It has a definite coolness factor to it due to the android and the advanced care he is giving. It could well be our next step in modern medicine. However where Today I am Paul gets it's true strength from is the big emotional side of the story. How you see Mildred interaction with the things that she still knows, when she gets upset, it genuinely feels as what it means to be upset. The ending of the story is also a big plus. One that will cause you to wow. I am going to be honest but this is one of the best short stories that I have read so far this year.
  • Find a way Home by Paul Cornell 
I know Paul Cornell best from his Shadow Police series, an dark urban fantasy story and his contribution to the Wild Cards universe of George R.R. Martin. So when I came across a completely different story of what I am used to from him, a middle-grade story I definitely needed to check it out. It was quite a surprise for me. Find a Way Home is a great adventure story for everyone not just kids, coming to think of it, it does has some ties to that other alien that wanted to go home.

Find a Way Home start off with Alan Thompson who is currently up in an RAF control tower looking on the radar that covers part of Britain. All of a sudden he sees an erratic pattern on his radar, a pattern that he cannot link with an known airplane, bird or any other thing he knows. When he shows his superior about it, he is kindly remembered that he has a wife and kinds and Alan would do well to forget about what he saw. Actually the tone of this introduction was a bit heavier than I would have imagined in such a story. 

After this the perspective is switched to the young boy called Gary Clark. Who witnesses the crash of the object that Alan saw. Gary gets drawn to the crash site and discovers that it is a UFO. He immidiately starts to dream of being on TV and the newspaper headline saying that he has found an alien. To his surprise, the alien is still inside. As the RAF also found out about the crash they has dispatched forces to intercept the UFO. The alien is stuck and Gary rescues is out of it UFO, and flees for the RAF forces. This is where Gary's adventure starts to unfold, as he is now on the run for the RAF forces, risking his life for an alien he just met a few minutes ago. Luckily for Gary he is near his school, so this is the best option for him to flee too. But a detention class is busy and when they see the alien... well... they come to a plan to help find the alien a way home.

This story really is an very boisterous adventure. Especially when you see the alien talking and where Mr. Hayes (the detention teacher) had to censor somethings. It is definitely not the woolly cuddly kind of alien. 

What did fall to note for me is the character of Gary himself, from his introduction to the ending, it seems that he is not really that pleased with himself. Perhaps not getting the recognition that he wants. He doesn't have friends and doesn't want them, or maybe he does, in the short dialogue with his mother: 

"He was in the woods at the back of the school. It was five o’clock. He’d gone home, chucked his bag onto the bed, told Mum he was going back out. She’d said something in reply, he hadn’t caught it, but it had sounded okay, and she hadn’t followed him out of the door, so he probably wasn’t in trouble.Not that he cared. Not that she did." 

It feel somehow strained. 

There is also this part near the ending:

"Gary wasn’t sure he wanted that any more. He just wanted to go home like the alien had gone home, to someone welcoming him."
You can see that Gary is a troubled soul but luckily it doesn't end there, it ends on a much happier note luckily. Everything is left bigger after the days event including Gary. A remarkable story. 

  • Elephants and Corpses by Kameron Hurley 
I have heard a lot of positive news about Kameron Hurley's writing, her Bel Dame series and the last year released The Mirror Empire have gotten rave reviews. A week ago or so this story was posted on and I took to reading it and was hooked. This is a cool story with an awesome concept, it is with such stories that I wish that there were more stories, or that Kameron Hurley writes a full length book with the adventures of Nev and Tera! 

The story picks up with Nev and Tera standing and the cities pier where they are bartering to buy a body. Here you learn that Nev is a body merc and that Tera is his body manager, Nev can use dead bodies to jump into and well, yeah live with them once again. A big "portfolio" of candidates gives him a lot more breathing space. Even with Nev's discontinued membership of the Body Mercenary Guild, he is still able to practice his skills but his business has been far from thriving. While they are preparing the body for preservation (later use) they stumble upon something, they though they bought a male body, but it is actually a female that was dressed as a male, just as Tera makes an even more shocking discovery a group of people makes a unscheduled drop-in and they claim the body that Tera and Nev bought. And they succeed, but at a price for Nev, as he looses something very previous to him. However with the discovery that Tera made and with what Nev lost they are more than determined to get the body back and get revenge no matter the cost. This sets the wheel in motion of a highly eventful encounter in the end, full of action, body switching and a turtle. 

Kameron Hurley shows from the beginning of the story that she knows how to write a solid short story. The story is brimming with details and very cool concepts. Where some authors sacrifice in tomes of book, there aren't any sacrifices when it comes to world building and character exposition in this short story. In the introduction of the story with the mentioning of body mercs my interest was piqued and Kameron Hurley finishes the story in a rapid pacing. I do have to mention that writing about body jumping and such can pose problems i.e. with execution but in the confines of Elephants and Corpses, Kameron Hurley shows that she is on top of these pitfall. 

I sincerely hope that we will see a full length book or even a series of the adventures of Nev and Tera, they deserve it! 
  • Hold Time Violations by John Chu
I  missed a lot of good short fiction during my vacation. Hold-Time Violations is definitely one of them. John Chu is well known for his short fiction stories. One of his stories even won him the Hugo Award for Short Stories back in 2014. What drew me to Hold-Time Violations was the challenging and promising synopsis. I like my science fiction with a challenge and definite thought behind it and this is precisely what John Chu delivers. 

Hold-Time Violations starts of rather innocent. Ellie is on her way to visit her mother and needs to catch the train. But this is pretty much the only normal thing there is. Soon you learn that there is much more going on in the world. Because as of today nobody has tried to kill Ellie for starters. Apparently her sister Chris likes to "challenge" Ellie every now and again. The next thing that you learn about is the skunkworks that make the actual universe for what it is. Ellie herself is a skunkwork Builder, she build universes. Her sister made it apparent that there is something faulty in the current skunkworks that needs to be fixed. Ellie first has to do this before she can go to her mother. However it there is a catch. Besides the Builders of the skunkworks there are also other parties. Opposing parties, for example the Isolationist who see that the skunkworks are never wrong and if they change, aka turn faulty, it is what should have happened. And thus Ellie has to watch her step when correction said skunkwork. Danger lies at the end of each pipe. 

I have to give full credits to John Chu for world building. His imagining of a world connected with pipes and other plumbing things is something I haven't read before and definitely filled up my imagination. The backdrop of the story is an emotional story about Ellie and her mother, which the ending even more so verifies. 

However what left my mind in a spin was the plotline and thinking about the different parties. Ellie's mother is sick, but can be brought back to health by well tinkering with the skunkworks, what a builder like Ellie does. If you look at the Isolationists, who see every event as meant to be, I got to thinking that they actually have much more sense, because can you ethically change everything to suite your goal? Perhaps in this universe you can, but doesn't that then mean that as a Builder you play God? Can you go to far in changing the skunkworks each and every time? No wonder there are fights between them. Hold-Time Violations is a great provocative read. Make sure you read it guys. 


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