MY FAVORITE NOVELETTES:
“Paranormal Romance” by Chris Barzak - This rang really true to a lot of my experiences which I'm sure is part of why I like it. Also, my father is named Lyle, which is significant for reasons. The short pitch--a witch who can cast love spells contemplates her own love life--sounds mildly cutesy. The story is, indeed, very gentle, and has a sense of humor with itself. I like the warmth it has for its characters. I felt like this was a great example of how to do light-hearted well with candor and intelligent observation.
“Painted Birds and Shivered Bones” by Kat Howard - I feel like Kat Howard and I are circling the same images and obsessions, writing-wise, which creates this interesting web of reactions for me, both positive and negative, this deep intrigue often mixed with a yearning for the story to be slightly different (where I'm sensing the difference between her artistic obsessions and mine?). Anyway, we're clearly in the same wheelhouse here with painters, feathers, transformation, fairy tales, which are the building blocks of this story. I think I'd vaguely like something a bit more from the plot, but of course I would. ;) Rich imagery, interesting read.
“Monday’s Monk” by Jason Sanford (downloadable versions at link) - A Buddhist monk works to preserve nanotechnology. A sense of humor, warmth to the characters, interesting plot and imagery.
“Boat in Shadows, Crossing” by Tori Truslow - Really funky writing style, cool setting, awesome weird gender stuff, neat images like wicker basket fish. I now want an aquarium full of wicker basket fish. Please make that so, Tori Truslow. Second-world fantasy, an unusual fairy-tale-like piece about a farmer's child who goes off to the city to make a fortune and meet a haunted bride. But a lot weirder than that and more unexpected.
ALSO QUITE GOOD:
“The Litigation Master and the Monkey King” by Ken Liu - In historical China, a clever man can manipulate the court system, and enjoys playing tricks on the wealthy that can't come back to harm him. He is forced to evaluate his choices when a court case threatens his own skin. I liked the light, funny style of this, in particular with the way that it contrasted with the material as it veered darker.
“A Rumor of Angels” by Dale Bailey - I don't know whether or not this is fair, but in my head, this kind of became Biblical Dust Bowl. Closely observed, strong detail, and strongly well-woven language. Also reminds me of Chiang's "Hell Is the Absence of God."
I SHOULD MENTION:
"Say Goodbye to the Little Girl Tree" by Chris Reynaga - I haven't read this story in a couple of years so I can't be specific in my recommendation. I'm pretty sure it needs a trigger warning. It's a deeply dark story, boundlessly disturbing in ways that exceed the actual text. It's a tangle that I didn't feel totally capable of deciphering, though I've discussed it a bit with the author. Read at your own risk because it is so disturbing, but I also found it odd and unique.
"They Shall Salt the Earth with Seeds of Glass" by Alaya Dawn Johnson - I wanted to like this more than I did and I fear that the fault may be with my reading and not with the text. In a post-apocalyptic world where aliens (or as good as aliens) have taken over, an older sister helps her younger search for an illegal abortion in order to spare her the pain of raising a child in the unstable and dangerous world. I liked a lot about it including the writing and the characters, but somehow it never "sang" for me, and I wonder if that was just because I was tired when I read it. Alaya's work is always worth reading. (And I'll mention here, again, that her young adult novel THE SUMMER PRINCE is excellent and the best piece of her work I've read so far.)
EDIT: It was just pointed out to me that "A Hollow Play" is a novelette, not a short story. Slot it in with "also quite good."
"A Hollow Play" by Amal El Mohtar - A sweet story, but not in a saccharine way--more sort of an odd, unexpected sweetness, the kind that comes from unusual character observation.