For whatever reason, I felt that this slate wasn’t as strong as in the Short Story category, probably because I spent less time being impressed by the entries, bar the one I’m going to vote for. I mean, there weren’t any bad stories here, but I’d expect better from what’s essentially a Year’s Best list. Let’s go over the ones I won’t be voting for first.
The Archronology of Love by Caroline M. Yoachim (Lightspeed, April 2019) is fine. It’s about travel through space and time, and it’s about love and grief and first contact. It’s… fine. Competently written but hardly ground-breaking.
The Blur In The Corner Of Your Eye by Sarah Pinsker (Uncanny Magazine, July-August 2019) is also fine. The most overtly horror-tinged of this slate of nominees, it’s about a bestselling murder mystery author and her long-suffering assistant who go out to the countryside so the author can work on her next novel. Then the author discovers a dead body, and a whole mess more. It’s a fun, gross story with an ethical dilemma at its heart but again, hardly ground-breaking.
For He Can Creep by Siobhan Carroll (Tor.com, 10 July 2019) is an absolutely darling re-imagination of a chapter in the life of a real-life English poet, as seen through the eyes of his cat, Jeoffry. When my family inevitably gives in to my eldest son’s petitioning and gets a cat, I’m going to lobby to have its middle names be Nighthunter Moppet, after my favorite character in this story.
We finally get to more out-of-the-ordinary stuff with Away With The Wolves by Sarah Gailey (Uncanny Magazine: Disabled People Destroy Fantasy Special Issue, September/October 2019). A young woman whose human life is one of constant, debilitating pain finds escape in her ability to become a wolf, but suffers guilt over the very idea of escape. It’s a thoughtful allegory for what disabled people fear they “owe” society due to ableist pressures.
A thought experiment of a different kind is explored in Omphalos by Ted Chiang (Exhalation (Borzoi/Alfred A. Knopf; Picador)) (currently unavailable to read for free online. Legally anyway.) In a world which science can prove was Intelligently Designed, a new discovery could shake the foundations of faith for millions. So, serious question as a Muslim: who besides (some) Christians ascribes to this Intelligent Design stuff? Muslims are taught that numbers in scripture are allegorical especially in re time (i.e. God’s concept of seven days != a human concept of seven days, and it’s okay for our puny little brains to not be able to grok the scope) so the whole movement to “prove” that evolution is fake and the Earth is only several thousand years old seems incredibly naive and pointless to us. Anyway, I started out enjoying this novelette before I realized it was less a sci-fi story with faith elements and more a faith story with sci-fi elements. Definitely an original idea tho.
Finally, we come to my favorite of the bunch, Emergency Skin by N.K. Jemisin (Forward Collection (Amazon)). Cleverly subverting the Dying Earth trope, it’s fresh, funny and progressive, and I’m almost tempted to get the Audible version so I can hear Jason Isaacs give life to the waspish voice of the narrating AI. Everyone should read this novelette that I’m choosing as my best of 2020.