Here are my picks for the best science fiction and fantasy short fiction published in the first half of 2018.
I originally set out to read a short story a day this year but massively failed in that attempt. That said, I still read more than 130 short stories, novelettes and novellas published between January and the end of June.
That doesn’t mean I haven’t missed some great stories — I’m certain I did. In particular, I read relatively few novellas this go around. I’ll try to make up for that in the coming months and will add any stories I missed to my next listing of the year’s best short fiction, which will be released in December.
A Dog of Wu by Ted Rabinowitz
Fantasy and Science Fiction, Mar/Apr 2018
In a far future where families of genetic clones control Earth, a culler searches for those who have gone against the pre-ordained way. An excellent story, mixing Brave New World with modern ideas.
El is a Spaceship Melody by Maurice Broaddus
Beneath Ceaseless Skies
Forget space opera, this story is pure space jazz as the starship Arkestra and her captain discover the human spirit is as limitless as the cosmos. For optimum enjoyment of Maurice Broaddus' jazz creation, I suggest playing Sun Ra while reading this story.
Endless City by David Gerrold
Analog Science Fiction and Fact, Jan/Feb 2018
A hard-boiled detective is hired to investigate a client's murder moments before it happens in this merging of cyberspace & reality, where performance is everything & nothing. This novelette is hypnotic and dazzling, with something to insult everyone in a world where privacy might be the only unobtainable dream.
My Base Pair by Sam J. Miller
Analog Science Fiction and Fact, May/June 2018
I’m fascinated by the world in this story, where the DNA of celebrities is hacked and sold so fans can raise designer kids in their idols' image. A disturbing yet thought-provoking tale.
Sea of Dreams by Cixin Liu (translated by John Chu)
Asimov's Science Fiction Jan/Feb 2018
A hard science fiction classic with strong sensawunda, where powerful alien artist nearly destroys Earth to create the ultimate work of art. "Sea of Dreams" showcases why Cixin Liu is the greatest living hard science fiction author. Even readers who don't like hard SF might like this story — there's a page in the middle where the story digs deep with scientific detail, but keep going and you'll be rewarded.
The Barrens by Stephanie Feldman
Fantasy and Science Fiction, May/June 2018
A group of teenagers follow a pirate radio station's signal into a dark forest — and the woods are hungry. This new take on a familiar horror trope is a beautifully haunting story.
The Ghoul Goes West by Dale Bailey
The brother of a dead screenwriter discovers a video of Ed Wood & Bela Lugosi's never-completed film. Haunting story about Hollywood destroying lives through delusion.
The Substance of My Lives, the Accidents of Our Births by José Pablo Iriarte
Gender becomes even more fluid when you reincarnate & the man who maybe murdered you in a previous life moves into your trailer park. A wonderful story — part slice of life, part mystery. I loved the narrator and embraced their struggles and dreams. A great read which so reaffirms the beauty of life.
The Sweetness of Honey and Rot by A Merc Rustad
Beneath Ceaseless Skies
When Jiteh’s twin brother is sacrificed to the Life Tree, she decides to change the world. An inspiring story that also broke my heart because, as we all know, our plans and dreams in life rarely work out as they would in an ideal universe.
Three Dandelion Stars by Jordan Kurella
Beneath Ceaseless Skies
A fairy tale romance which both lives within the world of fairy tales and transcends them. I loved the story’s world-building and how the romance took me in directions I’d never have expected.
Widdam by Vandana Singh
Fantasy & Science Fiction, Jan/Feb 2018
As heavy pollution and climate change push human civilization to the brink, hyper-intelligent machines are now used to ravage the Earth. A fascinating, all too plausible future which also remembers that hope is one of the defining aspects of humanity.
A Lumberjack’s Guide to Dryad Spotting by Charles Payseur
Flash Fiction Online
A bittersweet yet beautiful slice of life about a lumberjack who will do anything to keep his dream of life and love. I don't read many stories twice in one hour, but I did with this great flash fiction story.
A Night Out at a Nice Place by Nick Mamatas
A sadistic god-like transhuman returns to reality for a first date with a regular human. Delightfully funny SF mixing philosophy & borderline nonsense while dancing on infinity.
A Witch’s Guide to Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies by Alix E Harrow
Because all true librarians are witches who help readers connect with the book they need most. I love this story!
All the Time We've Left to Spend by Alyssa Wong
Robots Vs Fairies
A former idol in Japan visits robot versions of her former band, desperate to reconnect. A story about the damage life and fame brings to people, and their desperation to both touch who they once were and change the actions they took. A disturbingly painful yet always true story.
And Yet by AT Greenblatt
A theoretical physicist tries to determine if haunted houses are merely doorways to parallel versions of your life. A moving & emotional look at the choices we make. And I so love the story's opening line: "Only idiots go back to the haunted houses of their childhood. And yet."
Barleycorn by Cae Hawksmoor
Abyss & Apex
A modern-day fairy both consumes a suicidal man & shows him the beauty of life. A melodic story about how life, death & the harvest remain, no matter how our world changes.
Being an Account of The Sad Demise of The Body Horror Book Club by Nin Harris
What are those horrifying sounds in the apartment upstairs? A wonderfully gothic story exploring our fears of isolation & the unknown.
Bread and Milk and Salt by Sarah Gailey
Robots Vs Fairies
The most disturbing, nightmarish fairy story I've ever read. Brilliant. A story to haunt your dreams. Gailey perfectly captures fairy amorality, such as how they lead young kids to their deaths, or worse. But the story then cranks the fantasy dial to 11 when a geeky boy turns the tables, and flips it again in a chilling ending which shatters all power dynamics. Wow.
Carouseling by Rich Larson
Ostap loses the love of his life in a explosion at a quantum test facility in Mombasa. But why is he still linked to her? A moving SF story with strong sensawunda.
Cosmic Spring by Ken Liu
A sailor steers an island-ship through the heat death of the universe while trying to remember all that was. "Cosmic Spring" is a beautiful story of eternity, memory & spending time with friends as the universe ends. The sense of wonder in this story — wow. One of the year's best. And so many great lines like "It’s not home, but at least we don’t have to die alone."
Domestic Violence by Madeline Ashby
An HR manager at a future workplace counsels a domestic violence victim to keep her performing like any good employee. Or is the manager really counseling herself? A subtle, eye-opening story which demonstrates how abusers can and will use technology to maintain control and hurt people. A must-read story of a troubling future.
Four-Point Affective Calibration by Bogi Takács
An insightful story about how human conformity and neurotypical thoughts/emotions can hinder attempts to communicate with aliens. As the story shows, human communications are always tied in with emotions & cultural contexts. But humanity's neurodiversity also means there's a range of amazing ways to see, experience & communicate about our world. I wish more people understood that.
Godmeat by Martin Cahill
A chef cooks the meat of the divine beasts who maintain his world's reality. An imaginative, must-read story of ambition conflicting with the greater good, and the choices we all make.
Leviathan Sings to Me in the Deep by Nibedita Sen
This lush, dark story grabbed me from the start and refused to let go. Set on a whaling ship, the world is so disturbingly and beautifully captured that the reader believes that this nightmarish tale could have really happened. And the ending — wow!
Me, Waiting for Me, Hoping for Something More by Dee Warrick
The ghost of who you never were haunts your life while exploring an impossible basement under the basement. A deep, bone-chilling story.
Mother Tongues by S Qiouyi Lu
Asimov's Science Fiction Jan/Feb 2018
A touching SF tale of the importance of language to both our lives/sense of self, & what happens if this is commodified. A story to make you cry.
Obscura by Yoon Ha Lee
Strange Horizons, Short Story
A 14 year old searching for connections meets a man whose camera destroys them. This disturbing, powerful story burned its way into my mind.
One For Sorrow, Two For Joy by LaShawn M. Wanak
An undertaker gifts sky burials to children who die before their time, magically giving relief to their grieving families. "One For Sorrow, Two For Joy" is a magically touching fantasy which made me cry before moving me to joy. This story is proof of the power of great fantasies. One of the year's best and a story which will stay with me for a lifetime.
Opium for Ezra by T.R. Napper
The commander of a nearly indestructible tank has survived for 9 months on a devastated battlefield. Now he battles a new enemy along with reality. A powerful, gritty and painful SF war story, with a heck of a plot twist at the end.
Salt Lines by Ian Muneshwar
A jumbie comes for a man as he leaves a club. An exquisite story of loneliness, family and the past which haunts us all. Another must-read.
Sour Milk Girls by Erin Roberts
SF story about memory becoming just another commodity. Story has a gripping, visual voice, which makes the outcome all the more painful. I believe this story is one of those which will truly stick in my memory.
Strange Waters by Samantha Mills
A fisherwoman lost at sea keeps returning home at different points in time. A fascinating & touching time travel story with a deep sense of wonder. Days after I finished this story I was still thinking about it. Highly recommended, and the most emotional time travel story I've read this year
The Court Magician by Sarah Pinsker
A young man learns the price of going from sleight of hand tricks to true magic. And the worst trick? That those in power never pay the same price. This story accomplishes more in 3000 words than many novel-length tales, and showcases how at its best fantasy can touch on deeper issues than much of what passes these days for "realistic" or "literary" mainstream fiction.
The Library is Open by Beth Cato
Daily Science Fiction
It's the end of the world but the local library is still open and will always be. A flash fiction story about hope which will touch the heart of every library lover.
The Mansion of Endless Rooms by L. Chan
Syntax and Salt
A man carries his dead father to a mansion outside time, where his father's memories can live forever. a beautiful merger of truth & words, reaching deeper into sorrow and pain than stories a hundred times the length. A must read tale & one of the year's best.
The Root Cellar by Maria Haskins
Beneath Ceaseless Skies
A young girl returns from the dead to save her little brother. But their grandmother keeps trying to kill them. A lyrical, disturbing story which continually keeps the reader off balance even while forcing you to keep reading.
The Secret Lives of the Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington by Phenderson Djèlí Clark
A moving story melding ghosts and magic and humanity into something far truer than either fantasy or history. "The Secret Lives of the Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington" proves that Clark is a writer to both watch and read. I wouldn't be surprised if this story earns award nominations and reprints in various year's best anthologies.
The Sharp Edges of Anger by Jamie Lackey
A young woman deals with a world where anger is physically removed from her body. A dangerously powerful tale full of deep truths. Read this story!
Traces of Us by Vanessa Fogg
A beautiful, touching science fiction story of two people embracing each other across eternity. This is me crying over this joyous song of a love story.
We Will Be All Right by Carolyn Ives Gilman
In a world where sex between men and women kills the man, a mother watches with regret as her son falls in love. A powerful flash which left me shuddering and pained.
With These Hands: An Account of Uncommon Labor by LH Moore
FIYAH Literary Magazine Jan 2018
A free black man helping build the White House learns of the changes two enslaved stonemasons will willingly undergo to escape bondage. A compelling look at history — all of history — and how those who do the work of building the world's monuments and mansions are often the first to be ignored by history.