Rachel Swirsky’s Reflections on 2012 Online (Jan 1 – Feb 15)

Hey y’all!

I just finished reading the stories from the first six weeks of the year on all the online venues that I plan to frequent. I haven’t finished reading Asimov’s and Interzone yet, but that’ll have to wait a bit.

I looked at 38 stories from Apex, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Clarkesworld, Giganotosaurus, Lightspeed, Strange Horizons, Subterranean, and Tor.com.


Aftermath” by Joy Kennedy-O’Neill (Strange Horizons) – This extremely affecting story features zombies–which you’re probably sick of (I am)–but it looks at them through the lends of reconciliation. How do people move on after a civil war, an apartheid, a genocide, a zombie attack–where neighbors kill each other and subsequently have to live side by side? The emotional and character work here is very skillful. I found it hard to read; it made me cry.


Calibrated Allies” by Marissa Lingen (Beneath Ceaseless Skies) – An intricately plotted story about what happens when a free man from an enslaved culture (equivalent to our Carribean) goes to the Fatherland to study automata and encounters a rebellion instead. This one didn’t get me emotionally, although the character work is done well enough and I did like him, but it’s intellectually engaging and an interesting story qua story.

All the Flavors” by Ken Liu (Giganotosaurus) – Ken Liu’s novella follows the story of a little girl in post-civil-war Idaho City as she encounters a group of Chinese gold miners and learns their stories. The story starts flipping perspective midway through. Honestly, this story is a total mess. It’s not a novella; it’s notes for a novel. The beginning is structurally sound; as it progresses, it fails to sustain itself, and eventually sort of decays into little bits, ends abruptly, and then has an author’s note. But that does’t really matter–it’s notes for a *really cool* novel. The scenes that are fully realized are done extremely well, balancing character and plot perfectly. This could be a really good historical lit novel (it reminds me a bit of Geling Yan’s The Lost Daughter of Happiness) and/or a really good science fictional novel that’s heavier on the characterization than the genre elements (Maureen McHugh’s China Mountain Zhang, Will McIntosh’s Soft Apocalypse).

Swift, Brutal Retaliation” by Meghan McCarron (Tor.com) – Two little girls must figure out how to cope with their brother’s recent death when he begins to haunt them as they embark on a prank war. This story is exquisitely well-written in terms of prose and character detail with the kind of really intensely well-described, mundane detail about how people (especially children) think that I’ve come to associate with Meghan McCarron’s work. The characters are keenly observed and tenderly treated. The haunting at the story’s center throws everything into high emotional relief.

Bear in Contradicting Landscape” by David J. Schwartz (Apex Magazine) – A writer encounters one of his creations and tries to understand the newly mutable nature of his reality. I was very resistant to the premise of this story because it’s been treated so poorly in the past, but this was a treatment I found thoughtful. The metafictional elements are clever in the way they weave with the character’s confusion (is his girlfriend real or another invention?) and provide an interesting, analytical level to the story.* I was very taken by the imagery about rabbits and about tattoos. (There were three stories about intense tattoos this month and I thought this one had the most surprising and lovely imagery.) The ending didn’t really work, but it was still a satisfying story.


Her Words Like Hunting Vixens Spring” by Brooke Bolander (Lightspeed) – In the newly settled West, Santa Muerte leads a girl through the desert so that she can avenge her fiance’s murder victims, girls who have come back as spirit foxes. The language is tight and lilting and makes the story a pleasure to read. The imagery is very strange and the story is very unpredictable in a good way–it feels fresh.

What Everyone Remembers” by Rahul Kanakia (Clarkesworld) – In a post-apocalyptic world, a sentient cockroach-like entity that’s been genetically engineered by humans to survive in the new environment, learns about and adapts to the world. The cockroach character is written in a curious, empathetic, but not overly human way, and the story does an excellent job of rendering the world from its perspective, both in the way we see glimpses of what’s happening outside the story’s scope and in the way that the story engages the senses.

The Five Elements of the Heart Mind” by Ken Liu (Lightspeed)** – When a woman’s spaceship is destroyed, she launches an escape pod and lands on a planet that practices some elements of traditional Chinese medicine. By dint of a science fictional device, the medicine works. The science fiction idea is interesting and the story has a plot that’s interesting to read. Although there are no real surprises here (the plotline is predictable and while the biology of the science fictional element is neat, it’s not surprising in a way that makes the story unusual–someone else might have written the story exactly the same way, just with a different science fictional conceit), it’s an entertaining trad-sci-fi read.

Recognizing Gabe: un cuento de hadas” by Alberto Yanez (Strange Horizons) – A story about a trans boy growing up in a family that initially accepts his gender identity because of the intervention of his fairy godmother. This story is engaging and well-written, but what won me over was the handling of the ending.


The Chastisement of Your Peace” by Tracy Canfield (Strange Horizons)
All the Painted Stars” by Gwendolyn Clare (Clarkesworld)
In the Cold” by Kelly Jennings (Strange Horizons)
The Last Gorgon” by Rajan Khanna (Beneath Ceaseless Skies)
Seerauber” by Maria Dahvana Headley (Subterranean Online)
Mother Doesn’t Trust Us Anymore” by Patricia Russo (Giganotosaurus)

*If I were being snarky, I’d say this story manages to do in many fewer words what Helen Oyoyemi’s Mister Fox only achieved (albeit with gorgeous prose and some really beautiful moments) with massive amounts of redundancy and repetition. Well, okay, I guess I’m being snarky.

**Ken Liu, will you stop dominating every list with your awesome for like thirty seconds? Come on, dude, you’re making the rest of us look bad.

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5 Responses to Rachel Swirsky’s Reflections on 2012 Online (Jan 1 – Feb 15)

  1. 1
    Hugh says:

    Aftermath was good, but while I appreciate that the author is trying to make a point about the Chicano-isation of the US, I don’t really understand why she has the post-epidemic USA attracting such a high level of Latin American immigration.

    Of course the need for unskilled labour in the post-epidemic USA would be much higher than it is now, creating a “pull” factor – but presuming that Latin America was equally affected (which it seems to have been) there’d have been a similar boost in demand in the immigrants’ home countries, so there’d have been a roughly equal “stick” factor, too. The fact that she seems not to have thought about the labour market consequences of an epidemic outside the USA strikes me as a weird kind of Americocentrism, even though I’m sure the author intended to critique American exceptionalism in writing about a future where Spanish is projected to become an official language in a few years.

  2. 2
    Robert says:

    Why are you posting all these reviews like we’d care about your opinions? It’s not like you won some major…oh yeah.

    Really enjoying all these review threads, very helpful in prioritizing my limited reading-SF-time budget. Keep ’em coming!

  3. 3
    Mandolin says:

    Hugh: I’m not sure the author was actually making a political point about American exceptionalism so much as just trying to think about population effects (which she may have done sloppily). It’s entirely possible that talking about exceptionalism was one of her goals; I just didn’t read it that way.

    Glad you’re enjoying the reviews, Robert! :D

  4. 4
    Denise says:

    I agree with Robert, I totally love the reviews you post on this site! I’m making my way through these ones and I actually bought one or two of the YA books you reviewed a while back as well. Thanks!

  5. 5
    Adrian says:

    Thank you for recommending “Recognizing Gabe.” I love the sweetness of that ending.