The top nine online genre stories from 2011 that you should read:
“Six Months, Three Days” by Charlie Jane Anders – Two psychics, one who believes in free will and one who believes in determinism, finally meet for their preordained relationship which lasts the titular six months and three days. Sharp characterization and detail work; the science fictional element and the writing of the characters weave together to create a narrative that is both emotionally and intellectually intriguing.
“Her Husband’s Hands” by Adam-Troy Castro – A woman receives notice that her husband is coming home from war injured–actually, just as a pair of hands. An evocative way of physicalizing some of the conflicts, ambiguities and turmoil surrounding PTSD and returning soldiers.
“Three Damnations: A Fugue” by James Alan Gardner – Three characters circle each other, locked in loops that their follies prevent them from escaping. Smart and funny.
“The Axiom of Choice” by David W. Goldman – Goldman uses the choose your own adventure format to explore issues of philosophy and mathematics. There have been a number of choose your own adventure-type stories in the past few years; this is my favorite. It evokes character and detail–and futility and hope–in a way that most of the stories fail to. The story incorporates its metafictional element rather than relying on it to do the characterization and storytelling by rote.
“Valley of the Girls” by Kelly Link – In a far future, dilettante girls play at being Egyptian pharaohs. Kelly Link always creates strange, surreal worlds, and this is one: clever, bizarre, intriguing.
“The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary” by Ken Liu — The script of a false documentary tells the story of a Chinese-American man who invents a limited method for time travel and uses it to illuminate atrocities that the Japanese committed against the Chinese in World War II, and delves into the political and emotional fallout of that technology. This story was incredibly moving to me; it affected me on a visceral level, propelling me through reading the very dark material. Despite the unconventional format of the story, characters are delicately portrayed through interviews.
“Houses” by Mark Pantoja – When all the people die, what do the integrated AIs running their houses do? The story is funny, but not only funny; it’s also a genuinely interesting read.
“The Migratory Patterns of Dancers” by Katherine Sparrow – After the extinction of birds, men ride motorcycles from town to town, doing dances to imitate birdflight. An interesting world. Poignant and beautifully written.
“Work, with Occasional Molemen” by Jeremiah Tolbert – A man who is embroiled in his family’s strange politics yearns to escape. This story is very dark, but also very unique; it’s got some of the bitterness of Dorothy Allison, but with a detached, dry cynicism that renders the world it portrays ludicrous even as it remains bleak.
“The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees” by E. Lily Yu – Sometimes someone writes a story about the elaborate civilizations created by cartographer wasps, whose hives are miniature maps, and how they oppress the anarchist bees, and how their cultures clash, and what grows out of that conflict, and sometimes that story is absolutely brilliant.