Stories read this week are by Ken Liu, Holly Phillips, Sabrina Vourvoulias, AC Wise, Jamie Lackey, Yukimi Ogawa, and Adam Callaway.
"Real Artists" by Ken Liu, EscapePod, January 3, 2013
Ken Liu never fails to deliver. I enjoyed how this story was able to switch from 3rd person intimate into a great swath of exposition. It worked because it was short enough and the Big Idea not bogged down by too much faffing around. An interesting exploration of the changing definitions of art, especially in the digital age, and whether that makes it more or less human.
"Three Days of Rain" by Holly Phillips, Lightspeed, March 2013 (reprint, 2007)
An atmospheric piece light on story but big on presence. I liked the blending of renaissance with a science fictional setting. Lots of intricate detail, giving a dreamlike quality, almost washing out the meaning of the story which was a good counterpoint to the protagonist not overly caring about the fate of his town.
"Ember" by Sabrina Vourvoulias, Menial: Skilled Labor in Science Fiction, Crossed Genres Publications, January 2013
Vourvoulias wrote my favourite story in "Fat Girl in a Strange Land". "Ember" is more simpler in tone than "La Gorda", but still an interesting examination of castes amongst the working class as well as the themes of conservation.
"The Last Survivor of the Great Sexbot Revolution" by AC Wise, Clarkesworld (audio and text), March 2013
I exclaimed "Brilliant. Brilliant. BRILLIANT" on Twitter the moment after I listened to this story, and that still holds true. This story is really sticking with me, a real feminist triumph. This is 2nd person narrative done absolutely perfectly, and how I would like to use it - so that the protagonist is in no way gendered. "Sexbot" is also a subtle critique on the sexbot genre - how once you scratch the surface it is male gaze pornographic in nature, and has no place for the examination of female sexual desire - as well as a story of sexual liberation and emancipation.
The brilliance in the discussion of emancipation is that it doesn't offer just one scenario or one correct "history", almost like it's bringing together the many perceptions of feminism (or any emancipation of a people) and how they all have their truths and lies and shades of grey.
The audio version of this story benefits greatly by a sensitive read by Clarkesworld's Kate Baker.
A definite best-of for the year.
"To Maintain the Balance" by Jamie Lackey, Daily Science Fiction, March 7, 2013
A flash fiction piece that examines the Terrible Bargain a woman must make to balance personal needs with that of the greater good. I like how unicorn imagery is more and more being subverted in modern speculative fiction, but this one was constrained by its length.
"Town's End" by Yukimi Ogawa, Strange Horizons, March 11, 2013
A simply told Japanese fable in which the sweetness is contrasted with the matter-of-fact discussions of sex. I very much liked the use of the absent boss character. I like being left wondering at the end.
"Slate my Thirst with Ink and Blood" by Adam Callaway, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, February 21, 2013
As with all BCS stories, this one is rich with imagery. I liked how this world allowed even the poorest and lowliest the access to and use of magic, and how that magic required a physical use of the body. Lovely descriptions; one can almost taste the dust and spice.