Tor.com is probably the most improved short fiction venue of 2013. Adding consulting editors Ann VanderMeer and Ellen Datlow proved to be a masterstroke, and we as readers have reaped the rewards with exceptional stories by Thomas Olde Heuvelt, Karin Tidbeck, Jeffrey Ford, Priya Sharma and many, many more, and all accompanied by some of the finest artwork being published anywhere in the field.
Having evolved into such a preeminent fiction venue (it already was important, publishing high quality work and paying very well, but 2013s changes magnified that greatly), it will be interesting to see how it progresses in 2014. If you’re interested, Tor.com has published a list of upcoming stories that looks intriguing.
It’s first story for 2014 is original fantasy “Ekaterina and the Firebird” by Abra Staffin-Wiebe, which retells the Russian folk tale of the Firebird. Here Ekaterina, on her fourteenth birthday, catches a glimpse of the elusive firebird and sets out in pursuit of it hopeful of standing in its shadow for a moment and bringing enormous good fortune to her family. As with the original folktale Ekaterina faces a quest, a difficult discovery and some perilous times before reaching her story’s resolution. The story turns on a particular piece of information that might spoil it for readers so I shan’t reveal it here, but suffice it to say the Staffin-Wiebe modernises the tale and does a solid job of making the story pay off. All in all, while not up with the best stories of 2013, it’s a good start to a new year of short fiction.
Also published in the last day or two is the January issue of Clarkesworld which publishes three original pieces of short fiction each month. The best of these, and the best story I’ve read in the past month or so, is Ken Liu’s fine “The Clockwork Soldier“. A strong science fiction short story, it tells of the discussions between Alex, bounty hunter, and Ryder, who she has been tasked with returning to his father. The capture happens offscreen before the story commences, and instead we are told of the closing days of the journey back to Ryder’s home in Alex’s ship. As a way of killing time, Ryder writes an interactive adventure called “The Clockwork Soldier” which both engages Alex and takes us through a range of issues to do with sentience and artificial intelligence. As always with Liu, it’s thoughtful, provocative and moving.
In what is a solid issue, I was also impressed by Yoon Ha Lee’s “Wine“. As with much of Lee’s work, there’s a poetry to her space opera, and this tale of a desperate colony under attack from people seeking their greatest treasure is well done, even if I was left thinking a little of Pied Piper of Hamelin at times.
The issue is rounded out by another interesting translation by Ken Liu, this time “Grave of the Fireflies” by Cheng Jingbo.
Although it’s only the second day of January, stories are already starting to pile up. I’ll be back to discuss more soon.