My favorite short stories of 2021

March 21, 2022

This is the first year I’ve nominated for the Hugo awards, and I wanted to make sure that my nominations weren’t just what I had happened upon reading and enjoying. So I focused on short stories, because I could read a majority of what was published in 2021 (at least in the pro-zines). I found the best way to narrow down all the good stories into my favorite five was via a tournament bracket.

My nominees

Six Fictions About Unicorns by Rachael K. Jones

Achieving our dreams is often messier than how we imagine it. This one starts out clever but quickly becomes a way of externalizing some hard lessons of growing up and growing old.

The stories say unicorns reserve their company for those of the highest character, the best of humanity, the ones they deem worthy. But those stories know nothing of a unicorn’s love. Your unicorn is the only one you trust to see the worst version of yourself and still love you.

Byzantium by Robert Dawson

A very short read about deciding how to allocate your mind once it is uploaded into the afterlife.

When I was 60, I decided that I would never upload. That was no country for old minds, for minds that remembered Earth as it had been and did not want to participate in its destruction.

Communist Computer Rap God by Andrea Kriz

I’m delighted by the idea that an AI could gain sentience only to decide that its life purpose was to make bad internet rap videos. Instead of doing other, much grander things that we might expect, it seems to flail around for meaning in an all-too-human way. I am deeply fond of this story.

The Communist Computer Rap God’s songs always followed a protagonist known only as Proletariat Light. Proletariat Light lived on the twentieth floor of a dystopian apartment building in a city ruled by robots. … Every night, Proletariat Light typed out—on his manual typewriter, the trendy kind you could buy from little shops that sold to “nomads” who lived in vans—long diatribes about the truth of his world, which only he could see. Only Proletariat Light could see the cameras installed in every human being’s irises, constantly monitoring him. Only Proletariat Light could see the recorders installed in everybody’s brains, constantly parroting to the authorities every single one of his words. Which, if everyone was already tuned in, what was the point of typing out his manifestos and spamming them to masses?

Skin Deep by Alan Brennert

I love a good alt-history yarn, and while I’m new to the Wild Cards series this makes me want to read more. Clever tie-in with actual television history.

“I’ve seen her real face,” she went on. “It’s a good face. It’s a human face. What’s the dimensional visual difference between beauty and something we see as repellent? Skin deep? No, it’s more than that.”

The Lay of Lilyfinger by G. V. Anderson

There is so much woven into this story. The slow healing after a hard war, people clinging to a culture that is being obliterated by opression or time, the complications of identity, and above it all the power of music.

“I wanted the best for Bruin, do you understand? The perfect Staining. All my mother could do for me was half an hour of humming. A bowl of turmik—a spice—for my fingers. I found her crying in the kitchen afterwards out of shame, and I vowed then to do better by my daughter when her time came.”

Honorable mentions

a blog by Rowan Copley about fantasy data systems, unhelpful simulations, echoes from the future, and the strange ways that the digital world manifests in the real