I was in my second year of my Master’s degree this year, and working on completing and defending my thesis. So I didn’t get quite as much reading for fun in as I would have liked (but, boy, did I read a lot about disaster planning and preparedness). Here’s my favorite short stories I managed to read in 2019, all three of them.
Mouths by Lizz Huerta at Lightspeed Magazine – This story is so beautiful and raw. I think about the teeth transplant constantly, and the way the story hinges on community, and the necessity of it. This line in the very opening paragraph is so powerful: “Plumbers were holy men, exorcising the encampments of the demons of human waste.” I read this story twice, immediately starting over after finishing it, blowing off re-formatting my thesis footnotes. I also recommended it to a friend who I’d just had a conversation with where she said she didn’t read a lot of short stories because she felt she didn’t know how to read them. It’s really good.
Half-Eaten Cities by Vajra Chandrasekera in the anthology Everything Changes Volume II: An Anthology of Climate Fiction – I read this story and the broader anthology right after finishing The Great Derangement by Amitav Ghosh, and the two works in conjunction threw me into an absolute fever pitch. I think both are responsible for me getting more involved in bird watching and conservation, because I was so desperate to do anything to avoid the futures presented in both.
The language in this story is poetic, lyrical, like the lapping of the waves that make their way upwards. The way Chandrasekera highlights the division between rich and poor, and how climate will exacerbate that is both fantastical and all too real. The call-back to language used in Greek epics makes me somewhat hopeful for a continuing future.
At the Mouth of the River of Bees by Kij Johnson in the anthology At the Mouth of the River of Bees – I finished reading this story right before my 19-year-old cat died. The story is about a woman following a river of bees, taking her dying dog in the car with her as she does. Spoilers:
The dog lives, granted an almost-eternal life by the queen of bees. When I finished this story, I was aching, hopeful. I too, wanted my pet to live forever. Oreo had made a slight rebound, and our whole family thought we were out of the woods. But then she took a turn for the worse, and the vet suggested we put her down. I hate this story. I think it’s tremendously unfair. But also, I very much get it.