This is the second part of my irregular series of fiction-reading notes, meant to be consulted when I'm trying to decide on Hugo nominations next year.
There is one story in this batch that's a strong contender to make my ballot, and another that I felt stood out a bit from the rest.
"This is a Letter to My Son" by K. J. Kabza (Strange Horizons (April)) is my favorite story so far this year, about a trans teenager whose mother died when she was a baby, and left behind a cache of video letters to the child she thought would be a son. At its heart this is an excellently done family drama, but there are some significant medical and social advances from our own time, making this clearly science fiction. Very good chance this will make my nominating ballot.
I really liked E. Catherine Tobler's "Cloud Dweller" (Beneath Ceaseless Skies #199), an odd fantasy about a tightrope walker who sees the invisible lines binding the world together. Points for feeling like it was bringing something new to the table.
There are a few more stories that I'd recommend for one reason or another.
I felt like "The Bridge of Dreams" by Gregory Feeley (Clarkesworld 115) had more flash than soul, which is kind of a relief: he's on my permanent shit list from his trolling days on GEnie, and I'm glad that I won't have to debate whether or not to put this on my ballot. But as a space opera it does have enough inventiveness and style that I can easily see this making someone else's Top 5.
"They Said the Desert" by A. T. Greenblatt (Beneath Ceaseless Skies #199) is an interesting fantasy about a desert that's more than a desert, and a woman, one of the few people who can cross the ghostly landscape, who sees that her society is doomed unless something changes—unless she's the one who makes changes—before it's too late.
"The Governess With a Mechanical Womb" by Leena Likitalo (Clarkesworld 114) is a decent story, which is making my recommended list mostly because the Worldcon is in Helsinki next year and the author is Finnish. I don't think it will make my ballot, but I do hope voters consider it.
"Conjure Man" by Stefon Mears (Strange Horizons (Feb.)) is a clever, fun, light story about a conjure man outwitting a demon vastly more powerful than him. Reminds me of an above-average Hellblazer story.
Stories I read and enjoyed but which I'm not singling out for attention are "The Angel of Divine Intent" by Tim Akers, "Touring With the Alien" by Carolyn Ives Gilman, "Coyote Invents the Land of the Dead" by Kij Johnson, "We Have a Cultural Difference, Can I Taste You?" by Rebecca Ann Jordan, "The Name of the Forest" by Margaret Killjoy, "Meltwater" by Benjamin C. Kinney, "Montague's Last" by Ekari Mbvundula, "Into the Wreck" by June Oldfather, "Balin" by Chen Qiufan, "The Cedar Grid" by Sara Saab, "The Right Sort of Monsters" by Kelly Sandoval, "The Opening of the Bayou Saint John" by Shawn Scarber, "Salvage Opportunity" by Jack Skillingstead, and "Seven Cups of Coffee" by A. C. Wise. The only story in this batch that I actively disliked was "Chimera" by Gu Shi, which struck me as clumsily executed idea fiction with not very well-developed ideas.