My Favorite Short Fiction of 2020

It’s been another stellar year for short fiction. There is so freakin’ much good stuff out there! I know there’s a lot I’ve missed, and I know there are stories still coming out through the end of the year, so I reserve the right to update this list as time goes on. That said, I know many other people are trying to catch up on reading as well, and thinking about award nominations, so I wanted to share some of my favorite short stories and novelettes of the year (thus far) in the hopes that you might enjoy them too.

Note, the list appears roughly in the order I read the pieces in question, and I’m not 100% I have all the lengths right in terms of short story vs. novelette, but I’ve done my best. Thank you to all the publications that include word counts somewhere, either in a year-end round up or with the story itself. You are the best!

Uncanny Magazine Issue 32 CoverMiss Karami’s Academy for Time-Warping Ladies by Kat Otis (Kaliedotrope/Short Story) – an absolutely charming story of twins, time travel, and trickery as a group of young women get firmly up to no good in the best possible ways.

Familiar Face by Meg Elison (Nightmare/Short Story) – a haunting story of loss, and the possible intersection between ghosts and technology.

My Country is a Ghost by Eugenia Triantafyllou (Uncanny/Short Story) – a beautifully-written and bittersweet reflection on immigration and what people leave behind when they move to a new country, exploring themes of assimilation, loss, memory, and ghosts both literal and figurative.

Claudette du Lac and the Devil of the North by Genevieve Sinha (Beneath Ceaseless Skies/Short Story) – a fun adventure story with a strong voice about hunting monsters in the frozen north.

Monster by Naomi Kritzer (Clarkesworld/Novelette) – a fascinating study of monstrousness, friendship, and what it means to recognize something monstrous in someone close to you.

Every Tiny Tooth and Claw by Marissa Lingen (Beneath Ceaseless Skies/Short Story) – a wonderful use of the epistolary format to tell the story of a growing rebellion between the lines.

One Song Ending by E.A. Petricone (Apparition Lit/Short Story) – a heartbreaking yet hopeful story about animal testing, disease, medical research, and how we value life.

Apparition Lit Issue 12 CoverYo, Rapunzel! by Kyle Kirrin (PodCastle/Short Story) – a fun and foul-mouthed take on an old fairy tale, featuring a princess who has no interest in being rescued and is quite content to stay imprisoned in her tower playing board games.

The Imperishable Birds by Vajra Chandrasekera (Fireside/Short Story) – a powerful story full of striking imagery, about the ways people and stories can be colonized, and the way lived experiences get reframed to seem more “authentic” to the white gaze.

Forgive Me, My Love, for the Ice and the Sea by C.L. Clark (Beneath Ceaseless Skies/Short Story) – a story of peril and adventure, where a woman must confront a goddess and break her promise to the one she loves in order to save her.

How We Burn by Brenda Peynado (Lightspeed/Novelette) – a slick and stylish story set in a world struggling to recover from scarcity and near-total environmental collapse exploring the conflicting ideals of the generation who lived through the disaster, and the younger generation trying to carve out their own place in the world.

Rat and Finch Are Friends by Innocent Chizram Ilo (Strange Horizons/Short Story) – a lovely and heartbreaking story of friendship, budding romance, animal transformations, and the harm done by a mother who believes the pain she causes is for her child’s own good.

The Old Ones, Great and Small by Rajiv Moté (Diabolical Plots/Short Story) – a surprisingly emotional story using Lovecraftian mythos to explore themes of captivity and human cruelty.

Way of the Laser Anthology CoverKalopsia by E.N. Auslender (Way of the Laser: Future Crime Stories/Short Story) – a story set in an ad-infested cyberpunkish future, exploring the all-too-familiar contemporary issue of how immigrants are treated, and the unfair systems that create poverty and crime.

Distant Stars by P.H. Lee (Clarkesworld/Short Story) – a bittersweet story about dark matter, gravity, and the distance that can grow between people no matter how hard you try to hold on.

Sister Thrush by Marie Vibbert (Way of the Laser: Future Crime Stories/Short Story) – a fun and fast-paced story of crime and double-crossing, as a brother tries to protect his sister after she gets herself in trouble with some dangerous people and goes on the run with her consciousness uploaded into the body of a mechanical bird.

The Bear Wife by Leah Bobet (Apparition Lit/Short Story) – a lovely take on the animal bride trope about meeting someone on their own terms rather than trying to change them to fit your expectations.

Uncanny Issue 34 CoverUniform by Errick Nunnally (Fiyah/Short Story) – an utterly heartbreaking story about a cybernetically-enhanced soldier returning from war and trying to find his place in a world that no longer wants anything to do with him.

Smilers by Chip Houser (Bourbon Penn/Short Story) – an eerie and emotional story about two brothers caught up in a mysterious plague that empties people out and leaves them as hollow, smiling shells.

We Are the Flower by Claire Humphrey (PodCastle/Short Story) – a bittersweet story of ghosts, unfinished business, and finding love when it’s almost too late.

Burn or the Episodic Life of Sam Wells as a Super by A.T. Greenblatt (Uncanny/Novelette) – a fun, heartfelt, and occasionally snarky look at the less glamorous side of life with superpowers.

An Explorer’s Cartography of Already Settled Lands by Fran Wilde (Tor.com/Short Story) – a beautifully-written story about maps, exploration, what it means to “discover” a territory and how the act of discovery can transform both the land and the explorer.

We’re Here, We’re Here by K.M. Szpara (Tor.com/Short Story) – a story of friendship, music, and love that explores the question of who own an artist’s voice.

Dominion Anthology CoverA Mastery of German by Marian Denise Moore (Dominion: An Anthology of Speculative Fiction from Africa and the African Diaspora/Short Story) – an exploration of memory and the troubling implications of a technology that would allow memories and knowledge to be transferred from person to person.

Open House on Haunted Hill by John Wiswell (Diabolical Plots/Short Story) – a charming story of a haunted house that just wants to be loved and to make the family that moves into it happy.

The Moon Room by Maria Romansco Moore (Kaleidotrope/Short Story) – a story of a photographer grappling with her past, her missing memories, and coming to terms with her true self, exploring alienation and otherness.

Two Truths and a Lie by Sarah Pinsker (Tor.com/Novelette) – an eerie and unsettling story of an unreliable narrator confronted with the sudden reality of a creepy children’s show she’s certain she made up.

A Stick of Clay in the Hands of God is Infinite Potential by Neon Yang (Clarkesworld/Novelette) – a beautifully-written story of mechs and pilots, full of striking imagery, exploring the idea of people and faith used as weapons.

The Satellite Charmer by Mame Bougouma Diene (Dominion: An Anthology of Speculative Fiction from Africa and the African Diaspora/Novelette) – a story with an epic feel that traces the life and transcendence beyond humanity of a man whose fate and existence is inextricably linked to a mining satellite devastating the land outside his village.

Needles by Kali Napier (The Dark/Short Story) – a dark and satisfying story about a mother using “women’s work” to protect her daughter and herself from her abusive husband.

Fiyah Magazine Issue 15 CoverThe Last Testament by Aurelius Raines II (Fiyah/Short Story) – a story of loss and a sister seeking revenge for her brother’s murder, told from the perspective of the AI she builds in his image to help her in her work.

The Black Menagerie by Endria Isa Richardson (Fiyah/Short Story) – a beautifully written story about people trying to control what they don’t understand, and how fear can be cultivated and put to good use.

Baba Yaga and the Seven Hills by Kristina Ten (Lightspeed/Short Story) – a charming story about community, learning not to take people and places for granted, an old witch learning new tricks.

Bobbie and Her Father by Gillian Daniels (The Dark/Short Story) – a twist on the Frankenstein story, about a prideful man creating life from death, told from the perspective of an awkward young girl who just wants to be loved.

Slipping the Leash by Dan Micklewaite (PodCastle/Short Story) – a gorgeously-written story with a distinctive voice that plays with the werewolf trope to explore music, desire, and the traumas of war.

Seven Parts Full by Anya Ow (Translunar Travelers Lounge/Short Story) – a sweet and charming story that takes on the trope of a competition to win a legendary weapon and turns it on its ear.

Anathema Issue 11 CoverTara’s Mother’s Skin by Suzanne Palumbo (PseudoPod/Short Story) – an unsettling story of women who are labelled monstrous, exploring the line between what is supernatural and what is merely human cruelty.

Tiger of the New Moon by Allison Thai (Anathema Magazine/Short Story) – a lovely story about a legendary supernatural tiger and a young woman overcoming their pain and trauma together and forming a friendship.

Cycle of the Eternal Witness by Adelehin Ijasan (Omenana/Short Story) – a story with a classic sci-fi feel exploring questions of beauty, sacrifice, ultimate power, and destiny.

The Goatkeeper’s Harvest by Tobi Ogundrian (The Dark/Short Story) – an unsettling story of a young mother trying to protect her family from cosmic horrors after she unwittingly breaks a pact with an ancient being.

The Last Trophy of Hunter Hammerson by L. Chan (Hexagon/Short Story) – the story of a journalist uncovering the truth behind the exploits of a legendary monster hunter who isn’t quite what he claims to be.

Deep in the Drift, Spinning by Lisa L. Hannett (Beneath Ceaseless Skies) – a lovely and poetic story of a woman with the power to wring magic from seabirds, complicated family relationships, and losing those who care about by trying to hard to hold on.

Tea with the Earl of Twilight by Sonya Taaffe (Nightmare/Short Story) – a gorgeous and melancholy story about the intersection of art, memory, and ghosts.

Bourbon Penn Issue 21 CoverMiss Bulletproof Comes Out of Retirement by Louis Evans (GigaNotoSaurus/Short Story) – a story of a trickster god and a superhero who is drawn back into her old life by the need to protect her family.

To Inherit Hunger by Crystal Lyn Hilbert (Bourbon Penn/Short Story) – a powerful story of the relationship between a daughter and a mother whose dementia manifests as hallucinations other people can see.

Down to Nifhel Deep by Maria Haskins (Kaleidotrope/Short Story) – an emotional story about a very good dog undertaking a perilous journeys into the underworld to save his human.

Lingua Franca by Amelia Fisher (Metaphorosis/Short Story) – a painful story about choosing between family and society, and how lack of access to technology can further marginalize those already on the edges of society.

The Front Line by W.C. Dunlap (Tor.com/Breathe Fiyah/Short Story) – a powerful story about the way Black women’s pain is discounted, and how they are often expected to be shields for others.

Blue Hole, Red Sea by E. Catherine Tobler (Evil in Technicolor/Novelette) – an eerie and lovely story of an underwater archeologist discovering a sunken temple populated by forgotten gods who do not take kindly to those who would try to claim their treasures.

Clarkesworld November 2020 CoverCity of Red Midnight: A Hikayat by Usman T. Malik (Tor.com/Novelette) – a series of interlocking tales, myths, and legends, telling of tricksters, demons, magicians, and the power of stories to shape the world.

Girls with Needles and Frost by Jenny Rae Rappaport (Beneath Ceaseless Skies/Novelette) – a beautifully-written story of magic, war, revolution, and “mere dressmakers” fighting back against an oppressive regime.

Where the Old Neighbors Go by Thomas Ha (Metaphorosis/Short Story) – a lovely story of trickster gods and gentrification and those who are overlooked and pushed aside in the name of progress.

The Little Witch by M. Rickert (Tor.com/Novelette) – an eerie and charming story of ghosts and witches and unlikely friendships.

Lost in Darkness and Distance by Clara Madrigano (Clarkesworld/Novelette) – a beautiful and heartbreaking story about complicated family relationships that grow even more complicated with a technology that allows them to bring back lost loved ones.

And This is How to Stay Alive by Shinga Njeri Kagunda (Fantasy Magazine/Short Story) – a lovely and bittersweet story about loss, grief, guilt, and trying to hold onto someone and bring them back after they’re gone in a way that honors who they truly are.

Bourbon Penn 22 CoverWhat Friends Don’t Tell Friends About Basements by Corey Farrenkopf (Bourbon Penn/Short Story) – a wonderful story about friendship and the fear of drifting apart, and a teenager whose life is complicated by her family’s sworn duty to protect the world from the cosmic horrors growing in her basement.

High in the Clean Blue Air by Emma Törsz (Strange Horizons/Short Story) – a beautiful story of friendship, betrayal, secrets, and animal transformation.

Color, Heat, and the Wreck of the Argo by Catherynne M. Valente (Strange Horizons/Novelette) – a haunting story about memory as time travel, featuring an old video camera that gives the woman who finds it a glimpse at the small and big moments that define and change people’s lives.

Collections by E.L. Chen (Lackington’s/Short Story) – a story of gods and archivists and the role museums play in both preserving and consuming culture.

The Cat Lady and the Petitioner by Jennifer Hudak (Translunar Travelers Lounge/Short Story – a charming story about inter-dimensional rifts, cats, and finding your true purpose in life.

An Important Failure by Rebecca Campbell (Clarkesworld/Novelette) – a breath-taking story about the interconnectedness of life, the long cycle of history, climate failure, recovery, and the power of music.

Head Static by Sheree Renee Thomas (Nine Bar Blues/Novelette) – a story full of energy and poetry about a goddess/muse who inspires and feeds off music, which also explores the power of music to uplift people and connect history and moments in time.

AirBody by Sameem Siddiqui (Clarkesworld/Short Story) – a bittersweet story about food, memory, regret, and a technology that allows people to lease out their bodies to other people’s consciousnesses for a while.

Where the River Turns to Concrete by Brooke Bolander (The Book of Dragons/Short Story) – a lovely and heartfelt story about an ancient river spirit simultaneously discovering his true nature and his humanity.

Renovation of a Finite Apartment by Toby MacNutt (Strange Horizons/Short Story) – a lovely and melancholy story of an alien consciousness trapped in a human body learning to make a space for itself in the world via home decor.

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