The Year in Review 2023 by A.C. Wise – Locus Online

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The Year in Review 2023 by A.C. Wise

It’s been an odd year for me, reading-wise. I served as a World Fantasy Award judge, which was a won­derful experience, but meant a large portion of my year was devoted to works originally published in 2022. As a result, I feel – even more than I normally do – like I missed out on tons of fantastic work published in 2023, and I’m still trying to catch up!

I also took a break from reviewing for a good chunk of the year in order to focus on WFA sub­missions. Once judging was done though, I not only resumed my Apex column, I officially joined the Locus short fiction review team! The idea had been floating around for a while, but the timingwas never right. I’m thrilled to be on board now though and further expanding my short fiction horizons.

Since I only joined the Locus team toward the end of the year, and since my reading was somewhat scattered, I’m not limiting my­self to the work I reviewed for the magazine in this round-up. Rather, I wanted to call out some of the short fiction and publica­tions that impressed me and stuck with me overall from 2023.

Sadly, I didn’t get around to reading many (or any) anthologies this year, but I did manage a handful of short fiction collections. Three in particular stood out to me. Skin Thief is Suzan Palumbo’s debut collection, and it is stunning. There’s a special joy in the way collections allow you to sink into an author’s work, to see the themes that run through their stories, and the way each piece is in conversation with the others. The stories in Skin Thief blend horror and fantasy, explore queerness and monstrosity, and draw on myth, history, real life, and imagination to present characters who refuse the definitions placed on them by others to forge their own identities. I’ve been consistently im­pressed by Neon Hemlock as a publisher, and this collection is no exception. I can’t wait to see what they do as a publisher in 2024, and what Palumbo does as an author.

Skin Thief Suzan Palumbo coverLost Places is Sarah Pinsker’s second short fiction collection, and it’s every bit as delightful as her first. What I said above about the joy of seeing an author’s various stories in conversation with each other holds true here too. Pinsker has a gift for crafting stories full of so many rich details that there’s always something new to discover each time I reread them. Including this collection feels somewhat bittersweet with therecent news that Small Beer Press is putting an indefinite hold on new publications, but I’m glad they gave us this title in 2023.

Undertow is another publisher that has con­sistently impressed me, and I very much enjoyed Tobi Ogundrian’s debut collection Jackal, Jackal from them this year. Like Palumbo’s collection, it blends fantasy and horror, myth and history, monsters and the mundane, in wonderful ways. One of the standout stories in the collection was “Midnight in Moscow”, which is an original newly published in 2023.

Overall, some of the publications that I felt had a particularly strong year in 2023 were Clarkesworld, The Dark, Tor.com, Nightmare, and The Deadlands. I also want to shout out khōréō and Bourbon Penn for their editorial voices, and the excellent work they publish. Each magazine is filled with weird, liminal, gorgeous, and dreamlike prose. There were also several authors I felt had an especially strong year this year, with multiple wonderful stories across a variety of publications, including Thomas Ha, Angela Liu, Eugenia Triantafyllou, and Isabel J. Kim, to name just a few.

Every year, I struggle with narrowing down my favorite reads to some kind of manageable list. There’s so much good short fiction out there, and I know my own reading only scratches the surface. That said, I know no one’s list can be fully compre­hensive, and I shouldn’t let being simultaneously spoiled for choice and feeling woefully under-read stop me from highlighting some of the works that really stuck with me this year. Hopefully others will love them too.

Lost Places Pinsker cover“Broodmare” by Flossy Arend, published in Fantasy (which sadly also announced its closure this year), is a powerful and frightening look at the restriction of re­productive rights, while also being a story about community and hope. “The Big Glass Box and the Boys Inside” by Isabel J. Kim, published in Apex, is a wonderful reimagining of a deal-with-the-fae story, but in a corporate setting. “Undog” by Eugenia Triantafyl­lou, published in Strange Horizons, is a short, but effective piece about a woman who feels unloved by her mother, moving into a house haunted by the ghost of an unloved dog, and the relationship that forms between them. “If Someone You Love Has Become a Vurdalak” by Sam J. Miller, published in The Dark, is a heartbreaking look at addiction in various forms as a man copes with his twin brother’s transformation into a supernatu­ral creature that can only feed off of those who truly love it.

“For However Long” by Thomas Ha, published in khōréō, is a quiet, contempla­tive, and bittersweet story about the way the relationship between children and parents can shift over time, as an earthbound moth­er contemplates the time she has left with her son living on Mars. “Quantum Love” by Sylvia Heike, published in Flash Fiction Online, is a particularly effective story about a computer that both is and isn’t in love with the scientist working with it. “Secondhand Music” by Aleksandra Hill, published in Analog, puts a science-fictional spin on the idea of a transplanted body part “haunting” its recipient and delivers a subtly eerie story as a violinist receives a highly-advanced prosthetic arm formerly belonging to another musician. “Memo­ries of Memories Lost” by Mahmud El Sayed, published in khōréō, is a lovely and painful look at complex family relationships, set in a world where everyone must pay a tax of their memories to the alien invaders who have settled Earth.

“To Carry You Inside You” by Tia Tashiro, pub­lished in Clarkesworld, is a gorgeous and powerful story about a woman who acts as a surrogate for the dead, allowing their loved ones to spend a little more time with them via an implant in her head. “Brincando Charcos (Jumping Puddles)” by Ben Francisco, published in Strange Horizons, is a beautiful story about over­coming fear as two men at the beginning of their relationship discover they both have the power to jump from location to loca­tion through puddles – a necessity as they flee the mysterious strangers in blue suits who have followed them all their lives. “The Sound of Children Screaming” by Rachael K. Jones, published in Nightmare Magazine, takes a brutal look at gun violence and the way children are used as pawns as a group of students and their teacher are pulled through a portal into a fantasy world during a school shooting.

“On the Fox Roads” by Nghi Vo and “Ivy, An­gelica, Bay” by C.L. Polk, both published at Tor.com, are both gorgeously written stories with strong voices, exploring sacrifice and the cost of magic. In one, a young woman trying to get the deed to her family’s store back is caught up with a pair of bank robbers and learns to travel the liminal spaces of the fox roads in order to air in their escapes. In the other, a witch takes on a young apprentice and teaches her to help protect their neighborhood after the girl is seemingly abandoned by her mother. Last, but absolutely not least (see, I told you I had trouble narrowing down my lists), “Homewrecker” by E. Catherine Tobler, published in Apex, is a wonderfully eerie blend of Gothic and Cosmic horror, told through a series of found-footage segments shot for a home improvement show set in a haunted house.

Once again, I feel like I’m merely scratching the surface. There are so many other stories I loved this year, and so many pieces I have yet to read. I am grateful to all the authors, editors, publishers, and my fellow short fiction reviewers, for all their work in 2023 in producing so many wonderful short stories and making sure those stories get into readers’ hands.

Top Ten Stories
“To Carry You Inside You”, Tia Tashiro (Clarkesworld 11/23)
“Brincando Charcos (Jumping Puddles)”, Ben Francisco (Strange Horizons 10/30/23)
“If Someone You Love Has Become a Vurdalak”, Sam J. Miller (The Dark 7/23)
“The Sound of Children Screaming”, Rachael K. Jones (Nightmare 12/23)
“Broodmare”, Flossy Arend (Fantasy 1/23)
“Ivy, Angelica, Bay”, C.L. Polk (Tor.com 12/8/23)
“The Big Glass Box and the Boys Inside”, Isabel J. Kim (Apex 1/23)
“For However Long”, Thomas Ha (khōréō 3.1)
“Secondhand Music”, Aleksandra Hill (Analog 9-10/23)
“Memories of Memories Lost”, Mahmud El Sayed (khōréō 3.2)


A.C. Wise is the author of the novels Wendy, Darling, and Hooked, along with the recent short story collection, The Ghost Sequences. Her work has won the Sunburst Award for Excellence in Canadian Literature of the Fantastic, and has been a finalist for the Nebula Awards, Stoker, World Fantasy, Locus, British Fantasy, Aurora, Lambda, and Ignyte Awards. In addition to her fiction, she contributes a review column to Apex Magazine.


This review and more like it in the February 2024 issue of Locus.

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