My November reading got cut short by some health problems, but I still crossed several amazing short pieces. Since October, I've started a tradition of linking to the best free short fiction and non-fiction pieces I read in a given month. Most of these were published in November (naturally), but selections can come from anytime, so long as there is no paywall between the reader and the story.
I'm always looking for more great stories. If you have anything you've been loving, please link me up in the comments.
Also, this feature needs a better title. Please rattle off ideas if you have them.
"The Game of Smash and Recovery" by Kelly Link at Strange Horizons
-That Link magic kicks in after half a paragraph, when you realize Anat isn't just an adoring little sister, but a flamethrower-wielding vampire hunter. Possibly part of the last duo on earth. In such short scenes it alternates between dark and funny (the vampires might be stranded aliens?), bittersweet (she longs to meet her absent parents, and dreads her brother disappearing), and legitimately sweet (those birthdays, though). I adore how all the bits come together. Link remains one of the greatest short story writers I've ever read, doubly admirable for continually trying the hard things and making them look easy.
"Dispatches From a Hole in the World" by Sunny Moraine at Nightmare Magazine
-Trigger Warning for Suicide. This is a story about a viral epidemic of suicides that science has so far failed to figure out or combat. The grant student goes through case after gruesome case, gradually being worn down by the awful things she studies, and we fear she'll be infected by whatever this thing is. Could despair itself be a villain of Horror?
"The Customer Is Always Right" by Anna Salonen at Mothership Zeta
-One of those successful all-dialogue stories that pulls off the sense of things actually happening while all you get is chatter. Also, death rays! It's the story of a customer service call for a malfunctioning death ray and just gets funnier as it goes along.
"Horror Story" by Carmen Maria Machado at Granta
-After all the Horror I've read, why did I relish a short that's mostly about figuring out what creepy crawly was stalking their apartment? Because Machado's story uses those tropes to deliver something else entirely at the end. She unfurls her idea slowly and assuredly, through gradual hints of a drain malfunctioning, of escalating blame, in a tight package that hands off to an abrupt and highly unusual ending.
"Everything is Miscellaneous: Why Publishing Needs Tagging" by Michael R. Underwood at Boing Boing
-There are more books in print today than you could ever read, so we need better methods of discoverability. Underwood recommends adopting fanfic-like tagging systems, with idea clouds identifying this novel has Dinosaurs, Coca Cola Product Placement, and Steamy Sex Scenes. It works for Trigger Warnings (hold your outrage; they're useful to people with actual psychological triggers), but are also greatly useful in finding books to meet your specific mood. Amazon has pushed its sub-categories, but the book-space still needs more robust discoverability options. It's an excellent proposal.
"How to be a Genderqueer Feminist" by Laurie Penny at Buzzfeed
-Feminism is supposed to be about equity for all, but historically has had trouble supporting anyone but cis white women. It's getting better, and discussions like this one are why. Here is a beautiful article about someone who identifies as neither male nor female, who believes passionately in some of Feminism, but whose identity is met with hostility by many adherents. It's food for compassion and expanding dogmas.
"Indonesia plans prison guarded by crocodiles for drug convicts" by Kesavan Unnikrishnah at Digital Journal
-"It’s not a human rights violation when a crocodile does the killing," says Slamet Pribadi, proposing a prison guarded by crocodiles. If you want to read it and gape in horror or laugh at the absurdity, it works for both. This, the Inodesian government believes, will be safer because unlike human guards, crocodiles can't be bribed.
"Campus Activists Weaponize 'Safe Space'" by Conor Friedersdorf at The Atlantic
-Breaking down the recorded instance of Tim Tai, an Asian American photographer who was bullied by a crowd of fellow students into not photographing events in a public space. They demanded he not touch them while marching towards him, said he had no right to photograph them (and ignored when he explained the First Amendment), and claimed the space was only for students despite the photographer being a student at the university. Tai was contracted for the work by ESPN, an outlet the protesters dislike, and so bent every rule available to themselves to intimidate him. Safe Space policies are necessary and indispensable, but it's important to consider how they can be abused as we move forward.
"How Binding of Isaac fans ended up digging holes in Santa Ana, California" by Patrick Klepek at Kotaku
-The Binding of Isaac is a videogame that's gained a cult following for being weird, but its latest expansion took that further. Fans suspected there were hidden levels, enemies, and characters locked away with no sign of how to reach them. Players dug up files from inside the game itself and followed the developer's cryptic tweets until they were combing real-life wilderness and amusement parks for clues over what was in the game. You dream of engaging with your audience that profoundly.