64. RED KING by Craig Delancy. Unnamed narrator who goes by the handle “CodeMonkey” is brought in on a police raid to arrest a known hacker named Legion, as the first step in tracking down a murder-causing bit of brain-hacking software called Red King. CodeMonkey experiments with the software to further the investigation. The story is taut, tense, and at points surreal. The author captures the sense of drug-induced paranoia and ego very well.
65. SPARKS FLY by Rich Larson. Arthur is a “spark head,” a person whose body chemistry distorts and destroys electrical systems. Spark Heads are subject to a lot of social stigma. Arthur is very interested in a woman named Christina, but heightened emotions cause his normally good control to falter. The story is both poignant and funny and of course also relatable – because so many of us have been in that position of trying to figure out when to tell the person we have feelings for about some secret shame we carry.
66. WELCOME TO THE MEDICAL CLINIC AT THE INTERPLANETARY RELAY STATION / HOURS SINCE LAST PATIENT DEATH: 0 by Caroline M. Yoachim. Despite the dire title, this is an absolutely hysterical “Choose Your Own Adventure” style story. I giggled my way all the way through it. I don’t want to say much more because part of the humor is in the twists. You really have to experience this story.
67. THE MARS CONVENTION by Timons Esaias. Bureaucrat Gesta attends a conference of Humanophiles on Mars, the closest planet to the now-molten legendary homeworld of humans: Earth. Representatives from nine races gather to debate the historical accuracies and fallacies of the only record Humanity left behind: the printed word, mostly in the form of science fiction novels. This is a great piece of satire aimed at academia and at politicians, a rumination on how historians work, and on the usefulness of scholarly discourse as relates to the sacredness of texts.
68. THE WAITING STARS by Alliete de Bodard. The story of Lan Nhen’s attempt to rescue her great-aunt, the mindship The Turtle’s Citadel, from an Outsider isolation junkyard coincides with the story of Catherine, an Dien Viet girl “rescued” and raised by the Outsiders with no memory of her past. The two plots overlap in multiple ways and of course eventually come together. Both feature strong female characters who expertly counterpoint each other, allowing the story to comment on birth, motherhood, abandonment of the elderly, cultural norms, acceptance of differences, and assimiliation. It’s a lot to pack into one story, and de Bodard is really on her game.
69. THE PREMATURE BURIALS by Andy Duncan. Matthew Preble is obsessed with coffins from the age of eight. As an adult, he marries Charity Gorce. Charity places one condition on their marriage agreement: that when she dies, her husband will be buried next to her. Complications ensue in this expert Gothic-Comedy mash-up. It’s a bit of Poe mingled with a bit of Monty Python without ever veering into broad slapstick.
70. RAT-CATCHER by Seanan McGuire. London, 1666. This is the “secret origin” of Tybalt, King of the Cait Sidhe, from McGuire’s October Daye urban fantasy series. As with so much of McGuire’s series, this story trades heavily on Shakespearean imagery and themes. We see Rand, Prince of Cats, struggle with his role in his father’s court, with his sisters, and with a prophecy that London is about to burn. Rand/Tybalt reminded me very much of Prince Hal/Henry V from Shakespeare’s works. The story has wonderful pacing and drama, strong characterization and character arcs, and sharp dialogue. I’m only two books into the October Daye novels, so I think I can safely say you can read this story without getting hit with any major series spoilers (partly because it’s a prequel, I’m sure).
71. MICHAEL DOESN’T HATE HIS MOTHER by Marie Vibbert. Michael and Julie’s mother is a malfunctioning machine that randomly destroys possessions and tries to trap the children within their home. Michael often escapes to play with friends, but he’s afraid that mother’s violence must eventually come to light. A devastating, pointed tale of child neglect and abuse told in SF terms.
72. MILLER’S WIFE by Mark W. Tiedemann. Egan Ginter’s attempt to get away from a failed relationship lands him at a friend’s cabin in the remote valley town of Saltecroix. His first interactions with the locals are not exactly smooth as he becomes embroiled in the town drama revolving around Brice Miller and his wife Esther. The novella length allows Tiedemann to tease out the mystery and add some ancillary plots and character development to give the reader a sense that the valley is home to a number of interesting people.