Some of the Best From Tor.com: 2016 Edition

★★★★★ (5/5) 

Traumphysik by Monica Byrne

One of the best Tor short stories I’ve read. Solitude and reality of dreamscapes with the Second World War being fought in the background. The reliability of our narrator comes into question increasingly as the story progresses. She is chronicling her lucid dreams but lines of reality are being blurred owing to her isolation.

★★★★★ (5/5)

  • For example, I must count the fingers on my left hand several times a day. The reasoning being that, when I do the same thing out of habit within my dream and come up with a nonstandard result (three fingers, or nine), I will know that I’m dreaming.
  • And now here I stood, wearing the same nightshirt, noticing how MIT stayed MIT. This is the first deviation from known physics in waking reality
  • If Traumphysik is the same from person to person, that suggests the existence of a real physical world to which we collectively travel each night; on the other hand, if Traumphysik varies from person to person, then one’s own Traumphysik must represent the subconscious world in which one lives. One’s own Platonic cave. One’s own fires and figures and shadows
  • I have to conclude that, again, there are forces of gravity in Traumphysik that differ from those in the waking world. Multiple centers, multiple pulls. It is not the earth. It is not the moon. Gravity is fungible.
  • The stars were bright violet sparks, and the sky was deep chocolate brown. The ocean was markedly different, too—pearly and viscous. In waking life, this landscape might appear choked and polluted; as it was, I felt as if this palette were the natural and normal one

Her Scales Shine Like Music by Rajnar Vajra

★★★★★ (5/5)

Oh wow! I’m breathless, speechless. The splendor, the magnificence, the mystique and otherworldliness of this story has me in a state of perpetual awe. Oh how I yearn to be next to the Poet, admiring the leviathan’s exquisite vastness, her alien existence, and pen a few verses of my own as an ode to her. The solitude, the wonder of it all! I am lulled by the stylistic imagery of the author. I hope a visual narrative is carved out of this story which to me seems more entrenched in reality than reality itself. The ending prevails upon the mind long after the last word has been read. I am to remain confounded by it.

  • Humble ice crystals high in the atmosphere often enrich sunsets on this cold world to glory. Mid-twilight, the sky shatters into opalescent shards, painting spectral pastels onto each ripple and wavelet of the vast lake near my shelter
  • I’d lost count somewhere past six hundred when the wind, which had been rattling my shelter and periodically moaning through the tent’s clever tangle of guy wires, stopped so suddenly, the hush felt as though someone had just died. My interest in push-ups dropped to a new low, and I headed outdoors to certify that I wasn’t that someone
  • Another eerie moment. So my titanic companion was no mindless beast, unless she did portraiture by instinct
  • She rose from the lake in the late afternoon like the birth of some alien oversized Venus, and swiftly fashioned a new sculpture, a near-perfect replica of the chair currently supporting me
  • No mime had ever conveyed longing so plainly
  • All this affected me profoundly. I kept gazing up at that dot as if in a glorious dream, wrapped in a memory of magnificence, my spirit so nourished that, for this blessed time, I didn’t think what her departure would mean for me

The City Born Great by N. K. Jemisin

★★★★☆ (4/5)

  • I sing the city. Fucking city. I stand on the rooftop of a building I don’t live in and spread my arms and tighten my middle and yell nonsense ululations at the construction site that blocks my view. I’m really singing to the cityscape beyond. The city’ll figure it out
  • I stop and turn back and frown and listen, ’cause for a moment I hear something both distant and intimate singing back at me, basso-deep. Sort of coy
  • I don’t stink, but these people can smell anybody without a trust fund from a mile away
  • I’m painting a hole. It’s like a throat that doesn’t start with a mouth or end in lungs; a thing that breathes and swallows endlessly, never filling
  • Or perhaps there will be a stillbirth—the shell of the city surviving to possibly grow again in the future but its vital spark snuffed for now, like New Orleans—but that will still kill you, either way. You are the catalyst, whether of strength or destruction
  • He says, “The harbingers of the enemy will hide among the city’s parasites. Beware of them.”
  • But around these two, the shadows pool and curl as if they stand beneath their own private, roiling thundercloud
  • Daddy would’ve said it was okay—tears mean you’re alive—but Daddy’s dead. And I’m alive
  • The Enemy uses this anchor to drag itself up from the dark toward the world, toward the warmth and light, toward the defiance that is me, toward the burgeoning wholeness that is my city
  • The Enemy is as quintessential to nature as any city. We cannot be stopped from becoming, and the Enemy cannot be made to end

That Game We Played During the War by Carrie Vaughn

★★★★★ (5/5)

  • On the other hand, she always felt that if the Enithi and Gaantish all took off their uniforms they would look the same: naked. One of the workmen at the top of a ladder, pliers in hand to wire a new light, choked as she thought this, and glanced at her. A few others were blushing, hiding grins. She smiled. Another blow struck for peace.
  • they would never see eye to eye and would always fight over the same spit of land between their two continents. But their differences were simple, one might say: only in their minds
  • The Gaantish didn’t have to see someone to see their thoughts—a blind Gaant was still telepathic. But looking was polite, as in any conversation. And it was intimidating, in an interrogation
  • Instead she answered, “We were not treated badly.”They were treated appropriately. War necessitated prisoners

Everything That Isn’t Winter by Margaret Killjoy

★★★★★ (5/5)

  • Songs that transport us from the world of the living to that liminal place of both battle and sex, where we make and take life
  • I wasn’t really curious but I preferred to listen to her speak than listen to my heart beat arrhythmically like it always did after I shot somebody. Doc says it’s just jitters, what some of the old books call generalized anxiety. I say it’s me getting off light, karmically speaking
  • I got the children and the infirm into the bomb shelter—a hundred-year-old relic of a paranoid generation that had been right about the apocalypse, just wrong about its timing—then set out organizing an all-hands watch
  • I liked to think I knew the difference between the evil and the desperate, and those two had just been desperate
  • It made sense to capture our holdings. Whomever I was running off to try to shoot, I didn’t understand them. If you know your enemy and you know yourself, you need not fear one hundred battles. If you know yourself and not your enemy, you will lose as often as you win. If you know neither yourself nor your enemy, you will never know victory.
  • Evil isn’t something we do to one another, it’s the way in which we do it, it’s why we do it.
  • All eyes and all guns were on me, which I wanted—within a certain, very limited, understanding of the word “want.”
  • I’d loved him half my life, the half that mattered
  • I went down the concrete steps into the bomb shelter. It was full of people, and they were hurt and scared and they wanted to talk to me but they all had the distinct disadvantage of not being Khalil
  • Smoke drifted up from the ruins of our home, and love was something in my gut and it made me want to live.

The Caretakers by David Nickle

★★★★☆ (4/5)

  • But in her consideration, she trembled, and her thumb brushed near enough, and just like that, the decision was made
  • Miss Erish didn’t care for calls, in or out, during a meeting: it disrupted the foci as she put it. It was a dilution.
  • It caught me afire; that is how it was. On fire in the midst of extinguishing waters. Do you think you will suffocate if you keep that up?
  • Miss Erish sat quietly for a moment, then delicately lifted the tablet so the yellow light from its screen climbed her torso like a dismal sunrise and finally illuminated her face, the eyes casting ravenously as if from the barren solitude of a tomb

The Three Lives of Sonata James by Lettie Prell

★★★★★ (5/5)

  • Only the poor are having babies anymore. Everyone else is hanging on to their money for themselves, for their newbodies.
  • Sonata rose from the table where she’d been created. Her movements were effortlessly smooth, without core muscles clenching in the belly or the dull thud of feet striking the floor
  • Miller touched her arm lightly, a sensation of coolness against coolness, slightly metallic yet yielding
  • and wondered how negative emotions like fear sloughed away while this transcendent feeling lingered. Epicurus himself would’ve been jealous of her attainment, she thought, this newfound peacefulness born of an absence of bodily pain. Most people who hadn’t taken philosophy didn’t get what hedonism was really all about, and until tonight, she had had book knowledge only
  • There was no longer a need to eat or drink, but an NB took up space. It was only fair to pay.
  • It was strange to be living in the future, amidst the past.
  • We occupy the same space, but we live in different worlds. No relationships can last across that gulf
  • When any species is confined to an overcrowded space, the stress can cause them to attack one another
  • And in every one of these cycles of human life there will be one hour where, for the first time one man, and then many, will perceive the mighty thought of the eternal recurrence of all things: and for mankind this is always the hour of Noon

The Weight of Memories by Cixin Liu

★★★★☆ (4/5)

  • For example, many cognitive patterns we call “instincts”—such as a spider’s knowledge of how to weave a web or a bee’s understanding of how to construct a hive—are really just inherited memories. The newly discovered inheritance of memory in humans is even more complete than in other species. The amount of information involved is too high to be passed down through the genetic code; instead, the memories are coded at the atomic level in the DNA, through quantum states in the atoms
  • Mother: I don’t blame you for being wary, Dr. Ying. But I participated in this experiment willingly. I want to be born a second time
  • A person’s memories are like a book, and different readers will experience different feelings. It’s a terrible thing to allow an unborn child to read such a heavy, bleak book.
  • He was completely unprepared for the long, winding road of life ahead of him, and thus ready for anything.

The Destroyer by Tara Isabella Burton

★★★★☆ (4/5)

  • Long before my mother destroyed the world, her experiments were quieter, more contained. They did not obliterate continents. They did not rack up the dead
  • and everything I ever was or would become was threaded in me already, and manifest in her.
  • Like them I had the power to disappoint her.
  • There is a caesura between all that was and all that is, between the city I loved and the city that I know now, between my mother’s city and my own
  • I will walk out into the world she has left for me, and then with two sticks and a match I will build her up again.

Lullaby for a Lost World by Aliette de Bodard

★★★★☆ (4/5)

  • They bury you at the bottom of the gardens—what’s left of you, pathetic and small and twisted so out of shape it hardly seems human anymore. The river, dark and oily, licks at the ruin of your flesh—at your broken bones—and sings you to sleep in a soft, gentle language like a mother’s lullabies, whispering of rest and forgiveness, of a place where it is forever light, forever safe.
  • But then he rises, and it’s as if a curtain had been drawn across his face, casting everything in a sharper, merciless light; and once more he is the dapper, effortlessly elegant master of the house, the man who keeps it all together by sheer strength of will
  • your name becomes like you; buried, broken, and forgotten

meat+drink by Daniel Polansky

★★★★☆ (4/5)

  • many (most?) of the things that you think are your mind are really your flesh. anger is the heart beating faster. fear is the stomach tightening and untightening. lust is blood swelling between your legs
  • flesh is ever-changing, flesh is self-aware. meat is insentient, meat is stagnant. flesh is a part of you and maybe the greater part, but meat is something you carry along like a knapsack.
  • perhaps it is only that sometimes misery seems to ease when spread about, or that spreading it seems to provide some purpose to the misery

The Weather by Caighlan Smith

★★★★☆ (4/5)

  • A woman comes in, her skin the color of caramelized onions and her hair a dark cocoa pulsing with yellow highlights. The flesh of her face is stretched taut, as if she’s pinned all the wrinkles back behind her ears, except for the crow’s feet at her eyes, which are more like sparrow’s feet
  • There are two rusted nails sticking out of her lips like she’s some kind of bucktoothed vampire. Spotting Lolly, she pauses in hammering and tilts her head to the other end of the board she’s nailing over the porch window. Taking the cue, Lolly goes to hold up the board as her mother plucks out a fang
  • They carry two apiece, one under each arm, and Lolly can feel the splinters planting in her flesh. She starts to count them, then starts to count the number of hammer swings it takes to get in a nail, then starts to count the more violent bzzzts of the zapper. Anything but counting the numbers of boards and windows
  • and if you don’t catch the disease fast enough, something in their dead brains will click to life long enough to say ‘this one isn’t getting sick’ and then the storm will overtake you, because if it can’t have you, it won’t leave you breathing

A Dead Djinn in Cairo by P. Djeli Clark

★★★★★ (5/5)

  • Cairene men, despite their professed modernity, were still uncomfortable working alongside a woman. And they expressed their unease in peculiar, awkward ways
  • He drove his beast at a slow trot, as if in defiance of the modernity that surrounded him.
  • Fatma was born into the world al-Jahiz left behind: a world transformed by magic and the supernatural. The djinn, especially, took to the age, their penchant for building yielding more wonders than could be counted
  • It will take the measure of the very transition of time. Not just here, but across space and distance, bringing together all of time in this one place. It shall be the greatest clock in this world, or perhaps any other
  • There’ll be more than enough paperwork to do in the morning. The modern world loves paperwork
  • It’s better stated by saying that he unlocked a door by finding a particular moment in space and time unique to the Kaf. That, in turn, weakened the barriers of other worlds, allowing magic and beings beyond the djinn to find their way into this one. There are worlds upon worlds that exist
  • Bright fluid like the blood of a star poured from the wounds
  • Fatma wondered if what she looked upon now were many beings, or merely the appendage of one dipping into their world

Your Orisons May Be Recorded by Laurie Penny

★★★★☆ (4/5)

  • I knew the names of all the stars, and I wouldn’t tell them to him. I couldn’t. It would have driven him mad, and he would have ended up wandering the streets with the beggars and the crazed soothsayers.
  • Gremory is a demon, so he’s allowed to laugh at the unfortunate, including the unfortunately-named.
  • They’re always on their knees begging for things they want rather than asking for things they need
  • That’s not quite true. They remember the calls in snatches, like the dregs of dreams you can’t touch with your tongue, draining away. A sense of something profound, whether it’s redemption or frustration, vanishing on the edge of vision
  • He was tortured by the impulse to understand everything. A fatal condition in humans
  • We’re not allowed to smite wrongdoers with great vengeance, or even moderate vengeance
  • Gremory once laid waste to an entire city-state in Sumer and made its rivers flow with gore. He’s calmed down a bit now, and I think he’s happier for it. I’m envious
  • “I want you to stay,” he says, “but I need you to leave.”

Breaking Water by Indrapramit Das

★★★★☆ (4/5)

  • The sun emerged over the rooftops of Kolkata, a peeled orange behind the smoky veil of monoxides, its twin crawling over the river
  • Their hatred for these creatures, these once-humans, was immediate and visceral. After all, every walking corpse on that ghat was a remnant of crimes they’d never solved or missing persons they never found
  • The thing about the reality of the undead is that we can now see the afterlife. We live in it. And we share that afterlife with its dead inhabitants, who walk among us. But we can’t talk to them, and they can’t talk to us. That truly is the most exquisite, atheistic hell

Autobiography of a Traitor and a Half-Savage by Alix E. Harrow

★★★★☆ (4/5)

  • But Clayton was not a foolish man. He saw me the way a surgeon might see a body, all my fragile nerves exposed on the operating table, neatly labeled arteries pumping love and hate in equal measures through my limbs. But he didn’t know, didn’t yet see the carved out hole where my heart had been. I was a prisoner with the key held beneath my tongue, waiting for my moment
  • They spent their time tending their spite like a well-made fire, my three aunts, hating every trace of the East that leaked across the river. Including me.
  • I wrote pages and pages here about the intricate trials of a mapmaker’s labor—the lonely half-lives we lead among the Easterners, the way our own languages grow heavy and strange in our mouths, and especially the terrible stillness we bring to the land, like a kind of dying. But I tore those pages out and sent their ragged-edged bodies floating down some nameless creek
  • Each of them relying on the moment when someone like me might close her eyes and hold an image of the land still in her mind, feeling its endless permutations but soothing it like a fractious horse, settling on only one place.
  • “Is there some kind of problem?” His voice had that dangerous drawl to it, the deceptive laze of a predator.
  • Mapmakers don’t make the land; we only hold fast to whichever shape it gives us. I walked forward
  • Ira’s face seemed too fragile to hold a twelve-year-old’s unfettered glee, as if his huge smile might crack him in half
  • Every bone in the trees shuddered in unison. The path disappeared. Tables and tools were swept away by purple vines writhing snakelike across the ground. The gentle loam was replaced by poison-colored flowers and thorny shrubs crouching in the shadows. Instead of dense black branches above us it was open sky, glowing a dull orange as if some distant city were aflame. The earth writhed beneath our feet like the hide of a monstrous horse, resettling itself in a different shape none of us had ever seen
  • the entire process of mapmaking is about civilizing the land, and teaching it to recognize its truest form. But I disagree; I’ve always felt mapmaking is about believing in the solidity of a place, and the paintings help Easterners drive out their doubts
  • It is my suspicion that travel writings from those few brave souls who wander into unsettled territory are the first steps toward conquest. Their words create an image in our minds of a still, singular place
  • Growing up, people hissed that I was born to be a mapmaker, being half of one thing and half the other. In our language, the word for mapmaker is also the word for traitor

Terminal by Lavie Tidhar

★★★★☆ (4/5)

  • At first, Mei slept and woke up to a regiment of day and night, but a month out of Earth orbit, the old order began to slowly crumble, and now she sleeps and wakes when she wants, making day and night appear as if by magic, by a wave of her hand
  • These hypothetical people, not yet born, already laying demands to his time, his being. To be human is to exist in potentia, unborn responsibilities rising like butterflies in a great big obscuring cloud
  • Across the swarm’s radio network, the muezzin in A-5011 sends out the call to prayer, the singsong words so beautiful that Mei stops, suspended in mid air, and breathes deeply, her chest rising and falling steadily, space all around her
  • but at long last everything they ever knew and owned is gone and then there is only the jalopy confines, only that and the stars in the window and the voice of the swarm

Clover by Charlie Jane Anders

★★★☆☆ (3/5)

  • Anwar didn’t want to live in fear, so instead, he lived in the sweet spot between paranoia and rage
  • He felt ten years older outdoors than indoors
  • Some time later, Anwar cried into his knees on the couch. He smelled wrong—pungent and kind of rotten, instead of like nice soap and hops. He was all shrunk inward, in the opposite of the ready-to-pounce stance that Berkley had pulled his whole body into when he’d been preparing to jump on Clover
  • “So listen. I suck at giving advice. But the absence of good luck is not bad luck. It’s just … life.”

The Maiden Thief by Melissa Marr

★★★☆☆ (3/5)

  • “There was a fox in the garden the morning Karis disappeared, possibly the day that the accident happened too. I sneezed those days. What ripples we see are not always causes.”
  • The Maiden Thief has never taken two daughters from the same family. That, at least, gives me a horrible comfort.
  • I am grateful that my father chose to deny me comfort. Their callousness made me strong enough to survive this day

The High Lonesome Frontier by Rebecca Campbell

★★★☆☆ (3/5)

  • If one was to write a song about the moon, he thought, one should think of its true nature: its distance from earth, out there among the meteors and comets; one should consider the luminiferous aether through which it sailed
  • Somewhere out there someone—a sort of person we can’t imagine—could raise their hand or whatever into space and use the same sort of tech to catch the thin, ancient hiss of a human voice, stretched to nothing by distance, but persistent in the darkness

The Art of Space Travel by Nina Allan

★★★☆☆ (3/5)

  • There’s something a bit sad about Benny underneath all his bullshit. I don’t mean sad in the sense of pathetic, I mean genuinely sad, sorrowful and bemused at the same time, as if he’d been kidnapped out of one life and set to work in another
  • It’s all still inside, I know it—everything she was, everything she knows, still packed tight inside her head like old newspapers packed into the eaves of an old house. Yellowing and crumpled, yes, but still telling their stories
  • The last thing you want is to be tied to someone who’s always wishing he’d chosen a different path
  • Sometimes I believe it’s the airport itself, and Sipson, both the kind of non-places that keep you addicted to transience, the restless half-life of the perpetual traveller who never goes anywhere
  • In leaving this world, she makes me feel more properly a part of it

La Beauté sans vertu by Genevieve Valentine

★★★☆☆ (3/5)

  • That’s how a girl gets noticed by an agency to start with, by having that sharp, necessary stride where the head stays fixed and the rest of her limbs seem to clatter in that careless way that makes the clothes look four times more expensive than they are.
  • The choreographer—he has a name, but no one dares use it when speaking of him, lest he appear before they’ve corrected their posture—thinks carefully for a long time
  • There should always be more to look at than anyone can catch, that sense of being doomed to miss something wonderful; that’s how a presentation becomes a show.
  • Centifolia signed girls for life; casualties were a cost of doing business

A Fist of Permutations in Lightning and Wildflowers by Alyssa Wong

★★☆☆☆ (2/5)

  • She could split the horizon in two if she wanted, opening it at the seams as deftly as a tailor, and make the lightning curl catlike at her wrist and purr for her
  • She drew the picture for me in the air, a map of sparkling futures, constants, and variables; closed circuits of possibilities looped together, arcing from one timeline to another
  • It was sunset, and the flat, highway-veined city was just beginning to glimmer with electric light, civilization pulsing across the ground in arteries, in fractals
  • I would give you only the best things. The kindness you deserved, the body you wanted, a way out that didn’t end with the horizon line ripped open, possibilities pouring out like loose stuffing, my world shrieking to a halt
  • Her tears fall into my eyes, sizzling and evaporating on contact, as the sky yawns above us, hungry, broken.

The Great Detective by Delia Sherman

★★☆☆☆ (2/5)

  • Angharad launched into a thoroughly seventeenth-century rodomontade on the subject of the encroaching ways of the lower classes when given the least measure of power
  • To Ethel, the workshop was a wilderness of tiny objects she was not allowed to move. To Tacy, it was a model of Sir Arthur’s mind and hers. She knew precisely where she might lay her hand on any tool or paper she needed
  • Grateful, for once, for the masculine prejudice that dismisses all females as more or less decorative featherbrains, Tacy wandered to the back of the shop, where a promising-looking ledger stood open upon a high desk

Finnegan’s Field by Angela Slatter

★☆☆☆☆ (1/5)

  • No clues, no evidence, as if she’d simply evaporated surely as dew on a flower petal when the sun hits.
  • if Anne squinted, she seemed to see a ghostly outline around her daughter. A shadow-shape that was slightly larger than Madrigal and a split second slower, as if just out of synch so that when she swung about, ran, jumped, and skipped, there was the blur like a butterfly’s wing in her wake, but only for the slenderest of moments
  • And the little girl’s smile seemed simultaneously too quick and too slow, as if it also carried its own spectre, leaving a short-lived smear as it slid into place

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