After a whirlwind August (more travel and projects than either of your trusty reviewers can count) we’re back at the very end of September. The deluge of excellent short spec fic means that sometimes I don’t have time to cover some of my favorites in as much depth as I’d like with a busy schedule, and it especially means compiling year-end best-of lists is going to be extremely daunting. So I’m taking this opportunity to talk briefly–very briefly!–about ten or so of my favorites up to this point. I’m only including things published before August; I’ll do another at the end of the year, and a roundup post. But it’s easy to forget things that come in January and April, even if they’re lovely, and none of these should be overlooked. This isn’t meant to be an exhaustive list; I’m sure I’ve forgotten some work I’ve loved. But it gets a conversation started about what I’m enjoying and what, if anything, binds these works together.
This week’s story is “21 Steps to Enlightenment” by LaShawn M. Wanak. Published February 2014 in Strange Horizons, it can be found here: http://www.strangehorizons.com/2014/20140203/steps-f.shtml
Continuing last week’s theme of “elaborately structured speculative fiction with numerals in the title”, Wanak’s story immediately sank its hooks into me when I discovered it.
Coming to—or re-entering—the world of SFF very late, I’m aware there’s a lot of great fiction out there that I’ve missed and which generated a lot of buzz when it was published. Most of of my access to pre-2015 speculative fiction comes in the form of deep diving into the bibliographies of authors where I’ve found something I loved; sometimes, though, I find myself leafing through old issues of Clarkesworld and Tor and Strange Horizons.
Which is great, because sometimes you find gems like “21 Steps to Enlightenment”. It’s a piece of magical realism which explores the idea of spiral staircases that simply appear in the world, and that hold dizzying epiphanies at the tops for their climbers. Mostly, Isa narrates, in a series of vignettes and meditations, her own experiences with these structures. How they’ve affected her, how they affect other people. And slowly, the story of her family unfolds; the complex telling of a generational history.
I’ll confess from the outset that I love these sort of deliberate, separated structures.