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Fantasy and Steampunk

Tower of Babylon

Tower of Babylon book cover

The is an excellent re-imagining of the biblical story of the tower of Babylon, told from the viewpoint of a miner called in to help tunnel through to the vault of heaven once the tower has reached it. To tell you more would ruin the joy of this book, but I recommend it highly.

Author: 

Ted Chiang

Dragon Sisters

Dragon Sisters

This is the story of a girl, a daughter of an Emperor, who is starting to learn how to navigate and survive palace intrigue, and the dragon who comes to help her. The story's pacing felt a bit odd to me at times, but that didn't detract from my enjoyment of it, and I wondered if what was odd to me was normal in the Chinese culture in which this story is set. Pacing that feels odd to me is a small price to pay for expanding the perspectives I read, and the story itself is quite good.

Author: 

Joyce Chng

In Her Head, In Her Eyes

In Her Head, In Her Eyes

This is an intriguing retelling of a Japanese fairy tale. A translation of the original tale is included, and reading it for comparison does add to your appreciation of the retelling, but the retelling also stands on its own as an interesting, if a bit odd, short story. It is set in a fascinating world, too, and my only complaint is that the world did not feel completely imagined. Even in a short ebook, the world-building can feel complete, if not completely explored. In this book, the world felt like a sketch of what it could be.

Author: 

Yukimi Ogawa

Untethered

This is a fun anthology of stories that all feature an iPhone with some extra capabilities. The magic the iPhones perform varies widely across the stories, and part of the fun of the anthology is seeing all the different ways the authors address the theme. The stories are all interesting and well-written, too, and work on their own and not just as part of the anthology. All in all, this is a a great book to pick up if you're in the mood for some diverting fantasy that might just make you look at your smartphone in a slightly different light.

Author/Editor: 

Janine A. Southard

The Drowning Eyes

The Drowning Eyes book cover

This is a thoroughly enjoyable novella about a young woman who buys passage on a small fishing boat with a rag-tag crew, and sets off on a quest we come to understand is incredibly important and dangerous. The characters are delightful, and the world is interesting and believable. It is not fully described, but that feels more like room for future exploration than an absence in this story. The plot is perhaps not up to the level of the rest of the writing, but it is not ridiculous, either, and overall this book is well worth your time.

Author: 

Emily Foster

Engraved on the Eye

This is a collection of fantasy short stories, all of which contain some element of Islam or the Middle East. Beyond that one unifying aspect, though, the stories are wide-ranging, encompassing a cowboy story, a story set in modern LA, a story set in the far future, and stories set in fantasy worlds. All of the stories are well told, inventive, and entertaining, and while some are stronger than others, even the weakest story is fun to read.

Author/Editor: 

Saladin Ahmed

Your Orisons May Be Recorded

Your Orisons May Be Recorded

What if your prayers were answered by a call center staffed with angels and demons? That is the premise of this charming short story. It is at times funny, at times achingly true about the human condition, and at times both at once. I can't tell you much about the plot without giving away part of the charm of the story, but it is short and just $0.99, so you can just buy it and see for yourself. Note that there is some strong language, sex, and other adult themes. It has a light-hearted tone, but is not really a light-hearted story.

Author: 

Laurie Penny

The Lilies of Dawn

The Lilies of Dawn book cover

This is the story of a young woman who has to find strength she didn't know she had to save her village and her people. Kai's village relies on the yearly harvest of dawn lilies, but that harvest is being decimated by mysterious cranes. Kai would normally turn to her mother, the Dawn Priestess for advice and leadership, but her mother is in the grips of an illness that only the dawn lily harvest can cure, so Kai must find her way on her own. It is a beautifully written and well-paced novelette that is a true joy to read.

Author: 

Vanessa Fogg

As Good As New

As Good As New book cover

This is a fun story about a woman who is the sole survivor of an apocalypse. Really! To tell you much more about the plot of this light-hearted short story would ruin some of the fun, so I won't do that. But if you enjoy speculative fiction at all, this short story is worth your time.

Author: 

Charlie Jane Anders

A Dead Djinn in Cairo

A Dead Djinn in Cairo book cover

This is a fast-paced mystery set in Cairo, in a world in which a portal has been opened allowing magical creatures like djinn to coexist with humans. Fatma is an investigator with the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities, called in to investigate a dead djinn. The plot unfolds from there much like a "regular" mystery/action story, but set in a world that is as interesting as the mystery. This story has some aspects of alternate history, some aspects of steampunk, some aspects of fantasy...

Author: 

P. Djeli Clark

The Devil You Know

The Devil You Know

The most famous philosopher in the world wants to sell his soul to buy 20 more years for his work, and the demon sent to complete the transaction is suspicious that he's trying to pull a trick of some sort. But what? The "mystery" aspect of the plot is fun, and the fantasy world in which the action is set is interesting (particularly for the glimpses of the bureaucracy of Hell...) but the real joy in this novella is the character of the demon and what the attempt to understand the philosopher's motives does to him.

Author: 

K.J. Parker

The World That Forgot How to Dance

The World That Forgot How to Dance book cover

This story is set in a world where dancing can summon magic, and where both the dancing and the magic are banned. The story follows a young woman who loves to dance, and wants to bring it back into the world. Her first attempt to do this goes wrong, and she ends up in jail. There, she meets a fellow prisoner who makes her change how she thinks about her experience, which sets in motion events that will force her to confront her fears and find strengths she didn't know she had.

Author: 

Olivia Berrier

The Terracotta Bride

The Terracotta Bride book cover

Once I started reading this wonderful story, I could not stop. It is set in the afterlife, with characters whose main goal is to avoid rebirth, because that is the ultimate end of their selves. The main character is a woman who died young, and who is married off to a wealthy long-time resident of the tenth court of hell. When her husband brings home a new bride, it sets a chain of events in motion that changes how she views essentially everything.

Author: 

Zen Cho

The SEA Is Ours

This is a collection of steampunk short stories set in Southeast Asia, written and edited by Southeast Asian authors. It takes steampunk beyond its usual setting of pseudo-Victorian England or America, and opens it up to the wider world. Half of the fun of this collection is exploring the different worlds invented in these stories- they are interesting and well built. The other half of the fun is the stories themselves, which are generally well-plotted and well told.

Author/Editor: 

Jaymee Goh

Joyce Chng

The Devil in America

The Devil in America book cover

This is a beautifully told and heart-breaking story of a girl who has powers she does not fully understand. The powers run in her family, but most knowledge of them was lost when the family was brought to America as slaves. The story takes place during Reconstruction, and Wilson expertly weaves his fantasy into the all too horrific real events of the time—and although the story is firmly rooted in the past, it echoes into our time, as well.

Author: 

Kai Ashante Wilson

The Floral Underworld

The Floral Underworld book cover

This is a fun, well-written steampunk story. It has the action-packed plot and hint of romance that I've come to associate with the genre. The best thing, though, is the world the author has created, in which technology as well as much of the culture is based on plants. As much as I enjoyed the story itself, if I go on to read the other books in the series, it will largely be because I find this world fascinating, and want to spend more time in it.

Author: 

E.A. Deverell

Joy to the Worlds

The unifying theme of this fun collection of speculative fiction stories is Christmas, but each story has a completely different approach to the theme. Also, no story is dominated by the theme, so these stories would be as fun to read in June as they are in December. All of the stories are well-written and enjoyable. Some are darker than others, but none kept me awake at night, and a couple were quite light-hearted, making this a great holiday-time read.

Author/Editor: 

Maia Chance

Janine A. Southard

Raven Oak

G. Clemans

The Pauper Prince and the Eucalyptus Jinn

The Pauper Prince and the Eucalyptus Jinn book cover

This is a really enjoyable and unusual book. At first, I thought this was going to be a fairy tale like story, told as a reminiscence from a grandfather, but then it turned into a story of a young man finding his own place in the world away from his family, And then it turned again- one of the delights of this book is that you never really know what is coming next. The plot held my attention through all the turns, and I was rooting for the main character to figure it all out, whatever I thought "it" was at that point in the story.

Author: 

Usman T. Malik

Kia and Gio

This is an urban fantasy story, but at its heart it is a story about love and loss, and learning to move on. It is also beautifully written, with interesting and believable characters. In short, it is definitely worth your time.

Author: 

Daniel José Older

Elephants and Corpses

Elephants and Corpses book cover

This action-packed short story is set in a world in which people can learn how to inhabit corpses and others can learn to talk to the dead. The world-building is wonderful, particularly for such a short story, and the characters are interesting and believable. The plot follows a corpse-jumper and his assistant as they struggle to deal with the consequences when someone takes an interest in their most recently acquired corpse.

Author: 

Kameron Hurley

The Steampowered Globe

This is a collection of steampunk stories set in Singapore and Malaysia, written by local authors. The stories are inventive and fun to read. This collection is definitely worth your time if you like steampunk.

Author/Editor: 

Rosemary Lim

Maisarah Bte Abu Samah

Firestarter Yukawa

Firestarter Yukawa book cover

This is a wonderful, character-driven story, translated from the Japanese. It reminds me a bit of film noir: The main character is an average guy, trying to get by in a life that hasn't given him many advantages, but then a beautiful and somewhat mysterious young woman rents one of the small rooms in the apartment building he manages, and strange and disturbing things start happening.

Author: 

Eiichi Nakata

The Assassin and the Underworld: A Throne of Glass Novella

The Assassin and the Underworld book cover

This is another installment in the action-packed and fun Throne of Glass novella series. It has all of the same elements of the earlier books: fast-paced plot, likable main characters, and witty dialogue. If you've read and liked the earlier installments, you'll almost certainly enjoy this one, too. If you're new to the series, The Assassin and the Pirate Lord is the first book, although The Assassin and the Desert is still my favorite.

Author: 

Sarah J. Maas

Claimed

Claimed book cover

This is the fourth installment in the Flash Gold series. If you've enjoyed the other installments, you'll enjoy this one, too. If you haven't tried the series yet, and think that a fast-paced, fun, smart-alecky steampunk action adventure sounds like a good read, you could start here (the story stands on its own), but do yourself a favor and start with Flash Gold, the first book in the series. Don't worry, you'll find yourself reading this installment before you know it.

Author: 

Lindsay Buroker

Long Hidden

This is a fantastic collection of speculative fiction stories, all featuring characters that are often excluded from the stories we read. It is the sort of collection that you want to both devour and read slowly, because each story demands some time to settle before you go on to the next, and each new story pulls you into its world, which is completely believable and completely different from the world of the last story. I have picked a favorite story, but it was difficult, because the stories were all so good. If you like speculative fiction, you should not miss this collection.

Author/Editor: 

Rose Fox

Daniel José Older

Her Windowed Eyes, Her Chambered Heart

Her Windowed Eyes, Her Chambered Heart book cover

This is a fun steampunk short story set in an alternative history America in which phlogiston actually exists and powers all sorts of machines- even robots like one of the main characters. The story follows two Pinkerton agents in their attempt to bring in a fugitive. The characters are interesting, the alternative world is well-drawn, and the plot is paced such that you'll want to read the entire story in one sitting.

Author: 

Cat Rambo

Burning Girls

Burning Girls cover

Magic and history combine in this engrossing story of two Jewish sisters who flee Poland to come to America, only to find that the demon they thought they'd left behind came, too.

Author: 

Veronica Schanoes

The Martini of Destiny

The Martini of Destiny

This is a page-turner of a story, set in an intriguing world in which certain bartenders can nudge their patrons towards their fates. The story follows what happens when a mysterious stranger comes into the bar of one such bartender. The ending leaves you hanging a bit, but the story is fun enough that I forgave that, and will just look for the next installment in the series.

Author: 

Anthony St. Clair

Requiem Duet, Concerto for Flute and Voodoo

Requiem Duet, Concerto for Flute and Voodoo

This story about a teenage girl struggling to fit in at a new school is also a beautiful story about learning to accept and cope with grief.

Author: 

Eugie Foster

Peacemaker

Peacemaker book cover

This is another fun and satisfying entry in the Flash Gold series. If you liked the earlier entries (Flash Gold and Hunted), you'll like this one, too. If you've never tried steampunk and are curious about the genre, this is an excellent series to try.

Author: 

Lindsay Buroker

Hunted

Hunted

This is the second book in a series that starts with Flash Gold, and it is just as much fun as the first book. The characters introduced in Flash Gold continue to develop in believable ways, and the plot is fast-paced and full of swashbuckling fun.

Author: 

Lindsay Buroker

Some of the Best from Tor.com: 2011 Edition

A solid collection of short fiction from Tor.com, with some truly outstanding entries.

Author/Editor: 

Patrick Nielsen Hayden

Liz Gorinsky

The Sourwood

The Sourwood book cover

This is an inventive story with an unusual premise: its characters are all insects, who have organized to survive in a post-human world. The story follows Fig, as a series of bad luck and bad decisions cause him to question his most basic beliefs. The world the characters inhabit is fully-formed and quite believable. This book is the first in a series of novellas, and the ending is a cliffhanger more than an end, but the writing was good enough and the story was enjoyable enough that I am willing to overlook that, and just move on to the next book in the series.

Author: 

Richard Wolanski

Sister of the Hedge

This is a collection of engaging stories, ranging from a re-imagined fairy tale to a zombie story to a touching paranormal-tinged story about a mother's loves and fears.

Author/Editor: 

Jim C. Hines

The Bone Knife

The Bone Knife

A story about a young girl who rises to the challenge posed by the presence of a magical visitor in her family's home. The author describes this as an introductory story about the lead character, who will go on to have greater adventures in future books, and the ending does feel like a pause more than an end to the story. However, the beautifully drawn characters and intriguing world-building more than make up for that weakness, making this a delightful short read.

Author: 

Intisar Khanani

Improving Slay Times in the Common Dragon

Improving Slay Times in the Common Dragon

This fun and funny story about a graduate student in magic is interspersed with excerpts from a research paper describing a study on improving slay times in the common dragon. The jokes will be especially resonant for people who have worked in research, but the story is likely to be enjoyed by even those who have never set foot in a lab.

Author: 

Catherine Shaffer

Day Breaks

Day Breaks

A fun and fast-paced mash-up of fantasy and crime story, set in a fictional city in which the police force have goblins and other magical creatures to contend with as well the usual problems of crime.

Author: 

Mathew Reuther

Oomph: A Little Super Goes a Long Way

A wonderful collection of stories about people who have a little superpower. The protagonists can all do something extraordinary- but on a smaller scale than in most super hero stories. The different authors take this premise in many different directions, always with interesting and highly readable results. The collection of all of these different takes on the idea of limited superpower made me think about what it means to have power and what it really takes to make a difference.

Author/Editor: 

Bart R. Leib

Kay T. Holt

A Shard Glows in Brooklyn

A Shard Glows in Brooklyn

A fast-paced and fun mix of fantasy and noir, set in an interesting alternative New York City populated with monsters and wizards.

Author: 

Alex Shvartsman

Some of the Best from Tor.com: 2012 Edition

A collection of Sci-Fi and Fantasy stories that covers many different approaches to these genres. All of the stories were well-written and enjoyable.

Author/Editor: 

Patrick Nielsen Hayden

Liz Gorinsky

David G. Hartwell

Flash Gold

Flash Gold

A rollicking story of a young inventor who enters her "dogless sled" into a race hoping to win the prize and buy her way out of the Yukon, the stranger who shows up offering to hire on as protection, for motives that are not at all clear, and the adventure they have together.

Author: 

Lindsay Buroker

Nothing of Me

An intriguing mashup of the classic myth of Scylla and Beauty and the Beast, reimagined into a modern setting in a telling that draws the reader in from the start.

Author: 

Eugie Foster

The Girl Who Ruled Fairyland - For a Little While

The Girl Who Ruled Fairyland

An absolutely delightful story of a girl who just wants to keep to herself and study her magic, but who finds herself drawn into events and ends up fighting the king of Fairyland.

Author: 

Cathrynne M. Valente

The Assassin and the Desert: A Throne of Glass Novella

Assassin in the Desert

In the second in the Throne of Glass novella series, our heroine is sent to visit the Silent Assassins in the Red Desert as punishment for disobeying her master's wishes.

Author: 

Sarah J. Maas

The Assassin and the Pirate Lord: A Throne of Glass Novella

Assassin and the Pirate Lord book cover

Celaena Sardothien is an accomplished and beautiful assassin, sent by her master to collect a debt from the Lord of Pirates. She is horrified to learn that the debt is to be paid in slaves, and feels compelled to act against her orders.

Author: 

Sarah J. Maas

Nordic Fairies (Nordic Fairies #1)

Nordic Fairies book cover

A story with the intriguing premise that young men and women with the right character are recruited to be fairies, with eternal life, paired with their true love. It follows the female half of one such pair through an incarnation in which her true love seems to be breaking the rules.

Author: 

Saga Berg

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