Since launching in 2008, Tor.com’s short fiction program has been producing touching, funny, and thought-provoking stories, and this year was no different. In 2016, we published 23 original novelettes and 37 short stories that ran the gamut from hard science fiction to epic fantasy, from horror to steampunk, from fairy tales to space opera. We’ve rounded them all up below, and you can also find Tor.com Publishing’s impressive output of novellas and novels here.
We are tremendously proud of our authors, illustrators, and editors for creating such wonderful short fiction this year. We hope that you will nominate your favorites for the Hugos, Nebulas, and other upcoming awards which honor outstanding works of science fiction, fantasy, and horror—but most of all, we hope that you have enjoyed reading these stories as much as we have!
“The Art of Space Travel” by Nina Allan
In 2047, a first manned mission to Mars ended in tragedy. Thirty years later, a second expedition is preparing to launch. As housekeeper of the hotel where two of the astronauts will give their final press statements, Emily finds the mission intruding upon her thoughts more and more. Emily’s mother, Moolie, has a message to give her, but Moolie’s memories are fading. As the astronauts’ visit draws closer, the unearthing of a more personal history is about to alter Emily’s world forever.
“A Dead Djinn in Cairo” by P. Djeli Clark
Egypt, 1912. In an alternate Cairo infused with the otherworldly, the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities investigate disturbances between the mortal and the (possibly) divine. What starts off as an odd suicide case for Special Investigator Fatma el-Sha’arawi leads her through the city’s underbelly as she encounters rampaging ghouls, saucy assassins, clockwork angels, and a plot that could unravel time itself.
“Orphan Pirates of the Spanish Main” by Dennis Danvers
The second in a trilogy of novelettes, following 2015’s “Adult Children of Alien Beings“. Stan and his brother Ollie, the children of alien (or crazy) parents, receive a mysterious postcard from their father, who with their mother, disappeared decades earlier into the “Abyss” in New Mexico.
“Once More Into the Abyss” by Dennis Danvers
The last of three novelettes about Stan, whose parents claimed to be aliens and either perished or went home via an abyss in the middle of New Mexico. Stan is drawn back to the Abyss when his wife is offered a job there studying alien artifacts. So Stan and his family (wife, son, brother and three dogs) take a road trip.
“Breaking Water” by Indrapramit Das
Krishna is quite unsettled when he bumps into a woman’s corpse during his morning bath in Kolkata’s Hooghly River, yet declines to do anything about it–after all, why should he take responsibility for a stranger? But when the dead start coming back to life en masse, he rethinks his position and the debate around how to treat these newly risen corpses gets a lot more complicated.
“Up From Hell” by David Drake
Taranis and his men forage for the collected tribes of the Crow as they march against the Romans, but he brings back more than he bargained for when he frees a beautiful and mysterious prisoner, Alpnu. Together they face a power sealed in a cave for millennia and newly risen from Hell.
“Tom, Thom” by K. M. Ferebee
Young Tom has always dreamed of wolves, which everyone knows don’t exist. One day he goes out for a log from the woodpile, and when he returns, there is another Tom, like him, but other.
“Red as Blood and White as Bone” by Theodora Goss
A dark fantasy about a kitchen girl obsessed with fairy tales, who upon discovering a ragged woman outside the castle during a storm, takes her in—certain she’s a princess in disguise.
“The Autobiography of a Traitor and a Half-Savage” by Alix E. Harrow
Oona’s blood is a river delta blending east and west, her hair red as Tennessee clay, her heart tangled as the wild lands she maps. By tracing rivers in ink on paper, Oona pins the land down to one reality and betrays her people. Can she escape the bonds of gold and blood and bone that tie her to the Imperial American River Company?
“Chains” by A.J. Hartley
Set before the events of Steeplejack. Anglet Sutonga is more realistic than most teenagers, but still dreams of rising above the impoverished streets of Bar-Selehm. When an opportunity comes along, will she take it? And what does she risk in order not to throw away her shot?
“Freedom is Space for the Spirit” by Glen Hirshberg
A middle-aged German is drawn back to Russia by a mysterious invitation from a friend he knew during the wild, exuberant period in the midst of the break-up of the Soviet Union. Upon his arrival in St. Petersburg, he begins to see bears, wandering and seemingly lost.
“The Weight of the Dead” by Brian Hodge
Years after all electronics have been fried by the sun, two siblings live in an enclave with their father, who’s about to be punished for a crime—sparking fierce but secret rebellion by the daughter.
“The Night Cyclist” by Stephen Graham Jones
A horror novelette about a middle-aged chef whose nightly bicycle ride home is interrupted by an unexpected encounter.
“Discards” by David D. Levine
Set in The Wild Cards universe. Tiago Gonçalves is a teenager who scrapes collecting recyclables from the landfills of Rio de Janeiro. But after the Wild Card virus infects him, he learns to build something more.
“The Maiden Thief” by Melissa Marr
A dark fantasy novelette about a teenager whose town is plagued by the annual disappearances of girls and young women. Her father blames her when one of her sisters is one of the taken.
“The Three Lives of Sonata James” by Lettie Prell
In a cyber-enhanced, futuristic Chicago, Sonata knows near-immortality is achievable through downloading her mind into a cyborg body after death. But this young artist wants to prove that living forever isn’t the same as living a beautiful life.
“Recalled to Service” by Alter S. Reiss
Ao Laiei does not know what happened to the great revolutionary war hero Uroie Aei since she resurrected him, but she has long intended to find out. Finally, a clue from an unlikely information source–the confusing art of dream-diving–enables her to be present for a surprising strike against an academic aligned with the revolutionary government.
“The Great Detective” by Delia Sherman
When Sir Arthur Cwmlech’s home is robbed and the Illogic Engine—his prize invention—stolen, it is only natural that he and his clever assistant Miss Tacy Gof consult with another inventor, the great Mycroft Holmes, about who has taken it. But it is really Mr. Holmes’ Reasoning Machine they are there to see, for it is only fitting for one automaton to opine on a matter concerning the fate of another of its kind.
“Finnegan’s Field” by Angela Slatter
A six year old child mysteriously disappears for three years, only to return home just as mysteriously—but not quite the same. At least, not to her mother.
“Typecasting” by Harry Turtledove
Being Governor of Jefferson has its particular perks, and its particular challenges. Particularly if you’re a member of this Pacific Northwest state’s most famous ethnic minority…with all the extra height and hair that implies.
“Her Scales Shine Like Music” by Rajnar Vajra
A moving science fiction novelette about an encounter and budding relationship between two aliens, one human, who are the only living creatures occupying a planet in deep space. The human is assigned to guard a valuable find, while his colleagues leave, to file a report with the company that hired them.
“The Thing About Growing Up in Jokertown” by Carrie Vaughn
Set in the Wild Cards universe. A group of teenage jokers yearn to explore outside the confines of their strange little neighborhood and get a real taste of the Big Apple.
“Small Wars” by Matt Wallace
The Sin du Jour procurement team has been tasked with acquiring a substantial cache of rare Welsh gold for a rather important culinary event, but when they stumble upon rival factions of the smallest warriors they’ve ever encountered, they’ll need to bring out the big guns if they’re to survive.
“Two’s Company” by Joe Abercrombie
Lost in the wide and barren North, Javre, Lioness of Hoskopp, runs into Cracknut Whirrun on a bridge far too narrow for the expansive egos of either. With the King of the Northmen and the High Priestess of Thond in pursuit, can Shevedieh, the greatest thief in Styria, persuade either one of these proud heroes to step aside?
“Clover” by Charlie Jane Anders
Answering the question asked by innumerable readers of the Anders’s novel All the Birds in the Sky: what happened to Patricia’s cat?
“Dragons of Tomorrow” by Kathleen Baldwin
After the collapse of civilization Nora and her family live a quiet life in the Midwestern Plains until a great fiery god of the sky descends and makes her an irresistible offer—an offer that will take her away from those she loves forever.
“The Story of Kao Yu” by Peter S. Beagle
A new fantasy short story by the legendary Peter S. Beagle which tells of an aging judge traveling through rural China and of a criminal he encounters.
“The Key to the Coward’s Spell” by Alex Bledsoe
An Eddie LaCrosse story. Nursing an injured arm while on the job searching for a missing kid is bad enough for sword jockey Eddie LaCrosse. But when he discovers a smuggling ring rumored to be protected by powerful magic, he seeks out old friends and new to lend a hand.
“From the Editorial Page of the Falchester Weekly Review” by Marie Brennan
A Lady Trent story. After her perilous sea voyage aboard the Basilisk and the discoveries made at Keonga, Isabella, Lady Trent, returns to Scirland with the aim of publishing her research. And yet, given the level of secret knowledge she now possesses, she is reduced to waiting to reveal her new academic discovery until royal decrees can be lifted and a fraught political situation avoided. In her idle frustration, Isabella vents her spleen upon the shoddy research published by lesser men with swollen heads in local journals…
“The Destroyer” by Tara Isabella Burton
In a futuristic, fascistic Rome, a brilliant, unstable scientist proves that she can transcend the human body’s limitations. The test subject? Her own daughter.
“Traumphysik” by Monica Byrne
A brilliant young physicist, alone on a Pacific atoll during World War II, begins to chronicle the laws of motion that govern her dreams.
“The High Lonesome Frontier” by Rebecca Campbell
A meditation about the evolution and influence of a song written in 1902 over the next 150 plus years.
“The Loud Table” by Jonathan Carroll
In a group of four elderly men who regularly hang out, one is worried that he’s getting Alzheimer’s—but the truth might be even more discomforting.
“Lullaby for a Lost World” by Aliette de Bodard
Charlotte died to shore up her master’s house. Her bones grew into the foundation and pushed up through the walls, feeding his power and continuing the cycle. As time passes and the ones she loved fade away, the house and the master remain, and she yearns ever more deeply for vengeance.
“The Glass Galago” by A.M. Dellamonica
The third in a series of prequel stories set in the Stormwrack universe. When Gale and the crew of the Nightjar are called back to the fleet to handle an issue involving a law regulating new patents and a missing magical inscription, they soon find themselves embroiled in a plot that is could potentially pit island against island.
“First Kill” by Jennifer Fallon
How do you kill with honor? When is murder not a murder? Assassin Kiam Miar will find out when his first assignment goes awry and he is faced with an ethical choice. And if he makes the wrong choice, he could not only lose his life but throw a good chunk of his world into chaos…
“Dune: Red Plague” by Brian Herbert and Kevin J Anderson
An all-new Tale of the Great Schools of Dune—written to accompany Navigators of Dune by the same authors.
“The City Born Great” by N.K. Jemisin
New York City is about to go through a few changes. Like all great metropolises before it, when a city gets big enough, old enough, it must be born; but there are ancient enemies who cannot tolerate new life. Thus New York will live or die by the efforts of a reluctant midwife… and how well he can learn to sing the city’s mighty song.
“Everything that Isn’t Winter” by Margaret Killjoy
Does a renewed world still have a place for those who only know how to destroy? While defending a tea-growing commune in the wilds of the Pacific Northwest, one person seeks an answer.
“The Weight of Memories” by Cixin Liu
From the author of The Three-Body Problem, The Dark Forest, and Death’s End comes a story about unborn memories.
“The Pigeon Summer” by Brit Mandelo
Talking to ghosts has its dangers—and its rewards.
“Something Happened Here, But We’re Not Quite Sure What It Was” by Paul McAuley
Human colonists on an Earth-like planet are faced with the possibility of reaching out to alien cultures, but an organization that has previously done harm is in charge of the operation.
“Blue is a Darkness Weakened by Light” by Sarah McCarry
A lonely young woman, recently moved to the big city, is looking for love. What she finds is a friend and confidante who is much older and wiser than she.
“Reverse Documentary” by Marisela Navarro
Dino is a documentary filmmaker, haunted by the ghost of his ex-girlfriend who was killed in a car crash while with another man. As Dino shoots his latest documentary on the vandalism occurring in the woods of his hometown, the focus of the film begins to blur as the lens of the camera shifts onto Dino, the director succumbing to his ghostly obsession.
“Dune Time” by Jack Nicholls
Isolated in the desert with his brother, Hasan learns that there is more to the legends of the dunes than he initially believed.
“The Caretakers” by David Nickle
A strange tale about a group of people called to a meeting with their intimidating boss. The newest member of their organization is not so sure she wants to even be there.
“Your Orisons May Be Recorded” by Laurie Penny
All prayers are answered, but sometimes the answer is no. And sometimes the answer is “let me talk to my manager and get back to you.”
“meat + drink” by Daniel Polansky
Baltimore isn’t safe. Not even for the predatory meat that stalks its nights. Searching for victims who won’t be missed, meat doesn’t feel regret or pain—only thirst. But the meat remembers something more… doesn’t it? is there more to eternal life than finding another drink?
“Ratspeak” by Sarah Porter
Ratspeak is the the shrill and sly language of the rats of New York City’s subway. When a curious boy is granted his wish to speak and understand the secret language of the rats, he brings a curse upon his home.
“Totem Poles” by Rudy Rucker and Bruce Sterling
The saucer aliens are here. They’re healing the planet. They’ve got to be stopped.
“Burned Away” by Kristen Simmons
Set in the world of Metaltown. When rumors of an uprising in Metaltown’s factories hits Bakerstown, sixteen-year-old wannabe reporter Caris knows she’s found the story that will finally prove her worth to the Journal.
“A Pest Most Fiendish” by Caighlan Smith
Miss Pippa Kipling and her automaton companion, the Porter, exterminate pests of the supernatural variety. What should be a typical job in your average haunted cavern soon derails in an inconveniently undead fashion. Even with the aid of her gadget collection and the Porter’s prowess, this task may prove fatal for Miss Kipling—or worse, rip her petticoat.
“The Weather” by Caighlan Smith
In the middle of a barren wasteland, a small town goes through the motions as if nothing’s changed. Lolly has school, a part time job, a senile grandmother that needs looking after. But everything has changed, and Lolly’s always one storm away from facing that.
“Listen” by Karin Tidbeck
A sequel to “Sing“. A strange people have appeared out of nowhere. Their speech is impossible to understand for most human beings; their agenda, they say, is to colonize the “right place”. The interpreter Mika accompanies one of their ambassadors to the little moon Kiruna. Here, celestial bodies play havoc with sound, and reality may not be what it appears.
“Terminal” by Lavie Tidhar
An emotionally wrenching science fiction story about people, who, either having nothing to lose or having a deep desire to go into space, travel to Mars via cheap, one-person, one-way vehicles dubbed jalopies. During the trip, those in the swarm communicate with each other, their words relayed to those left behind.
“There Will Always Be a Max” by Michael R. Underwood
A Genrenauts story. A hero is missing. The post-apocalyptic wasteland is awash with violence and injustice, and the genrenauts’ own King must step in and show precisely why There Will Always be a Max.
“La beauté sans vertu” by Genevieve Valentine
A vicious little swipe at the fashion industry, as certain disturbing trends are amplified in the future and a famous fashion House prepares for an important show.
“That Game We Played During the War” by Carrie Vaughn
The people of Gaant are telepaths. The people of Enith are not. The two countries have been at war for decades, but now peace has fallen, and Calla of Enith seeks to renew an unlikely friendship with Gaantish officer Valk over an even more unlikely game of chess.
“Sic Semper, Sic Semper, Sic Semper” by Douglas F. Warrick
In the hollowed-out skull of the sixteenth President of the United States, a miserable time traveler builds a modest studio apartment and isolates himself from his own time, his own space, his own species, and his own past. But when gruesome reminders of his life prior to intracranial habitation begin appearing in his freshly constructed apartment, the time traveler is forced to either contend with his memories or, failing that, to run further away from them.
“A Fist of Permutations in the Lightning and Wildflowers” by Alyssa Wong
Hannah and Melanie: sisters, apart and together. Weather workers. Time benders. When two people so determined have opposing desires, it’s hard to say who will win—or even what victory might look like. This stunning, haunting short story from rising star Alyssa Wong explores the depth and fierceness of love and the trauma of family.
When Maya tries to exorcise a ghost from her parents’ home, she accidentally summons the spirit of her aunt, who shares plenty of unwanted life advice with her niece.