Worlds Seen in Passing: Ten Years of Tor.com Short Fiction edited by Irene Gallo

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ARC provided by Tor in exchange for an honest review.

Tor is celebrating their 10th anniversary this year and are coming out with this anthology that showcases some of the best short stories written this decade! Happy birthday, Tor! Tor is my personal favorite publishing house. Not only have they always been amazing to me, they are putting out some of the most diverse, important, world changing literature on the market right now. I’m honored to help them celebrate with this beautiful anthology!

Many of these stories I have already read throughout the year, but many were completely new to me! My personal favorites were from N. K. Jemisin, Tina Connolly, Marie Brennan, Leigh Bardugo, Alyssa Wong, and Haralambi Markov! But my absolute favorite of the entire collection was The Devil in America by Kai Ashante Wilson.

Since this is a massive collection of forty stories, I’m going to try to only do brief breakdowns with my thoughts!

“Six Months, Three Days” by Charlie Jane Anders – ★★
Lord, I feel so bad doing this. But I really didn’t like the first story of the collection. It’s about two clairvoyants who are thinking about dating. Yet, Doug and Judy know all the possible outcomes for what is yet to come. But, like, I really didn’t like some of the cultural references in this, and… I just hated Doug if I’m really being honest here. I sort of appreciate the message of “fate vs actions and the fall out from them” but I just really didn’t like this one.

“Damage” by David D. Levine – ★★★
I’ll be honest, I’m not the biggest military sci-fi fan in general. But this story is told from an AI ship’s point of view during a space war, and I thought it was pretty unique.

“The Best We Can” by Carrie Vaughn – ★★★★

“The greatest discovery in all of human history and funding held it hostage.”

This is such a sad, but honest, look at what could happen if we truly found other life in our galaxy. The discussion in this is so important, and I was honestly in awe while reading this from first to last page. I completely recommend this first contact story with extraterrestrial intelligence, as depressing as it is.

“The City Born Great” by N. K. Jemisin – ★★★★★

“…poor kid, should’ve eaten more organic; should’ve taken it easy and not been so angry; the world can’t hurt you if you just ignore everything that’s wrong with it; well, not until it kills you anyway.”

All the stars, always, to every masterpiece that my SFF queen creates. This is a story about a young, homeless, queer, black boy in New York City, doing everything in his power to survive. But the cities in this world? They are actually born, and sometimes even born anew. And the cops? They are for sure the villains. You all, this story is important and speak volumes, just like everything Jemisin writes. She seamless weaves topics that need to be heard today into her fantasy. And I loved this. And like, I need more from this world and from this character. And the time skip at the end has given me hope.

“A Vector Alphabet of Interstellar Travel” by Yoon Ha Lee – ★★★★★
I have loved everything I’ve read by Yoon Ha Lee, and this was no different. I loved reading all these brief vignettes, describing different cultures that have developed different ways to travel intergalactically. I loved the different species, I loved the short glimpses, and I honestly just love Yoon Ha Lee and his beautiful mind! And the ending was perfection.

“Waiting on a Bright Moon” by JY Yang – ★★★★★
Friends, I loved this. This is a tale about a group of magical women (ansibles) that are able to create portals and send magical messages, but they are forced to serve the government. But this is a story about rebellion, and fighting back, and doing whatever it takes to protect yourself and the ones you love. Also, there is a f/f romance in here that actually gave me life. This story goes from so heartbreaking to so heartwarming in a mere instant, and it just feels so perfectly balanced and woven. Also, the incorporation of Chinese language was a perfect addition, in my opinion.

“Elephants and Corpses” by Kameron Hurley – ★★
I’ll be honest, I didn’t like how some of the gender aspects of this were handled. Especially when it comes to people who literary jump into other bodies to live. I don’t know, it just made me uncomfortable, honestly.

“About Fairies” by Pat Murphy – ★★★★★

“My name is Jennifer. I am on my way to a toy company in Redwood City to have a meeting about fairies.”

I went into this thinking it was going to be a really fun read about fae, but it ended up being a really harrowing tale about death and illness of one’s parents. This was unexpectedly hard hitting, and it really made me feel a lot of unexpected emotions. Plus, Peter Pan, cats, magic, and fae? It’s always going to be a good combo.

“The Hanging Game” by Helen Marshall – ★
TW for death and miscarrying. This is about a girl who reminisces about “the hanging game” she used to play with her neighbors when she was young, which is exactly what it sounds like. And one of them was killed. Then we get to see her ten years later, paying for it. But, like, also paying for all the other adults that would kill bears? I get that we have to “pay for the sins of our fathers” but this was just too much for me. You all, I don’t know. I just hated this one, honestly.

“The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere” by John Chu – ★★★

“The water that falls on you from nowhere is freezing cold. I slip on the couch, but it just follows me. When it’s this much water, it numbs you to the bone.”

This is about a Chinese man trying to come out to his family before marrying his boyfriend. I didn’t dislike it, even though I hated the sister with a fiery passion, but it just felt a little bit pointless. And it didn’t feel SFF-like to me whatsoever. But the writing was so very beautiful.

“A Cup of Salt Tears” by Isabel Yap – ★★★
This was a sad little story, centered around grief and the different stages we go through trying to fill the void of loss. And how every generation will go through the feeling of loss, inevitably. And one day in a hot tub, our main character is greeted by a mythical river spirit that has done some pretty terrible things, yet still has found room for love.

“The Litany of Earth” by Ruthanna Emrys – ★★★
I’ve never read, nor do I know a lot about Lovecraft’s Cthulhu, but I think if I did I would have appreciated this a lot more. Yet, I still thought this was really well written and I did enjoy it, and really thought it had a lot of important things to say about xenophobia.

“Brimstone and Marmalade” by Aaron Corwin – ★★★★

“All Mathilde wanted for her birthday was a pony. Instead, she got a demon.”

This is the perfect Halloween read! And this was also hilarious! But this is also just a story about growing up, getting new responsibilities, and sometimes getting a lot more than you bargained for. I did finish it feeling a little sad, though, and very much in need of my own personal demon.

“Reborn” by Ken Liu – ★★★
This is the first in a series that Ken Liu has started based off illustrations by Richard Anderson. This entire story poses the scary question are we ourselves because of who we just are or is it based of the memories of everything that has happened to us?

“Please Undo This Hurt” by Seth Dickinson – ★★★

“So much hurt to try to heal. And the healing hurts too much.”

This is a story about an EMT that has to see some pretty heartbreaking things every single day. Yet, this story is also about breaking up, moving on, and seeing the person you shared a piece of your heart with moving on, too. This is also a story about people who feel like no one cares about them at all.

“The Language of Knives” by Haralambi Markov – ★★★★★

“You hold your breath, aching to lean over and kiss him one more time—but that is forbidden. His body is now sacred, and you are not.”

I’ll be honest with you, this one was a little strange for me. It is also told in second person, which is always a tiny bit jarring for me, especially when “you” are preparing your husband’s dead body, and your daughter is helping. This is a story about honoring and loving your culture, but it’s also a story about death and getting older and realizing that your kids are their own humans. And this was easily one of the most beautifully written short stories in the entire collection.

“The Shape of My Name” by Nino Cipri – ★★★★

“Two small words could never encompass everything you have to apologize for.”

This is going to be considered a spoiler, but this story stars a transman and it’s used as a plot device. I still really enjoyed the story, but it needs to be said. This is a story about love and acceptance and how sometimes it’s very hard to get those two things from your family. This is a sad story, but also a beautiful one about identity, and I really did enjoy it a lot.

“Eros, Philia, Agape” by Rachel Swirsky – ★
I’m going to be brief but – being single in your thirties is completely fine. But instead this woman, who had been sexually abused by her father, builds an android and then they have a child together. Oh, and then the android has a midlife crisis and leaves them. And the rest of the story starts to not even make sense. This just wasn’t for me. I would have preferred this story to just be about Ben and Lawrence.

“The Lady Astronaut of Mars” by Mary Robinette Kowal – ★★★★
This won the 2014 Hugo Award for Best Novelette, so I was a little excited and nervous to read it, but I was overall super impressed. This was able to evoke so much emotion from me in 20 pages too. This is a wonderful little sci-fi tale about the love between two people, but also the love that they have for their separate passions.

“Last Son of Tomorrow” by Greg van Eekhout – ★★
I’ve said it before, but I’m just not a big superhero fan, especially in my literature. This is a new take on Superman, it just wasn’t for me. I’m sorry.

“Ponies” by Kij Johnson – ★★★★
I can’t believe I’m giving a My Little Pony story a glowing review, but here we are. In this world, the little girls go to a party where they have to cut two of three things off their pony if they want to be part of the group, but our main character soon realizes that the more you give in to peer pressure, the more and more people will take from you. This is a story about conformity and doing what you know is right inside your heart and soul, not what people in power tell you is right. Damn, this really does feel like a My Little Pony episode.

“La beauté sans vertu” by Genevieve Valentine – ★★★
Oh man, this was a loud message to the fashion industry, because this is a story about models who routinely go under the knife to replace their limbs from younger people. We follow a nineteen-year-old girl, who really shines a spotlight on trends and the things we will do for the sake of what is considered beauty by society.

“A Fist of Permutations in Lightning and Wildflowers” by Alyssa Wong – ★★★★★

“If I could knit you a crown of potential futures like the daisies you braided together for me when we were young, I would. None of them would end with you burning to death at the edge of our property, beaten senseless in the wash behind the house by drunken college boys, slowly cut to pieces at home by parents who wanted you only in one shape, the one crafted in their image.”

Full disclosure: Alyssa Wong is my short story queen. I think I have five starred every single thing I’ve read by her. This is about two sisters (one named Melanie *fangirls forever* and one named Hannah) who harness the power to turn back time. Yet, Hannah can’t seem to use it to save her sister. This is a story about how her sister dies each time, regardless of what is different. But all the TW for death, suicide, parental abuse, one misgendering comment, and sexual assault/rape. Also, it is very subtly written, but I’m very confident that Melanie was a transwoman. So, obviously that can be really hard for people to read, so please make sure you are in the right headspace. But this is a story about trauma and grief and how sometimes you can’t save people, no matter how much you feel like losing them is literally feeling like ending your own world. This short story holds so much heartbreak in its pages, but its such an important tale about feeling responsible for things that are not in our control. Alyssa’s prose is nothing short of magic, I fall in love with every character she crafts, and each story means more to me than the rest. I loved this with my entire heart and soul.

“A Kiss With Teeth” by Max Gladstone – ★
This story was so difficult for me to read. I didn’t connect with the writing style whatsoever, and it felt ungodly longer than the rest of the stories in this collection. This story focuses on a modern-day version of Vlad the Impaler, where he is trying to live a normal life, and raise a normal son, while also trying to control his urge to function as a vampire. He becomes obsessed with his son’s teacher and begins to literally stalk her. To drink from? To kill? To fuck? Who knows, but it is supposed to be a “you can work out your problems if you love each other enough, while still being able to be who you are” story, but it didn’t work in the slightest for me. Also, I’m just personally so sick of Vlad the Impaler retellings.

“The Last Banquet of Temporal Confections” by Tina Connolly – ★★★★★
Saffron is an official food taster for a Duke who everyone wants dead. Yeah, not an ideal job. But the Duke makes her take it because her husband, Danny, is the pastry chef! And no good husband would poison his wife, right? But the Duke soon sees that Danny puts magic in every bite. I loved this, and I loved the shining light on memories and not only what they mean to us, but how they also impact our lives forever.

“The End of the End of Everything” by Dale Bailey – ★★
This was a gross one! Like, I’m surprised at how much horror is in this collection, honestly. But basically, this is a short about the wealthy seeing impending doom coming, so they go to a lavish party each night, where the host will end the evening by killing themselves. And since it’s the apocalypse, people are leaving the world in some really graphic and mortifying ways. I was completely captivated while reading, and I do think the meaning of the story, about value and the price we place on things, was good. But, this was a little too much (sexual and dark) for me.

“Breaking Water” by Indrapramit Das – ★★★
I loved so many things about this but was also bored with so many things about this. I honestly just felt like it went on too long. But I love that it’s set in India, and I love the fresh take on zombies, when our main character finds a body in the river. And I loved the discussion on our responsibility to humankind.

“Your Orisons May Be Recorded” by Laurie Penny – ★★★
This was VERY different! Angels and demons coming together after a merger. And we get to see prayers get answered through a call center, even! And I for sure think this is trying to be funny, which it was, but wanting to sleep only with human men? In 2018? I’m about to phone in a prayer.

“The Tallest Doll in New York City” by Maria Dahvana Headley – ★★★★★
Be still, my heart! This was so amazingly unique! I loved it! This story is set in New York, where the tall buildings and structures move on their own. This tale is told on Valentine’s Day, and the storyteller is a waiter in a club that works high up inside one of these moving buildings. I loved seeing all these iconic structures choose one another and pair up for Valentine’s Day. And the story is told so beautifully, whimsically, and romantically, that you can’t help but fall in love with it.

“The Cage” by A.M. Dellamonica – ★★★★
I loved this f/f story! This is a sapphic romance between two humans, but this is for sure set in a paranormal world with werewolves, and evil monster hunters. Jude meets Paige while she is newly raising her sister’s baby, who just happens to be part werewolf! And the two girls come together to not only defeat evil, but to establish a found family and find love.

“In the Sight of Akresa” by Ray Wood – ★
I hated this f/f story! Also, this story is about a slave girl who gets their tongue taken, and I had a really visceral reading experience while reading the opening scene, so use caution, friends. Then, her “owner’s” daughter starts to have feelings for her and puts her fingers in her mouth like constantly (ew). And the entire story is told in second person about their relationship through the slave owner’s daughter’s eyes. And… it’s just depressing and wasn’t enjoyable to read at all.

“Terminal” by Lavie Tidhar – ★★★
This is a story about people who choose to take a one-way trip to Mars, because they are dying. But this book is about the journey going to Mars, where we see different people and what they are leaving behind. This is emotional and powerful, but it left me feeling helpless and hollow.

“The Witch of Duva: A Ravkan Folk Tale” by Leigh Bardugo – ★★★★★

“There was a time when the woods near Duva ate girls.”

I can’t recommend you read it enough, because this short story actually shook my entire world. This is such a perfectly woven and absolutely haunting tale about a village who is mourning their lost girls, while also trying to endure very hard winters. And the ending of this story is beyond words, and turned me into a crying, melted, weeping, puddle on the floor. Also, this one should probably have a few trigger warnings for abuse (physical/sexual) and just violence in general, even though these things are very vague in the story they are still there, just woven in quietly.

“Daughter of Necessity” by Marie Brennan – ★★★★★

“He is on the island of Kalypso, prisoner and guest. The nymph sings as she walks to and fro across her loom, weaving with a shuttle of gold.”

In case you didn’t read my review for Circe, Greek mythology is my actual kink and I will always have the softest spot for Odysseus. This is a short story about Penelope, alone, raising her son, all while Odysseus is missing. And, friends, I loved this with the sum of my being.

“Among the Thorns” by Veronica Schanoes – ★★★★

“They made my father dance in thorns before they killed him. I used to think that this was a metaphor, that they beat him with thorny vines, perhaps. But I was wrong about that. They made him dance.”

This wasn’t an easy read, but it’s now one of my favorite tales of vengeance. This story is a retelling of the Grimm Brother’s “The Jew in the Thorns”. But this is also a story about love, and Itte’s character is one that will stick with me for quite some time.

“These Deathless Bones” by Cassandra Khaw – ★★
Heavy TW for animal abuse with this one. This is horror short story about a little boy growing up and his stepmother, who is a witch and is the only one that sees him for what he really is. I think this is an eerie, spooky, unique read, but I never enjoyed reading it.

“Mrs. Sorensen and the Sasquatch” by Kelly Barnhill – ★★★
Never did I ever think I would read a story about a Sasquatch wearing a fedora, but here we are. But this was a wonderful story about what it means to be happy and how everyone has a different idea of what happiness is. And how some people will live their entire lives living other’s happiness and never their own. After the death of Mrs. Sorensen’s husband, she is in search of the happiness she was ignoring while she was married. And even though her husband was a good man, he wasn’t the right man for her and she was never able to accomplish her dreams. And now she has a chance to live her life for herself and her own happiness, regardless of what a judgmental town of people think. And this entire story is told from the point of view of the town’s priest, who is also questioning his life and his happiness.

“This World Is Full of Monsters” by Jeff VanderMeer – ★★★★★

“I had not been alone. The story-creature had always been there, silent beside me, breathing beneath me, waiting for me to wake to its presence, to understand where I really was. But I would never understand. How could I? I had not understood the story to begin with.”

I’ve never read anything by Vandermeer before, but this made me instantly want to rectify that. This writing isn’t going to be for everyone, but it was completely and wholeheartedly for me. It’s so strange, and so out there, but so beautiful. This story feels like a spell is being cast, like pure magic is being woven, and I really loved it.

“The Devil in America” by Kai Ashante Wilson – ★★★★★
Use care going into this one, friends. This is a very dark and horrific tale, but if you are in the right mindset, please give this one a read. This story accurately depicts American slavery, and is set right after The Civil War, and Easter is a black child living during the horrors. This story will leave you unsettled, and even though this is fiction and set in the 1870s, filled with magic and the paranormal, it still shines a light still on what it means to be black in America today. The author said what sparked their inspiration for this story was an interview with Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon Martin’s mother: ”Trayvon Martin’s murder was only the latest iteration of a very old pattern: someone in America, black and innocent, killed by someone else, white and manifestly guilty of unjustified murder. Of course I’d seen it before, and we all know how this thing works.” If you can read only one short story from this collection, please pick this one. This is one of the best short stories I’ve ever read in my entire life.

“A Short History of the Twentieth Century, or, When You Wish Upon A Star” by Kathleen Ann Goonan – ★★★
This was a nice closing story about a girl wanting to become an astronaut and rocket scientist, while growing up in a world that doesn’t believe she can. And I really did enjoy this one, but I kind of feel like there was too much going on, and her dad started stealing the show a bit. And, it didn’t necessary feeling like an SFF story, but more a literary science one.

Out of a possible 200 stars (5 stars possible for each of the 40 stories) this collection accumulated 138 stars (69% *winky face*).

Overall, I completely recommend it! And if you’ve stayed this long – 1.) I love you and 2.) you can read most of these stories for free on Tor.com! Seriously, just type the title in the search engine if any of these intrigue you! But I really do think that this is a collection worth purchasing, and I believe with my whole heart that Tor is a company worth supporting.


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The quotes above were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.

9 thoughts on “Worlds Seen in Passing: Ten Years of Tor.com Short Fiction edited by Irene Gallo

  1. Melanie OMG this review is incredible. You went into detail about every single story and it really shows how much you loved your favorites and explained why other didn’t work for you.

    Honestly, this is very much appreciated. Your hard work dcefinitely shows.

    Lots of love

    Liked by 1 person

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