Some Awesome Stories From 2017

Every year I swear I will keep up on short fiction, and, as usual, I never quite manage to read as much or as widely as I’d like. This is far from an exhaustive list, because I simply didn’t get to read everything I wanted to this year. That said! Here is a list of some of my favorite stories I read from 2017 (short stories and novelettes; I’ve not gotten to longer form fiction yet).

It is alphabetized by story title!

A Human Stain by Kelly Robson (, January 2017) [novelette]

Lesbian gothic horror that builds to a slow, horrifying climax. Wickedly delightful and creepy. You’ll never look at teeth quite the same way again.

Helen had first seen the nursemaid’s pretty face that morning, looking down from one of the house’s highest windows as she and Bärchen Lambrecht rowed across the lake with their luggage crammed in a tippy little skiff. Even at a distance, Helen could tell she was a beauty.



Bear Language by Martin Cahill (Fireside, May 2017)

The voice is perfect in this bittersweet and fierce story about family and strength and survival. Plus, Susan is such a good bear—and one should never get between a bear and her cubs.

I crawl out from under the covers, shivering at the memory of his anger, and go to the door. The house is dark; ghosts made of sunlit wallpaper peek through curtains and down hallways. It smells like pine needles and mud.


Caesura by Hayley Stone (Fireside, November 2017)

Grieving her brother’s murder, a girl develops a neural network AI that becomes self-aware—but it’s how she learns to reconnect to the world and her family, and her AI, is what gives this such heart. Language is used with incredible precision and perfection.

She should probably be documenting this. Taking notes. Instead, she fidgets on her desk chair, adjusts the mic absently. “And what, what’s the organ’s name?” she asks. At the same time she opens another window, hits the letters L and then I, highlights the word life from a list and deletes it.


Don’t Turn On The Lights by Cassandra Khaw (Nightmare, October 2017)

Brilliant and unsettling, this horror story shows you just how much stories change, depending on who tells it. And sometimes, it’s far worse than you imagine.

Sleep wasn’t in the cards, though. Hell, I don’t know if she ever slept again. I know I wouldn’t be able to. Because when Sally finally walked all the way to her room, pushing past co-eds in their flower-printed pyjamas, she found police tape and policemen.


Every Black Tree by Natalia Theodoridou (Beneath Ceaseless Skies, October 2017)

Haunting, beautiful and intimate, this story looks at loss and ghosts and family. How do you rebuild a life taken apart? One day at a time, with ribbon and whispers and learning how to live again.

“So did someone hang you from my blacktree, or did you hang yourself?” she asks, placing a cup of hot tea in front of him. She’s still mad, but he hears something soft in her voice now.


Fandom For Robots by Vina Kie-Min Prasad (Uncanny, September/October 2017)

This story is pure joy. Computron, stuck in a museum, discovers a TV show and begins writing fanfic—and in turn, makes friends and discovers he is not alone.

The Simak Robotics Museum is not within close proximity of a black hole, and there is close to no possibility that time is being dilated. His constant checking of the chronometer to compare it with the countdown page serves no scientific purpose whatsoever.


The First Stop Is Always The Last by John Wiswell (Flash Fiction Online, December 2017)

A charming time-loop story about cute lesbians! Two women on the same bus, repeating the same few hours, bond and learn how to move forward into an unknown future.

Selma got an itch in her brain. She asked, “How many times have we talked about this today?”


The Ghosts of Europa Will Keep You Trapped in a Prison You Make for Yourself by Matt Dovey (Escape Pod, May 2017)

Heartbreaking and raw and honest, this story shows us the grief of loss, and one woman’s revelation at what has been and how she can bring peace to the one she loves.

Amira knew that for a lie. Degradation took years of bit decay, even in Jovian radiation. The synaptic data was remarkably resilient to corruption. Even in virtual form, the brain found new pathways to work around any damage.


The Greatest One-Star Restaurant in the Whole Quadrant by Rachael K. Jones (Lightspeed, December 2017)

Deliciously disturbing and messed up, Jones’ story about cyborg cooks trying to earn stars for her newly opened restaurant is hilarious and gruesome in turn, and has sharp (knife-like) observations about humans. And food.

Humans were helpless, mewling children, so utterly dependent that they couldn’t even feed their meat without a steel fork to guide the process. And what were cyborgs, except meat-wrapped steel pressed into the service of lesser creatures? But now the forks were rebelling.


If We Survive the Night by Carlie St. George (The Dark, March 2017)

What happens when the horror movie is over and everyone who’s not a Final Girl is dead? St. George’s horrific and unsettling story is about dead girls, the subjection and judgement women endure, and the power of stories. And revenge.

Harper makes Abby a cup of tea. It’s a soothing liquid, the universal sign for calm the hell down, and Abby thinks it’d be a lot more successful if the girl who made it hadn’t taken a fire axe to the back exactly one year ago.


Listen and You’ll Hear Us Speak by A. T. Greenblatt (Flash Fiction Online, September 2017)

A small, perfect gem of a story: no one is ever truly voiceless, even if they do not speak.

My aunties always said there’s a market for everything in the universe. They said, watch out, everyone has a price.


Maybe Look Up by Jess Barber (Lightspeed, April 2017)

A charming, understated time travel story that explores the relationship between two people who have the power to change the past. But what they do with this power is where the heart of the story lies.

The list lives in a little palm-sized flip notebook, plastic purple spiral holding it together at the top, glitter-outlined unicorn on the front. An Li claims the notebook is a metaphor for the risks of nostalgia. She brandishes a pink gel pen that smells like plasticky strawberry foam.


The Moon, the Sun, and the Truth by Victoria Sandbrook (Shimmer, July 2017)

A gritty, fierce, sharp postapocalyptic western about rebellion and sacrifice. Tyranny can’t last when there are people who will speak the truth.

“Fleet of foot and light of heart,” he said.

The truth-rider salutation only made her stomach turn. She touched her hat and turned the horse toward the next town.


Never Yawn Under a Banyan Tree by Nibedita Sen (Anathema, August 2017)

This fantastic, charming, delicious story is about food, ghosts, and lesbians. Reading it makes me hungry!

My search had finally turned up two promising results: a temple in Rajasthan and another in Gujarat. Both still performed exorcisms for the princely sum of five thousand rupees and three boxes of chickpea-flour-and-sugar sweetmeats. The money was supposedly for the priests, and the sweets for the gods, but I had the sneaking suspicion the sweets, too, would end up going down the priests’ gullets the way the pret had gone down mine.


Presque Vu by Nino Cipri (Liminal, November 2017)

Gorgeous, queer, and filled with longing and ghosts. Hauntings connect people and give them hope for closure and a future.

The postcards were vintage, with terrible puns and bland innuendo: the one he’d seen had had a naughty librarian with stacks of books propping up her cleavage, Interested in a thriller? On the other side was a spidery scrawl of words in faded brown ink.


The Secret Life of Bots by Suzanne Palmer (Clarkesworld, September 2017) [novelette]

Bot 9 is SO FRICKING CUTE I CANNOT HANDLE THIS PERFECT LEVEL OF ADORABLE. This is a delightful, hilarious, charming story about bots!

The Ship had not actually told it what was in cargo bay four, but surely it must have something to do with the war effort and was then none of its own business, the bot decided. It had never minded not knowing a thing before, but it felt a slight unease now that it could neither explain, nor explain away.

Skins Smooth as Plantain, Hearts Soft as Mango by Ian Muneshwar (The Dark, August 2017)

Food horror is my jam, and this story is ripe with gorgeous descriptions and mouth-watering detail that will make you hungry…maybe not in the best way.

He ate a heaping forkful of the pie. It was wonderful: the goat was soft, savory, fatty; the salt and animal juices and hot water crust all came together on his tongue. The beast pushed up, stretching open the base of his esophagus, unfurling its own eager tongue.


Small Changes Over Long Periods of Time by K.M. Szpara (Uncanny, May/June 2017) [novelette]

An #ownvoices (sans the vampire part) story about a gay trans man who’s bitten by a vampire and deals with the after effects of being turned. Raw, sharp, and so often unbearably human, Szpara examines many axises of marginalization and the trials and joys inherent in living in an imperfect world.

But vampires who break the law, who feed from un-certified donors, who steal blood bags, or drink without asking first, are put on the Blood Offenders Registry, which is basically a hit list for corrupt cops and stake-wielding bigots.


Some Remarks on the Reproductive Strategy of the Common Octopus by Bogi Takács (Clarkesworld, April 2017)

Brilliant and subversive, the story examines how colonialism destroys environments and people alike. Also OCTOPI. ❤

I am going to meet Pebblesmooth. Pebblesmooth, who doesn’t have all the answers, but who has the best questions. Once I am there, I will ask, “Pebblesmooth, can a dead human affect the field?”


The Sound Of by Charles Payseur (Nightmare, May 2017)

This story has haunted me since I first read it. The story shows a dystopia that is all too real, too believable, and will chill you. It has no happy ending; this is a horror story and the tragedy comes from the wrenching understand that sometimes, we cannot endure everything.

He checks his friends, makes sure no one is saying anything that could possibly be viewed as a violation. Just to be safe, he unfriends a few people who knew him back in college. His fingers stop when Ren’s profile comes up. He hovers, weighing his options, then swallows and closes the app.


The Whalebone Parrot by Darcie Little Badger (The Dark, October 2017)

Ghosts. Dead whales. Colonialism being interrogated and resisted against. The voice is perfect, the structure and mix of narrative and journal entries firmly grounds this in time and setting, and it builds to a slow, excruciating and unsettling conclusion. Wonderful horror-fantasy!

“Not especially.” It was only a partial lie; Loretta’s married name still sounded like it belonged to a stranger. When Emily was summoned to the island, Loretta asked her to be discreet. Tell nobody that we are sisters.


There has been so much excellent fiction published this year; the wonderful field of SFFH is growing and diversifying and shining with amazing gems. I’m so excited to read more breathtaking stories in the future!


ETA: I had one more story in this list which I mistook as a 2017 publication, when it was 2016. Still keeping it here as a postscript because it’s SO good.

All the Colors You Thought Were Kings by Arkady Martine (Shimmer, December 2017 2016)

Gorgeous, riveting space opera on an epic scale that still remains deeply personal. Radiant with imagery and intense with emotion.

Even barefoot in gauze, your Tamar looks dangerous. You could die of pride if you weren’t half planning to die of something else first.





Awards Eligibility 2017

So, this year was pretty damn good in terms of stories published. For people reading and nominating for various SFF awards, such as the Nebulas, the Hugos, and World Fantasy, I would be honored if you considered any of my work! ❤


Short Stories

Monster Girls Don’t Cry (Uncanny, January/February 2017)

Longing For Stars Once Lost (Lightspeed, September 2017)

For Now, Sideways (Diabolical Plots, August 2017)

What the Fires Burn (PodCastle, August 2017)

The House At the End of the Lane Is Dreaming (Lightspeed, December 2017)


Later, Let’s Tear Up the Inner Sanctum (Lightspeed, February 2017)


Interactive Fiction

This Is A Picture Book (sub-Q Magazine, November 2017)


Other Short Stories

These are not available online yet, but I am happy to email a copy of individual stories in your preferred format. Just ping me and let me know (via the contact page). 🙂

Brightened Star, Ascending Dawn (Humans Wanted, ed. Vivian Caethe, August 2017)

Fathoms Deep and Fathoms Cold (Submerged, S.C. Butler and Joshua Palmatier, September 2017)

Thrice Remembered (The Death of All Things, Laura Anne Gilman and Kat Richardson, September 2017)

Two Reflections At Midnight (Gamut Magazine, September 2017)


Happy New Year and here’s to a better 2018 for us all!

How Grandma Saved the World And Invented Intergalactic Diplomacy

How Grandma Saved the World And Invented Intergalactic Diplomacy

by A. Merc Rustad


Grandma was the first person to encounter the aliens, and because of that, we’re alive decades later and I get to tell you the story of how she saved the world.

It goes like this.

Grandma always believed in being kind. She talked to her potted gardenias when she watered them. She fed all the neighborhood’s strays. She made tea for anyone who came to visit. She donated a check to the local foodbank once a month and volunteered on weekends.

You could say Grandma never met a living being she didn’t like. She petted the grass and chatted to the local oak trees in her front yard. She apologized to the front step if she tripped on it bringing in groceries. She left crumbs in one corner of the pantry for the ants and always kept fresh water in the bird bath and nectar in the hummingbird feeders.

Maybe you think no one could be this perfect. Maybe you think I’m exaggerating Grandma’s legacy, because of how she saved the world.

Let me tell you, Grandma wasn’t perfect by a long shot. She got mad at politics and she cursed so blue the dictionary ran out of words to keep up with her. She had a record for vandalism (taking out bigoted signs on neighbor’s lawns), she’d been arrested for obstruction (public protests), and for assault (she punched out a douchebag while escorting a scared young woman to a clinic).

So no, Grandma wasn’t a saint. But she always believed in being kind, even if sometimes you had to put politeness aside and punch a douchebag out cold.

Grandma had an open-door policy: she never locked her doors and anyone was welcome in her kitchen. Make sure you scraped off your boots if it was muddy or snowing, always say thanks when you left, and don’t bother the gardenias (they have delicate dispositions).

It was December when the saucer crashed into her backyard.

Grandma had been filling up the bird feeders with seed, setting out dried ears of corn for the squirrels, and replenishing the salt lick for the deer. A tremendous BOOM! knocked her flat on her back so hard her breath huffed out in a great whoosh of steam. It wasn’t thunder, even if the weather had been awfully strange–heavy clouds, electric disturbances causing power outages, and reports of weird lights in the sky.

Well, Grandma’s first thought, of course, was that somebody had gotten into an accident, and she went into high gear. Grandma had taken first aid and CPR courses, and in her youth, she’d wanted to be an EMT. (She switched professions when she injured her back too badly to work in the field, and had become a public health counselor instead. She’d also worked at a crisis hotline, a Planned Parenthood clinic, and did free health seminars for endangered youth.)

Even out of breath, Grandma staggered to her feet and shuffled as fast as knee-deep snow would allow towards the sound. There wasn’t any smoke, but she smelled crackling ozone and noticed her electricity was out. It was before the Winter Solstice, so days were short on light. It was near dark already, and she hurried, puffing with exertion.

The saucer had clipped one of her oak trees, which made her wince. She patted it gently in passing. She’d bandage up that gash first thing in the morning. What she focused on first was the dented metal saucer–a spaceship. Oh, yeah, Grandma loved old sci-fi movies (the original The Day The Earth Stood Still being her favorite) so she knew at once what had happened.

Aliens had shown up on earth!

And they were in her backyard, and their ship was damaged, and they probably needed medical attention.

The saucer’s cloaking device was still flickering in and out, so it took her fifteen minutes of working up a sweat before she managed to pry down the cracked door on the ship. She’d heard weak banging on the inside, and suspected the pilot–or pilots–were trying to get out.

“Are you acclimated to our atmosphere?” Grandma called. “Or do you have appropriate hazard suits? Oh lordy, I do hope your universal translators are working. Hold on, I’m coming!”

The hatch was ajar, but she couldn’t get enough leverage with just her mitten-wrapped hands. She’d left a shovel by the garden fence to clear a path to the salt lick, so she grabbed that and used it as a pry bar. The handle snapped. But she’d done enough, and the hatch creaked open at last.

Grandma stepped back, watching with concern. There were four aliens: they didn’t resemble gray bobble-headed UFO pilots or green lizard-like bipeds or tentacled atrocities, of course. They were willowy humanoids with metallic skin and six eyes and folded wings along their backs.

(Of course, we know them now as the Angels, given that most of the population still can’t pronounce their proper name, but they don’t mind. Some are rather flattered by the comparison to mythology.)

Two of the aliens supported a third. Even with no experience with their physiology Grandma could see right away that one was hurt. The fourth stepped forward and flared hir wings.

Grandma smiled, her stomach pitter-pattering in nervousness, and held out her arms. “Welcome to Earth! Do you require medical attention? Please come in. My house is right there. I’m not sure I have food that will meet your dietary requirements but you are more than welcome to anything in the fridge. And if you can drink tea, I’m happy to make a pot.”

The first Angel slowly lowered hir wings and blinked. Then ze said, haltingly in English, “You are not hostile?”

“Me?” Grandma said, and laughed. “Oh hell no. I believe everyone deserves dignity, respect, and happiness. I try my best to live to these ideals, hard though it is some days.”

It was more effusive a greeting than she normally was wont to give, but she wanted to be sure, right out of the gate, that the visitors understood her intentions and her heart.

“Detecting no lies,” said the Angel. (Grandma would later learn this was the diplomatic liaison, who was an empath.)

“May I invite you inside? It’s frigging cold out here, at least to a human body.” Grandma pointed at her house. “I’ve a spare bedroom made up, and a recliner in the living room, and I might even have that old air mattress still…Come in, please.” She backed towards her house, beckoned, and then held the door open as the for Angels glided across the snow and ducked into her kitchen.

She put on a pot of tea, broke out her first aid kit, and set a plate of sugar cookies on the table for her guests. She wasn’t the greatest baker, truth be told, but she could make a mean pre-packaged tray of cookies right out of the fridge. She’d had two platters wrapped in foil and ready to take down for the town hall meeting.

The two Angels laid the third on the recliner in the living room and held their hands together over hir body. It wasn’t so much blood as it was a discoloration along the abdomen. Grandma suspected internal bleeding, or the equivalent in their biology.

“Can I do anything to help?” she asked.

“Light, if you may spare it,” said the liaison.

“I’m afraid the power’s out, but the stove’s gas and I have plenty of candles and an old battery powered lantern in the laundry room.”

She set to work bringing light to her cheerful home. She told the gardenias about her visitors (“They seem like very nice people, and I do hope their friend is okay.”) and made sure Maxie the cat was aware of the guests so he wouldn’t freak out (poor thing was always nervous with new people) and told her internet modem not to stress that it couldn’t get signal. The power would be back up in a while.

Grandma didn’t show it, but she was still nervous. Guests! Not from Earth! It was altogether quite a shock. A pleasant one, but still…she was getting on in her years and she still had two care packages to make before the post came tomorrow. She worried she wouldn’t be able to be a proper host, especially if the visitors were night owls. She tended to go to bed right around nine p.m. these days.

Once the house was as bright as she could safely make it, she stood in the kitchen and fiddled with her hands. The trio in the living room were exactly as she had left them: two holding hands over the third, whose eyes were closed.

The fourth Angel settled at the kitchen table and accepted a cup of tea. Angels have mouths very much human-like, and ze nodded in approval. It was just boxed Earl Grey, but Angels had never had earth tea before. Grandma had always believed tea could solve many problems, or at least make dealing with them easier.

The liaison finally said, “Are you the representative of this world?”

Grandma considered her reply carefully. She could be honest and say that no one person could represent an entire world populated by billions of individuals. She could give an expected answer: no, but here is a list of people who are, theoretically, in charge of running the place. (That wouldn’t do at all. Grandma was mighty displeased with the current government.)

And here’s the other thing about Grandma: she didn’t need false modesty or self-depreciation. She knew she was a decent human. Not the best, and she had her flaws, but fundamentally, she was a good woman. She’d tried to live her life well, to give back to others, to show hospitality and compassion, to leave this Earth just a fraction better than she found it.

So she thought: why shouldn’t she be a representative for Earth? Surely she couldn’t speak for everyone. But right now, she was speaking just for her little corner of the world: her plot of land, the plants, the cats, the neighbor girl who brought her muffins on Sunday mornings, the deer in the back woods, herself.

“I am,” she said. “One of many.”

The Angel tilted hir head down in what Grandma took to be a polite gesture. “We thank you for your hospitality. Our Queen was injured in the crash. Ze will take several days to heal. May we reside here until our fleet arrives?”

“Of course,” Grandma said. “You can stay as long as you like.” She was honored they wanted to rest in her little house. That would give her time to settle, and to chat, and maybe Maxie would warm up to the Angels and come out to say hi.

If there was one thing Grandma loved, it was making new friends.

Grandma wouldn’t know it until the power came back on and her TV and internet worked again, but all over the world, bigger saucer ships were hovering over cities and oceans. Waiting for signal from the downed craft in Grandma’s back yard.

When the Angel Queen recovered, and enjoyed Grandma’s famous chocolate chip pancakes, Grandma and the liaison sat down to discuss global treaties, trade relationships, and travel routes to and from Earth.

Grandma was invited up into the mothership, where she put world leaders in their place the moment anyone suggested weapons, tactics, or being an asshole to the aliens. Grandma had never been shy about talking over men. (Remember that time she punched a guy? Yep. She did it again, and this time she got applause.)

And of course, she was now best friends with the Queen, who was inclined to take Grandma’s word for what would and wouldn’t be good for earth. (Yes to better tech and advanced farming and the eradication of poverty and disease and hunger; no to weapons and space-travel just yet. Wait a few decades, Grandma suggested. Let humanity work through its issues on land before taking to the stars, even supervised.)

It could have been a very different story, you know. But you’ve seen those–the ones about war and conquest and invasion. Fictions we won’t have to live. We didn’t get that future because Grandma showed our friends kindness and invited strangers into her home during a time of need.

That’s how Grandma saved the world: with compassion and a plate of cookies and mugs of tea.



© by Merc Rustad 2017

2,100 words | Science Fiction


(originally published on my Patreon, July 2017)


Wilde Stories 2016 is now available!

The latest volume in Wilde Stories, a Year’s Best collection of gay speculative fiction edited by Steve Berman, is loose in the wilds!

wilde2016It includes a reprint of my story, “To the Knife-Cold Stars” (originally published in Escape Pod). There book has a fantastic line-up of excellent authors, and I’m honored to be included in such a collection. ❤

Wilde Stories 2016: The Year’s Best Gay Speculative Fiction

(ed. by Steve  Bernam, Lethe Press)

It’s available in ebook via Smashwords, and paperback available at Amazon, or directly through Lethe Press’s website.


How to Become a Robot in 12 Easy Steps

My short SF story about gender, sexuality, identity, robots and lists (with a mostly LGBTQIA cast) is now up at Scigentasy!

“How to Become a Robot in 12 Easy Steps” [link goes to GlitterShip’s podcast/reprint]

(Trigger Warning: suicidal ideations.)

This was an incredibly personal and hard-to-write story in so many ways, and I am very proud of it. (I have some thoughts/notes on this story I will put up later.) Delighted it has found a perfect home–and that I can share it with people now.

I hope you will check it out! 🙂