Writer, Translator

THE GREEN LIST: my short speculative fiction recommendations

These are the best speculative fiction short stories, novelettes, and novellas I've read. I began logging everything I read around 2010. I haven't always kept up with it, but I find it useful as auxiliary memory. I use cell styles to rate short stories by color: green for great, yellow for good, white for meh, and red for bad. White is by far the predominant color, followed by yellow, then the elite greens, and last some rare reds. So please enjoy my Green List, which will always be a work in progress... 

Bacigalupi, Paolo - The Calorie Man - Energy stored in springs wound by resurrected megafauna, scarcity, calorie smuggling on the Mississippi, and much more. 

Barnes, John - Things Undone - Time travel requires 'human ballast' on the other end. Just one of the innovations in this tale of a bleak alternate timeline where 'indexical derivability' trumps the scientific method and Europe wipes out the rest of the world, and we get to know an FBI very different from our own.

Bear, Elizabeth - Tideline - A derelict battle bot makes necklaces to commemorate its fallen comrades, and adopts a war orphan, raising him to one day carry on the legacy of the fallen. Perfectly executed.

Benford, Gregory - Bow Shock - An astronomer discovers a distant alien ship in the process of coming apart. Realistic and compelling.  

Bunker, Karl - Under the Shouting Sky - Fear, beauty, and revelations on an icy moon of Saturn.

Butler, Octavia E. - Bloodchild - Humans penetrated by alien ovipositors, hosting alien eggs, and even having relationships of a kind with their alien keepers. A classic! 

Carroll, Siobhan - The War of  Light and Shadow, in Five Dishes - A master chef captured by the enemy improvises with what he has and changes the course of history. Delicious.  http://www.beneath-ceaseless-skies.com/stories/the-war-of-light-and-shadow-in-five-dishes/ 

Chen Qiufan - The Year of the Rat - Genetically altered rats are loose in China, and college graduates are drafted to hunt them down. Translated by the inimitable Ken Liu (see below).

Chiang, Ted - Seventy-Two Letters - Entropy, golems,  automata, sperm containing fully-formed miniature people, the Kaballah... just read this, trust me. 

Chiang, Ted - Exhalation - Lifeforms that run on air pressure, in an entropic, winding down world. Mind as pattern of air pressure, gold leaf valves as neural net.  Quintessential Chiang. 

Chiang, Ted - The Lifecycle of Software Objects - Digital pets running on a genomic engine grow up as platforms change and their owners face many of the challenges of parenthood. Superb!

Chiang, Ted - Story of Your Life - First contact with aliens means learning their mind-altering language and perceiving time in a new way. Adapted into the movie Arrival. I related to this one.

Chiang, Ted - What's Expected Of Us - Short and sweet. Predictor devices light up a second before you press the button, always. There is no free will. Possibly the most effective flash piece I've ever read. 

Clare, Gwendolyn - All the Painted Stars - An alien warrior is stranded in a strangely organic starship after defending it from attackers, and finds a stowaway population of humans. Together they must try to resurrect the ship's makers. Between Clare, de Bodard, Mcyntire, and others, there ought to be a new genre name, something other than space opera that captures the dizzying possibilities of organic starship stories. Bio-ship punk?

Clark, Phenderson Djeli - The Secret Lives of the Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington - The eponymous secret lives are full of magic and vengeance and yearning for freedom. This is a new, mystical history for the nine people whose teeth ended up in the mouth of George Washington. Beyond the historical and social relevance, this was just a compelling tale.  https://firesidefiction.com/the-secret-lives-of-the-nine-negro-teeth-of-george-washington 

de Bodard, Aliette - The Lost Xuyan Bride - In a world dominated by the Xuyan and Mexica cultures, we find a truncated and impoverished U.S.A., and a marginalized American private dick tracking down the daughter of a powerful Xuyan family. As with O One by Chris Roberson (see below), it's interesting to read alternate histories where the colonized become the colonizers. 

Denton, Bradley - Sergeant Chip - From an altered/uplifted soldier dog's POV, we experience a corrupt war, in the clear, simple language appropriate to the POV. A tale of canine bravery and loyalty.  

Egan, Greg - Wang's Carpets - Alien life analogous to a Wang's Tile system is discovered, encoding its own a-life and virtual universe and even intelligence. There's a lot more to this one. Egan at his most inventive. Brilliant!

Egan, Greg - Border Guards - People have 'jewels' instead of brains, durable artificial brains that can be copied, and they live in a branching tree of artificial universes with novel physics. They're immortal, and innocent of the fear of death, except for one of them.

Egan, Greg - Crystal Nights - A-life is allowed to evolve into AI on supercomputing crystal processors, then allowed to play with real world tech in order to learn our physics and build better computers in which to house themselves. Of course things go awry. In the tradition of Microcosmic God  by Theodore Sturgeon (see below) and Sandkings by George RR Martin. 

Egan, Greg - Glory - A mind-boggling space travel method, alien mathematics and a grand unified theory, lightspeed data trapped in orbit around a black hole... I don't know how to tease this one succinctly. Read it. Now.    

Egan, Greg - Bit Players - An implausible game world where east is down, gravity and other physics make no sense, and the NPCs are composites of neural maps of real people, enslaved to this game, and must play their roles or get deleted. First of a trilogy (Bit Players, 3-adica, Instantiation) that I'm sure would make great TV. 

Egan, Greg - 3-adica - The sequel to Bit Players. In a 19th century London horror game world, our hero seeks the colors needed to code herself onto the NPC stack for the next world, like she has many times before. Adventure and loss eventually land her in 3-adica, where space and movement are subject to weird mathematics. I’m loving this ongoing story and I'm about to read part 3, Instantiation.  https://www.asimovs.com/ 

Egan, Greg - Closer - A couple, in the age of replacement brains and body swapping, experiment with sex changes, body trades, and a temporary merging into a compromise hybrid mind.

Egan, Greg - Steve Fever - A doctor with incurable cancer programs his nanites to keep hunting for solutions to cure him, or resurrect him if he dies. After he dies in a car crash, the nanites become a plague manipulating the world to resurrect Steve, trying every crazy theory they google. A farm boy gets the fever and feels compelled to Atlanta, where he helps re-enact scenes from Steve's childhood that the nanites are trying to reconstruct from emails and photos, in order to test and refine their approximation of Steve's consciousness. Bizarre, inventive, funny.

Gerrold, David - In the Quake Zone - Time quakes are disrupting timelines in Los Angeles. A kind of PI agency navigates a map of the time rifts. A Vietnam vet works for them, as muscle, then gets an assignment to stop a serial killer from killing a young gay man. This one's on my re-read docket.

Gilman, Carolyn Ives - Touring with the Alien - Kind of an answer to Blindsight by Peter Watts, in which aliens are super-intelligent but not conscious. But Gilman’s aliens get addicted to consciousness. This is the tale of a bus tour for an alien and its human 'translator' or surrogate consciousness, as they’re trailed by the CIA. Fascinating. 

Gilman, Carolyn Ives - Umbernight - The deadly radiation of Umber quickens a hidden, deadly ecosystem on Dust, a colonized planet under the influence of two very different suns. A journey to a supply drop becomes a race against 'Umbernight .' The rationalism of the original colonists is at odds with the relative mysticism of their Dust-born offspring. This story is strange, alien, suspenseful, and revelatory.  http://clarkesworldmagazine.com/gilman_02_18/  

Gilman, Carolyn Ives - We Will Be All Right - Gilman continues to impress. A plague has changed the world, striking down men only, after sex. Women are the vectors. A mother contemplates poisoning her son's girlfriend, who's coming over for dinner. This one was short and lean and very well done. I've now read Gilman thrice and rated her green each time. She's officially on my radar (not in a creepy way).  http://www.lightspeedmagazine.com/fiction/we-will-be-all-right/     

Green, Dominic - The Clockwork Atom Bomb - WMDs in the form of magnetically-contained mini black holes are discovered in an African republic. Their spin energy is used to launch projectiles. But now their energy is being used by locals, and they're exploited as disposal dumps. And they're becoming unstable.

Hao Jingfang - Folding Beijing - The population problem is solved by rotating waking time and folding the entire city of the Northern Capital, Beijing. A poor garbage sorter goes to the first world to make money for his daughter's schooling. Surreal and striking, especially for a 老北京人 (old Beijinger) like me. Translated by the ubiquitous Ken Liu.

Heinlein, Robert - All You Zombies - Via time travel paradoxes and gender reassignment surgery, a man is his own mother and daughter and father. Weird and clever.

Jennings, Kathleen - The Heart of Owl Abbas - A brilliant, reclusive songwriter confined to a garret, an automaton singer hunting for the 'heart' of a decaying city, a city that metastasized around an ancient abbey. Nearly every sentence is a revelation. This is how you write prose.   


Kessel, John - Events Preceding the Helvetican Renaissance - A fighter turned monk is on a mission for his oppressed home world. He goes to the imperial core world to steal its 'foundation plays,' the cultural foundation of this fundamentalist empire.

Lake, Jay - The Stars Do Not Lie - On a fallen diaspora world, there is confusion about the fossil record. A near-earth object that turns out to be a ship. It's religion vs. science, and a heretic is figuring out the truth. This one appealed to me because I'd been trying to write something like it for a long time.

Landis, Geoffrey A. - Approaching Perimelasma - A mind uploaded to a tiny super-strong body for a black hole dive. Weird physics. Yes please.

Landis, Geoffrey A. - A Walk in the Sun - An astronaut must walk around the moon in order to stay in the sun and survive until rescued. Realistic, simple, compelling.

Lavalle, Victor - The Ballad of Black Tom - The tale of a young man in Harlem with ulterior motives who enters the service of a gentleman hobbyist occultist, and finds himself in a dark, Lovecraftian world. There’s a lot more to this. Dark and atmospheric, and takes place in the 1920s, which I always love.

LeGuin, Ursula K. - The Matter of Seggri - Ecumen off-worlders spend generations trying to understand a society where men are a minority, confined to 'castles' and 'fuckeries' where the spend their days sporting and preening and competing and servicing women, who are in the majority and run the society. This is the one I chose to read from at a LeGuin memorial in Seattle. It encapsulates much of what I love about Ursula: anthropological sci-fi, and playing with gender. 

LeGuin, Ursula K. - Coming of Age in Karhide - Growing up in guilds, then going off to the kemer house when it's time to start becoming a different sex every month. Fascinating as always, the monkhood, the guilds, the social structures around these gender-shifters. 

LeGuin, Ursula K. - Mountain Ways - Four-person marriages of two sanctioned couplings, one hetero- and one homosexual, composed of men and women of two different moeities, morning and evening. True heterosexuality is rare, and a source of shame. I believe one of Ursula's parents was an anthropologist. If you grow up like that and happen to be brilliant, you may end up with masterpieces like this. 

LeGuin, Ursula K. - Unchosen Love - The quartet marriages of Mountain Ways are back, this time in a different setting, and a man, already homosexual-coupled, wrestles with the possibility of a hetero match so he can get married.  

LeGuin, Ursula K. - Solitude - An ecumenical investigator and her son and daughter  are on a primitive world, post-civilization, where women live in loose communities, and men are loners occasionally visited for sex. Everyone lives alone, no one enters each others huts. The ecumenical children grow up very differently because of this, and face challenges upon returning to the Ecumen. 

Liu Cixin - The Circle - The human army computer from Three Body Problem is used to calculate pi and seek the secret of immortality. Meanwhile, foreign armies invade, which was the programmer's mission all along, to occupy the army with this computing business. A nice entrée to Big Liu and his big ideas. 

Liu, Ken - Real Artists - A Pixar-like studio uses software to assemble movies and test them and tweak them over and over by reading micro-signs in test audiences, to approach ideal emotional story curves. A woman is recruited for  the audience because she has good taste. She has spent her life trying to become a film maker, even re-editing the studio's near-perfect films. In the end she has to decide if she'll become an audience aesthete, enduring short term memory wipes between versions. Ken at his best!

Liu, Ken - Cosmic Spring - A planet under massive propulsion travels a nearly heat-dead cosmos seeking energy, dying suns. A wonderful, compelling meditation on entropy, seasons, life and death.   


Liu, Ken - The Clockwork Soldier - A bounty hunter releases her mark after playing his text based adventure, which tells his story of discovering he's an AI replica of a dead child, son of powerful anti-AI father. In the text adventure you’re a princess helping your clockwork companion find an 'Augustine Module' so he can punch his own instruction cards. Probably my favorite story of Ken’s. 

Mcauley, Paul - The Man - On a world of ruins, an old woman scavenges the shoreline for artifacts. There’s this fascinating, weird ecology of the things she scavenges. She finds a mysterious artificial man who is blank and childlike, whose provenance turns out to be interesting and dangerous. 

Mcauley, Paul - Crimes and Glory - First contact with aliens called the Jackaroo, who give us access to a small wormhole network of fourteen systems, with a few habitable worlds and ruins of Elder cultures. Prospectors mine the wrecked hulks of ships for code. Our protagonist is an investigator who tracks dangerous code. There’s a great line about humans being like mice in the ‘walls’ of all these new worlds and technologies and ships, barely understanding the giants that surround them. I fell in love with this idea. 

McIntyre, Vonda N. - Little Faces - A masterpiece. A tale of posthuman women and their males, which have become little parasitic Quato type things, ‘companions’. Women lovers create them for each other. A companion contains sperm plus the woman creator's memories. Companions can be used for sex and pleasure, or to make other companions, or to sire a daughter. An aggressive lover kills our protagonist's primary companion, to make room for hers. The starships are also interesting. Everyone is born with their own living, evolving starship. The ships exchange genes and have desires to congregate, and also explore. This story was fascinating and unlike anything I’d read before. I got to meet Vonda in Seattle and probably annoyed her with my fanboyishness. 

Moles, David - Finisterra - Island-sized behemoth floater creatures inhabit a gas giant. The floaters have their own ecologies and human refugees. The story revolves around poacher conflicts. Loved it. 

Moraine, Sunny - Iron Ladies, Iron Tigers - The interfaced pilot of an experimental FTL ship has left behind her lover to pursue this flight. She comes to in utter darkness, visuals are working although much else has failed. She and her primitive AI try to figure shit out while she remembers her lover. They detect an iron object, a stellar remnant, an object that would take trillions of years to develop. She’s arrived in a universe in the advanced stages of heat death. This one is about coming to terms with the fleeting nature of things. 

Pinsker, Sarah - The Court Magician - A boy becomes a street performer magician, then the Regent's court magician, sacrificing a part of himself or something precious to him every time he incants a power word and makes a problem go away for the Regent. This was very compelling and readable. The simple power of the words and the vibe reminded me of The Alchemist by Paul Coelho.   


Prasad, Vina Jie-Min - A Series of Steaks - A bloody brilliant bio-printing tale you can sink your teeth into. In the near-future, our protagonist runs a low-key but high-quality meat forgery business, seeking to earn enough to start a new life.

Rambo, Cat - Web of Blood and Iron - An intriguing Europe overrun by vampires. The rest of world is dealing with other faery folk. The U.S.A. has phlogiston stores to keep them at bay. Our protagonist is a gnome servant to a playboy werewolf seeking his lost American love. There is a wager on a car racing a train. I loved this, and got to see Cat read it at Norwescon. 

Reed, Robert - Mystic Falls - A subtly lovely and comforting woman appears in everyone’s uploaded memories, playing a million different roles in people’s lives. Perhaps some kind of virus or emergent intelligence. A guy who is not very smart, but willing to consider what others won't, is sent into his memory of her, in a hike up to Mystic Falls, to talk to her and find out what she is. 

Reed, Robert - Eater-Of-Bone - This novella is masterful. It’s about the scattered, dangerous posthumans of a fallen colony, full of healing and immortality nano, but needing special nutrients. Tribal or solitary, they fear each other, while they fear or exploit the tiny native alien communities of this world. I fell in love with this story.

Reynolds, Alastair - Beyond the Aquila Rift - A super-space network left by a dead alien civ, navigated by humans who don’t quite control or understand it, but have some grasp of the 'syntax' needed, the arrangement of plate geometries on their hulls. I don’t want to give away too much. This is Reynolds at his vast and mind-boggling best. 

Reynolds, Alastair - Scales - A human soldier is altered, reduced, uploaded, and evolves as the war escalates, expanding into new dimensions, becoming a machine in a war with machines. The twist ending of this one will leave you pondering.

Ribbeck, Bernhard - A Blue and Cloudless Sky - Above a planet inhabited by humans and an aboriginal species, hangs an encroaching black hole (the crown of stars). Everyone's on the lookout for the man they know must go back to Earth to keep a paradoxical time loop going. Interesting and atmospheric.

Roberson, Chris - O One - An alternate history China featuring computers made of humans on abacuses, challenged by a new computing machine from subjugated England.

Rosenbaum, Benjamin - Embracing-the-New - In an alien civ, the powerful have many ghennungs (parasitic creatures that function as auxiliary memory and can be passed on). Our protagonist is a lowly apprentice to a powerful and respected god-carver, and is given the honor of carving a new god (the stone mined by brute laborers who have no ghennungs and are therefor little more than beasts). He carves an inspired new god (Embracing-the-New) something like a brute leaning down to pick up its first ghennung, and things begin to unravel. 

Rosenbaum, Benjamin - The House Beyond Your Sky - Sentience in the universe combines and evolves but then the universe expands beyond c and everything's dying slowly, asymptotically toward heat death, and so sentience sends a version of itself , the Pilgrim, to another universe, where things get very surreal and interesting. 

Rosenblum, Mary -The Egg Man - In a water scarcity future, the U.S. is fading. Mexico is sending aid over the border, gen-engineered eggs with various mods for cancer, diabetes, latest flu strains, ect. A truck driver and his rig, Dragon, are delivering the eggs, and he’s seeking his lost love. What he finds is unexpected to say the least. Compelling stuff.

Stanton, Sarah - The Switch - A Beijing of pretty holograms to cover up the smoggy sky and demolished hutong communities. Three dissidents go around restoring the actual houses and deactivating their holograms. This one got to me because I lived in Beijing for five years, seeing much of what Stanton’s holograms cover up. And I once wrote my own story about Devil’s Night vandals deprogramming house facades.  

Sterling, Bruce - The Lustration - Aliens on a world covered in the wooden macro-computer they've built over millions of years, consisting of balls rolling on wooden rails and stored in towers. There is a secret society that knows the remarkable truth about this global computer. I loved this and felt it was akin to Exhalation by Ted Chiang (see above).  

Sterling, Bruce - Taklamakan - Spies infiltrate a nuclear waste containment facility in the Taklamakan desert, and discover an underground social experiment, three fake starships in a cave with fake stars, tended by an evolving ecosystem of vat-grown robots, designed by evolutionary algorithms. One ship contains docile farmers, another is overcrowded and on the verge of rebellion, and the third is a graveyard. Some crazy stuff happens. Nifty. I once lived near the Taklamakan desert and explored the 'singing dunes'. 

Sturgeon, Theodore - Microcosmic God - An ancestor of Crystal Nights by Greg Egan (see above). A biochemist speeds up metabolism and evolution and creates intelligent lifeforms to figure out any problem he poses, after evolving them genetic algorithm style. A greedy banker benefits from the eccentric scientist and his Neoterics, and things begin to spiral out of control.  

Swanwick, Michael - The Dog Said Bow-Wow - In a future after AIs rebelled and all IT was destroyed or banned, genetic engineering remains. A dog-man joins a rogue in London for high, bizarre adventure in Buckingham Labyrinth. Demon-proof modems and diamonds. This is a cool world and buddy adventure.  

Swanwick, Michael - The Very Pulse of the Machine - An astronaut on Io drags her dead companion across the strange surface. The electromagnetic properties of Io turn out to be part of an ancient alien machine, communicating through the dead woman's statically charged brain, via fragments of poetry. And that’s just for starters.

Turtledove, Harry - Vilcabamba - Aliens take over Earth and treat it much as Europeans treated North America. Free U.S.A. is a small Rocky Mountains enclave, until aliens want the silver in Utah. Their mining techniques would destroy the country, so the president resists. A fun read. 

Vaughn, Carrie - The Best We Can - A good realistic account of the red tape and delays after spotting a near-Earth ET artifact on an eccentric comet-like orbit. Who will try to retrieve it, study it? The woman who first spotted it takes on a proprietary, frustrated attitude, impatient to get to it. 

Vivier, Sean - The Chosen One Can't Lose - A choose-your-own-adventure flash piece, but no matter what you do, you're the chosen one, and you end up doing what you're destined to do… defeat the darkness. Clever.

Watts, Peter - The Island - We meet the crew of a ship that travels at relativistic speeds in order to build wormhole conduits, like a road crew. They sleep through centuries. The ship AI has waged a war with the crew and they have reached a stalemate. The crew reluctantly continues its endless mission (no longer able to contact or communicate with what comes out of their wormholes, post-post-humans) but they've won some privacy and autonomy. Encountering a living Dyson sphere stirs things up considerably.  

Watts, Peter - The Things - 'The Thing' from the alien's POV. It has trouble comprehending discrete, isolated entities that can't morph, and centralized brains, and human hostility to 'communion.'  

Wood, Eleanor R. - Fibonacci - A scientist resurrects ammonites to release into the ocean to repair the ecosystem. The whole story is told thru Fibonacci numbers. Excellent.

Xia Jia - Night Journey of the Dragon-Horse - A mechanical dragon-horse built in France, massive and metal and full of fire and falling apart, journeys through a dead civilization’s ruins. He tells his companion, a bat, stories of the former human world, strange supernatural tales from the robot age. A colorful and poetic story. 

Yoachim, Caroline - Harmonies of Time - The Eternals are aliens that perceive time probabilities and want to warn humanity of a probable disaster 2 million years from now. They choose a girl who got a cochlear implant at 10, who is used to getting a new sense, and they alter her implant so that she hears time and the future probabilities as music. Mind-bending and lovely.