"Mother Ship" by Caroline M. Yoachim (Lightspeed) - A short, sharp story that is successful based on a single image: that of a jury-rigged, crippled biological ship that's pregnant with a deformed offspring--a ship that can't quite come to terms with the strange manner in which it came to be and yet is willing to bestow that same confusion onto its child. As was done to it, so it will do...and yet it hopes that its child will find a way to imbue some meaning and purpose into this sloppy process.
"Area 54" by Hunter Liguore (Strange Horizons) - I was blinded by this story about father and daughter conspiracy theorists who can hear mysterious transmissions from aliens over the shortwave radio. All the way through it, I kept saying to myself, "Oh, they seem crazy but the aliens will turn out to be real." It was only after thinking about it that I realized it didn't matter. Are stories only justified by their ends? Don't the means matter too? This is a beautiful story. I loved the daughter's mix of hard-headedness and vulnerability; she's willing to cut and run and try to make it on her own, but all of her interactions with other people have this unworldliness to them. And at the same time, her narration has an ironic edge to it. I loved the working-class trappings of the story, too. Upper-class geeks futz around with computers and try to sense aliens in the background radiation of the universe; working-class ones hear them over the shortwave. Upper-class geeks picture aliens as beings that are coming to enlighten us; working-class ones picture them as beings who've come to kidnap and torment us.
"The Sympathy" by Eric Gregory (Lightspeed) - Halfway through the story, I realized that I've met Eric Gregory. He was one of the students in NC-State's MFA program, and we had a long talk when I visited. Anyway, I enjoyed his fairy story quite a bit. It has a line very early in the story--"Lauren had expected some frisson at the threshold, a shiver as she shrunk from a we into an I."--that is great in exactly the way that I can appreciate. It's simple, clever, and doesn't require me to visualize anything. Most of the story takes place along a stretch of highway that runs between Louisiana and Tennessee, and the story is great at conveying some of the heat and brightness of the open road. The road has a timeless, illusory quality. You get frenzied when you're driving. The outside world stops mattering and the inner world starts to matter way too much. The plot of the story had to do with a waifish hitchhiker who's on the run from some evil fairies, but that hardly matters. The heart of the story lay in those long stretches of road. It's another story where the ending was less important than the destination.
P.S. Has anyone else noticed that Clarkesworld almost never publishes Fantasy? What's the deal with that? They came close in April, but the story was still set on the moon.