The Best of January's Short Stories (That You Can Read For Free Online)S

Short stories have always been the lifeblood of the science fiction and fantasy genres, even though novels get the lion's share of the attention. There are hundreds of great stories published every year — and a large portion of them are available for free online — but many people only read the shorts in one of the various yearly Best Of collections. So consider this your early heads-up about some great stories online.

Every month I'll offer up a concentrated list of favorite shorts found in magazines and (occasionally) anthologies.

Top image: Apex Magazine.

Here are my picks for January:

The Advocate by Genevieve Valentine | Eclipse Online
Opening sentence: "The Martian Embassy in New York is at the north edge of Midtown along First Avenue, in a grey building set back from the street by a courtyard and surrounded by a high stone wall."

Politics, bureaucracy, government ineptitude, the ambitions of petty little men. Too often stories with these elements end up being just as banal and annoying as dealing with them in real life. Here you get a reverse effect. The politicking leads to the result it usually does: something or someone is in danger. Valentine has a way of quietly and sneakily engaging you so that the reader is invested in the outcome as much as any of the characters, mainly because most of us know too well that these things rarely turn out well in real life.

The Performance Artist by Lettie Prell | Apex Magazine
Opening sentence: "On the first day, she sits there wearing a black dress that is neither provocative nor sexless."

This story admittedly drew me in because I've seen my share of performance art, most of it ridiculous and pretentious and not worth my time. A common experience when witnessing PA was the reaction from the audience. People who tried to justify the mess in front of them by assigning it artistic merit or pretending to understand the "meaning" or the artist's intent. There are reactions you could count on hearing no matter what the art. Prell nails that in this story, and this element makes the ending more powerful for it.

Selkie Stories Are for Losers by Sofia Samatar | Strange Horizons
Opening sentences: "I hate selkie stories. They're always about how you went up to the attic to look for a book, and you found a disgusting old coat and brought it downstairs between finger and thumb and said "What's this?", and you never saw your mom again."

Selkie moms are the worst. Human moms can be pretty bad, too. A story about what daughters go through when their moms let them down, and there are many ways in which a mom might let a daughter down. The tone of this piece hovers between snarky, lighthearted, longing, and despairing and balances all of that really well.

Eleutherios by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller | Baen.com
Opening sentences: "It had been many years since the organ had last given voice. Friar Julian had been a younger man — though by no means a young man — then, and had wept to hear the majesty brought forth by his fingers."

When I first read this story I didn't know it was part of a larger world. According to the Baen website it takes place in Lee and Miller's Liaden Universe. Even if you're unfamiliar with the books set in this world, it doesn't matter. The story stands on its own, a feat not many authors manage to pull off. The story hooked me with the early description of a damaged organ cared for by a monk who longs to hear it played again. The Abbey he resides in also serves as a detention center of sorts, for criminals awaiting trial. The story takes its time weaving together the prisoner's story with the fate of the monk and the organ, but the payoff is well worth it.

Trixie and the Pandas of Dread by Eugie Foster | Apex Magazine
Opening sentence: "Trixie got out of her cherry-red godmobile and waved away the flitting cherubim waiting to bear her to her sedan chair."

My love for this story is white hot and burning like the sun. Trixie is a goddess of wrath, but she wasn't born one and still struggles to reconcile her goddess-self with her mortal brain. Oh, and she smites jerks and assholes. I love her.

Also, if you haven't checked out Matt Kressel's "The Sounds of Old Earth," published here on io9 earlier this month, you really should.

Let me know what you think of these five stories in the comments. I'd also be interested in seeing your recommendations.