Rank #1: Ashok K. Banker | A Hundred Thousand Arrows
After decades of warring, a time of peace came to the Krushan dynasty. The great armies of the Burnt Empire set aside their battle armor and weapons in exchange for flowers and rice. A great celebration lit up the streets of Hastinaga, the capital city. The marriage of Emperor Sha’ant and his unusual new Empress, Jilana. The daughter of a fisher chief married to the Emperor of the greatest empire in the known world! | Copyright 2019 by Ashok K. Banker. Narrated by Stefan Rudnicki.
Rank #2: Sarah Grey | A Bond as Deep as Starlit Seas
Don’t sell her. The thought rises like a tide in the back of Jeri’s mind, where she’s spent three Nikutan launch cycles struggling to contain it. It leaves her breathless, drowning in guilt, and trying to hide it from the krosuta-whitened stare of the Henza abbess. This is Cleo, not a load of ore. This will break her. And how could it not break her? She’s a lumbering old Juno-class cargo beast, poor Cleo, one of the earliest models. | Copyright 2018 by Sarah Grey. Narrated by Janina Edwards.
Rank #3: Jane Lindskold | A Green Moon Problem
No one had ever seen Tatter D’MaLeon’s face. Even those who thought she was just a legend agreed that she was always masked. That was about all anyone agreed upon. Although the female pronoun was usually applied to “her,” even Tatter’s sex was in doubt, as was her humanity, her age, and whether or not she existed. But believe or not, there was scarce a one who didn’t love the stories. Anthropologists had tried to pin down exactly when the first Tatter D’MaLeon stories had been told. | Copyright 2018 by Obsidian Tiger Inc. Narrated by Stefan Rudnicki.
Rank #4: Ashok K. Banker | The Terrible Oath
The nation greeted Vrath with great warmth and approval. The Burnt Empire regarded its liege as nothing less than a demi-god; in a sense, this was not far from the truth: Whether or not the Krushan dynasty was in fact born of stonefire, they were certainly something more than human. In the Krushan tongue, which was the official language of the capitol Hastinaga and the rest of the Empire, there was no word for “lie” or “falsehood.” | Copyright 2019 by Ashok K. Banker. Narrated by Stefan Rudnicki.
Rank #5: Kodiak Julian | Our Side of the Door
It isn’t until I realize I can’t find my son---really can’t find him---that I think of all the other things I can’t see in the starlit orchard. “Cruz!” I yell. “Buddy! You win!” There is no moon. The trees are thick with blossoms. I hear Cruz in the tall grasses, rustling, giggling. He is six years old. This wouldn’t bother my wife. Alyssa believes that Cruz should learn to use a knife, to light a match, to walk beside a river without stumbling and drowning. | Copyright 2018 by Kodiak Julian. Narrated by Stefan Rudnicki.
Rank #6: Kate Elliott | A Compendium of Architecture and the Science of Building
By the time he returned home after all his years of wandering, Magnus Diarisso had come to prefer a fire burning on cold days rather than the elaborate hypocaust system that heated the mage house. The sound of wood settling, sparks popping, and ashes sighing helped him relax. He told his nephew the mansa, the powerful cold mage who was head of Four Moons House, that he did not want to live in the main house with its comings and goings and the children’s chatter. | Copyright 2018 by Kate Elliott. Narrated by Jack Kincaid.
Rank #7: Tony Ballantyne | Midway
It’s not unusual to hear music in a spaceport arrival lounge. After all, if aliens didn’t enjoy music, I’d never have been able to travel. But this sounded familiar. Disturbingly familiar. Standing in line, I felt a sinking sensation as the tune wound its way to its conclusion. It was The Beatles. Millions of light years from Earth and I was listening to The Beatles. How did I feel? | Copyright 2019 by Tony Ballantyne. Narrated by Stefan Rudnicki.
Rank #8: Yoon Ha Lee | The Coin of Heart’s Desire
In an empire at the wide sea’s boundaries, where the clouds were the color of alabaster and mother-of-pearl, and the winds bore the smells of salt and faraway fruits, the young and old of every caste gathered for their empress’s funeral. In life she had gone by the name Beryl-Beneath-the-Storm. Now that she was dead, the court historians were already calling her Weave-the-Storm, for she had been a fearsome naval commander. | Copyright 2013 by Yoon Ha Lee. Originally published in ONCE UPON A TIME: NEW FAIRY TALES, edited by Paula Guran. Reprinted by permission of the author. Narrated by Judy Young.
Rank #9: Ashok K. Banker | Son of Water and Fire
Born of water, into water, the boy knew no other world. It would not always be thus. Someday, he had been told, he would leave here for another place. His mother had told him this, in a quiet time, her body swollen and expanded to its widest, spanning banks miles apart, trailing enormous skirts of silt. He loved her at these quiet times, when her icy mountain rage had mellowed to a somnolent trawl, flowing majestically down to the ocean. | 2019 by Ashok K. Banker. Narrated by Stefan Rudnicki.
Rank #10: Carolyn Ives Gilman | On the Shores of Ligeia
Seth Calder felt like he had barely dozed off when his alarm blared at 6:00 a.m. Level morning sunlight leaked through the blinds onto the birch and linen furniture of his Stockholm apartment. Amalia was already in the shower, so he lurched out of bed and went to check his news feed. NASA TO LAUNCH MARS CREW TODAY, said the first headline. The picture showed the ten crew members in flight suits, grinning at the camera. | Copyright 2019 by Carolyn Ives Gilman. First English language publication. Originally published in Chinese by the Future Affairs Administration. The story is inspired by “Technology and the Good Future” SF Workshop, which is jointly hosted by Future Affairs Administration (Guokr Publishing) and Ant Financial Services Group in Hangzhou, China. Narrated by Stefan Rudnicki.
Rank #11: Matthew Hughes | Hapthorn’s Last Case
My assistant said, “You have received an invitation from Holk Xanthoulian. He is embarking on a new menu and invites, and I quote, ‘a select coterie of the cognoscenti to sample its superlative assemblage of tastes, textures, and titillations.’” “He has a flair for the alliterative,” I said. “Sadly, that is true,” my assistant said. “Shall I decline?” | Copyright 2018 by Matthew Hughes. Narrated by Stefan Rudnicki.
Rank #12: Matthew Baker | Life Sentence
Home. He recognizes the name of the street. But he doesn’t remember the landscape. He recognizes the address on the mailbox. But he doesn’t remember the house. His family is waiting for him on the porch. Everybody looks just as nervous as he is. He gets out. The police cruiser takes back off down the gravel drive, leaving him standing in a cloud of dust holding a baggie of possessions. | Copyright 2019 by Matthew Baker. Narrated by Stefan Rudnicki.
Rank #13: Cameron Van Sant | Super-Luminous Spiral
Even though your creative fiction professor fawns over Joyce, you don’t understand the copy of ULYSSES you checked out from the library, so you hide behind it while you stare at your classmate whose skin flickers. His blue and green skin is speckled in spirals of twinkling lights. When you stare long enough, you realize the spirals spin like galaxies. Part of your brain should tell you he is abnormal, but it does not. He stands up and reads his assignment. He reads poetry. This is not a poetry class. | Copyright 2018 by Cameron Van Sant. Narrated by Stefan Rudnicki.
Rank #14: Dale Bailey | The Horror of Party Beach
All this happened a long time ago, in the summer when Blackboard Jungle ruled the screen, “Rock Around the Clock” shot up the charts, and Hal March asked the first $64,000 Question. That was the year our friend the atom lit up the streetlights of Arco, Idaho, the world’s first atomic city. Reddy Kilowatt had slain Bert the Turtle, who’d been telling us to duck and cover for years. | Copyright 2018 by Dale Bailey. Narrated by Norm Sherman.
Rank #15: Vylar Kaftan | Her Monster, Whom She Loved
Ammuya birthed five hundred gods, followed by a monster. That was her first mistake. The gods tormented the monster because they feared it. They bound it inside a black hole, and the monster’s hatred seethed. Eventually the monster raged so fiercely he escaped the event horizon. Then he hunted down his siblings, one by one. On a silent desert planet, Ammuya cried for her children. | Copyright 2018 by Vylar Kaftan. Narrated by Pandora Kew.
Rank #16: Alex Irvine | The Atonement Path
To think we used to put young criminals in jail. I’m sorry. I don’t mean to eavesdrop. Or should I say eaveswatch? What is the comparable term for using one’s visual sense in a surreptitious fashion? Dining establishments are a superb venue for such observations. But it is true, no? What good could their example do if they were shut away from public view? Ah. I am being rude. My name is Andrew Blankenship. Esquire, in the interest of completeness. | Copyright 2018 by Alex Irvine. Narrated by Stefan Rudnicki.
Rank #17: A. Merc Rustad | With Teeth Unmake the Sun
Io Destiny is a rich planet, home to three billion lives, built as a faceted gem to honor the Seven Suns. All the gods are worshiped equally here in peace. Temples caress the lower atmosphere and ships dance in celestial orbit; the Seven Suns are honored in effigy in great statues and holograms that mortals adore. Io Destiny is the only neutral world. While the gods chafe and feud with each other, hovering on the cusp of war, this planet is sacrosanct. | Copyright 2019 by A. Merc Rustad. Narrated by Stefan Rudnicki.
Rank #18: Maria Romasco-Moore | Self-Storage Starts with the Heart
You’ll notice how the commercials never mention the price. They’ve all got some lab-coated guy with chiseled cheekbones spouting dumbed-down drivel about how emotions have wavelengths, the same as light or sound, which are reflected and absorbed by the objects around us. How this discovery has the potential to revolutionize your life. Yes, you, the one glued to your screen at three a.m., binging YouTube videos. | Copyright 2019 by Maria Romasco Moore. Narrated by Stefan Rudnicki.
Rank #19: Lizz Huerta | Mouths
Times were strange, and those who survived the collapse had a jarring mixtape of skills. Plumbers were holy men, exorcising the encampments of the demons of human waste. They brought forth, stored and dispensed the holiest sacrament of all, clean water. Warriors emerged from the strangest of places, sex workers commanded respect and were offered it gladly. | Copyright 2018 by Lizz Huerta. Narrated by Stefan Rudnicki.
Rank #20: Ashok K. Banker | A Love Story Written on Water
Bhi’ash was a king of the Axe clan. Truthful and courageous, he was renowned for having performed one thousand Black Horse sacrifices and one hundred Fire sacrifices. For his devotion, upon his demise he attained entrance to the heavenly realms and was honored by the Stone Gods. One day, Bhi’ash—accompanied by many other king-mages and some of the Stone Gods themselves—went to pay homage to Agar, the highest of Stone Gods. | Copyright 2018 by Ashok K. Banker. Narrated by Stefan Rudnicki.