short stories

First published in 1999, Yoon’s fiction ranges from military science fiction to fairy tales. Click any story’s title to view additional author’s notes.

The Contemporary Foxwife

Clarkesworld July 2014, Depot Station by Albert Urmanov

“Hello! Very pleased to make your acquaintance,” said the no-one-is-present-at-the-door. It looked and sounded remarkably like a gawky teenage boy with tawny skin, black hair falling past his shoulders. Spectacles garnished with little amber-colored crystals framed large, long-lashed eyes. Who on earth needed spectacles anymore? Unless it was a fashion trend elsewhere in the station. His russet dress, or gown, or whatever it was, looked like it had led a former life as a sack, except the sleeves had hems. For all that, the boy smelled sweetly of clover and damp grass and disintegrating pine needles. Plants that were in short supply on the station, although Kanseun was planetborn and recognized the scents.

Combustion Hour

This story is about the eschatology of shadow puppets.

The Bonedrake’s Penance

Beneath Ceaseless Skies Science-Fantasy Month 2 cover art

My mother was the keeper of the fortress at the center of the universe, where we are headed now. It was composed of spun metal and sibilant nanoparticles. I was not allowed outside, even if we had had a proper suit that fit me rather than the all-purpose protective mesh I used. She said I was too young, too fragile, and apt to forget even the simple principles of inertia and momentum. I was, however, allowed to poke around the storerooms where she kept the suits in pristine condition should anyone ever need them. They came in all shapes and sizes, and numbers of limbs, and some of them accommodated a head (or heads) and some of them didn’t. A few might fit you when you reach your adult phase. The materials they were made of varied. Later I learned something of their construction, and ways to repair them, but when I was a child none of this interested me. Instead, I marveled at the gold piping on one, or the crystal-dark displays on another, which flickered tantalizingly with iridescence when I angled a tentacle-gripper toward the light, or the way visors dimmed and brightened in response to my presence.


The first attack came by starfall, by deathrise. Fire swept out of the darkness, past the great violet curve of the world of Nasteng, like coins from hell’s treasuries. Worse than the fire was the metal: creatures of variable form and singing cilia, joining together into colonial masses that floated high above the moon’s surface and dripped synthetic insects that ate geometer’s traps into its substance.

For decades Nasteng had escaped the notice of the galaxy’s wider culture. This was as its Council of Five preferred. They had a secret that other human civilizations would covet. So they hid behind masks of coral and dangling tassels and quantum jewels, and admitted only traders from the most discreet mercantile societies. Now, their secret had gotten out in spite of their precautions.

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.

The Knight of Chains, the Deuce of Stars

The tower is a black spire upon a world whose only sun is a million starships wrecked into a mass grave. Light the color of fossils burns from the ships, and at certain hours, the sun casts shadows that mutter the names of vanquished cities and vanished civilizations. It is said that when the tower’s sun finally darkens, the universe’s clocks will stop.

Conservation of Shadows [short story collection]

In this debut collection of short fiction from one of science fiction and fantasy’s most notable new writers, Yoon Ha Lee integrates tropes of science fiction with elements of myth to create tales that are wonderfully fresh and deeply ancient. No matter what the theme, her wide variety of stories are strikingly original and always indelible.

Effigy Nights

They are connoisseurs of writing in Imulai Mokarengen, the city whose name means inkblot of the gods.

The city lies at the galaxy’s dust-stranded edge, enfolding a moon that used to be a world, or a world that used to be a moon; no one is certain anymore. In the mornings its skies are radiant with clouds like the plumage of a bird ever-rising, and in the evenings the stars scatter light across skies stitched and unstitched by the comings and goings of fire-winged starships. Its walls are made of metal the color of undyed silk, and its streets bloom with aleatory lights, small solemn symphonies, the occasional duel.

The Battle of Candle Arc

General Shuos Jedao was spending his least favorite remembrance day with Captain-magistrate Rahal Korais. There was nothing wrong with Korais except that he was the fangmoth’s Doctrine officer, and even then he was reasonable for a Rahal. Nevertheless, Doctrine observed remembrances with the ranking officer, which meant that Jedao had to make sure he didn’t fall over.

Next time, Jedao thought, wishing the painkillers worked better, I have to get myself assassinated on a planet where they do the job right.

The Book of Locked Doors

The book was bound in pale, crinkled leather and rough thread the color of massacres, and Suzuen Vayag carried it in an inner pocket of her coat as a matter of course. Her sister Kereyag had written it in gunfire and witchfire and hellpyre smoke, on the stray cold morning of her death. The least Vayag could do was keep it safe.