September 1, 2023

My Sci-Fi, Fantasy & Horror Short Fiction Roundup for August 2023

The artwork for this roundup features a detail of Indicreates's cover art for Luna Station Quarterly 054. More about the artist at

An audio version of this roundup is available on YouTube:

Always Be Returning by Eugenia Triantafyllou in Sunday Morning Transport

It’s August when Demeter’s daughter returns. Demeter is in a fishing boat, pulling at the heavy nets with her time-dotted hands alongside the young men and women. The people on the boat don’t see her for who she is. Terrible and divine, motherly and familiar. 

A gorgeously wrought retelling/reimagining of the myths surrounding Demeter and Persephone. The prose is pure beauty, and I particularly like how Triantafyllou’s story centers on the fraught and sometimes destructive relationship between a mother and a daughter. There is love there, profound love, but you can feel the weight of their past in every interaction. Triantafyllou deftly explores the raw edges and complexities of a relationship that has never, and will never, be easy. There is so much depth and power here in a story that finds new nuances and new shades and shadows in an ancient tale. A real tour de force by one of my favourite writers.

Nubbins by Seán Padraic Birnie in IZ Digital

Ever since he’d been born, Frankie had seemed different.

He had never cried. Hardly moved. Kelly’s sister had not reserved her judgement. She did not bite her lip – never had. Your kid is creepy, Kel, she said. Your kid is weird. The way he just watches you and that.

It’s like he’s waiting, ain’t it?

I love stories about parenthood that let the darkness in and allow you to see the cracks and fissures that can be found in a parent’s relationship with their child. Here, we crawl inside the fear and terror Kelly feels in the presence of her baby boy, Frankie. Frankie is different though it’s hard for Kelly or anyone else to put into words what is so different, strange, and even disturbing about him. Kelly knows it, but she fears what she knows about her child and tries to hide it, to hide Frankie, from others and herself. The real brilliance of this story is in the way it delves into true darkness and horror (especially body horror!), and yet somehow keeps its heart intact. This is not an easy story, its full of terrible thoughts and actions, and frightening changes, and yet it is full of humanity rather monstrosities.

A Change of Clothes by Derek Des Anges at Podcastle (narrated by Isaac Harwood)

Ivan picked up the bag with the fur coat, a packet of Doritos, a can of Coke, and one of the phones he’d lifted. It still had sixty percent battery.

He went into the master bedroom, the one that Darren technically took for himself, wrapped himself in the fur coat and got into the massive bed under two duvets.

“Smells of fucking fish,” he grumbled to no one, and opened the Doritos.

This is a rather unique and rather hilarious selkie story and I love it from beginning to end. Ivan finds a coat and he steals that coat. After that an odd man turns up outside his house and from there things only get weirder. What I really love about this story is the way it plays out once Ivan transforms. I mean, what are the pros and cons of turning into a seal?

First in Fear and Then in Pain by Adam R. Shannon in Nightmare

I wouldn’t describe it as waking up. If you’ve been in a car accident, you know the violence. One moment, your life feels the size of your body, muscular years of loves and hurts wrapped around a thousand calcified tasks, a routine that bears you up even on the mornings when nothing makes sense. Then your days break open with the sound of rupturing metal. You splinter like a windshield. It’s an awakening, of sorts, but it’s not like waking up.

This is a haunted house story that turns and twists into something different than a story about horror and ghosts. There is horror, and there are ghosts, and there is a lot (a lot!) of screaming, but Shannon keeps the story going past all that into something else, into what happens after the horror, about how to find a way to live in the presence of pain and trauma. I love the way friendship finds its way into this story, too, and the reflections on what kind of support and help we might need to find a way to survive.

The Ferryman by Fernanda Coutinho Teixeira in The Deadlands

You are the ferryman. You have no memory of being anything else. Your posture is molded by the whims of the river, your fingers made to curl around the handle of your oar.  You know only a certain number of shapes and colors—dark grey for the ground made of stone, black for the river colored with pale shadows. Always moving, the currents guiding you in the right direction. The river always takes you where you are meant to go.

This is a quiet, beautiful story about the ferryman and about how to be the ferryman, and about what happens when you might want to leave the work, the river, behind. I love this deeply personal version of the ferryman's task, and I also love how the landscape of the afterlife is tied so closely to the ferryman and their task. And then that landscape changes when the ferryman changes. It's a thoughtful and thought-provoking story with a unique take on the realm of death.

Muna in Barish by Isha Karki in Lightspeed

The truth is that in sunlight Muna becomes too visible, the umber of her skin, the horns curving from her head, stark markers of difference. That first desperate night in Barish, sneaking in and bedding down in a livestock pen, she had desperately thought of ways to hide these markers. Could she cloak her skin and face? Wrap cloth around her horns? That bone-deep shame of entertaining those thoughts—Muna never wants to feel that again.

An absolutely lovely and wonderful fantasy story about Muna, an outsider in the city she has traveled to, who wants to learn the craft of writing, or rather: word-weaving. It's a story about finding and trusting yourself, about creativity and learning a craft, and it's also about friendship. I love how Muna's story isn't tied up neatly into some kind of big dramatic ending, but is more about how to try to find your own way in the world and not let others dim your light. 

Probably Nothing, by Cameron Fischer in Translunar Travelers Lounge

I’m not going to ignore this, but I’m not going to call my doctor either. Not yet. The last time I made an appointment, it got scheduled weeks out, and the problem had cleared up by the time I arrived. I paid money just to look like a hypochondriac explaining what had been going on. Instead, I’ll keep an eye on it. I’ll even take some photos on my phone—document their progress.

OK, so I love shapeshifting stories, and this is a really funny and ingenious take on the genre. I mean, if you start changing a little bit is it really cause for concern or should you just wait and see what happens? I mean, how bad could it be? I really like how this story also hints at what is happening in the wider world and how understated (and darkly funny) the observations and reflections are. One of the many great stories in the latest issue of Translunar Travelers Lounge.

The Ghasts by Lavie Tidhar in Uncanny Magazine

Mara remembered being afraid. So afraid you couldn’t move, knowing there was a monster in there with you, and there was nowhere to run, and no one to believe you. The closet door creaked open. Then it stopped.

The ghast was there.

Mara gets rid of ghasts. She goes into the rooms of children, spends the night, and rids them of the monsters lurking in their closets, or under the bed. But the truth is, Mara is haunted by her own monsters, as well as by the bills piling up at her door, by the money she owes, by the life she is leading that isn't working out the way she thought it would. Tidhar's story weaves together childhood fears and the monsters stalking us into adulthood, and there's a visual and sensory originality to this story that I absolutely love.

Ashes and Buttercream by Malina Douglas in Cast of Wonders (narrated by Yelena Crane)

The domovoi is protecting them. Sofiya knows this, even as her mother’s dismissive remarks prod the fireplace like skewers.

When the flames burn to embers and the ashes in the fireplace thicken, she sees him. A miniature creature with short limbs and stubby toes, a round face and snub-nose, a burnt texture to his skin. He smells like crème brûlée just after the surface has been singed.

Magic, fairytale creatures, and the ragged reality of war and loss come together in this beautiful and heart-piercing story that starts in Lviv, Ukraine and ends up in Poland. I really love how Douglas blends reality and magic, fiction and present day reality here. There's a gentle touch to every facet of this story that makes it resonate and hit home.  The story notes at Cast of Wonders say, in part:

The author of this story is not Ukrainian herself, but has friends in the Ukraine and Lviv. She tells us that a close friend asked her to write stories about Ukraine, so she began to write stories set there. This story is part of a series of interconnected stories set in Ukraine and following characters from the Ukrainian diaspora.

City Grown From Seed by Diana Dima in Strange Horizons

Long before you came along, I was myself just a seed in Raffa’s pocket, something she fumbled with as she stepped on the plane, her other hand clutching her mother’s. Small as I was, I sensed her fear. I tried to hum reassuringly. Above the ocean, I helped her fall asleep.

A brilliant, gorgeous story about Raffa, a girl coming to a new country, and about the city that grows from the seed she has brought with her. It's a story about how the city grows, listening to Raffa's stories through the years, and it's also a story about Raffa's life - about love and pain, and about hope. I love how Dima makes the city have a voice and will of its own, and how we see the way Raffa's words and life affect how it grows. It's such a deep, and wonderfully joyful story, even as it contains the darker pieces of Raffa's life.

Resistant by Koji A. Dae in Clarkesworld

Examination rooms are safe. They stay what they are. The memories they drag to the surface make sense. You assume it’s because you’ve been in so many hospital rooms that your brain is packed with too much realism to have space for the random connections it usually throws at you.

In a future where most people have had their brains altered and augmented by nanobots, it is difficult to make a life when your brain rejected those alterations when you were still a small child. In this story, we follow the twin points of view of a scientist using a new form of bio-tech to help those without nanobots, and that of a woman with a brain that is not working the way most people think it should. Running through the story is the experience of synesthesia, AKA experiencing one of your senses through another. Examples are hearing music but seeing shapes, hearing a word and seeing a colour, reading a name and tasting a flavour or seeing a colour, and so on. I really like the way this story focuses on the personal experience of a phenomenon and predicament, while also hinting at the larger world and the wider implications for the people involved. Lovely, subtle science fiction.

The Demon Lord of Broken Concrete by Alex Irvine in Bourbon Penn

Do you believe in God? Sometimes Zack and his friends ask each other this question. They all have different answers, and their answers are always changing. Zack believes that there is more than one god, and that different gods rule over different people. Kids like him, all of them worshipped the Demon Lord of Broken Concrete whether they knew it or not. That was the answer Zack never gave, but the truth of it was all around.

Oh wow, this story really grabbed me. It's horror lurking in everyday life. It's a coming-of-age tale, and the history of a place and its people followed in close detail so that you feel that neighbourhood, that time and place, the dread of walking those streets, and of trying to navigate that adolescence. Some short stories have the weight and heft of an entire novel, and you can feel the darkness and glimpses of light of one life through them. Zack's view of the world he lives in, of the demons and deities ruling the streets and people, is visceral and devastating. Sacrifices are made, blood and death are required, and there's such a real and haunting darkness running through every line of this tale.

The Angel Azrael Battles a Dead God Among the Heretics by Peter Darbyshire in Beneath Ceaseless Skies

The angel Azrael rode the dead horse across the empty lifeless land for what seemed like an eternity, not encountering another living soul until he crossed paths with a mutilated preacher, who erupted from the a great rent in the earth as though Hell itself had spat her out.

This is the latest story in Darbyshire's series of stories about the angel Azrael, wandering through a post-apocalyptic, horror-western landscape ravaged by a devastating war between angels and humans. I love all of these stories, and in the latest one, Azrael's travels take him back to a place he knows only too well: a place of a great battle where he almost lost his soul and life. Turns out, there's another battle waiting for him there, though the enemy is not quite the same as it once was. If you like this story, check out all the other stories about Azrael in Beneath Ceaseless Skies here: 

The Comma: With Her, Bear Is Savage by Rachel Rodman in Kaleidotrope

If a bee larva is raised on royal jelly, it will become a queen; if an alligator embryo is incubated at a low temperature, it will become female; if an Acrididae insect matures under crowded conditions, it will become a locust.

Otherwise, each will develop in another way, to become (respectively) a worker bee, a male, and a plain old grasshopper.

This is called developmental plasticity.

A group of scientists are trying to deal with a terrible, and terrifying, new mutation that seems to be occurring among the bears in certain areas. There's a factory involved, and mysterious emissions into the water, but I won't spoil it because this dark and humorous story is all about what's lurking in that river water. I love when writers commit whole-heartedly to a weird and wonderful story idea, and Rodman definitely goes all out here. 

Misericorde by Mari Ness in Kaleidotrope

He has just started eating when she enters the tavern, bringing all conversation to a halt.

She is, he supposes, beautiful. But that’s not why he–and everyone else–is watching her. Nor is it the rich redness of her mouth against the absolute dead whiteness of her skin, or the shimmering fall of white hair framing her face and dancing in the light, or even her eyes, dark blue and glittering.

Oh, what a beautifully wound twist of a story this is. It starts out as fantasy, then takes a turn into science fiction, then comes back to fantasy, and all the threads are lovely and strong. I love Ness's gorgeous prose, and I love the idea of this tale, of those taken "under the hill".

The Broken Princess by K.R. Segriff in Luna Station Quarterly

Somewhere between the melting mountaintops and simmering seas was a magical land called Polk County, Iowa. The people there worked tirelessly for almost no money, and what little they could save, they wagered on horses at the Altoona Raceway.

On the outskirts of Altoona sat a pittance of a farm, ironically named “Queen’s Acres.” Its owner was Juno, an ornery woman who had inherited the property “fair and fucking square” from her thankfully departed mother, Sybil.

Wow, this is a terrific tale that had me hooked from start to finish. I mean, what's not to love? Horses, a horse girl, a witch, a family of witches!, a race, and a family that is messed up in ways you might not even imagine. I just love the way Segriff weaves together present day and magic, fantasy and family into a ripping great story.

Umeboshi by Rebecca Nakaba in khōréō

When I get the first email I think it’s some sort of role-play, a scavenger hunt set up by the conference organizers for participants between presentations. I had only arrived that morning, a day after everyone else, and had spent my time sleeping my way into a jet-lagged cage. Now it’s past midnight and I am wide awake.

At the beach at night, there is a red tide.

This story is both lyrical and visceral as it deals with family, ancestry, history, identity, purpose, relationships, self-knowledge, and so much more. There are intricate layers of emotion and history here, tied into the present and the past, and all of it haunted by the mysterious unknown presence that is sending the narrator chain-emails. And the imagery! There's such a vividly imagined and exquisitely crafted set of scenes here at the beach, in the water, in the dark... What do we carry with us from our ancestors? What shadows and what light? What might hold us back or shape us or help us forward? What happens when you hardly know the names or stories of anyone in your family that came before you? A brilliant, deeply moving read.


August 6, 2023

My Sci-Fi, Fantasy & Horror Short Fiction Roundup for July, 2023

This month's roundup includes some amazing stories stories I read and loved in July. I'm posting it a bit later than usual because I was traveling in July and early August! For more story picks by me, check out my quarterly Short Fiction Treasures column in the July 24 issue of Strange Horizons at

The art for this roundup includes a detail of Sergio Rebolledo's cover art for Clarkesworld #202. The artwork is titled "Autumn Pond" and you can find out more about the artist at

An audio  version of this roundup is available on YouTube:

Blue by Margaret Jordan in Fantasy Magazine

The world ends with a press of bodies huddled together on the beach—

—electric with terror—

—the sky incandescent with smoke. It’s so dark. Black-orange-bloody-bruised. Flashlights throw long beams across the sand. Police lights flicker blue and red, blue and red, blue and red, and the Ferris wheel on the pier glows an obscene neon. No one thought to turn off the calliope. It echoes off the empty boardwalk, cheerfully macabre. The ocean groans.

A gorgeous and harrowing story about August who survives a blazing inferno by sinking, almost (surely) drowning, and who is fundamentally changed in the process. Disaster, and the magic that entered her as she sank into the ocean, haunts her and affects everything she is and does. Fear goes deep, but August also meets a new group of people who have been changed by the world too, and from there Jordan builds a story of fragile, strengthening hope and and a new way of life.

Dave the Terrible by Brent Baldwin in Flash Fiction Online

Dave the Terrible never wanted the unholy scepter, but you couldn’t refuse your mother’s dying wish. He hefted the gilt scepter from his nightstand each morning and used it to gaze upon the past and the present and sometimes even the future. It had come with a mist-cloaked fortress in the mountains that had a stone fireplace and a cozy library, so things weren’t all bad.

All the stories in this issue of FFO are beautiful and piercing in their own way. This story, by Baldwin, is a gorgeously crafted tale that weaves together grief and fantasy. Dave has inherited the unholy scepter after his mother dies, and the things the scepter shows and says to him do not necessarily make it easier for Dave to find his way back into the world. It's a lovely piece in every way.

When the Forest Comes to You by E. M. Linden in Flash Fiction Online

Keith drops from the monkey bars. He stumbles, because it’s high for a five-year-old, but the ground is that soft bouncy stuff that doesn’t hurt. He runs past the bins into the scrappy copse behind the playground. The big kids come here sometimes. It’s small, bordered by two roads, and even right in the middle he can still see the bus stop through the trees. To him, it’s a forest.

A wrenching and quietly devastating story about childhood and parenthood, and about longing for something you can't have, and then finding it, under circumstances that are not what you first imagined. There's a tenderness to Linden's prose here, even when it turns darker, that broke my heart.

Patrice by Meredith Gordon in Flash Fiction Online

Before her spine lilted and twirled and began to spiral, before gym teachers and office ladies at school shook their heads, before doctor appointments, before she had to stand there naked in cold exam rooms, heat hissing from radiator ribs bolted to the floor, before her father died and her mother remarried a man who wanted his “own” child, Patrice had been happy.

Strangeness permeates the everyday in this story about Patrice, about children, about pregnancy and birth, and parenthood. There's a quiet weight to Gordon's prose that makes the story sink deep inside and stay with you.

The Indigo Mantis by E. Catherine Tobler in Podcastle (narrated by Christiana Ellis)

“Your usual?”

Indi shook her head, leaning away from his touch. “You said you had a lead,” she said.

She rested a green forearm on the pine bar, studying him. He looked no different than he had at their prior meetings, always a cop and never just a friend. The way he held himself, he was ready for anything; she didn’t think the beetles stood a chance if they leapt for the pine’s trunk. This part of the tree wasn’t Joe’s regular beat; he’d come up from the understory two days before because he wanted to help her, said he had a lead and —

“You said you knew who killed my father.”

A noir-ish murder mystery with a mantis superhero at its heart, this story is so much fun, and also truly intriguing as we follow Indi's adventures among ants, bugs, and the memories of her father and his death. I love the world Tobler creates here, with all its perfectly drawn characters, milieus, and situations. And having a mantis as a secretive crime fighter, haunted by her own dark past and the memories of her mother, is brilliant.

What Remains, the Echoes of a Flute Song by Alexandra Seidel in Clarkesworld

The city lay ahead in its bone ash sleep, but there was no need to pass through it. There was never a need to move forward. And yet.

The flutist pulled out their flute. It was old and had not always belonged to them. It was cut from palest ivory, the green thin as blades of spring grass. They found a tune.

Greetings, the tune said, greetings to the stone, the archways, the windows, and the lintels before me.

The skeletons of cities ever had such magnificent echoes.

A story by Alexandra Seidel is always a gift, and this one is an exquisitely wrought science fiction tale, set in a future where cities and technology remain, but where the inhabitants are long gone. A flute player walks through this world, carefully picking their way through the ruins and remains of the past, and then they find A Person. Seidel's story is suffused with both light and terrible sadness, and it is achingly beautiful.

Death Is Better by Oluwatomiwa Ajeigbe in Lightspeed

Six minutes and a behemoth. That is all that stands between us and freedom.

I glance at Abiola’s face. The helmet she wears prevents me from seeing her expression, but I catch the steely determination in her dark eyes. She’s ready. There’s no backing out now. I resist the urge to look behind us. I don’t want to appear fidgety and unsure in my little sister’s presence. Besides, the real threats are not the guard bots behind us, deactivated for ten minutes by my crudely assembled EMP jammer.

A terrific science fiction story about two siblings, trying to flee those that have bought and imprisoned them. I love sibling stories with a passion, and the bond between sister and brother here gives the story added urgency and depth. Ajeigbe captures a world, and the terror and agony and determination of those trying to escape, with sharp and devastating clarity.

No One Ever Finds Her by Matthew Keeley in Coffin Bell

The warmth of black fur against her spine and under her fingertips goes. Now, wetness on the back of one upturned hand and the cold of hard tile under the other. Soothing candle glow dissipates and she opens her eyelids to squint at white and shine. She has been spat out, starfished on the disabled cubicle floor.

I love love love this strange and winding story of magic and displacement, about being lost and finding yourself in new places and new bodies. Gorgeous.

A World Unto Myself by P.A. Cornell in Apex

I’m one of the fortunate ones. Most decommissioned robots wind up recycled or squeezed into storage units with other obsolete models while their fate is decided—sometimes over decades. I don’t know why my owner brought me to the abandoned scrapyard rather than trade me in. Nor why instead of placing me next to the compactor with the other machines, he walked me over to an old, metal bench and told me to sit before leaving me.

A quiet, beautifully crafted science fiction story that has a wistful, thoughtful vibe I love. I love tales of old robots, of how they may find ways to change and exist in a world that is so different than the one they were made for.

Interstate Mohinis by M.L. Krishnan in Diabolical Plots

In the way of Death runs the Vaitaraṇī river. We are flayed open to its woe. We are always aware of its currents in gurgling lungfuls of unease.

Time spun in recursive loops since I died in a scream of metal and flame and asphalt on the Parthibanur State Highway. There was no cremation. What could they consign to the flame? A scorched knob of my torso? My jawbone, still glued with tissue? A lone filling snugly hidden within a lone tooth?

The mystery of the afterlife, of existing as a monster, or at least something others perceive as monstrous... Krishnan captures it perfectly in this story. I love the voice of this story, the feeling of bewilderment and of being lost and searching for your identity and purpose even after death.

Exquisite Corpses by A.M. Guay in Three-Lobed Burning Eye

Mariah came late to the woods, wobbling into the weak firelight on her newest legs. Bared by her jean shorts, each long tan thigh was ringed with a fine, crimped seam like an empanada. My parents always wanted me to be a model, she’d told me at orientation, her smile the wrong shade for her skin. They were thrilled. I was only five-two when I died.

Beauty and the expectations of others - how to behave, how to look - feature heavily in this story by Guay. There's a Frankenstein-esque kind of body horror here that is both darkly funny (in a painful way) and harrowing.

A Song For the Centipedes by Neal Auch in Three-Lobed Burning Eye

The crib filled up with centipedes.

They came at night — a great pilgrimage of arthropods. They poured in from faucets, electrical outlets, light fixtures. They squirmed through hairline fractures in the walls, making their way from the dark hidden places of the cottage and coming together, at last, finding one another, at last, in the crib. It was the place where, one after another, the babies had not slept.

I love this dark and twisting story where horror, despair, and anger creep ever deeper into the world of one woman, sitting by a crib. The past is full of death and grief and pain, haunted by sounds and memories from the forest, and we glimpse that past in terrifying flashes of dread. There's an aching, hollow sadness here, and Auch's language gives even the darkest, most horrible moments a deep and beautiful lustre.

The Spirit of Bois by Karyn Díaz in Fiyah

Carnival again. It was one of Bois Man’s favourite times of year. He would come down from his forest repose to mingle with the revellers, imbibe Guinness, and engage in stick fighting. J’ouvert morning was a time of revelry but also of spirituality, making it the perfect time for his kind to walk among humans. This time of year, the veil grew thinner than a whisper. The revelry, the ecstatic energy, the sensuality, the intoxication, the thumping bass, and the rhythmic drums called the spirits to celebrate in the same way that it called the living denizens of the land, the people dem. 

The latest issue of Fiyah Magazine is Carnival-themed, and Díaz’s story is a terrific romp through a Carnival full of people and spirits. There is such great detail here, in the history and the revelry and the characters of the spirits gathering together with the human beings, and I especially love the way Díaz describes the connections –deep and ancient, new and fiery—between revelers and spirits. There’s such joy here, and the story captures both the mood of festive partying and the deeper layers of meaning and history beneath the feast. It’s a grand story with real depth and real heart.

Petunia by Lerato Mahlangu in Fiyah

Tamani loves his long baths, be it on the coldest day in winter or the hottest in summer. He lies in the tub allowing the bubbles to run over his skin and the water to warm his body, he thinks about how his art supplies need refilling, how far the craft will take him, the house and how lonely it tends to get, and he worries about his mama and his stagnant life. Sometimes he imagines farfetched possibilities of finding a suburban house of his own with an evergreen lawn, an abundance of petunias and a woman with whom to share love. But thinking excessively exhausts him, so he shuts his eyes and listens to the soothing sound of bubbles going pop, pop, pop.

Oh, this is such a gorgeous and powerful story about Tamani, who isn’t exactly like the other people in his town. His mother won’t let him attend the festivities because of past mishaps, and because he’s struggling with how to handle the visions, and the magic, that swirl through his life. And then Tamani sees something, and meets someone, who changes what he thought he knew about himself, and who gives him a task to complete ahead of the year’s carnival. It’s a quest that will transform Tamani and also transform his relationship with his mother and his community. It’s such a brilliant story, and I love the way it describes both Tamani’s outer world, and his inner world.

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June 30, 2023

My Sci-Fi, Fantasy & Horror Short Fiction Roundup for June, 2023

The artwork for this roundup includes a detail of the cover for Fantasy Magazine #91, by Warmtail / Adobe Stock. More about Warmtail here:

An audio version of this roundup is available on YouTube:

The Uncool Hunters by Andrew Dana Hudson in Escape Pod (narrated by Valerie Valdes)

Oh my gosh. Read. this. story. It is hilarious, it is heartfelt, and it includes a slapdown, dragout fight in a future Costco where plant-based SPAM, cinnamon pickled dates, and hand-rolled microdolmades are used as weapons (among other things). It’s a showdown between two “uncool hunters” – Rocky Cornelius and her nemesis Amherst Swarthmore. What's an uncool hunter, well, they are market researchers with a twist. To quote the story: “Rocky had an eagle eye for generic branding and had analyzed all fifty-eight seasons of NCIS and its attendant IP multiverse. For a reasonable fee, Rocky could tell the bluechecks and one percenters just what the rest of the country spent their money on.” Which is why Rocky is prowling a Costco at night, waiting for the doors to open: “When the store opened… She’d watch their faces make crucial consumer choices, and from their microemotes divine what they wanted, what they needed. And she’d do it without getting caught, lest she end up bag-headed in a Costco corporate black site.” But Amherst is also prowling the Costco, leading to an utterly hilarious fight that also tells you a whole heck of a lot about the society Rocky and Amherst find themselves in. Brilliant, and hilarious, science fiction.

Constellation Burn by Josh Rountree in Bourbon Penn

Jordan was on the run again.

No fixed direction, just a fast escape from her life with Tad, and a hitched ride with a talkative long-haul driver on his way to El Paso.

A half-dreamed, half-horror gorgeous beauty of a tale that is brutal and mesmerizing and utterly captivating. Jordan is on the run from her life, and ends up hitching a ride with a stranger who says he will protect her and take care of her. The place he brings her to is a corner of the world that seems to exist in the world and yet also be outside of it, and the man's seven daughters haunt and fascinate Jordan with their strange whispers of "mother mother mother". Rountree weaves a tale that feels like myth and horror and real world intertwined, and it is a brilliant read.

Some Assembly Required by Anne E.G. Nydam in Fantasy Magazine

Don’t read my review of this story. Click that link and check it out in person. Nydam’s story is written in the style of an IKEA manual, telling you exactly how to assemble your very own LUFTSLOTT, AKA Castle in the Air. Nydam uses this form brilliantly and to great effect, and it’s paired with some wonderful and beautifully charming drawings.

2. Place one or more inspirations (A) in base position to provide foundation.

Important: Be sure all inspirations are securely tethered before proceeding with assembly.

While this piece is whimsical in tone, there is a soulful, heartfelt depth beneath.

Joy by Dale Smith in IZ Digital

The drone appeared as a little black dot: not one of the bigger ones, but maybe enough to keep her going for another couple of weeks. Last year they’d still been sending them in flocks of thirty or forty, but they seemed to have realised any idiot could wing at least one in a flock that size. Now they usually flew alone. Harder to hit, but in a way it was better: they’d sold their customers twenty-four hour delivery, and the fastest way to Ireland from the warehouses in Denmark was over what they still sneeringly called the former United Kingdom. Until they found a way to increase their range, speed or defences, they’d keep coming, regular as clockwork.

She took aim carefully.

Well, if you, like me, love stories about humans forming unlikely bonds with robots, then this story will be right up your alley. I love everything about this story. The setup with 24-hour delivery drones being poached by human beings trying to survive in a harsh future that truly doesn’t seem so far from our present. The way Joy, the story’s protagonist, finds it almost impossible to attack and disassemble the drone once it speaks to her. AND the way the drone clearly shows itself to have its own agenda, in spite of whatever its programming might say. It’s masterful piece of science fiction, and I adore every bit of it.

Nnome by Audrey Obuobisa-Darko in Cast of Wonders (narrated by Tsiddi Can-Tamakloe, first published in A Mind to Silence – 2022 Caine Prize Anthology)

A riveting, and harrowing, story about Nnome, a child born without magic in a world where magic is expected. Nnome’s father has told them all their life that they caused their mother’s death, that they should have never been born. It’s a life lived with constant harassment and crushing psychological abuse, and yet Nnome has not been crushed. Together with their robot companion, Akuba, they imagine and build amazing inventions, finding a way to use their creativity and dreams in new ways. No matter how Nnome works, though, their father remains hostile and abusive, leading to a terrible showdown between child and parent. This is a powerful story about strength and creativity, and about survival under harsh and difficult circumstances.

The Last Dragoners of Bowbazar by Indrapramit Das from Subterranean Press

It wasn’t a seed pod at all. With practiced care she nudged open the curled, broad leaves, unwrapping it to reveal what was inside.

The broad petals of the pod were the brown wings of a creature that fit gently in the pink cradle of my grandmother’s palm like a bat. Its tail was the thin stem that connected it to the branches of the tree. And curled inside the embrace of its own wings was the contracted body of the beast, its six limbs clutched to its torso in insectile fragility, its sharp and thorny head like a flower’s pistil, the curled neck covered in a dew-dusted mane of white fur like the delicate filaments of a dandelion seed. The gems of its eyes were left to my imagination, because they were closed in whatever deep sleep it was in.

“It’s a dragon,” I said, to encase the moment in the amber of reality.

I am an unabashed fan of Indrapramit Das's work, and this new novella is an outstanding piece of fiction. It is a coming-of-age tale, about family and friendship, and it's a story that features dragons of a kind I've never met before. Dragons capable of traveling between universes. Das tells this story through the eyes of Ru, a boy who is trying to find out, to remember, who he is.

To quote the publisher's official blurb:

 "Ru is a boy from nowhere. Though he lives somewhere—the city of Calcutta—his classmates in school remind him he doesn’t look like them, and must come from somewhere else. When Ru asks his parents, they tell him they are descended from nomads. But even nomads must come from somewhere. The question, forever on the mind of the boy from nowhere, is where.

Ru dreams things that wouldn’t seem out of place in the fantasy novels his father read to him when young. Fragments of a culture that doesn’t exist in this world, but might in another, where sky and sea are one, and humans sail this eternal ocean on the backs of divine beasts.

Ru dreams of dragons, of serpents impossible. Perhaps Ru remembers dragons."

It's a deeply strange, quietly gripping and devastating story, that is also profoundly life-affirming. 

  No Spoilers by Ben Murphy in Many Worlds

This intriguing and intricately crafted epistolary story is written as a missive from one person to another, musing on various scientific and academic subjects related to the multi-world/multiverse of Many Worlds; and as an academic paper (with footnotes and commentary). Wrapped up in all of this, is a tender and fraught love story that sparks questions about the nature of the universe we live in, about free will and fate, about how we play roles in our lives – either consciously or not – and how others might influence and even control our very essence, our thoughts and emotions. It’s a profoundly thought-provoking piece where the academia is wrapped around a beating, troubled heart.

This Is What You Came For by Phong Quan in khōréō

It starts with a beat. A steady electronic thump in my chest. Electric waves pulsing through my body with a feeling like forever before breaking into the tips of my fingers and the doors of perception. I gasp in the first chords of the song as they hit like my first breath of air, and when I open my eyes the club embraces me the way you used to every time the beat dropped: hot, sticky, lingering.

I won’t talk too much about this story, and honestly I'd rather just quote it endlessly, because it is a story that needs to be read, savoured, experienced. The way the prose flows and slips and repeats and swirls around the same place, the same people, coming back again and again. There’s a club, there’s the music and the drinks, the people and the dance, and the music is magic and the lyrics are magic, and all of it becomes the emotions of the crowd, and the narrator is there, looking for something, finding something, but never quite able to hold onto it or fully remember what they are searching for:

I realize my memory of you is a string of songs, of the beat dropping and the music pulsing in our blood, of this place where we never hurt each other because notes don’t bleed. Because that’s all that’s left when love leaves: music and dancing. Is it you I want or the memory of you in this place? Was it you I loved or the beat of the drums on the dance floor? Why couldn’t I decide?

It’s a gorgeous, mysterious, sinuous piece and the prose is pure magic.

What Was Left Behind by Epiphany Ferrell in Coffin Bell

A deliciously dark and wickedly sharp slice of fantasy, about a horse named Robey, a woman named Crystal, and a marriage that does not quite work out. Ferrell captures mood and setting and characters with exquisite precision in this flash story, and the it is as sharp as a knife, with a jagged blade.

After the Animal Flesh Beings by Brian Evenson in

This is a post-apocalyptic tale about “[a] post-human civilization of synthetic beings, fixated on the concept of children, grapples with the meaning of life…after life ceases to exist.”

In the time in which we now find ourselves, we acquire our children by digging in the earth. This is hard work, much harder than the way the scattered records we are still capable of interpreting suggest it used to be done for the animal flesh beings. In the time in which we now live, we dig through soft rock and clay and heap this up, delving deeper and deeper in search of something harder, more substantial. When we find it, we tear it out of the earth the best we can and haul it to god.

Evenson’s story is hauntingly bleak, dark and evocative like a future seen through a glass darkly. It is written like a future fairytale or myth, retold by the inhabitants of a future where the past is lost, and even their own origins are forgotten. Were they once “animal flesh beings” or just constructs made by them? Like everything else about the past, only fragments of the truth remain. There are images here that will be haunting my thoughts for a long time, including what happens to the malformed child. Brilliant and devastating.  

A Pilgrimage To Memories Tattooed by Elena Pavlova in Samovar (translated by Desislava Sivilova)

The tattoo machine is humming quietly, and clouds are gathering over the beach on the parlor window. It seems rather cold at that shore. I squint, trying to focus better on the people wandering about—without success. This view is an old model. My eyes are old, too.

You cannot thlog about things of the past while using eyes from the future.

A gorgeously wrought tale about a future where tattoos carry memories and dreams, and where someone is visiting the last tattooist in a small town. What was the purpose of tattoos? the visitor wonders and allows herself to be tattooed again and again, searching for an answer and for a connection to the past and to the world.  Pavlova weaves together a bleak and harrowed present with a conflicted, complex, and haunting past revealed by the tattoos: people and places, emotions and moments, many forgotten or lost by everyone else.

There are no whales nowadays. No elephants either. The rhinoceroses we succeeded in cloning. 

"Are you crying?" she asks. "Don't you like your tattoo?"

"It's most wonderful." I plunge my face into my palms and burst into tears. Tattooed whales sing in the depths of my mind.

Hausferatu by Chris Willrich in Beneath Ceaseless Skies

My friends, it’s been many years since then, and I have found wonders, and freedom from my curses, and strangest of all a poet who’s become my partner in crime, love, and occasionally dubious heroism. But I will never forget the one who, though little I knew it, started me on a changed path. I walk the shadowed cities of the west with more fear, and more heart, since I met the hausferatu.

I've picked both stories from this particular issue of Beneath Ceaseless Skies for this roundup, and both of them are stories that put a real twist on what you might at first perceive as a monster. In this story by Willrich, a (very long-lived) master thief meets and enters a partnership with a woman and mother who is sort of kind of a vampire. But she is a hausferatu, rather than a regular vampire. I won't give away the details of the hausferatu's fate, but I really love how this story twists and turns the old vampire trope, and how it also delves deep into issues of motherhood, parenthood, and what a person might lose when their family, children and spouse, demand too much of them. It's a story with a sense of humour and a lot of heart.

Spinning Shadow by Margaret Ronald in Beneath Ceaseless Skies

Tarma had only just begun the Widow Fenton’s flax when the Shadow Undying rose once more. At first she thought that the shutter on the upper window must have come unwedged, since the light shouldn’t have failed so early in the day. But the unholy chanting in a voice like the bottom of a well ruled out it being any of the shutters.

The Shadow Undying has risen! Yes, “the master of Frostkeep, the lord of the dominion of night" has been reborn as was foretold. But... things are not at all the way the Shadow Undying had planned when he decided to use magic in order to rise again. A lot of time has passed for one thing, and the he finds himself rising from a shard of crystal that is being used by a woman, spinning thread. Ronald gives us a tender, funny, and heart-tugging tale of redemption and love. Not exactly what the Shadow Undying had planned, but maybe making for a better ending than what might have been the case otherwise. It's a charming, thoroughly enjoyable tale.

Baobab Lover by Kwame Sound Daniels in Tales & Feathers Magazine

You and your sisters left your bodies where they were standing, in a grove in Zimbabwe, some fifty years ago. You left the dead buried among your roots, but still remember the way their bones nestled against your bark. Corporate development hadn’t really reached you yet, but you could tell it would eventually. As the years wore on, the droughts became longer and drier. It was time. So, you and your sisters each took a piece of your bodies with you as you left.

Tales & Feathers is a magazine for the "slice of life fantasy genre", focusing on "the cozy, the comforting, and the sentiment "no plot, just vibes." In this story, a dryad leaves her grove in Zimbabwe and ends up in America. The world is different there, life is different there, and living there requires her to change and adapt. And then she meets Sofia, who also has roots in another part of the world, and has her own, entirely different kind of magic. It's a beautifully woven, quietly powerful story about magic and life, love and finding your way in a new world. 

In Her Wake by Elis Montgomery in Apparition Lit

I try to remember what the others did wrong. Mattias a ribcage in a heap of dead leaves; Nova spread like jam on the skeletal branches overhead.

Do I pray for forgiveness? Strength? Maybe I should ask for privacy, because if Eius listens to my thoughts now, She will know what little hope remains.

In this story, the protagonist is being tested, quite literally, by the gods. It's a deadly and competitive game of worship, faith, and tasks that must be performed in order for the participants to win and stay alive. There's faith here, faith and fear and death, and in the end, we find out what matters most to the winning god. A harsh and harrowing tale with one heck of a kick at the end.

Undog by Eugenia Triantafyllou in Strange Horizons

There’s a dog in this house. A not-quite-a-dog. An undog. I heard its whimpering the first week I slept here, the thump, thump, thump of its bulky legs on the old tiles. I found long brown hair mixed with dust bunnies where the walls met. When there’s a loud noise outside, the undog barks, a wounded kind of bark, and each day I discover a new couch pillow chewed to shreds.

Oh gosh I love this dark and strange and tangled tale of the undog and the haunted house it inhabits, and the way the story's narrator finds a way to live with the creature lurking in the shadows. Triantafyllou tells a visceral, heart-rending tale of abuse and healing, and about how to make space for the undog in your life. 

Want Itself Is a Treasure in Heaven by Theodora Ward in Uncanny Magazine

and in a strip mall parking lot off a side road in some Baltimore suburb my hand is trembling as I take the last of the voidwater in its little bootleg dropper and I peel my eyelid back and though I am so careful and try so hard a bit of the precious fluid dribbles down my temple cold and slimy and for a moment I am seized with furious regret, for this and for all the waste, all the waste in all the world, everything that has ever missed its mark

Aaaa, I love this story. I love the way it winds itself through past and present, the way it soars high and dives deep, and I love the way it captures the real, conflicted, complex, and sometimes terrible emotions of love (and obsession), and the arduous journey it can be to find yourself, your true self, in the world. Ward's story is set in a future where it's possible to install technology into your body and then share your body with someone else. To let your mind enter another person and experience the world as they see it. To see yourself as they see you. Ward captures the love, agony, pain, joy, lust, and grief of the narrator with prose that is both tender and jaggedly fierce.

The Rain Remembers What the Sky Forgets by Fran Wilde in Uncanny Magazine

My favorite childhood memories are accompanied by the rustle of wings. In my dreams. In the shelter of Dr. Ventri’s aviary. The ibis with its clatter. The egret’s nettled song. Sharp beaks nipping my hair for nests. Gathering eggshells after chicks hatched. The echoes of birdsong in the townhouse when they got loose. How silent it must be up there now.

A story that combines a deep and profoundly affecting look at grief and retribution with the art of hat-making, and the terrible trade of using the feathers and bodies of birds to make hats. Fran Wilde's masterful storytelling and prose makes every bit of this story gleam darkly and the ending, OH THE ENDING.... It's worth noting that there is real history behind this tale. To quote the author's note: the early 1900s, the plumage fashion battles were in full swing, with Audubon societies formed to protect endangered birds, and hundreds taking pledges to wear only sustainable feathers. States and municipalities attempted to pass, or successfully passed, numerous local laws, until the Migratory Bird Act passed nationally in 1918.

Place of Four Winds, by Gabriel Mara in The Deadlands

It is not her death that troubles him most. They are a people who live close to death, hear it breathing heavy in the dappled leaves beneath the overstory in a thousand different bodies. All must walk the path, and he knows this even as it saddens him, but this is not the source of his anguish.

What vexes and draws him to this vigil is the fact that the body before him has stopped rotting.

The afterlife is twined together with the world of the living in this powerful and compelling story by Mara. A dead woman fights against the pull of death to warn the living of an approaching danger, while a father mourns the death of his daughter. The implacable forces of the afterlife, and the dead woman's determination to find a way to reach beyond the veil, make this story cut true and deep. I especially like how vivid the world of the dead is drawn here, in all its strange and punishing detail.

There’s a Door to the Land of the Dead in the Land of the Dead by Sarah Pinsker in The Deadlands

Vera works in a theme park called The Land of the Dead. It’s a place out in the boonies somewhere, far from everything, not exactly a roaring success. Vera has come there after a breakup, looking for a place to stay, not quite knowing where the rest of her life is headed. At the theme park, she meets and befriends one of the park’s original employees, Adelaide: “the oldest, coolest queer I’d ever met. Blue hair with a rattail that was either decades out of date or art school au courant, six feet tall even with her back starting to curve in at the shoulders, butch as the local sheriff, who she played poker with because she believed you had to “keep your friends close and your enemies poor,” her words.” Pinsker’s writing is always a treat, and this story is both deeply moving and quietly funny, and its mood deepens and darkens as Adelaide shows Vera a mysterious door, or gateway, in the woods.

Non-fiction pick of the month:

"Whither Queer?: The Genre at Midlife and a Rec-List" by Kai Ashante Wilson in Strange Horizons 

Also, read anything and everything by Wilson himself, for example: 

You can support Strange Horizons current Kickstarter at: 

Preorder pick of the month:

If Wishes Were Obfuscation Codes and Other Stories by Malon Edwards (published by Fireside Fiction)

"...collects 10 cyberpunk dispatches, including a brand-new, epic rap novella. On offer is a guided tour of an independent Chicago, a beacon of Black excellence that is done with the ever-hostile State of Illinois showing its ass.

Your guides are a little rough around the edges: hackers and assassins, thieves and grieving parents, elders and teenagers. Don’t fret. These people will take good care of you, so long as you mind yourself.

Welcome to the Sovereign State of Chicago.

This is a grand, dark, twisted, and visceral deep dive into Malon Edwards's cyberpunk future. It's out in September and it's a great read from start to finish.


To support my work, check out my Patreon or Ko-Fi.

June 26, 2023

BEHIND THE ZINES with Joyce Chng, articles editor at STRANGE HORIZONS

For this month's Behind the Zines interview, I'm happy and excited to be talking to Joyce Chng, an amazing writer who is also the articles editor at Strange Horizons.


More about Joyce Chng:

Born in Singapore but a global citizen, Joyce Chng writes mainly science fiction and YA. They like steampunk and tales of transformation/transfiguration. Their fiction has appeared in Crossed Genres, The Apex Book of World SF II, We See A Different Frontier, Cranky Ladies of History, and Accessing The Future. They can be found at A Wolf’s Tale ( and at @jolantru on Twitter.

Joyce Chng's pronouns are she/her or they/their.

More about Strange Horizons:

Strange Horizons is a weekly magazine of and about speculative fiction. We publish fiction, poetry, reviews, essays, interviews, roundtable discussions, and art.

Our definition of speculative fiction includes science fiction, fantasy, horror, slipstream, and all other flavors of fantastika. Work published in Strange Horizons has been shortlisted for or won Hugo, Nebula, Rhysling, Theodore Sturgeon, James Tiptree Jr., and World Fantasy Awards.


Q. Tell us a bit about yourself. What’s your background, where did you grow up, and what do you do outside the world of speculative fiction?

I am Joyce Chng/Ch’ng. I was born in and am currently based in Singapore. I am second/third-generation Chinese. Outside the world of speculative fiction, I am a parent and an ex-teacher. I am a History major (specifically late medieval) – you can say I am a medievalist.

Q. If you think back on your life, what was the first thing that got you hooked on the speculative fiction genre? Was it a book or a movie, or something else?

I think it would be a confluence of many things. First, children’s books with shapeshifting and fairies, then Star Blazers (Spaceship Yamato) my gateway to military science fiction and space opera… and Pern.

Q. You are one of the people behind Strange Horizons, a zine I write for, and one of the oldest and I would argue most interesting speculative fiction zines around. Can you talk a bit about Strange Horizons, and how you got involved at SH, and what you see as Strange Horizons mission, or what sets it apart in the field of spec fic?

Strange Horizons is one of the speculative fiction zines that is doing what no other zines have promised to do this, and I say this because I am biased: spec fic has always been diverse and international, focusing not only just North American (United States of America) but many other centres of speculative fiction around the world. That is one of Strange Horizons’ mission: spec fic is global.

How I got involved? Around 2016, Vanessa Phin (Ness) asked me if I would like to join as an articles editor. The zine was then helmed by Niall Harrison. We set up a tele-conference and talked. Then here I am.

Q. What does your work involve behind the zines? How does a usual “workday” for you at the zine look like?

As we are volunteers, time is indeed very precious and we do have other things in life. There is no “workday”, just a couple of hours we allocate. So, a “workweek” would look like – for me – 48 hours (2 or 3 hours).

My role as articles editor is to solicit and commission nonfiction pieces from writers. We do have a slush pile for pitches and submissions. Besides soliciting and commissioning, I edit (copy and development), give feedback to writers, and then when the final drafts are OKed, uploaded them on the SH portal (thanks for Wordpress skills!).

Q. What are some things you have learned since you started at Strange Horizons, and what are some of the most enjoyable things vs. the hardest things about your work?

Editing is hard. Managing people is hard. Managing myself is hard. Publishing is hard. But I also have learned that working with like-minded people in a diverse anarchist setting is amazing. That I actually enjoy “working” as a nonfiction editor and that speculative nonfiction/creative writing is such an underrated but much needed genre. We need more critical analyses of our field and we definitely need more from marginalised and non-US regions.

Hardest thing(s): I hate to reject people. There are many pitches and submissions that are good which we have to say no to. It’s not the quality we are against, but sometimes, yes, they just don’t fit and normally the calendar has already been filled up with submissions we have accepted prior. As I have said, publishing is hard. Another “hardest thing”: dealing with difficult writers. We all have different personalities and characters, different backgrounds and belief systems. Sometimes, they just clash.

Q. The world of speculative fiction zines and speculative fiction writing has undoubtedly changed over time. What are some trends you pay attention to, whether they are good or bad?

I am not sure if I pay attention to trends. But there are now more daring approaches and focuses which I like. Solarpunk, for example. Also zines inspired by and found on all the ‘punks. Not sure if they are good or bad though. It is only bad if it’s just a buzzword or the zine is a product because the creators have believed striking the iron where it is hot. The hardest part is to persist on the values they have based their zines on and promised to deliver.

Trends come and go. They seem to ebb away, until they surface once more (if the pendulum swings the other way).

Q. You’re based in Singapore and the main focus of the speculative fiction world seems to still be North America when it comes to cons, events, zines, and so on. What are your thoughts on that phenomenon and what it means for speculative fiction – what and who gets published, what and who wins awards and gets attention? And do you have any thoughts on how this situation can be improved?

My thoughts? The focus on North America (specifically, again, the United States of America) is a double-edged sword. The US of A has always presented itself as a beacon for speculative fiction and writers from places where they don’t even give any consideration for speculative fiction will try to get published in America. What it ultimately means for speculative fiction… SFF might end up becoming parochial, advocating narratives and beliefs the dominant culture wants to read/watch.

I am often leery about tokenisation and even though I am happy for the BIPOC and nonwhite folk who get awards and recognition, I am afraid that they are held up as tokens by the dominant white cis-gendered Americans: see, we are not racists! Walking the talk is hard, but this is just the bare minimum, the lowest bar.

Tokenisation has the unfortunate effect of splitting the community apart, another “us versus them” thing I hope will go but not in my lifetime. I am not sure how the situation can be improved without a total sea change/complete overhaul of publishing itself. As long as the dominant white (racist) voices have power, the dynamics will still be unfair and unequal. I am not sure who will have the courage to tackle the privilege(s) head-on.

Q. How has your involvement behind the scenes affected your view of the business of genre fiction publishing, compared to your perspective before? Have you gained any insights you didn’t previously have?

Genre fiction publishing is hard. Genre fiction publishing has unequal and unfair power dynamics. However, we have talent. BIPOC and marginalised people have talent. I see them in the pitches and submissions.

Q. If people want to support Strange Horizons, what can they do?

They can support Strange Horizons in the annual fund-drive:

Or become a patron:

The staff are all volunteers. But we want to pay our artists, writers and columnists!

Q. For writers and readers out there who might be thinking about getting involved with a zine in any capacity, what would you say to them? Do you have any advice, and/or warnings?

Most zines are volunteer-run, so be mindful of your own expectations and theirs. Go in with an open mind but draw your boundaries, know your strengths (what you are able to/capable of) and your weaknesses. Don’t be afraid to seek help or assistance (if your zine has a Slack, discuss and talk it out).

Q. You’re also a wonderful writer of speculative fiction. How did you get started as a writer? Is it something you always did or wanted to do, or something that you came to later in life?

Thank you! J

How I got started? I started writing fiction in my teens, pretty much inspired by the stuff I read (McCaffrey). I always wanted to be a writer, even though I was told not to because “writing doesn’t earn you money”. I dabbled in short stories and got things published in uni Pride zines. Also, fanzines.

I stopped for a short while after I got married and started work. I only started writing for real around the late 2000s and I debuted when I was 35. In between, I taught as an adjunct teacher and this went on for quite some time.

Q. Speaking as a writer, what do you have on the go right now, and what’s up next for you as a writer?

I am working on a couple of contracted work (games-related), a pitch for a collaboration with an illustrator, and dipping into an Orlando Furioso- inspired story I have wanted to write for a long time. Because it’s Singapore, I am planning on school visits for Fire Heart, my YA fantasy (Scholastic Asia) and Oyster Girl, a picture book supported by the Heritage Board.



About Behind the Zines:

In this interview series, I talk to people working behind the scenes at various speculative fiction publications. My goal is to highlight the work that goes into keeping these publications alive, and to share insights from the people doing that work. Each interview is available exclusively on my Patreon for one week, and is then posted here at Maria's Reading.

If you want to support my work, check out my Patreon or Ko-Fi.


May 31, 2023

My Sci-Fi, Fantasy & Horror Short Fiction Roundup for May, 2023


The artwork for this roundup includes a detail of Cynthia Sheppard's cover for The Deadlands #24. More about the artist: (Fair warning: this issue of The Deadlands also contains my essay "A Dog, a Heart, a Box of Ashes, or Whom Rhodope Shed Tears For".)

An audio version of this roundup is available on YouTube:

AnyPercent by Andrew Dana Hudson in GigaNotoSaurus

When he wasn’t scouting, Luckless was running. Here’s what that looked like: you slather on the electroconductive gel, hook up the halo that reroutes your nervous system, press and hold START, and boom—it’s midnight on your 18th birthday, in a different body, a different identity, a new clutch of memories swirling in your simulated hippocampus.

What an amazing roller coaster ride of a story this is. It takes you into the life, or rather lives of Luckless, a man who plays the game AnyLife where you enter a very realistic virtual reality and can live countless lives in mere minutes and hours. In the game, you can be many things, strive for many different goals, and one of the ultimate goals for many players is to reach Economic Victory, to become the richest person in that in-game world, and to do it in the shortest possible time. Luckless becomes obsessed with reaching that goal, but it ends up costing him a lot in his real life. I've read a lot of great stories that deal with games and virtual reality and how they can intersect and affect our lives, and Hudson's story takes some interesting and unique twists and turns along the way, spinning a multi-faceted and deeply thought-provoking tale. As he spirals into his obsession with beating the game and "winning", Luckless abandons the relaxed way he used to play and enjoy AnyLife. He tries every trick he knows, and every trick he learns, in order to reach the top. And eventually, he does find a revolutionary way to win. I love how Hudson shows us that while the game is a simulation of real life, it also has the potential to affect Luckless, and other players, in real, profound and life-changing ways.

Bruised-EyeDusk by Jonathan Louis Duckworth in Beneath Ceaseless Skies

Rugg the spellbreaker was only passing through the Devil’s Palm on his way down to the coast, where he hoped to find his mother. He’d have avoided Ganvill, except he was running low on boom powder and salt, and the little settlement was the last tame place before a lot of nowhere.

After reading this wonderful and absolutely captivating story, I would like to follow Rugg the spellbreaker and his gator Tugboat anywhere, any time. Duckworth spins a hugely enjoyable tale where there is magic, sweet and sour, and where people are trying to find a way to live their lives in peace after war and tribulation. The language here is an utter joy to read, and a prime example of how to weave and stitch the worldbuilding into the fabric of your prose and story.

AnAtlas of Names and Footprints and Thoughts Unsaid by Carlie St. George in IZ Digital

 Monsters play by certain rules; all you truly need know is which game you agreed to play. But a case means a human culprit, and humans cheat; it’s what they do. A human will break any law, any promise, any salt line in order to keep their sins secret and safe.

Cimcim, not quite human, can bend the rules better than most – but she feels the weight of it, of compulsion, obligation. More likely than not, it’ll put her in the ground someday.

Oh, this story is an absolute, gosh-darn delight. It's a story about monster hunting, about investigations and deductions, about ghosts and demons, murders, and sharp sharp teeth. But most of all, this is an intricately woven, complex, and conflicted love story, between Cimcim, not quite human, and Yesterday, "round, beautiful, with soft, thick, inviting arms that Cimcim has slept inside before when shelter was scarce". Cimcim keeps things, has kept things, about her true nature from Yesterday, and the relationship between them is deep and profound, but also fraught with things unsaid and undone. It is a gorgeous tale, with all its monsters and all its longing, spoken and unspoken.

More about IZ Digital: 

IZ Digital is the digital offshoot of Interzone. It publishes fiction and non-fiction from all over the planet. Every story is illustrated with full-colour art. 

A Toitele by Celia Rostow in The Dark

All that remained of Chana came back from Kraków in a little wooden box: a golden chain with a pendant, a palm facing out with a carved unblinking eye to protect from evil.

Chana’s death lived on the mantle in the main room of the house, where it would gather dust if Rochel didn’t clean it once a week before shabbos, along with everything else in their little home. There had been no note, but even if there had, Rochel knew that Dovid wouldn’t have read it. The only reason she knew the box contained a chain was because he had opened it for half a heartbeat before snapping it shut again.

Rostow describes this gorgeously wrought story about a ghost, and a ghostly lover as "queer Jewish erotic horror". It's also a story about tight-knit and fracturing relationships, between Dovid and Rochel in their marriage, and between Rochel and Chana who were once the closest of friends, before life separated them. I love the darkness and the fire of this story, and I love the way it captures Rochel's complicated and complex feelings about her own identity, her place in the world, as well as her husband Dovid and her friend Chana.

The Pigeon-Keepers Daughter by Su-Yee Lin in Strange Horizons

It is in the summer, during the monsoon season in Taipei, when the pigeon keeper’s daughter moves into the apartment on the top floor of a building on an alleyway in Wenshan District. From her window, she sees not only Taipei 101 in the distance with Elephant Mountain behind it, but also the rooftop of the building abutting hers. Her mind recognizes those buildings atop that roof, the ladder leading to a sitting area, the shoddy tin roofing above the makeshift coop, even the old man with his shock of white hair, and she is hit with nostalgia for a past not so long ago.

I can't even properly describe how much I love this gentle, quiet, utterly gorgeous and devastating story. There is shapeshifting and magic here, there's a quiet life lived on the outskirts of society, there is the sound of birds and the memories they evoke, and there is a longing and the lost memories of a past the protagonist cannot quite grasp. One of the most beautiful and emotionally powerful stories I've read in a long time.

The Miraculous Account Of Khaja Bairaq, Pennant-Saint Of Zabel by Tanvir Ahmed in Strange Horizons

It is said that when Bibi Siti wrapped herself in the pennant, the cloth was soaked by her blessed sweat and warmed by the prayers she breathed into it. Overflowing with her wild graces, the pennant pledged itself to the same way of truth and righteousness, out of adoration for the saint who had held it close.

Tanvir Ahmed writes prose that enchants and glitters, that has the texture and gloss of fairytale, myth, and history, while telling stories that feel brand new and ancient, all at the same time. I read and loved Ahmed's story in The Deadlands, "A Dervish Among the Graves of Ghazni", and this story in Strange Horizons is just as lush, just as fierce, and just as devastatingly gorgeous.

Every Time the Circus Comes to Town by Fred Coppersmith in Etherea Magazine

Every time the circus comes to town, someone dies.

It was only a few years ago that comic, death-defying spectacle was the circus’ bread and butter. The audience couldn’t go a night without seeing one of the clowns snatched at the last minute from the lion’s jaws or saved from a perilous drop by an acrobat and a well-timed seltzer bottle. Back then, there were sword-swallowers and red-nosed knife-throwers aplenty. The crowds would cheer as tiny cars spilled pancake-makeup-covered faces through rings of fire so hot they’d singe the electric-colored curls of the clown collective’s wigs.

But that was back when death could still be defied. That was before the curse.

Coppersmith puts his own unique spin on the cursed traveling circus here, in a tale that blends fantasy with strands of horror. This circus is a place where magic is at work, where someone must die and where Death will always get their due. But then something happens: a new employee at the circus turns the tables on the curse, and on Death itself. I love the Bradbury-esque vibes here, and the gentle way Coppersmith inverts and subverts some well-known genre tropes.

The Bleak Communion of Abandoned Things by Ariel Marken Jack (narrated by Kitty Sarkozy) in PseudoPod

I accept the house in lieu of a settlement. I don’t want Ashley’s dirty money. The house is the least ill-gotten thing she owns, an isolated property she won in a card game and forgot. We’ve never even been there. I’m hoping that the lack of shared memories will make it a perfect place to hole up while I try to get over her and get on with my life. I’m comforted by the fact that the house is supposed to be haunted. I don’t think I’m quite ready to be alone.

Yes, I do love haunted house stories, and this haunted house story is magnificent. Here, the person moving in actually welcomes the haunted presence in the house and soon establishes a close relationship with it as she cleans and dusts and fixes up the old abandoned house. But few things come without a price, and sometimes, when something seems too good to be true, it really REALLY is. There's an undercurrent of (sometimes dysfunctional) love to this horror that is beautifully subversive as it explores profound feelings of both loneliness and belonging.

She Blooms and the World is Changed by Izzy Wasserstein in Lightspeed

I was six months old when we landed on Lilit. Sera was born three years later. Now I wonder: was I born too soon? Or was she born too late?

A fantastic, gripping, and deeply thoughtprovoking story about two sisters, and the new planet their parents have brought them to. While the parents try their best to shield the planet, Lilit, from any interference and contact with the family, the sisters take a different path. What's happening to the younger sister is proof that contact has already occurred. Can we cut ourselves off from a world and just observe it? Can we live (should we even try to live) without changing, and being changed, by the world around us? Wasserstein's story is a beautiful exploration of change, the fear of change, and what we can find on the other side of that fear.

A Chestnut, A Persimmon, A Cunning Lie by Michelle Denham (narrated by Isabel Kim) at Podcastle

Haewon’s Omoni brought home the tiger-hearted girl and said, “This is your sister, Hyojin. She has been reborn to us, isn’t that wonderful?”

The tiger-hearted girl had amber eyes that burned, red stripes on her face, and long white teeth that gleamed in the dark. Omoni looked at Haewon like she expected her to do something. (A chestnut. A persimmon. A cunning lie.) So Haewon threw her arms around the tiger-hearted girl and said, “Hyojin-ah! I thought we’d never see each other again. I missed you so much.”

I absolutely LOVE this fairytale-tinged story of two sisters and a mother who find a way to live, and make a family, at the edge of a precipice. There are so many facets and so many layers to this story: deception in order to survive, violence and power in society and a family. And also: how do we see those around us? and how are they, and we, changed by how we see them? Denham's story is both gorgeous and powerful as it delves deep into one family, and the power of truths and lies.

Jar by Erin Brown in The Deadlands

They say the Jar standing high on the hill above the city, silhouetted against the sky, alone and imposing, is the eternal stomach of the River God of the Valley, who is praised to devour us one by one. But one doesn’t have to be in the Jar for his digestion of your flesh to begin. I knew this—it was in all the teachings—but I didn’t understand until he chose me.

I adore this beautifully strange and gorgeously crafted short story by Brown. There's a good amount of body horror and some rather gory details here, but they are set in a story that seems to me to be about the transcendence, and the transformation after death -- diving deep into a metaphysical reality beyond the horror of decaying and digested bodies. I particularly like how Brown makes the ritual, the transformation, of Death and digestion so visceral in its details and yet also so lyrical. It's a truly unique take on the afterlife, and a must-read, as far as I'm concerned. 

Carapace by Angela Sylvaine in Dose of Dread from Dread Stone Press

It started with the red heel. Or pump, as my mother called them. I saw it while walking to school with the other kids in my neighborhood. A single red high-heel in the middle of the street. Some of the kids blew it off, didn’t care, while others insisted they couldn’t see it at all. Playing pranks on me, as usual.

A lovely slice of unsettling and surreal darkness that feels like it pays an almost tongue-in-cheek homage to Kafka. I love the deceptive simplicity of this story, and how that simplicity hides layers of meaning and horror, all lurking beneath that surface.

Come Out, Come Out by Myna Chang in Radon Journal

Nati wanted her mother. She needed her mother’s jellied eyes and flesh-whorled fingers. Her heat. The chill of the ruined space station gnawed at Nati’s biometal bones, leached into her human-tinged processing lobes. She was tired of the cold.

An excellently creepy and unsettling slice of science fiction flash. Motherhood can be dangerous and have unexpected consequences, as we find out here. I love the way Chang blends love and longing with fierce, even obsessive, determination.

Money Thirst by Eva Papasoulioti in Radon Journal

“Water is overrated,” they say, and you agree. You’ve been drinking nothing but water for the past year and think, well, you can easily do without. For this kind of money, you definitely can.

What if you could earn a lot of money, just by never ever drinking water again? This is a wicked sharp story about a near future where the protagonist signs a lucrative contract with an energy drink manufacturer, but the terms of the contract might be more than they bargained for... Everything in this story is sharp and jagged, and it has such a deliciously dark and sinister vibe. What can I say? I just love the pitch-black sense of humour and the way it cuts so close to the bone.

How to Stay Married to Baba Yaga by S.M. Hallow in Baffling Magazine

7. In the woods, in the dark, your heart thuds and your breath makes ghosts in the starlight. Nothing here will harm you, but when you stand between white pillars of petrified sycamores, you feel the way you did the night you met her, when you were just another Vasilisa, another Yelena, another Marya, another Ivan Ivanovich: another lost soul in a litany of lost souls whose skulls stake the path to her door. Don’t ever forget how your story started.

A beautifully layered, and thoroughly devastating story about Baba Yaga, written as a list of tips. There's such richness in every detail of this story, in the way it brings together different versions and parts of the tale into a new whole. And there's an emotional depth here where love and pain and fear run through everything. Hallow uses the old expertly and makes it into something new and heartrending.

Quandary Aminu vs The Butterfly Man by Rich Larson in

“Thought it’d be bigger,” Jow says, to mask the crawling in his spine.

“You spilled some,” the woman says.

The butterfly man doesn’t breathe like a human, no familiar up-and-down locomotion to the ribcage. Instead, its whole body seems to ripple.

“We used to play butterfly man, when we were little,” Jow says. “Me and my sisters. Always imagined it bigger. Scarier.”

How scary can something be when it's called a "butterfly man"? Turns out, pretty freaking scary. In Larson's brutally entertaining science fiction tale, we follow Quandary Aminu who is trying to survive the butterfly man sent to kill her. To quote the story description at TOR:

When an illicit trade deal goes wrong and Quandary is blamed for it, she goes on the run to avoid the crosshairs of a bioengineered killer that only lives for 24 hours. If Q can evade it for that long, she just might survive.

This is a high-powered, fast-moving story with a squishy, regenerating body-horror center (the creation of the butterfly man in a bathtub is the stuff of sci-fi nightmares), and I enjoyed every bit of it.

Timekeeper's Symphony by Ken Liu in Clarkesworld

While the question of whether the nature of the universe is continuous or discrete remains hotly debated, there is sufficient consensus that consciousness doesn’t so much flow like a smooth river as leap forward from moment to moment, a glistening frog atop a drifting lily pad.

Any story by Ken Liu is a must-read, and this story, about the way time is experienced, differently by various creatures in various parts of the galaxy is a mind-bending, thought-provoking trip. I love the way Liu takes big scientific, and science-fiction-y, concepts and turns them into lyrical beauties. Here, Liu explores the concept that a creature's metabolic rate is linked to its perception of time, and it is a fascinating and profoundly haunting read.

The Massage Lady at Munjeon Road Bathhouse by Isabel J. Kim in Clarkesworld

Kim Jinah has worked at the Munjeong Road bathhouse for six years. She’s scrubbed the tiles of the large baths. She’s manned the counter that sells squeeze packs of shampoo, baked eggs, and cold drinks. Jinah is now a massage lady. It’s not a glamorous job.

Jinah stands in her old underwear and scrapes the future from women’s skin. Their scales fall to the floor. The women sit up scoured red and smooth.

A thoroughly wonderful and uniquely imagined story where a person's future shows up as scales on their skin, and the thicker and harder the scales become, the less possibility there is of change for that person. Most people cannot see the scales, but Jinah, the massage lady, can. She scrubs away the scales on the women who come to the bathhouse, and also ponders her own scales. Kim tells this story with such gentle and insightful voice, exploring the joy and fear of change, and what futures and what choices we might impose on ourselves and others. What choices would we make if we were less set in our ways, less covered in hard scales? And what choices would we allow others to make if we allowed ourselves and them more freedom? 


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