January was so full of
excellent stories it kind of drove me nuts. Is this what 2019 will be like?
Just overflowing with excellent speculative fiction? I guess I can handle that…
Nothing to Fear, Nothing to Fear, by Senaa Ahmad in Uncanny
This story – about sisters Huda and Amina, their brother Sameer, and
Huda’s daring science project – packs a spectacular emotional punch. It’s a
story that crept very close to me as I read it, until I felt like it was
whispering in my ear. I love everything about this story. I love the
relationship between the sisters, the love and annoyance, the loyalty and
conflict between them. I love how Ahmad perfectly captures both the
togetherness and the isolation of the children. And I love the (unexpected)
outcome of Huda’s science project. A story to read and savour.
Machines, by Sara Saab in The Dark
Set in the shadowy and forbidding underground realm of London’s tube
tunnels and subterranean waterways, this wonderfully chilling horror story is
my favourite kind of monster tale. Saab makes us feel and fear the monster
rather than confront it head on, and it makes for a spine-chilling and tense
tale about the darkness hidden below the familiar world, and the ancient
creatures that might exist right beneath our feet. The story is infused with so
much texture and so much depth, making it all feel vividly and unsettlingly
Another Day in the Desert, by Mame Bougouma Diene in Escape
This is a riveting epic tale, told in the space of a short story. We
follow Tagedouchet from when she’s a young woman, growing up with her family in
the Sahara desert, until she is much older, a wife and mother, marked by a hard
life, but still with that same fiery spirit inside her. The world-building is
done with an expert hand, giving us mechanical camels, thopters, drones, a
moving oasis, the politics of the Caliphate, and the ever-present shadow of Han
industries and their uranium mining operations. There is war and strife, life
and love and loss here, and it’s all pulled together perfectly into a story
that kept me hooked from start to finish. Terrific narration by Halima Salah.
Notes on the
Plague, by Shamar Harriott in Fiyah #9
“The world slides into apocalypse.” Oh, this story… this story
cut right through me with its sadness and its fire and its razor-sharp edges. A
plague, the Touch disease, is killing people. People are dying, hiding, running
away, wondering who is next. People keep a safe distance from each other. Some
commit suicide. Others try to hold on – to themselves, to each other. Harriott
captures the grief and weariness and hollowness when the world as you know it
seems to be coming to an end, and the story also captures those brief, yet
important, moments when people decide whether they can go on living.
The Daddy Thing, by K.C. Mead-Brewer in Electric
An awesomely creepy and taut horror story that is also an incredibly
moving and emotionally charged family drama – this is such a uniquely strange
tale that I do not want to spoil any part of it for you. I will say that there
is a talkative bat with a taste for blood, a dad who scares his daughter and
then….becomes something else, and a mother who tries to remedy a bad situation.
Every bit of this story feels mind-warpingly weird, yet nightmarish enough to
Death and the Tower, by William Broom in Kaleidotrope
“A wild god had passed by the city on the day of her birth. The
shepherds said it was like a great limbed shadow slithering over the hills.
Cassandra knew that somehow she had been touched by that god. Perhaps it had
seen her and claimed her for its own, or perhaps it had merely wandered by,
leaving sacred footprints in the wet matter of her soul.” Broom’s
story is an exquisitely written and harrowing take on Greek mythology and the
works of Homer. The prose sings from the first line, and I love how the story
feels both hauntingly familiar and strikingly new at the same time. Broom gives
you a new way of looking at Cassandra, and her world is brought to life with
vivid and evocative prose.
His Footsteps, Through Darkness and Light by Mimi
Mondal at TOR.com
Binu is a trapeze artist at the Majestic Oriental Circus, and also
performs the role of Alladin in “Alladdin and His Magic Lamp”, a play put on by
ringmaster Johuree. And yes, there’s a magic lamp in this story, and there is a
jinni too, but no, this is not your usual story of three wishes and a jinni.
Mondal spins her own mesmerizing magic here, with a rich and lush tale about
Binu and Johuree and a beautiful woman who wants to run away with the circus.
It’s also an aching story about people who end up facing terrible and difficult
choices, and I love how vividly Mondal brings this world and the people in it
The Deepest Notes of the Harp and Drum, by Marissa Lingen
in Beneath Ceaseless Skies
Marissa Lingen kicks this story off with one heck of an opener: “I
killed my sister with my own two hands. I am not sorry for it; she lied and
cheated and stole, and if it had not been her it would have been me.” What
follows is a gorgeous, bloody fantasy tale with a subtle and wicked sense of
humour. It’s a fantastic twist on the fairytale trope of the instruments that
are magically endowed with voices to reveal people’s deep, dark secrets.
Lingen’s story deals with murder and revenge, but it’s also a love story about
two women who meet and fall in love, and who are both hoping for a clean start,
even though they’re not sure they’ll get one.
The Beast Weeps with One Eye, by Morgan Al-Moor in Beneath
The High Sister has been on the run for many days with the people she
is supposed to defend. Their old village is lost far behind them, and they are
being harried by ravens who attack and kill them whenever they stop. The High
Sister prays to the Great Elders for help, but the only one who offers
sanctuary is Babawa-Kunguru, the Father of All Ravens, the Keeper of Sorrows,
and he demands a heavy price in return. “Three offerings of sorrow–a tribute
from your people to my shrine. Do this, and the land is yours. Forever.”
This is a powerful and piercing story about faith and courage and redemption,
and I especially love the how Al-Moor delves deep into the past of The Keeper
of Sorrows, creating an ending you might not have expected.
(Originally published at mariahaskins.com)