Connection by Frances Rowat in CossMass Infinities #1
The first issue of Cossmass
Infinities includes several terrific stories, and this is one of my
favourites. There's real power and panache in the prose here, like in this bit
from the beginning of the story: "Phosphorus Jack isn’t one of the
glossy uptown heroes, all cloak and jewel-tones. He’s a hopped-up vigilante, a
little guy in dark leathers snapping and crawling with white sparks. Can’t fly,
but he’s got the jetwing for that, the weird jet-powered cross between a
surfboard and a thyroidal boomerang." It's a fabulous and
original mix of superhero story, mechanically inclined scifi, friendship-tale,
AND a taste of steampunk. The hero, or superhero, is Phosphorous Jack, but
"Without the hood, Phosphorus Jack is Jennifer Jackson, a neighbourhood
girl." I love how deftly and insightfully the story deals with both
complicated family relationships, and a budding friendship between two very
different people. This story is now available to read online. (To read the
rest of the issue, you'll have to buy it, and it's definitely worth picking
Soleil Knowles in Fiyah #13
You wring your hands,
cold and clammy and rough. Skin of teeth, salty with sea brine cuts into the
humanlike fat of your palms, and you stare down the edge of oblivion. The wind
whips you, sings to you. A full, fat, yellow moon casts a sultry pall over the
water, the light disappearing into its mirror image on the sea. You take one
step, then another.
Issue 13 of Fiyah is
a real tour-de-force, including this fierce and ferocious monster tale by
Soleil Knowles. We know right from the get-go of this story that the water,
specifically the ocean, calls to our protagonist in a way that frightens her
mother so much that she fears giving her daughter baths, and fears her being
out in the rain. We know that this girl is powerful, that she is different from
anyone else she knows, and we feel her longing, her pain, and her anger at
being shut out by those around her, never feeling safe or as if she
belongs. We also know that she always, always hungers.
Knowles's prose is so strong it pulls you right in under the girl's (flaking,
itching) skin, and the ending is one glorious surge of power. One of the best
monster stories I've read recently.
The Girlfriend’s Guide to Gods by Maria Dahvana
Headley in TOR.com
Maria Dahvana Headley
riffs on mythology, dating, sex, love, death, and on how we can make, unmake,
and remake ourselves and our lives again and again as we learn more about the
world and ourselves. The story takes on a large part of the Greek pantheon, including
the story about Eurydice and Orpheus, and plants itself (mostly) in our own
time and our own world, weaving in strands of fiction and fantasy and fairytale
along the way. A quote: "This is the second myth: that your boyfriend
from freshman year of college will teach you how to fly. The only way to learn
to fly anything, you’ll know by now, is by getting on it. Magic carpet.
Pegasus. Dragon of darkness. It’s all the same old shit." Headley's
prose is fiery and divine from start to finish. I read her take on the tale of
Beowulf, The Mere Wife, last year, and this story feels akin
to that book, even if it's a very different tale, told in a very different
voice. For another fabulous short story by Maria Dahvana Headley, read her
"Read After Burning" in the anthology A People's Future of the United States.
Yo, Rapunzel! by Kyle Kirrin in Podcastle
I won't even try to sum
up this story in any sort of rational way. Suffice it to say, that if you want
to liste to (or read) an outrageous, foul-mouthed, highly original, and
ridiculously guffaw-out-loud hilarious take on several well-worn fairytale and
fantasy tropes like heart quests and princesses in towers, you MUST read this.
(And believe me about the foul-mouthed thing: this story involves enough
F-bombs to level a small, fairytale land...or kingdom.)
Le Jardin Animé (1893) by Victoria Sandbrook in GigaNotoSaurus
This novella blends
steampunk and alternate history with exquisite scenes that delve into the joys
of both dance and music, and I enjoyed every beautiful, finely detailed,
well-crafted bit of it. We follow Dr. Zaynab Murad, a recently widowed Syrian
woman living in America. After her husband's death, she accepts a position with
Mme. Lefevre, Philadelphia's finest mechanist, meaning she creates automatons,
finely made robots that might, or might not, be as soulful and unique as most
humans. Lefevre's finest creation is Azimuth who has been created for a very
specific purpose. But Azimuth is rebelling against her mother and has her own
ideas of what she wants to do with her life. The conflict between Azimuth and
her maker/mother is both deep and complex. It also has severe repercussions for
Dr. Murad, as well as everyone else in the household. The ending is both
heartbreaking and, painfully, satisfying.
Dead Horse Club by
Jude Wetherell in Reckoning #4
a magazine of "creative writing on environmental justice", and their
fourth issue is guest edited by Arkady Martine and Danika Dinsmore. Wetherell's
story is a dark, evocative piece of fiction that is set on Barren Island,
"the only place or locality in or near the city of New York for the
destruction of garbage and dead animals in the city, and...the only proper
place for the rendering of the same". Wetherell's prose is gorgeously
wrought as she imagines the horses that rise again from the detritus and debris
left behind in the waters and on land, returning to haunt the place where their
bodies were taken.
The first horse makes
itself from the bones of other horses scattered in the bay. It sews its parts
together with the spines of baitfish. It drags itself from the water and
bleaches on the island shore until it is pocked-white, picked clean as it can
be by the flies and the birds and the mites that make caves of its marrow.
Physics by the Numbers by Stephen Granade in Escape
This is something as
unusual as a science fiction story that is, mostly, about scientists and their
work in the lab, more than about any kind of space and time shattering science.
There's a bit of romance, and a whole lot of algorithm shenanigans going on, as
well as some workplace politics. And Granade makes it all both gripping and
invigoratingly fresh. Nevaeh works on a project where no one ever feels safe:
the algorithm might end up getting you fired for...well, something, though no
one quite knows what it is you might do or say to cause you to get the boot.
Excellent narration by Stephanie Malia Morris.
Beldame by Nickolas Furr in Diabolical
Furr's story is a lovely,
wistful, thoroughly delightful take on a SFF staple: the portal fantasy. What
would you actually do if you found yourself standing before a door that could
take you to another world? A world of adventure and wonder and magic where everything
would change. This is exactly what happens, quite unexpectedly, to the
protagonist of this story, when they get off at a bus stop in a small town
in Kansas "where all the houses faced west and I met the whispery old
crone who sat at the intersection of two worlds". Their choice, and
how they deal with that choice afterward, puts a very human, real-world twist
on a well-used and well-loved trope.
The Last Ship Out of Exville by Phoebe Barton in Kaleidotrope
They call me the
Sorceress, because holding together a community like Exville takes a little
magic. We’ve got outcasts from Earth and Luna, Martian dustpunks, Venusian
hotshots, and Belter wanderers, and all of them with their own ideas of how to
live together. It’d be even harder if we didn’t have all those fascists on
Callisto growling at our door.
A fierce and fiery
spark-plug of a science fantasy story by Barton, set in space where a small
colony of outcasts and rebels have cobbled together an existence on Exville
(formerly known as Leda Station), away from the fascists on Callisto. But a
good thing seemingly can't last forever, and when the armed forces threaten
Exville, something's got to give.
The Duchess of Drinke Street by Tim Chawaga in Interzone
Chawaga's story takes
place in a future where the oceans are rising, swallowing up coastal regions.
It's set in New Lagos, a "NautiCity" that has sailed away from the
mainland and the old city of Lagos. On Drinke Street in New Lagos, food vendors
of all different kinds sell their wares, and the famous food reviewer Rina Priestly
is the one they all want to woo. In the story, we follow one man's attempts to
get a positive Rina review for his cupcakes. He starts off making Red Sauce Bao
Cakes, and ends up trying many different recipes through the years, never quite
achieving his goal, though he does become more closely acquainted with Rina in
the process. This is an inventive and compelling deep-dive into food, the
culinary arts, and the elusive secrets of authentic Taste. It's a story that
made me yearn for food I didn't even know existed.
Salvage by Andy Dudak in Interzone #285
Dudak's scifi story is
both weird, harrowing, and wonderful in its scope and audacious imagination, as
it puts the reader into a far-off version of our universe's future. Humanity is
scattered on various worlds in the Galaxy, and on one of those worlds, Aristy
is walking through the crumbling remains of an old civilization:
Statues congest the
silent lanes and marketplaces of the crumbling, overgrown village, figures
life-size and life-like except for the glowing veins suffusing their ceramic
flesh, children and adults and elders fixed during a long-ago, fateful moment.
Aristy makes her way among the familiar faces of Picti Street. The morning
mists burn away from the vine-curtained, root-clutched stone facades on either
side. It’s early now, but it was nearly dinnertime when these villagers were
transformed a millennium ago.
At the heart of this
story, is a mysterious occurrence that happened a thousand years ago, when
billions of sentient creatures were suddenly, and almost simultaneously, turned
into statues of themselves. I won't spoil the mysteries and weirdness of the
story, but it's a riveting read.
Face by Meg Elison in Nightmare
A tense murder mystery is
intertwined with a subtle and terrifying science fiction / supernatural horror
story in this chilling tale by Meg Elison. Annie's wife Cara has been murdered.
No one knows who did it, or why, but the death haunts Annie and her group of
friends. And Annie's life does not get any easier when the camera installed at
the front door starts alerting her to the presence of a "familiar
face" outside, even when no one's there.
Someone’s at the front
door, the robot spoke again. Their phones vibrated at the same
In the entryway, Annie
checked her phone.
Your camera thinks it
spotted a familiar face.
Cara is at the door.
I love how this story
features a big and gregarious cast of characters who all end up playing a role
in the story's conclusion. It's a dark and brilliant story that is hard to
shake off once you've read it.
Mother Love by
Clara Madrigano in The Dark
Madrigano's story deals
with a mother-daughter relationship that is wrong and deeply unsettling on
pretty much every single level, with a mother who is more predator than
caregiver, and a daughter who has to deal with a hunger, and a legacy, that
warps her own existence in the world. Darkly lyrical and twisted enough to
chill you to the marrow, this is a fabulously well-written piece of fiction.
The opening paragraph, even all by itself, is a gem:
Here’s my mother’s story:
picture two snakes fighting on the desert. No one is there to see it; nobody
will care about the eventual outcome. Both snakes will bite and maybe poison
each other and they’ll end up their lives like that, fangs sunk into each
other’s body, both the meal the other wanted. Now, picture this: my mother is
one of the snakes, and I am the other. My mother was hungry enough to bite, and
I was the prey she longed for the most.
Paris In Love by M. Bennardo in Syntax &
Taken from what is sadly
the final issue of Syntax & Salt, Bennardo's story is a
gorgeous piece full of both sorrow and regret and longing, as well as love,
though it's not the happy kind. Here we meet a fragment left of the Iliad's
Paris, living on long after his fateful encounter with the goddesses and the golden
apple, and long after Helen is gone. I love how this piece reimagines the tale
and the mythology of Paris and Helen as it ruminates on the reality, and our
perception, of love and life.
Where a Good Town May Take Us by Andi C. Buchanan
in Abyss & Apex
In this surreal story, a
town is on the move. At irregular intervals, it deconstructs itself and puts
itself back together in a new location, while its inhabitants follow along,
settling in to new places, never knowing how long they'll stay or what will
come next. There's a dreamlike sense of unmoored lives and rootless existence
in this piece, that resonates deeply with me. The sense of an ever-changing
town that makes change seem somehow safe and predictable...until things change
in more fundamental ways than just a new location and a new landscape outside
Badass Moms in the Zombie Apocalypse by Rae Carson
in Uncanny Magazine
Some stories are exactly
what their title tells you they are, and then some. This is one such story.
Here we meet some real badass moms dealing with childbirth and child rearing
during a massive zombie apocalypse. How do you give birth safely, when the
smell of blood will attract the ravenous horde? Why would you risk your life,
and the lives of others, to do so? And what would you be willing to risk and
sacrifice for your child, and for your beleaguered community? An action packed
and emotionally satisfying story from Uncanny #32.
Song Ending by E.A. Petricone in Apparition Lit
This story is part of
Apparition Lit's outstanding experimentation-themed issue, and it's about
Carlos, who works in a lab with a whole lot of rats. Petricone blends everyday
science and...something not so everyday, in a tale that is gripping and
compelling. With quiet but sharp-eyed insight, it deals with themes like
sickness and science, the realities of research, family and death, and with the
choices we make and how they affect other lives and the world around us. It
made me cry along the way, and the ending puts a twist on things that I, at
least, did not exactly expect.
One Hand in the Coffin by Justin C. Key in Strange
There is a rather long
list of content warnings at the beginning of this story, and for good reason:
this is strong, dark, disturbing stuff, but it's also a powerful and compelling
read. Twins Corey and Alisha have lost their older brother Michael under very
traumatic circumstances. Michael wasn't an easy sibling to live with in life,
and when he's dead, he still won't leave them in peace. After Corey makes an
ill-fated birthday wish, the twins' lives turn ever more nightmarish as Corey's
therapy puppet becomes possessed with what seems to be the malevolent remnants
of Michael's spirit. Excellent horror that packs a big emotional punch.
For Thine Is The Kingdom by Jennifer R. Donohue
A compelling twist on
some of the most well-known and well-worn fairytales, Donohue's story starts
with the irresistible opening paragraph:
She never woke up.
She crossed that
threshold into death’s dream kingdom with the juicy tang of poison apple on her
tongue from that single blushed bite. It was to do with her heart, she knew,
and she knew her heart was no longer of any use to her, only her wits.
Soon, the woman of the
story meets another woman in the same strange world she now finds herself in,
and they end up trying to find their way in this realm, together. Dark, yet
full of hope and inner fire.
Luchadora by Melissa Mead in Cast of
When Alejandra was nine,
her mother died of dehydration. When she was ten, Alejandra made her father
bring her to the Luchadores’ barracks. The three ancient wizards who would choose
the boy who would become the next Luchador weren’t pleased. They almost sent
Alejandra’s father to the hellstone mines, where men died with their limbs
I love this story about
the fierce and determined Alejandra to bits. It's entertaining, has some nice
twists and fresh takes on how to defeat "evil", and I especially love
how it combines the fighting style of the luchadores with magic in a world
where grumpy wizards and a very knowledgeable old bruja help train and foster
new adepts. "Luchadora" has a real fairytale vibe, mixed with some
weird western, includes a delightful friendship, and some seriously awesome
magical luchador moves. Wonderful narration by Sandra Espinoza.
Listen to the audio version.
(First published at Curious Fictions. Art is a detail
of Nilah Magruder's cover art for Uncanny Magazine #32.)