If you'd rather listen to the audio version of this roundup, it's available on YouTube.
Electronic Ghosts by Innocent Chizaram Ilo in Escape Pod,
narrated by Mofiyinfoluwa Okupe
This story kicks off with the excellent line, “If Nneora had died two
weeks earlier, her daughter, Anaeto, would not have resurrected her ghost.” You might think a story about death and ghosts would be horror, but it's not. Instead, this story masterfully twines together scifi, family bonds and traditions, and a filament of the supernatural. I love every little bit of this wonderful story. There are so many layers here, and I especially love how storytelling is
a thread that runs through the tale and Anaeto’s family, and which also leads
to her “resurrecting” her mother, partly because she fears the Ghost of
Unfinished Stories: “Nobody would believe, not that you can blame them, that
Anaeto will do what she does because she is scared the Ghost Of Unfinished
Stories will haunt her. Not even Anaeto herself.” Fantastic story that is
darkly funny, and deeply moving.
The Heart That Saves You May Be Your Own by
Merrie Haskell in Beneath Ceaseless Skies
You are a girl alone on a prairie.
You hunt alone and you sleep alone. You
sleep alone, with your thighs clamped tight on nothing at night, but not too
tight. You carry a rifle and a dream of a white dress. You sleep under the
stars. You hunt.
A stunningly good story that is a bit of a
weird western, a bit of fantasy, a bit of fairytale and portal magic, and all
together a brilliant piece of fiction. In order to court and marry her chosen
man "properly", and be able to wed in white and not wear the rust-red
of the "half-married", Tabby has headed out on the prairie, hunting
for a 'corn, a unicorn, as is tradition. It's a dangerous business, this hunt,
searching for a beast that comes through strange rifts in the fabric of the
world. Tabby is a clever and resourceful and determined woman, and yet... things
do not go as hoped. I love this story for its unique take on unicorns and
westerns, and love it for the way Tabby finds a different ending than the one
she thought she needed.
A Stranger Goes Ashore by Adam R. Shannon in
Beneath Ceaseless Skies
He remembers when Heora loved its people;
when their island chose a thousand small adaptations to shelter them, give
forth fresh water, provide light, and nourish them. For years, he has slept
inside his ship’s airless belly, dreaming of home. Now he feels as if he has
returned to the wrong island.
He doesn’t belong here any more. No one
does. Heora has rejected its children.
In a world where the island they live on is
barely able to sustain life, Heora's people send out ships, trying to find new islands
to inhabit. But Alain, one of those who has set out on the expeditions
searching for new habitats, is losing hope: every island he's seen is unable to sustain life. When the crew he's part
of do locate an island where a few people are able to eke out an existence,
strange forces seem to be at work, and Alain eventually comes to a mind-bending
conclusion about the nature of the world and the islands and those who go
searching for new places to belong. This story is an incisive,
thought-provoking and evocative take on climate change, and the hunt for new worlds to inhabit.
The Giant With No Heart In Her Body by Nike
Sulway in Strange Horizons
The truth is that I lost my arm the same
summer I lost my brother.
Lost is a euphemism. In fact, my arm was
retrieved by the paramedics and brought to the hospital, along with the two
fingers severed from my left hand, and the various parts of my brother’s body.
My right arm was broken in three places: I can still feel the ache and itch of
my poorly mended bones. Several parts of my brother’s body were not retrieved.
Sulway expertly weaves together so many
threads in this stunning tale where a young woman's grief and loss and pain
after her brother dies, and she herself is maimed, are woven into the weft of
fairytales. We start off in the (somewhat) recognizably real world of a car
accident and hospitals, but even then there is the presence of a crow familiar,
telling us that something else, another layer to the world, is close at hand.
And when Sulway dips into the fairytales, into the story of a giant trying to
save herself by hiding her heart in an egg, and then hiding that egg in various
places, the tale soars high and cuts deep. Outstanding prose and I am now
definitely on the lookout for more from Nike Sulway.
Wives at the End of the World by Avra Margariti in The Future Fire
This is a love story set in a post-apocalyptic world and it manages to be simultaneously
heart-warming and heartbreaking. The two women
hold on to each other, and hold on to small bits of goodness, of memory and love, in a world that is crumbling around them. Even in the darkest places, they find a bit of hope and beauty and solace in each other. A brilliant story that feels like a bit of brittle hope wrapped in sorrow.
A Song Born by
Remi Skytterstad in Reckoning
This rich and riveting story is set in Norway in the 17th century, and
takes place in a Sámi community in the north. The people are nomads, moving with their herd of reindeer through the seasons and the landscape. Their old ways of life, of living in and with nature, and their old religion has been almost completely suppressed by the state and
church, but the knowledge of the old ways of living, and the old ways of song
and magic, are not completely gone. A young boy, Kvive, is haunted by a song
that came to him when he fell through the ice into the cold lake and almost drowned. The song
eventually leads him to learn more about his people and the magic they once possessed, but that also means that he ends up at the
knife’s edge between the old ways and the brutality of the new. I seldom read spec-fic stories set in
Scandinavia, and it’s even more rare to find one that delves this deep into
Sámi culture, language, and life. It's a deep, powerful read.
Second Death of the Father by Cristina Jurado in Samovar (translated by Marian Womack and James Womack)
A dark and haunting trip into the mind and nightmares and memories of a woman who finds that her
life, and her self, changes slowly but surely, after her father dies.
Jurado twists reality so tight that the tension is almost unbearable, exploring
the ways a person can haunt you—inside and outside your own mind and body—even when you
thought they didn’t mean much to you. The ending is an absolute gut-punch.
Masterful horror. It’s available in both Spanish and English in Samovar.
A House Is Not a Home by L Chan in Clarkesworld
Chan’s story about a sentient, high-tech house that is trying to keep it
all together, even when its inhabitants are all gone, is both subtle and
piercing. There is so much brokenness here, in the house itself and in the
society that it exists in, but the house is trying to fix what it can, while it
also has to exist with the knowledge of its own guilt (if a house can be
guilty!). Chan weaves in a political subtext, and a lot of emotional power into this scifi tale.
The Family In the Adit by A.T. Greenblatt in Nightmare
I’ve always been a terrible cook.
Our meal started with turnip soup laced
with arsenic and a tossed salad. Husband doesn’t like feeding guests past the
Oh oh OH. This story is a harrowing, dark
tale of patient cunning, violence, and terror. It's set in the home of Husband
who is guarding the only exit from the terrible mines where people come to
search for riches before they realize the horrors that lurk within. In order to
pass through the only door to freedom, the guest must make it through the
dinner. Not an easy feat when everything is poisoned and the host would like to
devour you. Greenblatt perfectly captures the claustrophobic, desperate mood of
the place itself, and of its inhabitants. What would you do? What would you
risk? Who would you kill and betray to find the way out of this hell?
The Woman With No Face by Alice Goldfuss in Fantasy
Ankuin knew she was in a sim by the mineral
taste in her mouth. The other tells were more subtle: the fractal pattern of
moss on the cave wall, the cyclical rhythm of the rain on wet fronds, and the
lyrical birdsong piercing through the dense forest. Most people wouldn’t notice
such details, because most people didn’t have a reason to doubt their senses.
But Ankuin’s senses were never fully her own.
I was blown away by this story in Fantasy
Magazine. It's so rich, intense, and trippy, and I love the grit and detail
of it. We are in a world where some people can connect their minds to each
other, an ability they explore and hone as a community in rituals when you
reach a certain age. But when Ankuin is old enough to undergo the ritual,
something goes terribly wrong and afterwards, her own community doesn't know
what to do with her. When invaders attack the community years later, Ankuin's
singular ability helps her lead a resistance, but even then, she's shunned and
feared by many. This story packs a powerful emotional punch on so many
Vampirito by K. Victoria Hernandez in khōréō
Oh my, I love this story . A vampire story that
imagines vampires and vampire society in a way I’ve never seen before. We
follow a boy called Eli through his everyday life with his family. His family are all vampires, and sometimes Eli gets caught in the middle when the everyday American way of life clashes with his family's vampire traditions. But there is also a clash within his family between the old European
vampire traditions and the ancient American vampire traditions.
There’s so much vampire goodness and cultural context here, and it’s also an
excellent exploration of the family dynamics between Eli, his parents, and his
grandfather. A wonderful story, through and through.
A Study In Ugliness by H. Pueyo in The Dark
Basília is considered to be the ugliest girl at her all-girls boarding school.
And, according to one of the school’s teachers, “Ugly girls will never be happy...never,
ever, ever.” The other girls mostly avoid Basília, and since Basília despises most
of them, it suits her just fine that they fear her. Then, one day, she
realizes there is another girl, Gilda, living in her room (the room she thought she had all to herself), and while Basília is
convinced she’s never seen Gilda before, everyone else at the school acts as if Gilda has
always been there. Gilda is beautiful, almost too perfect, and Basília soon realizes that she is not
at all what she seems. This is a chilling, twisted, and razor-sharp story that
got right under my skin.
Art, and Wit, and Changing by Dafydd McKimm in Kaleidotrope
I’m waiting for you.
Nine months, feeling you mature in my
belly, convinced I am your enemy, waiting to take your revenge. You’re set on
it, I know, so much so that no amount of wine tainted with hellebore would
flush you out. You’ve dug yourself in deep, bided your time. Clever boy.
Ah, this is such an excellent flash fiction story
from the latest issue of Kaleidotrope! There is terrible magic at work
here, as a woman waits for the birth of her child. It's a child that was
definitely not conceived by regular means, and she awaits its arrival with both
terror and fascination. The real magic here though, for me, is McKimm's darkly
lyrical prose which sings and flows like a spell.
Where Oaken Hearts Do Gather by Sarah Pinsker in Uncanny
→“Where Oaken Hearts Do Gather” (Roud 423,
Child 313) is a traditional English folk ballad. Like many traditional songs,
the lyrics are unattributed. Child transcribed twenty verses, and a
twenty-first got added later (and is included here for some unknown reason—I
keep writing to the Lyricsplainer mods to get someone to delete it or include
it as a separate entry, but nobody responds, and all they’ve done is put brackets
around it. Sometimes I hate this site.)
Written as a discussion thread on a folk
music forum called Lyricsplainer, this is a masterclass in how to use a
common internet format as the structure of a short story. It's also a master
class in how to write unsettling horror that creeps up on the reader, slowly
but very surely. I love how Pinsker establishes a cast of characters solely by
their posts on the discussion thread, and how she weaves in the increasingly
disturbing real world backstory (and repercussions!) of investigating the song.
If you want to read more about her writing process, you can check out Caroline M. Yoachim's interview with Pinsker in the same
issue of Uncanny.
Centennial Nights by Amanda Michele in Lamplight
volume 9 issue 3
"I mean... have you ever lived a
different life in a dream?"
This story from Lamplight will most
certainly haunt me for a very long time, and I mean that as a sincere
compliment. Jamila has struggled with insomnia, but now, suddenly, she sleeps
for days and when she wakes up, she often does not seem to remember where she
is, or even the people in her life. As we learn more about Jamila and her
partner, a complicated and conflicted love story is unspooled, and we
understand that Jamila has struggled with finding happiness in the world ever
since she was a child. And now, her "weird dreams" are pulling her
away from the one person who has been determined to be in Jamila's life, to be
the one that shares her life, ever since they were kids. This is a beautiful,
stark, and thoroughly weird story that put a spike in my heart. And the ending
is absolutely perfect in its utter strangeness.
The Samundar Can Be Any Color by Fatima Taqvi in Flash
“Do not look upon the sea at night with
your heart heavy with wishes, ” her mother warns her every dawn. “For
everything has a cost.”
Which means Durnaz must never look, for her
heart is ever yearning.
This is a powerful story by Taqvi, about
magic and longing and about the sea that can change you but will ask a price
for the change. Durnaz is unwanted and cast out from all the places she would
like to belong. Her mother sees her as a disappointment. She cannot go to
school, and cannot even read. Yet, in her dreams, so many things are possible
and maybe, just maybe, they could come true for her in the waking world, if she
pays the price. I love how this story delves into fierce longing for a better
life and a better world, and I love it for its sense of audacious hope.
Between Lines by Soham Guha in Mithila Review
A Heritage Scanner. The voice again states,
“Thank you for your cooperation. You are fifty-seven percent Arya; you may now
What would happen if I was not? I know
about the Citizenship Act and how it is making a new Aryavarta in the eyes of
our Neta, the great leader. If this was Germany of the 1940s, I would have
called him the Führer. Instead, I gulp that thought and step in. They want me
to register because I am one of the new millions reaching adulthood. I have to
register because I want to remember my mother’s face for one time, whatever the
This is a wrenching, beautifully told, and
absolutely heart-piercing science-fiction story about identity and memories,
about motherhood and climate-change refugees, and also, very much, about
supremacist politics. In the story, a new kind of technology allows the state
to extract and view memories and it uses this technology in order to enforce its
brutal racial purity ideology. There's a sharp, jagged edge to Guha's
storytelling that is both painful and brilliant.
Bride, Knife, Flaming Horse by M.L. Krishnan in Apparition Lit
Kalavati has turned 26 and her parents keep pestering her about getting
married. When she finally gives in and allow her parents to post her profile on an app
to find her a good matrimonial match, she ends up with two serious suitors, a “man that was a ghoul, but also a knife” and a “woman that was a
deity, but also a mare”. This is a strange, extremely funny, and rather trippy
story about what happens when Kalavati has to choose between these two.
Winter’s Song by Spencer
Nitkey in Fusion Fragment #5
family has fled a poisoned and ravaged Earth and are now headed for a spaceship that is waiting for the last remnants of humanity to come aboard
before it heads out, looking for a new home. Aboard their escape pod, is Nikol's grandmother who is teaching him about transmogrification, “It’s a family
secret,” she’d say. “I’ll teach you when you’re ready.”
is really just knowledge and timing. The knowledge that everything is, at base,
made up of everything else, that the future is always malleable, and that
change is inevitable.”
story spins this scifi/magic tale into something beautiful and hopeful, even in
the midst of destruction and grief.
Trolley Solution by Shiv Ramdas in Slate
This is a
delightfully funny and incisive look at teaching, academia, and yes, the famous
trolley problem. What happens when you’re teaching creative writing courses and looking for
tenure and then you’re pitted against a teaching AI in what is basically a
fight for your job? In Ramdas’s story, the answer to that question might
surprise you. I also really, really appreciate the take on that damn annoying trolley
problem in this story.
The art for this roundup includes a detail of Flash Fiction Online's cover art for April 2021.