The art for this roundup includes a detail of Samuel Araya's cover for Constelación Magazine #2. More about the artist: https://www.arayaart.com/
An audio version of this roundup is available on YouTube:
Every Word a Play by Meridel Newton in GigaNotoSaurus
I’m not here to tell you lilac-scented stories of the Fair Folk; do not ask such things of me. Though it is true that I know more of them than any other mortal here, I can promise you that they are not fair in any sense of the word, and many of them are barely folk at all. As for the lilac scent, it is as false as their smiles, and serves only to lull twitterpated fools into thinking them delicate and soft.
A rich and sumptuous weave of a story about Altea Hyssop, an orphaned mortal girl, who grows up in the magical, perilous, faerie realm. First at the Summer Court, and later at the Unseelie Winter Court. The story is split into two threads. One is told in the first person by an older Altea, as she tells her story to warn the listener not to go seeking the realm of the fae. The other is told in the third person, and tells us the story of Altea’s trials and tribulations in the world of the fae, a world where she never feels truly at home, and where she feels forgotten and unloved. I love how Newton makes us feel the insecurity and loneliness of Altea, and how treacherous the world of the fae is for her as she grows up. Time and again, she finds out that she has been used and deceived, and that faerie promises are not always what they seem to be. Eventually though, she comes to understand how to wield whatever small power she has, setting up a suspenseful finale to the story. A captivating story.
The Cure For Boyhood by Josh Rountree in The Bourbon Penn #23
The boy used to be a coyote until his parents decided to cure him.
This is a powerful, riveting story by Rountree about a boy who is sometimes a coyote and about what happens when his parents try to cure him. The cure is for the boy's own good of course, to help him, to make him stay a boy and not shapeshift into something wild and dangerous. But the cure is painful and traumatizing for the boy who loses a vital part of himself in process, and desperately wants it back. Rountree's story delves deep into what happens when you force someone to become something they're not, and I was on tenterhooks until the end.
To Seek Himself Again by Marie Croke in Apex Magazine
A gripping fantasy tale of transformation(s), of misguided quests, about losing yourself and remaking yourself. Keba trades in parts—parts of bodies, parts of creatures—for those who seek to change themselves by adding new parts, borrowed or traded or taken from others, to their bodies: gills or a bear’s roar, wings or the feet of a goat, and so on. Most everyone in this world has remade themselves with new parts, but one day a very strange and forbidding woman comes seeking Keba’s services. She is unchanged, having never altered her body, and she is on a quest to "fix" the world, make it go back to the way she believes it is supposed to be: a world where everyone is the way they were originally made. What follows is a quest to save the world, according to the woman; but to Keba, it is a distressing state of affairs. I love the finely drawn characters in this story, and I love how Croke plays around with fantasy tropes like quests, and purity, and righteousness, and I love how she finds a new ending beyond the end of the quest.
From the Ashes Flew the Ladybug, by Alexandra Seidel in The Deadlands
“Ah, Liebelein.” The voice was smoke, like the smoke licking the sky at the corners of Féli’s vision, where something in the distance had been set aflame—a plundered house back in Magdeburg, perhaps. Sometimes, it seemed like all the world was fire. “You poor darling mine.”
An absolute knockout of a story. Seidel's tale spans centuries, and also spans both our world and the world of Hel. Not hell, but Hel. It all begins when Féli is dying in one of many old, European wars. Before she takes her last breath, someone appears and offers her a choice, and a chance at both vengeance and a new kind of life, beyond death. What follows is a rich and nuanced story about life and death, about pain and creativity, about what we are willing and able to do in order to go on, and about the heavy memories many people carry with them through life. I love how this story shifts and twists the tropes about making deals "with the devil", and I love the way it explores the joy and pain of love and art and friendship.
What Floats In a Flotsam River by Osahon Ize-Iyamu in Strange Horizons
On the day we were born, we squeezed ourselves out of empty cans and shattered glass by the riverside, somewhere in the south of Nigeria in the early 20th century, the sounds filling our ears as every muscle and bone in our body constricted till we popped out. There were no openings in the things we came out of. We simply appeared, and that was okay.
An absolutely mesmerizing story that made me feel like I was reading a dream, or a nightmare, as we see the world, our world, through the eyes of a group of beings that are born into our reality, suddenly and not sure of their own purpose. Once here, the group, the collective, begins to fracture, and as they come into contact with humans and our world, everything becomes fraught and conflicted. This is a layered, intricate story and it’s one I will return to again, to absorb more of it. It brilliantly explores human society’s reaction to the strange newcomers (indifference, fear, anger, worship...), and how the newcomers try to make sense of their own purpose in the world.
Inkmorphia by Julianna Baggott in Nightmare
For my eighteenth birthday, I get a tattoo. A small red heart on my shoulder, Loot inked across it in black cursive. Loot was my brother’s nickname. He was twelve years old when he disappeared. I was seven.
The next morning, I peel off the bandage to take a look. A vine with thorns where there was no vine with thorns. It wraps around the heart, above and below Loot’s name.
A woman gets a tattoo for her 18th birthday, but the tattoo begins to change and move almost immediately. Following the clues the tattoo is giving her, and the memories that are triggered by it, she ends up heading back to a place she has tried to forget, that she has almost forgotten, the place where her brother disappeared all those years ago. A tense, taut story where the past is revealed in bits and pieces, and where the truth is almost too painful to remember.
Murder Tongue by Jayaprakash Satyamurthy in Nightmare
In my head I hide a murder tongue. It is different from the tongues of those I find myself among. If I were to utter a word with it, there would be murder, and I have not discovered whose.
This is an dark and evocative story, sharp and taut, about the threat and pain and power of another language, a mysterious language that you cannot speak because of the danger inherent in using it. To quote Satyamurthy:
The question “what’s your mother tongue” is forever being asked in India. In a country divided into linguistic territories, it’s a deeply significant question. The answer places you, signals your fundamental origins, wherever in India you now live. I started thinking about how much we take for granted being multilingual, yet tied to that basic mother tongue identity.
This one lingered in my mind long after reading.
Brushstrokes by Tara Calaby in Etherea Magazine
Violet is trying to find her footing in the world after her girlfriend left her, but she is having a hard time and even her friends seem to be getting tired of her sadness. One day, she takes one of them up on an invitation to an art show, and everything changes. Calaby blends the everyday world with a growing sense of something unsettling, something impossible, creeping into that everyday, and I love this story and its conclusion.
Etherea is a new and intriguing Australian speculative fiction magazine, and you can purchase both individual issues and subscriptions on their website.
Deep in the Gardener’s Barrow by Tobi Ogundiran in Beneath Ceaseless Skies
Horror and fantasy woven into a fairytale... this is a riveting story full of terrifying trees and a menacing forest. There are traces of Hansel and Gretel, but Ogundiran spins that tale into into something entirely different. Yes, there are children lost in the woods, and there is a witch, but this world is even more treacherous than the world of Hansel and Gretel, and defeating the evil that lurks in this forest will require a lot more than shoving a witch into an oven.
Small Monsters by E. Lily Yu at TOR.com
Why do you eat me? it said.
Its parent lolled onto one side, spines bristling. Gobbets of meat warmed its belly and weighed it down, and it felt pleasant toward the world and its whelp. Because I am hungry.
But why not eat—the small monster took a breath—your own leg?
Silly. I am your parent. I birthed you. You are mine.
But it hurts.
It grows back.
And neither said a word more.
A harrowing, profoundly unsettling, yet (in the end) gentle story about a very small monster that comes into the world only to be partially devoured, again and again, by its parent. Once it finds a way to leave its home, it only finds more pain and abuse at the claws and teeth of other beings. There is cruelty here, and violence, but Yu also gives us a story where redemption is found not in a heroic battle, but in the stubborn will to survive, in the quiet struggles to find a way to persevere and find a way of living that is better for you, even when everyone and everything seems out to hurt you.
To Reach the Gate, She Must Leave Everything Behind by Izzy Wasserstein in Lightspeed
Death takes much and in return it offers Susan P— only clarity. She finds herself in a great gray desert and knows her life has ended. Clad in a royal dress, she carries a bow and quiver, and a finely-carved ivory horn dangles from her throat. A tremor of fear shakes her. She’s not possessed such things in many years. Has she returned to His world?
If you read C.S. Lewis's Narnia books and if you had, and still have, some issues with what happened to Susan Pevensie in the end....well, then I think you might really enjoy this short story by Izzy Wasserstein. I love how Wasserstein gives us Susan's perspective on what happened to her, in Narnia and afterwards, and how this story allows her to find a new ending for herself, beyond the one dictated by others. And while you're at it, you should also read Wasserstein's glorious, devastating, and heart-rending story about magic, friendship, and resistance: "This Shattered Vessel, Which Holds Only Grief" in Apex.
Space Pirate Queen of the Ten Billion Utopias by Elly Bangs in Lightspeed
Ursa Major got right the fuck out of our universe on the very afternoon she learned there were other options. It was the lucky break of her life that she just happened to be there, a short sprint from one of those points where the alien aethertrain briefly punched through into our world: a multidimensional mechanical worm intersecting our reality as a rush of vaguely boxcar-like shapes strung between entry and exit portals, thirty-odd feet above one suburb or another, a cornfield, a strip mall, a stadium.
That is ONE HELL of an opening paragraph, and this story lives up to the promise of that big opening. It's raucous, funny, and absolutely riveting as we follow Ursa Major on her adventures on the aethertrain (and elsewhere). She becomes a pirate queen, she falls in love, and she starts to realize that Earth is different than most other worlds because it is NOT a utopia at all. Feisty, fiery, fantastic story from start to finish.
Those Who Went by E. Catherine Tobler in Lightspeed
The universe is more boundless than we know. Maybe than we can know. We left everything behind for this, everything. We won’t return home—can’t return home, for the way is too far and home, well, home is fading, dying. One way—out and gone and far and they say they know why we do it.
A gorgeously wrought science fiction story about the spacefarers who left a fading, dying Earth and are headed out far off into the unknown to find a new world. It's a lyrical, piercing story about what you leave behind, what you bring with you, and what you might find in a new world. It made me feel that same kind of wistful sadness mixed with wonder that I get from Ray Bradbury's short stories.
Not Quite What We're Looking for Right Now by Jana Bianchi in Fireside
Thank you for the opportunity to read “The Night is a House with a Single Window.” Unfortunately, it’s not quite what we’re looking for right now. It was close, though, so we’d like to offer you some longer feedback.
Using the form of a rejection letter to an author, this story makes wonderful use of that specific form, while also telling a tale of horror. In fact, this story so closely mimics an actual rejection letter that some people who subscribe to updates from Fireside and received this story in their email inbox thought it was a real rejection letter. (Fireside even sent out a clarification and apology.) As painful as that would no doubt be, I do love stories that make good use of a specific format like this.
Small-Town Spirit by Frances Rowat in Fireside Fiction
Out here isn’t as nice as in town. The gas station sits at one end of a wide gravel lot that’s prickled with weeds except for the spot where they don’t grow. The place is dried up and sad, all shaggy paint and dusty glass that makes you want to move along if you’re in any kind of hurry.
A lovely, whimsical, and unsettling story about a nice small town, full of nice people who just want to keep the town nice and small and unchanged, and where nothing bad is supposed to happen and nothing much is supposed to change. Rowat tells it with a gentle sense of humour and an undercurrent of something much darker, tugging at the edges.
Licking Roadkill by Richard Dansky in PseudoPod (narrated by Trendane Sparks)
Cole was licking the highway when the cops picked him up the night before Thanksgiving. Reckless endangerment, they said, and obstructing traffic, and whatever else they could come up with to get him out of the road and into a holding cell.
A beautifully crafted horror tale where the true shape of the horror lurks just below the surface, beneath the words that are said and unsaid. Jerry has gone to bail out Cole, his brother-in-law. Cole’s been arrested for licking roadkill off the highway, but his list of fuckups and sins goes further and deeper than that: booze, drugs, and other indiscretions. As the two men head out in Jerry’s truck, their conversation spins out a family drama that is both dark and fraught. I love how Dansky deftly manages to capture the horror without ever speaking its name out loud.
IF Trans THEN Mogrify by Hailey Piper in Cast of Wonders (narrated by Julia Hawkes-Reed)
Rosalyn almost has the ladies’ room to herself when an intrusive hand jams the stall’s doorway, nails painted a dull red. The diner’s restroom has three stalls, the other two being empty, and Rosalyn hasn’t heard this stranger try either neighboring door.
“Privacy, please,” she says.
But the insistent hand shoves the stall open anyway.
All Rosalyn wants to do is to use the bathroom and get back to her date, but another woman has decided that Rosalyn shouldn't be allowed in the ladies' room at all. What follows is a confrontation that portrays, in harrowing fashion, the invasive scrutiny and harassment trans people are often faced with in public spaces (especially the whole hysteria surrounding washrooms). Gloriously, Piper turns everything up a notch when a frustrated Rosalyn, at her wits end, starts using her coding skills on an invisible keyboard and, well...things get stranger and stranger. A powerful story about harassment and resistance with a wicked sense of humour.
The Death Haiku of the Azure Five by L Chan in Clarkesworld
The fleet lurked beyond the heliopause of our system, out of the range of our largest weapons. Sensor sweeps didn’t reach them, but we knew they were there. The darkening of the signal buoys on the rim announced their approach.
A science fiction story about a war, started by humans but mostly carried out by the mass-produced AIs humans have built. Chan delves deep into what the AIs themselves might be thinking about such a war, how they might feel about their tasks and their orders, and how they might react when they go to war and have to destroy other AIs in order to protect human beings. It's an evocative, lyrical piece that weaves poetry, in the form of haikus, into the deepest thought-processes of each AI we encounter. The prose is mesmerizing, and the way everything comes together in the end is a thing of beauty.
The Dog Who Buried the Sea by Andy Oldfield in Flash Fiction Online
Remember the Bone Man and the Bone Dog. Remember the gifts that come unexpected. And always remember that those good days may come again, when the beaks of jackdaw, chough and rook, of magpie, jay, crow and raven never go hungry.
I love dog stories and I love bird stories, and here is a perfect combination of both. A man and his dog remembered and turned into myth by the birds they fed. Oldfield captures a fantastic folktale vibe here, telling the story as it's been passed down through generations of birds. Beautifully done.
The Days on Europa Were Long by Kyle Richardson in Flash Fiction Online
Sienna arrived on Europa with a purpose: to learn from Mr. Shorn. To be taught all the necessary tasks, before the man’s health ultimately failed.
Terraforming Jupiter’s moon was a complex process, with too many variables to automate. Mr. Shorn, however, had been doing it for years. He was a living expert on the matter.
But the man did not welcome Sienna. He sulked in his biosphere, instead, with his bloodshot eyes averted.
Richardson hits a lot of my sweet spots with this story. First of all, it's set on Europa which is one of my favourite moons, and it follows a young woman (who isn't really a young woman) who arrives to help the rather cranky, and possibly also grieving, Mr. Shorn do the hard work of terraforming. It's a quiet, but resonant science fiction story and I love every beat of its heart.
My Mother’s Samosas by Malavika Praseed in khōréō
The theme for this new issue of khōréō is FOOD and wow, does it ever deliver the goods. This story by Praseed is both delicious, deeply sad, and darkly funny. A girl grows up having a complicated and conflicted relationship with her mother. In the daughter’s eyes, something is not right with her mother, and something is not right with the relationship between her parents. The daughter comes to believe that her mother’s samosas have properties that go beyond just taste, and when an old acquaintance of her mother's makes an appearance, her suspicions are confirmed. But what is the true nature of the magic? And can the daughter use it to her advantage? I love how this story explores the idea of subtle, everyday magic, and I also love the incisive look at how strange the world might seem to a child when they try to work out how relationships between grownups work.
Sorry We Missed You by Aun-Juli Riddle in khōréō
My mouth remembers a smile I wore well for yesterday’s crowd, and I raise my arms and call out to the crowd, “The Flying Potato is open!” Everyone replies, “Now serving delicious!” For a moment, my smile becomes genuine.
An absolutely delightful, life-affirming science fiction story about a small family that runs a kind of food truck, in space, called The Flying Potato, serving all sorts of wonderful potato-based dishes to people all over the solar system. When they receive word that grandmother on Earth is not doing well, they head there as fast as they can, but they have to make food at every stop on the way in order to make a living. It’s a wonderful slice-of-space-life story, vibrant with rich details of food, family, and the bonds that keep people together, even when they’re far apart.
Rat-Tail Tea and Buttermilk Biscuits by R.P. Sand in Constelación Magazine
A hugely enjoyable epistolary story, written as a letter from one witch to another, detailing the acrimonious one-upmanship that is triggered when a witch called Isabeth moves into the small town where the witch Portitia Wimbleduck has chosen to retire, resulting in “aggressive out-gifting.” Available to read in both English and Spanish, just like all the stories in Constelación Magazine.
The Chicken Line by Jendayi Brooks-Flemister in Constelación Magazine
A group of people are lining up to collect their chicken order from a farmer. Some of them have ordered ahead, others are there to get what they can, and everyone is nervous that there won’t be enough to go around. As we see the events from the point of view of each person in the line, we also find out that strange things are afoot in this place because people can quite suddenly turn into something else... I love the surreal vibe of this story and the way it weaves together all the points of view as we move through the line. Fresh, funny, and fabulous.