The art for this roundup is a detail of Vincent Sammy's cover art for Interzone 292/293, titled
The art for this roundup is a detail of Vincent Sammy's cover art for Interzone 292/293, titled'The Repairer of Reputations'. More about Vincent Sammy: https://www.deviantart.com/karbonk
An audio version is available on YouTube:
The Pain Barrier by Alexander Glass in Interzone 292/293
He could already feel the pain. It was on the other side of Pecado Street, somewhere inside the box of dirty light that was the New Penitence Twenty-Five Hour Pharmacy. He guessed it couldn’t be much bigger than a tooth – a nugget of hurt small enough to cradle in your palm – and yet it was familiar, unmistakable. It didn’t exactly bite yet, though. The ache was dull, diffuse, so that he couldn’t pinpoint where it was, not exactly, not yet. That was fine. The closer he came to it, the sharper it would feel.
This is a harrowing and gripping science-fiction take on the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice and a quest to bring someone out of the realm of the dead. This realm of the dead, or purgatory, is a town (of sorts) called New Penitence and it, like the entire story, has a decidedly noir/cyberpunk-hue. It's a story and a place where nothing and no one is what it seems, and where computer code, implants, and various tech-gadgets allow people--criminals and those in debt--to be enslaved or at least trapped, even after death. A man named Walker has found a way in to New Penitence and he's looking for a woman he used to know: Ariette. Walker has made a deal with someone very powerful in order to get in, but getting out will not be easy. A fantastic read from a great issue of Interzone , the final issue to be edited by Andy Cox and published by TTA Press. Interzone will go on with a new editor and a new publisher.
Bridget Has Disappeared by Tamika Thompson in Interzone 292/293
If I begin by telling you I don’t know where my wife is, that her disappearance has brought me as much consternation as it has anyone, then it will color everything I say. So, I won’t begin that way. I will simply say I met Bridget by chance when I visited my neighborhood bookstore and heard a brash woman arguing with one of the booksellers.
Yusef meets Bridget and falls hopelessly, helplessly in love with her. They get married, they have a child, but there is something profoundly strange and mysterious about Bridget, something Yusef can sense from the beginning, even before he sees her literally disappear into thin air the first time. I love the unsettling, off-kilter vibe of this story, where we are as mystified as Yusef and follow him into a deeper and darker obsession: how and why is Bridget capable of disappearing and reappearing? how come she doesn't seem to remember what's happened? Yusef's quest for answers puts a strain on his marriage, but he can't stop digging, can't stop trying to find an answer. And when he kind of does find an answer... well, things do not get easier. A wonderfully crafted, evocative, and profoundly haunting story.
The Summer Dives by Samantha Murray in F&SF Sept/Oct 2022
Every year they dive, the girls and women of Aberfy. On the very first day of summer and the very last. And every year, one of them doesn't come back.
In the community of Aberfy, truths can be found in the water, and if you catch a truth, it might very well change your life. But in return for these truths, and for the protection of the community, the sea claims the life of a swimmer every year, and no one knows where those who disappear end up. Murray's story is gorgeous and lyrical. It follows a girl named Lila, and her friends Brin and Vess as they struggle to find their places in a community that is not always easy to live in for those who can't, or do not want to, fit in. Murray captures the conflicted emotions and bonds between a group of adolescents perfectly.
The Charcoal Man by Constance Fay in F&SF Sept/Oct 2022
There once as a life that was unmade. Or rather, halfunmade. It is hard to take back something as substantial as a life. They stick like cobwebs; metamorphose in new ways with slight changes. All it takes is a choice.
A boy called Shade who hates the dark finds that he can steal the life-light of living things and keep the glow in glass bottles. In the beginning he steals only the lives of creatures on the verge of death, but he doesn't stop there. Fay's story is deeply unsettling and quietly devastating as we follow Shade into many dark and terrible places, until Shade meets someone, or something, who shows him the truth about what he has done and the price to be paid.
Tangle Her in Quicksilver Breath by Gerri Leen in F&SF Sept/Oct 2022
She was a sweet child, lovely of course, but also kind. I watched her from afar as she grew, tall and beautiful, my quicksilvered glass kept far away from her by her sister, the queen.
I do love fairytale retellings and this one is an excellent twist on Snow White. Here, the story's narrator is the magic mirror itself, and as it turns out, the magic of that mirror is not at all what we might assume. It is a far different, and far more dangerous, item than in the old fairytale. I love the way Leen spins something new from this well-known tale, and the way the characters and relationships we think we know are twisted into new shapes.
The Greatest Mercy by Micah S. Vernon in The Deadlands #16
I stand before it: Witch House. Its locked door an invitation
—**** ** * ********** *****
(how strange that it helps me remember)
not so aberrant or obvious as to shift on the surface, it always looks the same. But Witch House always changes. And when Witch House changes, it is changing me. Each time I stand before it, old neurons and synapses flicker, and I remember all the things We did
This is one of my favourite horrorish stories that I’ve read recently. It's also one of the most surreal and nightmarish/dreamlike portrayals of memories, death, and/or hauntings that I’ve ever read. It's a mystery wrapped in memory and repetition, where people and places surface only to be obscured again, with hints and echoes of their true meaning shimmering all around you as you read. There’s a sense of endless repetition, and of memories and knowledge that are always just out of reach, and there's also a sense of things that would be too traumatic to remember clearly. Some stories you feel in your bones, and for me this is such a story. Immerse yourself in Vernon’s prose and allow yourself to get lost in it.
The Drowned Heir by Jennifer R. Donohue
I recently read this self-published novella by Donohue, and I devoured it in one sitting. It is a wonderful, uniquely imagined tale set in a world of terrible and wonderful magics.
The official novella description:
When her uncle dies at sea, a third child with no place in society undergoes a ceremony to house his spirit and take his role, diminishing the family’s loss. But her uncle’s spirit hasn’t settled the way it’s supposed to, and will not content itself with shore-bound business. Her uncle’s spirit insists, angrily, that it was not just a storm that killed him and wrecked his ship, not a rogue wave; it was an unthinkably large monster.
Then his lover comes knocking with news of an adult son who has set sail along the same shipping lane, and dead uncle and living niece must work together to save a son neither of them knew existed.
This story grabbed me from the very first line and paragraph, and never let go, so let me just quote the two opening lines:
They drown me when my uncle dies. He has no children, no heirs, and I'm my parent's awkward third child, second daughter, so it can only be me.
I loved it so much I blurbed it! My blurb:
"A dark and richly textured fantasy novella that plunges you headfirst into a captivating and uniquely imagined world full of strange magic and implacable tradition, and where a family's expectations clash with a young woman’s soul. Donohue grabs you from the first line and never lets go with a rollicking, beautifully crafted tale where everything, from the tattoos to the ships to the sea itself, are imbued with magic, and where gargantuan monsters lurk beneath the waves..."
The Magical Sow by Wen Wen Yang in Fantasy Magazine
Second Sister, the narrator of this darkly funny fantasy story that reads like a fierce fairytale, might have wanted to meet a magic fish that would grant her wishes. But instead she has to make do with a talking sow. And when Biyu, the youngest sister in the family, is dealing with some trouble in her marriage, the magical sow lays out a plan that is clever, vicious, and voracious. I love how this story keeps its fairytale vibe, and gives it a sharp and wicked edge. I am also a huge, HUGE fan of this particular pig and would gladly scratch her back or ears anytime she needed it.
Heart-Eater by Tania Chen in Apparition Lit
On the road to St. Bernabé there is a gorge, a man-made indentation that goes deep into the hill, and there at the bottom lives Izel el Huesero; said to have eyes the color of a smoked mirror and a smile made of sharpened ribs, not teeth.
They say that Izel el Huesero is not a man to be looked for unless the injury is dire. And even then, it’s better to be dead than in the debt of this particular Huesero.
Lisandro knows the rumors but he presses on, undeterred.
This story left me gasping, and mostly I just want to say: go read it immediately. For me, this reads like a very twisted, and very original take on the story of Frankenstein’s monster, but that’s not all it is. It’s stitched through with threads of the darkest of fantasy and science fiction, and there's an old god peering through the cracks in reality, too. Lisandro wanted to become a doctor, but his outrageous acts at the morgue gets him kicked out of university. His quest for revenge opens up new avenues of magic (or is it technology like Lisandro tells himself?) when he finds a strange heart in a strange place and then that heart begins to grow.
YourSpace Between by Marie Croke in Apex Magazine
Nine years and seventy-three days after you disappeared—after I pressed that button—DoubleSpace had a suit brought against them. Not by us—Dad and Papa had nothing left financially and most people still believed the nasty things DoubleSpace had made up about them long after the situation was no longer newsworthy. This suit was brought forth by a middle-class family with three kids who had splurged on secondary spatial distortions for each of their kids’ bedrooms for their tenth birthdays.
A quietly devastating sci-fi story about a girl who loses her brother in the family’s new DoubleSpace closet, a strange and amazing new invention that allows the same space in your house to hold two different rooms and gives you the ability to switch between those rooms at the touch of a button. Years later, she meets a girl who lost her sister the same way, though her sister came back, somehow, from wherever the DoubleSpace closet had transported her. It’s a story about loss and guilt, friendship and hope, and it plays out like a grief-stricken ghost story where the ghost itself is mostly absent. Croke handles the emotional beats masterfully at every turn, and I love how this story focuses not on the technical glitch and a search for a "solution", but rather on the psychological aftermath and repercussions of losing someone you love.
She Works in the Office Where They Died by Alex Singer in PseudoPod (narrated by Dani Daly)
Dezra works in an office where 1000 people died. Well, 1082. People round down.
No one’s told the ones who died.
Dezra works for a startup company in an office building that sits on a property where the previous buildings were destroyed when the earth just opened and swallowed an entire block. Every day when she goes to work, Dezra sees the ghosts of those who died that day. She navigates around them at her desk, in the hallways, everywhere. This story twists and turns as it is told, and there’s a point when Dezra, and the reader, understand the true scope of the horror that is taking place in the office, and it's the kind of emotionally resonant reveal that gave me real chills. Singer’s story is inspired by the events of 9/11, but it’s not just a ghost story or a story about a horrible event. It goes beyond that, delving into the indifference and lack of empathy we might see around us in a lot of different forms, every day, in companies and communities and society, no matter whether we see the ghosts of the dead as vividly as Dezra does.
Tender, Tether, Shell by M.J. Pettit in Clarkesworld
It had been six months. People couldn’t handle the constant sight of Tess’ pearly white suit meandering about the station, her nameplate clearly on display, doing the same old maintenance tasks she used to perform, sitting silently beside us in the cafeteria, attending a post-shift screening at the cinema. Hae’cera even wore her suit to the memorial service. Tess deserved a proper burial. We all needed to put the accident behind us.
A brilliant and thoughtful science fiction story that does so much, so well, in a small space. It’s set in a future where humans have encountered an alien species that has brought them a lot of amazing technology, but where people also have to deal with the implications of that power shift in their everyday lives, and in society as a whole. That bigger story is fitted neatly inside a smaller, more personal, and emotionally wrenching story about Tess, who died in an accident, and Hae’cera the alien who survived the accident by crawling inside Tess’s pressure suit after she died in order to survive. (These aliens, much like hermit crabs, need a shell to survive.) The story’s narrator has been tasked with convincing Hae’cera to stop wearing Tess’s old suit since it is making everyone else at the space Waystation very uncomfortable, even angry. Pettit takes on the subject of how difficult it would be for humans and aliens to not just communicate, but to truly understand each other, and handles it beautifully.
Hydroplaning by Peter Medeiros in GigaNotoSaurus
There was a boy in the road, taller than average and built like a tree, all thin limbs. The driving rain obscured his features, and I was spinning so fast I could only catch a glimpse, but he was there, standing with long arms to either side and watching me. I could feel his eyes even if I couldn’t see them, could feel his regard like a cold wet hand around my throat. I had never seen a child so angry.
This is such a terrific fantasy story, set in a uniquely imagined world where magic exists, though it is controlled and distributed by companies in what seems a rather bureaucratic manner. Our narrator, Birrs Escio, is an auditor who travels to various towns for a company called Okson Frontiers, putting together reports and recommending whether or not the company should invest in these towns, thereby providing them some very useful magic services. Birrs arrives in the small community of Deepcalm, and after an unsettling encounter on the way into town, he begins his work. However, things take several strange and ominous turns, and we soon realize that Deepcalm is haunted by the repercussions of desperate deeds done many years ago, and by the end... well... let's just say things go decidedly bonkers. I love the way this story builds up the mood, the world, and the characters, and how it interweaves magic, old deities, and small-town politics into something so riveting.
Flash Fiction Extravaganza – Mortality at Podcastle - with stories by Samantha Murray, Lindsey Godfrey Eccles, and Stewart C. Baker
A great episode of flash fiction.
- “The Stars That Fall” by Samantha Murray (first published in Flash Fiction Online)
- “On the Corner of Fulton and West” by Lindsey Godfrey Eccles - is a story about a Howard, a ghost, who is trying to tell the story of Joanna and how she died that day in September when an airplane hit the towers. But no one wants to listen. And when Joanna herself appears, Howard tries to make her tell the story, her story, the way he wants it to be told, but that is not what Joanna wants. A sharp, strange, and ghostly story that keeps its turmoil and pain visible and visceral just beneath the surface.
- “No Blood of My Heart, No Breath of My Lungs, But Love” by Stewart C. Baker (first published in LampLight)
Papa Legba Has Entered the Chat by DaVaun Sanders in Fireside
Another child stolen from us, and you allowed it. No matter that you drove straight home once you finally heard, up past the border, only stopping for gas in Tucson, ignoring your granny’s texts the whole way. No matter that you stand here now at the crossroads of the murder, pacing in the moonlight, churning over forensics and the coroner’s report.
Sanders's story is the best kind of gut-punch, spinning a tale of magic, fate, and justice that also lays bare the wrenching truths about racism and police violence we see play out far too often on the news and on the streets. It is a story sharp as a knife's edge that also delves into questions of complicity, and what people do in order to keep themselves safe, and what happens when they finally turn on the perpetrators of violence. Powerful, harrowing, and beautifully crafted.
Always Home by Jeff VanderMeer in Motherboard at VICE
A thousand languages traced their way through the forest. She could read them all. While this, too, was pleasurable, it had a purpose. Her job was to be the steward and defender of a vague territory that stretched two hundred miles through the valley, until it met mountains, where another of her kind lived and did the same.
I flat-out LOVE this science fiction story by VanderMeer where we meet one of the New People of an imagined future Earth: an artificial intelligence that has great powers of understanding and transformation at its disposal. These guardians are tasked with protecting a specific area, defending it and also cleansing it after centuries of pollution and environmental destruction. The guardian runs into one of the Old People, a human who will not accept the new order of things:
Old People found New People disconcerting, so she paused to become bipedal, to absorb all but two eyes and to create a face with a mouth and a nose. Then she made a sound half-welcoming, half- threatening. It brought the Old Person rushing out from the tent flap, clutching an outdated weapon.
DIY by John Wiswell at TOR.com
Wiswell takes on the beloved trope of the magical school, and turns it into a complex and compelling feel-good story that is funny, profound, and sharp as a shiv. The magical school in question is the expensive and elitist Ozymandias Academy, run by a legendary magician and headmaster called Vamon Kinctuarin. Noah grows up idolizing Kinctuarin and dreaming of going to the academy. He tries everything he can to get in, but when he is finally accepted, things don’t turn out the way he had planned. Instead, Noah becomes a self-taught magician with a very singular purpose. And when he meets Manny, who has also taught himself magic, they join forces and focus on trying to solve the terrible drought plaguing the world. Wiswell’s story is fierce and tender as it portrays both an unjust world, the power of community, and also the true power of partners supporting and loving each other while sticking it to the powers that be.
When I began receiving invitations to teach, it motivated my own research into writing workshops. With substantial teaching experience but no workshop experience—as instructor or student—I polled everyone I knew on what different structures they’d seen.
Milford, I was told.
And again Milford.
I was flummoxed. Was every teacher in every writing classroom in SFF using the exact same method? With variations, I was told, but still Milford: a method of critique in which the author stays silent, each participant has a timed slot for feedback, and then the author has a timed slot to speak themselves.
I thought of the myriad pedagogies in other fields. How could there be only one method?
I don't often recommend non-fiction pieces in this roundup, but if you haven't read this long, fascinating, and well-researched essay by Huang, I highly recommend you check it out. There's so much to savour here: thoughts on writing workshops, the SFF writing community, the history of that community and the history of workshops and the techniques used there, and much more. As someone who has never attended a writing workshop, I found this essay to be both vital and absolutely engrossing. Huang shares a lot more on the various subjects from the essay on Twitter, and you can find a lot of that in this thread: https://twitter.com/sl_huang/status/1561158658372894720