January 9, 2022

My Sci-Fi, Fantasy & Horror Short Fiction Roundup for December 2021

My Recommended Reading List (novellas, novelettes, and short stories) for 2021 is now up: https://maria-is-reading.blogspot.com/2022/01/my-recommended-reading-list-for-2021.html

The art for this roundup includes a detail of the cover for Lightspeed #139 by Grandeduc / Adobe Stock. More about the artist: https://www.shutterstock.com/g/grandeduc

An audio version of this roundup is available on YouTube:

Red Is Our Country by Filip Hajdar Drnovšek Zorko in Lightspeed

It’s hard to tell what you’re thinking, sometimes, but I’ve been watching long enough to guess. Of course I have—did you think we wouldn’t care, when your expedition crossed the borders into our country? You haven’t seen my drones, but they’ve been following you faithfully ever since you entered the dead zone, and they caught it all on camera. 

I love this compelling, tense, and taut story about an expedition to Mars that has gone very much awry and keeps getting worse for the crew. With the Martian setting and the tone of the story's mysterious narrator, it has a bit of a Bradbury vibe (and I freaking love Bradbury), as the crew struggles to complete their mission while also staying alive. While they struggle and fight, they are being watched very closely by Someone with their own agenda and their own territory to protect. I was on the edge of my seat right until the end.


The Cold Calculations by Aimee Ogden in Clarkesworld

Once upon a time, a little girl had to die. It’s just math. Wrong place, wrong time. Bad luck; too bad, so sad. 


But stories have authors, from the gauziest fantasy to grim autobiography. And when once upon a time becomes so many, many times, surely someone must think to ask: had to die? On whose authority?

It’s simple physics, of course. Natural law.

Unless, of course, someone’s been fudging the numbers.

Ogden's story is a response to, and an evisceration of, the well-known sf-story "The Cold Equations" where, because of various seemingly tragic but scientifically unavoidable circumstances, a girl has to die to save others. Ogden, both incisive and brilliant in her fury here, picks apart those equations and circumstances, posing important questions about what stories we choose to tell, how we choose to tell those stories (whether they are set in the past, present, or future; and whether they are speculative or not), and about how we manipulate all the moving parts of a story (characters, science, tech, etc) in order to tell the story we want to tell. A passionate and profoundly thought-provoking read about history, future, power, storytelling, science, community, and characters.


Stolen Property by Sarah Lamparelli in Black Static #80/81

Ethan was lying, though he might not have called it that. He was lying as he followed Wayne over the cresting pass, primeval Montana glaciers filling their view, the remote valley spilling before them as the thin morning air whipped through their lungs and chapped their faces. He was lying as they began their descent, switch-backing down the mountain until the scrub of elevation flowered into a thick, ancient forest that sprung up to engulf them, skittering shale giving way to a dense soil that filled the treads of their boots. He was lying when they found the bodies, two of them, split open in the brush just off their path, marked by a storm of bluebottles that stirred with their approach, the static buzz of wings filling the space between the trees.

A masterfully told horror story about a hike that goes wickedly, terribly wrong and then gets worse in a way that keeps twisting the horror into stranger and darker places. This one grabbed me by the throat from the get-go and kept me there until the end. Two men are on a hike far out in the wilderness. They don't really know each other, having met in the woods, and we understand almost immediately that at least one of them, maybe both of them, is not who they seem to be. Two dead bodies turn up right from the beginning, so we know this is going nowhere good. One of my favourite horror stories from 2021.


Never a Gentle Master by Brittany N. Williams in Fireside

This story is wild, harrowing, and terrifying ride from start to finish and I felt like I barely breathed once while reading. Kae’s family has magic, a lot of it, and when the story begins, they know they’re facing trouble from a man named Qual who has been meddling with death magic. Even knowing that, the family is not quite prepared for what happens when they, and their home, comes under ferocious attack. This story is strong stuff, and I wasn’t quite sure just how Kae would make it out, but in the end, there is a way, one way, and she takes it.


The Plague Puller by Manish Melwani in Nightmare

An unusual and tender ghost story about Ah Keng who finds the body of his friend Leung, dead from cholera, in the street and sets out to bring him safely to the House of Death.

...Leung’s so-called friends had clearly tried to roll him into the canal, but they’d put neither back nor heart into the job. They’d just left him here, for the buffalos and buffalo-herds to find. No care for his body, nor for his ghost.

It's a story set in a place ravaged by cholera, where death is ever-present (for the pandemic reader, there are shades of the present here for sure). Melwani captures that place in fine detail here, exploring how hard it can be to keep your humanity, and to remember that the unfortunate dead were once as human as you are. Ah Keng cares for his dead friend, and his dead friend’s ghost, just as he cared for him in life. It’s a gentle and haunting tale of friendship, love, life, and death, and I love how subtly and beautifully Melwani builds the world and the characters here.  


Distant Fire of Winter Stars by Jonathan Louis Duckworth in Flash Fiction Online

Five miles from town, just me, my rifle, the deer blind, the white field getting deeper the more powder falls. Here’s me in a pile of myself, one foot corked at a ninety-degree angle, still caught in the bottom rung of the slick ladder. There’s the vast pale dark held up by the skinny pines reaching into the nowhere.

A wonderful story about family, and coming to terms with the death of a parent. In this case, the protagonist finds themselves in dire straits in a wintry forest, but there's a bit of magic in their possession: a flask his dad gave to him just before he passed away. I love the emotional tone of this story, and I love the magic woven into the everyday, and I adore the way it all pays off in the end.


The Taurus Pilot by Megan Navarro Conley in Anathema

Anathema’s latest issue dropped right on New Year’s Eve and it’s full of terrific fiction, including this compelling science fiction story about a giant mech fighting machine named Bastion and a mech pilot who has a stronger connection with Bastion than what should be technically possible. Even when their connection has been officially severed, something remains. This is a powerful story about war and how heroes are made and torn down, and about all the things you might lose in battle, or afterward.

Semsema of the Zabbaleen by Ramez Yoakeim in Anathema

Mama named me Soad, happy girl, on the birth roll, though she always called me Semsema. But she screamed my government name as the State Security goons dragged her away, a week after they took Baba.

Semsema grows up on the margins of a future society where most people have to scrounge for a living in a world changed and ravaged by climate change and environmental destruction. After her parents are gone, she stays in the landfill, trying to keep herself alive while waiting for them to come back. Years pass, and still she stubbornly keeps waiting and hoping and surviving, against the odds. I love the characters in this science fiction tale: Semsema is a stubborn soul, full of strength and life, even though the world she inhabits might seem bleak and hopeless. She never loses hope, and never loses her sense of self no matter what happens, and in the midst of the landfill, with all the garbage, her hope grows (quite literally) in an old takeout container.


The Truth Each Carried by E. Catherine Tobler in The Bourbon Penn

Trudy Morrison got the final call as she was flying down Highway 93 toward another penny horse in need of rescue. Chevy Apache windows open, summer air fingering through her silver pompadour, Trudy should have taken to the shoulder to handle the call properly when she saw where it was coming from, but she didn’t.

If you're familiar with Tobler's Circus world stories, you might recognize some of the characters in this story (though they are much older than when we met them in the story "Blow the Moon Out".) Trudy has discovered a very special kind of magic, hidden in plain sight: some carousel and mechanical horses can be brought to life. It's an uncertain and mysterious kind of magic, but Trudy has committed her life to it. Now, death and old age are creeping up on her and she looks back on her life and the choices she has made through the years, and finds that there are new things to learn, and maybe a new kind of magic, left for her to discover (and maybe an old friend, too). Find more of Tobler's Circus world in the short story collection The Grand Tour, and the novella The Kraken Sea.

Lazaret by Louis Evans in The Bourbon Penn

A surreal and claustrophobic story about a time and place where each person’s world has been shrunk to the size of barely a room, and where each day is a soul-crushing repetition of the days that came before it. Yes, this is a story about isolation during the pandemic, but it is also story about how small and cramped and lifeless the world may seem under other circumstances. It’s a harrowing, disturbing read where the longing for something more and something else is constantly gnawing at, and slowly consuming, the characters.


To New Jerusalem by Farah Kader in Fiyah (the Palestinian Issue)

“It’s here,” the passenger says.

The taxi rolls to a stop. The driver angles the car towards the curb but stays several meters away from an overflow of water that has reached the road. This street meets the shoreline, despite miles of skyscrapers still extending west. Some emerge from the surface water perfectly intact, while others are worn from decades of acidic water lapping up against their outer walls.

One of the many great stories from Fiyah's special Palestinian issue. Here, we find ourselves in a future wracked, and wrecked, by climate change, flooding, and rising sea levels. The protagonist has returned to New Jerusalem, an area of the Submerged world, and she is wading into the water, and into the past. It's a quietly harrowing and heartbreaking story about change and loss and memory, and about how we might go looking for our past, and how even though it is impossible to actually find that past, we may find memories to carry with us into the future.


Storm Waters by Cindy Phan in Truancy Magazine

Truancy Magazine #10 is, sadly, the publication’s last issue, and the zine absolutely goes out with a bang, bringing us a crop of strange, twisted, sharp stories. In Phan’s tale, a young boy and an old man have made a trade and each will receive something they need and desire. It’s a story that feels like an old folktale threaded into our modern world, and loved the darkness and fierceness of its magic, and its characters.


Some Things That Happen When You Have the Strength of Ten Men by Mel Nigro in Augur 4.2

There’s a new and wonderful issue of Augur Magazine in the world and highly recommend reading every single story in it. Mel Nigro’s story is one of my favourites from this issue: a powerful, deeply moving and emotionally charged piece about two siblings, growing up together, growing apart, and finding a way back to each other. I love everything about this fierce story, and I love how deep it goes into the relationship between two siblings in a troubled family, exploring what it’s like to be the strong one who thinks they have to shield and protect and fix everything, and what it’s like to be the younger one, the one everyone assumes is the weaker one that needs protecting. Sibling relationships are so profoundly important to many of us, and it is a real treat to read a story like this that explores the facets of such a relationship with such an empathetic and unflinching eye.


The Tinder Box by Kate Elliott at TOR.com

If you, like me, like twisted and / or reimagined versions of old fairytales, then this story by Kate Elliott might be right up your alley. Here, Elliott puts a new spin and a new perspective on Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Tinder Box”, where a soldier returning from war meets a witch and gains treasure and a very useful magical item in the process. Elliott’s story begins where the original story’s encounter with the witch ends, with the witch beheaded, and what happens after that turns out to be parts of a carefully thought-out plan. I love the way the original tale is twisted and turned and amended here, and Elliott’s writing is exquisite.


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January 2, 2022

My recommended reading list for 2021: novellas, novelettes, and short stories

These are some of the amazing novellas, novelettes, and short stories I read in 2021. There were many, many more amazing stories published, but being one person with a finite amount of hours in the day, I was (unfortunately) not able to read everything, but here are things I read and loved and would like others to read, too.

My own published work from 2021 is here.


Lagoonfire, by Francesca Forrest, published by Annorlunda Inc.

Philia, Eros, Storge, Agápe, Pragma by R.S.A. Garcia in Clarkesworld

Every Word a Play by Meridel Newton in GigaNotoSaurus

Submergence by Arula Ratnakar in Clarkesworld

The Necessity of Stars by E. Catherine Tobler from Neon Hemlock Press



The Language Birds Speak by Rebecca Campbell in Clarkesworld

A Hollow in the Sky by Alexander Glass in Interzone #290/291

Broad Dutty Water by Nalo Hopkinson in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction

The Badger’s Digestion; or The First First-Hand Description of Deneskan Beastcraft by An Aouwan Researcher by Malka Older in Constelación Magazine

Upland Wildlife by Rhonda Pressley Veit in Black Static #78/79

(emet) by Lauren Ring in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction July / August 2021

The Burning Girl by Carrie Vaughn in Beneath Ceaseless Skies

Unseelie Brothers by Fran Wilde in Uncanny Magazine

Small Monsters by E. Lily Yu at TOR.com


Short story


The Penitent by Phoenix Alexander in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction July / August 2021

The Karyōbinga Sings to Jiro by Ryu Ando in Strange Horizons

The Techwork Horse by M.H. Ayinde in Fiyah #17 

Honey and Mneme by Marika Bailey in Apparition Lit

Space Pirate Queen of the Ten Billion Utopias by Elly Bangs in Lightspeed

To the Honourable and Esteemed Monsters Under My Bed by E.A. Bourland in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Sept/Oct 2021

The Chicken Line by Jendayi Brooks-Flemister in Constelación Magazine

To Rise, Blown Open by Jen Brown in Anathema

To Escape the Hungry Deep by KT Bryski in LampLight Volume 10 Issue 1

Every Next Day, by Rebecca Burton in Translunar Travelers Lounge

Spells For Going Forth By Day by V.G. Campen in Metaphorosis

My Sister Is a Scorpion by Isabel Cañas in Lightspeed

He Leaps for the Stars, He Leaps for the Stars by Grace Chan in Clarkesworld

The Spelunker’s Guide To Unreal Architecture by L Chan in The Dark

The Captain and the Quartermaster by C.L. Clark in Beneath Ceaseless Skies

If the Martians Have Magic by P. Djèlí Clark in Uncanny Magazine

I Wear My Spiders in Remembrance of Myself, by Kel Coleman in Apparition Lit

To Seek Himself Again by Marie Croke in Apex Magazine

Wolfsbane by Maria Dahvana Headley in Nightmare #100 (exclusive paid content)

Mulberry and Owl by Aliette de Bodard in Uncanny Magazine

The Frankly Impossible Weight of Han by Maria Dong in khōréō 

Memoranda from the End of the World by Gene Doucette in Lightspeed

Red Is Our Country by Filip Hajdar Drnovšek Zorko in Lightspeed


Fanfiction For a Grimdark Universe by Vanessa Fogg in Translunar Travelers Lounge

A Bird in the Window By Kate Francia in Beneath Ceaseless Skies

The Mothers by Laur A. Freymiller in Nightmare

A Test of Trouble by Catherine George in Luna Station Quarterly

You Cannot Return To the Burning Glade by Eileen Gunnell Lee in Reckoning

Horangi by Thomas Ha in Cossmass Infinities #4

Data Migration by Melanie Harding Shaw in Strange Horizons

The Heart That Saves You May Be Your Own by Merrie Haskell in Beneath Ceaseless Skies

The Taste of Centuries, the Taste of Home by Jennifer Hudak in khōréō 

Electronic Ghosts by Innocent Chizaram Ilo in Escape Pod, narrated by Mofiyinfoluwa Okupe

A Girl Forages for Mushrooms by Ruth Joffre in Flash Fiction Online

The Trumpet Player by Nicole Givens Kurtz in Fiyah

Candide; Life-, by Beth Goder in Clarkesworld

Open Highways by Alexis Gunderson in The Deadlands

Vampirito by K. Victoria Hernandez in khōréō


What Floats In a Flotsam River by Osahon Ize-Iyamu in Strange Horizons

The Promise of Iron by Benjamin C. Kinney in Kaleidotrope

The Children Will Lead Us by Andrew Kozma in Mythic #17

Bride, Knife, Flaming Horse by M.L. Krishnan in Apparition Lit

Immortal Coil by Ellen Kushner in Uncanny Magazine

Faithful Delirium by Brent Lambert in Beneath Ceaseless Skies

Stolen Property by Sarah Lamparelli in Black Static

Mouth by Sasha LaPointe in Strange Horizons

Across the River, My Heart, My Memory by Ann LeBlanc in Fireside

Your Own Undoing by PH Lee in Apex Magazine

Mouth & Marsh, Silver & Song by Sloane Leong in Fireside

From Witch to Queen and God by L. D. Lewis in Mermaids Monthly

10 Steps to a Whole New You by Tonya Liburd in Fantasy Magazine

Returning the Lyre by Mary E. Lowd in Kaleidotrope

My Mother's Hand by Dante Luiz in Constelación Magazine


Performance Review by Maryan Mahamed in Fiyah

Immolatus by Lyndsie Manusos in The Deadlands

Discontinuity by Jared Millet in Apex Magazine

Spindles by Samantha Mills in Kaleidotrope

The Taurus Pilot by Megan Navarro Conley in Anathema

Before Whom Evil Trembles by Nhamo in Anathema

Some Things That Happen When You Have the Strength of Ten Men by Mel Nigro in Augur 4.2

Pull by Leah Ning in Podcastle (narrated by Graeme Dunlop)

Anomaly by Chelsea Obodoechina in Anathema

Final Warnings in Open Fields by Xander Odell in Daily SF

The Cold Calculations by Aimee Ogden in Clarkesworld

Queen Minnie's Last Ride by Aimee Ogden in Apparition Lit

Deep in the Gardener’s Barrow by Tobi Ogundiran in Beneath Ceaseless Skies

The Dog Who Buried the Sea by Andy Oldfield in Flash Fiction Online

Laughter Among the Trees, by Suzan Palumbo in The Dark

Bright Lights Flying Beneath The Ocean by Anjali Patel in Escape Pod

Litany in the Heart of Exorcism by Sarah Pauling in Flash Fiction Online

We, the Girls Who Did Not Make It by E.A. Petricone in Nightmare

Advanced Word Problems in Portal Math by Aimee Picchi in Daily SF

This Wet Red by Marisca Pichette at PseudoPod narrated by Autumn Ivy

Where Oaken Hearts Do Gather by Sarah Pinsker in Uncanny Magazine

IF Trans THEN Mogrify by Hailey Piper in Cast of Wonders (narrated by Julia Hawkes-Reed)


Obstruction by Pamela Rentz in Fantasy Magazine

Otherwhen by Zandra Renwick in Fusion Fragment #5

Sorry We Missed You by Aun-Juli Riddle in khōréō

La Camaraderie du Cirque by dave ring at Podcastle

Mishpokhe and Ash by Sydney Rossman-Reich in Apex

The Cure For Boyhood by Josh Rountree in The Bourbon Penn #23

Welcome, Karate by Sara Saab in The Dark

What Sisters Take by Kelly Sandoval in Apex

The 21 Bus Line by Gabriela Santiago in The Dark

Murder Tongue by Jayaprakash Satyamurthy in Nightmare

From the Ashes Flew the Ladybug, by Alexandra Seidel in The Deadlands

The Center of the Universe by Nadia Shammas in Strange Horizons

The Middening by Allyson Shaw in Fireside

Follow by T.R. Siebert in Future Science Fiction Digest

The Giant With No Heart In Her Body by Nike Sulway in Strange Horizons

A Cold Yesterday in Late July by David Tallerman in The Dark 

What Remains to Wake by Jordan Taylor in The Deadlands #5

Balfour In the Desert by Fargo Tbakhi in Strange Horizons


Las Girlfriends Guide to Subversive Eating by Sabrina Vourvoulias in Apex Magazine

To Reach the Gate, She Must Leave Everything Behind by Izzy Wasserstein in Lightspeed

Gordon B. White is creating Haunting Weird Horror by Gordon B. White in Nightmare

Never a Gentle Master by Brittany N. Williams in Fireside

Where Things Fall From the Sky by Ally Wilkes in Nightmare

For Lack of a Bed by John Wiswell in Diabolical Plots

The Child-Feast of Harridan Sack by By Kaitlyn Zivanovich in PseudoPod (narrated by Jasmine Blake)


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