An audio version of this roundup is available on YouTube:
The first five stories in this roundup are taken from an excellent post by Alex Shvartsman at Future Science Fiction Digest: "A List Of Ukrainian-Born Sf/F Authors Whose Fiction Is Available In English". It includes short fiction and novels. Some of these stories are from several years ago, and some are quite new. They are all excellent reads.
Things We Leave Behind by Alex Shvartsman in Daily SF
Some of my earliest memories are of books. They were everywhere in our apartment back in the Soviet Union; shelves stacked as high as the ceiling in the corridor and the living room, piles of them encroaching upon every nook and available surface like some benign infestation.
Shvartsman describes this as a "semi-autobiographical story about emigrating from Ukraine to the USA". It is quiet and wistful, resonating with hints of magic that may or may not be real, and explores the thorny, painful issues within a family caught up in a changing world as the Soviet Union comes to an end. The pain of leaving a place, and the excitement of coming to a new country, and the way each family member is affected in a different way comes through clearly and sharply.
Seven Losses of Na Re by R.B. Lemberg in Daily SF
My life is described by the music of mute violins. When my parents married, my great-grandfather, may the earth be as a feather, ascended the special-guests podium, cradling the old fiddle to his chest. "And now the zeide will play the wedding melody," they said. "A special blessing," they said, a sgule, a royal blessing. But the bow fell from his fingers.
I love Lemberg's work but had never read this story by them from 2012. It is beautiful, threaded through with grief and pain, but also so much love and memory. There's a world that was lost, people who were lost, and there are words and names and languages that can no longer be spoken. Breathtaking prose, and a gorgeously, painfully wrought story about some of the darkest pages in European and Soviet history.
The Emperor Of Death By Marina And Sergey Dyachenko, Translated By Julia Meitov Hersey in Future Science Fiction Digest
“The emotional base of your account appears to be off. You seem tense when you describe the boy.”
“I can explain. Dennis was born on his due date; delivery was easy, without complications. He developed normally. His first words were ‘mama’ and ‘pilot.’ When he was eight years old, the captain died. A month later the biologist, his father, passed away as well.”
A chilling, compelling science fiction story that twists slowly, inexorably into quiet, almost unspoken horror towards the end. Dennis was born on a long-distance space expedition. One by one everyone else on the expedition died under mysterious circumstances. Eventually, the orphaned boy came back to Earth, but death still haunts him, and now three of Dennis's teachers have all died. Alexander has been sent to investigate what has happened, and ends up finding out more than he bargained for.
Kulturkampf by Anatoly Belilovsky at Cast of Wonders (narrated by Hans Fenstermacher)
The French did put up some feeble resistance; approaching Sedan, I became aware of an odd syncopated rhythm off in the distance. Upon opening the window I was able to ascertain the nature of the music.
“Toreador!” I exclaimed. “The fools! They think to defeat me with Bizet!”
I absolutely LOVE this totally bonkers steam-punk / alt-history story where music is used as a weapon of war, and where some major big European conflicts are played out by instruments and orchestras. The audio version is priceless btw, and a real treat for the soul.
Animals of Ure by Daryna Stremetska in Three Crows Magazine (translated by Maksym Bakalov)
The long beep of the space suit sensor indicated that the air was suitable for breathing, and he pulled off his helmet. His lungs filled with the humid air of Ure. For a moment, Ariel felt sorry for the two carybaras who had to leave this beautiful planet and spend the rest of their lives on the desert-like Kare. But such was His Majesty’s will.
Ariel and Greg have been sent to the planet of Ure by His Majesty Ludwig CVIII, tasked with bringing back to carybaras, animals that the king wants to put in a zoo. Ariel isn't totally comfortable with this task, but disobedience is unthinkable, so he and Greg set off to complete their work as quickly as possible. Things take a turn as soon as they meet one of the carybaras, a creature that turns out to be a lot different than Ariel expected. I love the way this story quietly twists in the telling, and the ending is very satisfying.
I also want to boost the work of SFF writer Karolina Fedyk. They are part of a Polish volunteer organization called Letjaha (Flying Squirrel), working to transport Ukrainian refugees from the Polish/Ukrainian border to Kraków. Find it on Twitter and donate here.
Your Inheritance Will Taste of Salt by Karolina Fedyk in Fireside Fiction
The air is curdling with a storm, hot and molasses-thick, when the fisherman and the witch study each other. They lock their wet hands together, interlaced fingers anchoring them against a different kind of tide.
This is a different kind of selkie story, and a different kind of witch story. Fedyk's tale takes the elements of fairytale and folklore and weave something new from the threads. There's a fierceness and sharpness to the characters here, and their relationships, that makes this story special.
Small Offerings For a Small God by Virginia Mohlere in Luna Station Quarterly
A devastating, quietly powerful story about a very small godling and a warrior that has been cursed to walk back and forth across a desert in her armour until she dies. What happens between these two characters when they meet changes them both. In her quietly exquisite prose, Mohlere captures so much in what is both said and left unsaid, exploring the complexities of guilt and pain, arrogance and redemption, and the nature of both grace and evil. There is a great interview with Mohlere at the LSQ blog: https://lunastationquarterly.com/issue-049-author-interview-virginia-mohlere-and-small-offerings-for-a-small-god/
My Cloak of Keys by Fran Wilde in The Deadlands
Most of the newly dead don’t know what they want anymore, and that’s a good thing. But some sure as hell do.
I’m still sore from the soul that yesterday wrapped itself around one last need like a fist. Most souls appear to me like milkweed wisps and bits of packing twine. My friend at the river claims they look like worn socks to him, even the fighty ones. But this one? A stubborn bramble. I nearly broke it in half, getting that want out.
In a desolate place where the dead end up after they pass away, someone gathers the needs and wants those dead still cling to, and carries them in the form of keys. Sometimes, the carrier of the keys catches glimpses of the world of the living, of what it is the dead so desperately cling to, and sometimes they slip back into the world of the living to finish the tasks the dead could not. But crossing from the land of the dead back into the world of the living is both difficult and dangerous, and when someone sets a trap... the holder of the keys walks into it. Wilde's story is both fierce and heartbreaking and I love the mixture of beauty and brutality; I love the vividly imagined land of the dead, and I love how the needs and wants of past lives echo throughout this tale.
Three Songs to Fill Up the Shadow by Spencer Ellsworth in Beneath Ceaseless Skies
It was shadows-eve, the coldest, longest night of the year, when the blackbird breathes all over the world. He’d made two trips across that day, in in a current so wide and misted that the sharpest-eyed steamboat pilot couldn’t read it, each pole-stroke like stirring Death’s dinner. Now at last, the ferryman jammed his hat down low on his head, his thoughts on a corn-cake, hot buttermilk and a fire.
This riveting and finely crafted novelette is structured as several tales told within the main tale, and all of them (in one way or another) concern Death, a golden fiddle, and the woman who stole and played that fiddle. Ellsworth's prose is an absolute delight, and the language gives this tale such texture and depth, building the world from the words and voices of the passengers on a ferry. They are all crossing the water for a purpose that only becomes clear to us as they each tell their stories.
Bonsai Starships by Yoon Ha Lee in Beneath Ceaseless Skies
At the center of every starship was a bonsai starship. It rested in the starship’s command garden and provided the magic that propelled it.
Novice Kei had known this longer than she had known her own name, especially since she was the eighth Kei who currently served at the Shrine of Budding Nights on the world known as Coronet. All the novices were named Kei or Asahi or Kaoru until they passed the initiation or left the shrine for destinies of their own. Kei-the-Eighth accepted the wisdom of this the way she accepted the shrine’s traditions—all but one.
Any story by Yoon Ha Lee is a must-read as far as I'm concerned, and this one is a perfect weave of fantasy and science fiction (which makes sense, since it's from the Science-Fantasy issue of BCS). Here we meet novice Kei who serves at the shrine where bonsai starships are grown, and who must make a terrible choice when she finds out what will happen to the growing bonsais in her care. I love how each growing bonsai starship has its own will and personality, and I love how Kei's love for the "plants" in her care is what drives her to make some radical decisions.
Blood Grains Scream in Memories by Jason Sanford in Beneath Ceaseless Skies
Chakatie followed a simple truth: when the whole world wants to kill you, live as if you’re too joyful to die. So even as she prepared for battle, she smiled at the thought of wearing a neon-blue three-piece suit and matching bowler hat as she fought for her life.
I fell in love with Jason Sanford's Blood Grains world in his first story set in this story-verse: Blood Grains Speak Through Memories from 2016. The Blood Grains world was once, far in the distant past, ravaged by humans until the existence of all life was threatened. A solution was found, but it completely changed the world: radical nano-technology was used to turn some people into "anchors" that would care for, and viciously defend, certain areas while assisted and essentially ruled by the "blood grains". It's a fascinating world, populated by strange and fascinating characters, and "Blood Grains Scream In Memories" is the final part of what is essentially a mosaic novel. The two other stories that complete the series are: The Emotionless, in Love and Where the World Ends Without Us. Highly recommended reading!
The Third Feather by Fatima Taqvi in Tasavvur
Here is Jiji, hardly visible under the night sky. Making sure she is by herself.
The twin citadels of Amerkot Fort loom down at her. She is right in their shadow, her back against the ochre brick wall of the kitchens. Even the starlight fails to reach her as it falls on the sands of Thar. Nobody besides her, she thinks, would be out at this time that belongs to the white-footed desert foxes and the slithering Lundi snakes.
Wow. This is an exquisitely wrought tale about Jiji, who as a child found a baby bird (or was it really a bird?) and helped it escape from a viper. As thanks, the mother bird gave Jiji three of its feathers, and whenever she burns one of those feathers, a wish is granted. Two of the feathers help bring fortune and favour at the royal court to Jiji and her husband, but one feather still remains. There is palace intrigue, magic and ambition, motherhood, love, and dreams here, and Taqvi masterfully spins all these threads into a mesmerizing story. Jiji's life changes each time a feather is burned, as the magic twists her life in a new direction, but in the end, she finds a different path altogether.
Oversharing by R. J. Theodore in Fireside Fiction
The day after I lose my job, it begins as a crust in the corner of my eye. It leaves a scratch as I brush it away.
A tiny, brilliant slice of body horror flash. The transformation leads to hunger, cellphone problems, and then, pursuit of a desire. Dark, twisted, and glorious.
Telling the Bees by Kat Howard in The Sunday Morning Transport
My lover is dead and my honey is bitter.
The latter of these, certainly, is my fault.
I should have told the bees of . . . I should have told the bees. Or maybe I should have better listened.
I should have done any number of things.
I did not.
A woman has become a witch, living in the woods, growing flowers for the bees that make her honey. She speaks to the bees, and in turn, the bees speak to her. The honey is sweet, the bees love her, until a man enters her life. Even though she's helped others get away from bad men, bad relationships, it takes her too long to understand what he is doing to her, to the bees, and to others. Howard's story is beguiling and beautiful, and it incorporates all sorts of lore and magic concerning bees. I especially love the way the witch eventually crafts her revenge in a truly appropriate manner.
Delivery For 3C at Song View by Marie Croke in Diabolical Plots
Sometimes, and I’m stressing the sometimes, wishes muttered within my hearing come true. I’ve invested in a good set of earbuds, noise-cancelling headphones, and have an over-spilling jar of earplugs, yet accidents still happen.
Dana Utepi works as a Dasher, delivering food to people all over the city. She is also a descendent of a djinn, which ends up causing her both minor and major headaches when people speak their wishes in her vicinity. Croke spins that setup into a most delicious and enjoyable reluctant-meet-awkward romance (of sorts) that has more than one twist along the way.
Human Body as Compendium by Mary Berman in PseudoPod Flash on the Borderlands LX: Words Like Violence (narrated by Suna Dasi)
A flash fiction story that is part of an excellent Flash on the Borderlands episode at PseudoPod. In this one, visceral body horror fills every sentence and paragraph, but the real horror is the emotional reality behind the what is happening. Berman’s story is deeply unsettling and disturbing and sharp as a knife’s edge.
To quote the writer: “In moments of high anxiety I like to imagine that I can crack my skull open and take my brain out and put it somewhere else for a while. “Human Body as Compendium” carries this impulse to its natural conclusion.”
Never Enough Pockets by Kat Day in PseudoPod Flash on the Borderlands LX: Words Like Violence (narrated by Katherine Inskip)
This story is such a glorious and feral tale of rage, and of how to turn anger into power and action, and righteous vengeance. I love the vivid imagery of the making of the pockets, and I must say, I wouldn't mind a few of those pockets myself.
“Never Enough Pockets”: inspired by both what happened to Sarah Everard and the shocking conduct of the police during the subsequent vigil on 13th March 2021, see here for some info.
Eight Arms To Hold You by Angela Teagardner in Cast of Wonders (narrated by Barry Deutsch)
Other than an ugly plastic treasure chest and a forest of aquarium plants, he hadn’t even been given a place to hide. He’d spent weeks in that chest, pretending to be overcome by shyness. It was part of the plan, a way to lull Dr. Lab-coat into a false sense of security once he got out.
An absolutely delightful and compelling tale about Oscar who is a very clever octopus, clever enough to outsmart Dr. Lab-coat, as he sets in motion Operation Puddle Jump in a quest for freedom (and romance). I love everything about this story, from its sly humour, to its madcap escape plans, to the way a coffee maker plays a pivotal role.
Babang Luksa by Nicasio Andres Reed in Reckoning
Salt had crept in while he was away, and now the freshwater wetlands of Gino’s childhood are a marsh, brackish and fickle. There is the soccer field where he’d stained his knees; it had been a low, dry rise of earth bracketed by mud and cordgrass, and today is impassable, a thicket of cattails in algae-skinned water, a humming choir of insects. And here the Jiffy Lube where Gino got his first job, and the stand of trees outside it where Gino smoked his first cigarettes.
Babang Luksa is a Filipino funeral custom that takes place on the first anniversary of a death, and in this story, this custom brings Gino back home to his family a year after the death of his father. Reed tells a quietly powerful story about family and grief and regret, all set in a not-too-distant future where the waters are rising everywhere, changing and submerging the world as they rise. I love the prose here, the subtle ways Reed captures both the intricacies and conflicted emotions of complicated family relationships, and the various ways the changing climate impacts not just "the world" but life on a personal, neighbourhood level.
Full Worm Moon by Paul Lorello in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction Jan/Feb 2022
An unsettling tale of a strange clan of creatures living at the edge of our regular world, haunting the cemeteries on certain nights to consume the worms that come out of the graves. What happens to them after eating the worms is a deep, dark kind of magic that makes them assimilate some of the memories and knowledge of the dead. For one of them, his first time in the graveyard upends his whole life and shatters his identity, causing him to leave his world and family behind. It's is a harrowing and devastating tale of someone at the edge between adolescence and adulthood, humanity and monstrosity, loneliness and belonging, and the search for a life he wants to live.
Proximity Games by M L Clark in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction Jan/Feb 2022
Another fantastic story from this issue of F&SF. Clark tells a complex and compelling story of humans and aliens, of humans leaving Earth and the conflicted choices they must make in the process, and the new challenges and conflicts, internal and external, that await them on their new home planet. I love the way a scene from the beginning with a feral cat echoes through the story, and I love how Clark explores the many complexities of relationships in families and societies, and how we approach new forms of life and new ways of living.
I've just finished reading this excellent collection of excellently strange short stories by Die Booth, and I recommend the whole book, but these are two of my favourites.
"Stone Ghosts" is a love story and a mystery and a noir-edged coming of age story, all told in the space of a short story. Booth captures adolescent love, rebellion, family tension, and the feeling of being trapped in a place that won't allow you to be yourself, whoever that may be. "You can fall into stride with this city, but you can't outrun it. You can't tame it, or befriend it. It's looking for ways it can use you to live."
"Your Punishment Is" is a harrowing and bloody tale of a man captured in the act of killing someone. However, when his captors decide to hang him on the spot, things take a very strange turn, and I love how Booth twists the tale at the end. As in all the stories, Booth weaves a gripping tale that hooks you from the first sentence to the last.
The Last Truth by AnaMaria Curtis at TOR.com
This story was the first place winner of the LeVar Burton Reads writing contest, co-presented by FIYAH Literary Magazine and Tor.com, and it is a fantastic tale of memory and identity, and desperation:
A runaway and indentured thief, Eri must provide a new secret to open each new lock, at the cost of her own memory. Hundreds of locks later, Eri can barely recall her own past. An unanticipated alliance with a musician may prove the key to both their freedoms—if Eri doesn’t lose herself in the process.
Eri cracks open truth-locks, magical locks that require a truth you've never told anyone else in order to open. And since each truth told is consumed in the process and disappears from her memory, she is losing her past and herself bit by bit. When she meets Anea, a musician, there's a glimmer of both love and hope for both of them, but to gain her own freedom and find the lost instrument Anea is looking for, Eri must risk everything she has and everything she is. This story kept me on the edge of my seat, and I love its mixture of bitter desperation and hopeful warmth.
Annunciation by P. Akasaka in Strange Horizons
The Archangel told me I was chosen, expecting. I thought a little and answered: I couldn’t give my consent. The power balance was such I could not ascertain whether there was an element of coercion involved.
“That sort of thing is really bad news for a relationship,” I told them. “I know better than that now.”
A woman is told by an archangel that she will become pregnant, but not with a child but a language. Akasaka’s surreal story is brilliantly sharp and darkly funny, with an edge that cuts deep as it explores the intricacies in the usage and creation and loss of languages, weaving in both pain and resistance and a measure of body horror in the process.