The art for this roundup is a detail of Cindy Fan's art for Kaleidotrope. Find out more about the artist here: https://cind.ca/
An audio version of this roundup is available on YouTube:
Schlafstunde by Lavie Tidhar in Apex Magazine
There was a shop in old Haifa that specialised in Treif artefacts, so that was where Mili went first. Haifa sprawled along the side of Mount Carmel. Successive waves of regeneration didn’t do much to change it. Now adaptoplant buildings sprouted like weeds between the cracks, and down in the harbour Drift ships waited, gleaming in the sun. Mili crossed through federated streets and enclaves, moving between Judean and Palestinian authority, briefly cutting through a Baha’i enclave, her ident tag pinging off each authority server, but it didn’t really make any difference these days. The quilted land slumbered: in Haifa the afternoon rest was still sacrosanct.
This story is such an excellent science fiction tale, and an excellent example of Tidhar's lush and immersive storytelling and world-building. I love the way the details of this future-world are hinted at and described in passing without slowing the narrative, the way descriptions and story flow together and then flow outside the frames of this particular story until it feels like a real place and time. Everything in Tidhar's world is anchored firmly in the past, and our now, in a place where war and peace, enemies and allies, life and death has played out in a thousand different ways throughout the millennia, and will continue to play out in new and ancient patterns in years to come. In this land, Mili is searching for an old, maybe imaginary, entity and in the process, it seems she stirs up the dust of a very old conflict. A compelling tale from start to finish.
Termination Stories for the Cyberpunk Dystopia Protagonist by Isabel J. Kim in Clarkesworld
Cool and Sexy Asian Girl stands outside the convenience store under the striped awning and waits for the rain to stop. The rain is never going to stop. Cool and Sexy Asian Girl would need to go to a different city for the rain to stop, a city not built on phosphorescent fluorescence and slick glass, a city that doesn’t breathe through its elevated train lines and subways. Cool and Sexy Asian Girl doesn’t remember when they built the train lines. She dreams of cities where it is not always night. Not that it’s always night here. But it is. In the heart, it is.Kim's story about a cyberpunk dystopia and the characters/archetypes inhabiting that dystopia is an absolute thrill to read. Cool and Sexy Asian Girl navigates the city where it always rains and where it seems it's always night, and where the story's protagonist keeps searching for something he'll never find. Kim weaves together the story while reflecting on and interrogating these KINDS of stories, including how tropes can be used to trap and/or empower various characters over others, and what it would be like (what it is like) to inhabit a world where you are not the main story. But, even if you're not the main story, you might find ways to use the main story to change yourself and your own life, though this might come at a cost.
Timecop Mojitos by Sarah Pauling in Diabolical Plots
So what happened was, I’m back from clicker training Ms. Jordan’s dogs over on Dexter, sitting on the porch with a mojito, thinking how fucked up it is that the Old West Side Association stealth-planted tulips in our garden (because the yard looked so shitty without them, I guess—sorry for having a rental in your high-value neighborhood, Evie) when the Viking or whatever comes down Eighth.
This story by Sarah Pauling is a fantastic romp that puts new twists and sharp turns into the usual scifi/fantasy quest, time-travel / time-cop story. I adore the voice and style and vibe of this story and its decidedly darkly humorous take on the genre.
What the Dead Birds Taught Me by Laura Blackwell in Nightmare Magazine
The first time I saw him, I was crouched in a ditch by the highway, lancet poised, holding a crumbly-paged book open to the words to reanimate a dead owl. Anne leaned against our dad’s old car on the shoulder, just a few feet past the impromptu memorial some of Mom and Dad’s students had put up. The flowers were wilting and the photos were fading, just like our parents’ ghosts in the ditch where they’d died. I walked all up and down it, grasses itching at my legs despite my jeans.
This is a dark and brilliant gem of a story by Blackwell. Two orphaned sisters grow up together, and one of them is teaching herself all sorts of magic of reanimation and necromancy, using blood and birds and spells to connect with the dead. One day they meet a man, and both sisters can sense that he has death on his hands. What follows after that is a deliciously sharp and incisive twist on the tale of Bluebeard, planting the story firmly in what feels like our own world, except that here, it's also run through with magic... if you know how to access it.
A Start to Judgment by Benjamin C. Kinney in Kaleidotrope
Arsha plays the role expected of her, though she’s known for years how their rebellion will end. She thought she could endure one last survey of her knights and archers and footmen before the final battle, but the guilt still cracks her insides like a pickaxe. The free people of the world have placed their faith in her, the Chosen One. Tomorrow she’ll face the Flensed Lord and betray them all.
I love stories that twist the trope of the Chosen One into new shapes, and Kinney does that brilliantly in this short story. Arsha is the Chosen One, so everyone around her believes, the one with the power to destroy the evil Lord of the world. But Arsha, secretly, has another theory as to what her power is, where it comes from, and what her true purpose is, and she is riven by guilt and self-loathing. Even so, she faces the final battle and enters the Flensed Lord’s keep, convinced that the terrible truth will be revealed to all those who have followed her into battle. There’s so much pain and doubt in Arsha, and Kinney explores her journey as he crafts a story where good and evil are not what you might think.
After Midnight, in a Dead Woman’s Shoes by Frances Rowat in Kaleidotrope
She can’t have been dead more than an hour, most of the night still to come, when she staggers up to her feet in the rain.
Such a deliriously, deliciously dark tale of an avenging ghost. Rowat’s tale is beautifully told and grisly terrible in its details as a young woman haunts the living in order to find her murderer. The prose is exquisitely crafted to capture and paint a specific world, a place, and a character. I love every bit of this story, including its wrenching end.
Explorer / Cartographer by John WM Thompson in Fusion Fragment
I am given to understand that, on an afternoon many years ago, Klimt found and opened the door through which Nell beckoned me. Properly pre-pared, Nell tells me, a thought becomes Thought, and becomes to that other place what mould is to plaster. I am, she says, the articulation of a shape that she very carefully imagined.
An evocative, strange, and riveting story about a place where doorways can be found to other, very peculiar, worlds, and where a living, sentient camcorder is being used to record and document various phenomena in our own world. I love the unabashed weirdness of the world in this story and the way it hints and slowly reveals the purposes and motivations of its characters. To quote Fusion Fragment on Twitter: "Explorer / Cartographer" might be your jam if you're into living camcorders, finding gates to other worlds, and discovering the smell of garlic.
Constructed by Brandon Crilly in Haven Speculative
A beautiful story that shows us a world on the verge of being reconnected to the rest of the universe after many years of isolation. Like everyone else in his world, Kenli is excited about the Reconnection, and he is also excited (and worried) by his discovery of an old piece of magic and technology: a machine/creature called a Construct that has deep ties to the past. I love the wistful tone of this story and the way it builds a compelling world and place in such a small space.
Ídol by James Bennett in The Dark
A wicked sharp horror story about a journey to a small Spanish town and two men in a relationship that has just gone from bad to worse. There's something so ur-horror-ish about stories where someone travels to a small community and doesn't have a clue about what kind of terrifying rules and rituals are enforced and practiced there. (For other recent examples see the game Resident Evil: Village and the movie Midsommar, for example.) Bennett adds the element of vengeance, an affair, and a protagonist that is rather full of himself, for a story that plays out like a twisted nightmare.
A Game at Clearwater Lake by Gillian Daniels in The Dark
At that moment, I should have known what sort of story I was in. I used to yell at characters in horror movies who split from the group or went into the basement without turning on the lights. I threw popcorn at the screen which always made Ryan laugh and Becky smother her giggles. Maybe I didn’t realize it because, when you just think of yourself as the hero of your own story, you don’t realize you’re the bit player in someone else’s.
Another great horror story from The Dark. In this one, Daniels gives us a terrific take on the haunted lake, the final girl trope, and summer-camp horror, all at once. This story has an earthy, tactile vibe that I really love, especially in the depictions of childhood and friendship in a small town, and in addition to its horrors, this story also has a satisfying, darkly funny streak. I LOVE the turn things take toward the end, and the historical and emotional depth to the "villain" of the story.
Overnight Home Companion by Frank J. Oreto at PseudoPod
Position: Overnight home companion for shut in. Must be able to read. Lack of imagination a plus.
Salary: 250 dollars a night. I’ve never seen who pays. But the cash is there every morning at sunrise. A brown paper bag in the mailbox, twenties and tens. Good money, right? But I need to explain some things. I don’t want you coming in blind like I did.
This flash fiction story is part of the excellent episode Flash on the Borderlands LXII: Flash Fiction Contest 7 Winners. As you might surmise from the quote above, this story is horror with a sense of humour, and it's all about a job that seems so easy... but is it? Well, you be the judge!
Flowstone by Steve Toase in Three-Lobed Burning Eye
His Father had been a few steps in front of him, letting Dave take the steep descent at his own pace, so he never saw what caused his Father to lose his footing. Didn’t see why he fell so far and broke so certainly. The stairs are now lit with industrial-looking lamps laced with safety cages. He reaches out to one and flinches at the heat.
There's a new issue of Three-Lobed Burning Eye and the entire thing is well worth your time (and your money). This story by Toase is wickedly, profoundly disturbing and creep. It's one of those stories where you know something is wrong, but it still catches you by surprise just how wrong it is. Wonderfully written horror.
This Place Is Best Shunned by David Erik Nelson at TOR.com
A lot of things are twined together in this story: the nursery rhyme about the church and the steeple and the people, the scientific research on how to warn people away from a place long after our own languages and societies are gone, and, well, the horror of tentacles. Nelson builds this story and his characters with such precise and exquisite care, and then unravels the world and plunges those characters (and the reader) into a pit of terror. Excellent stuff.
This Residue Light by Ewen Ma in The Deadlands
A lyrical and gorgeously wrought story about death and the afterlife, belonging and loss, love and fear and loneliness. To quote the author from Twitter, this story features: "death caught in the city lights, young queer hipster lovebirds, urban hunger, and defiant joy as a means of survival." This is the kind of story where the language, its rhythm, its quiet spaces, and its melody, tell the story just as much as the words themselves. Please read it, because it sings.
Singing the Ancient Out of the Dark by RJ Theodore and Maurice Broaddus in Lightspeed
This is a terrific and mind-bending science fiction story where a researcher from Earth crash-lands on a planet that was populated by humans a very long time ago. What she finds there is something so strange and, in essence, alien that she can barely understand what she's experiencing at first. In the end, the encounter changes her in profound and unforeseeable ways. There's so much depth and texture to this story, and it is infused with both science and fantasy and ancient religion.
Just Deserts by A.M. Barrie in Fiyah
My name is Hercules, and the name nearly lived up to me. Or perhaps I, it. Time, I suppose, will tell.
I have been called many things in my life, and alone, none have done me justice. Titles never do. The children of the home I served called me Uncle Harkness, a name I could not fathom how they conceived out of my birth name. They thought their familiarity was a kindness. The Chief of the Kitchen because of my profession and my possessor. Mister Lee called me cook, the closest thing to disrespectful as he was able. I imagine that I could be grating and being told what to do by someone like me must have irritated him greatly. Boy, I have not been called in many years, but we all remember the keen sting of the first time.
The theme for this issue of Fiyah is food and cuisine and it is chockfull of excellent stories that will likely whet your appetite and make you hungry as anything. In Barrie's story, the narrator is Hercules who cooked for George Washington. Hercules was a slave and an excellent chef, and his abilities with food went way past regular chef's skills. It's a rich, powerful tale of slavery, US history, food, and also righteous vengeance. I love the way fantasy and fiction is woven into the fabric of real history here and Barrie's prose is exquisite.
Dr Daidalo's Kouklotheatron by Nathan Makarios in Flash Fiction Online
There is a little alleyway that hooks off İstiklal Caddesi known only to the children of Karaköy. On summer nights they spill through the dim doorway at arcade’s end, under the sign that spells “Dr Daidalo and Son”. The little theatre is cramped, its wooden benches bare. They squabble and cuss in their seats, elbowing for room, until Dr Daidalo himself steps out to welcome them, clever knobbled fingers tugging at grey whiskers.
The July issue of FFO features stories that have are either reimagined fairytales, or at least inspired by old stories and tales. Makarios's story has a bit of Pinocchio in it, perhaps, but what I really love about it is the vivid and gorgeously wrought prose. The melody and rhythm of it is just exquisite, and its set in a world and place that feels at once utterly familiar yet also thoroughly magical. This is a tragic tale, about a place riven by conflict and violence, but there is hope here, and some of it comes from Dr. Daidalo and his son.
Fire Organ, Fire Blood by Lowry Poletti in Flash Fiction Online
The white lady of Irrigan is so named because one of her experiments bleached a lock of her hair. Her maids, affectionately, claim she is more badger than woman. It makes her smile, but they won’t say a word about the scar that runs down her chest.
Irrigan now keeps the windows in her lab open to test her most recent work. She holds a vial to her face, purses her lips, and blows over the top. The air ignites into a stream of blue flame.
She laughs, each new breath fueling the fire.
I do love dragon stories, and this one is beautiful and fierce. Irrigan is supposed to get married, but she has no interest in being a wife. What interests her is dragons, and her own research, and on this day she will bring these two things together, finally. The scene in this story with the multitude of dragons flying the skies overhead - "Above her, the dragons weave through the clouds like thread through linen. From horizon to horizon, they do not begin or end." - it's so perfect and so alive with wonder and magic. This whole issue of FFO is wonderful, and the whole thing is well worth reading.
A Once and Future Reckoning by Rajan Khanna in Beneath Ceaseless Skies
The stone was legendary even before Myrddin embedded the sword within it. Fallen from the heavens, it gave off strange emanations, energy that those close enough could feel. The stone was a relic from the time the Masters entered the world and still contained some of their energy. The sword... well, Myrddin was proud of that clever, poetic fiction.
I am a big fan of The Once and Future King by T.H. White (I was obsessed with the book as a teen), and also a big fan of stories that do new things with the old Arthurian legends and stories. Khanna's tale is wonderfully complex and intricately constructed and I love the way it reflects on the power of the story, and the telling of stories as a source of power. Both Khanna's story and R.K. Duncan's "Uncounted Leaves of Ends of Camelot" in this particular issue of BCS do new and inventive things with the tales about King Arthur, and both are definite must-reads.
Fate, Hope, Friendship, Foe by Marie Brennan in Uncanny Magazine
The highway unwound before her like a spool of frayed grey ribbon. Once the jewel of America, now the system was cracked and crumbling, its future stolen by children too greedy for the present. Not broken—not yet—but in time all things must come to dust. Or gravel, as the case might be.
A beautiful and compelling story where ancient myth is woven into the fabric of our own world, or rather a (maybe) not too distant future version of it that teeters on the edge of destruction and collapse. Strange things are afoot in the haunted and haunting Midwest landscape, and as the story unspools, and as we begin to understand more of the deeper things at work in this story, things turn ever stranger. Brennan is a wonderful storyteller and this story is a real showcase of her craft.
The Memory of Chemistry by Sabrina Vourvoulias in Fantasy Magazine
If you’ve read the brilliant novel Ink by Vourvoulias, you might remember the wonderful character Meche. This story in Fantasy Magazine is Meche’s prequel, told in the form of an evocative and mesmerizing story. There’s also an excellent interview with the author in the magazine, where she has this to say about Ink, and this prequel:
Meche, the protagonist in “The Memory of Chemistry,” first appeared in my novel, Ink—an immigration dystopia originally issued in 2012 and reissued by Rosarium Publishing in 2018. Her character is, in fact, a reader favorite, and over the years a number of them have expressed interest in finding out what happened to her after the events of the book. I’ve always resisted writing a sequel, to be honest, because what follows dystopia is the unbelievably hard work of living.
But at a friend’s urging, I decided to write a prequel story focused on what made Meche who she was in the novel—a ferociously smart and self-possessed chemist who used her science as a form of resistance. Still (as she did while I was writing Ink) Meche wanted to take her story somewhere other than what I had first imagined. So I followed.
It turns out both Meche and I wanted to explore the emotional landscape of aging. How you cross a threshold after which, no matter how innovative or brilliant you are at your craft, no matter how deep your activism, no matter how rich the well of your experience—you will be defined, and invisibilized, by your age. So I set out to do the unpardonable to a favorite character: to let her get old and see her.
Anyway, read Ink, and read this story: it's great stuff.