October 18, 2022

My Sci-Fi, Fantasy & Horror Short Fiction Roundup - Sept/Oct 2022

The art for this roundup is a detail of the cover art for The Deadlands #17, by Lente Scura. More about the artist: https://lentescura.net/.

 An audio version of this roundup is available on YouTube:

A Dervish among the Graves of Ghazni, by Tanvir Ahmed in The Deadlands

Among the strange happenstances and peculiar mischances of ancient times is the story of a dervish in Ghazni who dwelt only among the dead.

This was not, in and of itself, unusual. The annals are overflowing with friends of Allah who made cemeteries into their abodes. Baba Abdal of Herat was known to hold court among the headstones of Khiyaban. Far to the west, in the lands of Syria and Egypt, Jamaluddin Sawi once did much the same. But even among the ranks of death-drawn mystics, this dervish of Ghazni stands out.

What an exquisitely wrought tale this is. Just full of beauty and light, love and death, and also: revenge. Ahmed's story has the texture and tone of an ancient fable, but with a grit and nerve and heart that makes it shimmer and glow with life and grief. We follow two story threads: the past and the present, and as the past of the dervish in Ghazni is revealed, the urgency and desperation of the present increases. I can't say enough about this story and the way it feels both ancient and brand new all at once. Read it! That's all I can really say.

The Deadlands is running a Kickstarter to fund more great stories, poetry, and non-fiction. They have some awesome swag available, including hoodies, mugs, story and poetry critiques, and some stunning limited edition artwork. The Kickstarter is here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/markey/the-deadlands-year-3

The Red Lehenga by Tanya Aydelott in Tales & Feathers #1

As I grew older, my mother paraded men before me: a neighbour’s son, in his final year of dental school; her friend’s cousin, who had a career in the Emirates; another neighbour’s son, who was guaranteed a management role in his father’s business when he earned his MBA; her childhood friend’s nephew, kind and unambitious, a man someone else could easily love one day. I smiled at them all and politely declined. I had my own dreams to pursue.

Tales & Feathers is a brand new zine focusing on “the cozy, the comforting, and the sentiment "no plot, just vibes." Every month, we'll release a new short story of 2 500 words or less that luxuriates in the slice of life fantasy genre.” There are several fabulous stories up already, including this intriguing tale about a young woman who feels like her mother is trying to push her into a marriage, any marriage!, regardless of her own wishes. Now, there’s a very neat twist at the end that changes the perspective on what’s been happening, but what I love most about this story is it’s beautiful prose, and the way it weaves the vibe of an old fairytale into the present day.

Elephant Doctor by Tehnuka in Worlds of Possibility

Tehnuka’s story is a quirky and slightly surreal story with a razor-sharp sense of humour and a definite eye for how people are treated very differently depending on who they are and what they look like. It deals with sizeism and discrimination in healthcare, and I just love the subtle, matter-of-fact voice of this story. Siva has been having real trouble finding a doctor that takes them seriously, and who will use their pronouns, and she has almost run out of hope when she meets Dr Gajan.

Worlds of Possibility is an interesting and quite wonderful project by Julia Rios:

In the Worlds of Possibility project, Julia Rios buys original stories, poems, and art by other creators to display on this website. Paid subscribers directly sponsor these pieces with their subscription fees, and get to see the contents before the general public! As of August 2022, issues are released to subscribers in ebook format on a bimonthly basis before individual pieces are released online and on the OMG Julia Podcast. The eventual goal is to publish an anthology of works originally published on Julia's site. Worlds of Possibility works leave us with a sense of hope, peace, or contentment.

If you can't afford to subscribe, consider supporting by subscribing for free to the OMG Julia Podcast on your podcatcher of choice. Subscribing to the podcast directly does support the production!

3am Eternal by Eden Royce in Worlds of Possibility

It’s a fallacy that the witching hour is at midnight. In reality, the time when the veil between the worlds is thinnest is at three in the morning. That’s why the bars in New Charleston all close at two for humans, so they can get their asses home before the clocks strike the top of the hour and control of the city passes to the witches, the haints, and other creatures of the night.

Another fabulous story from Worlds of Possibility. Here we meet Mikayla, worried sick about her mother who has not come home after the two o’clock curfew, and cannot be found even by scrying. Mikayla has called in her sister witches Shavon and Ayo to help her find her mother before she ends up in the kind of trouble no human can easily escape. This story has magic and a bit of romance, and I love the worldbuilding and the way we are introduced to this world and these characters. An adventure in the middle of the night that does not end the way Mikayla might have thought…

The Angel Azrael and the War Ghosts by Peter Darbyshire in Beneath Ceaseless Skies #367

It was a gunshot that woke the angel Azrael from his dream of the wars and put him on the path to redemption. A single shot that cracked through the hot air of the day like the world had snapped an broken somewhere.

I’m jumping the gun on this story since it is not available online yet, but is available if you subscribe to Beneath Ceaseless Skies (this zine delivers so many great stories and is well worth a subscription, imo). I read my first angel Azrael story in BCS in March this year. It was “The Angel Azrael Encounters the Revelation Pilgrims and Other Curiosities” from issue #351 and fell in love with this strange, ravaged world and the creatures and characters in it. There’s an old war looming in the background, a war where the angels banished from heaven destroyed the Earth and killed untold numbers of humans. In the aftermath there is destruction and despair, and there’s the angel Azrael riding his dead horse through a weird western landscape where bibles hold magic powers, and where ghosts and ghouls bring terrors, and so do angels and humans. In this particular story, Azrael must fight off some fierce war ghosts and also has to face an old friend turned foe: Lazarus.

If you like this story, check out Darbyshire’s other tales about Azrael in Beneath Ceaseless Skies:

There is also a novel coming, and I cannot wait to read it!

Idomeneja by Eris Young at Pseudopod (narrated by Steph P. Bianchini)

It’s morning by the time I get you back and into the house. Relief of a cool entryway, of knowing you’re safe in the garage below the tiles under my feet. Birdsong comes in through an open window somewhere. I wash the dust off my skin and it pools, red, around the drain.

OH MY. If you want an unsettling, disturbing horror tale that burrows into the ground, into an ancient grave, and into the past and into history to bring you a different kind of blood-drinking creature, then this story is most certainly for you. Young says about this story: “The speculative elements from this story are based on the death masks found in the grave circles at the site at Mycenae. I have taken serious artistic liberties with the archaeology and the language, Linear B.” I loved every delicious drop of this story and the way it plays around with perspective and power. Beautifully narrated by Bianchini.

Wind Settles in the Bones by Stephen Granade at Cast of Wonders (narrated by Miyuki Jane Pinckard)

Syn hated pre-race press conferences. Instead of mentally preparing for competition, she had to smile and answer every media outlet’s repetitive questions. Timm Yancy with One AU especially frustrated her. He unfailingly asked inane human-interest questions like “what did you have for breakfast this morning?” (a magnetocarbonate shake so she could sense magnetic fields, followed by protein-rich cricket bars for the nausea, same as every race day) and “is that a new haircut?” (as if it would be seen under her spacesuit helmet). But Syn hadn’t become the third-ranked solar wind racer by putting off unpleasant tasks, so she called on him first. And that was how Syn learned that her dad had died.

An excellent science fiction story that deftly weaves together the space-bound thrills of solar wind racing and a dysfunctional family drama. Syn has worked hard since she was a child to make it as a solar wind racer, working hard with her coach Fiona to become one of the best. But along the way, she’s cut all contact with her father who did not approve of her obsession with the sport, and now he’s gone. But in addition to her grief, she has to deal with a betrayal and her own past. Granade captures Syn’s grief and anger so well, and I loved the way the story allows Syn to find a way to go on and find some kind of solace, even though the odds are stacked against her.

Civilian Assumptions by Dominique Dickey in Lightspeed Magazine

Like all captains, Maddox raised Olivia—that was what they named their ship, a soft name for a dangerous thing—from a seed, a glowing pearl small enough to fit in their hand. Maddox cupped the ship seed in their palm and whispered, “Hello, little one”—though Maddox knew she wouldn’t be little for long—“my name is Maddox, and it is my highest calling to love and command you.”

I love stories about sentient ships, and in this story we meet Maddox, a spaceship captain and fighter for the Consortium among the stars, and their ship, Olivia. They've been bonded almost their entire lives, but now Olivia is dying and Maddox, who should be a fighter, who should leave Olivia and head out with their crew, is devastated and cannot leave. Captain and ship should not be able to, willing to, love each other... and yet. A tender and piercing story that went straight to my heart.

Apolépisi: A De-Scaling by Suzan Palumbo in Lightspeed

I find Aleda’s scale, sticky with ichor, tucked between the tentacles of our pink anemone bed. I tweeze it out from the undulating appendages with my thumb and index finger and flounder against my escalating heart rate.

A beautiful, fierce, and heartbreaking merfolk story, and a take on The Little Mermaid that moves it into a darker, deeper territory. Here, the mermaid doesn’t choose to be magically transformed into a human. Instead, that transformation is a natural process, more like a kind of disease, and its effects are devastating as it means she must leave everything, and everyone, behind.

The History Eaters by Marissa James in Kaleidotrope

These are the words they use: The city is ancient. Our ways are primitive. The city has always been here. Our village, our culture, is unrelated, coincidental to the mound beside it.

If they looked deeper into the roots of our earth brick walls, they may say otherwise. But they are here to study the city, not us.

A gorgeous flash story set in a community near an archeological site where outsiders come to dig up and look for the past, while disregarding the people who still live nearby, not realizing that the past is still alive right here and now. I love the physical, visceral flavour of this story the way the fragments of the past are literally passing on the old knowledge as they are consumed.

Everything You Once Were by Marisca Pichette in Flash Fiction Online

After the water has drained from your lungs, your mouth emptied of salt, teeth washed clean, you find yourself in a garden.

You don’t remember drowning, but you know you are no longer a girl. Your eyelashes have become aphids. Your tendons are unwrapped from your bones and tied instead to mycelia. Your bones abandon their calcium in favor of xylem, phloem, sap replacing blood. Skin peels into petals.

A spellbinding, and lyrical tale about death and rebirth, and finding new ways of existing in the world. In each reincarnation, there are echoes of the other lives, of all the lives, as time and space and memory and life are spun out together in new combinations and new forms.

A Hole in the Light by Annalee Newitz in Sunday Morning Transport

At the island’s edge, Arch’s beloved Plaza broke apart, his once-solid edges softening into a jumble of molecules. The adepts’ long song of mourning tumbled through the air, but she felt no slow gathering of boredom. She wanted to stay here forever, to imagine Plaza magically reconstituting himself the way he might have thousands of generations ago in the age of cities.

I love this story to bits. It's set on the planet Skiff, a planet that has been inhabited for generations by creatures that are not at all humanoid, but who are very much intelligent and social. They live together in communities, sharing ideas and molecules and their lives with each other, and at all times they are aware of the Big Puddle in the sky above them: 

Overhead, the Big Puddle rose in the sky, a dark maw in the swirl of gleaming firmament—a promise, her physics teacher had once said, that the universe would eventually become a void lit only by distant, unreachable nuclear reactions.

Arch, one of these creatures is stricken by grief and sets out on a journey to Memory, an ancient city where the stars and the universe and the past are studied. This is such a beguiling story, thoughtful and with effortless, intricately crafted worldbuilding that made me crave more of Arch, and more of Skiff, and more of this part of the universe.

The Blade, The Hammer by Lina Rather in Baffling Magazine

Fourteen was not, apparently, too young for Sanan to be chosen by the implacable and unknowable powers of the kingdom. It wasn't even supposed to be her. She had six cousins downriver in the capital, all trained in combat and sorcery since birth by the finest tutors. But the inheritance running in her family's blood cared nothing for any of that, it seemed.

An aching, and brilliant take on the concept of being the chosen one, and not being able to freely choose what to do with your life and yourself. The horror of war lurks in the background as Sanan and Mia talk to each other, maybe for the last time, before Sanan has to go off to become a hero, a protector. There's a sweetness and a sharpness to this story that makes it cut deep.

How the Wolf Domesticated Herself by December Cuccaro in Baffling Magazine

My mother said never go near men; they only want you for your coat. She took me close to the village where I met a man’s gaze from across his fire and recognized his hunger—and something else I couldn’t place in my youth, that I now know as hate.

I love wolf stories, and I love shapeshifting stories, and Cuccaro's story is both those things. It is also strange and surreal beneath the surface of fur and skin. We meet a wolf and the wolf meets a man. Things go badly. Then, things change and the wolf finds that she is becoming something other than she was. Cuccaro's prose is gorgeously evocative, and there's dark edge to this story, an unsettling quality, that I really appreciate.

This Tattered, Marooned Sentinel by Marc A. Criley in Martian - the Magazine of Science Fiction Drabbles

So much goodness is packed into this drabble: a whole epic history and future as we find out what the marooned sentinel saw. Martian is a great place for beautiful, sharp, glorious drabbles. 100 words to tell a story, and sometimes that's all you need. (And sometimes it leaves me wanting a whole novel... but that's another story.)

Skitterdead by Mel Kassel in Nightmare

I used to be Director of Human Resources at a nonprofit. I remember a particularly difficult Caleb, we went to lunch once and I thought we had connected, had hurdled his problems by proving our humanity to one another, but he continued to steal credit for things his coworkers had done. I was frustrated with him when I died. My heart gave up in my ergonomic chair. I’m still frustrated with him when I shove myself into the house centipede’s body.

A wonderfully strange ghost story where the ghost is so small that all it can animate, is a centipede crawling around in the office where they died. I love how Kassel takes us inside the mind of the ghost, but also very vividly takes us inside the body of the centipede. A trippy and decidedly unique and haunting story.

A Girl of Nails and Teeth by Hannah Yang in Nightmare

The girl has not yet seen the simulacrum. She has only caught glimpses of the blueprints, which her mother takes out once a year to update the necessary measurements: the size of her feet, the circumference of her skull, the length of each arm.

Oh , this story packs such an emotional wallop in the way it depicts the quiet, hidden horror of this mother-daughter relationship. There is no gore or violence here, not in the way we might expect from horror, but the violence and the terror and the twisted reality of this small family's life, permeate every word. Outstanding horror flash.

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