December 23, 2022

My Sci-Fi, Fantasy & Horror Short Fiction Roundup for November/December 2022


The artwork for this roundup includes a detail of the cover for Hexagon #11 by Thais Leiros. More about the artist:

An audio version of this roundup is available on YouTube:

Our Heartstrings Howl the Moon by Eleanna Castroianni in Strange Horizons

When we are kids, says Stavros, we eat the heart of a wolf and become half-wolves ourselves.

This is a fierce, wild, devastating, and gorgeously wrought short story about a pack of children who become wolves in order to survive the horrors of Greece's civil war. The story is written as a group of children telling us part of the story, of hunting together, of cold and starvation, of being taken away from your pack and friends and family to be re-made in something else. I love how this story shows us children the way they are, not only victims, but young people finding their own way to make it through the hard times. Castroianni depicts the bleak and terrible moments of war, and the bond of the wolves/children in fiercely sharp and beautiful prose. An outstanding piece of historical fiction threaded through with fairytale and subtle magic.

Plum Century by Simo Srinivas in Fantasy Magazine

It takes the lieutenant one hundred years to climb the hill to Lao Po’s house. By then, the warlords have come and gone, the Republic has risen and fallen, and developers have been petitioning the ruling party to demolish Lao Po’s hilltop hut for decades.

Lao Po is a sorceress, and the lieutenant has come to deliver a message to her, but as it turns out, her power works in a way that those around her don’t quite understand. I love this story by Srinivas, for the delightful way it twists a fairytale into a new shape, and for the way its characters defy the limitations and expectations we might have for them. I also love the subtle way the conversation between these two presumed enemies works to build a bond between them. Lovely and beautiful and incisively funny in every way.

The Typewriter by Z.K. Abraham in Fantasy Magazine

Zella can hear the typewriter next door while she tries to find a way to write her own story. She reflects on old photos and old memories, family stories, but the sound of that typewriter haunts her and beckons to her. And when she meets the woman who is using that typewriter, things take a surreal turn. I love the quiet strangeness of this story, the way it reveals and obscures at the same time, and the way we're slowly drawn into to the enigmatic truth (perhaps) of what is happening here.

He Stays Among the Commots by Christopher Rowe in Beneath Ceaseless Skies

I really like stories that take a well-worn, familiar trope and stitch a new story from the old threads. Here, there are quests and battles, magic and destiny in the background, but none of those things turn out the way you might think. Rowe anchors his fantasy story beautifully in a place and a world that feels real, complex, and tactile. And I really appreciate a story where the everyday world with its seemingly non-epic quests, troubles, tribulations, and joys is celebrated.

Sulta by James Bennett in The Dark

An ancient Norse goddess takes centerstage in this absolutely bone-chilling tale about a photographer trespassing at an ancient shrine in Norway. Bennett twists the horror up expertly here as the story plays out both in the past, when Tate, the photographer, refuses to heed the warnings about the ancient site he has decided to visit; and the present, where Tate returns home with his camera and finds that while he might have left the ancient shrine, the goddess did not leave him. 

Fostering by Ray Nayler in VICE

You don’t know what they don’t know. That’s the problem with fostering. You know what you think they need to know. But you don’t know where the gaps will be. What will they need to survive out there? What did you forget to give them? You don’t know where they are going. All you can do is guess.

A quietly heartbreaking science fiction story where the science is right below the surface. You can feel its presence, but it is not the main focus of the story. Instead, Nayler leans into the emotional, human side, with a quietly devastating prose. The story's narrator fosters children, or rather, he fosters artificial humans who need to learn how to navigate life, emotions, and the responsibilities of how to move through the world. It's an incisive and deeply emotional story that will resonate with me for a long time.

Ant Twin by Sean Noah Noah in Nightmare

By weight, there are as many ants on Earth as people, which means logically that every person on the planet has an Ant Twin, made up of millions of specific ants who would all, if they could just get together in one place, weigh the same amount as each and every one of us.

Aaaah, such a beautifully creepy-crawly tale from Nightmare! It manages to be both intriguing, compelling, and chilling in a very small space. Wonderfully done (and now I'll be thinking a lot about ants...)

Break the Skin If You Have To by Emma Osborne, Jess Essey, and Cadwell Turnbull in Nightmare Magazine

“Annalee,” she says. “And you welcome, Miss Constance.” She leans over the counter toward me, and her nearness is enough to dim the buzzing, the tightness. She smells like citrus and warmed amber, almost like honey. “You mind if I ask you something?”


She lowers her head slightly and looks at me through her black lashes. “You a zombie?” She doesn’t look scared. Curious, maybe, but not scared.

A zombie story, but with a difference. Here, the zombie is not a dead person come back to life to eat and kill others. Rather, the zombie is a woman who has been bound, forced, to serve someone else by the use of terrible magic. But this is also a love story, and a story of how difficult it can be to break free. I love the sensual, sensuous feel of this story, and the way it vividly describes how this particular zombie, this woman, has been bound to one house, and the specific way that the old magic keeps her bound, keeps her alive, keeps her tethered to that one place even when those who bound her are long gone. And I also love the way that this forcible bond is interwoven with and challenged by a new bond: love. 

The Last Cold Place by Alice Towey in Flash Fiction Online

A love story, or maybe the end of a love story, plays out in one of the last cold places on Earth where scientists are doing research on glaciers and ice cores. Towey quietly and skillfully brings together the outside world and the emotional drama within, and the ending is brilliant.

Patterns in Stone and Stars by M V Melcer in GigaNotoSaurus

A gripping story of first contact plays out in Melcer's story, which is set in a spacefaring universe where war and conflict loom large, and where prejudices and colonialism taint almost every interaction. Szkazy is a scientist from a minority group who has joined the military rather than pursue an academic career. Her path has never been an easy one, and now she is tasked with trying to figure out if a mysterious native species living on a planet of great strategic importance qualifies as an intelligent lifeform or not. Her decision will have major political and personal repercussions and there are no easy answers to be had. Szkazy must confront complex personal, political, and scientific issues, without losing herself. I LOVE the description of the mysterious aliens - there's a scene when we first see them feeding that is pure sci-fi magic - and I love how each strand of the tale works together with the others to form a compelling tapestry.

Last Stand of the E. 12th St. Pirates by L.D. Lewis in Lightspeed Magazine

The flooded part of the city stretched into the sea below them. Rooftops presented largely as rows of solar panels less impressive on dreary, overcast days like this. The only living green was on top of the buildings west of 17th—since tree-lined streets could no longer denote monied neighborhoods. The flood waters stopped receding the summer of 2025. There was no great catastrophe. Storm frequency had simply outpaced the plans developed to prevent it. We’d been promised a cinematic fate, drowned by a final wave, inevitable and big enough to name. The reality—that we could be undone by three inches of standing water in places no water should be—had largely registered as an affront and then became an opportunity.

In the not so distant future, in a city dealing with the rising waters brought by climate change, small and big battles are taking place everywhere, including in the Flood District where Dee and Bobby are delivering packages to residents. Amazon is there too (of course), well-funded and eager to defend its shipments from the local pirate crews. Lewis takes you right into this world, this place, this city, this neighbourhood, and into the lives of the characters, and every facet of the story feels alive and compelling. I love the way Lewis makes everyday problems, joys, struggles, fights, and relationships the heart of the story, and the writing makes everything pop off the page. A true science fiction gem. It is well worth checking out the Author Spotlight at Nightmare too: 

The Cat of Lin Villa by Megan Chee at Cast of Wonders, narrated by Su Ling Chan

I did not care for Mr. Lin, the man who claimed to own the villa that I lived in. But when his new wife moved in, I found her much more agreeable. She came out to the courtyard every evening to give me treats: handfuls of coconut-scented rice, slices of stewed pork, fish steamed with ginger.

Told from the point of view of a very particular cat, this story blends myth and fairytale brilliantly. The cat deals with deities and powers of all sorts, trying to solve a painful situation at Lin Villa, maybe to help a certain human involved, but also to make sure the cat doesn't lose its beloved creature comforts. I love everything about this story, but particularly the ornery and self-involved voice of the cat as narrator. If ever a story captured the vibe of a cat, this is it.

The Warrior Tree by Chana Kohl in Luna Station Quarterly

From the moment I was born, my parents knew I would need to fight to find my place in this world. That is why they named me Faiza. The victorious one.

Ten perfect fingers and ten perfect toes—it’s what every mother checks when they see their newborn the first time. But when the midwife brought me to my mother, she felt the universe pivot. She said it was something in the way the old woman’s eyes refused to meet hers.

I love this story about Faiza, who fights her whole life to be allowed to be herself, to do the things she wants, to get the kind of life she would like to live. Her physical disability, ectrodactyly or a deformity of the fingers and hands, makes people see her and treat her in ways she cannot control and profoundly dislikes. Even so, she finds ways to go her own way. The ending took me by surprise in the best kind of way.

The Mages of Byker by Kym Deyn in Hexagon Magazine

He is considered to be something of a legend among the mages of Byker, the man in his old grey coat and woolly hat, who begs for ciggies outside of 'Spoons.

Two mages in Newcastle, David Bright and Terry Blake, used to be inseparable but now they are fighting each other causing all sorts of disturbances and mischief in the streets and alleys and metro stations and elsewhere. Anna Sullivan, who knows both of them and has some serious magic of her own, is now sitting in a particular carriage on the metro, with a plan to sort it all out, or maybe cause an even bigger rift. This is SUCH a wonderful urban fantasy story, with magic in the metro, in scarves, in pigeons and chewing gum. The entire issue of Hexagon Magazine is well worth a read.

Verðandi of the Present by Liv Strom in Hexagon Magazine

“What shall we do with the body? After Urðr is done with it, I mean,” I asked, avoiding looking at the fresh male corpse laid out in the empty parking lot. At least he had been old enough that his days had been numbered ever before he had the unfortune to meet my sister Skuld tonight. It shouldn’t have mattered to me, but it did.

Well, as someone who is obsessed with Norse mythology, this story is a real treat. The Norns are living regular, separate lives in the regular, everyday world until a death brings them together. Is it the start of Ragnarök? That's what they have to figure out and what happens next will take them on a wild ride that includes some well-known monsters and even a Valkyrie. Excellent storytelling from start to finish.

Pleiades, by Wesley Woolf in The Deadlands

Haunting and mesmerizing from start to finish, this story is dark and enigmatic, and utterly captivating. The prose has the texture and flow of poetry as the story is told. There is a mystery being wound and unravelled, a place and a time, something that happened or must happen, and the main character wanders in and out of the story as it is being told. For some reason, this story reminded me of Alan Garner's book Redshift (which I love), where there are points of connection, of living and reliving, playing out again and again.

The Call of the Void, by Tyler Hein in The Deadlands (non-fiction)

A lot of people don’t like talking about the feeling. It’s easy enough to dismiss, to rationalize a reason for why, when driving down the highway, our hand gently steers in the direction of oncoming traffic, or when, if only for a second, nothing felt more imperative, more vital, than to step from the roof and plummet to the ground. You know the sensation: the call of the void.

All my picks for this month seem to lean more or less into the uncanny, the weird, the strange. Hein's non-fiction piece stays true to that theme, leaning into the void, into that feeling of wanting to step into nothing, to fall, to crash, to disappear into the dark. There's an emotional honesty here, a feeling of peeling back the layers of what we would like to think we are, what we would like others to think we are, scratching away until something that might be the truth appears.

The Healer by Jennifer Marie Brissett in Apex Magazine

Six months ago his life changed—again. It began with a phone call. It always begins with a phone call. He had been out on his own, living his life, when he received the second of the worst two calls of his life. Something had happened to his sister at college. That’s all they would say. He needed to come down because someone had hurt her. His baby sister. Someone had actually hurt his baby sister.

Oh my goodness. This story winds and loops and did an absolute number on my brain, and my heart, as I read it. The devastation though? That hits in the final paragraph. A brother is caring for his sister after something terrible happened to her. He ends up contacting a very peculiar healer and what comes next has to be read rather than described. I love stories that tie my mind in knots like this, especially when the underlying emotional truths, and the complexity of the relationships, are as powerful as they are here.

"Bloodbath (VHS, 1987, Director Unknown)" by David Demchuk in the anthology Alternate Plains

I love found footage horror, and here, Demchuk tells a found footage story that is downright terrifying. At the flea market, Jenny and her cousin Lana pick up an old horror movie on VHS, and when they watch it, Jenny's world begins to turn inside out and upside down. Something about the movie is too familiar, even though she has never watched it before. The people, the house, everything. Demchuk unravels it all slowly and with precision. I love how reality twists into nightmare for Jenny, and how even small details from the beginning of the story are revealed to have a much greater meaning once you get to the end. 

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