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. 

 If you want to support my work, check out my Patreon or Ko-Fi.

December 16, 2022

BEHIND THE ZINES with Suzan Palumbo, co-administrator of the IGNYTE AWARDS and a member of the FIYAHCON team


This month's Behind the Zines interview features the amazing Suzan Palumbo. I am so honoured and grateful that she took the time to answer some of my questions about her work in the speculative fiction community.

More about Suzan Palumbo:

Originally from Trinidad and Tobago, Suzan Palumbo is a writer, active member of the HWA, co administrator of the Ignyte Awards and a member of the Hugo nominated FIYAHCON team. She is also a former associate editor of Shimmer. Her work has been published in The Deadlands, The Dark Magazine, PseudoPod, Fireside Fiction Quarterly, PodCastle, Anathema: Spec Fic from the Margins and other venues. She is officially represented by Michael Curry of the Donald Maass Literary Agency and tweets at @sillysyntax. When she isn’t writing, she can be found sketching, listening to new wave or wandering her local misty forests.

Q. What’s your background?
Suzan Palumbo: I was born in Trinidad and Tobago and immigrated with my mother to Toronto Canada when I was a preschooler. I grew up in a Toronto neighbourhood that was primarily made up of Caribbean and South Asian immigrants. I was immersed in Caribbean culture, and we maintained ties with my mother’s family in Trinidad. I had a rough childhood generally. My family was quite poor, and we lived in government subsidized housing my entire childhood.

I have B.A. in English Language and Literature. After University, I went to college to learn how to teach ESL. I taught ESL for many years, eventually becoming the director of the private school in downtown Toronto where I worked. In that position, I designed curriculum, interviewed and hired people and planned school events. I enjoyed teaching quite a bit. I might even have been good at it!

Q. Were there any particular books, movies, or shows, or something else that first attracted you to speculative fiction?
SP: I didn’t have access to many books as a very young child and I think that is partially why I was a “later” reader. I had trouble reading until something clicked for me in grade three. But, I grew up hearing bits of Caribbean folktales from my mother and her family. Those oral folktales have been a major pillar of my interest in speculative fiction. I’ve written several stories with Trinidadian folkloric characters: Soucouyants, Douens, La Diablesse and other jumbies. When I was little, I was scared of these characters. But, jumbies aren’t simply malevolent monsters or ghosts. They are spirits with tragic histories. They are often marginalized people who were forced to barter their humanity to survive or who died tragically. I think that backstory element is what sparked my love of gothic fiction.

In terms of actual media, I watched a lot of Scooby Doo, He-Man and She-ra, Thunder Cats, Gargoyles and X-Men. I adored the Addams Family film and The Last Unicorn movie. I had an obsession with Batman the Animated Series. When I was in my early teens I read a lot of the classics such as: Frankenstein, The Monk, Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, Dracula, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The Phantom of the Opera and Rebecca etc.. When I was a bit older, I got into the dystopian classics like 1984 and A Brave New World. I’m intrigued with speculative fiction’s ability to reflect our world and relationships and its function as a tool that helps us examine our global, political, social, emotional and personal flaws.

Q. You are one of the co-founders of the Ignyte Awards, In the description of the awards it says, “The Awards seek to celebrate the vibrancy and diversity of the current and future landscapes of science fiction, fantasy, and horror by recognizing incredible feats in storytelling and outstanding efforts toward inclusivity of the genre.” Can you tell us a bit about how the Ignyte Awards were conceived and born. What was happening behind the scenes (and on the scene!) at that time?

SP: Yes! I cofounded the Ignyte Awards along with the incomparable L.D. Lewis. I’m going to speak about my part in the award’s conception but want to highlight foremost that I am only part of the story. The Ignyte Awards would not exist with out FIYAHCON which was born in the Summer of 2020 in the aftermath of the police murders of George Floyd and Breonna Tayler. FIYAHCON was conceived by L.D. Lewis and members of the FIYAH Literary Magazine team. It “is a virtual convention centering the perspectives and celebrating the contributions of BIPOC in speculative fiction.”

That same summer I had publicly questioned the Sunburst Awards, which are a Canadian Speculative Awards series, as to why their finalist list had “absolutely” no BIPOC representation. I was very wrong in that assumption. The list did have quite a few BIPOC in many of the categories and I was rightly and publicly corrected for the inaccurate statement and the erasure of those writers. That said, I still felt that the award could do better in terms of representation. I don’t think I was wrong for pushing for more diversity. You can’t have too much diversity in my opinion. I offered to help the organization and wrote a multi page proposal outlining how I would increase BIPOC engagement and participation with the awards and bring in more community support. I submitted that document to the contact I had. I haven’t received a response to that proposal at present. The following year, the Sunburst Awards announced that they would be going on hiatus for understandable reasons that were pandemic and workload related.

It was with that mindset that I watched the live stream of the 2020 Hugo Awards where the host, George R.R. Martin, mispronounced several of the nominees’ names, made a transphobic joke and centered the achievements of white male authors of the past. I’m not going into specifics of exactly what he said here. Those events are easily searchable on Google. He did offer a partial apology for some of his remarks afterwards. But by that point I felt I couldn’t keep quiet any longer about wanting SFFH awards to do better. If no one was going to let me help or volunteer with the established awards to make them more inclusive, respectful and diverse, then I was going to make my own awards and try my best to treat everyone it served with respect.

I’d been aware that FIYAH was planning a convention but did not know L.D. Lewis or any of the con committee personally. I messaged L.D. and asked if FIYAHCON was interested in running an SFFH awards and suggested that we could call it the Ignyte Awards. L.D. and the FIYAHCON team had already been thinking of including an award ceremony as part of the convention, so she invited me to join FIYAHCON.

We put on those awards together in just over two months. We collected the pronunciation of every nominees’ name and practiced them with our host. We wrote the script and remarks together to ensure the ceremony was inclusive and fostered the joy and sense of community we wanted people to feel while watching. Speaking for myself, the Ignyte Awards is probably one of the most important projects I’ve been apart of. BIPOC and other marginalized creators are doing great work and I’m not sorry to say that I think they deserve to be proud of themselves and come together and celebrate how wonderful they are.

I’m not perfect and can’t guarantee that we will never have a situation where a name is mispronounced but I care deeply about being respectful and am open to constructive criticism and feed back. I’m not certain that some of the legacy awards are open to receiving and acting on constructive criticism from the general SFFH community in the same way.

Q. Two of the Ignyte Awards I particularly love are: “The Ember Award for Unsung Contributions to Genre” and the “Community Award for Outstanding Efforts in Service of Inclusion and Equitable Practice in Genre”. What were your thoughts when you decided to include these Award categories? Because they seem specifically designed to award people for work in the spec fic community that isn’t always recognized.

SP: They are very much designed to award people for work in the spec fic community that isn’t always recognized. Short fiction magazines, professional organizations, conventions, forums, critique groups and so many other facets of this industry rely heavily on volunteer labour. They depend on other people’s kindness and willingness to help. I don’t see how SFFH, particularly the short fiction ecosystem would function without people volunteering their time.  We wanted to draw attention to this work because it has value. No one gets to where they are alone and for underrepresented groups, a lot of us wouldn’t be published at all without others advocating for us. I am nothing without community.

Creating an award for a specific person was L.D.’s idea. I came up with the name Ember. For me the name represents someone who kept working to help and inspire others even when they themselves didn’t have that same encouragement and support. It's important to thank people in the present while we can and not put that off until they get to some lifetime of service achievement age. Why not celebrate them now? Why not say thank you now?

Q. I know from following you on social media that you have some strong opinions about how cons should be run, and the problems with how many of them are run. What are some things you’ve learned from FIYAHCON, and what are some things you’d like others to learn from your experience?

SP: I am going to focus my attention on one specific point because I could write a book on this topic. I think virtual tracks for cons are vital and essential for accessibility. Any con that does not include some type of thought-out virtual component is silently saying we only care about parts of the community that are physically and financially able to attend our event. It may actually be the case that some cons only want certain people to be present at their events. If that is so, they shouldn’t be offended when they are told they are inaccessible or upholding exclusivity or gatekeeping, as the case may be.

FIYAHCON, under L.D. Lewis’ direction, proved that a virtual con could be engaging, educational, entertaining, and accessible. Flights of Foundry also runs a multi day, completely virtual convention that is time zone accessible to participants all over the world. Over the past couple of years, I’ve listened to many seasoned in person convention attendees bemoan the fact that virtual conventions don’t have the same atmosphere or dynamic as their beloved in-person events. There has also been a lot of talk around making virtual conventions feel like in-person ones.

My question in response is: Why should a virtual convention feel like an in-person convention? It is not an in-person convention. With FIYAHCON being the first event I was able to attend because of accessibility, like many of the attendees, I had no idea what an in-person convention felt like. Further, many in-person convention spaces are not physically or financially accessible for people in North America and around the world. Many are not welcoming to BIPOC. I understand wanting to get together with old friends in real life but then perhaps you should call the event: “Old friend get together” instead of “convention”. Shrugging off virtual components shuts out so many people from participating in community.

If conventions care about diversity and inclusion, they should bring in people who know how to plan and run virtual events and listen to their advice and opinions. I am baffled at how backwards looking and resistant to incorporating technology SFFH convention culture is, especially since the community it serves is interested in speculating about the future.

Please keep supporting and having virtual programming alongside in person events so that people who have been historically excluded can participate! You can do it, if you try! *steps off soapbox*

Q. You’ve been involved in a lot of different work behind the zines, for example as a slush reader at Shimmer. What advice would you give to someone else who might be interested in getting involved with a zine, or a writer’s organization, or breaking new ground like you’ve done with Ignyte?

SP: I think doing community work in any capacity is rewarding and educational. It’s important to consider how much time you have to devote to whatever project or organization you want to join and what your goals are regarding the experience. You have to be honest with yourself about how much work you can balance.

I learned a lot from reading slush. As a person who’s never had a regular critique group and had never been part of a writing workshop, being a first reader helped me learn to identify the strengths and weaknesses in other people’s fiction and articulate those in a concise way. When I first started reading slush, it required a lot of my time. That time commitment lessened as I learned to recognize which stories fit Shimmer’s aesthetic.  That said, while I was reading slush, I didn’t get a lot of my own writing done. I was okay with that back then because I was absorbing so much. Having that bit of a fallow period helped me be a better self editor.

Regarding running larger projects such as the Ignyte Awards: We need people who are willing and able to do ground-breaking work. It’s one of the ways change happens and the industry evolves. That said, when you run an event like this, the time commitment is significant, and you have to have a handle planning out your schedule months in advance. You have to be creative and good at thinking on your feet and problem solving because nothing ever goes according to plan when you’re trying to organize an event. You have to be patient and respectful when dealing with people and be prepared to work in a team. You have to be prepared for individuals to not take you seriously at first because you are not a traditionally lauded or respected event with a venerated history. The best way to stay on course with all these considerations swirling around, I find, is to make sure you believe deeply in the goal you are working toward. Knowing that the Ignyte ceremony will be a moment of joy for everyone is what gets me through all of the other hard work.

With that in mind, I want to emphasize that you don’t have to do something ground-breaking by yourself to have a positive impact in the community. Everything counts. I tend to have big ideas that I want to implement and announce them loudly but helping out with smaller things that take less of your time is valuable and appreciated. We have a small team with the Ignyte Awards that helps with emailing and vetting nominations. This doesn’t require a large time commitment and is crucial to putting together our ballot. I have to thank Eboni Dunbar and Leah Weyland for their assistance with this because I couldn’t do that by myself.

Finally, I’ll say if someone wants to be involved in a zine or a project or organization that they care about and isn’t sure how they can join in, you can always just ask. Contact them and ask respectfully if there is anything that you can do to help. Whenever I’ve asked if I could join or help out people have always responded enthusiastically. A lot of the time I put out a question on twitter and get several responses as to how I can get involved.

Q. How has your view of the speculative fiction community, such as it is, changed since you decided to get more involved in the “business” side of things? There are a lot of barriers, and lot of built-in biases, on every level in this business. What are your thoughts on that?

SP: My thoughts are: Yes there are a lot of built-in biases everywhere on many intersectional axes and barriers. I’d like to see more representation. I’d like to see editors, magazines and publishers move towards embracing Non-Western Story telling modes. I’d like for them to go beyond repeating: “I want an active protagonist” because their definition of active is very narrow and limiting. I’d like to see more diverse acquiring editors at magazines and publishing houses. It’s not enough to have diverse slush readers when the person who has the power to buy the stories has a very narrow view of what constitutes a good story. I’d like to see more diverse con chairs so that diversity is baked into every con space.

That said, I think change is happening and I am hopeful. I’m seeing so much great work being published. I’m going to point to F&SF. Before, as a writer, I had zero hope of ever being published in F&SFbecause the editorial vision was extremely biased towards white western story telling. Yes, BIPOC were published by that magazine, but those numbers were low.  Under Sheree Renee Thomas, the representation in the magazine has increased. People who never wanted to submit to F&SF because they had no hope, some people who are fantastic writers and who had been submitting for twenty years are finally being published. Everyone is benefiting from this change in editorial vision.

Workshops are becoming more diverse. They are offering online options. There are more grassroots groups getting together to help each other. Some conventions are moving past basic diversity panels. The community is trying and I give them credit for that. I have a lot of opinions on what can be improved but as I said earlier in my answer about the Ember Award, it’s important to acknowledge the work people are doing now. There is much good in the SFFH community. I am grateful for it.

Q. Is there any advice or insight you’d give to your younger self after all the experience you’ve gained?

SP: Honestly, I’d just hug my younger self. I think to give myself advice would imply that I could have saved time or done something differently and I don’t think I would have done anything differently. I’m happy with where I am with my writing work and my other community projects. But sometimes even when you are working towards a worthy goal, you can become tired or discouraged and feel lonely. I wish I could have kept myself company during those times.

Q. What is something about your job with Ignyte you think most people DON’T know, but which is a major part of it when you’re active behind the scenes?

SP: I deal with most of the people/public facing work with the Ignyte Awards. That means I supervise the inbox, draft a lot of the communication emails, organize and communicate with the jury members, and answer questions or pass questions that I can’t answer on to L.D. Lewis. I also write the first draft of the script and go over it with the host and practice pronunciation with them.

Perhaps it would be surprising for people to know that I spend time assuring nominees that they are in fact eligible for the award and deserve to be nominated. I also help them with nerves or anxieties related to writing a speech and the possibility of having to deliver that speech. For the record, no one is required to give a speech. We would never force anyone to do something they weren’t comfortable with but sometimes people need to hear: The viewers will love whatever you have to say, as a form of encouragement and reassurance. Sometimes they need a mental hug!

Q. To turn toward the writerly side. You write horror and dark fantasy, and one of your stories, “Laughter Among the Trees” was just included in a Best of Dark Fantasy and Horror anthology. You have a short story collection coming out, and your book “Countess” is coming in 2024. Tell us a bit about these upcoming projects.

SP: Yes! My short story collection “Skin Thief” will be published in the fall of 2023 by Neon Hemlock Press. It includes a lot of my previously published work such as “Laughter Among the Trees” along with a 10K word unpublished novelette called “Kill Jar”. “Kill Jar” is a queer gothic tale set on an isolated estate in rural Ontario. It has green houses, snakes and a girl uncovering a dark family secret! The collection is very representative of the short work I’ve been producing over the past five years and has an arc and theme. Here is my pitch for the entire collection for those interested:

“Skin Thief” is a dark fantasy/horror short story collection. The book is named for a group of characters that appear in the collection’s first story, “The Pull of the Herd”. The stories feature queer women of color grappling with the complexities of identity, racism, immigration, oppression and patriarchy. Themes such as nature, gothic hauntings, Trinidadian folklore and shape shifting are interwoven throughout and are used to explore these struggles. The order of the stories in the collection mimics the peeling away of an assimilated Western identity or skin. Stories at the beginning of the book are set in Canada and are written in Canadian English. As the reader moves through the collection, the Canadian voice and settings gradually fade. The middle of the collection is composed of diaspora stories such as "Laughter Among the Trees" which contain some Trinidadian English. The last section of the collection features stories set in Trinidad with larger portions of dialect. Samantha, the narrator of the final story, entitled “Douen”, narrates in full Trinidadian dialect. Thus metaphorically, the collection reenacts the process of shedding a stolen or assumed identity, mirroring the themes of the individual stories themselves.

“Countess” my novella, will be published by ECW press in spring 2024. It is a queer, Caribbean, Count of Monte Cristo retelling, space opera. I love this little book very much and feel it is the story I’ve lived my whole life to write. I have never read or watched a space opera with an indo-caribbean woman as the protagonist so in many ways, this may be me breaking new ground on the publishing front. Even if it isn’t, I put my entire heart into it. Here is my elevator pitch for it!

Virika Sameroo lives in colonized space under the Acerbot Empire, much like her ancestors before her in the British West Indies. Working hard to rise up the ranks of the empire's merchant marine, she's finally become the first lieutenant of an interstellar cargo ship. But her captain falls ill under suspicious circumstances and Virika must salvage the mission and the shipment of iridium that is integral to the functioning of the Empire's military fleet. When she returns to the capital, Virka is arrested and charged with treason despite her lifelong loyalty to the empire. This sets her on a path of revenge where she will confront personal trauma, intimate betrayal and prejudice as the fate of her people hangs in the balance.

Can’t wait to read that collection and that novella. Huge thanks to Suzan Palumbo for doing this interview!


About Behind the Zines:

In this interview series, I talk to people working behind the scenes at various speculative fiction publications. My goal is to highlight the work that goes into keeping these publications alive, and to share insights from the people doing that work. Each interview is available exclusively on my Patreon for one week, and is then posted here at Maria's Reading

If you want to support my work, check out my Patreon or Ko-Fi.


December 5, 2022

BEHIND THE ZINES with Rachel Cordasco, translator of speculative fiction


This month's Behind the Zines interview features Rachel Cordasco, translator of speculative fiction. I've followed Rachel on social media for years, and I've read so many fantastic stories translated by her. She is an untiring voice for translated speculative fiction, and her website, SF In Translation, is an amazing resource.

More about Rachel and her work:

Rachel Cordasco has a PhD in literary studies and used to work as a developmental editor. She’s written for Strange Horizons, World Literature Today, the SFRA Review, Foundation, Locus,, Skiffy and Fanty, and other publications. In 2016, Rachel started, which tracks all speculative fiction available in English. Her translations of Italian speculative fiction have appeared in Clarkesworld Magazine, Samovar Magazine, Future Science Fiction Digest, World Literature Today, and The Silent Garden Volume 1. Rachel’s book, Out of This World: Speculative Fiction in Translation from the Cold War to the New Millennium, is out from the University of Illinois Press. You can follow her on twitter @Rcordas.

Q. First of all: what's your background?

RC: I grew up middle-class in Baltimore, Maryland in the 80s and 90s, the youngest of three. Reading was always my passion, partly because I loved learning about new places and people, and partly because my family didn’t travel very often and books allowed me to journey through space and time. My parents always supported my love of reading and were proud when I earned my degrees in literary studies. Now I live in Wisconsin and try to encourage my kids to read SF in translation, though I haven’t succeeded yet. I’m also still waiting for them to fall in love with Star Trek: The Next Generation!

Q. How did you end up "falling into" speculative fiction? Were there any particular books, movies, or shows, or something else that first attracted you to the genre?

RC: My older brothers were always into Star Trek: TNG and Star Wars, but it was an episode of the former, which included Mark Twain’s character, that made me fall in love with the show and the genre as a whole. I started reading H. G. Wells, Michael Crichton, and Arthur C. Clarke, and the rest is history. After not reading much science fiction for several years, I returned to it with a vengeance and have never looked back.

Q. You are a translator and writer. What languages do you translate between? How did you first get started translating speculative fiction?

RC: I’ve loved learning languages since I started watching Pepe le Pew on tv as a kid. My mom remembers that I declared my undying love of French because of that show. Since then, I’ve studied French, Hebrew, Russian, and Italian (hopefully more in the future!). When I realized that Italian sf was underrepresented in Anglophone publishing, I started finding very short stories that I could try my hand at. Then Italian author and editor Francesco Verso connected with me and introduced me to sf authors Nicoletta Vallorani and Clelia Farris, whom I’ve thoroughly enjoyed translating. I’ve also translated several other authors, including Raul Ciannella, Serena Fiandro, and Emanuela Valentini.

Q. What are your thoughts on the role of translated fiction in the speculative fiction field? There are occasional books and stories that make a splash, but it also seems like fiction that is not originally written in English can get a very raw deal. What are your thoughts on the state of speculative fiction in translation and the problems, and the good things, you see happening in the business right now?

RC: Translated fiction in general is rarely promoted in America, for many potential reasons. Translated speculative fiction is even more niche, so even fewer of those texts are known to American audiences. As I’ve argued in the past, major sf awards (like the Hugos and Nebulas) could do much to give sf in translation (SFT) a higher profile if they included a Best Translation category. I’ve been heartened to see the marked increase in SFT (both short- and long-form) from a wide variety of publishers since 2000, though these books still need to be reviewed by more outlets and promoted by publishers. Perhaps this increase is due to American readers wanting more variety in their fiction and their impatience with the US media’s focus on only domestic issues. I hope my website,, helps introduce more readers to the pleasures of SFT and other cultures.

Q. If you have a magic wand to wave, what would you do to make the SFF field a better and more welcoming place for translated fiction? Should there be an awards category for this, or maybe an entirely new award for translated fiction, perhaps?

RC: You read my mind! A few years ago, I wrote a (perhaps overly long) essay on my site arguing for the establishment of a Best Translation category in sf awards. Many big names in the field disagree with me on this, claiming that such a category would ghettoize SFT rather than promote it. I argue, though, that many readers of sf don’t even know that these books and stories exist, and a translation category would encourage readers to go beyond their comfort zone and read SFT translated from Polish, Japanese, French, German, Italian, Hebrew, and many other languages. I suspect that, like the culture in general, American sf doesn’t want to open itself up to the literatures of other countries because it would threaten entrenched interests. Nonetheless, magazines like Locus and Clarkesworld have made a wonderful effort to promote and discuss more SFT, while Future Science Fiction Digest and Samovar regularly bring new SFT to readers looking for fantastic world literature.

Q. Translating fiction always requires creativity. What are some translation conundrums, fun and otherwise!, that you've encountered as a translator, whether it's translating specific terms or words or other translation challenges.

RC:  I love asking other translators this question, because figuring out a particularly tricky translation is like solving a puzzle—it’s so satisfying! One of my favorites from translating Clelia Farris is the word “nonnixedda.” Farris (a native of Sardinia) sometimes sprinkles her stories with Sardinian slang, which is similar to Italian. I encountered this particular word in her story “Gabola,” and was thus sent down a rabbit hole of online dictionaries and discussions of Italian-Sardinian similarities and differences. Eventually, I figured out that the “nonna” in “nonnixedda” was indeed the “nonna” from Italian (“grandmother”) and the “xedda” was the Sardinian diminutive that turned the word into “Granny.” When Clelia was pleasantly surprised that I had figured this out (since I don’t know Sardinian), I was quite proud of myself.

Q. Is there any advice or insight you'd give to your younger self about getting involved in the speculative fiction world? What advice would you give to other people who might be interested in translating speculative fiction?

RC: I wish I had started reading SFT at a younger age and learning more about it, despite being distracted by grad school. In fact, I wish I had done my dissertation on SFT, though that likely wouldn’t have been acceptable in the academy. Indeed, I left academia and never looked back, so I guess it all makes sense! In terms of people wanting to get started translation sf, I would tell them to just find stories they love, do the translations, and send them everywhere until they get acceptances. Only when you’ve got your foot in the door will editors notice you and start wanting more of your work. This does mean that you’ll be doing a lot of work in the beginning on spec, but it might lead you to some bigger opportunities down the road. I know that a lot of translators do what they do mostly for the love of language, but of course getting paid is a necessary part of doing this job. That’s why publishers need to make sure that they’re treating translators fairly when writing up contracts for translated work.

Q. Can you share some of your current favourites in translated SFF, whether it is translations you've done, or something translated by others? What are some writers we should be keeping an eye on that are not writing in English?

RC: Of course, I’m going to mention Clelia Farris first! But so many great non-Anglophone writers are coming into English these days, that it’s hard to narrow down my list. I’ll say here that people need to read more Stanislaw Lem and Jacek Dukaj (Poland), Yuya Sato and Dempow Torishima (Japan), Keren Landsman and Dror Burstein (Israel), Pedro Cabiya (Dominican Republic), Yoss (Cuba), Liu Cixin and Hao Jingfang (China), Elisabeth Vonarburg (Quebec), Marina and Sergey Dyachenko (Ukraine), the Strugatsky brothers (Russia), Francesco Verso (Italy), and so many others!

Q. Where can we find your work? Do you have some recent translations or works you would like to share?

RC: Clelia’s latest story in English is “The Words” in the November 2022 issue of Apex Magazine (exciting!), about time travel and Anne Frank. Her collection Creative Surgery (translated by myself and Jennifer Delare) is out from Rosarium Publishing. Readers can find many of her stories online, as well. My reference book, Out of This World: Speculative Fiction in Translation from the Cold War to the New Millennium, is out from the University of Illinois Press. My site,, keeps readers updated about the latest SFT and reviews. I also regularly review SFT for Strange Horizons and World Literature Today.

Huge thanks to Rachel for doing this interview!


 About Behind the Zines:

In this interview series, I talk to people working behind the scenes at various speculative fiction publications. My goal is to highlight the work that goes into keeping these publications alive, and to share insights from the people doing that work. Each interview is available exclusively on my Patreon for one week, and is then posted here at Maria's Reading

If you want to support my work, check out my Patreon or Ko-Fi.

November 21, 2022

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


The art for this roundup is a detail of the cover art for Apex Magazine #133. This cover art was created by three artists: Angelica Alzona, Alyssa Winans, and Pamela Zhang. Read an interview with the artists in Apex: For more about each artist, check out their websites:

An audio version of this roundup is available on YouTube:

Though the Heavens Fall by Louis Evans in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction

A space (ship) opera, of sorts where the main characters are three massive spaceships: Sunspire, Happy Hippo, and the ancient Carmine. What follows is a ritual, and a judgement, playing out between and inside the ships. A crime has been committed, maybe, and now the ancient Carmine will render its judgement on the ships, and on one escaped cyborg. Evans’s prose is rich and ornate, and resonant with emotional power as we come to know the ships, especially Carmine, and the universe they inhabit. Having the story told through the ships gives this story a point of view, and a voice, that is unique and enthralling. I loved the reveal of Carmine’s tragic past and new purpose, I loved getting to know the cyborg at the heart of the judgement, and I loved the majestic feel of this story. As it says in the story’s intro: “How can we lonely aliens trust each other? How can we tear down a civilization of exploitation and replace it with one of care?”

In the Smile Place by Tobi Ogundiran in Fiyah #24

If you love found-footage horror (I do), if you love the kind of weird and dark and creepy stories that reach back into childhood and turn you inside out as you read them, then this horror story is absolutely for you. An older brother has gone back home after years away because his younger brother has gone missing. Hidden in the past is an incident that might explain what’s happening now, and there is also a stash of old VHS-tapes… I love everything about this story, the way it cracks open the relationship between two siblings, and the way it burrows into the deepest darkest places.

The Eighth Cigarette by Lisa Cai in The Dark

The only thing new to me was the perspective. He described me, my friends, my family as small, dainty, and child-like. Or, we were ugly yellow monkeys. In particular, I was tiny brained and thoughtless. Granted, those of us who sold our bodies were girls growing into women, but he didn’t know the training we went through. I spent years perfecting my singing and samisen skills. Would he have thought differently if he knew that part of me? Would he have cared?

I love every twist and turn of this story by Lisa Cai, as we follow a woman being reborn, reincarnated, again and again into a story, or stories maybe, written by someone else. It’s the story of Madame Butterfly, and of Madame Chrysanthème, stories written by authors who somehow know intimate details of the narrator’s past lives. We follow the narrator through lives and deaths, war and loss, horrors and glimpses of peace and also glimpses of a sister who is lost, again and again. Finally into a life where she tries to put an end to power of the author who keeps reducing her to a victim and thoughtless, child-like bystander in her own story. There’s such a gloriously shifting, dreamlike, almost hallucinogenic quality to this story, and I love how the narrator refuses to be what the fiction wants her to be, and fiercely keeps fighting against the stories told about her in order to live her own life and tell her own story.

Burning Sassafras by Cassie E. Brown in The Deadlands (non-fiction)

In the Ozarks of my mother’s people, clocks are stopped and mirrors are covered when the last breath leaves the body. The sound of the clock—the house’s heartbeat—is stilled, and the mirror—a place that the soul could get lost—is hidden away.

We feel our vulnerability deeply in the thin places. The Ozarks are a thin place.

I mostly recommend fiction here, but this piece by Cassie E. Brown is so exquisite as it delves into death and belief, magic and the deep roots of the past in the Ozarks. The ways in which people deal with death, how they try to ward it off, to understand it and get a grip on it, the way death used to be so close in everyday life… all of it is captured so beautifully here. I love stories and essays that have a strong sense of place, and that tell you something about a particular corner of the world while also telling you something about what it means to live in this world in general, and this piece does all those things.

 Rain in the Potholes by Marium Asif in Tasavvur

There are seventy seven pipes under the town called Jairaz. Of these, only fifty two can be accessed- the rest have caved in or been blocked. Not a lot of people live here anymore post the ‘32 bomb explosion, and now, almost four years later, most of these streets are desolate, deserted and depressing. Those who didn’t die in the blast live in dark alleys, or the blown apart rooms, only coming out in search of food, and sometimes family.

The fifty two pipes still standing have a center point called the Circle. It’s far from an original name, but it’s the one given by the forty year old lady, Nina and her husband, Kaz, who live there.

Set in a world riven by a terrible, destructive war that is poisoning the world and everyone in it, Asif’s story follows two people, Nina and Kaz, living in hiding from the horrors of the surface world. They keep away from others, and away from the world, navigating through the pipes that connect them to the town of Jairaz, avoiding the potholes that might claim their lives if they were to stumble into them. The story plays out like a tense psychological mystery/drama, as Kaz and Nina bring children and dogs to alleviate the loneliness, but everyone that’s brought into their hiding place eventually disappears without a trace. There’s so much tension in this piece, so much dread, and Asif captures the claustrophobia and inertia of  their survival beautifully. A gripping read.

Sister, Silkie, Siren, Shark by M.A. Blanchard in Strange Horizons

A fiercely powerful story that cuts to the bone. Blanchard weaves together myth and folklore into a new tapestry where a community of women, and their shapeshifting daughters, live out their lives on an island, trading some of their daughters to the sailors who visit: trading them to buy safety for the community, giving up their own, knowing they won’t come back. From this bleak setting, Blanchard tells us an epic tale about coming of age, coming together, of resistance and survival, where there is pain and grief but also glimmers of new hope. I love how the characters in this story, come full circle in the understanding of their past, and how they decide to find a different future than they thought possible.

Anu and the Vetala by Srikripa Krishna Prasad at Podcastle (narrated by S.B. Divya)

This story is one of several stories in Podcastle’s Indigenous Magic special, and it is a fabulous tale. Anu is on a quest to find a way to live, to defeat the disease that will claim her life. What she needs is the magic of a vetala, but they are not easy to capture and not easy to control or bend to your will. The specific vetala she goes after turns out to be every bit as strong and unrelenting as Anu had expected. But when Anu and the vetala meet, something unexpected occurs. This story weaves together folklore and horror, fantasy and fairytale, and I love how the tropes and themes are splintered and reshaped here.

Warm Beds / Camas Calientes by Mónica Bustos in Samovar (translated by Analía Villagra)

A surreal and absolutely gorgeous story about three people sharing a room and a bed, but who never see each other. All they see are the traces the others leave behind, like the indentation and warmth of a body in the bed. To me, this is a story about human nature, loneliness and companionship, and the difficulty of connecting with others or truly understanding the people we long to be with.

The Princess, NP by Brian Hugenbruch at Escape Pod (narrated by Leigh Wallace)

If he was as informed about Princesses as he appeared, he’d have read that we were once trained to sing on command. Tradition had become habit, and habit became a means of self-defense. Our minds were fragile after the Conditioning; evening songs drowned out the noises of our existence. Too much data could overload our brains and leave us useless wrecks.

A thought-provoking and fascinating science fiction story about data princesses, indentured thinkers, used by a ruler known as the Queen. The princesses are Conditioned, their fundamental brain processes altered to accrue and analyze massive amounts of information. Emotions and opinions are not required and actively suppressed. One of these princesses has been assigned to Hexa Station where she suddenly finds herself faced with a situation that will put her on a collision course with the Queen who has ruled her entire life. I love the world this story is set in, I love the characters, and the way Hugenbruch blends fantasy elements into the science fiction tale.


Of all the New Yorks in all the Worlds by Indrapramit Das at

The story description at  "A student of multiversal time travel slips from  one version of New York to another, discovering that love may transcend timelines, but so too can heartbreak…"

This story is about a multiverse, and about a man traveling through that multiverse, but it’s also a story of how he lost the woman he loved because she turned him away, and how he holds on to that relationship by visiting an alternate version of his ex. Officially, he goes to see the alt-gf to deliver a letter from the other version of her to her alt-world self, but he’s also hanging on to something that he lost. There's this quiet sense of sadness and loss in this story, and an acute awareness of all the immense possibilities of pain and love present in a universe and in a life. A life, and a multiverse, can keep so many secrets, and so many stories told and untold.


Tithe the Bones, Sell the Blood by Auston Habershaw in Beneath Ceaseless Skies

In a city ruled by the bloodless dead, Cédric is playing cards with three ghosts and a wight. He’s trying to win a stolen soul back from them, and he’s betting using his own blood. Habershaw’s world in this story is a desperate place, and I love the detail and texture of it, and the way the terrible powers at play are laid bare in a game of cards. Cédric does have a plan, but in this card game, things don’t always go to plan. 

The Karitela by Io Carpiso in Anathema

Miguel heard it first: the hot, huffing breath in the humid night air. The sure, definitive clop of hooves on the grey asphalt. The stiff, dull rustle of dried grass and woven wood rubbing against each other.

From the doorstep of his house, he watched as the carabao trudged into view. His little mouth was agape as the buffalo shrugged past the cars parked on either side of the narrow street, its head low, almost burdened by its wide horns and the carriage it pulled. Distantly, he could hear the cheerful chatter of televisions in living rooms, music coming from radios, and nanay shouting at his brother from inside the house.

I'm late reading and reviewing this wonderful issue of Anathema, but it is FULL of great stories and this one is one of my favourites. This story has an evocative fairytale vibe, though it's a fairytale anchored and shaped by the real world. Miguel gets a ride on the strange carabao, and gets to see some magic up close. There's darkness and menace here, much of it lurking beneath the surface, and I loved the resolution. 

 His Soul’s Keeper by Koso Agboanike in Anathema

The boy on the floor of the room was the child of the village head. From the peep, she saw him roll around and around, muttering to himself; and she was going to tell him to get up and not mess up his locks any further, but someone slapped her back and her spirit was almost startled out of her body.

A wickedly tied knot of a story where a child tries to survive in a new place after her village has been destroyed and she has been taken away. She finds a friend in a new boy there, and even tries to help him by using some of the magic she was taught as a child. This is a sharp and jagged story where the repercussions of cruelty are laid bare again and again. I love the voice of this story, and the way it weaves together fantasy, magic, and horror with real world evils. 

The Ghost Eaters by Spencer Ellsworth in Nightmare

The Man had come and gone, other Someones too, and all the lessers, but Barley still guarded the House.

He still patrolled, passing right through the gate instead of getting caught under the slats, still lifted his nose and trotted the fence line every morning, though he could no longer smell the asphalt baking in the heat or rabbits in the hedges. At sundown he returned to his grave and lifted his leg even though he hadn’t urinated since the Man put his body in a cardboard box and dropped it into foot-deep earth.

With our old dog passing away so recently, I should have known this story would break my heart and it did. It's an exquisite dog-ghost story about a Very Good Dog who has been guarding his house for much too long. And now he's in danger from a new pack of foes. Luckily for the Dog, there is someone who wants to help him, though it isn't easy to gain the trust of an old, lonely guard-dog. I was sobbing at the end, and I love this story with every fibre of my being.

Sharp Things, Killing Things by A.C. Wise in Nightmare

We saw the first billboard while driving along Lake Road. We’d driven the road a hundred times before, because it was the only road out of town that went anywhere worth going, and there was fuck-all to do in town except get drunk, get stoned, and get in trouble.

A profoundly unsettling and deeply disturbing horror story about a place, about a town, about people who are slowly immersed into darkness, and where that darkness seems to enter them, creeping under their skin and into their souls. Strange images and messages on billboards. A strange person appearing in their midst, or was he there all along? A ruined building. Sharp things in the rubble. And so many deaths. This is horror that doesn't flinch from self-harm and suicide, so be warned that it is strong stuff. It is also brilliant.

This Excessive Use of Pickled Foods by Leora Spitzer in khōréō

“Bex gave up attempting to present herself as anything but a clueless newbie from a backwater planet just six seconds after stepping into the food court in the central concourse of Konkarken Station. Even with the translation glasses that let her read signs, she was entirely lost. For example, “Sunshine Glow Swish” might have been a literal translation of the name of whatever was served in the large iridescent cups at least half the beings in the concourse clutched the way humans held coffee mugs, but nothing about that name helped Bex know what was actually being served, let alone what effect it would have on her human metabolism.”

I've been reading my way through the latest issue of khōréō, and it's full of fantastic stories. This is a quiet, lovely, beautifully written, slice of life science fiction story that really hit home for me. It's about identity and memory, it's about food and community, it's about communication and loneliness, about friendship and so much more. AND it's also about pickles. When Bex arrives at Konkarken Station, she finds a shop that sells pickles. And when she tries the pickles, strange things happen. Bex also meets an alien and as it turns out, food and friendship might go hand in hand. 

All Good Children, Come out to Play by Karlo Yeager Rodriguez in khōréō

For longer than I could remember, we had been Lázaro and Marta. We should have been celebrating our ninth birthday together.

Instead, my twin brother was laid out on our table. He looked so small and still and pale: the silent point around which our family and neighbors swirled, dancing and singing and laughing. Abuela Trini held me in her lap and cradled my head in the crook of her arm. Her reedy hum meandered through the cuatro music until my tears dried and my sobs shrank to hiccups.

You might already know that I love stories about siblings, and this is a great story about a complicated, and complex, sibling relationship that goes on after one of the siblings dies. The horror simmers just below the surface of this story, and we know right from the get-go that Marta feels a lot of guilt about the death of her brother. And when there's an annual festival for the dead, things happen and things change... Dark and sharp, this story cut me to the quick.

Skin by Isha Karki in khōréō

From outside comes the scour of frost, the trail of a lit cigarette catching at your eyes. You drag the bathroom window shut and go back to watching your face mask harden into a white crust.

A rap on the door, and there’s your mother’s soft voice: ‘Chhori, I’m making momo for dinner tomorrow. You’ll be home, right?’

You twist open the tap and massage the mask with wet hands. The motion is soothing. But this skin, it won’t let you be. It’s tightening even now, pinching at your chin and nose.

Speak, it commands.

A surreal, yet so very real, story about the different faces we wear for different people, and what we lose and gain as we change ourselves to fit what others think we ought to be. Here, those faces are tangible and real, items to slip off and on, and when they are lost... things do not go well. There is a lot of pain and sadness in this story, and there is so much here that feels unsettlingly familiar. 

Rabbit Test by Samantha Mills in Uncanny Magazine

It is 2091, and Grace is staring at the rabbit in the corner of her visual overlay. It is an Angora rabbit, fluffy and white, and when Grace picked the icon out, she did not realize how much she would come to dread the sight of it. She moves, and the overlay moves with her. A reminder. A threat.

There are three other authorized users with access to her rabbit test: her mother, her father, and the family doctor who installed it at their request shortly after her first menses.

In two months, Grace will turn 18 and at that point she can maintain or disable the app as she sees fit. But she doesn’t have two months. Her period is six days late, and tomorrow her tracker will automatically administer a pregnancy test.

Grace pulls up the profile of her best friend, Sal, and sends their usual emergency alert: Coffee??

Powerful, incisive, and packed with a bright, blazing, ferocious anger at those who want to control and limit people's power to choose what to do with their own bodies, Mills's story hits hard and it hits true. We follow Grace and what happens to her in 2091 when she gets pregnant in a country that is controlling and supervising every facet of her body and denying her the right to make her own choices. Woven into this story is the history of abortion and contraception and oppression. Of choices and choices denied and made illegal. This is near future scifi that is also a history lesson, and it is so finely written, and illuminated from within by both anger, hope, and incandescent resistance.

The Skinless Man Counts to Five by Paul Jessup in Apex Magazine

The first corpse rode the waves to the beach and greeted the librarian on the shore. It was tied to a chair with catch ropes, skinless with eyes popped open and mouth gaping wide. Inside the mouth was a speaker, connected to an old ghostdrive in the corpse’s chest. The speaker said the same thing over and over again, in a rusty metallic voice. Clear and sharp as a bell.

"Five. Five. Five. Five. Five.”

Jessup's story is set on a generation spaceship, but this is science fiction that bleeds very much into horror of the strange, surreal, and (literally) cosmic variety. I love the enigmatic, yet foreboding sense of doom that infuses the entire story from start to finish, and I adore Jessup's darkly luminous, haunting prose that pulls you in and twists the perspective of everything around you. 

Kings and Popes and Saints by Jon Hansen in Apex Magazine

Patricia could hear them gathered on her front porch, the kings and popes and saints, gossiping and chattering and generally having a good time. She turned. King Solomon lay sprawled across the bed like it was his golden throne. He raised his head to regard Patricia. “It’s time,” he said. “Ready for battle?”

“I am,” she said. Solomon nodded.

Delusions or visions, the world Patricia sees is not the world others see... at least not most of the time. There are indeed kings and popes and saints all around her yard, and there are also the strange weed things in the yard that trouble her (even though she's got tinfoil to protect her brain). And then Justin comes along, trying to sell magazine subscriptions... This story has a dark sense of humour and I loved how it takes you into the surreal mind of Patricia, and I love how you're not quite sure until the very end of what is real and what is not. 

Ten Steps for Effective Mold Removal by Derrick Boden in Apex Magazine

We used an old sock to apply the disinfectant, because all our rags are in the garage and the EPA was very clear about us not leaving the house NO MATTER WHAT. If you ask me, they went a little overboard with those explicit instructions about what to do if you get the stuff in your nose, your ear, wherever. Anyhow, the sock worked fine.

The mold apocalypse/pandemic as told in a series of product reviews by Hitomi A. I cannot do this story justice in a short recap and review, all I can do is tell you to read it. It is heartbreaking, hilarious, and spine-tingling horror all at once. The mold is everywhere, but surely there must be some products out there that can help get rid of it, or protect you? Boden captures Hitomi A's voice so perfectly in this story, and manages to tell a story, and let us see the characters, so vividly. And at the end, when the twist of the knife comes, it gave me chills. 

Nothing that Bleeds by Leah Ning in Apex Magazine

Rain patters lightly on the pavement, and you bleed among broken glass in the cool afterglow of the sunset. Sometimes it’s like this: it is sunset, and you bleed, and clear, rain-studded umbrellas shatter the blue-white of phone screens into a thousand drops of light.

A devastating, powerful, and gorgeously told story about violence and love and a relationship that shatters the lives of those in that relationship. Again and again the same relationship plays out in different iterations, with the same darkness and the same secrets and the same pain and love. And yet things change, and things pass. Masterfully told and sharp as a knife's edge.

On the Sunlit Side of Venus by Benjamin Parzybok in Apex Magazine

She used to stand here with Jorn, her husband. What was it now … six … seven months ago? He’d made it all of three weeks after Earth went silent, the poor emotional, beautiful wreck of a man, weeping nonstop for days.

In this science fiction story, a woman finds herself alone on a research station on Venus. Earth has gone silent and she doesn't know what happened. Her husband is gone. Her only company is the station's AI. For all she knows, she's the last human being left alive, until a message comes in... There's so much going on beneath the surface of this story, love and grief, hope and despair, and I love that Parzybok allows the quiet moments to unfold... quietly. 

The Day When the Last War is Over by Sergey Gerasimov in Apex Magazine

It’s the day when the last war is over, and skeletons of swallows are already starting to return. They don’t have beaks, and their white, hard-boiled eyes fly three inches ahead of their semi-transparent faces, or sometimes on their side.

Gerasimov is from Ukraine and reading this story about the remnants of humanity returning and fading away, dissolving, absolutely gutted me. There's a sense of exhaustion, of hollow hopes, of a yearning for something that cannot be in this story that makes it cut deep and linger.

Sweetbaby by Thomas Ha in Clarkesworld

You don’t look Sweetbaby in the eye when he pushes out from under the tree throw. We know that now. Instead, the ears, or what’s left of them, are a better place to settle your gaze. They’re close enough to the face that you can tell which way he’s looking and whether or not he’s smiling at you, and, in the end, those are the two things that matter most with him.

A truly unsettling and profoundly disturbing story about a family that is so dysfunctional as to descend into utter horror. The relationship dynamics at play between the children, between the parents, and between parents and children in this story are both painfully incisive and devastating. This was a hard read for me, but Ha brings some grace and salvation at the end that I wasn't expecting, and that elevated the story even more for me.

If you want to support my work, check out my Patreon or Ko-Fi.