December 11, 2023

My Sci-Fi, Fantasy & Horror Short Fiction Roundup for November 2023


The art for this roundup includes a detail of the cover for Clarkesworld #206 by DOFRESH. More about the artist at Read the issue at

(No audio version right now, but hopefully I will be able to add it later.)

How to Travel Safely In Faerieland by Vanessa Fogg, Fusion Fragment #15

“Everyone decide on their deposit yet?” Brad asks loudly. He has a drink in hand, and he’s grinning. “It’s okay, you have several hours!”

“ doesn’t hurt, right?” says a small voice. A lanky boy in a hooded sweatshirt, endearingly awkward. One of the youngest members of the group. He’s Asian like Jill, with attractively messy, lightened brown hair. She remembers that the night before, she’d heard him say that he was taking a break before grad school to travel. 

“Will we even feel what we’re missing? Will we know?”

“Oh, you’ll know.” Something in Monica’s voice holds everyone’s attention. But then her tone lightens and she smooths over the moment, saying reassuringly, “It’s fine, though; you’ll stop thinking about it soon. And you’ll get your deposit back.”

(Note: you can buy a copy of this magazine online, paying any price you wish to pay including getting it for free. Digital copies are available in PDF and epub format.)

This is a stunning, thoroughly gripping novelette about Jill, who is going on trip to Faerieland. It's a tour group kind of trip, organized by a Eldritch Adventure Tours, heading out from Halifax. Fogg does so much character and world building with such deft, skillful writing here, and takes us to a Faerieland that is decidedly unsafe, for good and ill, no matter how much the travel tour guides try to make it seem, and sound, safe. This novelette is a profoundly moving and quietly unsettling story, and such an awesome take on the world of the fae.

Stitch by Kathleen Schaefer in Podcastle (narrated by Ant Bacon)

There’s something in Aden’s head. His daughter’s mind is in his head. Or rather, there’s a knot through which he slips in and out of his daughter’s thoughts.

“A mind stitch,” the nurse diagnoses by shining a flashlight in Aden’s eyes. His daughter’s pupils contract in response — a two-way bond, Dalia watching the world through his eyes.

This story about a special bond between parent and child absolutely tore me up with mixed emotions. Schaefer brilliantly captures the complexity and nuances of a fraught situation with both sharpness and subtlety and I love how the story doesn't condemn or glorify, but rather, makes us feel conflicted. Is Aden doing what's best for his child, or what makes him feel good and makes him feel as though he is a better parent? What would I do if there was the possibility of forming this kind of bond with my kids? I will be thinking about this story for a long time.

The Retcon Man by Cameron Fischer in Escape Pod (narrated by Dave Robison)

Never look for evidence of your future self in the past. Doing so can close your mind to alternative plans if you think you see what you’re destined to do.

I do love a good time travel story, and this is a really entertaining one. Time travel as a business, where you can get things (or people) back from the past, though it comes at a cost. I love the noir-ish vibe of this tale and I love the straight-forward transactional nature of the venture. The rules for how the retcon business works are strict, because time travel is perilous and demanding, and hard enough to pull off without complications, even if you DO follow the rules. Terrific story with a nice hardboiled bite.

Changeling, by Lindsay King-Miller in Baffling Magazine

“When you were a baby, you were stolen by the fairies,” my mother says over dinner.

I keep eating my salad. She tells this story a lot.

“They left a baby in your crib, and she looked exactly like you. Those same blonde curls, those pink cheeks. Those sparkling hazel eyes. You were such a pretty baby.” The past tense stings, as always.

I have a soft spot for changeling stories too, and this one twists the knife of changeling lore a little deeper. Here, the mother uses the story as emotional manipulation, hurting her child over and over. I really love the way King-Miller makes use of the theme here, turning this into such a powerful story.

A Girl Bikes Home Alone at Night by Georgie Morvis in Cast of Wonders (narrated by Tara Kennedy)

Pina didn’t want to bike home that night from the party, she told the officers. Dad had texted 10 minutes before he was supposed to pick her up. No can make it. Had too many green bottles. He had been like this since the lung cancer spread through Ma’s body like wildfire.

This is one of the flash fiction winners in the latest Cast of Wonders flash contest, and it's a lovely, magical, and sharp story. Something terrible almost happens to Pina, but what she sees in the road is something she won't soon forget. 

Surrogate Parents by A A Ademola in Cast of Wonders (narrated by Scott Campbell)

You were told they’d act like real parents and adapt to many new things. But having androids put in the place of your late parents, sounded like a mockery of their death to your face.

Another story from the Cast of Wonders flash fiction contest. A beautifully fierce and subtle science fiction story about love and family, and what matters to a child when you lose your family and up in the care of the "system". I love the double-edged feelings here, and the quiet way Ademola makes you feel the vulnerability and complex emotions of this child, and how they react to the possibility of safety and love, even if it's not offered by human beings. 

Magic in the Hands by Carol Scheina in Cast of Wonders (narrated by Eleanor R. Wood)

Inside a dust-smeared jar on a dark shelf behind Professor Rhade’s desk, the Prophecy Hand looked like nothing more than a preserved appendage, with its crumpled wastepaper skin, bony fingers, and yellowed nails.

This is an excellent take on the magic school theme in fantasy fiction, and an especially great take on how it works to learn and use spells. How would magic incantations work for those who are deaf and/or can't speak? Scheina brings a really interesting twist to both the situation of the student, and the situation of the magical relic.

Moonlight and Needle Teeth by K.S. Walker in Fiyah #28

It’s well past midnight by the time he shows up. At first, there’s just a flash– white moving through the underbrush. Eventually a long fat body scurries along the honeysuckle bushes towards the tray of fruit I left out. Grapes are a favorite of mine. Figured he might likey-like, too, far as bait goes.

Didn’t want to deal with this thing when I first scented him a week ago, down by the creek, along the fence line, under the back porch. Don’t really want to deal with it now. But I’m sitting in a tree branch anyway, waiting.

I lovely and strange tale about Birdie who is not quite human, not quite possum, but somewhere in between. Walker tells this story with an undertone of loneliness and a longing, including a longing for being truly seen (as frightening as that might be). When Birdie meets Nell, there is a glimpse of something new between them. I love the emotional depth of this story and how it makes us see and feel the weight of a whole life in the interactions between Nell and Birdie.

Patsy Cline Sings Sweet Dreams to the Universe by Beston Barnett in Strange Horizons

i am a memory.

i am an METI carrying a memory.

i am an METI (Message to Extraterrestrial Intelligence) carrying a memory beaming through the vacuum of space.

A wonderfully strange and beautifully crafted science fiction story about a message containing memories, and about the process of trying to figure out what kind of message those memories are meant to convey: "there are discrepancies at the heart of the memory i carry, and until i can resolve them, i cannot formulate my message". The story weaves through time and space, memory and message, and it is profoundly moving.

Nextype by Sam Kyung Yoo in Strange Horizons

Mirae sits on her bed, parting her hair with one hand and feeling for the access port on the back of her head with the other. She finds the notched edges of the cap and twists counterclockwise until it comes loose. Her eye twitches as she slides the plug into her skull. The sensation isn’t strong enough for her to say it hurts, but she doesn’t know how else to describe it.

A beautiful, tender, and piercing story about Mirae who has a neural implant, paid for by her mother, that has made her one of the top students at university. It has also taken things from her. Some of those things Mirae is aware of, but there are also other things she doesn't even know she's lost. This is a quietly harrowing story about technology, adolescence, and very much about family and the kinds of guilt-laden expectations that can distort relationships and souls. Gorgeously written and with bits of light shining through the dark.

Thirteen Ways of Not Looking at a Blackbird by Gordon B. White in PseudoPod (narrated by Elie Hirschman, first published in the 2023 anthology No Trouble at All)

I am a baby boy. In the bathtub, looking out, past my mother as she cries and holds the already wet washcloth to her eyes. Over her mouth. I am looking into the full-length mirror on the bathroom door.

I see no one.

I do not see my father.

A nightmarishly surreal story of a boy growing up in a house where something, nothing, terrible is happening. Something, nothing, he is not supposed to talk about. And someone, no one, who is doing something in that hidden room in the basement. White tells the story so tightly from the child's, the boy's, perspective that we understand how unmoored and lost he is in the world where he cannot see, should not see, is not allowed to see, himself or what is happening around him. Deeply unsettling, and emotionally devastating.

Excerpts from a Scientist’s Notebook: Ancestral Memory in Europan Pseudocephalopods by David DeGraff in Lightspeed.

1. When I was five years old, my mother left for Europa as part of the expedition that discovered the Europan Pseudocephalopods, which have a superficial resemblance to squid. My mother wanted to call them Icypods but was overruled. Now I’m standing in front of a tank of live Icypod specimens, the very creatures that may have killed her.

Life on Europa? Yeah, that's my kind of science fiction thing and in this tale, we meet the strange creatures that live beneath the ice there. I love the subtle, quiet style of this story, and the way DeGraff makes great use of the notebook format.

There Are Only Two Chairs, and the Skin Is Draped Over the Other by by Alexia Antoniou in Bourbon Penn

I don’t want to keep looking at the skin. So I just stay like that, on my back. I try to focus on the places where I am lying on a stick or on a rock, picturing, in my head, little blue exclamation points pinging above my body where it hurts. I try to focus on the sky, which is so white it makes behind my eyes feel fuzzy. But what I hear is Catherine, who won’t stop noticing things out loud.

Such an unsettling, surreal story that yet feels like the absolute truth of what it's like to be young and have a best friend, and find something strange, together. I love the way Antoniou captures the girls' close, yet fraught, friendship because it feels so real and familiar. I love the horror-tinged everyday vibe of this story, and the way the strange skin they find both drives the friends apart and brings them together.

Hole World by J.S. Breukelaar in Apex Magazine

Justin doesn’t know why he’s been kept on. Why he isn’t already dead meat.

He’d read Nineteen-Eighty-Four a long time ago, in high school. He’d hated how the proles came to truly love Big Brother. In their hearts. He’d been bullied at school, and at that time, he couldn’t understand ever learning to love your tormentors. Now it is his greatest fear. He wakes up sometimes so hungry for love he thinks he’d eat anything.

Is that why they keep him on?

A terrible thing has happened to the world and to Justin. Something has come through the surface of the world, something with tentacles, it seems, and now there's not escaping it. Most people are dead, but those who remain, like Justin, have jobs to do and they are chained by a tendril, a tentacle, a manacle that is impossible to escape. And yet, when Justin thinks he is beyond hope, he finds hope. A dark, bleak, bloody, and terrifying tale by Breukelaar.

Homewrecker by E. Catherine Tobler in Apex Magazine

Episode 60

Transcription by @jbutler22


Murray: Hey there, I’m Dean Murray and this is a special episode of Homewrecker. We’re on the road this week, heading up to historic [garbled] where we’ll venture [garbled] outside the city to see the colonial mansion known as Cutter House. While you’re isolating, I will be too—undertaking this reno while the owners are away.

Oh my. If you like found-footage horror, and if you like haunted house stories, then this one is a must-read. Tobler's story is set during the early days of the pandemic, and tells the story of a reno-project that goes very, very wrong. It's told as a series of transcripts of episodes from a show called Homewrecker, and we soon feel the unsettling tremors of something dark and menacing creep into these transcripts. An attic remodel of a very old house where a violent crime took place many years ago? Yeah, that's definitely not a good idea... I love Tobler's use of the transcript format, and the use of a reddit style commentary on those transcripts. And the ending? Some real, true, chilling darkness. 

The Parts That Make Me by Louise Hughes in Clarkesworld

When my awareness returned, I was lying on a table in the repair lab, and the oldest part of me was gone. The new part weighed different, tasted strange on the filaments of my sensory system.

Have I told you lately that I love robot stories? Well, I love robot stories, and this is a wonderful robot tale tinged with sadness and the weight of many years in space. Hughes tells us a lot about the universe, and the kind of world this robot inhabits, without using a lot of words. Beautifully done.

All the Things I Know About Ghosts, By Ofelia, Age 10, by Isabel Cañas in The Deadlands

The frightening thing about Aunt Tae praying was that she never prayed, not anymore—not since Padilla flooded, she always said. Flooded. An absurd word. Flooded means that water moves, that it has to come from somewhere, and most unbelievably, that our town was once dry land. See, Padilla has been underwater for as long I’ve been alive, so that’s not the strangest thing about it.

The strangest thing is the ghosts.

A surreal and eerie story that is also heartbreakingly beautiful, and where we find ourselves in a flooded town. Under the water, everyone is still going about their lives as if nothing really happened or changed. The young girl who is our narrator doesn't remember what life or the world was like before the flood, but she thinks about it sometimes, and she also thinks about the ghosts she keeps seeing. But the strangeness of their "normal lives" is challenged when something terrible happens to her little brother.

Sartor by Tanvir Ahmed in khōréō

They say (though God knows best) that long ago, in a country at once mountain and river and town and meadow, forty wandering dervishes stopped on the roadside for noon prayer and were slain by bandits. Or a foreign army. Or maybe infidels. Maybe even an army of foreign infidels. 

They say a great many things, and some of them might be true. 

Ahmed knows how to spin and weave a gorgeous tale, and in "Sartor" he does exactly that. This is a gorgeously wrought story of woe, death and ghosts, and Ahmed fits stories within the story, shifting the threads of the tale as the tale is told. Magic, curses, and blessings infuse every part of this strange tale of the forty beheaded dervishes and what happens when one of them, after death, is separated from the others. I love how this story feels ancient and new all at the same time, and the prose just sings

Something That Has Never Touched the Ground by Marilyn Hope in Beneath Ceaseless Skies

Rang aches with a different type of appetite. All day he has scaled slick eavestroughs and blade-thin ridge boards of the town’s houses, searching for a clear point of vantage. He has won it now, hidden high in the castle’s eroded parapets. Below him, the King is forcing a ring onto Sunder’s fourth finger. Rain lashes Rang’s face raw as he levels his arrow with the courtyard.

This is a love story, and a story of strange and powerful magic, and it's also a story about a king who tries to own and control the magic powers of a boy. What the king hasn't counted on, is that there is someone else who is willing to risk and lose everything in order to save that boy. Hope's story is dark and tragic, but the prose, oh the prose! Such prose. Beautiful and finely crafted, the words shine through the darkness.

The Dying Lover of Nogorod by R.K. Duncan in Beneath Ceaseless Skies

Nogorod is built of black rock and dull iron and pale ivory, a city of high towers rising like petrified trees beside the rough grey seas. The common folk are whale-fishers, hunting with harpoons from their ships, but the nobles are all wizards, and they hunt dragons from bone chariots drawn by captive winds, slaying them with darts of ensorcelled ivory and poison spells. How this tradition began is lost to dishonorable history, but now the nobles hunt out of self-preservation, for dragons are wise and the wind that is their mother and their substance whispers the names of those who would slay them, so that they come to Nogorod to hunt in their own turn.

Another exquisitely wrought and profoundly tragic love story from this issue of Beneath Ceaseless Skies. (Scott H. Andrews has a real knack for pairing stories for the issues of the magazine.) Here, we find ourselves in a haunting, strange city where dragons inhabit the skies above the buildings, but will not take corporeal shape until someone speaks their true names. Basalt grows up in the city, a good man who makes his own way through life with an innate goodness that makes an impression on all who know him. But Basalt hides a secret love and desire in his heart, a love and a desire that is finally revealed in a violent, tumultuous night. It's a wonderful, heart-piercing tale.

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