December 27, 2023

My 2023 Recommended Reading List

I read a lot of stories every year but no matter how much I read, I always feel like I've missed out on a wealth of amazing fiction, and of course I have. Every single year, there are many many many amazing stories I didn't read. 

That said, here are some of my favourites out of all the stories I read in 2023. For a full list of the stories I read and loved this year, check out my short fiction roundups.


OKPsyche by Anya Johanna DeNiro (Small Beer Press)

On the English Approach to the Study of History by E. Saxey in GigaNotoSaurus

The Book of Gems, by Fran Wilde (TOR)

The Last Dragoners of Bowbazar by Indrapramit Das (Subterranean Press)



Added January 11, 2024: 

Old Seeds by Owen Leddy in GigaNotoSaurus

What the Mountain Takes, What the Journey Offers by Jae Steinbacher in Beneath Ceaseless Skies

Bruised-Eye Dusk by Jonathan Louis Duckworth in Beneath Ceaseless Skies

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

No Spoilers by Ben Murphy in Many Worlds

Your Great Mother Across the Salt Sea by Kelsey Hutton in Beneath Ceaseless Skies


Short stories

Added January 11, 2024:

Bride of the Gulf by Danai Christopoulou in khōréō

Chainsaw: As Is by Gillian King-Cargile (narrated by Melissa Hofelich) in PseudoPod 

La Puerta by Ren Braueri at Cast of Wonders (narrated by J. M. Bueno)

Memoria by Steve Rasnic Tem in The Deadlands

Mother’s Teeth by E. L. Chen in The Dark

Sharp Undoing by Natasha King in Clarkesworld

The Bleak Communion of Abandoned Things by Ariel Marken Jack (narrated by Kitty Sarkozy) at PseudoPod

The God of the Overpass by Orrin Grey in The Dark 

The House of Linear Change by Oluwatomiwa Ajeigbe in Lightspeed.

The Inside is Always Entrails by Fernanda Castro (translated by H. Pueyo) in The Dark

The Monster Fucker Club by A.V. Greene in Apex

The Number of Ghosts by M. Bennardo in Kaleidotrope

The Sweet in the Empty by Tade Thompson in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction 

The Thousand Tongues of Sara by Jonathan Olfert in The Future Fire

, Bird by Uyen Dang in Necessary Fiction

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

Always Be Returning by Eugenia Triantafyllou in Sunday Morning Transport

AnyPercent by Andrew Dana Hudson in GigaNotoSaurus

Between Truth and Death on the Murmansk—Saint Petersburg Line by Zohar Jacobs in The Sunday Morning Transport

Blue by Margaret Jordan in Fantasy Magazine

Bozpo Witch-Bane by Simo Srinivas in Fantasy Magazine

Building by Marlee Jane Ward in IZ Digital

City Grown From Seed by Diana Dima in Strange Horizons

Constellation Burn by Josh Rountree in Bourbon Penn

Construction Sacrifice by Bogi Takács in Lightspeed

Dave the Terrible by Brent Baldwin in Flash Fiction Online

Don’t Look Down by Jennifer Lee Rossman in Kaleidotrope

Five Books from the Alnif Crater Traveling Library by Stewart C Baker in Flash Fiction Online

Homewrecker by E. Catherine Tobler in Apex Magazine

How to Stay Married to Baba Yaga by S.M. Hallow in Baffling Magazine

In the Forest of Talking Animals, by Makena Onjerika in The Deadlands

Interstate Mohinis by M.L. Krishnan in Diabolical Plots

Joy by Dale Smith in IZ Digital

Kudzu Boy Dreaming by SJ Powell in Fiyah #26

Like Ladybugs, Bright Spots In Your Mailbox by Marie Croke in Diabolical Plots

Locavore by Kim Harbridge in Strange Horizons

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

Morag's Boy, by Fiona Moore in Clarkesworld

Mother’s Teeth by E. L. Chen in The Dark

Muna in Barish by Isha Karki in Lightspeed

”Narratology” by Peter Young, written by Cadwell Turnbull at Many Worlds

Nextype by Sam Kyung Yoo in Strange Horizons

No One Ever Finds Her by Matthew Keeley in Coffin Bell

Notes From a Pyre, by Amal Singh in The Deadlands

Nubbins by Seán Padraic Birnie in IZ Digital

One Eye Opened in That Other Place by Christi Nogle in Three-Lobed Burning Eye

Our Grandmother's Words by M.H. Ayinde in Beneath Ceaseless Skies

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

Petunia by Lerato Mahlangu in Fiyah

Place of Four Winds, by Gabriel Mara in The Deadlands

Quantum Love by Sylvia Heike in Flash Fiction Online

Resistant by Koji A. Dae in Clarkesworld

Root Canticle by Natasha King in Nightmare

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

Somewhere, It's About To Be Spring, by Samantha Murray in Clarkesworld

Spinning Shadow by Margaret Ronald in Beneath Ceaseless Skies

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

The Air Will Catch Us by Rajiv Moté in Reckoning

The Building across the Street, by R.T. Ester in Interzone

The Cello in the Cell by David Janisch in Nightmare

The Dark House by A.C. Wise in

The Demon Lord of Broken Concrete by Alex Irvine in Bourbon Penn

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

The Field Guide for Next Time by Rae Mariz in khōréō

The Massage Lady at Munjeon Road Bathhouse by Isabel J. Kim in Clarkesworld

The Mercer Seat by Vajra Chandrasekera in Future Science Fiction Digest

The Miraculous Account Of Khaja Bairaq, Pennant-Saint Of Zabel by Tanvir Ahmed in Strange Horizons

The Pigeon-Keepers Daughter by Su-Yee Lin in Strange Horizons

The Rain Remembers What the Sky Forgets by Fran Wilde in Uncanny Magazine

The Sky, Imperceptibly Darker by Michael Kellichner in Kaleidotrope

The Sound of Children Screaming by Rachael K. Jones in Nightmare

The State Street Robot Factory by Claire Humphrey in Apex Magazine

The Time Traveler’s Cookbook by Angela Liu in Cast of Wonders (narrated by May Chong)

The Uncool Hunters by Andrew Dana Hudson in Escape Pod (narrated by Valerie Valdes)

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

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)

This Is What You Came For by Phong Quan in khōréō

Timekeeper's Symphony by Ken Liu in Clarkesworld

Tuesday, June 13, at the South Valley Time Loop Support Group by Heather Kamins at Escape Pod (narrated by Heather Thomas)

Umeboshi by Rebecca Nakaba in khōréō

Undog by Eugenia Triantafyllou in Strange Horizons

Useful and Beautiful Things by E. Saxey in Metaphorosis

Want Itself Is a Treasure in Heaven by Theodora Ward in Uncanny Magazine

We, the Ones Who Raised Sam Gowers from the Dead by Cynthia Zhang in PseudoPod (narrated by Serah Eley)

What It Means to Be a Car by James Patrick Kelly at

What Remains, the Echoes of a Flute Song by Alexandra Seidel in Clarkesworld

When the Forest Comes to You by E. M. Linden in Flash Fiction Online

Who the Final Girl Becomes by Dominique Dickey in Nightmare

Zoraida la Zorra by Ana Hurtado in The Dark


Ethera Grave by Essa Hansen

The Saint of Bright Doors by Vajra Chandrasekera

We Are the Crisis by Cadwell Turnbull

Winter Harvest by Ioanna Papadopoulou

My own awards eligible work from 2023:

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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November 8, 2023

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

The art for this roundup includes a detail of the cover for Flash Fiction Online's October issue. Cover Design by Cat Sparks:

An audio version of this roundup is available on YouTube:

On the English Approach to the Study of History by E. Saxey in GigaNotoSaurus

“Why does it disturb Them?” Sophia asked. She was conscious, again, of how little she knew about Them, even after all her studies under Geoffrey. She imagined Them sleeping much of the time. What else could They do, in the dark? Very rarely, if she stood outside the chapel in summer, she could hear music, reed instruments in solemn harmonies. But she never heard voices.

What an amazing, and amazingly original, story. At the start of it, I felt a little puzzled, which I think was the intent of the writer, because what is going on here? There's an academic conference, and it's about the study of history, and there's a mysterious presence, Them, at the English college where it's all taking place. And then, the slow reveal: that Them is a royal court, magically preserved for centuries. The story involves the academic rivalries and the research that swirls around the access to this source of unimpeachable (?) historical information. It's about all that, and it's also a meet-cute love story in the making, and there's body horror, and there's an ever-growing sense of horror, and it's funny and it's strange and well, you better just read it for yourself.

The Fate of Despair by Malena Salazar Maciá in Strange Horizons

The universe devoured you. Trapped in an escape pod of a stellar wreck, malfunctioning thrusters and molecular printer soon became heralds of a silent death, which might come in the blink of an eye, or the instant a comet’s fiery tail reflected in your dry eyes.

This is an utterly beautiful, utterly luminous story from Strange Horizons’ Caribbean SFF Special Issue. This story blends science fiction with something like magic and the results are devastatingly gorgeous.

The Cello in the Cell by David Janisch in Nightmare

When I arrived at my cell there, there was the cello . . . waiting. You would think they would have issued me the cello when they issued me my one set of baggy prison clothes but if they had, it would have been less dramatic. There was no desk. No pillow. No books. No paper to write on. No shelves.

Only a simple chair, a brown-varnished, stained cello with its bow, a mattress, and a cement floor.

This is a surreal, dystopian story that feels like some kind of trippy Orwell or Kafka but with its own unique strangeness, darkness, and beauty in the midst of horror. It's set in a world where people who commit crimes are sentenced to learn how to play certain pieces of music. The story's narrator has been sentenced to learn how to play the prelude of Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major. What happens during the incarceration, what happens as they try to learn how to play, and the slow realizations that set in, eventually... it is all tinged with a sadness that made this story linger.

The Sound of Children Screaming by Rachael K. Jones in Nightmare

You know the one about the Gun. The Gun goes where it wants to. On Thursday morning just after recess, the Gun will walk through the front doors of Thurman Elementary, and it won’t sign in at the front office or wear a visitor’s badge.

A haunting and absolutely devastating story that blends the reality of gun violence and school shootings with a dark and chilling portal fantasy. There's a shooter at a school, and a teacher hides with her students inside the Portal which is supposed to keep them safe. Once inside, the teacher and some of the children find themselves in a strange world that is both thrilling and menacing. I love how Jones blends the horrors of the real world and the fantasy world, and how the power gained in one terrible place might be used in another. 

We Will Witness by Martin Cahill in The Sunday Morning Transport

Dee, Richie, Mom, Pop. Dee, Richie, Mom, Pop. Dee, Richie, Mom, Pop.

He says their names like a mantra; they’re the only thing keeping the pain from sweeping him away. That they exist far from here, worrying over the radio and the fuzzy television signal about if he’s alive or not . . . they’re alive. That’s what matters. It’s a shield from the truth that soon he won’t be counted among that number.

Heartbreaking, and quietly devastating story by Cahill about a fighter, dying on the battle field, and what happens when someone comes to see him there, to sit with him at the end. This story is not free to read, but you can get a free 7-day trial at Sunday Morning Transport and access it that way. 

The Constellations of Daughter Death by Lyndsey Croal in Flash Fiction Online

When Death decided he wanted a child, he plucked a ghost orchid from the furthest edge of the world – the kind of flower that could survive in the dark indeterminate edges between life and death – and grew her from its roots.

Such a gorgeous and lyrical flash story by Croal. I love the prose, I love the imagery, and I love that this story about Death, and the realm of death, contains so much light.

Tuesday, June 13, at the South Valley Time Loop Support Group by Heather Kamins at Escape Pod (narrated by Heather Thomas)

Each time, Jessica begins the meeting the same way. “Well, here we are again.” The same introduction, the same mild chuckles from the group in response. She is the leader of this support group for time loop survivors, a rare experience, yet there are a handful of us in the area. For this, we count our blessings as many of us once counted the days. It isn’t like there are guidebooks for this sort of thing. All we have is each other.

Such a wonderful story that takes a different approach to the weirdness of time loops. Here, many people end up in time loops, struggling to break free, and then dealing with the aftermath and trauma if they DO break free. That's what the support group is for, but the stories of those attending the group are very different from each other, because there is no one single cause for time loops, and no single solution to breaking free. I love the quiet, contemplative vibe of this story, and I ADORE the ending.

Building by Marlee Jane Ward in IZ Digital

‘Yep,’ Elleen says. ‘It sounds simple. You go to the city, source your materials for the house and bring them back. Then you build. If can still stand each other afterwards, and your house is sound, you can hitch together.’ She pauses to roll her head around, her neck crack-crack-cracking. ‘The doing is the hard part. I hope you’re ready for this.’

This story is set in some kind of post-apocalyptic future, but what I love about it is that the apocalyptic events are not at all the focus of the story. Instead, it's a story about people in communities finding new ways to live and build communities and families. A young couple want to get married and according to the new custom, they must first show they can build a house together after scavenging for materials in a nearby abandoned and dilapidated city. Ward tells this story with such a stealthy sense of humour and such a gentle touch. Beautiful and powerful.

Out of Trauma - Martha Wells in conversation with Kelly Jennings at IZ Digital

I think it’s one of the most important uses of fiction, to try to engender empathy and understanding for people in situations that are not things the reader has ever encountered. To understand the power dynamics the reader might be part of, and how these dynamics affect other people who don’t have the same advantages, or who might be trapped in systems they can’t escape. I don’t know how much it helps, but creating a little bit of understanding and context through fiction is better than none.

This is not a short story, but a fantastic interview with author Martha Wells (maybe best known these days for her Murderbot series). She talks about her writing, about the origins of Murderbot, about trauma and compassion, and it's just a brilliant read through and through.

Four Words Written on My Skin by Jenn Reese in Uncanny Magazine

When the Fae stole my wife, I followed them into the dark woods to win her back. Jess dropped breadcrumbs along the trail, except she had no bread, so she dropped other things instead. Not far from the house, I found

a blue sweater, embroidered with gold bees, still smelling of the night we cooked mussels on the grill and burnt the shells and she laughed, her fingers black with char

Reese gives us a different and incisive take on how and why the fae might lead your loved one astray. What if it's not really the fae's fault at all? What if your loss has more to do with the things you've done, or didn't do?

Kryvoye Lake by Oksana Marafioti in Luna Station Quarterly

There once lived a young Romani man plagued by a love for two Romani women.

Every morning he would rise and think, Today, I will choose. The beautiful Darya or the industrious Marina. And every night, sated by Darya’s love and Marina’s cooking, he would go to bed undecided.

This story has the feel and texture of a folktale, and I love the flow and melody of the language, and the dark twists and turns of love and desire. I love the way the horror creeps closer through the telling of the tale, until it is revealed in all its tragedy. The prose is gorgeous, and the ending is just as chilling as it should be. 

Glass Flies by Gwen C. Katz in Cast of Wonders (narrated by Alasdair Stuart)

“A glass fly is not a pet,” said his mother. Jonas didn’t listen. He placed the glass fly in a shoebox and offered it some Oreo crumbs.

“Jonas,” he said, pointing to himself.

“Jonas,” repeated the glass fly.

A lovely, and heartbreaking flash story about the glass flies who want to learn everything about the world and have so little time to do it. There's a gentle, bittersweet vibe to this story and I love it.

Midsummer Refrain by Wendy Nikel in Cast of Wonders (narrated by Katherine Inskip)

Beware the fae who tinker with the cables that wind through their tree-root burrows. With electricity in their digits, they meddle with human technology, manipulating impulses to set their trap. An invitation arrives on electric waves— no origin, no number or host to trace it back to. Party tonight. You know the place. You wouldn’t want to miss out. Come.

A story like a warning, Nikel's story is dark and full of hidden dangers. I love the way the world and wiles of the fae are entwined with the present day, and how chilling and powerful the whispered threats are. 

Both of these stories are part of a special Cast of Wonders episode of flash fiction on the theme of mortality.

Zoraida la Zorra by Ana Hurtado in The Dark

The glutted river roars the names of all the drowned, from rainclouds en el cielo to the young women with hair down to their waist, the ones with tattoos on their wrists and hickies on their clavicles, the ones who keep their eyeliner wings sharp and their glasses smudged, the ones who texted it’s over, ya nada an hour ago.

Today the Machángara river opens its jaw and weeps Zoraida.

A gorgeous and lyrical story about Zoraida and Ari, best friends, and about the river that swallows so many lives. Love, lust, and sex, and the judgements meted out by other people on both Zoraida and Ari run through the story, tightening the noose around the two friends. Hurtado tells her story in prose that whispers and sings, slips and cuts. There's love here, between the lines, love in all the things left unsaid and undone.

The Four Gifts of Empress Lessa by Myna Chang in Beneath Ceaseless Skies

I remember the night I became a ghost. My husband, the Emperor, served the tainted tea himself; my punishment for giving him yet another girl-child. I was not the first Empress to drink from this cup.

This story about the dead and very ghostly wife of an emperor, has a delicate and exquisite dark-fairytale vibe. There’s horror here, but Chang subverts the tropes you might expect, and gives us a story that finds cracks where the hope and the light can get in. It’s beautifully done as the story is spun out to its haunting end.

In the Forest of Talking Animals, by Makena Onjerika in The Deadlands

The girl watches the forest taking over the street and changing buildings, people, and rubbish into trees, bushes, and animals. The world elongates, darkens, and gains shades of green, brown, and burnt orange. 

A deeply unsettling and thoroughly haunting story about a girl and her brother and the things that hunt them and haunt them, using their pain and their loss against them. There’s such a sharp and painful tilt to Onjerika’s prose as the girl does everything she can to save her brother from the danger he cannot see, does not want to see. Yeah, this story got right under my skin.

The Sky, Imperceptibly Darker by Michael Kellichner in Kaleidotrope

A powerfully lyrical tale where everything feels like an edge of darkness cutting through the light. A hunter remembers hunting godbeasts: the thrill and horror of the hunt, and the feeling of emptiness and loss that followed:

Without their gods, the forests decay. This was what people heard, though they could not imagine it truly. Your partner probably imagines forests receding, the land slowly turning to desert. But it is much different to walk in a silent forest where trees stand as ashen monoliths to what had been there before. Seeing plants crumbling to dust, the soil purging up dead worms and insects that had been burrowed beneath the surface. Birds dropping out of trees and shattering bushes.

You stopped believing in the power of permanence after you watched a mountain crumble.

Hunters rarely revisited the places where they were successful.

Why did you do it?

It was what we did, you say.

Kellichner’s prose is exquisite, the flow and rhythm of it, and the ending, the final lines of this story are sheer perfection.

Like Ladybugs, Bright Spots In Your Mailbox by Marie Croke in Diabolical Plots

Oh gosh, I do love a witchy story where magic and spells are used in innovative ways, and this is definitely such a story. Someone is using magic to spread good vibes and joy and just overall goodness. 

Then the goodwill witching spread. Not like California wildfires. Like ladybugs. Crawling into people’s houses via their mailboxes, with goodness hidden under their stamps and well-wishes printed out every fourth letter in the mundane notes.

But since our narrator is a witchery watcher, she goes to track down the witch, and what happens next is something you might not have expected. I love the twists and turns of this story, and the way I truly wasn’t sure where it was taking me, but I definitely wanted to be there for the ride.

Recent short fiction award winners and nominees

The Hugo Award nominees for Best Short Story:

  • WINNER: Rabbit Test - Samantha Mills (Uncanny Magazine) 
  • D.I.Y.  - John Wiswell (
  • On the Razor’s Edge - Jiang Bo (Science Fiction World)
  • Resurrection - Ren Qing, translated by Blake Stone-Banks (Future Fiction/Science Fiction World) - available in the anthology Galaxy Awards 1: Chinese Science Fiction Anthology 
  • The White Cliff - Lu Ban (Science Fiction World)
  • Zhurong on Mars - Regina Kanyu Wang (Frontiers)

Unfortunately, three of these stories, all by Chinese writers, don't seem to be available in English right now. I can only hope they will be translated and available soon. 

The Ignyte Award finalists for Best Short Story:

 Another recent award winner:

Arboreality by Rebecca Campbell (Stelliform Press). This book was just awarded the 2023 Ursula K. Le Guin prize for fiction, and I love the selection panel's motivation for this choice:

“Arboreality is a eulogy for the world as we know it. Rebecca Campbell’s extraordinary, deeply felt book explores the difficulties of the long hard project of survival. There are no heroes or villains here—only people making brave, difficult choices, out of hope and love for their community, for art, knowledge, and beauty. Arboreality imagines things that we haven’t yet considered about what can and will go wrong with our gardens, libraries, and archives if we don’t act now (maybe even if we do). In her masterful and profoundly ethical stories, Campbell asks us what might be saved, what must be saved, and what it will take to do so. ”

Arboreality started out as a novelette in Clarkesworld, and I loved that version of the story too: An Important Failure by Rebecca Campbell in Clarkesworld.

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October 2, 2023

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


The art for this roundup features a detail of the cover art for Fantasy Magazine #93, made by lumitar / Adobe Stock Image. More about the artist at

An audio version of this roundup is available on YouTube:


Bozpo Witch-Bane by Simo Srinivas in Fantasy Magazine

Outside is the palace of slaughter. Under its gambrels of boiling sky, there is the cold unforgiving sea; there are mountains ready to cradle your bones. Along its corridors of singing grass, there are horseback warriors who will cut you to pieces. There are witches, and there are cats.

Quite simply, this is one of my favourite fantasy stories I've read this year. Gorgeous, rich, lush prose and a story that is full of adventure and danger, betrayal and companionship, death and vengeance. AND it has two cats as its main characters! I mean, what's not to love about that? All I can say is: read this story and revel in the glory of such a brilliant, uniquely crafted fantasy set in a world I immediately wanted more of. There are sentences and whole paragraphs here that I had to read and re-read again just to savour the beauty.

The Cursed Universe Inside Your Eye by Angela Liu in Fantasy Magazine

You fish the knife out of your canvas bag, and a lighter with just enough fluid for one more flash of fire. This is your first time—but you’ve seen your mother do the same thing countless times before. Before she made her first mistake. Before you were forced to take her place.

Dark magic and strange powers are at play in this evocative and unsettling, yet eerily beautiful, story by Angela Liu. There are layers of pain and deception and spell-craft here, in a story that involves a daughter, the strange world inside her, and the magic and knowledge passed down to her from her mother. 

NegativeTheology of the Child from 'The King of Tars' by Sonia Sulaiman in Fantasy Magazine

An intricately woven, strange and deeply thought-provoking story where the narrator (literally, in more ways than one) goes inside The King of Tars, a medieval romance. I love the way Sulaiman burrows inside the text, with a narrator that is seeking out the characters of the story, traveling through a “realm of allegory and myth, of device and symbiotics”. Present and past, fiction and history, everything is braided together here, and there’s an evocative, lyrical vibe to this whole story that I absolutely love. So many lines here shine and glow:

“They, too, will have to find a way on that path between the shafts of light and shadow that make up this cosmos. I have done what I can to let in some air, to leave a hole in the veil through which it is possible to glimpse the mysterious and real.”


What It Means to Be a Car by James Patrick Kelly at

🚘Welcome to Small Heaven, home of Jennet Harada. You are Ketrin Nanhola?

🗨Yes, that’s me.

🚘My name is Seishin Toyota and I am pleased to be your car for today’s tour. You may take the front or back seat as you wish, but please mind your head as you enter. I look forward to telling you about my experiences at Small Heaven during your visit. Seat belt, please. You may be interested to know that I was Ms. Harada’s personal automobile prior to her first death in 2368.

I absolutely LOVE this science fiction story about an AI-controlled car dealing with a rather difficult passenger, and also dealing with the "stranded cloud presence" of its sort-of-dead previous owner, Ms. Harada. The story plays out in dialogue between Seishin Toyota and the passenger, Ketrin Nanhola, and Kelly brilliantly uses this format to reveal the passenger's ulterior motive for the ride, and the increasing trouble the car finds itself in.


Between Truth and Death on the Murmansk—Saint Petersburg Line by Zohar Jacobs in The Sunday Morning Transport

Two weeks of freedom from the rotten ice and the rotten food, from the frigid waters of the Kola Bay with their tang of salt and rust and oil and industrial effluent, from the barracks and the hazing and the bizarre alterity of navy life. Only the invincibly ignorant could claim that being one-eighth rusalka meant you were fated to be a frogman. Unfortunately, the invincibly ignorant were the vast majority of the military.

This is such gloriously mysterious and wonderful story. It is set in Russia and blends fantasy, history, and the present into a beautifully layered and complex weave. There's also strange time-skip/time-slip things happening throughout the story, where past and present, dream and reality, are layered one over top of the other, in a way that is both unsettling and dreamlike. Jacobs gives us a story full of sadness and war, and there is much here that is familiar from what we see happening after Russia's invasion of Ukraine. I just love the gentle and profound blend of reality and fantasy here, and I truly wanted this story to keep going because I wanted more of this world, and more of these characters.


The Magazine of Horror by Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki in Apex

Good morning. I would like to allay your fears that what you have heard are rumours, but I cannot. We do take what we do here very seriously, as storytelling is a life and death matter. You saw our pay rates. We are committed to paying handsomely for the best horror story existing in the world at any moment. And should we fail to pay the funds, we pay in other ways.

This is darkly funny meta-story about something many writers might occasionally consider: what would you be willing to give in order to get published? And not only published, but paid very handsomely. In this story, publication comes at a steep price, but one the writer in the story is still willing to pay.

Gim of P by Benjamin DeHaan in Apex

Nothing ever happens in our world surrounded by P. P is what we call the material that makes up our world, and it’s what we call our world. PP, PET, PE, PS. So many Ps. We don’t know what it is or what it means. It’s a material between the living and dying. You can’t eat it, but it can be used for clothing, eating utensils, ropes, and among other things.

An ingenious science fiction story set in a cramped, dystopian world full of algae. I love the intricate details of everyday life in this strange world, and the way you feel that parts of this tiny universe are definitely familiar... 


Shalom Aleichem by Y.M. Resnik in Diabolical Plots

Every Friday night the angels came, and every Friday night they freaked me the fuck out. Which is probably why I didn’t get a million-eyed, one-footed guardian of my own like the rest of my family. This was totally fine with me. I was in no way jealous that my siblings had angels to accompany them to college while I was stuck sitting alone in an empty dorm room. Who needed a creep-tastic companion whose face consisted of a bizarro series of interlocking cogs and wheels forever whirring?

Resnik's story made me smile. It's a story about being an awkward adolescent AND being able to see, or maybe hear, the angels that are everywhere in the world, though not everyone is aware of their presence. Resnik turns this into a meet-cute where two people get to know each other because of, and in spite of, the presence of their extremely impressive angels.


Student Living by Ashley Deng in Nightmare

2. Basement n.

base·ment | \ ˈbās-mənt

1. A room underground, with the weight of a building or more bearing down upon its precarious ceiling.

2. The place where the shadows are overly familiar.

3. Home, though. Despite the things that lurk in the dark.

A horror story told in footnotes? Can you do that? After reading Deng's story, the answer is a resounding "hell yes". It's an impressive feat of subtle storytelling, and the author has this to say in the story notes at Nightmare:

“Student Living” is something of a love letter to the makeshift nature of living on a budget as a student. It’s bleary-eyed mornings and caffeine fueled nights with our faces slammed against readings and lecture notes. I wanted to write something that encompassed my love of that experience while also reflecting all the ways it felt, y’know, just a little off."


The Greenhorn by Taylor Rae in Apparition Lit

In a village of dragon-slayers, you must be tough to survive. Our lives are carved into the rocky hide of the Boneback Mountains, where the clay earth refuses to be tamed into farmland. There’s only one path to greatness in a place like this: killing dragons.

The dragons feed on us, and we feed on them. Their hollow-boned wings become our beads; their teeth become knives; their scales become armor. As my father would say, the only good dragon is a dead dragon—and they taste best when the meat is young and soft.

This is a terrific slice of life fantasy set in a society that fears and kills dragons (kind of a "How To Train Your Dragon" vibe), and where one girl goes against everyone's accepted wisdom about the beasts. I love the way Rae depicts the dragons, but I also love the way the relationships, both good and bad, between the young people in the story are handled, and I especially love the way we get to see a new friendship take shape. And hey, a story about vegetarian dragons is definitely worth a look, am I right?


A Scarcity of Sharks by Kelsey Yu in Reckoning

Bruce is seventeen feet long and would’ve weighed around two tons when he was murdered by a trophy hunter. Killing rare creatures for sport is supposed to be a relic of the past now that most of the world’s wild animals are some level of endangered. But for some, the desire to prove something runs deeper than the fear of punishment. Thanks to a bartender’s tip about a local bachelor party bragging about plans to go shark hunting, the Marine Conservation Enforcement Guard made it to the dock in time to confiscate the kill. A year in jail and ten thousand dollars later, Bruce’s murderer has apparently paid his debt to society, but it was too late for this white shark.

Oh wow, this story grabbed me from the first line and never let me go. A group of researchers have used the dead body of one of the world's last white sharks to make an underwater research vessel. But what happens when they take this robo-shark into the depths of the ocean will surpass their wildest dreams (and nightmares). It's wonderful science fiction, and I also really like how this story gives us a great group of scientists with a bit of workplace romance... Reckoning keeps publishing some really outstanding work, and if you're interested in more stories about environmental justice, this is definitely a zine for you.


Quantum Love by Sylvia Heike in Flash Fiction Online

The nights without Natalie are classically long, and without a fresh challenge to chew on, the computer passes the hours by remembering all the things it loves about her. Her curious human brain and intellect; how passionate she’s about quarks and hadrons; the gentle touch of her anti-static gloves.

A wonderful, charming sci-fi flash about a computer, trying to work out all sorts of complex problems, while also trying to solve the problems of the human it loves. Queenie, the computer, is keeping a close eye on the humans around her, and Heike turns the small and keenly observed details into a crafty love story that is also a love triangle of sorts. 


Holding Back the Darkness by Stephanie Burgis in Beneath Ceaseless Skies

The wolves are pacing outside my window again. Everard left them there to break my will. In the day they are men, rough and rude, slouching against the tree trunks and picking their teeth, and no power on God’s earth could draw me out amongst them, even to attempt escape. But at night... at night they are shadows and fangs, and even as I count the rosary for courage, the way the nuns taught me, I cannot keep the whimpers from rising up my throat.

I am always a sucker for wolves and girls, and in this werewolf tale with a twist, we meet a young woman trapped in a house by an unwanted suitor. The suitor, Everard, has hounded her for a long time, and now she has been imprisoned and is surrounded by wolf-men. I love how Burgis lays out the sharp and terrible predicament the woman finds herself in, and then twists the weave of the tale at the end.


Instructions for the Broken Hearted by Jordan Kurella in Lightspeed

You Will Need:

– a Heart in a jar
– a Knife (sharp)
– a Tarp


Lay down tarp on clean surface. Place prybar and knife within reach. Place self on tarp.

A gorgeous, dark, and devastatingly sharp story by Kurella that cuts deep into the pain and emptiness that can follow the end of a relationship, especially if that end came didn't just break your heart, but take it from you. I love the visceral, lyrical details, and I love the way Kurella finds hope in the devastation.

Eve’s Prayer by Victor Forna in Lightspeed

I just adore this short science fiction story structured as a space explorer’s prayer to the God that sent them forth in order to find new worlds. Forna’s prose wraps so many layers and so much depth of character- and world-building into less than 700 words. Beautifully done.


The Five Remembrances, According To Ste-319 by R.L. Meza in Clarkesworld

Metal parts that survived fire and shrapnel are no match for the saltwater rushing through the gaps in my armor, spilling between gears and wires, tainting my battered shell with the inexorable creep of rust. Corrosion is a ruthless god. The waves surge inland to drink the mortal corpses littering the shore. The ocean embraces the empty husks, rolling them out to the depths to fill and be filled. I long to sink with them beyond the reach of light’s prying fingers.

I think I've mentioned before that I am an unabashed fan of stories about aging, and abandoned, robots. In this story, we follow the agonizing, slow demise of a robot used for war, and then abandoned by its own. The robot is trapped, decaying, and then finds a new, unexpected purpose. Meza fits an epic tale of destruction and redemption into this short story, and I just adore every bit of it.


Sitting Shiva by Zachary Rosenberg in The Deadlands

His sister remains as he last saw her, with straight black hair, dark skin, and sundered skull. Her smile is hollow, her eyes windows to a vacant house. The wound in her head is dark as wine. The edges of her white skirt drip with tendrils of red that vanish like dew against the cream curls of the carpet.

A harrowing tale of death, grief, and life with Avram sitting Shiva for his sister Tamar. The problem is that Tamar is still there, clinging to the world of the living, as Avram clings to his own fear and pain. Avram fears the ghost of his sister, but he fears the outside world that took her from him even more. And while Rosenberg’s story is full of horrors – life, and light, is woven into its ending.


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