February 14, 2024

My Sci-Fi, Fantasy & Horror Short Fiction Roundup for January 2024


The art for this roundup includes a detail of Vadem Sadovski's cover for The Deadlands #32. More about the artist here: https://www.artstation.com/vadimsadovski

Why Don't We Just Kill the Kid in the Omelas Hole by Isabel J. Kim in Clarkesworld

"So they broke into the hole in the ground, and they killed the kid, and all the lights went out in Omelas: click, click, click. And the pipes burst and there was a sewage leak and the newscasters said there was a typhoon on the way, so they (a different “they,” these were the “they” in charge, the “they” who lived in the nice houses in Omelas [okay, every house in Omelas was a nice house, but these were Nice Houses]) got another kid and put it in the hole."

A furious, fiery story that is sharp as a knife's edge as it brings Ursula K. LeGuin's Omelas into the real world, our present-day world, right into social media and TV and Reddit and YouTube. It's a brilliant story and will surely be one of the most read and talked about speculative fiction short stories this year.

An Infestation of Blue by Wendy N. Wagner in Analog (available to read free online)

The first thing she knew was that smells didn’t have the same shapes or colors anymore. Not wrong, exactly, but different. Even her own scents—rawhide and dirty paws and bits of grass that had brushed her belly—were changed, not just undercut with the stench of iodine and other human-sick smells, but made new.

An unsettling, but also deeply moving, story about a dog that wakes up and finds herself altered. There’s something in her head that wasn’t there before and it’s making her, and the world, different. I love dog stories, and this one is quietly devastating and full of grief, but maybe, maybe, there is hope.

Analog has made two other stories available to read for free online, both of them on the BSFA longlist together with Wagner's story:

The Imperfect Marble by Rae Mariz in Grist

Lærke’s first word was wing.

She lay cradled between the moss and her mama, watching the branches cut the sky in precise patterns. Her poor ma Suzume had fallen asleep after chasing the child around the farm, trying to keep Lærke’s tongue out of the beehive. The city’s colorful turbine balloons hovered high in the atmosphere, silently harvesting wind — and look there, the giggle of a single cumulonimbus in an otherwise blue sky.

An intricate and beautiful future-tale from Rae Mariz who excels at creating futures that are hopeful, if imperfect. Here she tells a story of a future we might even glimpse from our own present, and she tells it through the way adults and society at large interact with their children. Lovely, sharp at the edges, and with so much depth beneath the surface.

Blood Water by J.A. Bryson at CatsCast (narrated by Tatiana Grey)

The blood on Zip’s hands is dried the color of rust and sticks like clay under her fingernails. Mostly, it isn’t hers. Mostly, it belongs to the man she shivved, the one who mistook her for an easy mark. Zip is gray-eyed and hunger-slight. She’s a lot of things – fast, fierce, speechless since birth – but she isn’t easy. The old timers know this. The man waiting at the pits to grab her while she took a piss, he did not know this.

A rather harrowing tale of blood and water and a seemingly helpful cat. To quote Bryson: “’Blood Water’ is set in the brutal, resource driven dystopia of my science fiction novel, Zero Sector, which I hope to begin re-re-re-revising in 2024.”

Rembrandt, Graffiti, and the Strange Disappearance of Ducks by C.H. Irons in Strange Horizons

The alert comes screaming in on Jana’s implant, bright light lancing through the fog of REM sleep:

[New glyph. Intersection of 148th and Cliffton.]

When her eyes snap open, it’s there, the only thing fully in focus. A blurry image of the yet-untitled glyph #75 hovers beside it.

A beautiful near-future science fiction meditation on art, and the interpretation of art, and the interplay between artist and audience. What does a piece of art mean? Is there a "true meaning" or is the meaning created, again and again in different ways, somewhere in the space between what the artist wants to say, and what the audience experiences? I love the layers of this story, the subtle way it leaves things open-ended. 

The Last Oracle of Atlantic City by C. H. Irons at Escape Pod (narrated by Elie Hirschman)

“Look, don’t shoot the messenger.” Baz holds up his hands, the tapestries behind him rustling in an ocean breeze coming off the boardwalk. “If it’s not in the cards, it’s not in the cards.”

Full disclosure, Baz has no clue what his cards have to say on the subject. That’s all part of the act. But AyGee calculated based on his customer’s inflection, body language, and social media activity that her relationship has a ninety-eight-point-nine percent chance of imploding in the next week. And Baz would take AyGee’s word for it over the will of the spirits, conveyed through a pack of cards he stole from a strip mall pharmacy.

It wasn't until I was putting together this roundup that I realized that both this story and the previous one is by the same author! I'm intrigued... In this science fiction story, old-school fortunetelling with cards blend with some real high-tech stuff: an experimental implant that shares Baz's brain and thoughts. It's such an original and great idea, and Irons sets it all in a small seaside community where Baz has lived as if he wasn't hunted... but he is. 

All I Know by Josh Eure at Many Worlds (first published in James Gunn’s Ad Astra)

A timebolt. I don’t know what else to call it. I imagine it sped from the void with random trajectory, arcing through systems unhindered before Earth and my family in that car, ignoring my once Newtonian mind, and finding me quite by chance. An impossible accident from the heavens. And yet—maybe this has happened before, just one more phenomenon in a boundless vacuum filled with inflation and gravity waves, black and white holes. My body was inexplicably left behind. And I became a time traveler.

A car accident turns this story's narrator into a time-warping, time-traveling entity who is able to watch events from history play out, and view his own life from the outside. He visits himself and family members, unraveling his own past and trying to change the small tragedies that have always haunted him. Quietly devastating, and yet not without a gleam of light.

The Angel Azrael and the Dead Man’s Hand by Peter Darbyshire in Beneath Ceaseless Skies

The angel Azrael rode the dead horse across the broken land under the light of a half moon until he came across a graveyard that seemed to have no end. Wooden crosses stretched away to the horizon, more than he could count. Many of the crosses were bent close to the earth by time and the elements. Some were decorated with worn hats or gun belts with guns still in their holsters while others were adorned with bits of tattered lace or other fabric. None of the crosses bore names, at least none that Azrael could see.

Oh, how I love Darbyshire's stories about the fallen angel Azrael and his travels and travails in a future, post-apocalyptic weird west, riven by strange magics. In this latest tale, Azrael comes upon a very strange card game in a lonely saloon, set in the midst of a vast graveyard. There are many secrets hidden there, and of course, Azrael will unravel them but it's an unraveling that is not without cost. You can read all of Darbyshire's stories here: https://www.beneath-ceaseless-skies.com/authors/peter-darbyshire/ 

Agni by Nibedita Sen in The Sunday Morning Transport

Upasana reaches slowly for the sacred flame. The priestesses hold their breath. They are all one in that moment, their hands her hand, their hearts thudding in conjoined chests. They’ve all stood before that brazier, silently chanted those prayers. Reached forward and wondered if this would be the day their faith was found wanting and their flesh inadequate.

An absolutely stunning story by Sen, about a group of girls in a temple dedicated to holy fire, Agni. There is so much happening here, between the girls, between them and the priests, between them and the fire, and between the girls and their past. The ending is a knockout, a fiery finale that left me gasping.

Untitled, by Abhinav in The Deadlands

memory is a rot
in the ribs and nothing
                                       you say adds up
to a quench you can name
              so you name other things for the sake of it.
flesh and bone.
                 carve and cartilage.
         shadow,       eyelid,
                                  vein and light—

I don't often cover poems, but I always wish I gave myself more time to read poetry. This is gorgeous and exquisite, sharp and deep.

All the Missing Mothers by Kelsea Yu in Nightmare (non-fiction)

I gave birth to my second daughter on a cold winter eve, the first day of the Year of the Tiger. She arrived quickly—a healthy infant with a well-developed set of lungs that she immediately put to use, screaming her outrage at being expelled from my (presumably) cozy womb.

She was fine; and at first, the doctor and nurses thought I would be, too.

But the bleeding didn’t stop.

This is a fantastic and deeply moving non-fiction essay by Yu. It's about the dangers of giving birth, and about all those missing mothers in all those fairytales we all know so well. 

Chase Scene by Megan Kiekel Anderson in Nightmare (creative non-fiction)

My little brother once chased me through the house with an ax.

He was joking, mostly. But it certainly didn’t feel like a joke at the time.

I love Nightmare’s dedication to publishing creative non-fiction pieces, and this one is haunting in the way it weaves together memory and movie horror. The intersection of childhood and popular culture are fertile ground for great fiction and non-fiction, and this piece is a fabulous example of that.

In the Tree’s Hollow, a Doe by Lowry Poletti in Lightspeed

Finneus Lark finds the man nestled inside of the abdominal cavity of a doe, his skin so pale that his veins are like spiderwebs. Slick with visceral fluid, leaves and petals cling to the man’s bird-boned wrists. His face, haloed by damp curls and crowned by the doe’s diaphragm, is so peaceful he might as well have been asleep.

Holy whoa, this story is such a gorgeous, mesmerizing piece of fiction. Beautifully crafted prose to draw you in, and then horror and beauty threaded together into a tale that blends horror and folklore, magic and the world of the fae.

The Ghost on the Server by Gregory Neil Harris in IZ Digital

Illy was a design prodigy. She’d been designing implants since she was fifteen – she was better at cybernetic modifications than Warpspeed Williams was at racing pulsebikes, and he’d won the Sub-Warp trophy ten years in a row. A few years ago, she’d sold some of her designs to her old boss. Ten-thousand credits was a lot of money at the time. Three years later, the creds were gone, but the mods based off Illy’s designs were still top sellers. Raked in ten million so far.

A great science fiction story about implants and modifications that can alter your brain and give you extra access to all sorts of resources. When Ori makes a deal to get his hands on an illicit and very fancy new implant, he ends up with more in his head than he bargained for.


I'm still blown away that my short story collection Wolves and Girls is featured on the British Science Fiction Association's Awards longlist. 

You can find all BSFA longlists here: https://www.bsfa.co.uk/bsfa-awards-longlist 


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