It’s been a strange month for me, and maybe some of you as well. Even so, I read some awesome short fiction, and here are my favourites.
Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies, by Brooke Bolander in Uncanny Magazine. “This is not the story of how he killed me, thank fuck.” The fiercest and most ferocious piece of prose I’ve read in a while: this story cuts like a jagged knife. Superb and breathtaking in its fire and focus.
A Spell To Retrieve Your Lover From the Bottom of the Sea, by Ada Hoffman in Strange Horizons. ““Tell me the future,” you will say to your runes, but they will not quite tell you that. Instead you will cast them, again and again, and each future you see will be different.” Wow. This story by Hoffman starts out one way, like a fantasy tale with spells and magic and foreboding warnings, and then, in the telling, twists and turns into a story that goes right into everyday life, and in under your skin. Hoffman’s prose is exquisite: it sings and flows and dances. Outstanding and captivating from start to finish.
The Banshee Behind Beamon’s Bakery, by Khaalidah Muhammad-Ali at Diabolical Plots. “Her fury would not allow her to die, nor live. It consumed her flesh but not her horror.” A flash fiction piece that made me cry: yeah, that happened. Expertly twisting together mythical creatures, fantasy, and a real life tragedy, this story glows with righteous anger, grief, and emotional power. Breathtaking.
Every Winter, by E. Catherine Tobler in Apex Magazine. “Halla is barefoot and bloody-mouthed and dancing in the arms of a creature she cannot name.” This story flows and swirls, breathes and moves in a dream-like realm of its own. It is dark and ominous, forbidding and frightening, and mesmerizing at the same time. Halla is an artist who is alone in a house that seems to come alive, a place where things happen that cannot be explained or maybe even fully understood, and at the same time there is inspiration and art in the midst of it all. A gorgeous story with a unique voice and rhythm.
You Said, Promised, Swore, by Alexis A. Hunter at Fantastic Stories of the Imagination. “I cradle my swollen stomach. You used to sleep with your hand there. She kicks that abandoned patch of skin, searching for your touch.” A pregnancy. A spaceship. An accident. And then, someone left alone when they shouldn’t be. This story is riveting and lyrical all at once.
Masks of the Mud God, by Greg Kurzawa in Beneath Ceaseless Skies. “The human cocked his head. “Human god? You believe you are the only one who fashions masks?” He grinned for her, and his cruel smile revealed a mouthful of thorns.” Oh, what a strange and at the same time oddly familiar world and mythology this story delves into. Ferocious monsters rule the human beings in this world, but there is something very mysterious lurking in the stories and myths and tales, and when it is unleashed into the world, everything changes. Kurzawa creates a lush and complex story-verse here, and populates it with a strong cast of characters. Great world- and myth-building, and a story that captivated me.
Pay Attention, by Sarah Pinsker in WORDS Zine at Hex Publishers. “Silence blankets chaos, but chaos is my milieu. I’m familiar with chaos.” Pinsker spins this engrossing tale out slowly and deliberately with masterful attention to detail both within (the thoughts and emotions ravaging the main character as she wakes up after a serious incident in battle), and without (the society and technology that changed her life). Near-future science fiction can be hard to pull off, but Pinsker handles it beautifully: I love her quiet storytelling voice and the way she pulls you inside a character and story.
The House That Jessica Built, by Nadia Bulkin in The Dark. “Eventually the only threshold they hadn’t crossed was the sacred basement door. Trevor—or something—was plaintively whispering “no,” but Rue knew she had to open it.” This story is haunting in so many ways and on so many levels: there’s a haunted house, a haunted character, and a haunted life, too. One of the things I love about this story is how Bulkin moves into the horror of the haunting and the ghost and the darkness of that, and then goes beyond it, into what happens if you survive.
Full Up, by Mark Morris in The Dark. “She’s looking over at the window when a shape passes across it. It’s a dark, hunched figure, blacker than the night in which it’s framed.” Confession: this story scared the living daylights out of me. Morris tells it perfectly, keeping everything even-keeled and seemingly solidly realistic, while still infusing every paragraph with that unsettling, creeping feeling that something is really wrong. The suspense builds slowly, steadily, and by the time the payoff comes at the end…it really got to me.
Migration, by Tananarive Due in Nightmare Magazine. “Go on and fucking do it already, said a voice in her head.” That voice was supposed to be dead. Expelled.” This is an evocative and compelling short story, with a deep and dangerous undertow: Tananarive Due doesn’t spell out exactly what is going on with the main character Jazmine, but the hints and tells and signs are there – tugging and nipping at the reader throughout. A fascinating story that puts an ancient presence in the middle of modern life and into a strained and troubled relationship. It left me wanting more, in the best way.
Seven Birthdays, by Ken Liu at tor.com. Whoa. A mind-blowing and mind-boggling scifi story, this is the kind of science fiction story that is dizzying to read: it is vast in scope – moving through vast reaches of space and time – and yet retains a very real and moving human perspective to the very end.
Second Chances, by Stephen Graham Jones at Gamut. This short story about a scientist studying the strange creatures in her lab, while mourning a very personal loss, hooked me instantly and drew me in. I might have thought I knew where this was going, but then, I got the wind knocked out of me. Brilliant stuff.
For more short fiction picks: