I traveled a lot throughout July (but then I always travel a lot in July). The month included long flights to Sweden, and a lot of travel within Sweden as well, visiting family and friends. As a result, my reading was rather haphazard and scattered throughout the month, and so was my time at the computer. But as always, I read a lot of fantastic fiction – more than I had time to rope together for this post – and 19 of those fantastic stories are here in this roundup.
Salamander Six-Guns, by Martin Cahill in Shimmer. “One moment I was shoving a pitchfork into the belly of a croc-man, and next I knew, the flashing of the stranger’s salamanders blinded me, sea-foam flame belching hot lead as natural as rainfall.” This is such an extraordinarily weird and wonderful western. A gripping story of love and vengeance plays out in a world that has been fundamentally altered by the arrival of… something new… that has changed both the landscape and the people in it. Action, emotion, and glorious prose.
The Moments Between, Kate Jonez in Gamut. “The mother always gets blamed. Without exception. Doesn’t even matter what I say. I ask anyway because maybe he can tell me the magic incantation that will make everything right again. “What do you want me to say?”” An excellent, chilling story of motherhood and loss, guilt and survival, anger and fear. (Rational or irrational fear? that might depend on your point of view…). Brilliant, haunting writing by Jonez that hit me right in the heart.
Arkteia, by Genevieve Williams in See The Elephant. “Arktoi: bears. On the one hand, government contractors, living in the vast wilderness designated by the Reclaiming Act and tending it as they might a garden. On the other, priestesses of the goddess Artemis under sacred charge, protectors of wild sanctuaries, feared for being a little wild themselves.” I absolutely love this story and the way it weaves together the wild landscape of the Pacific north-west, near-future science fiction-ish technology, with ideas and beliefs from ancient mythology. There’s the lingering spell of an old relationship, and the power of a volcano beneath. A must-read.
The Wardrobe, by Matthew Sanborn Smith in See The Elephant. “It was a man – a naked, patchwork man, nipples and navels appearing where they shouldn’t be. A man clad in the skins of other people…” A riveting, deeply unsettling and mind-warping story about a magic wardrobe – yes, it might be THAT wardrobe – that starts out firmly in the real world, and ends up…somewhere completely different. Fair warning: the world inside this particular wardrobe, beyond the coats, is a rather terrifying place.
Litany for the Departed, by S. Kay Nash in See The Elephant. “Mama pulls my hair again, her phantom fingers tangled around my mind. I wince at the sudden memory…” A dark and beautifully told tale of grief and loss and how people who had a hold on us in life, can still haunt us after death. In this case, the haunting is very real, and the dead person’s presence is poisoning the life of a young woman. Moving and evocative.
Brujitas, by Shara Concepción in Flash Fiction Online. “It’s a look we’ve seen before—the way our grandmothers stare out of their windows, like the sky is a paved road they never meant to wander down.” Oh, the lovely glow and shimmer and rhythm of the words in this story… It’s the kind of story I can read over and over again just to listen to the way it moves and the way it feels. There are the children, and their grandmothers, and the fence that divides the world, and there is the magic and the climb… Beautiful.
The Last Exorcist, by Danny Lore in Fiyah. “Naheem is our last great exorcist. When you point this fact out to him, he barely blinks. It is a title he accepts, not with humility or even resignation, but with frustration.” This story, from another terrific issue of Fiyah, turns the familiar ideas of demonic possession and exorcism on their heads, as it tells the story of Naheem, the exorcist. This story is razor-sharp in the way it imagines possession as a political tool of oppression, with white people willingly selling their souls to maintain their power.
Abide With Me, by K.M. DeMeester in Lamplight. “Like some terrible dream come to life she’d wake with her heart rabbit quick in her chest and her hands slick with the sensation of blood.” I read this dark and chill-inducing story in the middle of the night, in a cabin located in the woods. Since the setting for it is a cabin in the middle of the woods… that made for a rather intense reading experience. DeMeester’s story follows a woman facing some big choices and changes in her life as she seeks clarity and solitude in the woods. It is both terrifying and surprising: I did not see that ending coming. Excellent slow-burning horror.
Oscars on the Rue Jules Verne, by L. Chan in Empyreome Magazine. “Come back, she sang to the squad in her heart, come back to your queen.” Naked mutant mole rat marines in space? Connected to a human mind as they battle aliens on a strange planet? YES, please. All that awesome weirdness is interwoven with a story of a person haunted by love, by her dreams, and by regret. Terrific (and terrifically strange) science fiction set in a very interesting future.
A Question of Faith, by Tonya Liburd in The BookSmugglers. “His voice…vibrating beyond bone, sibilant beyond time, stretching at her mind.”️ This is such a mind-bending, gripping story about faith and religion, set in a world that is reminiscent of ancient Egypt. I especially loved the blend of religion and technology in this story, and the complex, layered world-building that is effortlessly built into it. A fantastic read.
Owl Vs. the Neighborhood Watch, by Darcie Little Badger in Strange Horizons. “Owl-as-a-Man loitered outside her apartment, barefoot. From toes to brow, a white feather pattern rippled up His brown skin.” Oh my gosh, how I love this story. The dark sense of humour, the incisive description of depression, the haunting imagery of Owl as he visits the protagonist through life…it’s masterfully done. A gripping, wonderful tale.
Dispo and the Crow, by Rich Larson in Mythic Delirium. “…he rose up over his domain, surveying the crumbled concrete, the tangled rebar, the glitter of smashed glass, and set to work. He found his first corpse half a block away, wedged inside the splintered geometry of a wrecked car.” This story of a robot labouring away in a post-apocalyptic landscape, broke my heart every which way. From the simple pieces: a crow interacting with a robot that is trying to come to terms with its purpose and mission in a world that has changed, Larson crafts a moving tale.
A Portrait of the Desert in Personages of Power, by Rose Lemberg in Beneath Ceaseless Skies. “Slightly to the northeast, below ground, I felt the edges of my star. Woven of delicate longer deepnames, the lacelike edges of it stirred with the breath of sleep.” Wow. How to describe this intricately woven, exquisitely crafted, stunning masterpiece by Rose Lemberg? As always, Lemberg’s prose is spellbinding, and if you’ve followed their Birdverse stories, this novella is a must-read – it delves deep into the history, spirituality, and mythology of that world. Love, transformation, magic, lust, longing, pain and desire – so many threads are woven together in this tale. Breathtaking storytelling.
Ora et Labora, by Theodore McCombs in Beneath Ceaseless Skies. “Your family has renounced you and donated you to the Church. The name they gave you is a lie…. You are Disordered, a child of the Jack of Lies. Rejoice in your deliverance, and submit with gladness to God’s sacred labor.” Confession: I have a weakness for stories set in medieval times, especially if they deal with monasteries or libraries. Ora et Labora is set in a medieval-ish world, though it is definitely not our own past middle ages, but rather an alternate version of it. It is gripping from start to finish as we’re introduced to a world where “disordered” individuals are give to the church, and are thought to have certain powers or aptitudes that are best used there. Science and religion are closely interwoven, and I found this tale riveting from start to finish as the secrets of the church, and the society it is part of, are revealed.
A Lasting Legacy, by Osahon Ize-Iyamu in The Dark. “Calming himself, he scrubbed the floor with rags, washing the blood away till it looked normal. To be safe, he placed his raffia mat over the spot.” This is a haunting, well-crafted story about a man trying to achieve the recognition he believes he deserves in his community, while circumstances keep slipping out of his control. The escalating sense of desperation makes for a gripping, chilling story.
An Unearned Death, by Marissa Lingen in Fantasy & Science Fiction. “Cemeteries she loved; cemeteries were restful and well-tended. The boneyards, filled with the barely living remains of those the gods had rejected, felt like a personal failure to her.” This story deals with the afterlife and the gods in a rather unique way, as it is set in a world where you have to be claimed by one of the gods in order to really “die”. Otherwise, you linger as something more or less undead. I love the vivid prose, I love the texture and feel of the world, and I love the real, gritty feel of the characters.
The Waxing Quiet, by Tony Pi & Stephen Kotowych in Deep Magic. “He retreated to the calculation antechamber, where the tallylooms worked unceasingly. Click-clack went the wooden hooks, tying knots in the coarse hemp twine, the knot-history of their answers.” Fate and faith are at the center of this story, set in a society where a complex loom is used to determine which decisions are the right ones: for the society as a whole, and for individuals. The loom itself is a breathtaking piece of imagined technology, and I love the way the organization of the society uses concepts and terminology from bees and bee-keeping. A uniquely imagined world, and I’ll be thinking about that loom for a while…
«Légendaire», by Kai Ashante Wilson in Apex Magazine. It’s Kai Ashante Wilson. It’s brilliant and I love it.
The Oracle, by Lavie Tidhar in Clarkesworld. Such an awesome read, dealing with the emergence of “the Others” – “children of the digitality”. Tidhar’s imagined future version of Israel, Palestine, and the rest of the world, is gloriously mind-boggling. This story is part of Tidhar’s excellent Central Station universe.
For more short fiction picks: