The Best Short SFF – June 2018

Reminder: While many of the stories in this column are available to read free online, these venues pay the authors for their work and rely on income from readers to do so. If one or more of these zines consistently publishes fiction that you like, please consider buying a subscription. Or, if you read a story or stories that you especially like, consider purchasing the issue it appears in. If the story is available to read online, clicking on the name of the story will send you there; subscription/donation/purchase information is available at each site. For stories that are not available to read online, there is a link to that zine’s subscription page. Thank you for reading and supporting short form SFF!

Must Read

Faint Voices, Increasingly Desperate”, Anya Johanna DeNiro (Shimmer Magazine Issue 43, May 2018) Short Story
Freia is a silk farmer in (presumably) Valhalla, little more than a slave in Woden’s magnanery. She longs to return to Vienna, her adopted home on Earth; her method of escape requires only that she bleed – a lot – so of course her captor diligently keeps her away from sharp objects. A co-worker absent-mindedly drops a needle near her, enabling her to make her first escape in decades. Freia gets a job and takes a lover, aware that her freedom has a countdown – it is only a matter of time before Woden comes to retrieve her. What struck me the most about this story was the way it seemed to live beyond the page, evoking sensory responses outside of what was clearly (and potently) described by the author. Also, Woden is fucking terrifying.
Meat and Salt and Sparks”, Rich Larson (Tor.com, 6/6/2018) Short Story
Larson’s new story is a drug cocktail of uplifted animals, detective noir, and cyberpunk futurism, and the result is unnerving and gripping. Cu is one of a kind – the only survivor of illegal brain enhancement experiments on chimpanzees, now a police detective (!?!), but isolated, lonely, depressed. Solving crimes is the only thing that motivates her to keep going. When an “echo”, someone who allows another person to link with them and live vicariously through their body, commits a murder, the path to finding the true culprit leads right back to Cu’s origins. Nicely detailed, with a deeply affecting ending and memorable characters.

Highly Regarded

The Sweetness of Honey and Rot”, A. Merc Rustad (Beneath Ceaseless Skies #254, 6/21/2018) Novelette
Jiteh’s village is protected by the Life Tree, which demands human sacrifice to sustain itself. After taking her father and her beloved twin, Jiteh questions whether the Tree is really protecting them at all or just imprisoning them for its own benefit and looks to exact revenge. A brilliantly realized setting with a relatable hero told in rich, expressive prose.
Yiwu”, Lavie Tidhar (Tor.com, 5/23/2018) Short Story
In the far future, Esham runs a booth selling lottery tickets in the Chinese city of Yiwu. Lottery winners are immediately granted their fondest (hand-wavey science magic) wish, but nothing happens when Ms. Qiu buys a winning ticket, prompting Esham to take a trip to lottery HQ to find out what went wrong. “Yiwu” is a captivating sci-fantasy fable, highlighting Tidhar’s talent for immersing readers in vivid settings populated by diverse and vibrant characters.
Fireside 56Cast Off Tight”, Hal Y. Zhang (Fireside Magazine Issue 56, June 2018) Short Story
The protagonist of Zhang’s near-future tale is still mourning the recent loss of his partner when he discovers she was in the process of knitting a scarf with “memory yarn”, which records nearby sounds while being knitted with special needles. When he touches it, he can hear things like that episode of Jeopardy she was watching, the song she was listening to, even sometimes her laughter. He pushes through conflicting emotions, determined to learn how to knit so he can finish the scarf. It’s a graceful tale with finespun, understated prose.

Also Recommended

“Chocolate Chip Cookies with Love Potion Infusion”, Leah Cypess (Galaxy’s Edge Issue 32, May/June 2018) Short Story
A humorous little fantasy about a witch posting the titular recipe on her blog, and the conversation that ensues.
Beast of Breath”, Gillian Daniels (Fireside Magazine Issue 56, June 2018) Short Story
A passive-aggressive monster tries to get the attention of someone it’s been stalking since childhood.
BCS 252The Wild Ride of the Untamed Stars”, A.J. Fitzwater (Beneath Ceaseless Skies #252, 5/24/2018) Short Story
An appropriately wild and untamed mini-epic fantasy about a capybara looking to wrangle a star to win the favor of a queen.
What the Skeleton Detective Tells You (While You Picnic)”, Katherine Kendig (Shimmer Magazine Issue 43, May 2018) Short Story
An eccentric, bone-dry tale of a P.I. who is also a living skeleton, trying to find a client’s missing friend.
Salt Lines”, Ian Muneshwar (Strange Horizons, 5/21/2018) Short Story
A young, gay Caribbean immigrant is stalked by a demonic jumbie in this eerie dark fantasy.
Balloon Man”, Shiv Ramdas (GigaNotoSaurus 6/1/2018) Novelette
A young boy is trapped under a fallen building, and the man who saved him from certain death spins for him a fantastical tale while they await rescue. As the balloon man’s tale progresses, it become clear the story has a great deal of bearing on their present circumstances.
Lightspeed 97I Sing Against the Silent Sun”, A. Merc Rustad and Ada Hoffman (Lightspeed Magazine Issue 97, June 2018) Novelette
A subversive poet is on the run from a powerful tyrant in this splashy, polychromatic space adventure.
“Redaction”, Adam R. Shannon (Compelling Science Fiction Issue 11, June 2018) Short Story
In the future, you can edit out bad experiences by dropping markers, and later choosing whether to erase the memories between them.
Vault”, D.A. Xiaolin Spires (Clarkesworld Issue 141, June 2018) Novelette
Two surveyors encounter a unique and dangerous new form of life while trying to map a planet lost to ecological disaster.
“Jackbox”, Brian Trent (Galaxy’s Edge Issue 32, May/June 2018) Short Story
A milSF quickie where enemy soldiers are just as dangerous after you kill them.

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