The Best Short SFF of May 2020

Featured image from the cover of Uncanny Issue 34 by Julie Dillon.

Must Read Stories

The Dark 60
Cover by denissimonov

Sleeping in Metal and Bone“, by Kristi DeMeester [The Dark Magazine Issue 60, May 2020] 6009 words

At night Rilla dreams of metal hooks extending from her fingers, and by day she has an insatiable hunger for raw meat that she hides from her overweening husband, Henry. Henry’s imperiousness as they try to conceive a child is steadily wearing on her. He might want to be careful what he wishes for.  DeMeester’s prose has razor sharp teeth, and the momentum it gathers as Rilla’s simmering desires bubble to the surface is chilling. The ending is pitch perfect, and really sticks to your ribs. If you like stories where you root for the “monster”, this one is for you.

Burn or the Episodic Life of Sam Wells as a Super“, by A.T. Greenblatt [Uncanny Magazine Issue 34, May/June 2020] 9668 words 

As I wrote this column, Greenblatt’s story “Give the Family My Love” was announced as the Nebula winner for Best Short Story. Seeing as “Burn” is, IMHO, her best work to date, I will be sorely disappointed if it doesn’t repeat the feat in the Novelette category next year. Here, the author focuses on one of the core principles of early Marvel comics – the anxiety super-powered characters have that they will be hated and feared for their gifts in spite of their desire to do good. Taking the idea one step further, the titular hero learns that doing good isn’t everything he dreamed it would be.

Sea Change, by Nancy Kress [Tachyon Publications, May 22, 2020] 35,844 words

Kress’s near-future climate thriller follows Renata Black, mild-mannered Seattle paralegal who is also Caroline Denton, undercover eco-terrorist. The “terror” that Caroline and her compatriots are attempting to inflict on the masses involves growing genetically-modified crops to help mitigate the world’s food crisis (in this speculative 2032, GMOs have been outlawed after big agriculture’s profiteering led to a deadly toxin in children’s medicine). Caroline/Renata discovers there may be a mole in her cell, causing the carefully delineated boundaries of her double life to blur. Kress, a long-established master of conjectural sci-fi, renders a global-scale conflict in intimate terms. The obstacles Renata faces and the choices she makes have deeply personal consequences for her as well as world-changing implications, allowing the author to effectively whittle away the border between the macro and the micro.

“Eyes of the Forest”, by Ray Nayler [The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, May/June 2020] 5667 words

The forest is full of vicious scavengers (!), and Sedef must make her way through it to save the life of Mauled by Mistake, whose potentially fatal injuries are her fault. The unique setting energizes a lightning-paced tale of nearly unbearable danger and suspense; what is most surprising though, is that with such taut plotting and economical prose it is also spilling over with fascinating, fresh ideas.

More Recommended Stories

Decorating with Luke“, by Adam-Troy Castro [Nightmare Magazine Issue 92, May 2020] 2863 words

A deliciously morbid tale of revenge, in which an abuse survivor is given a tour of of an unusual room by another survivor of the same abuser. The revelations come steadily, leading to an unforgettable final image.

Clever Jack, Heavy with Stories“, by R.K. Duncan [Beneath Ceaseless Skies #304, May 21, 2020] 6002 words

Common-born Jack must cross over into the land of fairyland to rescue his high-born beloved Rowland, and Rowland’s wife Mary-Anne. Before he goes, a witch inscribes three stories into his heart to help him resist the tricks and temptations of that other world.

Out of Body, by Jeffrey Ford [ Publishing, May 26, 2020] 32,768 words

Owen is an introverted small town librarian who, following a traumatic event, gains the ability to astral project into the “night world” while he sleeps. At first his disembodied observations offer him a deeper connection to the neighbors he mostly avoids in his waking life, but soon he discovers a hidden world of secret societies and horrifying monsters and must put his life on the line to save his small corner of the world from evil. Ford takes time exploring the nooks and knacks of his night world before bringing the frights; thankfully, his adeptness at everyday observation matches his skill at delivering creature feature thrills. The climactic set piece is intense and beautifully constructed.

Salt and Iron“, by Gem Isherwood [Podcastle 625, May 6, 2020] 4914 words

Dagna once amputated her own hands and replaced them with enchanted iron to get out of a forced marriage to a fairy lord. Now, “Ironhands” is recruited to stop a fairy curse that has ravaged a small town. But in a town where none of the afflicted can trust what they see with their eyes, the blind woman Karin is queen – and she likes things just the way they are.

Driving with Ghosts“, by Clara Madrigano [The Dark Issue 60, May 2020] 6042 words

Marina encounters the specter of her late grandfather while driving at night, and soon learns her experience is not unique. An unsettling, emotionally rewarding ghost story about persevering after an abusive relationship.

Martian Cinema“, by Gabriela Santiago [Strange Horizons, May 11, 2020] 5094 words

A thoroughly charming, youth-centered adventure about a group of kids growing up on Mars, who discover a rock painting of a unicorn and decide to make movies about it. Great characters, and a deft handling of the conflicting worldviews of children and adults.




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