2018 Recommended Reading List (Part 1)

Featured image from the cover art for The Dark Issue 37, “Boy with a Torch Facing Smoke Monsters” by grandfailure

My short fiction recommendations are split into five categories: Part 1 – Dark Fantasy/Horror and Space-Based Science Fiction; Part 2 – Earthbound Science Fiction and First World Fantasy; Part 3 – Second World Fantasy. Each category features a “Desert Island Pick”, while the remaining picks are listed alphabetically by author. Each title is accompanied by a short synopsis and a quick excerpt for the story. Excerpts may contain mild spoilers.

Not every story fits neatly into any one category. Some could fit into more than one category, some defy categorization altogether. I did my best to place them where I thought they fit best. Links are included for stories that are available to read online, or to purchase information. Sometimes the traditional print magazines will make stories available online during award season, so I will update links when possible.

Short Stories (<7500 words), Novelettes (<17,500), and Novellas (<40,000)

Dark Fantasy/Horror

Desert Island Pick

Leviathan Sings to Me in the Deep” by Nibedita Sen [Nightmare Magazine Issue 69, June 2018; 5402 words]

nightmare 69
Cover Art by Andrey Kiselev

The Guild of Natural Philosophers is sponsoring Captain Bodkin’s final whaling voyage; their representative on the ship, Arcon Glass, has some unusual – and grisly – demands in exchange for the Guild’s support.

North of this organ he has placed a preserved section of the dense mass of tissue that lies beneath the oil organ; sailors call it the junk, for it provides no oil and has no use. His research, he explained to me, concerns itself with the spermaceti organ’s role in producing the unearthly noises that whales issue forth. He proceeded to demonstrate by connecting a number of wires and waxed cotton threads to the sac and tissue, then setting up a number of small drums at various angles to both. From his tools he produced a small instrument that he pressed against the soft swollen side of the wax and glycerine-filled organ and blew on—and lo, a low note echoed and swelled to great size and shivered off all corners of the room in a manner that rose the hairs on my arms.

The Best of the Rest

“Bondye Bon” by Monique L. Desir [FIYAH Literary Magazine Issue 5, Winter 2018; 4810 words]

The slaves of Andre Plantation rose up and overthrew their captors, and helped establish the United Tribes of Mother Africa in what was once the Southeastern United States of America. So why does Heloise’s Manman keep that creepy white man locked in her closet?

The familiarity of his face frightens me. He is dressed in ratty clothes: a grimy black shirt with frills at the throat and his sleeves with their stained ruffles set off the sickly paleness of his skin. He doesn’t try to move — no point in doing that, his wrists are shackled together with a chain, connected to a bolted plate in the wall. He looks up at me, eyes bright in the dark and smiles, baring his white, straight teeth.

It’s Easy to Shoot a Dog” by Maria Haskins [Beneath Ceaseless Skies Issue #260, September 13, 2018; 4470 words]

bcs 260
Cover Art: “Swamp Relic” by Piotr Dura

As a child Susanna struck an unholy bargain to acquire her beloved dog; a decade later the bill comes due.

They even burned a witch in town, just after Easter. She went to look, but though the woman’s hair was shorn and she was already burning, Susanna could tell it wasn’t anyone she knew. After, when the bones still smouldered, the priest in his stiff black cassock puffed himself up before the crowd, assuring them the witch’s spells and crafts would all unravel now that she was dead. Susanna stood there until dusk, waiting to see if anything would change, but the world remained the same as far as she could tell.

Triquetra” by Kirstyn McDermott [Tor.com, September 5, 2018; 11,826 words]

Snow White is all grown up now, living in a castle with her husband and daughter. Her wicked stepmother and that awful mirror are locked away, but one of them may be the key to saving her daughter from a horror worse than she faced in her own youth.

“You—” I cough, backing away from the table, away from the woman now supporting herself by its edge. “You spelled me!”
“Only your memory, Fairest. My needs are precise.”
“You—you wretched creature! I wish you had died on my wedding day!”
Smiling, she sinks back down into her chair. “No, you don’t. There is too much kindness in your heart, even now, even for such a wretched creature as myself.”

Black Fanged Thing” by Sam Rebelein [Shimmer Magazine Issue 41, January 2018; 4823 words]

Every sundown, a strange beast stalks the streets of town dragging its clatter of bottles behind it. Each bottle contains a slip of paper, one for every adult. If anyone wishes to know what is written on theirs, all they have to do is ask…

The pathetic, hunched little figure shuffled laboriously past Jude’s home, tugging those bottles on twine behind itself. Sisyphus against thousands of boulders.
The thing passed, and vanished around the bend at the other end of the lane. The neighborhood became silent. And the sun sank.
Phil sniffed. “Tomorrow, then,” he said.
“Tomorrow,” said Jude.

“Yard Dog” by Tade Thompson [FIYAH Literary Magazine Issue 7, Summer 2018; 2947 words]

fiyah 7
Cover Art by Mariama Alizor

Yard Dog plays music so glorious he can reduce the room to tears, turn the drinks sour, render all drugs useless. No one knows who he is or where he comes from, but before long someone comes looking for him.

Shed said it slower and louder. “Please. Have you. Seen my. BROTHER. Thank you.”
“I don’t know you or your brother. How did you get in, anyway? We’re not open. Get the fuck out of here.”
The way I heard it, Shed just smiled at her and went to use the john, but never came back out. Hours later when tempers had cooled somewhat, Sue got curious about him, had one of the men check the bathroom. They found his raggedy clothes, a trail of blood, strips of skin, meat and other fluids leading from the door to one of the stalls. Al said it was like he had shed his skin, which is how come we called him Shed. It wasn’t till later that we figured he was looking for Yard.

One for Sorrow, Two for Joy” by LaShawn M. Wanak [Fireside Magazine Issue 54, April 2018; 3471 words]

The Undertaker knows how to get the crows to take people’s sorrows away when they lose a loved one; but they also want something from her she refuses to give.

Walking down a sidewalk, hot tears streaming down her cheeks. Not aware of where she is, only knows that she’s been walking, walking so long that there are blisters on her feet, but the pain is nothing, nothing. A crow lands at her feet, pecking at the pavement before looking up at her with one black, bright eye.
—what you looking at? Think you can bring her back? Unless you can take away my pain, go, shoo, take off!

In the End, It Always Turns Out the Same” by A.C. Wise [The Dark Issue 37, June 2018; 3565 words]

One by one, the children on Richard McGinty’s school bus route are disappearing. So the sheriff does what any good sheriff would do, and calls the Super Teen Detective Squad – who’ve got their own issues to work out.

Lately she’s been having recurring dreams about murdering Greg. In fact, she’s dreamt about murdering every single member of the Teen Detective Squad. More than once, she’s woken with blood on her hands. She has no idea where the blood comes from. The only thing she knows for certain is that it isn’t hers. Sometimes she wonders if she’s spent so much time thinking about becoming a monster that she’s turned into one after all.

Space-Based Science Fiction

Desert Island Pick

Umbernight” by Carolyn Ives Gilman [Clarkesworld Magazine Issue 137, February 2018; 18,059 words]

clarkesworld 137
Cover Art: “Arrival” by Artur Sadlos

The colonists on Dust don’t know much of what happens to the surface of the planet when it faces Umber – the planet’s second star – they just know it’s deadly. When much needed supplies are dropped right in the middle of Umbernight, a brave few will find out why.

The road had sprouted all manner of creatures covered with plates and shells—little ziggurats and stepped pyramids, spirals, and domes. In between them floated bulbs like amber, airborne eggplants. They spurted a mucus that ate away any plastic it touched.
We topped a rise to find the valley before us completely crusted over with life, and no trace of a path. No longer could we avoid trampling through it, crushing it underfoot. Ahead, a translucent curtain suspended from floating, gas-filled bladders hung across our path. It shimmered with iridescent unlight.

The Best of the Rest

Traces of Us” by Vanessa Fogg [GigaNotoSaurus, March 1, 2018; 6572 words]

Two sentient starships cross paths in the vastness of space, each carrying a passenger that has been waiting a long time to connect with the other.

The ship contained the memories of over a thousand individuals. Recorded patterns of synaptic firing, waves of electrical and biochemical activity: the preserved symphonies of a human mind.
The minds currently conscious in and around the ship were not the same as their flesh-and-blood progenitors, the human beings of Old Earth. These new minds had had centuries to meld with one another and evolve; to modify themselves. They delighted in sensory inputs unimaginable to Homo sapiens—some could sense the entire electromagnetic spectrum. Some could consciously track the movement of a single electron or see all the radiating energies of a star.
Yet the second ship requested the recording of a single unmodified mind from the first.

Fleeing Oslyge” by Sally Gwylan [Clarkesworld Magazine Issue 140, May 2018; 9216 words]

After the invaders overrun her home town, Senne takes refuge with a group of soldiers searching for the rest of their unit. Not everyone in the group may be trustworthy.

Better the cold mist and these days of hunger and endless walking than trying to hide in broken Oslyge. Better this than letting myself be taken to the camps the Tysthänder, the Peace Hands, claim are for our safety. Our safety in this time of transition; that’s what their bulletins said. No one is sure whether the invaders—“project administrators” as they call themselves—are of human stock, as we are, or are alien.
Their guards are human enough.

“Inscribed on Dark Water” by Gregor Hartmann [Interzone #277, September/October 2018; 8205 words]

interzone 277
Cover Art by Vince Haig

Olani is a young marine biologist interning at a fuel refinery on the frontier planet Zephyr. She’s not getting much out of her time there: most of the crew either ignores her or treats her with disdain and she basically just mops up shit all day. When an inspection crew comes to the plant she has an opportunity to advance her career and she must decide if she’s the kind of person who will do whatever it takes to get ahead.

Olani was a child when Pico erupted. The supervolcano vomited up so much gas and debris that Zephyr’s albedo increased. Light bounced off the cloud tops and back into space instead of heating the atmosphere. The temperature fell inexorably. As a kid, Olani had fun doing unusual things like playing in snow in an equatorial city. Only later did she understand why adults were whispering and crying.

It was touch and go for a long time. If the sea had frozen over, the oxygen produced by phytoplankton wouldn’t have been released to the atmosphere and everyone would have suffocated. Ocean, bless them, had kept that from happening. If you were looking for heroes of applied marine biology, Ocean was the place to find them.

“Prophet of the Roads” by Naomi Kritzer [Infinity’s End, Solaris; 4721 words]

The Engineer was an AI that once shaped the course of human development; now it exists only in fragments. With the solar system mired in violent conflict, Luca hopes to reunite the fragments and return human society to a state of peace and prosperity.

I was on a ship in orbit, so I didn’t watch people die; I went down, searching for survivors, since we’d been told they were well-prepared, defiant, probably equipped with pressure suits and subdomes and any number of other possibilities. Instead, we found bodies of civilians. In the moments before death, people clung to one another, uselessly trying to shield their loved ones from the vacuum of space that was rushing in around them.
In the dream, I look for the Engineer, but do not find it. Everything is destroyed. Everything.

The Hydraulic Emperor” by Arkady Martine [Uncanny Magazine Issue 20, January/February 2018; 6601 words]

Kinesis Industrial One hires Mallory Iheji to win an auction for a rare and mysterious Qath box. The reward – a long lost film made by her favorite artist – should be more than worth her risk, but the Qath only accept personal sacrifices as payment and more than a few participants are willing to give up anything to get it.

I’m not into aliens the way the Qath groupies are into aliens. A Qath box doesn’t do anything. It doesn’t tell you anything about someone else’s mind; it won’t let you out of yourself, even for a minute. It’s just not human, which apparently gets to some people: the strangeness of it, of owning something made by otherwise life, otherwise minds. The Qath are the only aliens we’ve got, and they don’t interact with us much—but they like their auctions. Their auctions and their little boxes. What Kinesis Industrial wanted with one I wasn’t sure I wanted to know.

The Wait is Longer Than You Think” by Adrian Simmons [GigaNotoSaurus, May 1, 2018; 7813 words]

Like most humans, John is a social animal. He’s marooned on a remote planet with a Kinri named Colophinanoc and the Kinri can’t conceive of why anyone would require social interaction to maintain their mental health. And any possible rescue is years away.

Colophinanoc was a captive audience. It was crucial that Colophinanoc didn’t feel like a captive audience.
If that happened, Colophinanoc would surely suggest that they leave off the fishing boat and work on the traps—which they did separately. It had not taken long for Colophinanoc to come up with a dozen or more tasks that they did separately.
He waited; watched the sunken fan tree where they had herded the fish. In his impatience, the words came to fast. He couldn’t wait anymore. “Yeah, so there we are, Sully and I, trying not to bust out laughing at Nanooni and—” the slightest shiver runs through the reed boat, Colophinanoc shifting, Colophinanoc getting sick of him.

The Freeze-Frame Revolution by Peter Watts [Tachyon Publications; 41,275 words]

freeze frame rev
Cover Art by Elizabeth Story

The starship Eriophora treks across the galaxy, waking various crew members for a few days every thousand years or so when it needs assistance building gates for other ships to fast-travel through. These are not ideal conditions to stage a mutiny, but Sunday Ahzmundin is going to try anyway.

Back when we first shipped out I played this game with myself. Every time I thawed, I’d subtract the duration of our voyage from the date of our departure; then check to see when we’d be if Eriophora were a time machine, if we’d been moving back through history instead of out through the cosmos. Oh look: all the way back to the Industrial Revolution in the time it took us to reach our first build. Two builds took us to the Golden Age of Islam, seven to the Shang Dynasty.
I guess it was my way of trying to keep some kind of connection, to measure this most immortal of endeavors on a scale that meat could feel in the gut. It didn’t work out, though. Did exactly the opposite in fact, ended up rubbing my nose in the sheer absurd hubris of even trying to contain the Diaspora within the pitiful limits of earthbound history.

(Though The Freeze-Frame Revolution is slightly over the word limit, the author considers it a novella and Hugo rules allow some leeway for stories within twenty percent of the limit if the committee deems it appropriate. I am unsure if other awards have similar caveats.)

Artificial Condition (The Murderbot Diaries) by Martha Wells [Tor.com Publishing; 32,446 words]

Murderbot takes a job protecting a group of scientists who are trying to negotiate the return of their data from the company that fired them, but its true goal is recovering information about its own troubled past.

“I’m not your crew. I’m not a human. I’m a construct. Constructs and bots can’t trust each other.”
It was quiet for ten precious seconds, though I could tell from the spike in its feed activity it was doing something. I realized it must be searching its databases, looking for a way to refute my statement. Then it said, Why not?
I had spent so much time pretending to be patient with humans asking stupid questions. I should have more self-control than this. “Because we both have to follow human orders. A human could tell you to purge my memory. A human could tell me to destroy your systems.”
I thought it would argue that I couldn’t possibly hurt it, which would derail the whole conversation.
But it said, There are no humans here now.
I realized I had been trapped into this conversational dead end, with the transport pretending to need this explained in order to get me to articulate it to myself. I didn’t know who I was more annoyed at, myself or it. No, I was definitely more annoyed at it.

The list continues with parts 2 and 3.

You can also check out my monthly Best Of columns for more great recommendations!

The Rack – Zine Reviews for Late June 2018

Rounding out the month of June with the latest from Apex, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Compelling Science Fiction, Lightspeed, Shimmer, Strange Horizons and Tor.com.

 

Apex Magazine Issue 109, June 2018
Jacqueline Carey’s “Suzie Q” is a demonic fantasy about Suzanne, who develops a “slutty” reputation as a young teenager that she hopes to escape when she goes off to a famous summoning college called Holyfields. College, of course, has a different set of abusers for her to contend with and later, after she is expelled for lashing out against them and living on the streets, she has no choice but to contend with the demon that has been growing inside her for all those years. “Suzie Q” is a solid character study with a well-earned ending.
There is only one other story in this month’s Apex – “Three Meetings of the Pregnant Man Group” by James Beamon. It comes exactly as advertised, except instead of involving some scientific breakthrough that gets men pregnant à la “Junior”, in this story men are host to gestating alien parasites per an interstellar trade agreement with the Skoicks. There are some fun bits, but it’s one of those stories that isn’t quite doing what it thinks it’s doing.

BCS 254Beneath Ceaseless Skies #254 (6/21/2018)
The Sweetness of Honey and Rot” might be my favorite story yet from A. Merc Rustad. A village is protected by the Life Tree, which demands human sacrifice to sustain itself. Jiteh has lost two beloved family members – her father and most recently her twin brother – and despite the Tree’s promise not to take too much from any one family, it is becoming clear that its promises are empty ones. This leads Jiteh to question whether the Tree is really protecting them at all, or just imprisoning them for its own benefit, and she starts looking for any exploitable natural weaknesses it may have. I was taken with the way Rustad utilized their remarkable descriptive powers, especially in the beautifully macabre sacrificial imagery. The story opens with the fate of Jiteh’s twin: “He sits on the edge of his cot, thorns popping like seedlings from between his knuckles and poking through his sweaty scalp in a blood-slicked crown. “I’m scared,” he whispers.” There’s something to be said for a story that can send chills up your spine from the get-go.
Jordan Kurella’s “Three Dandelion Stars” is a darkly-tinted fairy tale about a forbidden romance between noble-born Amarine and commoner Shai. Shai wants to be married, but Amarine is more hesitant. Shai makes a deal with a swamp fairy to get her wish, but as with all fairy dealings, the price may outlast the reward. I liked the author’s depictions of the ambiguities and anxieties that circle Shai and Amandine’s relationship, and the various conflicts that simmer throughout and erupt at the climax bring the story to a gratifying close.

Compelling Science Fiction Issue 11, June 2018
There’s a little more miss than hit among the six original stories in the new Compelling, but one of the them stood apart for me.
Adam R. Shannon’s “Redaction” plops us into a future where people can edit out sections of their memory by “dropping markers”, and later choose whether to remove the recollections that fall between two markers. This comes in handy for Crackle Marigold, a paramedic who has to witness some pretty horrifying shit on a nightly basis and is happy to redact most of it so he can keep doing his job without burning out. Crackle’s partner Jesús is anti-redaction, and when he offers Crackle the shocking reason why he has no problem functioning with all his memories intact, Crackle must decide – knowing that Jesús has most likely revealed this information to him before and will do so again – if he should keep his memory of the conversation, even if it means holding onto another memory he’d rather let go of. It’s a provocative idea, well-executed, and with a fitting conclusion.
The issue’s lone reprint, C. Stuart Harwick’s “Dreams of the Rocket Man” from the September 2016 issue of Analog was just as good for me the second time around, and well worth the read if you missed its initial publication.

Lightspeed 97Lightspeed Magazine Issue 97, June 2018
I had a mostly lukewarm response to the original stories in June’s issue of Lightspeed, with Rustad’s and Hoffman’s collaboration the brightest light among them.
I Sing Against the Silent Sun” by A. Merc Rustad and Ada Hoffman is part of Rustad’s Sun Lords of the Principality story cycle but stands just fine on its own. Radical poet Li Sin faked their death to escape the Gray Sun’s persecution, but the Sun Lord eventually uncovers the ruse and the pursuit begins anew. The spectacle of a poet-hero tossing off subversive verses while fleeing from a powerful tyrant is pleasantly alluring, and the authors’ shared penchant for opulent prose makes for a nicely operatic space fantasy.
Emma Törzs’ “From the Root” has an interesting premise: Marya is a “regenetrix” – someone who can regenerate lost body parts – living in Victorian-era London. Pregnancy is a death sentence for her kind, but no one has ever been able to figure out why. As Marya’s due date approaches, the story’s narrator – a midwife and a regenetrix herself – is determined to test out her theory on the subject and save Marya’s life. The story’s conclusion was a little too tidy for my taste, though the solution the narrator finds is a clever one.
Lina Rather’s “A Pilgrim’s Guide to the Lighthouse of Quvenle the Seer” follows a woman (in the second person “you”) who travels across the stars seeking revelations about her future. The titular guidebook is itself a seer of sorts. The premise predicts its own unsatisfying conclusion, in metafictional fashion. Ashok K. Bankers “The Quiltbag” finds an interstellar traveler who is profiled by a certain system’s customs agency but turns the tables when the nature of the bag they wish to search is revealed.

Shimmer Magazine Issue 43, May/June 2018
Sadly, just moments after I turned the last page in the latest issue of Shimmer, Twitter informed me that it would be one of the last. Just three more issues to go before the badger takes a bow in November – but the happy news is that the May/June issue features the best story they’ve published this year:
Freia is trapped in a dangerously abusive relationship with her “supervisor and ex”, Woden, in Anya Johanna DeNiro’s remarkable “Faint Voices, Increasingly Desperate”. 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. DeNiro’s story is a perfect storm of potent imagery, vivid characterization, and slowly rising tension that hits the boiling point. The tone set by the opening segment is as cogent as any I’ve encountered in recent memory. Freia’s circumstances demand a rigorous asceticism to mask her defiant soul. She has never educated herself on the particulars of the silk she harvests: “She keeps her cravings for knowledge in check. This is how she survives.” The silkworm cocoons cry out in confusion and terror as she drops them in boiling water to separate the strands, and she wears headphones to drown their voices out. DeNiro relates the moment in a strong, active voice, transforming conscious self-denial into more than a mere coping mechanism, but a way of channeling and storing energy – weaponized abnegation.
The rest of the issue also lives up to Shimmer’s reputation for curating outside-the-box genre exercises. Shimmer is known for. Katherine Kendig’s genial and eccentric “What the Skeleton Detective Tells You (While You Picnic)” is another highlight from the issue. The tale goes pretty much as the title advertises, its decorous, absurdist tone nudging the reader along. Of course people can just turn into living skeletons for whatever reason, and why wouldn’t a living skeleton become a private detective who wears a wide brimmed hat and long coat to hide her skeleton-ness, and feel self-conscious about wanting to flirt with non-skeletons, and certainly there is a Skeleton Forest, where people might choose to picnic. What kind of world are you living in?
A tried and true assumption about space exploration is put to the test in Octavia Cade’s “Gone to Earth”, as astronauts on Mars are afflicted with Earthsickness – a permanent and debilitating condition resulting from being cut off from a living environment for too long. The second person narrative “You, In Flux” is a disturbing and reflective take on postpartum depression, where you are a mother dealing with complicated feelings that are literally affecting every atom of your existence, and your partner is not engaged or supportive of your condition.
I’ll greatly miss reading Shimmer, which has always engaged with a wide range of voices and approaches to speculative fiction and has published many remarkable stories over the years. I’m eager to see what it has in store for the remainder of its run.

Strange Horizons, May 2018
Young, gay immigrant Ravi finds himself pursued by a jumbie, a malevolent demon of Caribbean origin, in Ian Muneshwar’s eerie folk tale “Salt Lines”. Ravi is followed home by the jumbie after leaving the club late one night, and resorts to the only defense he knows: laying a line of salt in front of his door. As the creature consumes each grain of salt, one at a time, in order to gain entrance to his room, Ravi calls his estranged father, hoping for comfort and advice. Suspension of disbelief is strained a bit regarding how quickly the jumbie manages to consume all the salt; I mean, really, how close to empty was the container? The ending is a surprise, in a “Wait, WHAT!?!” kind of way, but it is thematically consistent with the setup. The conversation with his father, punctuated by the cooing of Ravi’s sister’s new baby – whom no one even bothered to tell Ravi about – is heartbreaking.
The other works in May’s crop of stories are Octavia Cade’s “We Feed the Bears of Fire and Ice” – a grisly short piece about climate change deniers getting their just desserts after a worldwide ecological collapse – and the manic meta-fantasy “Variations on a Theme by Turandot” by Ada Hoffman, in which the lead in Puccini’s most infamous opera tries to change history so it will end the way she wants it to.

meat salt sparksTor.com (6/6/2018)
Rich Larson is a genre practitioner in the most literal sense possible, in that he practices genre the way a doctor practices medicine – collating as much knowledge about the craft as he can and applying it judiciously to achieve a desired effect. His new story for Tor.com, “Meat and Salt and Sparks”, is a drug cocktail of uplifted animals, detective noir, and cyberpunk futurism, and the result is both unnerving and gripping; Larson’s MO seems to be: “maybe you’ve seen this stuff before, but you’ve never seen it like this.” 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. Larson has a talent for providing the reader with vivid details – emotional and visual – as well as taking common sci-fi tropes and spinning them just enough to make them seem new again. The bond between Cu and her human partner Huxley is effortlessly heartwarming – he treats her like she is just another cop, while most people can’t get over the novelty: even perps want to take a selfie with her. “Meat and Salt and Sparks” is a nicely balanced work of fiction, with tone and pace and character and plot hitting all the right beats at all the right moments.

Compelling 11Must Read –
“Faint Voices, Increasingly Desperate”, Anya Johanna DeNiro Short Story
“Meat and Salt and Sparks”, Rich Larson Short Story

Highly Regarded –
“The Sweetness of Honey and Rot”, A. Merc Rustad Novelette

Also Recommended –
“What the Skeleton Detective Tells You (While You Picnic)”, Katherine Kendig Short Story
“I Sing Against the Silent Sun”, A. Merc Rustad and Ada Hoffman Novelette
“Salt Lines”, Ian Muneshwar Short Story
“Redaction”, Adam R. Shannon Short Story