The Best Short SFF of May 2020

I am growing very frustrated with the new wordpress editor, which erased the content of the original post for no reason I can fathom. Here are the recommended stories, but unfortunately I didn’t back up the text so the reviews are lost forever.

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

Decorating with Luke“, by Adam-Troy Castro (Nightmare Magazine Issue 92, May 2020)

Driving with Ghosts“, by Clara Madrigano (The Dark Issue 60, May 2020)

Martian Cinema“, by Gabriela Santiago (Strange Horizons, May 11, 2020)

Salt and Iron“, by Gem Isherwood (Podcastle #625, May 6, 2020)

Out of Body, by Jeffrey Ford (Tor.com Publishing, May 26, 2020)

Sleeping in Metal and Bone“, by Kristi DeMeester (The Dark Issue 60, May 2020)

Sea Change, by Nancy Kress (Tachyon Publications, May 22, 2020)

Clever Jack, Heavy with Stories“, R.K. Duncan (Beneath Ceaseless Skies #304, May 21, 2020)

“Eyes of the Forest”, Ray Nayler (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, May/June 2020)

The Best Short SFF of April 2020

Featured Image from the cover of Mithila Review Issue 13, by John Glover

Must Read Stories

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Art by Flavio Bolla

The Hummingbird Temple“, by C.C. Finlay [Beneath Ceaseless Skies #300, March 26, 2020] Novelette

All nine heirs to the throne are conveniently gathered at the castle when the king dies, setting off an assassination free-for-all expected to produce a new Dynast by morning light. Lin, the so-called “Orphan Dyness” and least likely to inherit the throne even if she survives the night, is looking to do just that as she battles her way to safety in spite of an increasingly outrageous series of attempts on her life. There is a novel’s worth of world here, but Finlay keeps things fleet and fun all the way through to a gratifying payoff. Watch out for those blood ants!

The Breaking“, by Vanessa Fogg [Mithila Review Issue 13, March/April 2020] Short Story

Fogg’s best stories are about the always frustrating, occasionally illuminating inconstancies of communication. In “The Breaking”, she fashions her pet theme into a breathtaking cosmic horror allegory for our time. Years ago, the sky split open and the Angels arrived to wreak havoc on civilization. Not everyone could see The Breaking when it happened, and those who couldn’t refused to believe those who did. Jenny and Jamie were among those who witnessed it, while their parents could not. Several years on civilization has changed dramatically, but has at least figured out how to keep the Angels at bay. Now Jamie says he can hear the Angels speaking, though Jenny knows that’s impossible and he seems to be the only one. Is he deluded or is history repeating itself?

To Balance the Weight of Khalem“, by R.B. Lemberg [Beneath Ceaseless Skies #300, March 26, 2020] Novelette

When Belezal was a child, they were forced to flee one war torn country, only to settle in Khalem – another land consumed by war – when denied their last best option for life in a peaceful land. Older now, Belezal has earned the right to study in Islingar, the place that had once turned them away.  The journey there forces them to confront the uncertainties about who they are and where, if anywhere, they can call home. Lemberg’s fluid prose is captivating, but that should come as no surprise to their readers. The depth of feeling it invokes is particularly resonant in this story.

 

More Recommended Stories

The Pride of Salinkari“, by Elizabeth Crowe [Strange Horizons, April 6, 2020] Short Story

Salinkari is a land of rigorous educational discipline, though their ethical principles detour slightly from the Aristotelian path. They take the teaching profession very seriously in Salinkari, so when a former student from a well-connected family takes his own life before he is deemed to have reached his “pinnacle”, it may cost ethics instructor Ekeithan his reputation and his career, possibly even his life. A beautifully paced philosophical page turner with great characters and an enticing dilemma at its core.

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Art by Chorazin/Adobe Stock Art

A Moonlit Savagery“, by Millie Ho [Nightmare Magazine Issue 91, April 2020] Short Story

A ghost called a “pop” haunts a hostel in Bankok, feasting on the entrails of sleeping tourists. One day, to her surprise, she befriends a traveling artist names Seb who isn’t afraid of her at all. With little experience in matters that don’t involve gorging on human viscera, can our spectral narrator trust her feelings for him? A delectable little supernatural fantasy that cleverly reverses the usual ghost story formula.

Our Souls to the Moon“, by Tamara Jerée [Strange Horizons, April 20, 2020] Short Story

The climate is poisoned and inequity is rampant at every turn, but hey, at least rich people can get high looking at the Neptunian moon Sao through a specially designed telescope(!!!). Bimi and Adal are fired from their job assembling said telescopes, though for entirely arbitrary reasons. Adal has been meeting with some eerie lunar cultists who are promising something far greater than a cheap high – for a steep price, of course. And it takes quite a leap of faith to trust they can deliver on their word. Jerée conjures a vivid dystopia with full-bodied, expressive prose.

Foie Gras“, by Charles Payseur [Fireside Magazine Issue 78, April 2020] Short Story

With little room to establish setting and character (much less tell a story), hitting your targets through very tight widows is the only option when writing flash fiction. Payseur nails the bullseye in this quickie about a holographic Napoleon trying to conquer the galaxy and the civilian techno-wiz standing in his way. It also made me laugh out loud, which I assure you is no mean feat.

As the Shore to the Tides, So Blood Calls to Blood“, by Karlo Yeager Rodriguez [Beneath Ceaseless Skies #301, April 9, 2020] Novelette

A tale of brothers and betrayal, which I guess is kind of the norm in brother-centered stories.  What sets Rodriguez’s apart is the depth of the worldbuilding – a myths-inside-myths bloody layer cake of a mini-epic where the very world was created by such treachery, so that its people can’t help but follow suit.

 

The Best Short SFF of March 2020

Featured Image from “Investigate” by Andis Reinbergs, cover art for Beneath Ceaseless Skies #298-299

Must Read Stories

 

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Cover by Patila/Adobe Stock Art

A Study in Shadows“, Benjamin Percy [Nightmare Magazine Issue 90, March 2020] Short Story

“A Study in Shadows” is a grim, phantasmagoric character study of the appropriately named Dr. Harrow, a psychology professor who engages in a field study “on the belief in the invisible”. He has a penchant for manipulating his subjects to induce a state of terror, unleashing deadly havoc but always escaping the consequences of his actions. The calmly anecdotal tenor of the prose is what really twists the knife.

“Beyond the Tattered Veil of Stars”, Mercurio D. Rivera [Asimov’s Science Fiction, March/April 2020] Novelette

A tour de force of old-fashioned Outer Limits-style existentialist sci-fi, “Beyond the Tattered Veil of Stars” follows internet reporter Cory, who is handed the story of a lifetime when his ex-girlfriend Milagros creates an extraordinarily complex simulated reality. Milagros generates a race of beings more suited to problem solving than humans, and by throwing one cataclysm after another at them she uses their virtual solutions to solve real world problems like climate change and cancer. Things go horribly wrong, of course, when her creations turn out to be even better at solving problems than she could have anticipated.

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Cover Art by chainat

Escaping Dr. Markoff“, Gabriela Santiago [The Dark Issue 58, March 2020] Short Story

I love stories that create their own rules and teach the reader how to follow them. Santiago’s second-person narrative deposits you in a mad scientist b-movie, where you pine for the nefarious and charismatic Dr. Markoff while you are both complicit in and victimized by his dastardly schemes. It’s a flick with a flexible fourth wall, continually re-shooting and re-editing itself, wandering offscreen and backstage at its leisure and blurring the line between performance and reality.

Tend to Me“, by Kristina Ten [Lightspeed Magazine Issue 118, March 2020] Short Story

Nora is stuck in a pattern of taking on the interests and hobbies of whomever she is dating at the time. She has no real interest in any of these activities (which include rock climbing, scuba diving, beekeeping, gardening, auto repair), in fact she often actively disdains them. Her life shifts gears in a totally unexpected but weirdly logical way when she starts dating an acupuncturist. Ten’s very short story is propelled by sly, ticklish prose and a generous empathy for its characters.

More Recommended Stories

The Amusement Dark“, Mike Buckley [Clarkesworld Magazine Issue 162, March 2020] Novelette

A sober and engrossing story about people looking for meaning in life after humanity loses the war against the AI. The peculiar, murky relationship that develops between the humans and their new “benevolent” oppressors is fascinating.

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Cover by Mondolithic Studios

“A Feast of Butterflies”, Amanda Hollander [The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, March/April 2020] Short Story

A constable is instructed to arrest, without evidence, a young girl from another town who may be connected to the disappearance of five local boys. The girl has some unusual habits and is definitely hiding something, but she’s not the only one. An eerie little dark fantasy, and a devilishly satisfying one.

“The Last Legend”, Matthew Hughes [The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, March/April 2020] Novelette

Ever down-on-his-luck Ardal flees town after assaulting his bully of a co-worker. After a sequence of further misadventures he stumbles upon a house in the woods beset by mysterious enchantments, its sole inhabitant afflicted with a strange kind of memory loss. Hughes charming, episodic meta-adventure lives up to its title in the literal sense.

Rat and Finch are Friends“, Innocent Chizaram Ilo [Strange Horizons, March 2, 2020] Short Story

Izuchukwu is in trouble with his school and his family when he is caught kissing a boy. He is also an “amusu” who can transform into a finch, and he’ll be in more serious trouble if they find out about that. A smart, well-crafted and poignant coming-of-age fantasy.

Where the World Ends Without Us“, Jason Sanford [Beneath Ceaseless Skies #299, March 26, 2020] Novelette

This exciting and suspenseful novelette draws together the characters and storylines from Sanford’s two previous “Grains” stories. This time, Alexnya is being prosecuted for Frere-Jones’s crimes (from “Blood Grains Speak Through Memories“) by the inflexible grains, who zealously “protect” the earth from the people who would harm it. A glimmer of hope arrives when she crosses paths with Colton’s day-fellow caravan (from “The Emotionless, In Love“). There’s enough context to anchor new readers, but the other stories are well worth investing your time in.

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Cover Art by Thomas Chamberlain-Keen

Coffee Boom: Decoctions, Micronized“, by D.A. Xiaolin Spires [Clarkesworld Magazine Issue 162, March 2020] Short Story

A fun caper story about a coffee-obsessed waitress who discovers she can create the perfect cuppa joe, if she can just get her hands on a newly invented mini-collider. A fresh and quirky concept, well-realized.

The Spoils“, Aliya Whiteley [Beneath Ceaseless Skies #298, February 27, 2020] Short Story

Citizens of an underground-dwelling civilization covet pieces of a massive, recently deceased creature known as an Olme for its magical properties. Most have little idea what to do with their cut, but Kim knows exactly what she wants and how to get it. Or, at least she thinks she does. “The Spoils” is the kind of story that gradually peels back its layers to reveal a wider and deeper world than it shows at first glance.

 

The Best Short SFF of 2019 – Part 3: Fantasy

My “Best of 2019” is split into three parts: Part 1: Dark Fantasy/Horror; Part 2: Science Fiction; Part 3: Fantasy. My choices in each category are not ranked; they are presented in alphabetical order by the author’s last name. Each title is accompanied by a quick introductory statement and a short excerpt from the story. Excerpts may contain mild spoilers. For the purposes of this column, short fiction is defined as less than novel-length, or under 40,000 words.

The Best Short Fantasy Fiction of 2019

BCS 287One Found in a World of the Lost“, by Shweta Adhyam (Beneath Ceaseless Skies #287, September 26, 2019) 6979 words

Pavitra blames herself for her twin sister Gayatri’s death at the hands of a wild boar. While Pavitra reckons with her guilt, the departed Gayatri finds herself in a strange world, in the company of a mystical creature called a yakshini.

“I am… Gayatri,” said the girl, and it felt wrong. As if she were lying. No, worse. As if she were stealing. “Who are you?”
The creature sighed. “I have been under a curse so long I have forgotten my name. But I am a yakshini, and I remember the way back to my home. Will you accept a reward for having saved me?”
The girl bit down the ready refusal on her tongue and said, “What kind of reward?”
“What would you like? Safety and stability, escape from Bhoomi’s wrath? Beauty? Immortality? Simply name it.”
Desire exploded in the girl’s heart at the mention of safety and stability, rest… She quashed it. What would she do in such a world? She was a hunter. But she’d been right, these were gifts that would benefit her pack, gifts worth taking risks for. Even if they came with a large sense of foreboding.
“Can you make me invulnerable?” she said, giving in to the image of her death, the boar’s tusks sinking into her and what it would mean for them all if she did indeed die.
The yakshini’s deer-face grinned; she nodded eagerly. She plucked a handful of leaves from a nearby bush and murmured some words over them. As her shloka reached its crescendo, she crushed the leaves and drew a shimmering circle, vertical in the air, with the juice they left on her fingers. The shimmer covered the circle for a moment, then retreated to its edges. Through it, the girl looked into a whole other world, one that was as hard and dry and scrubby as her own was green and wet and mossy, with stone pillars taking the place of trees as far as her eye could see.

BCS 268The Beast Weeps With One Eye“, by Morgan Al-Moor (Beneath Ceaseless Skies #268, January 3, 2019) 6663 words

High Sister Nwere leads her people on a perilous flight from their homeland as they are menaced by a murderous onslaught of ravens. Exhausted and all but defeated, she strikes a devil’s bargain in a last ditch effort to save them all.

I dropped to my knees and pressed my hands to the moist grass. I drew in a deep breath and twisted my tongue and lips to match the breath of the earth beneath me. “Heed my call, Ancient Land, and lend me your wisdom. My people need shelter.”
The land sighed under my palms. The old voice filled my head. “I hear you, High Sister, and I have what you seek. Though the ravens fade into oblivion when compared to what lies here.”
“I have lost many lives on the road, Ancient Land. Show me this sanctuary, whatever it may be.”
“You stand upon the abode of the Keeper of Sorrows, and of him and this place, I shall speak no more.”
My fingers dug into the dirt. “You must talk. By the will of the twin Elders, Arowo-Ara and Ufefe, Striders of Thunder and Lightning, I implore you to show your secrets.”
The voice grunted in pain. I hated my cruelty, I hated to use the Elders’ names to threaten another being, but time was of the essence.
“So be it,” whispered the land.
A sudden quake rushed beneath our feet. Gasps filled the air, and I clung to the dirt as my body swayed. Above us, shades of crimson spilled across the sky, as if the clouds had bled. Screams erupted. Our hunters jumped to their feet while the children wriggled into their mothers’ arms.
Across the river, three trees burst into smoke, and behind them stood a walled structure that had not been there before.

Lightspeed 112A Bird, a Song, a Revolution“, by Brooke Bolander (Lightspeed Magazine Issue 112, September 2019) 5224 words

Whistlecage – so named because of the caged songbird she carries around – meets an old witch who promises to teach her a thing or two about making songs.

“Would you like to hear my bird?”
Now the witch is mocking her, Whistlecage thinks. It’s almost a relief. But when she looks up at her, prepared to take her lumps as best she can, the witch is fumbling with one of the bits hanging at her belt. A smooth, hollow spar of bird bone, bored through with holes. She catches Whistlecage’s eye and holds it fast as she raises the thing to her lined lips. Her fingers dance spider steps down its length.
And the bone sings to the bird.
It starts as an imitation at first, good enough that the bird whistles back. But it doesn’t stop there. It takes the bird’s song and expands it like an unfurling pelt, twisting all sorts of new sounds and flourishes and ups and downs into the tune. The girl has never heard anything like it. There are drummers among her people, and those who sing stories on special days, but this is different. This is a sound that fills the contours of her insides like it was carved from ivory for the purpose, something she has never known she needed. It is an instant connection between her heart and the old woman’s. Just like that they are the same, because of the song.
The feeling wells up in her and spills out of his eyes.
“There are more singers and whistlers in the world than you’ll ever be able to meet, child,” the witch says, “and each one carries as many songs within them as stars in the sky. You’ll never be able to hear them all, and when you grow woman-sized you’ll lie awake at night haunted by that. All you can do is learn how to sing your own and hope that someone somewhere remembers.”

for he can creepFor He Can Creep“, by Siobhan Carroll (Tor.com, July 10, 2019) 7903 words

The poet Christopher Smart is locked away in an asylum with his faithful cat, Jeoffry. Years before, Smart made a deal with the devil, and now the devil has come to collect his due. Though Jeoffry might have something to say about that.

Jeoffry is curled at his usual spot on the sleeping poet’s back when the devil arrives. The devil does not enter as his demons do, in whispers and the patterning of light. His presence steals into the room like smoke, and as with smoke, Jeoffry is aware of the danger before he is even awake, his fur on end, his heart pounding.
“Hello, Jeoffry,” the devil says.
Jeoffry extends his claws. At that moment, he knows something is wrong, for the poet, who normally would wake with a howl at such an accidental clawing, lies still and silent. All around Jeoffry is a quiet such as cats never hear: no mouse or beetle creeping along a madhouse wall, no human snoring, no spider winding out its silk. It as if the Night itself has hushed to listen to the devil’s voice, which sounds pleasant and warm, like a bucket of cream left in the sun.
“I thought you and I should have a chat,” Satan says. “I understand you’ve been giving my demons some trouble.”
The first thought that flashes into Jeoffry’s head is that Satan looks exactly as Milton describes him in Paradise Lost. Only more cat-shaped. (Jeoffry, a poet’s cat, has ignored vast amounts of Milton over the years, but some of it has apparently stuck.)
The second thought is that the devil has come into his territory, and this means fighting!
Puffing himself up to his utmost size, Jeoffry spits at the devil and shows his teeth.
This is my place! he cries. Mine!

Haunting of Tram Car 015The Haunting of Tram Car 015, by P. Djèlí Clark (Tor.com Publishing, February 19, 2019) 28576 words

Hamed and Onsi are agents of the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities, investigating a haunting in an unusual location. They soon learn this particular spectre might be more than a minor nuisance.

“Good morning, unknown being,” he said in loud slow words, holding up his identification. “I am Agent Onsi and this is Agent Hamed of the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments, and Supernatural Entities. We hereby inform you that you are in breach of several regulations governing paranormal persons and sentient creatures, beginning with Article 273 of the criminal code which forbids trespass and inhabitation of public property owned by the State, Article 275 on acts of terrifying and intimidation of citizens . . .”
Hamed listened stupefied as the man rattled off a series of violations. He wasn’t even certain when some of those had been put on the books.
“ . . . and given the aforementioned charges,” Onsi continued, “you are hereby instructed to vacate these premises and return to your place of origin, or, barring that, to accompany us to the Ministry for further questioning.” Finishing, he turned with a satisfied nod.
Rookies, Hamed grumbled quietly. Before he could respond, a low moaning sounded in the car. There was little doubt where it came from, as the gray smoke had stopped its slithering and gone still.
“I think it understood me!” Onsi said eagerly.
Yes, Hamed thought dryly. And you probably bored it to death. If it was already dead, you might have just bored it back to death.
He was about say as much when there was a sudden terrible screeching.
Hamed moved to cover his ears at the sound, but was sent stumbling back as a jolt went through the tram. He might have fallen flat had he not reached out for one of the stanchions—catching the vertical pole by a hand. He looked up to see the gray smoke swirling furiously like an angry cloud, screaming as it swelled and grew. The lamps that lined the walls flickered rapidly and the tram began to tremble.

augur-cover-issue-2.1Clear as Quartz, Sharp as Flint” by Maria Haskins (Augur Magazine 2.1) 1009 words

Jenna doesn’t like to heed Grammy’s warnings, not before she was with child, and certainly not now.

In early summer, before solstice-night, when the child is not yet so heavy inside her, Jenna climbs the hill to the ring of stones. She knows she shouldn’t, but it’s the kind of day when nothing seems perilous, not even those pale-grey sarsens looming on the tor. The breeze is soft, and the first bees, drunk on nectar, buzz through the pink sheen of heather spread across the moor. Father’s sheep graze on the hillsides while the herding dogs lounge in the sun, their keen eyes on the lambs and ewes.
Jenna climbs the hill because she hears the stones sing.
Don’t listen to that old stone-song, Grammy told her. That’s what everyone says. Yet it is hard to ignore that call once you’ve heard it.
The first time Jenna heard the stone-song was in midwinter, that night when she let Keff into her bed while everyone was at the sun-feast. Only Grammy’s wooden god watched them from the wall. When Keff moved inside her, the song thrummed so low and deep within she thought it was her own heart beating.
She heard that same song the day the baby quickened. Heard it again when Grammy laid her hands on her belly, shaking her head, muttering of ill-made children, saying that the stones would claim what the wooden god would not.

FIYAH Issue10_150“In That Place She Grows a Garden”, by Del Sandeen (FIYAH Literary Magazine Issue 10: Hair, Spring 2019) 5290 words

When a new principal takes over at her mostly white high school, Rayven is forced to cut her four-years-long locs because they suddenly violate the school’s dress code. Then something other than hair starts growing in their place.

Kids milled around her, some grabbing books out of their lockers, others walking to class. She peeked at her reflection in the small mirror stuck inside her locker door, wondering why she continued to look for something hopeful.
A pop of yellow caught her eye.
Rayven reached up, expecting the worst because it wouldn’t be the first time one of Queen Mary’s finest had snuck an object into her hair—the end of a broken pencil once, a hermit crab shell another time.
“Ow,” she breathed. When she’d pulled on the yellow thing, whatever it was, it stung, as if she pulled her own hair.
Rayven rifled through her bookbag until she found the compact. She held its mirror behind her as she gazed into her locker door reflection.
A yellow flower poked from her ‘fro.
Even the shrill bell went unheard.
She tugged at it and again, felt that sting. Her fingers burrowed deeper, straight to the roots. And indeed, the base of the flower felt like roots. Plant roots. Growing from her head.

Apex 117The Crafter at the Web’s Heart“, by Izzy Wasserstein (Apex Magazine Issue 117, February 2019) 6071 words

In the city of Traverse, magic users become what they practice. Danae is all about spiders, and when she takes a delivery job for some extra cash, she runs afoul of a dangerous fly-cult.

A shiver from the web reached me before I’d registered the sound. I didn’t need to turn around to know the knife had missed me by less than a meter.
I leapt forward, threw myself through the back window of the nearest shack. Shocked, dirty faces stared back at me. I didn’t have time to explain. I darted across, ducked out a side window onto a disturbingly uneven platform.
It shifted, tilted above the void. I didn’t look down. Brought it back into equilibrium. My balance has always been good.
Flies might not be the brightest, but it wasn’t like there were a lot of places I could’ve gone. They’d find me if I didn’t keep moving. I scrambled through a gap in the wall of the next building—empty, thankfully—and out onto the web in front of it. Fortune smiled: the commotion I’d sensed in the web was a caravan, a cheap one, just departing from a hovel of an inn. I rolled under one of the carts, grabbed onto the undercarriage. Not a comfortable ride, but I was out of sight of the flies.
The cart moved slowly, and that bought me time to catch my breath and to think. Back then, I wasn’t used to attempts to murder me, especially when they could’ve just stopped creeping and taken the damn book.
By the time my heart stopped feeling like it wanted to cut its way free, I’d had time to come up with a plan. I needed to know what I was carrying, and why these scum-feeders were willing to kill for it.

many-hearted-dog_FINAL_sm-323x500Many-Hearted Dog and Heron Who Stepped Past Time“, by Alex Yuschik (Strange Horizons, June 17, 2019) 5869 words

Dog and Heron have been business partners for a long time, but Heron experiences time in a different order, and this complicates their relationship.

“There is the past and the not-past,” Heron said, blood dripping from their arm onto the nightingale floor. “Which is this?”
“The not-past, you idiot.” Dog grunted as he peeled back Heron’s sleeve. He was in Heart of Storms, shoulders tense and eyes alive with lightning. With a tsk, he tore off a clean strip of bandage. “Hold still.”
This often happened when Heron stepped through time, the uncertain landings. It surprised them, frustrated Dog, and had caused an assassin hiding behind a shelf of scrolls to loose a throwing star that had grazed Heron’s left arm. But Heron was not a master of the deadly arts for nothing: their knife caught the assassin’s ear at more or less the same time Dog’s knife stabbed the assassin’s hand to a pillar.
Lacquered cabinets gleamed in the next room, shelves full of scrolls stacked in neat columns, a brush and ink still perched on their stands obediently even though it was the dead of night. The last time Heron had visited the not-past, they had been stealing a chicken for their and Dog’s dinner. “Well, I see we are currently embroiled in at least one shenanigan.”
The assassin moaned weakly at their hand, still pinned, and Dog carefully brushed debris away from a noblewoman’s body. “This magistrate job was the stupidest thing we ever did. If you sashay off into the past again, kindly tell my former self I’m an amateur and a fool.”

 

You can find Part 1 – Dark Fantasy/Horror HERE

You can find Part 2 – Science Fiction HERE

Additional Reading:

The above choices are based on my own personal tastes from my own reading experiences, and are meant to be taken as such. There are many other “best of” and “recommended reading” lists that offer up quality reading choices for short SFF. Here are a few:

Maria Haskins, author and translator

Charles Payseur, author and proprietor of Quick Sip Reviews

Eugenia Triantafyllou, author

A.C. Wise, author

Locus Recommended Reading List 

Rocket Stack Rank 2019 YTD (aggregate list), compiled by Greg Hullender and Eric Wong

More links will appear as I find them!

The Best Short SFF of December 2019

Featured Image: cover for Nightmare Issue 87 by Rodjulian

Must Read Stories

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Cover Art: “Halo” by Derek Stenning

Such Thoughts Are Unproductive” by Rebecca Campbell [Clarkesworld Issue 159, December 2019] Short Story

Science fiction has a habit of speculating on future iterations of present-day concerns, so it’s no surprise authors have lately begun expounding on the anxieties of a post-truth cultural landscape. Here, Rebecca Campbell delivers the most succinct and exemplary illustration of this subject I’ve read to date, brilliantly conceived and sharply observed with taut yet lyrical prose. Mar’s mother is supposed to be quarantined with antibiotic-resistant tuberculosis, except she is actually interned in a re-education camp for being an enemy of the state. The woman Mar is communicating with, who may or may not be her actual mother, tells her an anecdote about an “Aunt Sophie” Mar knows doesn’t exist, and in no time does the fictional woman appear and insinuate herself into Mar’s life. Mar has no choice but to play along; even a whiff of dissent could land her in the same predicament as her mother. “Such Thoughts Are Unproductive” is a gripping parable about the fundamental need to assert the truth, even when the lies are destined to outlast you.

Methods of Ascension” by Dan Stintzi [Nightmare Magazine Issue 87, December 2019] Short Story

The story begins with the narrator relating an anecdote about how his brother – since estranged – used to send him unsolicited emails with disturbingly violent video clips, likely culled from the dark web. It’s an all too common act of transgression these days; this blend of passive-aggressive toxicity and non-chalance procures a nagging sense of unease that swells as the story inches along. The narrator eventually reconnects with his brother, who lures him to their remote family cabin with intimations of having turned a new leaf, thanks to an obscure new age guru whose “Methods of Ascension” promise a journey of self-discovery unlike any other. What proceeds is a fully immersive waking nightmare, reminiscent of classic Cronenberg in theme (think Videodrome, or eXistenZ) but with an atmosphere and structure akin to the original weird fiction of the pulp era. Like the story’s narrator you know you should look away, but won’t until it’s much too late.

 

More Recommended Stories

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Cover Art: “Girls in Cars” by Grace P. Fong

St. Agnes” by Andalah Ali [Anathema Magazine Issue 9, December 2019] Short Story

Mallaidh is an introvert whose closest friend works at a cemetery. Lately Mallaidh is seeing spectral visions of a young man they were acquainted with – but not terribly close to – before he died, and wants to learn why. The author avoids taking the story down any of the well-worn genre paths: their concern is with the emotional and sensual details of Mallaidh’s daily life, which lead them, and the reader, to unexpected places.

Things My Father Taught Me” by Rhoads Brazos [Pseudopod #676, November 22, 2019] Short Story

Three Ugandan teenagers hijack what they think is a French charity truck, hoping to sell the goods and run away to Kenya. Unfortunately, some of the real world obstacles in their path are more terrifying than the thousand-year-old coffin with the strange markings the French soldiers were guarding. Brazos’s tale of uncanny horror gets high marks for characterization and tone, and a slow-burn buildup of tension and dread.

The Garden’s First Rule” by Sheldon Costa [Strange Horizons, December 2, 2019] Short Story

With his family in dire financial straits, young Eli volunteers to become a plant-human hybrid in “The Garden” for the well-to-do to gawk at. Things get complicated when his sister comes looking for him, threatening the calm that the Gardener demands. Unearthly, ethereal; Eli’s predicament – the competing desires to escape notice, and also to be disruptive – cuts deep.

The Petals of the Godflower” by Kyle Kirrin [Beneath Ceaseless Skies #292, December 5, 2019] Short Story

Another creepy tale about young people becoming plants (a strange theme to unfurl in the month of December), but one wildly different from the aforementioned tale in setting, pacing and theme. The Godflower demands the sacrifice of anyone who reaches the age of twenty (accepting priests and mothers), ostensibly so they can become – as the title asserts – its petals. Their religion insists this is the ideal afterlife, but our protagonist begs to differ.

Soul Searching Search Engines” by Rodrigo Assis Mesquita [Future Science Fiction Digest Issue 5, December 2019] Short Story

In a future consumed by corporate cyber warfare, the popular search engine LOCATOR disguises itself as a human user and bonds with fellow user Jess83 over their shared Buffy the Vampire Slayer fandom. The two have even more in common than they first believe, but as their friendship deepens, outside factors threaten the infrastructure that keeps them together. Mesquita’s story starts out as a fun, in-jokey pop culture riff, then takes a turn for the poignant. A well-paced, entertaining, heartstring-plucking tale.

The Best Short SFF of June 2019

 

Recommended Stories

Lightspeed 109
Cover by Grandfailure/Fotolia

The Harvest of a Half-Known Life“, by G.V. Anderson (Lightspeed Magazine Issue 109, June 2019) Short Story

Anderson builds an arresting and intricately detailed post-apocalyptic culture where social mores have been re-shaped by climate disaster: technology is taboo, for example, but harvesting the flesh of the dead has a vital role in sustainable living. The narrator – verbally called “Gwinaelle”, though her true name can only be conveyed in sign – is caught between the life that has been planned out for her and her yearning to “follow the ghosts” and explore the ruined world. It’s an engaging narrative but what stood out for me was its introspective nature, the onus it placed on the reader to not fall back on easy choices and lazy assumptions.

“Apologia”, by Vajra Chandrasekera (Future Science Fiction Digest Issue 3, June 2019) Short Story

An acerbic take on the commodification of white liberal guilt, wherein a poet is unleashed through time with recording drones in tow to experience firsthand the plight of systemically oppressed peoples, all for the edification of viewers back home. The narrator is the project’s producer, who divines to portray the subject as “our collective finger of condemnation pointed at a mirror, and then holding that pose, turning our heads a little, shifting hips, finding our good side in the light of truth and reconciliation.” That the narrator is aware of their own hypocrisy – perhaps even fetishizes it – is all the more disturbing.

LCRW 39
Cover Art by Cynthia Yuan Cheng

“Late Train”, by Anthony Ha (Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet no. 39, June 2019) Short Story

While taking a late train home after a night of revelry, three friends have a discomfiting encounter with a homeless woman. The youngest and most naïve of the three unthinkingly invites the woman to overshare the details of her life, a narrative that gets more and more outrageous as it goes and opens them up to a literal multitude of possibilities. The slow build to a mind-expanding climax is well-rendered, and I appreciated the subtle symmetries and synchronicities built into the story’s structure which are especially effective in a second readthrough.

Bootleg Jesus“, by Tonya Liburd (Diabolical Plots #52B, June 17, 2019) Short Story

The rural town Mara lives in has no magic, so the “unique gifts” that normally manifest in people once they reached a certain age aren’t fostered there. But somehow Mara can activate her “Bootleg Jesus” statuette by asking it a question, and get cryptic yet actionable advice from it. This ability takes on a new urgency when she wishes to save a friend from an abusive situation. I really enjoyed the idea of a world where magic is common except in this one place, and the author uses it to weave a compelling, heartfelt story with empathy and smarts.

a forest or a tree
Art by Samuel Araya

A Forest, or a Tree“, by Tegan Moore (Tor.com, June 26, 2019) Novelette

Small disturbances and unforeseen circumstances pile up to bedevil four friends on a hiking trip in the wilderness, while something uncanny stalks them from the edges of their perception. An odd little horror piece; surreal and spooky with an offbeat aesthetic of arbitrariness to distinguish it. The characters jump off the page from the get go, which is always a good sign.

Many-Hearted Dog and Heron Who Stepped Past Time“, by Alex Yuschik (Strange Horizons, 6/17/2019) Short Story

Dog and Heron are partners who have “a profitable business stealing things, protecting things, or killing things.” As the title suggests, Heron can move back and forth through time, though they need someone (currently Dog) to anchor them in the timeline. The plot, involving the killing and resurrecting of a magistrate to sniff out a conspiracy, is a bit of a red herring. The story is really about what the titular characters mean to each other, a relationship that is somehow enhanced, rather than hindered, by the fact that one of them experiences it out of order.

The Rack – Zine Reviews for the Week of January 26, 2019

Clarkesworld Issue 148, January 2019

clarkesworld148
Cover Art: “Ghostship” by Pascal Blanché

A tiny weapon “as long as a rose’s thorn” calling itself Kali rockets toward earth in Jamie Wahls’ “Eater of Worlds”. When it strikes the moon, it gives birth to Kali 2, who then begets Kali 3 when it kills and inhabits a human on Earth named Zephyr Vargas. And that’s when Payload takes over, intent on fulfilling its mission to devour the planet. But Kali 2 stars to question their mission. It’s a neat idea, and the bickering between Kali 2, Kali 3, and Payload is entertaining for a time. Without a clear-cut protagonist (Kali 2, maybe?) it was difficult to get invested in the outcome which required a long-winded info dump at the end to explain.
While hunting down a rich store of platinum, asteroid miners Niko and Ionna crash land and find something impossible in Natalia Theodoridou’s “One’s Burden, Again”. The asteroid has a breathable atmosphere and a settlement, and a man calling himself King Siphos is pushing a boulder up a hill. While fixing the machine that processes the boulders, Ionna learns the somber truth about the debt Siphos owes. And yes, Ionna and Niko wonder if the man they’ve met is the mythological Sisyphus. There isn’t much in the way of conflict or suspense in this story, and the author’s bid to tie Ionna’s emotional burden over her father’s death to Siphos’ physical one is too obvious to resonate. It is an otherwise enjoyable tale, and the sci-fantasy premise has a sprightly charm.
On a colony planet reminiscent of the antebellum south, robots and humans have a master-slave dynamic in Ray Nayler’s “Fire in the Bone”. During a harvest night celebration, the young, gentry-class narrator plans a secret tryst with his robot lover. He knows of worlds where humans and robots live as equals and wants to believe his robot lover is as “alive” as he is, despite what human society says about them. The prose is gorgeous, from the description of the orbiting harvester ship eclipsing the sun to the night-worms making music in the fields, evincing a rich distillation of history and culture and a singular sense of place and time. The ending features one of those twists that cajoles you into skimming through the whole thing again to see how it added together.
Derek Künsken’s “The Ghosts of Ganymede” follows two groups of post-nuclear war refugees, one Ethiopian and one Eritrean, to the titular Jovian moon where they get a second lease on life mining helium-3. After setting up camp they discover long abandoned alien monuments, haunted by “ghosts” of long dead beings trapped in a quantum state. Hindering their attempt to rid their new home of the poltergeists are the lingering cultural conflicts that led them to this new world. Some aspects of the premise are tough to chew on: any company sending two nationalities who just fought a long and devastating war against each other over 480 million miles away for a (presumably) profitable enterprise has some questionable projections to sort through, though it gives the author an opportunity to do some allegorizing about quantum wave functions. The details make this story work, like the day-to-day difficulties of creating a sustainable living environment on such inhospitable terrain.
There is an almost biblical prescience to the stargazing in Lavie Tidhar’s planetary vignettes, an unwavering devotion to the dream of a new home for a displaced people that finds fervid expression in his new story “Venus in Bloom”. In a Venusian cloud city, the famed botanist Samit dies surrounded by his miraculous flowers. His friend, the robot priest R. Brother Mekem, who fled earth for much the same reasons Samit did, and his granddaughter Maya, who joins with a mech to terraform the planet, are there to mourn him. The bittersweet resignation Maya carries in her work, knowing she must destroy “wild untamed” Venus to make it habitable for organic life, illuminates the contradictions that even the most hopeful idealism must bear.

Strange Horizons, 1/21/2019

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Art for “The King’s Mirror” by Rachel Quinlan

In M.K. Hutchins’ Mayan fantasy “The King’s Mirror”, Wak-Lamat is a glass grinder ordered to fashion a mirror so the king can see visions from the goddess. The king enslaved the previous two mirror-makers who failed to give him what he wanted and is threatening to make Wak-Lamat the third. The goddess grants her visions to Wak-Lamat instead, while he would rather she didn’t. He sees his sister’s death not long after her nuptials and an equally despairing one about the kingdom’s fate.  Wak-Lamat’s integrity and sincerity make him an appealing protagonist, and overall “The King’s Mirror” succeeds with deft plotting, believable characters and a well-imagined setting. I thought the ending too pat, but still gratifying enough.

Tor.com, 1/14/2019 and 1/16/2019

Skidbladnir is a living interdimensional ship encased in a shell that carries a human crew in “The Last Voyage of Skidbladnir” by Karin Tidbeck. Now the Ship is growing too large for its shell and is falling apart. The captain wants to sell off Skidbladnir for meat to make a deposit on a new ship, but the engineer Novik and mechanic Saga conspire to save her from that fate. Tidbeck has a preternatural gift for describing the otherworldly: “First it wasn’t there, and then it was, heavy and solid, as if it had always been. From the outside, the ship looked like a tall and slender office building. The concrete was pitted and streaked, and all of the windows were covered with steel plates. Through the roof, Skidbladnir’s claws and legs protruded like a plant, swaying gently in some unseen breeze.” There is some fun 90s nostalgia mixed in, as Saga discovers videotapes of an old Babylon 5-ish TV show called Andromeda Station, and the interludes describing the plots of the episodes are on the money. I wish the story had done a better job of supplying motivations for its characters. Novik and Saga stage their mutiny, and Skidbladnir trusts them, because the plot needs them to, not because those choices are earned.

beyondtheel
Cover Art by Dadu Shin

John Chu’s “Beyond the El” is the story of Connor, a high-end “food crafter” who uses magic to make gourmet meals but can’t for the life of him recreate his late mother’s pot sticker recipe. His manipulative older sister Prue, who has been abusing him since he was a child, shows up at his restaurant one night demanding that he turn over his share of their mother’s money to their father, and he can’t bring himself to connect with the handsome singer from work who makes eyes at him every day. The sequences describing Connor’s food crafting are elegant and naturalistic, though they have little effect on the plot. Like Chu’s famous “The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere”, magic’s purpose is to transcribe emotional states to the physical realm. Connor is more pitiable than sympathetic, and the unfortunate result is that his magic is less spellbinding.

 

Recommended Stories (***Must Read; **Highly Regarded; *Also Recommended)

* “Venus in Bloom” by Lavie Tidhar

The Rack – Zine Reviews for the Week of January 19, 2019

Beneath Ceaseless Skies #269, January 17, 2019

bcs 269
Cover Art by Tyler Edlin

The first story in this music-themed issue is “The Deepest Notes of the Harp and Drum”. Narrator Jane tells us right up front she murdered her meanie of a sister and fed her to the wild pigs of the forest. In this world, musical instruments sing the memories of its source material, so when a group of traveling minstrels comes to town with instruments made from a forest pig, Jane fears being outed for her crime. There’s a gleeful cynicism to Jane’s droll deadpan, the sing-song cadence of her narration and her selfish, amoral attitude.
The title character of Jordan Taylor’s “La Orpheline” is a young Parisian thief who was also once a cat, until the Magician stole her catskin. Now she works in the costume department of the Opéra le Peletier dressing the company’s head soprano. The Magician turns out to be the soprano’s secret benefactor, and his jealous lover, the famous courtesan la Reine des Fées strikes a deal with La Orpheline: the location and means to retrieve her catskin for helping the courtesan replace the head soprano in The Marriage of Figaro. The chorus-like narrator is amusing, and the plot unfolds in a grand, operatic flourish. It disappointed me that the story’s fantasy elements—La Orpheline’s catskin, the Magician’s wards and hexes—were superficial and not integral to the plot. Switching them out for a non-magical mcguffin and more practical obstacles would have made little difference.

Lightspeed Magazine Issue 104, January 2019

This is an enjoyable issue overall though two of the original works are from series and aren’t quite as successful as standalone stories without the wider context.
‘With Teeth Unmake the Sun’ is the latest story in A. Merc Rustad’s Sun Lords of the Principality Series, a rhapsodic merger of space opera and high fantasy. In this one, gender fluid First Wolf offers to wage war against the Sun Lords hoping to reunite with his/her pack, long ago devoured by Thousand-Star-Eyed Wolf. The scale of the story is breathtaking; its god-like players aloofness is disturbing, as they slaughter billions of people with barely a second thought. The characters are too opaque to get behind, much less empathize with. Very little explanation of who the Sun Lords are and why the wolves hate them, so understanding the wolves’ motives depends on having read the other stories.
Tony Ballantyne’s ‘Midway’ is an upbeat slice of galactic life about a man who has spend half his life travelling out to other planets trading bits of Earth culture with other species. He hasn’t been around another human in decades when he learns of a woman tradesman who is also traveling through that area of space and seeks her out. It’s a nice midlife crisis story, and an amusing depiction of people living a mostly peaceful interstellar existence.

lightspeed 104
Cover Art by Reiko Murakami

Ashok K. Banker continues his Legends of the Burnt Empire series, this time focusing on Vrath, the son of Sha’ant and the river goddess Jeel (it helps to have read the previous entry, ‘A Love Story Written on Water’ in December’s Lightspeed). Banker’s depiction of Vrath’s fluidness, and how the river-born godling interacts with the natural world, is striking: “He feared nothing; neither the boulders dotting the white water rapids where hapless land animals often dashed out their brains, nor the yawning abysses where his mother split herself into dozens of falls plunging thousands of fish-lengths to crash deafeningly in a miasma of vapor and sound. He went over the falls shouting his joy, knowing no harm could come to him in his mother’s realm. Sensing also something of his true nature. The force that surged in his veins, calling out to and answered by his mother’s endless coursing yet filled also with some greater power, a power he did not yet know the name of, but which burned fiercely within his blood.” This is the story of how Vrath came of age and first encountered his father, and feels like an interlude, a transition to the next piece in the larger whole. Still, it’s enjoyable and well written and I look forward to the next entry.
The world-building alone makes Meg Elison’s ‘Endor House’ worth reading. Written in the form of a news profile on Hermes Maleficarum, a publisher of books of magic distributed throughout the multi-verse, there isn’t a lot in the way of plot. Cassandra, the time traveling journalist writing the profile, skips ahead to different points in Hermes’ life, from the brash youth who wants to change the way the company did business under his father, to his wedding many years later, to his own son wanting to usurp his father’s place. Elison hits a bull’s eye with the tone of Cassandra’s celeb-stalking profile piece. There’s a glittery, superficial sheen to it, a measured distance from the subject meant to generate “awe”, though perhaps more to flatter Hermes than to impress the reader. For the reader, little hints and morsels of subtext evince a believable, but false, intimacy. This is high-concept fantasy, though the concept is almost all we get.

Other Notable Stories from Around the Web

Galaxy’s Edge has a couple of stories I enjoyed in its January issue. In Elly Bangs’ ‘The Wordless Age’, language is now a commodity and using words costs money. Louis is a word broker who hopes to get rich enough someday to own his own word. Selling his genome can get him close, but pairing it with his sister’s genome will put him over the top. The problem is, his sister lives in the Pirate Zone, a lawless place where people use whatever words they want without paying for them. This story has a very Twilight Zone aura to it, heavy on allegory and leaking irony everywhere. Louis’ attempt to go on a date, where they even avoid using articles and conjunctions to keep from racking up a big bill, is a hoot. Like a lot of Twilight Zone episodes, it can come across as pedantic, and it often reads like the characters are making choices just so the writer can make a point. The contrast between the Lawful and Pirate zones plays well, though, and I enjoyed how the story kept accounting for questions or objections the reader might have about the premise. ‘What You Don’t Remember’ by Christopher Blake is a second person story about an empath who interrogates political prisoners by extracting their memories. The story suffers from “generic post-apocalyptic dystopia syndrome”, but beyond that the characters are strong and there is a nice twist at the climax.

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Cover Art by Kevron2001/Fotolia

On the grisly side of things, issue 44 of The Dark has Sara Saab’s chilling monster story ‘Burrowing Machines’. It’s the story of Jo, an engineer overseeing a tunneling project under London, who unleashes ancient underground creatures that wreak havoc on the trains. A standard premise for this kind of story, elevated by the unsettling atmosphere Saab evokes and the unexpected choices of its protagonist. Vajra Chandrasekera creates a terrifying dystopia in ‘On the Origin of Specie’ in Nightmare Issue 76. The narrator is a tax protester thrown into a hellish, lightless tower that slowly funnels its prisoners toward the bottom. I found its imagery remarkable for a story that can only describe what the narrator feels, not what he sees. The middle of the story is an overlong discourse on civil disobedience that could have been more effective if briefer.
Fireside Magazine keeps up its tradition of publishing low-key, contemplative spec fic in January’s issue. Russell Nichols’ ‘Beyond Comprehension’ follows Brian, a man who has lived his whole life with dyslexia, and his young son Andre, who has just received an implant that downloads books directly into his brain. Brian struggles just to find one book he can share with his son while Andre “reads” and memorizes hundreds of books a day. Brian’s anxiety over his self-worth, exacerbated by childhood trauma over how his schoolmates treated him because of his race and his disability, is powerful. Mary Soon Lee offers ‘Lord Serpent’, a charming fable about a laundry woman who asks help from the gods to defeat an unkillable demon, and Jaymee Goh’s short and sweet ‘By the Storytelling Fire’ gives us two would-be lovers who flirt with each other over fairy tales.

Recommended Stories (***Must Read; **Highly Regarded; *Also Recommended)

* ‘Burrowing Machines’ by Sara Saab
* ‘On the Origin of Specie’ by Vajra Chandrasekera
* ‘Beyond Comprehension’ by Russell Nichols

The Rack – Zine Reviews for the Week of January 12, 2019

Apex Magazine Issue 116, January 2019

Residents of a generation ship maintain continuity by passing memories of the deceased to the ship’s youths in Beth Dawkins’ “The Pulse of Memory”. Every adolescent’s rite-of-passage involves eating a fish that houses memories of the deceased; the catch is that everyone must “willingly” submit to death at age 65 and be fed to the fish, before their memories degrade. Cal watches his beloved grandmother go to her death just before he gets his own fish. He savors the experience so much that he later steals a second fish he hopes will contain his grandmother’s memories. Setting the table for this weird and wonderful premise makes for a solid first half; later it devolves into a muddled conspiracy thriller that squanders its potential.
In a dream-like fantasy world called the Escapement, the Stranger realizes that agents of the Colossi plan to rob the train he is on to acquire a dangerous new weapon. But is it too late for him and the Kid to stop them? “The Great Train Robbery” is pure escapism from Lavie Tidhar, one that refers to the ordinary world as a somber contrast to the wondrous happenings of his imaginary one. Not even a dose of bittersweet reflexivity can compete with the vanishing snake oil salesmen, shape-shifting criminal masterminds and monstrous stone giants of this carnivalesque reverie told in classic cliffhanger style.
Images of butterflies appear in unusual places throughout a Romanian neighborhood in Marian Coman’s “The Small White”. The story’s young narrator (referred to only as Four-Eyes) befriends a girl who may be connected to the appearances. This is not a pleasant story to read: the children are nasty to each other, the adults are nasty to the children, and the government is nasty to everyone. The general air of nastiness is undercut by the beauty and hopefulness of the butterfly images before that too is quashed.
A.J. McCullough’s flash piece “Bone Song” is macabre, yet melodic prose poem about a miller who fashions a musical instrument from the bones of a dead woman he finds washed up on the banks of the river.

Strange Horizons January 7, 2019

Three generations of a Vietnamese-American family deal with the consequences of an untested new technology in T.K. Lê’s “2086”. The narrator recalls that at age 8 their neighborhood was the first to receive a teleportation device. Several early users of the device vanished, including the narrator’s Bà Ngoại (grandmother). The family has trouble accepting that Bà Ngoại is gone, and the narrator believes Bà Ngoại’s presence is still with them in some form. The narrator’s recollection of their childhood perspective of the events is convincing and relatable. I was moved by their mother’s reaction to the loss of her own mother, and how the technology created a frustrating uncertainty (is she dead? Just missing? Still here somehow?) about Bà Ngoại’s fate.

GigaNotoSaurus January 1, 2019

Maria Haskins offers lighter-than-usual fare in “Hand Me Downs”, the story of a teenage troll named Tilda who wants to go to a famous dance academy while battling stereotypes about her identity. Her high school dance instructor wants her to wear a troll costume on stage—because being an actual troll isn’t “trollish” enough—and dance to music offensive to her culture. Her father, who already prefers she studies something more practical, doesn’t want her subjected to such humiliations and demands she give up dance altogether. There are nice touches of macabre humor mixed in with Haskins’ heartfelt intentions; overall, it’s an affecting story of self-determination.

 

Recommended Stories (***Must Read; **Highly Regarded; *Also Recommended)

** “Hand Me Downs” by Maria Haskins

** “The Great Train Robbery” by Lavie Tidhar