THE DARK MAGAZINE #68 (January 2021) Edited by Sean Wallace


Three of the four stories in this issue I adored, and the other might be appreciated by those who aren’t put off by its voice. The Dark Magazine continues to excel in presenting horror/dark fantasy that span a large variety of the genres, with no two stories alike here.

“The Van Etten House” by Carrie Laben — Two friends begin a partnership as online collectible dealers in their college town after graduation. Within the packed house of deceased hoarder, they discover a room of custom-made dolls that appear modeled after children contacted though Christian magazine pen-pal want ads. And it gets ore unsettling. The most conventional horror story in the issue, in this case also one of my favorites. Creepy dolls will always be something that gets me, and the idea gets a fresh look here both in terms of the doll’s creator and their effects. Alongside this, the strength of the bond between the partners becomes tested. This could fit right in adapted into a horror anthology TV series, and I loved its atmosphere of familiar horror territory in a new way.

“Love for Ashes” by Frances Ogamba — You did not read this story because I started talking to you in it.

“There, in the Woods” by Clara Madrigano — A woman living in her childhood home considers the recent disappearance of a boy from the neighborhood in the nearby woods, a sinister place where her husband also recently disappeared, and others in her past. Understandably questioned by police, she find herself unable to leave the house, yet still drawn by the lure of the woods and the truth she knows deep down. The story can be read symbolically, or literally as horror/fantasy, and it could likely evoke different interpretations according to the reader and details held onto. It’s unsettling and mysterious, and I’ll look forward now to more from the author written in English as this, or translated from Portuguese.

“Each Night an Adaptation” by Osahon Ize-Iyamu — A girl sleeps in her dead father’s house to help him enter the afterlife, and to help her mother who cannot handle keeping the tradition herself. And how this shapes her future. A touching short piece on how people handle grief, deal with the heaviness of expectations, and confront horror. Though dark, it is pervaded with an atmosphere of perseverance and strength in its protagonist, the aptly named Destiny.

The issue also features cover art by Vincent Chong.


CLARKESWORLD MAGAZINE #172 (January 2021) Edited by Neil Clarke


There are some excellent stories in this issue, complex and imaginative, but there are some let-downs compared to the best of what Clarkesworld has offered (for my tastes at least). Unfortunately, there are no translations in this issue, something that this outlet can almost always be relied upon to support. The novella here falls into a category that Clarkesworld novellas often are in (again for me): far too long for e-format and too short for a story I could best get into. And, with one third of the stories written in the second person that you of course will skip, you end up with a mixed bag for January’s issue.

“Intentionalities” by Aimee Ogden — Saddled with crippling debt and few options to dig herself out to secure any kind of stable future, a woman decides to apply for corporate support by offering her womb, carrying and delivering a child that will then be contracted after five years with her to go work for the company’s off-world mines. She comes to regret this decision and begins a campaign to fight a system that allows coercion of this horrible choice and ownership. Well written commentary on existing capitalist conditions that aren’t too far off from this scenario, all but literally.

“Deep Music” by Elly Bangs — Probably my favorite story of the issue for its themes and tones. Quinn takes care of aquids, squid-like water-creatures that have begun to appear on dry land and come into contact with humans. While some consider them as annoying pests that need to be removed or exterminated, Quinn is convinced they have intelligence, so gathers them and cares for them, trying to make sense of their communications. However, the owner of a rival aquid-removal service who treats the aquids with disdain begins to target Quinn (and the aquids) with hateful harassment. Quinn’s actions in response help solidify an understanding with the aquids in her care. Though the bones of the story and its ending will be recognizable to many readers, its lightness and familiarity feels welcome amid the rest of this issue, and the themes work in more modern ways as commentary on ‘troll-like’ relationships of harassment.

“Philia, Eros, Storge, Agápe, Pragma” by R.S.A. Garcia — I’m slowly growing to appreciate the novella-length story more when published on its own. But I still struggle with them in the contexts of short fiction magazines, particularly when having to read it on an e-reader or – even worse – a computer screen. This story is complex, organized in alternating passages between different times in the characters’ history. It serves as a prequel to a previous story by the author in Clarkesworld that featured the couple Dee and Eva. This recounts their meeting, when Dee rescues Eva who has crashed landed on a planet after a conflict that has left her paired AI “Sister” apparently malfunctioning. While dealing with loss of/changes in Sister that she had always been accustomed to, she begins romance with Dee and faces the enemy. I would have much preferred these two stories just as a novel, on their own. Nothing wrong with the writing here, so for readers who do love this novella length, the story will be successful and appreciated.

“The Last Civilian” by R. P. Sand — You did not read this story.

“Aster’s Partialities: Vitri’s Best Store for Sundry Antiques” by Tovah Strong — The most imaginative and magical of the stories here, reading more akin to fantasy than science fiction, it’s also the story that I felt benefitted from rereading. A magician named Syd who works in magical secrets of space and time is executed by the officials of Vitri. From drops of her blood upon the text of speels, her death gives birth to the narrators of the story, a ‘we’ that forms a house, with mirrors within that a form of Syd inhabits. The house consumes a man who dares enter, but then a curious child arrives, carrying with a necklace talisman that belonged to the magician. A fun story to read as I tried to figure out the nature of things as it unfolded. On some level about the persistence of a person’s influence beyond death on a city and its inhabitants, discovery of forbidden things by a new generation, and likely much more. Subsections are titled with a series of four numbers, but I haven’t figured out their relevance. Certainly a story to analyze but also just enjoy.

“Leaving Room for the Moon” by P H Lee — You start this story and all seems fine, only to realize it is yet another story to skip.

The issue also features “Science Fiction and Schmaltz: A Conversation with Connie Willis” and “The Ten-Year Journey: A Conversation with E. Lily Yu”, each by Arley Sorg, a 2020 in Review editorial by Clarke, and cover art by Yuumei.


NIGHTMARE MAGAZINE #100 (January 2021) Edited by John Joseph Adams


For its 100th issue, this Nightmare includes a large selection of stories beyond the four that normally an issue would contain. Some of the stories are available to read for free on the website, but it’s a particular bargain this month to purchase for the complete contents. I’ve subscribed since (near) the start of the magazine’s run, and as a fan of dark fantasy, I haven’t regretted it. The close of this issue has given me one of those moments where I wish the horror field could collectively decide to take a breather from mining the Lovecraft though.

“How to Break into a Hotel Room” by Stephen Graham Jones — A scam artist goes to steal some things from a hotel room to sell off to his friend and longtime partner. Though the job seems to proceed well, he enters into a bare hotel room to face ghosts from a tragic episode of their past crimes. What sets this story above the norm is the voice that Jones gives to Javi the scam artist. Solid display of horror short fiction here, though I’m uncertain why the past choses this particular moment to catch up on Javier.

“Rotten Little Town: An Oral History” by Adam-Troy Castro — Written as a series of interviews with the (surviving) creator/writer and cast of a successful cult TV show. It chronologically proceeds though the seasons of the show’s run, providing details of the on-screen and behind-the-scene elements of cast relationships and bringing the series to life. Between the lines, the reader realizes that there is something dark and sinister influencing things. I enjoyed the format of this story and the idea of the ‘dirty secrets’ of production that can occur only to be hushed up, but taking it in a really malevolent and controlling direction.

“I Let You Out” by Desirina Boskovich  — A woman is haunted through life by a monster that emerges from closets. An over-zealous religious family makes the terror worse, and casts judgement and doubt upon the victim. She recalls the monster’s first visit, and forces herself to look upon its face. The metaphoric themes of this are familiar in dark short fiction: feminism, overcoming trauma. Boskovich approaches them with some fine, tender writing that doesn’t go down the ‘revenge’ route that other stories in this vein often turn.

“Last Stop on Route Nine” by Tananarive Due — Driving in Florida from her grandmother’s funeral to a luncheon Charlotte and her younger cousin Kai get lost in the fog on Route 9. Stopping for directions at a house by an old boarded-up gas station, they are hexed by a crazed old racist woman and flee back into the fog before finding aid. The story involves a journey into another time in a way. The realization of the characters that they don’t want to go back also serves as a reminder that the racist, dark corners remain.

“Darkness, Metastatic” by Sam J. Miller — I read this right before going to sleep, and a story has not creeped me out as much as this one did in a long time. As usual, Miller writes exceptionally well, with characters and situations that can tug on emotions. In this a man named Aaron becomes concerned when his ex, and investigative documentary partner, begins leaving lots of dark messages on another ex’s phone. Digging deeper and trying to connect back with his ex, named Caleb, he learns more of Caleb’s investigation into seemingly unconnected murders, and discovers a creepy viral app called Met_A_Static that may have changed Caleb, and now has targeted Aaron. I haven’t found much interpretation to make of this story yet after one read, but it certainly works on the base horror level.

“Wolfsbane” by Maria Dahvana Headley — A feminist retelling of the Little Red Riding Hood story with witchcraft, mother, daughter, sister, grandmother, and wolves. Not the style of story I go for, but the themes of it are great and Headley’s writing, as usual, is exquisite.

“Thin Cold Hands” by Gemma Files — First published in LampLight in 2018, this story has popped up since reprinted The Dark Magazine and in one of Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year collections. This is a creepy changeling story about mothers, daughters, and home. Though others by Files have resonated more with me, this is a solid horror story that is worth a reread.

“The Things Eric Eats Before He Eats Himself” by Carmen Maria Machado — A short story whose title sums up the plot entirely. The list of foodstuffs is fascinating varied to read, written in a careful flow of musical words.

“Up From Slavery” by Victor Lavalle — This reprint of a short novella that originally appeared in Weird Tales starts with a scene of a train crash, a scene that shows how well Lavalle can write. Simon Dust grew up as a black boy in the foster care system, and never knew who his parents were. One day, while copy-editing a new edition of Booker T. Washington’s memoir (which gives this story its title) Dust receives a letter with his father’s name in it, informing him that his father has died and left his home in Syracuse to Dust. There, Dust further discovers this man who has claimed to be his father was a white man, and that his body was discovered under creepy circumstances. This sets up the Lovecraftian horror that follows, a story of gods and slaves that takes creatures from the iconic and inexplicably influential writer’s stories and reworks them into powerful themes of racism and identity. Those who are familiar with Lovecraft will probably get more from this story. I had to look up the references, and as much as I enjoyed the emotional and thematic core of the story, I just don’t get the fascination with Lovecraft tropes.

“Jaws of Saturn” by Laird Barron — Another Lovecraftian reprint taken from Barron’s collection The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All and Other Stories. A woman tells her hired gun boyfriend about the strange dreams that have been plaguing her, and the hypnotist she is seeing for treatment in quitting smoking. After a marathon sexual encounter together and further talk of her odd dreams, the guy decides to look into this hypnotist further. The weird horror that he discovers is beyond anything he could’ve expected. Barron writes amazingly, but here there is nothing underneath the cosmic horror angle for me to really grab onto and appreciate, and this genre of horror alone doesn’t suffice.

With “The H Word” horror column by Orrin Gray, author spotlights, a book review from Terence Taylor, and a roundtable interview with outgoing editor John Joseph Adams and incoming editor Wendy N. Wagner.


ANALOG SCIENCE FICTION & FACT Vol. CXXXI #s 1 and 2 (January/February 2021) Edited by Trevor Quachri


The first issue of the year features a number of strong stories, but also some (particularly among the shortest) that seem less complete or impactful. Though still dominated by ‘hard science fiction’ that favors technology and speculative details, a surprising number of the stories here put the speculative element to the back to focus on character relationships or other non-technical themes. I’m fine with that trend, and certainly with the balance that it brings to this issue.

“Mixed Marriage” by Dan Helms — Soon Jae-won, the only son in a Korean family, awakens within their small allotment of living space to an important day ahead when he will meet his future wife. The story is set in a future where human population levels have resulted in adoption of ‘time share’, where families are designated just one day a week for going about activity, while sleeping the other six in cramped, shared quarters. Jae-won is a Friday, but the woman he is to marry is a Sunday, and generations kept separate has given rise to class and cultural differences that his family worries might interfere with a successful marriage. Interesting premise and story here from a clash of a conservative, traditional mindset with one more relaxed and open. I liked the ending and its take on how people can get comfortable in anything, and fear the work or discomfort that might arise from changing even something repressive. I don’t know why Helms chose Korea as the setting, and am not familiar enough with Korean culture enough to know the accuracy in portrayal here. Looking at other’s reviews of the story I’m concerned that so many of those seem to conflate Asian nations and cultures.

“A Shot in the Dark” by Deborah L. Davitt — On Uranus’ moon Titania, Dominic Vadas works for a UN space agency alone at the farthest station from Earth, happy to live a hermit away from human contact, and keeping interactions with his AI to a minimum. A new message from Earth with orders for Vadas to leave the autonomous robots going there and pack his bag to intercept and check out an extrasolar object that has arrived in our system. Along with the increased news from Earth arrives a letter from a daughter Vadas hadn’t realized he had. Fantastic story with natural dialogue, lots of technical details, and a strong human element with character development to boot.

“The Liberator” by Nick Wolven — A man infiltrates a criminal group that supports human reproduction without genetic modifications. Though the story is written well and engagingly as a thriller, the central theme here seems well-trodden and I didn’t feel the story added much perspective on what human modification should or should not entail, or the nature of how ‘defective’ could be defined.

“The Nocturnal Preoccupations of Moths” by J. Northcutt, Jr. — One of two stories in a row in the issue featuring a Martian colony. Here, the setting centers on botanists who are working hard to maintain seed banks amid the failing colony mission. The story is followed by a note of its historical influence from actions of botanists during the siege (of Leningrad if my memory serves) during WWII. The scientists actions and discussions are interspersed with passages on the behaviors of moth in the habitat. For me it was a beautiful, melancholy story of nature and human behavior during times of short supply.

“Belle Lettres Ad Astra” by Norman Spinrad — Written for a special volume themed around the state of reading in the future, this tale involves “Elon Tesla”, interstellar expansion of humanity through hibernation, and the possible discovery of a Dyson Sphere. I’m not a fan of Spinrad’s columns usually, and this story felt just as ambling and uninteresting.

“By the Will of the Gods” by Charles Q. Choi — A young man who has been raised an orphan in a temple found on a space route looks into the death of the temple’s caretaker, the one man there who showed love for the boy and helped mentor him. A nice mixture of SF, mystery, and class commentary.

“My Hypothetical Friend” by Harry Turtledove — Dave Markarian has built Interstellar Master Traders by profiting from his carefully established business relationship with the enigmatic Brot, a slug-like alien race that arrives on Earth with advanced technology well beyond humanities capabilities or even comprehension. He learns that the Brot representative that he has worked with for decades – perhaps even developed a friendship with – is leaving. Markarian’s symbolic gift for the departing Brot shows a deeper perception of the human-Brot relatioship than he may realize. Alien contact (arrival on Earth) stories stereotypically go the way of conqueror or altruistic saviors, but as he excels at, Turtledove looks to history to speculate more realistic and imaginable interactions (business and personal) between trading partners with such differences in development between them.

“Photometric Evidence of the Gravitational Lensing of SAO23820 By a Nonluminous Low-Mass Stellar Object” by Jay Werkheiser — A physicist relates being ostracized into an academic pariah after relentlessly pursuing publication of data he feels indicates the presence of a black dwarf star. Others refuse to accept this as it runs counter to the Standard Theory. Maybe physics is more black/white than bio, but I would think a bit of data might be consistent or inconsistent with something without leading a grand theory being so threatened. Other explanations seem to always exist. And this, I guess, takes place in the days before preprint servers? Story does say something about dogma in science that is worth saying, I just am not sure it did so in the best way.

“Conference of the Birds” by Benjamin C. Kinney — Only after reading the author biography after this story, did it completely click with me. This is a story that merges artificial intelligence concepts with neurobiological intelligence concepts, a tale of drones acting out the will of a central hub, of individual actions within a larger societal organism. This one is dense, with a unique voice for its major character. For my tastes in fiction I’d say I like the concept more than the execution. But I get why some readers would find this a fascinating and rewarding read. Scientists or laypersons with an interest in neurobiology or AI should definitely give this a look.

“Interstellar Pantomime” by Martin Dimkovski — A probe from Earth responds to an object trailing it as programmed, but unbeknownst to the probe’s designers, this alien object can use its observations of the probe to extrapolate its origin. A simple, fair speculative idea. But, I’m not a fan of this kind of minimalist story around a hard SF concept, even if short.

“Matter and Time Conspire” by Sandy Parsons — Flash fiction like the previous story, this one dealing with multiple ‘me’ characters due to the messing with time. An enjoyable enough read, but nothing special or particularly new to it.

“The Tale of Anise and Basil” by Daniel James Peterson — This brief story features a human prisoner forced to be royal storyteller in an alien court. The alien ruler demands a story that conforms to rules of leaving no details unexplained or left to the imagination or face death. Considering the demand and its traps, the human storyteller finds a way to oblige. A commentary on unreasonable reader/reviewer demands for authors? Reads like a fable, but with the technical/philosophic arguments that perhaps make it fitting for Analog.

“The Practitioner” by Em Liu — Medical students in 2093 observe events through time from past eras as part of their Medical Ethics course. One student has difficulties coming to terms with what she observes in the mid-1960s at an underground (illegal) abortion clinic. The politics of the story stay relatively muted despite the subject matter by focusing mainly on the student’s emotions and her rationale for being involved in medicine. I liked it, and the story focuses less on the technology than I would have expected from the Analog venue, but that’s fine with me.

“What Were You Thinking?” by Jerry Oltion — What is consciousness? What is intelligent behavior compared to simple programmed responses. A boy observing his girlfriend’s cat vomiting up hairballs designs an animal behavior experiment to address this question. I adored this story, and will probably feature it in my Biology in Fiction course where the debate over consciousness comes up quite a bit.

“Changing Eyes” by Douglas P. Marx — The second story featuring Martian colonies, here with people descended from Sherpas, where a man who helped terraform the planet returns to help solve a technical problem/disaster, having left some time ago after his wife and daughter perished. The science behind the story (involving energy generation) was inconsequential to me, though may interest some. But, I did enjoy the theme of returning to a belovedly important place that also holds painful memories.

“A Working Dog” by anne m. gibson — The second story in the issue featuring animal behavior and this one is humorous, clever, and charming. A woman who has invented lawncare robots made to appear like rabbits becomes concerned when she realizes they provoke canine hunting instincts, so she searches for a solution. Aside from the topic the story perfectly illustrates scientific problem-solving and carefully considering assumptions of what the problem is.

“So You Want to Be a Guardian Angel” by Michael Meyerhofer — Candidates looking to work in the protection of Earth from asteroids receive a talk about what the job would entail, especially the loneliness. Very short story – not quite flash – but nothing particularly special about it.

“Choose One” by Marie DesJardin — This strange piece of flash fiction features a dancer who has been selected by aliens as a potential ‘best of’ humanity (from all walks of life). Housed separately but with information on who remains, she watches as one-by-one other candidates ‘disappear’. Unclear what happens to those who fail to measure up, or what the aliens are actually looking for. Existential angst is what this story seemed to be for me.

“We Remembered Better” by Evan Dicken — Interesting story where two siblings are left one single memory in their estranged, abusive mother’s will. One sibling is trans, and this decision seems to have led to much of the rift between mother and children. The story raises issues of what one might choose to do with the opportunities to view memories from the point of view of others, including those who you might vehemently disagree. It also touches upon sibling support.

“The Last Compact” by Brian Rappatta — Another set on Mars. A young man and his mothers are moving, ending an AI-related museum project he was helping work on, with an AI saint now going into archive that the man wishes he could save and take with. This felt like a fragment of a story, and I cannot find it fulfilling anything significant with what it does contain.

“Riddlepigs and the Cryla” by Raymund Eich — A vet who is really excited to get to treat a dinosaur is sad to discover her patient is actually a pig who has been injured by the escaped dino from the nearby preserve on this extraterrestrial planet setting. Some interesting ideas here on the ‘value’ of organisms common versus exotic, some speculation on transplant organ production, but lacked any depth beyond.

“The Last Science Fiction Story” by Adam-Troy Castro — Flash fiction almost akin to a prose poem (although I guess that is oxymoronic?) The title is ironic, for there can never be a last one, as the story explains.

With “Constructing a Habitable Planet” science fact by Julie Novakova and poetry by Jennifer Crow (Hidden Things) and Bruce McAllister (If).


LIGHTSPEED MAGAZINE #128 (January 2021) Edited by John Joseph Adams


Strong issue with a nice variety of stories. Themes common to several of the stories seemed to be the relationship(s) between a man and woman and the concept of independence. In general I enjoyed the reprints over the newer selections, however.

“The Incorruptible World” by Anjali Sachdeva — A wealthy couple have an expensive vacation home built. Only this vacation home is a (very) small planet with geological features and a small empty city tailored to their aesthetics. Well, the husband’s. The woman lets him make the decisions, including the requirement that the planet be utterly sterile. No microbes for the germaphobe. However, the transport scheduled to pick them up at the end of their holiday doesn’t arrive, leaving them stranded. I enjoyed the changes in the couple as they are forced to spend time alone away from civilization, and apparently the distractions that had been previously making the guy an ass. I just couldn’t get past the absurd set-up of this long story. I imagine the physics of such a small planet is not realistic, but I know the biology isn’t. An ecosystem existing without microbes has no feasibility. Even with nanotech as the story uses to try and make it possible. Even accepting one could, those nanobots would effectively be equivalent to microbes, and hence still have all the interactions the man fears, so it would be no different.

“The Hard Spot in the Glacier” by An Owomoyela — Originally published in the collection Mechanical Animals. While mounting a rescue mission on the human-colonized Saturnian moon Enceladus, a woman and her AI-endowed vehicle/tool ‘centipede’ become threatened by an avalanche borne of active glaciology. Interacting with the centipede, she weighs the benefits/risks of continuing the mission to save her (possibly alive/possibly dead) colleague versus the odds of still saving herself and the base camp’s equipment. Really enjoyed the quandary here and the writing.

“The Memory Plague” by D. Thomas Minton — Wonderfully weird SF written from the point of view of a very alien biology ‘born’ with awakening collective memory so that an individual is never really lost. Spreading through space, feeding on other sentient species considered beneath them, they have come and fed on Earth. A ‘newborn’ remaining on Earth discovers the consequences of this biology and its species history. Great concept and great execution.

“On the Fringes of the Fractal” by Greg van Eekhout — “Be cool, or be cast out!” “Conform, or be cast out!” I could just hear “Subdivisions” by Rush going through my mind while reading this story, originally published in a collection of tales inspired by the Canadian progressive rock band, particularly drummer Neil Peart who wrote their lyrics. Like Peart’s writing, a story of individuality and discovery asserting itself amid stifling conformity. It also reminded me of the “Nosedive” episode of Black Mirror. Here though, the journey of a boy to help his friend whose family has lost all ‘stat’ follows a more light-hearted and joyful route, with a lovable Dalmatian named Miss Spotty Pants.

“The Orange Tree” by Maria Dahvana Headley — Originally published in the collection The Weight of Words, this fantasy is based on two historical poets and a lesser-known instance of the Jewish golem tradition where the creation is female. An Andalusian poet hires a carpenter to make a very special ‘cabinet’ from an orange tree. Given life, but not speech, the resulting golem is forced into domestic and conjugal servitude. The feminist theme focuses also on human loneliness in general, and despite the melancholy nature of the tale, it ends with a joyful beauty. The language of the beautiful writing by Headly shines throughout.

“Answering the Questions You Might Have About the Kharbat” by Adam-Troy Castro — You don’t have any questions about the Kharbat, so you don’t read this, even if it is by Castro, whose work you mostly do enjoy very much.

“The Mushroom Queen” by Liz Ziemska — A reprint originally published in the (dearly missed) Tin House literary magazine, this fantasy involves a swap between a wife and fungus that takes her form. The story features a fair amount of science in it too – though fungus is NOT the most prevalent form of life as claimed. (Maybe this is just the Mushroom Queen’s propaganda bias?) Really it seems to be about independence, growing free, and having the chance to change up one’s life. Written from the point of view of the original woman turned fungus, the fungus turned woman, and also two of the family dogs, there is a nice touch of humor in the story too.

“Frost’s Boy” by P H Lee — A baby left in the woods to die by its father is spared due to his exceptional beauty, so that not even the winter frost is willing to take his life. Instead, the frost adopts him, turning his heart to ice. Later, as a young man, the child of frost uses the attraction good looks and to prey upon women, killing them with an icy kiss. No woman has the power to resist. It takes a “good girl, raised honest and pure”, her loving father, and his wife ,who is “cleverer [than her husband] by three times or more”, to outwit and overcome Frost’s Boy’s curse. This fairy tale reads very traditional, at first glance, but the words from the narrator at the start and end make you give it a second look.

The issue also features an excerpt from THE UNFINISHED LAND by Greg Bear (John Joseph Adams Books), Book Reviews, and Author Spotlights. It can be found and read online for free, but I’d encourage all fans to subscribe and support if able.


FIYAH MAGAZINE OF BLACK SPECULATIVE FICTION #17 (Winter 2021)


A mixture of fantasy and science fiction here, and all what I’d consider great stories, even if with some caveats. Some of the stories are uplifting, even triumphant, but there is also some melancholy mixed in to balance things. The world of the Ayinde story, and even its theme, seem ideally suited to a longer work, but still make a fine short story to lead things off:

“The Techwork Horse” by M. H. Ayinde — The life of a lower caste girl who stubbornly refuses to give up on her hope and goal of riding an ancient steed that will only respond (match) to one person, but always one of nobility. Even beyond the message of resilience or dedication, the best aspects of this story are those not-fully-defined details that intrigue, blurring the lines between magic and mechanical technology, fantasy and science fiction settings.

“Baby Brother” by Kalynn Bayron — An earnest story on the fragility of life and how pain can haunt a family, written from the point of view of a child’s relationship with his younger brother. The speculative aspect and closing line seem unnecessary and almost to distract from story’s strengths, though. Nonetheless a bittersweet, touching tale.

“Delete Your First Memory for Free” by Kel Coleman — A man who experiences social discomfort while interacting among strangers, coworkers, and even friends likewise struggles with anxiety over memories of awkward encounters or choices. When a night drinking with friends turns to a decision for them all to go try a new memory erasure service, he nervously goes along. I kept expecting for something to go real bad, for some sinister change to the protagonist about which he’d be left unaware. Instead, to its credit, the story goes in a more positive direction. I’m left unsure how the protagonist can relate the history of deleting a memory to the reader, from his point of view, however.

“All in a Day’s Work” by Jade Stewart — A rollicking ride through the day of a free-lance demon hunter named Walker. Light-hearted and simply fun, there are some pieces of dialogue that seem a little stilted, but lots of writing to bring chuckles too. I could see Walker and their grandmother being part of a longer work too, particularly with depth to balance the action.

The issue also contains poetry…

  • RAINBOWS & NECKLACES // Martins Deep
  • A POEM IN WHICH SANGO HANGS LIGHTNING AND LULLABIES HIS CHILDREN // Ernest O. Ògúnyẹmí
  • ERSTWHILE RAMELON // K. Ceres Wright 

… and interview with cover artist Nilah Magruder. A Spotify playlist is also available to accompany the issue’s contents.


APEX MAGAZINE Issue 121 (Jan./Feb. 2021) Edited by Jason Sizemore


A welcome return for Apex Magazine. The recurring theme for the stories in this issue seems to be the possibility of hope amid darkness and despair. I can’t think of a better feeling to evoke in this time.

“Root Rot” by Fargo Tbakhi — Apex Magazine returns after a hiatus with a testament to why they should keep publishing short stories. This story is powerful, melancholy, and beautiful. A man who has fled his home in Palestine for a better future on Mars has instead descended into a painful addiction-filled existence of lost love and continued brutal colonial oppression. Not an ‘easy’ read as it builds up hope for salvation only for devastation to overcome, but the language is stunning and the symbolism in the characters and setting to real lives and political borders is too important to shy away from. This is a modern-day prophetic lamentation.

“Your Own Undoing” by P H Lee — You don’t read stories in the second person. But, if I do, then I should give this a try I guess.

“Love, That Hungry Thing” by Cassandra Khaw — “Like coming home from the blizzard and letting your heartbeat thaw in hot water. That same kind of sweet, slow pain.” Humanity has left a post-apocalyptic Earth, but a group returns to that home left behind, with remanifested gods among them. In a Daji shrine in Tokyo, Ama, one of those returned, requests a boon of white fox messengers. For that wish, Ama is willing to sacrifice, for a selfless love. A lot of the details in this story are left vague to distill this story down, in simmering language, to that core concept found in the title. Love consumes.

“Mr. Death” by Alix E. Harrow — A story that had me chuckling from the start, even as it talks about the death of a two-year-old. A reaper gets assigned his first difficult death, a 30-month old soul to fetch and ferry, in consolation, across the river of death. But, of course, “two-year-olds are contrarian bastards and it takes several hours and a family-size pack of M&Ms to coax them across…” The voice in this story is perfection for someone who has to deal with the emotions of such a job. Can there be a way to cheat the system? Harrow takes the touching story in great directions.

“The Niddah” by Elana Gomel — Additional pandemics after SARS-CoV-2 culminate in an ‘ebola’-related disease where transfer of any blood becomes potentially deadly – or in a female specific manner, transformative. This creates a resurgence in oppression against women, including the resurgence of the niddah (which I had to look up.) Oh, how I yearned while reading this for more precise biology. This will be one for me to feature in Biology in Fiction, between its general accuracies of virology, mischaracterization of evolution, and how this particular disease stretches belief. However, the point of the story isn’t in the likelihood of the pandemic’s reality, as much as the social situation it creates and the symbolism of the metamorphoses it engenders. And the story succeeds in revealing those wonderfully. Depressing thought while reading: “…when science promised that the horrors of the past were… well, in the past.” If this line from the narrator has ever actually entered someone’s mind, they cannot not have ever actually listened to a microbiologist. A reminder that science communication really needs improvement still.

“Gray Skies, Red Wings, Blue Lips, Black Hearts” by Merc Fenn Wolfmoor — A girl in the City loses her soul while digging graves in the catacombs. Redcap Kestrel agrees to help her for just a promise, that the girl will wear a sleeve to prevent her soul from going off again, or being taken. Though Redcap Kestrel’s surreal journey she – and the reader – discovers more about herself as well as the fate of the girl’s soul. Chillingly atmospheric and allegorical.

“All I Want for Christmas” by Charles Payseur — So much packaged in such a small word count. A story that reminds me that the most important gifts are not material, and that children are far more clever than usually given credit.

“The Ace of Knives” by Tonya Liburd (Reprint) — Superb story now used in multiple classes as an example of code-switching, it has so much to offer beyond as well, including an example of horror that contains an uplifting, empowering ending, and of treating mental illness, pain, and ways of healing meaningfully, with respect. This tale is full of magic.

“Roots on Ya” by LH Moore (Reprint) — A gathering, Virginia 1906. A young woman suddenly wretches, beetles, bugs and black garter snakes spewing from her mouth as she falls to the ground. A root man springs into action to prevent the curse from its end. The term ‘root man’ evokes both the meaning of herbalism and healing and simultaneously the spiritual aspect of ancestry. What I liked here is the attention to both victim and the person responsible, now under a curse of their own. A short bit of folklore from a cultural perspective that I did not grow up amid, but which universally connects.

Stories can be found online at Apex Magazine, with selections free to read over time. But it deserves purchase by those who enjoy.