Last year I ambitiously tried to include reviews of all the short fiction I had read. It quickly became too much. I hesitated doing a roundup of selections, because I often have trouble deciding whether to include a title or not. And sometimes stories grow on me, or I may think worth mentioning even if they weren’t a personal favorite. But, given that covering everything is simply out, I’m going to try this up, starting halfway through 2022 with coverage of some of my favorite short fiction reads from July/August. We’ll see how this continues.
Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine Vol. 67, Nos. 7 & 8 (Edited by Linda Landrigan)
It’s been awhile since I subscribed to the mystery short fiction magazines, but with both literary magazines I regularly read folding, I felt in the mood to fill the space with mystery. In this issue I felt drawn most to two stories that were more subtle and required some processing of information provided.
“Florence Uglietta Solari: A Full Life in 19 Fragments” by J. M. Taylor – An elderly immigrant widow passes away, and through a series of texts the reader discovers events that transpired within the building she owned: the passions, and crimes, of a life.
“Five Bullet Friday” by Mary Angela Honerman – The hard-working boss of a travel agency is killed early one morning with five shots. In a series of vignettes the reader gets a snapshot of the morning from the perspective of the victim, each of her co-workers, and the detective who arrives on the scene of the murder. The detective might not figure it out, but the reader may.
“The Confession” by Linda Mannheim – A group of South African ex-pats process the news that one of the women they worked with to fight against against Apartheid had actually been feeding information on their activities to the South African government. I wish the truth behind these events had been kept for the end of this story, rather than revealed from the start. However, the story was an excellent foray into the gray areas of politics and choice.
Analog Science Fiction and Fact Vol. XCII, Nos. 7 & 8 (Edited by Trevor Quachri)
“In Translation (Lost/Found)” by Kelsey Hutton – I love a good story about language and the complexities of communicating with one another, and this speculative use of the theme into a compelling plot works wonderfully. The indigenous Métis perspective was also both educational and organically built into the story. The Astounding Analog Companion has a great interview with Hutton that’s also worth reading.
“The Dark Ages” by Jerry Oltion – An amateur astronomer and telescope enthusiast looks to use time travel technology to escape a future Earth and visit an earlier period before light pollution. This is a ‘grass-is-always-greener” kinda story, a straight-forward fun adventure that also turns reflective, that I simply enjoyed.
“My Nascent Garden” by Melanie Harding-Shaw – There isn’t much to this story in terms of themes that haven’t already been covered by dystopian-flavored AI tales of cold logic. However, this is told in such a magnificently chilling way that I loved it all despite a lot of familiarity.
Apex Magazine, Issue 132 (Edited by Jason Sizemore and Lesley Conner)
“Have Mercy, My Love, While We Wait for the Thaw” by Iori Kusano – I am ready to read more set in the world of this short story. I can’t recall reading Kusano before, but I’ll be looking out for them now. I adored the careful world-building and delicate reveals in this story of two individuals, former enemies, linked in guilt and atonement stemming from past crimes of rebellion, and continued silence for politics. It’s a tale that resonates on scales of individuals and of colonies/empires.
Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine Vol. 46, Nos. 7 & 8 (Edited by Sheila Williams)
“Pollen and Salt” by Octavia Cade – An ecologist works at the edge of a salt marsh and mudflat, sifting through sediment and memories with microscopes literal and figurative. Cade does stunning work here connecting the biology and ecology of a littoral zone with painful transition writ large from climate change and personal loss, and the onset of loneliness in knowing what once was. Marvelous and melancholy.
“The Tin Pilot” by K.A. Ternya, translated by Alex Shvartsman – Golems were created by society to end a devastating war in space. Rather than welcomed home, they were outcast as something less than human, having served their purpose and now only wakening painful memories that should have died. But a Machine has been invented to identify the golem among society, and the hunt has gone on regularly to eradicate them. Friar Yakov has called the last hunt, for the final remaining golem. Noah looks at his life and starts to wonder if he himself might be that golem. A very interesting, enigmatic tale of politics, identity, memory, and subjugation that bears multiple reads.
“The Big Deep” by Annika Barranti Klein – All but one member of a crew on their way to Mars wakes prematurely from stasis, and things just don’t seem to be right. I love the tension in this short story, what it builds from the unconscious wariness of its main character.
Asymptote Journal (Edited by Lee Yew Leong)
“The Ayah of the Throne” by Habib Tengour (Translated by Bryan Flavin) – In very extensive translator notes, Flavin summarizes this lovely and powerful short story more succinctly and admirably than I would have. It’s an auto-fictional tale that “takes place in Tengour’s childhood near the beginning of the Algerian War of Independence in order to explore French colonial power over education and religion, as well as the power of storytelling.” A lovely complex dose of sadness and humor.
Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Issues #360 – 363 (Edited by Scott H. Andrews)
“A Once and Future Reckoning” by Rajan Khanna (Issue #361) – A version of the King Arthur myth that mixes classical elements with a cosmic horror core and a battle of wits between two mortal instruments of human control. Well composed and engaging.
“The Shapeshifter’s Lover” by Autumn Canter (Issue #362) – A disquieting short fantasy on the themes of a girl coming into adulthood and male attempts to use and abandon a woman. It’s a type of story I’ve seen plenty before, but Canter really composes a magical version of it here.
“The Death Artist” by Adam Breckenridge (Issue #363) – An imaginative and captivating fantasy on mortality and perception that merges fable with familiar tales of Death coming to call. The writing flows with lightness and wit to contrast nicely with the dark themes.
Clarkesworld Magazine, Issues 190 & 191 (Edited by Neil Clarke)
“Carapace” by David Goodman (Issue #190) – Intelligent armor suit SM-14 gains programmed sentience after the death of its human pilot and fellow soldiers during a brutal battle. However, after taking an injured enemy combatant as prisoner for questioning, SM-14 begins to learn more than its programming. AI stories are a type that aren’t an instant sell for me, yet this issue had two of them that hit the spot. The insights and sincerity of SM-14 and the story’s ending made this one stand out.
“The Sadness Box” by Suzanne Palmer (Issue #190) – Amid a future war with nanobot weapons and a dangerous biotechnology-infested environment, a young boy lives with his mother and step-father, but still visits with his biological father, an eccentric and self-occupied inventor. One day, the inventor gives the boy a box he has designed with an AI designed to be frightened of the world. When opened like a jack-in-the-box, the AI reaches an arm/hand out to close the lid and shut itself back away. While the inventor finds this a brilliantly hilarious commentary, the boy finds it a bit silly, if not cruel, and decides to just keep the box rather than giving it back. What follows is a perfect novella of friendship, family, and the risks/rewards possible amid bravery in facing a dangerous world.
“Tender, Tether, Shell” by M. J. Pettit (Issue #191) – After a human dies in an accident in space, an alien adopts her augmented space suit to survive the loss of its biological exoskeleton. It’s a very poignant tale of loss and memory from both the alien’s perspective and the human colleagues of the person whose ‘skin’ the alien now inhabits.
“The Pirate’s Consigliere” by Bo Balder (Issue #191) – An engaging and rapidly paced story about ruthless pirates that think to take advantage of the seemingly naive inhabitants of a generation ship. One of the pirates has a change of heart, and finds the intended victims aren’t so clueless as the others may think. I love the animalistic grim of the pirates in this.
“The Scene of the Crime” by Leonard Richardson (Issue #191) – A classic mystery story with a science fiction setting, and time shenanigans. I enjoyed the mashup and a bit of detective fiction thrown into the mix of this issue.
Daily Science Fiction (Edited by Michele-Lee Barasso and Jonathan Laden)
“Rummage Sale Finds” by Nina Kiriki Hoffman (15th July) – A lovely little tale of witches and sadness that illustrates how amazingly writer’s prompts can be, creating gold.
“Vs. The Giant” by Matthew F. Amati (23rd August) – Amusing and cleverly written fable with social insights that could be taken in diverse ways by different readers. Daily SF at its best.
The Dark Magazine, Issues 86 & 87 (Edited by Clara Madrigano and Sean Wallace)
“Fisheyes” by Ai Jiang (Issue #86) – A gruesome bit of prosaic horror that resonated with the quivering gut reaction I have to the texture of eyes. The story captures the rebellious, shock-inducing nature of teenage years, here with a boy feeling betrayed by his mother’s new lover.
“A Game at Clearwater Lake” by Gillian Daniels (Issue #86) – A unique twist on slasher film horror that focuses on a victim of a killer and what dares to persist even after a life is taken. The story captures the ambience of a classic horror staple while also making it much more deeply complex and humanizing.
“Shape-shifter” by Frances Ogamba (Issue #87) – Beautifully creepy and disquieting tale of a man whose body is changing in fearful and gruesome ways that serves as allegory of alienation from community and society, a life falling apart. Or perhaps other interpretations? Regardless, stunningly written and captivatingly dark.
“Father’s Flow” by Phoenix Alexander (Issue #87) – A father tries to keep an unconventional boat running to keep himself and his sons afloat after the departure of their mother. Another dark and allegorical tale in this issue. Less creepy and heavier on plot with the appearance of trouble, this story shines with rich imagery-laden language and poetic constructions.
Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine Vol. 160 , Nos. 1 & 2 (Edited by Janet Hutchings)
“Myrna Loy Versus the Third Reich” by William Burton McCormick – I’m not a huge fan of alternate reality histories in SF, but what I enjoyed about this story is that it gave off the vibe in a pure historical crime/mystery story, without the detraction of alternate mix-ups and inversions. I also adore Myrna Loy’s films, and didn’t know about her activism and the bans on her work by the Nazis.
“The Secret Sharer” by W. Edward Blain – My regrettable familiarity with Zoom and trying to teach with it during the pandemic certainly helped me connect to this story, but the building of a mystery plot behind Zoom technology/use would have succeeded for me even without the experiences. Nice tying of themes in this short story to the short story being discussed in the class as well.
“Quiet Pol” by Raoul Biltgen – A man sits on a park bench recording statistics of crows and children throughout an aging industrial German city. There is a creepiness to the story that works very well amid all the facts and figures observed: a nice subtle dark vision of crime.
Fantasy Magazine, Issues 81 & 82 (Edited by Arely Sorg and Christie Yant)
“The Memory of Chemistry” by Sabrina Vourvoulias (Issue #81) – It’s rare that I find the wonders and magic of chemistry brought out in fiction, and this is an exceptional case at that. A powerful and poetic tale of a chemist and her female friends/colleagues from youth to old age, with politics and insects and ghosts across time mixed in. It’s a poignant use of science fiction and magical realism that really makes me want to find a copy of Vourvoulias’ novel Ink that this tale connects with.
“A True and Certain Proof of the Messianic Age” by P H Lee (Issue #82) – I adored the recursive structure of this meta story, an AI fable of sorts around personhood and component identity.
FIYAH Literary Magazine of Black Speculative Fiction, Issue 23: Food & Cuisine (Edited by DaVaun Sanders)
“The Pastry Shop Round the Bend” by Makeda K. Braithwaite – A debut publication in a phenomenal issue from FIYAH. A village witch becomes concerned when a younger, rival witch sets up shop across the street. What concerns the more experienced witch is not so much loss of business or prestige, but the harmful effects the brazen and power-hungry newcomer might have on the everyday people. It’s a well done story about how the things people want for themselves may not include the wisdom of knowing what they need.
“Just Desserts” by A.M. Barrie – A historical fantasy written as the recollections of Hercules, George Washington’s slave cook. It’s a well done and engaging look at the incongruities between slavery and American ideals that the Founding Fathers well knew and its an educational read from a vital perspective (albeit fictionally portrayed.) The blend between magic and the culinary arts here is also well done. A must-read in an issue that shouldn’t be missed in general.
Flash Fiction Online, Issues #106 & 107 (Edited by Emma Munro)
“Dr Daidalo’s Kouklotheatron” by Nathan Makarios (Issue 106) – In a little alleyway theater, children are entertained by the dances of a man’s amazing wooden clockwork son. But, the magic becomes threatened by the religious hatred of a mob, forcing decisions by the wooden boy.
“No one sleeps on an empty stomach” by Lucy Zhang (Issue 107) – Eating bitterness and enduring hardship amid memories of the dead and uncertain futures during Hungry Ghost Month. Beautiful and insightful.
Lightspeed Magazine, Issues 146 & 147 (Edited by John Joseph Adams)
“Critical Mass” by Peter Watts (Issue #146) – As typical for a Watts story of any length, there’s a lot of depth here to unpack and detail to enjoy over multiple reads. The plot deals an artist whose works are being vandalized while his daughter abides in a coma awaiting cure from a disease. I was hoping for more biology in the story given it’s Watts, but the worldbuilding and characterization that is here is so rich and well-realized that I didn’t mind too much.
“Ursus Frankensteinus” by Rich Larson (Issue #146) – A very short and interesting story of an ill-advised plan to save polar bears from extinction by using genetically-engineered microbes to slow down their metabolism. A nice speculative biology.
The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction Volume 143, Nos. 1 & 2 (Edited by Sheree Renée Thomas)
[Did not receive before September]
The New Yorker (Edited by Deborah Treisman)
“A King Alone” by Rachel Kushner (July 11 & 18, 2022) – A song-writer transient drives to reconnect with his daughter, picking up hitchhikers along the way up and down the south central US. Kushner is a writer where I never have any particular draw to the subject or plot of her writing, but the characters and writing captivate. This fascinating look at a man’s connection to strangers and their allure nails tones of regret and longing.
“Perking Duck” by Ling Ma (July 11 & 18, 2022) – With a structurally meta (and recursive) narrative, Ma offers a profoundly deep take on the stereotypical first generation Asian female story of dealing with cultural displacements and generational gaps. The structure and analysis leading up to the final ‘tale’ make the whole a rich and revelatory read.
Nightmare Magazine, Issues 118 & 119 (Edited by Wendy N. Wagner)
“What the Dead Birds Taught Me” by Laura Blackwell (Issue #118) – A serial killer unwisely chooses to set his sights on a young woman skilled in necromancy. Though there are no surprises in how this story goes, the writing is great and the orphaned protagonist and her sister are a compelling twist on the familiarity.
“Skitterdead” by Mel Kassel (Issue #119) – I love a ghost stories of many varieties, and I definitely appreciated this piece of flash fiction for its take on the movement of ghostly spirits, as well as its musical text.
Omenana Speculative Fiction Magazine, Issue 22 – Positive Visions of Democracy (Edited by Mazi Nwonwu & Iquo DianaAbasi)
“Agu Uno” by Chibueze Ngeneagu – Arguments for the extension of ‘human’ rights to non-human animals have long existed, and it’s a lovely theme in this straight-forward and well constructed short story of afro futurism. A ‘masquerade’ controlled by the story’s narrator infiltrates the palace of an emir, but not for what the reader or palace guards might suspect. I love how this story doesn’t over-explain and provides just the right amount of context and clues to work.
“The Coward of Umustead” by Nnamdi Anyadu – In an urban future, a group of teens come to appreciate an odd-ball outcast who they consider distant and cowardly. The story shines with a strong voice and an argot with a syntax that bewitches in how well it fits the tale.
Strange Horizons/Samovar Magazine (Edited by various)
“Bonesoup” by Eugenia Triantafyllou (11 July) – Another story of food and magic that I enjoyed from these two months, this one with a deliciously dark twist to it. An old woman cooks enticingly sweet treats for the children in town, but insists on cooking her granddaughter only meat, specifically “the body part you want to grow stronger”. Not quite folk horror, it’s well written, subtly dark fantasy that invites interpretations on the themes of relationships with family and friends.
“A Cloudcutter’s Diary” by Chen Chuncheng (Translated by Jack Hargreaves) (25 July) – The character of this story’s title is employed by a future authoritative society to shape clouds into approved, basic shapes of non-whimsy to dissuade imagination. But this doesn’t stop him from yearning for more in his life. Stories about stories and reading always go down well for me.
“Wok Hei St” by Guan Un (29 August) – A very enjoyable mashup of fantasy, crime fiction, and the culinary. A binder called Compass works to find Aunty Ping’s missing wok before a big televised cooking competition. The non-linear narrative structure works really well here.
“Clockwork Bayani” by EK Gonzales (29 August) – A Filipina adopts a clockwork son from the Manila dollhouse where she works, but is fearful of letting him follow his wish to join the resistance against Spanish rule as her husband had. Though a straightforward fantasy, it’s written beautifully. Touching.
Terraform (Edited by Brian Merchant and Claire Evans)
“The Fog” by Elvia Wilk (1st July) – Biology in speculative fiction at its best. This story of biobots and their keepers touches on concepts of genetics, evolution, and the basic (but hard to pin down) qualities of life.
“Fostering” by Ray Nayler (11th July) – I’ve been looking forward to Nayler’s upcoming debut novel, The Mountain in the Sea, and this lovely and bittersweet story of parenting, coming to terms with hard realities, and letting go, cemented my eagerness. The well done mixture of artificial and biological into the overall tone of this story also really captured my interest.
“The Binding of Issac” by Tochi Onyebuchi (18th July) – Wow, some superb fiction in Terraform this month. Speculative horror with kink here. It’s an unsettling and disturbing look at power and the treatment of others, twisted yet woefully familiar.
Tor.com (Edited by various)
“This Place is Best Shunned” by David Erik Nelson (Edited by Ann VanderMeer) – Perfectly chilling tale that starts out with folk horror vibes that play on the dark lyricism of warnings for radioactive waste sites, but then goes into a lovely cosmic horror twist.
“Porgee’s Boar” by Jonathan Carroll (Edited by Ellen Datlow) – A gangster coerces his favorite artist into recreating an aged and fading beloved photograph from his youth as a painting. Little does he know that there is a magic to the insight that underlies her talent. It’s a great story about art, control, and fear.
Uncanny Magazine, Issue Forty-Seven (Edited by Lynne M. Thomas and Michael Damian Thomas)
“At the Lighthouse Out by the Othersea” by Juliet Kemp – Beautiful and touching. At the dangerous edge of normal space and the otherspace of a wormhole sits a lighthouse, a warning beacon for travelers, but also the last stop for thrill seekers looking to surf the tumultuous energy waves at the transition. There, the lighthouse keeper greets a visitor seeking to honor the memory of a sibling who never had the chance to brave the waves. The two learn about one another, and through the conversation, more about themselves.
“If You Find Yourself Speaking to God, Address God with the Informal You” by John Chu – A superhero story with weightlifting that is one part story of friendship and homosexual romance, and another part commentary on racism and bravery. An engaging and uplifting story.
“To Hunger, As with Perfect Faith” by Radha Kai Zan – “Every morning I clear the virgins from the stairway.” So begins a powerful a powerful and magical story full of dark atmosphere and a bold character who seizes opportunity and agency. I don’t think I’ve read anything by Radha Kai Zan before, but looking into them and their work I can tell I’ll be a fan: “As a writer, their fiction skews towards the speculative with a particular interest in exploring the macabre, erotic, and adventurous. Their first name is pronounced “row+a” from the Gaelic word radharc meaning “a vision.” Fittingly, this story is like a vivid vision.
World Literature Today Vol. 96, No. 4 (Edited by Daniel Simon)
“Penance” by Octavio Escobar Giraldo (Translated by D. P. Snyder) – This short story is the first English translation publication of a well regarded Columbian writer, and with such power in a very short length, it’s a must read about guilt and the conflicting human emotions of celebration and mourning. An extensive translator’s note gives added cultural and political backdrop to the story and Giraldo’s style to appreciate.