March was rich in excellent short fiction. I picked 10 stories for my monthly roundup at B&N SciFi & Fantasy Blog (read it), and I have ten extra excellent picks here on the blog. Two of these stories are from two new and promising zines:
- Augur Magazine is “a literary magazine that believes we can better engage with our pasts, presents, and futures through stories that explore what-ifs and could-bes”.
- Factor Four Magazine is “a quarterly magazine featuring flash fiction stories from the Speculative Fiction realm”.
Both have published terrific early issues, and are well worth checking out!
Here we go! 10 (extra) excellent stories I read in March:
Lasciare Suonare, by Andrew Wilmot in Augur Magazine
Wilmot’s story is a harrowing and gut-wrenching twist on an alien invasion story, except in this case, the aliens (the Altro) don’t come from space, but rather another dimension that intertwines with ours. Sound is at the heart of this story. The aliens are extremely sensitive to sound and use a “null sonic weapon” to obliterate humanity. And the protagonist is a “Foley”, a sound engineer, who travels the blighted world, capturing the last sounds, or “auralstatic residue”, left behind by the dead in the devastated towns. Bleak and chilling, this is also a captivating and uniquely imagined science fiction story. A definite must-read.
From Now Until Infinity, by Karen Bovenmyer in Factor Four Magazine
Oh, what an aching, dreamy, and painfully beautiful story this is! A woman jumps between exo-planets, cataloguing them, logging her observational data, while also mourning the end of a relationship that was her life for seventeen years. Her sorrow and regret taint her experience of every world she visits, and Bovenmeyer brilliantly blends the external imagery of these strange new worlds with the emotional turmoil inside. Excellent flash.
Earn Your Breath, by Jamie O. Mayer in Cast of Wonders
This is a taut and fierce fantasy story about Liith, a young woman trying to find her place in a society ruled by strict hierarchies, social rules, and traditions. Liith is an excellent fighter and has defended her home from enemies over and over again, but even that is not enough to get her the respect and recognition she craves. The people around her seem hellbent on making her conform, even when she does her best to stand up for who she is. Mayer weaves a lot of worldbuilding about culture and magic into this story without ever slowing down the narrative, and it’s a story that kept me hooked and guessing right up until the end.
When the Slipling Comes To Call, by N.R. Lambert in Pseudopod
“When the Slipling Comes to Call”, is a wickedly entertaining and chilling horror story with the texture and richness of fairy-tales and folklore. There’s an old village witch, villagers cowering in the presence of evil, and the Slipling herself, a nightmarish creature who returns every year to harvest souls. And there’s the young woman who decides to try to break the Slipling’s hold on the community. Lambert uses some classic fairy-tale ingredients masterfully, while also infusing the story with a unique soul and purpose of its own.
Seven Months Out and Two to Go, by Rachel Swirsky & Trace Yulie in Asimov’s (March/April 2018)
It’s hard for me to verbalize just what makes this quiet, unsettling, and oddly luminous story so excellent. It features cows and aliens, it explores grief and pregnancy, as well as memory and transformation. One of the things I love about it is that while it is a very strange tale, it is a strange tale firmly anchored in the real world: a vividly drawn rural landscape, the routines of farm work, cows, cattle-feeding schedules, pregnancy worries, and all the little details of life (and death) on a farm. Beautifully written, it pulls you into a real world and place and then skilfully peels back the skin of that reality, revealing the strangeness lurking below.
Our King and His Court, by Rich Larson at TOR.com
Every now and then I read a short story that is so cinematic that it makes me feel as if I’m watching a movie rather than reading a story. This is that kind of story. It’s set in a near-future version of Mexico, and it’s action-packed, violent, but also moving, with the feel of a Shakespeare play. There’s a king on a throne of bones, there are characters corrupted by power and violence and the longing to live forever, there is family and friendship and loyalty, betrayal and revenge. Every scene seems to pop off the page, and I found myself wanting more as soon as it was over. Highly recommended.
Duck, Duck, Duck by Samantha Murray in Flash Fiction Online
A simple kids’ game in a school yard takes on a darker and more sinister tone in this wonderful story by Samantha Murray. Who is like us, and who is an outsider, an alien? How do you become the other, how do you end up on the outside of the game, and what will happen to you if you do? This is a subtle and evocative story that works on many levels, and Murray brilliantly ties it all together in less than one thousand words.
Down Where Sound Comes Blunt, G.V. Anderson in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction (March/April 2018)
This is a mesmerizing and profoundly unsettling story about real mermaids (found in the deep parts of our oceans), and a scientist who studies them, trying to gain a deeper understanding of their life and culture. It is a dark an haunting tale about communication and misunderstandings, and how easy it is to miss what is right in front of you, when you don’t really want to see it. Anderson’s prose is gorgeous and she masterfully weaves together fantasy and science fiction in a story that will pull you in and drag you down.
Traces of Us, Vanessa Fogg in Giganotosaurus
Fogg’s beautifully written novelette is a tale about two lovers, separated by death and time, who search for a way to reunite beyond death and beyond Earth. It’s a real love story and real honest-to-goodness science fiction, incorporating not just grandiose science ideas, but the nitty gritty details of lab work and research. Every sentence here glows with love – the love between two people, a love of science, and also love for St. Louis. So often, science fiction portrays technology as an ominous threat to humanity, but in this story, technology and science actually offer a glimpse of hope. It’s the kind of scifi I love: science-rich, yet intensely human.
Cry of Desire in a Shrouded Land, by Talisen Fray in Beneath Ceaseless Skies
This intricately woven and exquisitely crafted story weaves together several different strands of the same story. I really loved the way Fray lets us see the plot play out from different characters’ points of view, revealing each character’s true motivation bit by bit. At the heart of the story is a magical “miracle tea” that might make your wishes come true, but at a very high price. There’s an old couple who are slipping apart as their love cools. And there two young, ambitious people hungry for riches, respect, and power. Brimful with sensory detail, lust and desire, this is a glorious tapestry of a tale worth savouring.
For more short fiction picks: