June was full of excellent speculative fiction. Every month is. Here are 9 stunning stories I read this past month.
You can also check out my monthly roundup for B&N SciFi & Fantasy Blog:
A Brief and Fearful Star, by Carmen Maria Machado in Slate
This brand new story by Machado, is mysterious and unsettling and cuttingly beautiful. A girl and her mother live their hard-scrabble lives in a future that might be taking place in our world or an alternate one very much like it. At night, the girl is haunted by visions of strange beasts; death and danger lurk everywhere; and the past – pain and memories – seems etched into the girl’s bones and blood. Superb from start to finish.
The Hurrah (aka Corpse Scene), by Orrin Grey in The Dark
A (literally) haunting story about a woman who has spent years trying to find a complete copy of the movie her mother made . It’s a horror movie that has achieved a devoted cult following, even though few people have ever even seen the whole movie. Grey expertly brings out every ounce of suspense and creeping horror here, allowing us brief glimpses of the movie and its setting. By the time the whole movie is played in the story, I was at the edge of my seat. An excellent ghost story about digging into the past, and finding more than you bargained for.
Ice Monarch, by Michèle Laframboise in Abyss & Apex
A gripping and harrowing tale of a future Earth where climate change has completely changed the planet, and where both nature and human society are changing or being destroyed. Laframboise’s tale is rich in vivid, evocative details – fake ice was once used to save the Arctic, yet it had unintended consequences, there are genetically altered humans, and the rich are avoiding the catastrophe by isolating themselves. As the strange, winged protagonist of the story flies across the changed landscape, there’s a feeling of both devastation and possible hope for the future. Excellent science fiction.
Quietly Gigantic, by K.C. Mead-Brewer in Strange Horizons
“I don’t just love being alone. I am Alone. I’m the thing witnessing every empty room. Hearing all the trees fall. The lone survivor of every monster apocalypse.” This is an exceptional, deceptively quiet, thoroughly strange and totally excellent story. A young woman is house-sitting and pet-sitting for a friend, when strange things start occurring. Mead-Brewer includes musings on the life-cycle of cockroaches, looming childhood memories, and musings on the zombie apocalypse in this ravishing slow-burn of a story. A must-read.
Home Away From Home, by Fred Coppersmith in Syntax & Salt
If you’re looking for great opening lines, this is a pretty darn good example: “Jack carries around an empty room for almost a week before he has the nerve to do more than just peek inside.” What follows is a quietly funny, wistful story of love and regret, a strange room that shouldn’t really be in that Winnebago, and (maybe) second chances. Coppersmith perfectly captures the bewildered sense of loss you can feel when you’ve lost someone, or something, that meant the world to you. Luminous flash.
Three Dandelion Stars, by Jordan Kurella in Beneath Ceaseless Skies
A profoundly moving story by Jordan Kurella, about love, about friendship, about trying to change for others and letting others change us, and also about the danger of expecting others to be (or become) something they do not want to be. Shai is in love with Amarine, the daughter of the local Lord, and to get her heart’s desire, Shai makes a deal with a swamp fairy. What follows is a beautifully crafted tale of both love and hardship, despair and hope. Lovely and piercing.
Mother Time, Father Death, by Clayton Snyder in Helios Quarterly
Blending dark fantasy, myth and fairy-tale, this is an evocative story about an old woman on her death-bed, thinking back on her life, knowing she has a debt to pay because of what she once did to bring her husband back to life. As she lies dying, something is waiting for her. I love how this story weaves together the real world and the world of magic and gods, and how Snyder twists the fabric tale to give you a surprise at the end.
The Strawberry Queen of Irapuato, by Sarah Beaudette in Flash Fiction Online
A group of girls are shut away from the rest of the world, each of them suffering from strange symptoms and afflictions caused by toxins and chemicals used by agricultural companies, but also wielding a strange powers. Beaudette beautifully captures the companionship between the girls, and their longing to be free. Gorgeous flash fiction story.
The Steam-Powered Princess, by Aimee Ogden in Augur Magazine 1.2
This wonderful steam-powered fairy-tale by Aimee Ogden in the new, Canadian speculative fiction zine Augur is a dark delight. Ogden brings together many familiar fairy-tale elements (a princess, knights sent on quests, a rescue) but spins them all into something shiny and unique. The end result is a story about destiny and finding your own happiness, about strength and bravery, and it’s also a story where nothing really works out the way you might think it would.
For more short fiction picks: