January was so full of excellent stories it kind of drove me nuts. Is this what 2019 will be like? Just overflowing with excellent speculative fiction? I guess I can handle that…
Nothing to Fear, Nothing to Fear, by Senaa Ahmad in Uncanny Magazine
This story – about sisters Huda and Amina, their brother Sameer, and Huda’s daring science project – packs a spectacular emotional punch. It’s a story that crept very close to me as I read it, until I felt like it was whispering in my ear. I love everything about this story. I love the relationship between the sisters, the love and annoyance, the loyalty and conflict between them. I love how Ahmad perfectly captures both the togetherness and the isolation of the children. And I love the (unexpected) outcome of Huda’s science project. A story to read and savour.
Burrowing Machines, by Sara Saab in The Dark
Set in the shadowy and forbidding underground realm of London’s tube tunnels and subterranean waterways, this wonderfully chilling horror story is my favourite kind of monster tale. Saab makes us feel and fear the monster rather than confront it head on, and it makes for a spine-chilling and tense tale about the darkness hidden below the familiar world, and the ancient creatures that might exist right beneath our feet. The story is infused with so much texture and so much depth, making it all feel vividly and unsettlingly possible.
Another Day in the Desert, by Mame Bougouma Diene in Escape Pod
This is a riveting epic tale, told in the space of a short story. We follow Tagedouchet from when she’s a young woman, growing up with her family in the Sahara desert, until she is much older, a wife and mother, marked by a hard life, but still with that same fiery spirit inside her. The world-building is done with an expert hand, giving us mechanical camels, thopters, drones, a moving oasis, the politics of the Caliphate, and the ever-present shadow of Han industries and their uranium mining operations. There is war and strife, life and love and loss here, and it’s all pulled together perfectly into a story that kept me hooked from start to finish. Terrific narration by Halima Salah.
Notes on the Plague, by Shamar Harriott in Fiyah #9
“The world slides into apocalypse.” Oh, this story… this story cut right through me with its sadness and its fire and its razor-sharp edges. A plague, the Touch disease, is killing people. People are dying, hiding, running away, wondering who is next. People keep a safe distance from each other. Some commit suicide. Others try to hold on – to themselves, to each other. Harriott captures the grief and weariness and hollowness when the world as you know it seems to be coming to an end, and the story also captures those brief, yet important, moments when people decide whether they can go on living.
The Daddy Thing, by K.C. Mead-Brewer in Electric Literature
An awesomely creepy and taut horror story that is also an incredibly moving and emotionally charged family drama – this is such a uniquely strange tale that I do not want to spoil any part of it for you. I will say that there is a talkative bat with a taste for blood, a dad who scares his daughter and then….becomes something else, and a mother who tries to remedy a bad situation. Every bit of this story feels mind-warpingly weird, yet nightmarish enough to be true.
Death and the Tower, by William Broom in Kaleidotrope
“A wild god had passed by the city on the day of her birth. The shepherds said it was like a great limbed shadow slithering over the hills. Cassandra knew that somehow she had been touched by that god. Perhaps it had seen her and claimed her for its own, or perhaps it had merely wandered by, leaving sacred footprints in the wet matter of her soul.” Broom’s story is an exquisitely written and harrowing take on Greek mythology and the works of Homer. The prose sings from the first line, and I love how the story feels both hauntingly familiar and strikingly new at the same time. Broom gives you a new way of looking at Cassandra, and her world is brought to life with vivid and evocative prose.
His Footsteps, Through Darkness and Light by Mimi Mondal at TOR.com
Binu is a trapeze artist at the Majestic Oriental Circus, and also performs the role of Alladin in “Alladdin and His Magic Lamp”, a play put on by ringmaster Johuree. And yes, there’s a magic lamp in this story, and there is a jinni too, but no, this is not your usual story of three wishes and a jinni. Mondal spins her own mesmerizing magic here, with a rich and lush tale about Binu and Johuree and a beautiful woman who wants to run away with the circus. It’s also an aching story about people who end up facing terrible and difficult choices, and I love how vividly Mondal brings this world and the people in it to life.
The Deepest Notes of the Harp and Drum, by Marissa Lingen in Beneath Ceaseless Skies
Marissa Lingen kicks this story off with one heck of an opener: “I killed my sister with my own two hands. I am not sorry for it; she lied and cheated and stole, and if it had not been her it would have been me.” What follows is a gorgeous, bloody fantasy tale with a subtle and wicked sense of humour. It’s a fantastic twist on the fairytale trope of the instruments that are magically endowed with voices to reveal people’s deep, dark secrets. Lingen’s story deals with murder and revenge, but it’s also a love story about two women who meet and fall in love, and who are both hoping for a clean start, even though they’re not sure they’ll get one.
The Beast Weeps with One Eye, by Morgan Al-Moor in Beneath Ceaseless Skies
The High Sister has been on the run for many days with the people she is supposed to defend. Their old village is lost far behind them, and they are being harried by ravens who attack and kill them whenever they stop. The High Sister prays to the Great Elders for help, but the only one who offers sanctuary is Babawa-Kunguru, the Father of All Ravens, the Keeper of Sorrows, and he demands a heavy price in return. “Three offerings of sorrow–a tribute from your people to my shrine. Do this, and the land is yours. Forever.” This is a powerful and piercing story about faith and courage and redemption, and I especially love the how Al-Moor delves deep into the past of The Keeper of Sorrows, creating an ending you might not have expected.
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