April was full of stories. So many good stories. That’s true every month, but somehow last month seemed to be even more overflowing with goodness than usual. I picked 10 stories for my short fiction roundup at B&N, and 11 stories here on my blog.
In That Place, She Grows A Garden, by Del Sandeen in Fiyah
Rayven James is one of only two black girls in her high school class, and when a new principal comes to the private, Catholic school with a plan to “crack down”, Rayven is forced to choose between cutting her locs or being expelled. Furious, but unwilling to lose her place at the school, Rayven complies. No one, including Rayven, is quite prepared for what happens next when flowers sprout from her scalp rather than hair. “Once, three small morning glories curled behind Rayven’s ear, but otherwise, they showed up in singles: a red snapdragon at the crown, an orange poppy at the nape. Within a few weeks, only half of her hair was visible. The rest of it was a garden of colors.” When the principal tries to get rid of the flowers, well… lets just say that Rayven’s garden fights back. This is a powerful story about injustice and resistance, and I love Rayven to bits. (Btw, Fiyah #10 is all about hair, and it is full of outstanding stories. IMO, this issue is a must-read.)
Ulissa, by Craig DeLancey at Escape Pod
Ulissa is a gripping science fiction story, set in a future where the world is dominated by machines and AI. Small groups of humans resist the rule of the machines, and one such group is planning an attack on a ship in the Mediterranean. A woman named Ulissa coordinates the attack, while Edoardo, the boy she has raised as if he were her own grandson, heads on board to set the plan in motion. DeLancey’s story is a brilliant piece of sci-fi, with a world and characters so vividly drawn they pop off the page. Ulissa’s extended conversation with a human representative for the machines that own the ship is masterfully done, and I was on the edge of my seat throughout this story, wondering where it would go and how it would end. Wonderfully narrated by Nadia Niaz.
Water Through Our Hands, by Ross Showalter in Strange Horizons
Maya is haunted by the recent death of her mother. When she returns to job as a sign language interpreter, she repeatedly shakes off the worries of her husband and others around her that it’s too early, that she should take more time off. Showalter’s story pierced me through and through. It is both evocative and effective in the way it delves into Maya’s grief and how it affects her mind and her body, as well as her interactions with others, and her perception of the world. And then she hears voices where there should be none… Throughout the story, there is a palpable sense of Maya being unmoored, that she’s lost her footing, and that she has been so stripped bare that she feels alienated from everyone and everything, no matter how hard she tries to tell herself and others that she is OK. A powerful read.
What Cradles Us But Will Not Set Us Free, by Nin Harris in Strange Horizons
“And then there are the denizens of the house, as strange and as terrifying as my dreams. As the person I have become. A monster aligned with the night and all of its inequities.” A haunted house, and a woman who is no longer the woman she was, or even a woman at all. She lingers in the house she grew up in, that she lived in while she was alive, sharing it with her shape-shifting lover, but she can barely face what she has become: “I do not want to acknowledge. To acknowledge would be the end of everything”. This is a gorgeously wrought, harrowing story by Nin Harris. Strange creatures and monsters mix with dreams and memories, hunger and food, and Harris weaves it all into a stunning, luminous, and memorable tale.
Before the World Crumbles Away, by A.T. Greenblatt in Uncanny Magazine
The world is ending in A.T. Greenblatt’s story, but this is not your usual end-of-the-world tale. Instead, it’s a quiet story of the burgeoning relationship between Marina, a painter, and Elodie, who is working on an android to enter in the Crisis Innovators’ Competition. The two meet by the lakeside where Marina paints portraits, and Greenblatt perfectly captures the insecurity and tenderness of a new relationship, with all the misunderstandings that occur when people don’t yet know each other fully and assume things rather than tell the truth, or ask for the truth. It’s a beautiful, human story, full of life and hope and love, even in the face of destruction.
The Dead In Their Uncontrollable Power, by Karen Osborne in Uncanny Magazine
“I used to be a girl. Now I am a hundred. The dead whisper me awake and stay with me while I dream.” Wow. What. a. story! A spaceship is headed for a place called Paradise. It has been travelling for generations, and in that time, awful and terrible things have often happened on board. To contain the threat of madness and violence on the ship, a system has been put in place: one person on board must become the “sin-eater”, ingesting and containing the darkest memories of past captains. Meanwhile, the ship’s captain, another young woman called Bethen, is kept “sinless” in order to be a good and reliable leader. But when the sin-eater finds evidence that the past was nothing like they’ve been told, she questions the entire system, and things begin to come undone. This is a dark and wrenching story, written in gorgeously evocative prose.
An Open Coffin, by H. Pueyo in The Dark
Amélia has been hired by General Estiano to “take care of the body”. The body is in a “crystal coffin, stuffed with alcohol, glycerin and preservatives to keep somewhat of a life-like appearance”. The dead body also has visitors, and Amélia finds their behaviour both disturbing and rather unhinged as they crawl over the coffin and abase themselves before it. Pueyo’s story reads like an ever-deepening nightmare, where the past haunts and taints the present, and in the end, not even Amélia is unaffected. It’s a highly original and deeply unsettling story, and I just loved every bit of it.
The Archronology of Love, by Caroline M. Yoachim in Lightspeed
Dr. Saki Jones is part of an expedition to New Mars, an alien planet littered with the remains of an ancient, alien civilization. Going there, exploring that civilization, has been her dream, but it has turned into a nightmare since her lifelove, M.J., died on the planet before she arrived. In fact, the entire human colony set up there collapsed for reasons no one can fully understand. To find out what happened, Dr. Jones heads into a mysterious dimension called the Chronicle: “We did not create the Chronicle, we simply discovered it, as you did. Layer upon layer of time, a stratified record of the universe. When you visit the Chronicle, you alter it.” Yoachim’s story is aching and moving in every detail, as Saki tries to understand what happened to the colony, and also come to terms with what happened to the love of her life.
Ars Poetica, by David F. Shultz in Abyss & Apex
“That was one thing the machines could never do better than humans. Their poetry was shit. That was how to spot them.” In the future world of this story, poetry, and especially the ability to write poetry, is used as a test to tell real humans from those that have an implant in their bodies – meaning they have been taken over by machines. Rook and her assistant Camilla are using poetry to identify and neutralize the enemy, but things go awry when Rook loses a bag full of poetry – a prized source material that could help the machines circumvent the test. “Ars Poetica” is an engaging, action-packed read and puts an intriguing twist on the sci-fi idea of how to draw the line between artificial and human life and intelligence.
Boiled Bones and Black Eggs, by Nghi Vo in Beneath Ceaseless Skies
The Drunken Rooster is an inn located “on the margin of every country’s map. It is a place where the dead get of hand if they aren’t placated, honored, and fed”. The living come to eat at The Drunken Rooster, but the the dead are also fed and given proper respects before they depart. However, things go awry when the very dead and very terrible Lord Ning arrives but refuses to leave for the afterlife no matter what delicious dishes he is served. Vo’s story is a wonderful and lively tale of life and death and vengeance, and it is full of wonderful food and fabulous ghosts.
A Lady of Ganymede, A Sparrow of Io, by Dafydd McKimm in Flash Fiction Online
“The Lady waits for the Duke in a body as fragile as sugar glass, resting her head against the cool marble of the colonnade that circles the Hall of the Nobles of Io.” This is a luminous and achingly beautiful flash story, about a woman who is kept prisoner in one body after another. She endures torment and pain, and is unable to flee, unable to get back home to the life and the family she still remembers. McKimm’s prose is exquisite, and the ending gives the reader a glimmer of hope.