June was a month full of excellent speculative fiction, and hey, that seems to be the thing for every month. I picked 8 wonderful stories for my blog, and also featured 10 excellent stories in my roundup at B&N’s Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog.
Revival, by Lisa M. Bradley in Beneath Ceaseless Skies
“The preacher burns too bright to look at, bright as summer sun spearing the tin-framed mirror in Tía’s parlor, and Carmen cowers before his gaze, as she does before all mirrors, feeling the shadows shrink around her, every supplicant incited.”
A dark, powerful, and moving story about Carmen, who visits the revival tent set up by a traveling preacher on her family’s land and meets a strange and mysterious man there who calls himself Swift. The preacher heals people with various afflictions, and Swift has followed him, hoping to find a cure for a mysterious ailment he won’t name at first. As Carmen becomes more and more interested in Swift, the dangerous truth of his condition comes back to haunt both him and Carmen. I just LOVE the character of Carmen, she is clever, resourceful and devastatingly brave, a real fairy-tale heroine.
Mother Ocean, by Vandana Singh in Current Futures
“In the ocean, Paro sometimes forgets she’s human. It’s partly because water is her element, and water, as we all know, obscures, blurs and dilutes all boundaries. She doesn’t remember the name her grandmother gave her when she was born – it is lost among the fragments of memory that remain of those early, difficult years.”
What can I say, except: this is a new story by Vandana Singh and you should read it. It is about Paro who swims with and talks to a whale, it’s about environmental destruction and hope. It is beautiful and full of darkness and light. It’s part of Current Futures, an online anthology with stories by amazing writers. Also, if you haven’t yet read Singh’s short story collection Ambiguity Machines, it’s a definite must-read.
In the Beginning, by Tyhitia Green in Nightlight
Nightlight is a podcast featuring horror stories written and narrated by Black creatives. This story by Green is harrowing and also flat-out fantastic. A woman is being held captive by her husband in their home. She tries to find a way to escape, but he will not let her. I won’t say much more about it, but do give this a listen. It’s an unsettling horror tale that definitely will stay with me.
A Catalog of Love at First Sight, by Brit E.B. Hvide in Uncanny Magazine
“Cold and wet and smacked with air. I scream until I feel a familiar heartbeat. Smell of milk, and beyond that, the smell of lavender. Blooming in fields that stretch to touch the horizon. Home. Safe. Warm. Warm like the burning sun in the burning sky.”
There are many ways to tell a story about the apocalypse, about the harsh and difficult world that might await us in the not too distant future. What makes E.B. Hvide’s story stand out is the way she weaves in so much love and hope and longing in a story that also holds a lot of despair and loss. A beautifully told science fiction tale.
The Night Princes, by Megan Arkenberg in Nightmare
“I’m going to tell you a story,” she says. “And when the story is finished, this will all be over.”
A gorgeously wrought story about Death, and about telling stories and trying to care for each other, to keep fear and despair at bay while the darkness falls. I love stories told within stories, and Megan Arkenberg creates a wonderful, intimate world that burrowed into me as I read it and lingered long after I stopped reading.
A Warm, Dark Place in the Earth, Mackenzie Kincaid in Zooscape
“Gwyn the hedgewitch had her home in the ground.
It was a matter of comfort and practicality, because Gwyn had been a simple badger before she’d ever been a hedgewitch, but it also tended to put off visitors, which was just as Gwyn wished it.”
A wonderful, darkly funny fairytale (and it really feels like an old-school fairytale) about a badger hedgewitch who takes on the task of building an underground dwelling for a rich local nobleman and his….unusual… new wife. Zooscape is a new acquaintance for me, they are “an e-zine of fantastic furry fiction. Here the animals can talk, magic flows, and the stars are in reach.” I’ve really enjoyed the tales in their current issue, and will be reading more!
Risk, by Rachel Hylton in Foreshadow YA
“We, the sophomore girls of Carol Moseley Braun High School, would like to set the record straight.
We were there for Marnie Vega long before she became a lobster.”
Foreshadow has become one of my favourite places for SFF fiction (though they also publish mainstream fiction, most of their stories have some kind of speculative vibe). This story is a great example of the kind of fiction they’ve been publishing. It’s dark and strange and subtly funny, and features young protagonists who have a mind, and a strong will, of their own. What happens after Marnie turns into a giant lobster is both terrible and wonderful, and the story captures both the rivalry, and the friendship, that can play out in a group of young girls.
How to Confront the Sphinx Haunting Your Garden, by Alexei Collier in Flash Fiction Online
“The sphinx’s presence in your garden should come as no surprise. Sphinxes make their homes in the cracks between realities, which abound in overgrown gardens like yours.”
Flash Fiction Online is another one of my favourite zines, partly because I love flash fiction so much, and also because FFO publishes some of the best flash stories in the SFF field. This story mixes a sense of humour and whimsy, but it’s also moving, in a quiet way.