April-May 2018 Short Fiction Recs
April and May brought so many stories of strangeness, beauty, love, and darkness. Here's a sampling of just some of what I loved.
Stories of Beauty, Strangeness, and Love
“Mothers, Watch Over Me,” by Maria Haskins in Mythic Delirium
I confess that I’m not even a dog person, yet this story nearly had me in tears. In a post-apocalyptic world, a dog named Maya gives birth to a sickly pup. Although she has lost puppies before, she knows that this one must live, and she is determined to do all she can to make it so. Maya carries her litter of pups in a basket with her into the Forbidding, on a journey to the towers of God for help. A beautifully written, delicate, and poignant story of love, survival, and determination.
Another story about a desperate (this time human) mother. Mika is a sailor who is lost at sea. She knows where she is in relation to the coastline and her home city of Maelstrom. But she often doesn’t know when she is.
In Mika’s world, the sea contains literal timestreams: currents that transport those who get caught within either backward or forward through time. Mika was caught in a timestream and transported far in time from her four children. All she wants is to get back to them. And thus, her epic journey through time unfolds; again and again she plunges into the timestreams, seeking a way home, returning again and again to a city which changes with time, rising and falling through the centuries. Maelstrom is a city that knows its own future. Maelstrom is itself a place of changing wonders. And I love the way Mika’s story is set against the larger history of this city; her story becomes at once personal and mythic. “Strange Waters” presents a unique and striking premise, beautifully realized. It’s an utterly gorgeous, moving story.
“Our Side of the Door” by Kodiak Julian in Lightspeed
A quietly beautiful story about Doors to other worlds, and the high-wire act of parenting—of wanting to keep your children safe but also wanting them to explore and grow and have things on their own. To allow and even encourage them to find the Doors to other worlds. In Julian’s lovely story, the realist details and emotions of marriage and parenthood are inextricably intertwined with magic and fantasy. The last lines are absolutely beautiful and haunting.
“Humans Die, Stars Fade” by Charles Payseur in Escape Pod
A gorgeous, lyrical science fiction story about a binary star system, love gone wrong, hope that fades, and hope that is then renewed.
“Salt Lines” by Ian Muneshwar in Strange Horizons
Oh, this aching story. Far from home and family, Ravi finds himself confronted by a monster of his childhood’s folklore: a jumbie. What follows is an intimate tale of loneliness and pain, a piece that blends a deep emotional realism with the fantastic. It’s a story about the hauntings of childhood, of fear and secrecy, and the pain that family can bring. Lovely and heartbreaking.
This story is stunning. It’s a complex, haunting far-future tale about memory, exile, trauma, assimilation, and survival. It’s a story of desperate choices, of how the decisions are made of who gets to stay, who gets to be saved, and the price paid for survival. It’s a story about delicate miscommunications, cultural misunderstandings, and also about an AI who loves poetry.
It’s also a story deeply relevant to our present day.
After you read it, please see the author’s Twitter notes on this story.
“The War of Light and Shadow, in Five Dishes” by Siobhan Carroll in Beneath Ceaseless Skies
“Food tastes of more than its ingredients; it gathers in the people around you, the atmosphere of a place, and also your own hope and grief; it welds them into memory, and it was this that Leu had summoned back into the room.”
In the aftermath of a devastating war, a chef teaches apprentices stories about a legendary chef and his single-minded, fanatic devotion to his art. This is an extraordinary story about war and its consequences, about the small chances that history hinges upon, of food and art and what food means beyond survival. It’s beautiful, complex, and original. The food descriptions are utterly delectable.
At the end, the narrator makes a toast to memory, art and love. This story is about all those things. It is, ultimately, about living.
Stories of Horror
An intense story with the rhythms of a (nightmarish) fairy tale, set in the richly evoked world of upper-crust Black American society in the early twentieth century. A handsome, wealthy young man seems to have it all. But there is a curse which follows him and devours any woman he wishes to marry.
I ate my brother’s first two brides, and I’ll eat his next one, too, he ever find her. A bride for me, brother, before a bride for you.
A breathlessly tense yet richly atmospheric story about family secrets, an abandoned daughter, and rage. Morris is definitely a writer to watch.
“Bears of Ice and Fire” by Octavia Cade in Strange Horizons
This is breathless, furious horror of a different kind. A future in which animals hurt by human-caused climate change take their revenge. A story in which suffering people turn their own revenge upon the politicians, polluters, and lobbyists who lied. It’s a surreal story of giant koala bears of fire and polar bears of ice who spread famine with their claws. In truth, I often bounce off of the many social-justice “revenge” stories I see these days, yet Cade just goes there in her furious, apocalyptic visions. She doesn’t hold back, and this story is searing and heartbreaking in its evocation of the real damage which humans are causing to the earth and helpless animals.
At dinner, a daughter presents her elderly father with a hearing aid he thinks he doesn’t need. This seems to start off as a realist domestic drama. . . but then it takes quite a turn. The tension ratchets up and up. It becomes a wide-eyed, edge-of-the-seat, almost unbearably tense horror-thriller. At the same time, it continues to evoke family bonds in lovely, realistic detail. Superb. Also, as someone of Asian background, I appreciate little moments like this about this Chinese-American family: “They’re facing down an infanticidal ghost, but of course they take their shoes off first.”
“The Root Cellar” by Maria Haskins in Beneath Ceaseless Skies
A wonderfully creepy, darkly magical tale, with shades of Hansel and Gretel. A voice that pulls you right in. Beautifully done.
“Surveillance Fatigue” by Jen Donohue in Podcastle
This near-future science fiction story is all too plausible, which makes it all the more chilling as a realistic horror story. An unnerving piece which expertly taps into the politics of our current day, our paranoia over government and social media surveillance. . . but which also catches the strange, false sense of intimacy that can be bred from social media and closely following someone online.
“Crocodile Wife” by Kathryn McMahon in Jellyfish Review
What a strange, tiny jewel of a story—fierce and burning, a look into a troubled relationship that holds hurt, jealousy, anger—and an unexpected poignancy in the last lines.
“Mother?” by Cynthia So in Arsenika
Moving and so beautifully delicate, like a circling moth.
“Five Functions of Your Bionosaur” by Rachel K. Jones in Robot Dinosaur Fiction!
This was published as part of an online anthology of robot dinosaur flash stories, edited by Merc Rustad. I’ve only read two stories in the anthology so far, but both those stories are on my recs list this month, and I know that I need to read the whole thing. I knew exactly where Jones was going in this lovely flash story of a robot dinosaur caretaker. . . and she made me cry anyway. A beautiful, tender piece.
“Buyers’ Remorse and Seven Slain Cause ‘Adorable’ Robot Dinosaur Stock to Plummet Tuesday” by John Wiswell in Robot Dinosaur Fiction!
Elrond_Hubbard is perfect. Amid the hilarity is also a serious message. I think I need a baby robot dinosaur to chew my iPhone outta my hand.