June-July 2018 Short Fiction Recs
It’s not quite the end of July, but I’m traveling through the first part of August, so I’ve written up my June and July story selections early! As always, there were too many beautiful and wonderful stories to include all that I read. But here are a few that captured my heart.
Stories of resistance, survival, friendship, and love
“Waterbirds” by G.V. Anderson’s story at Lightspeed
Celia is a MxMill Companion, model 2.3—an android under contact to elderly, kindly Mrs. Lawson. For years the two of them have been coming to the Norfolk coast to watch the migrating birds. During these visits, Celia strikes up a relationship with a local artist named Irene. Celia isn’t supposed to have wants of her own—or if she does, she’s supposed to put the wants of humans before her own. But over the course of a human lifetime, things can change. This is a quiet, beautifully crafted piece about love, autonomy, and freedom. It’s a science fiction tale tinged with fantasy, a story that starts off as a mystery, becomes a love story, and twists in unexpected directions. Quietly poignant and lovely.
“The Athuran Interpreter’s Flight” by Eleanna Castroianni at Strange Horizons
“Oh, she’s my little treasure! Isn’t she lovely?” The Envoy fondles the interpreter’s curls, obviously proud of Sam-Sa-Ee. “The body is but a decoration. She’s really a machine.”
Another story about autonomy and freedom, but in a more explicitly harrowing tone. Sam-Sa-Ee is an Athuran whose brain was transplanted into the body of a human child. She’s supposed to translate Athuran language for her human master without remembering anything; she’s supposedly a machine without thought or feeling. But she feels and thinks more than anyone realizes. A painful, devastating story of oppression and exploitation--exploitation not only of Sam-Sa-Ee, but of an entire people. Yet this is also a moving story of resistance, community, and hope.
“The Trees of My Youth Grew Tall” by Mimi Mondal at Strange Horizons
“I come from an arboreal people who have, since the old times, conducted their lives on trees. I was born on a branch of a banyan tree, cradled among the sinews of its prop roots when I was a child.”
During the course of this story, the narrator loses her home among the trees. She loses everything she loves and faces overwhelming change. Yet she endures. She keeps going, learning, adapting; she survives, and finds what bits of joy she can. Mondal’s story is a reminder that not all narratives have to be about big acts of resistance and the overthrow of oppressors. Survival is itself powerful. A sad yet beautiful story of resilience, change, and survival.
“The Thing in the Walls Wants Your Small Change,” by Virginia Mohlere at Luna Station Quarterly
Caro has escaped her abusive mother to make a new life for herself in the city. She has a job and an apartment that she loves. She calls her sweet grandmother regularly. She’s making friends. And one friend is quite unexpected. . . This tale is absolutely delightful. Mohlere pulls off an amazing combination of darkness and fluff, of sweetness and humor amidst snapshots of pain. This tale is poignant, heart-tugging, tender, and flat-out adorable.
“Three Dandelion Stars” by Jordan Kurella at Beneath Ceaseless Skies
A magical fairy tale of love, wishes, and swamp fairies with needle-thin teeth. Gorgeous.
“The Sweetness of Honey and Rot” by Merc Rustad at Beneath Ceaseless Skies
And oh, this story. A dark, breathtaking, yet darkly gorgeous story of sacrifice and anger, of honey and fire and blood. And of horrific, horrific, murderous sloths (I may never look at gentle sloths the same way again). Stunning.
“Meat and Salt and Sparks” by Rich Larson at Tor
I loved this story. A murder mystery starring an oddball pairing of detectives—in this case, a gruff human man and a cognitively enhanced chimpanzee. Larson sells the premise straight-faced, and as the chimpanzee’s back story unfolds, real poignancy enters the tale. This is the type of science-fiction I love: big, cool, existential ideas combined with real emotion and heart. Stellar.
A beautifully gripping tale about a complicated friendship, addiction, and the need to belong. It did NOT go where I expected, and I loved it.
Selections from Reckoning Magazine
Reckoning is a new-to-me journal of creative writing on environmental justice. From the submissions guideline page:
"Fiction preferably at least a tiny bit speculative, nonfiction preferably more creative than journalistic, poetry tending towards the narrative and preferably with some thematic heft, art your guess is as good as mine. But the heart of what we want is your searingly personal, visceral, idiosyncratic understanding of the world and the people in it as it has been, as it is, as it will be, as it could be, as a consequence of humanity’s relationship with the earth."
Maria Haskins drew me to this journal with her review of Jess Barber’s novelette, "Lanny Boykin Rises Up Singing." I read Barber’s story and loved it. I’ve read two other stories from this magazine (one from an earlier issue) and loved those as well. I am looking forward to reading the other stories and poems in Reckoning and following all their future issues. These are stories that feel fresh, surprising, beautiful, and true. This is a new magazine that feels necessary.
“Lanny Boykin Rises Up Singing” by Jess Barber
Lanny is a teenager growing up in a small Appalachian town. She wants desperately to leave but is tied to the region by something she can’t understand. Barber so perfectly captures the rhythms of Lanny’s life: the day-to-day of school and work, her relationships with other students and her father; the rituals and boredom of small-town life with limited opportunities in sight. That desperate adolescent desire for escape. And above all, Lanny’s bond with her best friend, Junebug. Amidst this, Barber captures the beauty of Appalachia; the reader understands Lanny’s love for this region, even if she never voices it out loud. Lanny’s home is under threat by the actions of a mining company. In the end, the various threads of narrative (including, yes, a massive speculative element) come together in a surprising yet wholly satisfying way. This is a quiet slow-burn of a story, moving and beautiful.
“Night of No Return” by Grace Seybold
In this far-future science fiction tale, the ghost of a sea-captain attempts to confess his misdeeds to a different type of captain in the hopes of redemption. A surprising story that mixes the past and future, sea-legends with cyberpunk and the end of Earth. A melancholy tale that beautifully evokes a grand sense of scale.
“To the Place of Skulls” by Innocent Ilo
"What do you take to the Place of Skulls?
Your head, brewing with the thirst for adventure. Your empty stomach to remind you when to come back home for lunch. Your spindly legs, dragging your chapped feet."
Oh, this fierce, angry, beautiful, near-hallucinatory tale. This comes from the first issue of Reckoning and was pointed out to me on Twitter. A group of school-children journey to the Place of Skulls, dodging soldiers and passing corpses, walking through a hellscape of pollution. But they have dreams of stitching “the hole in the sky.” They have dreams.
Flash Stories: Flashes of Beauty
“Why the Moon Wanes” by K.C. Mead-Brewer in Necessary Fiction
A weird, wonderful, gorgeous Wild West flash on lassoing the moon and love.
“Sunlit Surface, Depths Below” by Maria Haskins
First published as an audio story at R.B. Wood’s Word Count Podcast here.
Text available at author’s website here.
A shimmering tale of longing, motherhood, and the depths we hide.
“The Chariots, the Horsemen” by Stephanie Malia Morris at Apex Magazine
A painful story of shackles and flying free.