Anyone who knows me knows I love short fiction. I love reading it, I love writing it, it just feels so perfect. Novels have their place, don’t get me wrong, but when it comes to just sitting down and reading for fun, I usually just turn to short fiction. It’s where I started as a kid, reading a science fiction short story collection when I was in elementary school that they had in the library, and then turning to Poe and Machen horror collections when I got older and more interested in horror.
It’s something that I never left behind, something that stayed with me into adulthood. And these days it seems to be a good time to be in love with short stories. I wouldn’t say it’s the golden age, not quite. But the publications that are publishing genre stories are publishing some amazing work, and I’m here to give an overview of some of the best works published in the last month.
I’m going over the magazines and books I have on hand, which means stuff that’s free to read online or stuff that I have a subscription to, or anthologies/collections that piqued my interest and I picked up. If you have a collection or a magazine you think is worthy of future installments, feel free to send me a copy and I’ll give it a glance.
And now with that out of the way, let’s talk about stories, shall we?
The first story I want to talk about is I Bury Myself by Carmen Maria Machado, published in this month’s Lightspeed Magazine. This story is poetic, with sentences that cut you and keep you moving on, wanting to read what happens next and next and next. From the first paragraph I was pulled in, and I just kept reading on, looking for what was going to happen next. I was constantly surprised at every paragraph. At times it reminded me of Poe’s short story, The Oblong Box, another piece of fiction about what it would feel like to be buried alive, to die, and to rot. Machado’s voice and narrative is far more brutal and poetic than Poe’s, and that is saying a lot. Here are some of the lines that gave me goosebumps while reading:
An image: A salmon slit at her gut, pink eggs pouring out of her like beads.
A sensation: My mouth filled with tapioca balls, teeth mired in the sleek stick of them.
A sound: My father kept my milk teeth in a box that he’d rattle when I was sad. It made me smile, a gum-gapped smile, that clatter of wood and bone.
Fantastic stuff. Another great story from this same issue of Lightspeed is The Time Traveler’s Advice to the Lovelorn by Adam Troy Castro, and it was a sheer joy to read from start to finish. I had no idea where the story was going, which is unusual for most time travel stories, especially time travel love stories. I can usually tell where those are going, but this story had unpredictability woven into its bones. The only thing I saw coming was the very-very ending, and I only saw that coming after the final third act of the short story. I highly suggest these two, they feel very different, but move in interesting, unique ways. Both of these stories in Lightspeed I found highly enjoyable, and yet completely different.
Next up, we’re moving onto this month’s Clarkesworld Magazine. The first on my must read list is The Translator, at Low Tide by Vajra Chandrasekera. A haunting melancholy story that is basically about the publishing industry in a dying earth setting. I know for some that dystopias have become unfashionable in a time crisis, but the elegiac prose is worth it, and the poetic detail gives weight and meaning to the world. You can feel the textures of it in much the same way you can feel the damp mud in a Tarkovsky film, it goes beyond mere world building to a lived in experience.
In that same issue we have A Stick of Clay, in the Hands of God, is Infinite Potential by Jy Neon Yang, and all I can say is wow. Just plain and simply wow. It does some very interesting things with a very common premise involving mecha-human interaction, and delves deep into the psychology of that procedure. This story could’ve just easily been like most other mecha stories, involving giant machines killing things and looking cool. But like Catherynne M. Valente’s poem Melancholy for Mecha Girl, there is so much more going on here.
Turning away from Clarkesworld we now swing to Beneath Ceaseless Skies. The standout this month was The Honey of the World and the Queen of Crows By Dimitra Nikolaidou. This is a wonderful change of pace from most of BCS’s usual secondary world fantasy stories, and instead taking place in a bar in the waiting room of hell. I got a very existentialist/theater of the absurd vibe from this story, mixed up with the classical antiwar stories from those who had seen the horrors of a battlefield first hand. It contains stories within stories, and is literary fantasy of the highest order. Definitely a read for fans of Camus, Sartre, The Good Place, Salmon Rushdie, Umberto Eco, or Haruki Murakami.
Well, that’s it for this month. Check back near the end of June where I go over the best short stories published in that month including some stories in print magazines like The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Asimov’s, and Analog.
Paul Jessup – Paul Jessup is a critically acclaimed/award winning author of strange and slippery fiction. With a career spanning over ten years in the field, he’s had works published in so many magazines he’s lost count and three or four books published in the small press. You can attempt to find him at https://pauljessupmain.wordpress.com/