Here we go, here we go, a read and appreciated list for June 2020. Hold on, you might say, isn’t this a Locus style short story roundup? Are you going to go through a long list of everything published in June 2020 and talk about it? And yeah, no, sorry my dudes, it’s just not going to happen. There is a seriously large number of magazines putting stuff out for free and online, several behind a print wall, and a few more in print and still sitting on those newsstands and delivered to doorstops.
That is a lot. I’ve been reading at least a short story a day since the start of this month, with some days reading three or four, and I have to tell you this- there are a lot. I couldn’t read every single short story, let alone read enough for each magazine to let you know what the best of each magazine even is for that month.
So I’ve set myself some ground rules, ya hear? I’m going to read as much as I can of each magazine, but not force myself to read stories that just aren’t working for me. I decided that life’s too short to go over the ones that just don’t click for me and why they don’t click for me, and besides, as entertaining as that is it wouldn’t help readers out there much, would it? Instead, if I point to the shining star examples in the sea of published short stories. So ground rule one, if a story doesn’t work for me in the first paragraph, I toss it aside and move to the next.
Another ground rule is to limit my short stories I include from each magazine to two. Just two. Some magazines have knockout issues where each story feels important and weighty, but I don’t want to focus this article on just a handful and that’s that. Where’s the fun in that? So, I’m giving myself a maximum of two stories to talk about per magazine issue. This forces me to find the best of the absolute best and roll with that.
And that’s it, those are my ground rules. Some magazines I didn’t get a chance to get to this month for a variety of reasons (mostly that their bi-monthly, and when I subscribed/patreon’d they didn’t send me the latest issue yet, so expect Asimov’s and Fiyah and others to come in the future). Now with that out of the way, let’s get to our stories, shall we?
I’m going to start with a story in Lightspeed that really made me sit up and take notice. I’ve liked Marie Vibbert’s writing for a while now, and her story in this month’s issue was fantastic. Single Malt Spaceship is one of the only two short stories I think I’ve read that deals with alcohol buying and selling in a science fiction setting. The only other one I read was also in Lightspeed, the thoroughly different Golubash, Or Wine-Blood-War-Elegy by Catherynne M. Valente. It’s interesting to compare and contrast the two, Golubash is very poetic, very elegiac, a space opera with wine and identity at its heart. Single Malt, on the other hand, is a story about loneliness and time travel by abusing sub-light speed (or light speed) travel.
It also takes place in Cleveland, which I think is great. I grew up around the Cleveland area, and reading the parts in Cleveland felt like home, in some weird futuristic way. The setting is great, and I wanted to learn more about each of the cultures she presented. A great read, and probably close to being my favorite for June.
So, moving along we get to A Long Tango across a Canopy of Whispering Leaves by Nin Harris in this month’s Giganotosaurus. This story stands out primarily by its world building. Sentient trees that whisper, giant fungal domiciles, sinister forests, and a festival king that dies when it changes hands in a most interesting and unique way. King here is not a gendered station, which is something I absolutely love, and the way it leads up to its ending is surprising and interesting and does so many unique things. The imagination on hand is dazzling, and I felt drunk with the language.
Next up we have another bit of wild and imaginative world building with beautiful poetic prose in Mitchell Shanklin’s It Only Takes a Few Months for a Poet to Position Its Jaws. I feel very lucky to have read so many stories this month with wild world building that pushes the imagination to its limits, usually crouched in poetic prose that sings to the heart. This is another one, and since it’s flash fiction I will stop talking about it here and just tell you to go read it.
And so turn to the May-June issue of the Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. There are two standouts here, the first one I want to talk about seems to follow the last three short stories I mentioned perfectly. Eyes of the Forest by Ray Nayler is another short story with world-building that felt absolutely thrilling to read. It was pulp in some cases, the wild imagination on display, yet never straying away from hard sf. It straddles surreal and real, and the strange alien planet felt alive in ways that challenge our conceptions of how a forest would take care of itself. This story pairs really well with all the stories I’ve talked about so far. The world building is wild and interesting, it contains a sentient forest that speaks to Nin Harris’s short story, and its exploration of loneliness in a far future setting matches Marie Vibbert’s Single Malt Spaceship above.
And I’m not done with F&SF this month, not yet. Rick Bowes has been one of my favorite writers hands down for well over two decades now. His short stories are an absolute joy to read, and his story in the May-June F&SF, In the Eyes of Jack Saul is no different in this regard. We have a bit of historical fantasy here, with the famous gay prostitute and rabble rouser named Jack Saul. Based on the real historical figure, we have him obsessing over Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Grey, and the fantastical meshes with the historical and it is just such a poetic, wonderful, elegiac story. The time period comes to life, and you feel for all these characters so much.
I really think this might be the best story of June 2020, maybe, I mean, it’s really close to being the best. But it’s hard for me to pick the absolute best, since I love reading so much and so many stories this month were great in all sorts of different ways. I plan on re-reading this story though, over and over again, just to get a feel for how it works.
Okay, next up! Next up! What have we got next? Maybe I should have saved that last one for last, no? Maybe, maybe. I won’t try and top it, but I’ll just keep moving on, listing a few more stand out stories I read this month. So let’s see here, let’s move along now…
Fitting in with those wild, imaginative stories I mentioned earlier we have The Leviathan Sang by Rudolfo Serna over at this month’s Brick Moon Entertainment. I really like this trend I’ve seen this month in science fiction- poetic prose, wild imagination, surreal and interesting technology. This short story fits right into that whole mold, and I’m digging it. Sentient planets, space whales, distress signal of the universal mind, navigating through exploding gas clouds. I mean, the space whale’s skin turns to organic metal, how absolutely amazing is that? Traveling through chains and psychic energy, this is science fiction that just goes takes the wild ideas and just runs with it.
I think these are great, these stories that seem to bend past near future realism of so much science fiction and goes further and further and further, pushing the boundaries of wonder until breaking. Don’t get me wrong, I do like some proper hard SF every now and again, but it doesn’t thrill me like these stories do. I get a tingly sensation in my brain, and I realize I want more just like this, and even though it’s been rare through most of this year, this month has been a gift of genre breaking science fiction and I want more of it. More, more, lots more of this kind of stuff.
So from there we go to At the End of the Song, a Ghost is Waiting, by another favorite writer of mine, Cat Rambo. My, June 2020, how you have spoiled me with great fiction! This one can be found over at Three Lobed Burning Eye, and the title reminds me of that Grover story, At The End of this Book is a Monster. It kind of plays with that narrative structure, but does even more interesting stuff with it than you would expect. It’s short, elegiac, and haunting. A definite must read.
Next up let’s look towards this month’s Uncanny Magazine, and the amazing Dresses Like White Elephants by Meg Elison. Wow. Just, absolute, wow. You’ve probably read the story it is in discussion with in college at some point, you know the one I’m talking about. The Hemingway story considered the quintessential iceberg story, where the real stuff is hinted at but never said aloud. Yes, Hills Like White Elephants. This short story is in conversation with that short story and it does so many interesting things, and basically pulls the rug out from under you while you’re reading it. The original Hemingway story always left a bad taste in my mouth, since it was all about a man trying pressure a woman into having an abortion, and this story just lays it all bare and is emotionally gripping, intense, and poetic.
And finally, we’re going to go round to Clarkesworld, and bring up Nine Words for Loneliness in the Language of the Uma’u by MK Clark. This one feels like it ties together all the other short stories I mentioned above, speaking of wild imagination, strange futures, and loneliness and poetic writing. It’s different than the ones above, yes, but it feels like it contains all the themes I’ve talked about before with the other short stories.
I guess you could say the pandemic is wearing on all of us, no? The loneliness of these stories, the yearning for contact, for communication, and for a future that still has humanity in it exploring the stars. Certainly, one or two stories I’ve mentioned here don’t quite match this theme…
But it’s odd how many do. And it’s even odder how many more I’d read (but not mentioned, since I’m only mentioning the great of the great published in June) also contain these same themes and ideas. I guess you could say June 2020 is the month of loneliness, of sorrow, of the beauty of wild space and the emptiness it represents.
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/