Oh boy where did the month ago? Is it time for another monthly short story roundup? Well, I guess it is. This month has a been a strange month, for certain, but then again all months have been strange months this year, with each month more worse than the last. I wouldn’t be surprised if next month Trump institutes a battle royale for people who want food stamps and declares himself the Undying Sun King of the US.
I joke, but only out of terror. What keeps me going in the dark you might ask? Why, short stories! And we have some wonderful ones here. I crawled and trawled and pulled up some hidden niceties, and I have my twitter followers to thank for the more hidden gems amongst the debris of online magazines. I especially liked putting in a few stories from some university presses. A lot of genre writers look down on the more literary magazines, and I think this is much to their deterrent. In fact, if you know of a good university magazine, literary magazine, or just some hand printed zine handed out at coffeehouses, let me know about them! Genre or no genre, we can find some pretty cool surprises amongst their pages.
With that out of the way, let’s get to the meat of this overview. A few of these stories this month were literary ghost stories, a style of writing I absolutely adore. I drank in ghost stories when I was a kid, and they followed me into adulthood, and even those wild teen and college years where I only read big literary novels and existential tracts on the nature of humanity. What can I say? I was on a weird French Playwright cum Russian novelist fad when I was younger. We all have our vices at that age, and even though I wasn’t reading any other genre fiction, ghost stories (especially literary ghost stories) were still my Achilles heel, even in my hardcore classic literary reading phase.
The first of these comes from this month’s Forge Literary Magazine. An excellent story called Little Ghost by Melissa Goodrich. A melancholy little story that digs under the skin with the beautiful turns of phrase, and propels you onward in its sadness. There is a sense of loss in every word, and the short sentences feel more like an elongated poem, structured into the shape of a short story. Definitely a must read story for this month.
Next up we have literary ghost story number two! Madre Nuestra, Que Estás En Maracaibo, by Ana Hurtado in this month’s Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. This story is all about atmosphere and dread, though I worry non-Catholics will miss the true horror of suicide in this story. For a Catholic, like the characters here, suicide is considered the highest sin. It lays in the center of the story, and complicates all actions. We see the struggle, and the need to pray for the dead, and for the dead to pray for us as well. Another excellent story, very highly suggested you read this one as well, especially in conjunction with the other literary ghost stories mentioned in this overview. They feel like they play with each other, and dance with the genre as a whole.
Riffing off the shadows in Madre Nuestra above, we turn our eyes to The Shadow Catchers by Vanessa Fogg, in this month’s The Future Fire. A wonderful fantasy premise that goes to interesting places, and the shadows mix with ghosts, and with knowing. In a way, they haunt the text itself, and plays with various folklore and fairy tale concepts. This almost the opposite of the boy who lost his shadow, and you can see the flickering conversations between Fogg’s story and Le Guin’s own shadow cursed boy from Earthsea.
And now we move away from the gothic and move back towards the speculative, with The Wandering City by Usman T. Malik in ASU’s Center for Science and the Imagination. Another joyous find from yet another place most genre reader’s wouldn’t really look. This story is wonderful, it has a Borges style fantastical conceit, where all variations and philosophical thoughts are pushed through, prying into the speculative element at its heart and peeling it apart.
I’ve always been a sucker for moving cities, in various forms of folklore and legend and in different kinds of genre fiction (for example, the city of Terminus at the start of Kim Stanley Robinson’s excellent 2313 comes to mind immediately), and it was really interesting watching Malik’s take on this sub-genre of sorts. Again, this has a literary feel to it, which I absolutely love, and meshes in well with the other stories I’ve talked about already. The city at the heat, the suicides it compels from those who climb its’s walls- absolutely haunting and thought provoking. I will be thinking about this story for a while now, and I bet I’ll be returning to it again and again in the near future. Again, you can see by my brief overview here how it fits into the stories I mentioned above, the city is the ghost, there is suicides and shadows.
And so we go from a story about a moving city to a story about a living house with The House that Leapt into Forever by Beth Goder, in this months’ Clarkesworld. Again, we seem to have another story that’s in conversation with other stories that came before it. I really love it when short stories do that, and in genre fiction we see it happening all the time. It’s as if we’re having a conversation with our own history. The story in conversation with this story would be Bradbury’s excellent There Will Come Soft Rains. I guess you can’t have an automated house story without somehow nodding to the master.
But where the Bradbury story was short and elegiac and more like a prose poem with a gut punch of an ending, here we have a writer who takes apart the concept and puts it back together again, exploring every angle and edifice, with wonderful Ian Banks style names for things like Doom-Has-Come. This story left me with a sense of awe, and a sense of dread, and it was absolutely wonderful.
Next up! Next up! And hey, there it’s Baba Yaga and the Seven Hills by Kristina Ten, in this month’s Lightspeed. We’re actually going to talk about two stories from Lightspeed this month, but first let’s go into this one. Who doesn’t have a soft spot for Baba Yaga and her mortar pestle? One of the first short stories I ever sold was a modern day retelling of Baba Yaga, to Psuedopod ages and ages ago. So when I saw the title, I knew I had to read it.
And man, was it good. This is funny and clever, and very well written. I think this is (to my knowledge) one of the few stories taken from Baba Yaga’s point of view, and while we’ve seen that trope a million times (the evil witchy character as the good guy who you sympathize with, ala Wicked, Cursed, etc), this story feels fresh and interesting and new.
And now, onto Zen and the Art of an Android Beatdown, or Cecile Meets a Boxer: A Love Story by Tochi Onyebuchi, also in this month’s Lightspeed. And again, we have a title that calls back to another book (or two, or three), that already primes us for the conversations this one is going to have with the history of fiction. And yet, that’s not what this is like at all, and I couldn’t be happier. What a short story! I’m not much a fan for boxing, but just the way this is written, there is such a dynamic action under each ever sentence and phrase. And the hard SF is very cyberpunk, but its own twisted up broken metal and android flesh kind of way. Really, it’s excellent.
So we move away from Lightspeed and now direct our attention to the last two short stories I want to talk about this month. The next-to-last on our list is another ghost story of sorts, though very different from the literary gothics we discussed earlier. Yes, it’s The Stich Beneath the Ice by Ranylt Richildis, in this month’s Strange Horizons. Here it feels like a literary gothic, but there are no ghosts in particular. There are coffins dragged from Canada to upstate NY, and in that icy cold there is something just out of reach, just out of the corner of your eye. The sense of dread is everywhere, and like all the best literary gothics what is hinted at is more important than what is seen.
Finally, I’m going to move away from this heavy stuff and move onto something smaller, lighter, a bit of small fiction from Daily Science Fiction. This month I’m going to talk about Before Us by Marisca Rebecca Pichette. It feels like a good story to round all these out, moving past all the literary gothics and ghost stories and landing on a wonderful flash story about dragons. Small, yet, powerful, especially the line Once, they called us earthquakes. It says so much in so few words, and it is a perfect way to end this roundup.
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/