It is kissing close to the autumn months now. The leaves turn, the hours of the day quicken down to numb the light. Pretty soon we’ll turn off our AC and get under piles of blankets, the naked trees scratching the glass of our windows. I absolutely love this time of year, a liminal time between two seasons, when you can feel the next season right there, waiting for you. A shadow of what is to come, but not quite there yet.
In the spirit of this month of in between hours, where the gothic spirit of fall is just outside our doors, our first short story will be one from The Dark. In particular, we have Tobi Ogubdiran’s fantastic The Goatkeeper’s Harvest. I never in my life thought that goats could be this creepy. Far creepier than Black Thomas from The VVITCH. This story gets under your skin and unsettles you in a way far few stories do these days. It is full of unheimlich dread, every single thing that happens purely uncanny. It does something I haven’t experienced in short fiction since I was a kid…it terrified me. It literally kept me up almost most of the night, thinking about the voices, those goats.
With that out of the way, we look at this Color, Heat, and the Wreck of the Argo by Catherynne M. Valente, in this month’s Strange Horizons. This story is a really interesting pick for Strange Horizons, and it reminds me of the stories they used to publish all the time a decade or so ago. Where the genre staples are slightly removed, and instead we’re meant to investigate the whole thing from an angle of thought, and to let the poetic prose wash over us and drown us. I find it interesting, and the way it involves Mapplethorpe and other real historical figures makes me think of some of the writing Rick Bowes has had in Fantasy and Science Fiction recently. Very cool stuff.
Next up is Strangled by Megan McIntyre, in this month’s Longleaf Review. I’ve covered a few stories in literary journals in the past, but they always carried the tint of genre with them, whether they were modern ghost stories or literary gothics. This is the first time, I think, I included a story that contains no fantastical leanings what so ever. And at first, you may wonder why I included it at all? But I had to. Not only is it fantastically written, but I think it covers the experience of living with an unknown, uncurable illness, and the feeling you get when it finally has a name, but nothing else. I know that feeling well, since it was 10 years of experiencing the symptoms of multiple sclerosis before a doctor took me serious enough to give me a diagnosis.
And then we have this lush story from Escape Pod, an online magazine I’ve barely mentioned since I started these reviews. I really should include more stories from it, and its sister magazines Psuedopod and Podcastle. For this month I was drawn to More Simple than Steel by Aimee Ogden. A brilliant story to be turned into an audio delight. Some short stories are meant to be heard and read out loud, there is a cry for rhythm in their sentence structures. They are musical, and interesting, and compliment the stories they contain. This is one such story.
Where to go from here? Why, Blue and Blue and Blue and Pink by Lavie Tidhar, in the September issue of Clarkesworld, of course. This is the kind of story where the comedy in it catches you off guard. It’s weird, you feel it building towards something, something gritty and war town in a plagued dystopia, but when it hits, it’s hilarious. The humor is dark and funny and childish all at the same time. Definitely give this one a read, it’s required in these troubling days to read something like this.
Part of me wishes I didn’t set that arbitrary rule for only covering short stories, and not noveletes or novellas, since there were some fantastic ones in both F&SF and Asimov’s for this part month. But, I created that rule for a reason. I would go insane, reading that much just to include longer works as well as short stories! So I’ll just include a small note here, telling you to read The Shadows of Alexandrium by David Gerrold and The Fairy Egg by R.S. Benedict in this month’s Magazine Fantasy and Science Fiction, and leave it at that. I’ll also point out the excellency that is This World was Made for Monsters by M. Rickert. Yes, a short story, so it fits my purview for discussing it here! If you’re a fan of Bradbury’s work, you must read this. It’s fantastic, and calls to mind the way Bradbury did small town science fiction, but in a way Rickert makes it all her own. What a fantastic story.
And now we return to the creepy again with A Solace of Shadows by Suzanne J. Willis, in Three Crows Issue 7. A wonderful, fantastic dark fantasy story with a deeply feminist core to it. A marionette main character, a poetic playful language, and folklore that clings to the narrative. I really enjoyed reading this entire magazine, but this is the one story that stood out for me like a blazing star. I would suggest reading it right away.
So. Wow. Anyway, let’s top it all off with Lisa L. Hannett’s Deep in the Drift Spinning. I absolutely love fantasy like this, and want to read more of it any chance I get. This is poetic, it is rhythmic, it has a voice that calls to you and keeps you enrapt. It felt like the sea, sweeping me under, and the best part is the magic. It is that folk magic that sings to my imagination, the dangerous kind of stuff that has an edge to it. No Gandalf’s waving their arms about or Merlin casting spells here, no sir. This is the kind of magic that Theodora Goss talked about in her essay Deep Magic. This is the kind of fantasy I want more of, the kind that needs to come roaring back fully and powerfully.
Consider this little bit here a call to arms to all fantasy writers out there sitting down and putting pen to paper. It’s been awhile since I’ve read something this powerful. Pay attention, read this, and carry it in your heart. We need more stories just like this one. More and more and more.
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/