Paul Jessup’s November Short Story Roundup!

I hope you all stayed safe through Thanksgiving. I know I stayed home, by myself with my kids and no one else. I did a zoom with my family in Ohio, and it was great seeing everyone. But somehow, there was still a loss to it, a sadness that I couldn’t quite shake. We missed each other, yes. And this was only a pale specter of what an in-person meeting would entail. It is a hollow shadow projected on shining screens, a ghost or an echo of who we are, and what we mean to each other.

And yet, the death rates climb. The infections spread quicker than a zombie apocalypse. Meeting in person would be too dangerous, and as much as we love each other, we do not want to risk even a simple handshake, or hug, or long philosophical lecture over dinner. It’s not worth it, the risk is too great. Especially for me and my parents. They’re getting on in the years, and I have a suppressed immune system, thanks to multiple sclerosis. Even getting a cold would be dangerous for me, let alone whatever this foul monstrosity that steals the hours away from us.

And in these dark hours of sorrow, I turn like so many others to fiction to help me deal with the ache of existence. Here, I’ve collected the short stories I read in November. There were some amazing stories! Absolutely amazing. It was really hard whittling down my favorites. This was the month, after all, when we saw the glorious return of not one, but two magazines. Fantasy Magazine and Apex Magazine, respectively. Add onto that so many great stories published in other magazines, and November was a great year for short stories.

Just in time, I’d say. Here, fight away the pandemic blues, and dig into my lovely discoveries here. Let’s start with the Apex Magazine promo issue, shall we? It’s not a full issue, that’s coming our way January 2021. Instead, we get two new short stories and two new non-fiction articles. Wow. Both stories here are just wow. Maurice Broaddus is in top form, with probably one of my favorite short stories of this year. The Legacy of Alexandria has everything you could want from a short story. Action is intense, the social statements, and even a talking animal. I actually read this one twice, which is saying a lot.

Beth Dawkins’ Small Hopes and Dreams is a great story as well, though I won’t lie…I do prefer Maurice’s story just slightly more. It’s well worth snagging this and reading it cover to cover, the articles are interesting and both short stories are really good. I am beyond hyped to see what comes in January with the first full issue.

Next up, I’m going to cover the second returning magazine on our list, Fantasy Magazine. It’s been a favorite of mine for quite a while now, and it was kind of sad when it went to the wayside for a bit. Now it’s back, and let me be the first to say, it’s better than it ever was before. Which is saying a lot, since it used to publish yours truly (hah). This new November issue is really good.  My favorite in this issue, and the standout by a longshot is And This is How to Stay Alive by Shingai Njeri Kagunda. It starts off really intense and does not let up for the rest of the story. At times humorous (googling how to change the past, the WebMD results for knowing someone is suicidal), always emotionally savage, it’s a story I’ll be returning to a lot. It does one of my favorite things, it turns into poetry at random points, breaking into stanzas which enhance the tone and rhythm of the writing.

My second favorite story in this issue is Love Laws and a Locked Heart by Tamoha Sengupta. It’s a short, quick read, but also a wonderful folkloric story, told in a voice that wavers between poetry and natural speech. This fits perfectly the character of Nivedita, who has a locked heart. The story is told at a distance, which works for something as folkloric as this story. Instead of pushing the reader out of the story, it enhances the narrative, much in the way Lady Wilde or Dunsany’s stories worked.

With the shiny new things out of the way, let’s take a look at some of the elder gods of online genre fiction. The first up here is Beneath Ceaseless Skies, with A Feast from Tile and Stone by Eric Dull. Another wow story for this month, delving into fantastical cookery. It is a story that surprises with small joys, and I kept reading just to see where it went. The tone, the rhythm, and the characters really make it sing. Best not to read this one on an empty stomach, for it will make you hungry.

We move from Beneath Ceaseless Skies to Strange Horizons. In the November issue the standout was Bitter Soil  by Cat Aquino. This one, wow, the writing in this one just took my breath away. It is intense, it has animal cruelty (so be warned. I’m glad I knew this going on), but it is worth every ache and pain because of how it renders it all. As a form of savage beauty, that tears at the heart and rends it to pieces. You can’t help but admire it, in both construction and artistry. Another short story I will be returning to a lot in the upcoming weeks, just to see how it ticks, how it works, and gain a deeper appreciation for it from a writer’s perspective. 

What did I tell you? This month is really making it hard to compile this list and keep it under novel length. But let’s keep going, I’ve got a couple more short stories to tell you about for this month, and that should keep you pretty entertained while we wait out the end of the world.

We move on now from savage beauty to savage entertainment, with Wendy Wagner’s The Smell of the Night Basement, published in November’s Psuedopod. This one was a horrific joy to read, and any fan of horror knows exactly what I mean by that. I was smiling the whole time I listened to it. The conversations make me think of the conversations in a Kelly Link story. They feel both natural and clever at the same time, and you can’t help but enjoy the playful way it moves, even when things turn more and more unsettling. To be honest, it’s another favorite for this month.

Finally, we have another great Lavie Tidhar story in Judge Dee and the Limits of the Law. A funny vampire cozy mystery, told only in the way Tidhar could tell it. Darkly humorous, full of references to past and present Vampire stories (as well as loads of other history, mythology, and science fiction classics). Another story this month that is pure joy to read, and I hope we see more stories in this setting (and with these characters) in the near future.

And that’s it for November. A lot happened, some really great magazines came back, and a lot of really cool short stories got published this month. Next one of these I’m going to do is going to be a yearly round up, where I not only give a brief overview of what was published, but also my favorite of all favorites for the entire year. Should it be a top ten? Top four? Random rambling with no countdown?

Wait and see!

Categories: Book Reviews, Short Story Collections

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