Hey there to everyone in the land of the plague and pandemic. It feels like it won’t ever end, and people seem to be pushing it out into forever, what with them refusing to mask and refusing to get vaccinated. Human beings will forever astound me, every time we seem to be getting close to a normalcy once again, someone throws the wrench in the works. Makes me think every zombie movie and novel is 100% wrong in how people will die and civilization will end. There will be Zombie truthers, QZombAnon, people embracing the dead and laughing thinking it’s corporeal resurrection promised in their faith. Others will be denying it right up until their dead mother chomps on their eyeballs and spits them out across the lawn.
Oh humanity, why do you have to be so, damned…human? No, please, don’t answer that. So here’s to surviving a few more months, maybe another year, who knows, in this pandemic. And so, as usual, I turn to good fiction as a survival mechanism. Since you stumbled upon this review I’m assuming you do the exact same thing, and you came here looking for some good recs to slink and sink into, maybe shutting out that madcap world outside and live through some fictional problems that aren’t your own.
All right then, let’s dig in. The first magazine I’m going to cover this month is the April issue of Clarkesworld. Lots of good stories this month, but the two primary standouts for me were Communist Computer Rap God by Andrea Kriz and A House is Not a Home by L. Chan. Communist Computer Rap God is just as whimsical, fun, political, and thought provoking as its title suggests. The actual science involved in the organic creation of sentient AI’s through youtube algorithms is a bit shaky at best, but that’s not the source of joy in a story like this one. The joy is in how it unfolds, how the imagines science reacts and plays out against a human future. A really fun story to start this month in this our second year of a pandemic.
A House is not a Home isn’t quite as whimsical as Communist Computer Rap God, but it is just as interesting and well thought out. The science in this one is more realistic, and extrapolates on our current smart home devices, taking it in interesting places. Like Bradbury’s classic There Will Come Soft Rains, it also explores the idea of a smart house as a haunted house, another really great stand out story in Clarkesworld.
Keeping with the mad gonzo theme of Communist Computer Rap God, we turn our eyes to Podcastle, with How I Became Coruscating Queen of All the Realms, Pierced the Obsidian Night, Destroyed a Legendary Sword, and Saved My Heart’s True Love by Baker and Dovey. As you can tell by that glorious title, this is an exercise in comedic excess, and is filled to the brim overflowing with exciting, madcap ideas from the go. The first sentence takes the promise of the title and runs with it, full force, barreling to the goal. It’s fun, breathless, will leave you excited and saying “gimmie more”.
In fact, gonzo comedic fantasy seems to be the theme with this month’s short fiction. Two of my standout favorites in this month’s Fantasy Magazine also fall under this rubric. So. Fucking. Metal. by Shane Halbach also gives us the joy of weird necromancy, this time in a heavy metal band that puts on one hell of a show, quite literally in this instance. Lady Death, Baron Samedhi, Azelroth are all part of the Soul Suckers, and we see this all play out through the adoring eyes of one of their fans. A bit of flash fiction, so I won’t say more, the joy of this story is in reading it.
On the otherside of the gonzo fence is Fantasy Magazine’s other story I enjoyed, How I Became MegaPunch, Or, Why I Stayed with Dylan by Y.M. Pang. This one felt like it was written directly for fans of My Hero Academia or One Punch Man. The absurd super hero humor feels like it could be lifted from either of those, and it’s funny and surprising at the same time.
And now for more absurdity with Apparition Lit, and the stand out story for me this month: Bride, Knife, Flaming Horse by M.L. Krishnan. Surreal, hilarious, this turn on the modern dating app kept me going. Dating ghouls and knives and horses and deities…this story recontextualizes the dream like logic of mythology and transplants it into the modern day world, with very funny results.
Next up we turn away from over the top gonzo stories and turn to the April issue of Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and A Stranger Goes to Shore by Adam R. Shannon. The poetic prose dragged me, in the story itself tightly woven, with a plot that egged me on and on and on. I listened to the podcast, and then a little later read the story by myself, and both times I got so much out of it. This is the kind of story you re-read and think about, over and over again.
We’ll keep with the more somber poetic tone of stories for the next few, I think. There is only so much absurd comedy one can take without screaming “enough!” and moving on. And we shall keep moving on, words against the current, borne back ceaseless into short stories, with Strange Horizons and The Giant With No Heart In Her Body by Nike Sulway. This is a wonderful story, a heartbreaking story, one that explores the nature of grief through folklore. The stories here are salve and wound both at the same time, and make references to all of my favorites with a deft hand that avoids the cliché, but instead embraces the difficult and powerful subtext. Wonderful stuff.
Next up we have another dark story, It Accumulates by Joanna Parypinski in April’s Nightmare Magazine. This is the kind of horror that sneaks up on you, slowly burning around the edges. Creeping, atmospheric, slow build of a short story that plays with both exorcisms in films and in novels, and the possession that lies in the heart of it all. In this case, the possession is detritus and garbage and junk, and how capitalism haunts us with all this useless garbage that leaves us feeling empty inside. It also uses repetition that seems funny at first, but the more it drags on the more it becomes less funny and more horrifying.
Finally, we turn our eyes to Apex Magazine. What an issue this one was, it was really difficult for me to pick just two short stories. My first pick knocked me off my feet: This Is the Moment, Or One of Them by Mari Ness. Apex has been publishing some of the best pandemic fiction during the plague, and this is saying a lot. It’s a tricky thing to get right, especially since so many writers take pixel to screen in order to work out this crazy thing we’re all going through. Mari’s story isn’t just another “oh no, this sucks” variant. Instead, she creates a tangible claustrophobia with words and actions, with this oppressive sense of destiny caused by the illusion of choice. Really fantastic story, it actually kept me up at night thinking about the repercussions.
And finally, with the second Apex story we return to gonzo comedic madness, with Demon Fighter Sucks by Katherine Crighton. It’s all about a virtual summoning, and it goes haywire and kick ass really fast. Like most of Apex, this science horror comedy has a dark bite that draws blood, but will leave you with a smile on your face and a thank you for the pain.
All right, that’s it for the April overview. I like that we started with gonzo comedy and ended with gonzo comedy horror. That seemed to be a big vibe this month in a lot of the published short fiction, it’s almost as if we need an escape valve for going through the last few years, one filled with laughter and a sharp edge. Next month is coming quicker than I would like, and I’ve already got quite a few choice stories I’m thinking of including.
Stay safe and well until then.