Sci-Fi & Fantasy Short Fiction Roundup: April 2018

Art by Audrey Benjaminsen for “The Heart of Owl Abbess”

In April, I read stories of zombies and climate change, the mysterious heart of a city, a dead knight, an Angel on the shores of Lake Eire, levitating fish, eerie old books, a strange hearing aid, and a time-traveling fisherwoman. In other words, it was a great month for short fiction.

Don’t Pack Hope“, by Emma Osborne in Nightmare 
A moving, harrowing zombie story, Osborne’s tale is set in a world in the grips of a zombie apocalypse, and it’s told with impressive grit and conviction. Rather than dwell on the zombies, this story delves deep into the physical and emotional repercussions of surviving in a world ravaged by disaster, and which might be ending. It’s the nitty-gritty details of survival that stick in my mind—the memories you carry, the tricks you learn to stay alive, the hopes you dare not speak even to yourself. It’s a dark, bleak tale, but it’s also about perseverance, even when things look horribly grim  and you feel utterly alone.

White Noise” by Kai Hudson in Anathema 
It starts out with something as mundane as a daughter giving her aging father a hearing aid. Then, it slowly descends into nail-biting terror, with a turn into edge-of-your-seat horror-thriller. What makes Hudson’s story stand out is how well it works on every level. The horror is firmly anchored in the real world, with perfectly captured details of family life: the joys and difficulties of intergenerational living the small indignities of aging; and the trials and tribulations of immigrants navigating a new country where people don’t always take the time to listen. Beneath that everyday surface, Hudson ratchets up the tension to almost unbearable levels. A definite must-read.

The Other Side of Otto Mountain“, by Ivy Spadille in Fiyah 
This gripping novelette has haunted me ever since I finished it. Spadille weaves together the lives of an old couple with the strange occurrences that begin to happen on the lake, and above the mountain, they live next to. The lake and the mountain loom large in the couple’s lives, as does the memory of their son, now in prison. While the mother seems able to let him go, the father is still looking for a way to reconnect, and maybe even save him. When he finally gets that chance, things take a strange and ominous turn. A profound, slow-burning tale about small lives darkened by the shadow of a great evil.

When The Rains Come Back“, by Cadwell Turnbull in Asimov’s May/June issue 2018
I fell in love with this science fiction story about a strong-willed girl who dreams of living on the Moon, and the father who dreams about a better life on Earth. Politics, climate change, and environmentalism are threaded into a story about the hard choices we often have to make in life, and how no choice is without its costs. The vibe reminded me a bit of Le Guin, especially in the way Turnbull uses everyday people and events, rather than whizzbang aliens and superheroes, to tell a moving story about the future. I also appreciate how, rather than getting lost in a dystopia or utopia, Turnbull explores the pitfalls and possibilities of a flawed, complex future that feels as real as our own world.

Domestic Violence“, by Madeline Ashby in Slate
What a deceptively quiet (and quietly sexy) story this is, a fusion of sci-fi and psychological thriller set in a near-future that is rather similar to our present, where people’s lives and homes are intimately connected to the internet. Two women and their relationships with men, past and present, are at the heart of the tale, and there is great darkness and tension percolating beneath the surface of every scene and every paragraph. Ashby tells an unsettling and perceptive story about power and relationships, and about how one woman finds her own way of protecting herself, and others, from being abused.

“Strange Waters”, by Samantha Mills in Strange Horizons 
Set in a fascinating world where sea-travelers regularly encounter waterspouts that transport them back and forth through time, this story follows headstrong, no-nonsense fisherwoman Mika, trying desperately to find her way back to her own time and her children. Again and again she steers her boat into the timestream, and again and again, she ends up somewhere she doesn’t really want to be. It’s a soul-stirring story about love and family, and what would happen to people and a society where you can sometimes know your future.

And So Will I Remember You…” by Chet Williamson in Lamplight vol.6 issue 3
I love dark tales that make the hair on the back of my neck stand up, and this eerie example of said perfectly captures the vibe of a great ghost story. There’s a strange old book with odd inscriptions, there’s the mystery of who once owned it, and there are the decidedly creepy things that start to happen when the main character begins to read it. Williamson keeps the suspense taut, unspooling the mystery bit by bit, delivering the very best kind of chills. One of the many outstanding stories in this excellent issue of Lamplight.

The Imitation Sea“, by Lora Gray in Shimmer 
From the very first line—”You find the dead Angel at five a.m. in the slurry of broken bottles and rotting fish on the Lake Erie shore“—Gray’s prose sings, shines,shivers with darkness and light, sadness and regret. Things break down and decay, nothing remains the same, and nothing is exactly what it seems. Not that dead Angel, not Lake Erie, not the world, and not the people in it. As devastating as the story is, it is also a poignant, moving exploration of friendship and love.

The Death Knight, the Dragon and the Damsel“, by Melion Traverse in Cast of Wonders 
The title alone sold me on this story, and it really is a rollicking fantasy adventure. Bonus: Cast of Wonders delivers a great audio version of it, read by a full cast of narrators. Traverse tells a tale of an eager young squire, the knight who chooses her, and the extraordinary adventure they go on together. At every turn, it twists just enough to keep you entertained while playing with your expectations. A satisfying, thoroughly enjoyable tale.

The Heart of Owl Abbas“, by Kathleen Jennings in TOR.com 
A sumptuous fantasy tale with writing as exquisite as a finely crafted piece of jewelry—dazzling, intricate, breathtakingly beautiful. It’s a story about Excelsior, a man who writes songs that trickle and flow through the hearts and streets of the city of Owl Abbas. There’s also the Nightingale, a mysterious singer with a voice that enchants everyone who hears it. Between them flits the Phantom of the Window-sash, a spirit with desires of its own. Jennings creates a vivid and entrancing world full of music and magic. I’ve read this story a couple of times already, just to feel again the enchantment of the prose.

What’s the best short story you read in April?

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