Sci-Fi & Fantasy Short Fiction Roundup: September 2018

This month, I read stories about cybernetic spare parts and the search for perfection, about emotional pain that swallows you and the world whole, about a quiet apocalypse, a reimagined Snow White, and a lot more.

Phantom Limb“, by Reiko Scott at The Book Smugglers 
“At first glance, how cybernetic do I look?” The question is asked by Naomi Shimizu, the protagonist of Reiko Scott’s gripping science fiction story. After being injured in a car accident when she was eight, Naomi received a cybernetic arm as replacement for the limb she lost. Since then, she has had other parts of her body, and her brain, replaced and upgraded, enhancing and altering her physical and mental abilities. However, the upgrades also come with a price, as Naomi is losing parts of her original self in the process. “Phantom Limb” explores both the hope and promise of cybernetic alterations, and what we might be giving up when we try to make our bodies and minds more flawless and efficient than nature did. It is a shattering tale about identity and longing for perfection, and doesn’t offer any easy answers.

The Girl Who Ate Galaxies“, by L’Erin Ogle in Syntax and Salt 
Blending utter strangeness with the painfully familiar, this story manages to feel both otherworldly and devastatingly real. The utterly strange is a woman who literally devours landscapes and countries across the globe. The devastatingly familiar comes from the emotional pain the character experiences, and how that pain consumes her, shaping and distorting her view of herself and the world around her. Ogle’s prose is sharp and exquisite, her story one of the most powerful I’ve read this year.

Heavy Lifting“, by A.T. Greenblatt in Uncanny Magazine 
Part of the joy of reading Greenblatt’s excellent science fiction story about hijacked robots is the voice of the protagonist, Gina: cutting, witty, sharp as a tack, and refreshingly no-nonsense. She and her friend Bruno work at a factory that repurposes old robots for new tasks. Bruno works on-site, with Gina watching everything remotely through his glasses and providing the coding know-how. They make a good team, but they’re having trouble with someone hacking into the factory’s robots, trying to make them break out of the facility. When one robot heads off into the wilds, the story takes a surprising turn… “Heavy Lifting” is part of Uncanny Magazine’s excellent “Disabled People Destroy Science Fiction!” issue, which is filled with fabulous fiction, poetry, and essays, and definitely worth checking out.

Maria’s Children“, by Tobi Ogundiran in The Dark 
This luscious horror story is set in a fishing village outside Lagos, Nigeria, and details the unsettling things that happen there to a group of local children who head too far out to sea. “Maria’s Children” has everything a classic seafaring chillers needs: mysterious hidden treasure, cursed objects, ghostly ships with strange captains, mysterious visions, frightful nightmares, and sacrifices to the gods. The prose is lush, making this story a evocative, spine-chilling delight.

Jump“, by Cadwell Turnbull in Lightspeed 
“Jump” starts out with two people making one miraculous jump, and it ends with the possibility of another, made several years later under much different circumstances. In between these two events, Turnbull weaves an insightful story about a relationship that grows and changes, pushing and pulling against love and faith, loss and disillusionment. It’s a quick read, but it has depth, capturing the joys and pain of relationships and exploring the fundamental consequences of our everyday choices.

We Mete Out Justice With Beak and Talon“, by Jeremiah Tolbert in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction
Tolbert’s high-flying sci-fi tale is set in a near-future American city where law enforcement uses humans who are mentally linked to birds of prey to patrol the skies, sending them swooping in whenever they spot criminal activity. It’s a vividly told story; Tolbert skillfully draws you in to the strangeness of the joined human/bird mind-space, giving the reader dizzying new perspectives on the future of technology, and the future of police work. Thought-provoking and compelling.

True Crime“, by M. Rickert in Nightmare 
This wrenching flash fiction story packs a serious punch, with prose that feels ripped from the world and the headlines around us. Rickert is a master of dark speculative fiction (read her short story collection You Have Never Been Here to revel in her gorgeous writing). “True Crime” echoes words and phrases we read in social media and the news about domestic violence and sexual assault, but the way Rickert stitches it all together makes for a shattering, provocative, and devastatingly true piece of fiction.

Ruby, Singing“, by Fran Wilde in Beneath Ceaseless Skies
“Ruby, Singing” is a gripping new addition to Fran Wilde’s Gem World story-verse (The Jewel and Her Lapidary).  In this uniquely imagined fantasy realm, gems are filled with powerful and dangerous magic. Some people can hear them sing, and while that ability might grant them power and knowledge, it can also alter and corrupt. Here, we meet sisters, Mira and Dea, and their father, who makes his living buying and selling gems. Mira can hear the gems sing, and when a stranger comes calling, saying he is looking for a place to mine the precious stones, she makes a choice that will change her fate forever.

In the End the World Will Break Your Heart“, by Kurt Hunt in Daily Science Fiction 
In this story of an unexpected and sudden end of the world, the final curtain falls without superhero heroics, rampaging zombies, or alien invasions. Instead, there is a family, watching the news together, trying to figure out what to do with the few days that are left. With a light hand and carefully crafted prose, Hunt delicately assembles a story somehow both bleak and poignant and, ultimately, full of wonder. Spoiler alert: the ending might just crack your heart in two.

Triquetra“, by Kirstyn McDermott at Tor.com 
This dark fantasy story is a beautifully twisted retelling of Snow White. Set many years after the fairy tale we all know, it picks up many familiar threads, but laces them into an entirely different pattern. Snow White is here, and her stepmother, the mirror, and the prince who “saved” her from the glass coffin. But nothing is as you might assume, and nothing works out the way you might expect.

Read any good stories lately?

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