Sci-Fi & Fantasy Short Fiction Roundup: March 2018

Apex issue 106 cover by Benedick Bana

From the problems with eating trilobites, to sentient underwater beings attacking our coastal cities, to Greek history, to an atlas of places that might not (yet) exist: here are 10 short stories that wowed me this month.

Breakwater,” by Simon Bestwick at TOR.com
Bestwick’s novelette is a thought-provoking, action-packed science fiction tale set in a near-future version of our world. Coastal communities around the globe are under attack from mysterious, sentient beings that live deep in the oceans. Cally, the story’s protagonist, helped design and build an underwater research platform that is now being used to defend humanity in this war. When the platform comes under attack, it soon becomes apparent that it’s a more serious assault than any that have come before. While Cally tries to survive, she is faced with the realization that the attacking creatures might much different than she previously imagined. A gripping tale about humanity, science, war, and the difficulties of inter-species communication.

More Tomorrow,” by Premee Mohamed in Automata Review
A time travel expedition has gone slightly awry (by a few million years), and a young scientist is stranded in a rather hostile and forbidding place populated by various uncooperative creatures (that are also maddeningly difficult to eat). Written as a series of journal entries, Mohamed’s story gives the reader a vivid, terrifying, and hilarious closeup of the faraway past. If you’ve ever wondered what would it be like to eat trilobites, this story is definitely for you. With a sharp and caustic sense of humor and a protagonist who is brave and resourceful even in the face of despair, itis a must-read.

Irregularity,” by Rachel Harrison in Apex Magazine 
This is a devastating sci-fi tale set in a future where the human race has barely survived an alien assault. To help prevent further attacks, a monitoring station has been set up in a remote part of the solar system. Two people are on the station, taking turns linking their bodies and minds to the computer system to help spot any “irregularity” in the data feed. One of these human Watchers, Nyle, is gifted with an especially “pliant brain,” but also haunted by regret and loss. Dark and compelling, this tale explores how grief, guilt, and loneliness can make us vulnerable.

A Cure for Homesickness,” by S.L. Scott in Escape Pod 
This audio story is pure science fiction comfort-food. Eric Luke’s narration is excellent, and the story is funny, fast-paced, and heartwarming. We’re thrown right into the action with a wisecracking, universe-traveling, rough and tumble crew of aliens and humans, viewed from the perspective of Krem, an alien with a very tough exoskeleton who is frequently exasperated by the odd (though often heroic) behavior of his human crewmates. There’s a definite Douglas Adams-vibe here, and I loved it to bits.

Mr. Try Again,” by A. Merc Rustad in Nightmare 
Bone-chilling and profoundly disturbing, this frightening story by Rustad features familiar horror standbys: a supernatural serial killer, child abductions, gruesome murders.—but it’s much more than the sum of its tropes. Rustad neatly and deftly turns the expected story inside out and upside down, delving into what a person will do to survive, and what you might become if you escape evil. An unforgettable tale that burrowed deep beneath my skin.

Girl Singing With Farm,” Kathrin Köhler in Reckoning
This strange and moving story by Kathrin Köhler is set in a society where people exploit peculiar beasts called “farms” for food. The farms are alive and sentient, but kept in terrible conditions while the food that grows on them is harvested. One girl learns to communicate with the farm her family owns, but in this strictly traditional and patriarchal society, the bond is not tolerated, and its consequences are severe. A beautiful, incisive read.

And Yet,” by A.T. Greenblatt in Uncanny Magazine
I love haunted house stories, and this is a haunted house story that is also a parallel universe story—earning it major bonus points. Oh, and not only is the house haunted (in a matter of speaking), it is also clever enough to change its interior to manipulate your perceptions once you step inside. Switching between past and present, the story is both mesmerizing and dizzying, moving between rooms and timelines toward an uncertain end (or beginning). A sci-fi/horror tale with real emotional depth.

We Head For the Horizon and Return with Bloodshot Eyes,” by Eleanna Castroianni in Podcastle
Blending the bloody and brutal history of the Greek civil war with magic, fantasy, and echoes of Homer, this intricately woven story is a stunner. Nafsika is a young woman who has joined the communist forces, but she is also a witch. By touching the bones and entrails of dead bodies, she’s able to see past, future, and faraway places and events, communing with “the Voices that Know and Tell.” The story follows Nafsika and her unit as they make their way through the stark landscape of war. A complex tale of love, war, and sacrifice, the audio version is wonderfully narrated by Danielle Imara.

Your Damnation Will Be Infinite,” by Hadeer Elsbai in The Dark
In this harrowing tale of murder, bloody rituals, and infernal creatures being summoned, a woman commits murder to buy her freedom. Is it worth it to trade with cosmic evil in order to defeat the evil you encounter in everyday life? The price might be steep, but still worth paying. From the first sentence (as protagonist, Nahla, observes a dead body in a bathtub) to the last, haunting line, this story commanded my attention. This is the second story by Elsbai I’ve read in The Dark, and she stands out as an author with a knack for evocative, unsettling horror.

Unplaces: An Atlas of Non-existence,” by Izzy Wasserstein in Clarkesworld
The first lines were enough to draw me in: “Excerpts from the First Edition, with handwritten marginalia. Recovered from the ruins of Kansas City. Part of the permanent exhibit of the Museum of Fascisms.” Through exquisite prose and haunting “non-fiction” excerpts, Wasserstein deftly weaves together reality and fantasy, alternate history, and imagined worlds (that might or might not have been real once, and may yet come to be). With few words, but a lot of emotional power, this story sketches a world, and the contours of a relationship—lost love, longing, and loneliness.

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

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