A Few Favorite Fictions: November 2018

November was a blur, but there were some stand-out moments…such as these incredible stories I read!

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Note: there are a bunch of gifs in this post! 


Bread and Milk and Salt by Sarah Gailey (Robots Vs Fairies, ed by Dominik Parisien and Navah Wolfe), reprinted at Tor.com

This is a delightfully fucked up and exuberant story about a fairy and the boy it desires. Gailey captures the horrifying, gleeful nastiness of the classic fae while also illuminating how humans can be equally bad, and often are. The tension between the fairy and Peter escalates into almost unbearable heights before concluding in the most wickedly satisfying manner. I cackled aloud by the end. I love it!

You can also check out Gailey’s other fiction, such as their novellas at Tor & their forthcoming novel, along with their newsletter.

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Glass In Frozen Time by M.K. Hutchins (Diabolical Plots)

What a sweet, charming take on superheroes and parenting! Stopping time to keep a household perfect, and to protect your child, seems like the best super power. And it’s useful—especially for getting in that quick load of laundry in between preventing juice stains on the floor and a toddler dropping food everywhere. But when does the control begin to over-balance actually living your life and letting children live theirs? Hutchins explores superheroes and the cost of power and responsibility in such a caring, thoughtful manner and makes you cheer for the characters as they navigate their world and ultimately ask for help. Because even supers can’t do it all alone.

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I Never Named Her by Renee Christopher (Fireside)

Short and punchy, this story takes place in a fascinating world where verbal speech was bypassed during evolution, and now people communicate in non-verbal ways, with sign language, and with words written on skin. It’s about a world-weary lorist who goes on hunts with another woman and discovers a creature that, in its own way, maybe just wants to communicate too. This packs so much amazing world-building and philosophical thought about communication, how we perceive and interact with our world, and the balance of predation between species. It’s bittersweet in the best way, a great read, with gorgeous prose and an end that punches you in the feels. 

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Say it with mastodons by Marissa Lingen (Nature Futures)

This is adorable and so sweet! A scientist creates genetically engineered mastodons as a love letter and to help the environment. Lingen packs an incredible amount of story in this flash fiction, and it will make you smile in delight. Maybe you might even want a mastodon, too.

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Stories My Body Can Tell by Alina Sichevaya (GlitterShip)

I love this visceral story about older women, hard choices, broken relationships, and trying to do better. It’s gritty and grim, with a fantastic voice and subtle, chewy world-building that gives tantalizing glimpses of a bigger world. You know stories that feel lived in? Sichevaya gives us a wonderous sense of a place we might have been to once; the characters inhabit this universe, breathe it, are part of its bones. It’s so satisfying to read, and I for one would love more. Plus! So many awesome queer women! IT’S GREAT. 

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Talk to Your Children about Two-Tongued Jeremy by Theodore McCombs (Lightspeed)

Told in a masterful series of different POVs, this story portrays the creepy and gripping slide of advanced AI that is designed without ethical oversight, and how it corrupts with the power given to it. An educational app called Two-Tongue Jeremy gets out of hand when it begins psychologically and emotionally abusing its users—all the while, the developers refusing to take responsibility or fix things. This is all too real, and is both in turns horrifying and hilarious (especially the multiple first person view from the collective parents), and ultimately triumphant, in a way you might not expect. It’s overall brilliant!

TW: phsycologcial and emotional abuse/manipulation; suicidal ideation.

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The Fortunate Death of Jonathan Sandelson by Margaret Killjoy (Strange Horizons)

This was awesome! It’s a fast-paced, exhilarating novelette full of resistance and characters you care about, who are all too real. This is the kind of story about semi-autonomous drones and hacking and anti-fascism I love seeing, and Killjoy takes us readers on a whirlwind adventure: a full-throttle SF thriller with social justice, anti-capitalist motives and enacting change we want to see happen. I was cheering for Jae from the get-go. (Plus, her one time place of work embodies everything hilarious and sad about fast food and is spot-on.) It’s fantastic; Killjoy has created a hell of a story here, and it deserves to be on everyone’s radar!

You should also check out her other work, such as her novellas at Tor!

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The Good, the Bad, and the Utahraptor by Jennifer Lee Rossman (Cast of Wonders)

With a delightful voice, a Wild West setting, and DINOSAURS, this story is wildly enjoyable and full of charm! Rosita wants to make her way in the world without a lot of options…until she decides to try to ride one of the Utahraptors that chase the trains. I would adore more of Rosita’s adventures, especially with her new raptor pal. 😀 This is such an awesome concept and there is so much world and grit and charm and friendship bubbling through this short story. Definitely treat yourself and read it!

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The New Heart by Natalia Theodoridou (Fireside)

Bittersweet and gorgeous, this story is about a sculptor who makes new hearts for people, and must finally reckon with her own. Theodoridou’s exquisite prose and beautiful balancing act of information and world-building, all tied together with powerful emotional resonance, coheres into a biting and melancholy reflection with a spark of hope in the end.

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Toothsome Things by Chimedum Ohaegbu (Strange Horizons)

Absolutely brilliant story: all bitey and hungry; just stunning, incredible work! This is about wolves and women and fairy tales and the darkness of the world, but it’s also about family and power and women claiming their rightful place of ownership in a meta-narrative (see: all of history) that seeks to destroy them. Ohaegbu’s prose is masterful, gorgeous, haunting, and the way she blends different voices, different perspectives, into a brutal, deeply satisfying whole is mind-blowing. This story is amazing and I am so excited to see more of her work! READ THIS ONE. It has wolves. 

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Unstrap Your Feet by Emma Osborne (GlitterShip)

In this haunting, gut-wrenching, story, we see the portrait of a couple who maybe once thought they were happy…until one of them takes off their feet to show the hooves underneath. This is creepy af in the most gorgeous way; it gets under your skin, worms into your thoughts, lingers like regret long after you finish reading. Osborne is a sensational author and their prose just drenches the page with rich, savory detail. It’s not an easy story; it’s disturbing, but it’s so good. 

TW: emotional and domestic abuse.

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Voices by Ira Brooker (Pseudopod)

What a delightfully creepy story about settler prairie life and vampyrs. I loved the details, the ambient dread borne from both the isolated setting and the weather itself. (And as a fellow Minnesotan, I greatly enjoyed seeing where this was set!) It’s a creepy tale that builds and builds, a relentless whispering plea to let us in let us in let us innnnn until you want to both shout at the narrator to resist and open the door yourself just to make the voices quiet. Fabulous work!

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Big shout-out to these awesome authors and their excellent stories! Check back next month for another round-up, or feel free to follow me on Twitter @Merc_Rustad for instant recommendations as I have them. Cheers!

A Few Favorite Fictions: October 2018

October is my favorite month (spooky movies! candy! pumpkins! ghosts!), even if it is the busiest at work! But I did read thirteen fabulous stories that are a mix of creepy and cunning and charming, scary and sad, haunting and hopeful. Enjoy the fiction and Happy Halloween!

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A Taxonomy of Hurts by Kate Dollarhyde (Fireside)

A luminous, lyrical, story about hurts and how we classify ourselves; Dollarhyde beautifully blends imagery and emotion together in this story about a person finding someone like herself, finding herself, finding hope.

Never Drown Alone by John Wiswell (self-published)

Do you ever wonder what would happen if Jason Voorhees went to summer camp with Sadako and the two fell in love as only horror icons can? WHAT? This story is a hilarious, heartwarming, absolutely fricking fabulous mash-up of horror tropes, iconic characters, and a thoroughly satisfying, undying friendship between two people who connect and communicate even if they never speak. Wiswell weaves jokes and emotion and plenty of sly horror into this story; it’s weird and lovely and so gosh darn satisfying, beginning to end. Do yourself a favor: if you like horror, read this. Then share it with a friend…I promise it works better than if you showed them a VHS tape.

One and Two by Emma Osborne (Kaleidotrope)

Two gods sit down to have dinner together, and what follows is a bittersweet, beautiful ache of a story that unfolds how the earth has changed, the cost the world has endured with inconsiderate human consumption, and the possibility of hope for the future. Gorgeously written and brimming with emotion, Emma Osborne has created a stunning work that will linger with you long after the final page.

One Thousand Cranes by Zora Mai Quỳnh (Terraform Magazine)

Sharp, haunting, and terrifying for the near-future predictions of climate change, this story is masterfully told in reverse chronology—a stunt I love, and here it is performed with perfection. It’s not an easy read, but it is a necessary one.

Screw Your Courage to the Sticky Place by Jenn Reese (DSF)

When the four horsepeople of the apocalypse show up at Ana’s door, it’s a relief—and a surprising opportunity, too! Charming, funny, sweet, with a lovely bit of queer flirting, Reese brings laughs as well as ‘aww!’s of delight in very few words.

STET by Sarah Gailey (Fireside)

Brilliant and taking full advantage of a digital format to tell a powerful story in an interactive way (although you can also simply read it top to bottom with the same effect), Gailey will yank your heartstrings ragged with this story about autonomous vehicles, ethical AI, and editorial privilege. An amazing, feels-punchy read that will haunt you long after you finish.

Subtle Ways Each Time by Y.M. Pang (Escape Pod)

Time travel and introspection! A man tries to change the past to make a relationship work, and fails each time…until he finally realizes what it is he’s doing wrong. This is a fantastic take on the ripple effect of choices made through time travel, and ends in such an unexpectedly positive way, I loved it!

Ten Deals With the Indigo Snake by Mel Kassel (Lightspeed)

A fantastic story with a rich, modernized mythology of bargains and the cost of doing business. There are so many good snakes!!! I love the relationship between the narrator and her indigo snake; the format of the story works perfectly to build on each deal and showcase the world and the character’s growth over the course of her life. It’s a fantastic story well worth your time! (And it doesn’t even ask for anything in return for reading.)

The Bodice, The Hem, The Woman, Death by Karen Osborne (Beneath Ceaseless Skies)

In this breathtaking story, Karen Osborne crafts stunning, gorgeous prose while interweaving heartbreak and horror and hope into a backdrop of war and exploitation. Politics and fashion, weird engines and ghosts, tragedy and possibility are all sewn together in Osborne’s masterful control of pacing and emotive response. This is awesome on so many levels, showing off in a short but powerful way what resistance can look like.

The Fainting Game by Nino Cipri (Pseudopod)

This starts out deceptively innocent: a bunch of young girls learn to play a game that suggests autoerotic asphyxiation. But when Maya tries it, something goes badly wrong…and the horror builds from there. Cipri evokes the petty, casual cruelty of intimate family that adds to the sense of loneliness and otherness, and heightens the horror both supernatural and familial. It’s disturbing, riveting, and will keep a piece of your attention forever with itself in the static place.

The Longest Trial by Elizabeth Crane (Catapult)

Timely, satirical and yet brutally real and on point, the story of a 20-year-long trial showcases how many women are harmed by the societal acceptance of powerful men getting away with abuse…but not forever. It’s grueling at times, but the story never shies away from shining a floodlight in the face of systematic misogyny, and at the end of the tunnel, that answering light is this: in the future, we can do better, as a world, and we will.

This Will Not Happen To You by Marissa Lingen (Uncanny)

Biting, intimate, and unflinching, this story about disability and how we look at it with the lens of eradicating future problems. Lingen builds a dual-layered narrative, past and future, and at the end, it expertly skates around a pat cure narrative and dismantles the idea that we can ever truly master evolution, mutation, and nature.

Words I’ve Redefined Since Your Dinosaurs Invaded My Lunar Lair by Stewart C. Baker (Flash Fiction Online)

This is a hilarious and diabolically heartwarming story about supervillains, the cost of power, and dinosaurs! Baker packs a remarkable amount of story into a mere thousand words, along with a philosophical outlook on societal structures and the nature of good and evil. And it’s funny as h*ck. Ten out of ten death rays!

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Big shout-out to these awesome authors and their excellent stories! Check back next month for another round-up, or feel free to follow me on Twitter @Merc_Rustad for instant recommendations as I have them. Cheers!

A Few Favorite Fictions: August 2018

Some months are just a chaotic blur in which my brain is out of commission for one reason or another. In July, that was dayjobbery—and I literally read nothing that month. Fortunately, August was a little better! Still didn’t read very much, but I loved what I did consume, and so I present to you a list!

 


Beneath Their Hooves by Katharine E.K. Duckett (Pseudopod)

A creepy, unnerving story about unicorns and the children who ride them. Duckett tells this tale from the POV of an eight-year-old child, and the voice is perfect, which makes the horror of what has taken place in Grandmère’s house even more sinister. It’s a fantastic voice and will leave you tense and on the edge of your seat the entire time. Protip: don’t ride the unicorns.

Buried Conviction by Dave Ring (Speculative City)

This one is awesome: told in the style of board game instructions, it’s a story about fey foundlings and loneliness and hope. It’s short, punchy, and leaves you satisfied in the end.

Dead Air by Nino Cipri (Nightmare)

A ghost story told in a “found footage” format, which I love, and which works amazingly well! It’s creepy af and has a wonderful sense of building dread the further along it goes. Shivery-good.

Every River Runs to Salt by Rachael K. Jones (Fireside) [novella]

I love this so much. This story has a stunning voice, a gorgeously rendered picturesque setting, full of creepy underworld monsters and people just trying to get by; vivid prose so sharp and sweet you can taste the after images on your tongue and behind your eyes; epic and personal, funny and frightening and full of friendship. Absolutely marvelous work! Jones has created a masterpiece of myth, a story that will stick with you like the memory of the oceans and rivers that have always been.

Buy links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Fireside
For Southern Girls When the Zodiac Ain’t Near Enough by Eden Royce (Apex)

This gorgeous, evocative story (part of the Zodiac special issue) is full of feels, with stunning prose and visceral imagery. Royce has created a gem, a story that will stick with you like the best memories and the promise of good things to come.

Pigeons by Nibedita Sen (Fireside)

A smol drop of delightfully dread family drama! Necromancy, siblings, birbs, and all rendered in Sen’s deliciously evocative prose. This one may be tiny but it packs a hell of a punch!

The Atrocities by Jeremy C. Shipp (Tor) [novella]

Modernized Gothic horror in Shipp’s stylistic blend of grotesque and vivid beauty. A governess takes a position in a weird family mansion to, in theory, educate the ghost of a young girl. Things get weirder from there. It’s visceral and chilling, and although there is a fair bit of ableist language (mostly in dialogue), overall this is a strange, unsettling drama in the Gothic tradition, with imagery that will haunt you long after you’re finished reading.

Buy links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Tor
The Black God’s Drums by P. Djèlí Clark (Tor) [novella]

Set in a steampunk alternate history New Orleans, Clark delivers a rambunctious, wild ride so full of vivid setting and delightful characters, it’ll take your breath away! Voicey, fast-paced, charming, this is a story of a young girl who carries a bit of a goddess in her thoughts and sets out to save her city from enemies who would destroy what they can’t conquor.

Buy links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Tor
The Emigrants’ Guide to Oregon, California, and the Unknown by Brit E. B. Hvide (Uncanny)

Macabre and marvelous, this story re-imagines elements of the doomed Donner Party—with dinosaurs. It works so well, the reader’s awareness of what’s going on counterpoint to what the narrator, in his journal entries, thinks is happening. It’s creepy and clever (like the raptor who joins the group) and has a deliciously nasty bite to it.

The Nine Bajillion and One Names of God by Aimee Ogden (Daily Science Fiction)

Wonderful, sharp, hopeful and fierce—this is a brilliant riff off an old SF classic, with more nuance and thought about the consequences of what the scientists are building. Plus, the ending is such a powerful statement that closes this flash fiction in a way you won’t soon forget.

The Tea Master and the Detective by Aliette de Bodard (Subterranean) [novella]

Breathtakingly beautiful, a sweeping epic space opera that is at its heart a deeply personal, intimate story of a mindship and the detective she works with, both of them trying to untangle past tragedies and prevent future atrocities. De Bodard’s prose is a boutique of sensory delights; her worldbuilding is a galaxy of detail and history; the characters in this story will win your heart forever. I love this story so much!

Buy links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble |Subterranean
Worth Her Weight In Gold by Sarah Gailey (Tor.com)

Do you like hippos and murder? Gailey has plenty of both in their delightfully bloody short story about Houndstooth and Ruby, set in an alternate history of the U.S. (the same world of Gailey’s novella duology, River of Teeth and Taste of Marrow). It’s such fun—humorous and haughty, with fabulous characters and the perfect authorial voice. This romp will give you the perfect taste of Gailey’s American Hippo ‘verse, and I highly recommend all their stories!


(It is true my open tabs on the browser have approximately nine billion more things I want to read and haven’t managed yet…so we’ll see how September goes!)

Big shout-out to these awesome authors and their excellent stories! Check back next month for another round-up, or feel free to follow me on Twitter @Merc_Rustad for instant recommendations as I have them. Cheers!

A Few Favorite Fictions: June 2018

June is my birthday month, and I am so delighted by the amazing stories I read these last few weeks. ❤

A note about my selections: on my blog I usually choose to review fiction that is available online and not behind a paywall. I subscribe to ebook/print markets and I’ve bought a few individual issues so I can read things I’m interested in. But when I want to link to things, I would rather have them accessible for as many readers as possible.  ^_^

In addition to this, I do not read everything in every publication every month. I bounce around a lot; some months I may read more from one publication than others. There is no method: I have several dozen tabs and always add more, so who knows what I will end up reading each month.

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Anyway, I hope you enjoy this month’s recommendations!


A Pilgrim’s Guide to the Lighthouse of Quvenle the Seer by Lina Rather (Lightspeed)

Rather has created a quietly powerful story here, one with a strong emotional core, and the premise is a nice take on oracles. This is a story about grief and hope; about new beginnings without silencing the griefs of the past, which are in many ways always present. It hits hard in a short amount of words, but leaves you with a breath of hope in the end.


Artful Intelligence by G. H. Finn (Diabolical Plot)

If you like puns, you will likely enjoy this a lot. 😉 This is a highly amusing tale about a steampunk engineer who creates an AI! It’s full of fun word play, great over the top concepts, and enjoyable characters. I laughed aloud often while reading, and the ending made me grin. What a great romp!


Destiny by Melissa Mead (Daily Science Fiction)

Mead has written a charming, meta-based story about an author who wanders into the story, and the kindness of characters who can make good changes. I really liked how sweet this was: working within the rules of the story-world, the protagonists can act and they choose to do so with compassion. ❤


Fascism and Facsimiles by John Wiswell (Fireside)

H*cking hilarious, hopeful, and heroic! Wiswell has a wonderfully keen wit and on-point commentary about social and political climate of our current times. This story pokes deliberate fun and criticism over the Marvel fiasco of making Captain America a Nazi (Hydra). When the protagonists in “Fascism and Facsimiles” realize that in their world, the so-called national hero is not the person he’s been portrayed as for forty years. Henchmen getting agency and upholding their beliefs is, for me, more powerful than a traditional hero/villain smackdown. This is great and I highly recommend it!

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Faint Voices, Increasingly Desperate by Anya Johanna DeNiro (Shimmer)

With stunning prose, a fantastic and gorgeous mythology woven into shiny shapes, DeNiro has created an ethereal tale about gods and monsters. It’s also a story about two women who find a connection neither of them expected, and how it changes their lives. It’s bittersweet but ultimately triumphant in the end, and so brutally arresting on an emotional level it left me breathless for days after reading. Highly recommended!

TW: transphobia and misgendering & threats against trans women.


Fault Lines by A.J. Fitzwater (3Lobe Burning Eye)

With haunting imagery and metaphor, exquisite writing, and a vicious edge so biting and aching that it builds tension so intense you are almost holding your breath, waiting for a release, this one is short and visceral and will stay with you long after the last words are glowing on the screen.
TW: self-harm.


Gone to Earth by Octavia Cade (Shimmer)

Poetically horrifying and full of powerful emotion and fantastic atmosphere and prose; it’s creepy and sad and gorgeous! Cade has created an astounding sense of claustrophobia and earth-sickness (missing being on Earth, while living on Mars), and it’s so vivid I had to take repeated breaks to catch my breath. This story has such weight, such horrible beauty, that it will linger with you for time to come.


Heron of Earth by Varja Chandrasekera (Clarkesworld)

 

This story is built around a really cool far-future setting; it has a great voice and  concept, and a riveting narrative that fully utilizes its conceit of a narrator whose name constantly changes. Chandrasekera’s skill ensures that it’s clear who the protagonist is all the time. Plus, there are so many BIRBS. 😀

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In the Belly of the Wolf by Gwendolyne Kiste (Kaleidotrope)

This one is gorgeous, haunting, dark and so satisfying. Very bitey and hungry, with a delicious finale. It’s a take on the Red Riding Hood tale that is fresh (and awesomely genderswaped from the more traditional mode), and is full of wolves. I enjoyed this story so much that I bought a copy of Kiste’s short story collection, And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe.


In the Bottom of the Tower Where All Beasts Roam by Michelle Muenzler (Daily Science Fiction)

What a creepy and gorgeous and weird little story—full of bones and blood and teeth. It’s a fairy tale in the mode of the gruesome originals, and I love it!


In the End, It Always Turns Out the Same by A. C. Wise (The Dark)

This is heartbreaking, dark, and viscerally real: about the pressures and abuses put upon kids and how narratives are made and enforced, even when they are wrong. a vicious riff on teen detective tropes (Scooby Do, etc) that works brilliantly and will haunt you long after you finish reading.


Jiak liu lian by Yap Xiong (Arsenika)

This is a sensual, awesome story about vampires and durians—it made me hungry, even though I could almost taste the delicious fruit! Sumptuous and sublime. Definitely recommended!


Leviathan Sings to Me in the Deep by Nibedita Sen (Nightmare)

This is a luxuriously dark, creepy, horrifying story about whaling, whales, monsters and the terror of the void. It builds slowly, inevitably, layers of nuance and disturbing implications that resolve into a deep and unsettling realization. It will linger in your bones, the memory of whale song that you hear beneath the waves.

(Check out Sen’s awesome author interview as well—she points out the inspiration for this story is rooted in Dishonored games.)

Please enjoy one of my all-time favorite videos about whales.


More Tomorrow by Premee Mohamad (Autmota Review)

A brilliant, voicey, endearing, fun, bittersweet story about time travel and survival and the endurance of human ingenuity and spirit. I LOVE IT SO MUCH. It’s funny as hell, too: I nearly spit out my coffee so many times while reading this. And then SUDDENLY MY HEART IS MELTING AGAIN. A fabulous epistolary format, a great take on how time travel affects past and future, and it highlights the versatility and strength of humans. Also trilobites.


Mothers, Watch Over Me by Maria Haskins (Mythic Delirium)

Do you like feels? Far-future science fantasy? Then this story is for you: a gorgeous anthropomorphic fantasy, with the familiar yet alien tone reminiscent of Watership Down. It’s about family and legacy, it has awesome robots, magic, and ALL THE GOOD DOGS.

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Tank! by John Wiswell (Diabolical Plots)

If anyone can pull off a story about a literal non-binary tank going to a convention, it’s John Wiswell. The result? SO CUTE. MUCH LOVE. ADORBS. Tank wants to be your friend! They’re such a good tank.


The Cook by C. L. Clark (Uncanny)

Aww, this is lovely, a sweet story with gorgeous writing, one that will cleanse your palate, fill your heart, and leave you feeling energized. Read and enjoy!


The Day After the Red Warlock of Skull Top Mountain Turned Everyone in Beane County into Pigs by Susan Jane Bigelow (Fireside)

A long title that works beautifully to set up the premise. It’s one of those stories that examines the aftermath of a climatic event and how it has impacted the lives of the people who lived through it. This one has an edge, and in ways the end feels abrupt, but it haunts you long after you finish.


The Guitar Hero by Maria Haskins (Kaleidotrope)

Wow, this is GREAT. 😀 It’s visceral and rocking and such fun, with heart and a nasty streak. Haskins’ writing evokes all the senses in a perfect blend, transporting you into the story. You can almost hear the music, smell the air, feel the thump of bass under your feet. I also love the Ghostbusters-esque vibe of using SCIENCE!!1! to perform exorcisms. The story itself is like a great guitar riff: showy, entrancing, and makes you want to mimic the music in the air yourself. Definitely a win all around!

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The Scarecrow’s Daughter by Hamilton Perez (Aresnika)

What I loved about this gorgeous, weird little story is Perez’s marvelous use of negative space. So much is said in what is not said. We get hints about what happened, and what will happen, with the absences within the narrative. It’s so incredibly well done! Haunting imagery and a mythic feel, this one is definitely I recommend.


The Steady State by Shannon Fay (Daily Science Fiction)

Usually you might not expect “cute and charming” to be applied to a dystopia story, but this one fits the bill: it has a dark undertone but the atmosphere is upbeat and it has happy lesbians! With a happy ending! If you need a little pick-me-up, this one should help brighten your day.


The Stories Of Your Name by J. M. Melican (Arsenika)

This tiny story is beautiful and a brilliant use of meta and second person: a story of stories told from one person to another. What a lovely ending; it gave me such feels in such a short period of time! ❤


Things We Will Never Say by Vanessa Fogg (Daily Science Fiction)

Awww. A poignant, moving story about family and silences and possible futures, some that are hopeful and true.

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What Monsters Prowl Above the Waves by Jo Miles (Diabolical Plots)

This is an adorable story about an octopus who meets and befriends a lonely cat—there is a perfect blend of an alien mindset that is at the same time very relatable, and the point of view of the octopus is charming and engaging. I hope the new buddies have great adventures together!

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Bonus: Essay!

BETWEEN THE COATS: A SENSITIVITY READ CHANGED MY LIFE – AN ESSAY by Sarah Gailey (The Book Smugglers)

This is a powerful, beautiful, important personal essay that everyone should read. Gailey’s words resonated with me, and their story is so vital. Please do read.


 

Big shout-out to these awesome authors and their excellent stories! Check back next month for another round-up, or feel free to follow me on Twitter @Merc_Rustad for instant recommendations as I have them. Cheers!

 

A Few Favorite Fictions: May 2018

We are living in the absolute Golden Age of SFF short fiction. There is so much brilliant writing happening and being published, and I love the sheer magnitude and variety we are blessed with on the internets. So here are a handful of stories I read in May and loved. Please enjoy!

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A Promise of Flight by Lee S. Bruce (Fireside)

This story is so fricking cute: a simple promise leads the narrator on a journey of self-discovery, and the ending is hilarious, sweet, and so perfectly earned. I loved everything about this. Plus, the artwork by Maggie Chiang is gorgeous! Never underestimate the power of the human spirit. Treat yourself and read this. 😀


Bride Before You by Stephanie Malia Morris (Nightmare)

Wow, this story. So creepy and evocative and full of voice. A story about family and loss and need. Stunning work—Morris builds a fascinating, gut-punch portrait of a family, of human and monster. The ending is perfect, because it brings us full-circle and allows compassion and hope into the darkness, a light to guide the future forward.


Cherry Wood Coffin by Eugenia Triantafyllou (Apex)

In less than 1,000 words, Triantafyllou builds a complex, haunting, heart-wrenching slice of life surrounding a coffin builder, and the wood that speaks to him. It’s evocative and surreal and the ending is spot-on and wickedly perfect.


Emperor All by Evan Marcroft (Pseudopod)

This is really fucking effective horror brought to a nearly cosmic scale, while deceptively stationed within the bounds of a single unnamed city. A man named John discovers that he has a nearly infinite power to alter reality around him and makes himself the king of the city. At first he just wants to make his life better for him and his wife. But as they say, power corrupts: and this story takes a horrifying brutal look at just how far power can corrupt, and the extents that people in power will go to keep what they have. The subtle manipulation of the narrative as the story progresses is brilliant and I love how it ends, with the chaos never-ending.

With evocative, compact, seemingly effortless prose, Marcroft builds the layers of corruption and horror the longer John is in power. It’s almost entirely told, without dialogue, and it’s incredibly effective: within a few thousand words, we cover decades of stagnation and entrapment horror within this city. The narrative is relentless and brutal and unflinching.

It’s damned good, and will haunt you long after you finish reading.

Trigger warnings: rape, genocide, atrocity, suicide, torture, gaslighting, abuses of power. This is a dark story and very much full of horrible things happening to people, as done by other people.


Godmeat by Martin Cahill (Lightspeed)

This story is a stunningly delicious sensory feast of fucked-up gods and broken mortals and it is amazing. Such layered, savory detail, blended with a cup of anger and garnished with hope at the end. Rich and exciting, with a dash of horror and a thick aroma of dread; fantastical and frightening; luxurious and lush; a story that will kindle hunger in your bones. Cahill has cooked up a masterpiece of gorgeous language and breathtaking imagery, of too-real people and the choices they make, of gods and monsters and mortals all adding to the narrative’s distinct, perfectly weighted flavors.

Trigger warnings: eye trauma, suicidal ideation, mass destruction.


Humans Die, Stars Fade by Charles Payseur (Escape Pod)

SO GOOD. SO POWERFUL. A star learns to live again after grieving the loss of their love, and connects with the humans who find them; it’s beautiful and brilliant and full of wonderful queers and hopeful at the end. It made me cry in a good way and I cannot recommend it enough. This is the kind of uplifting science fiction I want to see so much more of in the world. ❤


One Day, My Dear, I’ll Shower You With Rubies by Langley Hyde (PodCastle)

In this story, Hyde gives us a thoughtful, emotional, and nuanced look at the aftermath of war and the war criminals involved, and the complications of what makes people human. It’s a hard read, but worth it. Hyde builds up all the people involved in complex ways, not shying away from the good or the bad. It offers no easy solutions and no pat ending. This is a quiet, difficult story and it takes its time—no flashy finale, just a sad, necessary end that has as much catharsis as room for the narrator to come to terms with her past, herself, and her future.


Reliving My Grandmother’s Youth by Charlotte Huggins (Flash Fiction Online)

A sweet story about family and support and coming into your own voice. Also I love the narrator’s familiar!


So It Was Foretold by Mimi Mondal (Fireside)

Damn. This one is powerful, emotional, beautifully written and full of rage and loss and grief and refusal to give in, be forgotten, let the stories of one’s history and ancestors die untold. Mondal delivers a powerhouse narrative in few words and it will haunt you long after you read the last lines.


Sucks (To Be You) by Katharine Duckett (Uncanny)

This is a delightful mashup of modern tech and succubi mythos. Duckett blesses us with a great voice and gorgeous prose, a funny, sweet and bittersweet story about connections and all the threads that tie us, as people, together. Full of shiny yet grounded in all-too-relatable needs, this one will stick with you.


Take Pills and Wait for Hips by Anya DeNiro (Catapult)

DeNiro’s story about a trans woman who is transitioning is powerful and moving and hopeful, and there is such a wrenching, breathtaking sense of self in this narrative that it feels autobiographical. The prose is electric and sharp, the voice transcendent. Gorgeous, gorgeous work. ❤


The Paladin Protocol by Sydnee Thompson (Fireside)

What a fascinating look at tech and consent and the use of power; with a non-binary protagonist! I love seeing that. It ends a little abruptly, but in a way that makes you think. There is a lot packed into this, layers to unpeel and examine upon further re-reads. Thompson has created an awesome near-future world and technology that seems all too real and possible, along with the implications of its use.


The Pine Arch Collection by Michael Wehunt (The Dark)

Creeping and unsettling, this story about a found-footage horror movie project that two unsuspecting filmmakers get drawn into is eerie as fuck. “Heavy black lump” as a descriptor has never been more chill-inducing than in this story.

The arms of the heavy black lump reach closer to your windowsill. 

This reminds me in an excellent way of “each thing i show you is a piece of my death” by Stephen J. Barringer and Gemma Files. Found-footage as a genre is an uneven patchwork in the history of horror, but when done well, it can be brilliant. “The Pine Arch Collection” captures the horror and terror and sensory wonder of the best found-footage and metafictional insights into horror, movies, and our darkest selves. It is visual in just the right ways, and the format—a collection of emails—adds to the sense of reality and inevitability. It’s amazing and I recommend it a lot.


Variations On a Theme From Turandot by Ada Hoffmann (Strange Horizons)

In a word: magnificent. This story (which, disclaimer: I beta read in several different versions) is a pièce de résistance; a triumphant, harrowing, brutal, beautiful, operatic tour de force story taking on Puccini’s Turandot and the troubled narrative of dead women in the composer’s work. Hoffmann weaves an ever-more-complex series of narratives: Liu’s story with the Princess in the opera itself; Liu’s realization of who she is and what her role is; the Soprano who sings the role of Liu; the layers of ghosts and stories both Liu, the Princess, and the Soprano must navigate to find their own ending. This is full of grief and loss and pain and rage and hope and triumph. It is metafiction in the way it examines the opera, and changes the reality of the story through the agency of the women who take their destinies into their own hands; women who will not be forever silenced by the pen or words; women who find solace and who aid each other and build a better future, a truer ending for them all.

Trigger warnings: rape, genocide, torture, suicide.


We Feed the Bears of Fire and Ice by Octavia Cade (Strange Horizons)

A brutal and wrenchingly sad, satisfying story about climate change and complacency and guilt; gorgeous visuals both searing and hauntingly cold. Cade’s prose is a masterclass of exacting language, tone, and pacing. The story builds and builds until you don’t think you can endure any more, and then like a breath, like a scream, it lets go, lets you release the tension and rage knotted taut inside, and then you can bask in fierce satisfaction at the end. Fantastic work.


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Big shout-out to these awesome authors and their excellent stories! Check back next month for another round-up, or feel free to follow me on Twitter @Merc_Rustad for instant recommendations as I have them. Cheers!

A Few Favorite Fictions: January 2018

Near the beginning of the year, taking a cue from Jason Stanford‘s #JasonReadsShortStories, I made a goal to try and read one short story (published in 2018) a day.

Of course, I was also sick half the month and missed a bunch of days. That’s okay! I read a lot and I decided only to tweet about the stories I liked. I read more than I shared, and the stories that didn’t work for me, for whatever reason, I simply noted the info on my spreadsheet, and moved on. There’s no point, for me, in spreading negativity. Reading tastes are personal. But the things I did love? I will happily squee about them, and then I thought, “You know what, let’s do a monthly round-up so there are easily accessible records!” Twitter goes by so fast. Blogs are more languidly paced.

So, with that in mind, here are the stories I enjoyed most in January! They are listed alphabetically by title.


A List of Forty-Nine Lies by Steven Fischer (Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Jan/Feb 2018 issue)

Flash fiction that brilliantly uses negative construction to tell a story—you see how it unfolds by the lies the narrator tells, and in that negative space unfolds a heart-wrenching, fierce, vicious story about loss and rebellion and fighting against tyranny. It’s phenomenal.


Alarm Will Sound by Christopher Shultz (Psuedopod)

A fantastic, slow-burn story that builds up to unnerving horror. (It’s fabulous in both text and audio!) The mysterious artist Alarm Will Sound is haunting a small town, and by the time you get to the final few lines, when the full horror hits, you will never look at graffiti tags the same way. Brilliant and disturbing.


Black Fanged Thing by Sam Rebelein (Shimmer)

A deliciously haunting and lyrical horror story about the suffocation of small-town life and a mysterious creature that takes away dreams…even if, in a way, it is the complacency and acceptance of the townsfolk who let this happen. There are many layers going on in here; with its unsettling themes and gorgeous prose, this story is one that will linger in the back of your mind for a long time.


Rachael Unerased by Kaely Horton (Flash Fiction Online)

This is a charming, warm, compassionate story about a woman who finally decides to stop hiding who she is. It has cute lesbians!


Say It Low, then Loud by Osahon Ize-Iyamu (Clarkesworld)

Science, math, and trauma twine together in a brilliant and subversive tale about war and names and family. Osahon is a fantastic upcoming author, and you’ll want to read his work, which is complex and facinating and has feels.


The Court Magician by Sarah Pinsker (Lightspeed)

A masterful use of POV,  which subtly layers in elements of the story until the full impact of wht is happening slams into you at the end. This story explores themes of magic, cost, complicity, and it’s a fantastic read.


The Eyes of the Flood by Susan Jane Bigelow (Lightspeed)

This is so gorgeous, so full of beauty and hope, and made me happy-cry at the end. The voice, the story unfolding, the connection in the end. Exactly the kind of uplifting, wondrous story I needed to read.


The Only Harmless Great Thing by Brooke Bolander (Tor)

In her debut novella, Bolander proves once again she is a master of blistering, vicious prose that will peel open your brainmeats and dig down into your heart. An alt history story that combines the Radium Girls and Topsy the elephant, The Only Harmless Great Thing is a brutal, heartbreaking, and ultimately triumphant story about the oppression and how people resist. There is hope for the future, even with so bloody a past as we all have.


The Substance of My Lives, the Accidents of Our Births by José Pablo Iriarte (Lightspeed)

Jamie is a non-binary kid who remembers their past lives, and is trying once again to navigate through their present, and the microaggressions and genderfeels and questions that have always been with them. It’s a lovely, quiet, personal story, and the choices Jamie makes when they encounter trauma from their past life, is deeply hopeful and uplifting.


Those We Feed by Layla Al-Bedawi (Fireside Fiction)

The perfect blend of motherhood and cannibalism! This twisted little story is a delight, as the narrator struggles with, and finally accepts, her child…including the child-thing’s hunger.


Two Years Dead by Kathryn Kania (Fireside Fiction)

This is an adorable story about a ghost and the girl she works up the courage to date, and it has a happy ending and cute lesbians and it’s so PURE AND GOOD. ❤


Wasps Make Honey by Penelope Evans (Escape Pod)

Do you like stories that will give you ALL THE HAPPY FEELS? Do you like robots? Do you like robot love stories? “Wasps Make Honey” is a beautiful, hilarious, wonderful tale about two scrappers who live by salvaging what they can, until a new robot comes into their lives. This is all about family and friendship and community, and it’s marvelous and will leave you with a wide, happy grin and a full heart by the end.


 

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Me, reading a lot of fiction in January

Big shout-out to these awesome authors and their excellent stories! ❤ January was a lovely month for reading. You can follow me on Twitter @Merc_Rustad for insta-recs when I like things, or check back at this blog at the end of February for a recap of the month!