Must-Read Speculative Short Fiction: May 2019

May brought some truly great speculative short fiction. Stories about feminism, anti-colonialism, and environmental crisis, about people trying to be someone else, someone better, or just themselves. Of the dozens of stories I inhaled this past month, here are ten of the best.

 

Breath, Weeping Wind, Death by Emily McCosh

After waiting for an old woman to breath her last, Death takes a break on a rooftop terrace. There Death is visited by a little girl, the granddaughter of the now-dead old woman, who shares an honest conversation and some cookies. At once sad and sweet, this story of death and Death will tug at your heartstrings.

Galaxy’s Edge — Issue 38, May 2019

 

The Doing and Undoing of Jacob E. Mwangi by E. Lily Yu

In a near future Kenya, society is split into the Doers and the Don’ts. Doers work, create, and learn while Don’ts live on the government stipend and the most they contribute is toward keeping their local gaming centers profitable. When Jacob is kicked out of his usual war game and checks out a Doer’s game about building a small business, he finds he might not be the Don’t he thinks he is. Yu explores a version of Kenya where technology and social welfare programs have reshaped the nation, for good and ill.

Asimov’s Science Fiction — Vol. 43, Nos. 5 & 6, May/June 2019

 

In That Place She Grows a Garden by Del Sandeen

There were so many good stories in this hair-themed issue of FIYAH, but this was the one that stuck with me the longest. Rayven, a teenage girl at a Catholic high school, starts growing flowers out of her hair after she’s forced to cut off her dreadlocks. Del Sandeen’s story is rich with symbolism and evocative writing as she puts a unique twist on the relationship between Black women and their hair and between Black culture and white supremacy.

FIYAH — Issue 10, Spring 2019

 

Mister Dog by Alex Jennings

Trenice is haunted, emotionally and literally. Emotionally because even though it’s been years since her college boyfriend died she can’t seem to let him go or move on. Literally because his spirit is following her around New Orleans. At once eerie and romantic, Mister Dog is a ghost story where the humans do as much haunting as the spirits. This is the first story I’ve read by Alex Jennings, but given how good this is I’m definitely going to keep an eye out for him in the future.

PodCastle — 574, May 14, 2019

 

Moses by L. D. Lewis

“Moses is not dreaming. She is remembering.” With that killer opening L. D. Lewis delves into the drug-soaked life of a young woman who has the uncontrollable power to turn people into ash and dust. She’s lost people she hated as well as the man she loved and now she’s terrified of herself, of her nightmares, of what she might do in the future. Lewis ramps up the tension gradually until it hums through every word.

Anathema — Issue 7, April 2019

 

My Sister Is a House by Zoë Medeiros

Picking a favorite short story out of the May issue of Fireside was a herculean task. In the end it had to be Zoë Medeiros’ endearing yet melancholy story about a sad young woman who turns into a house and her sister who is lost and trying to find her way home. “Much of the time it was like I crouched at the top of a well, and she sat at the bottom, and we shouted at each other…I could not explain what it was like to live in the sunshine. She could not tell me what it felt like to stay at the bottom of a well for so long.”

Fireside — Issue 67, May 2019

 

Road: A Fairytale by Shalini Srinivasan

Science fiction abounds with tales about environmental crises, but it’s not often you come across one written from the perspectives of a road and a river and written as if it were a classic fairytale. Pollution and sewage fill the river that runs under the road, while the road itself is tormented by traffic jams, potholes, and the rage and frustrations of its travelers. Both become sentient and get a little payback. Like a true fairytale, there is death and mayhem and an ending you won’t forget.

Strange Horizons — Issue, May 20 2019

 

Scolex by Matt Thompson

Tyner Kaunas is having one hell of a drug trip. If he survives he will come out the other end genetically enhanced, otherwise… In this harrowing science fiction story, betrayal is the name of the game. And while I don’t usually write about the story art, the piece by Richard Wagner that accompanies Scolex is as striking as Thompson’s story.

Interzone — Issue 281, May/June 2019

 

Ten Excerpts from an Annotated Bibliography on the Cannibal Women of Ratnabar Island by Nibedita Sen

I always find short fiction with unusual structures especially appealing, and Ten Excerpts is no exception. Nibedita Sen’s story is exactly what the title describes: short extracts from ten essays, books, and scholarly articles about Ratnabari cannibal women. This is a story not of plot—although there is a hint of one as we learn the fate of one of the girls stolen from the island—but of theme, one that is gloriously queer, anti-colonial, and POC diaspora.

Nightmare — Issue 80, May 2019

 

Thirty-Three Wicked Daughters by Kelly Barnhill

A kindly king, has thirty-three daughters, all of whom are observant, clever, bold, and well-rounded. Each has a talent they use to better their kingdom, to the bewilderment of their father, the joy of the peasantry, and the horror of the barony. As the daughters face petulant obstinance from the noblemen and willful ignorance from their father, Barnhill weaves a tale about feminism, social change, and how resistance isn’t enough without action.

Fantasy & Science Fiction — May/June 2019

Alex Brown is a high school librarian by day, local historian by night, author and writer by passion, and an ace/aro Black woman all the time. Keep up with her on Twitter and Insta, or follow along with her reading adventures on her blog.

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