Murderous foxes and swamp monsters, death and destruction, fairytales and future warnings, werewolves and weather dancers and cannibal children. August has brought forth some seriously disconcerting yet absolutely incredible short speculative fiction. Here are ten of some of the best.
“Breaking” by Maya Chhabra
In Maya Chhabra’s version of the future, science has “cured” death but not cancer. Those on the brink can have their consciousness backed up so that when they pass their remaining loved ones can still communicate with them. It’s supposed to make the end—no longer called death but the “break”—easier, but for Delhi teenager Sarita it only makes things worse. Chhabra writes simply yet evocatively, making Sarita’s fear and frustration palpable and truthful.
Cast of Wonders – Episode 370, August 18, 2019
“Daughters of Silt and Cedar” by Rebecca Mix
A father ties his young daughter to a tree and abandons her to die in a swamp. Fortunately (or unfortunately?) she is rescued by the magical creatures who call the swamp their home. As the years go by, the girl, Greta, can’t seem to let go of her dreams of her old life. When her old and new worlds collide and violence erupts, she is faced with a choice: change or be changed. Rebecca Mix’s story is eerie and beautiful, the kind that lures you in with pretty words and drowns you in darkness.
Kaleidotrope – Summer 2019
“Fare” by Danny Lore
“The change always starts at the back of DeShaun’s neck, and it takes everything not to claw the beast out — to not let it peel him open along his spine like pages of a book…The cabbie is apologizing over the bachata playing on his radio. “BQE’s never like this at sunset.” He looks in the rearview mirror, obliviously sympathetic. “It’s kennel time usually. Everybody clears out.”” Poor planning finds DeShaun about to shift into a werewolf while in the cab on the way to the rundown kennel where he was supposed to be an hour ago. Danny Lore’s clever take on the modern day werewolf is twisted through with hints of real oppression and social justice.
Fireside Fiction – Issue 70, August 2019
“A Leash of Foxes, Their Stories Like Barter” by Cassandra Khaw
A new Cassandra Khaw story? You don’t have to tell me twice. “A Leash of Foxes, Their Stories Like Barter” is the first of two folktale-like stories on this list, and since it’s Khaw it should be no surprise that this one involves some pretty awful people doing pretty awful things. Except “people” may be the wrong word in this case. Two lovers, Mr. Fox and Lady Mary, wed despite the protestations of Lord Petty, who still pines after the new Mrs. Fox. After the wedding Lord Petty breaks into their castle and stumbles upon something so horrible, so vile, so terrifying that I won’t spoil it for you here. But trust me, you need to read this story.
Lightspeed Magazine – Issue 111, August 2019
“Onyx Woods and the Grains of Deception” by D.A. Xiaolin Spires
This inventive story by D.A. Xiaolin Spires, tells of a land exploited and the peasants who do the exploiting at the behest of those more powerful. Staira and Cohl are sent to chop down a forest of onyx trees, a rare tree that only grows in the land of Phinelia. Made of impossibly hard, pitch black bark with specks of blood-like red, the trees require exactly 100 strokes of a specially made blade to break through to the crystals in the center. The trees belong to the land, but the land belongs to the king and he is beholden to outsiders. A theft and a secret force Staira to choose between resisting a heartless order or further participating in the desecration of Phinelia.
Clarkesworld – Issue 155, August 2019
“Other, Like the Sun to the Planets” by Lore Graham
The premise of Lore Graham’s story is simple: Robin returns to xyr childhood home of Argyre on Mars. But the trip isn’t an easy one to make. Leaving the big city for a country home is a big shift, yet there are bigger problems to deal with, namely that Robin’s parents have not accepted xyr’s pronouns. ““But ma,” Robin asked one time, “what about Sol? Venus is like a woman and Mars is like a man, Earth is both and Luna’s neither. So what’s Sol?” “Neither” and “both” were concepts xe could grasp. Xe had not yet grasped “other.” “Sol is beyond male and female,” said Ma. “Xe is something so much more, something much too big for our little human brains.”” This story struck me deeply, even as a cisgender woman. I haven’t stopped thinking about it since I read it.
Vulture Bones – Issue 6, August 2019
“Seonag and the Seawolves” by M. Evan MacGriogair
“This is the story of Seonag and the wolves, and the wolves and the waves.” The best folktales do not have happy endings. They end in blood and pain and the promise of more to come. In that tradition comes M. Evan MacGriogair’s chilling story about a strange young woman and the men who torment her. Unwilling to leave Scotland but unable to stay in the village where she grew up, Seonag escapes to an island of wolves. But her freedom comes at a cost, and it must be paid. “Seonag and the Seawolves” is as harsh and unforgiving as the Scottish Highlands and as haunting as an abandoned and crumbling croft.
Tor.com – August 21, 2019
“Tiny Teeth” by Sarah Hans
Sarah Hans blends zombie apocalypse fiction with the horrors of unchecked patriarchy into an unsettling premise. When the doctor confirms her pregnancy, our narrator is desperate for an abortion. She does not want a child for a host of reasons, not least of which because a virus has turned all children into flesh-eating monsters. But with abortion outlawed and the high risk of the fetus eating its way out of her body, she has few options. Hans adds more than a few parallels to the real world to keep the story grounded and angry.
PseudoPod – Episode 660, August 8, 2019
“The Weather Dancer” by Aisha Phoenix
Two women, one old and one young, meet in a nursing home. The old woman, Amaya, watches as her companions and neighbors die off one by one. Her only pleasure is the rain, and she revels in it whenever she can sneak away from her caretakers. For she believes she is a weather dancer. The only person she shares her secret with is the young girl, Sagal, who comes to visit her dying great aunt. Aisha Phoenix offers no clues as to Amaya’s origins or abilities. Perhaps she really can call down the rain, or perhaps she is a woman lost in the hazy memories of her fading mind. What matters is her connection, brief though it may be, with Sagal.
Strange Horizons – August 5, 2019
“Who Should Live in Flooded Old New York?” by Brooke Bolander
I don’t know how I missed this piece last month, but it’s too good to not include here. This piece, written like a newspaper op-ed, isn’t a story of success but of survival, of how humans can eke a life out of the worst conditions. But I wouldn’t go so far as to call it hopeful. More like pragmatic. We can either live or die, survive or collapse. When we can no longer stop the oncoming climate crisis and refuse to change our policies or attitudes, we won’t be arguing over how to save the world but whether and how much to punish the most vulnerable.
New York Times Op-Eds from the Future – July 1, 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.