Magic as revenge, retaliation, or retribution is the theme of many of September’s best short speculative fiction stories. There are some new authors on this list alongside some very well-known names, yet no matter where they are career-wise, the stories they’ve written have left a mark on this world. Here are some of the ten best science fiction, fantasy, and horror short stories I read in September.
“And Now His Lordship Is Laughing” by Shiv Ramdas
Midnapore, Bengal, 1943, just at the start of the Denial of Rice policy. Apa raises her young grandson Nilesh and makes putul, dolls made of jute stitched together. A haughty English captain darkens their doorstep and demands she make a putul for the wife of the Governor of Bengal, but Apa refuses. Soon after, the famine hits and her village is devastated. This time when the captain arrived, more demands on his lips, she acquiesces. But woe to those who underestimate the power of an angry woman with nothing more to lose and magic at her fingertips.
Strange Horizons – September 9, 2019
“A Bird, a Song, a Revolution” by Brooke Bolander
“Before the flute is a flute, it is a bird. This is the first act of magic. This is the first lesson the girl learns, when the world is still young and shaggy-coated with lingering winter. Sometimes things can be other things.” A girl finds magic and keeps it until she’s old and gray and then she lets it loose on her enemies. This story is gorgeous and breathtaking and gutting, but of course it is. Brooke Bolander wrote it. What is there left to say about about her immense talent that hasn’t been said already?
Lightspeed Magazine – Issue 112, September 2019
“Brigid Was Hung By Her Hair from the Second Story Window” by Gillian Daniels
“Brigid prayed to her mother’s god. Then she wrote a song.” In this haunting story, an Irish woman marries an abusive man and turns to magic to escape. Gillian Daniels offers her heroine a happy ending, but a temporary one. Magic requires sacrifice, a life for a life. For her freedom she must give up what she loves the most, and each time she chooses a new life the price goes up.
The Dark – Issue 52, September 2019
“A Final Resting Place” by Matthew Hornsby
Two humans learn they are the only survivors on a failed space mission. Ages ago they were sent from Earth to terraform a distant, newly discovered planet. Their efforts were for naught and they tried to return home, but even that proved disastrous. Now they’re stranded and they may or may not be alone and nothing is going according to plan. A story with an environmentalism twist that is both hopeful yet tragic.
Metaphorosis – September 2019
“Gallinas” by Raquel Castro
First off, how cool is it that Fireside not only has multiple bilingual stories in its September issue (yay Latinx/Hispanic Heritage Month!) but that it puts the Spanish-language versions before the English ones? Talk about inclusion. Anyway, out of all the excellent stories in this issue, “Gallinas,” aka “Chickens,” is probably my favorite. It’s a short little story, mostly centered on three boys gossiping about the mysterious old woman who lives on the edge of town. Two think she’s a nahual, a shapeshifter that can take the form of a coyote, while the third insists she’s just a normal human. What happens when the boys spy on her one night? Read the story and find out.
Fireside Magazine – Issue 71, September 2019
“Homecoming” by Gardner Dozios
The death of the inimitable Gardner Dozios hit the science fiction and fantasy communities hard last year. He had such an impact that it’s hard not to feel his absence. Fortunately, then, that he sent F&SF one last story before his passing. There’s no way I couldn’t include in this spotlight, not only because it’s a story by Dozios but also because it’s just so damn good. An old man comes to a small mountain town. The locals think he’s a wizard, but he speaks to no one and keeps to himself. He attracts the attention of a local gang of ruffians and a little girl whose grandfather is dying. The plot is simple, but the style, tone, and deeper implications weave a rich tapestry.
Fantasy & Science Fiction – 70th anniversary issue, September/October 2019
“Sparkle and Shine” by Tonia Laird
Another super short story that packs a punch. A couple hires a monster to kill, then betrays the monster, then they betray each other. It’s dark and twisty and unexpected and I dug it so much I keep re-reading it. I’ve never read anything by Metis writer Tonia Laird before, but you can bet I’ll be keeping an eye out for her in the future.
Speculative City– Issue 5, Fall 2019
“This Is Not My Adventure” by Karlo Yeager Rodríguez
Uncanny’s annual Disabled People Destroy Science Fiction issue is always so full of incredible pieces of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry that picking a single story to feature is a challenge in an of itself. But since I have to choose, I’m going with “This Is Not My Adventure.” After his mother’s death, Kevin returns to a Narnia-like world to escape the responsibilities of adulthood. However, as the title indicates, his adventure is not in the portal world but the real one. He’s not supposed to be in the portal world, not anymore, but that doesn’t mean he’ll have to face the real world on his own.
Uncanny Magazine – Issue 30, September/October 2019
“Through the Fog, a Distant Land Appears” by Wanxiang Fengnian, translated by Nathan Faries
One moment Gu Huilan is caring for her two children, Qingtian and a possibly fatally ill Dandan, and the next a haze smothers her village and steals away the inhabitants. All but her. “She could not remember how many days it had been since all the people of the village disappeared,” writes Wanxiang Fengnian. When the villagers return, it happens sporadically and in shadows. Her children are not her children, or maybe she is not who she once was. A stellar science fiction tale of a mother’s love
Future Science Fiction – Issue 4, September 2019
“Witch’s Road” by Christian K. Martinez
“To find the Witch, one must stride the edge of nowhere. Falter and be left there alone in the forest. Walk the road, and earn a favor. Ask a gift. Be careful what you ask for. The Witch will give it.” Catalina de la Rosa wants to live forever. To do that, she must find the Witch in the woods. And so she walks and waits and pushes through the pain. This is a story you’ve heard before, but what makes it worth featuring here is Christian K. Martinez’s vivid descriptions and immersive writing style. With each word, I felt myself falling deeper and deeper into this world.
Beneath Ceaseless Skies – Issue 286, September 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.