Must-Read Speculative Short Fiction: November 2019

All-powerful artificial intelligences, time traveling trains, and bloody body horror, oh my! This past month I read a lot of super speculative fiction from some seriously talented writers. Get ready to ponder some serious philosophical and ethical questions in the ten science fiction, fantasy, and horror short stories I’m most thankful for.

 

“As Dark As Hunger” by S. Qiouyi Lu

In this tale, a woman living in a swamp rescues an injured mermaid. But her ex makes money hunting mermaids, and when she comes calling, blood ensues. This story twists and turns, but never in the way you’d expect. Black Static always has great illustrations accompanying their stories, but the one for “As Dark As Hunger” by Richard Wagner is as stunning as S. Qiouyi Lu’s story.

Black Static—Issue 72, November 2019

 

“Dollhouse” by Adam-Troy Castro

Adam-Troy Castro’s short fiction never fails to leave me deeply disturbed in the best possible way, and “Dollhouse” is no exception. In fact, “deeply disturbed” doesn’t even begin to come close to how I felt after finishing this piece. The basic premise is that there are three people trapped in a child’s toys, but Castro seeds it with body horror, looming dread, and immersive descriptions. Eerie and grotesque, this, like every other Castro piece, must be read.

Nightmare Magazine—Issue 86, November 2019

 

“Inanition” by Kate Kastelein

“Everyone says that loss gets easier with time, but no one tells you that during that time you may also lose yourself.” After losing her husband and growing apart from her adult daughter, our narrator decides on a little self-care in the form of a spontaneous camping trip. Bad idea. Out there in the Maine woods she meets a woman who isn’t what she seems. The loneliness and isolation felt by the narrator becomes a living, breathing thing that threatens to swallow her whole.

The Future Fire—October 2019

 

“It Never Snows in Snowtown” by Rebecca Zahabi

‘Tis the season for dark fantasy set in lands of endless winter. Rebecca Zahabi narrates the experiences of a not-so-recent arrival to the city who decides to learn more about its history. The tour starts off in a predictable fashion, but as the guide takes the narrator deeper into the heart of the city, the narrator learns far more than they bargained for. If it never snows in Snowtown, then what is falling from the sky?

The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction—November/December 2019

 

“Personal Rakshasi” by Suzan Palumbo

When a Rakshasi, a giant, human-eating creature, steps out of the Hindu pantheon and into Priya’s life, things go from bad to worse. Already she’s suffered through an indifferent brother, school bullies, and parents who don’t even try to understand her. The longer the Rakshasi haunts her, the more tangled in its darkness she becomes. Author Suzan Palumbo deftly explores anxiety by giving it a literal form.

Fireside Magazine—November 2019

 

“Scrap” by Tehlor Kay Mejia

“But before long the close quarters and the flesh and blood that fed you began to twist that hopeful vision into something monstrous. Made you aware of teeth and claws. Made you aware you were something other.” It feels like an age has passed since I was blessed with Tehlor Kay Mejia’s debut novel We Set the Dark On Fire, and the sequel is still months away from release. This dark tale about a young woman finding her power and learning to use it was just the treat I needed to keep me going between novels.

Foreshadow—Issue 11, November 2019

 

“Someone to Watch Over Me” by Nancy Kress

Obsession is a helluva drug, as Amanda learns first hand in Nancy Kress’ intense science fiction short. After stalking and harassing her former partner Trevor, he and Amanda now share custody of their toddler Becky. Unable to let go of the love of her life, she has cameras implanted in her daughter’s eyes and proceeds to watch Trevor live his Amanda-free life. Technology is a tool that can become a weapon; the person who wields it must decide how to use is. I think you know which Amanda chooses…

Galaxy’s Edge—Issue 41, November 2019

 

“The Train to Wednesday” by Steven Fischer

What if you could jump forward in time and skip all the worst moments in life? Charlie decides that’s what he’s going to do after his father’s death. He wants to attend the funeral, but everything between then and now is too emotionally draining. So he waits for a “temporal train” that takes passengers on “exciting trips to next year, next century, and beyond.” But as Steven Fischer reminds us, you can’t just skip the hard stuff. Life always catches up with you, even when time travel is involved.

Diabolical Plots—#57B, November 15, 2019

 

“Widdershins Mine” by Damon Shaw

Although this story is short, it’s long on charm. Damon Shaw writes of a quiet sort of romance, one built on longing and watching and waiting and hoping. A man circles the earth, using magic to gradually claim the planet and everything on it as his. Along the way, a mysterious man keeps appearing. Why is he following the narrator? What does he want? The answers to those questions will sweep you off your feet.

Flash Fiction Online—Issue, November 2019

 

“Your Future Is Pending” by Matthew Kressel

I have a thing for dystopian fiction where the main character isn’t the Chosen One or the Hero but a random cog in the great capitalist machine who happens upon something dangerously destructive. Martha is that cog in Matthew Kressel’s intriguing tale. She’s a lowly tech for a virtual reality company in a world where AIs unofficially run the world. We like to believe that a future built on advanced technology will bring stability and security, but Kressel suggests it might be a less humane version of the mess we’re currently living in.

Clarkesworld—Issue 158, November 2019

 

Alex Brown is a teen services 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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