In these trying times, you might as well treat yourself to some fantabulous, mind-bending short speculative fiction. Reanimated corpses meet alchemical androids, sea monster siblings go up against dark magic witches, and futures full of death and hope are plotted by pensive thinkers. Here are ten of the best short science fiction, fantasy, and horror stories I read in March.
“All That the Storm Took” by Yah Yah Scholfield
Fiction helps us process pain, helps us understand unimaginable destruction and suffering, helps us heal. This story from Yah Yah Scholfield looks back at Hurricane Katrina, not just the wrath the storm unleashed but the hell brought forth by the rest of the nation’s shameful neglect. Winifred’s sister Alicia died in the storm like so many others, but she didn’t stay dead. She is a monster now, a creature of sharp teeth and animal instincts. But she’s still Winifred’s sister, or so Winifred hopes.
FIYAH—Issue 13, Winter 2020
“Come the Revolution” by Ian Tregillis
The final book in Ian Tregillis’ The Alchemy Wars trilogy came out four years ago, and this story makes for a stunning return. Set several decades before the book series, “Come the Revolution” reveals the origin story for one of the series’ major Clakker characters. Those who have not read the series will still be enthralled by the tense action, deep emotion, heartbreaking plot, and layers upon layers of eviscerating commentary on labor exploitation and capitalist greed.
The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction—March/April 2020
“Dead Horse Club” by Jude Wetherell
“It sews its parts together with the spines of baitfish. It drags itself from the water and bleaches on the island shore until it is pocked-white, picked clean as it can be by the flies and the birds and the mites that make caves of its marrow.” This gut-punch of a piece by Jude Wetherell is less a story with a beginning, middle, and end and more of a collection of bone chilling vignettes. It’s an absolutely exquisite piece of writing. Jude is an author to watch.
“Escaping Dr. Markoff” by Gabriela Santiago
“You love Dr. Markoff. You have always loved Dr. Markoff, even before the film began.” In this twisted, twisting story inspired by classic horror films, the protagonist is the Assistant to a mad scientist. Her reality unfolds as a film, or perhaps her film unfolds as reality. What is true is not what is said or seen but what is concealed and contrived. Astonishing and eviscerating.
The Dark Magazine—Issue 58, March 2020
“Growing Resistance” by Juliet Kemp
Talk about timely fiction. Juliet Kemp’s story is set in a post-pandemic world beset by strikes and protests. When a teen trans girl is arrested, the narrator, a trans man, has to enter the lions’ den and get her out. At first he feels useless in the face of the protestors pushing for social change, but there is power, too, in caring for other people and providing a safe, stable home. Compassion and empathy make even the darkest times bearable.
Cast of Wonders—Episode #408, March 27, 2020
“In the Lands of the Spill” by Aliette de Bodard
In 2071, Việt Nam as it is today no longer exists. Pummeled by climate change, flooding, and a massive toxic waste spill, most of its inhabitants fled years earlier. When the narrator arrives, their mind transferred into an android avatar, the only inhabitants are shoals of ravenous creatures called ferals and Bạch Chi, the woman the narrator is sent to rescue. With piercing imagery and haunting descriptions, Aliette de Bodard crafts an intricate reckoning of actions and consequences and change.
XPrize: Avatars Inc—March 2020
“Lipstick for Villains” by Audrey R. Hollis
“It takes a witch to make a queen’s lipstick. Hogfat, crushed ants, frozen embers, lead. Good lipsticks should burn.” As Audrey R. Hollis clearly knows, the best fairy tales don’t sugarcoat violence with happily ever afters. Her story of an old witch condemned to make poison makeup for wicked queens until one day when she breaks her shackles is vivid and sharp, with an ending that is befittingly brutal.
Flash Fiction Online—March 2020
“Seb Dreams of Reincarnation” by Aimee Ogden
This is one of the most inventive science fiction stories I’ve read in a very long time. It is about a man coming off a ten-year tour of duty running a space ship. Not just running it, being it. He was plugged into the ship, a human brain controlling a mechanical ship. As interesting as that is, the real meat of the story is what happens after when Seb is just Seb, a man in an apartment with nothing to do and a society that no longer needs him. Other writers might have taken the story down a dark path, but Aimee Ogden puts a welcome hopepunk spin on it.
Deep Magic—Spring 2020
“Spencer” by Tara Campbell
“She could have fixed me. It would have been simple enough. All of this could have been avoided if she’d only made an effort.” What a clever, deceptive opening line. In Tara Campbell’s story, a woman is taken apart piece by piece by a monstrous spirit who is using her stolen parts to Frankenstein itself a corporeal form. But what makes this tale especially vicious is that it is written from the perspective of the monster rather than the woman. Gave me the chills all the way through.
Speculative City—Issue 7, March 2020
“We Aren’t Violent People” by E.C. Barrett
E.C. Barrett’s fiction debut is a thrilling post-apocalyptic short story about a woman confronting the depth and breadth of her own power. When she was fifteen she made her first kill, a raider trying to break into her grandmother’s fortified camp: “An explosion of white, red, and pink — the sharp, liquid, and mush that make a person — attended my first kill.” With that Barrett drops the reader into a bleak world where survival of some means the slaughter of others and right and wrong hold no meaning.
Bourbon Penn—Issue 20, March 2020
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.