While the rest of the country seems hellbent on reopening in the middle of a pandemic, I intend to continue hiding in my house as much as humanly possible. Fortunately, there is a lot of excellent speculative short fiction to keep me occupied. These stories, full of ghosts and mythological beasties and mechas and brain implants, make up ten of the best science fiction, fantasy, and horror stories I read this past May.
Anna wasn’t a soldier, not like her sister. Nevertheless, she is kidnapped by the military and held in a conference room in an orbital fortress to be interrogated by “the Marshal of the Harmonious Stars, the supreme commander of its military forces.” The story unfolds from there in ways you might not expect. Funny in a “I really shouldn’t be laughing” kind of way, Yoon Ha Lee demonstrates once again that he’s a science fiction powerhouse.
Tor.com (May 20, 2020)
“I became every woman who had ever witnessed the eyes of the people we fell in love with burning not with passion, but with hate and fury. The hands we had loved blackening our skin Those same hands breaking us.” Clara Madrigano’s evocative horror story is about a woman being haunted by abusive men, both dead and alive. I read the whole thing while holding my breath and anxiously tapping my fingers.
The Dark Magazine (May 2020, issue 60)
On her way back to her home with her newborn daughter, Hryggda the troll comes across a hungry wolf. “The snow glows in the night, full of starlight and the moon. The shawl covering Hryggda’s head and broad shoulders is the red of rough tree bark, of foxes. The moon-carpet crunches under her feet.” Devin Miller crafts a dark tale bathed in the glow of ancient folklore using prose as delicate and beautiful as a silk tapestry.
Beneath Ceaseless Skies (May 7, 2020, issue 303)
I’m a sucker for stories that drop legendary creatures into a real-world setting and have them act exactly the opposite of what mythology would have you believe. Case in point: “An Indian Love Call,” wherein an Indigenous man accidentally summons a Sasquatch and he and his buddy must help her find a mating partner. Cute and quirky, dryly funny and charmingly cheesy, this was a delight to read.
The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction (May/June 2020)
An unsettling dark fantasy that will give you the chills even on the hottest summer’s day. Two girls, one free to roam the world and the other trapped as her dark reflection in a mirror. The girl in the mirror wants nothing more than to break out and live the life her counterpart takes for granted, but the one who imprisoned her, the girl’s mother, is the only one who can set her free. “If the forest demands a trade, I will bring it one.”
Flash Fiction Online (May 2020)
“On the last night she was sure of being human, Imani dreamt of the river.” In the near future, a scientist who works on waterways around the Sacramento region gets an implant in her brain to help her process information at computer-like speeds. A quiet, slow story, Alice Towey focuses on the little ways Imani gradually disconnects from reality – or, to look at it a different way, becomes so connected to the minutiae of reality that she can no longer see the forest for the leaves.
Asimov’s Science Fiction (May/June 2020)
A dark, bloody fairytale that absolutely must be read. A young woman, Dagna Müller, cuts off her own hands to escape a brutal fate and uses her magically acquired iron replacements to embark on a small-time career as a sailor. Trapped in a downward spiral, it seems that her choice of freedom may be just as dire as a life as a fairy’s slave. Until she meets the only unaffected woman in a village of cursed inhabitants. Can she change her fate once more? Does she want to? What will it cost her this time?
PodCastle (May 6, 2020, 625)
JY Neon Yang is an auto-read author for me. I don’t even need to know the subject or genre. If they wrote it, I’ll read it and love it. “A Stick of Clay, in the Hands of God, Is Infinite Potential,” is no exception. Very basically, a group of mecha soldiers fighting in a seemingly endless space war begin to rethink their roles, responsibilities, and gender identities. The story feels deeply personal, like peeking in on someone’s private conversations.
Clarkesworld (May 2020, issue 164)
A lonely woman paddles out in her kayak hoping to catch some fish for dinner but encounters a strange algae-like alien creature. But this is no standard “close encounter” story. Mathilda uncovers a murder and must bring justice to the victim with the help of the alien being. The more involved she becomes, the more her own trauma begins to heal. Darcie Little Badger writes in a crisp, uncluttered style that gives just enough to hook you in.
Drabblecast (May 22, 2020, 425)
A mage turned rideshare driver gets wrapped up in a dangerous spell being cast by their passenger. Y’all, there was nothing I didn’t love about this story. Intense action, vivid worldbuilding, fascinating characters, crackling description, fun dialogue, it’s all here and then some. I’m willing to pay good monies for a publisher to pay LP Kindred to turn this into a multi-book urban fantasy series.
FIYAH (Spring 2020, issue 14)
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.