July has come and gone, but it has left behind some wondrous short speculative fiction. Enter worlds where dead birds, dragons, ghosts, sentient spaceships, and fantastical creatures roam wild. Here are my ten favorite science fiction, fantasy, and horror stories I read last month.
“The bird bones arrived on Grandma’s porch every day at dusk with no warning.” This story starts off a little twee but then veers sharply into a dark fairy tale. To honor the last wishes of a dying bird, Muriel, a neurodivergent child on a vacation from the big city, ventures into a frightening world and learns more about her grandmother than a child probably should.
Diabolical Plots (July 15, 2020, Episode 65B)
My early career path in librarianship was focused on archives and historical research libraries, so stories with that setting always hook me in. But the archives in Dennis Mombauer’s story unlike any I’ve worked in (thank goodness). M., an employee of a faceless corporation, is sent into the archives to retrieve some correspondence. The journey is fraught and goes about as well as you’d expect from a weird speculative fiction story.
Speculative City (Summer 2020)
In this bittersweet story, a woman is visited by a dragon several times over her life. Though she longs to go on adventures with her dragon, responsibilities bind her to the mundane world. Juliet Kemp’s story pokes at the reader, reminding them to take that chance, leap at that opportunity, because we might not be lucky enough to get a second or third chance at happiness. Otherwise we might be able to build a pleasant life, but we will always be waiting for that dragon to come back.
The Future Fire (Summer 2020, Issue 54)
“Listen. The world ended thirty seconds ago.” Adam-Troy Castro is an auto-read author for me. If he has a story out, I will read it and love it, guaranteed. The story I’m featuring here is no exception. Castro breaks down the slow apocalypse in vignettes set over the course of a year. This isn’t a story focused on plot but feeling, expression, and description. It’s a punch in the gut kind of story. And you absolutely must read it.
Lightspeed Magazine (July 2020, Issue 122)
This was a rough read, not the text but the context. Stories about pandemics aren’t my favorite thing to read right now, for obvious reasons, but I’m glad I stuck with this one to the end. Set in the future when the world has been overrun by coronaviruses, a researcher finally finds the light at the end of the tunnel. But what happens when the people who benefit from death and disease have all the power?
Interstellar Flight Press (July 28, 2020)
Although this story came out in June, I was late to reading it, but it was well worth the wait! A girl lives with her father in a land on the verge of war. Her life changes when she ventures into the forest and encounters the last of a species. Prashanth Srivatsa is an absolutely wonderful writer with a firm grasp of craft and beauty.
Three-Lobed Burning Eye by June 2020, Issue 31)
Whoo, this story! Aboard a spaceship in the distant future a young woman, Deenu, confronts an act of violence but rooted in compassion. Deenu is a survivor of a mass tragedy years before. When her ship is attacked by other survivors, the black and white world she lives in becomes muddied and gray. Bonus points for the sentient ship that tells dad jokes. An excellent story all around.
The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction (July/August 2020)
Set in a future version of our world where magic suddenly appeared and wreaked havoc on nations and people, this story about the magically gifted owner of a hotel is really enticing. Herkinal has the Sight, meaning they can see things others can’t. That gift often feels like a curse, but they put it to good use. Despite its short length, the worldbuilding is excellent, with just enough backstory to catch the reader up but not enough to overwhelm. I loved it.
Uncanny Magazine (July/August 2020, Issue 35)
Zen Cho is yet another one of my auto-read authors (that list is waaaay too long!) that I can’t help but indulge in. “Odette” reminds me a lot of her novelette “If at First You Don’t Succeed, Try, Try Again,” not necessarily in content but in tone. There are no dragons, only ghosts and dark magic, but the feeling of losing yourself while trying to gain something important permeates both. Odette wants her freedom and when she gets it, it’s nothing like what she dreamt of. Beautiful, compelling, irresistible.
Shoreline of Infinity (Summer 2020)
“I dream about you and the train all the time. This is how it ends: There is the train and there is you and then there is only the train.” Maria Haskins’ latest story is exactly what it says on the tin. The narrator details six dreams they had about a train, but the story is so much more than that. Haskins’ writing here is gorgeously evocative and, well, dreamlike. I enjoyed it so much I read it twice.
Flash Fiction Online (July 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.