Must-Read Speculative Short Fiction: August 2020

If the following list of my ten favorite short science fiction, fantasy, and horror stories are any indication, August was the month I went on a gothic kick. Although there are a couple of stories set on spaceships or that deal with troubled interpersonal relationships, most are atmospheric and dark, all sharp fangs and creaking bones and purple bruises and pooling blood.

 

“Alone” by Emma Törzs

In Emma Törzs’s new story, a scientist makes a shocking discovery…and tells no one. Alia is bored with her uneventful life. A thoughtless boyfriend and his fake friends are kept at bay by work she finds fascinating but others think as dull and incomprehensible. I didn’t expect to feel awestruck over a story about a woman who studies feathers, but here we are. Alia is messy and complicated. Watching her blossom into the person she wants to be by shedding the person others have tried to mold her into was so satisfying.

Strange Horizons (August 17, 2020)

 

“The Bone-Stag Walks” by KT Bryski

“The Bone-Stag walks at midwinter, sharp-antlered, hard-hoofed. Deep white snow spreads under deep black sky. Cold air slices lungs; rivers stand as stone.” What begins as a story told by an emotionally distant old woman to her young granddaughter twists into something dark and bloody, with hints of Hansel and Gretel. KT Bryski’s gothic fairytale is as terrifying and enchanting as a winter snow storm.

Lightspeed Magazine (August 2020, Issue 123)

 

“Dead Girls Have No Names” by Claire Wrenwood

“Our bones are cold. It is the type of cold that comes only after death, and it will never leave us now. We mourn what must have come before: hands holding ours.” After her daughter is murdered, a mother cobbles together a Frankenstein-ed new daughter. Made of the parts of other dead girls, the daughter who wants to be loved is let loose upon the world as a man-eating monster. This is an astonishing story, one of sadness and vengeance and hope.

Nightmare (August 2020, Issue 95)

 

“Drawing Lines Between the Stars” by Frank Smith

Bex, a crewperson on the transport hauler the Bakunawa, offers to repair a damaged solar glider for its lone passenger, Adena. A tragic accident alters the course of Bex’s life and shatters their foundation. Frank Smith’s story builds slowly, less like a crest of a wave and more like the rising tide. While unadorned and straightforward, it is also captivating in a quiet way.

Clarkesworld (August 2020, Issue 167)

 

“How to Pay Reparations: a Documentary” by Tochi Onyebuchi

If Tochi Onyebuchi’s name is attached to a story, you know it’s going to be incredible. “How to Pay Reparations: a Documentary” is structured like excerpts of talking heads from a documentary on a reparations bill passed by a white mayor. We hear from the political eggheads behind the project, the scientists and statisticians who built the reparations algorithm, and the citizens, Black and white, who have strong feelings about the program. The story hits hard; it will leave you stressed and exhausted and ready to fight the good fight.

Future Tense Fiction: Slate (August 29, 2020)

 

“Like Faded Joy” by Ashley Bao

Twin sisters, so alike yet so different. At four, Lei is given a baby grand piano and Yu a violin. Their mother wants them to be musically proficient, yet while Lei is trained by professionals, Yu is trained by the ghost of her dead aunt. Life and death wedges between the girls, driving them apart as Yu communes with spirits and Lei insists her sister is lying. Ashley Bao delves into the casual racism of children dipping their toes into white supremacy, the chaos of sibling relationships, and the discordant feelings of being both connected and adrift that being a child of the diaspora triggers.

Cast of Wonders (July 31, 2020, 424)

 

“Mist Songs of Delhi” by Sid Jain

What a lovely story! Rajaji is a caretaker at a Delhi temple to the Goddesses of Raagas. He reviews applications from the dying to be turned into song clouds so they can share their love and stories with their family after death. At first, all he sees is the beauty of his work, but soon the sadness of being left behind and the frustration of the ephemeralness of the clouds takes hold. When a family member chooses conversion, Rajaji is torn between his sacred duties and his personal conflict.

PodCastle (August 18, 2020, 640)

 

“More than Trinkets” by Ramez Yoakeim

Two crèche-born friends are drawn together then pulled apart in this bittersweet story set in space. Ari, a non-binary sailor, and Gordy, their friend since infancy, were born into indentured servitude to the Navy. Ramez Yoakeim doesn’t spend much time on worldbuilding, instead wisely focusing on the fraught relationship between the two friends. Yet the story never feels lacking or incomplete. It is perfect in its simplicity.

Translunar Travelers Lounge (August 2020, Issue 3)

 

“Tara’s Mother’s Skin” by Suzan Palumbo

Farrah is intrigued by a woman known only as Tara’s Mother. Locals believe she’s a soucouyant, a blood-sucking witch from Caribbean folklore, but Farrah finds herself drawn to the old woman anyway. One of the things I love about Suzan Palumbo is how she describes things in ways I never expect: “[Tara’s Mother] swayed like a dried banana leaf, twisted and weightless, framed by her doorway as I stood on the cracked earth of her yard talking to her.” Gorgeous and disquieting.

PseudoPod (August 21, 2020, 718)

 

“What Lies Within” by Isha Karki

Isha Karki elegantly turns the Scandanavian folktale of the princess and the pea on its head with this story about a young woman married off to a colonizer merchant. Taken from her home, Swarna soon realizes she’s nothing more to her new husband than a trophy, an exotic prize to demonstrate his successes, just like the trees with the blood red sap he takes with him. She is haunted by nightmares and a deep longing for home. An exquisite fairytale of death and pain and the lengths a mother will go to protect her child.

Augur (Issue 3.1)

 

Alex Brown is a 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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