November had a treasure trove of interesting short speculative fiction. I read stories about a sentient spaceship, a dead warrior, chain emails, trauma, resistance, hope, and more.
“8-Bit Free Will” by John Wiswell
I really dug this computer game love story. Two NPCs in a fantasy game, The Hollow Knight and HealBlob, glitch themselves into real characters, turning a game built for a different main character into their personal quest. It’s funny and cute and well-written enough that even people like me who aren’t into these kind of games can follow along.
PodCastle (November 24, 2020, episode 654)
“Charmed Honeycake” by Archita Mittra
What begins as a recipe “for when the Fair Folk have stolen one of your own” slowly unfolds as a sorrowful tale of a baker who lost their child and struggled for years to get them back. A gorgeous piece of work, fanciful and haunting at the same time.
Hexagon Magazine (Winter 2020, Issue 3)
“Deceleration” by Allison Mulvihill
A decade and a half after aliens cruised by earth, a woman named Rita is looking for meaning at the end of the world. The sun is getting dimmer and dimmer and one day sunlight might be gone for good, but for now there are animals to care for and human connections to make. A solid meditation on priorities and pressure, a gradual, bittersweet farewell.
Strange Horizons (November 2, 2020)
“Forwarded as Received” by Osahon Ize-Iyamu
A chain email that sounds like a hoax turns out to be a little too real for Mama Ibeji in this creepy story from Osahon Ize-Iyamu. Mama Ibeji really shouldn’t have bought that bag of rice, but by the time she starts to regret it, it’s way too late. I’d never read anything by Ize-Iyamu before this, but he is now on my must-read authors list.
The Dark Magazine (November 2020, Issue 67)
“An Introduction” by Reina Hardy
Fantasy Magazine is back and better than ever. Reina Hardy’s quirky piece is told as an introduction to a class as taught by “a collective to a collective, although you are experiencing this lesson as a singularity.” It’s weird and refreshing and short and to the point. This piece is less about plot and more about the joys of creative expression and the wide variety of ways the English language can be used, manipulated, and explored. Lovely. Just lovely.
Fantasy Magazine (November 2020, Issue 61)
“The Salt Witch” by Martha Wells
“Juana thought this was bullshit.” Such a simple opening line, but it’s my favorite of all the stories I read this month. And it launches a truly tremendous story about a witch on a flying sailboat who encounters a barrier island full of ghosts. It has all of Martha Wells’ typical charm, dry humor, and layers of emotion. If you’ve read her before, you’re sure to love this one as well, and if you’re new, “The Salt Witch” is a perfect introduction.
Uncanny (November/December 2020, Issue 37)
“Scaled Soul” by Rhianwen Phillips
“Little woman, have you finally decided to fight back? For a moment I believed you had given up.” A woman, full of anger, leaves her abusive partner. As she runs, she’s attacked by a mugger who is in turn attacked by something else, something monstrous. A powerful yet brief story about a woman who finds her strength and learns to fight back.
The Future Fire (October 2020, Issue 2020.55)
“Skipping Stones in the Dark” by Amman Sabet
A generation starship hurtling through space. A young woman who dares to be an individual instead of a subject. Amman Sabet’s story does not end up where you think it will. The further into it you get, the blurrier the lines between “hero” and “villain” get. An inventive twist on the sentient spaceship trope.
The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction (November/December 2020)
“The Smell of Night in the Basement” by Wendy N. Wagner
Wendy N. Wagner’s vampire story is gruesome in the best way (and has some really interesting parallels to people trapped in abusive relationships). A woman is the plaything for a gang of bloodthirsty vampires. She’s been down in their basement for so long she can’t picture her life outside it. Until a teenage girl ends up imprisoned with her. This is not the vampire story you’re expecting.
PseudoPod (November 6, 2020, episode 730)
“Tiger’s Feast” by KT Bryski
A closeted girl beset on all sides by a dismissive mother, a Catholic school obsessed with sin, and classmates given free reign to torment her. She’s taken all that external awfulness and interprets it as personal failings, which she excises and feeds to a tiger in the woods at the local park. This is the kind of story that may be short but is absolutely JAM PACKED with symbolism, and I loved every word of it.
Nightmare Magazine (November 2020, Issue 98)
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, Instagram, and her blog.