This year, I thought I’d do something a little different for my February short speculative fiction spotlight. Instead of a general round-up, I’m going to feature new works by Black writers. And because there were so many great pieces to choose from, I even added a couple extras as honorable mentions. Enjoy these talented creators as we dip back into Black History Month for one last hurrah.
“10 Steps to a Whole New You” by Tonya Liburd
This story left me breathless. Broken into ten parts, it progresses through the arrival of a suspicious new neighbor to an intense rebirth. It’s as sharp as a wolf’s bite and as unforgiving as death. I don’t even know how else to explain it other than to say it must be read.
Fantasy Magazine (January 2021, issue 63)
“At the Intersection of Light and Sound” by Michelle Mellon
“The music of the darkness is the soundtrack of everything that was, or is, or is to come. It is the psalm of being.” As their ship sails toward a black hole on an exploratory mission, the narrator recounts their childhood growing up on Earth raised by a musically inclined grandfather. Although the narrator never had the talent for playing music that their grandfather and sister did, this journey has sparked a new kind of appreciation, not just for music but for life itself.
Fireside Magazine (February 2021, issue 88)
“Baby Brother” by Kalynn Bayron
This was not the kind of story I expected from Kalynn Bayron but oh my goodness am I glad to have read it. Dark, frightening, and unsettling, it is about as far from her young adult retelling of a fairytale, Cinderella Is Dead, as it gets. “Baby Brother” is about two boys, Ace and Morgan, who experience a terrible event one night. The fractures from that incident break the family slowly over time until they shatter.
FIYAH Literary Magazine (Winter 2021, issue 17)
“Commodities” by Zebib K.A.
A woman with a special garden finds a starving refugee boy. His people are hiding in the woods until they can make their way to their mysterious final destination. The last thing they want is to be discovered by the anti-immigration police forces who say things like “We can’t let it be chaos. Law and order. We’re the good guys. We want actual law and order, peace and …all that.” A story set in a dystopian United States where shallow declaration of peaces are coated in a thick promise of violence.
Apparition Lit (January 2021, issue 13)
“Love for Ashes” by Frances Ogamba
A dark and disturbing story about a man who marries a woman who is not wholly human and the ripple effects it has on his life. But really it’s about grief and loss (like several of the stories on this list) and the unexpected ways it filters into other aspects of life. Frances Ogamba has a real knack for describing the mundane in beautiful terms: “The tippet you left dangling the clothes line disturbed more than the abandoned earthenware pots, which crumbled over time at the corner where you made them. The piece of fabric―grey, alive―gleamed in the morning light, swinging back and forth as if a finger agitated it.”
The Dark (January 2021, issue 68)
“Femme and Sundance” by Christopher Caldwell
Two magical queer men, Davion and Tommy—aka “Bussy and Clyde” or “Femme Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”—meet cute at a diner and set off together to see the country. In need of more cash than they can scrounge up through sex work, they decide to rob a bank. During their less than legal adventures, they catch the attention of the arbiters, or magical police. A fun rollick featuring characters we don’t often see in these types of stories.
Uncanny Magazine (January/February 2021, issue 38)
“From Witch to Queen and God” by L. D. Lewis
L. D. Lewis writing Black sea witches exacting vengeance on colonial powers? YES MA’AM. This short story was so well developed that it felt like a chapter out of a book. The angry sea witch, her undead minions, the insidious way the patriarchy infects and expands racism. What a kick off for a brand new spec fic mag. Whew. Just. Whew.
Mermaids Monthly (January 2021, issue 1)
“A Serpent For Each Year” by Tamara Jerée
Although this piece is only 497 words, it packs a wallop. A woman, Nal, is covered in snakes. Literally. They protect her, a living shield and a metaphorical manifestation of survival. A beautiful and bittersweet story dealing with the aftermath of losing someone you love.
Strange Horizons (February 1, 2021)
“Vanity Among Worms” by Brent Lambert
“Honestly, he just needed to feel wanted.” In Brent Lambert’s evocative new story, a lonely queer man named Cletus summons the courage to go to a “seedy nightclub offering up some bizarre unique magical experience.” He gets far more than he bargained for in the form of a seductive necromancer. Lambert channels the crushing frustration of imposter syndrome and feeling like you don’t belong into a strange story of magic worms and lovers who take more than they give.
Baffling Magazine (January 1, 2021, issue 2)
“Yamwine & Nectar” by LP Kindred
A creature is imprisoned in the city built over what was once their forest. Although the town prospers, it is good luck forged of blood and bone and preserved by enslavement. During a festival, a stranger comes to town. He sees the creature as a living being, the first person to do so in a very long time. Written from the perspective of the imprisoned, this story is a harsh look at how those who benefit the most from an oppressive system are the least likely to want to dismantle it.
Prismatica (January/February 2021, issue 15)
- “All in a Day’s Work” by Jade Stewart—FIYAH Literary Magazine (Winter 2021, issue 17)
- “Eurydice (Yūrei)” by Owen Uachave—Jalada (December 4, 2020, 09, volume 1)
- “A Little History of Things Lost & Found” by Shingai Njeri Kagunda—khōréō magazine (January 2021, volume 1, issue 1)
- “Mirror Image” by La Madio Butler—Westwind Journal of the Arts: Flash Horror (2020)
Alex Brown is a librarian by day, historian by night, author and writer by passion, and a queer Black person all the time. Keep up with them on Twitter, Instagram, and their blog.