Must-Read Speculative Short Fiction: March 2021

A new batch of awesome short speculative fiction coming your way! March delivered a ton of narratively innovative short stories, several of which earned a spot on this list. I also have for you tales of murder and retribution, not-so-distant futures, and the mundane made hilarious.

 

“Barefoot and Midnight” by Sheree Renée Thomas

“When the fires calmed and the bright red embers turned to ash, when the city grieved and grieved until it couldn’t grieve anymore, Dusa Dayan rose from the back pew of Beale Street First African Baptist Church and let the sounds of Doctor Watts’ hymns usher her out the red door.” After white men burn down a Freedman’s school with children inside, Dusa, their teacher, uses root magic to punish the killers. Exquisite writing, vivid descriptions, and a powerful plot. A real gut punch of a story.

Apex Magazine (March 2021, issue 122)

 

“The Best Chocolate Cake Has a Taste of Bitter” by Alice Towey

A charming tale of two best friends graduating from high school and facing uncertain futures. Marigold and Juliet have been besties since they were little. Juliet was a witchy wonder, but Marigold’s magic could barely keep up. Both planned to go to wizarding school together, yet Marigold isn’t so sure that’s the life she really wants. Does she take the path where she’ll always be trailing behind others or forge a new path of her own?

Deep Magic (Spring 2021, issue 72)

 

“Comments on Your Provisional Patent Application for an Eternal Spirit Core” by Wole Talabi

I am such a nerd for unusual narrative formats, and March offered a multitude of options for me to indulge in. This is the first of several that will appear in this spotlight. It starts off with some dark humor—Chukwudi Nwobi gets increasingly flustered in the comments of a patent application submitted by his sibling Emeka, an engineer. But it soon descends into something sadder and more personal. I really enjoyed this sentimental little piece.

Clarkesworld (March 2021, issue 174)

 

“Contract Witch” by Elizabeth Cobbe

Elizabeth Cobbe blends the excitement of spellcasting with the mundanity of the tech industry in this fun story about a hedgewitch confronting the mediocre men who failed upward. While working on a magic coding project to make its casters extremely wealthy, Carly notices a fatal flaw. Except she can’t get any of the men in charge to pay attention to her. Funny yet all too real, Cobbe sticks in a vicious little implied comeuppance at the end.

Fireside Magazine (March 2021)

 

“A Day in the Life of Anmar 20X1” by Abdulla Moaswes

I was super excited to read Strange Horizon’s new Palenstinian issue, and it did not disappoint. Of the three stories, this is the one that I just couldn’t let go of. It shows a near future where the latest president of the Palestinian Authority goes about his day. Anmar lives the life of luxury within the walls of his estate. Outside, Israel continues its encroachment unabated. While it’s dry and sarcastic, the underlings trying to find ways to both protect themselves and better their nation keeps it from getting overwhelmingly cynical.

Strange Horizons (March 29, 2021)

 

“The Door” by Ike Quigley

Ike Quigley’s latest story is structured as transcripts of a bunch of voicemails left by Henry to his sister Josie. He calls her after an earthquake, and with each new voicemail we learn that something else more unfathomable was behind the chaos. Weird and creepy in all the best ways.

Flash Fiction Online (March 2021, issue 90)

 

“Immortelle” by Jelena Dunato

“You buried me in the cold, hard ground. The March wind was blowing, sharp as a slaughter knife, bringing the scent of snow from the mountains over the sea.” This one gripped me hard and hasn’t let me go. A young woman in an unspecified historical era is murdered by her lover after she finds out she’s pregnant. But she is not content to stay dead. A haunting story of vengeance and consequences.

The Dark Magazine (March 2021, issue 70)

 

“Masquerade Season” by ‘Pemi Aguda

One day, a ten-year-old boy finds three Masquerades and they follow him home. Soon, his mother takes advantage of them, using pieces of them to further her own career without caring how each cut to the Masquerades affects her son. How much of yourself can you give before it stops being a gift and becomes the other person taking? An emotional story by an author with an impressive talent.

Tor.com (March 24, 2021)

 

“Modern Promethea” by Meg Elison

“Silver lady carries it in her closed mouth / nothing wasted / until she finds the right moment.” Meg Elison’s story has the feel and flow of a poem but the plot of a short story. Playing with the notion of Frankenstein raising the dead, she explores the ways, big and small, in which we create or renew life. From birthing a child to sharing a much needed compliment. Sometimes kindness is its own kind of creation.

Nightmare Magazine (March 2021, issue 102)

 

“The Trolley Solution” by Shiv Ramdas

In a near future India, Ahmed, a professor of creative writing, finds himself with an AI as his co-teacher for a semester. To save his job—and the future of the university – he must prove that human teachers are better than AI ones…but life isn’t so clear cut sometimes. When he teaches the Trolley Problem in class, he finds himself caught in the middle of a real-life academic version of it. And the solution he comes to is unexpected, to say the least.

Slate: Future Tense (March 2021)

 

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.

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