Must-Read Speculative Short Fiction: April 2021

This month I bring you an eccentric mix of short speculative fiction stories. Necromancy and ghosts, trauma and chronic pain, power and identity, sentient fruits and killer security units. Come for the weird, stay for the even weirder.


“The 74th District” by Wen-yi Lee

After necromancers discover how to resurrect life, the city of Raspa has to deal with an influx of the undead. Some are corpses as fresh as the moment of their deaths while others are no more than rattling bones. Raspa creates a new district, the 74th, and places a recent college graduate in charge. Wen-yi Lee takes a cool premise and infuses it with a clever protagonist and a wry sense of humor.

Speculative City (April 2021, issue 11)


“For Lack of a Bed” by John Wiswell

John Wiswell has a knack for taking the expected and expanding it into the unexpected. Here, we have the story of Noémi, a clerk at a mythological pet store who deals with chronic pain. She acquires the world’s most comfortable couch and cannot seem to pry herself away from it. Of course, the couch is more than what it appears to be. I love the way Wiswell talks about chronic pain, how it infiltrates every aspect of life and the increasingly desperate things we do to manage it.

Diabolical Plots (April 16, 2021, #74B)


“Home: Habitat, Range, Niche, Territory” by Martha Wells

How could Murderbot not end up on this spotlight? Impossible, I say! This story is set just after Exit Strategy, the fourth novella. Our beloved-slash-terrifying SecUnit has landed on Preservation Station and reunited with the crew it helped save in earlier installments. Unlike the rest of the series, this story is told not from Murderbot’s perspective but Dr. Mensah’s. If you love the Murderbot Diaries, you’ll love this entry. And if you’ve never read the series before, what the heck are you waiting for? (April 19, 2021)


“A Lamentation, While Full” by M. L. Krishnan

A protagonist is haunted by the spirit of their great-grandmother. Soon other spirits, benevolent and otherwise, pass through and settle in. A short, unsettling story. I loved the way M. L. Krishnan used unusual words to create a contrasting sense of beauty and unease. “In your left ear, a perilymph sea. Gleaming waves eddied against your ear’s walls, rushing into the loops and spirals of its bony labyrinth, forming endolymphatic tidal pools in its wake. This was where you felt his presence first—the tiny splashes of his footsteps echoing in the passageways of your cochlea.”

Baffling Magazine (April 2021, issue 3)


“The Music of the Siphorophenes” by C. L. Polk

The moment I saw there was a new story from C. L. Polk in this issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction, I dropped everything to read it. I was pleasantly surprised to discover a science fiction story set in space rather than their usual fantasy fare. Two people, a spaceship pilot and a celebrity, head off into deep space to see the Siphorophenes, an enigmatic alien creature. Along the way they encounter pirates, and everything falls apart. The story is a little sad and a little thrilling and a whole lot entertaining.

Fantasy & Science Fiction (March/April 2021)


“Mysteries of Visiocherries | Misteri Visiceri” by Rio Johan

What a weird, out-of-the-blue story! Kwodvide is “one of the senior fruit engineers in the Bio-Corporation” who inadvertently develops a sentient fruit. The investigators discover a series of mysterious clues he left behind before his lab burned down and he disappeared in a fit of madness. The text is rather straightforward, and examples of Kwodvide’s codes are interspersed throughout. This is part of a forthcoming collection of short stories, Rekayasa Buah (Fruit Engineering), all about, well, fruit engineering. Color me intrigued!

Samovar (April 26, 2021)


“The Salt Cure” by Eden Royce

Told over the course of four days, the narrator eats. “Salted cashews are creamy, almost milky in my mouth, and I suck on them like teats before crushing them on my back teeth. Follow them with crab roe that crunches like good crystal under a boot heel and cornichons tart enough to make me wince.” Outside their garden walls, monsters wail, waiting to devour them. Eden Royce writes beautifully about sacrifice, determination, and the cost of power.

Kaleidotrope (Spring 2021)


“A Stranger Goes Ashore” by Adam R. Shannon

Alain’s homeland is suffering environmental collapse due to exploitative land practices. Instead of fixing the problem, his people have sent ship after ship after ship full of explorers to discover a new land they can colonize. But lately, some ships haven’t been returning. Alain is sent to figure out why; the answer is that home is where the heart is and sometimes that heart wants something that no one else does. There was just something so compelling about this story that I can’t quite put my finger on. The heart wants what it wants.

Beneath Ceaseless Skies (April 22, 2021, issue 328)


“Unnamed” by Monte Lin

This story snuck up on me. It starts off like a weird little speculative story about a girl whose name no one can remember and then grows like a snowball becoming an avalanche into something powerful and angry. Huìhuì Gāo doesn’t just lose her first name, her whole identity, her humanity, her very essence is stripped away from her, first by careless Westerners then by frustrated and confused family and friends. Monte Lin packs a metric ton of commentary on the experience of the children of immigrants into a few thousand devastating words.

Cast of Wonders (April 18, 2021, episode 451)


“The White Road; or How a Crow Carried Death over a River” by Marika Bailey

“Long ago–well before now, but not so distant as then–there was a crow called Broadfeather who worried she’d never find a name.” This is the story of a crow who takes on a task much bigger than her and discovers what kind of person she wants to be. The narrative flows like a folktale, all enigmatic deities and trickster animals and grave injustices and a young quester hunting for truth. I thoroughly enjoyed Marika Bailey’s story from issue 12 of FIYAH, “In the Garden,” and this one was an excellent follow up. I’ll be keeping an eye out for more from her in the future.

FIYAH Literary Magazine (April 2021, issue 18)


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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