Must-Read Speculative Short Fiction: June 2021

The days are longer and longer and the sun burns hotter and hotter. It’s summertime in the northern hemisphere, and where I live that means hiding in the shade as the heat bakes everything into oblivion. Good thing, then, that I have a plethora of excellent short science fiction, fantasy, and horror stories to keep me company. Here are my ten favorite stories from June 2021, full of haunted mirrors, monstrous men, tricksy curses, and climate crises.

 

“Armed With Such Stories, I Roamed Into the Woods” by Evan Marcroft

A boy, Atticus, goes into the woods to look for a cure for his mother’s sickness and finds a monster instead. A cruel bloodthirsty man follows Atticus home and leaves a trail of terror in his wake. The boy has only the stories his mother told him and an old rifle to protect him. This was such a good young adult dark fantasy story. Evan Marcroft deftly explores that tenuous space of adolescence where we must turn our parents’ warnings and lessons into practical experience.

Cast of Wonders (June 13, 2021, #456)

 

“Empty Houses” by Caspian Gray

A couple buys a creepy old house with too many mirrors, and things quickly go wrong. The narrator stays home doing repairs and renovations while her partner brings in the paychecks to keep them afloat. The narrator begins to suspect the mirrors aren’t what they seem. Her mirrored image moves backwards or pauses unexpectedly. Their missing cat appears and disappears in the mirror. And then her closest friend vanishes. An unsettling kind of horror story, one that relies on looming dread and stressful confusion rather than jumpscares and gore.

Nightmare Magazine (June 2021, issue 105)

 

“The Far Side of the Universe” by noc, translated by Michelle Deeter

This was an odd story that took a couple reads to get a hold of, but I’m so glad I put in the effort. noc offers little in the way of explanations or descriptions about the world or the characters, yet the writing style itself is anything but meager. We’re confined to a facility where the consciousness of the dying is transferred to a strange place between three celestial bodies called the Summer Triangle. The narrator and their partner, ♦&x, help a young adult cross over, as they have helped countless others before. This time, however, they have doubts about what really exists in the great beyond.

Tor.com (June 16, 2021)

 

“Giving Up the Ghost” by Aeryn Rudel

A time travel story! Aeryn Rudel opts for Quantum Leap instead of a mysterious contraption like a TARDIS or a DeLorean. A middle-aged woman wakes up in her 17-year-old body with a deadly mission. Rudel doesn’t spend much time worldbuilding – we never learn the technology behind time travel or about the government organization who hired her – but that didn’t make me enjoy it any less. I actually rather liked how sparse it was. It’s like getting a small glimpse of what feels like a much bigger world, a slice of a larger story. Anyway, it was nice and I liked it a lot.

Flash Point SF (June 26, 2021)

 

“Heart Shine” by Shveta Thakrar

Friendless, bullied, and ignored by her parents, Komal lives a lonely life in Buffalo. One summer evening, a black kitten leads her to the door to Faerie. Komal casts a spell to open the door, but things don’t go according to plan. Instead of being whisked away to another world, a fairy prince follows her home. I loved the way Shveta Thakrar took an old premise and shaped it into something beautiful and new, then gave it to a character who normally doesn’t get to star in these kind of stories.

Uncanny Magazine (May/June 2021, issue 40)

 

“An Island for Lost Astronauts” by Daniel Bennett

“The astronauts moved amongst us like captive angels…As we fought for daily life on the outskirts of East City, the astronauts tuned through our hapless suffering, their expressions beatific deranged and bereft.” A collection of islands slowly being swallowed up by rising sea levels are home to outcasts and criminals…and astronauts. Shunned from society for things they had no control over, they haunt the islands and the narrator. A melancholy memory of a story.

Interzone (issue 290-291)

 

“The Night Farmers’ Museum” by Alisa Alering

Imagine walking through an exhibit in a museum, pausing to read each plaque at every stop along the way. That’s how Alisa Alering structured her fantasy story about a place where night grows from seeds and powers the world. We move from panels on the “Evolution of Cultivation Practices” to “Urban Growth & The Thousand Furnaces Era,” from stories about the town that nearly collapsed in a fit of anti-night hysteria to the Indigenous Lok-Myo people’s multi-generational struggle to remain on and later return to their ancestral caves. I always get a kick out of unconventional narrative structures, and this one hit the spot.

Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet (June 2021, issue 43)

 

“Our Bones Were the Mortar” by Anjali Patel

Anjali Patel’s story about a woman who can see the spirits of the dead feels bigger than its short word count belies. Eager to escape the ghosts of her kin, the narrator takes a job in New York City. She hopes to leave the dead behind her, but instead is met with the crush of ghosts from the nearby African Burial Ground National Monument. Will she forsake them to their afterlife or use her powers to help them? Patel digs underneath the foundations of this country to expose the blood and bones and sweat and tears that built it.

khōréō (June 2021, volume 1, issue 2)

 

“Someday My Prince Will Come” by Briar Ripley Page

Boyd may be a man now, but he wasn’t always one. Before, he was a pigeon who dreamed of becoming human and who found a witch willing to grant his wish. But being a person isn’t the stuff of fairytales. Boyd has a job, bills, obligations, responsibilities, and relationships to contend with. This was a bittersweet story of getting exactly what you asked for, even if it isn’t exactly what you wanted.

Prismatica (May/June 2021, issue 16)

 

“Three for Hers” by Filip Hajdar Drnovšek Zorko

In this dark fairytale, Vida, the third child and only daughter of the chief advisor of the Plemitschi ruler known as the Margrave, decides she’s had enough of her monarch’s brutal rule. She takes a job in his castle-ship and endures punishment after punishment as she tries and fails to strategize her way to victory. Although the plot moves in a familiar direction, Filip Hajdar Drnovšek Zorko does some really intriguing and chilling things with it.

PodCastle (June 15, 2021, #683)

 

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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