Must-Read Speculative Short Fiction: July 2021

Looking over my ten favorite short science fiction and fantasy stories from July, it seems that I had environmental devastation and the trials of living an unsatisfying life on the brain. A bit dark for a month full of sunshine and blistering heat, but I guess it makes sense since I was also dealing with my own crises of personal loss and living in a region being pummeled by an ever-worsening drought. Get ready to feel mostly sad but have a twinge of hope flickering in the distance.

 

“After Me, A Flood” by Rae Kocatka

Marin’s father sets up a lung transplant after hers are ruined from the mines. But instead of living tissue, the medtechs install “industrial models,” or metal lungs. When she later dies, her lungs are harvested and turned into something new, and her consciousness goes with it. With each transformation, more of her is lost, and what is left gets harder, angrier, and more exhausted. This beautifully written story knocked the wind out of me, no pun intended.

Reckoning (issue 5)

 

“Beyond the Veil” by J. Kosakowski

Mara’s family drags him through a series of pre-wedding rituals as they prepare for his marriage to the town asshole. All hope seems lost until the noonwraith, a creature of Polish folklore, arrives with a change of plans. As someone dealing with their own misgendering obstacles in their gender journey, J. Kosakowski’s story stuck in my heart like a spike. The sinking feeling of being thrust into a life you do not want and cannot live crashing into the joy of finally being seen and understood and given control over your own existence.

Baffling Magazine (July 2021, issue 4)

 

“The Child Feast of Harridan Sack” by Kaitlyn Zivanovich

“It’s only a story. That is what mothers say to their daughters. What kind of comfort is that? It’s not a reassurance, or a consolation. It’s a warning. It’s a story, child. Pay attention, it is a story.” A mother tells her daughter a story, but her daughter learns the wrong lesson. Kaitlyn Zivanovich is a great writer that I’m glad to have finally encountered. I loved the way she structured this modern story to feel like a classic folktale.

PseudoPod (July 9, 2021, 765)

 

“Curious Cane-Coda” by Rekha Valliappan

Rekha Valliappan’s story about an old woman who discovers what she thinks is a dead body is interesting enough. But what I enjoyed most was her wordplay. Valliappan piles on descriptors like they’re on sale, yet it never strays into purple prose. “Curious Cane-Coda” is just begging for an audio version. “She is at once seduced, a woman dragging heavy skirts, shawled and mitted, head-scarfed and multi-layered, cloaked and masked against frazzled weather, soap-sudding at the sink, bird-feeding swallows, talking to snails, humming at ringed caterpillars, gazing everywhere, gazing nowhere—milky rimmed eyes out-staring the ribbons of stars as far as her mildewed eyes can see or thinks they can.”

Utopia Science Fiction Magazine (June/July 2021, vol. II, issue 6)

 

“Data Migration” by Melanie Harding-Shaw

“Data Migration” is a short, engaging story structured as assignments for a girl named Mae attending virtual school. We don’t know much about the world, but context clues let us know it is in the not-too-distant future where climate change is causing environmental chaos. The use of Māori words like “kaitiakitanga—guardianship of the environment” add to the sense of place while also making the reader ponder over a future where colonizers have finally accepted Indigenous environmentally conscious habits even though it may be too late to undo the damage they caused.

Strange Horizons (July 12, 2021)

 

“Dust of Red” by Emily Blue

“Every time Basil looked over her shoulder, she saw the watcher, a hunched fragment of a person hobbling in her footsteps. Every time, Basil hugged her daughter closer and tried to walk faster, with more purpose.” A disconcerting story where a mother and her infant daughter try desperately to survive in an inhospitable land. Basil’s immense grief—at being left behind, at her child’s fate, at her own dwindling prospects—bursts from the page.

Hexagon (Summer 2021, issue 5)

 

“Kudzu” by Elizabeth Kestrel Rogers

A story about disability, climate crisis, and technological advancements. Caris, a disabled woman, joins a program where she’s given a mech suit and sent out to remove invasive kudzu from the California coast. Elizabeth Kestrel Rogers uses disability and mobility aids to talk about adaptation and accommodation, about making a life out of a world that would rather ignore you into neglect.

Diabolical Plots (July 16, 2021, #77B)

 

“The Lingering Weight of Estrian Steel” by Rajan Khanna

You can’t outrun your past, only delay it. Stafe learns that lesson the hard way in Rajan Khanna’s excellent story. After barely escaping a dragon, Stafe shirked his knightly duties and created a new life in a small village. When someone from his past threatens his future, Stafe must retrace his journey back up the mountain and face the dragon once more. Queer romance and man-eating dragons. What more could a reader want?

Beneath Ceaseless Skies (July 15, 2021, issue 334)

 

“The Living Museum” by Tim Major

A supervisor of a living museum takes a tour around the park before opening. Oddly, everyone seems to be deep in character…too deep perhaps. Wait, is he really in a museum? Or is it real life? Probably the lightest story of this spotlight as far as tone and content are concerned, but I got a kick out of the premise. All questions, no answers.

Shoreline of Infinity (July 2021, issue 24)

 

“She Dreams in Bronze” by Sylvia Ho

In a strange hotel is a lonely young woman, Momei. Adopted by the hotel’s elusive, gruff owner, Momei spends her workday collecting dues from the guests in the form of personal tokens. One of those tokens wakes a statue in the hotel garden and sets off a chain of events that change the course of Momei’s life. We don’t always get what we want in life, and sometimes what we get isn’t what we deserve. This doesn’t have the ending you expect, but it’s the perfect moment to wrap up a melancholy story.

Apparition Lit (July 2021, issue 15)

 

Alex Brown is an Ignyte award-winning critic who writes about speculative fiction, librarianship, and Black history. Find them on twitter (@QueenOfRats), instagram (@bookjockeyalex), and their blog (bookjockeyalex.com).

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