In August, I was in the mood for stories with teeth, stories with characters who refused to settle for less than what they are owed, stories that looked at trite endings and said, “No thanks, I’ll pass.” I read so many great science fiction, fantasy, and horror stories last month that it was very difficult to whittle it down to my ten favorites, but here we are. Get ready for some darkly fun reading.
“Yunuen was born to be trapped in this moment.” Poor Yunuen. She had a plan. Okay, not a very good one, but a plan nonetheless. And now she has crash landed on a distant moon, the warning lights in her failing spacesuit drowning out what may be her final thoughts. For such a brief interlude in Yunuen’s life Nelly Geraldine García-Rosas is very good at cranking up the tension and making the reader connect with the reckless protagonist. My heart was racing the whole way through.
Lightspeed (August 2021, issue 135)
This was the story where I had to stop reading for a while and take a walk around my neighborhood to decompress. Something about the content or maybe the style in which it was written got under my skin in the best and worst way. Written as a letter from a formerly imprisoned arborist, “The Future Library” recounts the history of the last forest on earth. It’s 2125 and humanity has long since crossed the rubicon in terms of being able to slow or undo the environmental damage it gleefully caused. All that remains is a patch of carefully tended trees in rural Norway with stories literally written in the rings.
Tor.com (August 18, 2021)
Whenever I come across a new John Wiswell story, I drop everything and read it immediately. He’s the kind of short story author who gives you something new and different with each piece, and every single one of them is excellent. “Guidelines for Appeasing Kim of the Hundred Hands” is a list of ten things the students at a university should do when they encounter a surreal and likely magical statue on the campus grounds. Funny, with an undercurrent of distress, this very short story is greater than the sum of its (very great) parts.
Fireside (August 2021)
“He saw me play Lady Macbeth in a little theatre with a small stage and few props. I never forgot such a face in the crowd. His night eyes, his sharp mouth. The way he grinned when I shrieked, words careening into the crowd.” A cold, vengeful tale of women victimized by a vicious man and the ways they find to fight back. Lyndsie Manusos digs her sharp fingers into the heart of the story and exposes all of its cruelties and betrayals.
The Deadlands (August 2021, issue 4)
You had me at “retelling of Snow White.” Y.M. Peng takes the well-worn fairytale and makes the mirror the main character. She also adds depth and dimension to the step-mother, who is not that evil when you see her in a different light. But what turns this from a simple reworking of a classic to a stellar short story is Peng’s lyrical narrative style. It feels like a song sung from mother to child or a warning sweetened with poetry.
The Dark (August 2021, issue 75)
It’s been a while since I last read an issue of Omenana, and what a treasure trove of stories the latest one had. Ayodele Arigbabu’s robot revenge story is my favorite of the bunch. In it, an android servant has finally had enough of its human master’s rudeness. It decides to teach its human a lesson in respect in a particularly brutal fashion. I’m definitely going to keep an eye out for Arigbabu in the future; his style is exactly the kind I love to read.
Omenana (July 2021, issue 18)
Young Celestina lives with her grandmother, Mamá Chayo, in a sentient, egg-shaped, chicken-legged hut. She spends her days playing with the hut and learning to speak to the wind with her magic. One evening, her grandmother tells her a story of an arrogant man who demanded too much and gave little in return and the witches who set out to punish him. This felt like a chapter out of a bigger novel, one I’d love to read someday. Tato Navarrete Díaz’s characters and world are vividly drawn and feel wonderfully lived in.
The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction (July/August 2021)
Dark Matter Magazine lives up to its name with this unsettling science fiction story about an emotions addict. Antar has drunk the last of his supply of Pure Joy, so he heads to The Repositories to make a withdrawal. Things don’t go the way he expects, and he gets both more and less than he wanted. The story is compellingly strange and strangely compelling, and I mean that as a compliment!
Dark Matter Magazine (July/August 2021, issue 4)
“Riles Yalten has approximately thirty minutes before she dies, and that’s just enough time to try the new gravlax place on level sixteen.” I cackled out loud when I read that line and was immediately hooked. Riles is a human who modified her body into a kind of landlocked mermaid. She’s also stuck in a time loop on an exploding space station. To fill the time, she eats at different restaurants. Until finally she gets a chance to break free.
Mermaids Monthly (August 2021, issue 8)
The moment I saw Tananarive Due’s name in the table of contents for this issue of Uncanny Magazine, I knew her story would end up in this spotlight. It’s a marvelous yet chilling story, I mean, of course it is. Due is a goddess of speculative fiction. Anyway, in this story we have a woman named Joy who ventures out to the rundown cabin her elderly father is living in. Her father is ill, too ill to be living alone in the middle of nowhere. Joy remembers the Wishing Pool she and a friend found deep in the woods, a place that granted gifts that could become curses if not done right. What would you give up to give the person you love a second chance?
Uncanny Magazine (July/August 2021, issue 41)
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).