April had me in a contemplative mood, it seems. My ten favorite short speculative stories dealt with depression, death, moral gray areas, trauma, and grief, as well as a couple of gruesome murder stories for good measure. Make yourself a nice cup of herbal tea, wrap yourself in a blankie, and get ready to feel some feels.
Our narrator gets a house in their divorce. Not just any old house, but a haunted one out in the middle of nowhere. At first, the home is their escape from reality, a way to hide from the things causing them pain. As they clean and decorate, and as they find in roads with the ghost, the house becomes a home, a new life and a fresh start. But, like with their ex wife, this new love sours into something unpleasant. An unsettling story about an inescapable relationship.
PseudoPod (April 22, 2022, 807)
Terumi’s wife Anna signs up for a mission to Mars, but when she disappears, it sends T into a spiral. Believing Anna is still out there somewhere, T concocts a plan. Yet this story isn’t really about that next step; instead, it’s about all of the moments leading up to it. It’s about the arguments and interpersonal conflicts, the points of friction and the reluctant compromises, the love that means so much but may not be enough.
Uncanny Magazine (March/April 2022, issue 45)
I’m not sure what it is about this story, but I haven’t stopped thinking about it since reading it. It starts off as a simple description of four glass cubes found on the estate of Eliza Sárásréti after her death. The cubes are remarkable objects that no one can figure out how they were created or what they mean. Bogi Takács’ writing style here is straightforward and uncomplicated, yet earnest.
Baffling Magazine (April 2022, issue 7)
Ever heard of H.H. Holmes? He was an active serial killer in 1890s Chicago (some call him the first in the states, but there were others before him, for example the Harpe brothers) who built an elaborate death trap known as the “Murder Castle.” Jennifer Lee Rossman plays with that history by adding a steampunk sheen. It’s bloody, it’s dark, and it’s wicked fun.
HyphenPunk (Spring 2022, issue 3)
A new Stephen Graham Jones story? Yes please! After Jenna and Victor break up, she finds the old rust bucket they once hooked up on. But this is no ordinary car. The more of herself she gives to it, the more it shifts from a hunk of junk to fresh off the assembly line. It’s perfectly creepy and darkly disturbing, just like the best of SGJ’s works.
Tor.com (April 20, 2022)
Humpty Dumpty is a real being in this story, who is in a relationship with the Big Bad Wolf from “Little Red Riding Hood.” They are building a new post-fairytale life together, or trying to at least. This story did not go how I expected! Jared Povanda has crafted a bittersweet metaphor for trauma recovery, as Humpty tries to put himself back together after constantly being broken by others. The wolf is not an entitled brute but a caring partner who understands what Humpty needs.
Ndibi the goatherd is consumed by his grief over the deaths of people he cares about, so much so that he seeks out a bush wizard “to bring back a normalcy to his world.” Things go about as well as you would expect. Kirk A. Johnson does a marvelous job of exploring the depths of Ndibi’s bereavement and the lengths he’ll go to ease it. If only he could stop and think for a moment before going along with necromancy.
FIYAH Literary Magazine (Spring 2022, issue 22)
“I grow up in the shadows of three-eyed gods. The statues stare me down, pale marble hands reaching out to cup the streets of the city.” Another story about mourning and resurrection, this time set in a world of gods, saints, and automatons. Our narrator grows up as the child of an immigrant, the first generation born in the new world. A meditation on the diasporic life and what it feels like to have a home that is not your home and a land you cannot return to.
Apparition Literary Magazine (Spring 2022, issue 18)
“Have you ever felt so tired that you just don’t feel anymore?” Whew, I felt this story down to my bones. I dealt with depression for much of my teens and twenties, and it’s not unlike what Effie Seiberg describes in this story. Here, the narrator is sucked out of their bedroom into a place where all the things we lose–including ourselves–end up. This is not a self-help story about curing your depression but one that honors the little things like taking a shower or just getting out of bed after several days.
PodCastle (April 23, 2022, 731)
Rajeev Prasad’s story has a harsh reality and biting critique to it that I love in science fiction, a story where the technology itself is less important than how we use it. There is a war raging on Mars, and Amare Chidubem must clean up the broken bodies left in its wake. Those who are too injured to make the trip back to Earth are sent into the Void to breathe their last. Amare is given a task he doesn’t want to complete, and it becomes his breaking point. Prasad asks where we draw the line between what will we accept and what we won’t.
The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction (March/April 2022)
Alex Brown is a Hugo-nominated and 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).